Thursday, January 27, 2011

From weight loss, to pattern recognition, to flow dynamics, to raging at apparent fools, to humility, to acceptance, and back to snobbery again

In an earlier post about weight loss, I pointed out that one of my three unnumbered rules is "Don't Eat Crap". I had a deeper lesson in that rule recently. I discovered that, when I'm in good shape, and exercising hard regularly, I can eat a small amount of junk, and if I only do it sporadically, I don't gain weight. In fact, if I do it only a little more regularly than that, I gain a little weight, and if I catch the new weight in time, I can get it off again easily.

The problem is that I either do it too much, or change my metabolism, or something... because I wound up putting on a few pounds that have proven hard to take off. My daily weight was finally down yesterday to where I want it to be, but my trend is still up, and will be so for a while (the trending programs I use average the last ten days). So it's back to strict food plan for a while until I find a system that will work for me. (I'm writing this at about 2:00 am, awakened, in part, by hunger. I'll get back to sleep soon.)

As I was thinking of the stuff in those two paragraphs, I got to thinking about pattern recognition. Humans are pattern-seekers, as I've been reading in Taleb, Gladwell, and Levitin, and it's because of this that I was able to see the pattern in my food history and my weight. I'm reasonably sure that there's a cause-effect relationship between those patterns, because there's a good theory that would explain it, and because history has suggested it top be true in the past, and because the experience of others indicates it's true.

I'm also one of those people that sees faces in inanimate objects (car headlight-and-grill patterns, especially; some of them remind me of particular acquaintances) and sounds (door squeaks can bring back melodies), where I know there is NO relationship between the pattern and the meaning I bring to it. I've been lying in bed raging about the fact that flow dynamic patterns so frequently look like a person wearing a veil, or a long-haired person in flowing robes (another reason I'm not sleeping; I'm not the most rational person you ever met at this hour of the morning), so that people thank that this, that, or the other flow pattern is a visitation from their favorite religious figure. And then I remember that some of these people have done some marvellously* generous things, claiming inspiration from these religious figures, which takes some of the fire out of my grumbling and makes me sound like just another cranky old guy (which, of course, I frequently am). Oh, doodies.

Oh, well. Back to sleep soon. There's another yonk of snow on the ground, I'm probably not going to work in a few hours, and there's more important stuff to worry about - like the fact that I think I finally got the fore-aft level of my bicycle saddle right!

*Yes, I spell "marvellously" with two internal "l's". And I spell "grey" with an "e". I'm pompous and insufferable that way. Live with it.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

on the meaning of it all

Years ago, it became clear to me that almost everything I'd ever been told, or thought, about God was untrue (the two straws that broke the camel's back were the re-election of George Bush, and the behavior of people who say they believe in God; the link goes to only one of the most egregious of the religious evil, but any reader knows that there are many others in every denomination). Life just became easier to explain and understand when I became an atheist. I'm not a Dawkins-Hitchens-Myers militant atheist; if you believe in God, OK, but
  1. you can keep your beliefs to yourself; I've tried them and found them wanting, and
  2. if you're going to talk to me about your beliefs (and I'd rather you wouldn't), you're going to have to defend them with more than the usual philosophical arguments.
As a result of that, I gave up on praying, opting instead to do specific, tangible good where I could for people, and for causes in which I believe. I also gave up on meditating, gave up hope of spiritual experiences, and gave up attending Quaker meeting (at the time I became a Quaker, I started saying that I had given up on organized religion, and had attached myself to a disorganized one. Nobody ever laughs at this except me). For years, I said that, on reflection, I'd never had a spiritual experience; all of my experiences seemed to be physical, mental, emotional, or some combination of these.

On reflection, though, twice since embracing atheism, I've had experiences I can't explain. The first was an experience I had a few years ago of gratitude for my life. In view of the fact that I did not believe there was anyone to be grateful to, this experience seemed incongruous, but it was also not deniable. The second was an experience that I can't adequately describe, of things being "right-size"; that there were proper places for things, that at least some of the right things were in those places, and it was part of the responsibility of people individually, and of humanity generally, to maintain these places and to put things right that were not. This experience was also neither deniable nor easily explained away.

So, after some struggle and reflection, I went back to Quaker meeting today (with some trepidation; some of the messages we get in meeting are just too "twee" not to raise one's sugar to near-diabetic levels). First, the Quakes were hugely welcoming (not a surprise; it's one of the things of which they are proud, and justly so). And second, the messages today, while biblical, did not contradict my experience enough to make me feel like I'd made a mistake by going. (And the careful and knowledgeable reader will spot several biblical references in my own writing already in this post!)

I expect I'll go back. I don't expect I'll be as regular as I was, nor as active in the meeting; nonetheless, I don't have another place to go to bring these occasional, but apparently real, experiences.

A couple of other things: while it's true that there is a huge amount of evil in religion, it's also undeniable that there's a huge amount of good: hospitals, homeless outreach, and services to the world's poor are only three of the actions that come to mind that people perform in the name of their religions. I remember hearing an article on the radio having to do with the shorter average lifespan of men in this country than women, and the thought was that men inhabit more of the extremes - more men do life-threatening things than women, more men go to war, more men become homeless, and so on. I think religion inhabits the extremes of society, capable both of great good and great evil. We need to decide, as a society, whether the good religion does is worth the evil it costs.

Second, I'm reading Al Gini's On the Importance of Being Lazy, and in it he writes about the Sabbath:
Sabbath is not about the rules, per se. It is about wonder, joy, and delight. It is about the "sanctity of time," the "architecture of time..." It is about marveling at the complexity and mystery of reality. It is an interlude from the tyranny of the commonplace.
It seems to me that those qualities are a beginning of a description of what might be spiritual. Even as an atheist, these qualities speak to me.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

back on the bike

Over the three-day holiday weekend, I put the bike on the trainer in the garage, and started doing some pedaling as part of my daily exercise routine (instead of the rower; I still do the floor exercises). Admittedly, I'm not on for long... but I'm gratified to see that my pedaling muscles don't seem to have completely atrophied in the past six weeks or so.

It is, however, miserably cold in that garage, where the trainer is, especially for the first five or six minutes before I warm up. miserere mei, already!

(One of the ways I tell myself that I'm not a complete bicycle fanatic is that I do my upper-body exercises. The racers will allow the upper body to get as thin as possible, so they're not carrying muscle weight. So there; that's proof I'm not crazy.*)

(*I need all the proof I'm not crazy that I can generate.)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

still crazy

I might do the Anchor House Ride for Runaways this year. It's a 500-mile bicycle ride done as a fundraiser for Anchor House (check it out; opens in a new tab).

I'm not worried about doing 500 miles on the bicycle in a week. I'm not worried about the $750 minimum donation requirement.

I'm worried that, at the end of a week of riding and living with these people, I'll be universally disliked. Or, worse, ignored and forgotten.

In other, but related, news. I've decided to do two things per week to support my long-term friendships. The "things" can include visits, calls, emails, agreeing to do something, or whatever... but if I died tomorrow, I think that the people who came to my funeral (outside of my nuclear family) would be my wife's friends and family. And if she died tomorrow, it might be my nuclear family, and then her family, coworkers, and friends. It's time to change that.

Friday, January 14, 2011

happy all the time!

I just noticed how cranky my last several posts have been, at the same time I saw this from Calamities of Nature:

Monday, January 10, 2011

good stuff: bug comic

I read a number of webcomics every day (or every day they update). I've already posted about Questionable Content (although I think it was in my other blog).

Today I want to point out Bug Comic. Adam Huber, who writes and draws, has set a hard task for himself: a four-panel strip, updating five days per week, with a narrator and dialog, and a gag in each panel.

And he does it consistently.

Go check it out.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

health care bs

The R's are threatening to repeal the healthcare bill, and the D's are trying to use that threat to fund raise.

The bill doesn't include a public option. It's already been gutted. Let it die.

Decent heathcare in this country won't come through the R's, and it won't come through this bill. We need something else.

(One of the things we need is a factor on the left that understands, as the Righties do, that people don't vote for accomplishment, achievement, or ability; they vote for the person who makes 'em feel good. If you do that, they'll smile at you while you hang 'em up by the heels and bleed 'em.)

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Year's & provoking thought

New Year's is just not my holiday. I don't drink (haven't in almost 29 years; you can try to figure out if that means anything); I don't generally like parties; I'd like to be in bed by 9:00 most nights. So New Year's Eve, my wife and I went to a 6:30 dinner reservation at McCormick & Schmick's, and the next day, went to the in-laws for a cozy little family get-together that wound up with about twenty-five people, several of whom were unexpected (at least by us), and I was reminded again just how excellent my parents-in-law are, and how I got the sane sister to wive, of the four of them.

I've also spent the last three-or-so-days having my mind shaken by Taleb's Black Swan, which is messing up my ideas of causality, predictability, and certainty.

And I just found this nifty list of posts on self-delusion, which I'm mostly posting so I remember to go back to look at it again.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Ezra Jennings on Pro-Life & Pro-Choice

Jennings said, “People often point out the so-called incongruity between the people who support abortion but not capital punishment, or vice-versa. But at bottom, both sides are really saying the same thing: 'You don't kill what's human.' People who support abortion, if they are thoughtful about it, don't really believe that the fertilized egg is human from the moment of conception; they think that they human-ness comes later. And people who support capital punishment don't really believe that the killer (because that's who those who receive the death sentence are, generally) is human, they think he or she has given up or lost something that makes them human.”

“Now, there is some incongruity on both sides. Some people say that you become human at the moment of conception, without anything else having to happen. So abortion isn't OK. But these same folks say that you can lose, or give up, your humanity through your actions or life experiences, or something, so capital punishment is OK.

“Other people say that you only become human after a certain amount of time, or with certain experiences or capabilities, or something. So abortion is OK. But once you've become human, there is nothing that can happen, nothing you can lose, that can take away this 'human-ness' from you. Thus, capital punishment is not OK.

“If something is present at the moment of conception, when the 'you' is only one cell, how can you lose it later? Or if it only happens at some later point, how can you hold on to it, no matter what?

“Now, there are also some people who are against abortion because they think people are killing cute little babies. These are the 'Hello Kitty' collectors of the people in this debate; there's nothing cute about a two-month collection of cells.”

Jennings continued, “I, for one, don't believe in capital punishment, but it's not because I give a damn about the convicted person; it's not even because of the cost and inefficiency of the current system. It's because I don't believe in heaven or hell, but I do believe in punishment. As soon as you kill the convict, his punishment is over. And a long prison term is much more exquisite punishment than a quick ending to his torments.”

“As for abortion, I support abortion so strongly that I think it should be available as an option up to sixty months post-partum.”