Archive for September, 2003

This is from an email I sent to a friend about SF:

The bay area is cool. There is a lot to do. The city has a festival or organization for every interest possible. It is extremely easy to find a group to promote whatever fantasy or obsession you wish to indulge.

I couldn’t find a support group for the shiftless and disaffected so I went to a leather S&M and Bondage festival instead. They closed off Fulsom street and were selling leather and sex toys and ass fucking machines. There were chicks with their titties out and dudes walking naked except for a cock ring. There were public displays of spankings and floggings. And the police were making sure the whole thing didn’t get out of hand. Out of hand???? If ass fucking machines and naked dudes in cock rings ain’t out of hand, well…..

On the flip side they did have excellent thai chicken sandwiches and plenty of safe sex booths giving out free condoms and personal lubricant. And the people were all pretty friendly.

I stayed for about an hour and a half…then left. It was cool to look at, but hanging out made me feel a little too close to the fire. I mean, I’m all for self-expression…as long as you keep it to yourself.

I like it out here in SF. If I could get a job I would probably stay. I like the South too. I am from there and it feels homey, but I haven’t really enjoyed being there since I was in college.

Of course, depending on how you look at it…I haven’t really enjoyed being anywhere since college. I enjoyed camp (3 months), Spain (4 months), Israel (4 months) and the movement of travel. That isn’t enough time in any one place to allow it to get on your nerves.

Its like I said, I’m not sure if I know how to be satisfied. I think I do, but I’ve never actually done it for any amount of time.

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More on SF:

There aren’t any fat people in SF. In the South everyone is fat. At home all women are on a diet that isn’t working. Here everyone is obsessed with fitness, and they actually seem to stick to it. I have theories about why that is so.

No one is actually from SF. It is a city of foreigners, people that moved here for a tech job or because they were misfits back home. The only thing permanent in SF is the land it sits on.

They speak about the city as if it were its own entity. The city of SF itself is often a topic of conversation aside from the people, the buildings or the weather. They talk of it with a sense of reverence even. Can a city be a thing in its own right??

SF is a city of acceptance and tolerance…..which is a remarkable achievement. The bums are friendly and the gays, the techies, and the suits all pass each other in the streets with a minimum of disaffection. The strong anti-establishment population remains so without being hateful. However, the line between tolerance and ambivalence is dangerously thin.

It is great to be single in SF because there are lots of other singles. But I’ve noticed SF tends to keep you single too. Because it is a city of foreigners, it is a city of searchers; everyone came here looking for something better.

I applaud better, but it is a symptom of my generation that we don’t know better when we have it….because we’re always looking for something better. And so these people remain single and thin and preoccupied, overworked and forever striving….stuck between the passions of youth and the responsibilities of adulthood…unable to commit fully to either.

SF is proud of its achievements and searching and acceptance, but also dissatisfied with it. It is a little spiritually bankrupt too….a product of the people living here….a reflection of the preoccupations of my generation.

(Bear in mind that I am a part of my generation and so only see the things that reinforce my own neuroses. SF is truly a great city and contains a little of pretty much whatever you’re looking for. I just see what I want I suppose.)

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I’ve been in San Francisco for over a week now. Its a great city, like 10 cities in one. You can visit most of the world by public transport all on one peninsula.

There is certainly a diversity of people too. One thing about living in the South, both to its benefit and detriment, is that most people are the same. There is strength and safety in the familiarity, but there is a want of interesting people too…at least as a percentage of the population.

However, there is a fine line between interesting and freaking weird and my line is being redrawn by the day. I mean, there are some fucking space cadets out here. Weird for the sake of weirdness. Homeless as a political statement. A casual acceptance of the mentally ill.

It depends on where you go, but I’m living in Berkeley now. There are more coffee shops than gas stations, more yoga studios than grocery stores.

I’m sure many people moved out here for the life and vibrancy of the city…its amazing. I’m also sure many people moved out here because they weren’t accepted where they were living before.

I like San Francisco. I’d move out here if I could. But it is a city for the young, a playground for the single, the misfit and the affluent. Right now I am one of those, maybe two, but certainly not the third.

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I vote for positivity and acknowledge my responsibility to other people.

No contract can be sufficiently specified as to prevent dishonest behavior by those who wish to gain advantage. At the end of the day a contract is only as good as the morals and good faith of the people signing the paper. For democracy and capitalism, and thus our society, to work there must be rule of law.

The question then becomes who or what is communicating our common moral ground?

The primary mission of our schools has become to teach children skills for financial gain. Is it any wonder we are manufacturing self-centered consumers devoid of a larger context within which to live their lives?

My mother and I had a conversation a while back about the role of religion in people’s lives. Religion, at its best, is a repository of human wisdom. It tells us how to live together in relative peace, based on the accumulated experience of everyone that ever existed. It communicates these values to its members and they pass it down to their children and the religions itself reinforces family and community, which reinforces the values in a neat feedback loop. Religion is failing to pass down our collective wisdom about how to live in groups.

Government can also play such a role. You may say government should not get involved in moral education. History is rife with horrible attempts at moral realignments. It is not the job of schools or the government to tell us what to believe.

I agree to a certain extent. I am not advocating moral indoctrination. But someone or something must force us to consider at a young age what it means to live in a group (like a country), what responsibilities (if any) we have to those around us, and what are the consequences of ignoring these rules and responsibilities.

Mom mentioned that schools never really provided much in the way of moral instruction. The teachers were stricter, but they reflected the family and church values already in place. If the family unit is in decline and the church has failed to keep itself relevant, something must educate us or we will forget…we are forgetting.

My point is that we can whine about the decline of morals and rise of the inhuman capitalist juggernaut, but the structure of our society does not reinforce the behaviors we really desire. It promotes a cut-throat, take what you can, all is good that is profitable attitude that downgrades human interaction to something to be studied and put in a customer database to increase revenue.

We are surrounded with all this, become used to it and thus it doesn’t affect us? Wrong. I lived in a Christian community at Camp Rockmont for 10 weeks and I can say that the world pretty much blows my ass. People are short-tempered, inconsiderate, and self-serving to their own detriment.

I am appalled by what I see on television, the topics of conversation I hear in passing at the coffee shop, and the barrage of advertising that tells me that product X will get me laid or make me richer. It isn’t nearly as offensive when you are around it everyday, but it smacks you in the face when you come back to it. The “real world” stands in stark contrast to a functional Christian community.

I am not much of a Christian. I was born a faithless skeptic, but the practice of Christian values, aside from the issue of faith, is good for the heart. A common moral ground is good for community. Do you know what it feels like to be certain you are surrounded with people who have your best interests at heart and will be there for you if you need help? It is an extremely powerful experience. It gives you hope for the future and makes our current state seem all the sadder.

No fact is devoid of value judgment. Decisions based “only on the facts” are also ultimately bound by value judgments. After all, on which facts do you choose to base your decision? By refusing to back a code of ethics, Schools, Communities and Governments are still making value judgments.

By obsessing on economics the Government is saying that money is the most important value in our society. This judgment implies that financial gain supersedes friends and family; that it is ok to break moral codes for money, because money is our most important value. But capitalism needs moral citizens to function correctly. Free Markets – Moral Citizens = Organized Crime + Corruption.

By refusing to educate students on the rules of living together in large groups and focusing on “impartial” scientific facts, schools are robbing us of collective wisdom and, most importantly, of the context of scientific advancement. Facts are not impartial. Science should be a slave to our well-being. If we lose it’s context we allow it to behave like cancer and raise facts themselves to the level of a social good, an implicit value judgment that may give us many new facts, but will serve us poorly in deciding what to do with those facts.

Facts without a context in which to place them leads to moral relativity. Individuals left to consider their own moral code leads to citizens without the common moral ground needed to get along and play fairly.

These shortcomings lead to increased interference of government in our lives. After all, someone must make sure we do not consume ourselves. The government passes laws to save us from our own ill behavior and there are more laws creating more loopholes and more lawyers creating more lawsuits which leads to more potential financial gain from legal action which is a social good since money is the highest value (even though human goodwill is destroyed in the process) and more lawsuits leads to more laws being passed which starts up the circle again. The litigious nature of our society isn’t about laws and lawyers, or really about money. It is about our failure to acknowledge our responsibility to each other. It is a failure of values.

The quest for individual freedoms has caused us to forget our social contract to each other.

There is a fight between individual freedom and the necessity to curb some of those freedoms so that we can live together in groups. You are not free to live how you want if you agree that there is value in fellowship with other people. You trade some of that freedom to do whatever you want for the joy and utility of being around others.

Economists support Individualism by the Smithian argument that the pursuit of self-interest will lead via the invisible hand to the social optimum. All that society has to do in the extreme model is to establish property rights and a strong legal framework.

Yet all our experience shows that this is wrong; that contracts cannot be specified fully enough and courts cannot operate efficiently enough to produce good outcomes, unless most people already have a taste for good behavior. More important, the pursuit of individual self-interest is not a good formula for personal happiness. You will be happier if you also obtain happiness from the good fortunes of others. In fact the doctrine that your main aim must be self-advancement is a formula for producing anxiety, alienation and mistrust.

In this context the role of economic teaching is truly problematic. We tell people that they are rational, selfish economic agents and it is not surprising that they become more so. Robert Frank asked students at Cornell whether they would report it if they were undercharged for a purchase, and whether they would return a lost addressed envelope that contained $100. They were asked in September and again in December after one term’s work. Students who took introductory economics became less honest, while astronomy students became more honest, and the difference was significant. Similarly, when playing the Prisoners Dilemma game, economics students were less likely to cooperate than other students and the gap widened the longer people studied economics. As time passes, economics teaching is seeping increasingly into our culture. This has many good results but also glaring bad one, of justifying selfishness.

Capitalism and Democracy need a moral citizenry to function and a feedback system that punishes corruption and rewards morality.

Free societies contain the seeds of their own destruction: The experience of freedom leads to a voracious desire for more of it, steadily severing individuals’ attachment to family and faith.

Freedom without morality can cause toleration to turn into rigid and unconvincing neutrality….much like a sophisticated apathy.

Freedom and Individualism are surely great. But they also tend to pit you against everyone and leave you alone and unsatisfied. Morality isn’t a sideshow. It is the main event. The decision to value one outcome over the other is what makes us human. It gets at the root of the most fundamental of questions: Why are we here? I know the answer. We are here to care. The greatest sin is convincing others that it doesn’t matter.

Every time I hear Dr. Phil or one of those other armchair psychologists say, “forget everyone else, do what makes you happy,” I cringe. There are many, many people that are overly concerned with others and do need a healthy dose of internal motivation. But, there is a fine line between “forget everyone else, do what makes you happy,” and “I don’t care about anyone else and will chase happiness to my own destruction”.

Capitalism and Democracy go hand in hand. They are the political and economic sides of the same coin. I don’t want to undermine their successes, which have been unsurpassed. But it is telling. The reaction against globalization is acknowledgment that we are exporting consumerism, moral relativism, apathy, crime and inability to recognize responsibilities larger than ourselves.

Morals are always on the decline. Every generation thinks the youth of their day are more decadent and less respectful than the one before. Perhaps they are right.

Once again: I stand for positivity and acknowledge that other people matter.

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Tonight I packed to go to San Francisco. I’m ashamed of myself. I waited till the last minute and shoved a bunch of shit in several bags without thinking whether or not it was the right stuff.

I remember when I travelled; packing was a near religious experience. You selected just the right things, minimalized, streamlined, and then ended with a self-contained universe inside a tiny backpack, certain it would serve you well and indefinitely anywhere on the planet.

Oh how times have changed. I am surprised I had the initiative to pack a day early.

Several years ago I contacted about writing an article about the business climate in Chile. I never wrote it of course, but I occasionally visit the site.

This week I’ve spent a lot of time imagining myself in some foreign locale, running a scam or buying a castle or brokering the insanely cheap beach real estate that still exists all over the planet. And Cuba….forget about it. Its a fucking gold mine!! There is so much out there…..

My dad basically owns two houses and has worked very hard for them. That being said, one can assume he is sitting on well over $200,000 of cheap money. Homes are not places to live. They are investment capital….a chance to make money work for you instead of always working for your money.

He never did anything with all that money. My dad is a safe man, both to his credit and detriment. He probably has insurance policies on his insurance….and a supplement on top of that. And now he is near retirement and will likely sit on that money for the rest of his life.

I know I have no family and nothing to lose…but….well there is a story in the bible about a man with three sons. The first squanders the money, the second buries the money under a tree and the third makes money with the money.

The man was not happy with son that buried the money.

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I went to one of my best friend’s wedding last weekend. It was amazing, and reminds me again how one should not settle. You forget how great life can be when you’re surrounded by such mediocrity all the time. It infects you and then one day good enough is better than you expect.

He is one of the finest people I know. His family is as good as any I have ever met and they breed an atmosphere of love, support, and dignity. It is immediately apparent that when you are with the Rogers family that you should be on your best behavior. Their behavior demands it of you. They make you a better person.

He married a girl that is kind, beautiful and lady-like…..almost like a princess. Her family is as good as his.

I was a groomsman. I hadn’t previously met some of the other people in the wedding. They were all great people and I am sorry I do not live nearer to them. I feel like I’m missing out on new friends.

I took several buses out to Westport, MA from the Boston airport for the wedding. The difference between the people I watched in the bus station and the people I met in Westport was frightening. There is such a disparity. I know human nature dictates we can’t all be the same, but I wish it weren’t so much so and believe we can close that gap.

Their wedding was almost 4 days of idyllic beach settings, great food and wonderful people. They went to Tahiti the next day on their honeymoon. If you think storybook weddings between two beautiful people, joining two great families is a fantasy and only happens in old books, you are wrong.

Most of the time good enough is simply not good enough.

Here is a picture of the groomsmen:

The groom is the guy to my right

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Q: Why is there a worm in bottles of tequila?

A: To see if the Gringos will eat worms.

I may have wasted many hours reading the garbage on, but they wasted far more in researching the answers.

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