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This story, really a novella, is the one I use to introduce people to Dostoyevsky. If you like White Nights you will like Fyodor Mikailovich, I think, and if you don't you won't. In it we're introduced to a charming intelligent young man who lives on the edges of St. Petersburg life, a shy dreamer who spends almost all his time alone. The life of his observations and imagination is very full, however. He daydreams in 3d with vivid colors passionate intricate tales that engross him completely, to the point that an actual friend knocking on his door to say hello flusters him totally, leaving him nonplussed for the entire short awkward visit. Dostoyevsky, in his brilliant way makes me care deeply about our hero, and feel a total sense of identification with him.

One day, our protagonist meets an actual real-life girl, one whose temperment and situation in life are something like his. They become great friends immediately, something that has never happened to him before. The story takes off at this point, piling up so much light and darkness that I'm gasping for breath all the way through until the magnificent ending.

It's extraordinary the way Dostoyevsky can make all of us feel so much identification with his characters. I feel each time I read this story that he's plumbed the secret depths of my soul that not even I had any idea of. He slices me apart and puts me back together so that I'm somebody totally new after he's done. I feel as though he's writing about me and only me, through a century and a half of time travel and a thorough reading of my subconscious mind, and I do feel exposed by it.

My son's aunt who studied Russian literature in Russia says Dostoyevsky is evil, because he cuts us open and has a poke round our deepest selves with such complete and utter honesty. It's true he does see the whole of humanity, from our basest depravity to our highest divinity. But for me his truth is purifying, like a sacred flame, like the caress of a being who's both angel and demon at the same time. I do think Dostoyevsky is the greatest novelist of all in the whole history of western civilization.
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A Wizard of Earthsea (The Earthsea Cycle, #1)A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I decided to reread all of Ursula K. Le Guin's books recently, since she's my very favorite living author, and because much of her work I read only once long ago. I'm feeling a great need lately for her books, for the way of the Tao, going with the flow, of doing by not doing, of subtle strength, the powers of the old earth. I realized recently that along with Tolkien, Le Guin is for me a writer of power, of deep understanding, a writer of scriptures.

This is the first book in the Earthsea Cycle, which was a trilogy when first I read it in the 1970s, but now includes six books. They are some of the best books ever written, I think; full of wisdom, of listening, of stillness, and of being.

I recently watched the old 1980s PBS movie of The Lathe of Heaven, of which UKL approved in some interview I read. Though I've read the book many times, I was particularly struck this time by Dr. Heber, what a well-meaning guy he is, and how royally he screws everything up that he touches. I felt that shock of recognition then, that I am just like him; me, a founding member of the group LAPWGI, (pronounced "lapwiggy"), that stands for "Lame Awkward People With Good Intentions".

Lately I'm trying to dedicate my life to ending poverty, to saving the world, to averting human extinction, and also to raising one young man, my adopted son. My son has many troubles, which I once naively thought would be quickly healed by plenty of love, medical care, a healthy environment, and good parenting. As we humans are wont to do, I bit off a great deal more than I bargained for.

I love being a parent, but it's certainly by far the most difficult thing I've ever done. I do have complete faith that despite his Lyme Neuroborreliosis, his struggles against Schizophrenia and Paranoia, his C-PTSD from repeated trauma in childhood, his deep depression and difficulties with self-care, and most recently, his agoraphobia, despite all these things my son will be healed, will grow in wisdom and understanding and go on to live a happy and fulfilling life. I know that is true. I know our lives have meaning, that our struggles are worthwhile.

My son is a wonderful human being, complex, creative, funny, kind, marvelous. Also sometimes angry, frustrated at the world and his difficulties, occasionally arrogant or abusive, definitely stubborn, often envious of others, and almost always self-defeating. He's sweet and funny, and he tries very hard. He pushes himself, often in contradictory directions. He's scary sometimes: maddened, suicidal, impulsive and out of control. He's a whirlwind of inappropriateness, of 2 AM outbursts of loud maniacal laughter, and also of gentleness and an innate goodness that shines out from deep within. His life is the human condition writ large. I think I experience the joys and challenges of any parent, and like other parents I try my best to be a good example and guide. I try to be always calm, loving and patient. I try to establish good boundaries and be firm and gentle in maintaining them. I try, and very often I fall short.

See, Dr. Heber is me. I'm an engineer, a Son of Martha, and I love machines and systems. They speak to me, telling me their secrets and desires. They want to be strong and true, to run well, to be a joy to work with. They want to serve, to last lifetimes. They show me how to design them, how to tweak them for optimum function. They mostly do what they're meant to do. They make sense. They follow laws of physics. My nuclear plants, my paper mills, water filtration systems, power transmission lines, roads and bridges, farms and factories, grocery stores and shipping lines and sewage treatment plants. They're beautiful things. They bring great joy to our lives and tremendous benefits. They feed us, enable us to keep ourselves clean, give us warmth and light, and carry off our wastes. They give us the power to move about in safety and peace. They greatly enrich our lives. I love them. Our technological society is like a mother to all of us. It is my joy and my life's work.

But a son is so much more complex than any human-designed machine. A son has moral agency, makes choices, goes his own way, is not me. He's a miracle, an enigma, a nascent god, a human person who can't be ruled by force, can only be persuaded, taught, guided, tickled, loved toward the direction he should go. But what direction is that? How do I know where to lead when I'm not even sure of my own way?

I guess we learn by trying our best and failing terribly, then studying it out, understanding our errors, and trying once again, and ever again. Every direction is possibly false. A hand too-heavy or too-light, a work spoken too softly or too harsh, these butterfly flaps can magnify into lasting good or harm in our offspring's lives. We live in a non-linear universe. Everything we do has consequences. Doing nothing also has consequences, terrible or great.

How can we deal with so much uncertainty? How do we go with the world? Not by forcing, I'm finding. Not by redesigning the universe in our image. I have to learn better how to listen, to learn, to understand my own limitations. I have to learn the light touch.

That's what Ursula, what Earthsea, talks about. Ged is quick and brave. He has enormous powers of intellect and of magery. He learns through terrible mistakes how to use them, and how not to use them.

These books bring me deep into the midst of this world that I don't at all understand. They're like an empty boat, full of potentialities. The enormous power of UKL's writing is in the things she says without saying, in the empty spaces between the words. How do I review her writing when I only have words to do it in? I'm not sure.

I don't mean to sound all mystical or vague. These things she speaks of are plain and everyday. But these stories are exactly what I need right now to learn how to release an intolerable burden, to set down the weight of the universe, and do by not doing.





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She's a very cute cat, doesn't weigh much, purrs comfortingly, and has that black silky soft fur that reminds me of some Asian girls' hair that I would love to have hair like. But she's lying half on my chest and half on my neck, chin on my face, and it's a little uncomfortable. I could use a couple of pillows to hold my head up. Of course, in this position I have a good opportunity to kiss her tummy, which I take advantage of. Kiss, kiss, kiss. Purr, purr, purr.

Her name is Sekhmet, though we sometimes call her Momo because she reminds us of the character by that name in the anime series. She's nearly five months old. I got her when she was about two weeks old, part of a rescue mom-and-litter I adopted this spring. Mama Julie and seven littermates, plus Grace, equals nine cats who live here now. They keep things interesting.

It's endlessly entertaining to watch them spar. They're far more interesting than any tv program; running, jumping, pouncing, playing, tumbling one over another. Every so often someone crosses the line from play into more serious contention and starts calling out "Meow, meow, meow, Mom he's hurting me make him stop!" And I respond "Joshu, when he cries, you let him up." Usually it's Joshu who is the perpetrator, since he's the biggest and strongest and most intrepid and dominant. Joshu when he was only a few weeks old used to scamper up to my feet every time I entered the room, wanting to be cuddled and pet. He was the first one out of the big box they lived in when they were tiny.

Sometimes the offender is Ghost, though, who's second-in-command, and whose full name is Sand Lion Ghost Olorion. Ghost is dominant but chill. Rarely is it anyone else, though Masa (short for Thomasina) can be quite fierce when roused. She's the one you least want after your foot-lump when the covers aren't clawproof. She'll flat amputate toes if you aren't careful.

"When they cry, you let them up" is one of the things I repeat endlessly to the little ones. Others are "Kitties aren't allowed on the table (/counter/keyboard)" and "Be sweet to the babies, Mama, be sweet." Julie was an excellent mom until she decided to wean them. After that she started beating them up fairly often and making the kind of cliche ferocious cat noises that might be heard on a cheesy jungle show or an ad for cars. She does this mainly if they try to suckle on her, but also occasionally if she just happens to be feeling grumpy. She's a sweet cat to humans, but really needs to be in a one-pet household. She doesn't get along well with other cats. She's always very gentle and loving to humans, but attacked immediately and fiercely my two other cats at every opportunity. Felicity was 18 and is gone now. She got beat up 2 or 3 times before I separated them forever. Grace is timid and only got beat up once. Finally I realized Mama Julie has to stay sequestered from the others, and now she lives in my bedroom. I'd love to find her an excellent loving single-pet home.

I have some Prozac for her that I may try, if I can gather my courage enough to tackle administering it to her daily for long enough to see if it helps. It might be pretty tough until she gets the hang of things. She's crazy about Whiskas Free Range Chicken treats, though, so that helps. I give them all a treat or two after anyone has to have medicine. Bribery usually works pretty well, as soon as the cat realizes "let's get this medicine business over quickly so we can move on to the treats." Anyway, I heard about someone whose very unpredictable and vicious (to humans) cat had his whole personality changed forever by a few months of Prozac. It may be worth it, since she could come out and enjoy the freedom of our home if only she weren't so aggressive. Living in one room isn't really ideal, even when you have everything you need in the way of food, water, litterboxes, and plenty of company. The kittens come in and out between my room and the rest of the house.

My black furry chin muffler has moved to my lap now, which makes it a lot easier to type. I must say she's doing her job quite well. Her job of course -- the job of all cats -- is radiating contentment in the home. They have such a powerful sense of how lovely it is to be indoors, in climate controlled luxury, curled up on a soft spot, a sunny spot, or just a warm spot, relaxing and enjoying the awesomeness of being alive. Cats patently enjoy life, and the feeling is rather infectious. They so much more than pay their way by this talent. Life truly is deeply enjoyable, just being, drawing breath, tasting oxygen. Perceiving. It's so amazing and fantastic, and yet we humans tend to forget. How weird that we can forget for hours and days at a time, sometimes, just how magnificent and glorious it is to be a living sentient being every moment of our lives.

Cats rarely forget this. So they kindly remind us in such a way that we can feel it too. All that, in exchange for a few vet visits a year and some daily fresh water and kibble. What a bargain! The affection isn't part of the deal, that's just for free, because cats like humans and vice versa. From the cat point of view, humans are their symbiotic servant species. God, the cat God, obviously made humans so that they should serve cats. I mean, their hands are just the right height to turn doorknobs! That's a dead giveaway. Since rendering loving service to others is what makes humans feel most happy and fulfilled in life, too, it's completely win-win.

Now Sekhmet is licking herself in my lap, and she takes the time to lick my leg a bit as well. I don't know if she feels it could use cleaning or just happens to like my flavor. I feel the superpowers soaking in and taking effect. Cat licks convey superpowers, of course, and the smaller and more timid the cat, the stronger the powers granted. Following a stray impulse, I lick God's hand mentally in my prayers, and thank him for giving Sekhmet and the others into my keeping.

Then I thank him for my son who's the light of my life. I ask him to protect and heal him. And I remember once again how grand, how exalted, it is to be alive.
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The Kite RunnerThe Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I just finished reading this book a few minutes ago, and I'm left gasping in the feeling of it still. I've seen the movie, and I'm glad that the movie captured the book so faithfully. Even so, the book is immensely better. It's just one of those amazing books that's so well-written and so pure and real that you can feel yourself expanding as a person painfully at the seams while reading it. It's extremely powerful in an understated way, as all my favorite books seem to be.


I love the characters of Baba, Hassan, and Rahim Khan. They're drawn with so much reality and love; they're all three heartbreakingly wonderful people. I feel so sad for Afghanistan, for how much the country has suffered these last 3 decades. I just want healing to come soon, please. I hope what we're doing there can help more than it hurts. I long to earn some vast fortune so I can give it to the CAI and other groups working for a happy future in Afghanistan. Reading this so soon after "Stones into Schools", with its own cast of utterly amazing Afghans, makes me feel that way even more.


I don't know how to describe how this book has changed me, but one thing I did do while reading it was go and hug my son and tell him that I love him beyond all imagining, that I wanted to be sure he knew, and I wanted that truth never to get lost amid the mundane details of you-have-a-dentist-appointment-today and come-lets-take-grandma-some-dinner and don't-forget-to-put-the-dishes-in. It made me regret and resent that I ever have to be firm with him or instruct him in things he'd rather not learn. I would so much rather just spend the precious fleeting time we have together in shared laughter, fun, and joy. After all, we get so little time with our loved ones before we or they are gone. Why waste a single instant on anything less important?


I know just how Amir feels as he kneels to pray for his nephew's life. I'm well acquainted with that deep well of redemption from which he drinks. This story feels so true to me that I'd be astonished to find out it's not almost completely autobiographical. It's made me realize anew just how much each human person is a deep pool of unknown and unknowable history, emotions, thoughts, and experiences. It kindled fresh humility in me, and awe at these marvels we're given in life, these profound mysteries of each other that we can never fully understand but only glimpse from time to time and lose our hearts to forever.


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Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor (California Series in Public Anthropology, 4)Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor by Paul Farmer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This book is a clear call to action. If you've been following my reviews, you know that I've had an epiphany of sorts from following Dr. Paul Farmer's work. He's the doctor to the poor, the one who cofounded Partners in Health, which treats poor people in nine different countries all over the world, in some of the settings of extreme poverty. They've been working in Haiti for about 25 years, since the early 80s.

His books have raised my awareness of what's actually going on in the world. This is real stuff. It's ongoing, it's actually happening right this minute even, it affects several billion people, it's deeply, deeply wrong, and it's our business to fix it. Paul's analysis has helped me to understand that this is very much my problem. Poverty is the connection, the thing that puts people from all different cultures, in all different places, at high risk for diseases of all types, for violence, for oppression. The story of global health is largely the story of poverty.

Secondly, he has shown me that my relative wealth (I have clean water, nutritious food, decent shelter, warm clothing, education, and access to information) is not independent of their destitution, but in fact that I benefit from the global forces that transfer wealth from the poor to the rich and have done so for centuries. I'm the direct beneficiary of the organized theft that puts these people (my kin and fellow children of God) in a position to be tortured, raped, to fall ill and not receive care, to be malnourished, and kept ignorant. So it's up to me to fix it.

I want to quote for you a passage from his afterword, from his summing up.

The spectacular aggressions I have witnessed are not accidents. Arising from complex social fields, these crimes are predictable, and indeed, ongoing. They are, I have tried to show here, pathologies of power. Looking through piles of notes and articles gathered to complete this book, I am reminded of many stories that are not told in these pages. I did not write about my patient who was the victim of a brutal gang rape inside military headquarters in Port-au-Prince. She told me that one of the most debasing moments of her experience was hearing the army's lawyer, a smartly dressed woman who spoke beautiful English, say on CNN that stories of political rapes were simply not true, that the alleged victims were lying to discredit the Haitian army. To see these and similar claims subsequently taken up by reputable international print media was painful enough for me; I couldn't bear to discuss it with my patient.

Nothing is written in these pages of the thugs who in 1988 torched the church of Saint-Jean Bosco during mass, or, even worse, of the paltry sum it cost the mayor of Port-au-Prince to have them do it. Yes, the mayor (who is no doubt also getting on in years, although he has yet to reach the golden age of Pinochet
(a reference to Pinochet being thought too old for justice. -T) Even though one of my closest friends was among the survivors, and even though I have written about these events, I have never discussed them with this friend, and I never will.

And on and on. These events are added to a long list of things I wish I had not seen, or heard, or smelled. Indeed, staring at the x-ray image of the bullet in Manno's leg
(a reference to a child victim of violence in Haiti who was not helped at all by doctors at the regional hospital in Port-au-Prince. -T) triggers recollection of many expediently forgotten bullets and their forgotten targets. I stop to recall, however briefly: in 1987, sewing up a child's gunshot wounds in the same general hospital from which Manno was just extruded; evaluating the surviving victims of a grenade pitched into a 1990 pro-Aristide rally; knowing what it looks like to watch, from the middle of a traffic jam, a crowd fired upon by automatic weapons, an anonymous ten-year-old boy caught in the crossfire; the death of Chouchou Louis (a torture victim described earlier in the book. -T) in my presence; and the burning alive of secret police, killed by angry crowds. The even worse smells of morgues and prisons and deathbeds crowd my senses.

And the assaultive truths don't stop with the things that I have witnessed, since many of the stories I've heard from others elsewhere have a specific resonance for someone who has worked in Haiti. I think here of the exhumation in Guatemala, with which we did indeed help, and of the one unmarked grave that contained a young man, his wife, and their unborn infant (one bullet was within the fetus). I think of my friend "Julia's" martyred brother -- a teenager, for God's sake -- his body displayed like a hunting trophy; the "disappeared" in Haiti and in Central America; the murder of Father Jean-Marie Vincent by the Haitian military. Father Vincent died, gasping like a fish, on the steps of the rectory.

What do all of these victims have in common? Not language or gender or political views; not religion or race or ethnicity. What they share, all of them, is poverty and, generally, an unwillingness to knuckle under. Pathologies of power damage all concerned -- and who isn't concerned? -- but kill chiefly the poor. These crimes are the symptoms and signs of structural violence. Indeed, when we regard the perpetrators of these crimes from any comfortable reserve, it is important to recall that with our comfort comes a loss of innocence, since we profit from a social and economic order that promises a body count. That is, surely there are direct and causal relationships between a protected minority enjoying great ease and those billions who go without the bare necessities of food, shelter, potable water, and medical services? Pathologies of power are also symptoms of surfeit -- of the excess that I like as much as the next guy.


He goes on to ask a burning question: "is it really useless to complain?"

He goes on to contemplate his own loss of innocence, and to ask from whom he can demand it back.

My own answer to that question, protected as I am from the harsh truths of the depth of violence of poverty, yet from my own position as a survivor of childhood abuse, and the adoptive mom of a son who survived much worse than I... my answer is that Christ, also a victim of torture, had my innocence, that he gave it back to me when I begged him for it. My answer is, like Paul, to dedicate my life to ending poverty.

All I want is for every child born on earth to have love, good care, clean water to drink, adequate nutrition to avoid developmental disabilities, decent housing and bedding, freedom from violence, shoes and clothing, adequate health care, to get good treatment for all treatable diseases, and to have access to the wealth of knowledge, of education, that our modern communication systems afford. I want an end to bigotry, to racism, sexism, classism, jingoism. I want all of us to help one another, to take care of each other and share each other's burdens. That's all I ask. And I think it's the least we can do. The very least.

I don't insist that it be done instantly. (Though really how can we accept the damage to any child that results from delays?) I know that what we don't finish, the next generation will complete for us, along with dealing with whatever new challenges arise for them. I don't have to do it all myself. But it will be done. Make no mistake.

Sekhmet is the Egyptian goddess of protective wrath. She's sacred to mothers everywhere, and she looks after the weak and powerless. Well, Sekhmet is definitely on the move now. She's kicking butt and taking names. She's sort of like Santa, but a lot more wrathful. She's sometimes depicted with a flamethrower, her Flammenwerfer of Ruinous Wrath. Please be aware of her oversight. Be mindful of her FoRW.

Take care that you are not among those who leave undone what should be done, for Sekhmet is watching, and she will know and remember.

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Partner to the Poor: A Paul Farmer ReaderPartner to the Poor: A Paul Farmer Reader by Paul Farmer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This book is life-changing, in that it has changed the way I think about poor countries and rich countries. Before I read this, I considered people in rich countries to be very fortunate, and our job was to extend the same blessings to people in poor countries, to help them develop themselves the way we had developed ourselves in earlier centuries. I saw us as primarily separate societies, though of course linked by living in one world, and by the bonds of kinship in our human family.

But this book showed me that today's situation can't really be seen as separate from the social and economic history of the world. The last few centuries have seen the colonial powers (largely the same as the rich world today) pillage their colonies (largely the same as the poor world today) transacting a massive redistribution of wealth from poor to rich. The global economic powers today continue that redistribution, and the gap between rich and poor is getting wider all the time. I know that I right now, regardless of how unwittingly, am the direct beneficiary of that historical and ongoing grand theft. My relative wealth (I have clean water, food, a roof, dry bedding, indoor plumbing, electricity, internet) is not independent of their poverty, but it's part of the fabric of the same social and economic history. The wealth of rich countries didn't spring into being on its own, but was helped by innumerable interactions over a long period of time that were mostly tainted by slavery, racism, gender-inequality, class divisions, and historical and hereditary distributions of wealth and education.

In addition to the moral arguments, to the tale told again and again in the Book of Mormon, for instance, of inequality being evil in itself, of the wealthy wearing fine clothes and looking down their noses to those who can't afford them, of pride always going before the fall. In addition to the fact that we are all one human family, we're cousins to each other in very recent history, as genetics shows (our latest common ancestor living only about three thousand years ago). Totally apart from the fact that Christ tells us flat out that if we aren't one we aren't His. That King Benjamin exhorts us to give of our substance to the poor, and not to say "he brought on his own problems so I won't help him". In addition to all these things, we need to see that our wealth was in part stolen from those very poor whose fate we now hold in our hands.

I can't divorce a poor woman dying in childbirth because of a lack of the sort of care I take for granted from me sitting in a theater in my 3D glasses being entertained by the latest amusing spectacle at $15 a pop. These two seemingly separate things are part of one whole. We share one world, one society, one global economy, one human history. We're connected.

It's not like this is exactly a new idea, of course, but I wonder why I've been able to put it at the back of my mind for so long. It's odd how we can come to look on the horrible suffering of others as something we can't change and basically have little or nothing to do with, how we can separate it from our daily lives, and put these things into discrete mental compartments.

This is all about my reaction to this book, and very little about the book itself, which is a fascinating compilation of writings over 30 years about the problems of delivering health care to the poor, and analysis of the context in which these epidemics of treatable infectious disease have occurred. It's about structural violence, and how ideas kept in separate boxes, economic and social rights are really part of the same whole, are the most important human rights. About how it is nice to have a voice in government, the right not to be tortured, the right to be free from indefinite detention without charges, and so on, but those things are largely meaningless if one is dying of malnutrition and AIDS.

So what will I do? How will this change the way I live? Other than devoting a bigger chunk of my resources to supporting organizations like Partners in Health, I mean? I think I'm being called to devote my life's work to the cause of ending poverty. No other work or play could be more joyful or rewarding, not even watching on screen as beautiful people struggle for justice in 3D.

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Mr. President, you want me to support your clean energy initiatives. I'm in favor of clean energy if Nuclear is included as clean energy. As you're aware, there are many inherent difficulties in launching solar, wind, waves, and geothermal power including high expense, environmental impact, availability only at odd times and a few places, meaning the infrastructure to move it to where it's needed (cities) is expensive, and the infrastructure to handle peak loads must be provided (expensive) even though average loads are around 10% of peak, etc. etc.

Most people, unlike you and me, don't even understand that electricity must be generated moment by moment as demand calls for it. Batteries are toxic, expensive, and short-lived, and don't handle the sort of power loads that cities require. They're for hand-held electronics up to golf carts, not for refrigeration, elevators, and the millions of electric motors that power the factories and offices that are our economic engines in the US.

So Nuclear is the very best clean energy option that exists. As you know, It's clean, emits no CO2, unlike wind or sun can be turned off or on to suit demand (though most nuclear plants are run as baseload units, simply because the cost of generation is miniscule compared to that of fossil plants, and of course compared to the very pricey green energy technologies you cite.)

I want clean energy, and independence from Saudi Arabia, but I don't want to pay 3 or 4 times on my power bill what I'm currently spending. So I see you approved the loan guarantees for Plant Vogtle units 3 and 4 in Georgia. That's great. I know that your political base is ambivalent, at best, about nuclear power plants. Some of those very misguided environmentalists in the 60s and 70s are the reason our nuclear industry today is having to struggle to come back from decades of no new nuclear plants. As an engineer both in nuclear tech and in ordinary industrial technology, I can tell you that the current nuclear plants are extremely out of date in their control technology. That 30 year hiatus wasn't a good thing, and I think many intelligent environmentalists realize now that they made a mistake. Others are just as adamant about no new nukes as ever, an attitude that will leave us with high high energy bills and not at all safer.

So I understand you have to downplay somewhat the nuclear angle for your constituency. However, please make no mistake, nuclear is necessary, and future generations of new reactors will be extremely important in our energy mix. The best thing we can possibly do to become energy independent is to adopt the fast-neutron reactor technology that allows us to use uranium mine-tailings and reprocessed spent-fuel to power the US for the next several hundred years using the most pessimistic projections. It's fantastic that Yucca Mountain was never opened, because that spent fuel in dry-casks and pools at all the reactors in the nation has only some 5% of the energy used up. Glassifying it and burying would have destroyed its utility. As it is, we have the fuel we need to power the country for many decades even using the wildest growth scenarios out there.

So, 1) restart the research projects into the next generation of fast-neutron reactors. 2) Step up the construction and streamline the regulation of the current new generation of thermal reactors (with the built-in failsafes), 3) continue to foster safe operation of the existing generation of 1970s design era reactors in service today. Then 4) by all means keep encouraging the use of other green options, particularly smart buildings, and efficiencies that pay off enormously over the life of the building, but which cost more up front. We need to fix the skewed economics that encourages builders to scrimp on up-front costs because they aren't the tenants who will pay the price down the line. Legislation to encourage building in efficiencies into everything under the sun will be useful.

Dictating exact design parameters, though, is not smart. Witness the low-flow toilet, which we all know must be flushed multiple times to work. No water is being saved thereby. All design trade-offs have costs. The market should be allowed to fix these things to the extent that it will. When the market goes wrong, as it does in the case of externalities and builder/tenant discrepancies, then legislation should be designed to fix things in a way that allows a new optimal solution to be settled upon by designers and users, rather than being dictated by legislators.

You said once that our country needs more engineers and fewer lawyers. Coming to an engineer from a lawyer, this struck me deeply. I know you have many experts who advise you on all these things. But listen to a practical country girl who knows how things work. From years of working in industry, and reading widely, I know whereof I speak.

It may seem silly for me to be answering your email with mine, but I heard you read 10 letters a day, and so there's a 10/300 million * 8 years * 365.25 days/year, which is about a 1 in 10k chance that you will eventually read one of mine. =) Assuming only one in a hundred people care as much about public policy and our energy future as I do, that gives me a 1 in 100 chance of getting through to you at some point in your administration, which I find to be pretty good odds.

Thanks for being such a good president. My response has been engendered by how hopeful your presidency has made me for the future of politics in the US. Prior to your election, I didn't know we could have such good leadership, and I thank you for undisillusioning me, (reillusioning me? no... that's not the word I meant ... how about polishing the stars in my eyes?... rekindling my enthusiasm and idealism?) Yes, thank you for that very much.
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This used to be a widget that showed info about the humanitarian aid arm of my church philanthropic services. Now it won't work, though, alas.
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President Eyring said something in last fall's conference that has stuck with me. He challenged us to write down each day all the ways the Lord has worked in our lives, or touched our lives, that day. What a wonderful exercise! And every day since that I've sat down to think about it, it's been true, the Lord has blessed me that day specifically with something I needed. Not anyone else but me, me, me, lol!

It's so weird and paradoxical how, by serving the Lord the best I can, by doing His will, I'm given so much joy and all my selfish needs and wants are met! It's like, the more I give, the more I have to give. I'm astonished and gratified by this. =)

The other day as I was studying Arabic via an immersion course, suddenly I understood everything that was being said in an uncanny way. I realized this is what is meant by being given the gift of tongues. But why should that happen for me? What purpose is being served by my learning Arabic? I thought I was just doing it for fun and to have something to be studying. To engage me with my son's faith community so I can someday perhaps read and understand some of the Qur'an in the original language. It's an idle fancy, and one that may not last. But perhaps it's more important than I realize, in some way.

I feel God's help all the time now. Well, any given instance could possibly be random chance, but I feel that someone is there helping, someone is responding when I reach out with love, someone is helping me reshape myself into the person I want to be, who I deserve (in some unknown way) to be. (Certainly I've never done anything special to deserve it. Yet I feel specially loved and cherished for who I am, in something like the same way I cherish my 7 new children.)

I realized this morning that I love those 7 younglings, I am as happy in their company, as probably anyone I've known my whole life long, lol. Why is that? I was trying to analyze this aspect of my heart. What's so adorable about those six-week-old individuals of another species? Part of it is the miracle of motherhood, I think; the way that juvenile features (and relative size) tend to endear themselves to mothers in general, and mothering is a strong part of my makeup. Second is the tendency to want to protect the weak, which I think came from being abused as a child. The weak elicit all my sympathies, and I want to prevent them being exploited or harmed in any way. Part of it is their little spotted tummies, and their cute pawpads, and their little pink snouts. There's something so appealing in those things, those markers which babies carry. Then there's their vulnerability. It disarms us.

I thought, "maybe it's because they can't hurt me," but that's not really it. They can hurt me in several ways. One is just the scratch marks and bite marks I can inspect on my forearms, hands, legs and feet. They draw blood routinely, but I find it cute for some reason. I actively encourage them to attack my hands and feet by wiggling my phalanges to draw their attention. I love to rub their little tummies while they're chewing on my fingers and clawing my hands and wrists in a playful way. I only extricate myself if they hurt me so much I can't take it. =D Then I say "ow" while laughing at the same time.

Also I realized they could hurt me emotionally enormously if, say, they got sick or particularly if I accidentally did something to cause them harm. I'm constantly counting kittens to be sure there's not one snuggled under the covers that I could inadvertently roll over on top of, or something of the sort. Whenever I push furniture around I count first to be sure I know all of them are safely out of the way. Imagine how horrible I would feel if I did something that harmed one of these tiny ones. They could hurt me that way very deeply indeed.

Even if I just allow one of them to get hurt somehow, like if they climb somewhere and fall too far to the floor, that would devastate me. I've got pillows all over the floor so if they fall they hit something soft. Once Joshu fell from the tabletop to the hardwood floor and hurt his hand. He didn't use it for several hours and I was so worried about him. Luckily it got better. I invoked all my painsharing powers and spiritual healing powers to make it so, and alhamdulilah he started using it again after a few hours. So it's not the fact that the kittens can't hurt me that makes me love them so.

Maybe it's Carson McCullars' idea of "A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud" that one must practice loving first on easier things before tackling the love of a human being. But you know I've always felt instinctually that there's very little difference between a kitten and any other mammal. We're all very close cousins, and shared a common ancestor only a few tens of millions of years ago. As much as we like to think of ourselves as lords of all creation, humans are still very much mammals like other mammals. 90% of our makeup, maybe, we have in common, since all the most vital and basic things such as needs and sensations like air, water, food, warmth, love, pain, discomfort, joy, contentment, we share with our cousins. We even speak the same body language. Who can deny that a curled up purring kitten with a full tummy is in bliss? It's possible to read their feelings right off their faces and movements, not because we "anthropomorphize" them. We don't have to do that because they're already anthropomorphic, just as we're already felimorphic. We're close kin. We experience life in roughly the same way, particularly the most important things. None of them will be writing a blog, but who can deny that nearly all the feelings I can express in one are things they also feel? So I deny that a kitten is much less complicated a thing than a human baby. The difference is in what we open ourselves to perceive about them, not in the raw beings themselves.

So there I feel I'm hitting closer to the truth. A huge amount of the reason I feel such a powerful love for these babies is contained in the way I let myself see them. I wonder if it would be patronizing to begin to see human people around me a little more as I view the kittens? Like, when the babies make a mistake, I forgive them instantly. They're just little things, after all! They have to learn. They're not developed fully yet. The same is true of all us human beings, who are actually baby gods. We're undeveloped, and we make mistakes because we have to do that to learn.

They're visually extremely appealing, but this is also in the eye of the beholder. What is it about juvenile features that makes us go "awwwwww"? It's clearly something happening in our own brains, and we can learn to see each individual's intrinsic beauty. When we see them as the Lord does, we will surely see infinitely precious beings with their own unique beauties, their own heartbreaking histories. When we know someone, anyone, from the inside, when we know who they are, who they have been, who they feel themselves to be, we can't help but feel deep empathy for them and a powerful wish to serve them, to foster their happiness, their growth and fulfillment. When you add the understanding that each of these beings has a glorious divine nature, is a god in embryo, someone whom we would be strongly tempted to worship if we saw them in their future form, then even more surely is it true that they deserve our respect and love now, when that divinity is so fragile and nascent. Now when we could make an enormous difference in the path of their development by influencing them for good or ill this moment. Surely I should train my inner eye to see these beauties in all beings, to see the truth.

So I'm left realizing that the love I feel, or lack of it, is due mainly to my own approach to other beings. I ask in faith that my Heavenly Parents would please excise the part of my heart that resists loving others as they deserve to be loved, and that They would please show me how to see everyone around me as They see them, so that I might treat their infinitely precious babies the way I want my own babies to be treated. I ask this in Christ's name. Amen.
thetatiana: (Default)

I love the Mormon Women's Project! It features profiles of a wide cross-section of Mormon women, whose only common characteristic besides their faith is their awesomeness. Every one of these stories I've read so far has been inspiring and wonderful. Check them out here.
thetatiana: (Default)

Dear President Obama,

First of all, thank you so much for your selfless service to our country. I'm 52 years old and never in my lifetime have we had such a good President of the United States. As idealistic and starry-eyed as I am, I didn't even believe it was possible in our political system to get someone so intelligent, so wise, and so good to serve in high office. Thank you for being willing. I think you are making a huge positive difference to the U.S. and to Planet Earth.

Every time I hear you speak, I'm reminded again of our country's highest ideals and virtues, and I'm stirred to their service. Again, thank you, for all your hard work and for your consistent call for us to rise above petty self-serving infighting and aspire to true excellence. I'm so glad you were elected and I'm proud to have voted for you.

You've achieved great things in the short time you've been in office, and restored my faith in the possibility of government for the people. Your courage in taking on entrenched power interests is impressive. I have two requests of you in broad terms. I leave it to you and your excellent administration to decide details of implementation, but there are two areas which I feel are crucial to be addressed by the only superpower in the world today, by a free country.

One, the proliferation of "secret police" in our country since 9/11 in particular, but more broadly starting in WW2. A dear friend, a veteran, who wrote to the FBI protesting unconstitutional actions they were taking, specifically a web site requesting citizens to report their neighbors who hold unpopular political opinions, and the arrests and harassment of the same people because of their unpopular opinions, had his concerns justified and greatly magnified recently when he was illegally arrested following his letter. When he asked the arresting officers to show him a warrant, he was tased three times, manhandled causing further injury, and then abducted by the FBI.

Free countries don't need secret police, and yet the actions of these FBI agents were what one would expect of the East German Stasi rather than any lawful representatives of a free democracy. So I ask you to look into the treatment of American citizens (and others) by the FBI and other shadowy arms of police-state-style power which are now extant in our country.

Why do we even have the FBI? In the 60s they investigated and harassed Dr. King and others in the civil rights movement, people whom we now hold up to our children as the highest examples of American ideals and the American system at work. If their complete files were made public, I have no doubt that the good they've done in apprehending homegrown terrorists and other threats to our country is far outweighed by the bad, since their mode of operations serves as a threat to the very freedoms our country embodies. Please do everything you can to disband all of these secret police units, and to bring the light of day to their actions. They're a serious threat to our country and our freedom.

Secondly, I direct your attention to the fact that worldwide, many children are dying each day for lack of clean water, adequate nutrition, medicine for treatable diseases, vaccines, etc. These children, those who survive the scourges of malnutrition and disease, then grow up without education, depriving the human community of their intellectual efforts, the innovations and that brilliance from which we all could benefit. The cost of providing these things is tiny compared to what we in the U.S. spend routinely on other government programs, however, securing clean water, adequate food, treatment for disease, and education for all newborns in the world would make our world a vastly safer place for all of us.

Just as a pure self-motivated defense spending, then, such monies would be more than justified. Add to that the dimension of human kinship, compassion, justice, and dignity, add the moral dimension, and it becomes truly impossible to underplay these very pressing world problems.

I know your mother was very much involved in microfinance, and I know your administration is supporting such ventures. That's a great thing. But I ask more of you. I ask that you support such efforts as Partners in Health in Haiti, Siberia, Malawi, Lesotho, Peru and elsewhere. Also that you watch some videos of Dr. Paul Farmer speaking, which you may find on YouTube. He's a brilliant man, has a powerful vision, and has worked diligently to implement it over the past 30 years. As you know, he's lately involved with the Clinton Foundation and is appointed to a UN role under Bill Clinton regarding Haiti. So I know you're aware of his work, but I ask that you listen carefully to his ideas, for they are most convincing.

Another organization doing great things for kids in the world is the Hole in the Wall group who provide computers with internet access in slums and villages across the world. Such access empowers kids to teach themselves and each other, allowing them the opportunity to transform their outlook from that of uneducated villagers to cosmopolitan full citizens of the world in one generation.

There are many other such projects which are leveraging small amounts of money into large positive returns in human terms. I'm thinking of things like Bread for the World, Engineers without Borders, Playpumps International, the group that builds wells with merry-go-rounds that pump clean water to a village storage tank, The Central Asia Institute (Greg Mortenson's group), International Development Enterprises, who start local industries like treadle-pump production for subsistence farmers to increase their yields, Matthieu Ricard's Karuna-Shechen group in the Himilayas, ITEC who develop technology for use by Ecuadoran native groups, Sunitha Krishnan and the marvelous work she's doing to fight human trafficking in India, Bead for Life, an organization helping women in Uganda, Hero Rat/Apopo who train rats to find land mines, kiva, microplace, and other microfinance platforms, HALO-Soma which teaches autistic kids, TED which sponsors talks by today's leading thinkers on problems we all face together, and many more organizations.

I'm doing my part to help all these organizations and to promote global peace and well-being. I support them, I organize my friends to support them, and I do my best to encourage and empower people around me to serve humankind. I started a wiki on the problem of Averting Human Extinction, and am nudging it along to try and furnish a central repository of all the strategies and information we'll need to do that. I try to support your organization, as well, and give a bit from time to time, as I'm able. I read your many emails, and applaud your efforts. So I have these two requests that I'd like to pass along to you in return. Please dismantle the secret police, and look after the world's children.

We need those kids, we need their input into our global conversation. Please don't forget them amid all the pressing considerations of your daily work.

Thank you
thetatiana: (Default)
Dear Roger,

Thank you for a lifetime of great movie reviews. I woke up this morning for some reason realizing I needed to thank you for all the years you've been sharing with us your passion for movies. Some of my best family memories are of us all sitting around discussing movies after watching your show. You introduced us through the years to so many great films we would never have watched without your "thumbs up".

From the very beginning your enthusiasm always came through. What I loved about you is you never became jaded and satiated as so many movie reviewers do. It's apparent that being forced to see movies they don't want to watch and wouldn't have chosen on their own gets to them after a while and they gradually sink into bitter misery and only live for the joy of excoriating and disemboweling the unfortunate artists whose work they happen to encounter. =D You've never been like that.

You always show enthusiasm in the original Greek sense of being filled with God, with life and liveliness. I trust your opinion because even if we disagree, you're able to articulate your view so well that you end up converting me over to it. I love how you find something to love about so many movies. Other reviewers seem to turn up their noses at 90% of what they review and only approve of a tiny subset. Your infectious love of so many movies spreads the wonder, the appreciation, and the joy of movie-watching to your listeners and readers. Thank you so much for that!

Unlike most television personalities, you never come across as slick and packaged, either. You always give the impression of being a real person, like a friend, like someone we can identify with. I read that fantastic article about you that was on the web lately, from a source I've forgotten (sorry). I thought, yeah he's such a great guy, and then went on to read the next thing on my screen. But this morning I woke thinking I should totally write you and tell you how much your work has meant to me my whole life.

Recently I joined Netflix and I realize that over half the movies in my queue I knew I wanted to watch mainly because you introduced me to them and got me interested in seeing them. So I know this letter doesn't fit your criteria of the answer man question, but I just wanted to let you know, and I hope you won't mind. Neither of us is in the greatest shape lately, and there are never any guarantees how much longer we have to express appreciation to the people who've mattered in our lives. But here's hoping you get another few decades of sharing your love of movies with your viewers and readers, and that I'll be around to see you do it.

Sincerely,
Tatiana
thetatiana: (Default)

Here’s an application for volunteering for Partners In Health that I filled out and sent in recently. I hope they can use my help. I love that organization and the work that they’re doing and I love Dr. Paul Farmer.

Where did you hear about PIH?: Kiva friends forum

What languages do you speak?: English and a bit of Spanish – have friends and contacts fluent in many languages that I can likely recruit for translations.

Is there a specific capacity in which you’d like to serve? What kind of work would you like to do with Partners In Health?

I can’t travel due to disability (Lupus, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue, Diabetes, Immune Deficiency) so that very much limits my areas of engagement, however I’m passionate about PIH’s work and model. I’m proficient in technical writing and editing, as well as managing big projects, and have done some web development and programming. I’ve worked with computers in the medical field and have read extensively in medical literature. I feel I could be of most use to PIH as a remote technical writer and/or editor, or as a project manager of training manual projects both paper and web publishing.

I’m active in several online communities as well as my church women’s group (Latter-day Saints) so I feel able to recruit volunteers and carry through whole projects from initial stages through completion. I could, if given online and/or telephone access to the Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), generate training manuals in English that could then be submitted to translators for all other target languages.

Please list any specific skills, talents or areas of interest that may be helpful to you in your work with PIH (certifications, experience, etc.).

I volunteer as a crisis center hotline counselor so have that “clinical” type experience working with patients / clients undergoing both mental- and physical-health crises. I’ve also done extensive tutoring of students in math and science curricula, as well as technical writing of tutorials and reference manuals for computers and industrial machinery. As an engineer and project manager I’ve coordinated and facilitated the work of dozens of team members as well as interfacing our teams with outside teams of contractors, OEMs, construction crews, engineers, and project management working on different parts of the overall project.

It’s particularly important seamlessly to integrate all the various teams at the boundaries of their different scopes of work, making sure all required tasks are covered and insuring good planning and effective interaction between disparate teams. The scope of my teams’ work has included such tasks as computer programming, industrial equipment and machinery design, fabrication, inspection, shipping, construction, and commissioning of completed projects and training of both operators and maintenance staff.

I’m accustomed to goals-oriented work meeting specific targets both in schedule and budget. I feel I could be very effective in several areas of PIH’s work and look forward to the opportunity to be of use.

Have you had any past volunteer experience? If yes, please describe.

Adult literacy tutoring, crisis center hotline counseling, Red Cross volunteer, tutoring of English as a foreign language to Spanish speaking immigrants (using immersion language training techniques), speaker and teacher at my church for youth groups and the general congregation, tutoring in math and science for high school and college level courses, teaching classes as a subject matter expert to colleagues and coworkers in subjects pertaining to engineering design for nuclear plants.

If you are interested in volunteering in the Boston offices:

How many hours a week can you commit to volunteering for?: Can volunteer remotely via computer and telephone approximately 10 - 15 hours per week.

Are there specific days when you are NOT available?: Can work any days but prefer no Sundays. No travel is possible, unfortunately.

Why do you want to volunteer with Partners In Health?

I’ve recently become aware of the work of PIH in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, due to information I’ve seen online at kiva friends forum. I purchased the book by Tracy Kidder, read and watched a lot of information online, and have become electrified by learning of the work that’s being done. I feel very strongly called to help as much as possible. I’ve given monetary donations to PIH as well as the emergency fund of my church’s humanitarian aid foundation, and to the orphanage Foyer de Sion in Port au Prince, however I feel a passionate desire to become more involved in whatever way I can.

I believe my skill set can be put to good use in furthering the work of PIH overall. I feel sure that PIH’s model can be replicated in many more locations worldwide, but the infrastructure, so to speak, that would be required to do that would require the easy availability of PIH training materials both online and in paper form in a wide variety of languages. My contacts through several online communities and locally here in Birmingham give me access to many volunteers with excellent education and varied language skills.

I’ve been interested for a good while in public health, global development, and the elimination of poverty through work with my church (Perpetual Education loan fund, clean water initiatives, disaster preparedness, as well as emergency relief), with kiva (online microfinance), Central Asia Institute (building schools in remote regions), and have read widely in diverse fields with regard to averting human extinction. PIH particularly attracts me because of its comprehensive approach to the health and welfare of impoverished communities, and because of its focused delivery of specific results.

PIH is an organization which seems to make very effective use of its resources both of money and of skilled volunteers and staff. I like the way PIH leverages its trained staff members to train others in turn and attacks its problems on many fronts at once, i.e. medical, engineering, political, agricultural, etc. The only way to deliver results to the whole world is to design processes that allow for exponential growth. This is the literal technical meaning I read into the Christian analogy of the mustard seed. It seems that PIH understands this concept, which so few other organizations have been able to harness.

One big thing that limits the creation of new PIH type organizations in many countries of the world (including the US… I only wish my son’s Lyme neuroborreliosis was being treated with anything like the thoroughness and efficacy of PIH’s operations) is the ability to train and organize doctors, nurses, administrators, and community health workers in sufficient numbers. I think a combination of computer based training courses, groups of translation volunteers, and paper publishing of manuals covering PIH’s model in various languages would lift some of those barriers that currently hold back explosive growth of such clinics worldwide.

I also want to learn as much as possible about the PIH model, and see it in action. And perhaps my son could get better treatment for his Lyme Neuroborreliosis and I could even get well from my chronic fatigue which may well be caused by something as simple as an XMRV infection which could be treated effectively with anti-retrovirals similar to those in use by PIH treating HIV in rural Haiti. At least I would hope that future generations of the world’s poor and even privileged Americans may get better health care for all sorts of treatable diseases and other health conditions.

It makes so much sense that it’s quite odd nobody realized it before. I sort of slap my forehead for not understanding before that of course everyone deserves the very best care regardless of their income or education. How is it that our system blinded me to that glaringly obvious fact for so long? I worked in hospital IT for years and we had these insurance codes that told the doctors how much care to give each person according to their ability to pay. If you had the code for Blue Cross, the doctors would know to go ahead and order all the MRIs or CAT scans, dialysis, or whatever expensive care you needed. If you had the code for Indigent, though, you got sent home to die.

The cynical thing is that there was one code for Indigent and a different code for Medically Indigent, meaning that poor people of course got minimal care but if it was we at the hospital who had *made* them poor we would want to throw them the occasional bone or two. I mean, they weren’t actually *poor* people in that case. They were just people who didn’t have any money because we’d already taken it all, an entirely different category of human being, apparently, in our health scheme. That always bothered me.

So when I read about PIH and the wholly radical and unheard of notion that everyone gets the very best care regardless of ability to pay, it was as though scales fell from my eyes. I feel ashamed that it never occurred to me before, despite the fact that I’ve long been a student of the civil rights movement in the southeastern US, and my mother studied liberation theology in the 1960s.

So everything clicked. Everything fell into place and I feel strongly that I ought to be doing all in my power to help PIH accomplish its goals, as well as to help expand its goals into entirely new areas, if things work out.

For instance, I’ve recently implemented an automatic reminder system for my stroke-affected mother to prompt her to take her medicine routinely on time. It uses a battery-powered clock that allows up to six pre-recorded messages per day to be played at scheduled times, along with a compartmented pill box for times of day and days of the week. At least once a week I go and check and refill her pill box. I wonder if such a thing might be useful for extending the effectiveness of community health workers so that they could at need visit their patients only once a week rather than every day, for instance. So far it’s working great for my mother. She’s responding to my recorded voice saying “Mom, it’s time to take your Plavix” by getting her pill out of the appropriate compartment and taking it on schedule. I call it my tele-nagger. =) It’s possible that this sort of system could cheaply empower a single community health worker to handle double or triple their current case load. Of course there’s more to patient visits than simple pill reminders, but it might have a role to play.

Whether or not that particular idea is of any use, that’s an example of the sort of ideas I would hope I could generate, as a lifelong engineer and student of technology at all levels, to help expand PIH’s repertoire of effective tools.

My engineering background might also make me of use in community infrastructure projects like the clean water initiative that was done in central Haiti. I’ve been supporting and studying various clean-water schemes for a good while too, such as Play Pumps International and the Hippo water roller system which doubles as a land-mine shielding scheme for rural people who must fetch water over long distances.

So please let me know how I can help. I stand ready to do everything in my power to further PIH’s goals.

Thank you.

I hope that will touch someone who reads it, and give them to understand that I can be of use to their organization. It’s doing such wonderful work! I wonder if we the computer generation (meaning mostly people younger than I, of course) will transform the economy of the world away from a money economy and more to a fun/helping/sharing/giving/friendship economy. Wouldn’t that be awesome? Though I suppose money does have its uses.

Even if we look at the world’s poor entirely pragmatically and with only our own self-interests in mind, it’s terrible how much human potential is wasted. All those brilliant kids who could come up with so many innovations that would enrich all our lives left to languish in disease and ignorance and hunger. All those potential terrorists with nothing to lose whom we could empower to become creative and fulfilled individuals working for our common good instead. It only makes sense to do it.

Then when you look at the moral dimension, who could possibly say no? Who could spend time or money any other way than lifting the burdens of the poor and oppressed people of the world? What could conceivably be more fun or bring more personal rewards? It’s a great privilege to have an opportunity to do that kind of work! Oh what shall I ask of thy providence more?

Ask in faith, never wavering: Oh heavenly parents, may the people of Haiti be greatly blessed, may the doors of heaven open wide and pour out blessings upon their heads so many that there is no room to hold them all! May her orphans be adopted and loved and succored and tenderly raised! May her widows and widowers be comforted and healed. May her afflicted again be made whole. Oh, Lord, let it be so, and if I can be of use as thy servant in these things, then show me the way. Open doors for me that you want me to enter. Point out the path that you would have my feet tread. I stand ready to answer thy call. Show me the way to love thy children as thou lovest them. Show me how to be thy hands to proffer love and kindness to those in greatest need.
thetatiana: (Default)

I just posted something as a comment on a (nonreligious) friend's review of the Holy Bible on Goodreads, and I wanted to preserve it here too so I can find it later. I came to religion as a scientist, so I had to rethink my picture of the universe in ways which might be a little unusual. So maybe that gives me a slightly different perspective. Anyway, here's my comment. Hope you enjoy it! =)

All I know for sure is that God exists and that he loves me and wants what's best for me, for my own sake and not for his. Then I can also make some assumptions about him from the quality of our interactions.

1. He can read thoughts, particularly calls for help, and can sometimes put thoughts into our minds as nudges or clues which we can either accept and benefit by or ignore as we choose.

2. He seems to know the future, which isn't even possible in theory in our scheme of physics that we have today, but obviously he must know more physics than us.

3. He lives a very long time by our standards, and is possibly (most likely) immortal.

4. Likewise, since our "selves" are software, in a sense, they're patterns that can be implemented on any suitable hardware, we're also immortal, or have the potential to be immortal. How this works out in practice is anyone's guess.

5. If modern string theory is right, which is, of course, a big if, there may be things going on in the other 7 dimensions which can influence stuff that happens in the 4 dimensions (3 of space and 1 of time) that we experience. Spiral galaxies, for instance, rotate much faster in their inner cores than can be accounted for by any mass or energy we see or infer. So there's this "dark matter" we've postulated that makes up the difference. Similarly, the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate. The numbers only come out right if we postulate a force which is opposed to gravity on a cosmic scale. No forces we know of (and our current system still has 3 or 4 forces in it (depending on if you count electro-weak as one or two) strong, weak, electromagnetic, and gravity). So that expansion is accounted for by a so-called "cosmological constant" which Einstein first postulated to explain how the universe could be steady-state instead of gravitationally collapsing. He then, when Hubble and others later discovered the expansion of the universe, was ashamed of that term and said he should have realized it wasn't real.

However, when we discovered recently from data from orbiting observatories, including the Hubble telescope, that the universe isn't slowing down as it expands but is actually accelerating (my dead dad owes me $50 over that one -- I wonder how much interest I should charge when I collect it ages and ages hence or whenever we meet again?) we had to add it back, and it's accounted for in the equations by so-called "dark energy".

All that physics stuff in point 5 sounds like gobbledygook to most of the religionists and like sound good sense to most of the scientists, while the stuff in points 1 - 4 sound like nonsense to most of the scientists and like commonplace truth to most of the religious people. But I hope there are more than a few willing to consider the possibility that all 5 could be true, at least long enough to bemusedly find me an interesting crackpot. =) But really, whomever first came up with the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics has little ground from which to giggle, or the many-worlds interpretation either, for that matter.

The thing is, and none of this comes from evidence contained the book in question, which I see as a collection of folktales and real knowledge in equal parts but one can't always be absolutely sure which parts are which, and have to keep the different options suspended in a superposition of states in one's mind at all times.

The thing is, what many people find upon personal experiment is that it's often fruitful and interesting to undergo this exercise. That's indisputable. So it makes me ask the question if there did exist species of super-beings (from a human standpoint) who were vastly more intelligent and knew a whole lot more about not just physics and metaphysics, but also ethics and subjects we call humanism, and had far more experience of living life in general than us, what form would they take? How would we learn of them, assuming they wanted us to know they existed? Arthur Clarke said truly that a sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Human technology and science is not a field that stands still ever. It advances at an accelerating rate, in fact, and will soon reach a singularity, an asymptote on the graph, unless something really weird happens, that is, something outside our experience.

So what do scientific people think? That we're the only technological species in the history of the cosmos? That seems unlikely just from the sheer scale of things. The size of the known universe, in fact, is something else that's increasing exponentially through history, as we first thought we lived in "middle earth" with unknown borders but obviously not much bigger than continental sized. Then on the spherical earth within a slightly larger spherical bubble called "the sky" that had all these pretty lights hung on it. Next from observing the planets we postulated a whole series of nested crystal spheres a few AUs or so in diameter. Then when we figured that out better, we realized the correct size of the solar system lying within a sphere of "fixed stars". Then we got better telescopes and realized that things were much bigger than we supposed, we saw the whole Milky Way galaxy which at the time we thought was everything there was. But then we got even better telescopes and noticed these cool spiral nebulae and eventually realized they each were "island universes" in their own right. Now we have this whole big bang pocket of spacetime, which is unimaginably large, but it's looking more and more as though this is just one of many many such pockets in the multiverse. So the cosmos hasn't yet quit "expanding" in that sense either. What is beyond the edges of our current maps? Here be dragons, etc. Do we really imagine that in all that vastness we're the only intelligent technological species that exists? It seems highly unlikely. And if there are others, wouldn't there be likely to be a whole spread of those which both were more and less advanced than us? Wouldn't we most likely fall somewhere on the spectrum of technological advancement, knowledge, intelligence, wisdom, etc? If so, where are they? Are we awash in their signals to each other the same way neolithic tribes in the Amazon basin are awash in our radio signals without realizing it?

So anyway, maybe they're able to read and understand our thoughts and maybe they're able to nudge things a bit (say, by manipulating the quantum fluctuations in the vacuum -- leading via the butterfly effect to larger scale events). At least that's my current hypothesis. So we can each do the experiment in our own minds. We can call out for help, with all the energy of our souls, to anyone who may hear our thoughts, and see what happens. Then we can ask any question we have to God who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not and listen for answers.

The real problem, as Douglas Adams realized, is knowing the right questions to ask. And that's where this book and others like it can come in handy. Reading it, studying it, is a way of asking what questions one should ask, and then learning their answers, which can then distill like the dew, line upon line, precept upon precept, starting from whatever it is we currently know about life and existence and reality. Try it!
(The image is by Matthieu Ricard.)
thetatiana: (Default)
Okay, so I really only learned most of this stuff when I was around 40 or something. Also, I'm still working on incorporating the practice of all this into my life as a regular thing. It's a work in progress, as well. We're starting to teach the course by practicing each week the tasks listed. The time to learn each task-set may vary, as well as the divisions of each subject. Right now it's tailor-made for one particular person, but it can be adapted for others as needed.

The relationships part is especially thin. Sheesh, you think I know about this stuff? Y'all gotta help me out on some of this. I'm also in the middle of learning the house maintenance stuff the hard way. I bought my first house seven years ago. Help me here too, please!

All input is welcome! Comments, criticisms, gaps, gripes, etc. (For example, I think each weekly topic needs a little anecdote of "How I so totally screwed up my life by ignoring this stuff which of course means I'm fully qualified to teach you how to live yours.")

Weeks 1 - 6 are about how to become civilized and housebroken. When you can do this stuff, you're qualified to live in a decent home.
Weeks 7 - 12 are skills that were historically thought of as housework or women's work but are actually the most basic abilities for daily living that everyone needs to practice to proficiency. When you can do these things, you're qualified to have kids or take care of a pet. In other words, you can run a decent home.
Weeks 13 - 18 are about money or interfaces with the outside world. Historically considered men's work, these skills are vital for everyone who might ever head a household, in other words, all human beings.
Weeks 19 - 24 are in-depth topics on how to be a happy, successful person.
Weeks 25 - 26 are the gravy, the post-doc of life, the really good stuff, transhumanism, etc..

So here we go:

SYSTEM OF FAMILY GOVERNMENT
or 26 week crash course in independence, life, liberty, self-reliance and learned-resourcefulness, (or all the things I wish I hadn't had to find out the hard way).

Week
1).....Clean up after yourself (or Your Mom Doesn't Work Here)
1a) Put your trash into trash cans
1b) Take dishes to sink
1c) Rinse out dishes
1d) Place in dishwasher
1e) Run dishwasher when full
1f) Empty dishwasher when cycle complete
1g) Take out trash when full
1h) Put your dirty clothes into the hamper or basket, or hang up if you plan to wear again before washing.

2).....Personal Hygiene (or Dude, Srsly!)
2a) Brush and floss teeth daily. Get teeth cleaned twice a year
2b) Shower or Bathe Daily, using actual soap.
2c) Shave or trim beard daily
2d) Wear clean clothes (c.f. Week 7 - Laundry)
2e) Flush picc line twice daily
2f) Change picc line bandage twice weekly
2g) Trim fingernails and toenails weekly
2h) *** Flush toilet after use *** (advanced students only)

3).....Friendships (or Silver and Gold)
3a) Avoid social climbers, users, abusers, and don't be those things either
3b) Bullying, dominance, aggression, power games; how to recognize and avoid those things.
3c) Purpose is mutual enjoyment, enrichment
3d) How to make new friends: 12 tips
3e) How to keep existing friends
3f) How to win friends back that you've lost
3g) Celebrate each other's joys, mourn losses
3h) To have a friend, be a friend -- the golden rule

4).....Spiritual Growth (or You are what you ingest. Feeding the flame.)
4a) Prayer, pour out your heart to your Heavenly Father
4b) Meditation, Rest your brain in peace and stillness. Observe yourself as the observer. Examine your emotional state from the inside. Allow any anger or bad feelings to melt away and feel deep compassion for all things well up within you. Think of your four brothers (from the book Eat, Pray, Love.
4c) Study the Scriptures of all religions (plus Tolkien, of course)
4d) Practice Honesty, Openness, Simplicity, Childlike Innocence
4e) Practice Humility, Devotion, Taking Joy in daily tasks,
4f) Give your Full Attention to others; how to really listen and really understand people.
4g) Practice Love, Service, Spreading Happiness, Acceptance of others
4h) Practice Self Control, breaking the bonds of slavery to the senses
4i) Practice Nonviolence, tolerance, freedom to choose a positive approach

5).....Respect for family and roommates (on Being a considerate person)
5a) Bonding, Shared fun activities daily
5b) Consideration for sleep, study, work and play time
5c) Respect other people's things
5d) Respect other people's agency
5e) Stewardship
5f) Mutual aid and helpfulness
5g) Tact, Gentlemanliness, Discretion

6).....Health (or To Live Well, Be Well)
6a) First Aid, stitches
6b) Colds and Flu
6c) Food Poisoning, Vomiting, BRATSY = Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, Toast, Soda, Yogurt.
6d) Infections and Pneumonia
6e) Parasites and Skin diseases
6f) Sprains, strains, broken bones, RICE = Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.
6g) Wound care
================================================================================
7).....Laundry (Clean and Quiet)
7a) Sort into dark, light, colors
7b) Wash, using detergent, bleach, etc.
7c) Dry in dryer with Bounce, or shake out and hang to dry
7d) Fold, hang, and put away each thing into its place
7e) Place dirty clothes in hamper, basket, or on laundry table (repeated for emphasis)
7f) Use spot remover on stains and spills as soon as you undress (for best results)
7g) Wipe down appliances as needed.

8).....Clean bathroom (Yes it does have to be cleaned, Dave)
8a) Swish and swipe daily
8b) Scrub toilet well every 2wks
8c) Spray shower or tub with shower-clean after each use
8d) Scrub shower or bathtub well every 2wks
8e) Wipe up outside of toilet and floor around toilet well every 2wks
8f) Wipe floors and cabinets well every 2wks
8g) Clean sink well every 2wks
8h) Wash mirrors with windex and remove streaks every 2wks

9).....Clean kitchen (or Everyone gets A++ 100 from the Health Department)
9a) Scrub dishes, load, and run in dishwasher daily
9b) Wipe down countertops daily
9c) Scrub sink clean daily
9d) Scrub stovetop daily or weekly
9e) Scrub cabinets every 2wks
9f) Mop, vacuum, wipe floors every 2wks
9g) Scrub oven monthly

10).....Cooking (or Edible Artistry)
10a) Food storage for safety; cover, close, refrigerate, freeze, etc.
10b) Wipe down eating surfaces and set with tableware
10c) Good nutrition
10d) Plan menus
10e) Following recipes
10f) Improvisation
10g) Baking

11).....Grocery Shopping (or Milking the Cornucopia)
11a) Use menu plan to make grocery list
11b) Selecting good produce
11c) Buy nonperishable sale items in bulk to save
11d) Know prices
11e) Eliminate useless expensive items such as soda, chips, etc.
11f) Buy makings from scratch instead of ready-made to save and savor.
11g) Keep it healthy, be full when you go to store, resist temptation! Remember Refined Sugar is an Addictive Drug.

12).....Clean living spaces (or Even Billy Knows Cleanliness is Godliness)
12a) Vacuum rugs and floors weekly
12b) Vacuum baseboards and windowsills weekly
12c) Dust furniture, pictures, lamps, mirrors, floor corners
12d) Clear away clutter: throw away, give away, put away
12e) Brush away or vacuum cobwebs in corners
12f) Clean behind and under furniture occasionally (rotate doing 1 item each week)
12g) Change sheets and pillowcases at least every 2 wks, every week for true decadence.
12h) Fix sofa cushions daily
================================================================================
13).....Personal and Family Finances (or Poverty's not your Pal)
13a) Making a budget
13b) Pay yourself first; SAVE
13c) Never buy luxuries on credit
13d) Stair-step model for reducing expenses: Food=cook from scratch->cook ready made->eat out fast food->eat out nice food; Entertainment=write plays and perform->get movies from library->rent movies->go to movies->go to theater, etc. To save, go down one stair-step in each category.
13e) Steps to Building financial security: $1k emergency fund in bank, pay off all debt besides mortgage, build 3 - 6 months living expenses in savings, save 15% of income toward retirement, pay off house
13f) Build and keep excellent credit
13g) Give of your substance to the poor, give back to your community, support good causes,
13h) Budget for presents for friends and family, budget for family fun and vacations, occasional splurges are good,
14h) General austerity maximizes enjoyment of occasional luxuries. Nothing's sadder than having too much to appreciate fully.

14).....Car Maintenance (or Be Kind to your Ass for it Bears You)
14a) Wash car weekly,
14b) Vacuum inside and wipe down dash, console
14c) Check air in tires,
14d) Fluid levels with every fill-up
14e) Change oil on equinox, check brake pads
14f) New tires every 20k miles
14g) New belts and hoses after 10 years or 70k miles
14h) Finding a good mechanic
14i) Buy reliable used cars after mechanic's inspection. A new car isn't new for very long.

15).....Uncle Sam and friends (or These guys Make Much Better Friends than Enemies. Stay on their good side!)
15a) Renew Drivers License every 4 years
15b) Car Tag yearly
15c) Taxes April 15th
15d) Do your research and VOTE
15e) Pay tickets promptly,
15f) Stay <10 mph over speed limit
15g) Keep a current passport
15h) Jury duty when called

16).....Home Maintenance (The single Biggest Investment Most People Make)
16a) Exterior Paint and trim
16b) Interior paint and trim
16c) Floors
16d) Appliances
16e) Plumbing

Update: Still working on fleshing out all of this and getting it all recorded. The updated version is maintained here.
thetatiana: (Default)

o A – Give your full Attention to all whom you encounter.
o B – Feel what Bliss it is just to breathe and inhabit your body.
o C – Celebrate and feel gratitude for everything that’s good.
o D – Let Devotion inform your every act. Take delight in daily tasks.
o E – Gently school your Emotions away from envy, malice, schadenfreude, or petty annoyance, towards enthusiasm, wonder, awe, and humble appreciation.
o F – Find the Funny. Fill the world with laughter.
o G – Foster continual Growth in yourself and those around you.
o H – Look forward with a perfect brightness of Hope.
o I – Seek the Innocence that comes not from ignorance but from true insight.
o J – Remember Joy is the reason for life.
o K – Pursue Knowledge for its own sake.
o L – Show forth real Love and kindness unfeigned.
o M – Make, build, generate, create many worthy things.
o N – Remember Nature heals the soul.
o O – Be Open, honest, and simple as is your birthright.
o P – Bathe your mind in Peace.
o Q – Spend your time in paths of Quality. You deserve no less.
o R – Render loving service to others, the key to limitless love.
o S – Take great care for all that lies within your Stewardship.
o T – Give Trust in order to build, suspicion only erodes.
o U – Seek first to Understand, then to be understood.
o V – Be true to your Vision of what is possible.
o W – Let Wisdom dwell in your thoughts.
o X – Exalt that which is worthy.
o Y – Yearn for higher things.
o Z – Be Zealous in pursuing your path.
thetatiana: (Default)

I finally found my Douglas Hofstadter book that I had lost a couple of months ago. My place was still marked so I picked it up and read it starting where I was. All the ideas he's exploring came right back to me, so I don't think I missed anything by reading it in two long-divided parts like this.

The book got especially interesting when he began talking about his wife's death, and struggling with trying to understand in what sense she still existed. It's obvious he feels strongly that she still lives, somehow, and that his worldview is not one that allows that possibility. So he's using his theory of self, his ideas about brains and intelligence, to explain to himself how it is that he feels she's still there. I think his worldview just needs to stretch a little bit, and he might understand that we're all software (which he does understand) and it's not important what hardware the software is running on (which he also understands). He seems to think, though, for lack of an objectively defined possibility for other hardware to exist, that people's "I" can run, at least in a coarse-grained lower fidelity way, inside their loved ones' brains. Not knowing where else his dead wife's self-program could be running, he feels sure it's running inside his brain. It's almost painful to watch him struggle with this question, he's so earnest and sincere.

I feel the answer is easily understood since our Heavenly Father maintains the computer we're all running on, i.e. the universe, that he has no difficulty providing other hardware for our spirit selves to run on, as well as some form of communication between us. This is what I assume Doug knows in a personal way, and why he feels so sure there's some existence still of his Carol.

I'm still only about three-quarters of the way through, but I had one more observation I wanted to make. This book really does just reiterate what was the main theme of Godel, Escher, Bach. Since I've read GEB so many times, this is all a bit of a rehash to me. I'm waiting for him to give us something more. However, I was disappointed in him for dismissing the kind of people who give a lot of attention to science fiction, and then going through again a good bit of territory that has been explored in depth in serious science fiction since the 1940s, and presenting it as if it were new. Like, he acts like SF is all on the level of Godzilla, and these ideas he's having about what it means for selves to be located in different places than their bodies hasn't all been examined already in great depth. Maybe if he actually read some science fiction instead of dismissing it, he'd be further along in his thought-experiments by now.

Anyway, he's still brilliant, honest, and a very cool guy, even if he has his blind spots like all of us. I'm still enjoying the book and engaging with his ideas in a fruitful way.

Menagerie

Jul. 15th, 2009 10:06 am
thetatiana: (Default)


I love that in the book by Lois McMaster Bujold called "The Curse of Chalion", a cursed character has a menagerie that protects and heals him and counteracts the curse. I think there is definitely something healing about sharing the company of other species. I'm not sure why this should be, but it's something that certainly holds true for me.

I feed the birds and animals on my deck, outside the plate glass windows that are all across the back of my house from the dining room to the living room. It's actually all one big room with doors that can be closed between them, but we almost never close the doors. The reason the house is designed like this is because in our previous house where we had a separate kitchen, dining room, living room, and den, we were all to be found in one of the above rooms at any given time. Usually we were all jammed into our kitchen, which wasn't quite big enough to hold us all comfortably, but where mom is cooking, there home is. Putting the rooms all together into one saved a lot of space. It's especially nice if one can sit and sip a morning cup of (in my case) hot water while gazing fondly at the squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, cardinals, blue jays, wrens, titmice, chickadees, house finches, mourning doves, nuthatches, red-bellied woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers, plus the occasional feral cat. There's something soothing and fascinating about watching the little animals. Felicity and Grace love it too. They sometimes go into stalking mode but more often they’re just sitting and gazing, the same as me.

Stalking mode is funny to watch, though. The squirrels in particular are extremely brave to much away happily with a slavering carnivore inches away through the glass. Inevitably the cat will forget herself and pounce, coming up against the window with a start while the would-be prey dances merrily away. Still it’s endlessly entertaining for the felines in the family. I call that window cat TV.

So, when humans do the same thing, sit and watch by the hour, is it because we’re also predators? It doesn’t feel predatorial at all to me. I’m looking on with the most benign feelings. If I haven’t put out food yet for the day, and I see them searching around in vain for something to eat, I start feeling a mother’s urge to go and feed them, to provide. Indeed I have a sort of compulsion to feed things. My friends will tell you that, as well.

If ever any of the creatures are hurt or lame it breaks my heart to see them so. I start thinking of ways I can help them. I don’t usually know individuals by sight, other than the cats, unless there’s some distinctive pattern, scar, or injury that marks one in particular. I give them names sometimes, if they’re particularly memorable.

I love how my Japanese Maple tree fills up with birds and squirrels in the sunshine. They use it as a sort of staging area for the various feeders. They scope out the area and see what’s around in the way of competition and predation from that place of relative safety before getting closer. Sometimes it’s like something out of a fantasy story. All the creatures gradually get tamer. One raccoon comes to the back door to wait for me, and I have to stomp a bit to scare it back far enough that I can be sure not to be accidentally scratched or bitten. Dr. George says they don’t have to be sick to have rabies, that many of them are immune carriers now. It’s too bad I’m not allowed to pet them. I think this tame one might let me.

The birds, too, flutter around my head while I’m filling up the various feeders with different sorts of seed. They are anxious to get the first shot at the feeders. There’s quite a lot of competition. So those who are least shy get a clear field while I’m still present. If I had the strength and patience I would stand very still with my hand out with seed in my palm and wait for one to perch on my hand to eat. I’m sure it would just take a little while before that happened. As it is, maybe I could take a cushion out and lie down with my hand palm-up on the deck someday. I might be able to lie still for long enough that way. Standing isn’t something I can do for very long anymore.

When it gets dry in the summer I put out a big bowl of water, and keep it fresh. They all seem to love it. It’s so cute to see the raccoons actually bathing their face with their hands. I can tell they’re quite hot and the water is refreshing to them.

Another thing I love to see is parents feeding their babies. The birds are always full-sized before they appear, but you can tell they’re juveniles, sometimes by the plumage, but always by their wing-fluttering and begging from their parents. It’s adorable to see three juveniles trying to out-compete each other in begging food from a parent when the food they want is right there beneath their feet. You can see the parent trying to teach them to just eat. But instead they flutter and cry “Oh I’m so hungry! Please feed me I’m famished!” meanwhile kicking food around in their urgency to get to the parent.

Sometimes I see creatures startling in their beauty. The coat of a red fox is so breathtaking that I understand completely why someone might want to wear that, despite the fact that it looks far prettier on its original owner. Occasionally there are coyotes, too. They tend to stop by very late at night to finish up any leftovers. They sometimes give cries that are rather blood chilling at that time of the evening. Once or twice I saw a wild turkey perched on my deck rail when I got up in the morning. I was very still and it hung around for a while before finally majestically flapping its way off. It’s always neat to see the vivid blues of the indigo buntings when they migrate through in spring and fall. For just a few days there will be dozens, then none. The goldfinches leave just about as soon as their gorgeous plumage comes in every spring. Chipmunks scurry about only during the summer. By fall they’re all tucked into some burrow filled with seed they’ve stored away during the warmer months. They begin their pseudo-hibernation, from which only half will emerge the next year.

The baby raccoons are by far the cutest things of all. They make their appearance while still tiny. Their clumsiness is so endearing. I never can resist if a baby comes while the bowls are empty. I will always go out and add more.

I get so much joy from watching them all. It’s healing. It feeds my spirit. I’m so lucky to have this little house in the woods in my city of a million human souls. And I love my personal menagerie.
thetatiana: (Default)

Reading my postings here, one would never know I was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Just now I had a strange thought. Why are baptisms for the dead only done by proxies of the same gender as the dead person? I'd like to baptize my father. I'd like to serve him in that way. After someone is dead, our memory of them is always there, but there isn't any chance to do things for them as we did in life.

Baptism for the dead is many things, but I believe one of its primary functions is that it's a way we can render loving service to our dead ancestors. This act serves to bind us together in love as a family. They did so much for us. They bore and raised and loved us or our forbears. They gave huge chunks of their lives and resources to do that. We don't always realize how much they're a part of us, how much we owe to them, while they're alive. We don't get enough ways to show our appreciation, especially to gruff unsentimental fellows like my dad, during their lifetimes. Here's our chance to do something for them of eternal significance. If they accept, if they want to, they can be part of our eternal family. Being loved enough to be invited to be in someone's family forever is a precious gift we give to one another. As a convert with no family in the church, I'd like to offer that gift to my father personally.

I could submit his name, and have it done by someone else. But it would be so much more personal if I could be proxy myself. So I started thinking, why is it so essential that we be proxies to those of our own gender only? What would happen if we did it differently? Would the ordinance be invalid? Why? Would it make my dad somehow less manly in the eternities? Would it make me butch? I've never heard any doctrine about it. It seems to be something that just isn't done. Why not?

Maybe this seems self-evident to people with a stronger sense of gender essentialism. Does it? Maybe because I've always felt more comfortable with guys than girls, and was called a tomboy growing up, maybe because I spent so long straining my neck trying to kiss my elbow when I was younger, maybe for that reason it's very easy for me to think "if I were a guy then ..." I had a real problem with gender essentialism, in fact, when I first learned the teachings of the church. What about hermaphrodites? What about trans-gendered people? What about female XYs, those who are female from birth because their gene-for-maleness on the Y chromosome is never expressed? What gender are they in the eternities? What about gay people?

Is a tomboy someone who is just a little way along the path toward the opposite gender? I feel 100% female and 100% straight, but I also don't feel that gender is necessarily an essential part of who I am as a person. Is that feeling alone enough to make me less than fully female somehow? These are all deep personal questions.

I'm curious now if I'm the only one. What percentage of Mormons feel gender is an essential part of who they are as a person? What about non-Mormons? When you dream, do you always play a female character in your dreams? I know that occasionally I'm male in my dreams, which I attribute to the fact that the default protagonist of stories in our culture is male. "Look at Mr. Squirrel eating that corn! Oh wait, it's obviously a nursing mother, look at Ms. Squirrel eating the corn!" My dreams often take the form of elaborate stories, which resemble novels in their scope and detail. Many times I've thought, upon waking, that I need to write that dream down and publish it. I have the distinct sense, in those type dreams, of playing some character other than myself. The viewpoint character in those might be male or female. I don't know if that's common or just because I read too many books, so my brain thinks in stories.

I also have a feeling of dissatisfaction with the way our doctrine handles gays, trans-gendered people, hermaphrodites, etc. which at this point we mostly leave them out. I mean I guess they can go be angels, but we deny them higher exaltation. That seems obviously wrong to me. There must be more revelation yet to come. Maybe polygamy (both polygyny and polyandry, which must go together either both or neither) will come clear at the same time. Is anyone praying to receive such revelation? Maybe we're not ready yet to hear it.
thetatiana: (Default)
I'm well along in the book now, though not completely finished. He's gone through again the Godel proof that shows any sufficiently powerful formal mathematical system is incomplete. I understand it better this time. For every statement in a formal system, you can map a unique number to that statement, which you can easily decode to yield the statement. So number = statement and statement = number. Cool. That's step 1.

Step 2 is that for every typographic manipulation rule of symbols in your formal system, there exists a mathematical equivalent rule for manipulating the numbers that match the statements. So there's an exact mirror of the entire formal system in mathematical properties, manipulations, etc. That is also clear.

Then step 3 is you can make a statement or formula in the mathematical system that says something about these numbers, and at the same time they're saying something about the system itself. All you have to do is come up with a statement that means (when looked at on a high level), "I am not provable inside formal system X". And it turns out that it's true! And it's not provable! In fact, there are an infinite number of true statements in any formal system that aren't provable inside that system. So much for mathematical systems mirroring all possible reasoning about numbers, and capturing all possible truths.

There's something magical about Godel's proof. It means things are much more open-ended than we ever dreamed. The universe has a way of continuing to do that to us over and over. For instance, during the 17th and 18th c. there was a thought that everything was deterministic in a strict Newtonian way. If you started the billiard balls going, they would keep on going through predetermined paths to the end. Now we think that tiny differences too small to measure in the initial conditions, and the quantum fluctuations of the vacuum, not to mention the probablistic nature of quantum mechanics means that nothing at all is predetermined, and that the future is unknowable even in theory. What an interesting universe we live in!
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