Monday, March 23, 2020

New Moon Club Reunion

Readers will recall two weeks ago, on the last full moon, I speculated on the effect moon phases have on us humans, and the difference between the force of the full moon compared to the new moon, and I told the story of a maternity nurse who said there are more births on new moon than full moon.  I promised to return to the subject on the next new moon, which was last night.

I wanted to do justice to this effort and recalled that the New Moon Club, of which I'm a proud member had not met in many moons, not since one of our members, Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster, suffered serious mental trauma from the Communication Death Ray, said by some to have been personally invented by President Trump (see below, The Babel of Trump Tower).  So I made a telepathic call for a New Moon Club meeting which was answered (telepathically) in the affirmative within minutes by all members: Robert, Betty the Coyote Creator Goddess, Jesus and Gandalf the Wizard.

At 7pm last night I set out from my weathered cabin in Pearblossom, walking over the soft rolling desert carrying water, a Nature Valley Sweet 'n Salty Granola Bar (which I find enhances my telepathic abilities) and a flashlight, since the new moon entails no moon.

After trudging for some minutes I came over a mound and there were my companions, seated around a smoldering fire tended by Gandalf, who poked it with his staff.  Robert was speaking when I arrived.

...so it's a brand new struggle, replacing that between Trump and national capitalism...."

Robert became silent and turned to look at me as I approached, seeming to resent my interruption.  The others smiled.  They sat on leveled chunks of stone in this order: Gandalf, Betty, Jesus and Robert, with a stone reserved for me between Jesus and Robert.  

"Continue please, Robert," I said, as I settled on my rock, "By the way, did you say that Trump struggles against national capitalism?  I thought he represented national, or nationalistic capitalism."

"No," retorted Robert, "He represents global capitalism.  That's why his policies are so destructive to the nation."

"Trump's response to the coronavirus would seem to argue your point, Robert," I said quickly.  You don't want to start a conversation with Robert by implying that he is wrong.  Gilas don't have an equivalent in their language for "wrong."  The closest term literally means, "mortally wounded." 

I continued, "Robert, what struggle are you talking about?"

Robert explained, "Reports indicate that the White House, in its evolving policy on the coronavirus pandemic, is divided between what I call national interests, which include making people's health paramount, and global interests which define 'health' as global cash flow."

"We should note," said Betty, "that the primary beneficiaries of the bailout money are large corporations.  Small business, in fact small anything, are directed under the bus."

"Indeed!" spat Robert. 

Betty continued, "The shutdown of businesses and jobs has its own death count (though it is often a count of living-death) which is just as real as the death count of the virus.  People are destroyed either way, and it's not clear that the virus-caused deaths will outnumber the shutdown caused deaths.  Medical leaders downplay that aspect."

Readers might find it implausible that a retired nightclub mind-reader would be out in the desert absorbing ideas about human society from active or semi-retired deities, a character from a novel and a talking lizard, but it just shows the lengths one has to go to these days to find decent conversation.

"Robert," said Jesus, "Your thesis reminds me of the dichotomy my followers faced between personalized, small groups and the mass following that developed - no pun intended.  The term 'Catholic,' after all, comes from the Latin: Kata, 'with respect to,' plus holos, 'whole,' meaning the whole of everybody are members of a catholic church.  It turns out that spirituality comes in local and international forms too." 

"Which way represents your views best?" asked Robert.

"
That's not easy to answer," said Jesus.

Betty intervened, "Robert, you can find deficits and benefits inherent in both small and large human organizations.  I don't think you're implying that large organized religions are always spiritually inferior to small ones."

"No, I'm not, " said Robert, "and large corporations are not inherently bad; many have been creative, inventing and developing critical human technology.  It is not automatically bad to be big, or global."

"Then what's bad about the current assault by bigness?" I asked.

"What's bad, " explained Robert, "is that this invasion of global interests into America's response to the pandemic is disguised as domestic policy, much as people's obsession with the Dow Jones is disguised as a domestic concern.  Money itself is no longer domestic.  And as noted- your foreign policy is as much impacted by global interests as your pandemic policy."

Gandalf, who I think tries to overcome his origins in a fictional place (Middle-earth) by making occasional germain comments about our universe, did so: "I agree, Americans face a paradox: If they go to war, they will think they are being nationalistic, but they will not be serving nationalism."

"Gandalf," I asked, "You lived through a type of world war in The Lord of the Rings.  How was that different from our wars?  When you arrived at Frodo's hobbit hole that day and told him of danger abroad, were you an internationalist or what?"  

Gandalf was unruffled: "The point is that I told the hobbits the truth.  I did not mischaracterize the protagonists.  Sauron et al were exactly the threats I made them out to be.  You didn't need to wonder if it was an international concern or domestic; it was both.  But when you hear about your enemies, you are given cover stories to disguise who they actually are."

"One important cover story is unravelling," said Betty, "as it is now clear that the Trump White House is balancing the health of citizens, which in Robert's formulation is a national interest, against "productivity" and "growth," terms which, thanks to your media, have acquired strong positive connotations, but which can now be identified as global interests that are not necessarily positive."

"Amen," said Robert.

"If I may change the subject slightly," I said, "I'd like to point out that tonight is new moon, as the title of our club suggests.  I called this meeting to address the question on everyone's mind: 'Do moon phases affect human behavior?'"

"That question has not been on my mind," Robert mumbled.

"I know.  I was being funny," I explained.

"Oh," said Robert.

"Sorry, Robert, I forgot that gilas have no concept of humor.  For humans, the world would be unbearable without it."

"Yeah," Robert said, and spat (gilas have toxic saliva so spitting is a meaningful social cue), "but I've studied your humor and I know what it is.  The latest science is that humor comes essentially from electrical impulses coursing through the corpus callosum, the bundle of nerves connecting the left and right hemispheres of the human brain, which control, respectively, logic on one side and artistic, poetic thinking on the other.  A pun is "funny" because it makes a connection, picked up by the corpus callosum, that neither hemisphere alone would make.  Gilas don't need humor because our mentality is logical and artistic at the same time."

"Robert, " I responded gloomily, "you will be gratified to know that you are not at all funny."

Robert said nothing but stared into the fire and spat.  He was clearly insulted.  

Betty, who usually acts as our moderator and peacemaker, said, "Robert, I think all Harry is suggesting is that the struggle between global and national interests has reached a head exactly on a new moon.  That's interesting enough, don't you think, whether anything is funny or not?"

Robert spat and remained silent.  I wondered if there was any point, after all, to this meeting.  We settled into our private thoughts, and it became comforting just to sit around a fire in the middle of nowhere with friends.  Words are overrated, sometimes.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The coronavirus in Los Angeles

One late afternoon this week I was sitting in my combination study, kitchen, bedroom, living room, staring absently through the open window at the desert haze, when I felt a familiar tingling in my head, followed by the (telepathically transmitted) sultry voice of Betty the Coyote Creator Goddess, aka The Trickster.  Her purpose was to alert me that humans living in Los Angeles and the surrounding sprawl are behaving in a way she has not seen before in thousands of years of monitoring our species.  

Harry, she said in my head, everyone has withdrawn to their shelters and are coming out as little as possible.  Schools and businesses are closed and people are facing financial ruin.

Why?

A virus called the corona has appeared and is stalking humanity.

Oh yeah, I read about it.  Has it become a major killer?

There is potential that it will. 

Betty,  I'm always interested in your findings, but I can't say I "care" about this in the conventional sense.

Harry, your indifference to your own species is sad.

It's not indifference; it's hostility.

That's sad too.  You only dislike your species because it is currently out of whack, disorganized and confused.

True that.

Once you humans get your act together, you'll be awesome.

Thanks for that thought, Betty!  In your opinion are people overreacting to this virus?

It's hard to say, but the most remarkable thing, Harry, is that people are complying with the drastic orders.

Are they complying because they are afraid of the virus?

In part.  The story is alarming: A virus leaps from a bat to a human and is expected to continue leaping, killing many in its path, until it has deposited its progeny in humans everywhere.  There is no natural immunity to the virus and no antibiotic for it.

Yeah, scary.  Also there are plenty of conspiracy theories, like that it escaped from a lab, or is a weapon of some group against another.  Betty, as a deity, can you tell me what this virus really is?

It's more than one thing, Harry.  One thing it is, is a virus.  Its origin, though, is varied.  Whether it came from a lab, or from evolution, or from a deity- it wasn't me, by the way....

We chuckled telepathically.

...wherever the virus came from, it also came from your own human minds, your own need, which beckoned it into existence.

Betty, that's a tough sell.  Are you saying we wished for the virus?

No.  I'm saying you wished for some force that would impede you, that would slow down your lonely mindless march.  The virus heard your need and sprang forth.

Betty, you are never going to win the Nobel prize for science.  How many people have died from the virus in L.A.?

Nine.

I thought about that for a moment.  

Given the current low death rate, Betty, I'm surprised too at the widespread compliance with sheltering in place, abandoning of businesses and schools.  Is anyone resisting, from any demographic?

There's some resistance from financial interests, religious groups and beachgoers, but society at large is compliant.

That's a conundrum!

It sure is! 
Betty called out as she sailed through the open window, landing at my feet and calmly sitting on her haunches.

Hi Betty, I get the feeling you have something planned for us.

I do.  Is you car working?

Betty was referring to my 2007 Camry hybrid, which waits patiently in the dirt beside my house for weekly trips to the Family Dollar Store.

Where are we going?

Los Angeles.  I need to do some readings in the field.  

Within minutes we were heading south on the 14, planning the jagged route of freeways to downtown L.A.  Traffic was light due to the statewide confinement.  Betty sat on the front seat, using a bit of her "magic" to create a dog aura that disguised both her coyote and deity aspects.  I use the term "magic" in quotes because, although the things Betty can do are as mechanistic as anything we understand, since we can't understand them, they're magic.  

We transitioned to the 5 south and soon crossed the 210 and were surrounded by vast urbanity.  
Betty sniffed the air from the partly rolled down window.  After a few minutes she said:

Harry, I'm already getting the information I need, but I guess it's de rigueur to park and walk around.

You already know what you need to know?

Pretty much.  But let's park someplace and walk around, just in case I missed something.

Copy that.

The sun had set behind the Griffith Park hills.  I got off the freeway at Los Feliz, turned south on Riverside and drove randomly for a while, until we ended up in Atwater Village, a cross-hatch of railroad tracks, warehouses and a thriving artistic community.  

I parked on Glendale Boulevard.  Betty and I got out and walked past empty shops that were usually bustling.  

So Betty, what are you learning?  Why are people so compliant with the radical requirements?  It can't just be because they're afraid of the virus.

No, it's not.

We approached a young mother wearing a face mask and pushing a baby in a stroller.  The mother veered a few inches away from us, and I felt Betty amp up her dog aura (she can also create the illusion of a leash).  When the sidewalk was empty again, Betty resumed her thoughts.

Harry, people are segregating themselves into small units, whether familial, tribal- whatever is the smallest denomination of belonging they can find in society.  They do this in compliance with authority, but they also want to do it.

Why?

Humans are afraid of the gigantic civilizations they have built, because they are unstable structures, fashioned in a hurry by unstable humans.  Dealing with other people has become fraught, since the context for human relations is increasingly unclear.  Going forth into civilization is dangerous.  People like the idea of hiding from the "world," like a coyote in her burrow.

What do you mean, that we are "unstable"?

Betty paused, considering, I guessed, how to soften her words for me.

Humans evolved to deal with extreme instability.  Unlike deer, or tortoises, or butterflies, you did not adapt to a specific environment.  The human environment has been a kaleidoscope of change since the animals pushed you out of the motherland.  Your real ambition is to get back in, though you go about it in strange ways.

Imagine!, 
I exclaimedmarvelling at the ironies of life, I'm walking down Glendale  Boulevard with a coyote who is lecturing me about human instability.  Betty, why can't we make a stable environment and make ourselves be stable?  

Your difficulties are understandable.  You've had no opportunity to evolve; it's been one disaster after another, whether self-inflicted or otherwise.  Humans need a break.

I don't think we're about to get one, 
I sighed as we got back in the Camry.

I'd have to agree, 
Betty said.  In summation, then, people are in the mood to shelter in place, thus the compliance.  How long they remain in that mood is a question.

That's a question alright, 
I responded with a lack of brilliance and insight that effectively ended the conversation.  Thirty minutes later I parked on my dirt driveway and we said goodnight.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Conspiracy theory

"Conspire" means "breathe together" in Latin.  Conspiracy is intimate.  The conspirators are vulnerable to each other, open with their thoughts because they have common interests.  The conspiracy must remain secret because it only serves those interests.

From this point of view conspiracies, and by extension conspiracy theories, are as natural as communication.  Why then does no one today say, "I have a conspiracy theory"?  We all have conspiracy theories, but voicing one invites ridicule.  

Perhaps the rumors are true, that the CIA promoted a negative connotation for the phrase "conspiracy theory" to embarrass people who doubted the Warren Report on President Kennedy's assassination.  If that conspiracy theory is true, it was a brilliant move, stunningly successful.  

It's interesting too that the word "paranoia" is understood by almost everyone while its opposite, "pronoia" (referring to denial that there are people conspiring against one, when in fact there are) is mostly unknown.

Of course, even if someone overcomes the stigma of vocalizing a conspiracy theory, and even if everyone who hears the theory agrees with it, you still face the question: What are you going to do about it?  You can't take legal action because a conspiracy theory is a theory; it is not designed to be a formal allegation, as there is generally little or no evidence to back it up.

For instance, I have a conspiracy theory that Big Pharma is behind the move away from attributing significance to dreams, which are referred to in many medical journals as neural "trash" to be flushed down the toilet of sleep.  My theory is that the downgrade occured because there is no money in dreams, as there is in drugs.  If dreams have meaning and are studied, as was the fashion in Freudian times (e.g. Beverly Hills, circa 1960), and if people are able to assuage life's problems by talking about dreams- as believed not only by Freud but by most human cultures- that's not good news for a system in which mental health is addressed with prescription drugs, which means it's not good news for stockholders.  

The term "depression," too, has been co-opted by Big Pharma.  In the past, a state of depression (previously melancholia) indicated that a person was "sad," a term that is avoided in the pharmaceutical world because we understand that sadness can be caused by the world outside the sad person, and there's no Rx for that.  Today, the person is affected not by the outside world, but by chemical imbalances within.  That's where the money is.

But what can I do with my conspiracy theory about Big Pharma other than blog about it?  There's no legal action to be taken since I have no evidence, and because the pills often work, there's little hope of inspiring a pro-dream movement against medical science.  People would think: What have dreams done for me lately?

The only struggle for change I'm interested in is the struggle to reattach a neutral connotation to the phrase "conspiracy theory," so that, if you laugh at my theory about Big Pharma nixing dreams, it will have to be because you can prove it isn't true, not because I can't prove it is true.

As for dreams, they have their own conspiracies.  

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Three-Body Problem

"...the core of this man was the utter madness and coldness brought about by extreme rationality."  

From "The Three Body Problem," by Cixin Liu

I've been up half the night engrossed in Cixin Liu's "Three Body Problem" trilogy (translated from the Chinese).  The ideas are sophisticated but the presentation gives me the kind of thrill I got from comic books in pre-pusbscent times.  There would be a cool idea, with cool mental images, painted or told, then a blast of action, then turn the page for the next cool idea.  My parents feared that I would spend my life reading comic books.  Sadly, that is exactly what I've done.  Dawn approaches, and there are too many "Dark Forest" ideas spilling out of my head to fit into my "Theory of the day" format (see below).  I'll just throw out this question from the book:

Can the stability and order of the world be but a temporary dynamic equilibrium achieved in a corner of the universe, a short-lived eddy in a chaotic current?

Isn't that what we're all wondering?  The novel is packed with exciting ideas, though I think some of Liu's stylistic skills may not be expressed in the English translation.  Regarding plot, it should be safe to reveal that Trisolarans, invaders from space who are fleeing a (celestial) three-body problem, have seeded earth with Sophons, super-computers made from single protons, which spy on humanity and mess up the calculations of the world's top physicists so that none of their theories can be confirmed, not unlike what is happening now with dark matter.  The physicists conclude that they don't know anything about the universe, and several commit suicide.  

Cixin Liu's work is trending in the West at a time when the West is trying to decide how it feels about China.  In "Three Body Problem," Liu is generous in showing how Chinese politics maligned Western scientific theory by transforming it into political dogma.  Who knew in the West that the speed of light had anything to do with distribution of wealth?  In the book, Yang Weining, childhood acquaintance of Ye Wenjie, daughter of prominent scientist Ye Zhetai -who, because he adopted Western scientific concepts, is beaten to death by 14 year old girls during the Cultural Revolution- says that he wants to pursue practical science and avoid theory because "it's easy to make ideological mistakes in theory."  In other words he does not want to be beaten to death by 14 year old girls.  Liu brings our cultures together here because, who would?

There's plenty for the West to ponder in The Three-Body Problem, written by a man who understands the West more than most Westerners understand the East.  Questions:  Will the cultures of China and the U.S. evolve to become increasingly similar, even mirror images, as they confront each other and modernize?  Will total surveillance, either via Sophon or domestic technology, cover the entire globe?  Will there be any difference between Beijing and Los Angeles when all of their inhabitants, from all racial backgrounds, live under the will of the same grid, the same AI directed master plan?

Liu makes a good point about our need for extraterrestrials:

It was impossible to expect a moral awakening from humankind itself....To achieve moral awakening required a force outside the human race. 

Unfortunately (or fortunately), it looks like we're going to have to play the role of extraterrestrials ourselves.  

Friday, March 6, 2020

Theory of the day

Greetings, readers!  Today, Saturday, March 7, 2020 begins a new feature at Harry the Human, in which I post an original theory or meditative essay each morning.  I will try to come up with lively essays that, even if you're having the worst day of your life, will give you a little something.  I will post by 5am (West Coast time), so you can make Harry the Human's Theory of the Day part of your morning routine.  Bookmark this page now and start the day right!  

Live long and perspire!  Harry the Human

Theory #1, posted 3/7/20

We often say that, "All power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely," as if it were a given, perhaps because the statement's author was John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, aka Lord Acton, 1st Baron, 13th Marquess of Groppoli and Deputy Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order, and maybe also because the statement sounds true.  It may be true, but my theory is that, in addition to corrupting, power enslaves the powerful, because in order to achieve power one must please some people- not everybody- but the right people.  Absolute power would entail absolutely pleasing these people, with the result that the powerful person is in fact a slave.  Corruption, then, can be defined as the subservience of the self to someone else.  It is corrupt to deny yourself absolutely.

Theory #2, also posted 3/7/20

Our five senses of sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch are geared to our sense of time.  Like lasers set to record the extremely fast events of photosynthesis, we record the fast events around us.  But when we look at a mountain, nothing moves.  Science works to extend our senses, but the quest is not usually described in terms of extending our sense of time; our searches are mostly conducted in and for human time.  Physicists should note an analogue to human time when they smash particles together and observe resulting particles that don't last long, whose lifespan is measured in nanoseconds (billionths of a second).  We call these particles virtual because they disappear so fast we don't feel comfortable calling them real.  But we too are short-lived, focused on very fast events.  In this sense humans are virtual.   If we extend beyond our time setting we will see more, and be more.


Theory #3, posted 20 minutes later

This is an idea for the youth of Hong Kong, about what you should do now.  It's clear you're on a binary course: either you will confront a dragon that will kill and eat you, or you will likely float like ghosts to future power havens, where, although you will be part ghost and less real than you are now, you will gain access to other time settings, and that will help you.  By "float like ghosts" I mean drop your physical protests, suddenly, without warning, then float like ghosts into bureaucracies and civic organizations, as we did in the face of the Vietnam War, so that now we float like ghosts in our huddled power havens, wondering how long the power will stay on.  I'm just saying, you'll last longer.

Theory #4, posted 3/8/20, at what would have been 4:29am, but is instead 5:29am

I apologize to readers: I have no theories this morning.  My head is empty of content, even after reading the news, drinking coffee, letting Franklin (a Rhodesian ridgeback) out, feeding him, letting him in, walking out front in the almost full moon and chill and picking up the paper paper, scowling at its cover as Franklin monitors me for signs of life.  At times like this I rely on the dictionary for wisdom; I found this: "Theory derives from Greek theoria: 'contemplation,' 'speculation,' from theoros, 'spectator.'"   So if you have a theory, then you are a spectator witnessing something happen, suggesting that a theory is not only a concept; it is an event, which suggests that if you don't have any theories, it's because nothing is happening.  A blurb just flashed across my screen, "Kamala Harris endorses Biden," a non-event and the first story so far this morning that isn't restated from yesterday's news.  It could be that Sunday, March 8, 2020 is itself not happening; it might just be a reflection of yesterday, with a yearning towards tomorrow.  This will have to do as today's theory.

Theory #5, posted 3/9/20  

Tonight is full moon, considered the most powerful moon phase of each month, when the moon, in most conceptions, enhances animal urges in humans.  Police activity is said to go up, and many people "feel" things during full moon.  Today's theory is inspired by a maternity room nurse's comment, made to my associate D.L. 26 years ago on the night his youngest son was born, which happened to be a new moon (also called "dark of the moon").  The nurse told D.L. that her experience was that more women go into labor on new moon than full moon, though she, like everyone else, could not say why.  Let's test the theory that moon phases affect us.  Keep note of feelings (not necessarily of going into labor) you have today that may possibly be connected to tonight's full moon.  I will do the same and note my observations.  Then on the next new moon- Tuesday, March 24- let's compare notes on new moon vs full moon.  Of course, if the apocalypse has started by then, we'll need to be careful not to attribute it entirely to one new and/or full moon.  

Observation this morning, 3/10/20:

The major force of the hour- the coronavirus- moves without reference to the moon.  Let's see if that holds true as March 24 approaches.  Horoscope for Capricorn: Shut up and go back to sleep.

This ends my attempt to write inspired prose every morning at 4am.