Thursday, February 17, 2011

Just a Simple Post About Attitudes

One thing I think no one can ever accuse me of is being quiet.  I share a lot of myself on the internet, and I genuinely like doing it.  But every once in a while I'll go silent for a few days or more.  It's nothing against sharing myself: I've got a lot of emotional problems and I'm usually so wrapped up in fixing whatever's on my plate at the moment that I withdraw until I can figure out a solution.  The last time I was with a group of my fellow writers, someone suggested that one of those times would make for a good blog entry, so here we are.  This is sort of my treatise about attitudes, and how they can shape our lives.

I'm a sick man.  I've suffered from bipolar disorder and severe obsessive-compulsive disorder for most of my life, which have been compounded by an eating disorder and a long history of dissociation.  A lot of people in my position would probably be pretty upset by that, and I've had my moments with it.  They might drink their problems away, or complain about them on their blog.  I'm not here to shoulder someone else with my emotional problems.  That's beside the point and doesn't do anything to make me better.  This is a post about attitude, not about problems.  Truth be told, I'm just a more extreme case of something fairly typical.  Life sucks.  We suffer all our lives for seemingly no reason or design, and at the end of it if we're lucky we get sick and we die.  That doesn't sound very fair.  But it seems to happen to us all, even those of us who seem to have everything.  You don't know what you have until you've lost it.

This is quite a dilemma.  Personally, I'm inclined towards the Buddhist approach to the problem, though I readily acknowledge that may not work for everyone.  It's simple: if life is going to suck and we're all going to get old and die, just accept it and move on.  When I say accept, I don't mean resign yourself to it.  That's an ending.  Acceptance should be a beginning, not an ending.  Life doesn't have to be terrible because we suffer.  I deal with huge personal problems on a daily basis, but that doesn't mean my life has to be awful.  It's all about how we approach it.  I accept that my illness is a part of me, and for all the suffering it's created for me, it's also made me who I am now, and who I am now is pretty good.  Funnily enough, it was only after I did that that I made any kind of headway in dealing with my problems.

I've known quite a few people with huge personal problems in my life, and a few that lived fairly healthy lives.  The number one difference maker was how they approached their problems.  If you believe that the situation is hopeless and that you'll never get better, that the only change that can happen to you is negative or worse, then yes, you will find a way to make that happen.  If you believe you're doomed, you'll find a way to die.  But if you can acknowledge your suffering and still believe that life doesn't have to be so bad just because it's there, then even if things don't get better you'll feel better.  And really, fixing things when it comes to challenges like this in life isn't so much the operative word as it is managing them.  You can't hope to fix something if you can't manage it.  Managing something only comes by at least implicitly accepting it.

This is all easier said than done, of course.  Again, I consider myself an extreme case, and extreme cases have exaggerated results.  But it really does all boil down towards attitude.  Can you acknowledge your stress, and your suffering?  If you can, can you accept it and have a good time anyway?  As difficult as it is, it's the only way I've ever found at making myself feel better about the whole thing.  I look around and I don't see a whole lot of other people doing this, but you know, maybe they just haven't been shown how.  That can be changed in time.

This is just my take.  As it happens, I did get better, and I'm back here posting.  Maybe someone will read this and it will help them, maybe it won't.  But this is where I go and this is what I do when I disappear, and that's as much a part of me as talking about politics or science is.  So there it is.  In the end, it's really all I can do.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Let's Be Frank About Time Travel

It's Friday, and I'm feeling oddly psychological.  Perhaps that's a function of the week I've had, which was quite intense, or perhaps I'm just weird and these things occur to me at odd times, but I've found myself thinking about an odd phenomenon that happens to me almost every day, and I'm almost certain happens to almost all of us.  I am speaking, of course, of time travel.

Have you ever known somebody, maybe a parent or grandparent of yours, that seems perpetually stuck in the same era of time, despite the changing years and Presidents?  The only good music was written and recorded in the late '60s and early '70s. Or alternatively everything went to hell in the '60s and '70s.  Things were so much simpler back in the '30s and '40s and '50s.  Whether it's longing for the good old days, playing their Beatles and vintage Jimmy Buffett albums, or voting Republican like Eisenhower's still on the ticket, people time travel all the time.

I time traveled late last night, when I picked up a book on cosmology written in the year 2001, which while speaking of exoplanets and interplanetary exploration quickly dated itself.  Curious about how that came to be, it took me a few minutes to realize that 2001 was in fact ten years ago.  To me, anything after 1997 feels like just a few years ago.  Now how can that be?  After all, a lot's changed since 1997.  The Baltimore Orioles won the AL East in 1997.  In 1997, smartphones and broadband weren't even on the average consumer's radar yet, let alone ubiquitous.  A lot has changed indeed.

Let's think about this for a minute.  In 2001, I was seventeen years old, and just coming of age.  A lot of the best music I listen to came out that year, or the year or two before.  2001 is a year I associate positive memories with.  Even though my own life has changed dramatically since then, it feels as if so much of who I am came into being that year.  Maybe that's it.  For me, the universe is perpetually stuck somewhere between 1999 and 2006.  It's reflected in the music I listen to, the books I read, and ultimately how I perceive time.  And I know this is how I'm going to be when I'm older, too.  I'll have become exactly the dorky, un-hip parent my parents were before me when it comes to stuff like this.

Perhaps that is part of the aging process.  Perhaps time travel is a requirement as we age.  Or maybe it's just our way or relating the present to our own experience.  Perhaps this is the curse of aging.  Or perhaps those years were just a special time to me and my generation.  Who knows.  But one thing is certain.  I've time traveled.  And I know I'm not alone.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Some people have gotten very creative in their search for work in these tough economic times.  Like this enterprising young man.  Who says this generation doesn't have a work ethic?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

500 Channels and Really Only One or Two Things On

While it's certainly not good news for cable news and those TV channels up in the 400s, cord-cutting may actually be helping broadcasting networks, according to this new article.  I am a proud cord-cutter, and while I have yet to find an adequate replacement for my beloved Red Sox games on TV, free web content and NetFlix take care of all the rest.  It makes me wonder if this is how Fox News is ultimately going to go. After all, they already have the oldest audience on television.  I know a lot of cord-cutters 30 and under.

So it makes me wonder.  Was cable TV just a fad?  Was it something we only put up with until the internet could deliver streaming video?  After all, we have web-enabled TVs now, and anybody with a little money, a working knowledge of computer hardware, and a little time on their hands can set up their own MythTV.  There's nothing cable can do that the internet can't or won't eventually do better, and more cheaply.  It has to make you wonder.

Talking to These People (Part One)

Life is hard.
In this hyper-partisan age (I'd say it was new, but it seems like it's been this way as long as I can remember; the only thing that's changed about it is my awareness of it), if you're like me and like talking politics and religion you're inevitably going to be confronted with somebody who really doesn't like what you have to say.  You know the type: they can barely speak without shouting, hysteria is the norm; these people can make hay out of anything.  I've known quite a few in my time.  Life is just terrible.  Whoever's in power is a fascist.  We're only weeks away from his or her kind being put into concentration camps.  Oh, and you'd better believe the leader behind it all is Hitler.  In a new series here on Digital Rain, I'm going to teach you how to talk to these people and maybe even get through to them.

Arguing with brick walls is an exercise in extreme patience and confidence, and I stress to you should not be attempted lightly.  It is frustrating, it is stressful, and it absolutely must be done if civility and tolerance are going to prevail in our political discourse.  So here now let this be the first lesson, for I have met the enemy, and there is nothing to be afraid of.  Let's talk about justification.

Whenever I hear someone criticizing President Obama and I called it out for being either untrue, unfair, or just downright wrong, I usually got the following response pretty quickly: "The Left did it when President Bush was in office . . . so therefore it's okay for me to do it now."  This may seem like a justification, but it's really not.  Let's see if we can break it down.  If you're like me, I know what you're about to say: "But Matt, President Bush really did do a whole lot of awful things.  What did Obama ever do?"  For the sake of argument, let's put that aside.  Regardless of what you may think, this is what these people are perceiving.  However misinformed they are, more often than not they are rationally perceiving a threat based upon the information they have been given.  Herein lies the main trap I've seen liberals fall into when they try to argue with conservatives: the facts are irrelevant.  You're not going to change peoples' minds on the facts.  At least not right away.  For whatever the reason, the belief is providing certainty to them, and to let go of it would be to face whatever brutal truth there is to their lives alone.  Anger at people unlike themselves is, in its own odd way, a means of making life bearable, however dysfunctional it may be.  Asking them to get rid of it is too much.  It'll never happen.  They'd rather die.  So what do we do?  Well, our only two options are to redirect it and co-opt it, or else confuse it to the point where it's essentially null anyway.  I like the former option a lot better, as it seems less hurtful to me.

So let's take a look at my example.  What do we say when someone says "it's okay for me to do x because somebody else did it too"?  Well when we put it like that, the answer seems kind of obvious, doesn't it?  How many times did you try that on your parents growing up?  The truth of the matter is, it doesn't really matter if something is popular or someone you don't like did something.  By purely the logic of the argument, if something is unfair and wrong, it's unfair and wrong no matter who does it.  And yes, I understand that it's a double standard.  That part we can deal with later.  Step one to talking to these people is understanding and accepting the logic.  Time and time again, the argument of denialists has always been "it's popular, therefore it's right."  It's a kind of populist argument, like it was decided democratically.  And when you're surrounded by people who think and feel exactly like you, how wouldn't it seem like fact?  Or if you feel isolated, what better way to feel connected and empowered?  Again, the facts are irrelevant to these cases.  That will come later, if it comes at all.  However misdirected and misinformed, this is in fact a rational form of thinking to someone who doesn't know any better.

If you ever hear an argument from popularity, that should send a little red flag up to you.  The truth of the matter is, being popular does not make something right.  Sometimes popular concepts are right, and sometimes they are wrong.  Being popular has nothing to do with it.  Ideas, particularly scientific ones, but political ones too, are not democratic.  They are meritocratic.  The idea with the best support and the best evidence to back it up is the best idea, not the most popular idea.  So let's get this out of our heads and know to spot it when we see it.  It really is the first step to talking to these people.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Breakthrough Flu Vaccines Works For All Strains

Article is here.  This literally means we can cross a bird flu pandemic off our list of natural disasters.

Your move, Jenny McCarthy.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Cracks in the Matrix: Abotion Debate Gets Nonsensical

In a year-plus of blogging on Facebook and Blogger, I've been very hesitant to wade into the abortion debate.  It's not that I don't have opinions, but having run threads on Facebook last summer on the subject, I know how heated and emotional discussions can get.  But after reading about the latest anti-abortion bill offered by House Republicans, I can begin to see some cracks in the Matrix.  And that most definitely applies to this blog.

What's a crack in the Matrix?  The Matrix is a term I use to describe any self-conceived subjective reality that a person or a group of people create for themselves.  After all, if you recall the smash hit movie, the Matrix is not necessarily objective truth.  When these conceptions begin to contract the reality of others, and the greater communal reality as a whole, I call it a Crack in the Matrix.  Something is going wrong.  And that potentially has dangerous consequences for the community as a whole.

Sometimes these will be brief; sometimes they will be in more detail.  Sometimes I'll post one momentarily and follow up with a longer post later in the week. The key to finding the truth is to be aware of one's perceptions.  Let's see how we can do.

Science Saturday: Another Earth?

So, I thought I'd start a new regular feature on the blog.  Kari's weekend is Sunday-Monday, so our Saturday night is like everyone else's Friday night.  Normally this could and should be spent at a bar somewhere listening to live music, but in case my readers haven't noticed by now, I'm quite broke.  Thus, Saturday night has evolved into a tradition wherein Kari and I catch up on our science documentaries for the week to reasonably-priced South American wine and/or cocktails.  Since my blog is a reflection of my life, I figured I should extend it to here.  So, without further ado, I give you Science Saturday.

Since this week brought us the announcement of the NASA Kepler Mission findings, I figured I'll kick us off with this little nugget: the discovery of five possible Earth-like planets.  My rudimentary scanning of the data has yet to tell me much about the stars these planets orbit, only that they're smaller than the sun.  As you might know, stars much smaller than .4 solar masses are so dim and cool that a planet in the star's habitable zone would be orbiting so close, it would be tidally locked to its star.  This means that the orbiting planet's day exactly equals its year, meaning one side of the planet is always facing its star.  Astronomer Neil F. Comins provides a fantastic in-depth explanation of how this works in his excellent book What if the Earth Had Two Moons? And Nine Other Thought-Provoking Speculations on the Solar System, which you should totally read, but I'll give the premise a basic work-through here.  Despite what Bill O'Reilly says, the moon and Earth's proximity to one another causes their gravity to exert itself on one another, which causes tides.  Tides, among other things, slow down each body's rotations (dependent on the relative force of gravity being exerted on one another), which over millions or billions of years eventually grinds things to a halt.  This is why the moon appears to have a "dark side": one side of our moon is always facing the Earth.  The principle is the same, only swap the moon for a planet and the Earth for a star.  We don't know much about the evolution of things like atmospheres or life on these planets because we haven't been able to study any of them directly, but we do know these worlds exist (Gliese 581 is one such planetary system), but computer models suggest the possibilities for life aren't promising (See Chapter 8 of Two Moons).

So here's hoping the stars these planets are orbiting have just enough mass, like Alpha Centauri B that the star's habitable zone isn't so close to itself.  'Cause, damn it, if I can't have flying cars, I want some proof of alien life, even if it's just microbes.

Friday, February 4, 2011


Sarah and Bristol Palin Attempt to Trademark Their Names.

Sarah, you and I need to talk.  I need to get over you.  I need everything you say to go in one ear and out the other.  I need to be calm; I need to be Zen.  You're just no good for me.

Followers on Facebook will note my attempts to ignore you.  And I can, for a little while.  You say something dumb on television, ha ha.  As much as I don't want to be desensitized to bullshit, you've almost numbed me to you and your politics.  That I can live with.

But then you do shit like this, and I just have to say something.  You're like a virus.  You infect me with you actions.  Usually I feel a little nauseous at the end.  So please.  Fuck the voters; fuck your country, fuck your commitments.  Do it for me, Sarah.  Shut up.  Please, I beg of you.  I'm just not strong enough.

Yours Truly,

Glenn Beck and the Self-Validating Emotion

Yesterday I read an article (linked in an earlier entry, and here as well) by a disaffected son discussing the effect of pundits like Keith Olbermann and Glenn Beck and news outlets like Fox News on his friends and family.  Glenn Beck does seem to have an interesting effect on his viewers, making them both insufferably afraid and angry.  I've known several people entranced by his show.  In the same breath as they scream and hiss about the vast Marxist/leftist/homosexual/Islamic conspiracies that lurk around every corner and in every seemingly innocent component of their day and how Barack Obama and Democrats are personally out to get them, they revere ol' Glenn like a deity or a savior.  Really, it's a kind of reverence usually reserved only for their messiah or the actual God they worship.  I know.  I've tried criticizing him in front of these people.  You get yelled at, screamed at, spat on, and they get mean.  I've watched their lives lose any other meaning.  They become no different than Islamic militants in the Middle East or Pakistan: ignorant, belligerent, and absolute in their demand that others conform to their views.  What can you really do with someone like that?  Whatever they may do for work, you can certainly make the argument that they've ceased to become a productive member of society.  This is the side to the Tea Party that a lot of us may not realize or want to think about.

I'm less interested in morally indicting Beck's followers and the Tea Party than I am in understanding how what to me seems like such a destructive ideology and creed comes into being and perpetuates itself.  What makes Glenn Beck so popular, and why do people seem to believe him so literally?  The article theorized a phenomenon called self-validating emotion.  The idea intrigued me, and so I thought about it.

I suppose you can break the argument down into a question of self-awareness.  The quest for truth is essentially a quest for awareness.  We learn and experience things through the lens of our ideas, preconceptions, and previous experiences.  You can approach this in any number of ways.  The scientific method, for one, is one example.  You can also enter with the assumption that your beliefs are infallible and correct.  You can even do both at the same time.  I think it's only human to want to have your beliefs validated.  It works the same way with emotions.  If we feel wronged or angry or confused, we want feel like we're justified.  If we're frightened, we instinctually desire to learn about the object of our fear, so that it seems less scary to us.  What we know, we can protect ourselves against.

This comes again back to awareness.  It's easy to fall into a trap when you get to thinking like this, and the solution is not necessarily an intuitive one.  One thing that's really struck me about talking with someone who isn't very self-aware or aware of their surroundings is the emphasis on personal experience that their arguments inevitably seem to rely upon.  In this reasoning, the evidence of an anecdote you or a friend or someone you consider to be an authority on a subject takes on special precedence.  This is especially true if it sounds or feels like it should be true.  Common Sense triumphs over all, even when the truth is neither obvious nor simple.  There must be a simple answer to a complex problem.  Gosh darn it, I've faced this before and I knew how to get out of it.  Or this happened to my neighbor Bob.  This is what he did.  Therefore this must be how it's like for everyone.

If you're thinking what I'm thinking, a picture is beginning to emerge here.  The unknown becomes quantified when it's evil.  People who don't look and act and talk like you become wrong, and you're right.  And since you know that the only way things can possibly be is how you see them, these strange young people who so openly flaunt all the things that you know and feel are so wrong and sad and make you so frightened instead make you angry.  Because, damn it, your way is the way it should be!

Enter Glenn Beck, a man who knows just how you feel.  Why, he feels fifty times what you feel.  And he knows you're right.  If you feel what he feels, you must be right, too!  Boy, ol' Glenn can say or do anything he wants now and you'll take him at his word, because he validates you.  He knows you.  He is you, or at least it seems that way.  And therefore he must be right.  At this point, you've made up your mind.  You've decided the way things are, and everything you see and do and experience from now on is going to fit that model.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the self-validating emotion.

Glenn Beck of course isn't the only person capable of manipulating people like this.  Just look at Keith Olbermann or half the people on Fox News or MSNBC.  Or even outside of cable news.  And the thing is, I really don't believe that most of these people even have ill intentions.  I don't.  I think most of them genuinely believe that they're doing the right thing and sticking up for the truth.  After all, they have their own beliefs and emotions to validate, too.

So what to do?  I don't know.  But the first thing to do to find out is to recognize it when we see it.  So hopefully I've done my own meager small part.  Maybe you can do it too.  And that's as close to the real truth as I think I can get.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Seriously, what does Omar Suleiman think he's doing?

Denmark Plans Most Awesome Incinerator Ever

As this gallery shows, the Danes sure know how to have fun.  Why can't we get one of these in New Hampshire?

The Fox News Effect

A rare moment of political self-awareness.

The substitution of self-validating emotion for thought and belief for reason is a recipe for disaster.

Why Baseball is a Religion

Baseball season is nearly upon us (Spring Training, at least).  I have become an avid Red Sox fan, and a fan of the sport as well over the years, and I want to blog about it here.  But it's not really the game itself that interests me so much; though I naturally want the Red Sox to do well, winning to me isn't everything.  I care more about the periphery of the experience; the intangibles; the hidden things that make me care so much about it.  What follows is a basic theory of why I like baseball so much, and why I think fandom is a religious experience.

We humans are a spiritual people, even those so-called secular among us.  I suppose I am a bit of an anomaly in this country, being both extremely religious and non-Christian.  It's true, though: I've often found it easier to relate to the Jesus freaks and Christian Impact kids when I was at UNH than ordinary humanists, despite my love for science and technology.  My conundrum was tempered by the presence of a large Baha'i community here in Portsmouth (Baha'i is a religion like Christianity or Islam that came out of Persia in the 19th century and represented a major reform and liberalization of Islam and the other Abrahamic religions of the time.  It has both an intellectual and a liberal tradition).  But periodically, I do get those yearnings to be around people like me -- other Buddhists, other practitioners.  While Portsmouth is my home in many ways, one of its main deficiencies is a lack of even a small Buddhist community.  There have been times when I've found it very difficult to relate to others around me.  Having a girlfriend and fiancĂ©e who is also a fellow practitioner is a bonus, but still lacks that sense of community that comes with religion.

Luckily, there is an alternative.  For you see, New England has a state religion.  I am referring of course to the Boston Red Sox.

As go the Red Sox, so go a lot of things around here.  In 2004, after the Red Sox won the pennant over the Yankees and later the World Series, when I was living just north of here in the city of Dover, New Hampshire, it wasn't uncommon for total strangers to walk up and high-five each other.  Conversations spontaneously erupted.  People we'd never met before were our best friends.  For a few days (or weeks), a garish hodgepodge of transplanted people, bars, and college students had become a true community.  I'll never forget it.
This wasn't my first experience with the spiritual properties of professional sports, however.  Earlier, in 2003, I had registered online with a forum for baseball fans.  I was no stranger to internet forums; I had recently left an anime-oriented forum where I was quite popular.  This came at a time when I had few friends outside of the internet, and most of them were as introverted as me.  The Red Sox boards proved to be very different, and yet very much the same.  These were not people like me.  There were former school bullies, old men, working class stiffs, and decidedly few intellectuals.  But in our own way, we were more of a community than the anime forum.  Dissent was not only tolerated, it was welcomed.  There was no competing of personalities for dominance.  We were there because we all had one very specific thing in common, and we were all passionate about it.  I made friends with whom I initially thought I had nothing else in common but the Red Sox, and yet because of that magic thread between us, suddenly we were able to relate to one another about just about anything.  I'm still in touch with one of them, and I feel like there's every bit as much respect between us as there can be between two people, despite the fact that we inhabit seemingly very different worlds.

Most social discord I've ever seen in life, whether on an individual or national scale, boils down to a fear of people unlike oneself.  It's a vicious cycle.  We're afraid of people who aren't like us, so we can't relate to them, so we never meet them, and because we're never exposed to them, we can dehumanize and demonize them and then fear them all the more.  How many times have any of us done that to someone we didn't like?  Religion in the modern age becomes a means of relating to one another; a method of implicit trust when we have no other way of knowing whether people are our enemies or our friends, whether it's Buddhism, Evangelical Christianity, or Major League Baseball.  I don't buy that humans can act like solitary creatures.  We're just not wired that way.  I get lonely when I feel isolated.  And we humans are creative creatures who'll do anything to make that connection.

I used to wonder about places filled with people from other places, like the town of Dover was to me; like cities like Phoenix and Dallas and Atlanta seem like to me, too.  Joel Garreau writes in his fabulous book Edge City about the phenomenon: there could be so little holding these places together, that a church or a sports team is all a community has.  Sociologist and author N.J. Demerath calls institutions like the Red Sox "Civil Religions": just another word for trying to find community and our place in the world when we're lost.  I used to be bewildered and frightened by Christian fundamentalists and megachurches, and the movement we call conservatism.  I could never understand why anyone would so willingly pray and vote against their own self-interests.  Put in this context, it seems to make perfect sense.  While you or I may not agree with what they believe and what they do, it does humanize them in a way that all-to-often, I think everyone fails to do.  And if you want to effect change in a community, that's always the first step.  Hopefully other people will see it that way too.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cracks in the Matrix

Yeah, there's a funny thing about reality.

At a certain point in the next two years, blatant politicking for 2012 is going to reach a dead end.

Kepler Findings! Squee!

The first results of the Kepler mission were released yesterday and today, including this little gem of a solar system.  Exoplanets have a very special place in my heart, occupying many a night of idle speculation and wonder from my childhood.  That I'll live to see the day when we'll at least implicitly find evidence for alien life is just one of those things that gets me out of bed in the morning when nothing else will.  The universe is awesome like that.

There are now well over 1300 known planets orbiting other stars.  And remember, the only planetary systems Kepler can see are what it can view as edge on, with planets transiting their star.  That would render most of our solar system invisible to alien astronomers with the same technology (though Neptune might be able to be detected through its influence on the motions of the sun).  Kepler found over 700 in just one tiny patch of sky.  That's a lot of planets.  In fact, according to the article linked to at the top of this post, astronomers now estimate there are at least 100 MILLION Earth-sized planets in the habitable zones of their stars in our galaxy alone.  I'll take those odds any day.

News like this makes me smile.  Let this serve as a reminder as to how silly it can be to argue politics all day.

Right-Wing Egypt Conspiracy Theories (Courtesy of Gawker)

Many important things are happening in Egypt.  These are not some of them.  However, the good people at Gawker have constructed this handy guide for us.

I wonder if Americans truly realize the depths of our apocalypse fetish.


Politico reports that Planned Parenthood is under siege!

Yes, according to that most self-serving and obnoxious of web news outlets, House Republicans are very focused on jobs.  So focused that they've apparently made this extreme anti-abortion law a top priority, even if it means redefining rape in the process.

Imagine my surprise.

Egypt, Democracy, and the American Media

The Atlantic has a new article about the possibility of Egyptian democracy, the first from the American media that seems to actually reflect the situation on the ground and not anxiety.  The reaction in the U.S. media has been unusually fearful and emotional (particularly from Fox News, but also outlets such as ABC).  As has become so common since 9/11, the media has been quick to seize on any opportunity to remind us that we may die a horrible death at any time.  The situation in Egypt is far more complex and nuanced than that, and we Americans aren't giving it anywhere near enough credit.

I for one am guardedly optimistic about Egypt's chances, but as we learned in Iraq, the transition can be very, very messy.  Nonetheless, Egypt has a few things going for it.  True, like Iraq, Egypt is severely lacking in civil institutions.  And true, Hosni Mubarak was a rather brutal dictator in power for a very long time.  But Iraq failed as a democracy and descended into violent chaos largely because of its volatile mix of geography (being situated between two competing spheres of influence: Iran and Turkey), religion (an irate, oppressed majority of Shi'ites), and ethnicity (a Kurdish population that has been militarized since the breakup of the Ottoman Empire).  Egypt is roughly 90% Sunni Muslim, and relatively monoethnic (source: CIA World Factbook).  While it's true that there have been some warning signs from the Muslim Brotherhood (standing by their platform of denying Christians and women to run for President, for one), the Muslim Brotherhood is at most only one cog in this uprising.  Sunni Islam was never historically political among Arabs in the way that Shia was, Saudi Wahhabism notwithstanding.  Moreover, in the presence of ubiquitous cell phones, the internet, and public infrastructure, fundamentalist Islam is essentially a failed ideology, as events in Indonesia this past decade have shown us.  But Indonesia isn't Arab, and Egypt is not a tropical archipelago.  So the analogy isn't perfect.

Nonetheless, parallels to Iran in 1979 are probably ill-placed, and not even because of the Sunni/Shi'a difference.  The public face of these protests, Mohammed ElBaradei, is neither a cleric, nor conservative.  True, his position is not the same as the Ayatollah Khomenei's in 1979 (ElBaradei finds himself with limited popularity due to his long absences from his homeland).  Despite what the Israeli media or Fox News may be showing, there is little cohesive ideology to the crowds in Tahir Square other than their shared belief in removing Hosni Mubarak from power.  Nor, like in Iraq, is the revolution fomented by a foreign invasion and occupation.

Make no mistake: Mubarak is going to go.  Whether it happens relatively peacefully or violently is up to him, really, but the end is near.  While the army remains somewhat loyal to him, it won't remain so forever.  I see a couple of different scenarios, and they largely hinge on the personalities involved.  One, Omar Suleiman could orchestrate a transition of power, in which key steps to reforms are taken and pave the way for orderly elections as interim leader.  The Army could step in, which is also possible.  Alternately, there could be chaos.  In any event, the Muslim Brotherhood, while organized, has stated repeatedly they don't wish to rule by themselves, and besides which they lack the violent militant backing to enforce order from a power vacuum.  True Al-Qaeda could come in, but who are they going to attack?  The Coptic Christians?  That wouldn't destabilize Egypt at all in the way the Shi'ite/Sunni/Kurdish rivalry destabilized Iraq.  So as you can see, the U.S. media's portrayal of this as some sort of Iran/Iraq parallel is unfounded and oversimplified.

While the challenges are no less daunting in Egypt than they are in many parts of the world, they aren't insurmountable.   And while the region is most definitely moving into a new, much less stable phase of its history, it's not without historical precedent.  After all, what's the story of the region but autocratic regimes rising and falling?  Nothing lasts forever, not the least of which is tyranny (true tyranny, not what the Tea Partiers call it).  The region will stabilize itself eventually, but what else can we do but hope for the best and work for a better future?  We live in interesting times.

Unplugging From the Matrix

Welcome to my blog.  This blog evolved organically out some links and posts I make on my Facebook account over the past year, and I've reached the point where I think it deserves its own page.  And who am I?  I'm just a guy trying to find his place in the world.  I've dealt with severe mental illness and the consequences of abuse for most of my life, but in the past year I've started a long recovery.  In the course of it all, I've had a lot of sleepless nights and long days where I've been left wondering "what makes something real?"  What is the truth?  Is the truth nothing more than a subjective matter of perspective, or is it something more?  Through politics, science, philosophy, religion, and my own memories, that's what I want to find out.

I live in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a small seaside city whose streets I walk nearly every night -- partly for exercise, partly to meditate.  I'm a practicing Buddhist, an unabashed and unapologetic optimist, but also a realist, and I'm not afraid to admit when I'm wrong.  I believe in reason as the cure for fear, curiosity as the cure for ignorance, and learning as the meaning of life.

So here I am.  I guess the best thing to do is to just start posting, so here we go.  Glad to have you along for the ride.