NaNoWriMo is coming!!

It’s the season for literature!  Hopefully it won’t leave me quite this red-faced, but it is early to say. Written characters tend to take on a life of their own.

Unless something happens over the next five hours or so, I am about to write 50 000 words of erotic religious sci-fi coming-of-age humor. May the Light have mercy on my soul; I have nothing to say in my defense. It is just… NaNoWriMo. Again.

Martin – Martinus Albertus of Little Chicken Springs – lives near the east coast of Vinland (North America in our timeline). He is a high school boy of the less than very manly sort, and an avid “nimyn” (comic book addict, otaku). One day, stung by the accusation that he knows nothing about art despite his expertise in appreciating comics, he goes to the library to check out ancient art. In an art book he finds a picture of the obscure Renaissance painting The Humiliation of St Chronica, in which a female saint was undressed in public by heretical priests, and he has a sudden conversion experience. Religion is not something he is particularly familiar with, and some pretty weird things happen as he and those around him adjust to his new lifestyle.

Perhaps I should just have written about my Sims after all. Oh well. At least my arm is better.

Regulation vs transparency

Your number one friend is yourself! This is pretty much also the basic tenet of “the dismal science”, economics.

I am mildly surprised to hear demands for “more” regulation of the financial sector, as if that would make things better instead of worse. Some regulation is necessary, but we also have to consider the problem of corruption. As you increase the power of government over business decisions, you increase the benefit of corruption.

Let us take the polar opposite situations. In one scenario, the government has no particular influence on a sector of business. In this scenario, corruption is a waste of money. The various businesses involved could not care less what the government agencies think, and would not spend a dime to influence them.

Now look at the opposite situation, where government has total control over day to day operations. This government sets quota for all kinds of activities, and have nebulous powers to Just Say No to any activity they may find suspicious or not promoting the wellbeing of society, as they see it. In this case, the best investment anyone could do in that branch of business would be to influence the government agencies in any way possible, whether by targeted information campaigns, generous gifts, or good old blackmail. Creativity abounds. But the motivation is certainly there.

By estimating how much influence government has on business operations, we can estimate how strong the pressure toward corruption is. But will this necessarily lead to actual corruption?

The answer to this is that human nature remains human even with the best possible intentions. In other words, corruption WILL happen unless there is a system for watching the watchmen, and then watching the watchers of the watchmen and so on. For each level of overseers it becomes more expensive to corrupt them all. (We must assure that the watchers don’t have the power to actually instruct the executive level, or it would be enough to bribe the watchers.) Of course, adding levels of overseers will cost money which drains society of other resources. Still, it is probably better than corruption.

In other words, what we don’t need is generic “more” regulation. That is worse than nothing. We need more transparency. That is to say, we need to organize things so that correct information is available to as many people as possible.

One way of doing this is to have the participants watch each other. In many countries, sales tax is organized as VAT, Value Added Tax. This means that the final seller collects the sales tax, yes, but also pays sales tax to the previous link in the chain. So a customer may pay sales tax to the retail store, but the retail store pays sales tax to the wholesale business, which again pays sales tax to the factory, and so on. If one of these chains have a completely different set of numbers, something is off. Say the factory and the retailer both sell a lot, but the middleman has much less business. That should ring bells pretty quickly. Same with the other way around, of course.

In contrast, look at the recent financial crisis, the so-called “subprime crisis”. This was caused by packaged loans. What happened was that a few dubious loans were mixed into a batch of pretty solid loans. There was no outright lying about it – probably – but since most of the loans were solid, the total package was considered solid as well. Then such packages were sold again, and each time more rotten loans were added to a package that was deemed “solid”. You can see where this ends. It’s like letting an alcoholic add just a little brandy to the punch. He’ll add a little so often that in the end it is all indistinguishable from brandy.

If one had rules of transparency, so that the content of subprime loans could have been identified at a glance, the crisis could have been averted. But if so, we would also not have had the heady boom years before, when cheap credit was everywhere. Because rotten loans are not cheap. If there is a big risk involved, investors require a “risk premium” to lend you money. This is why, for instance, credit cards have higher interest than mortgages, normally. So the interest rates on loans would have been climbing steadily, and the wild rush into property speculation would not have been possible. People simply would not have been willing to pay that much interest, or conversely, not been willing to lend at that risk.

In this high-transparency scenario, we would not have had the boom of the early 2000s. There would not have been cheap credit to use for consumers, and they would have noticed that their standard of living was not rising (because wages and salaries weren’t). But the thing is, people LIKED to have cheap credit. The banks liked it, but also the government that oversaw the banks liked it, because the voters liked it. Even if the government had been given absolute powers to do whatever they wanted with the financial sector in the year 2000, chances are the result would have been WORSE, since the government not only had the exact same goal (economic growth) but less insight in what was actually going on.

So, not “more regulation”. More transparency. More truth, to put it bluntly.

The gospel according to Twinings

Learning to fly in the School of Hard Knocks.

I wrote somewhat glowingly about the Twinings video a few days ago. At the time I wanted to write a novel inspired by it. Perhaps I will. But I think I may skip that because it is a topic worthy of a masterwork I cannot write (at least yet). You see, I have realized that the Twinings ad is actually a summary of the spiritual journey. It is the essence of religion, in a manner of speaking. No, I have not converted to Tea Worship. Rather, it is the essence of my own religion. Not the tea, but the boat journey.

Please do yourself the favor and watch it, preferably full screen. It may save your soul. OK, probably not. But it’s worth a try.

See, the movie actually starts a little after the actual spiritual voyage has begun. Fairly early after you have decided to set your course for Heaven (your name for this may vary), you have to row. Sorry about that. This is where a lot of people give up. They have been told by their pastor and reliable books that We Can Do Nothing To Our Salvation, that those who try to save themselves are outside grace, are under the Law and will be judged to the full penalty of the Law etc. Well, at least that is what Christians say around here. Your Christians may vary. Other religions are less bothered by this, it seems.

But the truth is that most of us come upon a stretch where we have to row. It just doesn’t feel good to abide by the basic tenets of religion. We want to snap back, we want to hurt or at least threaten those who mock us, we want to take a break from being good, we want to have some fun with our favorite sins from the good old days. Not that this isn’t going to happen anyway unless you’re some super saint, but the thing is, no progress is going to happen if we only do good when we feel good. We just have to sometimes do the right thing even if no one sees it and we don’t feel like we want to at all. We have to set aside time to pray or meditate, to read holy books or whatever our religion dictates which seems meaningless to us when we are tempted to skip it. In other words, we have to row.

The risk here is probably that we might succeed. I do not know why this happens to some people, why they manage to live good lives on their own, in their own strength. I guess that is commendable in its own way, but it is not the spiritual journey. That one happens pretty much like in the YouTube movie. Things get rougher than you had anticipated, and then you make a mistake or something happens and you lose your oar. The inner storm is too wild, your boat is too small, you are too weak. You lose your oar and no matter how much you try, you cannot get it back. You fail at life. Hopefully not in a spectacular manner that lands you in prison or pregnant or worse (although those may also happen here); but inside you this thing happens and things go out of control.

Don’t kill yourself at this point, the fun has barely even started.

The waves get bigger and the storm gets stronger and you seem destined to drown now that there is nothing you can do to save yourself. And then at some point you recognize that you are still alive, and that somehow the storm and the waves are conspiring to send you in the direction you were planning to go, albeit in a scary and uncomfortable manner. And then you start making these great leaps that feel like you are flying, except when you land again, and it feels like THIS time you are going to crash and drown for sure. And it just goes on and on, year after year. But at some point you begin to believe. You have seen the foam of the waves transform into seagulls so many times, you have had so many hard knocks and every time you get thrown forward again. You begin to believe that no, you are probably not going to Dissolution after all, even though you deserve it. And a strange exhilaration fills you as you see the storm throwing you forward, again and again, toward your distant goal.

In real life, this part goes on and on. Years go by for sure.

The end is what you thought your voyage would be, except so much more beautiful. The calm is absolute. Nothing, no pain or even death itself, can make the calm waters even quiver. There is absolute stillness. Or so I have heard – I am still being thrown around by the waves. ^_^ But I have this from pretty reliable sources. Not just Twinings…

The absolute calm, which started inside you as just a tiny mustard seed, has spread to completely engulf you. And in that calm, as Unknown Friend just said the other day, is Heaven itself. Its energies are moving your boat now. At some point, your boat will reach the Other Shore, and you will meet your True Self, the You that called to you from the future with absolute love that you could not deny. Finally you are home. Finally you are complete. Finally you are you.

There is much beyond that, but it is not for me to write about the things in Heaven. I’ll be so happy just to make it to the shore. And if I do, it is because the waves and the storm were directed to help me, even though I thought they were going to destroy me.

So that is the spiritual journey according to Twinings. But I may be wrong. You see, you hear these funny voices, in the Tower of Song…

Now may be a good time to watch it once more, preferably full screen. Does your heart agree with mine?

Subjective wealth

Let them eat cake!

Still sick, still trying to be short, still trying to not roleplay a holy apostle on the Internet.

Let us talk about money. It is a definitely this-worldly thing, I hope we agree. There may be those who worship it, but hardly in a literal, religious sense. Apart from that, admittedly, all bets are off. People can get really excited about it. Probably more than it warrants.

I have looked at these protest movements in the USA and elsewhere, where people want a change to the current distribution of wealth, where a small minority has most of the money. I do not agree with them. Here is why.

As I see it, there is not a big difference between the rich and the middle class. Not even between the super-rich and the lower middle class. Sure, in absolute numbers the difference is staggering. A single oligarch can have more money than a whole town. But it is still just different levels of luxury. The real difference is down to the actual poor: Those who don’t know where their next meal will come from, or where they will sleep tonight, or when they will find a pair of shoes without holes.

You may have read about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.We often refer to this as a “pyramid of needs”, but I have a revelation for y’all: In terms of money, it is actually an upside-down pyramid. It takes little money to eat, it takes a lot of money to gain social status, and in between there are things like living in a good neighborhood, getting high-quality medical treatment and so on.

But it gets even more convoluted than that. For the highest levels of the traditional pyramid barely need any money at all. To actualize yourself certainly may require some free time (“slack”), but you can also gain that through having a menial job you can do with half your brain. You don’t need to travel the world to grow as a human. But it probably helps to not be so hungry that you don’t know or care where you are and what you are doing.

I think of money as following a Briggsian logarithm, or base 10. That is to say, someone who has 100 dollars is twice as rich as one who has 10. One who has a million dollar is twice as rich as one who has 100 000. Actually I am not sure, it may be fading at higher levels, but it seems to hold pretty well at low levels. If you don’t have money at all, having money to buy a bread makes a huge difference. A bread can provide food for a person for a week. But for a middle-class person, finding extra money of that order is basically worthless. It is barely worth stopping to pick up. For Bill Gates in his prime, it was said that picking up a $1000 bill would cause him a net loss, because his time was so much more worth.

Does this make sense to you?

A new restriction

No! No, I mustn’t destroy my health to blogviate at great length about things that are mostly above my praygrade!

Starting yesterday, my right arm hurts pretty much from the neck to the fingers, although some poses are not too bad. I can type, but not much. I also happen to have a head and throat cold, so I can’t dictate much either.

Perhaps “Someone Up There” thinks I should cut down on the sanctimonious prattle…?

And I had even found this great passage from Meditations on the Tarot that I would gladly write about, but perhaps you understand it with just his own words. Perhaps you even understand it better? Who knows.

For the “zone of silence” does not only signify that the soul is, fundamentally, at rest, but also, and rather, that there is contact with the heavenly or spiritual world, which works together with the soul. He who finds silence in the solitude of concentration without effort, is never alone. He never bears alone the weight that he has to carry; the forces of heaven, the forces from on high, are there taking part from now on.


Misunderstandable book titles

“Perverted people and pure people often fail to communicate.” After I saw this, I have adopted it as one of my favorite proverbs.

I looked at my Amazon Kindle recommendations a while ago, and noticed a rather unexpected title: True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. Now, my initial reaction was that I must have strayed further into Catholic territory than I intended, and that is indeed the proper conclusion. But the next thought was what my Liberal friends would think if they saw that book title. That’s almost enough to make a grown man blush.

I came to think of it today again because of the book I am reading on the bus. While I tend to read paper books at home (if at all), I read e-books on my Galaxy Tab. This has the side benefit that people can’t see the title or even the general type of book you are reading. (The same goes for dedicated reading boards like Kindle or Nook. I however read books in Kindle format on the Tab, which I use anyway to read up on Twitter and such.)

Now this particular book is indeed Catholic, although I am not. It is called Fire Within and is about the lives (just a little) and teachings of St Teresa of Avila (also known as Teresa of Jesus) and her friend St John of the Cross (of “Dark Night of the Soul” fame, which honestly sounds like the title of a full-fledged horror book. I would not be surprised if some, even among Christians, feel that way about it too). Fire Withinis quite an inspiring book, claiming that the kind of life shown by these two saints is available to all and indeed the intended Christian life even in our days. It is a book suited to call forth self-reflection in a modern reader.

The title Fire Within also happen to sound like a trashy novel about lovers with uncontrollable urges. Or perhaps that is just me.

Don’t get me wrong, a few years ago I have in fact read some romance novels for the decidedly feminine audience, although quite possibly all of them were “supernatural romance” before that became synonymous with more or less glittering vampires. I have written about this in the past, but basically there were sorcerers, aliens, fallen angels, survivors from sunken continents, that kind of things. So I guess if someone mistook me for reading a trashy novel these days, I would not even get what I deserved.

And the paper book I am occasionally reading at home? Meditations on the Tarot, at least it does not sound like a cheap Harlequin title. It does sound like a typical New Age book though, about how to win the lottery with playing card or things like that. It is also, as it happens, a pretty certified Catholic book, not quite mainstream but accepted by people close to the Pope and quite possibly the Pope himself.

(Why all the Catholicism? Well, it happens to be pretty much the only branch of Christianity I know of with a strong intellectual tradition, and even that mostly in the upper echelons, I’m afraid.)

Yeah, I bought up a bunch of books this summer, just before the Norwegian government launched their tax on e-books from abroad. Because you know, if we don’t tax e-books, people might buy them instead of paper books, and our friends in the paper pulp industry might not contribute to our next election campaign. Paper pulp used to be a pretty big industry around here, although it has largely outsourced of late.

Anyway, I guess the titles weren’t so “ha ha” funny. I am just easily amused. And of course, it is entirely incidental that I get to show off how pious books I am (occasionally) reading these days. Probably holier than thou. Certainly holier than me! I guess I am hoping that it will rub off on me eventually. That could be useful: The less than pious reader my recognize the picture for today’s entry as a picture from the anime Seitokai Yakuindomo, which is virtually all about double entendres and off-color misunderstandings, mostly of the verbal sort. So I may need all the rubbing I can get…


“What you deserve”

I probably still underestimate my happiness, compared to what I deserve. But less than I once did.

How would you like to get what you really deserve? I know there are few things that worry me more than the supposed law of Karma, or Divine Justice, or any such thing that would ensure that at some future time there is a reckoning for my life and I get exactly what I deserve. That would be a definite downer.

And it’s not like I’m some kind of criminal, or even given to grotesque and blatant transgressions against the specifically religious codes of behavior, not by human standards. Well, I have eaten some swine and cows, especially in my younger years, so I may not be welcome in those communities. But I stopped eating blood as soon as I was my own master in the food tray. And I don’t actually sleep around with other people’s wives (or husbands, God forbid) or get drunk and pick fights and blaspheme with impunity. Stuff like that.

That’s pretty much as far as it goes, though. The compass needle of my heart still goes crazy at the sight (or even thought) of certain types of women, although I can control my hands and generally my feet. I am still an unstoppable wellspring of excuses for laziness and gluttony, at least by the traditional standards of these things. (Not American standards, but that is faint praise indeed, may the Light have mercy on the unlucky souls born there.) Despite my supposedly pure intentions of doing my job to the best of my abilities and with love, I somehow end up doing very little and being very slow to acquire new skills. And my own wants generally take precedence over other people’s needs, almost every time and without a second thought. There are lots and lots of such things. Enough to fill books for sure.

In short, I am horribly lacking in divine love for my fellow travelers, and correspondingly full of love for my little earthly self. Despite all I have seen, all I have experienced, and the constant support of the holy Presence in my life, I remain a venial man pretty much across the board. I certainly don’t deserve the happiness that has been chasing me virtually all the time for years and years now.  That is not to say I don’t eagerly accept it. ^_^  But I definitely hope there won’t be a complete and fair reckoning anytime ever.

It baffles me that people who are utterly beholden to sin, think they never get what they deserve. Isn’t that a reason for jubilation? And I’m floored by advertisements that says things like “You deserve the best” when obviously only the best people deserve the best.  If I found a cure for cancer, or a safe and pollution-free energy source, or a way to regrow lost limbs or safely raise a low IQ, I would perhaps deserve the best. But just for being an ordinary citizen mostly looking out for myself? What the Hell do I deserve?

But of course, most people who irrationally think so highly of themselves, can’t help it. They have been raised that way, or the voices in their head don’t instruct them properly, but rather lead them astray. Jesus Christ says that the servant who knows what he should do and fails to do it will receive many lashes, while he who did not know will receive fewer. Likewise that he to whom much is entrusted, of him will the more be required. That’s basically what they say these days, “with great power comes great responsibility”. Although it is not just about power, it is about knowledge too. So a blind-hearted atheist may get away more easily in his life review than a religious person who received many revelations from Heaven but failed to use them responsibly. Yes, I am looking at me here.

For all these and many more reasons, I have no wish to ever get what I deserve. May the Light eternal avert from me its full Justice, that I may abide in Mercy forevermore!


PS: No, I am not feeling particularly depressed or anything. This is how I generally feel. I am not fibbing when I say that I feel happy in general, but I am very much aware that this is an undeserved and unwarranted happiness, a gift that I keep being given like a small child who keeps receiving and receiving from its loving parents even though it does nothing to earn its keep in any way.

Refracting the purer light

Ouch, it is too bright! I kind of know that feeling.

It is hard to read even a few lines of Meditations on the Tarot and not be inspired to write a whole entry about those lines. The reason for this lack of proportion is that higher dimensions multiply when described in lower dimensions. In order to properly describe a mountain in pictures, you need innumerable photographies from every possible angle, and even then you have only described its surface, not its interior.

In a more poetic metaphor, you may compare Unknown Friend’s writing to a beam of bright light, that is refracted into a spectrum when passing through a different medium, which I certainly am. Admittedly, I am not a pure crystal but rather hazy and with shadows and impurities, so some quality would be lost even apart from the loss of compactness, intensity or concentration. Furthermore, I have my own “color” which colors everything that passes through me, so the spectrum I might display is different from the same light passing through another.

If I was a saint, or at least walking the path of sainthood, I could have done this to the Bible itself. In fact, I did, when I was young and innocent – in the sense of innocence where I was covered by grace like a junkyard covered in deep snow. These days, the light from High Heaven seems too bright for me, for the most part. I wonder if I shall live and die this way, illuminated mainly by the lesser lights, similar to the light of the moon rather than the sun itself? Although in the end, there can only be One source of Light, for sure.  (Speaking still in the spiritual sense, of course.)

And to be honest, I probably add a little too. I have lived many years now and learned many things, some by personal experience, some by reading or listening, and a little by the Presence in my heart. When some related ray of light hits my heart, it had the ability to wake up what is there, so that sometimes there comes out more than came in. But generally it is the other way around, at least with Unknown Friend. And let us not get started on Frithjof Schuon, a single paragraph or perhaps a sentence of his could easily expand to fill a book. It is incredibly dense. Or perhaps I am, but then in a less flattering sense!