Thought is a Virus

I didn’t really understand viruses. Or how they interact with cells. Or cells themselves for that matter. Luckily a trove of engaging resources abound for us opsimaths. And it was far more enjoyable (re-)learning this round for personal rather than performative satisfaction. All misrepresentations, over-simplifications, errors and misunderstandings in this riff are solely my own and bear no reflection on the fine resources linked to above.

A cell is a little maker workshop with a code book for manufacturing. A gene is a recipe from this code book for making a specific protein. How big is this code book? How many recipes does it hold? What do proteins do anway? Good questions I thought. If my calculations are correct, our DNA, aka code book, contains about 375MB of information with built in redundancies. These instruct operations (i.e. which amino acids and what sequence to put them together) for making ~20k different proteins in humans, each protein embodies a specific technique, a specialized skill, for manipulating matter. All orchestrated god knows how.

Returning to the virus then, which is but a scrap of code without a processor. About the size of what you’d put in a memory buffer overflow, if you do that sort of thing. Not even a living thing by most definitions. It’s just a chassis whose shape attaches to compatible contours on cell surfaces and some helper proteins. Just floating around waiting to get stuck to a cell. When it docks, it passes a code string through the cell’s membrane. This code is in a common biological format that can be run by processors in the cell looking for work. The code’s sole objective, like most organisms built of code, is simply to replicate. To passively find a processor in the cell (a ribosome) that will execute its program for making its protein building blocks. The code just needs enough scrap material to make a copy of the chassis and copy of itself until the cell is so full of these little escape pods it bursts. Then the pods aka viruses float free attaching to more cells. Leaving a wake of destruction behind that the body tries to clean up. By invoking fire through inflammation. (A nastier type of virus, the Retro-Virus, attaches itself to our own cell’s code book. Like AIDS. It then spreads via our cells natural reproduction so it’s harder to identify and catch.)

Thoughts are also similar to viruses. Both simple and retro. Some thoughts can survive on paper surfaces for centuries and then unfold inside a brain, mobilizing it to replicate its code to other brains through speech or writing. Many spread electronically now. In higher bandwidths than speech, like music, graphic imagery and visual story. Math and design.

Credits to Laurie Anderson and her Language is a Virus song, and William Burroughs before that. Language assembles sequences that act like genes, for building functional ways we perceive and interact with reality. Much like proteins work to manipulate matter.

Sometimes replication depends on survival of the host, and even the host’s well-being, in which case it’s called symbiotic. Organism and host work as a team. Microbes of this type make up more of our body than our cells. We are a multitude.

Sometimes, however, an organism is only about its own replication, host or environment be damned. This model is called a pathogen. i.e. “pathos”-producing. Pathos from the Greek “what befalls one.” Concerned only with their own survival and replication, everything else is the “other”, they destroy their hosts with strategies designed to find new hosts. The end game is unsustainable and results in total destruction, but it seldom gets that far.

Information seems to be a fabric of nature, like energy and matter. And code instructs biological processes of growth and maintenance, including processes of our brains. Our thoughts are fabrications of our biology as much as our cells. Code can build allies, making a union stronger than the parts, making the whole more resilient.

Or code can maximize its own survival, spreading sensationally and utilizing channels and mammalian habitual behaviors in ways that leverage and accelerate its chances to jump ships while its current one is sinking. As media accelerates and globalizes the spread of thoughts, code has unprecedented vectors for both symbiosis and pathology. Until we can quarantine our awareness from thoughts, we will continue to mindlessly and haphazardly embody both.

It may behoove us to practice some social distancing between our awareness and identification with thoughts so we aren’t unduly infected by the pandemic of panic and fear and so we do not become carriers of these for others. Or not.

“I choose to live by choice, not by chance.” — Miyamoto Musashi

Standing Rock

WESTLAND, MI - JULY 10: Courtney Thompson, age 12, of Romulus, Michigan decorates her friend's face while playing in a giant lake of mud during Mud Day at Nankin Park July 10, 2007 in Westland, Michigan. The annual Mud Day event consists of 200 tons of topsoil combined with 20,000 gallons of water and is sponsored by the Wayne County parks and recreation department. (Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)My thoughts today are at Standing Rock. In a dream last night, I smeared my face with a mixture of earth, water and some fragrant herb. Ok, yeah, mud. I showed another gringo how to do this. Yeah, I’m part gringo too, though I’m also in the tribal rolls. I showed him how to clap, hands above head, to each direction. A young Native American approached, we hugged, he said “well met brother”, and ran up the mountain, turning somersaults in grassy openings. I thought it looked like fun, and before the final part of the ritual, washing my face in the river, I slid down a steep grassy slope on my belly that felt like fur (the slope, not my belly) to the bottom of a vale. And I awoke thinking about Standing Rock and the Ghost Dance of the Pauites and Wounded Knee.

The Oxford dictionary word of the year for 2016 is “post-truth.” An adjective “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” This is about all we see in the news these days.

Investigating Standing Rock a little more deeply, it’s not so black and white as post-truth media suggests. On the one hand, The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers green-lighted the project with an apparently cursory review and environmental assessment and approved it under a “fast-track” option. Native Americans protested, reacting against environmental issues in addition to the dispossession of their lands.

Technically the pipeline doesn’t cross Native American lands, except there is an old treaty, before the reservations were parsed out, which was never formally nullified. Nor are there any ancient burial grounds or sacred archaeological artifacts. The pipeline does cross under the Missouri river a half mile from the reservation and a spill could have major impact on a critical water supply. Normally this would have required review as mandated in the Clean Water Act but somehow($?) it got an exemption.

Camps were setup by Indigenous leaders which have been the focal point of the spiritual and environmental resistance, attracting many protesters, especially on the weekends. One camp that was forcefully evacuated was directly in the path of the pipeline. There are the skirmishes with private security companies and militarized police using dogs, concussion grenades, rubber bullets and water cannons in freezing weather. Along with claims of protesters ignoring private property lines and harassing security guards with knifes and poking them with fence posts.

The company claims it is losing millions daily in delays caused by the protest. The protesters point out that recent pipeline spills, one in Kalamazoo river in Michigan and another crude oil spill in the Yellowstone River in Montana has cost over a billion to date to clean up and are still contaminated.

Unless one is in firmly in one or another of the post-truth camps, this is not a clearcut issue over right and wrong. On the one side is water and earth. From the dream, to me this speaks of things that endure, epochs of time rather than moments. And clarity. Clean water is both clear and reflective.

On the other hand is fire and air. Supply and demand. There is a great and immediate demand for oil and thus great profit in providing it. There are better solutions long term, and on the horizon, but we have tremendous sunken costs. Jobs, conveniences, stability in the status quo. The elders at Standing Rock don’t deny this reality. But many of the protesters are against fossil fuel companies as a matter of principle.

The company could have taken another route, at the cost of an additional 11 miles and endangering a different water supply. One in an area predominately white. I’m not sure race made as big a difference as the accounting on 11 less miles of pipeline.

Many indigenous are tired of being pushed out of the way time and time again for economic interests of companies, shielded by state or government authority for hire, and see this as an opportunity to come together to take a stand. There are 3 kinds of power in this world (thanks Starhawk.) Power-over is the power of force. Power-with is the power of a collective wisdom and power-within is our own personal and spiritual integrity.

In our times it seems the power of force and law is often at odds with the sensible or the just. And opposing this in return with the power of force leads to wars, terrorism and revolutions in a never ending cycle. What’s emerging, at Standing Rock and beyond, is an awakening of these twin powers of with and within as a strength to be reckoned.

First within, with clarity and reflection on what is important to a quality of life that’s based on more than fear or greed. A letting go of appearances and things to experience the essence of what and who we are and want to be. Many are disillusioned with self-worth based on what we consume, or what we own or where we happen to be born in the world.

Then comes the “with” as we learn we are all part of the same journey. That this planet is alive and that everything is connected. That we have eyes in our hands all over the world that turn into streams of images of things that can’t stay hidden. Not only are the voices of the surveilled accessible to those in power but voices of those in power, spoken in secret, can be heard by the people.

What can integrity and connection do against force? What can awareness and communication accomplish? I think we’re going to see more examples like Standing Rock, becoming more and more effective at swaying the attention of the world back to things that matter to all of us, not just a few of us.

And maybe we need to touch bases once and while with mother earth and get a little mud on our faces and honor the quarters and turn a few somersaults or roll down a hill confident that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves.

Maybe the word of the year 2021 will be “post-force.”

Japan 2016

Made it back from Japan. We scouted out Matsumoto as a future home for a year or two. It’s nestled near the Japanese Alps, has a laid back atmosphere and cooler climate than Tokyo or Kyoto. Assuming we gain basic fluency in Spanish this next year, we may be moving there so I can do the same with Japanese.

Visiting Japan is like visiting the future. Especially so when coming from Ecuador. We caught up with old friends and Miho flew in from Ishigaki, Okinawa to share a room and visit with us in Kyoto. Met some new folks and one crazy young world traveler (Masato) in Asakusa that we met in Ecuador back in February (he passed us a copy of his amazing travel photo book.)  And, of course, we indulged in all the yummy food.

After busy days, it was fun to retire back to our lodging, take a hot bath with the exotic spa powders and sip a craft beer (yay! They’ve come to Japan!) while watching season 3 of Black Mirror piped from my dinky Surface 3 to their 60” behemoth room TVs. Travel is not as austere as it used to be 🙂 In fact I’d like to make travel as seamless as possible. Since it’s no longer a “vacation” but rather a lifestyle, some rules of the game change. Dabbling with art projects in coffee-shops, connecting with the nature and rhythm of the place, meditating on the train. Deepening bonds with old friends, enjoying the serendipity of changing locales and, for me, re-immersion in the language. Instead of putting things on hold during the trip, things continue with enhancements 🙂

Back home here in Cuenca there’s a series of festivals, all souls day, all saints day and culminating tomorrow in Cuenca independence day. And today’s the 3rd and last day of my 3 day fast after returning, I think I’m almost reset.

Well, not quite reset. Sleeping hours are wonky for both of us. It’s an easy adjustment to Japan but coming back takes a week or two. Luckily our schedules are a bit fluid.

The Circus and the Muses

Is this blog ever updated? Not so much. We’re getting ready for the trip in October. We have tickets out of Cuenca to Quito for the first leg of the journey, but ayaiyaiyai. What’s happening with the airport here is a mystery dressed in clown pants-with-a-missing-shoe.

First they closed the airport, when that one plane skid off the runway. Only time that had happened in the 10 years or so since the airport opened.

Then they re-opened, just to close it abruptly on any day it was raining sufficiently. No one ever knew what “sufficiently” meant, exactly. But there were rumors you could see a guy with a stick walking around poking the runway that may have been part of their occult reconnaissance.

After months and studies and estimates, they decided what had to be done and who to do it. Resurfaced the runaway and completed it within a month. Paid a million dollars. Finished right on schedule (the second schedule, that is)  Yay!

Then no airplanes came. At least from Quito. Some smaller ones are flying back and forth from Guayaquil. The Cuenca Mayor is mad, the airlines say the runaway is still slippery, worse even. And the Mayor has smelly feet. Or something. My Spanish is lacking. The government wheels into action, the EC equivalent of the FAA claims the runaway has been inspected, approved and ready to roll. What’s your deal TAME airlines? TAME releases a statement on their web site about  “we must implement mandatory technical procedures designed to ensure flight safety, thereby safeguarding the integrity of our passengers, crew and aircraft.” What does that mean?? Nobody knows. At least I don’t. It probably has something to do with a guy and a stick. And it wouldn’t matter except I have these two tickets, with a chain of connecting flights…

Probably any sane person would have rescheduled the flights by now. But I have confidence in the system here. Things tend to happen just in time. So I’m waiting until the end of the week, maybe the beginning of next week and see what can be cobbled together, if necessary, in the form of short hops or buses to Guayaquil and transits to Quito to make the red-eye to Houston.

Besides that, I wrote my first short story in Spanish. Very short, like 175 words. I had some help from, a nifty service where you help edit other peoples stuff in your native language and others in turn help edit yours in theirs. We’ve got a Photo/Story contest coming up in school, and the teacher was kind of puzzled when I asked her if I could write my story ON the photo (that image above is the final result 🙂

Well, back to important tasks, these 4 sugar skulls aren’t going to draw themselves…

BTW, that serious looking dude in the picture is national poet, Remigio Crespo Toral, from Cuenca and that’s his muses in the background. I thought I’d give it voice…the story in English:

They are behind me again, aren’t they? Sometimes, when I don’t know what to write, I hear them talking as they pass. Stories from outside of this world. Stories I don’t understand. But sometimes, I catch a word or two. Sometimes an idea. And these must be from another place. Because they grow so quickly. Some people call me an author. But I think, in reality, I’m just a open field. When I am lucky, on the whispers of inspiration, floats a tiny seed. And I am just a gardener. I water it. Care for it. Try to tell the flowers from the weeds. And sometimes, a miracle unfolds. But what I bring to market, is only the flower. Not the roots. The roots are the flower underground, reaching toward a deeper sun. And the flower is divided, between what is for us and what is for something greater. Something hidden. Something that nurtures all appearances. At least, that’s what I think they are saying. This time. Perhaps I will remember. Perhaps I will write it down and see what grows.

A Report on my 80% Today

Today is a holiday in Ecuador. Independence day from the Spaniards, rather than the English. Tomorrow we’re going to a friend’s for tea. We met her in Spanish class and it should be entertaining. She’s Iranian. A fearless speaker, mixing English and Spanish in an animated stream that almost makes sense and leads to some bizarre and funny tangents of conversation. Often the teacher had to tell her that a word was English, not Spanish, and I completely understand. I’m trying to shovel Japanese in my head for our October trip, in the midst of Spanish lessons, and I know I’ll be mixing up the two. The brain is a funny thing.

I tried chochos the other day. A type of bean native to Ecuador and Peru, hailed as the next superfood. Better protein and nutrient profiles than soybean. Only drawback is it takes a few days to cook. Luckily they sell it precooked. It’s about the size and texture of a garbanzo bean, might be interesting to try making hummus with it.

Nothing too exciting going on, culturally anyway. I figure about 80% or more of my daily experience would probably be the same, even if we lived in Mongolia. Today, for example, I’m deep into the exploration of neural nets and tinkering with building my own for both experimentation and a couple of projects. I also have a sandbox setup for hackery and am surfing topologies of the network geography down here, mapping activity that invisibly overlays and shimmers atop the pre-digital physical and cultural landscapes. With a casual intent on updating my skills, perhaps towards a consulting gig in cyber-security. I have experimental oscillators and virtual instruments running, riffing a spectrum of novel sounds. I’m not sure what our neighbors think of some of the extraterrestrial vibrations occasionally pulsing through the walls. But I enjoy shaping and sculpting sound waves like blocks of wood or granite exploring what’s beneath. And finally, working on a little light particle project, shepherding the tiny scintillating flocks into simulations of fireflies across a darkened glade. With a dab of cricket song I sampled in Fort Collins out the bedroom window and a geometric sigil glowing in the stars to channel helpful energy from those viewing the piece into increasing the fireflies chances of survival in our light polluted environments.

So anyway, more of a picture maybe of what’s going on 🙂 Be well my friends and family. Here’s a metta meditation I’ve sent to each and all of you at one time or another. And will continue to do so

may you be safe
may you be happy
may you be healthy
may you live with ease

Construction Continues

A few shots today from a Sunday stroll. This is our street and construction for the tranvia continues as far as the eye can see in both directions.

Haven’t really updated this blog since our Colorado trip. Wow. It was great visiting with family and touching bases. Didn’t see all the friends that we would have liked, the 3 weeks seem to zip by. And here we are planning our next trip to Japan in the October. Got all the accommodations booked, made the plane reservations. But will probably have to tweak the one from Cuenca to Quito. The airport here is still dicey. They can close it due to rain and you’re left hanging without a refund if you have a ticket that day. Will wait a month or so and see if they change the policy. Otherwise we may be taking a scenic van ride to Guayaquil and flying to Quito from there.

We started Spanish classes again. Wednesdays and Fridays. It’s officially winter here, I think, which means the temps can dip down to the mid 50’s during the day. No biggie, we haven’t needed additional heat or cooling in apartment. Which is probably good because we don’t have any. Except for some alpaca blankets and a wool poncho. Which I sometimes use as my South American version of a Japanese hanten. I’ve worn that poncho to a more than a few ceremonies down here, so it’s seen some things…

Coming back to our apartment life here in centro, it strikes me that we’ve pretty much broken our “dependencies” for things that fill a lot of space: books, bookshelves, stereo and home entertainment centers, separate rooms for separate functions, furniture, other than a comfy chair and a nice bed.

Neither of us are really into collecting clothes, tools (other than a laptop, kindle and good set of headphones) , don’t need a car or other vehicle, or many cooking appliances (we don’t even have an oven now.) I do like a desk and good chair, but I’m comfortable in cozy coffee shops, libraries and other shared spaces, especially with headphones. My exercise is portable: body-weight routines, yoga, walking and qi gong don’t need equipment. I can meditate and fast anywhere. Which pretty much takes care of my mind/body routines. Miko uses some light-weight bands. Everything we truly need to setup a new home can fit in a couple of suitcases each. While we both prefer urban environments, a rural or isolated place wouldn’t incur much of a shift with semi-decent Internet connectivity.

Back in the States it’s becoming more noticeable how much of a hurry people are in and how stressed life seems to be by contrast. Part of it is being retired, I’m sure, but it also seems there’s more dissatisfaction with life these days. I’m grateful that for now, anyway, our time and space is more free of clutter than it’s ever been. And I think most people, even those in the busy US, have this option, to a greater extent than they may realize. Something about possessions that own us, and the constant hype of manufactured desire for material things that may warrant a future posting. But I’ve been slack enough just getting to this one posted, so…

Heading North

Last night I dreamt I felt another earthquake. Weird. Woke up this morning pondering the dream and felt a little tremor. Aftershocks from a dream?! But then discovered we did have another quake this morning at around 3:00am, and the aftershock was real.

Don’t think I posted since the big earthquake, but we were definitely awake for that one. It seemed to last forever (about a minute, solid) So long I was actually starting to get a little seasick. We kept looking at each other and looking at the roof and saying, “wow”, “wow.”

I was impressed in the days that followed, the big lines of cars and trucks bringing food and water and supplies to the park to assist. We didn’t have any spare clothes or spare anything really, but we bought some big bags of rice to tote down there.

Had an interesting talk with an Ecuadorian yesterday about the Buen Vivir initiative. He wasn’t that impressed with it and thought: a) he could figure out himself how to have a good life and didn’t need any input from the government and b) the government officials in charge of the program just sit on their butts all day. Nothing like some on the ground reporting. The Ecuadorians I’ve met do seem like a pretty independent bunch, don’t really trust the government and pride themselves on figuring ways around the system. But that’s a topic for another post.

Flying out today, hopefully. There was a minor mishap at the Cuenca airport last month. A plane skid off the runway and out onto the field. It is a rather short runway, but it’s the first time it had happened in 10 years and no one was hurt. It took them a few weeks to drag the plane across the field to the hanger. Guess they had no procedures, so the airport was closed for two weeks while they figured it out. Soon after, some bureaucrat decided that if it rains, flights will be canceled. Effective until August 10th.

There’s a few problems with that. It rains a lot here, and it’s unpredictable when. Usually it only lasts an hour or two at most, but it may come in the morning, afternoon or evening. We’ve learned it usually rolls in from the east, so we check the sky before heading out. Most people around here don’t even bother and if it lets loose they hang out in a doorway or just walk through it, figuring they’ll dry out later. About 1/3 may actually have umbrellas or raincoats.

But back to the problem at hand. Since the rain is unpredictable, we don’t know if we’re going to fly out today or not. But since we already bought the tickets, if it does rain, we’re out of luck. No refunds. Because it’s not their fault, they didn’t know it was going to rain. Act of God and all… uhhmmm…

So I bought a white rose from the flower vendors the other day. She said 50 cents, I said 25. Started to check the next stand and she decided 25 would work. You’re really not supposed to negotiate for these type of operations, but negotiation is just a way of making small talk around here.

I put the flower in my cool Ecuadorian double high shot glass vase and gave it to my little Ganesha, clearer of obstacles, to help streamline the trip. Another challenge will be getting a taxi during rush hour today since the streets are closed outside our door for the construction. But I have a feeling things will work out.

Looking forward to visiting friends and family and to catching up on some food cravings (cheddar cheese, sushi, indian, a good steak or two. Ale.) And some wrestling with the grand-daughter. Safe travels to the other crews heading north and south east. Got to catch up on our hugs and tall tales!

Buen Vivir

Beyond Capitalism?

There is a grand experiment afoot here, an initiative to do more than merely subsist or materially profit. It’s called Buen Vivir. To live well. Based on an older Andean ideal called (in Kichwa): Sumak Kawsay.
The meaning is more nuanced than it first appears; it’s not solely about the good life of an individual but about a good life within the community. And the community includes a harmonious cohabitation with nature and the world. It’s not a system designed to profit the 1%, it’s an actual plan, a roadmap, which along with their constitution encapsulates a vision for what Ecuador is striving to become. The 12 directions envisioned, corresponding to 12 points of the Andean cross (chakana), are:
  1. To Foster Social and Territorial Equality, Cohesion, and Integration with Diversity.
  2. To Improve the Citizens’ Capabilities and Potentialities.
  3. To Improve the Quality of Life of the Population.
  4. To Guarantee the Rights of Nature and Promote a Healthy and Sustainable Environment.
  5. To Guarantee Sovereignty and Peace; to Promote Ecuador’s Strategic Insertion in the World, and Latin American Integration.
  6. To Guarantee Stable, Fair and Dignified Work in its Diverse Forms.
  7. To Build and Strengthen Public and Intercultural Spaces for Social Interactions.
  8. To Affirm and Strengthen National Identity, Diverse Identities, Plurinationalism and Interculturalism.
  9. To Guarantee Rights and Justice.
  10. To Guarantee Access to Public and Political Participation.
  11. To Establish a Sustainable Socio-economic System Based on Solidarity.
  12. To Build a Democratic State for Good Living.
These priorities emphasize community, respect for nature and integration with diversity. Almost each point stands in blatant contrast to pure capitalism, which is more focused on the unfettered market as a rudder for a morality and progress based on immediate and personal gain. As if a free market itself will somehow work out for the public good. Just like the “trickle down” belief … how’s that working for us? Too soon?
Models of progress through development like we have in the US and most of the “first” world, rely on an infinitely expanding pool of consumers and producers … it’s not really designed to ever come to a state of balance and it assumes unlimited resources. We’re slowly discovering that’s not the case and a number of our assumptions, which may have worked on smaller scales of human population, are wrecking havoc in the massively populated world of today.
There are only so many cars we can sell, until everybody has one or two and the world chokes on smog (imagine if everyone in India and China had a car?) And then come the layoffs in the factories and the distribution chains that depend on steady and growing sales. Making and selling more and more stuff sustains jobs, which requires tapping more and more raw resources and siphoning more energy from the planet is not a viable long term solution. And that “long term” is looking more and more like today, instead of some distant future.
There are, however, some very very rich interests that don’t want to see these wheels grind to a stop until the world itself does. And then they’ll step off and claim it was a good ride, while it lasted. The best game in town. For them. But Buen Vivir is more about us. Respect for each of us, our children, their children and these long suffering, intelligent entities of nature and this mother earth that makes living here possible.


This is a new type of constitution, not just about an individual’s rights “to the pursuit of happiness”, but about their responsibilities to each other and to a world where we have been nothing but takers. Perhaps we can learn to live with, and even respect, the diversity that is our world and our selves before we, and it, are destroyed in the wake of our rigid and limited vision. Or not.