dendritic arborization • I like that phrase

disordered thought processes

hidden in the seeming chaos is beautiful, elegant order—at least, I hope that's true.

jacta alea est

posted on May 29th, 2008

the die is cast, the cards laid down on the table
the flop, the turn, the river, but it’s the pocket that matters
and you don’t know what she’s got
you’re crossing your fingers and holding your breath
trying your damnedest not to give away a tell

the sacred geometry of chance
the profane illogic of chaos
when does chance become fate
randomness become destiny?

another familiar traversal through the Friend Zone, perhaps
or a savage burn, the ties all cut, the roads all barricaded
she’s screaming in terror and running as fast as she can
you’ve been this way before, another turn around the bend
another tack against the wind
melodrama ain’t getting you nowhere
you swear that another dagger in your heart is gonna kill you
but you’ve gone this route before, all the lines and cues are familiar
like you’re trapped in the first act of some godforsaken off-Broadway production
the same monologue over and over again like you’re auditioning in hell

the only way to play the game is all-in
there are no half-measures, there is no insurance, no take-backs, no trial runs
you get what you want, or you go out like a shooting star
burning up in the atmosphere, leaving nothing but interstellar dust motes
suspended in the twilight sky

She is who she is, it didn’t take anything I said to make it true
Courage. Passion. Hope. Wonder.
like an iridiscent flame, like the sunset turning the sea and the sky to a brilliant fiery red and orange
the world, my heart, burns with an aching longing
I want her light to shine forever
in her reflected glow, even someone such as I will give off a little illumination
around her, I can incandesce and coruscate
becoming more than I am, greater than even my vainest imaginings.

this way lies madness

posted on May 28th, 2008

Cassandra whispers to me of disaster and catastrophe:
“Harden your heart, o wanderer
the road is long, the horizon far
no surcease of sorrow shall come to succor thee,
no hope of rescue, of salvation, of love
through the grey desert thou shalt tread
alone, forsaken, unlooked for, unwanted, unmissed.”

Like dry gritted sand upon my parched tongue
like shards of glass down my thirst-swollen throat
beyond bitterness, beyond pain, this emptiness
knowing the truth behind her words.

I grasp at wisps of dreams, like dust-motes glittering in the sunrise
fairy dust and sparkles,
but you cannot eat wishes
and you cannot drink hope


Cassandra need not warn me
of this dreaded path that is my own
descried by prophecy, and wrought by doom
years I have followed it, winding this way and that
through the unforgiving wilderness
though mirages have led me astray
and once or twice, I’ve mistaken the wind
for a loving voice calling out to me
but the silence and the emptiness
is all that has ever been real
I, who will never again know
the warm embrace of true love
damned to walk this blasted road
alone

I go with regret
this damnable weariness seeps into my bones
I bear my burden up once more
letting hope recede again into the distant sky
happiness is not mine to win, I suppose
and her heart was never for me to seek
I gaze upon the distant horizon
my wounded heart trembling
knowing that after all this time
this wound will never heal

twined

posted on May 26th, 2008

chewing on the frayed ends of old, worn threads
of choice, of chance, of fate, of hope, of dreams
wondering where my free-will ends, this cup
passing, where destiny begins, takes shape
takes form, did it not matter, or do these
things still shift, still split, still slip, twist, and bend
this far out, this late in the game, now in
overtime, with seconds to go, and still…

…still worrying over lines and crossings
pencil shavings and eraser bits, now
page upon page of meaningless drivel
smearing and blurring with each added stroke
weighing and measuring, calculating
each choice fraught with peril, each word
laden with meaning mislaid, undermined
by the gravid and tormented silence.

like crashing waves, my blood
splashes on the walls of my failing heart

not knowing, never knowing, how to say
      I love her.
my heart cartwheels and somersaults and it
thrills and it trembles like a butterfly
or a hummingbird in flight, hovering
thrumming and thrilling, rushing and soaring
havoc and chaos, disorder, madness
my soul roils with great longing and yearning

trying to unfurl this banner not yet
woven, this wond’rous tapestry of dream
this garment of wishes still unfulfilled

jumping too far ahead, beyond all sight
into choices not yet chosen, into
these pathways still waiting to be descried
onto thin air, on water, past sunset
through the dark, starry night until sunrise,
I chase her upon sunbeams through blue skies
to far galaxies on bright photon streams
keeping her words of hope close to my heart

why can I not set my heart on something possible?

still this yearning, like the tumult of spring
dawning upon the frozen landscape of
these northern wastes as the ice cracks and thaws
and drops of snow-melt turn to a trickle
then a torrent, then a river with a
voice and a song, lost and meandering
forever seeking the sea

web 2.0 and disintermediation

posted on May 25th, 2008

Now, Amanda Chapel’s agenda is pretty transparent. She (or, more precisely, the anonymous people that created her) is trying to keep her job relevant.

So @brampitoyo retweets this:

Retweet @amandachapel: “When press releases start with ‘cause I’m friendz with @chrisbrogan’ the market economy is over.”

Which just smacks of complete ignorance about the processes that create a market economy.

This *is* how the market works. Someone you trust—your friend, your sibling, your co-worker—buys something of interest, and if they really like it, they’ll probably talk about it a lot. Depending on how much you trust them, you’ll probably find yourself compelled to get one, too.

This is how it worked in the medieval burghs. There wasn’t any advertising, or PR, or demographic research. It was all word-of-mouth, and word-of-mouth spread faster if you trusted where the words were coming from.

Skip ahead about 500 years, and the mass media has subverted this word-of-mouth trust system. We’re just expected to believe that the media has our best interests in mind. Ads replace word-of-mouth. Professional reviewers replace recommendations from your cousin or your mom. We’re trained to trust the system. And the market is being gamed.

And then the World Wide Web came into play.

Now we’re moving back towards the word-of-mouth network. Even though you’ll probably never actually meet the people you’ve met on the web, the ones you trust the most are actual real people. Not bots, not sock-puppets, not corporate-controlled personas. Believe it or not, the human brain actually has great capacity for weeding out bullshit, it’s just that most of us, for some stupid reason or another, refuse to actually activate it.

So you learn which sources to trust. It’s still not easy to eradicate the corporate party line, but it’s easier for someone to get their voice out there.

There will always people who will continue to game the system. But the returns will continue to diminish.

What corporations will discover is that people will come to demand actual quality, and not the mere promise of it. Look at what happened to the music industry. Look at what is happening to the movie industry. You can’t just make a single product and clone it repeatedly ad nauseam and expect the people to lap it up. You’ve actually got to make something.


I wish I could credit where I got the word from, but it does describe part of what Web 2.0 has accomplished. Disintermediation. Getting rid of the middle man. Both seller and buyer can only benefit.

Disturbing blog post about how white blue-collar workers supposedly won’t vote for Obama if HRC doesn’t get the nomination.

There is absolutely no reason for white blue-collar workers to vote for McCain except for the fact that he’s white and Obama isn’t. Since McCain is simply going to be a continuation of W’s failed policies that will continue to foster economic decay, voting Republican is tantamount to economic suicide.

The sad fact of the matter is that, if we keep outsourcing their jobs to India and China, white blue-collar workers will eventually disappear.


We should really learn a lesson from the Republican Party this election. They know the jig is up, and that they’ve got to retrench if they don’t want to become completely irrelevant and go the way of the Whigs. So what do they do? They select the candidate that has the best chance—however remote—of appealing to independents and conservative Democrats. As a result, this move basically repudiates a significant segment of their base. Make no mistake, selecting McCain is a big middle-finger to the religious right.

I would argue that McCain will have a much harder time getting the religious right to back him up than Obama will getting white blue-collar workers to back him up. After all, McCain’s record shows that he really doesn’t care too much about the religious right’s agenda. McCain takes a libertarian stance to things like abortion, gay marriage, sex ed in schools, and the teaching of evolution. In contrast, Obama has been an organizer, for God’s sake. This is the precise demographics that he cares about: the worker that is getting shafted by corporate greed and uncontrolled globalization. Remember that he is of a new generation that simply doesn’t care about race the way that the older generations do.


As a person-of-color, it’s really hard to see the supposed appeal to the white blue-collar worker of HRC as someone who has their best interests in mind. All I can see is a call to white solidarity.

chart abbreviation or not?

posted on May 25th, 2008

MSM
acronym, noun

  1. man who has sex with other men
  2. mainstream media

trust revisited

posted on May 21st, 2008

Having a brief conversation with @anodyne2art on Twitter with regards to my post about trust, and while it’s true, the buzzwords are authenticity and honesty, I think these are only tangentially related. Trust probably has more to do with transparency, but it’s not quite that either.

Really, trust is about predictability. We trust that the sun will rise again tomorrow. We trust that Apple will come out with some new sparkly thing every so often. But we also trust that Microsoft will continue to “embrace and extend.” We trust that TV will always gravitate to whatever is sensational. We trust that Fox News is overtly biased and is basically a propaganda mouth piece for the Republican Party.

Hell, we’re beginning to trust the fact that Twitter will invariably go down every so often.

I guess a synonym would be reliability.


But we’re not robots, stuck to follow some monotonous program. Evolution has tuned us to appreciate a great deal of reliability, but with novelty mixed in every so often. Neuroscientists have a name for it: the dopamine reward circuit. This lights up every time something novel comes your way. It is also the circuit responsible for addiction, so that it’s no surprise that while some people get addicted to cocaine, others get addicted to novelty itself. This is probably the underlying pathophysiology of at least some subtypes of ADHD, but that’s for another blog post.

So when we come to trust a brand, it’s not that we expect it to do X all the time, but we want a reliable kind of experience.


Evolution has also shaped how we handle trust. Particularly since human beings are social creatures, trust has always been a type of currency that we’ve traded in, probably as far back as when we first came down from the treetops to roam the savannah. Game theory tells us that co-operation is more efficient than most forms of competition. Definitely more efficient than winner-takes-all competition. This has been well studied, and the most efficient form of co-operation is tit-for-tat. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. So in order to co-operate, we have to be trusting.

However, with the advent of trust, deceit becomes a worthwhile algorithm. Go ahead and scratch my back. I ain’t gonna scratch yours. This rapidly becomes very costly to the trusting subject. Consequently, we are programmed to rescind trust quite harshly. You betray me, and you lose. Again, tit-for-tat.

Anyone who has ever betrayed another person knows for a fact that trust, once lost, is excruciatingly difficult to reacquire. In some cases, it becomes totally impossible.


With the advent of the Internet, it’s a lot easier to expose deceit. Consequently, deceit becomes a less viable strategy. Watch the Republican party continue to implode, for example.

In fact, it has become increasingly difficult to leverage pathological lying into the selective advantage that it once was. If whatever you ever said or wrote is etched in magnetic fields and photons somewhere on the Internet, and cached by Google, it becomes part of the collective memory of Western Civilization. Witness how much difficulty the pathological liar known as Hope Ballentyne is having now that people are recording their experiences with her on Craigslist. If you can’t keep your story straight, you’re going to get your ass kicked. Look what happened to HRC when she lied about being shot at at Kosovo. The bloggers were all over this. The pulled quotes out from the nether recesses of Google. And it was exposed as the bullshit that it was.

This is a lot of the reason why the neocons’ fascistic bid for power failed miserably. One, because a lot of their operatives were quite intellectually challenged. Two, because it became increasingly difficult to hide the corruption. It didn’t matter if it was posted by a real journalist or a blogger. Once it hit the Googlestream, it was out there, and it would spread like wildfire. Sometimes the traditional media would actually cover the fact that the story spread so fast.

Traditionally, it is believed that lies spread a lot faster than the truth, but the Internet restores the balance. Eventually you’re going to have to deal with facts, and Google seems to preferentially index facts over bullshit. This is simply a factor of semantics, really. The transmission of facts tends to be quite minimalistic in terms of syntactic sugar and unnecessary detail. Most people will just write what happened, and that’ll be it. You get enough sources, and everyone who records an event will eventually converge to some sort of consensus. It may not be fact in the sense that it’s actually independently verifiable and reproducible (which is the gold standard for scientific evidence), but it’ll be at least a social observation. You can at least conclude that a significant subset of the population believes such a thing.

In contrast, bullshit tends to be highly individualized and idiosyncratic. The more bullshit you collect, the wider the disparity between the different stories. Because bullshit tends to be unreliable. You copy unreliability over several generations, and you get even more unreliability. Eventually bullshit dissolves into noise, because it’s almost impossible to keep a unified narrative. You’ll notice that the best way to flush out a lie is to keep the liar talking. Eventually they’ll say something that makes everything fall apart.

The way that Google magnifies and amplifies consensus belief (I’ll step away from using the word “fact”, which I’ll reserve for things that are independently verifiable and reproducible) reminds me of how polymerase chain-reaction (PCR) works. PCR is one of the landmark technologies that launched the bioinformatic revolution. What you do with PCR is that you generate oligonucleotide probes that flank your sequence of interest, you start DNA replication, and you cycle it through multiple generations. Eventually, even if you have contaminants, what will come to predominate in your solution are your targets of interest. You can’t get rid of the contaminants, but they’ll be such a sparse contribution to your solution that it probably won’t matter.


I’m not saying that Google is the ultimate lie detector. All that has to happen is for Rupert Murdoch to open his big, fat wallet, and say “How much you want?” and then we’ll be back to the Dark Ages. Google only works the way it does because the guys who run the show stay true to the hacker ethos that is based in the ‘60’s culture. Some people accuse Sergey and Larry and friends of gaming the system. (Usually, however, such accusers tend to be spammers and black-hat SEO guys.) Even if this accusation were true, the execution is so subtle that it’s almost as if they were letting the truth run unfiltered.


But back to my point: evolution has tuned us to detect deceit, simply because falling for it is a big time loss. In lolcat/leetspeak, believing a lie = FAIL! Even the most feebleminded of us have at least some rudimentary lie-detection circuitry in that mush sitting in our skulls. And, as Abraham Lincoln said, you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can never fool all of the people all of the time. Google just magnifies this principle by several magnitudes of order, and if you follow out the math, you’ll find that what this means is that the truth will out eventually. Bullshit is a temporizing measure at best.

Found on my iGoogle page, with elaborations:

So this 56 year old guy with alcoholic cirrhosis calls me up to complain about the Viagra he picked up in Mexico.

I’m all like, “Sir, you really shouldn’t be taking Viagra.” I mean, his systolic blood pressure is like 85 mmHg at baseline.

“Well, I’m stopping the lactulose,” he tells me.

“Why?”

“I can’t tell whether I’m coming or going.”

trust

posted on May 21st, 2008

Throwbacks stuck in the ‘80’s seem to have a hard time accepting the Brave New World™ we find ourselves in. I’m not preaching some magical transformation of human nature. It’s just that the game has changed. There’s a transition under way, and we are slowly weaning ourselves from the past.

The ‘80’s was all about greed and self-interest. It was a simpler time. We had an archetypal enemy—Soviet Russia—and defeat meant succumbing to totalitarianism or being immolated in a nuclear holocaust. The rule of the day was every man and woman for themself, and you either got rich, or you ended up homeless. And as if we were trapped in some Calvinistic time warp, the former were assumed to be virtuous, the latter were assumed to have some flaw in their character. Alex P. Keaton and Gordon Gekko were the heroes of the decade. Ronald Reagan was their God.


But you can’t really sustain prosperity when only 2% of the population has almost all the wealth. You only need so many washing machines, you know? And when the economy goes to hell, whoever is at the helm takes the blame. It doesn’t help that trickle-down economics is a mad fantasy, and that its natural trajectory is into the shitter. So Bill Clinton took up the mantle, ushering in a new era.

I’m not entirely convinced that it was complete coincidence that the Internet happened to take off during the Pax Clintonia. 1994 was a seminal year, and the seeds for the change were planted deep. A disjunction was inevitable.

You could argue that the Information Revolution really started in the early ‘80’s, when the personal computer came to the fore. But if you examine the microcomputer culture, it really was a relic of the 1960’s UNIX hacker age, replete with communal tendencies. We spent hours distributing copies of software to each other, legal or not. While we never laid down the legalese like Stallman did, we accepted a culture of share and share alike. Code was exchanged freely. We chatted on rudimentary proprietary social networks and on the lonely frontier of the BBS.

It was a wonderfully chaotic age, when multiple brands of computers each had part of the market, and developers dutifully released their games to each of them. Commodore, Atari, Apple, Tandy/Radio Shack, IBM. Those were the giants of the era.

Ironically, it wasn’t until one of the first technological disruptions came to the fore that Bill Gates decided to try and lock down the OS market. The first IBM clone was released in the late ‘80’s, allowing anyone with a few million dollars to contract with Intel and create their own computer that ran the vast amount of PC-DOS/MS-DOS software. The proprietary all-in-one computer was essentially dead (although I kept using my C64 until the early ‘90’s) and Apple (with the Macintosh) and Commodore (with the Amiga) clung tenuously to their scant market share, not yet making the transition from 16-bit to 32-bit. Intel’s 80386 secured the supremacy of the IBM-compatible platform. It was the only 32-bit CPU available to consumers.

The sad thing was that IBM architecture was the least advanced when it came to multimedia. Even with the C64, you already had four-voice polyphonic sound. The Macs and the Amigas of that era would not be surpassed by IBM-compatibles until well into the ‘90’s, when the multimedia became the Next Big Thing™ At the time, IBM-compatibles had EGA displays and a pathetic speaker. Oh, VGA was within reach, and you could always get an AdLib sound card, but these were extra, whereas on the Mac and the Amiga, advanced display capabilities and sound were built-in.

We finally entered the world of the GUI wholesale with the release of Windows 3.0, finally (and barely) catching up with the interfaces of the Mac and the Amiga. But, hell, even the C64 could run a GUI in those days.


The world of software was no longer the unregulated free-for-all of the early ‘80’s. EULAs and copyrights were the rule of the day. Businesses were audited by the Software Protection Agency, and pirates were hung out to dry. IBM-compatibles came at best with an antiquated version of BASIC, and that was the best you were going to get for free. While BASIC was good enough for the C64 and the Apple IIc, an entire decade had already elapsed, and the thought of running an interpreted language on a 33 MHz machine was laughable. It would be a little while before gcc was dutifully ported to first MS-DOS, then to Win32. Eventually, Microsoft released a crippled, interpreted version of QuickBasic with the newest versions of MS-DOS, but that was even clunkier, and you certainly couldn’t write Windows apps that way.

Then 1994 happened. The sensational news was the release of NCSA Mosaic, but deep underground, the Open Source movement was gaining momentum.


A lot of people learned the wrong lessons from the rupture of the first tech bubble. The conventional wisdom was that we were going to revert to old business practices, and that an Internet-based economy was a pipe dream. Enter 15 years later, and boy, was conventional wisdom ever wrong. In spite of the bubble popping, or perhaps precisely because of it, the Open Source movement came to the foreground, led by Red Hat at the time. In 1998, Linux was already a viable replacement for Windows 98, and it crashed far less.

We entered a new culture of development, one that could not rely on top-down pronouncements from on high. It became a messy, consensus-seeking dramafest, with lots of shouting, and lots of forking.

Democracy in action.

Or as ESR put it, the bazaar became pre-eminent.

Except this wasn’t a new culture, but the old culture from the ‘60’s hacker days writ large. Level of contribution, fame, and importance was measured by your intelligence, and how much you contributed. An imperfect meritocracy developed. Sociologists of the day liked to use the term “gift culture”, and this was certainly a consideration, but they failed utterly to document what was really going on: trust became the new currency.

If something came from RMS or ESR or Linus Torvalds or Alan Cox, you knew it was going to be good. Names became saleable commodities. Branding had always been important, but now branding was the important thing. The customer’s trust was the most important thing you could gain, and if you could manage to keep their trust, they were yours for life.

This is the path Google took. Why did Google end up entering the Modern English language as a verb? Because we learned to trust its search results. That trust translates into the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. The moment we stop trusting those search results would mark the beginning of the end.

When Steve came back to town and took the helm of Apple again, he rode this lesson to its logical conclusion. Why do Mac users keep coming back, even as they complain about crashes and clunkiness? Because they know what they’re going to get from Steve. Everybody thought that the iPod was a futile gesture, a Quixotic tilting at windmills. Instead, the iPod is the new Walkman. Even as micro-hard drives fail and iPods crash and become unusable, we still keep coming back.

The flip side of trust is that we also all learned that Windows sucks. Reboot, reformat, and reinstall was the reliable mantra. Not crashing was a miracle. We learned that trying to install anything that might improve the usability of your Windows box was liable to make it unbootable, so we stayed stuck in this awful limbo of crap functionality and inability to upgrade said functionality without Microsoft holding our hands and pushing out a new service pack. Windows suckitude had become so reliable that when XP finally came out, we were shocked that it wasn’t half-bad. Oh, sure, it could be taken over by malware writers in a few minutes after connecting to the Net, but the fact that it could even connect to the net without multiple reboots and animal sacrifice was a minor miracle. Even now, a lot of people distrust the notion that XP is not utter crap.

Trust also comes to fore when it comes to the atrocious phenomenon of spam. Now, some people are just too trusting, and probably shouldn’t be trusted with complete freedom, but I’m not the boss of other people, so I have to live with morons actually buying crap from spammers.

And even though spammers and the shady companies that they work for make a ton of money with their unethical business practices, it is conventional wisdom that spammers are the scum of the earth, on the level of crack dealers and pedophiles. We wouldn’t want to interact with a spammer in meatspace, that’s for sure. So anyone who is* a spammer has to keep their identity hidden, like all those high-end prostitutes and CIA spooks. Hell, we’ve even managed to *criminalize spam. Who’d’ve thunk it?

A spammer is pretty much at the bottom of the trust pile.


So we’re in an age where branding and maintaining trust is critical. Gone are the days where you would be trusted just because you were an authority. People demand evidence, and corroboration. Hence, smart scientists are publishing their results not just to traditional journals, but to open-access ones too. We have websites that allows us to rate everything from the last movie we watched, to the grocery store we shopped at, to what we think of our primary care physician. We search Google carefully before we buy big-ticket items.

I think it’s harder to scam people or to bully people these days. You have to earn trust, and coercive behavior only makes you lose trust.

Being a selfish asshole is not the selective advantage it used to be. While we haven’t magically turned into ideal communists singing “Kumbaya” and “Imagine” by the campfire, cooperation earns you more trust than cut-throat, back-stabby competition. Being able to navigate reasonably well in a social situation—either in meatspace *or* in metaspace—without appearing like a pervert or a serial killer is part and parcel of earning trust.

Fucktards get exposed on the Internet. And Google remembers everything. You can’t hide under the cloak of authority any more. While I’m not completely high and think we have complete transparency, I believe it is now easier for the common person to make sure that someone isn’t trying to pull a fast one. The perhaps unearned authoritative voice of traditional media has been diluted considerably. And I think the Internet deserves a lot of the credit for preventing the neocons from turning the U.S. entirely into some Orwellian nightmare. They were close, but we dodged a bullet. Now even Google knows that W is a miserable failure.


I’m not so drunk on the Kool-Aid to believe that the Internet is going to solve all the considerable problems we’re facing. After all, the economy is in the shitter once again. Rogue states like North Korea have nuclear weapons. Climate change is going to give new, tragic meaning to the phrase “water wars.” Trust in American Democracy took huge hits in the last two elections, thanks to the Supreme Court and Diebold, respectively. W is the first president since James Madison to actually have an entire American city destroyed completely under his watch. We all know what’s still going on in New Orleans, no matter what sort bullshit the traditional media is trying to feed us.

But for once, I’m hopeful. Today, the Republican Party that Nixon and Reagan built is pretty much in disarray. Its brand is tarnished beyond all recognition, and about the only thing we trust will come of it are unhinged religious fundamentalists who want to abolish science, homosexual men who are in denial (such as Larry Craig), and all manner of obscene corruption (such as Enron and Duke Cunningham.) Only a completely deranged ass-monkey would trust a Republican farther than they could kick them.


And remember this: trust is the basis of hope. If you can’t trust anything, there’s no way you can be hopeful, and without hope, you’re doomed to stagnation and eventually death. Hope is a lot more than an empty platitude that politicians like to throw around. Hope is pretty much the operational basis of frontal lobe function. One of the major differences between humans and non-verbal animals is the fact that we are able to imagine what isn’t. It isn’t just a random amalgamation of buzzwords when people speak about vision and mission statements. Without vision, there’s no way to direct your movement. If you’re not forward-thinking, then you’re barely functioning beyond the level of a non-verbal animal. We are motivated and driven by the hope of turning what does not exist into actual reality. This concept is more commonly termed creativity.

bad patient registry

posted on May 20th, 2008

The idea of being able to review your primary care physician and leave a comment online is a little unnerving for me. I know for a fact that not everyone can like me, and many patients will just be put off by my approach no matter what I do. But you gotta be true to yourself, and you can’t please everyone all the time.

The problem is that these review sites attract the crazies. The borderline personalities. The guys who want to talk shit because we didn’t give them their pain meds. The narcissistic personality disorder folk. All sorts of dysfunction.

So it’s not surprising when you read a negative review for a doc you know is a great doc. Someone whom most of their patients love. At least they don’t let people just post anonymously any more. That was a disaster waiting to happen.


But seriously, if people can complain about their doc, I think docs should be able to complain about their patients (and their family members.) Oh, I know that the HIPAA regulations make this illegal, but we could easily make it pseudo-anonymous. Like take their name and birthday, and make an MD5 sum out of it. So you could search the database for bad actors, and it’ll give you their MD5 sum and a description of them.

As an example:

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45 yo male with end-stage liver disease, ethanol dependence, opioid dependence, who once decided to overdose on acetaminophen because his heroin dealer refused to give him heroin. He likes to “split”, hating some people for no good reason, liking other people for no good reason as well, and is highly entertained when he manages to get you and his nurse fighting with each other.

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68 yo female with metastatic colon cancer, severe aortic stenosis, congestive heart failure with an ejection fraction of 25%. Her daughter frequently brings her into the emergency department, stating that her mother is dehydrated. If you refuse to admit her, she will threaten to sue you, and then will proceed to verbally abuse you. She will also demand that you page her mother’s surgeon, who doesn’t have privileges at St. Elsewhere Medical Center. He will, unfortunately, always side with the patient’s daughter and has a tendency to undermine any reasonable plan you can come up with.

This would be a stop-gap measure until we actually deployed a universal electronic medical record system in this country, but I’m almost certain it would cut down on the amount of morphine we dispense.

It only takes a couple of dicks to screw us all.
—Anonymous

I learned about the sordid history of health care and health insurance while writing a paper in college for a two unit class that was pass/not-pass (and therefore useless to my GPA.) It forever opened my eyes to the lunacy that we loosely term health care in America.

Back in the Dark Ages, before penicillin was available, doctors had free reign to charge their patients whatever they wanted. There was no such thing as health insurance. This is pretty much how most undeveloped and developing countries function. You have to pay cash, or you die.

Which, if you think about it, sucks big time, because most of the time they couldn’t really take care of your problem anyway.

Some ethical, socially-minded physicians charged reasonable fees and actually took care of their patients, but all it really takes is a few asshats to make a stereotype stick. So when the snake-oil salesmen came to town, a lot of people started figuring that most doctors were asshats.

Fast forward to the Great Depression, and FDR’s administration. The Social Security Act is created. It doesn’t have any provisions for health care. But a curious thing evolved. The government decided that employers were responsible for their employees health.

Which, I guess, makes some sense. I mean, it’s not too ethical to work your employees to the bone, and then discard them when they get sick from all the stress you put them under. In most civilized places, that is usually called exploitation.

This is where the bullshit gets really interesting.

So the corporations make deals with the insurance companies (which in some cases were merely one branch of a horizontally integrated corporation dealing with another branch of said company.) The corporations said, you give us cheap rates, and we’ll sign up all our guys with you. And when the choice is taking cut-rates, and not getting paid at all, the choice is pretty easy to make.

So the nascent health insurance companies get all this volume from the corporations, but their bottom lines aren’t doing so hot. Part of this is because it’s ridiculous to offer insurance on something that’s going to definitely happen more than once. I mean, not everybody loses their house in a flood, a fire, or an earthquake. Not everybody gets into a car crash. And while everybody dies, it’s generally a one-time event, so life insurance still makes sense, too. But health insurance? C’mon. Everybody gets sick. And the sicker you are, the more often you’re going to get sick. To bet on that (because if you think about it, providing insurance is just another way to gamble) is absurd.

At the same time, the insurance companies are trying to make a profit. So they go to the doctors, saying that if you accept our insurance for payment—even though it’s cut-rate—then we’ll refer all these patients to you. Win, win! So while the doc is only getting paid 50% of their normal fee, their volume goes up.

Then the Great Society opens up the late 1960’s and passes Title XII. Medicare and Medicaid are created. Health insurance for those who paid their dues, and for those who for various reasons can no longer make a living. This was a great idea! And then the piranhas came to town.


So my dad has apocryphal stories of this doc he used to work for. Let’s call him Dr. B. So Dr. B paid my dad a fixed salary and loaded him up with 30 patients a day. Meanwhile, he’s going on cruises, jetting off to Europe, driving his Mercedes, sailing his yacht. The secret to his success?

“All right. Today, we’re going to bill these people for their monthly visit.” Which seems pretty normal until you realize that he never really saw any of these patients.

In the end, my dad was subpoenaed to testify against Dr. B in the civil suit alleging Dr. B of insurance fraud. Fun times.


But this is where the on-going stereotype of the doctor who orders unnecessary procedures to fill their pockets comes from. Now, the insurance companies are in this to make money, and they looked at all this bogus billing as basically theft. The federal government and the different state governments were none to happy either. So the feds got busy with raiding doctor’s offices and fining them millions of dollars because they forgot to dot all their i’s and cross all their t’s. The guys who continued to make money made sure their charts were fully buffed, and sparkly/shiny, especially the notes for the bogus visits, and they never got called out. They may even be practicing to this day.

Meanwhile, the insurance companies came up with another idea entirely: HMOs. The docs were completely out of the loop on this one. Basically the insurance companies and the corporations colluded. The insurance companies were like, “All right, we’ll cut the rates you’re paying even more if you sign your employees up for this new plan we’re trying. It’s designed to cut costs by promoting preventive care, providing an incentive for making sure that people stay well (and prevent docs from billing for bogus visits.) The corporations were all like, “Deal!” and the rest is history.

Oh, sure, a lot of HMOs pay on the old fee-for-service schedule. Maybe 25% of your “customary charge.” But a lot of them do the whole capitation thing. What is capitation? In an effort to reduce the chances of billing for bogus visits, what this meant is that they paid you a set amount every month for every patient of theirs you followed, even if they never got sick and never came to your office. On the surface, it’s a pretty sweet deal! And when they show up and need to be seen, they pay a token fee ($5-$10, maybe) so that patients aren’t tempted to show up every day.

The problem is if you have to see them more than once a month. Because, guess what, you don’t get paid any extra. If the capitation fee is $10 a month, it doesn’t matter if they come zero times, once, or 30 times. You still only get $10. This can become a problem, particularly if you service an area full of needy people who feel entitled to health care.

A word about “customary charges.” Initially, the logistics of billing would go like this. You send a claim for $150 for your office visit. The insurance company will give you $75. You are expected to accept this payment as payment in full (you did read the fine print on the contract, right?) You can’t bill the patient for the difference. That’s all there is, there ain’t no mo’. So what some clever asshats did was figure they should charge $300 for their office visit, and then they’d get paid $150, and in some cases this actually worked. Of course, if a patient didn’t have insurance and paid cash, you’d only make them pay $150, because they’d probably kick your ass for asking for $300 for doing almost nothing.

When the government decided to get involved in all this, they weren’t amused. So the law of the land became that you could only ever charge your “customary” charge. So if you charged cash patients $150, you better charge Medicare $150, even if they only pay you $45. If they ever find out that you charge your cash patients less than you charge Medicare, or if you charge insurance companies differently as well, well, they figure you’re a lying piece of shit, and you have to go to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Whoops.


But the docs of that era were a tenacious bunch. All they did was increase their volumes. 10 minutes, 7 minutes maybe of face-time with patient. Thirty to forty patients a day. They had grown accustomed to their incomes.

Fast-forward to the 21st century. The average health care CEO is now far wealthier than any doctor, when you correct for the number of hours worked. The average doc starts the game off in a big hole, on average $150k of educational debt, and climbing. And then there’s the malpractice game. Oh boy. Luckily, some states (like California) have come to realize that it does no one any good if every doc leaves the state because of astronomical malpractice insurance premiums. Look what has happened to Florida and Nevada, after all.

Don’t get me wrong. No doc is ever going to starve. You’re probably still going to be making six figures. Of course, no one ever points out that not only is that before taxes, that’s before you pay your student loans (at least a couple of G’s a month) and your malpractice (starting at $1k, and going up the more invasive and dangerous the procedures you perform.) But, hey, the American Dream!


Now I never did get into this for money. Part of it is the idealistic part of me that I never managed to kill, that actually finds joy in helping people. Even in small, unmeasurable ways. Even if whoever I’m helping doesn’t give a shit. I mean, I get to use my knowledge and skill to at least improve someone’s quality of life. It’s kind of cool.

The other part is that I was destined for a career in health care. My dad is a doc. My mom is a nurse. All my aunts are nurses. My brother is a nurse. It was what I knew. The hospital and the smell of Pseudomonas brings me back to my childhood, it does.

So my career choice was not made as some sort of compromise. I knew what this would entail. I knew the bullshit I would have to deal with. Most of the time, it’s worth it. Seriously. Even just a little thank you is actually rewarding.

So it gets me bummed out when I read stuff like this:

You can’t make me feel pity for Doctors - sorry. They choose that life, and they are generally very well rewarded for it.

And I’m like, great. Just what I need. Yet another guy as an adversary. Instead of someone I could co-operate with, to make their life a little better. The modern doctor-patient relationship is about partnership, these days. But if we approach each other as enemies from the onset, it’s just going to go wrong, sometimes in really terrible ways.

Oh, I don’t blame you for feeling this way. The old school asshat docs who were into fraud really screwed all of us. And now we have to pay for their sins.

I'm not even gonna mention a certain fucktard's pseudonym, because you all know who I'm talking about. It irks me that people take sock-puppets seriously. But what are you gonna do. Some people just enjoy being lied to.

I think the thing that boggles my mind the most is the fact that someone with so little knowledge about technology spouting all sorts of outrageous idiocy about the Social Media Evolution™ is still nonetheless taken seriously. I mean, I work in a field where crazy people are usually given anti-psychotic medications to calm them down, and then they're locked up until they can demonstrate that they are no longer harmful to themselves or others. I suppose that's one of the major differences between metaspace and meatspace. I mean, I'm just so used to seeing crazies getting wrestled to the ground, restrained, and then snowed. But whatever.

Still, it's really pathetic to hear someone shouting about the Internet running out of tubes. It was stupid when Senator Stevens was saying it, and it's stupid now.


Sure, obviously, someone has to maintain and upgrade capacity. Currently, private ISPs roll out more pipes when necessary. I mean, it's not like you can really get on the Internet for free. You can get on it for cheap, extraordinarily cheap, in fact, but it isn't free. Not counting the fact that you have to own a computer or an internet-capable mobile device, someone is always paying for these connections. Even open-access wireless routers are paid for. Either the business owners who want to keep butts in seats pays for the bandwidth, or in some cases, taxpayers pay for the bandwidth.

But we are in an era where bandwidth is necessary. Think about how all commerce stops when your local Starbucks has a malfunction with their credit card system. Visa even jokes about it in their commercials. You can't even get cash from a bank teller when bandwidth is cut.

Add to this the fact that we are transitioning to an all-digital world, where data, cable, and voice all share the same wires, all transmitted via TCP/IP. Think about all the financial transactions in the world. You think it'll be easy just going back to pen and paper?

Face it. Wall Street wants fatter pipes. Hollywood wants fatter pipes. Silicon Valley wants fatter pipes. And not because they're interested in the social media experiment. They have their own uses for all that bandwidth that have nothing to do with your freedom to blog. Uses that will earn them shitloads of money. The infrastructure will get paid for. Probably before we fix all the bridges that are ready to collapse. Maybe even before New Orleans becomes a viable city again.

It's bullshit for the ISPs to be complaining that they're not making enough money. People are willingly paying for bandwidth, and people would pay more for even more bandwidth. If you build it, they will come. I mean, an individual ISP might get torn apart by bigger and badder predators, but in the end, someone is going to be making bank. Unless Western Civilization collapses entirely, I just don't see the need for bandwidth going away anytime soon.


I'm not trying to pretend that the Internet is the end-all, be-all of human existence. It is, like anything else, a tool. It is going to be a given that 90% of all the net-based companies founded today are going to fail. Remember that 90% of everything is crap. But that 10% that succeeds is going to change things big time. Google is just the first example in a long list of things that will revolutionize how we use information—not just for fun—but for profit as well.

I'm not just talking about "monetizing your content." Ads will continue to play their role, but that's not the end-point of the semantic-web.

If you can't imagine the ways that instant access to all information, anywhere, anytime—without being burdened by clunky interfaces like iTAP, mice, or keyboards—will revolutionize your ability to make money, then you're going to be staring at a big ocean of fail in the near-future. Adapt or die. That's always been the rule.


I'm not saying that there aren't going to be challenges along the way. But with NAT, virtual hosting, and IPv6, we're not going to run out of addresses, no matter what the idiot Diggers say. With Google holding all that dark fiber in abeyance, we're not going to run out of capacity any time soon either.

Like all social problems, the problem is not the technology. It's going to be the people. Anyone who can't adapt is not going to be happy about having to die.

Suck on it, Clintstones. And note to the rest of America — we may not be as sexy as Hollywood or Wall Street, but you know what? We’ve got a shitload of money, and we know how to organize. We’re a powerful bunch of khaki-wearing, gay-marriage-supporting, arugula-eating, Mac-using elitist nerds out here. To all of you racist homophobic non-Californian dumb fucks who find that annoying? Tough shit. We outsmarted you. We out-spent you. And now for the next eight years we’re going to be running this country. We’re going to give equal rights to gay people, fund stem-cell research, teach evolution, take down the fence on the Mexican border, and make sure abortion stays safe and legal. We’re going to pull out of Iraq, shut down Gitmo, and stop torturing people. And yeah. A black dude with a Muslim-sounding name and degrees from Columbia and Harvard is going to be in charge. So sit back down, strap yourself in, and shut the fuck up, crackers.“ — The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs: How the Valley put Obama over the top, via hellofriend, via cajunboy, via caro, via claudia, via britticisms, via soupsoup, via seriouslythough, via poortaste, via ayşe.

random thoughts on ip

posted on May 19th, 2008

I have, curiously enough, been thinking about IP for quite a long time. It all started when I had my 8-bit Commodore 64 running at 1 MHz (that's right 1 megahertz. More than 1,000 times slower than the slowest computer you can buy new today.)

This was still back in the day when people actually typed-in program listings from magazines. Compute!'s Gazette and later RUN were the major sources, Commodore Power/Play, becoming less so as time went on. (They did have a lot good stuff available directly on floppy, through their monthly Loadstar releases.) I actually don't remember who owned the copyright on all that stuff—the original author, or the magazine.

But what I remember are those public service ads in the back of the magazine, warning people about "software piracy." It is only much later that I discovered that there was an enormous struggle between people like Bill Gates, who believed that code belong to the original copyright holder forever (or at least as long as the copyright laws allowed), and people like Richard Stallman, who believed that code was like any other object that could be bought and sold. Once someone throws down $50 for a floppy disk, that code should be free for them to play with however he/she wanted to.

Obviously, Bill G won big-time, and Stallman ended up forming GNU and the FSF, and we're still in the middle of this battle, and Bill G still has the upper-hand for now.


But Stallman's position outlines the whole problem with IP in the first place.

Market capitalism, as expounded by Adam Smith and his Invisible Hand, has relied on the notion of property for centuries. Before the advent of intellectual property, all property was something tangible. Material goods, resources, commodities. The central transaction was the exchange of said material product for currency, which as has been pointed out, is a convenient fiction we have all decided to believe in , in order to simplify our ability to buy and sell. But in those days, currency was actually pegged to something of worth, usually some rare mineral like gold or silver. But we'll get to that.

The key thing about real property—as opposed to intellectual property—is that if I give you 5 gold coins, you will give me the cow. Once you give me the cow, you no longer have any rights to the cow. The cow no longer belongs to you. It is no longer in your possession.

This is where IP varies wildly from classical property: it turns out that if you sell me an idea, I now possess the idea. But I have not deprived you of the idea. We now both own a copy, so to speak.

If IP were like any other kind of property, I would be free to do what I wished with the idea. I could sell it to another person. I could modify it and put it into action. Produce something of worth with it. I would actually own the idea.

What ended up happening instead is that the original stakeholder (often not the actual creator of the idea) insisted that the idea, no matter how often they divulged it to other parties for x amount of currency, would be theirs. Originally it was for a set number of years, but in time, the idea would be released to the public domain. Obviously, the stakeholder would still be able to make money off of the idea, they just no longer had exclusive rights to it.

In original practice, this was a great idea. Ideas are hard to come by, and if some other guy just copies the idea and sells my idea for cheap, I'm screwed.

But where it started getting jacked up was the fact that the stakeholder was granted rights to extended their copyright, or patent, over and over again, ad infinitum. There is now the stark possibility that things under patent and under copyright will never go into the public domain.

This is where we start running into problems of generativity (to use the word Jonathan Zittrain is fond of.)


Human nature being what it is, this is not surprising. We have survived an entire decade where the mantra was "greed is good." Maybe for the greedy person, not so much for everyone else. A lot of lives were ruined by Reaganomics, labeled by his own vice-president as "voodoo economics", and we're still paying the price today. What we found out the hard way is that greed is not good, certainly not in the extreme form that was touted as a religion in that decade, and probably not in the moderate-to-severe form that we continue to operate under today. It is a well known fact that greed stifles both innovation and destroys trust, two of the key principles that a well-oiled capitalistic machine requires to keep on chugging.

But, lest you get the wrong idea, I'm not against intellectual property per se. I'm certainly against the notion that once you have your Big Idea, you should be able to make obscene profits off of it for the rest of your life. If you want to be considered a productive member of society, you ought to remain productive. If we're going to be espousing a philosophy of TANSTAFL (there ain't no such thing as a free lunch), then we should really espouse it. Life is a struggle, right? You're supposed to just suck it up, right? So once your copyright runs out, too bad. Hope you have a new Big Idea up and running.

I am also against the notion that you forever have rights to the idea that you sold me. I mean, yes, I agree with copyright law. If you sold me an idea, I have no right to cross your name out and pretend that it was my idea. Credit is given where credit is due.

I would like to have the right to modify the idea, once it is sold to me, as I see fit. Add a little here, trim a little there, fit it into my own usage patterns. Once it's modified, you shouldn't be able to own the modifications. I should still be required to give you credit for the original idea, and maybe I shouldn't be able to put you out of business with my modified idea. But if I'm not making any money off of it, I should be able to give copies of the idea to whomever I want as I see fit, as long as I continue to give credit where credit is due.

Here, the current copyright and patent system disagrees vehemently. This is where Stallman comes to the rescue.


First a little back-history. For those not familiar with the original hacker ethos, before the rise of Microsoft's empire, computer programmers routinely traded pieces of code here and there. You can tell this just by looking at the source code of any modern UNIX. There are all sorts of bits and pieces that have been swapped here and there, like pieces of DNA being spliced and reintegrated among various lineages. This was not a big deal, because in those days, machines were very limited, and each one generally ran something highly specialized. Software was not yet a commodity that could be shrink-wrapped and easily transferred from one machine to another. A software developer would grow the code on a particular machine that performed a particular function, and generally, that function en bloc was of very little use to others. Sure, you could dissect the application for useful bits and pieces, and that's what the early hackers did. Whatever could be generalizable was generalized, and the application specific bits remained on that single machine.

Once shrink-wrapped software came into play, Microsoft wanted to make sure that they would get paid in perpetuity. So draconian software piracy laws were put into place. None of this promiscuous code sharing is allowed. Hell, it's illegal to try to reverse engineer the byte code. Microsoft even went after guys who were trying to do the whole "clean room" thing.

This, as Jonathan Zittrain could tell us, was very stifling for innovation.

But the hacker ethos never really died. After all, computer science was born of the ivory towers of academia, where the notion of profit was a thought of whimsy. Contrary to what the average businessperson thinks, academia is not all peace and love and drug parties. The difference between business and academia is the currency which defines success. In business, it's obviously how much money you make. In academia, it's how many ideas you come up with and implement. And as far as I can tell, it's harder to come up and implement ideas than it is to make money. Consequently, academia is probably a more cut-throat place than the average business person would think. You've got smarter people vying for a smaller pie (it's not like the grants the NIH or DOE give allow you to live lives of luxury), with do-or-die consequences. Publish-or-perish. If you think making it in a corporation is tough, you should try getting tenure some day.

So innovation at least continued there. The hot-bed, as anyone alive in the two decades could tell you, was the San Francisco Bay Area. Berkeley. Stanford. Those were the places to be. Without them, there would be no BSD UNIX, no Sun Microsystems, no Sendmail, no BIND, no mice, no Apple, no Yahoo, no Google. We would still probably be dinking away at non-networked 80x24 line terminals, if we even owned them at all. The guy who said that there was a world-wide market for maybe five computers would've been right.

The rest is history. In 1994, Linux went 1.0, and so did 386BSD. The importance of the GPL and BSD licenses would not yet be appreciated for several years, but this is when it became viable not to run Windows. (I actually did run Linux for a short while on an already antiquated 80486/50 Mhz, at the suggestion of my roommate who was at least a hacker demi-god, if not a full fledged deity.) But the thing that set everything off was the release of the first graphical WWW browser—Mosaic. (Naturally, one of the first uses that one of the guys on my floor put it to was to find porn.)


Before anyone had coined the word "monetize," before big business and traditional media even realized that they were about to be overwhelmed by a tsunami of epic proportions, what the graphical WWW did was make navigation idiot-proof. The net was no longer the privileged demesne of hackers. Social science and humanities majors roamed the net in search of articles, software, and porn.

And so we come to the software. This is probably about the time that floppy disks started becoming less useful. Zip drives had just come out. Consumer-grade CD-Rs were on the horizon.

The first thing that Eternal September did was completely break open software distribution. Even at 14.4 kbps, people were downloading software like it was crack. Some of this was completely legal. Some of it was totally not. Bill Gates' nightmare scenario had happened. It was extraordinarily easy to get a piece of software you needed, given patience and time, something that the average student had plenty of.

Around 1997, more and more people started finding CD-grade audio tracks encoded in mp3. This is also when the peer-to-peer filesharing era began, pre-Napster.


A word about the music industry at the time. The price of CDs were still ridiculously high in the late '90's. If anything, they were getting more expensive. Which, if you listened to a lot of the music at the time, didn't make much sense, market-wise. How could the industry push a higher price when more and more of the music they were selling was such utter crap? I remember good CDs would have maybe three or four good tracks. The rest was bilge. Filler. Bullshit. You could only get singles in cassette form, too.

This would've probably been a stable situation if the RIAA were content with gouging consumers with crap CDs. But the fuckers got greedy. They started attacking used-CD stores. Making mix tapes was demonized. Even dubbing a new release from the radio was vilified. All the while, music continued to get crappier and crappier. Clear Channel started its consolidation movement, ensuring that one place where you stood a chance of finding something decent for free, would also get crappier and crappier.

You start treating your customers like criminals, and there's a percentage increase in the likelihood that they would start behaving like criminals.


A word, again, about IP, and theft. See, theft is pretty straight-forward when it comes to real property. If I steal your car, you don't have the car anymore. Same thing with your CD player, your computer.

With IP, however, if I download a copy of your song, well, you still have your song. You are not deprived of your song. You may be aggrieved because I now have a copy of your song without paying for it, but even this is not theft, at least not in the real property sense. You can't count opportunity cost as theft. It would be outrageous to ask for compensation for things that are contingent. That way leads to insanity. In all likelihood, I wouldn't have paid for it anyway, so it's not like you lost a sale.

On the other hand, yes, this is copyright infringement, which, until recently, would not be prosecuted under criminal law. One can argue about exactly how much harm someone is sustaining from distribution of material that the receiver would probably never have paid for anyway, but this debate is a particularly well-worn track that I have no desire to trod upon right now. It would certainly be problematic if I began turning a profit from said distribution, but barring that, I think it's still pretty damn equivocal.

But, you know what, once the RIAA started getting kicked where it hurts (in the pocketbook), miraculously, good music started coming out once again. You could buy a CD (still at obscenely inflated prices) and it might actually have five or six good tracks on it. The industry actually got better. Who knew what a little actual competition would do to the free market!

Oh, sure, as the pipes got fatter, and the content came down faster, filesharing grew to epic proportions. Napster came, revolutionized, then went. Kazaa came afterward, then eMule, and on-and-on, and now there's Bittorrent.

But you know, what? Real fans still want the CDs. Hell, we want the vinyl. We want our favorite artists to get paid commensurately to the work they produce.

Unfortunately, this is not how it actually works. The RIAA is kind of like a protection racket. They take upwards of 80% of what you make as an artist. Oh, you're still making a ton of money if you're a quadruple platinum-selling artist or band. But there's a conceptual disconnect between the producer of the IP, and the people who make the most profit from the IP.


The other thing is that the RIAA continues to make absurd claims about what is and what is not under copyright law. Under the original laws, it is perfectly legal for me to rip the CDs that I have actually purchased and turn the tracks into MP3s or AACs, so long as I don't distribute them. What does the RIAA call me? A thief. What they demand is that I not only buy the CD, but if I want to play tracks on my iPod, I have to buy the mp3s separately. And if the iTMS authentication system ever went into the crapper (like how Microsoft's Play-for-Sure is swirling down), I would have to re-purchase them again. This is utter crap and infringes on my rights.

Again, the rest is history. Things came to a head when Steve Jobs wrestled for control of who gets to distribute what. It didn't change the fact that the artists are still getting shafted, but at least the consumer (for the most part) only has to pay for the tracks they actually want, and not the crap filler tracks that the RIAA is so fond of. The turning point of all this is the fact that the Steve understands that DRM fucks things up. To appease the RIAA, he locked iTMS up with a pretty rudimentary form of protection that us trivially circumvented. (Although, truth be told, all DRM will be circumvented in time. As Bruce Schneier—cryptographer extraordinaire—points out, trying to make bits uncopyable is like "trying to make water not wet.") But now that he had them by the balls, he decided that it was time to stop screwing around and actually give people what they want: un-crippled digital versions of their tracks.

Radiohead and then Trent Reznor went even further an decided that they didn't need anyone's help with distributing their music.

We are entering uncharted territory.


So none of this would probably even matter if America actually made things any more. If that were the case, IP would be a negligible part of our economy, and we could go on with our non-sustainable consumerist ways. Unfortunately, what we apparently still make are crappy cars no one else wants, and Apple, Inc. products (even though most of the parts come from Korea and Southeast Asia.) Oh, and weapons of mass destruction. How could I forget about those? The only other thing that we churn out, quite successfully, I must say, is the ever-vaunted IP. Movies, video games, music, etc., etc.

Now let's say that the RIAA and the MPAA managed to retain a lockdown on their sundry wares. It just wouldn't matter. Certainly the Chinese don't give a flying fuck about our copyright law, and you can also find the newest releases on DVD, CD, and MP3/AAC in Russia.

IP just doesn't have the robustness that traditional property has. In this digital world, there's absolutely no way to stop people from making knock-off copies. Oh, you can try and strangle the pipes, but that's only going to work in the developed world, which unfortunately, has only a small fraction of the world's population. It's not going to stop the actual, real pirates. It's not even going to slow them down. All you're doing is pissing off your paying customers, making it even more likely that someone in the developed world is gonna go to them for their product instead of to you.

The only other thing we really got going for us is the service industry, I suppose. It'll be a long while before AI and robotics can actually replace some of these specialties, but the imperial decay is coming. You can smell it the way I can smell Pseudomonas and C. difficile. Oh, it's not going to happen all of the sudden. We've already had our Vandals-at-the-gates moment with the WTC attacks. It may even take several decades before we come to the realization that the emperor has no clothes. But it's coming. It's no joke. Get ready.

Wow. Just, wow.

You would think that almost 150 years after the Civil War, and nearly 50 years after the Civil Rights Movement, people would be a little more savvy with the race issue in America.

For one, you would think that most sane people would recognize that it exists.

It's a problem.

It's not something that's just going to go away by thinking happy thoughts.


So I told you about my little run-in with avowed Internet sock-puppet Amanda Chapel.

I mean, I have to admit, this was entertaining. She is the first troll I've met whose responses did not degenerate into random blathering. No. This was different. Instead, she decided to play the Ward Connerly card. Whoo-ah!

I will re-type the passage, in order to savor the flavor of it. Mmm-mmm.

amandachapel

Actually, I imagine you an adjunct professor for a CA State School brought in as part of some bullshit diversity program. (emphasis mine)


I'm not even going to bother pointing out that she misses the mark wildly on that guess. And I thought that Google was idiot-proof.

And, not that I would expect her to give a rat's ass about the history of people-of-color in California, but it just so happens that Filipino Americans have been ineligible for affirmative action since 1989, several years before I applied for college. And that affirmative action has been illegal in the University of California system since 1995, when SP-1 and SP-2 were passed. And while these were repealed in 2001, that's only because they were made superfluous by Proposition 209 in 1996, which abolished affirmative action state-wide.

In essence, she charges me with skating in through the system through preferential treatment, when clearly it would've been impossible to do such a thing.

If someone said shit like that to you and you weren't offended, I gotta give you props. You're a stronger person than I am.

But to be faced with such bullshit was so preposterous that I laughed out loud.


Whatever. It's sock-puppet entertainment. Who hasn't baited a troll before?

But what kind of disturbs me is this response I get from a certain Mark Davidson:

markdavidson I just read your blog post about your exchange with @amandachapel. Straw man much? That was just an embarrassment. Study debate.

Fine. Whatever. It's still (mostly) a free country. You're entitled to your opinion. I've got no problem with that.

markdavidson Oh and I'm blocking you for being offensive. Every time someone inappropriately plays the race card, it diminishes the real thing.

Now that boggled my mind. Holy shit. A person who has no idea who I am, except for what I look like, decides to pull out the "bullshit diversity" line, and someone comes to defend her, and tells me I'm the one playing the race card? Uh. WTF?

Was I supposed to wait until they started throwing out epithets before I could call racism?

How fucked in the head do you have to be to not interpret "bullshit diversity" as "people-of-color don't deserve what they've got."


The thing is, I've always been wary of people who are privileged. Not that I'm not one of them, having grown up with two highly-educated parents with an upper middle class income. But privilege has always been an uneasy thing with me.

What I learned, growing up with it all around me, is that if you're privileged but are not compassionate, you're pretty much a sorry waste of protoplasm. I don't care if you're worth several million/billion dollars. You're essentially contaminated fecal material. I'm sorry. That's just how it is.

So when you get up and try to shout down the human dignity of people who are struggling and who are poor, I get the urge to beat the living shit out of you.

But why fuck with piss-poor protoplasm. What the hell is the point?

I'm thinking these things as I wait over in the pharmacy at one of the hospitals I work at and find myself amidst people who are clearly not in the same social class as the folks who gallivant around on Twitter, who have the same color of skin that I do. These are not iPhone owners. And it may be presumptuous, but I would hazard to guess that they are not as overly-educated as I am. I watch them as the pharmacy clerk informs them that their state insurance isn't active, and that the meds their prescribed are gonna cost about $500 for a month. We're talking about shit they need to *live*. You can't go walking around without your cyclosporine and Cellcept, you know?

And I think about my colleagues who, like me, are extraordinarily privileged, but at the same time, very compassionate. Don't get me wrong, there are some asshats among them, but even the most asshatish has more compassion in their pinky nail than some of the folks I've run across on Twitter. I mean, c'mon! No wonder this country is fucking doomed.

Seriously, though. When the shit hits the fan and the revolution goes down, all you privileged fucktards who do nothing but complain about how the poor are weakening your bottom line? You all are lucky that I'm constrained by primum non nocere and I won't be joining the firing squad. In fact, I might even be helping all your sorry asses. So when you start believing in your self-reliant bullshit, and how you made it through the world without anyone's help, I want you to meditate long and hard about who is probably gonna be on your side when you start having that anginal chest pain, or when the right side of your body goes numb and weak all of the sudden in the next few years or so. Deal?

OK, this is what I get for feeding a well known, long-lived internet troll.

So I've gotten addicted to Twitter, the famed nano-blogging tool that is all the rage in the world of Web 2.0, mostly thanks to an Adobe AIR app called twhirl, which basically aggressively refreshes your twitter view for an almost-real time, not-quite streaming effect. It's like RSS on cocaine, and I find myself chewing through hours of time using it.

So anyway, there's this Internet persona known as Amanda Chapel, AKA Strumpette who is known for vitriolic, lacerating criticism of the PR world who takes pleasure in overturning hypocrisy. Depending on who you listen to, she is probably not a real person, but rather an amalgam fostered by three or four different people, who hide behind her image so as not to invite real-world repercussions and retaliation. Some might call such behavior cowardly. In Wikipedian terms, she is a sock-puppet.

Anyway, her incarnation has manifested upon Twitter, and I found myself following her, mostly because, as far as trolls go, her diatribes are somewhat entertaining.

My first mistake was to get involved in a conversation.

She preaches this apocalyptic message that the Internet is going to collapse from its own weight. I must admit, having watched the first dot-com bubble rupture in realtime and realspace, a voice like hers is a necessary counter-point to the unabashed evangelism of the Web 2.0-and-beyond crowd. Business is business, and if you ain't making a profit, things are going to be very rough. Granted, Web 2.0 has none of the reckless exuberance that made the first dot-com boom completely insane. For the most part, companies have moved rather cautiously, carefully. Sure, there are a few voices out there that have overdosed on the Kool-Aid, but for the most part, it's actually a lot more realistic than the first time around.

I did appreciate the link to Jonathan Zittrain's The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It, which recapitulates the rise and pre-eminence of the current consumer-oriented Net, and warns against the reactionary forces determined to lock it back down again.

Granted, the 140-character limit of each Twitter post is not conducive to deep analysis. It's quite easy to take a comment completely out of context. So Amanda starts railing against how the demand for Web 2.0 is a manufactured demand. Consumers want services because they are engineered to believe they need these services.

Which struck me as an odd thing to rail against if you're a proponent of the "free market."

aswang Is this not the engine that drives "free-market" capitalism? Getting people to think they should want something?

amandachapel No. It's not. Not all market "wants" are equal or good. Huffing is popular, too; that doesn't mean glue companies should placate it.

aswang since when did ethics matter in "free-market" capitalism? have you ever really seen someone die from not having an iPhone?

The over-the-top condescension starts early, but that is to be expected.

amandachapel You failed in understanding basic business yesterday. I'm not very hopeful that you're going to get it today.

amandachapel if the appliance is used to steal IP... that's a problem.

aswang Seriously, I wish to be enlightened. I admit I don't work in an industry that actually functions by market principles.

aswang I mean, what am I missing beyond the whole supply and demand thing?

We soon enter into ad hominem land.

amandachapel Go to college. Get a real job. Make a payroll. Build a portfolio. Then let's compare notes.

aswang I have a real job. And my portfolio is unshareable due to federal laws. So I want to know where the disconnect is.

amandachapel to determine what all you are missing would be a long and tedious process that totally exceeds this medium.

aswang Or put it this way, why are you so sure you're right? What makes you think I'm not?

aswang If evidence matters at all, I'm just extrapolating from the last 15 years. I just don't see why it would stop suddenly now.

aswang the pharmaceutical industry, legal or not, leverages "free" all the time, whether you're talking about crack or SSRIs

amandachapel For 1, your arguments are not progressive; they're staccato. Also, the anchors of your beliefs are pure unadulterated Web 2.0 myth.

aswang but your arguments are purely reactionary and aren't compelling. The only thing that links them is pure Web 2.0 antipathy.

aswang and you've got no evidence to back you up.

amandachapel To quote Woody Allen, "You're nothing a fistful of Prozac and a baseball bat couldn't cure." I CAN'T HELP YOU!

aswang the anchors of Web 2.0 have been knowable since the early '80's, comprehensible by children. you can't get it w/o a long view

amandachapel Business = control. Business is about measurable return. The Web is a control machine. That's all.

aswang just when I thought there was real wisdom. ah well. I appreciate your effort.

amandachapel Digest my favorites. Read Strumpette's archives. Then, if you've got legitimate questions, come back.

aswang you make the mistake of thinking the web is a unitary obj. it's a hallucination that we all somehow believe. the web IS a myth

aswang business is a very late comer to this hallucination

Aronado I feel badly for @amandachapel suffering from post-schizophrenic depression. God bless her ;)

amandachapel Indeed, the anchors of Web 2 are ONLY comprehensible by children, i.e. very young, sheltered and naive children.

amandachapel There you go. Good for you. Agreed. And business deals in reality.

aswang yes, but children grow up to be adults; and media–both old and new–traffic absolutely with myths

amandachapel No. That's subjective Web 2 consensus crap. The moon is not made of cheese no matter how many of your friendz say so.

aswang if it ain't tangible, it can be anything you want. such is the power and the flaw of the human mind *shrug*

aswang How many were fooled into thinking that Saddam Hussein actually had WMD after all? We can thank the media for that one.

amandachapel I don't even know what the Hell that means. Sad part is you don't either. You like the sound of it I think.

aswang the whole problem with IP is that it isn't really a thing, at least not in the way we have evolved to understand things.

amandachapel No clock radio shuffled to the left and revealed its shadow. And there you have it.

aswang IP is a manifestation of the observer's paradox gone macroscopic

amandachapel IP is property.

amandachapel See at the core, you OS kids don't believe in property... because you don't own any.

aswang so many would say. but ultimately, it is a fiction guarded jealously by lawyers. meet the next generation: renters, not owners

amandachapel That's the fundamental problem. To accommodate the Web have nots, we need to dismantle the market economy. NOT GONNA HAPPEN!

aswang *believe* in it? like religion or the Easter Bunny? if it ain't tangible, you're asking me to exert energy. that's the flaw.

amandachapel We're done. We are NOT doing away with property. PERIOD.

aswang the market economy has gotten along fine without IP for centuries. our dependence on it may well dissolve our nation-state

amandachapel PS a dollar is a symbolic (fictional) instrument. We're not doing away with currency either. Keep in mind, we feed you.

aswang we were screwed once we abandoned selling real things and started peddling mere ideas

aswang our only hope is if these ideas can actually lead to the creation of real things

amandachapel "May dissolve our nation state"! Ya know, every so often a true whacko comes along. Do you know Vaspers the Grate?

aswang hey I know as a fact that I'll be one of the last against the wall when the Chinese decide they need us to pay now. *shrug*

aswang you may feed me, but I keep you alive :)

amandachapel Vapors spouts space fuck stuff, too. See http://tinyurl.com/5jy7rd. Go commune with him. Tell 'em "zignord molgorfnu."

aswang IP != real property

amandachapel Go grow up. When mom and dad kick you out of their basement, we'll talk.

aswang ask the RIAA and MPAA how well that line of thinking is working for them

aswang I am entertained by how circumscribed your world is. Oh well.

amandachapel The cancer (the nonsensical anti capitalist theories you spout) certainly has spread. But the body is doing well and we own tanks.

Amanda seems to have this fascination with tanks.

amandachapel I am not entertained by how fucked up, naive and arrogant your world is. "Crush you like a bug" springs to mind.

aswang so well that every day we're wondering if we're in a recession or not? so well that smrt ppl deal in euros not dollars? ok

aswang the funny thing is, even if the whole thing collapses, i'll still have my job.

amandachapel another non sequitur.

amandachapel Taking out the garbage for your mom is NOT a job!

aswang you're being purposefully obtuse. but whatever. you know what i'm talking about. and you rail against myth. hah.

amandachapel Are you a communist?

aswang do a Google search and you will find that I am, in fact, gainfully employed. but you keep believing what you want to.

aswang all of us have our illusions to cling to

amandachapel Myth, no. I rail against bad fiction. Your beliefs are bad fiction.

aswang Evidence? Your just as full of shit as I am. :)

amandachapel I have a solid body of work on this topic. You have "Incantations of the Aswang." Smoke opium much?

aswang You're clearly not looking in the right place. You write words. I deal with lives. I understand. Most people need illusions.

aswang I'm sure it's much more comforting to imagine me as an unemployed wanker holed up in the basement of my parents' house

amandachapel You're website is titled "disordered thought processes." HELLO! Jesus.

And about here is where the rope is slung around the tree, and the crosses are planted in the front yard. Note the fine juxtaposition of the words "bullshit" and "diversity."

amandachapel

Actually, I imagine you an adjunct professor for a CA State School brought in as part of some bullshit diversity program.

aswang c'mon. how can you not use google properly?

amandachapel If not in your parents basement, per se; you're still on the dole somewhere.

cbell619 that's a pretty cutting remark. play nice

aswang Ah, that was nice. I dig the racism. Awesome. ;)

aswang wow, that's a new one. that's the first time I've been racially attacked on the Internet. a milestone there

cbell619 enjoying a great debate between @amandachapel and @aswang, but i think it's getting to the point where a ref is needed

amandachapel

No racism. Just cause I think you're a lose doesn't mean I'm racist in the slightest. I'm not.

aswang forgive me for dwelling on such a landmark occasion

amandachapel

More "disordered thought processes."

aswang spoken like a true racist. as if we didn't know what "diversity" is code for.

aswang would you feel vindicated if I pretended that I got into college because of affirmative action?

cbell619 where's ann coulter when you need her?

aswang go ahead and try that on the next person-of-color you meet in real life. i'm sure it'll be endearing to him/her

amandachapel Like I said, smoke opium much? Are you hearing voices, too? More "disordered thought processes."

aswang i'd love you to ask barack obama if they let him into harvard on some "bullshit diversity program"

amandachapel I think you need to bring up some of these things with your shaman. Actually, they might teach you something about business.

The "shaman" bit was very cute.

aswang do you subscribe to the beliefs of charles murray? because then this all makes sense. that's awesome!

aswang that's right, keep digging that hole. I'm sorry massa, I knows I'm an ignurant darkie who don't know shit. please massa.

aswang ah promise ta don't get uppity no mo, just don't beat me agin'!

amandachapel and just like a PC parasite, you try to leverage pity and victimhood.

aswang hahaha! keep going, keep going! this is fresh! this is dope! this is tiiiiiigghh!

aswang may I remind you that you're the one who chose to racialize this. I'm not the one who brought up "diversity."

aswang c'mon, stand behind your words.

aswang i'm a parasite because i'm a person-of-color, is it?

aswang tell me, do you have any black or brown friends?

StaceyMonk quite an incendiary little conversation you're having with @amandachapel. wow. just reading through the tweets. OMG

amandachapel Yo aswang... you're now confusing me for someone who cares. I don't give a shit if you wanna claim victim. Whatever!

aswang OK, racist, if that's how you wanna leave it. hahahah!

aswang and I dig the patronizing "yo." Thank you for respecting my language and culture.

Which just goes to show, even the supposedly wordly still circulate in tightly circumscribed circles. I have yet to really find someone who gets both tech and what it means to be a person-of-color in America. I may be highly (over)educated and informed about the world, and my identity as a person-of-color may be less conspicuous on the Internet, but somehow, I'm still a target. Which confirms and vindicates a lot of my beliefs about this place. I wonder how all the closet racists are going to react when Obama wins the election?

choose life/too long for a twitter blast

posted on May 16th, 2008

So if you want to foster a culture of life, don't believe that it continues after death. Nurture life now. Protect life now. Embrace life now.from The Transmigration of Timothy Archer by Philip K Dick

Even if you believe in the afterlife, that's no excuse to fuck things up in this life. Telling people that it'll be OK when we get to heaven is a cop-out. If you really cared, you'd make things better now

small revelation

posted on May 16th, 2008

I have been concentrating very hard on the Art of Not Wanting, and despite all my effort, my brain is still wrapped around a lot of crazy and insane ideas that are completely out of my control. My stomach gurgles with the sound of reflux, and I get bouts of epigastric abdominal pain. I can’t sleep very well. My eating habits have become even more unhealthy than before, which I didn’t think was possible.

Maybe it’s just depression.

But I’m clearly doing something wrong. I thought I understood the concept that desire is the root of all suffering. I thought it followed that if you inhibit your desire, you will stop suffering, but clearly this is not the case.


And then it hit me. I haven’t really eliminated my desire.

The fact that I’m OK with the way things are, and I’m OK if things don’t change means that my desire is now merely more subtle.

I realized that I want things not to change.

And that is an impossible thing.

The universe *is* change. What Einstein taught us is that the Universe is not just “there.” It is “there-ing.” It is an active, dynamic state of flux.

All things change.


So the idea is going to be simply to roll with the punches and go with the flow. It’s easier to rhyme than actually do, but at least things are a little bit clearer, and maybe I can actually get a decent night of sleep.

While I was writing a consult note today, I was highly amused by the word “mucormycosis.” There is something lyrical about it’s dactyl-trochee stress pattern. “Myxomatosis” (which features most prominently as a Radiohead track from Hail to the Thief) is also a dactyl-trochee combo.

This lead me to another sing-song medical condition: “atrial myxoma.” The stress pattern is basically trochaic trimeter.

When I was a 3rd year medical student, N drew a little comic depicting “pheochromocytoma” (trochee-dactyl-trochee) as a super-hero in tights, battling the dastardly evil and villainous “toxic megacolon.” (trochaic trimeter)

Man, I miss poetry.


I’m thinking any of these rare diseases and conditions would make a perfect band name. When I was in college, me and E joked around about starting a band called “Electric Third Rail” (inspired by being stuck in traffic next to a BART station.) Our first album would’ve been called “Light Fuse and Get Away” (inspired by the labeling on fireworks.)

But you want to be Google-able, so there’s an incentive to create a SIP (statistically improbable phrase) as well as a short form for your band name. (You know, how both Depeche Mode and DJ Dangermouse can be referred simply by the initials “DM”) “Electric Third Rail” could’ve been shortened to E3R, for example.

And I started thinking of 1337 transformations of some of these names. Atrial myxoma = A3L Myxoma.


But veering away from medicine, I really dig the name “Gnarls Barkeley”, which is the collaboration of Cee-Lo and DJ Dangermouse, for those of you who happen to have been living in a cave in Afghanistan for the last seven years. It is an evocative transformation of the name of the former NBA star Charles Barkeley.

While playing with this theme is only really fit for creating a parody band, I thought that “Karma Loan” or maybe “Karma Lone” would be a cool name, transforming the name of another great former NBA star, Karl Malone. (Incidentally, these are probably two of the best players who never won a championship ring.)

time/chance

posted on May 13th, 2008

15 years: 5,480 sunsets
the days spin by, the hours whirl
blurring into infinity
and I can’t remember where I’ve been
nor all the answers that I figured out
falling out of my hands
scattered wildly like spilled grain
as I was, so I will be
upon this path to nowhere
to anywhere

my heart stands still for a single moment
and I think of her golden tresses
and her radiant smile
around her, there is always sunlight
and for that moment
I am at peace


still the gap yawns
all distances stretch to infinity
half again, then half again of that
as close as I can get still the current sweeps me away the closer I get, the more keen the sharpness of the pain
and the storm rages again in my soul
the violence, the cacophony
overwhelming all reason
into this storm I wander
this madness that I have known

don’t know which way is up or down
water above me
water below me
and there is barely any air to breathe
crashing waves, bursting foam
the raindrops splatter against the tormented sea
my sail runs ragged
rent and sheared

I have come this way before
too many times
and the sunsets pile upon each other
compressing, condensing
gravity crushing all these memories
into an impenetrable singularity
even light cannot escape

I am lost down this familiar road
bewildered and confused
dazed and helpless
as a newborn expelled into the cold, cruel world
squeezed and strangled
smashed, battered, flailing, bawling


it’s never enough
summer, then fall
the Devil’s breath
flames bursting
ash raining from the sky
come fall, then come winter
as the shadows lengthen
and the night reigns
then winter, and spring
and hope thaws from that winter twilight
joy unlooked for
happiness come suddenly

we spin the ever-turning-wheel
again I pass this road
cross this valley
climb this hill
still no closer to the stars
though I grasp and reach in vain


it is, I think, at the last
no matter how I rationalize and dither
my doom to die unfulfilled
cold and alone
unlooked for, not missed
as the days lengthen
and the leaves fall
they will forget what I look like
wonder about that empty space for a spare moment
and shrug

that final winter
with no ensuing spring
that ultimate night
without the promise of dawn

that last silence, without words to follow

alone, alone, the raging sea
my soul drinks deeply
of rain water, and the morning dew
still I thirst
knowing my longing shall never be quenched

brain on fire

posted on May 13th, 2008

OK, so maybe it was a little counter-productive to only sleep for four hours last night. I felt compelled to finish my blog entry, even though the ending of it was probably too rushed, and a little forced. So it wasn’t until 2 am that I finally surrendered and went to bed. Unfortunately, I had to wake up at 6 am today. (It’s going to be even worse tomorrow.)


I had forgotten about the band Embrace. I remember having a bunch of their tracks, but I guess they fell off my iPod playlist. This is one of my favorite tracks of theirs:

“Ashes” by Embrace

Now watch me rise up and leave all the ashes you made out of me
When you said that we were wrong, life goes on, just look how long I’ve agreed

“Nature’s Law” by Embrace

I tried to fight the feeling, the feeling took me down.
I struggled and I lost the day you knocked me out.
Now everything’s got meaning, and meanings bring me down.
I’m watching as a screening of my life plays out.

Every day I fight these feelings.
For your sake I will hide the real thing.
You can run all your life, all mine I will chase….

You should never fight your feelings
when your very bones believe them.
You should never fight your feelings.
You have to follow nature’s law.

I’ll live with never knowing, if knowing’s gonna change.
I’ll stop the feeling growing, I will stay away.
Like a broken record stuck before a song,
a million beginnings, none of them the one.

Every day I fight these feelings.
For your sake I will hide the real thing.
You can run all your life, all mine I will chase….

You should never fight your feelings
when your very bones believe them.
You should never fight your feelings.
You have to follow nature’s law.

I wrote her letters and tried to send them.
In a bottle I placed my hope.
An S.O.S. full of good intentions.
Sinking, will you give it to me? Don’t make me wait.
You build me up, knocked me down,
but I will stand my ground
and guide this light that I’ve found.

You should never fight your feelings
when your very bones believe them.
If you let them show, you’ll keep them.
I know you hurt, but soon you’ll rise again, again, again….

You should never fight your feelings
when your very bones believe them.
You should never fight your feelings.
You have to follow nature’s law.

“Target” by Embrace

Out of sight behind these eyes you’ll stay
Where everything is possible
It’s beautiful

You’re the first and the last time that I’ll ever try
so dry your eyes, I’ll say goodbye, I say goodbye….


This just goes to show that I have to re-sync my iPod to my computer more often than I do. Who knows what other cool songs I’m missing out on?

I seem to be stuck in a time warp.

Andrea Frierson as the Goddess Erzulie, singing “Human Heart” from the musical “Once on This Island”

This particular musical has arrested my imagination. It happens to be a rendition of “The Little Mermaid” complete with the original turning-into-foam ending a la Hans Christian Andersen, with some geopolitics and post-colonialism added into the mix.

There is some kind of poetic justice that this is not a happily-ever-after story.

N played the leading role her senior year in high school while I was a freshman in college, and maybe in some ways, that was the beginning of the end.


It so happened that, like many college freshmen, I found myself sucked into the vortex known as identity politics, and came away with a deeper understanding of where I fit in terms of the inexorable forces of history. It is no accident that my parents landed upon these distant shores. Their homeland has the ambiguous distinction of being one of the few actual colonies of the United States. The Filipino Diaspora was one of the initial symptoms of global capitalism, resulting in an archetypal scenario played and replayed in all the developing countries of the world.

Locked away and freeze dried into this mix is the so-called “colonial mentality”, which this musical somehow gives voice to, interspersed within the over-arching love story, coupled to the fantastic aboriginal mysticism.

The book My Love, My Love upon which “Once on This Island” is based has an entire vivid scene evoking the ritual of trance. It wasn’t until I took a Southeast Asian Studies class that I realized where our culture came from. Until then, it never occurred to me that the Philippines has never existed in a vacuum. It is no accident that Malaysians and Indonesians share many of the same morphological characteristics that my relatives and I do. It is no coincidence that the Malayan tongue and the multifarious tongues of Indonesia have significant similarity to Tagalog, Ilocano, and Cebuano. My ancestors roamed the sometimes tempestuous waves of the Indian Ocean and of the great Pacific, reaching as far west as Madagascar and as far east as Easter Island (and possibly beyond)

And trance was a key part of Southeast Asian cultures. The Islamic tribes of Mindanao in the south of the Philippines have incorporated much of the indigenous animism into their faith, just as the Christian tribes of the Visayas and of Luzon have imbued the Catholic saints with animistic powers. The ritual dance of Singkil made a lot more sense amidst this context. It wasn’t just something pretty and complicated that the Bayanihan Dance Troupe fabricated to wow the audience. There was an entire story hiding in there, telling of Prince Bantugan and Princess Gandinggan. The bamboo poles weren’t just props. They were instruments, to keep time along with the drums and the gongs and the magical kulintang, which were the keys that opened the portal to the trance state, and to the other worlds.


Everything took on a different sheen when I actually went to the Philippines in 1995. Songs from this musical kept playing in my head as I found myself on Borocay, the ultimate tourist trap. On the road from Caticlan to the boat launch, we came across Ati who were getting ready for the upcoming Ati-Atihan, a festival involving trance and ritual, supposedly commemorating the first meeting of the Ati and of the Malay of Borneo. “We Dance” immediately makes me think of the Philippines—with the formation of the Bayanihan Dance Troupe, Filipinos are perhaps known world-wide as dancers. It seems like every Filipino child’s first ambition is to become an actor, a singer, or a dancer, or perhaps all three, and I still wonder about that to this day, and why does no one want to become a bench researcher, or a theoritician, or a social scientist?

It all culminated when my sister adapted the story *to* the Philippines, with the Pearls of the Orient replacing the French Antilles, and the Spanish (and the Americans) replacing the French, all translated into Tagalog.


Oddly, Bn. somehow found a children’s production of “Once on This Island” in San Jose that one year, and A. came with us. The feminist issues of the Little Mermaid, and the post-colonial issues raised by the adaptation to the French Antilles can generate a lot of discussion. Interestingly, the composers for “Once on This Island”—Lynn Ahearn and Stephen Flaherty—later together penned the score for the non-Disney animated film “Anastasia”. This also, in many ways, marked the beginning of the end (although how does something end when it didn’t ever actually begin?)


But like many of the blog posts over the past few weeks, this is another piece of errata that has somehow followed me all these days, randomly popping up from time to time, and now probably sitting somewhere on my iPod.


I keep imagining that things are a lot more solid than I think they are. I don’t know where this strange certainty comes from. Every now and again, I want to doubt it. But there is something unshakeable, unflappable, about this particular narrative. I hope that I’m right for once, and that this isn’t just some more of the same misleading portentousness that I’ve been feeding myself over the past 15 years from time to time.

And speaking of time, it seems that it is continuously running out. Eventually, my path will be determined by sheer attrition. (Although the 10 of cups popped up twice, promising otherwise.)

When I die all alone, I won’t have anyone to blame but myself.

reminiscing/high school days

posted on May 13th, 2008

Whenever I hear this song, I can still feel those cold autumn early mornings after pulling an all-nighter, writing an English paper or a History paper, fully saturated with caffeine (a total of 230 mg would usually tide me over), with no one but Sluggo on KROQ to keep me company.

“Stay (Far Away, So Close)” by U2

This is from Brooklyn…

Man, I dig post-modernism.

“Summertime” by Mos Def

So Mos takes the refrain from an old school freestyle track by Nocera and throws it into the mix. The lyrics “take me to the water” recalls old gospel spirituals about baptism, and summer time brings to mind Gershwin’s lullaby, too. For good measure, Mos adds some Bob Marley and William DeVaughn in.

“Summertime, Summertime” by Nocera

“Summertime” by Nina Simone

“Sun is Shining” by Bob Marley

“Be Thankful for what You Got” by William DeVaughn

pacific coast highway

posted on May 12th, 2008

So I just got back to S.D. from Harbor City, where my uncle and my godmother live. The quickest way back would involve backtracking to the 405, and then heading south directly to the 5, or via the 73 toll road:

I-110 N to I-405 S to I-5 S
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I-110 N to I-405 S to California Hwy 73 S to I-5 S
View Larger Map

But I really like taking the coastal route, even though it adds about an extra 45 minutes to the trip

I-110 S to California Highway 47 N to I-710 N to Ocean Blvd/Livingston Dr/2nd St to California Highway 1 S to I-5 S
View Larger Map


While I think I’ve taken this way more recently, the last time I really remember was around the time when my cousin Rnl. got married. I still remember that particularly hopeful summer, when I was listening to Koop and Sy Smith, and I kept waiting for something good to happen. I wasn’t exactly sure what it was that I was waiting for, but I remember that feeling of electric anticipation. Things were gonna change. I could feel it.

But no. Oh, there are things that have transpired in the intervening two years. Some things have been quite awful, but a few things have actually been surprisingly joyful (so long as I don’t try to think too far ahead and dissect things until there’s nothing left but a bloody, unrecognizable mess. But I digress….) But the Life-Changing Event™ I’m waiting for seems to continue to evade me. One wonders if I would recognize it if it punched me in the face.

Nonetheless, there is some cosmic symmetry in that my cousin and his wife Jnl. are expecting, with a due date sometime in October.


I love driving down to the harbor. Palos Verdes looms to the right, and you can see the lights of the Vincent Thomas Bridge on the left.

Palos Verdes Palos Verdes from I-110 S • Google Maps Street View

Vincent Thomas Bridge Vincent Thomas Bridge from I-110 S • Google Maps Street View

Vincent Thomas Bridge • CA 47 S • 2006 Nov 23 • Canon S400

The [Vincent Thomas Bridge] is the only suspension bridge in Southern California, connecting San Pedro with Terminal Island, which is part of the sprawling, gigantic San Pedro-Long Beach port complex.


The massive scale of the San Pedro-Long Beach port complex is nearly incomprehensible. This is the machinery of capitalism laid bare. Cubic miles of stuff is sitting waiting to be shipped off by land or by sea to points all over the world.

Los Angeles-Long Beach Port Complex


California 47 is a weird highway. It’s not quite a freeway, and a good portion of its alignment actually goes east-west, even though it’s signed north-south. The route then exits off of this quasi-freeway and then heads north as the Terminal Island Fwy, then exits off this freeway too, and follows Alameda St. north to downtown L.A. (although it isn’t really signed, as far as I know.) The freight lines go along this corridor to Union Station, where they then get routed along transcontinental railways.

I think the portion of Ocean Blvd east of the California 47/California 103 exit is technically part of the Long Beach Fwy (I-710). Eventually, you get to a ramp that takes you to the freeway proper. The mainline of this route drops you into a 35 mph zone that runs through downtown Long Beach. It flows into Livingston Dr, then to 2nd Street, where you can catch the PCH.


Southbound on the PCH, you’re soon in Orange County (shudder!), right up against the sea. There is something dramatic about watching the waves at night crash up on the shore, the foam glowing magically as you race past at 60 mph. Until you get to Newport Beach, California 1 feels almost like a freeway.

But it’s a Sunday night, so there aren’t really that many people around. Newport Beach and Balboa Island would otherwise probably be raging clusterfucks, and I recall many times being stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic here.


Between Newport Beach and Laguna Beach, and between Laguna Beach and Dana Point, PCH reminds me a lot of California 1 in Northern Cali, especially between Santa Cruz and S.F. It’s pretty fun to take the curves without braking.

I coast by Laguna Beach, which is pretty much deserted at this hour, and I remember that summer when me, Bn., and his friend Gln. hung out here for a little while. Laguna Beach would actually be pretty cool if only it weren’t in the OC.


In time, you’ll get to the end-of-the-line. While the Coast Hwy actually exits off of California 1 and heads into San Clemente, California 1 itself leads you to I-5. If only old US-101 between San Onofre and Oceanside were actually traversable, you could theoretically stay on the coast the whole way down to S.D. I wonder why they didn’t just run California 1 down the old US-101 alignment? (Other than the fact that it would cut through Camp Pendleton, that is.)

Even still, you can get a pretty good look of the ocean from I-5.


I keep thinking that someone will save me from myself, but I guess deep down inside, I know I’ll have to do it myself. I won’t be any good for anyone until I get my shit together, and every time I make an effort to do so, it seems like everything just falls apart under my ham-handed attempts.

I guess I really have to take this Taoist principles to heart: to hold on to something, let it go.

nothing too terrible/still irritating

posted on May 12th, 2008

  1. The Lakers fought a pitched battle against the Jazz, despite their captain and MVP being injured early in the game. Twice they closed a ≥10 pt gap, only to fall behind again due to some bad breaks and insanely lucky shots on the part of the Jazz, and the fact that Kobe’s game was totally whack because of that back injury. I think it would’ve been less disappointing if they had gotten blown out instead. Then I would’ve just turned it off in the second quarter

  2. My iPod died a horrible death. Just after I’ve gotten done extolling its virtues, too.


So I should’ve known badness would soon make its visit upon my 5G iPod.

Picture of 5G iPod

When I was driving up to Harrah’s Rincon a couple of weeks ago, it was already hiccuping and locking up every two or three songs, and giving me the sad Mac iPod icon every once in a while.

Sad iPod. Dead iPod

I had initially blamed it on the latest iPod software upgrade, since this seems to be when my woes started. But I should’ve known better. It seems like the hard drive eventually breathed its last. Crunching noises and hard drives are not a got mix.

In despair, I took a nail cutter and filleted the dead iPod open. This particular thread seems to implicate something screwy with the actual hard drive itself, or one of the connecting ribbons. However, on inspection, it looked like everything was where it was supposed to be. It’s just that the hard drive sounded like there was something loose inside it. Probably the read/write head. And when I tried to close it all up again, the ribbon connecting to the battery got dislodged.

Even after putting it back where it should be, the thing refused to light up even once. It was over. Done for. And only after 14 months. Bah.

Technically my 2G iPod from 2003 still works, it’s just that the Firewire connector is completely destroyed, and there’s no way to put new songs on it, nor anyway to charge it.


So I end up going to Target at 8:30 pm and making a beeline for the electronics section. While the loss of my iPod was distressing, particularly since I had to drive 2 hours to S.D. still, I couldn’t find it in my heart to throw down $499 for a new iPod Touch. As for the iPhone, I’m still waiting for the release of the 2G version before buying in.

While the $249 for the iPod Classic (essentially identical to the 5G iPod) was more in my price range, I figured I’d done enough stimulation of the economy as it was. Besides, who really needs to listen to more than 5,000 songs in a row? I mean, I don’t think I’m ever going to drive for more than 12 hours a day, ever, much less 12 days in a row. It’s not like I shouldn’t be able to re-sync with my iTunes Library every so often. And if I do decide to go on a sojourn to a foreign country one of these days where carrying around a notebook and an external hard drive would be a liability, I’m just going to have to deal.

I finally settled on a 8GB 3G blue iPod Nano. I figure I’ll do better with something that doesn’t have any moving parts.

Picture of the 8GB 3G blue iPod Nano

layers not versions

posted on May 11th, 2008

[Josh Catone writes against the existence of Web 3.0][1], arguing that the version numbers don’t really depict any specific discontinuities the way that real major version changes would.

This is true, but it doesn’t mean that Web 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0 aren’t real entities. It can get confusing with the proliferation of buzzwords, all of which only obfuscate the relevant differences.

  • The Internet is the platform
  • Harnessing the collective intelligence
  • Data as the “Intel Inside”
  • Software above the level of a single device
  • Software as a service
— Tim O’Reilly’s definition of Web 2.0
I’ve been saying that it’s when we apply all the principles we’re learning about aggregating human-generated data and turning it into collective intelligence, and apply that to sensor-generated (machine-generated) data. — Tim O’Reilly’s definition of Web 3.0

Not exactly the clearest differentiation, really.

Having been a netizen since 1994 as an end-user, never really as a serious developer, I would argue and say that there are meaningful distinctions. They’re not so much versions but really layers. It’s the same way that the web browser sits on top of the OS, and the OS sits on top of a kernel and the underlying hardware. (Unix users would argue that what we commonly call the OS is probably more accurately called the Desktop Environment: the GUI and the underlying frameworks/API.)


I imagine Web 1.0 most likely refers to the so-called Eternal September, when the unwashed masses discovered Geocities, Tripod, and Xoom and started posting Personal Home Pages. This era was dominated by a top-down approach. Authors (from your grandmother to university libraries and the NIH) would post random material, and people would try to navigate hierarchical, human-generated directories to find this material. If you weren’t on the index, it was nigh-impossible to find anything. Sure, all the major search engines were spawned in this era (Yahoo, Lycos, Hotbot, Infoseek, Altavista, Inktomi, and lastly Google were already in play by 1998), but search was still in its infancy, and the human-generated indices were far more useful.

Web 1.0 was a one-way conversation, with people posting stuff to the ether. And while e-mail (and a little later, IM) provided some sort of back-channel, this was it, there weren’t no mo’.


Web 2.0 arose with the coming of the blog. This immediately shifted the dynamic to a two (or more) way conversation. Comments, trackbacks, blogrolls, Google juice, Google bombing. The index was no longer determined solely by expert editors. Pagerank gave the HTML/Javascript-savvy blog writer a say.

XML spawned XML-RPC and SOAP. Amazon and Google and then everyone released their APIs. The era of the web service was on.

AJAX didn’t really come to the fore until Google Maps came out in 2005, but the enterprise had been deploying apps utilizing XmlHttpRequest for a while by then, including the ER at one of the hospitals I work at.

True apps, mimicking the behavior of desktop apps, now exist. Stand-alone desktop apps catering to web services (also known as site-specific browsers) are all the rage.


So what is Web 3.0? One of the points that O’Reilly depicts is “software above the level of a single device.” We continue to evolve away from platform-dependence and browser-dependence. While in Europe and Asia, people have already been accessing the Web from their mobile phones, the U.S. has finally caught up. With the advent of the Blackberry and now the iPhone, standards compliance is no longer just a theoretical pie-in-the-sky. Non-standard code will cost you eyeballs, and lost eyeballs will cost you money.

While O’Reilly points out what I like to call the Central Dogma of HTTP—the transmission of data from server to client filesystem to client appliance. An example is the iTunes Music Store. iTunes lets you download music to your hard drive, and then you can transfer it to your iPod. The direction of transmission can be reversed, however. You can upload the pictures from your digital camera to iPhoto, and iPhoto can upload everything to your .Mac account.

These are all devices that don’t have direct access to the Internet. The iPhone has broken this distinction. So have things like Apple TV (albeit this is not as popular.)

So part of Web 3.0 is ubicomp, or at least the precursor to it.


The other point O’Reilly makes that will be a definite feature of Web 3.0 is the consumption and processing of data by non-human entities. This already happens to a degree, with the ongoing computation of Pagerank, and the various automated algorithms that try to determine the most interesting pages on the web. This also happens with targeted advertising—with AdSense, with Amazon and iTunes recommendations.

The deployment of autonomous agents to filter the deluge of information coming our way will become more routine, more customizable, more multi-modal. You’ll be able to take a picture of something in meatspace and ask Google what it is, or eBay if there are any more for sale. You’ll be able to hum the first five notes of a song, or sing a part of a song lyric, and iTunes and last.fm will tell you what it is, what album it’s on, and who makes music that is similar.

You’ll be able to tell Yelp where you are—in real-time—and an automated algorithm, primed by enthusiastic Yelpers, will tell you where you should go next. Facebook can send you an alert when one of your friends is nearby, or when one of your ex’s is nearby.

So the next level involves persistent processes and programs roaming the net and accumulating data that is of specific interest to you. Spiderbots on steroids, programmed specifically by you, without even writing a single line of code. It won’t be just about typing in search terms any more.


Parallel, and necessary, to these developments is the continued evolution of the so-called Semantic Web. We’ve started with tagging and folksonomies. Soon we’ll have automated algorithms that will be able to do a reasonable job of performing some of this as well. Everything will have an XML representation—the spime will reign supreme.


If the evolution of Web 1.0 and of Web 2.0 can serve as any guide, it is likely that it will take another 5-10 years before we will recognizably be in a Web 3.0 world. On the other hand, technology tends to auto-catalyze its evolution, so maybe it’ll be quicker, although the economic slowdown will likely stymie that.

[1]: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/thereis_noweb30_thereisno_web20.php ” There is No Web 3.0, There is No Web 2.0 - There is Just the Web • 2008 Apr 24 • ReadWriteWeb”

There are two units in the hospital that tend to get a particular song stuck in my head.

  1. The newborn nursery: because about half of the patients are named “Baby Girl”, Timbaland and Keri Hilson singing “The Way I Are” quickly pops into my head, and it is damn near impossible to get it out.

  2. One of the wards where we overflow patients to is Ortho/Rehab. So Amy Winehouse starts crooning “They tried to make me go to rehab…” I especially find the Pharaoh Monch remix highly amusing.

imagination gone beserk

posted on May 11th, 2008

I’m watching my mom and my dad lying on the couch together, and quickly calculate how long they’ve been married: 32 years. Holy shit.

I am almost half my father’s age.

My dad was 32 and my mom was 30 when they got married.

After that, I’m out of goal posts.

Except maybe for 33, the age that Jesus was reputedly crucified.

But we won’t dwell on that.


There are worse things than to be friends with an extremely intelligent, wonderfully beautiful, magically creative woman. The first difficulty to be overcome is my disbelief that such a woman would even bother talking to me.

From that point on, it’s a matter of reigning in my exuberant imagination.


I have misread the signs quite a few times before. Just because she likes me doesn’t mean she likes me in That Way™. Herein lies the second difficulty, and pretty much this is where the process ends. Sometimes abruptly. Sometimes in incredibly excruciating, protracted ways.

The next part of the process involves sticking around until she does find someone whom she likes in That Way™. Then it’s back to the Pit of Despair for me.


I keep hoping that it’s going to turn out differently some day. It’s all mathematics, right? Statistical probability.

Given enough time, whatever is possible will be inevitable.

I’ve got to assume that it’s possible.

The time thing is kind of against me though.


I keep trying not to think too far ahead. Why I can’t just live in the moment I have no idea.

on the other side of the burn

posted on May 9th, 2008

I tend to pinpoint my inability to trust people on a single catastrophic event (the dissolution of a relationship), but now that I think hard about it, I wonder if I’ve always been distrusting. Some would say perhaps paranoid.

I’m listening to KPBS right now as I type this. It’s an NPR rebroadcast about pathological liars (also broadcast on WNYC in February.) One of the stories it chronicles are the escapades of Hope Ballentyne, a legendary con artist of our time who managed to bilk an incredible number of people and businesses. The story itself is compelling, but the program soon veers into neurobiology, one of my myriad random interests.

I can’t help but think about my childhood. My dad and my sister, while not truly pathological liars, do have this tendency to prevaricate. My dad is a lot like Calvin’s dad from “Calvin and Hobbes.” He likes to make things up for effect, and can be dead serious about things that are patently false. The thing that make his stories so compelling is that he draws from a wide range of sources. For one thing, he’s a voracious reader. He is also, paradoxically, an inveterate couch potato with ADD, able to watch TV hours on end, but never the same thing for more than a few minutes. In other words, he’s a compulsive channel surfer, too. And now that he has a fat pipeline to the Internet in his office, who knows what sorts of caches of information he’s been able to tap into.

Not to say that all his lies have been benign. Maybe it’s because he’s my dad, but I try to give him the benefit of the doubt, and tell myself that it’s probably because he actually believes the things that come out of his mouth. I guess it sort of makes a difference, a very fine one that could be legitimately be dismissed as sophistry. For some reason, I’m more sympathetic to liars who actually believe their lies, even if their lies lead to devastating calamity and widespread psychologic damage.

My sister, while not a professional con-artist, has the potential to be far less benign. Good thing she’s had a solid Catholic school education that has managed to fill her with the 2,000 years of collective guilt that all good Catholics carry around with them. So while she can lie with a straight face, and keep it together for a good amount of time, her conscience eventually lashes back, and the truth will out. Naturally, she’s a lawyer, further solidifying the stereotype.


So I can’t help but wonder if growing up this way damaged my brain. To the point that I assume someone is lying until they can prove to me otherwise.

This actually explains quite a bit. Certainly, it explains why I am particularly susceptible to depression.


The interesting thing is that pathological liars have increased white matter in their prefrontal cortex. This was a simple imaging study taking small samples of pathological liars, anti-social controls, and normal controls, and comparing their MRIs. The theory is that this increased myelination allows more rapid communication between anatomically disparate parts of the brain, essentially allowing the liar to easily fabricate a coherent story with just enough truth in it to make it believable.

It’s always dangerous to make mechanistic interpretations when your study doesn’t actually look at mechanisms of action and neuroanatomical pathways. But it’s well known that the frontal lobe is heavily involved with decision-making and planning (and by extension, is probably involved in the development of morality and ethics) and clearly liars have to be really quick when it comes to making decisions. At the same time, however, I can’t help but wonder if pathologic lying is detrimental to being able to make complex, long-term plans. A liar has to have lots of bandwidth to manage all sorts of immediate information, and I wonder if this necessarily competes with a liar’s ability to store all this information for easy retrieval, thereby interfering with a liar’s ability to make long-term plans. So a liar is continually forced to keep making up lies, because there is no incentive—and perhaps no ability—to defer gratification.

The other thing I wonder—because the frontal lobe is also implicated with morality and ethics—is that maybe that part of the frontal lobe increase in white matter (with concomitant decrease in grey matter) is a side effect of continuously lying. The moral/ethical part of the brain—involved with inhibition of anti-social behavior—and made up grey matter—eventually fails and recedes, and the brain tries to compensate by increasing the myelination in the remaining neurons. It may be a sign of early hypoxic/ischemic brain injury, since the frontal lobes are fed by end-arteries with almost no collateral circulation.


Of course, there is always a question of cause and effect. It’s not yet known (again, because this was a basic imaging study, and not a mechanistic study) whether or not this frontal lobe volume increase causes the behavior or lying, or it’s a result of continuously lying, although what I remember about neurobiology biases me towards the former rather than the latter.

It’s kind of interesting to note that both myelination and synaptic pruning continue at high rates until about the age of 2 years. This also happens to coincide with when a kid is able to start lying. Maybe pathologic lying is a result of a specific defect in synaptic pruning.


The NPR program also talks about an interesting converse to this research: people who are unable to lie even just a little, even just to themselves, are more likely to become depressed. Of course, this may be a misinterpretation of the cause-and-effect relationship. It could be that depressed people—who are known to exhibit significant executive dysfunction—can’t mobilize the machinery necessary for lying.

This kind of fits me to a T. (Another blogger has a similar epiphany while listening to this program.) I have an incredible difficulty with lying to myself. I can’t hype myself up in order to lubricate the passage through life. Self-deception is necessary protection in a hostile universe, and if you’re forced to deal with every single niggling criticism, valid or otherwise, you can’t help but spiral down into depression. There are certain things you need to believe about yourself in order to be happy, and it’s very easy to take down those illusions if you aren’t resistant to such criticism.

At the same time, uncompromising realism will undoubtedly lead to suicide. In a universe where you accept all the evidence and are forced to conclude that you suck, this is the only rational course of action. As I’ve said before, continuously, uncompromisingly believing that you suck is incompatible with life.

So sanity requires a bit of self-deception. Healthy people must be able to re-imagine themselves as not sucking, even if they haven’t actually done anything to warrant a more positive evaluation.


What makes us human are the things we don’t do.
—an attending neurologist describing the importance of neuronal inhibition in generating complex, high-level behavior

The less scientific/clinical part of me is a little wary about the binary definition of lying, particularly in a universe where Einstein’s Relativity, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, and Gödel’s Theorem of Incompleteness operate. A lie can’t simply be the opposite of the Truth™ because the limits of our knowledge prevent us from determining the absolute Truth™. Gödel (and by extension, Turing) tell us that there is no way to enumerate everything that can be true, and Einstein and Heisenberg tell is that, even if this were possible, there’s no way to gather unequivocal evidence to prove something is true. The NPR program makes a more functional definition which is more empirically satisfying when it comes to neurobiology and behavior: a lie is the deliberate telling of misinformation with the intent to mislead.

On the other hand, this makes things a lot murkier, because there are, again, plenty of pathological liars who end up believing their own lies.

It also casts an interesting light on higher level human behavior.

For example, fiction has been sometimes described as “a lie that tells the truth.” Aside from the epistemological difficulties such a statement presents (see Einstein et al above), it brings to fore the thorny difficulties of relating epistemology to neurobiology.

I’ve always thought that the ability to tell stories is one of the major things that separates humans from non-verbal multicellular organisms. Among all Terran species, we seem to be the only one that is able to countenance something that is manifestly untrue for prolonged periods of time. Fiction writers call this the ability to “suspend disbelief.” You’ve got to admit, there’s a fine line between lying and telling stories, so much so that the latter is a common euphemism for the former.

The other thing is the theory of how human culture arose, and how it is transmitted. All extant archeological evidence points to the notion that storytelling is the way knowledge is codified and transmitted. The ancient mythologies and cosmologies were prototypical attempts at making sense of the universe at large—rudimentary attempts at science, as it were—providing explanations and depicting mechanisms that have predictive value. And for the longest time, this was the only way to propagate knowledge.


Then again, believing something that is manifestly untrue seems critical to normal executive functioning. Ostensibly, the process of higher level planning involves initially imagining something that does not yet exist, then devising some sort of plan to get from current reality to imagined reality. (Realistically, this may not occur in quite such a linear fashion, instead probably happening in some sort of continuously self-adjusting feedback loop, with both inhibitory and excitatory components, just like everything else the brain—and the body—does.) To put it more vaguely (and perhaps to the joy of Dilbertesque middle managers), first Vision™, then Mission™. This is how you get to your goal.


Clearly lying is an selectively favorable adaptation, although, like all adaptations, and all things in general, moderation is the key. Not all of us can be pathological liars. Then we’d never trust each other, and things like trade, economics, cities, law, and government could never exist, and we’d be solitary predators roaming the savannah, suffering high mortality from leopards and cheetahs.

On the other hand, there has to be a counter-regulatory mechanism in place as well. Some of this is mediated by people who have excellent bullshit detectors. Probably a lot of it, though, is mediated by people who are just generally distrustful. Distrust and anxiety go hand-in-hand, and I’m sure that when we were all living in caves, it was evolutionarily advantageous to have someone who was hypersensitive to danger.

These are the folks with anxiety disorders, and with depression, maybe.


But in a blog post about lying, isn’t it kind of funny that I haven’t provided a single piece of credible evidence?

3 am eternal

posted on May 9th, 2008

I really should sleep, but the sensation of burning acid in my gullet makes me wary about lying down supine again. I suppose an extra pillow should suffice, but I’d have to dig through the disaster that is my bedroom.

So instead, I’m sitting here—as usual—tip-tap-tapping away. Truth be told, the living room is not in much better shape. One of these days I may actually get things somewhat organized, but that day is probably not going to be today.

I did take some Pepcid. I’m hoping it’ll kick in soon, and I can get some sleep.


The compact fluorescent bulbs actually seem to generate the exact kind of light that the old incandescent bulbs used to. It’s still this patently artificial light, and it still gets warm in here, but I suppose that’s probably mostly because of the computer, and not really the lights any more. But sitting here behind closed blinds gives me the illusion of living in a vacuum. I could open my door one day, and whoosh, out into the starry void I go, forgetting that this was all an elaborate holographic projection. Well, I suppose that’s why real space ships have airlocks.


I would really like very much to be back to a somewhat normal state. OK, maybe normal is a bit much to ask. But at least maybe normal for *me*.

I found myself thinking back to all the hours I’ve spent by myself, and being OK with that. Those are actually pretty few and far between, but they’re there in my memory if I fish around long enough. It’s only in the last six years that I’ve had at least one constant companion: my iPod. I was quite sad when I had to put it to rest last January, because it stopped being able to connect to my notebook. It has, of course, since been replaced.

So yeah, it’s just been me and the music, really.


And there are moments when I’m by myself listening to the music playing, speeding past all the other cars on the freeway at 80 mph, and I’m filled with a feeling that I can’t quite put a name to. I would probably call it joy if I were more familiar with it.

This late afternoon, as the sun started its inevitable descent into the sea, I drove out of Coronado like a bat out of hell, and up the I-5 past downtown and Old Town, intent on my mission.

I have, on the strong advice of A, E, Bn, and lately, S., been trying to catch more sunsets.

So I slid into a parking spot off of Sunset Cliffs Blvd and gazed at the blazing orange orb, slowly plunging down below the horizon, leaving a bright orange afterglow in the otherwise nearly cloudless blue sky, and for half-an-hour afterwards, I was mesmerized by the incoming waves. Each tiny wavelet looked like a dark droplet arising spontaneously from the back-lit, silvery sea, then quickly evaporating, and when lots of little wavelets merged together, a real wave would come rolling in.

But as Nelly Furtado is wont to sing, all good things come to an end.


I just realized that it’s pretty much wake-up time on the East Coast at this hour, and thank God I don’t have to be at work until 1 pm tomorrow later today. I’m not sure what possessed me to stay awake. I’m hoping that it’s a good spirit rather than a bad one, but you know me, I’m always awaiting catastrophe.

One of these days, I would like the universe to prove me extraordinarily wrong.

hypothesis about population genetics

posted on May 8th, 2008

OK, well, I haven’t really done integrative biology in a long time, so I’m probably grossly misusing terminology.

A Tweet on Twitter led to this blog post about Social Darwinism and it disheartens me that such garbage is still mainstream. Social Darwinism is an obsolete philosophy that was pretty much disproven by the occurrence of World War II, and has little basis in actual biology.

I tend to equate Social Darwinism with paleoconservativism and so-called free market capitalism. It seems to rear its ugly head over and over again. Oh, and there’s also Ayn Rand’s Objectivism.

But if you actually look at Darwin’s premise, we’re talking about reproductive fitness.

Meaning that, by Darwin’s criteria, bacteria and insects are far more “fit” than humans.

I’m not so sure if the aspirations of human beings should be exactly the same as those of E. coli and of cockroaches, but that’s just me.

The other thing is that it’s clear that altruism—in human beings as well as in non-verbal social species—is a behavioral adaptation that is selectively advantageous—if not for the particular individual in question, then at least for the species as a whole. And if you subscribe to Richard Dawkins’ paradigm that the actual unit of reproduction is DNA (see The Selfish Gene), there’s no question about it. Altruism can help maximize the reproductive potential of any one particular allele.


There are other things that altruism is good for, solely in terms of reproductive fitness. Because altruism helps relieve a lot of the selective pressure working against a particular species, it allows individuals to maximally vary their behavior. In a highly competitive environment, each individual that wants to survive is forced to adopt a limited range of behavioral adaptations, leading to homogenous behavior. Which is bad if what eats you figures it out, or if what you eat learns to work around it. But in a dog-eat-dog world, you’re probably going to be limited to eating a certain way, sleeping a certain way, hunting a certain way, running away from your pursuers a certain way. To deviate from any of these behaviors puts you at risk. The laws of thermodynamics force you to adopt the behavior that maximizes your chance of survival at the minimum of expense. The degrees of freedom drop logarithmically, and in such a situation, there are probably only a handful of ways to survive and pass on your genetic material. As an extreme example, we can look at how Clostridium species bacteria survive. This stuff is widespread in the environment, and pretty much only does a couple of things: it eats, it divides, it grows spores, it dies. While this may content some people, it’s not my idea of a life lived to the fullest. But Clostridium is pretty damn hard to eradicate. Sure, we’ve got antibiotics to kill it when it manages to stray inside the human body, but there’s absolutely no way to exterminate it. Anything you do to it only makes it stronger. (Nietzsche—and Kanye West—are probably more applicable to bacteria and viruses than to complex multicellular organisms, but I digress.)

Conversely, a less competitive environment allows the development of complexity. Not that complexity in of itself is necessarily good. But in terms of reproductive fitness, it’s a pretty good idea.

The phrase that I remember from good ol’ Charles is “Variety is the keystone to Man’s success.” He ain’t just whistling Dixie.

Complexity allows variation. A polyclonal collective of individuals will have a better chance of surviving than a monoclonal colony, no matter what the selective pressure is. A monoculture ends up cannibalizing its own, because they’re always competing for the exact same resources in the exact same way. In a polyculture, individuals can adopt different behaviors. Some will become symbiotes, others will become commensural, others will be parasites. Each individual will adapt to their particular society in a multitude of ways that, while selfish, also tends to maximize the survival benefit of their compatriots. You never know what the next selective pressure is going to be. If you’re a gene, it would be utterly idiotic to put all your eggs in one basket. So you diversify. You subspecialize. You interact. You cooperate.

In short, you build a multicellular organism.

Think about it. The human body is built on the basis of genetic altruism. The trillions of cells that make up your heart, your lungs, your liver, your brain are all going to die someday and have no hope of extending their survival beyond more than a few mitotic divisions, but their main goal is so that the product of your gametes actually gets passed on to the next generation, and hopefully onto the one after that, and the one after that, ad infinitum, in eternitas. Think about that. The human body is designed such that at least a trillion will die so that at least a few can live.

So don’t talk to me about what is “natural.” You go by these criteria, and self-sacrifice seems more natural to human nature than selfishness.


And in macroscopic terms, you can’t help but wonder if human civilization is not just the next level of generating complexity, in order to maximize variation, in order to increase the likelihood that genetic information will persist through time. The agricultural revolution and the founding of cities have greatly relieved a lot of the selective pressure that used to doom our ancestors. We live in an increasingly complex society, even as our ability to stave off selective pressure increases. Due to this explosion of genetic and behavioral variation over the last few thousands of years, I’m actually pretty sure that a good handful of people will survive even a cataclysmic nuclear holocaust of biblical proportions. About the only thing I’m really worried about is a species-annihilating meteor strike, but we’re probably on the cusp of avoiding even that.

Bottom line is: Social Darwinism is an anachronistic, erroneous philosophy borne out of a misunderstanding of evolutionary genetics, and anyone who espouses it deserves whatever happens to them. (Remember, that in the die, you too will die.)

bizarre stimuli

posted on May 8th, 2008

How did this all begin? That’s probably too much to figure out in one night, particularly one where I’m at work. I’ll just pick at a single thread in the tapestry. Eventually it’ll all unravel.

Despite having gone through these cycles of madness repeatedly, over and over and over and over again and again, world without end, amen, I still find it interesting that the weirdest little thing can send me spiraling into raving insanity.

In this case, it was a status change on a very popular social-networking site of a friend of mine whom I’ve pretty much not seen in years.


Don’t get me wrong. Assuming I even had a chance (and that’s one hell of a big—and no doubt absurdly ridiculous and completely preposterous—assumption), I screwed this up big-time a long time ago. It’s just another sign that I suxxors at friendship.

Man, I suck.

But it’s really not just that.

It’s just the momentum of it all.

Like Spring is here. And everyone is pairing off two-by-two again, and I’m just gawking like a drooling imbecile.

(And when did {redacted} and {redacted} hook up? When the hell did that happen? Why doesn’t anyone ever tell me about these things?)


Then there’s this whole notion of the ever-ticking clock. Time is a one-way street, and if you miss that turn, there ain’t no going back. (At least not without the ability to warp time and space at will, anyhow. Certainly nothing I imagine will be possible any time soon, if ever.)

And the fact that relationships are at least 45% dependent on sheer timing.


Which leads me back to the last 15 years of my life, give or take.

And I’m left to ponder a relationship that failed catastrophically, a long, long time ago, that, despite the apocalyptic ending, took bizarre twists and turns as the years went on, until at last, finally, perhaps mercifully, all traces of it seem to have evaporated completely. Then there was the longest non-relationship of my life, those two years of not being with a certain someone who is probably one of the few people on this planet who understands me all too well, probably to her everlasting chagrin. From then on, the failures were legion, although painstakingly chronicled in some pretty pathetic blog posts, scattered between now and the year 2000. (Although can you really call it a full-fledged failure when you didn’t even have a damn clue what you were doing? When you knew you were gonna fall straight on your ass from the onset, before you even took a single step?)


Stepping back, it really isn’t any wonder why I kind of lost my mind over the past few days. Who’d really want to reminisce about all that ridiculous emo garbage? No one in their right mind, that’s who. It’s just that I have this insane inability to let anything go, both figuratively and literally. “Pack-rat” doesn’t do justice to the extent to which I will hold on to totally useless crap.

I’m not sure what happened this afternoon that snapped me out of it. It was late afternoon, and I decided to just crawl back into bed, and try to ride out the insanity streaming through my mind. And I lay there for about 30 minutes, trying to just clear my mind and empty out my thoughts. But I just couldn’t go to sleep. I lay there with my eyes open, wide awake, alert, somehow coming to the epiphany that there’s no point in putting things off.

And all of the sudden, the little tasks and chores that I didn’t want to do became ridiculously simple. In about 30 minutes, I managed to attain some semblance of order in my living room, so that you can actually sit on the couch, and walk from the front door to the kitchen without having to step over anything.


It’s kind of too bad I had to go to work tonight. I might have made something of all that pent-up energy that suddenly got unleashed.

I’m not going to make the mistake of thinking that somehow I’m cured of my insanity. This is probably just a temporary respite. A momentary clearing of the senses. Without effort, I’m just going to fall back into my old, self-destructive habits, and end up recycling the futile moments of the last fifteen years of my life, instead of actually taking a chance, trying something new, and letting myself actually experience the world.

Pain is not always a bad thing, provided that it doesn’t go on interminably. The worn-down cliché is that pain is what reminds you that you’re alive. But it’s more than that. In order to grow and develop, both physically and mentally, you have to experience some discomfort. There is a lot to be said for the trite phrase “no pain, no gain.”

Now I’m not trying to be an apologist for sadists or masochists. There is good pain, and there is bad pain. Good pain is the kind you get from working out and building muscle. From letting go of toxic memories and relationships. From challenging your mind and allowing your perspective to expand.

Then there’s bad pain: the kind that seems like it’s just going to last forever, going on and on, boring a hole through your chest and into your heart, like it’s just going to drill downward until you die. The kind that stops you from doing the things you want to do. That feels like a dead weight dragging down your every step. That clouds your vision with a ghastly pall. This is the pain that is typical of major depressive disorder. Physiologically speaking, nothing should ever hurt for this long. In real life, you should be able to either stop whatever is causing the pain, or do enough damage to whatever part of you is hurting so much, so that you can’t feel it anymore. In real life, all pain ends one way or the other. When it seems to emanate from your soul, though, you know you’re entering pathological territory. The land of the crazies. 5150-land, so to speak.


Darwinism can be summed up into this bullet point: Change or die. This is the strict ultimatum that life throws at you. And change is inevitable. You can’t just lie down and throw a tantrum every single time someone moves your food dish.

Since neither Brm. nor Bn. are nearby to give me a good ass-whooping, I’ll have to do it myself.

Note to self: Get over it. It’s done. Go out there and live your life. No one else is going to do it for you.

risk-benefit analysis

posted on May 7th, 2008

It all comes down to this: how much does this matter to me? If I can’t survive without it, then I’ve got to reel in all my lines and just aim straight for the target. Do-or-die. No quarter given.

If I fail, I may as well fail spectacularly, with explosions and flares and other incendiary catastrophes.

And if it doesn’t matter that much to me? Then I’ve got to just let it ride. Let the current take me to wherever I gotta go, and don’t sweat it. I’ve lost far more things than I’ve ever picked up. I’ve missed way more chances than I’ve ever taken. This is how life as a human being is. You make a choice, a whole branch of the decision tree becomes inaccessible to you. We are not only mortal, we are limited to experiencing a single reality.

The thing is, there’s no such thing as 100%. Even if I go on my Death Star run and let the Force run through me, there’s no reason why my torpedos should actually slide down that shaft and hit the reactor core. More likely than not, I’m going to get shot down by Darth Vader and go out in a brief burst of flame.

And I’m tired of crashing all the time.


Why I imagine these sorts of things as some kind of battle actually disturbs me. Why is it that I can’t look at winning a woman’s heart from a sane point-of-view?

Everything gets twisted, spun around, distorted. The world slips out from under me. I’m operating under an alternate form of reality. The rules of the universe that I’ve come to rely on have changed entirely.

Anything that I thought made sense no longer does.


I don’t know. Maybe I can do this Friend Zone™ thing yet one more time. What’s one more time? No one ever died from being rejected. I mean, there have been plenty of people who have killed themselves because of it, but that’s an entirely different story.

I dig this quote a lot, actually: “Why can’t I set my heart on a possible thing?” It’s from The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin, who also wrote the Earthsea Cycle.

I’ve used it quite a bit, in fact.

  1. The Art of Not Wanting Revisited
  2. To Wish Impossible Things
  3. When the Evening Falls

Why do I always jump to unwarranted conclusions, when all I should do is ride the wave, and let it take me where it will? Even if this all ends badly, can’t I just live in the moment for once?

Why do I insist on always dissecting my happiness until it unravels into jittery nervousness, panic, and raving insanity?

Why can’t I just stop thinking, and actually start doing?

I really need someone to give me a swift kick in the ass. Times like these, I miss Brm. and Bn. severely.

Just a small kick. Enough to get me over the threshold. I’m like a domino ready to fall.


Oh, life on the precipice is sometimes quite nauseating. Just jump already. Just jump. Argh.

color me frustrated

posted on May 6th, 2008

I first found this test (or a variation of it) back in 2002 while I was in the throes of studying for Step 1 of the USMLE and dealing with the fact that Eln. didn’t like me in That Way™. I’m not sure if this test is even vaguely validated by any sort of study, but it’s entertaining nonetheless. I can already tell that it’s highly susceptible to the Forer effect, but whatever. You can find meaning wherever you want to. That’s what the human brain does, after all.

V’s Existing Situation

Uneasy and insecure in the existing situation. Needs greater security and a more affectionate environment, or a situation imposing less physical strain.

V’s Stress Sources

Wishes to be independent, unhampered, and free from any limitation or restriction, other than those which he imposes of himself or by his own choice and decision.

V’s Restrained Characteristics

Willing to participate and to allow himself to become involved, but tries to fend off conflict and disturbance in order to reduce tension.

Egocentric and therefore quick to take offense, leaving him rather isolated in his attachments.

The situation is preventing him from establishing himself, but he feels he must make the best of things as they are.

V’s Desired Objective

His need to feel more causative and to have a wider sphere of influence makes him restless and he is driven by his desires and hopes. May try to spread his activities over too wide a field.

V’s Actual Problem

Feels restricted and prevented from progressing; seeking a solution which will remove these limitations.

get this right

posted on May 6th, 2008

I don’t know. Maybe S. is right. Maybe the last 3 years 10 months have finally caught up to me.

‘But sir,’ it squealed, ‘I just heard on the sub-ether radio report. It said you were dead….’
‘Yeah, that’s right, I just haven’t stopped moving yet.’
—Zaphod Beeblebrox from *The Restaurant at the End of the Universe*

The May Grey creeping outside my window doesn’t help a bit. Today is the kind of day that makes me want to just crawl back into bed and go back to sleep.


I think the worst part of this is that I really don’t have anything to be miserable about. If I think about all this rationally, calmly (hah!), I’m doing OK. I have a (sort-of) job for at least part of next year. The last two blocks of my residency should be pretty (relatively) cake.

It’s just this oppressive sense of time running out. Time waits for no one. Great.


Every day that passes I start to feel like my universe is contracting. Every day that I don’t act, my choices become narrower. The possibilities diminish.

If I don’t do it now, it’ll never happen.

I thought, oh God, my chance has come at last!
But then a strange fear gripped me and i just couldn’t ask
—”There is a Light That Never Goes Out” by the Smiths

But then I stop to think about it. What exactly is it that is running through my fingers like sand? Nothing but vapor, really. Wisps of probability. All of them possibly infinitesimal.

I’m over-thinking all of this, really.

How do you lose something that you don’t have yet, and may not ever have?


I’m starting to think about what I do* have. Family. Friends. They are *real. And while none of us can predict the future, and I knock on wood right now to keep misfortune at bay, I know that they’ll be there. Certainly longer than any of these fairy tales that keep running through my head.

In other words, while loss *is* a real possibility—we are all mortals doomed to die, after all—they’ll always live inside of me. Memories of shared conversations, trips taken together. Random meetings and crossings in this wide world of ours. The randomness exchanged over the ether, by e-mail, IM, or SMS.

This is not something that I can easily lose. It’s not something that can be easily taken away from me.


Which leads me to a self-styled koan that may or may not make sense:

Whatever you need, you have it.
Whatever you don’t have, you don’t need it.

There is a geeky acrostic from computer programming that seems applicable at the moment: YAGNI. You ain’t gonna need it.


It is something I have, I suppose, struggled with my entire life: the idea of just letting something go, because there’s nothing I can do about it at this moment. I have spent many sleepless nights trying to fathom things that weren’t meant to be, things that I knew at the time couldn’t possibly happen.

To everything—turn, turn, turn
There is a season—turn, turn, turn
and a time for every purpose under heaven.
—”Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season)” by the Byrds

So it all comes down to the Art of Not Wanting, as usual. Desire causes suffering, and I’m just tired, so very tired.

killing me softly with her song

posted on May 6th, 2008

A little more than a week ago, I watched Lea Salonga perform at Harrah’s Rincon.

Lea SalongaHarrah's Rincon
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I first found out about her about 15 years ago because of N, naturally. At the time, N was obsessed with ”Miss Saigon” and I ended up learning the lyrics to “Last Night of the World.” For those of you who have never heard of this musical(!), it’s basically a remake of Puccini’s opera “Madame Butterfly”, except set in Saigon during the Vietnam War. I wouldn’t learn about post-modernism, post-colonialism, and deconstructionism for another two or three years (and wouldn’t learn about Derrida for another ten years!) so I blithely accepted it and listened to the soundtrack ad nauseam. To this day, I have yet to actually watch it.

Miss Saigon

It seems that Lea Salonga was the first Filipino to breakthrough into mainstream “high” culture. She didn’t sing pop songs or act in cheesy/raunchy B-movies. She actually did theater, and no doubt inspired a whole cadre of Filipino women to aspire to show business. (LzC has been living her dream in NYC, and LeeA has a part in a small production of “Miss Saigon” playing in Healdsburg, California. In high school, I had a bit part in the musical “Gypsy”. The woman who played the eponymous protagonist was the understudy for Kim in the Toronto production of “Miss Saigon”)

I actually watched her in concert at the Universal Amphitheater back in 1992. The place was packed, from what I can remember.


Later that year, she sang the part of Jasmine from the animated movie “Aladdin”. This was the first time that Disney hired separate people to do the voice acting versus the actual singing.

That winter, N went to the Philippines and brought back a copy of the soundtrack from the Filipino movie “Bakit Labis Kitang Mahal” (roughly, “why do I love you so much?”)

Bakit Labis Kitang Mahal

The track that I listened to on repeat, over and over again, until the lyrics burned into my brain, was this melodramatic paean to unrequited love: “Nandito Ako” (I’ll be here)

Mayroon akong nais malaman.
There’s something I want you to know.
Maaari bang magtanong?
Would it be right to ask?
Alam mo bang matagal na kitang iniibig?
Do you know that I’ve loved you for a long time?
Matagal na ‘kong naghihintay.
I’ve waited for a long while.
Ngunit mayroon kang ibang minamahal,
But there’s been someone else that you love.
kung kaya’t ako’y ‘di mo pinapansin.
and so you’ve never noticed me
Ngunit ganoon pa man nais kong malaman mo:
But even then, I still want you to know
ang puso kong ito’y para lang sa iyo.
my heart will only be yours.
Nandito ako umiibig sa iyo,
I’ll be here, loving you
kahit na nagdurugo ang puso.
even though my heart bleeds
Kung sakali iwanan ka niya,
and if he ever leaves you
huwag kang magalala,
don’t worry
may nagmamahal sa iyo,
there’s someone who loves you
nandito ako.
I’ll be here
Kung ako ay iyong iibigin,
If I were your beloved
‘di kailangan nang mangamba.
there’d be no need to fret
Pagka’t ako ay para mong alipin.
I’m a slave for you
Sa iyo lang wala nang iba
for you only, there is no other
Ngunit mayroon kang ibang minamahal,
But there’s been someone else that you love.
kung kaya’t ako’y ‘di mo pinapansin.
and so you’ve never noticed me
Ngunit ganoon pa man nais kong malaman mo:
But even then, I still want you to know
ang puso kong ito’y para lang sa iyo.
my heart will only be yours.
Nandito ako umiibig sa iyo,
I’ll be here, loving you
kahit na nagdurugo ang puso.
even though my heart bleeds
Kung sakali iwanan ka niya,
and if he ever leaves you
huwag kang magalala,
don’t worry
may nagmamahal sa iyo,
there’s someone who loves you
nandito ako.
I’ll be here
—”Nandito Ako” by Lea Salonga

This song fucking kills me.


She came out with a mainstream album back in 1993, with a great song entitled “Journey”

Half the world is sleeping.
Half the world awake.
Half can hear their hearts beat.
Half just hear them break.

I am but a traveler
in most every way.
Ask me what you want to know.

What a journey it has been,
and the end is not in sight.
But the stars are out tonight,
and they’re bound to guide my way.
When they’re shining on my life,
I can see a better day.
I won’t let the darkness in.
What a journey it has been.

I have been through sorrow.
I have been to bliss.
Where I’ll be tomorrow,
I can only guess.
Through the darkest desert,
through the deepest snow,
forward—always forward—I go.

What a journey it has been,
and the end is not in sight.
But the stars are out tonight,
and they’re bound to guide my way.
When they’re shining on my life,
I can see a better day.
I won’t let the darkness in.
What a journey it has been.

Forward, always forward.
Onward, always up.
Catching every drop of hope
in my empty cup.

What a journey it has been,
and the end is not in sight.
But the stars are out tonight,
and they’re bound to guide my way.
When they’re shining on my life,
I can see a better day.
I won’t let the darkness in.
What a journey it has been.
—”The Journey” by Lea Salonga

When A, Bn, E, JdG, and I graduated from college, we did this little project where each of us would copy a song that signified our college experience to cassette tape(!), and then pass it on to the next person, and we’d keep going until we ran out of tape. So this song naturally ended up on there.


In 1998, Disney released the movie “Mulan”


I finally watched “Les Miserables” in 1997 when my parents, my brother, my sister, and I went to NYC, and the song that always kills me is “On My Own”

And now I’m all alone again,
no where to turn, no one to go to,
without a hope, without a friend, without a face to say hello to.
But now the night is near,
and I can make believe he’s here.

Sometimes I walk alone at night
when everybody else is sleeping.
I think of him and then I’m happy
with the company I’m keeping.
The city goes to bed
and I can live inside my head.

On my own,
pretending he’s beside me.
All alone, I walk with him till morning.
Without him,
I feel his arms around me,
and when I lose my way, I close my eyes,
and he has found me.

In the rain the pavement shines like silver.
All the lights are misty in the river.
In the darkness, the trees are full of starlight,
and all I see is him and me for ever and forever.

And I know it’s only in my mind,
that I’m talking to myself and not to him.
And although I know that he is blind,
still I say there’s a way for us.

I love him,
but when the night is over,
he is gone, the river’s just a river.
Without him the world around me changes.
The trees are bare and everywhere
the streets are full of strangers.

I love him,
but every day I’m learning
all my life I’ve only been pretending.
Without me his world will go on turning,
a world that’s full of happiness
that I have never known!

I love him.
I love him.
I love him.
But only on my own.
—Eponine from “Les Miserables”

I always get teary-eyed when she gets to the stanza that goes “I love him/but every day I’m learning/all my life I’ve only been pretending/Without me his world will go on turning/a world that’s full of happiness/that I have never known!” When she holds that last note, it just gets me right here.

Seriously, I had to blink back some tears. I am such a sucker for unrequited love.

But if “On My Own” kills me, “A Little Fall of Rain” absolutely obliterates me.

Don’t you fret, M’sieur Marius,
I don’t feel any pain.
A little fall of rain
can hardly hurt me now.
You’re here, that’s all I need to know.
And you will keep me safe,
and you will keep me close,
and rain will make the flowers grow.

—But you will live, ‘Ponine! Dear God above!
—If I could heal your wounds with words of love!

Just hold me now, and let it be.
Shelter me, comfort me.

—You would live a hundred years
—if I could show you how.
—I won’t desert you now….

The rain can’t hurt me now.
This rain will wash away what’s past.
And you will keep me safe,
and you will keep me close.
I’ll sleep in your embrace at last.

The rain that brings you here
is Heaven-blessed!
The skies begin to clear
and I’m at rest.
A breath away from where you are.
I’ve come home from so far.

So don’t you fret, M’sieur Marius.
—Hush-a-bye, dear Eponine.
I don’t feel any pain.
—You won’t feel any pain.
A little fall of rain
—A little fall of rain
can hardly hurt me now.
—can hardly hurt you now.

—I’m here.

That’s all I need to know.
And you will keep me safe,
—I will stay with you
and you will keep me close,
—’til you are sleeping.

And rain…

—And rain…

will make the flowers…

—will make the flowers… grow….

—Eponine and Marius from “Les Miserables”

When he finishes the last line without her, I just want to bawl.


I’m hoping to find a complete video of Lea Salonga singing “Defying Gravity” from “Wicked” at Carnegie Hall in November 2005. “Wicked” is yet another musical that I haven’t actually watched, but have listened to the soundtrack a hundred times. This song still gets to me, too. It would be interesting to see Lea as Elphaba.


So it seems that I’ve followed her career over the past 15 years, with her songs serving to mark my progress on my own timeline.

What a trip down memory lane.

all i need is a map and a set of wheels

posted on May 5th, 2008

Fear and panic in the air.
I want to be free
from desolation and despair.
And I feel like everything I saw
is being swept away
when I refuse to let you go.

I can’t get it right—
get it right—
since I met you.
Loneliness be over.
When will this loneliness be over?

Life will flash before my eyes.
So scattered and lost.
I want to touch the other side.
And no one thinks they are to blame.
Why can’t we see
that when we bleed, we bleed the same?

I can’t get it right—
get it right—
since I met you.
Loneliness be over.
When will this loneliness be over?
Loneliness be over.
When will this loneliness be over?

at the edge of the sea

posted on May 4th, 2008

there is no one left in the world
that i can hold onto
there is really no one left at all
there is only you
and if you leave me now
you leave all that we were
undone
there is really no-one left
you are the only one
—”Trust” by the Cure

This song is more than 15 years old, spanning that entire interval when I thought I had some sense of what love might be, only to realize, at this late hour, that I don’t know a damned thing.

I am all the days that you choose to ignore

You are all I need
You are all I need
I am in the middle of your picture
Lying in the reeds

I am a moth who just wants to share your light
I’m just an insect trying to get out of the night
I only stick with you because there are no others

In the quiet depths of my soul I face the utter void of lonely existence. There is nowhere I can turn to for solace and comfort, no safe harbor where my heart can rest. I am floating and bobbing on this empty sea like a ship that has lost its mooring, and all I can do is try to find the words that will keep me afloat. With the new dawn comes a new horizon, and I try not to think that with everyday, the shore seems no nearer.

epigastric abdominal pain

posted on May 3rd, 2008

It could just be acid-reflux. I could just have a gastric ulcer.

But this burning sensation makes me wonder what I’m so nervous about. What possible life-shattering thing am I failing to anticipate that my gut already foresees instinctively?

May. The name of this month alludes to possibility. I realize that May actually comes from the Roman Goddess Maia, the Goddess of Spring. And that it’s just linguistic accident that, when Anglicized, it’s exactly the same as the word that expresses possibility, opportunity, permission, contingency, wishes, and prayers.

May. Might. Coulda. Shoulda.


Why should anything change? This is what I tell myself for reassurance. Years have gone by, and it’s been the same thing, day in, day out. Seasons come and go, bringing sunlight, wind, fire, and rain, each in their turn. Why should anything change?

And I already know the answer. Everything changes because that’s just the way of the universe, whether I like it or not.

So I’m waiting for change. Why I’ve equated change with badness, I don’t know.

Good times for a change.
See the luck I’ve had would make a good man turn bad.
So please, please, please, let me, let me, let me, let me get what I want
this time.
—”Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” by the Smiths

But it doesn’t matter what I want. The universe will unfold as it should.

A man was seen by his doctor.

“You need to stop masturbating,” the doctor said.

The man asked, “Why?”

The doctor replied, “Because I”m trying to examine you!”

This was a joke I found on my iGoogle front page, but the scary thing is that this an all-too-common occurrence on the wards. You don’t even have to be a female M.D. or R.N. to be treated to full-frontal nudity every morning.

all there is

posted on May 2nd, 2008

lightning strikes
end points and infinities
waves and foam
the clouds coruscating against the setting sunlight
a gull takes to wing
fluttering, fading beyond the horizon

this singularity
complete totality
ciudad de los todos santos
everything in everything
all from nothing

what am I, who am I
will I be?
am I?
dangerous crossroads
perilous pathways
sacrifice
regret

flotsam and jetsam of the waves
the sealion lies still in a quiet pool
unmoving

the cloud obscures
reveals
transforms

all the rivers run to the unforgiving sea
to that infinite line of blue and blue
where the sky and the sea
touch
until the end of the world

cause is not reason

posted on May 2nd, 2008

It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that causation means intentionality. Lots of things happen where you can trace the chain of events, see exactly how one thing leads to another, and all of these things could be devoid of intention. While each decision may be made by a rational agent, the sum is not greater than its parts.

This is why design by committee tends to fail. A series of rational decisions made by multiple intelligent agents tends to result in utter chaos—in the formal, mathematical sense of the word. None of us can predict the outcome. If we could, we’d be able to beat the stock market, and probably end war forever, too.

The inverse is plausible as well. A series of non-rational, purely physical/chemical decisions (likely mediated by quantum de-coherence), when summed up over geologic time, can give the illusion of intelligent design.


So searching for reason can sometimes be futile. As it is, I can barely understand the convoluted inner workings of my damaged brain.

For better or worse, I am who I am.

The best I can do is to try to get better every hour, every day, and not look too far ahead.

Even psychological wounds need tending to. Like physical wounds, you need to clean out the necrotic tissue and the pus, and keep it clean and dry. After that, there isn’t really much you can do but let the body do its thing. In time, the wound will fill up with fibrin, the fibroblasts will start making scar tissue, and little by little, the wound will close.

Some wounds are so bad that they’ll never heal, or sometimes your body just doesn’t work well enough to heal properly, and sometimes you may just have to cut your losses, in a literal sense. Amputation is sometimes the best you can do.

I think of that Arthurian archetype of the [Fisher King][1], with thet wound that will not heal.

I think of some of my patients in the spinal cord unit, with extensive wounds that seem unlikely to ever heal, and who have already as amputated as possible.

I think of all the vets with PTSD, from trauma suffered in the jungles of Southeast Asia, and more and more commonly, suffered in the unforgiving desert of Iraq.

I wonder if there is a part of my soul that I just need to amputate, and learn how to deal with the loss.

Each day, I can only hope to keep the wound clean, and let the body/the mind do its thing.

dimensionless

posted on May 1st, 2008

wanting starlight
sunlight
sunrise
gold glimmer
warmth
you make me think of home
and a deep longing buried within the frozen chambers of my heart
thaws
like darkness arising
monstrous awakening
madness stirring

save me
faerie princess
enchantment
I am spellbound
lost in your glamour
I am in your power—
do you even know?
with a snap of your fingers
with a flick of your wrist
you could destroy me
or make me into
something great
a hero, a king
wishing
your bidding
my love

dancing into May—
maybe something good
maybe something bad
—in the moment of that conditional
that decision
so infinitesimal
a butterfly in Molucca
rainstorms in Topeka
a single teardrop falls

how do you lose something
you never had?
mourn something
never meant to be?

your heartbeat
life
breathing
I am alive when I think of you
not giving rise to this hope
so brittle, so frail
knowing that if it breaks
one more time
someday
I won’t be able to pick up all the pieces
leaving the detritus of my soul
to be scattered by the uncaring wind

to love you
tempting fate
daring the universe
to crush me
implode
less than nothing
even light couldn’t escape

Know—
if I were a braver man
who could love freely
purely
unconditionally
(though I do love, for who you are,
whether I am, or never was)
—know that I would love you
you would be my life
I would be bound to you
heart and soul
in defiance of all the laws and limits of nature

Still, I dare every little thing has a purpose a photon
a wavelet
in the right place at the right time
igniting the heart of a star