Curiosity Over Pride (FYI: To comment, send an e-mail to

Monday, July 27, 2009

Temporary Insanity

I can not honestly say the time was stolen from me. The previous me, the one that had control over my body from Thursday through Sunday, just made decisions with the time that current me questions the usefulness of. Much time has been spent with cyclists discussing cycling and watching the Tour de France. And now I've tried to add a random picture to the post as a learning exercise and it does not seem to be going well.

Here are some inadequate responses to the very nice post y'all have made:

On Insecurity: I once read that Tibetans have no translation for "self-hatred". My immediate thought was "That's impossible". Ego being the social gauge, how can a society not have citizens with this..... ability?

Bormes les Mimosas: You're killing me. You're smiling while you're killing me.

Puritans in Thailand: Your mom is killing me a decade before I was born! What an incredible life! Truly, thanks for sharing.

Why I Love France: Paul Allen owns a 200mm yacht with 2 helo pads and a submarine port. He also built the Sci Fi Museum here in Seattle. He may not be saving the world, but he is having fun.


Somehow all these posts seem to connect. Time, ego, and pleasure. Somehow ego has evolved to make us do things that take up our time in activities that do not give us pleasure. Like drycleaning and watching the stock market. Where is Cotton, I'm starting to feel revolutionary.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


To begin Apple users, of which I have been happily one for the last four years having been released from corporate Windows, do not rever Bill Gates but see him rather as a destructive monopolist who has done much to ruin the pleasure of computing and destroy much creativity in the computer and internet space. We are only too happy to see him give his money away which he has mostly stolen but regret that this gives him so much power and control over charities, charitable work, intellectual forums within the circles of power and the "mindless" many of whom praise his multi-generational theft on this board. On the plus side, he does do it with a smile!
Yes, we have our baronial titans of industry pillaging and buying up smaller creative companies as they go, in much greater numbers than Europe but hold on, there's always China and their guys and assorted gals seem ready to do some big time plundering of their own.
As for philanthropy in general most working class people would rather earn their due - not 1/1000 of the CEOs take - than have to take food stamps or Gates foundation computer outreach programs.
As for creativity, as one interested in philosophy - especially as imo we are all going to die and have not been put here to consume as many i-pods or LPGs as possible - the French have contributed dozens of major philosophers to Western civilization just in the post-war years, including philosophical movements which have furthered our understanding of society, language psychology etc. compared to exactly none for the Americans. I am talking about things like Existentialism, Structuralism, deconstructionism, semiotics, post structuralism and people like Sartre, Derrida, Deleuze, Foucault, Lacan (psychology), Bardaud (history), Baudrillard (sociology), Althuser, Levi-Strauss, etc.
So you guys continue to rever the economic exploits of wal mart, amazon, windows, Mac Donalds, YUM Brands (Kentucky Fried Chicken - now expanding in China), I will tell you that Carrefour has biger and better stores with fresher produce, ikea classier and less expensive furniture; Sony and Philipps do as well as Microsoft and in the case of gaming and blue ray technology Sony makes a much better product but in making this comparison both you and I would be missing the point
The point is to live and learn from others not to be so blinded by ones jingoism and prejudices to miss most of what is out there and especially when it concerns ones unfortunate neighbor like the American blacks, all that this oppressed people has contributed, in terms of joy, music dance, theater literature and now leadership as to render onself absent from modern society by one's close mindedness. Imagine what American society would be without the great contribution of the African polity, a smaller narrower place ready to consume itself with hatred. One may say the same of Asian Americans and Hispanics and even all the white groups but one must begin by seeing "the other" as the French Philosophers say.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Puritans in Thailand

In November 1961, a young woman, later to become my mother, was inspired by a speech of President John F. Kennedy to join the Peace Corp.

A navy brat and direct descendant of Mayflower Puritans, mom had only recently become the first woman in her family to graduate from college and was thus eager for adventure and an opportunity to make our collective a better place.

Now mom had few "useful" skills, but she did know how to swim. She had swum for the US Olympic team in the 1956 Olympic games in Melbourne Australia and I guess this must have interested Peace Corp administrators. They selected her to become one of Thailand's first Olympic swim coaches and sent her to Bangkok with the Peace Corps' first class (photo of mom coaching that team above).

Bangkok of 1962 fit my mother like a glove. With the military vacuum created by French and British military withdraw from the region and the subsequent American military entry into that vacuum, mom's background simply worked for that time and that space. For mom was the rather attractive daughter of the captain of one of our nation's largest aircraft carriers as well as being the granddaughter of one of our nation's great 4 star admiral heroes of WWII- I kid you not, the navy named a 560ft destroyer after my great-grandfather.

When mom traveled to Bangkok, her military background served her well.

And it is here our story turns to France and the lovely little town of Bormes les Mimosas. For mom's military connections slipped her into a program with Royal Thai Air Force where she learned to pilot Spitfires and Hurricanes... I know, I know, it seems too hard to believe. But this was Thailand in 1962; still a third world nation that appreciated the genuine helping hand of a well connected navy brat. In that light the story seems less impossible.

Anyway, in this same fighter pilot training program was a French diplomat to UNESCO named Louis-Jacques Rollet-Andriane- they became friends and much more.

Now Louis-Jacques was/is a truly interesting and wonderful man whom I will comment no more on. But noteworthy to this story, he was very sexual, as was his wife- Marayat Bibidh- a royal Thai princess whom he married at 16. Though I must mention I have since been told that royal Thai princesses are actually rather common. Anyway, without getting into too much detail of mom's affair (as I really don't know much about it and I never will, this being a story about my mother and all), the affair apparently involved still others- enough said.

Several years later, Marayat wrote a fictitious novel titled Emmanuelle. It was a story about a young diplomat who visits Thailand and the novel is loosely based on several people including my mother. I am unsure if the book is/was very good or if it was even very successful, but I know Louis-Jacques turned the book into a movie and the film version of that novel (movie poster below), and subsequent spawns of the original, were quite successful in France.

Anyway, all this is a long way of saying that in the Summer of 1984, having graduated from high school, a friend and I took our bikes on a loop of France. I knew no one in France and so mom arranged for us to stay with Louise-Jacques and Marayat when we biked near their home (a little north of the coast). Louise-Jacques took my friend and I for a day trip to Bormes les Mimosas and it truly was spectacular.

... And the clever amongst you will see a connection in all this to my name ;-)

Bormes les Mimosas

Sorry I'm such a lazy lout so I can't show you any luscious pics, but go to Google and type in Bormes les Mimosas, and you can rinse your eye, as we say here, to your eye's content.
We spent ONE and one half days in Bormes less than a week ago.
It is paradise on earth.
(Who wants pie in the sky when you can have paradise on earth) and the best part is that the best is really FREE, with NO forking out filthy lucre.
Bormes is in that oh so elite area where all the FILTHY RICH hang out on the Riviera. 30 kms from Saint Tropez (which I have never been to).
We spent the day with a French expatriate living in Canada who comes "home" to Bormes for a month in the summer. The family have a small boat, so we went out for a little swim (really FAST swim because the Mediterranean hovered at around 18 °, and don't ask me what that is in Fahrenheit as I no longer attempt to keep track of such things, like American holidays in France, by the way...) It was IN, and OUT OUT OUT ASAP. Specially as there was nothing particularly interesting to gape at underneath the water... No fishies or anything, or at least no really PRETTY or EXOTIC ones.
On the way, our friend pointed out Carla Bruni's family's RANCH out there on a Mediterranean promontory. (Ho hum, yes, what's so interesting about THAT ????)
And in the evening we headed up to the old village of Bormes (not the NEW NOUVEAU RICHE port hang out) for dinner.
As I said, Bormes is paradise on earth. Every year there is a mimosa festival, as Bormes les Mimosas is named for the mimosa, a small delicate yellow flower that blooms in bunches around February every year, and was apparently introduced from Australia. There are about 700 different varieties of mimosa, and I bet you never heard of it before, right ? It smells.... DIVINE.
(A little further up the coast is that elite hang out where French perfume makers have their haunts, Grasse, where the tons of roses and other delicate flowers are transformed into that LUXURY OF LUXURIES, perfume.)
The Riviera in the summer is so old world (when it is NOT overrun by hordes of Northerners, like the Dutch, Germans, etc..... who keep to themselves). It is exemplary of a style of life.
And... the Mediterranean is indeed the very BIRTHPLACE of our culture. Its cradle.
I feel this acutely when I am there. I allow myself to be gently taken over by its charm that washes away most of that Puritan austerity that controlled me for so long.
The.... light. The glow. Check out the photos.
And walking in the streets, soaking up the beauty, is free.
Only downside of the Riviera : no really good wine (in my book at least...).

Thursday, July 23, 2009


On Insecurity - Though not religious by any means I have a great deal of admiration for religious teachers. Think of it, they lived in the same human world as us, sometimes a bit better, often times much worse; yet, they were able to gather followers, start movements and teach often unpalatable morals and to the listeners, morals which went against the whole grain of than social fabrics.
So when Christ says, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do," I listen. Far be it from me to gainsay the teachings of someone who died for his beliefs but since he spoke in Armaic, the words have come to us through several languages and meanings which change with the times, I will permit myselfs] a small reflexion on his teaching. In speaking of some of the hate for the poor and disdain for foreigners which passes for comment here, not to mention mysogny, I believe they do know what they are doing. But in the same sense that Christ said that they should be forgiven for they know not, I would say in modern day English that they are too insecure to prevent themselves.
In the same way that some of the worse anti-semites were half-jews, (one can start with Hitler who was part jew but there are many other examples), and some of the most bigoted anti-gays have been closeted gays, or religious moral zealots adulterers, insecurity about ones own identity often leads one to affirm it that much more militantly.
The American male is very insecure. If you need any more porof of yhat I urge you to look at the puerile comments on "Business Insider" shorn of the intellectual veneer de rigeur here. Why should that be?
Start with the Puritan repression and it s consequently "dirty" conotations of the most intimate and essential act of human life the reproductive or love making one. We at least until very recently come from such an act by two individuals and to demean it and call it by dirty names demeans in a deep sense ones own existence.
Start from there. Look if you need to look any farther the pressures on the male in his role as traditional breadwinner, in a society where participation is a throw away good, unemployment and personal obsolescence the rule not the exception in a lifetime and you have deep seated fear that has no outlet to be addressed. Since revolt, union solidarity or other concrete protests against this condition are not a generally accepted part of our culture the male is forced to cast his identity with the few successful, the fewwhom he hopes have surmounted this fear by unbrideled success. He has no room for the weak, like the confused jew or gay or moral majority, no room for his like because accepting their weakness highlights to him his own panicked state.
The male is consequently put in a situation of psychological disarray. Forced to identify with all the social dictums of the very rich for his own individual psychological reassurance, he knows deep down that most of these will never apply to him and are being used against him. We can see this phenomenon clearly in the debate on healthcare or clearly when comparing (negatively) aid to the UAW to aid to Wall Street Bankers (positively).
And foreigners? One of the pillars of psychological support that the ideology of the well to do gives the American male is that, however, bad and frightening his condition may be he is better off than the foreigner. Whether this is true or even relevant, is itself irrelevant, for he must believe it to accept his own insecurity and pain. So as you have pointed out all foreigners are idiots, fools and economic dolts. Not because they are, or even if they were we could not learn from them, but because like the militant jews, gays and moral majority, above we need to fervently believe this.
Are Frenchmen or Chinese better off psychologically. Well, in terms of sexual repression and self-hatred as expressed in disdain for lovemaking the French are clearly better off. But overall probably neither the French or the Chinese could be said to be 100% unaffliceted. They are part ofthe human condition. But what is important is that their afflictions are different from our so that we can learn enormously from them if we have an open mind.
As I said, I do like philosophy more than the pursuit of material goods but you can buy the book on Amazon if you like - proceeds will be donated.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Why we need to ration health care

If we ever get a real dialogue going on intelligent rationing of health care in America, I would be quite optimistic about our future as a people. If we do not achieve this result, then I would be less optimistic.

For we all know that when it comes to economics, the basic issue is/has and always will be about how we spend our money as a people. Yet sadly we have moved far from this fundamental truth as a collective.

Take the whole discussion around preventative medicine. While I want to make it clear to everyone that I am a strong proponent of spending even more money on preventative medicine, still anyone who thinks preventative medicine reduces costs ignores a basic truth of mathematics which I will illustrate below.

But perhaps more fundamentally, anyone who thinks this has forgotten the basic fact that we will all die of something one day.

Let me illustrate with a rather gruesome example to simply make my point:

Scenario A- Society spends nothing to prevent illness. As a result of neglecting preventative medicine, people sadly die at the relatively young age of 55. And while their death can be from anything, in this example, let's say they die from a heart attack and that society is willing to treat them in death with $300,000.

Scenario B- Society spends $1000/year per person preventing cardiovascular disease. As as a result of this increased spending on preventative measures, people die at much older age 75 but then they do eventually die. Their deaths might be from cancer or another illness, but they do still die. To illustrate this point, we'll also assume these different methods of death also cost $300,000.

Let's add up the costs for the different scenarios...

Scenario A: total cost $300,000/person (people live to 55)
Scenario B: total cost: $375,000/person (people live to 75)

Remember, as we all eventually die, the cost of treating our second method of death must still be taken into account when we think of how preventative medicine saves money by preventing the cost of the first thing that would have killed us. Increasing the age of our death is a great deal but we must not forget that it still means we swap one expensive illness for another at life's end. Sadly death is still inescapable for all of us- in death we are all truly equal.

Now let me illustrate the effects of rationing- and please note that I am not saying rationing must be done by either the government or the market, I am simply illustrating the effect of rationing. As it should be clear from the following example that it is rationing that gives much greater value for our health care dollar.

Say we take the same two scenarios from above but include the concept of rationing at the end of life. This might look the following way:

Scenario C (no preventative spending AND rationing at life's end): total cost $0 (people live to 55)
Scenario D (preventative spending AND rationing at life's end): total cost: $75,000 (people live to 75)

Obviously, of these four scenarios (A,B,C and D), the best VALUE in health care spending is scenario D- i.e. we spend lots on preventative services but not much at the end of our life. In scenario D, people still get to live to 75 but at a cost of $75,000.

Scenario B also gets us to age 75, but at a cost of $375,000/person which is obviously considerably more expensive than $75,000. You can decide how you want to spend this new found money (research to prevent more deaths?).

Now I realize not all end of life illnesses are equally expensive, but never make the mistake of thinking that the ones we have earlier in life are more expensive than the ones we have later as this is most decidedly often not the case.

Again, I use this rather gruesome illustration simply to make a point: when you hear people talk about how preventative medicine saves money, please realize they are incorrect, it was always the rationing that saved the money. Preventative medicine ALWAYS increases spending though it is much better value for the money we spend.

And for those of you who missed Peter Singer's NYT article, I highly recommend it.

Only rationing will save us from an otherwise national calamity and hopefully as a people we can move on to a more intelligent discussion around this issue.

In my next post, I will describe why rationing has nothing to do with private or public medicine and why either system can incorporate rationing fairly.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

`When I make a word do a lot of work like that,' said Humpty Dumpty, `I always pay it extra.'

`When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'

`The question is,' said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

`The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master - - that's all.'

Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. `They've a temper, some of them -- particularly verbs, they're the proudest -- adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs -- however, I can manage the whole of them! Impenetrability! That's what I say!'

`Would you tell me, please,' said Alice `what that means?`

`Now you talk like a reasonable child,' said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. `I meant by "impenetrability" that we've had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you'd mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don't mean to stop here all the rest of your life.'

`That's a great deal to make one word mean,' Alice said in a thoughtful tone.

`When I make a word do a lot of work like that,' said Humpty Dumpty, `I always pay it extra.'

- Lewis Carol, Through the Looking Glass

Thursday, July 9, 2009


In hopes of achieving fairness, we look to precedent. Whether or not the precedent was absurd it is still repeated. Its just intolerable sometimes.

So I picked up this book called Moral Minds: The Nature of Right and Wrong by Marc Hauser. He says he's attempting to do the same thing with morality that Chomsky did with language. Since I don't know what Chomsky did with language I'm hoping reading this will enlighten me on two things at once. Procedural distribution (rules of the game) versus scalar distribution (more effort, more benefit); intriguing.

Rules, eh? Weird word. Capitalism doesn't seem to have a lot of rules. Well, wait, property law is huge and I guess that fits under capitalism. Obviously, I'm rambling at this point. Hope you all are enjoying July.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


With the temple merchants gripe out of the way, it is time for me to launch into what I promised Thai about structural linguistics. Patience Thai, as we are probably mirror images of each other, I will ask YOU for as much patience with ME as you have asked from me.
Before I go into progressive detail, a few introductory comments to this subject.
I have stated as axiomatic that language is the mother of all other (symbolic) systems, and affirmed the necessity of keeping this in mind at all times.
In order to talk about the physical world, to talk ABOUT anything, we have recourse to language. So... any theory MUST take into account the manner in which we are expressing it, and must take into account the nature of language itself.
Some basic observations : speech and writing, while both language, are NOT the same thing at all. Writing is the translation of speech into a separate but related symbolic system which has different properties from speech. (Speech is ephemeral, it is sound, apprehended by the ears.)
Now, what's the relation to Sappho ?
I have in front of me a best selling album by Angélique Ionatos, a French-Greek artist who set some of Sappho's poetry to her own music.
Some general culture : Sappho was a little slip of a woman poet living some 2500 years ago on the Greek islands. We don't know a hell of a lot about her, (and I will dismiss the trite assumption that she was homosexual ; ancient Greek sexuality was light years away from our own...) ; she was probably not even very pretty, but a few of her poems, and many fragments have come down to us through the ages. Because she was a poet, a writer, and she knew just what she was trying to do, and what it was worth. And posterity respected her for it, and gave her credit where it was due.

Here she is :
I write my verses on air
And they love them
I have served beauty
Was there anything greater for me ?
Even in the future, I say, they will remember me.

Little cheater, little liar, Sappho, and she knows it. Poetry is air, it is speech, it is an acoustic image, but, in order for her work to descend through the ages, it had to be written down.
If speech is ephemeral, (just like our bodies, promised to death and decay...) then the written word is immortal.
But poetry, that's having your cake and eating it too. It's ephemeral and immortal.
I'll give two other examples before digging into the technical, dry stuff...
On the album, Ionatos recites one poem in the original ancient Greek. It is awesome to imagine that this has traversed more than 2 millenia to reach us, and that we can STILL be moved by it...

Driving on the Left Hand Side of the Road

You may have noticed a drop off in my usually frenetic Internet activity over the past few days.
As you can now see, no, I am not dead.
I have come back from 4 days in Albion, just over the Channel.

First comment on the temple merchants : the airport is obviously fringe culture number one, that no-man's land where all of a sudden people's bodies are ALMOST as immaterial as filthy lucre, and where you can just tell that for governments, for airline companies, for airport officials, it would just be so much EASIER if we had... like IMMATERIAL bodies.
The modern day airport has an unreal quality to it.
All of that nightmarish neon lighting.
Food which you can find all over the planet (almost).
People wandering aimlessly about (sometimes) killing time, looking at all that STUFF in the duty free boutiques. (Now, that's a biggee, WHY all the DUTY FREE STUFF ? Isn't this the inception of the off-shore/delocalizing business ? The airport, a country within the country where MONEY is the KING of it all...)
People WAITING. Shuffling around. Enough.
On the other side of the channel, I had rented a car. One of those numbers that you drive on the left hand side of the road in the U.K.
I think that this custom must harken back to Rule Brittania, if you see what I mean...
Summary : if the U.K. government really cared diddly shit about its population, and not about all that filthy lucre, it would not allow foreigners to rent cars, because it's just TOO TOO dangerous to drive the rental car out of the airport.
See my point ?
In the U.K., you can't drive a manual transmission car if you only have a license to drive an automatic transmission one, BUT, you can take a rental car out when you're from elsewhere ?
Gimme a break, temple merchants...

The Most Fabulous Objects In The World

  • Hitchhiker's Guide To The Universe trilogy
  • Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • Flight of the Conchords
  • Time Bandits