Friday, May 9, 2014

This is not a drill

As posted on Facebook. My first deliberate attempt to instigate a meme.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Post to Open Humanism Mind-meeting group

[I posted this note and comments to a Facebook group after Anitra joined me to it. I am posting it here because I want to save it, and I don't entirely trust FB to do that for me.]

Anitra tossed me into this group against my will. I am her husband, with whom she does not always agree. Her focus is on her own brand of humanism mixed with form of Christianity. My focus is elsewhere. I'm a polytheist who doesn't believe in gods. How does that work? Well, first off, when I say I don't believe in gods, I mean I don't believe in what monotheists generally consider gods to be. I have my own ideas what purposes the word god should be put to, and my ideas are not accepted by most people, therefore they would say that I don't believe in gods. That is the first answer.

But also, believing really isn't the point. Gods to me aren't to be believed in. Gods are part of the machinery of my seeing. Objectively, when you look around a room, you don't see your eyes. Your eyes and brain are part of the equipment of your seeing. What I *mean* by a god, generally, is a part of my equipment of seeing into the world, or of my engagement with the world. A god is an organ of my subjectivity, that colors my insight. Strictly speaking those are what I would call personal gods. Universal gods also can be defined in at least two ways. A universal god may be an idealization of a form of a personal god. Or a universal god may refer to a perspective that informs subjectivities that can be shared. That is, the god is the shared perspectivity.

Example. A very simple god is found in what the Greeks called Hera. Hera is the god (goddess) who is said to be at work whenever someone runs into a burning building to save a baby, and says they didn't think about it, they just did it. The weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hera made American's enlist in droves. Hera sent firemen running up the stairs of the World Trade Towers. Actually Hera is the universalization of an ideal form of organ of insight. We all have a Hera in us, or we're sociopaths. "Hera" is to those individual Heras, as "The Human Eye" is to our individual eyes. The individual Heras cause us to engage ourselves in the world in a certain way. When I say I don't believe in gods, a subtler meaning of saying that is  that I am not a Platonist, so I don't believe in ideal forms, so the universal Hera to me is a fiction. Well, the individual Heras, when imagined as personal beings are fictions, too. But they are fictions of a higher reality. Because if you have had such experiences as I've described you know how it feels and it feels like somebody outside of yourself directed your actions. So the personalization of individual Heras is justified by the utility of conveying the experience. In any case, the individual Heras exist objectively as phenomena. I can say on that level I believe in them.

I don't want to have the best beliefs I can. I want to discover the means to have the best insights. By attending to gods, and distinguishing them, I am gaining in understanding how I engage the world and how others do, too. I don't have to make a religion out of it. I can apply my definitions, look for my very objective organs of engagement and get somewhere with that. But when I was a child I learned another way. That other way didn't detract from what I just described but added to it. I learned that by taking the subjective experiences of gods for granted and responding to the gods as if they were the persons they seem sometimes to be, they become easier to see and understand. This is the method of imagination. That's my religion. It has no dogma. It has no scripture. The church is everywhere. The altar is in my head. My gods eat Anitra's god every morning for breakfast, then spit him out and ask for eggs and toast instead.

Imagining is not only a solitary process, but a group activity. My childhood experience was that, around the age of 3, I encountered and became close friends with a couple of 18 year-old Hawaiian brothers, one of whom was a Hawaiian traditionalist. So he had rejected Christianity for a version of the Hawaiian traditional ways, the Kahiko, that he had learned (against the law in those days!) from one of his uncles. He taught me some of that. As a result, my imagining of gods and goddesses often reflects Kahiko imaginings. Another way to say that I do not believe in the gods, is that I am aware that they are imaginings, and I am aware that they are only scaffolding for my awareness, and I am aware that they come from inspirations of all kinds, and therefore I can pack them all up and forget about them, and go to sleep when I need to. The act of choosing these gods and not those isn't about dogma, it's about love.

Imagining itself is an organ of seeing. And necessary to imagining is the ability to clear one's head, or to tear down imaginings. And necessary to make any use of imaginings, you need memory, to preserve them a while, to use them. There's a nice trinity.

Should mention this corollary: Since the gods are organs of my engagement with the world, and since "I" is a word for that engagement, I am made of my gods. My voice is the combination of their voices. This view tends to make me less than worshipful about them. I have a lot of appreciation for my body parts, but I don't worship my liver. In fact, I actually feel rather superior to my liver, most of the time.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Thought

Christians and I agree about one thing: They don't want to convert to my religion, and I don't want them to convert to my religion. I want them to keep to theirs. It suits them.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Meet the Editorial Committee

[Clockwise from lower left are August Mallory, Wes Browning, Jihad Salaam, Joe Howard, Teresa Reeves, Mary T Andrews, and Anitra Freeman.]

Well, meet some of it anyway. People wonder how Real Change newspapers are put together. There's an editorial department, run by our editorial manager Amy Roe, and including two reporters and a production assistant. Many volunteer writers accept assignments and some submit unsolicited work, which we consider. In addition to all that there's the editorial committee, or the "EC."

The idea of the EC is to provide grassroots input to the paper's content. All interested readers of the paper may apply. The principal activity of the committee is to brainstorm story ideas for future issues. So the main qualification to be accepted as a member is an ability to work well with others while bringing ideas to the table.

Currently the EC has 13 members, of which 8 are fully active vendors, 2 are semi-active vendors, and one (me!) is a highly inactive ex-vendor. (I was highly inactive when I was a vendor, too.) In this particular meeting 7 of us were on hand.

Besides brainstorming, the EC also spends a little time in each meeting looking through the most recent paper for errors that might need correcting, or stories that suggest follow-up.

Then, every month or so, we go over those unsolicited submissions I mentioned above. These are confidential sessions. A volunteer has previously blanked out the author's names on the submissions, so that we can vote to accept or reject blindly. Our acceptance is provisional -- the editorial manager makes the final decision.

This particular meeting was almost all brainstorming. Ideas batted around the table involved an upcoming anniversary of the Frye Hotel, a future guide to being homeless for the first time, a death on the street in Ballard, the relationships between panhandlers and vendors, an upcoming "carve-in," activities of neo-Nazi and similar organizations in the area, and the effects of budget cuts on ex-offender services.

Meetings are currently 2:30 to 4pm Thursdays in the Real Change vendor room, 96 S Main St. Guests and applicants are welcome the last Thursday of every month. Real Change vendors have preference and may apply at any meeting.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Serious Work at Real Change

Here at Real Change we take everything we do seriously. One of the things we do is have All Staff Meetings every two weeks. Those are meetings in which all the staff sit around a table and meet. In our seriousness about these meetings, we decided to dedicate one of our recent meetings to the question "What are All Staff Meetings for?"

Our Vendor Staff Director, Tara Moss agreed to facilitate that meeting. To prepare us all for the discussion she sent around a link to a video talking about research into the "marshmallow problem," " -- a simple team-building exercise that involves dry spaghetti, one yard of tape and a marshmallow. Who can build the tallest tower with these ingredients? And why does a surprising group always beat the average?"

The marshmallow problem is explained in the video accompanying the link. As a mathematician, I couldn't resist seeing not only whether I could build a reasonably sturdy tall tower of dry spaghetti, but whether I could build one entirely based upon the three Platonic solids having triangular faces. Would that support a marshmallow?

Yes. The picture, taken just before a tragic accident involving the tower and a coworker sitting upon it, proves it. That's Tara Moss herself in the background.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

They're BACK!

This is nice. I wrote about this park and its statues in 2008 in Geese Have It Worse. The statues in the background appeared after a mass killing of geese, show a boy excited to see a Canadian Goose in the park. Yeah, he should be! They murdered them all! Well, not all of them. Here's a couple that WOULDN'T DIE! Call the authorities before they get away! (It looks like the mother is getting ready to take out her cell phone.)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Sidewalk Feature Takes Me Back

 When Anitra and I walk home from the Real Change office, we regularly meet this, one of my favorite Seattle landmarks. That's the headquarters of the Seattle Fire Department, viewed from the Main St side, looking east toward Second Avenue. From this angle it looks like a joke. Someone decided to split the sidewalk into a high sidewalk and a low sidewalk. So, for fun, when we approach I like to nudge Anitra toward one or the other. Say I nudge her to the high sidewalk. Then I take the other one at the last minute. And see if she breaks into an impromptu travesty of Loch Lomond.

If we look at it from further out, we realize that it's really a wheelchair-ramp to an unmarked blue-green door of the Fire Department.

It happens I remember that the door used to be marked as the entrance to a public restroom, that is now no longer accessible. I always find it locked now. But that's not the triggered memory that I'm talking about in the title. The game I play with Anitra reminds me of an obsession I had when I was 6 or 7 years old

I was caught up with the idea that I had a trajectory. As a body in motion I leave a track. If I pass through an opening, and then later, upon return, choose not to pass through that opening in the reverse direction, then I have wound my trajectory around one side of that opening. In the case of the wheel-chair ramp, if I take the high side going east, and take the low side coming back west, altogether I will have wound my trajectory once counter-clockwise around the railing.

Imagine I was leaving a string behind me, everywhere.  One long, long, string, like the drag line of spider, all the way back to the hospital room in Greenville General where I was born, where it would be anchored. Every time I were to wind it around an obstacle, it would be that much harder to pull the string straight, if I ever wanted to.

That's exactly what I imagined when I was 6 or 7, and it horrified me then, that I might be in that fix. Not to be able to straighten out my life path! It would be like being caught in a trap, ready to be devoured by some monster. I wouldn't be able to run freely, my string radiating freely, pivoting around South Carolina.

Fifteen years later I was an undergraduate discovering my own personal proof of the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra (which says that complex polynomials factor completely) and my proof ended up being the winding number proof. It's an approach that derives the theorem by studying the way polynomials map circles in the complex plane to curves, with particular attention to the number of times the curves wind around zero. Discovering that proof drew me further into the mathematics of properties of space that stay the same when you straighten wrinkles, and so I ended up being a topologist. But my original fascination with the subject was rooted in fear of being trapped in a tangle.

I'm now utterly over that childhood fear. I still imagine the drag line behind my life trajectory. The difference is now I love the tangles. Now I deliberately wind myself around things. If you see me walking down the street and I weave first right then left around various sidewalk signs, light posts, and such, you'll know that's what I'm doing. I'm tangling myself in everything, because I've figured out who the monster is, and I'm quite happy with being devoured by her.