The Serious Cardiologist

TheTruthHasNoConscienceSo, the cardiologist and I are having a conversation. He’s brisk, all business in a busy clinic. I get it. There’s a mood.

I’m light with everyone there, from the waiting room right in, and notice a sense of professional dread in the staff. An East Indian woman had accused the office of letting an elderly white woman in front of them because she was white – not, of course, because she was much more old, and and the red on her nose hinted at other issues that would have her with appointments in other offices.

Factor in that this all happened in front of predominantly East Indian people who exchanged looks, embarrassed for the poor elderly lady and the staff, but also for the behavior of the much younger lady. And that my name, at least in Trinidad, is considered East Indian, and there I am making light of things I see other than what everyone’s ignoring. Sleight of mind.

So anyway, I get in and I’m still in that light mood – which, I had forgotten, cardiologists generally hate. Cardiologists are meticulous folk. It’s rare to find the ones that smile or laugh. So this guy – because underneath all of it, he’s a guy – is getting upset with me and I don’t know why. I’m answering questions, giving him what I know on my health history, he’s stressing out, and I can’t see why.

He leans in, I lean in, masked but following his body language. And then it struck me. He’s quite serious about my health – I mean, he’s supposed to be – and he thinks I’m not taking mine seriously.

I start laughing. He’s continuing, and it’s making it worse for me because I know what’s going on, I want to tell him, but I’m laughing and can’t stop long enough to tell him.

Finally, he pauses. I stop laughing. I tell him, “I get that you are very serious about my health, and I also get that you want me to be as serious as you, and because I am not you think I do not understand my condition. Am I correct?”

He looks at me, “Well, Mr. Rampersad, you know… ”

I interrupt, “Am I correct?”

He takes a breath, “Yes, you are correct. With the medical history you have you should be serious.”

“Yes, yes, I understand it completely. But have you considered I live with that knowledge and have grown accustomed to it enough so where it’s simply part of me, who I am, but not what I think defines me?”, I say with a smile.

“I’m still not certain you understand…”

“OK, let me show you. You’re changing my meds because my bp is high, and because of kidney issues it’s an increased dosage. Once we get that under control you’re probably going to want a stress test with ECG and maybe an echocardiogram to line up. Toss in the standard stuff about losing weight, diet, etc. From there you’ll advise the general surgeon that you have cleared me for the other surgery. That’s the plan, right?”

He sits back, visibly relaxing.

I’m not terrified. I’m not screaming and holding onto life like a stolen kiss. I know what’s going on, sometimes better than the medical people around me. The difference is that they are visitors here. Tourists with umbrellas in their drinks.

I live here.

And more sage doctors know that.

Memento Mori. 

Facebook vs. Australia.

Generally, I try to avoid commenting on current events because they are so polarizing, but I do have a pretty strong opinion about Facebook vs. Australia. The premise of Australia’s law is simple: Pay the content generators rather than having them pay Facebook for advertsing that their content is more visible.BartMakeABetterWorldising

This turns what social media tech platforms have been doing on it’s head, and I appreciate not only the fact that content creators, such as myself, gain something from being shared on social media, but also that the profit disparity between the content platform and the content creators. This, too, is nothing new – ask any band or writer. But it’s not necessarily right because it’s the way it has been.

So, effectively, what is happening is Australia’s government is trying to negotiate for the hostage ( money for creators), and so… Facebook shot the hostage.

Looks like it really is time to find new ways of doing things, because the tech giants seem more interested in perpetuating a business model where content creators are creating content for the company store that they get to advertise in. Wait, what?

Growth

In between reading and writing, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we grow as people. There’s the biological process, cell division, etc – we come with our own blueprints in this regard, and through the Human Genome Project, a few on the planet understand this to a degree well beyond the average person’s – but the basics are there for all to understand. But other sorts of growth defy us, and I have found nothing in all my reading and exploration that sufficiently explains things to me.

I suppose it’s a peculiar thing to think about, but perhaps it seems that way because we don’t think about it enough. Or, perhaps it’s just a fool’s errand, the universe trying to understand itself through the self study of a collection of molecules that defy mathematical probability and not reality, which seems pretty consistent with reality defying probability at every turn. And through all of this, somewhere on a planet in this otherwise uninteresting part of the Universe, someone sitting in a chair idly twisting their toe on the ground is thinking about something highly improbable.

So this is the background noise of our growth. It is the background noise of what we perceive as growth. Perceive? Why yes of course, because we can’t truly measure our growth, and we can only assume that it is growth because of changes in ourselves – if we bother to even take the time to assess ourselves.

That which we perceive has it’s own tempo. In cities, and around other human beings, it is a matter of the tempo of others, of that which is artificial, of our own collective creation. In more rural settings, nature’s tempo is more dominant. In the quiet of solitude, we choose what is dominant – we choose our backgrounds as we select a music playlist to read or write to. We color our world in this way with our choices, and what allows us this flexibility, brittleness or firmness of choice? Is it our experience coupled with some DNA and RNA settings set at our birth default. Then we interact with our world, twisting and turning our matrices, folding in on ourselves, in extreme circumstances the result becoming as tortured as the path to becoming tortured.

To make matters worse, we are conflicted – each person, to some degree, wants to belong and thus will try to fit in with some – maybe because they are what they wish to be, maybe because that’s all they have, maybe because they know better, maybe because they don’t. And yet, every human being also wants to be individual, independent, and someone that stands out be it for reasons of procreation or less biologically rooted reasons.

So. How does one measure growth along these lines?

Well, we can’t as far as I can tell.

And yet we talk about personal growth as if we could stand next to a post every year or so and draw a line to measure a physical attribute. Our experience of growth is subjective against a flowing canvas that we do not yet understand.

But we change. We learn, hopefully, some faster than others. Physically, we grow until our body decides that entropy deserves a fighting chance, and I cannot help but wonder if perhaps emotional and mental disorders, unrelated to our biology, are not our minds letting some of that entropy in.

And then what is entropy? For this context, a means of explaining disorder within any system as applied to ourselves, but then this leads to question what disorder is when considering what we have learned from Chaos theory, that chaos – disorder – is likely just order we do not recognize yet.

So the reality is that we don’t know enough to measure ourselves. So why do we try? Why do I try? Isn’t it somewhat egotistical to measure our own growth? Isn’t it sort of like killing the Buddha?

And there we are, full circle. There is personal growth, we all understand that, but when it comes to actually demonstrating it, measuring it…. we do not have metrics, we do not have anything that is truly objective, and even the opinions of others are flawed by their subjectivity.

Why Problems Aren’t Solved.

thoreau_lock_and_keyAs a member of the Board for what could best be explained as a condo community, I find myself shaking my head quite a bit. One of the reasons I do so is because, simply put, people become more emotionally attached to a problem than a solution. One such example was an issue of a missing key. But the issue wasn’t the missing key. The issue was getting to what the key gave access to: The garbage room.

There’s a story behind that, as there usually is, but at this point in time there’s actually little good reason for the garbage room to be locked. At one time, there was some rationale, but that rationale has been found wanting as other things have changed. I had predicted this prior to coming on the Board, communicated it with the Director who pushed it (who is now no longer on the Board), and so I waited over the course of a week as this can got kicked around in community chats.

The conversation centered around the key. The key became this Holy Grail of sorts, and everyone wanted to blame someone for the issue regarding the key (it is lost to the entropy of bureaucracy, suffice to say). After a week, I finally sounded off because the time it was taking for people to sort out the problem had exceeded my patience.

“We don’t need the locks on the garbage rooms anymore.”

The underlying issue was that people couldn’t access the garbage room for bags that were larger than the chute. Everyone wanted to play the blame game about the key, and meanwhile, the garbage room was still inaccessible. And this set me to thinking because when large groups of fairly intelligent people disappoint in their capacity to solve a simple problem, it’s time to think.

The Solving Of Problems

There is a tendency to get caught up in minutiae, trying to solve a smaller problem with an assumption that solving the smaller problem will somehow continue solving a larger problem. In the above example, it was a simple matter of switching perspectives, a flexibility in viewpoint to be circumspect. Generally speaking, education systems, perhaps because of the amount of time to shove a few thousand years of knowledge into less than 20 years, doesn’t deal with this well.

Let’s be honest, too – the present techno-communication landscape of social media is more suited for allowing for cognitive bias: Social media sites, in their wish to get our eyes on their advertising, show us what we agree with rather than well rounded opinions. It’s all an echo chamber and makes looking for valuable dissent (as opposed to popular dissent) all the less likely to be found.

If we are only presented that which we agree with, how are we to move forward? If a solution is chosen because of popularity on social media, how valuable is that solution? And do all these people with opinions have knowledge on the topic or add value somehow, or are they simply looking for views on their website, just as without social media sometimes people add their opinions to look smart even when their opinion demonstrates that they are not?

It seems to me – and we all have biases on this – that the world is getting better at communicating solutions that are popular, but not right – and therein, we find the core problem, and the solution is… well, I’m sure I don’t know.

Gears, Topology, Economies

Car gear stick. Manual transmissionI took a drive this morning up to Maracas Bay, along Trinidad’s North Coast road. It’s easily one of the least forgiving roads in Trinidad and Tobago; in that regard it seems world class. If you make a mistake on the curvy hillside cut road, you can end up sometimes hundreds of meters below.

I’ve driven it for decades, but I’ve always driven with a diesel and stick, and one of my goals was to achieve the ‘no brakes’ usage in a stick (which I have done a few times, with timing and yes, video… somewhere…). Because of the hills, people constantly have their brakes fail during or at the end of their journey, so not using one’s brakes is important.

Without a stick, I was stuck with a double clutch automatic transmission paired with a 1.6l gasoline turbo. I set off, thinking this would be fun and interesting, but it was still dark and it was less fun and interesting given that most of the lights in the darker parts are missing, and the new ‘cat eyes’ at the ‘edge’ of the road disappear around tight corners.

Still, I felt the car, and I made it stay in gear with the manual selector – and choosing which gear was a matter of getting the car into the right gear and going with it. This was a cagey process because of the variances in inclines and curves, so I thought about why it was easier with a stick.

It’s simple, really: A human driver who understands how a transmission works is better than an automatic transmission that is developed for a market with a less varied driving topology. This is a problem that won’t get fixed soon, since it requires what we human drivers call, “knowing the road” from the perspective of a transmission. In short – not gonna happen, not enough financial incentive, the market is too small, the benefits too little for what would be a quantum leap in transmission technology.

Watch, someone will do it soon and prove me a liar. I hope so. That’s not the point though.

So I was considering the points raised by Jordan Hall in this Civium related video:

Civium explained a bit.

Now, I’m not expert on Civium, and I only caught a trailer, so I really have no comment on it other than this video had some ideas and thoughts very well expressed – enough so that after I thought through the transmission issue a bit, I saw some interesting parallels.

The explanation of city centralization is done well; ‘All roads lead to Rome’ sort of stuff, which is more than valid, and the idea of minimizing the ‘human foot print’ is also quite valid, particularly to me who came back from a 30 minute stay in Maracas Bay… before anyone got there. I drove an hour each way for those 30 minutes (I could have done it in half the time, but… transmission and road conditions).

Yet between that and where we are is another quantum leap. A leap in which we figure out how to scale geographical economies appropriately across what is needed and therefore valued.

It may already be happening.

Looking The Same Way

My life is a bit of turmoil right now – I’m on the Board for the residential community I live in, there’s a lot of disagreement on the Board hidden behind decreasingly polite words, the Property Manager is working from home with Covid-19 (another close personal friend) which has lead to new contractors in the office with a steep learning curve, and if I have time for myself it’s to forget about all of that in my own ways. So I didn’t get as much time to process it; this is late in writing.

A very close friend of mine passed away a few days ago, in the midst of what can be best described as chaos. His daughter called me, told me he was her daughter – I knew that – and she sobbed for a few minutes. No words needed to be said, I knew. He had been ill for a while, and because of the pandemic I was leery to visit because the last thing I wanted to do was put him at greater risk. I waited, she said it, a hurdle everyone must eventually jump over.

The family asked I not post about it as word gets out, and of course I won’t.

And so this morning I looked quietly through photos to find I had none with him – a man who I have spent so much time with, working hard, enjoying the moments of tranquility between. I came to realize that I had one photo of him that is below; a photo that describes our relationship quite well: We were always looking the same way, the same direction, and seeing the same and different things at the same time.

With the current pandemic, I cannot go to the house and be with the family to tell them some stories, and if there was someone to talk to about it he would be the first on my list to talk to.

This, I am no stranger to, but every time a piece of me withers. An adopted Great Uncle, who died a centenarian, told me quietly once when he was in his 9th decade that he was ready to go because all who he had known in his time had died, and all that was left were people who cannot understand. I am beginning to.

Veterans get the sort of brotherhood he and I had – he and I had been through our own version of ‘The Suck’, and had persevered where my own family would not assist, did not believe, and astonishingly probably still don’t despite what we accomplished. He was a man of integrity, of honor, and someone who I had the distinct pleasure of knowing. He was proud of his family, their accomplishments, but he never took them as his own. He was knowledgeable, thoughtful, and wanted the best for everyone he knew.

Often, people do not realize that when people die and stories are told, it says more about the teller. It is the way of things; but every reflection in those stories also casts a penetrating light on the one that has left, their effect, their legacy.

Would that we all could leave a legacy this man did.

Inertia

Some days weigh more than others. After a week that has weighed on me quite a lot, and probably will continue to for a while, the idea of weight and how we use it really captured my imagination. I’ve incorporated it into my ongoing writing project, but I thought it was worth mentioning since yesterday was World Mental Health Day and today is not.

We call it weight maybe because of the tension we feel in our muscles. It’s easy to communicate that way, we can all recognize that feeling. Some might call it stress. Others might call it in extreme cases a form of depression. These are, I suppose, specialized types of weight with their own nomenclature, and I’ll leave that for others to write about – quite enough exists on those topics, and they certainly don’t need another layperson messing things up on the Internet.

What causes this weight? I have a few ideas. When we talk about weight, in the sense of Physics, we’re really talking about mass and the acceleration due to gravity, multiplied by each other. Acceleration due to gravity, you may be surprised, varies a bit around the world, but it’s got an average we work with for the entire planet.

As with people. The metaphorical acceleration due to gravity varies from person to person – one could even argue that there’s a standard deviation that we call ‘normal’. Metaphorical mass is generally what changes in our lives. But is it really weight? Is that such a good metaphor?

When you have multiple things happening at the same time, it’s not as hard, it’s not as heavy. Things move along. But the second one thing goes sideways, the day can become a bit more heavy because of it. This sounds a little more like inertia. When you’re trying to do too much, when something goes wrong and you get a cascade of problems…

And how do we deal with this stuff anyway? Maybe we reduce what we’re doing and focus on less.

Nonetheless, there are some days when the world weighs more than others.

Ecosystem Research: pH, gH, kH.

I’ve been doing some research for something I am writing, and it became apparent that I needed to have a bit more in depth knowledge about ecosystems and so on. So I set about starting a planted aquarium where I could add ammonia and feed the plants through that process. The ‘why’ of it is simply research.

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In doing this, I went out, got a tank, etc, and of course everyone assumes I’m going to put fish in it. The idea of simply having plants in a tank of water hardly seems of worth to pet shop owners that sell aquariums, but I have my reasons.

Now, for those of you new to aquariums, there are things like pH you have to monitor, and if you’re on Earth instead of snooping from a distant planet or spaceship, you’ll need to understand that the nitrogen cycle must be started. Plants need food to create oxygen and carbon dioxide through photosynthesis. All the guides on this, as you would expect, tend toward having fish in the aquarium mainly so that they can poo, but it can be done with household ammonia. If I were planning to put fish in the tank, I’d probably start the cycle with ammonia anyway, particularly after what I have learned so far.

What I found was that my tank’s pH was 8.4, which is extraordinarily high and bad for fish – 7.8 is the high end of where plants are fine except, perhaps, some plants I am unfamiliar with. 6.5, by the way, is the low end.

So now, the trick is to reduce the pH. As a novice at this – thus the research – I go, get some aquarium stuff to lower the pH, and try it out. No dice. So rather than spend a bunch of money, try vinegar. No effect. Check the input water and find a high pH – aha! Check the filter on that tap, aha! Full of gunk. Address, partial water changes, repeat.

See, what most experienced people don’t talk about to novices is kH – carbonate hardness. The carbonates act as a buffer against the acid, and a high kH means that there is less likely to be a pH swing since addition of acidic content simply can make a high kH aquarium giggle like a pleased young mermaid. And this was the real issue I was dealing with.

And then on top of all of this, there is the general hardness (gH) which has to do with magnesium and calcium ions in the water. When aquarium fish are said to enjoy ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ water, this is a reference to gH.

A week ago, I knew none of this. But the interrelations in the ecosystem with such basic chemistry are exactly why I’m doing the research – pH, kH and gH form a triad related to the nitrogen cycle in an ecosystem, so already this is a worthwhile endeavor.

It also gets you thinking about other things when you sit in your writing area. It makes you think about people, and how they can have their own pH, kH and gH. And that is an even more derivative thought worthy of exploring in quiet moments in the writing area.

What A Strange World (1 of i)

BartMakeABetterWorldTo say that 2020 has been a strange year so far would be seen by most as the understatement of the year, and yet everything that has happened has been somewhat predictable. In fact, articles written in the 1990s coming forward predicted much of it, from the pandemics to the civil unrest world wide.

I could hunt for the articles online, but it’s too much trouble for a simple blog post. And, of course, we are rife with content created on predicting the future – most myopically of the near future because people want to feel comfortable about tomorrow when they are uncertain of today.

There were times I wanted to write things here about the present day, but there are more than sufficient monkeys with typewriters covering the spectrum of fear to fact. Instead, I began focusing on the background of a universe behind some of my writing that I hope to publish someday. As someone trying to do this, I will say it’s difficult to do better than what is actually happening, but at the core it’s pretty interesting so I’ll write a bit about that. After all, I haven’t published anything here for a while.

Imagining A World

mirror_universeThis is difficult for me, particularly since I measure what I’m trying to do by writing giants who have developed worlds that have become so long established that they are accepted as a backdrop to anything.

The modern elves and orcs owe much to the backdrop of J.R.R. Tolkien, as an example, and the amount of background he did was staggering. Granted, it might take him 3 pages to describe a wall, which made movies more palatable to people who can’t read anything longer than a tweet, but that level of details shows not just through his popular published works but into his less popular works – for example, the Silmarillion (Bonus: Silmarillion is free for the Kindle on Amazon at the time of this writing).

The trouble I have had with imagining this ‘new world’ has been hard for me because I’m inundated by information everyday, from the meaningless and trivial to global events no longer written as much by true journalists (just the facts) but by unrepentant opinionated writers or performers. We can argue that everything is biased, which is generally used as a binary argument (either/or), when in fact it points out that there is an issue of degree.

The trouble with the degree having increased is that the world becomes more and more narrow based on the narratives imposed across the global population – which sounds nefarious, but by itself isn’t since it is the way it has always been. Again, it’s a matter of increased degree.

And therefore, there is less space within which to imagine. So the answer is to stop watching what people choose to show us of the world and instead to seek out what we wish to see of the world. It sounds simple enough but when all the information you see is based on what is available where you are, what algorithms control it, and whether someone doesn’t want you to see it, things can get messy.

Factor in personal age, where you’re used to seeing the world in certain ways… it gets tough.

Having to throw all these things out is difficult, to say the least. To imagine a world is to re-imagine your world, and to re-imagine your world means throwing out everything so that you have the clear space for something.

And having thought through all of that, having written it, I cannot help but wonder if this should also be true of the world we know.

Fractured Systems

Berlin WallWith the pandemic of Covid-19 weaving it’s strains around the world, I had gotten to a level of introversion that I found deeply satisfying. I wrote a lot, published little, and enjoyed the government endorsed need to be by myself.

Then, in Minnesota, something happened. A man who was already restrained died under the weight of police officers, a spark among the fumes of gasoline that has soaked the United States for some time. Every day since then has been rife with disturbing news from my country of birth, the country I served, the country that I swore an Oath of Enlistment to.

And for me, it’s all very complicated because I have spent as much time in the United States as out. In some ways I envy those who have a relatively smaller view of the world deposited through flat screens within the United States, in some ways I am frustrated by them, but I always felt a certain kinship with all but the most ignorant who, sadly, I found I was meeting with increasing frequency. It’s possible it was the same frequency and that my tolerance was decreasing, I cannot know for sure. I never thought to keep statistics.

There’s a side of me that relishes the law and order of the United States, but then, I’ve found too that the law and order seems to run in the face of ethics. The banks that bet on bad mortgages, as an example, were never punished and that is something that I never could comprehend. To me, that seemed unAmerican, but then, it too seemed too American. With well spoken and written friends on either side of the political fences, I found myself negotiating away pieces of myself. I found myself at odds with a professor of African studies in Canada, a long time relationship, because his views left no room for oxygen in the room for me, and I found myself at odds with others in similar fashion.

At heart, I’m what Heinlein coined ‘a rational anarchist’ as Professor de La Paz in, “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress”:

“A rational anarchist believes that concepts such as ‘state’ and ‘society’ and ‘government’ have no existence save as physically exemplified in the acts of self-responsible individuals. He believes that it is impossible to shift blame, share blame, distribute blame . . . as blame, guilt, responsibility are matters taking place inside human beings singly and nowhere else. But being rational, he knows that not all individuals hold his evaluations, so he tries to live perfectly in an imperfect world . . . aware that his effort will be less than perfect yet undismayed by self-knowledge of self-failure.”

I know that truth is not only relative, it has an expiration date – what is true today is not always true tomorrow from the same vantage and can only remain true tomorrow, forever, if that vantage orbits that truth… and if there were only one truth, that would be enough, but there are uncountable amounts of truths running into each other with the manic dismay of Brownian motion.

So I look at the United States now – there is no excuse for most of what everyone is angry about, but there is explanation here and there. The peaceful protests are for the best, the violent protest a political football that various teams spike as their own or strategically as their opposition.

The looting, I think, is a simple matter of self interest trumping the rules of society. A hungry man will earn bread where he can, beg for it if he must, and steal it if the other two do not suit him.

The means to earn in society, not just the United States, seems to have faltered, the begging comes at a cost, and so society already in disarray has members that go out and take regardless of society’s rules, opportunists operating outside the rules of society only because they cannot afford to change the rules of society to suit them as…for example… banks do.

Yet the underlying issues remain. It has echoed around the world with protests about it, and yet, there is more. There is more because this is a reaction to one part of a failed group of systems, there are others, and I wonder when the others will get similar reactions.