From the far south side of Chicago

March 26, 2013

You will die

Filed under: philosophy — Gill @ 02:08

The most terrifying thought for most of us. Three simple words. We deal with the fear by redefining them.

There is no such thing as “You”

The Buddhists claim that the self is an illusion, the Universe is One, and therefore the death of self is impossible since there is no self.

Christians claim that there is an indestructible and eternal soul separate from the body which does not die. Here “you” is defined as two parts, body and soul, and death only affects the unimportant part, the body.

Confucionists take the family across generations as the object of interest so the death of a person is not tragic so long as the family line is preserved and the ancestors are kept alive in memory. Patriots make the country the vehicle of their immortality, racists the race, artist their art.

“Will” implies a linear time which does not exist

Cyclical theories, like reincarnation of individuals or rebirths of whole universes, escape death by claiming there are no timelines with endpoints but only circles.

End of time theories, like the Jewish Messiah and the Christian Second Coming say time is an illusion and past, present, and future will be abolished at the apocalyptic climax causing death which was intertwined with time to vanish as well.

“Die” implies an extinction which is impossible as all matter and energy simply change forms but never disappear.

This is the idea that since the elementary particles composing your body stay in the universe, as does the image of your existence moving at the speed of light farther and farther out forming your “event cone”, you never disappear.

Lincoln once asked “If we call a tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have?”
The guest answered, “Five.”
“No”, said Lincoln, “just four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one.”

September 28, 2010

Athena’s Tiles Lite

Filed under: business,iOS,recommendations,web — Gill @ 20:30

Free trial version just went live on the App Store. So far I’ve been getting one week turnaround on submissions to Apple.

September 20, 2010

Another inconvenient truth

Filed under: politics — Gill @ 11:14

Mexican government officials disputed Sec. of State Clinton’s remarks comparing the situation in Mexico with that of Colombia in the ’80s, particularly her use of the word insurrection. In this article in yesterday’s editorial in El Norte de Juarez, the editor of the largest newspaper in Ciudad Juarez, with two murdered reporters so far, makes an appeal for a truce to the narcos, pointing out that the Mexican government no longer rules in his city or in the State of Chihuahua for that matter and that ordinary citizens, not just rival gang members, are in danger. He ought to know.
¿Qué quieren?

Compassion – Ta-Nehisi Coates – National – The Atlantic

Filed under: american civil,patriotism,philosophy,politics — Gill @ 09:26

Mr. Coates has been studying the Civil War and there has been quite an interesting discussion going on his blog. This post was special and I think for anyone belonging to an aggrieved minority it’s well worth pondering.

Compassion – Ta-Nehisi Coates – National – The Atlantic.

September 17, 2010


Filed under: poetry,politics — Gill @ 16:09

The future starts in
California. Arnold rules;
Broke, foreclosed, Prop. 8

Thank you James Madison et. al.

Filed under: patriotism — Gill @ 12:08

Today is Constitution Day. Let’s all say the Pledge together.

September 13, 2010


Filed under: politics — Gill @ 14:41

I was looking at my 1/23 post, BACK, and at first I thought it was OBE (overtaken by events) since the Democrats did pass a health bill of sorts and put two liberal Justices on the Court. But then I thought that they seem to be all tuckered out from that and on their way to losing the Congress in November. We’ll see. Last time, the Republicans impeached Clinton. I expect it will be even more bizarre this time if they indeed take over.

Athena’s Tiles

Filed under: business,iOS,recommendations,web — Gill @ 14:03

My first iPhone® app went live on the App Store on 9/4. Yay!

Athena’s Tiles
Buy now!

January 23, 2010


Filed under: politics — Gill @ 00:45

I stopped blogging for the last half year. I just got involved with other things, especially starting a business, and I felt like I needed the break. It’s a new year, the Divine Comedy continues, and its time to start up again. So many things have happened that would be impossible to create in fiction as they would be too far-fetched.

Americans are so frightened that a Jew putting on tefillin on an airliner is seen as a suicide bomber fumbling with detonating wires driving the crew to make a precautionary landing to disarm the terrorist. Take that Osama!

This President, who has been the target of truly bizarre and irrational attacks by the Tea Party movement among others, has decided to outdo those tea-baggers by trying to organize his own lynch mob to go get the bankers. We know he’s too intelligent to believe what he’s saying, so he must be feeling very desperate to sink so low so fast. The market took one look and promptly dropped a few hundred points.

The Congressional Democrats (is the right metaphor for them “circular firing squad” or “circle jerk”?) have really outdone themselves this time. Or rather convinced even their most diehard supporters that they can’t in fact do anything. That may be better than letting the Republicans do what they want to do, but in our “Do something, even if it’s wrong” culture, it’s a losing brand.

May 12, 2009

Update to Leviathan 2007

Filed under: poetry — Gill @ 13:19

I wrote a poem Leviathan 2007. Some of the ideas may have seemed exaggerated to some readers. If you are one of them, you might want to reread it and then look at this. Thanks to my niece Genevieve for bringing this to my attention.

May 3, 2009

On hysteria

Filed under: science — Gill @ 15:20

I’ve always had a withering contempt for people who panic in a crisis, spread rumors, and make things worse. It is one reason I don’t watch TV news, since that is their primary technique. I understand that at a personal level some element of panic is involuntary when it hits, but it still strikes me as cowardice not to overcome it. One of the really beautiful things about becoming a pilot is that the training deals exactly with that issue and it carries over into the rest of one’s life.

It is no surprise then that I am laughing at the hysteria over the swine flu, at all levels, from the national governments, to the airport managers, to the school districts, to the general public. I was however able to do something about it this week which is unusual. Ordinarily when the herd stampedes I can try not to join in but I don’t have much of a way to make a statement or take a stand.

On Friday the American Film Institute here in Dallas had a special screening of a Mexican film. My Spanish literature class had decided to go a few weeks ago. Naturally a good number of the people in the theater, which was packed, had recently traveled to Mexico, and some of our own group included friends from outside the class who live in Mexico City and were visiting Dallas this week. We then went out to eat, about fifteen of us, in a crowded restaurant, and had one of those really great evenings where the food and company just click. We greeted each other as always, with kisses and abrazos, and we tasted each others food and cocktails. We could not have given a more hospitable opportunity to the virus had that been our intention. It wasn’t, but we all decided that we are not going to join in the ridiculous worldwide panic. We were well aware of it, we talked and laughed about it, and I’m very proud of everyone for not letting it frighten them.

There may come a time if the virus mutates when precautions will be sensible and not hysterical overreaction. That time is not yet here. If you’re hiding in your bed shaking in fear about the swine flu today, thanks for the laughs.

For some sober science on flu epidemics and what governments are doing see this video and these comments.

April 25, 2009

Faux Pas

Filed under: business,travel — Gill @ 12:18

In 1989 I was working with a small computer company with offices in a squat, Steelcase-grey building located in the plebian 12th arrondisement of Paris. There was no sense of the style and flair we associate with France. The employees were mostly young computer nerds which was a culture I knew so I felt at home. I was the only American there and my command of French was weak so I often was unsure of what was going on around me.

One day we were told to report to the small conference room. On arriving I saw the table covered with snacks, plastic utensils, and bottles of wine. A birthday party? A celebration for landing a big account? I didn’t know and I couldn’t make out what people were saying.

It turned out that it was the annual arrival of the Beaujolais Nouveau. The atmosphere was relaxed. The boss made a short speech interrupted with jokes from the staff. Most people, including me, were smoking. As was common, there were few ashtrays even though almost everyone was a smoker, so most people just flicked the ashes on the floor and only looked around for one of the few ashtrays when it was time to dispose of the butt. Many butts were just dropped on the concrete floor and ground out with a shoe and left for the janitors to clean up after hours. I still wasn’t used to that but I was trying to fit in so I overcame my scruples smoked without an ashtray.

After about twenty minutes the gathering broke up and a few people stayed behind to clean up. I was one of them and this raised a few eyebrows as people of my rank weren’t expected to help clean up. I didn’t realize it but I had drawn attention to myself that would inflame what came next.

There was a large trash can on wheels with a plastic bag lining. We were making stacks of the plastic cups and plates and carrying these over to the can and dropping them in. For each stack, food was scraped from plates onto the top plate in a stack and then the now emptied plate was added beneath it to the stack. Similarly wine was poured into one cup and the empties were stacked beneath. When the top plate or cup was full, the stack was carried to the can and thrown out and one returned to the table to clean off some more. On one trip to the can I dropped the butt of the cigarette I had just finished into the top cup on the stack I was carrying so it would be extinguished in the liquid and I could safely drop it in the garbage and not have to drop in on the floor and grind it out there.

Instantly the room went silent, everyone stared daggers at me, and then began whispering to each other. I had no idea why but I know a lynch mob forming when I see one. Quickly a friend of mine said, “We have to forgive him. He’s an American and doesn’t know what he did.” This got a laugh and I went along still not knowing what I had done. That was explained to me later.

When I was a Cub Scout we were taught to treat the American flag reverently, like a holy relic. Never let it touch the ground, never fly it in the rain, and when it’s frayed and torn burn it honorably, never just throw it in the trash. For us, it was no longer just a rag on a stick as it might appear to someone not brainwashed by the Cub Scouts.

Wine is similarly protected by a set of taboos in French culture. Even awkward computer nerds who are not oenophiles and who lack most social graces know better than to drop a cigarette butt into a plastic cup of leftover wine from half a dozen guests even at the very moment they are throwing it into a garbage can.

My bad.

April 23, 2009

Elizabeth Gilbert

Filed under: book review,writing — Gill @ 10:53

Elizabeth Gilbert is the best-selling author of Eat, Pray, Love. She gave a talk at TED that I just saw yesterday. She has wonderful stage presence and high intelligence which made for an arresting presentation.

She examined creativity and stress. Why do we have so many artists who succumb as drunks, suicides, mental cases? What is the link between creativity and stress in our culture? She looked at her own life. She’s now written an international best seller and there is a good chance she will never do anything as good again. People ask her if she is afraid of that, she asks herself, and of course she is. Her father was a chemical engineer and never in his life had these sorts of doubts about himself and no one came to him to ask if he did because we all know chemical engineers don’t have that kind of problem. Why is it so hard for artists?

She looked to history and found that in ancient Greece and Rome the culture did not think that the burden of creation was the artist’s alone. They believed that there were messengers from the gods, sort of invisible fairies or angels, who inspired artists. The Greeks called these demons and the Romans, more tellingly, called them geniuses. The genius is not the artist. The artist is inspired by a genius. So the artist is only part of a team and her success or lack of it is a team problem, not a personal one. These geniuses come arbitrarily, unpredictably, and not to everyone. So a person who creates is at their mercy and no amount of self improvement or fanatic labor can change that. Ms. Gilbert finds this a calming and very attractive belief. It banishes the fear. No need to hide in the bottle or in lunacy.

Her research finds that we in the West lost this in the Renaissance when we adopted a secular outlook. What we lost was the sense of the divine in Art. She tells a story of Arab dancers who performed in the moonlight in the deserts of Morocco over a thousand years ago and when one dancer would have that rare breakthrough and attain to transcendent performance the spectators would chant “Allah, Allah, Allah!” recognizing the hand of God in the performance. When the Arabs conquered Spain and Arabic invaded Spanish this became the “Olé, Olé, Olé!” we hear at bullfights and flamenco dances.

Ms. Gilbert closes by inviting the audience to return to this belief system, as she has, despite their secular heritage. She receives a warm, standing ovation. You can see the whole video yourself here.

Am I the only one laughing out loud?

I can’t hear you and I didn’t hear anyone laughing on the soundtrack. After all, they just attended a revival meeting of the sort that Billy Graham used to run which is generally scorned by the scientists who attend TED. These are the same people who give enthusiastic applause to atheists like Richard Dawkins and certainly defend Science against Religion at every opportunity in their daily lives. What happened? She stroked their egos. We’re all creatives here and we suffer terribly for it, she said to them in so many words.

Then she offered them the balm of superstition. I do admire her originality. Most people come to Religion for fear of death. A few come for fear of wickedness unbound by divine law. Ms. Gilbert will have none of this. She turns to God for fear of writer’s block.

Olé, Olé, Olé!

April 7, 2009

Newspapers, sic transit gloria

Filed under: business — Gill @ 18:20

That newpapers are in trouble is not news. However understanding how they managed to slide into bankruptcy is a little more complicated. Jeff Jarvis has an excellent summary.

The Newspaper Association of America is meeting in San Diego this week and they’re preaching up at their own choir loft with angry, self-righteous fire and brimstone about their plight. Today, Google CEO Eric Schmidt will address them, but he’ll be polite because that’s the way he is and because there’ll be a few hundred aging but armed publishers with blunderbusses aimed at his heart. They need to hear a new message, a blunt message from the outside. Here’s the speech I think they should hear:

You blew it.

Read the whole article.

March 31, 2009


Filed under: poetry,Uncategorized — Gill @ 23:58

Eight is double four
Lower US seen from Alaska
Winner of WWII
California Gold Rush
Triple Sweet Sixteen

How old Becky would have been today

March 29, 2009

From my journal on a restless night

Filed under: curiosity — Gill @ 20:44

On Sunday, October 5, 2008 at 3:14 AM I am thankful for

• My dog Veronica
• My friend John
• My friends Son & Belle
• My health
• My house
• My Weber natural gas grill
• My car
• My books
• My mind
• Quicken
• Netflix
• Apple
• Bubbies pickles
• Yogurt
• Challah
• Baguettes
• Cheese
• Ice water
• Gunpowder tea
• Palm Centro
• Sudoku
• Pelikan pens
• Eagle Creek bags
• Randy Travis
• John Stewart
• Bill Maher
• George Carlin
• David Letterman
• Dr. Gates
• Katrina my stylist
• Amy Harrod of Four Paws
• Cindy my trainer
• Barack Obama
• Bonne Maman preserves
• Colombo Salami
• Dole Frozen Fruit
• Dickie’s BBQ
• Shakespeare
• Sophocles
• Montaigne
• American Express Membership Rewards Pay with Points for Travel
• Nice customer service reps at Sprint today
• Pharmacist, cashiers, baggers at Market Street
• Greenies dental dog bones
• Sylvania daylight 6500 K CFL’s
• Gunpowder tea
• Yixing clay teapot
• iRoast home coffee roaster
• washing machine and dryer
• crushed ice and water dispenser in the refrigerator door
• Solo automatic dog door for Veronica
• SMU Informal courses
• JL Borges
• My friends Jay and Fran
• My lost friends Tony and Agnes
• Panasonic wireless phones
• Jacuzzi tub
• Flannel sheets
• A. Testoni shoes
• University of Chicago GSB glass mug
• Grande Communications high speed cable Internet access
• Efseroff and staff, DDS
• Memories of Becky
• My brother Joel and his 2nd family
• Time in which to overcome difficulties
• Time to enjoy things
• Time to learn
• Airline travel
• On line travel websites
• Tradeking discount broker
• Le Monde Diplomatique
• NY Times
• The Atlantic Magazine
• James Fallows
• Andrew Sullivan
• KCRW Santa Monica and the team at Left, Right, and Center
• KERA 90.1 Dallas
• BBC World Service
• La Rochefoucauld
• Oscar Wilde
• Epson Data Projector w/Remote Conrol
• Mac OS
• Glyph silent HD
• MobileMe
• Yahoo Mail
• Facebook
• Twitter
• iChat
• Yahoo Finance

Pause at 3:27 AM

March 23, 2009

Always an embarrasment

Filed under: financial crisis,politics,Uncategorized — Gill @ 04:27

I was living in France in 1991. The US Senate, in televised sessions, was discussing the porn star Long Dong Silver as part of their august deliberations on whether to advise and consent to the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. This puzzled my French friends and they asked me to explain it. I told them that our politicians were clowns and that this is how they entertain the mob and keep their jobs. I would prefer that our politicians were not clowns and that when a frenzy agitated the people those elected to lead us would moderate the popular passions as the Founders intended and protect us from our baser impulses. But I don’t live in that alternate universe.

Instead, as they almost always do in this world, as they did in the Red Scare, the Japanese-American internment camps, the McCarthy witch hunts, the Patriot Act, and the Clarence Thomas hearings, they crowded out of the little Volkswagen in their clown suits and makeup, running circles under the Big Top in front of the mob in the stands, waving a rope screaming “Lynch ’em!”, this time in the televised AIG hearings on the House side of the circus. Nancy, Barney, and Chris channeling Larry, Moe, and Curly. It truly is The Greatest Show on Earth. Not just the demagoguery and incitements to murder, but solid, unconstitutional legislation.

Thank God Clarence Thomas was confirmed and when this latest nonsense gets to him at the Supreme Court he will form part of the majority that will, wearily, once again save us from our elected stooges.

March 16, 2009

My Lai, nostra culpa

Filed under: war — Gill @ 16:35

The massacre at My Lai happened 41 years ago today. The best online source of information about it is here from the BBC. If you don’t know what it was about you really should learn.

March 15, 2009


Filed under: book review — Gill @ 22:03

Book review

Delirio by Laura Restrepo (original Spanish)
Delirium by Laura Restrepo (English translation)

Augustina goes crazy over a weekend while her husband is away with his kids from a previous marriage. Why? The husband tries to find out. The story takes place in Bogota when Pablo Escobar was at his zenith and it looked like Columbia might become a failed, narco-state.

I liked this book a lot. I tend to see the world in psychological terms and I found this book did as well. Restrepo uses an unusual paragraph and punctuation. The narrative style shifts from narrator POV to character POV within a paragraph, sometimes a sentence ended with a comma instead of a period. At first this is disconcerting but I thought it was a good choice to go with the nature of delusional thinking in which all the characters indulge, not just Augustina. (I read the book in Spanish but I presume the translator kept this style in English. It’s very important to the novel.)

The background of Columbia at the nadir of the drug wars (one hopes!) was very interesting and a nice plus. It goes without saying that our War on Drugs is a Deliriium as well and we are far crazier than Augustina et. al., to be pursuing it. We also may not be as lucky next time. Colombian civil society managed to get organized crime under control. Mexico, a far larger country, far more integrated with the US in every way, may not.

March 11, 2009

Mr. Kelly

Filed under: chicago,patriotism,poetry,politics,south shore,war — Gill @ 15:31

Walter J. Kelly
World History teacher
November 1963

An Irishman from
Central Casting, he taught us
all about the Church

“Look at it this way”
he said to the Jewish kids
who bristled as one

“Know your enemy”
The laughter relaxed both Jew
and Gentile

Then that meant everyone
Some days he even made fun of
the Principal

Our hero
he taught us about Mozart
and the butcher’s bill

that is History.
We were shown America
the city on the hill

Republicans bad
Democrats good, above all
our mayor Richard J. Daley

The Founding Fathers
Lincoln, FDR
John F. Kennedy

Ask what you can do for your country
We were ready to serve
He cried at the news from Dallas

Sent us home early
“Did they catch the bastard yet?”
My Mom didn’t know

Four years later
a college freshman
I went to see my sensei

Vietnam War
I wanted to talk
man to man

I said civil war
bad faith since Geneva
not our business

He said Korea
domino theory

He wanted to stop the germans
I was afraid
of becoming a good german

I still love Mr. Kelly
he gave us all he had
I just outgrew him

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