Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Great Conjunction of 2020


Are you ready for the Great Conjunction of 2020? That is when the planets Saturn and Jupiter seem to line up, as seen from Earth. The point of closest alignment happens to happen on December 21 which happens to be the Solstice. The last time this conjunction occurred was over 800 years ago and a previous occurrence was supposedly what the Three Magi took for an extra bright star which they followed to Bethlehem. They were probably early astronomers who were tracking the transits of the planets. Somehow over time they morphed into Kings from the East.

As Catherine Bateson observed, man constructs meaning as spiders make webs. Humans are the myth-making species. Out of the orbits of these two planets which have been plodding the same route from the universe began, their apparent alignment at this time will suggest many scenarios, especially in this age of conspiracy theories. Will it be seen as the return of the Christmas Star and whatever that portends? Will it announce the Second Coming? The End of the World? Or has Elon Musk secretly been manipulating planetary orbits? 

Certainly 2020 has been a momentous year and this may be a fitting finale signalling the end is near, alternatively a hopeful sign for the future, depending on your perspective. But then, guess what? The planets will be aligned again in another 29 years. Gosh darn, these heavenly bodies seem to have a mind of their own and will not conform to our little notional boxes.

Much is made of conjunctions in astrology, portending significant trends and events, Grand Conjunctions even more so. Jupiter and Saturn are heavies in astrological lore. In cosmic terms, they are not a thing, the alignments and ascribed relationships perceptible and applicable only from an Earth perspective. Human subjectivity makes out patterns and ascribes meaning to them. Some find Jesus in toast. If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound? Planets are always and already in some kind of spatial relationship to each other but it takes someone to perceive a pattern and give meaning to it.

The Solstice is more of a thing. Viewed from any point of the universe, the distribution of light on the Earth's surface varies annually due to the angle of the planet's axis in its orbit around the Sun whether anyone records it or not. Similarly, molecules aggregate into RNA proteins that enter organisms and use their cells to replicate, until the organisms' immune systems neutralize it, or not. Covid-19 is not something to believe in or not. It is a thing, not subject to human interpretation that it is not real, that it was made in a lab for biological warfare, that Bill Gates, or villain of choice, has some nefarious intent. If a vaccine is successful in tamping down the pandemic, the combination of proteins we call Covid will morph until it is successful in replicating itself once more. This is called mutation. This is how biological evolution proceeds. We likewise can develop herd immunity in response.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Working title

I have not been able to write. This is a deliberate, self-conscious, willful attempt to force, cajole, entice, inveigle, prime myself back into some semblance of discipline, practice, habit. If it seems forced, contrived, pedantic, labored, it is. Sure, writer's block is an occupational hazard that comes with the territory. In my case, despite having four ongoing unfinished projects, i have not written in three years, not since i left Thailand, not for all the time i've been in Portugal.

I keep finding excuses: it's cold, my sinusitis, dry cough, plumbing problems, bureaucratic obligations, the cats, cooking... Or i distract myself with social media, Wikipedia edits, translations, Facebook group posts and calendar. Well, the posts kinda count, i tell myself, as they constitute a substantial digital trail, much of it original content.

After three years of non-production, i had to pull myself up short to examine just what is operating. At first, i was demoralized by 2 computer crashes in which i lost files which had not been backed up. I could not bear the thought of going back to rewrite what i had struggled to set down. There would be the frustration of remembering what, how i wrote, of re-conjuring particular turns of phrase wrested from the ether; the fear of leaving out something of import i had already included, of having to re-research, re-reconstruct. And i hate nothing worse than having to do things over. Which is why i hate cleaning; as soon as you are done, you have do it all over again.

The problem is existential.

In the earth crisis that is upon us, what does it matter that i write or what i write? Human survivors will be doing just that, staying alive, holding on to what is left of culture and civilization, making do with the remnants, having to improvise, to adapt to degraded conditions. No one will be interested or concerned with the memoirs of a 20th century Chinese-Jamaican activist, his poetry, or his philosophical musings on epistemology. His idea for a new economic paradigm is absolutely germane, but of not much help after the fact of global meltdown. Besides, that is already spelt out, awaiting refinement, development and implementation.

I have not ego enough to push through with these projects to become artifacts of a golden age, happened upon by some future scholar bent on escaping into the past, rather than treating with the post-apocalyptic present. 

This time i've run out of excuses. I moved into a cozy, romantic garret, perfect writer's retreat, tucked away in a delightful area, long enough now to be settled. Sure, i can complain about the plumbing, but that is par for the course in older Lisbon housing. But there is food in the fridge, dark chocolate brownies are cooling on the kitchen counter, and Patra is curled up comfortably on the couch.

Even if there is nothing i or anyone can do in the face of our collective doom, not Greta Thunberg as she readily admits, rather than be demotivated, demoralized, and immobilized into impotence, i may as well live the best i can, as much as i can, as long as i can.

I am writing. I have written.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Memento mori redux

I return to what appears to be my favorite subject, death. And why not? We are all born to die. That is why we are called mortals. We begin the process of dying the moment we are conceived. The assembly of elements and energies that coalesce into a unique event that each one of us is, is just that, another opportunity for the life force to express itself, trying out different forms and activities. That life force is powered by natural selection and genetic programming.

In true fractal correspondence, or recursiveness, the evolutionary process itself evolves. The trajectory of evolution has shifted from mere genetic variation to memetic development. Natural selection has progressed to encompass the realm of ideas, those combinations that favor not mere survival, but optimal thriving. The bulk of the human species is, however, still operating at reptilian levels, responding to genetic programming to ensure physical survival. Those that have managed to transcend to postgenetic programing in the realm of memes, are yet mostly caught in early memes which tend to bolster the base survival mechanisms around food, sex, and status.

These primitive memes include tribal culture, religion, and my hobbyhorse, the monetary system. These tend to operate at the level of binary and magical thinking that sustains and reinforces themselves and each other. A delusional mythology is perpetrated so unconsciously and pervasively it becomes orthodoxy. Critical thinking, based on logic, rationality, objective evidence, and scientific inquiry are rare, if not actively discouraged. The fable of the Emperor's New Clothes is instructive.

These musings have been whirling around in my head for a while but setting them out was prompted by learning of the passing of Sharon Thomas, a singular event i was privileged to witness briefly when she and i were students of Religious Science at the Temple of Light in Kingston, Jamaica, some twenty-odd years ago. She was an angel, a boddhisattva, an emanation of Erzulie, or a singularity - choose the metaphor that matches your worldview - if ever there was one. Certainly her passing is an occasion of grief for her family and friends, each bringing their own hermeneutic response (HR) determined by their worldview, to the loss.

Some may resign themselves to God calling her home, taking back what was always his. Others that she is finally freed of suffering, resting in eternity after years of toiling in the vineyard. That dying on Good Friday indicates a special place in heaven. That she is reunited with her mother who predeceased her three years ago. That she has gone on to greater glory. You know them all and likely have used one or the other when offering condolences. These ready, often automatic, socially-sanctified responses allow us avoid facing fear and anxiety around our own mortality and inevitable death.

My own HR is that she has reverted to source, the elements of which her body was composed recycled back into circulation, never to reconstitute in that particular configuration again; the non-physical aspects revert to the undifferentiated ether, also not ever taking the particular concatenation that we know as Sharon. She has simply returned to what she was before she was born. My other takeaway is to appreciate individual life, my own and others'. I'm reminded to get done what i want to get done. This is the only opportunity to be just me, in just this way, just now, in all of eternity. This is the gift of life which most people choose to squander, caught up in genetically-programmed drives and postgenetic delusions.   

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Done with it ... not

Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.
~ John Lennon

Thought i had finished writing about health issues but the universe seems to have other ideas. I had planned to write about the lead-up to my momentous decision to relocate as folks seem to be interested in hearing about that.

There i was continuing exploration of my new abode, walking 3 km in the broiling sun to find Organic Home Farmers Market, only to find it closed - they open on Tuesdays and Thursdays and it was Wednesday - when i was subsequently laid low, as it were, by "bad feelings" as we say in Jamaica. I'd had slight intimations the previous week or so but this time i had to lie down.

The old familiar symptoms had returned insisting they not be so easily forgotten: the tightness in the left breast, twinges in the left armpit, uneven breathing, irregular heartbeat. When i can feel my heart working, i know there is a problem. An MRI 6 years ago had shown blockage of the coronary arteries more severe than 85% of men my age based on calcium score. That's the indirect way they state the results. Normally the heart works away quietly and imperceptibly in the background. 3 years ago i embarked on a no-added fat diet (coined the word 'nafvegan' to describe it) and my symptoms went away. This intervention had been inspired by the work of Drs. Ornish, McDougall and Esselstyn. (See also The China Study and Forks Over Knives.)

Since quitting DC i've tried to stick to vegan fare, difficult at that is when travelling, acquiescing to the unavoidably ubiquitous larding of cooking oil, sort of a holiday from discipline. I was savoring all the new taste sensations, flavor combinations and subtleties.

Thai vegan street food 

Fresh, tasty ingredients with flavors of coconut,
holy basil, galangal, keffir lime leaves.
Take-away containers
The oil content made visible

I had gotten away with it up to now but 6 weeks of subsisting on what invariably oil-cooked vegan food i could find had finally caught up with me.

So it's back to the kitchen. One of the reasons i came to Thailand was for what i anticipated was the abundance of fresh, delicious vegan food available on every street corner, but i had not counted on the amount of oil used in its preparation. I was intending to spend less time at the stove and more at the computer working on the 3 projects i have in mind. The best laid plans of mice and men ...  


Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Healthy back story

Some have remarked on how courageous I am to have picked up and moved half-way across the world. It does take some courage but the alternative stagnation, is a fate worse than death. And memento mori did have a critical part to play. Despite dragging my self to the gym 3 days a week, sitting all day at the computer, I felt the life force ebbing away. Aches and cramps, loss of flexibility, slight dizziness, and losing my balance, compounded by symptoms of BPH (enlarged prostate) were undeniable signs of aging.

An EMI test showed severe blockage of the coronary arteries, an alarming surprise since I have adhered assiduously to a healthy lifestyle, being vegetarian for over 30 years, and vegan the last five (clarification here: I coined the term domestic vegan to describe being vegan at home, but relaxing restrictions when traveling or on the few occasions I ate out). My cholesterol readings were not excessively high but I had been having bouts of tightening of the chest, palpitations, shortness of breath, and low energy. The cardiologist prescribed statins. Not favoring drugs of any kind, I declined, determined to find alternative means of alleviating the symptoms, if not reversing the condition. I reacquainted myself with the work of Dr. Dean Ornish whose book “Reversing and Preventing Heart Disease,” I used to promote after I met one of his recovering patients. I also discovered Drs. Esselstyn, Fuhrman and McDonald. Ornish's most famous patient is perhaps Bill Clinton, interviewed in a CNN documentary by Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Dr. Esselstyn is also featured in the documentary Forks Over Knives, along with researcher Dr Colin Campbell whose book The China Study provides statistical support.

Having adhered strictly to the no-added oil regime, within two years I was symptom-free and, as an added benefit, my blood pressure which had been pre-hypertensive fell to normal levels. Another side-effect of the no-added fat diet is severe weight loss. My weight dropped from 142 to 120, the same I weighed when I was 18. To stem any further weight loss I added back avocados and nuts to my diet with no adverse effects, concluding that perhaps only those with severe heart disease need adhere strictly to the no-added fat rule. I add minimal amounts of coconut or olive oil for flavor at the end of making certain dishes, being careful not to heat them as that changes their molecular structure, turning them into inflammatories. I have regained my energy and vigor and realized that instead of an early death alone in my apartment in DC, I had been given a new lease on life. What to do with it?

My hermeneutic response (subject of another piece) was that I had further work to do and though i'm probably good for another 20 years, I should waste no time winding down but get up and go. The challenge was how to stretch my limited financial resources to cover this extended life. The answer was to move someplace with a lower cost of living.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Life changes have prompted me to resume writing merely to record and share my thoughts with any that may be interested in a somewhat different take/tack.

Being practical and self-serving, i've accepted the reality that the monetary system is not going away any time soon. My limited financial resources are inadequate to sustain me at even my current frugality in Washington DC. Moving to another location in the US would be marginally better, best candidates from what i gather, being Mississippi, Alabama, or Detroit, but these places hold no appeal for me; perhaps Detroit, were i younger with the requisite energy and stamina for the phoenical challenge it holds for rebuilding from the ground up.

So i've decided to pull up roots and leave DC for a setting which requires less monetary tokens to survive. I had considered Costa Rica and Panama, and was drawn to Ecuador for its progressive policies, but Thailand won the day simply because i had a connection there.

Sidewalk sale to unload stuff accumulated over 15 years despite attempting to live simply
Seeing that my studio apartment in DC was part of a rapidly dwindling stock of affordable housing, i had wanted to extend that benefit to someone in need by sub-letting the unit. There were four prospective applicants but for one reason or another, none came through. Rather than prolong the process, i surrendered my lease, disposed of most of my stuff, putting the balance, mostly books, in storage. I have to confess i was very touched at the expressions of regret at my departure from friends and from some i barely knew. Disrupting the few real connections i made saddens me but i am consoled that i'm still as connected by means of the internet.

Off i flew to Thailand, mostly on blind faith, or depending on your point of view, on a mere whim.    

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Of course, i dream a lot but few have been striking enough that i would want to record them - until this morning.

I'm climbing up what seems to be a sheer rock face, one that's been designed, much like one of those impossible scenarios typical of video games. Each pixel of this contrived universe is a three-dimensional cube rather than a square, so irregularities in the rock surface provide stable toeholds, making my ascent swift and almost effortless. I realize i'm wearing only my beat-up bedroom slippers but that does not hinder my progress. There is an unidentified colleague a short distance below me and to my right, intent on reaching the top in friendly rivalry. We feel we are about to breach the top when i realize there is a cast concrete ceiling that caps the entire structure preventing further progress. On closer examination, i can just make out a terrace set back in the cliff face, and just below the ceiling. Preparations are being made for an exclusive party with tables and chairs set out.

Climbing the rock face represents the formidable task of taking on the monetary system on which the entire world as we know it is built. On closer examination, this is a man-made, artificial world. What is constructed, can be deconstructed. Its intrinsic properties provide the toeholds that allow access. The bedroom slippers signify that i am not particularly prepared, nor suited, for this task, yet i am able to perform effectively. The colleague represents others necessary for the process but who do not grasp the extent as fully as i do, and while actively seeking alternatives, are somewhat conservative/conventional/cautious in their approach. The concrete ceiling gives the appearance of impenetrability, an insurmountable barrier since it offers no purchase, but the party on the terrace, representing unconscionable "high living" provides an opening. There is no security since no one is expected to approach from this side.

The whole video game sense of unreality reflects my belief that all of existence is leela, a game. It is nothing more than Being playing itself. This world-view makes it easy to recognize the game that the monetary economy is. It is just as easy then to change the game as it is to change the rules. The impenetrable fortress that the Powers That Be have constructed can be breached not only by the lack of vigilance at the top, but by the very greed and uncaring consumption that typifies the elite.

Note: Never play video games, yet this meme obviously fit the bill.