"A good example is the best sermon." - Thomas Fuller


May 29th, 2008

Welcome to today's episode of Programming 101 for the Philosophically Inclined by Aslynn S. Meyers, Copyright © 2008 The Green Pygmies, All Rights Reserved, Etc. In this class we will learn about two of the most basic programming building blocks (specifically decision making and looping), error handling, and finally an introduction to interfaces and contracts. Today's lesson should take approximately ten to fifteen minutes.


As you already know computer programs are written in special languages called computer programming languages. Programming languages are necessary because, unlike humans, computers require specific and unambiguous directions in order to perform a specific task. While there are thousands of programming languages most share the same fundemental building blocks, two of which I will now discuss: decision making and iteration statements.

Decision Making Blocks:

Decision making is, as the name implies, a means by which a program makes choices. The most simple form is the IF...THEN statement. For instance:

IF 2 = (1 + 1) THEN Print "1 + 1 = 2 don't ya know!?"

This is one line from a computer language called "Basic" (of which there are many varieties). "Running" or "Executing" this line of the program will cause the text "1 + 1 = 2 don't ya know!?" to be printed to the screen. Why? Because the algebraic statement 1 + 1 = 2 will always be true. Since its silly to check for something that's always true lets say what we've actually written is a mathematics program for first graders where the student is asked "What is 1 + 1?" and their answer is stored in the variable: myAnswer.

The logic is then:

IF myAnswer = 2 THEN Print "You answered right!  High five!!!"

It's also possible to do something if the student wasn't right. For instance we could do this:

IF myAnswer = 2 THEN 
   Print "You answered right!" 
   Print "Sorry, try again." 


Iteration, as the name implies, is the process of doing something more than once. One of the simplest types of iteration in programming is found in the WHILE...LOOP statement. Put another way, WHILE something is true do something.

For example:

NumberOfCandles = 0
MyAge = 34
WHILE NumberOfCandles < MyAge
	NumberOfCandles = NumberOfCandles + 1
Print "You have " + NumberOfCandles + " on your birthday cake!"

Simply put, the WHILE...LOOP checks NumberOfCandles and keeps executing the code inside the loop until NumberOfCandles = MyAge which is 34. The addition operation inside loop will occur 34 times.

Philosophical Meanderings:

Since your very first day out of the womb you've been combining IF...THEN...ELSE statements within WHILE...LOOP blocks--and you didn't even know you were doing it! Here's a basic algorithm all of us are born with:

WHILE I'm uncomfortable/unhappy
Someone will come and make me comfortable/happy.
I am ignored and continue to be uncomfortable/unhappy. END IF

Nature has built this amazing mechanism into our brains which naturally causes us to interact with our environment, observe the outcome, and then interact with it again over and over and over again in a loop until we can create a logical set of IF...THEN statements. The more experimentation we engage in and the more we observe the outcomes of our actions the more IF...THEN's we have, the more control we have over our external universe, and the more confident we tend to be.

Likewise our programming can be externally influenced.

Parents, if they have the emotional and social health of their children in mind, will at some point stop responding to a toddler that is crying because they know (at least on a subconscious level) that always going to the aid of a crying toddler results in a toddler that relys on increasingly unbridled displays of emotions when they feel uncomfortable or happy (what was a normal behavior as a baby is now termed "throwing a tantrum"). Thoughtful coders--I mean parents--will write their own algorithm in order to modify that of the toddlers as shown below:

WHILE My child is crying obnoxiously
IF I ask them what is wrong and they calmly explain what they want/need THEN
Give them what they want/need to be comfortable/happy.
Patiently explain that they need to calmly explain what they want/need.

The hoped modification to the child's programming is then:

WHILE I'm uncomfortable/unhappy
	IF I calmly explain what I want/need THEN
		Someone will come and make me comfortable/happy.
		I am told to calmly verbalize what I want/need

Ideally the toddler's behavior is reprogrammed the first time around and with really good, consistent parents it can be. Unfortunately, unlike computers humans need to iterate a few more times before we start to get something. While typing is all one needs to tell a computer program to do Y instead of X, consistency and repitition are perhaps one of a parent's best allies.

In tomorrow's lesson we will discuss different types of programming errors, in particular run time and logic errors, compare them to the human concept of irrationality, then offer up a solution known as error handling.

May 25th, 2008

The Gadsden Flag, first used by the early American Colonies, was one of the first flags used by the United States.  While I'd love to sit here and summarize my knowledge of this ancient American symbol I'll simply point you to Wikipedia which does a heckofapedia job.

The most obvious symbolism, and why the image came to my mind recently, is that of a powerful and possibly dangerous creature, specifically a rattle snake, giving fair warning that it isn't something to be triffled with.  Contrary to Biblical Literalists snakes cannot talk but the rattle, for those who have been anywhere near one of these bad boys, is easily translated into "Don't tread on me" or, in the modern parlance, "Don't fuck with me."

Another reason the snake was used (thank you Wikipedia) was to represent the early colonies and how unified they had strength to fight against the British "dragon"--while interesting, it's not relevant to what I wish to discuss today.

So let's go back in time several hundred years to the day this flag was used and we see thirteen colonies struggling to define themselves. Some had legalized slavery, others did not. Some benefited from farming, others commerce, while others were centers of knowledge, culture, and learning. And contrary to popular opinion (or what might even be described as liberal history telling) only one out of every three colonists was a Revolutionist, the others didn't want to rock the boat: they were loyal to the English crown.

The colonies were young, evolving slowly, defining themselves, and discovering the nature of freedom and justice for all.

The Gadsden Flag, while seemingly antagonistic, is simply a statement of liberty the English failed to heed. Intellectuals, politicians, and learned men united under this flag trying, time and time again, to communicate their disagreement with the higher and higher taxes being levied against them. Letters were written, protests were organized, and men dressed up as indians destroyed a boat load of tea just to make one simple point: Don't tread on us.

King George III didn't recognize these warnings for what they were, valid and legitimate complaints by breathing human beings, his loyal subjects, and why should he?

1) He commanded the most powerful military in human history.
2) He wrote the laws.
3) The colonies were meant to keep a foothold in the New World and transfer wealth back to the crown--didn't these pesky Colonists know their place?

And so what did George and the British government do?

1) Levied more taxes.
2) Legislated more constricting laws.
3) Punished those who dared to speak out.

So finally, after numerous attempts to be heard and work towards a positive non-violent solution, those who knew the taxes to be unjust, the laws to be unfair, and the limitations of their speech to be an infringement on their humanity, stood up in unison and said they would no longer tolerate such treatment. These men for whom the words, "Give me liberty or give me death," resonated had given King George fair warning and yet King George made the worst decision he possibly could, he ignored them until one in three, enough to sustain a successful revolution, felt they had nothing left to loose anymore.

Hundreds of years later we've got a different George but surprisingly he reacts similarly when things don't go his way, just with bigger and arguably more expensive bombs. Should we be surprised, then, when our children get a bill numbering in the billions or even trillions?

I'm not.

May 20th, 2008

One of my favourite radio programs is Coast to Coast AM. For those of you who haven't heard of it it's essentially a show about all things paranormal, weird, occult, and spiritual. Common topics include but aren't limited to: UFOs, space aliens, big foot, Satan worshipers, crop circles, genetically modified foods, cloning, space, alternate realities and dimentions. Some guests, such as Michio Kaku, are widely renouned and respected for their work while others, such as Richard C(razy Fuck) Hoagland are arguably...arguably...well, they create enough interest to support themselves with their ideas.

Oh, my Lord, if only I could do that here!...but I digress...

Though I love the show and listen to the guests regardless of whether or not I agree with them (indeed one of the primary reasons I listen is to challenge my point of view) there are some (ignorant/paranoid) points of view I can't stand. Just as I dislike the actions of a bigot, homophobe, or a religious zealot, I do not respect the views of those who spout fear against a "One World Government". The paranoia against a world government seems, to me at least, based in Judaic teachings, a paranoia stemming from the Book of Revelations, an irrational fear that if we recognize the world as a fairly small place and govern ourselves under one organization and set of guidelines that we'd somehow loose our cultures (bullshit) and bring about the apocolypse (wtf?).

The world is a small place. Our resources are too limited, our ability to effect the economies and environments of countires on the other side of the world is undeniable, and we have this uncanny inability to stop killing each other whenever someone looks at us funny. So I think it's time, it's damn time, we put together a world organization with a constitution and a bill of rights that gets us, as a race, a species, and planet, on the same page.

Here are some ideas:

1. All countries are to be included and have representation. While some would argue against this the reality is we all share the planet therefore we all must be represented.

2. All nations are to be represented equally. Presently a handful of powerful nations in the U.N. have the biggest say and they use their power to...well, fuck over everyone else. That needs to stop. Our decisions must not be made by those with the most money or firepower, but by everyone in a balanced, equinanimous way.

3. Laws are to be defined that apply to all nations. Right now we have something like that, but truth is, if you're big enough, have large enough guns, well, nobody stands up to you and the laws fall to the wayside. Isn't it time superpowers stopped fucking over everyone else as has been the case since recorded history?

4. War is defined. That is, the organization defines when it is acceptable for another country to wage war (for instance, in defense of one's borders). If it's decided a country has waged war illegally ALL other nations commit themselves to stop it. Immediately. Could you imagine a reality where the entire world steps in to immediately put a stop to an unjust war or genocide?

5. War crimes are defined. Once defined, any leader irregardless of country could be tried and thrown in prison. You hear that Bush? Russia? China? Point is, if everyone isn't held accountable, if everyone isn't on equal footing, then the reality will always be that the victors will write the history, fudge the laws. The Saddams will always hang for the crimes others enabled him to commit.

Anyway, just some high level ideas to throw out there and yes, I know, probably won't happen in my life time if at all. We're all too busy frightening ourselves over shadows and woah, gotta go, new episode of American Idle's on!!!

May 19th, 2008

Sometimes my home is just the place I go after work. At other times my home is a place I go to escape from the heat...or the cold. Sometimes my home is a place to rest and at other times my house is a place to prepare. Sometimes my home is a place to improve myself and sometimes my house is something to improve...which I suppose in some roundabout way improves me.

My home isn't grand.

It has a small patchy lawn and a two car garage with only one working door. The front door never closes unless you latch the deadbolt and the carpets are often covered in black cat hair and I do not have a maid. The walls in the entranceway are a subtle light blue and in the adjoining hallway a bright, Crayola blue. The hot tub, something I'd fixed after a year or two here, is broken again, needing a new water heater and the bedrooms, well, the bedrooms are quite small compared to a modern homes'.

From time to time my parents come to visit: they sleep in the art room which I'm in the process of tearing apart. Sometimes my girlfriend comes: we make dinner, watch a movie, or play a board game. And every other week the thirteen year old I've treated like a daughter for about seven spends her afternoons and evenings with me, talking about her friends, homework, and what have you. But mostly, like tonight, it's just me sitting here at the desk, watching a documentary, finding something to do, reading a book, doing my physical therapy excercises, and what have you.

Sometimes my home is the place I go to because it's the only place I feel I've got. Sometimes my home is the place I stretch my legs and sit down for dinner. Sometimes my home is just a place I stop to pick something up on my way somewhere else. All these things make up my home but most of all, my home is the one place in the world where things make sense, where I feel complete, and safe. This is my castle, built out of hard work and courage, the transformation of a dream, slowly at least, piece by piece, it is not grand, but it is wonderful none-the-less.

My frog crawls
On the blackened red pebbles
Of my lonely thoughts,
And hunts the green candle
Outside his bowl
Where patchouli rises.
It seems to me
Like his shadow
On my desk,
And the goldfish,
That when I see the sun,
Through dirty window,
I am not alone.

May 19th, 2008

When you're in a lot of pain and you're in a lot of pain for a very long time, when you don't know whether or not you'll feel better from one day to the next, where exercises, interventions, drugs, and the like, don't always mean an improvement, when you live that experience day in and day out, some things are more clear than they have ever been while others, things you'd once taken for granted, seem like they exist only behind a thick fog of memory.

The idea of starting a family, for instance, something I've wanted all my life and has likewise so often seemed just outside my grasp, now the very idea feels so very far from a possible reality, after all, how would I take care of a baby, much less do my part in a partnership, if in a year I, and not for lack of trying, find myself in a wheel chair? And honestly it's hard to dream anymore, hard to really dream or focus on anything but getting better, on not hurting...everything else seems so distant and impossible and unreal to me at times except pain management, my job, my daughter, my girlfriend...and after all that, no energy for anything else...

On the other hand whereas in the past I would have had patience for those who act in ways I find distasteful, I now find myself moving on without a backwards glance. I just spent over nine hours of my free Sunday stuck on the couch in debilitating pain, I don't have time or energy for anyone who lacks the fundamental character traits of honesty, integrity, or honor. It's simply a matter of economics: not enough energy for that bullshit.

I also find myself having minor mood swings, usually in the form of wanting to do something, something I am usually incapable of doing, due to pain, or should not do, due to not wanting to make things worse. Very often I want to read or write, just do something where I can be still but express my thoughts or learn something about the world around me, but…oh so many buts…but the truth is, sitting for any length of time at a desk tends to be tantamount to asking for the pain to hit me and if I'm in pain or on meds much of what I read goes in one ear and out the other.

I find myself thinking a great deal on life, the impermanence of it, and the arguable stupidity of our leaders who are not actively engaging in the creation of a more peaceful world where we are getting along, sharing resources fairly, and insuring the health and well being of all people. I try not to allow my pain to color my perception of things but the truth is, our leaders are playing political games and all over the country and the world people are dying unnecessarily, losing their homes and jobs for no good reason, and so on and so forth, just so few can have more than many. If that isn't a sign of a corrupt and diseased culture/species I don't know what is.

I think on my life too. I remember a time, fifteen-twenty years back, where this much pain and the additional stress of other areas of my life, would have just pushed me over the edge. But somehow, someway, over those years I've gained an enormous amount of strength and perspective. Pain is just pain, I somehow know, difficulty is just difficulty, I hear a voice in my mind and heart remind me, I cannot find tomorrow better than today if I give up or in nor can I allow the fact that today was worse than yesterday destroy hope because tomorrow may very well be better than today.

Mostly, it brings on a great deal of humility. I've always known what I've wanted but really, for the most part, have only been able to find what I can build with my own two hands or buy as a result of the sweat of a few forty, fifty, and sixty hour weeks. I didn't plan this, couldn't really have planned for it, was young and getting into better shape when my knee went out and slowly, ever so slowly, everything from the waist down started to go downhill. I went to see the experts, I tried and tried to take care of myself, and have spent thousands in that endevour, and yet here I am, typing, hurting, typing, hoping…you never know if you'll be the one that gets hit by a car, if you'll be the one that never procreates, if you'll be the one who's partner cheats on you, if you'll be the one that finds a lump in your breast, if you'll be the one who looses their job, their house, you just don't know.

All you can do is your best. Keep your chin up. Tell the truth. Be fair. Take responsibility for your words and behavior. Be honest with yourself so that you can be honest with others. Look past your ego, give of yourself, and listen. Do that. Regardless of where you end up, king or pauper, that is a good life.

May 16th 2008,

Lately I've felt like I've been on a quest, a journey, an exploration into the unknown, going where no man--no one--has gone before, looking, searching, seeking something farther out and beyond where I've ever been before, trying to find something so shy, so cunning, that it jumps farther out every time I try to put my hands around it. Strangly, as soon as I think I'm at my wit's end it's not where I thought it was.

Does it have legs?

A month ago, for instance, when I realized I couldn't work for more than a few hours without dizzying pain I went to the doctor thinking this was it, they just had to discover what was wrong with me. Went in, got the same old, "Try physical therapy for a few months and see if that helps," but said, "No, I really want an MRI, I want to know what's wrong with me, I've been in constant and increasing pain for three years now and I've been to a chiropractor, two joint specialists, massage therapists, and a acupuncturist, I need us to stop taking shots in the dark, find out what's wrong and do what's right to fix it!" I was at my wit's end.

Wobbled into my MRI a few days later in a fair amount of pain (thank the Goddess the doctor had given me a prescription or I might have crawled in...okay, slightly melodramatic...but not). A few days later I get a call. They found something. I'm thinking, "YES! YES! YES!"

You have no idea what a relief it was to hear a test had finally turned up a problem! I won't go into the litany of medical experiences I've had these past few years but long story short, the only symptom I ever seem to have to almost any medical condition is PAIN. X-rays, cat scans, MRI's, blood tests, all useless, and always a doctor nearby to make some snide remark like, "Sorry, there's no such thing as a pain scan, you'll just have to live with it."

I had begun to believe I was a space alien.

My brief conversation with the nurse had me going to my human anatomy and physiology book to look up the nerve fiber mappings for L5-S1, a disk in the lower back. Sure enough it could account for many of the symptoms I'd been feeling over the years...but when I finally spoke with my doctor she said that it wouldn't normally account for the level or areas of pain I was experiencing.


So what the hell, I can have hope and it makes sense, mess up the back, pain down the leg. I go back to physical therapy, back to the same lovely-wonderful lady I was seeing before, and instead of looking at my knee this time she looks at my back and hips and goes, "Oh yeah, definitely can see it now," and as quickly as that we're doing the right excercises to strengthen my back which, we discover, is screwed up from about L1 thru L5-S1.


But she's hopeful and has helped people with much worse so I'm hopeful (even if there's something nagging at the bag of my mind still). I have a pain management plan in place and am doing excercises, both of which make it possible to get through a day at work (which at this point would have been impossible without medication). And I needed not just hope, but a feeling that I wasn't giving up, that I was going to continue my day to day responsibilities, keep my promises, get things done...even if it meant crashing like a rock by 9 or 10pm.

And things were going good. I finished the outside of the DVD shelf I've not done much work on for years due to pain (physical, psychological, and emotional). And some days I would feel better. So I'd say cool, I won't take any pain killers this morning, see how far I can go...and boom, 11am and I'm leaning over my desk grunting like a sasquatch in heat.

Trust me, you don't wanna know what that looks like.

So I pop my meds, stretch, walk around the office. Try to work standing up. Try to work on my knees. Feel a little better, a little better, and realize I'm on enough pain killers to knock an elephant out but am in as much pain as I was a month ago without pain killer.

Oh, wit's end, are we there yet?

Don't fret, though, there's still hope. One time while in physical therapy my lovely therapist asks if I want to try their tens unit again. We'd tried it on my knee two years back and while it felt okay, the improvements didn't last past the moment I left the front door of the office--but I like to keep an open mind so I say sure, they hook up the electrodes, put some hot pads on the table, and I lay down for fifteen minutes feeling the strange rythmic cycling of electricity pulse over my lower back.

I get up. She asks how I'm feeling. I shrug. I don't know. I can never really answer so quickly, I need to listen to my body and take some time to think about what it's telling me (instead of just telling it what I think it should be telling me). I pick up the print outs with my new excercises. I walk out to the door. My back feels completely relaxed. I feel no pain in my hips, knees, or ankles. I'll say that again, I felt NO pain in my hips, knees, or ankles. And the next two hours were about the only time in two years where I was absolutely pain free without the help of medication or leveraging a few glasses of wine on a Friday evening.

No pain. None.

So the next time in I say, "Wow, that machine did nothing for my knee but did miracles for my back, if I could buy one of those--" and she stops me and says, "We have portable units, your insurance should cover it." A few hours later I'm talking to my doctor about pain management, get a signature for the tens unit, go back to my therapist the following Monday, pick one up, and...

And so began the experiment.

I started using it at night as I laid in my adjustable bed reading. Pulse, pulse, pulse. I was slowly able to turn the voltage up higher and higher, without it feeling painful, and if I did it for thirty minutes or so I would get up afterwards and feel an extraordinary reduction in pain.


Next experiment, I take it to work. I think about using it but I don't. I feel silly. What if someone sees me putting it on? What are they going to think? I'm a cyborg? Will they expect to see me with other medical equipment in my cube next week? Will I soon have the machine that goes "BING!"?

Two days ago at around 11am the pain was just terrible yet I'd taken two (yes, count that folks: 1 + 1 = 2) Vicadin. I'd stretched. I'd worked on my feet and knees. I'd tried sitting in three different chairs and using a pillow.

Man, I was at my freakin' wit's end!

Out of the brief case comes the tens unit. I put it on my desk to my right, look around self consciously, then lift my shirt and begin placing the four electrodes on my back, two on both sides of L5-S1 and two on both sides of L1. I turn it on and gradually, over 30 minutes, raise the power to an incredible cresendo of electrical pulsing, buzzzzzzz, dot-dot-dot, buzzzzzz, dot-dot-dot, and I realize not only is the pain in my back nearly gone, but also in my butt, which hurts worst when I sit (a nerve condition which has a scientific name I forget and am frankly too lazy too look up at this late hour).

According to the literature nobody knows why these little electrical things work. One theory is it tricks the spinal cord into turning off pain receptors. Another theory is that it causes the body to release endorphins. Okay, either or both might be true, but even so I wasn't having much if any pain in my leg anymore, not like I had before, and additionally Vicadin wasn't stopping the pain and it does pretty much the same thing happy endorphins do, it stops pain receptors too, if I'm not terribly mistaken, so something else had to be going on.

Personal theory: by artifically stimulating the muscles and arteries in my spine I was both strengthening them and getting more nutrients to any damaged tissues in my spinal column.

So I'm feeling pretty darn hopeful and happy that I can leverage this technological wonder along with the pain medication, stretches, and excercises, to finally get myself back in tip-top shape. Get to work this morning, connect the unit, and as it pulses I feel the muslces in the right side of my stomach start twitching. At least four or five inches from the electrodes this shouldn't be happening but I realize, all too quickly, that the twitching maps directly to the pain I've been having on the right side of my spine near L1 for the last two month. For those of you who don't know nerves are a lot like wiring in a house, they are surrounded by sheaths that keep them insulated from each other and the rest of the body. If I put the electrods on any other part of my spine and turn it up the insulation keeps the shocks from being transmitted up or down the spinal cord however I was clearly having a twitch in my stomach indicating possible damage to that sheath. Long and short of that, I realized I not only had to be careful about placement of the electrodes, but how high I could set the tens unit too.

Hope diminishing...

And then around 1pm the batteries die. Two hours later I'm dying. Screw it, I says, and pop another pain pill. Gotta make it to 5pm.

I make it to 5:30! Woohoo!

Anyway, I'm rambling tonight but I feel like lately, especially in 2008, I can't go a week without Murphy's Law teaching me another lesson in humility and keep on keepin' on. Sometimes I think I must just be a negative person, I can't possibly be a shit magnet, but then I get home on the hottest day of the year, first day the house is as hot as an oven, and the AC is suddenly broken. I'm serious folks, while I'm trying to have a positive attitude I seem to attract statistical improbabilities!

AC was broken but I didn't give up. No, folks, I took off my shirt and started messing with the thermostat. I went outside to make sure the big boxy thingy out there (something they call a "condenser") was free of debris and running and indeed it was. I came inside, browsed to How Stuff Works, and learned all about Air Conditioning systems, in particular about the relationship between the condenser and evaporator. I run back downstairs, sweating profusely the whole time, of course, and I open up the evaporator and clean out the filters and discover that a switch seems to have some dust and grit in it so I clean that, get the evaporator fan to start going again, then wait...and wait...and wait...still not working...getting hotter...wit's end seemingly closer than ever...dying from heat...drinking cold liquids...drinking...finally after two hours realize it's probably time to give up, it's most likely out of freon and it's time for someone to come take a look at it.

I should also mention a side-effect of the AC situation: the ten unit's electrods won't stick to sweaty skin.

It never rains in the Pacific NorthWest...

Screw it, I said, then finished painting and now I'm done!

May 11th, 2008

It should come as no surprise to anyone in this great country of ours that those political parties with money are typically those political parties that end up in office. Since they're all too aware their strength is in large part a result of their wealth they have no real motivation for changing the current system except in cases it handi-caps the opposition (i.e. Democrat vs. Republican--they don't give a rats ass about third parties because they aren't threatened by social movements that don't have large monetary backing).

My solution?

Stop it. That's right, put an end to "campaign financing". I say every person interested in running for public office gets a stipend for their political campaign. The stipend is tax payer funded. The size of the stipend is determined by the office sought (a local small town mayor, for instance, would have a very small stipend compared to someone running for President). Also, in order to level the playing field all those running for a given office have the same stipend. Additionally, all advertising and such should be through the same mediums and is free, for instance, we have this little thing called National Public Radio, why not use this as a medium for allowing runners to, on a regular basis and equal basis, share their views, have debates, etc.--the point here we, the average American, are more important than any political party, they're there to serve us so the format information is conveyed should be objective, balance, and delivered in such a manner that you are I are getting everything we need to make an educated vote.

Now there will be many arguments about this, the strongest of these being it limits freedom of speech. So I have to ask, what is more important, that we have a true democracy where all are represented equally or we live under the rediculous illusion that we have free speach when the reality is those with the most green have the freest voice, those without have none.

It'll never happen but hey, one can dream of living in a Democracy some day, can't one???

May 9th, 2008

The Visitor is a film about a man with no passion.

On first look one would think it's his own doing, after all, here's an older guy who isn't passionate about his work, isn't exactly making an effort to connect with those around him, and who's only creative outlet appears more and more to be related to memories of his dead wife.

In his defense we must at the very least acknowledge that he is not manipulative or fraudulent. When backed into a corner with the paper he co-wrote--or more accurately, proof read--he clearly and honestly articulates his part, knowledge, but accepts the responsibility that's asked of him without emotional arguments. When spoken to as a child by his piano instructor his response is not to make snide comments but to simply acknowledge and then communicate his boundaries in an impersonal, non-judgmental manner.

While it is possible to have compassion and understanding for such a character it is also easy to believe they've brought it all upon themselves, this plodding lifestyle and arguably miserable day to day existence. Examining the film through this lens is more likely than not the common perception, the subplot we rest these events against. In this vein The Visitor is the story of a man who is broken, who needs to be shown the way, fixed, and it's only after being touched by the lives of warm, vibrant, loving, and passionate people does he learn to breathe again--but I just don't see it that way.

The Visitor is a film about a man without a home.

The most obvious support for this interpretation is the moment where everything begins, when he is surprised to find two other people living in his Manhattan apartment. Are they squatters? No, they've been living there for two months with the belief the apartment had been legitimately rented to them, it is their home, their sanctuary. The visitor has only shown up at his apartment out of obligation to his employer and has been absent so long he doesn't even recognize the neighbors anymore, he is the intruder, the stranger in a strange land.

His apartment is not the only physical place he is visiting, a place he has rarely or never been before, a place that does not feel like his own. Indeed, having had an apartment in Manhattan for nearly twenty years, an assumption that can be inferred from clues throughout the film, you'd think he'd have visited Ellis Island but no, that and so many other things, like stopping to watch a musician play at the subway station, were foreign to his experience. He was just passing through.

Interestingly while he has no place there are things often in his presence.

The pianos, for instance, one at each house, neither which he could play well, represents his longing to hold onto something beautiful from years past and the piano lessons are demonstrative of his sincere desire to transform something terrible into something beautiful (while others express they are "so sorry" for his loss he never does, he simply acknowledges it and continues attempting personal transformation). Additionally the pianos represent heavy objects that cannot be easily be transported from place to place and thus he must buy two, one for the city apartment, one for the house, and likewise they are expensive, the only major investment we know he has besides his car. Even his piano teacher has offered to purchase one because she sees he may not be getting good use out of something so cumbersome to him.

A more transportable item we see in his presence from the get-go is a glass of wine. Did you notice it's always a glass of red wine, red being the colour of blood, of love, of passion, of sacrifice? Whether it's practicing the piano, working on his book, or having dinner, the glass of wine is always there, his constant and only steady companion.

I can already hear you saying he doesn't exactly go out of his way to make connections with people but in his defense, what does he have in common with a loquacious neighbor who wants him to anthropomorphize his dog, a neighbor who has good intentions but absolutely no clue what it's like to loose the most important person in their life. And yes, one could argue he was curt and lacking emotiveness towards his piano teacher but in turn did he ask to be criticized and condescended, like some nine year old child learning to play scales? Indeed, it was only when a stranger who has been illegally living in his home offers to teach him to play the djembe, to play the djembe with him without judgment, does he begin to feel safe enough to take a risk and make a solid connection with another human being again.

I don't feel I can make that point strongly enough: he does not open himself to another human being until someone offers to do something with him on the same level, as a peer, without expectation or judgment.

You might argue that he had every opportunity to do this before but I would counter that with the claim that he has. Take for example the time he sat down for dinner with his new friend's mother and she thoughtfully inquired about the difficulties he was having writing his book. His reaction, to dismiss her by saying she wouldn't understand the stress a writer faces, has nothing to do with her and everything to do with a pent up sense of loneliness in his own life stemming from a feeling of helplessness.

So has he attempted to connect with others?

Look at the facts:

1. He's written three books.
2. He gives lectures.
3. He teaches.
4. He invites others into his home.

In cases 1, 2, and 3, he's connecting with large numbers of people in very public ways. In case 4 he's inviting virtual strangers into the privacy of his home, a place most of us consider a sanctuary. With the exception of those he has little in common with he has demonstrated a history of attempting to make real connections with other human beings but instead finds himself being critiqued because the train doesn't fit.

The visitor is simply a man who wants a home, a place to feel safe, whether that's through his work, his creative endeavors, or his friendships, but he doesn't have the strength or energy to do much more, anymore, than just get by and transform himself in ways that feel safe, normal, and familiar: a badly played piano and glass of wine.

The visitor is also a man of integrity. When being verbally combative his response is to immediately apologize, owning his behavior and moving on. When seeing others out on the street he doesn't acknowledge the socially prescribed reality for too long, i.e. that its his apartment and they need to get their asses out, but shrugs saying they might as well stay, he has no reason to keep them out. And when they stay he asks nothing in return, no money, no get out of here by such and such a date, nothing. No, the first morning he wishes the girl a good day. Indeed, a man who can be struggling with so much, who has no meaningful connections with other people, a man who feels completely isolated and alone even though they've repeatedly made efforts to connect, a man who can say good morning and wish someone most would consider a squatter a good morning, that's a man of integrity and character.

There are other examples too: Offering to allow the mother to stay--frankly, almost demanding it given the circumstances. Going to meet his friend in the prison at every opportunity. Hiring a lawyer. There are even more and yet never does he ask for anything in return. At most, at the end of the film, he says, "I don't want you to go." That's it. No guilt trips, no penalties, no tears, just a straight forward statement of deep human feeling, desire, and pain.

"I don't want you to go."

In fact the only time we see him loose his composure is in regard to an injustice. His rage, at this point, is so explosive that he's even willing to stand firm and shout at the top of his lungs even when this puts his very freedom at risk. Indeed, it is only when those he is standing up for, those he is attempting to help and protect, those he loves, step in and comforts him, is he able to walk away, return to the reality that he can only do what he can do, he can only hold who needs to be held, he can show he is there for others but that he does not want them to go.

The movie ends with him sitting in the subway playing his djembe. A powerful moment, isn't it? He's sold his piano, a solid, heavy object representing a beautiful sounding past he couldn't return to, and instead transformed it into something he could take place to place and feel free playing. Indeed, a beautiful thing, a wonderful transformation, poignant.

It is easy to overlook the reality for the beauty and transformation of that moment--but there's more to it most of us aren't capable or willing to see.

While he is surrounded by people at the subway and while he has learned to break out of his shell, he's still, in some very fundamental way playing to his own rhythm and most noticable of all: he's playing a solo again. What a beautiful memory to have played with other such beautiful souls but the reality is he has no choice now but to keep playing, his family has died, his friends have been deported, and those that have not have turned their backs willingly, understandably but willingly, and the only choice available to him now is to keep banging on that drum or consciously accept the vacuous nature of relationships founded on speaking motherese to small canines dressed in clothing.

So now he can carry his piano around. So what? Now he's got a djembe and a whole new set of happy memories to keep him company while he beats off by himself in the relative populated loneliness of his subconscious.

That is not what I call a happy ending, folks.

And yet he'd never tell you that. He'd never ask you to sit down and listen to his story, he'd never tell you how fragile he was, how constantly close to breaking he is, how he has to pour himself a drink every night just to keep from loosing himself--what would be the point anymore and would you be there for him? No, he's been there, done that, and the critics were unanimous in their evaluations so he got a little quieter and demonstrated fewer and fewer emotions until one day he was saying and doing only what he needed to to get by and every now and then he'd try to break out of that mold and the critics would launch into another tirade and he'd get a little quieter, a little quieter, and a littler quieter. He's written the books on social inequity, you see, he's a University level expert on it, so he does the only thing he knows how to do, the same thing he has been doing all his life: focus on what he has control over, keep his chin up, and keep on drumming.

The Visitor is a film about a man without a home who is, always has, and always will dance to the beat of his own drummer.

P.S. Read of a review of this film that described it as a "post 9-11" drama so I just had to ask: "When wasn't America a largely racist and bigotted culture with a messed up immigration system?"

May 8th, 2008

Back to politics...

According to Wikipedia:

"At-will employment is a doctrine of American law that defines an employment relationship in which either party can terminate the relationship with no liability provided there was no express contract for a definite term governing the employment relationship and that the employer does not belong to a collective bargain (i.e. a union). Under this legal doctrine:

'any hiring is presumed to be 'at will'; that is, the employer is free to discharge individuals 'for good cause, or bad cause, or no cause at all,'

and the employee is equally free to quit, strike, or otherwise cease work.[1]'"

Question: Why is it so easy for a politician to resign (which could be construed as running from the responsibilities they swore to uphold) while it is nearly impossible to kick a shitty politician out of office? Isn't it time we amended The U.S. Constitution with a line item defining at-will employment, in other words:

'any election is presumed to be 'at will'; that is, the electorate is free to discharge the elected 'for good cause, or bad cause, or no cause at all.'

How's that for a novel concept? The electorate, you and I, decides if someone is doing a half-way decent job and if not we have a right to kick said politician out of office!


May 7th, 2008

I feel like I should be planning for a natural disaster. I'm not exactly sure what kind of disaster so I pull out a piece of paper and jot down a bulletted list.

Those are the basics. I tape the list to the wall then rush upstairs and down grabbing item after item, organizing them on the bed, then quickly stuff everything into the backpack.

I run out the door. My left leg aches. I look down. Blood. I stop, sit down on the curb, carefully pull my warm drenched pant leg up. A deep wound. Not sure how I got it. Maybe while I was gathering supplies, may have run into something, may have had my mind on something else. Doesn't matter now. I pull the backpack off and the first aid kit out, do what I need to do to get moving again and I'm off.


I'm not sure what to expect next. I'm out doors which is probably the safest place to be if there's an earth quake and nowhere near the coast so no reason to concern myself about a tsunami. The sky is grey but there is no wind so I'm safe from tornados and hurricanes (for now). The air is warm, though, and humid, perhaps a lightening storm is heading my way and out here, out here I'm just a lightening rod.

I keep my eyes open for shelter, just in case.

Some would say I'm being a little melodramatic. The earth quakes have typically been 2's or less on the richtor scale (at least one 4 and 5), the volcano wasn't anywhere nearby (just dumped ash all over my house), the tornado actually hit the next door neighbor's house (I only lost a few shingles), the pestilence was in the form of teenagers (stealing the garbage cans again), and most of the other disasters were minor (flat tire on the car, pilot light on hot water heater going out every few days, and so on and so forth). Five months of it and you know, one does adopt a more survivalist outlook.

And so I'll keep walking, albeit with a limp, a little tired, and not sure where I should stop to rest. There are so many directions to travel and I know, based on previous travels, that there will always be natural disasters, it's just a part of this whole Gaia thing, but I hope to some day find a valley or mountain where the rain is just rain and the sun is just sun, if you catch my meaning.

P.S. In my defense: Your blog can be group therapy!

May 6th,

Here's another crazy idea I thought I'd just throw out there.

Premise One: America is a land of laws.

Premise Two: The Constitution is the foundation on which all U.S. laws are based.

Premise Three: All Americans are subject to the laws defined in The Constitution.

(And here's the crazy one…)

Premise Four: Those who swear to protect it are too.

In the past eight years I've seen the Supreme Court decide an election, a political party arguably steal two, a President declare a war, and Congress, well, don't get me started...and all in contradiction to a document I recall reading in high school.

Sarcastic comment: You'd think they'd've read it too.

Question: Will any of those who represent us, those that swear to "uphold and defend" The Constitution, ever be held accountable for acting against it?

P.S. Police officers who don't obey traffic laws when their sirens aren't on also piss me off!

May 4th, 2008

I want you to imagine something for a moment. I know, you're not quite in the mood right now to close your eyes and imagine yourself in a wild and crazy situation but entertain me for a moment and close your eyes, imagine yourself in a wild and crazy situation.

I want you to imagine you have a job. Any job will do. In fact, why not the job you currently have? That one will do just fine.

Now I want you to imagine that for whatever reason you want a better job. It doesn't exactly matter why you want one. Maybe you don't get paid enough. Maybe you don't like the people you work with. Maybe it's not your passion or maybe you'd like to work somewhere where you have more power or feel like you can make a difference.

Still with me?

Okay, so one last part of this visualization: I want you to imagine that while you're looking for your new job you don't have to show up to work any more but you still get paid. Sound too good to be true? Well, that's not all of it, you also get to travel to all the fifty states meeting all sorts of interesting people, you get to be on tv, get to attend extravegant parties and social gatherings, yes indeed you will be the talk of the town. Sound unreal? Get this: other people pay you to skip work and cheer you on like a loving mob for doing it!!!

Hard to imagine, isn't it?

Strangely, this is a perfectly normal and acceptable part of the American political landscape. Want campaign finance reform? Start by demanding our politicians stop wasting our time and money romancing the nation as they climb up the political ladder, demand that they show up at their fucking jobs every morning and do something like maybe balance the goddamn budget.

(deep breath)

Maybe I'm just crazy, but I'd sure love to take a year or two off to travel, speak to cheering crowds, get interviewed by Larry King, and continue to get paid for my job while other people are doing it (thanks in advance, guys).

That is truly the American dream.

May 3rd, 2008

The U.S. has arguably the worst health care system of any first world country--scratch that, I feel ashamed making such a statement--the U.S. is the only first world country with NO health care system.


I hear a lot of banter around the air waves about health care this, health care that. In truth some of it sounds good, but what's the point of putting a little extra air in the tires if the engine's leaking oil and oh, by the way, now it's on fire, better pump up them thar tires, h'yuck, go shopping, and watch out for terrorists!

Temporary short term bandaides won't solve a problem born out of social injustice, greed, and the American way. I don't think politicians, however well meant, will resolve this problem: The poison has gone too deep, has pervaded too many, it will take more than pleasant legislation to pull our collective heads our of our collective asses and the gentle truth is we don't have enough proctologists to perform the procedure.

I don't know how we'll go from a health care "system" that looks like a clumsily perpetrated joke to one where every American, young and old, has complete and equal health care, but I'm pretty certain about one thing: we live in a democracy. If our legislators, the people that represent us, don't have the wisdom and integrity (i.e. balls) to do it I think it's our responsibility, as citizens, to demand legislation that will. And why not leverage the self serving elements of human nature that helped create the system in the first place?

My solution: Make universal health care matter to a legislator on a personal level, create on national law that all legislators and their immediate families must, while in office, have the same health care as the worst off of their constituants.

I got it good but truth is if I didn't have the health benefits of a middle class white family most of my life I would have died at least a couple of times along the road from there to here. So take that away, take it away from our legislators, take it away because it's immoral and unethical for our leaders, those people who are responsible for helping create stability, safety, and health, in our society, to live in such a grand fashion while so many they represent suffer so needlessly; take their health care away because when you do the health care of the poorest American will be a clear and present concern in their lives, take it away because it's the only way they'll get just how rediculous and criminal their waffling, arguments, and inaction are.

Take it away, take it away, make it personal to them and you'll see rapid changes for the good of everyone.

May 2nd, 2008

I've done it, finally done it, made the switch to Obama. Yes, yes, he continues to fill my inbox with spam and yes, on an empathic level I...well, how do I put this politely? I believe Obama is incredibly talented at swaying emotional favour while maintaining an air of innocent sincerity. And yes, I admit a bias, a sense of (healthy, I'd like to think) distrust when I pick that up off someone, but still, Obama has finally done it, I'm in love with the guy.

Ok, I'm not quite that far yet. But give it time.

That said it's time to write a letter...

Dear Hillary,

I regret to inform you my desire to have you made President (a dream I've had since early 2000) is no longer a reality. Why, I hear you asking? Simple enough. In the past few months I've watched as you've reacted to circumstances like a manic-depressive teeneager, taking verbal shots instead of taking a deep, long breath, and realizing we're all on the same goddamn side. What happened to you, Hillary? Did falling behind really cause so much insecurity that you'd lash out when the system you've sworn to defend doesn't put you on top? Do you care about anyone but yourself?

My old friend, are you capable of civility?


I regret I must inform you my heart now belongs to another.

I am sorry.


What changed my mind about Obama was the recent drama between him and his x-pastor. If you've kept up the story goes something like this:

  1. Pastor says something publically that could be construed in a negative light, especially in terms of Obama's campaign.
  2. Obama takes a risk and defends his pastor with strong, straight forward, unmistakable words.
  3. His pastor later responds to this by insulting Obama, saying he's just playing the political game, and then going on to accuse the government and whites in particular of all manner of crimes against God.
  4. Obama turns back and says something like, "What the fuck?! Didn't I just stand up for you? Did I just take a huge political risk to defend your reputation and our friendship over the years? What the hell? I will not stand for this bullshit!"

So that's not exactly what Obama said but the essentials are correct: he stood up for a long time friend and that person responded by pissing in his mouth so what does Obama do? He responds fairly, eloquently, and with no more energy than is necessary.

And that, my friends, is what changed my mind. Yes, Obama is a politician, yes, he's adept at emotional manipu...swaying people. But he's a man who thinks before he speaks, a man who doesn't need to take pot shots at Hillary although she's got a machine gun nest watching his every move, a man who, when a friend is insulted, stands up for that friend, and when he is insulted in a way that cannot be ignored, simply says:

I will not be your punching bag.

That's the kind of person I want in the White House, folks. So, cheers, here's to you, Obama!