Friday, July 29, 2011

Go-bags and escape routes: your master plan when the shit hits the fan.

One of my best friends, let's call him Li Po (李白),  once had a pretty serious run-in with the federal government. It's a good story, involving Africa and anarchy, but I can't tell it to you.

I will tell you that the other night at 1:30 AM he got a knock at his door, and he grabbed the go-bag.

The knock was from a cute drunk stranger girl who rapidly became Po's friend. The go-bag is the portable toolkit for escaping this life and making another. In Po's case there is no physical bag, but he does have a well-considered escape plan, and several useful items for When The Shit Hits the Fan.

So fast forward. It's 1:30 AM last night, and I'm doing wine and machetes with Sgt. Matt Locke. Matt, too, has had some uncomfortable encounters the powers. Not least of which when he arrived to his army base having been AWOL for weeks, wearing Buddhist monk robes and refusing to re-deploy. I was telling Matt about Li Po, and Matt mentioned that he had a go-bag too. I started studying up.

Types of go-bags

There are apparently two types of go-bags. There is the "get me to a non-extradite country or a or one that doesn't care" go-bag, and there's the "I just need a tent in Montana and the open sky, screw civilization" go-bag.

I like civilization. Even prisons have conjugal visits. But I'm told that if you want to stock a bag for the most-days escape of humanity, some things to have are:

  • A fixed blade
  • A multi-tool
  • A waterproof sack
  • Baby wipes
  • Flashlights
  • A compass
  • A high-scale area map
  • Cord and rope
  • Duct tape
  • Rappelling rope and gear
  • Refillable water bottles
  • Socks
  • Baby powder
  • A collapsing pan
  • Magnesium fire starter with flint strike edge
  • Guns and ammunition. Tons of ammunition.

The ex patria go-bag is different. Here's what I've found in those:

  • Cash
  • A GoPhone and GoPhone charge cards, paid for in cash
  • A birth certificate bearing the name of a stranger (Read Paper Trip)
  • A passport
  • The Thomas Cook Overseas Timetable
  • Clothes that you would never normally wear (if you're a businessman, think skater punk)

While I'm new to the go-bag game. I do have some suggestions. I realize that I'm compromising my own plan by talking about this, but I figure no one's probably coming after me, and I'm not enough of a high-level target for the government to assign people to see if I mention anything compromising my plan in old blog posts. (Ok, I'm also planning on deleting this article after it's had its run.)

The ingredients I would add to the aforementioned tool kits are these little known facts:

  • The Pasporta Servo is a service run by Esperanto speakers all over the world who house and feed each other when travelling for free. Esperantists are bizarre, free people, who do not blindly love their countries.
  • There is a ferry in the town of Los Ebanos, Texas which serves as a little-trafficked official border crossing to Mexico. The ferry is pulled by ropes which are pulled by strong Mexicans. Document checks for people going into Mexico are non-electronic.
  • The World Citizen Passport is a junk passport, available to anyone, which was invented by a peace activist. It has somehow managed to obtain legal recognition in Ecuador. Ecuador is awesome.
  • There are many routes to EU citizenship for Americans of Irish or Italian descent. Italian citizenship is the easiest: if you have an Italian last name, you're basically in. The process takes a year or two, and is something that should be affected before TSHTF, but an EU-flavored passport will let you live and work in any one of the union's 27 countries.
  • Andorra has no extradition treaty with the US, and has a freakishly high standard of living.

Go-bag plans, like zombie apocalypse plans, do something cathartic for me, perhaps because they allow me to imagine the inhumanities of my present life being washed away. For other people, they're serious business.
Do you have a go-bag? I'd love to hear about it.

Why God Hates German Words

My grandmother had strong words for me.

Who the hell taught her how to use facebook, and why?

I had used the word "hell" in a facebook post. I didn't say "Hell is a wonderful empire, to which I swear my allegiance." I didn't even say "Dude, go to hell. I hate you." I said something like "Hell, I'll give them all to you right now for $9.95."

She drove to my house and scolded me. Just one more infernal consequence of the Battle of Hastings.

When the Normans came, they brought French. They enslaved the old German speakers of Britain, and the language of the people who bathed more often was, for centuries to come, Romance. Over time the languages fused into English, but the man in the high castle still tended to use his Roman words, and the man on the street still tended to use his old dumb ones. When a man on the street wanted to sound smart, he could try to pass for blue-blooded by switching words like "friendly" for "amicable", or "smart" for "intelligent."  It still happens. Lawyers are far too sophisticated for the oldspeak. Policemen, charged with high office but often born of a commoner strain, struggle with sloppy mismatches, calling a suspect "the individual," in utter subconscious terror of being labeled the sort of guy who uses the word "man."

Old religious words and words for bodily functions had it especially bad under the new regime. "Intercourse" is fine, but saying "fuck" is just mean. Grandma hates hell, but wouldn't bat an eye if I was looking for my other infernal shoe.

As with every other oppression in Christendom, justifications for this bigotry were soon found in the bible. Among my favorite tortured verses is Jesus's:

"You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."

I'm told "empty words" are those Germanic ones from Carlin's list. Nevermind that "brood of vipers" is pretty precisely the Hellenistic phrase for "sons of bitches." 

The bible is full of this sailor-speak. 

And I'm convinced that Paul would have called the Corinthians fuck-ups, if his century were within reach of so perfect a word.


Oh hi there, Hacker News. Someone apparently submitted this and it's doing pretty well. Some sort of HN or reddit flare-up happens with more of my posts than not, and it always has me wanting to find a way to capitalize on it and become some professional writer-philosopher. One with muscles and a serious artist face.  Hey, a boy has got to dream. Anyways, I can write stuff. I'm a little bit smart. You should totally hire me or something. Or what if I wrote a book? Would that work? If I've got, like, 140 RSS subscribers, but 50,000 hits a month through sites like HN and reddit, do you think that's enough of a following to get me somewhere? Talk to me.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Google+ Venn Diagrams

The killer feature of Google+ is that you can put your friends into circles. (I've also noticed that the sky is blue, and water is wet.) But I think G+ needs one more tweak.

I became a true believer in Google+, an absolute convert, completely repentant of my tawdry affair with the facebox, today, when I wanted to post something on the theme of sexual intercourse.

It was at that moment that I realized that the names of my circles were all euphemisms.

The cutesy names for all my circles could be described in more formulaic prose as:

"People with whom I can talk about  without annoying them, scandalizing them, or starting a pointless argument."

This is incredible. And given the ability to create multiple affiliations, it's no problem tagging Levi as an anarchist, singularitarian, libertine, programmer, and friend.  

(The USS Prometheus has dual affiliations. So useful.)

This is almost social networking valhala. A million perfect personal bubble filters. I can be the whole me (or at least all the different mes I want to be.) Almost.

Here's the problem. Sometimes this happens:

What if I want to talk about sex and anarchy? Then what do I do? The circles betray me. I have to nominate recipients individually.

If Google+ allowed us to post to category intersections, for example "programmers who are moms" or "Christians who aren't offended by the word 'fuck'", I think that it would solve all the world's many problems.

Maybe it's not a feature that everyone would use. I think the mavens would use it, though, and their early loud-mouthed migrations to the clearly superior network would get things going for Google+ (as if things weren't already "going.")

And then it's onward to the land rush. And the eternal September.  

You should seriously consider RSSing my blog. I mean, have you read it? Wow. Some stuff, this. I had a global reach higher than James Altucher's for one week in May. We can do better than that, guys, I know it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Why humans can't draw

When humans draw things, most of the time the product is something that wouldn't easily be confused with a photograph.

I lifted these prime examples, like a pirate, from the blog Bad Drawings of Famous Musicians.

I used to draw pretty badly myself before I discovered the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain some years ago, and literally became a decent artist in one minute, in a profound moment of enlightenment. I'm not joking. I never finished the book. I didn't have to. In my life, this was one of those game-changing books of quintessence.

Ok, so I'm not DaVinci, but to have gone in one minute from one who draws stick figures to one who draws recognizable likenesses feels like hearing God.

The life-changing insight was this: humans draw badly because they think in symbols. When we see a person's eye, our brain converts it to a symbol in the course of identifying it with the category of "eyes". We strip off data. We generalize. What comes out when we try to draw an eye ends up being pretty hieroglyphic.

So we draw this . . . 

as this . . .

Even as you think about the dissimilarity, you're probably still not doing it justice, because your brain is still doing its interpretive thing.

One awesome hack of a solution to the interpretive problem is to divide images up in ways where your brain can't recognize anything that has a match in its hieroglyphics archive. If you're drawing from a photo, you can cover up parts of the photo, leaving a visible square that doesn't look like anything that activates a definition. If you're hard core, you can then obscure things even more by rotating it.

With enough obfuscation, you should get to a place where you can see things as they truly are, and when you draw the lines and fill in the dark and light places as you see them with your unbiased eye, you'll likely produce something that looks a heck of a lot more like reality.

Of course the ultimate goal is to be able to see things as they are without needing to obfuscate. After a while you get to a point where you can just turn your interpretive machinery off. (Warning: this gives you a surprising euphoria if you're not already used to doing it. It feels really good to give that stuff a rest.)

So with this revelation I learned to draw. Yea! Go back to Hacker News now and vote me up. 

. . .

. . . Ok. And I may have learned something about living. Why am I typing this. (Hey Megan, I love you.)

The Tao Te Ching was another game-changing book of quintessence for me. Oh God, I know how your interpretive machinery just simplified me.

Taoism contends that people can get trapped in words, concepts, and "isms." When I was a kid I attended to an academic debate on the internet about whether or not the Taoist writer Chuang Tzu had been the world's first anarchist. The consensus that came out of the discussion was that Chuang Tzu would give the finger to anarchism itself because it was too still too much of an "ism," and the word was too much of a commitment.

Concepts can disadvantage us (and benefit us) in some ways because they're imprecise, but they're traps because they're commitments. I've spoken before about how I hate dichotomies like "I'm an intellectual, not a jock." But far more deleterious to our happiness, I think, are concepts like, "She's a bitch." Humans are prone to hieroglyph everything away, even each other, so that just as the hour-long drive from work becomes a single chunked "event" that can hardly be recalled, human souls of richness and complexity get written off, simplified to a few penstrokes, and ultimately never engaged with for what they are.

I've half-wanted to write an anarchistic spiritual manifesto growing from the insights that I gleaned in part from learning to draw faces, but I keep getting hung up on the words. "I can't say 'spiritual'" "'Anarchist' isn't right."

I guess "The Tao that can be told is not the true Tao."[1]

With that in mind, maybe some of you will bear with me.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

On Sadness

Sadness is a virus for which all common remedies are poisonous.

Anger, self-pity, self-hatred, self-praise, seeking praise, obsession, and denial are all infected poultices, regally aligned in the cabinet, some of them with very official looking doctor's notes and prescriptions. To use them is slow suicide. It's better to sit the fever out, and shiver, and lose sleep.

"I am sad. This shall pass."

And then remember which streams you drank from to make you sick, and find different ones.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Deaf Jew (or, "On doing what you love")

When I taught private lessons in English to rich women the University of Guadalajara's stateside campus, I got to hear a lot of interesting stories. I've become something of an expert on "la metafisica," Chilean wines, and astrologically informed child-naming. I also got to hear about some awesome rises to (and sometimes falls from) power. My favorite of these had to do with a deaf Jew.

The Deaf Jew was a friend of one of my clients. He was an old man living in Mexico City. He came to Mexico on a boat as a child having just been orphaned by the holocaust. He had no family, no friends, no money, and no understanding of Spanish.

Reaching the shores of Mexico, hungry, he exercised a starving boy's ingenuity and tore up a shirt to remake the cloth into a necktie. Someone bought the tie, likely for pity's sake, and Deaf Jew made some change. He immediately bought more cloth and repeated the process.

Long story short: being orphaned, handicapped, foreign, and initially penniless, Deaf Jew forced his will upon the universe and ultimately became a millionaire upscale clothier.

These kinds of stories make me wonder if the cosmos might not actually be somewhat benevolent towards those who act. "Knock and the door shall be opened", etc. Maybe everything we want is there for the taking. Or maybe Deaf Jew just got lucky.

Anyhow, that's not my point. My point is about doing what you love.

On Hacker News, there's been this debate as of late about doing what you love. For me, that's drinking wine and having heart-to-hearts with strangers and throwing machetes at a tree. God I wish I could just do what I love.

There's a deep river of feeling in the American psyche, growing from a confluence of influences from Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Disney, and robber baron capitalism, that tells us that our jobs are divine callings, and that we should find our joy and our identity in our careers.

I never much figured, though, that Deaf Jew just loved the hell out of neckties. In the same way, I never much figured that Bob Dylan's middle class Jewish bourgeois Yankee family talked in y'alls and if'ns, ma's and pa's. Nope, these two geniuses just found something that sold, and went with it, relentlessly.

Ultimately, I like to think that with this work they purchased the opportunity to do what they loved.

That is, at least, what I will keep telling myself. Until I see that wine/machete job posted.

Support this blog by paypal-ing me 99¢, and I'll email you some songs I wrote. Voting me up on Hacker News is also kind of like supporting me, because then more people will see this, and maybe one of them will give me a dollar.