Sunday, July 31, 2005

Whose opinion about you matters? 

This seems like a basic one, but the wide range of answers people give indicates otherwise:

Some people would say "no one's opinion matters"; if you never leave the house, never have contact with other people, and have enough $ to last your lifetime, this might be true, as long as you're paying your taxes and such (otherwise, the opinions of various authorities as to whether you should be arrested will certainly matter)... but that probably doesn't describe anyone interested enough in other people to read blogs, so we'll assume it doesn't apply to you.

Some people would say, or at least seem to think, that everyone's opinion matters; since there's virtually nothing for which everyone has the same opinion, that seems like a crazy-making viewpoint. Even if you narrow it down to those people you actually encounter, or actually interact with, these are mostly people you'll never see again, and have no influence over your life, so why worry about them? I dunno, but folks DO worry about them; these are the people who shy away from dating someone of a different race because total strangers (who're obviously too pitiful to care about) might look at them funny when they went out in public, or are embarrassed if they have to borrow a friend's old clunker car because total strangers on the freeway might turn their noses up at them. Now, granted, if you live in a very small town or sub-community, you might in fact be under a social microscope, with everything you do being reported to everyone within the group whether you know them personally or not, but most people are NOT in that situation, and so really need to stop caring about what idiots they'll never see again might think of them... life's just too short.

Some people would say that the opinion of everyone they know personally matters; I can see being concerned about anyone with actual control over you, such as employers, teachers/professors, parents (for minors and the financially dependent), and sometimes romantic partners (if only one of them controls the purse or access to sex), and there's the issue of loved ones, which I'll get to in a minute, but why stress over anyone else's opinion? You shouldn't, for the most part, but there can be some gray area; most of the folks we know have no power over us or any aspect of our lives, so what they think about us should count for zero, BUT, if any of those people dislike or disapprove of us, and have contact with people who DO have power over us, such that they might, for example, bad-mouth us to the boss at promotion time, or pass on vicious gossip to that hottie we're hoping to date, that could be problematic... which is why we should always take care to not blow off steam at, or misbehave around, or mistreat even on our worst day, people we don't know well, as that forms their entire opinion of us. Now, granted, that opinion will probably never matter, but better safe than sorry; once you've made sure that no reasonable person who could do you a disservice would feel like they had reason to do so, you can pretty much forget about them... if they don't like your hairstyle, or your shoes, or what sort of music you prefer, so what?

Some people think that the opinion of everyone they care about matters, in fact MOST people would say that; I can understand wanting the approval of your loved ones, although I don't personally care about that, and of course you don't want their overall opinion of you to become so bad that they eject you from their lives (unless it means that they're bad people for feeling as they do about your choices, which is a whole different essay), and obviously your quality of life can be affected if those closest to you don't like what you're doing or how you're doing it, but for most things... their opinion of you really shouldn't matter. If, say, one of your friends is a chef, their opinion on your cooking would matter because they have expertise in that area, but in general your loved ones will NOT be experts in any of the areas in which they render judgment, so their opinions about most aspects of your life shouldn't count for any more than random ones picked out of a hat; just because they're close to you shouldn't give them any authority to decide the rightness of your choices. Heck, even in those areas where their opinion of you strongly affects your life (this'll mostly be from parents if you're young and romantic partners if you're older), that should only affect what you decide to do to keep the peace, not how you think or feel about it.

I can imagine the horrified gasps at the very thought of not treasuring the opinions of loved ones, but there it is, and yes, I live by that; although I'll ask for people's opinions about the things I do, wear, etc, when necessary out of politeness, and feign the proper amount of interest in their answers, if someone doesn't have substantial knowledge or background on the subject, or if it's a totally subjective issue, it doesn't matter to me what their opinion is, and, if what they think or feel isn't going to lead to a negative impact on my life, I don't take their opinions into account when making decisions... and I hope they have the sense to view MY opinions of THEM the same way (although since this seems to be another human-nature thing they probably don't), because it doesn't matter one bit to their lives what *I* think.

So, whose opinions of me DO matter to me? There's a handful of people that I know well, and respect, whose opinions about the intellectual and spiritual things that I come up with, and what sort of person I am, matter to me, but other than that there's honestly not much. The view of me held by anyone who has the power to decide my fate in any way matters (for example, the opinion of a cop about my driving matters, since I don't want any tickets), but these days it's rare for anyone to hold any sort of power over me... I'm lucky that way. If I give someone a gift, their opinion about my gift-picking ability matters for the obvious reason. Anyone who's an established expert would have opinions that matter to me in their area of expertise, but I've yet to meet, say, an interior decorator who might voice an opinion on my decorating schemes, so that one's just theoretical. And... I think that's it.

Now it's your turn; ask yourself whose opinion of YOU you're concerned about. Then, ask yourself which of those people's opinions you actually NEED to care about, or it would be of value to you to care about, and under what circumstances... and prepare for a big surge of relief when you realize how little you really need to concern yourself about what everyone else thinks of you.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Scientific explanation for some paranormal experiences 

In the July, 2005 issue of Discover magazine is an article entitled "Extreme States," subtitled "Out-of-body experiences? Near-death experiences? Researchers are beginning to understand how they occur and how they may alter the brain." There's proof that some of the things people see as evidence of religious, spiritual or paranormal occurrences are just feelings caused by simple biological reactions in the brain (don't worry, there are still things they freely admit they don't know)... check it out:

"While out-of-body experiences are defined by a perceptual shift in consciousness, no more and no less, near-death experiences start with this shift and then proceed along a characteristic trajectory. People report entering a dark tunnel, heading into light, and feeling an all-encompassing sense of peace, warmth, love, and welcome. They recall being reassured along the way by dead friends, relatives, and a gamut of religious figures. Occasionally, there's a life review, followed by a decision of the 'should I stay or should I go?' variety."

I'd never made the connection between the 2 sorts of experiences, but once it's mentioned you can't NOT see it.

"discovering [in 1982] that the classic explanation [for near-death experiences]-delusion-had been recently upgraded to a hallucination provoked by a number of different factors, including fear, drugs, and a shortage of oxygen to the brain... might help explain the many reports of near-death experiences trickling out of emergency rooms."

Most people who have near-death experiences see them as very spiritually significant, but it looks like there's biology involved too... maybe not totally explaining these experiences, which might be made possible by the biological events but not limited to them, but at the very least showing a connection between the condition of the physical brain and its perceptions of the spiritual realm.

"23 out of 26 children who experienced apparent death-the cessation of heartbeat and breathing-reported a classic near-death experience, while none of the other 131 children in his control group reported anything of the kind."

They don't talk about similar studies on adults, if any even exist, so I don't know if kids are more susceptible or what... but doesn't this sound like a much higher % than adults report for similar circumstances?

"Morse [the physician running the study] later videotaped the children recalling their experiences, which included such standard fare as long tunnels, giant rainbows, dead relatives, and deities of all sorts. But many descriptions-augmented by crayon drawings-included memories of the medical procedures performed and details about doctors and nurses whose only contact with the child occurred while the child was apparently dead.

Other scientists have duplicated Morse's findings."

They give no explanation of how this could be, how a dead body could be recording that sort of data, or ANY data, especially since some of the kids were dead for as long as 45 minutes; of course, those of us who believe in souls can easily explain the perceptions, if not the exact mechanism by which the soul's "memories" get imparted to the brain when the 2 are reunited.

"Possible clues to the biological basis of these unusual states turned up in studies conducted in the late 1970s... James Whinnery, a specialist in aerospace medicine... working with a massive centrifuge at the Naval Air Warfare Center in Warminster, Pennsylvania, Whinnery spun fighter pilots into G-LOC [g-force-induced loss of consciousness]. He wanted to determine at what force tunnel vision occurred. More than 500 pilots accidentally blacked out during the study... at least 40 of the pilots reported some sort of out-of-body experience while they were unconscious. Not knowing anything about out-of-body experiences, Whinnery called these episodes dreamlets, kept detailed records of their contents, and began examining the literature on anomalous unconscious experiences. 'I was reading about sudden-death episodes in cardiology,' Whinnery says, 'and it led me right into near-death experiences. I realized that a smaller percentage of my pilots' dreamlets, about 10 to 15 percent, were much closer in content to a classic NDE.'

When Whinnery reviewed his data, he noted a correlation: The longer his pilots were knocked out, the closer they got to brain death. And the closer they got to brain death, the more likely it was that an out-of-body experience would turn into a near-death experience. This was the first hard evidence for what had been long suspected-that the two states are not two divergent phenomena, but two points on a continuum."

So, here's a way to create the supposedly-mystical experiences, in at least a small % of people; that doesn't mean that no spirituality is ever involved with these things, any more than being able to inject chemicals that tell the body it's hungry or full into rats to make hungry ones stop eating and full ones seek out food means that hunger and fullness don't exist... but it's something we need to start thinking about, because at least some of these experiences clearly ARE just biological in nature.

"Whinnery found that G-LOC, when gradually induced, produced tunnel vision. 'The progression went first to grayout (loss of peripheral vision) and then to blackout,' he explains, and the blindness occurred just before a person went unconscious... The transition from grayout to unconsciousness resembles floating peacefully within a dark tunnel, which is much like some of the defining characteristics of a near-death experience. The pilots also recalled a feeling of peace and serenity as they regained consciousness."

Sorry, folks, it looks like the often-reported tunnel does NOT exist, although people who say they experienced it are telling the truth; we're going to need to not focus on some of these sorts of details and look instead at those things that are truly inexplicable about these occurrences.

"Compression of the optic nerve could produce tunnel vision; neurochemicals such as serotonin, endorphins, and enkephalins could help explain the euphoria; and psychotropics like LSD and mescaline often produce vibrant hallucinations of past events. But no one has directly tested these hypotheses."

Why? Because, as I've always said, scientists fear the stigma attached to research in this area... and who could they get to fund it in any case?

"Nearly all of the people who had had a near-death experience-no matter if it was 10 years ago or 50-were still absolutely convinced their lives had meaning and that there was a universal, unifying thread of love which provided that meaning. Matched against a control group, they scored much higher on life-attitude tests, significantly lower on fear-of-death tests, gave more money to charity, and took fewer medications. There's no other way to look at the data. These people were just transformed by the experience."

Could all this have come from a merely biological event? Maybe... and maybe NOT.

"Willoughby Britton, a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Arizona... knew that most people who have a close brush with death tend to have some form of post-traumatic stress disorder, while people who get that close and have a near-death experience have none. In other words, people who have a near-death experience have an atypical response to life-threatening trauma. No one knows why."

Biological alteration of the brain, spiritual enhancement, or both?

"... in the 1950s. Penfield, one of the giants of modern neuroscience, discovered that stimulating the brain's right temporal lobe-located just above the ear-with a mild electric current produced out-of-body experiences, heavenly music, vivid hallucinations, and the kind of panoramic memories associated with the life review part of the near-death experience. This helped explain why right temporal lobe epilepsy was a condition long defined by its most prominent symptom: excessive religiosity characterized by an intense feeling of spirituality, mystical visions, and auditory hallucinations of the voice-of-God variety."

So, here's another physical way to cause supposedly mystical experiences; I've never been so glad that my own spiritual life has never included any of this sort of thing... and my heart goes out to any readers who are having to re-evaluate their own spiritualities because of this stuff.

"Two features distinguished the group with near-death experience from the controls: They needed far less sleep, and they went into REM (rapid eye movement) sleep far later in the sleep cycle than normal people."

It's not uncommon for deeply spiritual types to not need much sleep, hmmmmmmmmmm......

"'The point at which someone goes into REM sleep is a fantastic indicator of depressive tendencies,' says Britton. 'We've gotten very good at this kind of research. If you took 100 people and did a sleep study, we can look at the data and know, by looking at the time they entered REM, who's going to become depressed in the next year and who isn't.'"

That isn't related to the topic, but I included it because it's yet another bit of proof that depression is a PHYSICAL illness, and some people still refuse to accept that.

"Normal people enter REM at 90 minutes. Depressed people enter at 60 minutes or sooner. Britton found that the vast majority of her group with near-death experience entered REM sleep at 110 minutes. With that finding, she identified the first objective neurophysiological difference in people who have had a near-death experience... Britton thinks near-death experience somehow rewires the brain."

So... could an artificially-induced near-death experience cure, or at least improve, depression?

"The temporal lobe synchrony wasn't happening on the right side of the brain, the site that had been linked in Penfield's studies to religious feeling in temporal lobe epilepsy. Instead she found it on the left side of the brain. That finding made some people uncomfortable because it echoed studies that pinpointed... the exact locations in the brain that were most active and most inactive during periods of profound religious experience."

Still physical, but different, too; I bet they wish they could explain THAT.

"Over the past 10 years a number of different scientists... have done SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) scans of the brains of Buddhists during meditation and of Franciscan nuns during prayer. They found a marked decrease in activity in the parietal lobes, an area in the upper rear of the brain. This region helps us orient ourselves in space; it allows us to judge angles and curves and distances and to know where the self ends and the rest of the world begins... The SPECT scans indicated that meditation temporarily blocks the processing of sensory information within both parietal lobes.

When that happens, as Newberg and D'Aquili point out in their book 'Why God Won't Go Away,' 'the brain would have no choice but to perceive that the self is endless and intimately interwoven with everyone and everything the mind senses. And this perception would feel utterly and unquestionably real.' They use the brain-scan findings to explain the interconnected cosmic unity that the Buddhists experienced, but the results could also explain what Morse calls the 'universal, unifying thread of love' that people with near-death experience consistently reported.'"

Ouch; that's gonna hurt some folks to hear. For years I've been telling people that feelings are easily created and can be WRONG, particularly in the area of romantic judgment (there's an oxymoron if there ever was one), and now it seems as if at least some religious and spiritual feelings are created by prayer and meditation, by the effect they have on the brain... which makes me glad that I neither pray nor meditate, and thus have no cause to question my own beliefs because of this new knowledge.

"These brain scans show that when the parietal lobes go quiet, portions of the right temporal lobe-some of the same portions that Penfield showed produced feelings of excessive religiosity, out-of-body experiences, and vivid hallucinations-become more active. Newberg and D'Aquili also argue that activities often found in religious rituals-like repetitive chanting-activate (and deactivate) similar areas in the brain..."

Did early humans discover religious feelings accidentally through chanting, and perpetuate them the same way?

"... a finding that helps explain some of the more puzzling out-of-body experience reports, like those of the airplane pilots suddenly floating outside their planes. Those pilots were as intensely focused on their instrumentation as meditators focused on mantras. Meanwhile, the sound of the engine's spinning produces a repetitive, rhythmic drone much like tribal drumming. If conditions were right, says Newberg, these two things should be enough to produce the same temporal lobe activity to trigger an out-of-body experience."

AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!! They've GOT to install a gadget that makes noises that counteract that drone... pilots can NOT be at risk for this to happen!!

"Neuropsychologist Michael Persinger of Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario... built a helmet that produces weak, directed electromagnetic fields. He then asked over 900 volunteers, mostly college students, to wear the helmets while he monitored their brain activity and generated variations in the electromagnetic field. When he directed these fields toward the temporal lobes, Persinger's helmet induced the sort of mystical, free-of-the-body experiences common to right temporal lobe epileptics, meditators, and people who have had near-death experiences."

Yet another way that spiritual/religious feelings can be artificially induced; isn't it scary how MANY ways there are to fake the brain into feeling things? Then again, most people who are having these feelings aren't wearing one of those helmets, or under the influence of drugs, or in G-LOC, and can have those feelings when NOT praying, meditating, or listening to chants or drums... and how are THOSE people's feelings explained?

"an increasing number of scientists now think that our brains are wired for mystical experiences. The studies confirm that these experiences are as real as any others, because our involvement with the rest of the universe is mediated by our brains"

And we're biologically programmed to trust our feelings, even though our strongest feelings are often incorrect (eg don't lead us to true conclusions); I'm not quite willing to say that ALL spiritual thought/experience that comes with these sorts of easily-created feelings should be looked at with suspicion, but... whatever you see as the truth in the spiritual realm, if you've had these sorts of feelings it wouldn't hurt to re-analyze it without including their influence as part of the data, and see what you come up with.

Friday, July 29, 2005

A fascinating theory about when life begins 

I came across an article


called "Does a Person Exist at the Moment of Conception?", written by Farrell Till, who says he's "a former fundamentalist preacher and foreign missionary," that puts forth a theory that I've never seen before as to why life does NOT begin at conception... here's a summary of the main points:

1) The egg and sperm are alive, but anti-abortionists don't worry about them because "gametes or reproductive cells are only 'potential persons' but do not become actual persons until the two come together."

2) Regular readers will remember my essay on chimeras, people who are the result of the fusion of non-identical twins in the womb and thus have 2 different sets of DNA in their bodies (see my post of 5-20-05); Till asserts that, because in the earliest stage of pregnancy non-identical twins could fuse to form one person, they are at that point "simply the genetic materials that had the potential to develop into two persons"... on other words, no more human lives than eggs and sperm are.

3) Identical twins also present a contradiction for the idea that conception=life: "'Twinning' presents a similar problem for the pro-birth [Till's term for pro-life] movement. At the time of fertilization, one zygote exists, so if it is true that a 'person' exists at the 'moment of conception,' abortion [early enough on] would 'kill' only one 'person,' but if the aborted zygote happened to be one that would divide later to become twin zygotes that would eventually be born as two persons, did the abortion somehow kill two 'persons'? If so, what rationale is used to reach that conclusion?"

4) Because of those last 2 points, we get: "No single human being can divide him/herself into identical twin persons, and no two human beings can fuse their bodies into a single person. It must follow, then, that what is in the womb at the time of conception and even shortly thereafter is... only a potential person... not an actual person in the sense that I am a person and those of you reading this are persons."

While none of this alters my personal idea of when human life begins, which is that it's when enough thought and feeling has occurred to create at least a rudimentary soul (no, I don't know when that moment would be, but it's a sure thing that it's AFTER the brain has been fully developed a while), I wanted to post it so that some of the many people who want a scientific basis to decide when life begins can have a new angle to contemplate the issue from.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Psychic urge and odds and ends 

Do you remember Don the hot vampire from the "reality" series "Mad Mad House"? Today, out of the blue, I had the overwhelming urge to go look at his website, where I hadn't been since last fall; on the main page was the 1st new announcement that had been posted since the last time I'd been there, which said that Don would be appearing on a show on the Discovery Channel called "One Step Beyond"... and when I saw the date this show would be airing, my hair all stood on end... because it was, you guessed it, TODAY. :-O

Coincidence? Of course not. This is why I've tried to train myself to listen to the inexplicable, irrational-seeming urges that we get trained OUT of listening to as kids; although some of them ARE obviously self-destructive whims (which are easy to identify), the rest are usually trying to tell us something valuable. Sometimes they're the result of our unconscious minds reacting to subtle perceptions, and sometimes they're precognitive and other psychic flashes; either way, they should never be ignored.

They only had a little bit of Don in the show, but if you want to see him, this is the episode he's in, called "Fear"


It looks like it'll be shown again on Sunday afternoon, since the episode wrongly shown in the online TV listings as being the one on today at that time is on again then; if your listing shows the episode "Secrets" coming on, check it out, as that's what they said was on today when "Fear" was on.

Also on Don's site was an even more recent announcement; a channel I sadly don't get, Fox Reality Network, will supposedly be re-showing "Mad Mad House"; it's mentioned on their site here


but no dates are given yet. If you get this channel, keep an eye open for the series, as it's an interesting psychological study; you can check out my posts from last year on 3-11, 3-25, 4-1, 4-8, 4-15, 4-23 and 4-29 if you're interested in my commentary on the series, and of course on Don.

Another somewhat psychic event today; I came upon my husband about to, um, do something best done behind a closed door, lol, and, after he'd removed his, er, inspirational pictures from his screen, he demanded to know how I could always tell, from the other side of the house, when he was about to, ah, begin, and thus always showed up to put a damper on the festivities. I can only label this somewhat psychic, as it's possible that I'm picking up subliminal cues from him that're tipping me off; either way, it's amusing... to ME, anyways, hehehehehe.

I hope you saw "Criss Angel Mindfreak" on A&E tonight, as Criss was dazzling as always... oh, and his illusions were good too. The 2 new episodes shown will be on many more times, and the next new ones will be on next Wednesday at 10PM.

And finally, I learned something new today; Rudi Gernreich, the innovative 60's designer best known for the invention of the monokini, which, unlike what the word's used to mean today (a one-piece cut out to look like a bikini), was essentially a topless one-piece, as shown here on a mannequin


here on a model with bare boobs behind strategically placed hands


and here, with totally bare breasts


also did the uniforms for the 1st season of the British scifi series "Space: 1999"... I caught his name in the credits, and yelped in amazement. Sadly, that was pretty much the only moment of excitement on this 1st DVD of the series I remember so fondly, but they don't have all the characters yet, so I know there are much better episodes to come. One of the best things about everything being out on DVD is that so many wonderful old series are available to be seen and enjoyed again; if you can't find them locally, try one of the online rental services... and relive the shows that were such a big deal to you when you were a kid. :-)

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

File handling for dummies 

The tips that appear below, that everyone except my husband already knows, are in reference to how you should deal with your computer files, as opposed to the writing of file handling software (I don't think many dummies can do the latter). They're uppermost in my mind right now because I've discovered that, contrary to his claims, my husband did NOT transfer all of my files over when I got my most recent desktop computer; this wouldn't necessarily be a big deal since he still has my old machine, with, he insists, everything that was on it when I gave it up, but enough time has passed that neither of us is still familiar with what used to be on the old machine in what organizational structure, my memory of what I used to have that I don't now is patchy, and he's not finding some of what should be on there because he refuses to do the following:

1) a) When you download or create a file, take an extra few seconds to give it a descriptive name, so that if you end up, for example, having to scan through a list of hundreds of files on an old hard drive, you'll know what it is when you see it. My husband stubbornly refuses to give files any names other than alphanumeric "codes" the meanings of which he never remembers, and as a result has many hours ahead of him of searching through files of his on my old machine to locate stuff of mine that he'd stuck in menus or behind icons for me to get easy access to, but now can't differentiate from the bulk of old files (the actual old desktop setup no longer exists for technical reasons that he claims to be unable to explain... which means he screwed something up and is trying to hide the fact).

b) Make sure that the words used in the file name are complete and spelled correctly; if you're using your search software to find a horse photo, for example, the file name "hrse12" will NOT come up in the search for "horse."

c) Don't EVER save or store a file that doesn't have the file extension, such as ".gif," on it; not only can that cause you problems with some programs, you're out of luck trying to look for, say, a particular mpg file if the one you want got saved without its extension and doesn't turn up in a search for "mpg."

2) If you've got a zillion similar files, such as if you've got a new puppy that you're taking 50 pics a day of, and thus can't really give unique and meaningful file names to all of them, have folders with intelligently chosen names to store the files in, and put them in right away, while you can still remember what's what... 6 months later, it'll be a nightmare to try to identify and categorize 1000 pics.

3) If you've got some sort of nifty software thing that you can use to store and display/use files, such as a slideshow setup, and you really want to use it, repeat after me; eventually, this program will no longer be supported by my current operating system, and if I don't have the files stored somewhere else, somewhere easily accessible, I'll REALLY regret it... and yes, that's another one of the problems we're currently facing, sigh.

4) Beware oddball file types; if you're recording something into a file, doing scans, etc, look at what file type will result, and, if it's not a standard one, try, TRY, to get your file translated into a more common format... or you risk eventually having something you value that you no longer have a working reader for and so can't open. This also goes for files you get from online; if it's an odd format, if at all possible get it into a more basic one that you'll still be able to use in 5 years.

5) Always, ALWAYS have everything backed up; most of the pics of my little squirrel are on a hard drive that died and hadn't been backed up (because it was with one of my husband's machines, as he's the one who processes photos), and we're paying a fortune to try to have them recovered... with no certainty of eventual success. :-(

6) a) If you're the tech person in your household, and thus are the one responsible for transferring files from old computers and hard drives to new ones, keep in mind that it's NOT a time-saver to just toss over the files you think the other people will need right away and leave the rest "for later."

b) If you fail to transfer all the files right away, and then, as is very likely, it never gets done, when the alarm goes out months later that something's missing, it's NOT acceptable to try to argue that the other person couldn't really have wanted or needed those files if they haven't used them in that long; a person's files are just like any other possessions of theirs, which means they're NOT for you to play fast and loose with.

While I've been writing, my husband has been gradually locating my missing files; he doesn't have them all yet, but with a little bit of luck I'll be reunited with everything eventually. It can be tough being the lesser geek in the family, but I don't need anything set up on the desktop for me to access it the way I did in the early days, so hopefully the next time I upgrade my computer I'll actually have all of my stuff right away; my life just isn't complete without all my obscure musical bootlegs and pics of hot guys being within easy reach.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

A freaky day 

Last night, I asked for evidence of the existence of a deity, if there is one... not having any preconceived notions of what form that proof would take, not expecting anything miraculous, not even expecting anything right away. Here are the unusual things that occurred within 4 hours of when I got going today:

1) I went online, brought up my blog, and was thrilled to see that someone from Kenya, KENYA, was here at the same time (according to the NeoCounter in the sidebar); it's not earth-shattering, no, but it's pretty rare to see anyone from other than North America in that timeframe... and it always makes my day when I see that someone from a far-away and exotic place is reading my rants, so that started me off on the right foot, as it were.

2) I discovered 3 weeks ago that my Bloglines account wasn't working, and, when they tried to fix it, they did something that made any attempt to subscribe to my blog in certain browsers lead to a non-functional search screen rather than a subscription or login screen. They swore they'd try to fix it, and I've been checking it daily; today, when I clicked the link, it was FIXED.

3) I checked my Blockbuster Online queue, and a DVD I've had on there for MONTHS, that had always said "long wait," and that I'd given up hope of ever seeing, was suddenly available; it's now on its way to me.

4) I've been trying to get a call through to my cable provider a bunch of times every business day for the last couple of weeks, and have been getting busy signals every time; today, I got right through, and was finally able to handle my business with them (it turns out that they'd installed a new phone system, with the standard new-technology result).

5) I discovered that someone that I've really wanted to boot out of the periphery of my life for quite a while, but had no way to prevent from being around, has taken themselves elsewhere... POOF, they were gone, with no warning and no reason for their departure that I can think of.

6) a) My mother, who I haven't spoken to in ages, and who I haven't had more then necessary informational-exchange conversations in longer than you'd believe (if you're a newcomer to my blog, I should point out that she and I have a hate/hate relationship), called out of the blue today for no other purpose that I could ascertain than to have a friendly chat for an hour and a half. (!!!!!!!)

b) She expressed a belated and inexplicable eagerness to have the get-together for Mother's Day that she spurned when it was offered back in early May, and, perhaps as an enticement, she listed some things she'd collected to give to me, including...

c) There's a $35 book that I'd've long liked to have had, but only for some special photos it contains, which aren't remotely worth paying that sort of $ to get; she got it for virtually nothing at a book sale (held by people with no idea of its value, clearly), after she chanced to see it and to remember that it was something I wanted.

That's a pretty impressive # of surprising things for one day; more than once today, I wondered if I was dreaming. I don't say that it all necessarily means anything, but given the timing and my lack of belief in coincidence, it's certainly got my attention. The thing is, there's nothing about these events that allows me to say if their source would definitively be karma or deity, so, if there's intention behind them, it hasn't made its source clear.

Not yet.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Joel Osteen describes karma again 

In tonight's sermon, Osteen explained that to get something you really wanted, something important, something big, you had to 1st "plant the seed" in your mind that it really could happen, WOULD happen, and then you had to, guess what... think about it over and over. Sound familiar? It's exactly how I've always described how you can get karma to bring you the things you want; I've posted about it many times, as recently as a couple of days ago. It's astounding to hear a Christian pastor saying, not that you should pray to God all the time to get what you want, but that you should think about it all the time... a crucial difference, and an amazing one considering the source.

As usual, he illustrated his point with a story; there was a couple who were desperate to have a baby, and had failed for a long while, so they bought a little baby outfit and put it in the kitchen where they could see it all the time and thus keep the baby thoughts uppermost in their minds all the time... and naturally the wife got pregnant, and the baby did wear the outfit that Osteen credited for making the pregnancy happen. He of course always says or implies that God has done whatever it is that got done, but his point is that you have to do certain things in order for God to be able to give you the stuff you want; interesting mindset from someone who should believe in an omnipotent deity, don't you think?

Osteen's father was also the pastor of his church, so he's been saturated in hard-core religion his entire life, but still he persists in describing, in sermon after sermon, exactly the same karmic concepts I post about here, with the only difference being that he says that God will deliver to you instead of karma. His broadcasts are the only religious programming I've ever watched, and I got drawn into them without knowing anything about him or his ideas about how the universe works, just because I had the urge to watch him; is my interest in this pastor who unexpectedly talks about karma a coincidence? Of course not. Is it the result of karma bringing me the information I'm constantly asking for in the spiritual realm... or is this, as some of my Christian friends would suggest, God's way of telling me that He is in fact the engine of karma, and of bringing me to Him in a way that I can accept?

There was a time that I'd have recoiled from that sort of thinking, but now I'm able to hold my mind open, and make every effort to do so, because if there IS any sort of deity out there, I HAVE TO KNOW. I honestly dislike the idea of the existence of a being who's monitoring me all the time, not to mention judging me by standards that aren't quite my own, but imagine how my life would change if I could believe that some loving force existed out there somewhere that cared enough about me to make all this effort to make itself known to me.

It was so much easier when I was an indifferent agnostic; being a mystic is a tough road to follow. I can see now that I need to push myself harder on the God issue, and not let it just sit there in the "neither proved nor disproved" category.

I ask that karma send me information to settle the question of the existence of any forces in the universe that would be considered deities by human beings.

As to those forces, if they exist, whether called God, or Allah, or Goddess, or perhaps all of these and many more; if you're out there, and have any interest in expanding my awareness, I'm ready. I don't promise worship, or reverence, or prayers, but I can manage acknowledgment... for now.

I don't ask for much, do I? I can't wait to find out what, if anything, answers my request...

Sunday, July 24, 2005

"But my mother said..." 

The phrase in the title is often heard in sentences like, "I wanted to color my hair red, but my mother said it wouldn't look good," "I wanted to move to Georgia, but my mother said it gets too hot in the summer," "I was going to take my vacation in May, but my mother said June would be better"... and I mean from people who've been adults for 2 decades, not from kids. What's the deal with this? Once your mother stops having direct power over your life, why would you even consider her usually-random suggestions aka attempts to control you, much less make your decisions based on her whims rather than your own wants for your own life? This just makes me NUTS, doubly so when people claim that they "can't" stand up to their mothers, and "can't" do other than what their mothers say is best. If YOU know people like this, here are a couple of examples of how I got my own mother to release the stranglehold she'd had on me my entire young life and grasp that she had NO power, control or influence over my adult life that you can pass along:

1) The scene: my wedding plans are in full swing, and my mother is being brought up to date on what's been decided, including the members of the wedding party:

Her: You can't have "those people" in your wedding party.
Me: Of course we can.
Her: You can't have a best man in a wheelchair.
Me: Yes, we can.
Her: What's that going to look like?
Me: Like my husband's best friend happens to be in a wheelchair.
Her: Well, you can't do it that way.
Me: It's not up for discussion; that's who he wants as his best man, and that's who he's having.
Her: (realizing belatedly that nothing she can say to ME will alter my then-fiance's choice) That's bad enough, but you can't have HER as your matron of honor.
Me: Yes, I can.
Her: What will people think?
Me: That she's a lovely person, because she IS.
Her: What if they find out what she is?
Me: Everyone already knows that she's a post-operative transsexual, and nobody cares.
Her: That's what you think.
Me: That's what I KNOW; the only person of my acquaintance who has a problem with transsexuals is YOU.
Her: Well, you can't have someone like that as your matron of honor.
Me: Wanna bet?
Her: If you're expecting ME to contribute towards your wedding, then...
Me: (interrupting her with gales of laughter) Have I asked you for one penny, or one shred of effort towards this wedding? I was never expecting any $ from you, and I don't WANT any $ that comes with strings attached of control of MY wedding; my future mother-in-law has kindly offered to pay for the entire thing, and she's not asking for ANY say-so in our plans in return, so you can just take that $5 you were planning to buy decision-making power over this wedding with and put it back in your purse.
Her: (shifting gears after a stunned silence) You'd better not be expecting me to socialize with that sort of person.
Me: Yes, I do, since we're all going to be sitting at the head table and she's certainly going to want to talk to all of my family, including you.
Her: I'm not going to talk to anyone who's that way.
Me: Let me make this clear to you; SHE has a definite invitation to the wedding, but YOU do NOT; your place at my wedding is conditional upon your treating my friend with the respect, courtesy and kindness she deserves as someone who's a good person who's done no harm to you or anyone... and if you can't do that, you will NOT be at the wedding, and I'll explain to the family WHY you aren't going to be attending. Unless you want them all to know what a prejudiced, close-minded, unpleasant person you really are, you make up your mind to extend your usual fake-sweetness act to ALL of my friends, or you're staying home.

She huffed, and she puffed, but she eventually saw that I wasn't joking, and, although her performance as mother of the bride was an all-time low in the history of Western civilization (she stayed on the opposite side of the hall from me all night), my friend never had any hint that my mother saw her as sub-human... and being able to totally dictate to the woman who'd dictated to ME all those years was one of the great triumphs of my life.

2) The scene: shortly after my marriage, my mother is trying to get me to run my home the way she wants:

Me: No.
Her: But you have to...
Me: No.
Her: But it's stupid if you don't...
Me: No.
Her: That's enough of that!! I said you need to...
Me: And *I* said NO. Do you live here? Is your name on the lease? Do you pay the bills? No? Well guess what; that means you have NO say in how things are done in this house, so don't waste your time trying to badger me into doing things your way... the time when you had anything to hold over my head to force me into following your rules is OVER. This is MY home, and *I* decide how things are run here.

Believe it or not, I had to go through that scenario with her THREE times before she gave up... she was that desperate to maintain control over me.

Was any of that difficult to do? Not in the slightest; the only thing that was ever difficult was having to go along with her nonsense, and my father's as well before he left her, all those years when I was financially dependent on them and had to knuckle under or live in a cardboard box in an alley.

Why is this so difficult for people to do? How can anyone who can't cut the apron strings and make decisions without maternal input ever be satisfied with their lives, when they're not masters of their own destiny?

This must be another one of those human-nature things that I'll never understand; trust me, though, if you've got some backbone, you CAN make sure that your mother/parents respect your right as an adult to live your life your way... and the feeling that comes with the realization that you and only you decide how to live your life is second to none.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

The power of thought vs the laws of nature 

My friend Melanie, whose excellent blog is here


brought up an interesting point today; whether it's possible for the laws of nature to exist, for science to exist, for cause and effect to exist, if with our thoughts we can make things happen. On the one hand, it's a moot point, as all of those things clearly do exist, and there's no "if" about the power of thought, but on the other hand it's worthwhile to ponder how those things fit together.

Unlike some people, I don't see anything mystical about any of the aspects of karma, including the ability of our minds to reach out and touch the future (precognition), know the unknowable (telepathy), heal (sometimes called faith healing, but you don't need faith in a deity for it to work), and add threads to the tapestry of karma and thus determine its pattern; I see a force of nature, no more otherworldly than gravity or radiation. True, we can't perceive the energy of thought, or any of the other facets of karma, in action, and science cannot yet detect them, but we can't perceive, for example, radio waves or microwaves either, and throughout nearly all of human history scientific instruments to measure them didn't exist, but they were there nevertheless. I fully expect them to figure out how to detect the energies of karma in action eventually, hopefully in my lifetime; my guess is that, since the strings of energy that M-theory tells us make up everything in the omniverse are probably either karma, or made of karma, or karma is made of them, that once they start being able to track the behavior of strings they're gonna see some pretty wild stuff that'll turn out to be everything from spirits to souls to streams of thought energy shaping the fabric of spacetime.

So, karma's a force of nature, or it might make more sense to envision it as karma being what everything is made of, and the engine of karma being how all those energies interact with each other to form reality; the central point is that nothing to do with karma per se can interfere with the laws of nature, because it's PART of nature, and all the laws of physics refer to how the more visible parts of karma behave, so there's no problem with having both "camps" existing in general.

Ok, so what about the power of thought to alter reality specifically? I have to say right off the bat that I have no personal experience with most of the ways people can do this, although I'm reasonably confident that they work because it's fairly easy to do, and the exact method shouldn't really matter; the only one I can personally vouch for is affirmations (see my post of 1-12-04 if you want to see the specifics of how to do them), but I'll include the others in my explanation as best as I can (my apologies to those who use those other methods if I handle them poorly).

Thoughts are made of the energy of karma (or you could say with equal validity that karma is made of the energy of thought, which is why animism is a valid concept; see my post of 3-16-04 for details), and it seems reasonable enough that one "piece" of karma could join with others in various ways, in the same way that, for example, waves of both matter and energy do, doesn't it? Frankly, I don't see how thoughts could NOT become part of reality; the thing is, most of our thoughts are trivial, even random, often incomplete, backed by little or no emotion, not repeated, and, most importantly, not FOCUSED, so, although synchronicities happen all the time, as do other minor responses from karma, most of what we think doesn't do anything significant because we're not TRYING to do anything significant, in the same way that all the walking to the kitchen to get snacks that we do doesn't somehow magically send us to the top of Mount Everest even when we've covered the same distance as that trip would be, because little bits and pieces of effort in all directions do NOT equal a major journey.

Focus is the key; focused thought can accomplish miracles. It's a straightforward process; if you can send out thought "concentrated" into a given "shape," and do it over and over, preferably with emotion to back it up (as emotion is energy too), you can draw karma to you in that shape... even if the shape is of something that seems pretty much impossible. It's like what you'd do if you wanted a bird that's rare in your area to come hang out in your backyard; you'd put out the kind of food it likes, and maybe the sort of perch or nesting box it prefers, and, assuming you haven't spoiled your own plans by having a stalking cat or barking dog out there, you can probably lure the desired species of bird in eventually... the "species" of karma that represents your goal can be lured in the same conceptual way, but instead of the right sort of birdseed you need the right sort of thoughts.

Affirmations are the way I've been able to create those thoughts, but, because they require the use of "I statements," as in "I, Omni, will receive X," I don't see how you could use them to try to defy the laws of physics... well, I suppose I could in theory say "I, Omni, will be able to flap my arms and fly," but there's no way for karma to influence events to produce that result, and my understanding is that this is how affirmations work, NOT by doing anything magical.

What about magic, then, or "magick" as modern practitioners often call it to distinguish it from stage magic; assuming that it works, can it violate the laws of physics, as it tends to do in fairytales? My first answer is "no," because that'd be easy to see, study, and prove if it were being done... unless what it can do is more subtle things, like make the minute adjustments in brain chemistry that would make one person feel love for another, which is perhaps the most commonly used "spell." Thoughts are energy, but not infinite energy, after all, so you couldn't expect what your head generates to equal the force of a nuclear explosion or anything else huge, but could thoughts act directly on the physical world and alter even a little bit of it, thus, for example, making someone sick, or healthy, or in love... or dead, as voodoo practitioners claim to be able to do? Maybe. If you could do that, would it be in violation of the laws of physics, given that it's just a force acting on an object? It doesn't seem like it would be, but maybe it is; I'd need a physicist to make a ruling on that one.

If your thoughts COULD have a direct effect on matter, does that mean that you could theoretically use magick to cause even a small amount of matter (or energy) to, not just change, but change and/or act in a way that inarguably DOES violate the laws of physics? Do those laws apply to karma, fully and all the time, or is karma a way around the laws? I honestly can't say; it's an interesting thought, no pun intended.

Last, but far from least, there's prayer; this is the form of focused thought used by the most people, and of course the one that gets the most miracles attributed to it... and wouldn't some of those miracles possibly count as violations of the laws of physics? The folks doing the praying would say that their deity violated those laws, not their prayers, and this could be so, as the existence of a deity can NOT be disproved... but could their prayers be directly killing cancer cells and such? If magick can do it, it seems reasonable that prayer might, too; I just have no basis to judge which of those methods is stronger or can do a wider variety of things, or if in fact there's any difference between varieties of focused thought.

Because I have nothing to pray to, the only way I can think of to test if focused thought can in fact violate the laws of physics is to learn magick... and the ways that could lead to unintentional harm are so many that I'm not ready to risk it.

Not YET.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Real-life commentary about the big words/intelligence issue 

Online life isn't actually "real life," of course, so what I mean by that is quotes from regular people in a "social setting" (the lounge area of a forum), as opposed to summations by researchers and experts. In my post of 5-13-05, I talked about how a Stanford study had shown that people using big words in writing were seen as LESS intelligent than those who didn't (even if they're using them correctly, which IS a sign of intelligence), and that political analysts described the same sort of phenomena in speeches; the central concept is that people tend to view those with their same sort of word usage as being intelligent (even though most people are average, and so NOT intelligent, which refers to mental ability ABOVE the average level), and those with superior word usage as "INferior" in all sorts of areas, not just intelligence-wise... which shows us what value our culture puts on intelligence, and that the best thing a smart person can do with their brains is use them to figure out how to disguise their existence. {sigh}

Today, I stumbled upon a forum where I'd guess everyone posting is under 25, and nearly all of them are male; there was a thread that included posts on the above topic, and I immediately started envisioning a post of my own. After much internal debate, I've decided to not give a URL or other identifying info for this forum, so that they don't find their way here and get offended by my commentary on what they said; my primary intention is to learn from them, NOT to insult them, but I'm betting they wouldn't see it that way, especially since I wont be subtle with my rebuttals. I'm going to give exact quotes from their posts, altered only to put a polite mask over their profanity (as this is an all-ages blog), and then discuss the ramifications of what they've said. I'll preface that by pointing out that none of the posters shows any sign of being of higher than average intelligence, which makes them good mouthpieces for our culture, and, although their youth might make their opinions somewhat more extreme than older folks', I've seen no evidence of older people viewing intelligence any differently than younger adults, and the latter have the advantage of being more willing, on the whole, to bluntly say what they think. So:

"I hate people who use obnoxiously long words, and then deny that its to make them look smart. I mean, I use long words when they're in the best context, but I don't purposely seek to elongate my language."

So many people clearly agree with this guy, but they're WRONG; while obviously there ARE people who use big words, usually incorrectly, to try to sound smart, most people who use big words use them because they, and the people they regularly interact with, are intelligent and educated, and that's how they're used to talking, so they're NOT doing it to make themselves look smart... but they need to be aware that people will perceive them as doing just that.

"Smart people don't use long words, ever notice that?"

No, I haven't, because it just ain't so; could there be a clearer example of the "a person is smart if they sound like ME" phenomenon?

"The smarter people should be smart enough to know to use words that can easily be understood by those around them"

So, a smart person should instantly and psychically know the vocabulary level of everyone within earshot at all times, and tailor their every remark to the lowest common denominator? What he actually means, I'm sure, is that if a smart person is REALLY smart, as in sharp enough to understand how social conversations are supposed to work, they'll be aware that they need to talk at about a 7th grade level (which is what articles and speeches supposedly shoot for, so that most Americans can understand them-pitiful, isn't it?), which will keep listeners from feeling stupid and thus prevent negative social judgments... couldn't you just CRY?

"intelligent people use words that everyone can understand"

Not on THIS planet they don't; AVERAGE people use words everyone can understand, and intelligent people use words appropriate to their intelligence and the sorts of topics they discuss... but again, keep in mind that this guy speaks for many.

"why the f**k would you try to confuse people if you're trying to explain something to them?"

Why does he think that an intelligent person is TRYING to confuse people? It's HARD to talk at a 7th grade level when you're not used to it, and unless you're insanely conceited it'd probably never even occur to you that people aren't understanding your vocabulary in the 1st place, regardless of the level you speak at... would he prefer if all intelligent people assumed he was a moron and spoke to him in words of 1 syllable? No, because then he'd accuse them of being arrogant, patronizing, etc; he'd react that way even if they spoke to him at his exact vocabulary level, if he KNEW they were dumbing down their comments for him... in other words, if you can't convincingly fake being average, you're out of luck. The very idea that he thinks intelligent people must be TRYING to confuse others, as opposed to doing so unintentionally because their normal vocabulary is beyond the reach of whoever they're talking to, is kinda scary; the average are pretty quick to ascribe negative motives to the smart based on a few big words.

"that pisses me off to a very high degree... people trying to sound smart and then they say s**t like "just cause you didn't understand it doesn't mean it was a big word" holy f**k those f**king idiots... I mention to them that they should quit trying to look smart and they have the nerve to tell me I'm stupid!!! GARG!!!"

Where do I start, lol? People are clearly VERY poor judges of whether or not others are "trying to sound smart," but that doesn't stop them from believing in their judgment, and the judgment of others equally as misguided... and that's the important point to remember. It DOES often happen that a not very bright person falsely accuses a smart one of using a big word when they weren't (a shocking example from my own life was a woman who was a college graduate no less who didn't know what "immaculate" meant, and mind you she was Catholic!!); the lesson here is that there's no point in saying so, because the less intelligent person will likely see that as being called stupid, as this guy did, even though there's little chance of the smart person having meant or even thought that, as all they were focused on was self-defense... what a minefield this is!!

"there was this one time where I argued with this kid. He rattled off 6 dollar words like freakin' Shakespeare. But you could tell he was just insecure, because he wanted to get the respect of the audience by scaring them with big@ss words"

HOW could he tell that, this guy who thinks that anyone would believe that people would be SCARED by the use of big words? (Resentful and belligerent, sure, but scared? Not a chance.) Intelligent people use big words because it's natural for them to, and in a debate situation we go into our most intellectual mode to try to win (or at least those with sufficient brainpower do, there's the catch), and thus more big words will be used; insecurity has nothing to do with it, and in fact an insecure person would be too nervous to be able to produce big words they don't normally use. It's crucial to note what the perception of the average person is under these circumstances, though, because in the heat of a debate one's vocabulary becomes even more of a liability (grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr), and that has to be taken into consideration.

No matter how many times I see evidence of the true view people have of intelligence, it dismays me no end... and this is undoubtedly why karma keeps sending me this sort of thing, because I HAVE to stop getting worked up over it and just accept it as a part of human nature that it's in my best interests to be aware of and use when necessary. What the forum posts have made clear is that under any circumstances where an intelligent person speaks in an appropriate manner given their vocabulary within the hearing of an average person, all sorts of negative judgments are being made as to why they're speaking that way (anything to avoid the self-judgment of "This person is smarter than me"), and they're not even being given credit for their brains; people will use the most twisted analyses imaginable to turn even the most confident, friendliest intelligent person into some sort of pitiful and/or unpleasant creature, deserving of contempt rather than admiration, or even indifference.

If you're of average intelligence... 1st of all, congratulations, you're very lucky, because you naturally possess one of the most important characteristics a human being can have, the ability to fit in with, and be seen as intelligent and otherwise worthy by, society. From your lofty position, as you look around at the geeks and intellectuals of the world, I ask you; please, PLEASE, show some frigging mercy when dealing with smart people, and make a conscious effort to judge them fairly rather than finding a way to make every big word that exits their mouths into proof of bad qualities in them. When people around you express unfair judgments, show a little backbone and speak up, be the voice of logic and kindness; good karma will result.

If you're of above average intelligence... you know you're screwed, right? Unless you're a REALLY good actor with iron self-control, you're never going to be able to pass as one of "them," and they'll see that... and they are the majority, my friend, and they make most of the decisions that affect your quality of life. Try, TRY, to fit in, but be ready for the consequences of failure, and don't let it surprise you or make you doubt yourself. You can hang out with other bright people most of the time, but you're still going to meet average ones at parties, in most workplaces, and when you try to meet people to hook up with, so help yourself, AND help smart people in general stop getting such a bad rap, by embracing averageness. I hope that good karma will result from trying to achieve harmony with all sorts of people... but even if not, it's better than the negative energy you'll draw to yourself if you're made miserable by being an outsider.

I re-read the forum quotes, and winced as I did before at the harsh reality they represent; I've still got alot of work to do...

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Criss Angel Mindfreak 

Did you see it? Did you? If so, you'll undoubtedly share the following sentiment: AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!! If not, don't worry, it'll be on a bunch more times (and is also probably floating around online in a dozen places), so you still have plenty of chances... and you've GOT to see this series.

Criss Angel, whose website is here


is widely believed to be the finest illusionist in the world... and probably the finest who ever lived. His illusions are dramatic, highly original, and sometimes horrifying; in the 1st episode shown today, for example, he had people on the street stabbing a voodoo doll, and would instantly bleed from whatever part of his body corresponded to where the needle was on the doll (and I mean blood coming from his skin, not from blood packs being remotely set off under his clothes-he even bled from his nose), and then he was fully on fire for 45 seconds, calmly walking around engulfed in flames, and then he... but that'd be telling-watch the show if you want to see the trick he pulled while on fire and fully encircled with people.

Criss's unmatched skill as an illusionist, and his immense creativity with designing tricks, aren't all he brings to his performances; he's a singer and musician (I have 1 of his CD's-it's fab) who does all his own music, he's studied dance, gymnastics, and martial arts his entire life, which, combined with his bodybuilding, brings a unique and intense physicality to his illusions that's far beyond what anyone else has done, and his visual sense, as seen in his ever-changing image and spectacular theatrics, is original and cutting-edge. Some of this hasn't been shown in the series yet, as it's been focusing on his street performing, but I've seen what he can do on stage, both on TV and in person (in a tiny club setting in the round, where he did one of his tricks right under my table!!), and all I can say is hold onto your hats, because whatever he's come up with for these episodes is bound to be mindboggling.

And there's 1 more thing that makes Criss a dazzling performer; straight men will want to skip this paragraph. Go on down to the next paragraph, we'll wait for you. OK, here's the best part; the man is gorgeous. GORGEOUS. *G*O*R*G*E*O*U*S*. Even though he's cut his super-long hair down to moderately long, even though he's back to shaving his hairy chest (whimper), Criss is a GOD; he's Greek, so I suppose that makes him a Greek god, although I don't remember any of the male gods supposedly looking like this. The bone-structure, the eyes, the lips, the bod... oh that BOD... hang on while I put on the A/C, lol. At the risk of getting overly graphic, I feel compelled to add that, unless he's got socks somewhere other than on his feet, he's got... er... ahem... YOWZA!! Trust me, even if for some reason you have a pathological hatred of magic, watch him anyways, just to look at him; you'll see what I mean.

Thanks for your patience, fellas; I encourage you to watch Mindfreak despite the babe factor, because my husband has always been as blown away by Criss Angel as I am, and in his case the bulging, um, muscles obviously aren't an issue... in fact, he still proclaims the time we saw Criss perform as the finest performance of any kind that he's ever seen, and finds the element of danger in much of what he does to be particularly appealing.

I hope I've convinced you to watch; they're currently showing 2 half-hour episodes per week (why they don't just make an hour-long show is beyond me) starting at 10PM on Wednesdays on the Arts & Entertainment channel (A&E). As you can imagine, each episode is being shown many times; you can see a schedule here


and a more extensive one here


click on "More TV Listings " to see a bunch more showtimes.

Watch it watch it WATCH IT!! :-)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The karma of lessons learned 

One of the surest ways to know that you've taken the right path is when karma rewards you for the choice you've made; this goes double when you're making a conscious choice to do things differently than you traditionally have in an attempt to improve your "karmic portfolio," thus demonstrating that you've learned an important life lesson. Why does karma concern itself with the learning of lessons? As best as I can figure it, when karma sends you something, and you handle it incorrectly, that disrupts the flow of energy, and that particular "shape" of energy keeps coming back, trying to pass through your life and onwards, such that you get the chance to make the same mistake over and over (as most people do) OR to break the cycle and get it right. If you figure out the right way to handle a situation, my experience is that, in response to the exultant burst of energy that accompanies the revelation, karma sends just that sort of situation to test you; if you actually manage to use the understanding you've gained, you'll be rewarded, but if you fail the cycle continues.

A few days ago, I encountered this awesome quote:

"He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."
- Friedrich Nietzsche

The moment I read it, I saw that it applied to the difficulty I sometimes have with just letting disputes drop with online cockroaches, because it offends me right down to my bone marrow that people who wouldn't say boo to a goose in "meatspace" persist in coming into cyberspace and causing hooraws with total strangers, often devastating those without the ability to stand up to them, and wasting endless time and energy of people like me who want them to discover that they can't chase everyone off, can't hammer everyone into submission, can't always triumph just by being evil; it makes the karmic point that when you interact with people, their energy swirls around you, permeates you, can call forth similar energy from you, and thus possibly change you into the sort of person who produces that sort of energy. This means that a good person could induce you to become a better person, or, sadly, that you can become somewhat of a monster if you deal with those whose behavior is monstrous.

Although the abyss seemed to me a splendid symbol for how karma in many of its facets will "notice" you and become more overtly active in your life if you focus on it, I figured that Nietzsche probably meant it to refer to some obscure Germanic philosophical concept, but I looked him up at Wikipedia


and found the following

"One of Nietzsche's central concepts is the will to power (Der Wille zur Macht), a process of expansion and venting of creative energy that he believed was the basic driving force of nature. He believed it to be the fundamental causal power in the world: the driving force of all natural phenomena and the dynamic to which all other causal powers can be reduced. That is, Nietzsche in part hoped will to power could be a "theory of everything," providing the ultimate foundations for explanations of everything from whole societies, to individual organisms, down to mere lumps of matter. In contrast to the "theories of everything" attempted in physics, Nietzsche's was teleological in nature."


"Theory of Everything in philosophy is an attempt to provide an overall explanation of everything in terms of certain fundamental or all-encompassing principles, ideas, themes or structures. This goes beyond the Theory of Everything in physics, since the philosopher is also trying to explain consciousness, morality, God, and so on."


"Teleology is the supposition that there is design, purpose, directive principle, or finality in the works and processes of nature, and the philosophical study of that purpose"

Sure sounds like my idea of the engine of karma, doesn't it?

Back to the main point: I read the quote, and saw that dealing too much with poisonous people would poison ME, and make me more like them, and thus that I needed to make a conscious effort to impose limits on how far I let things progress with such people, particularly online. That very night, I received a kit I'd won on eBay, and discovered to my dismay that it was missing EIGHT pieces, although it hadn't even been admitted on the auction page to be USED. I sent a sweet email to the seller asking him to send the pieces; he responded that he didn't have them, but he'd give me a refund. Sounds good, but all he did was refund the auction amount, not the ridiculous amount of shipping he'd charged, which far exceeded the amount I won the auction for; that's against Federal law (under which sending an item with missing pieces and not refunding all $ received is mail fraud), not to mention the almost as powerful PayPal policies, and was just a rotten stunt to pull when he'd made such a serious error. Still trying to be nice, I politely informed him that refunding a tiny % of the total he'd been paid in this situation wasn't acceptable, and that he needed to do a little more to compensate me for the reduced usability of the kit. He got belligerent, pointing to his "policy" of never returning any part of shipping as if that altered the law or PayPal's rules, accused me of trying to make him pay me "for receiving the kit," and asked me if I thought what was fair was for him to send me some random item for free as a bonus on top of that. I kept my cool, and sent him an email explaining what I was entitled to, that it was fair because HE should take the financial loss due to his error, not me, and asking him to come up with a fair % of the total to refund me to make up for the missing pieces (the kit is still usable, so to be karmically clean I wasn't even asking for a full refund).

Shortly after I sent it off, the quote came into my mind, and I re-read it; I saw that this was one of those times where I could easily get sucked into a protracted and ever-nastier battle online (it's happened before), and actually saw a mental image of the quote in an email... so I decided that, whatever his reply was, that would be the end of it, and screw the $ (NOT a normal way for me to think with regards to $, by the way). Not long afterwards, I started getting the urge to check the PayPal account, even though he hadn't sent any more emails and there was no reason to think he'd taken any action yet... and there it was, a FULL refund from the man who'd refused to refund more than a single-digit % of what we'd paid him.

I made the right choice, took a new path, and was instantly rewarded.

There's more, as there often is when karmic growth is involved: There's a movie that I'd missed the ending of, and then watched and missed the end of AGAIN, which really bothered me, especially since there hadn't been any more showings of it listed for the near future; I'd thought about it earlier today as one of the few "pending" things that was hovering over me (with this eBay nonsense being another, of course)... and when my husband switched the TV back to regular functioning tonight after we watched the latest arrival from Blockbuster Online, guess what was on the channel that it happened to be tuned to? You guessed it; this time, I DID see the ending. Karma was very efficient here; it combined synchronicity with giving me an added reward.

This sort of thing has happened to me over and over; next time YOU learn an important life lesson, watch out for the test, use what you've learned to pass it, and see how fast the reward comes.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Karmic lesson from comic strip 

I'm just getting around to reading the Sunday funnies from July 10, and I was impressed by the B.C. strip, which you can see here


It shows 2 flowers wilting in the hot sun, just out of reach of a body of water (they call it a sea, but you'll soon realize why that's a mistake); they're distracted from their misery as a mammoth appears, and they begin to bad-mouth it... until it starts to suck up water, which miraculously gushes from its ears and waters the flowers, which turn on a dime and begin to praise it lavishly.

Ignoring for the moment that sea water is salty and not likely to be consumed by a mammoth, or to revive plants it got squirted onto, and that water drawn into a mammoth's trunk wouldn't come out of its ears, this strip is a good example of how easy it is to divert karma that's trying to work for your benefit; the flowers are dying, and are unable to do anything to help themselves, so a creature capable of slopping water around shows up to save them, and, rather than being grateful, or at the very least politely asking the mammoth for help if they don't understand that it's going to save them, they immediately start shooting their mouths off. The mammoth, which like the other living things in BC presumably can speak and understand speech, might have heard them and stalked off to a spot further along the shore to get its drink, thus squirting water elsewhere, or even stomped or eaten the flowers out of anger... and if that had happened, the flowers would either have been dead or left to continue shriveling in the heat, bemoaning their fate and never realizing that they themselves had driven away their only source of help.

The lesson here is that, if you've kept your personal karma clean, and those around you have as well (because the karma of those close to you mingles with yours and can alter what sort of energy comes to you), karma will generally try to send you some help when you need it, in response to your (often indirect) requests for it... but you still retain freedom of choice, and your choices still strongly affect your fate, and if you drive away the source of potential help, turn your back on it, spurn it, abuse it, whatever, don't expect karma to fight to help you-you're just plain out of luck.

People sent to help us, either in response to our present needs or because we're going to need them eventually, don't show up waving banners proclaiming their karmic purpose, so whenever someone tries to meet you, get to know you, enter or re-enter your life, or spend more time with you, and your inclination from your position of busy-ness and stress is to brush them off, ask yourself if maybe it'd be a good idea to be friendly instead, and see what happens... just in case.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Farewell to a few blog services 

If you're exceptionally observant, you've noticed that there are some things missing from my margins today:

1) "Name That Blog": I was so excited when I got a working RSS feed again, and with it the understanding that sites that had rejected the old feed would now accept my site, and this site was 1 of the reasons why. It had such a cool premise; pull a quote from the RSS feed of a random member site, and give a choice of blog titles from which to pick the one the quote came from, with links to all the choices being given along with the answer. It seemed like a fun thing to give my readers to do, and a neat way to get some extra traffic, so I signed up, and, as the site requires, put the code on here while I awaited approval... which never came, even though I tried to get added in TWICE. I don't normally give up so easily, as most sites like this are run as sidelines by people with jobs and lives, but there wasn't even an automated reply, and there's no way to contact the owner, so I figured I needed to explore the site some more; I played a bunch of rounds of the game to get the lists of site links to come up, and discovered that the vast majority of the sites don't exist anymore, of the ones that do most are dead, and of the live ones only ONE actually had the game on it. The by-then unnecessary final straw was bringing up what was supposed to be the list of top scorers in the game for the past week, only to find it BLANK; clearly, the owner has long since stopped being involved with the site in any way, and just left it to rot, and the former participants that're still around removed the game because of the issues I've described. I was REALLY bummed, both that the game was gone and that it never occurred to me to do all this checking around before (as the site seems to be fine on the surface), and so I set myself up to be disappointed.

2) BlogSnob: I can remember when nearly every site I visited had their distinctive box on it, and it used to be a good source of new visitors; the premise was that every time your site loaded, you got a credit, and, through some formula, that translated to your blog being shown on other people's sites. It went through periodic problems, but the owner always righted it and made it worthwhile riding out the dead periods; when Pheedo bought the service, though, it took a nosedive from which it never recovered, both due to technical problems and to people abandoning the service in droves because of the addition of commercial ads being shown, and shown far too often for most people's tastes. Still, I held on, and went through a real roller coaster with them of functionality, with a marginally acceptable # of hits, and total worthlessness; in the past couple of months, though, I was being credited with significantly fewer showings of their ads than the # of hits my site was getting, and the ratio of hits in to showings was getting worse and worse, so I was starting to get fed up... remember, they were making $ from showing their ads on my site for free, so they DID owe me something in return. The final straw for this one was when they started only crediting me with a single-digit # of showings per day, I was no longer getting ANY hits from them, and emails to both their tech people and the original owner, who's still associated with the service, got no replies; I thought about it, and realized that I hadn't seen an actual BLOG show up in their ad box in AGES, which meant that either they'd decided to stop featuring non-paying sites and were hoping we'd never notice and would still provide them with free ad space, or that their code was so screwed up that no one's blog was being shown anymore... either way, totally NOT acceptable. I thought some more, and realized that I'd only rarely been seeing BlogSnob boxes on people's sites for quite a while, which told me that I was holding onto something that the blogosphere had already relegated to the trash heap... and so I've deleted their code. (A bonus to removing their script and the previous 1 is that my blog should load faster, which will really help visitors on dialup.)

3) BlogRank: This cool site was just what it sounds like, a place to see a listing of blogs based on how readers ranked them (which was done via clicking the link in my sidebar to "vote"); 1 day some weeks ago, it just went away, with an error message coming up saying "This Account Has Been Suspended, Please contact the billing/support department as soon as possible." I kept my link up all this time because I like the site, and the owner, Joe, but at this point I need to stop having a link that doesn't do anything, so I've reluctantly taken it down; it'll go right back up the instant I learn that the site's back up, though, as I still hope it will be one day. Joe said once that he's a regular reader here, and, if that's still true, I'd like to say; Joe, you're sorely missed, and if, WHEN, you bring BlogRank back, be sure to send out an email to all the members to let us know if you can... or, if you've lost access to our addies, and have to start up from scratch, let our mutual friend Keeme know, and I'll find out from his site when he links you up.

I'd like to pause here to thank all the readers who've taken the time to vote for me on BlogRank; if you're still enjoying your time here, I'd really appreciate it if you'd click the link in the sidebar that says "Please vote for my site!!" and vote for me at Top100Bloggers every so often (it'll take a vote from you every week, not that I'm hinting or anything, lol). :-)

And one final blog-ranking related bit of news: Remember my post from 5-17-05, in which I said "the golden age of blogging has come and gone"? I saw more evidence of that today, when I did a search to see what other blog-ranking sites might be available, and discovered that the endless list of them that I found a year or so ago was GONE; there were some foreign-language lists, some porn "blog" lists, a couple for Christian sites, of all things, and 1 that looked promising but turned out to be mainly for forums, not blogs, and was in any case almost totally dead... and that was IT. What happened to all those other blog-ranking sites? I assume they're casualties of the decline of the blogosphere; it's not as cost-effective to run blog-service sites as it used to be.

It's sad to see sites and services decline and vanish, but as long as there's somewhere that we can put posts up, that's all that really matters, all we need to give of ourselves to our readers. And speaking of which, I've added to the "Omni FAQ," which tells you, if not everything you always wanted to know about me, at least the major stuff; to see it, click where it says "All about me (sort of)" in the sidebar.... if you've wondered what sort of a nut writes this blog, take a look. ;-)

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Numbers are trickier than they look 

They're not, actually, but people seem unable to understand them when, for example, they come in the form of statistics. One of the most stunning examples I've ever encountered, not to mention the most tasteless and ill-advised, was from a woman who came to give a sex ed talk to my private school class one year, and ONLY 1 year; she gave us whatever the % was at that time of American girls that got pregnant by the end of high school, and then, applying that % to the girls in our class, smugly announced that that # of girls would get pregnant by graduation. At this point, the dean, who'd been hovering at the back of the classroom, marched up the aisle and furiously informed her that there had NEVER been a student pregnancy in the history of the school, that he was quite certain that there'd be no pre-graduation pregnancies from our class, and that in general that statistic applied to the country as a whole, NOT to every group of students. Flustered and dismayed, and no doubt seeing a phone call to her boss and the cancellation of her company's contract to provide sex ed for my school in the near future, she gamely tried to finish up, but all we learned from her is what a frigging idiot looked like.

Is there anything confusing about the idea that, while if you have a homogeneous population, or near enough, you can apply %'s that describe the population as a whole to subgroups or even to individuals, when you have a HETEROgeneous population, you can NOT apply those %'s to subgroups or individuals? That'd be like hearing that 50% of American pets are cats and claiming based on that that in every household half of the pets were cats.

A common example of the lack of understanding of this idea is with divorce rates; because 52% of American marriages end in divorce, folks feel certain that they can say to any married person that THEIR marriage has a 52% chance of failure... and they get offended when their mean-spirited comment is challenged, of course. How could they think that a couple in their 80's has the same chance of their marriage ending in divorce as a pair of teenagers, that an ultra-religious couple has the same chance of their marriage ending in divorce as a Hollywood couple, that ALL of them have a 52% chance of divorce? Even if a couple's not at 1 of those extremes, the population's still very diverse; heck, every year you're married, all things being equal, increases your chance of staying married (it's like how your life expectancy goes up for every year you live), so you can't really apply the 52% to anyone.

Another common problem with statistics is that people see the results of a study and use the #'s to mean something they don't; for example, if they did a study that showed that people preferred plums to apples, some folks would take that to mean that people like purple fruit better than red fruit, and therefore go around claiming that people prefer grapes to strawberries. It's CRUCIAL that when you refer to a statistic you use the EXACT wording that applies to each # and %, because if you add or subtract detail, or extrapolate even the tiniest bit, you're no longer accurately portraying the results; since it's so easy to stray from the true path, it's important to realize that oftentimes the media misconstrues statistics because they feel confident that they can play fast and lose with their terminology.

Another problem is that statistics can NOT be added together and produce a result that replaces scientific studies, but people act as if they can; the media frenzies around the claims that the increased use of cell phones and aspartame were the causes of increases in brain tumors/cancer were based on increases in those ailments that occurred coincidentally in the same time frame... and no matter how many studies have disproved the alleged links between cell phones and aspartame and brain tumors/cancer, people are STILL claiming otherwise, and believing that statistics "prove" what they say. Now, granted, statistics CAN certainly point out things that might in fact be connected and merit study, but until those studies have been done we can NOT be sure that a connection exists... and AFTER the studies are done, people who backed the wrong horse need to drop it and move on (but many of course never will).

The final problem with statistics is that all too many people, women especially, will deny the validity of a statistic if it contradicts their personal experience; a study can show that 99% of people do, say, think, feel, like, dislike, whatever, a given thing, but if a woman knows someone in the remaining 1%, in her mind the entire study, and 99% of the population, is invalidated. Sorry, ladies, and any men who do this, but just because you happen to know someone in the minority result does NOT change the #'s, and it's NOT ok to think or argue otherwise.

The other thing people have trouble with is the seemingly simple concept of averages; for example, all parents, even those whose kids are average in scholastic ability, want their kids to only bring home A's and B's, despite the fact that these grades indicate ABOVE average performance, and thus by definition you CAN'T have all students validly bringing home those grades. An amusing example of this idea is one my husband loves, from a PBS radio show called "Prairie Home Companion," which purports to be broadcast from a fictional town called Lake Wobegon, where "all the kids are above average"... with the hopefully-obvious punchline being that it's not POSSIBLE for all, or most, or even many, children to be above average (unless you've got a wildly atypical distribution of ability within the population rather than the usual bell curve, blah blah, the fine details don't change the point).

Why the confusion about what "average" means? We seem as a nation to have gotten the idea that the average we learned to calculate in school isn't what's meant in real life by the term "average"; we act as if it actually means an arbitrarily-chosen #, or at the very least an unchanging one, that it WOULD be possible for most or all people to be above eventually, when in fact it's a # derived FROM the population it's applied to, and thus, even if the members of the population improve whatever the average is being calculated about, they can't most or all get above average because the average INCREASES as the population "improves."

The lack of understanding of that final point was driven home in a recent show I saw that talked about dogs that were helping kids with reading problems to make amazing progress; the program, and the dogs and people involved, are inarguably wonderful, but the woman who was talking about it was apparently a little dim-witted, because she explained that the reason they'd started the program was that they'd seen some statistics showing that 40% of the children were below average in their reading level.... as opposed to WHAT, don't you wonder? Depending on how wide of a range you call average, AND a reasonably even spread of scores (or whatever the input is), you could expect up to nearly 50% to be below average, and of course nearly 50% above, with just a few at dead average, and it's certainly reasonable to call the middle 20% "average," which would give you 40% above and 40% below... so what was the problem with 40% of the kids being below average? I'm not saying that the kids shouldn't have been helped to read better, because we WANT kids to read as well as possible, but by improving the performance of the lowest-ranked kids, you've raised the average, so those same kids are STILL below average; that doesn't cancel out what they've learned, but it does point out the foolishness of looking at averages as fixed points that everyone can somehow rise above.

Most #-related nonsense is easy to detect and avoid; for the rest, if it's something important, take advantage of being online and look it up... and if it's not, treat it like you would an unsubstantiated claim that didn't contain #'s. Numbers are neither sacred nor demonic; it's all in how you use 'em.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Sweetness and synchronicity 

Yesterday, I happened to catch a glimpse of myself naked in a full-length mirror, and inexplicably had the sudden urge to do the pose Venus has in Botticelli's most famous painting, "The Birth of Venus"


in which she emerges from the sea naked on a shell... and no, I do NOT consider myself to be of goddess-like beauty, nor am I in the habit of striking poses (trust me, few women pushing middle age want to spend too much time looking at their bodies). I thought amusedly, "That's me, Venus on a half shell," and then walked away and didn't think anything else about it, until...

That evening, my husband and I were talking about how people look for mates in the modern world, and, referring to our own meeting, he said, "I decided I wanted a woman, put in about 10 minutes of effort, and there, sailing in on a shell..."


No, he's NEVER made that sort of reference, or any remotely related or otherwise exalted one, to me before, and no, he does NOT normally draw parallels to art, about which he knows very little, and no, he did NOT know about the pose I'd struck or the attendant thought I'd had earlier in the evening.

The synchronicity nearly knocked me senseless, but I managed to hug him and thank him for the sentiment (which is astoundingly romantic considering how long we've been together and that we're both geeks), and then to babble out what had happened earlier; he was amazed... so much so that when I said, "You know that CAN'T be a coincidence," my totally non-believing husband agreed, much to both our surprise.

Did I have the Venus thought precognitively, because he was going to say it, did he say it because I'd thought it and the energy of the thought was still hovering nearby, karmically speaking, or did it come from somewhere else entirely and we both just picked up on it? I dunno... but the connectedness of the 2 events is inescapable.

My husband is something of a clod as far as relationships go, as most male geeks are, but he did pretty darned well with this one; he manages a good line a time or 2 per year, and that's part of why I let him live when the rate of disasters caused by him becomes unusually high.

MY geekdom comes into play in this story too; when I found the pic of the painting online and looked at it, the way the legs are posed looked "backwards," and I couldn't figure out why at 1st, but eventually realized that the image in my mind was blended in with the cover of Robert Heinlein's book "To Sail Beyond the Sunset," which has artwork based on "The Birth of Venus" on it


where the woman's left knee is turned inwards, rather than the right knee as in the painting... can you believe that I got part of the pose reversed because I've got a clearer mental picture of a scifi book cover that I haven't seen in nearly a decade (it's in storage at my mother's house) than of the famous painting I was envisioning?

Anyways, synchronicity strikes again... and brings with it the flattering realization that my husband still sees me as a goddess. Life is good.

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