The luxury trap and that random car in the Staples parking lot

Just yesterday I pulled into the parking lot of a Staples, running a quick errand, and I spotted this license plate:

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A big fan of the human race? I asked myself as I drove by the car, or is this person, like me, an enthusiastic reader of Yuval Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. I immediately assumed it was the latter, parked my car, jumped out and snapped a quick pic.

It might perhaps seem odd, to you, that someone would advertise their favorite non-fiction book on their license plate, but don’t dismiss the possibility. Harari’s Spapiens really is one of those kinds of books, the kind of book that makes you think in new ways about human beings and about our place in the world, or as one reviewer said Harari’s Sapiens is making the world strange and new again. Read more

Don’t forget, we still have a trump card for Trump

I was reading an article just now, from the Guardian, about how Trump is reshaping the judicial branch of the government, in some extreme ways. Travel bans and big tax cuts for the rich get a lot of press coverage, but the judges that Trump is nominating have the potential to remake America for decades after Trump is dead and gone — and all of this is happening under the radar.

Conservatives like Trump and the Republicans are a minority in America, yet they’re full-court press against the will of the people may be impossible to fully undo. The damage inflicted — massive budget deficits, global instability, an American culture of anger and animosity, and a justice system hostile to minorities and civil rights — it all will probably prove too great to fix any time soon…But we still have a trump card for the Trump era: #calexit

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Fall Colors

 

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From yesterday’s hike. I get to experience an August/September fall in Alaska. In a typical year, the leaves have all fallen and winter is ready to move in, by the time I leave AK in late September, early October. So I post my fall pics from AK then I return to California, where it’s still summer. Finally, on the cusps of Thanksgiving, we’re getting some good fall leaves.

Look, I ain’t complain’, just explainin’

The Internet: crashing itself?

This just in, from a recent Guardian article:

The inventor of the world wide web always maintained his creation was a reflection of humanity – the good, the bad and the ugly. But Berners-Lee’s vision for an “open platform that allows anyone to share information, access opportunities and collaborate across geographical boundaries” has been challenged by increasingly powerful digital gatekeepers whose algorithms can be weaponised by master manipulators.

“I’m still an optimist, but an optimist standing at the top of the hill with a nasty storm blowing in my face, hanging on to a fence,” said the British computer scientist. Read more

The Rain in Spain (and coastal California)

I made it out for a hike on Wednesday, and it was beautiful, clear skies, but by Thursday it was pouring rain, like God forgot to turn the faucet off. It’s the rainy season here in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where the area is classified as a rain forest — so it’s hit-and-miss from here on out, in terms of getting nice hiking weather.

I do like the rain, though. It dampens the spirits, it shades my writing a bit more, giving it sort of a different hue. I always feel a bit more melancholic, but that’s good for the soul (for my soul anyway). It fortifies the spirit, and it’s as good an excuse as any to binge on Radiohead.

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Santa Cruz Mountains, November 2017

Yuval Harari, author of “Sapiens,” on AI, religion, and 60-day meditation retreats

I thought I’d share an excellent interview by the author of my current favorite book, Sapiens: A brief history of humankind. As artificial intelligence becomes more normative, the elimination of low skill labor is in the near future, i.e., machines replacing humans is no longer a question of if but of when. There are many people discussing this and writing books, but few can provide the kind of historical perspective on our species in the way that Yuval Harari does. He also does Vipassana meditation retreats, like the one I just finished. (My retreat was only ten days, his retreats are two months.) If you want a sample of the kinds of things Harari talks about, here’s a great 60 minute interview he did with Ezra Klein:

https://art19.com/shows/the-ezra-klein-show/episodes/261857d5-9ee4-43fa-b8a9-afed18e74d4b

Democratize Facebook

Question: What’s stopping us from just taking over Facebook?

We live in an era of rage, and rage is an appropriate response to the nearly unprecedented level of cultural and political corruption, but unless outrage has a productive direction to go in, it just ends up with…well, with Trump & Co. What we need is creativity, imagining new possibilities for society, beyond the sound-bytes and clichés that both conservatives and liberals have been fighting about for decades.

So, here’s an idea: We take over Facebook Read more

A crisis of confidence

The Democrat Party is divided because of the wounds of 2016. There was Clinton on one side and Bernie on the other. There were some policy differences, yes, but nothing that should have divided us this much, because we have so much in common, especially when you look at the other side, at the threat of Trump and the unhinged right-wing. But you know how these things go: people hold grudges and they can’t move beyond the hurt feelings. The main problem now, is to unify the Party, and maybe with the recent Democrat wins, we can do just that.

I wish that I could say that this were all true. I wish that it were that easy. I wish that the prior paragraph was true. Of all the folks out there who want change, who hope and pray for a better world, I’ll be the first to say that I wish that what we needed politically was to put aside our hurt feelings, unify the party, and move forward — but something so much deeper going on here, and it’s been going on for a long time.

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On the seventh day, he farted

There were more farts during group meditations than I can remember from any prior retreat, and from time to time they seemed to form some sort of chain reaction: one person farting, followed by another, then another. A sort of flatulent call-and-response, if you will. Then, on the seventh day, he farted. Read more

Is monogamy overrated?

I was in college I was first confronted with “marital infidelity.” I was attending a conservative Christian (evangelical) college as well as a conservative church, and the case involved a married couple that I was close with. I was shocked, naive and unprepared as I was at the time, living within a conservative religious bubble.

It was all pretty intense, I recall, not the least of which was due to the fact that it was the woman who had done it. (Submerged as I was in the evangelical bubble, even way back then I could see the sexism at work. Some people were extremely pissed at her, over-the-top kind of anger, and I could tell that some of this rage was aimed at her, due to her gender.) The couple tried to make things work, but eventually the marriage terminated. Read more

Meditation retreat: it’s all about the eats

Eating while on retreat is probably the thing I most look forward to each day. Probably most mediators do, because the meals are really the only source of external stimulation that exists. There are no electronics, no Internet. Hell, it’s a silent retreat so you can’t even talk. There is no stimulation whatsoever, expect two meals a day.

Yes, we only eat two meals a day, one in the morning and one just before noon. (Evenings are for fasting.) It sounds brutal, I know, but truly it’s not as bad as it may seem. After all, sitting all day doesn’t exactly burn the calories.

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Why is it so fucking hard to sit still? A few more thoughts

One thing that I remind myself as I meditate on retreat is that meditation is biological. For all the spiritual mumbo jumbo that we use, meditation is science. It’s a neurological thing, to be precise. There’s a very important sense in which meditation is about making the brain work better. As one medical doctor puts it, “neurons that wire together fire together” (or something like that, don’t quote me).  Read more

Tree Huggers

I’m definitely a tree hugger, although I don’t know if I’ve ever actually hugged a tree. In fact, I’m fairly certain that I have not. Maybe it’s the stigma that’s held me back, or maybe it’s something else. In any case, I do share with tree huggers a belief that trees are, in some sense sentient. Walking among the coastal redwoods, it’s not hard to believe that these tall, wise old trees are sentient.

I was hiking among the redwoods few days ago, and I couldn’t help but ask a simple question of the trees: what’s it’s like to be around for so long? These are trees with a life span of over a thousand years, sometimes two thousand years. In fact, there are trees within the redwood family that are older than Jesus. Read more