August 24, 2006

How to really fight terrorism

I have a great deal of respect for Bruce Schneier. He's a security consultant with a big big brain. Here are a few choice excerpts from his latest article (click to read the whole thing).

The point of terrorism is to cause terror, sometimes to further a political goal and sometimes out of sheer hatred. The people terrorists kill are not the targets; they are collateral damage. And blowing up planes, trains, markets or buses is not the goal; those are just tactics. The real targets of terrorism are the rest of us: the billions of us who are not killed but are terrorized because of the killing. The real point of terrorism is not the act itself, but our reaction to the act.

And we're doing exactly what the terrorists want.


Our politicians help the terrorists every time they use fear as a campaign tactic. The press helps every time it writes scare stories about the plot and the threat. And if we're terrified, and we share that fear, we help. All of these actions intensify and repeat the terrorists' actions, and increase the effects of their terror.


Another thought experiment: Imagine for a moment that the British government arrested the 23 suspects without fanfare. Imagine that the TSA and its European counterparts didn't engage in pointless airline-security measures like banning liquids. And imagine that the press didn't write about it endlessly, and that the politicians didn't use the event to remind us all how scared we should be. If we'd reacted that way, then the terrorists would have truly failed.


The surest defense against terrorism is to refuse to be terrorized. Our job is to recognize that terrorism is just one of the risks we face, and not a particularly common one at that. And our job is to fight those politicians who use fear as an excuse to take away our liberties and promote security theater that wastes money and doesn't make us any safer.

August 10, 2006

Divorce sucks

Alyssa and I will be filing for divorce soon, and will be selling the house in the next few months. Hopefully everything will be wrapped up by the end of the year. Everything's amicable, we still get along well and I believe we'll remain good friends for the rest of our lives. I'm still in love with her, and this isn't the way I wanted it to go. But it's just not working the way it is, and after six months of struggle, I've started to accept the fact that I'm powerless to change the way she feels.

On the negative side, I am losing all my hopes, dreams, and aspirations in light of the fact that I won't be married anymore. I have gotten used to playing the provider role, hoping that it would provide Alyssa with the opportunity to realize her career dreams. We had plans to stay in our current house for five years, and then to sell it and travel the world together, to go on adventures for a while. We tried to have children for a long time, and I still think she would make a great mother. I hope she becomes one someday.

On the positive side, I now have the opportunity to go rediscover myself, to push my own boundaries and explore my new identity as a single man. I plan to take singing lessons. I just got a nose ring (the pic above isn't me, but it's the same piercing. Hi, Mom.) I just drew a picture of a chinese dragon holding a huge pearl, and had it tattooed across my shoulder and back. I'm going to start seeing a therapist. I might get my tongue pierced, too. I might take dancing lessons. I might join a nudist club. I am going to push the envelope, overrun all those old irrational fears and habits and start having some real fun. To get comfortable just being myself, completely free, and to hell with what anyone else thinks about any of it.

Nine steps to Forgiveness

This list was compiled by Frederic Luskin, Ph.D. It includes a lot of wisdom that I think just about anyone can make use of. A lot of people don't realize that true forgiveness isn't something that 'just happens,' it's something you have to work at. We can hold grudges for years and years without even realizing it.

1. Know exactly how you feel about what happened and be able to articulate what about the situation is not OK. Then, tell a trusted couple of people about your experience.

2. Make a commitment to yourself to do what you have to do to feel better. Forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else.

3. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that hurt you, or condoning of their action. What you are after is to find peace. Forgiveness can be defined as the "peace and understanding that come from blaming that which has hurt you less, taking the life experience less personally, and changing your grievance story."

4. Get the right perspective on what is happening. Recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurt feelings, thoughts and physical upset you are suffering now, not what offended you or hurt you two minutes - or ten years - ago. Forgiveness helps to heal those hurt feelings.

5. At the moment you feel upset practice a simple stress management technique to soothe your body's flight or fight response.

6. Give up expecting things from other people, or your life, that they do not choose to give you. Recognize the "unenforceable rules" you have for your health or how you or other people must behave. Remind yourself that you can hope for health, love, peace and prosperity and work hard to get them.

7. Put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met than through the experience that has hurt you. Instead of mentally replaying your hurt seek out new ways to get what you want.

8. Remember that a life well lived is your best revenge. Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving the person who caused you pain power over you, learn to look for the love, beauty and kindness around you. Forgiveness is about personal power.

9. Amend your grievance story to remind you of the heroic choice to forgive.

The practice of forgiveness has been shown to reduce anger, hurt, depression and stress, and leads to greater feelings of hope, peace, compassion and self confidence. Practicing forgiveness leads to healthy relationships as well as physical health. It also influences our attitude which opens the heart to kindness, beauty, and love.

August 09, 2006

Six Feet Under - final episode

I just watched the last episode of HBO's Six Feet Under. We've been getting the DVDs from Netflix.

I'm not going to spoil it for you, you have to watch them for yourself. All I have to say is that this has to be the best TV series ever made.

August 02, 2006

Black & White

Unravel me
A distant cord
On the outside is forgotten
A constant need
To get along
And the animal awakens
And all I feel is black and white
The road is long
The memory slides
To the whole of my undoing
Put aside
I put away
I push it back to get through each day
And all I feel is black and white
And I'm wound up small and tight
And I don't know who I am
Everybody loves you when you're easy
Everybody hates when you're a bore
Everyone is waiting for your entrance so
Don't disappoint them
Unravel me
Untie this cord
The very center of our union
Is caving in
I can't endure
I am the archive of our failure
And all I feel is black and white
And I'm wound up small and tight
And I don't know who I am
Everybody loves you when you're easy
Everybody hates when you're a bore
Everyone is waiting for your entrance so
Don't disappoint them
Everybody loves you when you're easy so
Don't disappoint them
Don't disappoint them...

-Sarah McLachlan

Habituation and thought

From Wikipedia:
In psychology, habituation is an example of non-associative learning in which there is a progressive diminution of behavior response probability with repetition of a stimulus. It is another form of integration. An animal first responds to a sensory stimulus, but if it is neither rewarding nor harmful the animal learns to suppress its response through repeated encounters. One example of this can be seen in small song birds - if a stuffed owl (or similar predator) is introduced into the cage, the birds react to it as though it were a real predator, but soon realise that it is not and so become habituated to it. If another stuffed owl is introduced (or the same one removed and re-introduced), the birds react to it as though it were a predator, showing that it is only a very specific stimulus that is being ignored (namely, one particular unmoving owl in one place). This learned suppression of response is habituation.

However, not all habituation is conscious like this - for example, a short amount of time after dressing, the stimulus the weight of clothes creates is 'ignored' by the nervous system and we become unaware of it. In this way, habituation is used to ignore any continual stimulus, as changes in stimulus level are normally far more important than absolute levels of stimulation. Negative feedback from the brain to peripheral sensory organs inhibits the transmission of the stimulus at the source of the stimulus.

This 'learning' is a fundamental or basic process of biological systems and does not require conscious motivation or awareness to occur. Indeed, without habituation we would be unable to distinguish meaningful information from the background, unchanging information.

Habituation is obviously an important and necessary part of nervous system functioning. But it also causes problems. We become habituated to the things we love that are constantly present. We become habituated to the vastness of the sky. We become habituated to watching birds play. We become habituated to amazing advances in technology. Hardest of all, we become habituated to the people we love the most. It takes effort to see past this effect, to learn to appreciate things and be fully conscious of their real value to us.

I think that may be part of how people get depressed in this age of wonders. How can people see the world as ugly while surrounded by birds, trees, flowers, butterflies, fish jumping in the river? Intellectually it's easy to focus on negative things, and somehow our thoughts seem more real than our actual surroundings.

After more than a year of daily, or almost daily, meditation, I'm finding it's a lot harder than I thought to look deeply at my actual surroundings and see past whatever random thoughts come up in response to them, or more often, in response to other thoughts about other other thoughts. But as I learn to create a little more space between those thoughts, and work a little harder to see past habituation, now and then a little love letter from the universe* itself gets past all that interference.

*Thanks to Jack Duffy for sharing the metaphor about love letters from the Universe.