Friday Notes (May 28, 2021)

My serious effort lately to reduce my pile of notes has resulted in picking the low-hanging fruit and leaving the ones that demand more effort. (One reason those notes have been notes all this time is not feeling the effort needed to develop them into something.)

The good news is that I’ve dug through most of the new layer — the one that formed when I started blogging again after taking a break all through 2017 (being in shock from 2016). Now I’m tapping into the older much larger — and in many cases now outdated — pile from before 2017. (Notes about politics in 2016 I can now just toss.)

Three of today’s notes are from that old pile. Three obviously aren’t.

To start with the new, while the weather lately has been “interesting” (running hot and cold) I’m finally able to open my windows again. There were earlier days when it was possible, but I take my screens out for winter, and I was lazy about putting them back up.

When I took them out last fall, I put a small rip in one of them, so I had it in my head to re-screen the frames. I kept putting off, and when the weather got so warm I really needed to open my windows, I decided I could live with the rip. It’s smaller than I remembered (in my memory it was gaping). I’ll still get around to re-screening them — maybe when the weather gets so miserable I have to turn on the A/C and close the windows again (typically in July and August).

At the beginning of the month the crab apple trees around here bloomed. There are lot of them in the neighborhood, so for about two weeks my morning walks were really pretty.

Today I noticed how well all the tree leaves have come in. All the trees are showing a lush green and full crown of sunlight absorbers. Many of the pines have frosted tips of new growth. One of the things I watch each season is how the forest sections become more transparent in winter. When the leaves fall, I can see far into the trees, but in the summer the vegetation blocks the view.

In general I love watching the change of seasons! Always have.

§ §

My Minnesota Twins are having a terrible year, so it’s just as well I’m not that into baseball this year. I’m keeping an eye on them, but I still haven’t decided to pony up for DirecTV, which is the only way to watch them.

The MLB app has the radio feed, so I’ve listened to a few games, and occasionally used the app’s GamePlay to monitor the game.

I think I’ve gone into some sort of ground state of being a fan — a kind of minimal love. Perhaps like some parents feel about their adult children. I keep an eye on them, and I love to see them succeed, but I don’t hover over them anymore.

Just recently they took Cleveland two-of-three and then swept all three with Baltimore, so they’re no longer the worst team in baseball. They’re still way down the ranking, though. Definitely not a good season.

The bullpen has been a disaster, but a big killer has been not getting much done in an inning. The team has been the opposite of clutch — unable to do anything once they get someone on base. (It really bites when bases are loaded with no one out, yet none score.)

We’re coming up on one-third of a season, so if they’re going to kick it into gear,… well, there’s no time like the present, guys. Let’s hope this little winning streak means something.

(Yeah, I’m not holding my breath, either.)

§ §

15, 17.3, 45 ounce sizes

The COVID crisis affected everything, including the packaging industry. Lots of products became hard to find for a while. Not just the things you’d expect, like toilet paper and cleaning products, but things that make one wonder what break in the supply chain cased the shortage.

Could have been any number of things. Our supply chains have evolved into complex inter-dependent beasts. A thing like COVID can really shake them up. (Modern life is surprisingly fragile.)

For years I’ve bought I can’t believe it’s not Butter in the 15 ounce size, sometimes in a cardboard wrapper two-pack. When COVID started, it got hard to find, and I haven’t seen much of it since.

For a while, when there was anything at all, my local store (Cub) carried the 17.3 ounce size. Then there was a period where they only had the jumbo 45 ounce size. Two pounds (and 13 ounces) of not Butter. The other two containers give the metric weight in grams (425 and 490) but this one gives it in kilograms — a whopping 1.27 kilograms of not Butter.

They took forever to use up, which is fine, but I had to rent a small step ladder to get down inside the tub. (Well, getting down wasn’t the problem so much as getting back out again.)

§ §

From a note so old the ink has faded:

Every moment in time is an echo — a frozen snapshot — that recedes down a fourth dimensional hallway called the past. We can’t see the hallway directly, nor the one stretching forth in front known as the future.

(In most ontologies, the past is fixed, but the future is in the process of being generated. The time left to complete the generation of a future moment is the time it takes to reach that moment.)

A photograph captures a set of these echoes. The further from the camera lens an object is, the older the light echo from that object. It’s the same with our eyes. The further away something is, the further down the past hallway we see. (For example, when we look at the moon, we’re seeing 1.3 seconds into the past.)

So, in a sense, we do see down the past hallway. We exist at the center of a sphere of bubbles, each one time tick further away. (In space the bubbles get so far away that one has to plan one’s moves well in advance.)

§ §

From another very old note for a post to be called Verdant Life.

One characteristic of life is that it is prolific (it can grow exponentially) and, perhaps in consequence, a great deal of waste seems to be a part of the equation. Insects die in vast numbers, bacteria even more so. So do birds (in some measure because of cats).

Last time I checked, new humans come along at the rate of 386,000 per day (and exit at a rate of 165,000). We’ll hit eight-billion in a couple of years.

There is the famous line from Jurassic Park, “Life finds a way.” It’s found its way to hot deep sea vents. Microbes are found in wildly hostile environments: hot springs, arsenic rich pools, and in deep Earth rocks. Everyone wonders whether we’ll find life on Mars or Io or Europa or Enceladus or Titan or…? (I’m betting against Mars or Titan, but the others remain to be seen.) Of course, the biggest question of all concerns extra-solar life.

The thing is, the Buddhists are right: Life is suffering. Certainly for any sapient being, but also usually for the merely sentient. Individuals suffer, often greatly, while life marches on. Life finds a way due to being so prolific and fueled by the suffering of individuals.

Hell of a way to run an airline.

§ §

Put down the phone!

From a page of notes written after “Dog Daze” (see: Dog Gone Delightful!) — the first time I hosted my pal Bentley for a ten day stretch while her mom was on vacation in Florida.

B’Dog and I had never spent serious time together, so I devoted it to her. Almost no computer use and not much TV. (For me, I mean.) What I did watch was old re-runs of House, MD, and Leverage. It was a time of sleeping, eating, going outside with the dog, playing inside with the dog, watching re-runs, or napping.

When I plugged back into the world I noticed how much impact the high and generally negative energy level of modern life had on me. I hadn’t realized how amped up one can get merely watching conflict. Even something like a heated debate in MLB TV raised my heart rate noticeably.

There is a cycle of {shock — numbness — up the ante} that’s led us to our current high level of casual systemic violence. I’ve many times mentioned the litmus of how gunshot wounds are depicted since the 1950s. Let alone the increase in the amount of gun use on TV. On some shows shooting at people is as common as saying hello.

TV sells conflict, which is addictive, and selling it is big business. Reality and contest shows wallow in it, and it’s a primary theme in most news content. (Long ago John Stewart tried to make that point as a special guest on Racheal Maddow’s show, but it went right past her. Our love of conflict is deeply embedded in our culture.)

I have a severe hearing loss, and someone I worked with once spoke so softly I constantly had to ask her to speak up. One time she told me that she equated speaking louder with anger, and she didn’t like that, so she wouldn’t do it.

It is true our deliberate actions can affect our mind. A common expression of it is, when you’re sad, that forcing yourself to smile can eventually make the smile more genuine. At some point your brain buys into what your body is doing. But it’s unfortunate her only linkage was with anger and not with being heard. (People should take a stage acting class and learn to speak normally (not angrily) in such a way (projecting from the diaphragm) so as to be heard in the back row.)

I’ve always known that I’m an irascible curmudgeon and that a lot of shit pisses me off. A high school friend gave me the nickname, “the angry young man.” (She once gave me a button that read: “Everyone is entitled to my opinion!” It was years before I realized she was mocking me. I took it as gospel.)

But I’ve always known that it wasn’t me so much as all the unnecessarily stupid shit in the world. It isn’t me, it’s you. You fuckers piss me off in more ways than I can count. At the same time, humans fascinate me. Other minds are so interesting, even when they’re clouded with bullshit. (Corrupted with evil I can’t deal with. My general response to evil is: “Martha, get my gun!”)

Times like this, when I can get away from it entirely, really show me how true it is (that it’s not really me). Even being retired and out of the work force has done wonders for my general temper. I’m kind of in that “it’s all good” headspace I sought as a hippie back in the day (but see above about “angry young man”).

One way to appreciate how much our plugged in world affects us is to get away from it for a while. Turn it all off for a few days and walk outside or play with the dog. Just unplug and let it be. It’ll be there when you get back (but you might not like what you see).

If you can’t unplug, you might want to ponder why not and whether you are okay with that.

§ §

I’ve been wordy lately, but at least I kept this one under 2000 words.

Barely.

Stay unplugged, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

10 responses to “Friday Notes (May 28, 2021)

  • Wyrd Smythe

    How crazy is the weather? A few days ago it was hitting the 90s. Last night’s overnight low was 38, and it’s 45 right now as I head out for a morning walk.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      It rained all day yesterday, so there’s a lot of water around, and the wind was brisk, so it was definitely a bit nippy out. But the sun was out, so it was nice enough.

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    Unfortunately life is suffering, I think because evolution uses suffering, to varying extents, as a tool to motivate us. It sometimes rewards us with pleasure, but that seems to be mostly fleeting.

    On conflict, the conventional wisdom is that it’s at the heart of all stories. I’m not sure that’s entirely true. It seems like a story can be powered by a question, such as a mystery. Of course, the most common question is, who will win the conflict? And most mysteries have at their core a conflict (detective-murderer, etc), but I’m not entirely sure that’s strictly necessary. But the conventional wisdom means most entertainment has conflict at its heart.

    I don’t disconnect often, but I do have a pretty good feel for what disturbs my mental wellbeing. It’s why I’ve carefully regulated my exposure to political news in recent years. I think there’s a lot to be said for having that kind of awareness. Life is too short to spend too much of it engaged in things that simply make us miserable.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Suffering certainly can be motivating — being hungry causes us to seek food; being rained on to seek shelter — but I think nature uses pleasure as well. Mating seems based on it, for one. As conscious beings we seek pleasure all the time — the whole dopamine system. (Addiction is a misfiring of that seeking.) I — and I assume you — have very cushy lives, and our suffering/pleasure quotient is, I’m sure, among the best in the world. A great deal of our motivation is based on pleasure — what food to eat, what shows to watch, etc. I suppose it’s a Yin-Yang thing. We avoid suffering and seek pleasure; simple as that.

      “On conflict, the conventional wisdom is that it’s at the heart of all stories.”

      Yes, and — indeed — the lack of it in those Stephen Baxter stories demonstrates it. Part of what makes the Baxter books weak, I think, is that not only isn’t there any real conflict, there’s also no real mystery solving. People just do stuff.

      But news isn’t a fiction and shouldn’t depend on appealing to artistic values. It should appeal because of accuracy, coverage, depth, and other journalistic values. The fault is as much, if not more, the viewers, but it’s unfortunate and not helpful. It increases the social polarization.

      Just you wait until you retire. You may be surprised how much your mood changes. It’ll be the first time since before kindergarten that all your time (forever) is yours to do with what you want.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        On suffering, it’s interesting you bring up retirement, because I decided to hold off retiring until I have better feel for what the economy is going to do. It’s not motivated by suffering, but fear of suffering. For sure, we’re talking about first world problems here since I’d never likely be in poverty or anything. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say I’m trying to minimize any possible loss of pleasurable things. Not that my tastes are expensive.

        Although we physically return to work this coming week, which might make me reconsider as I relearn what I didn’t like about work life before. One thing I keep reminding myself, I can bail at any time.

        Yeah, if Baxter can’t even muster mystery, it doesn’t sound like he’s a very good storyteller. Greg Egan demonstrates you can have sci-fi stories without traditional conflict (except maybe humans (or aliens) against nature). In one of his short stories (Riding the Crocodile), the main driver is the mystery of the nature of whatever intelligence is at the center of the galaxy.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Right, you’re not in any real danger, so it’s a question of maximizing your (future) pleasure!

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I don’t know. It seems like suffering and pleasure are relative things. If a billionaire loses a hundred million dollars, they’re in zero danger of starving. But they may still suffer psychologically from it, just from the aspect of losing social status. In my case, it doesn’t feel like a concern about pleasure, but a real possibility of future psychological distress from having my standard of living options constrained. You can say it would be far less distressing than I imagine, and I can believe that. (Particularly if it’s gradual.) You could also say that wouldn’t be “real” suffering, but then what is real suffering?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Here “real” is a modifier meaning “a great deal” — probably not something you or I have ever experienced (I certainly haven’t).

        The perception of suffering over losing status may be quite real in a person’s mind, but on the spectrum of suffering it can end up being trivial. A good example is how kids think they’re suffering under the constraints of their parents. Or over first love.

        “In my case, it doesn’t feel like a concern about pleasure, but a real possibility of future psychological distress from having my standard of living options constrained.”

        Oh, okay. Well, if you’re worried, you’re worried.

  • diotimasladder

    Definitely way too much violence. This becomes especially noticeable when you only listen to the TV rather than watch it, at least for me. All that noise is so obnoxious, it a wonder we can stand it for any length of time.

    Dogs have a wonderful way of bringing us back to reality. When I spend too long on my computer, Geordie climbs into my lap to block access to my laptop. He’ll even flick my hand away from the keyboard if I try to reach around him. What can I do but give in?

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I had a cousin who, long ago, complained about a time she wasn’t feeling well and was lying down while friends watched the (original) Terminator movie in another room. She really noticed the noise level. It was the point of her story about that time. That movie is from 1984, and it’s only gotten worse since in all our media.

      Commercials, and I suspect many other broadcasts (game shows? news?) use audio compression to make the soft parts louder (while leaving the loud parts loud). It makes the average sound level higher, more attention-grabbing. I believe the FCC has some rules about that, but they’re hard to enforce.

      Bentley is similar. She’ll come poke her nose at me for some attention after an hour or so. I think being away from home she’s a little more anxious and therefore needy. I’m happy to accommodate her! 😀 BentleyMom keeps saying how much she spoils Bentley (like it’s a bad thing), but I keep saying that’s what they’re for! Doting!

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