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Current Thoughts, a Blog-Like Collection of Short Articles by Richard Seltzer    

seltzer@seltzerbooks.com

Samples from the book "Lenses". If these ideas intrigue you, tell your agent, tell your publisher -- they need to publish this book


Free masks for all

Message for Governor Cuomo about how coronavirus spreads


Beware of Microsoft's OneDrive


What to do With Your Money

Why Didn't God Make Little Green Mammals?

Epigraphs from "Lenses"


 Foreword from "Lenses"


Getting Personal


 Creation Story for the 21st Century


 One Beautiful Moment


 Where There's a Will


Listening to Life with a Tin Ear


Certification for Panhandlers (11/23/2019)


Long-overdue Constitutional Amendment  (11/15/2019, revised 11/28/2019)

How to Save the Bahamas and Maybe the World as Well (10/30/2019)

Open Letter to the Washington Post and the New York Times (9/5/2019)


Where There's a Will (9/5/2019)

Congress is Broken. How Can We Fix it? (7/21/2019)

Binge Reading Shakespeare (7/14/2019)

Defining "Dagwoodism"

Message to Hong Kong Protesters - Rolling Boycot (7/1/2019)

The Need for Online Written Debates (6/27/2019)

To-day Lists Instead of To-do Lists (2/15/2019)

Possible Cure for Writer's Block (1/4/2019)

Deep Biosphere and Fossil Fuels (12/18/2018)


Thoughts on Trial by Jury, Prompted by the First Manafort Trial

Using Binary Fractions to Keep Track of Ancestors

Your Life's Mission

The Need for Pain-Intensifying Medicine

A Factor that News Stories about the Supreme Court Nomination Have Missed


Constitutional Crisis

Optimism/Pessimism

Yes-terday

Your Signature and Your Unique Identity

The Time Between Time

Our Time

Never-Ending Now

The Wayback Machine

Does Dark Matter?

Does Light Matter?


Free Masks for All


Joe Biden should offer free medical masks for all. And they all should read in large letters: "Restore America's Health -- Vote Biden."



Message for Governor Cuomo about how the coronavirus spreads

May 7, 2020

(If you have any way to get this message to the Governor, please do.)


In your coronavirus briefing on May 6, you noted your surprise that many of the people who have become infected were staying at home.


How many of them lived in apartment buildings in which multiple units shared a common ventilation system?


The ventilation might be promoting rapid airborne spread.


An article in the Wall Street Journal describes the work of a woman who has been modifying the ventilation systems of Philadelphia hospitals and by so doing has reduced the spread there. I suspect that a similar approach could be effective elsewhere as well. For instance on ships and in nursing homes and prison; and also in meat processing plants where large fans blast air across large open work areas.



Beware of Microsoft's OneDrive

                When my Windows 10 laptop crashed, I ordered a new desktop machine from Dell. When it arrived, I first copied my old files (over 650 gigabytes) from a backup drive I had from Carbonite.

I was amazed and distressed at how long the copying took -- five full days, running 24 hours a day. I thought the new computer was broken.

                Then I learned that since the last time I had set up a new computer, Microsoft had made changes to Windows 10 and also to Office, integrating OneDrive, the Microsoft cloud storage, as a default setting.

                All of those files were being copied not onto my hard drive, but rather onto OneDrive, degrading the performance of my powerful new computer, and also exposing my personal and financial information to hackers.

                When all files are saved on the Cloud, you can't do any work when you lose your Internet connection. And when you have the connection, everything is slow because of transmission delays. The Cloud makes sense for backup, but not for storing working copies.

                In addition, Microsoft was only providing 5 gigabytes of storage on OneDrive for free. They would be charging me to store the rest of my 650 gigabytes, without ever having given me a choice.

                Once I discovered this hoax, I renamed my Documents folder "Local Documents" to avoid confusion with the Documents folder on OneDrive. Then I copied all the files back to my hard drive,  deleted them from OneDrive, and I also changed the default folder for saving documents in Word and other Office applications from OneDrive to my hard drive.

                Now my new computer works just fine.

                I wish there were an alternative to Microsoft, but the fact that publishers have standardized on Windows and Word gives me no choice.


What to do With Your Money


            In these crazy times, you wouldn't want to put money into stocks, with wild unpredictable changes; or into bonds, with historically low interest rates. And you wouldn't want to keep cash, because the trillions of dollars the government is printing will probably lead to major inflation. You would want to put your


money into commodities. And the best commodity in a time like this is real estate, because of artificially low interest rates.


            But avoid properties in buildings in which the tenants share a central ventilation system. That is likely to be one of the ways the coronavirus spreads in ships and nursing homes and meat processing plants. (I haven't seen any reports speculating on that. But it seems logical and likely).

Why Didn't God Make Little Green Mammals?

            Have you ever seen or heard of a little green mammal?

            Why not?

            In biospheres with lots of grass and leaves, we find green reptiles and green birds, but no green mammals.

            If color is a survival factor for reptiles and birds, why not for mammals? Of all the species of mammals, wouldn't you expect at least one to take that niche?

            It's easy to use Darwinian truisms to explain the color or structure of any creature after the fact. But what about the capabilities and the colors that by the same logic should exist, but don't?

            Mammals evolved from reptiles and many reptiles are green (presumably because of the survival value of that color in many environmental niches). It would not have taken mutations for there to be green mammals. Rather, all that was needed was for one or more species to keep their green skin color and continue benefitting from that color. Why didn't that happen?

            Supposedly life began in the sea, with fish, reptiles, and amphibians. Then some reptiles and amphibians moved onto solid ground; and some of those reptiles became dinosaurs; and some of those dinosaurs evolved into birds; and other reptiles evolved to mammals. Or at least that's the usual high-school-level pitch. We're taught that all animals on earth share DNA/genetic code; and that mammals came after reptiles.

            If that is true, then why don't any mammals have green skin, like snakes and crocodiles and frogs?

            A believer in Darwin might conclude that the absence of green mammals suggests that mammals evolved somewhere where green foliage and green grass were rare, if not non-existent. Perhaps not on Earth.


Epigraphs from Lenses, a book of essays that look at knotty questions from unusual angles -- my way of trying to ponder imponderables.


"... we suspect our instruments. We have learned that we do not see directly, but immediately, and that we have no means of correcting these colored and distorting lenses which we are, or of computing the amount of their errors. Perhaps these subject lenses have a creative power..."

from "Experience" in Emerson's Essays

"...sensible people will get through life by rule of thumb as they may interpret it ... Take any fact, and reason upon it to the bitter end, and it will ere long lead to this as the only refuge from some palpable folly."

from The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler

"The soul is a prism

That casts rainbows

From heaven"

from "Skeleton Key" by Rex Sexton

Sample from the book "Lenses" -- Foreword


            The "lenses" in this book are essays that look at knotty questions from unusual angles. They are my way of trying to ponder imponderables.

            I need to know who I am and why I am and how my life might matter in the context of those who came before and those who will come after. But the answers offered by religion feel insufficient, and scientific knowledge has advanced to the point that it is beyond the understanding of laymen. It would be wonderful to participate in the vast endeavor of scientific discovery and make a contribution, but the advancement of science will not end in my lifetime and will probably never end. I need answers that make sense here and now.

            Many of these lenses derive from my belief that, as individuals and as a species, self-regulating mechanisms push us toward balance and reason and compassion. Our worst experiences and dreams can help nudge us in the right direction as if some force were trying to navigate a huge ship down a river, with the crudest of controls -- a push this way, then a push that way. Toward what goal?

Sample from the book "Lenses" -- Getting Personal

            Sometimes inspiration isn't a matter of stimulating new ideas, so much as confirming and clarifying thoughts considered earlier. In my eclectic reading, I sometimes stumble on a passage that feels right, not as a discovery of something new, but rather as a clear and cogent expression of what I believed before, and that stimulates me to take that thought in a new direction.

            Such was the case with a passage from Boethius, who wrote in the sixth century. In prison, awaiting execution at the random whim of King Theodoric of Italy, Boethius tried to make sense of life. He concluded that infinity, eternity, and chance reduce everything we might do to insignificance.

            The endeavor to try to understand the nature of everything is unending. That is just another aspect of infinity/eternity — no single breakthrough, no individual contribution matters in the long run, because the process of discovery never ends. There's never a moment when “THE ANSWER” is found. Every answer gives rise to new questions, which lead to new insights.

            Yes, part of why we exist (presuming there is a “why”) must be to participate in trying to make the world a better place than we found it, in trying to advance knowledge, or in trying to help those who might some day do so.

            But another very important role (one which becomes all the more important the older we get) is striving to make personal sense of the world we live in and our role in it.    

            I will never understand the absolute nature of anything, but I can arrive at a personal understanding — building context through reading and experience, making personal mind maps to help me recognize relationships and interconnections, arriving at personal answers to the big questions, answers that help me deal with day-to-day reality and to arrive at a sense of fulfillment, so that the ordinary tasks and challenges of life make sense to me in a self-built context.

            From this personal perspective, infinity and eternity are positive, not negative. Every moment in time is in the middle of all time, just as every point in space is in the middle of all of space.  

            I, just like everyone who has ever lived, stand at the center of the universe. So I strive to find truth and meaning within the fabric and context of my life.

            In practical terms, this means that I need not read and strive to understand everything written by great thinkers. Rather I read authors whose works resonate with me, whose thoughts stimulate follow-on thoughts of my own.

            I'm on a personal quest to try to understand what matters to me as an individual, living here and now.

Sample from the book "Lenses" -- Creation Story for the 21st Century

(From an email to my granddaughter Adela)

            Other people know physics and biology much better than I do. This is what I understand from what I've read and heard and figured out from trying to make sense of all the pieces. This is what I think about how the universe came to be and where we fit in the overall scheme of things.

            Imagine you have a huge bubble ring and lots of soapy water and all the time imaginable to blow bubbles.

            Most of your bubbles pop right away, before they are fully formed. Lots come out small and pop soon. And a few get big and drift away and are beautiful.

            You keep blowing bubbles for years, for billions of years and you can keep blowing them for billions of years in the future. You're an absolutely amazing bubble blower.

          Now imagine that instead of bubbles of soap, you are making bubbles of space-time, the stuff that makes the existence of all stuff possible. And one of your bubbles is a grand-prize winner. It keeps getting bigger and bigger. All the conditions are right this time. When you blow billions and billions of bubbles even something ridiculously unlikely will happen sooner or later — in all of eternity a once-in-a-million shot will happen many times.

          This bubble lasts for 14 billion years and keeps expanding and might continue for billions of years to come. That bubble becomes the whole universe.

            And on the surface of that bubble, there form galaxies and stars and planets, billions and billions of them. And on one of those planets, life forms and evolves over three and a half billion years, from one-cell creatures to dogs and cats and monkeys and people.

            And imagine that everything and everyone in this universe is connected to everyone and everything else. We're all on that same ever-expanding bubble, and we're connected by forces like gravity, and we're connected by history as well.

            When our big bubble started, all that existed were the simplest of atoms and molecules and particles. Over time, these little pieces of matter randomly came together by the push and pull of forces like electricity and gravity and formed stars. And the stars became so dense and so hot that new kinds of atoms and molecules formed inside them. And some of those stars got so big that they exploded as “super novas”. And in those explosions new more complex atoms and molecules were created — kinds of matter that are essential to life as we know it were formed in the explosion of stars.

            In other words, the matter that makes up your body was created in the explosion of stars.

            You might say that stars died that life as we know it could exist.    

            Space and time are vast, and we seem small and insignificant next to all that vastness.

            On the other hand, it took all that vastness of time and space for us to come into existence, for us to be who we are here and now.

            In other words, the bigger the universe, the more important we are, because it took all of that to make us.

            So then the question becomes — what should we do about it?

            If we're all that important, what should we do with our lives, with our effort and our thinking and our working together and our caring for and about one another to make the creation and evolution of the universe worth the effort?

Sample from the book "Lenses" -- One Beautiful Moment

            God imagined one fleeting moment -- a butterfly fluttering above a pond at sunset. And He created the universe -- all the past and all the future -- to make that moment happen.

            Any moment, in all its detail, would require the miracle of all of creation.

            The creation of any being would require all of creation.

            Perhaps there was no beginning and will be no end, and every moment we witness the miraculous creation of everything and everyone.

Sample from the book "Lenses" -- Where There's a Will

            We equate consciousness with rational thought and we can correlate thought with brain activity. And when there is no brain activity and hence, presumably, no thought, we define a person as dead -- brain dead.

            But we can act without thinking; and we can think one thing, make a conscious decision to do it, but do something else, even the opposite (surprising ourselves). In other words, the will, though associated with thought and a subject of thought, is separate from it.

            So is the brain necessarily the seat of the will?

            Language associates will with emotion and intuition and suggests that it is centered somewhere else (heart, gut, etc.). Language also associates will with the vague, but persistent, concepts of "soul, "self," "spirit," and "life force."

            So does the will necessarily cease at the same time that thought does? Might someone who is declared brain dead still have will, including the will to live?

            Also, linguistically as well as in religion and myth, the soul or spirit is separate from the body and persists even when the body dies. So why presume that soul/self/spirit/will has a distinct physical location in the body, as thought does?

Sample from the book "Lenses" -- Listening to Life with a Tin Ear

            I used to envy those born with perfect pitch. Unlike me, they could appreciate music to its fullest. I couldn't tell if a piano was out of tune or distinguish great from mediocre performances. But now I've reached an age when instead of regretting my limitations, I can be proud of them.

            Perfect pitch is a curse and a tin ear a blessing. To someone with perfect pitch anything less than a perfect performance is painful to listen to. Yes, such a person can appreciate subtleties beyond my ken, but that same person might not appreciate and enjoy the vast majority of what passes for music for the rest of us.

            I can appreciate a flawed performance on a piano that is out of tune. I can enjoy sing-alongs and amateur singing and karaoke and informal musical events. I can delight in whistling while I walk. My opportunities for musical pleasure are far greater because of my tin ears.

            Similarly, I can appreciate and savor ideas that aren't thoroughly developed. I can enjoy a story, a book, a movie that is good but not great. I have everyday, non-professional expectations.

            The world is far too complex to understand in detail. And I'd rather explore many subjects and try to arrive at a practical working understanding of many than devote myself to one narrow field and never arrive at certainty or complete knowledge of it.

            Rather than seeking definitive answers to the "big questions", I want to arrive at personal answers -- answers that make sense on the scale of where and when I live, rather than the vastness of infinity and eternity. I need lenses that help me look at the world with a perspective of immediacy, from the context of daily life.

          Let's enjoy what we can know. Let's enjoy life as best we can, glorying in the imperfection of our tin ears.

Certification for panhandlers (11/23/2019)

         When you walk out of Grand Central Station, you are immediately greeted by panhandlers with heart-wrenching stories on signs and pathetic, sympathetic facial expressions. They are almost always individuals, the majority claiming that they are veterans, but women as well, some of them pregnant.

            On the streets of Paris, the panhandlers are usually families, including small kids, purporting to be refugees, sitting on a blankets, with what may be all their belongings near at hand.

            It's a worldwide problem, and probably always has been.

            Most passersby, if they knew these tales were real, would give generously. But how can you tell what is true and what is fiction? Maybe you give loose change on the spur of the moment. But there is always the lingering doubt -- are you being suckered, or (far worse) could this be a variant of the situation in Slumdog Millionaire and in Oliver Twist and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, where beggars are systematically exploited, and sometimes children are deliberately mutilated to make them look more pathetic.

            I'm a bit of a Dagwood, the cartoon character who frequently said "There ought to be a law." I can't help but think of what might be done to change things for the better.

            Might the omnipresence of cellphones help?

            Imagine a program for certifying panhandlers, perhaps run by homeless shelters, and sponsored by corporations. When the administrators are convinced that someone is truly in need, that person is assigned a bar code which he or she can display.  With a cellphone app, a passerby can scan that barcode and immediately make a donation, by credit card or by PayPal, that gets credited to the account of that particular panhandler. The donor might be able to see a quick description of what this person needs and why and what he or she has already collected toward that goal. And sponsoring corporations could choose to match donations up to some preset limit. The money and/or credits could be collected by the panhandlers at the same shelters that do the certification.

            Would anyone like to make some variant of this a reality?

Long-overdue Constitutional Amendment (11/15/2019, revised 11/28/2019)

 

Many people presume that the most memorable sentence from the Declaration of Independence is embodied in the Constitution. It is not, but it should be, as a long-overdue amendment.

 

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

 

The founding father's could not agree on including this sentence in the Constitution. To make up for that, they later passed the Bill of Rights, as amendments. But those amendments were far more limited than that one bold statement in the Declaration of Independence. Can we do any better today?

The concepts expressed in that sentence could help guide Supreme Court decisions on important issues. 

 

Of course, the words would need to be fine-tuned for clarification and to make them consistent with current-day beliefs and parlance, for instance --

The sentence would then read: "All people are equal under the law. They are endowed with certain unalienable rights, and among them are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

This sweeping statement would then need some further detail to make clear that the right to liberty and also the right to life could be abridged as punishment for crimes, that one person's pursuit of happiness may not be detrimental to the rights of others, and to define who is a citizen.
 

In this contentious, polarized time, can we find a way to embed that basic statement of rights in our Constitution, for the benefit and protection of future generations?



How to Save the Bahamas and Maybe the World as Well (10/30/2019)

   Hurricane Dorian was devastating to the Bahamas. That event brought home clearly the consequences of global warming  -- rising seas and more frequent and violent hurricanes.

   So should we put all of our energy into fix-it stop-gap measures, helping the survivors to rebuild or to relocate? Or might there be something we could do to make such events less likely and less severe?

   I'm reminded of the movie The Day After Tomorrow. At the beginning, an increase of a couple of degrees in the ocean temperature changes the course of the Gulf Stream and very quickly that global warming leads to its opposite -- a new ice age.  In the movie that ice age is likely to last a long time because the ice will reflect sunlight, making the world even colder.  When I saw that, my immediate reaction was that in such an eventuality, we should color the ice, preferably black, so it would absorb rather than reflect sunlight, and hence would lead to the ice melting.

   Now, trying to come up with a solution to the problem of the Bahamas, it occurs to me that we need the opposite effect -- we need a way to lower the temperature of the oceans. Of course, the efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, but those take coordinated effort by many governments and many well-meaning individuals and take a long time to have significant effect. Why not come up with a way to reflect the light of the sun better than the surface of the ocean does?  And why not focus on the Bahamas first, because of the clear and urgent danger there, and if the effort there works, do likewise elsewhere?

   Imagine thin inexpensive highly-reflective material (mylar?) stretched across frames of hollow plastic tubing. Deploy hundreds (thousands) of these units, floating on the ocean surface to the west and south of the Bahamas, each anchored by cable to the ocean bottom. They can rise in response to strong wind and waves, but stay in place. The distribution of the units could/should be random, not all close to one another, and not in a preordained pattern. The aim is to reflect enough sunlight to locally lower the temperature of the ocean by a couple degrees. Units could be added or removed to fine-tune the effect. And the hope is that the temperature differential of the water would help alter the path and/or reduce the intensity of storms heading toward the Bahamas.

   If that proves effective, a similar approach could be tried on a larger scale, to help reverse global warming.

    (NB -- I am not an oceanographer. I have no technical skills that could be applied in such a project and no money to fund it. I'm hoping that people with the necessary skills and resources might find this idea intriguing enough to explore and refine.)

Open Letter to the Washington Post and New York Times


Your reporters do important and unique investigative reporting.


But your subscription policy prevents the public from seeing those stories -- to the benefit of Trump and to the detriment of nation.


Much of this reporting has to do with crimes and misdeeds by the Trump administration.

While conservative media are accessible for free by all, The Washington Post and The NY Times have elitist restrictive policies. That means that the public gets a one-sided and inaccurate view of what is going on.


Articles of yours that relate to matters important to the electorate and to preservation of the Constitution should be so highlighted and should be available to all (including non-subscribers). That includes articles relating to major political issues like immigration, gun control, abortion, climate change, etc.


You should not be trying to profit off the nation's misery.


And you should not be perpetuating that misery by restricting access to important news and reporting.


Freedom of the press cuts both ways -- you need to provide for free news that is essential for the political well-being of the nation.

Where There's a Will


We equate consciousness with rational thought and we can correlate thought with brain activity. And when there is no brain activity and hence, presumably, no thought, we define a person as dead -- brain dead.

 

But we can act without thinking; and we can think one thing, make a conscious decision to do it, but do something else, even the opposite (surprising ourselves). In other words, the will, though associated with thought and a subject of thought, is separate from it.

 

So is the brain necessarily the seat of the will?

 

Language associates will with emotion and intuition and suggests that it is centered somewhere else (heart, gut, etc.). Language also associates will with the vague, but persistent, concepts of "soul, "self," "spirit," and "life force."

 

So does the will necessarily cease at the same time that thought does? Might someone who is declared brain dead still have will, including the will to live?

 

Also, linguistically as well as in religion and myth, the soul or spirit is separate from the body and persists even when the body dies. So why presume that soul/self/spirit/will has a distinct physical location in the body, as thought does?


Congress Is Broken. How Can We Fix It?

Contrary to the intents of the authors of the Constitution, power has been shifting from our elected representatives in the two houses of Congress to individuals in leadership positions.

 

By Congressional rules and practices rather than based on the Constitution, both the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader of the Senate now wield extraordinary power. In particular, with few exceptions, they decide which bills are voted on. In the case of the Senate, the Majority Leader alone can prevent any nomination to the courts or the cabinet from ever coming to a vote. In the case of the House, the Speaker can prevent any appropriation bill from ever coming to a vote.

 

When the two parties work together, civilly, to arrive at compromises satisfactory to both, this shift of power has minimal effect. But in the current partisan atmosphere, these two people stand in the way of individual members of the House and Senate exercising their rights and responsibilities by voting on legislation and nominations based on their knowledge and convictions as well as the interests of their constituents.

 

Several inequities need to be dealt with promptly:

1) When a bill is passed by one house of Congress, it should be debated and voted upon, promptly, in the other House.

2) When a bill is entered in either House with the endorsement of at least a third of the membership of that House, said bill should be debated and voted on promptly.

3) When the President makes a nomination which requires confirmation by the Senate, that nominee should go through hearings and be voted upon promptly.

4) When the President introduces legislation both houses of Congress should debate and vote upon it.

 

The Speaker and the Majority Leader should not be able to block such votes and related debate.

 

Limiting the power of the Speaker and the Majority Leader would restore power to individual members of Congress and individual Senators, giving them the opportunity vote and to be heard, rather than being reduced to the role of mere tokens in partisan two-party battles. And increasing the power of individual members would enable the houses of Congress to fulfill their Constitutionally mandated role of overseeing and checking the actions of the Executive.

 

Given the present power structure, it would be impossible for Congress itself to make such changes. Any such measure, whether a bill or a constitutional amendment, would never come to a vote.

 

But as this problem arises from abuse and perversion of the Constitution, the courts should be able to apply the remedy. Such a challenge should focus on the rights and responsibilities of individual members of Congress and Senators, restoring to them the ability to stand up and be counted, to vote on measures important to them and to their constituents. The current rules and practices disenfranchise them, which in effect disenfranchises the voters who support them.

Binge Reading Shakespeare

 

We binge watch. Why not binge read?

 

When you change the context of writing, you change its meaning.

 

To binge watch a TV series is to experience a series of episodes as if they were a single work, to enjoy them in a new way.

 

In the old days, the only choice for watching series was broadcast television. Typically, 22 episodes constituted a season, and the episodes were broadcast one per week, with the time slots for the rest of the year being reruns. It was a stop-start experience, often with cliff-hanger stories to encourage viewers to come back next week or next year.

 

The advent of video recorders changed that experience. You could save episodes and watch them whenever your wanted or in a bunch. You could rent or buy. You were no longer constrained by the schedule of the network or local station. You could fast-forward past commercials. You could pause. You could rewind and rewatch. You were in control.

 

Then came cable with video on demand and DVRs, giving you similar control even more conveniently. Programming to record what you wanted when you wanted was far easier.

 

Now with streaming, you don't have to plan ahead. You can at any moment decide to binge on a series and watch one episode after another, from the first episode of the series through the last one; without commercials. Watching in that mode, with only the interruptions you want, you can get deeply involved in the story and identify with the characters, and see the actors growing up and aging -- like time-laps photography, watching grass grow or a flower bloom, where what normally takes days or months or years unfolds for you fast enough for you to perceive and enjoy the spectacle of change. Or you can choose to watch in stop-start mode, with breaks as long as you want, to suit your personal schedule and life style.

 

I'm watching the same content I saw before or could have seen before as separate episodes. But seen together, an entire series is a different genre, a different way of telling stories and enjoying them.

 

My favorite instance of this is Newsroom by Aron Sorkin, which originally aired on Showtime from 2012 to 2014, twenty-five episodes spread across three seasons. Viewed in its entirety, it has a beginning, middle, and end. While each episode is satisfying in and of itself, the series as a whole is a single work of art, deliberately written to be experienced that way.

 

Typically graduate students in literature read in a similar way. In preparing for orals they are responsible for reading the complete works of a set of authors. Rarely do they get the opportunity to focus on one author at a time. But they do often come to think of an author's life's work as a single work. Today, when E-books are readily available and the classics are free, or nearly free, many more people have the opportunity to have such experiences.

 

I'm getting warmed up to write an historical novel set in the time of Shakespeare. So I decided to binge read his complete works, one play every day or two. That's 38 plays, written over the course of about 19 years. I'm a third of the way through now, and it has been a surprisingly delightful experience, prompting me to want to do the same with other authors, and also prompting me to rethink what I write and why.

 

I'm reading the Shakespeare plays aloud to get a feel for the rhythm. As I become familiar with the vocabulary and the syntax I don't have to go running to the footnotes all the time. His langugage begins to feel normal rather than alien as I become familiar with stock phrases and images and allusions, as well as the range of reactions of characters experiencing love, jealousy, hate, vengeance, temptation, ambition. What they are willing to do. What they are willing to die for. What they are willing to kill for.

 

The histories in particular make much more sense read together. The complexities of genealogy and royal succession fall into the background as you become familiar with them, freeing you to focus on the characters and the spectacle and the pageant. Imagine watching the player introductions at an all-star baseball game when you know nothing about baseball, or watching the red-carpet arrivals of celebrities at the Oscars when you've never heard of the celebrities. Shakespeare's audience knew these historical figures, knew about their tangled relationships, and the ins and outs of royal succession -- at least knew enough about them to recognize them as celebrities and to enjoy seeing how they were portrayed. To them there was no more surprise in what happened in the plays of Henry VI than there is in watching a Christmas pageant at your church, with the stable, the manger, the shepherds, and the wise men. And there's pageant -- portraying what is well known and expected, with pomp and glitter and fine words -- in many other plays as well.

 

Now I'm tempted to binge read the complete works of other authors -- of course the ones like Balzac and Zola who deliberately set out to tell multi-volume stories, but others as well, light weight as well as heavy weight -- Faulkner, Michener, Somerset Maugham's stories, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency: sets of books that gain from being read together, one after the other.

 

This experience also makes me think differently about what I write and why I write.

 

If I am driven by what I need to write rather than what an editor wants or what I guess the market wants, then,  by nature rather than by plan, the pieces will fit together and form a coherent story. And, for me, the main purpose of writing is to discover that story and tell it.

 

Defining "Dagwoodism"

Dagwoodism is recognizing a problem, getting self-righteously upset about it, concluding that something must be done about it soon, but not having a clue how that might be accomplished, and feeling no responsibility for doing anything about it. (Coined by D. Lupher & R. Seltzer, 7/2/2019)

Message to Hong Kong Protesters - Rolling Boycott

(Originally written October 17, 2014. That particular protest is now ancient history, but the approach suggested here could prove effective in similar circumstances both in Hong Kong and elsewhere in the future. Reposted July 1, 2019)

            You have captured the attention of worldwide media.

            You have won the sympathy of billions of people worldwide.

            Now it is time for you to give your well-wishers a way to help you.

            Pick a high-profile global Chinese company, preferably one dependent on exports and owned, at least in part, by the Chinese government.

            Declare a worldwide boycott on that company's products.

If after two weeks the Chinese government does not grant you the guarantees of democracy that you require, call for a sell-off of that company's stock and expand the boycott to include one or more of that company's largest business partners.

            If there has been no progress two weeks later, expand the boycott to a second major Chinese company, with the same pattern of escalation.

            Continue adding companies to the boycott — one Chinese company and one trading partner of such a company each month until your demands are met.

            Such an approach could be far more effective than slowing traffic in Hong Kong.

With that approach, you ally yourself with billions of people worldwide.

            With that approach, if the Chinese government cracks down and arrests you or even worse deals with you violently as in Tiananmen Square, the worldwide boycott effort will continue and grow until the Chinese government is forced to surrender to your demands.

May the Force be with you.



The Need for Online Written Debates

(an open letter to Elizabeth Warren and Rachel Maddow, 6/27/2019)

The primary season is an excellent opportunity to publicly air ideas and plans. But when candidates are only given a few minutes to express themselves impromptu on complex issues, that gets us nowhere.


Wee need a forum for the candidates themselves and/or their designated proxies to deal with these questions in depth and in detail. Everyone should be able to reader the candidate postings and to respond directly to specific candidates with reactions and expert advice.


For instance, with regard to health care, that seems to have devolved into a shouting match of Medicare for All -- for or against. But that issue has a multitude of implications that can't be touched upon in a live debate.


Does "all" mean just citizens or residents as well?  And if residents, just legal residents?


And does "Medicare" mean just as it is today constituted?  Would that even be feasible? Currently, people, like me, who are on Medicare have to turn to private insurance for supplemental and prescription (Part D) coverage. If health insurance companies went away, where would we get supplemental and prescription coverage? Those companies, once gutted, are unlikely to continue with what was before a sideline for them.  So would Medicare be redefined, eliminating the need for those other coverages? That would be good for the individuals, but could be very costly.


Also, as pointed out in last night's debate, many people worked long and hard to get and keep jobs that would ensure them health insurance coverage. Would they be entitled to any kind of compensation when that coverage goes away?


And consider the implications for employers.  Those who now offer health insurance as a benefit would get a windfall when they no longer have to pay subsidies to the insurance providers and can eliminate the administrative costs involved with their health insurance participation.  But they would also lose a prized incentive that they now use for hiring and retaing employees.


And how would the Federal government administer such a program and get it up and running?  Under the best of circumstances it would takes years if not decades to roll out and fine tune such a program and get it right. Maybe offer it by stages (a lottery), with different sets of people coming on at different times, or maybe move the qualifying age back from 65 in 5 or 10 year increments.  But while that was happening, the private insurance business would be collapsing and going away before their members were covered by the government. This would be a delicate balancing act, requiring management skill and foresight and frequent fine-tuning of the empowering legislation.


And what about healthcare providers?  While universal health insurance would be great for consumers, the providers would be short-changed. What Medicare pays them today is far less than what the private insurers pay for the same services.  If those low payments were to continue, many hospitals and clinics would not be able to stay in business. Many doctors might choose to retire early. And there would be little incentive for students to follow the long and arduous route necessary to become doctors. We need more providers rather than fewer, and we need incentives for them to  choose to serve presently uncovered rural areas.  So in addition to making healthcare available to all by way of "Medicare", would you offer subsidies to providers? And what might the cost of that come to?

Meanwhile, healthcare is at the start of technological advances that could make remote diagnosis, treatment, and even surgery feasible -- with an initial spike in costs, but with major long-term savings and the promise of reaching people now too remote to get the care they need. Health insurance reform should take into account those costs and opportunities.


If there were an online written forum, in addition to the debates, such questions on dozens of other important and complex topics could be aired.


Regardless of who is chosen as the Democratic nominee, we need complete answers to such questions, not just random soundbytes and yes or no on the overall issue.


I hope that you will strive to make this happen.


Thank you.


Richard Seltzer, seltzer@seltzerbooks.com, Milford, CT, 617-529-2552

To-day Lists Instead of To-do Lists (2/15/2019)


I need a balance between scheduling (regularity/getting done what needs to be done) and free unscheduled time. I try to arrive at that by establishing each night what I want to work on and accomplish the next day and keeping that list realistic in terms of what I can actually do; but then being open to switching around what I do when, in what order, and also open to scrapping the whole list if inspiration or strong inclination lead me to focus on just one task for an entire day.


Scheduling, like gravity, changes the shape of time; an unscheduled day is a rare delight.

A snow day is worth more than an expected holiday, lifting the burden of what you expect of yourself. The shape of today, rather than a list of chores. To-day lists rather than to-do lists.


I put together a master list of intended activities organized in four categories:

- maintenance: activitities that I should do every day, like calisthenics and other exercise, language refreshers, piano playing

- growth: realms where I want to make gradual progress over a long period of time, like learning a new language, learning to draw, and projects which have a beginning and an end

- projects: long-range sets of activities that have a beginning and an end, and that will take days or weeks or months to finish

- entertainment and socializing


I then pick items from that master list to deal with today.


Possible Cure for Writer's Block (1/4/2019)


Last night I woke up with a line of dialogue in my heard, "Well, that warrants..." spoken with a slavic accent. Later I woke up again and realized that I had just dreamt a handwritten note in distinctive handwriting unlike mine, and that in my dream I didn't hear the text, rather I was a dreaming witness reading it silently. And it dawned on me that recently the characters in my dreams often speak with distinct voices and speech patterns and personalities. They aren't just pieces of me. 

 

Then it occurred to me my recent spurt of fiction writing (four novels in the last year) might be connected to my irregular sleep patterns, waking up every 2-3 hours with the need to urinate.  A side-effect of that is that I often remember my dreams.

 

So perhaps a diuretic or related related diet change could serve as a cure for writer's block :-)


Deep Biosphere and Fossil Fuels (12/18/2108)

 

You may recall that I have often expressed skepticism about fossil fuels/petroleum being the remains of plants and animals from the days of the dinosaurs. There's simply too much of it in too many places for that to be the explanation.

Well the recent discovery of the "deep biosphere" -- huge quantities of microorganisms miles under the earth's surface -- seems to be a likely explanation. But I haven't seen any reports suggesting that.

There have been some reports suggesting (as seems obvious) that this increases the probability of there being life on other planets, deep under the surface.  But I haven't seen anything making the next obvious conclusion -- that there may well be fossil fuels/petroleum on Mars, etc.

So when we start colonizing Mars, we won't have to depend on clean-buring hydrogen (from water) for fuel.  We'll have another chance to contaminate a planet with carbon residue.  Who would have ever thought :-)

 

Thoughts on Trial by Jury, Prompted by the First Manafort Trial

The law as judges and lawyers understand it is clearly defined, logical and precise.

The law as jurors understand it is based on common sense and intuition and emotion, tempered by the instructions of the judge and the arguments of the lawyers.

The defendant's understanding of the law is likely to be similar to that of the jury.

Fine points that are crystal clear to judge and lawyers may seem unclear and illogical to defendant and jury. In fact, that may be why the crime was committed in the first place -- the defendant didn't know that what he was doing or the way he was doing it was illegal.

This balance between judge and jury is not a mistake. It is intended.  The defendant has a right to trial by a jury of his peers -- people who can imagine themselves in the same position as the defendant and balance their judgement with their empathy.

The ideal jury has a basic knowledge of legal procedure and a respect for the law. But there are no courses they have to take or tests they have to pass to become jurors. They are people from the same geographic area with the same general background as the defendant,with no special training.

The jury adds a human element of unpredictability, which is necessary because justice should be rendered one case at a time, taking into account all the particulars and extenuating circumstances, not mechanically and precisely.

Using Binary Fractions to Keep Track of Ancestors

I recently created a single web document  with 1600 ancestors. It continues to grow. You can learn how I am building at at my Ancestor Surfing page http://www.seltzerbooks.com/gen/ancestorsurfing.html and you can see the document itself at http://www.seltzerbooks.com/gen/seltzer/seltzergenealogy.html

The numbering I use is based on binary fractions. 1 = father, 0 = mother. The number defines the line of descent, moving from Adela and Lila backwards, one digit per generation. For instance, "0.10110" means father mother father father mother. Lila and Adela are descended from everyone with a number. If you appear here with a number, you are a descendant of everyone with a number which begins with your number. In orther words 0.1 is descended from everyone with a number beginning 0.1  This is my own idiosyncratic system. If you have suggestions for improvement, please let me know.

 

Here are further thoughts on that system:

The book "Beyond Infinity" by Eugenia Cheng explains binary fractions while building the case for there being infinities of varying sizes.

 

While I was used to the concept of binary (base 2) whereby all numbers can be represented by just 0 and 1, I wasn't used to the meaning of binary fractions, 0.0, 0.1, etc.

 

The position of a number determines its value. In decimal, each position to the left of the first digit stands for x 10; and in binary, each position to the left of the first digit stands for x 2.

 

The decimal number 1101 represents

(1 x 1000) + (1 x 100) + (0 x 10) + (1 x 1)

 

The binary number 1101 translates into decimal as

(1 x 8) + (1 x 4) + (0 x 2) + 1 = 13

 

In decimal fractions, each position to the right of the decimal point stands for x 1/10. And in binary fractions, each position to the right of the decimal stands for x 1/2.

 

The decimal fraction 0.1101 represents

(1 x 1/10) + (1 x 1/100) + (0 x 1/1000) + (1 x 10000)

 

And the binary fraction 0.1101 translates into decimal as

(1 x 1/2) + (1 x 1/4) + (0 x 1/8) + (1 x 1/16) = 0.8125

 

Think of the diagram of binary fractions as a triangle.

 

Flip it over, so you (the starting point) are on the bottom. Then it looks like a tree, with you as the descendant of everyone above you.

 

In this system, you, as the starting point at the bottom, have no number.

 

Let 0 represent female, and 1 represent male.

Then
0.1 means your father
0.11 means your father's father
0.111 means your father's father's father

And
0.0 means your mother
0.00 means your mother's mother
0.000 means your mother's mother's mother

Likewise
0.1001 means your father's mother's mother's father

You just read from left to right, substituting father for 1 and mother for 0.

So if you assign a number to an ancestor of yours using this system, you can tell at a glance
1) the path of descent,

2) the number of the generation (the number of digits), and
3) the percent of your genetic makeup contributed by that individual = 1 divided by 2 to the power of  the number of digits or generations 


Also, each 1 in such a number represents a family name. Any ancestor whose binary fraction begins with 0.1 has the same surname as you, the person at the starting point. And any ancestor whose binary faction begins with 0.01 has the same surname as your maternal grandfather. (Presuming that, following tradition, the wife took the father's surname).

All full-siblings have the same number and the same tree of ancestry (reading upward from that point).

 

To re-number with an ancestor of  yours as the starting point, subtract one digit to the right of the decimal point for each generation back.

 

This system could greatly simplify genealogical record keeping, and could have application in the field of genetics. 

For instance, particular inheritable traits could be assigned to particular ancestors -- e.g., ancestor 0.0110 had twins, 0.101 had a heart condition, 0.001 had red hair, and as far as those factors are known you could determine probability of inheritance of that trait.

 

I don't know anything about DNA, but I sense that it might be possible to correlate DNA with particular family lines and that this numbering system might help in doing so.

Your Life's Mission

You have been chosen for a top secret mission - to live life to its fullest. You will be given no tools, no weapons, no in instructions, no information.

Be careful. You only get one shot at this. And, no, you cannot decline this assignment. The future of the human race depends on your successful completion of this mission.

The Need for Pain-Intensifying Medicine

It's not always a good idea to reduce or even eliminate pain, though pharmaceutical ads would lead you to believe so. At times it could be therapeutic to intensify the sensation of pain, perhaps in seleted regions of the body, since pain is the body's alarm system. Why are there no medications with that as a goal?

A Factor that News Stories about the Supreme Court Nomination Have Missed

'm beyond the breaking point of frustration and disgust.

The idea of that criminal in the White House selecting a judge who will sit in judgement of him...
That makes me think the unthinkable.

The Constitution doesn't set the number of justices. The first Supreme Court only had six. Later it went up to 10. There have been nine since Congress passed an Act in 1866 intended to prevent Andrew Johnson from naming a member of the court when he was about to be impeached and they didn't want him to be able to name a new justice and thus stack the court in his favor.

When Roosevelt had one New Deal law after another nixed by the Supreme Court, he proposed raising the number of justices so he could stack the court with people who would okay those laws. Before that came to a vote in Congress, one of the justices who had opposed him did an about face and voted for him; so the bill was never voted on.

In other words, with a secure majority in Congress (just a majority) and a president in the White House, either party could stack the Supreme Court in their favor.

I have no idea why this has not been debated on cable news.

If Trump's pick gets ratified and backs Trump's hideous agenda, the Democrats could with a landslide in 2020, add however many justices they want and overturn whatever bad stuff the Republican Supreme Court did. Then when the Republicans have a landslide in 2024 they can add even more justices to overturn that. Etc. Etc. The wonderful prospect of ever flip flopping law and hundreds of Supreme Court justices.  Just what the founding fathers dreamed of :-)

Constitutional Crisis

(7/1/2018)

Here is a series of ideas that I just tweeted outlining my current thinking.

What's your reaction?

_______________________________
 
As for Roe v. Wade, making abortion legal by way of interpretation of the Constitution by stretching the Constitution to include a right to privacy amd then stretching the definition of privacy was bizarre way. It was the right result arrived at in a strange way.


On the other hand, if there were a law making abortion etc. legal, there are absolutely no grounds in the Constitution for overturning such a law.
____________


As for the battle against Trump, the line has been crossed. The future of democracy in America, and the future of the planet are at stake. Congress (a coalition of Democrats and Republicans) needs to:

Congress (a coalition of Democrats and Republicans) needs to
1) Insist that Trump not nominate a Supreme Court justice when he will soon be judged (on a variety of issues) by the Supreme Court. For him to do so would be a gross conflict of interest and abuse of power.
2) State the obvious -- Trump was not legally elected. The multiple efforts by the Russians to influence the election changed the result. Trump/Pence has no right to govern. A new election should be scheduled ASAP, perhaps in conjunction with the Congressional election.
3) In the interim, the opposition (both Democrats and Republicans) should present a united front supporting issues thru which Trump has been undermining our democracy and our basic rights, and refuse to endorse usiness as usual until those matters have been dealt with.

4) These political actions should be supported by massive public demonstrations. Not just one-issue marches, but marches that amalgamate the grievances and unify the opposition.

______

 

Of course Mueller should complete his investigation. But whereas before, even when Congress did nothing, the Supreme Court was a check on Trump's unconstitutional actions, if he were to name another justice, that check would go away.

Hence now is the time for leaders of both parties speak up, acknowledge that the election was stolen, that Trump/Pence have no legitimate authority, and call for a new election. The time has come to speak up, to speak loudly, and to take action.

 

___________

 

The Mueller probe is important - seeking to determine what crimes were committed and by whom related to Russian interference in the election. But there is no official investigation into what we can and should do to prevent foreign interference in future elections.

Nor is there any official investigation into the degree to which the Russians succeeded, into the legitimacy of the election.

Nor is there a contingency plan for how to proceed when the election is determined to have been bogus -- how to schedule and hold a new election and how to conduct the business of government in the meantime.

It is no longer a question of whether we will have a constitutional crisis -- we are in the midst of one.

____________

 

The Mueller probe is simply about crime. It could conceivably lead to impeachment or resignation. But separate from that, there needs to be a serious study of what can and should be done to protect our elections.

 

We also need a fair assessment of the effect of the illegal actions of Trump and Russians on the 2016 election, as well as contingency plans to deal with the crisis when it is determined that the election was stolen and Trump/Pence has no right to rule.

The critical mass of opinion is lacking at this point. That's why it is high time for leaders (Republican as well as Democrat) to stand up and demand that these necessary measures be taken and to stir up the needed public support.

Demonstrations would be far more effective if they were coordinated and amalgamated rather than piecemeal. immigrant children wormen's health and rights gun control trade war Supreme Court and so on and so on.

Trump stirs up a new hornet's nest every other day. The hornets need to join forces. They need to state their demands. They need to unite on a clear path of action.

Call together a convention of political leaders, Republican as well as Democrat to deal with the constitutional crisis that is upon us. Settle on a list of demands and to initiate the investigations the other investigations should have been undertaken long ago.

 

Challenge the legitimacy of Trump/Pence and back that challenge with facts. At the same time plan to hold a new presidential election (in conjunction with the Congressional election) and determine how to conduct the business of government in the interim.

Okay. You're skeptical. I don't have a magic answer. I'm just brainstorming about actions that might make a difference. We have reached a tipping point. Someone who can catch the attention of the new media needs to wave a banner of this kind, regardless of personal consequences.

 

Optimism/Pessimism

(5/14/2018)

Reply to a pessimistic friend, who thinks the world is doomed and is glad that he has no grandchildren.


Optimism/pessimism depends on your perspective.  Remember back when we were in college - many people were pessimistic then. Science then said very certainly that the world would run out of oil in about 50 years and that population growth was so explosive that in 50 years the population would increase by an order of magnitude (China is where they really expected there to be billions upon billions) with the resulting malthusian nightmares. Many people back then solemnly swore they wouldn't have children because they didn't want to bring children into such a broken and failed world and also because they didn't want to add to the world's population problems.

Today we're facing an oil glut and the world population is nowhere near what was predicted. Parts of the world that 50 years ago were impoverished - hopelessly so - today are thriving. Global business fueled by the Internet leads to dislocations and disruptions but means that competition for labor and goods tends to level out the previously vast differences between economies. There is very little talk today about The Third World. Many countries that 50 years ago were hopelessly impoverished are now manufacturing and even technological powerhouses. 

Who would have guessed that China would force through its one child policy, that that work that used to be done in Detroit or Pittsburgh would now be done in the Far East, that when you call a US company for technical help you wind up talking to someone in India...

Not that there aren't problems in the world - big problems. But the challenges we face today and that seem insuperable are very different from the problems we faced 50 years ago and that seemed insuperable then.

The known universe that we live in now is very different than the universe we used to think we lived in. Billions of galaxies, each with billions of stars with 13 billion year histories. The fact that the molecules essential for life that are in your body only exist because stars died - going supernova and thereby creating such complex matter. We now know that only about 20% of what exists consists of matter and energy that we can ever see or interact with, the rest being "dark matter" and "dark energy" that as of now we only detect because of gravitational effects. We are on the brink of creating computers and computer-based robotic entities capable of solving problems (and creating new problems) beyond the reach of human understanding. We also are scarily close to making contact with intelligent (and dangerous) living beings elsewhere in the universe. And within a couple decades we will have colonies in permanent orbit around the Earth and on the moon and on Mars.

I'm not saying that the changes to come will all be "good".  I'm saying they will be unpredictable, and that today's dire predictions will be obsolete in comparison.

And this world and the other worlds that man will inhabit will need the brilliance, the ingenuity, the courage of your grandchildren and of their grandchildren.

 

Yes-terday

(2/9/2018)


There's always a "good old days".  The past is always simpler than the present, because we know so little about it.  We remember the threads of consequence, the events that shaped the world as we know it today.  The other stories become mere anecdotes, curious unimportant details.  And we have no way to reconstruct the branching paths of possibility that gave context and meaning to the circumstances in which events unfolded.  Contemporary daily newspapers hint at the degree to which, in the moment, people were unaware of what the outcomes would be and how future generations would view or totally ignore the events of that day.

 

In the present, we are inundated by everything that is possible -- an infinite number of possibilities, all of which we need to take seriously and prepare for. When we consider the past, the choices and the challenges seem so much easier to deal with, not because they were, but because of our ignorance.

 

The ancient Greeks also had their "good old days". They talked of the Golden Age, which came before the Silver Age. And, to them, their present time (the time of Pericles and Socrates and Plato and Sophocles and Euripides and Herodotus) was the Iron Age.

Your Signature and Your Unique Identity

(2/9/2017)


Your body is a rental. The molecules that make up your body have been recycled over and over again for about 14 billion years and will continue to be recycled after you cease to be.

 

Somewhere in the world, there are probably doppelgangers of you -- people you'll never meet who are not related to you, but who look enough like you to be your twin.

 

The words you use have been used over and over by other people since the beginnings of language.

Other people have expressed or will express ideas close to ideas of yours.

 

Is there anything tangible and readily identifiable that is unique about you?  (Not fingerprints or DNA, which require analysis by skilled technicians, with special equipment.)

 

Imagine a wall full of post-its, an infinite wall. One of the post-its has written on it the most interesting and important idea you have ever expressed.  The other post-its covering that infinite wall have those same words, but were written by or will be written by other people.

 

There are differences in handwriting on these post-its that can be interpreted as indicators of personality. But nearly all of the current and future posits don't have handwriting at all --  they are computer printouts.

 

Your handwriting used to be the standard indicator of your identity.  A "holograph" of a famous person, a document written entirely in the handwriting of the author, was a collector's treasure. A handwritten letter was a work of art -- not just the words, but the presentation, the handwritten context that reveals the character of the writer and his or her state of mind at the time of writing. Also the neatness, the obvious care or the hurried scrawl express or don't express respect for the intended recipient. Or a hurried note could reflect the familiarity of the correspondents -- they are familiar enough with one another's handwriting that there is no need to be careful, like married couples finishing one another's sentences. They need just clues, not clarity. They can fill in the gaps without even thinking about it.

 

Medieval copyists were artists.  They didn't just duplicate the words they saw in old manuscripts.  Rather they embellished and beautified with color and flourishes.  

Later, business copyists, handling the correspondence of the firms they worked for were expected to not simply copy words from one document to another or to faithfully transcribe words that were dictated to them.  The finished documents they produced reflected on the firm.  Presentation, not just accurate content, was essential. And that took skill and experience.

 

Think of Melville's Bartleby, Dickens' Bob Cratchit, and the clerk-copyists of Gogol's stories.  All men.

 

With the invention of the typewriter, copying documents became a mechanical process, rather than a craft or art form.  Low-paid typists (overwhelmingly women) took the place of educated and skilled clerks.

 

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Today, with photocopying, scanning, spell-checked word processing, and email instead of paper mail, the skill level required to write and copy documents has dropped much farther. Bosses may write their own messages.  And often, it would be difficult to determine from the presentation -- the look and feel of the document -- whether it was done by the boss or by an assistant.  The document has become anonymous. It is no longer an indicator of identity.

 

Today, 41 states do not require schools to teach cursive reading or writing.  So in a generation or two, not only will the vast majority of people not write by hand, they also will not be able to read handwriting.  Handwriting will be like Latin, only understood by academics.  And nearly all those post-it notes on that infinite wall will look just the same as every other.

 

The Time Between Time

(2/8/2018)


I frequently enjoy the unique pleasure of watching an entire TV series one episode after another and another. I used to do this with DVDs, now I do it streaming using Netflix and Amazon Prime. Recently, I've watched this way: Scandal, Shameless, Homeland, Game of Thrones, Big Bang Theory, Sheldon, Dharma and  Greg, Third Rock from the Sun, Frankie and Grace, Episodes, Coupling, Newsroom, Allie McBeall, Picket Fences, Gilmore Girls, Modern Family, Heart of Dixie, Dharma and Greg.  I'm now addicted to/enjoying Stranger Things.

 

In the old days, the only choice for watching series was broadcast television.  Typically, 22 episodes constituted a season, and the episodes were broadcast one per week, with the time slots for the rest of the year being reruns.  It was a stop-start experience, often with cliff-hanger stories to encourage viewers to come back next week or next year.

 

The advent of video recorders changed that experience.  You could save episodes and watch them whenever your wanted or in a bunch.  You could rent or buy.  You were no longer constrained by the schedule of the network or local station. You could fast-forward past commercials. You could pause.  You could rewind and rewatch.  You were in control.

 

Then came cable with video on demand and DVRs, giving you similar control even more conveniently.  Programming to record what you wanted when you wanted was far easier.  

 

Now with streaming, you don't have to plan ahead at all.  You can at any moment decide to binge on  a series and watch one episode after another, from the first episode of the series through the last one; without commercials.  Watching in that mode, with only the interruptions you decide on you can get deeply involved in the story and identify with the characters, and see the actors growing up and aging -- like time-laps photography, watching grass grow or a flower bloom, where what normally takes days or months or years unfolding for you fast enough for you to perceive and enjoy the spectacle of change.  Or you can choose to watch in stop-start style, with breaks s long as you want, to suit your personal schedule and life style.

 

Watching "Stranger Things" got me thinking about time and how viewing vast video stories by streaming has affected my perception of time.  It sensitized me to the either/or aspect of time -- is time itself continuous or discontinuous?

 

Film mimics action.  A series of still photos viewed in rapid sequence looks natural movement.  The faster the sequence, the smoother and more natural-seeming the motion. The camera takes a series of discrete pictures of real action; and, in playback, you see that action mimicked, and would not notice that it was an illusion, unless you viewed in slow motion.  And with animation, photos taken of still images (drawings or models) get replayed as action, making the impossible look natural.

 

You can get the reverse effect buy turning on a strobe light in a dark room.  Then you perceive what would otherwise look like smooth motion as a sequence of discontinuous still shots.

 

The human eye and brain evolved with this capability of converting a sequence of still images into the perception of motion.  What was the survival benefit of this capability, which we evolved long before the invention of motion pictures?  Why should we presume that the underlying reality which we perceive is smooth continuous motion?  Rather, it seems likely that "reality" is discontinuous, like a series of still shots; and that when we evolved the ability to perceive it as continuous because that provided practical benefits.  And perhaps that ability we developed was far more powerful that what was needed, laying the groundwork for creating and enjoying motion pictures.

 

In other words, it is possible that time itself, the medium in which motion occurs, is discontinuous, just as what we perceive as continuous solid matter actually consists of molecules and atom and force fields, and mostly is "empty space".  So how small is the basic unit of time and what is the time between time or what is the mode of being that exists between these units of time?

 

Normally we talk about time by analogy with space.

 

In that mode, time is one dimensional like a line.

 

A spatial line extends infinitely.  And time extends infinitely in the past and also in the future (by this spatial analogy, those are two directions on the same line.)

 

A point is the intersection of two lines.  It is dimensionless.  It has no extent.  It can be thought of as infinitely small.

 

By analogy, one could think of a moment as the intersection of two times lines.  How could  there be more than one time line? Or why shouldn't there be?

 

There can be an infinite number of points on any line and on any line segment, no matter how small.  But in the case of time, there is only one point -- now, which seems to move along the line in just one direction  Behind now extends the past and in front of it extends the future.

 

If the analogy of a line to time is useful, the line need not be straight and need not be limited to a single plane.  While a spatial line is itself one-dimensional, it can curve and spiral thereby existing in three spatial dimensions. In fact, since nothing can be straighter than a beam of light, and gravity either distorts space-time or bends a beam of light, in the real world all spatial lines exist in at least three spatial dimensions.  Hence, by analogy, the time-line can be thought to exist in three temporal dimensions.

 

Instead of thinking of time as a straight line, visualize it as a line on a disk, like a record on a turntable.  There might be multiple, even an infinite number of lines on this disk (which need not be flat/two-dimensional, but rather could be warped regularly or randomly, and might have a shape regularly or randomly changes).  If the lines are equidistant from each other and therefore do not intersect, we could try to define "Now" without intersections.  Continue the analogy of a record on a turntable, we might define "Now" as the intersection of the line or groove with something analogous to a needle.  The turntable turns regularly or randomly and the needle stays in the groove/line. Where the needle has been is the past.  Where it is headed is the future.  And where it touches is "Now".

 

We define time by motion: the hands of a clock, the rotation of the Earth, he perceived illusory motion of the sun and stars.  A digital clock belies that concept by displaying a sequence of numbers in stagger-step -- one number, then another, then another -- discrete changes rather than smooth continuous movement.

 

We might ask if reality is analog with smooth continuous changes or digital with stop-start discrete changes.  In any case, if the discrete changes are small enough, we wouldn't perceive them any more than we see the discrete frames in a movie played at full speed.  

 

Surely we could make machines that could perceive and record far more accurately than our all-too-human senses and brain. But the machine we rely on to extend our sensory and processing and memory capabilities are all digital -- based on two discrete choices -- yes or no; one or zero.

 

So we perceive time as smooth, continuous and analog, but that may be as much an illusion as what we experience in video.  The limitations of our sense organs and of how we process sense data both with our brains and with the thinking machines we have designed make it impossible for us to determine if the underlying reality which we live in is continuous or discontinuous.

 

Our Time

(2/8/2018)


We perceive time very differently than machines record it.  (Would it be an advance in  artificial intelligence if we programmed a computer so it could mimic human subjective time?)

 

There is wide variation in time as subjectively experienced, ranging from sensory-deprived boredom to stress-induced trauma.  A second can feel like and be remembered like an hour or a day or a lifetime.  There are probably limits to what can be stored n short-term memory.  In moments of life-or-death crisis that limit is probably broken and short-term spills over to long-term, and the mass of data that is perceived gets indelibly imprinted in long-term memory, and take up far more memory capacity than is normal.  

 

You could think in terms of time itself going faster or slower, like varying speeds of the Now turntable.  Or imagine that stress can trigger the brain as well as the body operating in exceptional ways, enabling the perception, processing and storing of far more data far more quickly than normal.

 

This notion of variable subjective time or variable speeds of time reminds me of a radio receiver tuning in to differently frequencies.  It also reminds me of that series "Stranger Things" which triggered this sequence of thought.  In that story El/11 moves to another dimension (or set of dimensions), the UpSideDown, through sensory deprivation.  

 

I'm also reminded of a story called "Never-ending Now" which I wrote back in college.  In popular wisdom, when you are near death your whole life flashes before your eyes.  I imagined that in the moments before death that might happen over and over again, that subjectively time expands, in a variant of Zeno's Paradox.  Just as Achilles never catches up with the turtle, you, subjectively, never reach death.  That is the limit that you get closer and closer to but never reach.  To anyone else, your time line ends.  You die.  But to you, you keep getting closer and closer forever.  Or perhaps the Now needle which is your self or soul leaves the groove which has been your time or moves to another.