So the year 2000 has arrived and we're here. The calculation to the milestone that we all did as childen, 'How old will I be then?' with it's secret question (and hidden fear), 'Will I ever see it?' -- has been resolved.

We made it and are seeing it, you and I. We are alive. On top of that there has been no serious Y2K failure. The world's markets and systems are not going to crash.

I spent last night alone. Five minutes before midnight I went out and walked to Rotterdam's Erasmus bridge. People had stopped their cars on the bridge and were letting off fireworks. Families -- Dutch, Ghanese, Surinam, Indonesian, Turkish, Morrocan -- were shaking hands with everyone and celebrating. The air was optimistic and warm. People were smiling and shouting, 'Happy New Year' to each other. The phrase sounded strange and inadequate but alas, no one could think of a better one.

This morning I thought to take a picture of myself as a memento. ('Remember this moment.')

Looking forward. 01.01.00

Alamut sends congratulations and best wishes to all of you.



"A totem is a plant, animal or object which is the symbol of a social group, particularly a clan or tribe. In the 1950's A. R. Radcliffe-Brown argued that totemism is essentially a system of classification with respect to the relationship between man and nature. This view provided the basis of structuralist interpretations in which totemism as a mode of classification provides an analysis of the structure of human thought."

Following my own New Year's Day tradition I visited the zoo yesterday afternoon armed with a camera and a thermos of hot tea. I was curious how all the animals were faring in the ark after the previous night's 'Beirut' of loud explosions and light flashes. I also needed to choose a totem for the coming year. (All the animals assured me that they were fine and I chose this sea lion.)

Millenium Resolutions

1. Practice generosity.

2. Learn to enjoy being around different kinds of people.

3. Avoid thinking only in ultimatums.

4. Accept more uncertainty.

5. Practice smiling.

I was slightly disconcerted to find last year's totem, the Surinam toad (Pipa pipa), was no longer on display. Its aquarium was there but it and its name tag had disappeared and another amphibious creature had taken its place. (Could it have died? How long does a Surinam toad live anyway?)


Because I couldn't remember the name of the bird that I collected feathers from a few years ago: Condor, Condor, Condor...

A Clean Sweep

This morning I moved the 2060 messages left in my Eudora inbox from the last year or two (which hadn't been trashed or already archived because I felt I still needed "to do something about them...") to a new archive. An empty inbox is a good inbox (as the new millenium's messages start to trickle in...)


Estate Dates

I left the building this morning, walked out into the neighborhood (always a trip), and bought some huge medjools for breakfast. If I was a rich man... I'd sponsor any entrepreneur willing to open a store that specialised in connoisseur dates and stocked the rarest and most delectable medjools, thoorys and halawys.

Picture interacting with my shop keeper friend. He or she would tell the most magnificient stories and be able to do magic tricks and tell you everything you always wanted to know about dates (Phoenix dactylifera) but were too shy to ask.

"You know the man that lives on the corner? He heard that Galapagos tortoises live to be hundreds of years old. He decided to check this out for himself and went out and bought a young one. Really. He brought it in and showed it to me yesterday."

Alamut (04.08.98): Tortoise.


Throwing away stuff like a fiend...

I'm a document magnet. Collecting and saving stuff comes very easy. Sorting and discarding stuff is much harder. I'm archivist by birth. It is amazing how much paper I've collected over the years.

Paper, paper, everywhere,
And all the floor a mess,
Data, info, catalogues,
Old? Obsolete? Yes!

Time to get rid of it then. (Errr, but not everything...)

I've Been Watching You

Global Strategies Project: System Dynamics and Difference

(Check out section 4: 'Encompassing System Dynamics: Learning' -- for the six observations necessary to determine the behavior of a 'free agent'...)


Twinkle, twinkle little star. How I wonder what you are...

Limits to Growth

How much personal change can we bear? How much can we grow and change and still be identifiable to others and-or recognizable to ourselves? (We think of 'death' as the end of change but we could think of 'death' as what happens when one changes too much...)

Alexander Chislenko's 'Drifting Identities' (archived for legibility here.)

James Hughes' 'Embracing Change with All Four Arms'.

Now Change Me Too

Here's the surprisingly apt poem that Rob Malda's poetry generator generated for me this morning:

Present Attention has been resolved.
We grow inadequate but
were shaking
hands with all the six
observations necessary to
ask. You are... alive.
On display.

Be Warned

Alamut (Present Attention) has been nominated 1999's Most Eclectic Web Log by Media Nugget editor Havi Hoffman.


David Chess shares some thoughts on Ebay bidding strategies.

I'm O.K. and you're O.K. -- but vast numbers of world's people seem to have succumbed to a particularly nasty flu virus.

People who do something extremely stupid and die as a consequence may qualify for a Darwin Award. This commemorative distinction is only bestowed upon the most stupid cases of human demise -- a token of our collective appreciation that the recipients have removed themselves and their genes from our gene pool. Nice idea but the site doesn't seem to take into account whether or not these 'heros' have already had children... (But thanks anyway for the link Aaron.)

Where were you in '72? Here's another blast from our collective past: SpaceWar, the original Rolling Stone article by Stewart Brand on the Stanford and Xerox Parc hackers and the SpaceWar game that they invented. Check out Alan Kay's code at the end of the file. And then go out and roll yer own...


Me? I've been feeling sad, sorry and stupid for the past two weeks.

Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down?

In case yesterday you were too lazy to click, here's a couple of 'literary references' from the Darwin Awards site, reproduced here because they rather prettily illustrate (in a broad sense) the whole 'humanist' dialectic in a nutshell as well as some of the specific issues such as capital punishment, pro-life-no-matter-what etc.

"I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone." (Lady Bracknell -- Oscar Wilde)

"Stupidity cannot be cured. Stupidity is the only universal capital crime; the sentence is death. There is no appeal, and execution is carried out automatically and without pity." (Lazarus Long -- Robert Heinlein)

BTW: I once joked with my S.O. that if we ever had a boy I'd vote to call him 'Totem Pole Canada'. Now though, if I had a chance, I would vote to include the name 'Darwin' in his string of names (and Darwinia if she was a little girl...)

Friends of a Feather

A friend in Vancouver was reading some of the support documents for my Nuclear Garden project (I stilll need to order these and make a page explaining what I was trying to do with that uranium) and asked whether I knew of the work of James Acord. Well I didn't -- at least not until today. The guy seems interesting. Maybe we should talk.


The Force of Habit

Wisdom yes, but I cannot decide if there is comfort in these words from Master Breton:

"The table is placed in the dining room; the taps give out clear water, soft water, tepid water, scented water. The bed is as large for two as for one. After the bud will come the leaf, and after the leaf the flower, and after rain fine weather. Because it is time, the eyes open, the body stands up, the hand stretches out, the fire is lit, the smile contends with night's wrinkles...

"... The druggist is even raising his metal shutters. There soon will be more people at the wheel than at the mill. Work is sharpened, hammered, thinned down, reckoned out. Once more the hand takes pleasure in finding the security of sleep in the familiar implement.

"Provided it lasts!

"... When you are no longer there, your perfume is there to search for me. I come only to get back the oracle of your weakness. My hand in your hand is so little like your hand in mine. Unhappiness, you see, unhappiness itself profits from being known. I let you share my lot, you cannot not be there, you are the proof that I exist. And everything conforms with the life which I have made to assure myself of you.

"-- What are you thinking about?

"-- Nothing."

The Habit of Learning

Habit is a great force. Sometimes good. Sometimes bad. What makes a habit bad? What makes a habit good?

We can break a good habit just as easily as we can break a bad one. We can change a habit from good to bad and from bad to good. And if we really want to, we can start up a new habit, from nothing.

(But starting from nothing seems an extremely tedious and risky proposition. Evolution from nothing takes a great deal of time and more often fails than succeeds... whereas LEARNING always begins with 'something' already in your hand -- something often perceived as degraded, or bad, or undesirable. Change yes. Entropy no.)


Listening to Beth Orton sing 'Stars all seem to weep.'

Good and Evil

A new text by Arjen Mulder on my work 'Good and Evil on the Long Voyage' has been published in the Irish art magazine Circa. Here is the web rendition of that article.

You may also be interested in George Gesser's article on exhibiting hybrid flowers as art.

"When I first exhibited plant hybrids as art I expected to have to defend my work against criticism that plants were not art, but no one, then or now, has raised that question, at least not in conversation with me or in print. There have been plenty of other questions and criticisms, but not about plants as art."

Public Space from Hell

... is how JK describes the (euro) portal to my fair city:

"... yesterday Paul mailed me back home from Rotterdam Central Station, public space from hell, swarming with petty criminals and drug related petits voyous, especially when the trains from France arrive, like no other place that I know, and certainly making Amsterdam CS a folklore operation in comparison."

He's right. It's not a pretty picture. As a space it can no longer be counted as part of either of our extended territories -- though our paths sometimes cross there and we are forced to walk its gauntlet on a fairly regular basis.

Eclecticism = Overall Study.


Listening to Kristin Hersh sing 'Love is a needle that goes all the way down.'

I finally realised that I've been talking with The Fear.

What a revelation.

This changes everything.


Listening to Tori Amos sing 'Lust' and 'Suede.'

At times Fear and Doubt seem to me as related as Tweedledum and Tweedledee. If one of them represents corruption then the other represents its opposite. If Fear is the virus then Doubt is the cure. And if it is Doubt's turn to play the virus, Fear is more often than not the one to maintain the vigil at Doubt's bedside.

And so it goes until either 'Dum gets the better of 'Dee or 'Dee gets the better of 'Dum and they both die (they are, after all, twins). Case closed. End of story. Life moves on to the next patients.

Or else Alice arrives on the scene. (In the original nursery rhyme Alice's part was played by a crow.) Alice is the unexpected factor. Although they won't admit it, Alice comes as a big surprise to the denizens of Wonderland. Alice's spontaneity and good sense breaks even nonsense's mad routine.

"A tea head leaps up screaming "I got the fear!" and runs into the Mexican night..."

"I know what you're thinking about," said Tweedledum: "but it isn't so..."

As viruses 'on a mission' clearly both Fear and Doubt need time to grow and mature. Without that time they are lost. With that time they improve so much that they don't mind temporarily switching each other on and off (curing each other) -- temporarily relieving their hosts of each other's burden. Very clever strategy this: on the one hand they each offer temporary relief from the other but over the long term they each gain even more time so they can return bigger and badder and do their worst.

That is until something gives. Or Alice turns up.


Viruses, time, fear and cut-ups in the work of William S. Burroughs.

The William S. Burroughs Network Database Query (try searching for the words 'fear' and 'doubt').

The story of Alice meeting Tweedledum and Tweedledee in Wonderland.

The reciprocal relationship of Fear and Doubt can also be found in the logic of the young Doctor in Blaise Cendrars' novel 'Moravagine' when he suggested that disease is the future state of health.


Notes on Attention

1. A reader has pointed out that time itself is not the critical factor in the growth and maturation of the viruses that were discussed yesterday. As 'mental' viruses, Fear and Doubt (aka 'Dum and 'Dee) require not only TIME but a host's ATTENTION to grow and propagate themselves. This is very true. (And as the author of a page entitled 'Present Attention,' I should think that I'd have noticed that myself.)

2. So what's holding my attention these days?

3. Attention, whether it be our own or the attention of others, is a powerful force but not an easy force to individually control or direct. The (social) economies of attention getting and attention giving are infinitely subtle and complex, while the control of our own (inner) attention seems virtually impossible. Often the best we can hope for is to be able to pay attention to what our attention is doing and to learn from that. In Buddhist circles this has traditionally been called mindfulness. In Darwinist circles this is currently being called memetics.

4. Attention can be viewed as a force which can be harnessed for change and 'transformation.' Attention can also be seen as a resource upon which an economy may be based (or is based). The attention dynamics of the crowd, the audience, and the market are respectively the business of the propagandist, the pop star, and the interaction designer.

5. Fear and Doubt ('Dum and 'Dee) can be exceedlingly virulent, taking total possession of their host's attention and commandeering it for their own use (taking the host hostage). In these cases the host loses all control over its thoughts and fate -- waking up in a nightmare. In a note on page 71 of Naked Lunch, Burroughs gives an example of this, the South East Asian Bang-utot:

(Note: Bang-utot, literally, "attempting to get up and groaning..." Death occurring in the course of a nightmare... The condition occurs in males of S.E. Asiatic extraction... In Manila about twelve cases of death by Bang-utot are recorded each year. One man who recovered said that "a little man" was sitting on his chest and strangling him. Victims often know that they are going to die, express the fear that their penis will enter the body and kill them. Sometimes they cling to the penis in a state of shrieking hysteria calling on others for help lest the penis escape and pierce the body. Erections, such as normally occur in sleep, are considered especially dangerous and liable to bring a fatal attack...)


It has been said before. Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.

"A child who cannot keep his balance dares neither to walk nor to use his arms for fear of falling; he goes forward only uncertainly. But if he can learn to keep his balance, he will run, jump and turn right and left. The same is true for the psychic life. The child who has no spiritual balance and cannot collect his thoughts has no mastery over himself; can he yield to another's will without the danger of 'falling'? How can he obey another's will if he cannot submit to his own will?"

Maria Montessori, The Child in the Family, 1956.

Damian offers some of his own techniques for raising children (12 January 2000).



A reader has contributed the following information over last week's Naked Lunch note:

"Just in case you're interested, Burroughs (or at least his source of information, whatever that was) got quite a bit of it wrong."

(Note: Bang-utot, literally, "attempting to get up and groaning..."

"Actually, the word is Bangungot -- pronounced bah-ngoo-ngot. Bang only exists in Filipino as a borrowed word from English, and Utot actually means, uh, fart."

Death occurring in the course of a nightmare... The condition occurs in males of S.E. Asiatic extraction... In Manila about twelve cases of death by Bang-utot are recorded each year. One man who recovered said that "a little man" was sitting on his chest and strangling him. Victims often know that they are going to die, express the fear that their penis will enter the body and kill them. Sometimes they cling to the penis in a state of shrieking hysteria calling on others for help lest the penis escape and pierce the body. Erections, such as normally occur in sleep, are considered especially dangerous and liable to bring a fatal attack...)

"Actually, as far as I know, the erection thing isn't an essential component of the bangungot; women die of it too. It's just a really, really, really scary dream. (Although I have to admit that the addition of the erection element makes it more interesting!)"

And here I was thinking that the word was derived from the Dutch-German, 'Bang' meaning 'Fear' and 'Tod or Tot' meaning 'Death.' Oh well...


Thinking about moving?

Alamut's Peace

I've been trying to read (slowly, as I'm having a hard time concentrating these days) Bruce Benson's 'The Enterprise of Law: Justice without the State'. In the first couple of chapters Benson talks about customary legal systems with voluntary enforcement, i.e. primitive and early legal systems that did not use fear of punishment but increased benefit as the motivation to abide by the rules. Benson provides examples of both Kapauku law and Anglo-Saxon law before the emergence of the British 'kings' who, needing money to build armies, ended the period of customary law and turned the law into a lucrative business.

"The concept of the 'king's peace' traces directly to Anglo-Saxon law in the sense that every freeman's house had a 'peace'; if it was broken, the violator had to pay. Initially, the king's peace simply referred to the peace of the king's house, but as royal power expanded, the king declared that his peace extended to other places. First it was applied to places where the king travelled, then to churches, monasteries, highways and bridges. Eventually it would be possible for royal officers such as sheriffs to proclaim the king's peace wherever suitable. Even included were festivals and special occasions of the year such as Christmas, Lent, Easter and Whitsuntide. Violations of the king's peace required payment to the king."


8:08 A.M. The sky is lightening, it's snowing and a couple hundred gulls are circling the yacht basin below my window. Rotterdam at its best.

Another site for searching the inventory of thousands of used and rare booksellers 'around the world': (similar to the excellent Advanced Book Exchange).

Private Limbo in a Public Space

Being an explanation of the last month here on Alamut...

It was a month ago, on the 26th of December, that the fundament of my earthly kingdom, the love of my life, announced the end of our seven year relationship. Her decision came out-of-the-blue (for me), was unilateral and was executed with unwavering determination. One moment L. was there and the next moment L. was gone.

Me, I've spent the last month trying to understand what happened. Each day I've wallowed in a sort of shocked limbo, on the one hand desperately hoping that we would somehow work things out and on the other hand deeply saddened at what the two of us seemed to be losing.

L.'s decision was not easy for her. Sometimes I see why she had to do this, and think that if I was in her shoes, I might end up making the same choice. But that, of course, hasn't made the current situation any less painful or sad.

Yesterday we exchanged a few emails. It is clear that she needs time and space alone outside of a relationship. It is also clear that I cannot stay in this limbo space that I've inhabitated for the past month. Tomorrow begins the Rotterdam Film Festival where I've booked to see 27 films. After the films I'm planning to make a trip back to Vancouver to see family and friends and go swimming at the Aquatic Center. Time alone will tell what will happen to the two of us. At the moment there seems nothing else for us but to move forward on our new and separate courses.


Feverish dreams, many, many nightmares. Fear of searching the house for the lost perfume bottle.

Schismogenesis Revisited

We are dynamical systems and our interactions with others, from lovers to families and from friends to foes, follows dynamical laws. Last April I read for the first time Bateson's essay, 'Cultural Contact and Schismogenesis' (reprinted in 'Steps to an Ecology of Mind') and marvelled at the beauty and implications of this simple (and totally hypothetical) cultural pattern.

What I remember: contact and schismogenesis, coming together and moving apart are connected to each other in an extremely intimate fashion. I wrote on the 29th of April:

"Bateson saw schismogenesis as an inherent tendency in all human interaction/interactivity (even to the point of considering 'falling in love' as schismogenesis with 'the signs reversed')."

Note to the artist and the scientist (and myself): knowledge and recognition of dynamic patterns affords a degree of control over their development and effects.


No film festival yet for me. I've got the flu.

Permanent Players

The actors of Huntington's often criticized Clash of Civilizations (1993):

  1. Western
  2. Orthodox
  3. Islamic
  4. Confucian
  5. Japanese
  6. Hindu
  7. African
  8. Latin American


Drama Theory

"Drama Theory generalizes game theory by applying the metaphor of drama to human interaction. Analysis focuses on how characters frame, resolve and are transformed by interactions. It embraces irrationality and emotions. Applications in peace studies, politics, psychology, economics and HCI."

The first three chapters of Nigel Howard's: 'Oedipus, Decision-Maker: Using Analytical Drama Theory to Resolve Conflicts' are online.

A bibliography of Drama Theory is here.


Spent the day in bed trying to sleep off (and dream through) the flu.


The Interminable, The Intermediate

I'm beginning to believe that my present situation could very well represent a potent bardo or bifurcation point where each one of my present actions has extreme significance for my future life. In any case I'm finding the image (and the teaching) of the bardo (state after death) very comforting and positive.

From Sogyal Rinpoche's Tibetan Book of Living and Dying:

"The word bardo is commonly used to denote the intermediate state between death and rebirth, but in reality bardos are occurring continuously throughout both life and death, and are junctures when the possibility of liberation, or enlightenment, is heightened.

"The bardos are particularly powerful opportunities for liberation because there are, the teachings show us, certain moments that are much more powerful than others and much more charged with potential, when whatever you do has a crucial and far-reaching effect."


Fever gone but the cough remains.

Transhumanist Buddhism

Where an expanded view of iterated Prisoner's Dilemma becomes a 'good' and selfish reason for selflessness. From Extropian Ethics and the 'Extrosattva':

"The boddisattva is one for whom kindness is no burden, because of the liberation of the enlightenment that she has experienced. Freed from the illusion of the immutability of one's own consciousness, one is free to help others at little cost to one's self."

Cf. Technoculture and the Religious Imagination by Technosis author Erik Davis.

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