Heaven and Hell

“A belligerent samurai, an old Japanese tale goes, once challenged a Zen master to explain the concept of heaven and hell. The monk replied with scorn, ‘You’re nothing but a lout — I can’t waste my time with the likes of you!’

His very honor attacked, the samurai flew into a rage and, pulling his sword from its scabbard, yelled ‘I could kill you for your impertinence.’

‘That,’ the monk calmly replied, ‘is hell.’

Startled at seeing the truth in what the master pointed out about the fury that had him in its grip, the samurai calmed down, sheathed his sword, and bowed, thanking the monk for the insight.

‘And that,’ said the monk, ‘is heaven.’

–Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ

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Time Travel

This morning’s email of bargain e-books included one by Robert Silverberg–Hawksbill Station. The story line seems to be (it was written in the late ’60s) in the 21st century, USA has become a tyranny and dangerous political prisoners are transported to what will become the North American east coast in the late Cambrian era, where they can do no harm. With no hope of return and no women (they are transported to a different time) most of the prisoners gradually sink into catatonia or suicide. The most dangerous (i.e., the Alpha) of them retains his mental facilities as he ages and loses his physical powers. The action revolves around the Alpha’s flashbacks of Silverberg’s notions of how the late ’60s political unrest will evolve into open rebellion and vicious suppression, and the arrival of a new prisoner, who arouses suspicions somehow.

As familiar as Silverberg’s name is, I don’t remember reading anything by him, and after reading some reviews I’m not tempted to buy that book–even for $1.99. I did drop $0.99 for an anthology of his short stories published in the pulps, however. Continue reading

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Climb the Tree

“Chew on one thinker – writer, activist, role model – you really love. Study everything there is to know about that thinker. Then find three people the thinker loved and find out everything about them. Repeat this as many times as you can. Climb up the tree as far as you can go. Once you built your tree, it’s time to start your own branch.”–Austin Kleon, Steal Like An Artist

I have to say that is what I’ve been doing with Owen Barfield this past year, and still am. I just bought the only exhaustive biography to fill-in the “all about” part. And the year before, I did more or less the same about “Preston Howard”. So, when do I start the branch of my own? Am I doing that now with the War Story and the Foreign Country outlines?

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“To summarise: it is a well known fact that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarise the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. To summarise the summary of the summary: people are a problem.”—Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

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Uninformed Criticism

When I first prepared this particular talk… I realized that my usual approach is usually critical. That is, a lot of the things that I do, that most people do, are because they hate something somebody else has done, or they hate that something hasn’t been done. And I realized that informed criticism has completely been done in by the web. Because the web has produced so much uninformed criticism. It’s kind of a Gresham’s Law — bad money drives the good money out of circulation. Bad criticism drives good criticism out of circulation. You just can’t criticize anything.–Alan Kay, How Simply and Understandably Could The “Personal Computing Experience” Be Programmed?

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Something’s more interesting than this

“And now, that’s always true.

“Whatever you’re doing.

“No matter who you’re with.

“Something, somewhere, is more interesting than this.

“And it’s in your pocket. Continue reading

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Absolute Faith and its Consequences

Looking back at the worst times, it always seems that they were times in which there were people who believed with absolute faith and absolute dogmatism in something. And they were so serious in this matter that they insisted that the rest of the world agree with them. And then they would do things that were directly inconsistent with their own beliefs in order to maintain that what they said was true.–Richard Feynman, The Meaning of It All: Thoughts of a Citizen-Scientist

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Choosing to be a Citizen

Citizens aren’t profit-seeking agents who are simply constrained by rules. Citizens behave even if there isn’t a rule about it.

Citizens aren’t craven partisans, voting for party over fact. Citizens do the right thing because they can, even if the short-term cost is high.

Citizens live by the rule of community: If everyone did what I’m about to do, would it lead to a useful outcome? Continue reading

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A Michael Moment

“Every great second act has a midpoint. In this instant something happens that ratchets our entire story to a higher level. The stakes go up, way up.

“Characters whom we thought we understood must suddenly be viewed in an entirely different, and far more serious, manner. The story upshifts. Every relationship in the narrative alters. Until this moment, we had thought the drama was about ‘X.’ At once we understand it’s about ‘X squared.'”–Steven Pressfield

In the upcoming “War Story”, what is the mid-point, what is the moment, and who is “Michael”?

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“One of the most useful bits of advice I ever got, came from the writer Anne Herbert who said that whenever she got an invitation to do something months away or even a week away, she asked herself whether she would accept the gig/meeting/task if it was tomorrow. The answer was often no. I use that immediacy trick all the time, and it has served me very well.”—Kevin Kelly

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