Category Archives: The other bits

About hysteria

I’ve tried to be positive, but it’s good to be realistic, too.

If you’re signed on to resist the agenda of this administration, you’re going to have to come to terms with being mis-represented, being mocked, being hated. Possibly forever with no vindication.

Because a resistance that actually succeeds in preventing an atrocity will never have evidence of its necessity or its success. Life will go on as usual. The nation will remain its unequal, imperfect self, hurtling towards some uncertain future. You may even have the privilege of being ridiculed in retrospect for your “hysteria”.

Yet that’s the nature of the thing. The window for resistance closes at a rapid rate as an atrocity becomes less speculative, more imminent. So, while we wait, afraid to be hysterical, afraid to be wrong, afraid to overreact, the ground beneath us is shifting.

The German author Emil Erich Kaestner once said, “the events of 1933 to 1945 had to have been fought no later than 1928. After that, it was too late. One cannot wait until the struggle for liberty becomes treason. One cannot wait for the snowball to become an avalanche. You must crush the snowball. No one can stop an avalanche…

What I’m trying to say is, don’t feel too bad. Resisting tyranny will always require paranoia and imagination. And it will always be the work of “hysterics”.

A conversation from Radiolab

http://www.radiolab.org/story/193037-turing-problem/

A: I think we’re just machines. I think we are just made of matter… For me, that doesn’t make me feel we’re any less special. I think, how, what a wonderful thing… How wonderful, that this process, and that these little collections of matter are able to produce Cezanne’s water colors and Bach’s preludes.

Q: But, could you, if I built you a computer, that could create equally beautiful watercolors, and equally beautiful musical compositions, would you feel happier or diminished?

A: I think, in a way you’re asking, if you see how the trick is done, does it then, vanish? Does it just become a trick? … I feel, the art I love, is always art that I don’t fully understand. There’s some mystery there, always. I don’t quite fathom it. Now so, if the computer is churning out a bunch of notes, and you know exactly the rules the computer is following, and there’s no mystery, how can that possibly be a great piece of music? And the answer is, we don’t know how the computer is going to do it, we don’t know how the machine is going to do it. And when the computer produces music that is as lovely as the music that you and I love, I believe it will still be unfathomable.

Cold vs. Not Cold

This morning it was -8F in Boston.  I realized, walking to yoga class, in the sun, in the wind, that it was cold; but figuring out exactly how cold was not something my body or brain was equipped to do.

Each square of my skin can sense cold, and it can sense pain, so in terms of raw input, I get only not-cold, cold, or painfully cold.  Can I really tell the difference between 8F and -8F? For better resolution I have to use other available data.  How much am I wearing?  How long have I been outside?  Outside in -8F, probably the coldest temperatures I’ve walked around in, I put this notion to the test.

The only exposed bit of my skin, below my hat and above the scarf I had pulled over my face, went from not-cold to cold to painfully cold in about 3 minutes.  My eyes watered and the corners of my eyes started to sting.  Other than that, I felt fine.  I felt probably the same amount of cold over my body as I did on a 30F day wearing jeans, a coat, and no scarf.  Except this morning I was wearing my full mountain gear for snowboarding: snow pants, thermal layer underneath, windproof insulation under my jacket, ear-warmers, mittens…  And despite walking quickly, I didn’t warm up.  All the gear felt light and airy, as if the top layers were simply not there.

A few nights ago, sitting in Fenway Park watching the Big Air competition, I wore the same outfit, down to the boots and mittens and ear-warmers.  It was 10F and not as breezy.  It took me about 30 minutes of not moving to start feeling uncomfortably cold, about 40 minutes to lose feeling in my toes through my winter boots.  My eyes did not start to sting or water, and I did not notice my exposed skin becoming painfully cold (probably because I went inside to take care of my toes).  But simply from being outside from 6-10pm that night, I was cold, and hungry, and exhausted.

The data seems to indicate that today is colder.  But Thursday’s experience was much more grueling.

 

To pull the heart in

On Christmas day we drove to Maryland.  Yesterday we came back.  We left an eerie warm Boston day in the high 60s, packing a jacket only in luggage, and a week later we returned to a more familiar January.

Of course, among other things, we missed the first snow of the season.   Patches first appearing on the sides of the road on Rt 209 in the Delaware River Gap.  Of course, it did not snow in Maryland.  The day after Christmas we played tennis in the sun.

Over the rolling hills and expansive farm country beneath clouds that borders Maryland with Virginia, in rain and fog and at dusk I drove.  From one brand new community development to another.  Their ordered streets a barrier against all that wildness.

IMG_3873

In Chinese, the expression for what one must do to go back to work after an extended vacation is to “pull the heart in” (收心).  I think this is an accurate description of what self-discipline feels like.  To pull the heart in.  To find smaller joys.

Jasmine

There’s this undergrad class at Harvard called Science and Cooking.  I’m one of 10 graduate students that serve as Teaching Fellows in this class.  We sit in a bundle, in the right-front of the lecture hall.  We lead cooking labs, once a week.

A few weeks ago, we listened to a guest lecture from Adoni Aduriz, head chef at Mugaritz restaurant in Spain.  Speaking Spanish, using a translator, he described how to create the scent of jasmine.  There are hundreds of aromatic compounds that make up the scent of a jasmine flower, he said, but to mimic it, we need only six.

Five that are sweet, resembling rose, or vanilla, or something equally pleasant.

The sixth is the smell of fecal matter.  He called it Indo.

“Sometimes, to build beauty,” he said. “We need a discordant note.”