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Peace is Boring

You don’t have to spend much time walking around the parks and government buildings of any city to notice that monuments are erected to warriors. Battles are commemorated. If there is a memorial anywhere to a thousand days of uninterrupted peace, I’ve never heard of it.

furious2You don’t have to write novels like I do to grasp that humans enjoy hearing about conflict. It is exciting to watch emotions flare and buildings explode. There is a reason that “Fate of the Furious” (eighth in the Fast and Furious franchise) is coming to a theater near you and a movie about a quiet afternoon nap in a sun-dappled park is not.

But what we find entertaining is not the same as what we want in our everyday lives. I want good health, quiet moments, and easy travels for me and those I love and even for those I don’t know. So while it’s true that I like to read about a good fight, it’s also true that I want my life to be a series of soft spring mornings and cozy winter nights. I want a life that would make a terrible novel.

And that is why I believe that people in the entertainment field make horrible choices for politicians.

For a wonderful explanation of how Ronald Regan’s experience making World War Two movies influenced his behavior forty years later as president, read Rachel Maddow’s insightful book Drift.

For a look at what I mean now, well, take a look around.

war-statueAlthough we’ve all heard that the current U.S. president thrives on conflict, it wasn’t until a friend asked me what I thought of his exchange with Australia’s Prime Minister and his announcement of having put Iran “on notice” that it occurred to me that our foreign policy was being orchestrated by an entertainer. It had seemed obvious to me that the campaign rallies were cleverly staged theater, but I never considered the implications of having the same philosophy applied to our dealings with other nations. We all know what makes for good entertainment, and for ballads and statues as well.

So the implications for world peace have really sunk in for me. Whether you love or hate the man’s domestic policies, the fact is that he’s approaching international relations like a reality TV show. The implications of that for the chances of a peaceful four years could not be worse. I think it is fair to say that if what he does today doesn’t cause sufficient ignition, he’ll find a way to provoke others tomorrow. In fact, he’ll probably provoke others either way.

Some of my friends think he sees himself as a warrior hero, although he’s never been either one. My husband thinks he just wants to make sure that he gets a great big statue of himself erected somewhere near the Washington monument. I think he not only likes to put on a good show but he also finds the conflict itself exhilarating, Unlike most of us, he does not have peace as a goal.

The problem is that if he doesn’t enjoy world peace, we don’t get to either.

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2017 in peace

 

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The trouble with telepathy

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the problems with telepathy. Writing about it, understanding it, using technology to develop it, and how humans would respond to it.

My recent fascination was prompted by an article in Popular Mechanics called Brain-to-Brain Communication Is Closer Than You Think. Lest you decide that Popular Mechanics has taken an unexpected new age turn, let me point out that the subtitle of the article is “Don’t call it telepathy, but call it very cool.”

The article describes a successful experiment in which a video game player wearing an electroencephalography cap (which records brain activity) decides when to shoot, and a second player in another room wearing a transcranial magnetic stimulation coil (which emits a focused electrical current) over the part of his brain that controls finger movement, does the actual shooting.

Researcher Chantel Prat at the University of Washington Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences and one of the designers of the experiment cautions that “This is not the X-Men version of telepathy where you hear a disembodied voice. … Whatever shape [this] takes is going to be very different than listening to someone’s thoughts in your head.”

magicYes, it may not be the classic telepathy of fiction, but we are talking about direct brain to brain communication here, aided by modern technology. The article goes on to address possible real life uses including already successful work on adapting a brain-to-machine interface to help paralyzed patients walk by using their brain signals to control prosthetic devices. This is cool, and it is really happening.

It reminded me of an article I read a while back about how neuroscientists have recreated movie clips by looking at a person’s brainwaves. It also reminded me of the waves made by Mark Zuckerberg in 2015 when he wrote “One day, I believe we’ll be able to send full rich thoughts to each other directly using technology. You’ll just be able to think of something and your friends will immediately be able to experience it too.”

He was referring to an advanced form of this sort of brain-to-brain communication, using something like a VR headset to encode brain signals into bits and send them to another person for decoding and playback. You can read more about this in my post Telepathy and Technology, where I quote The Washington Post as responding with “even if Facebook isn’t leading the charge toward telepathy — a worrying concept in itself, given the site’s past indiscretions re: research consent and user privacy — the field poses tons of ethical challenges.” True. Cool things like this tend to have a ton of implications that we haven’t considered.

The second thing to set my synapses firing about mind reading was hearing about Connie Willis’s new book Crosstalk. I haven’t read it yet for a few reasons, one of which is that I’m not that big a fan of her writing based on To Say Nothing of the Dog, her one book I have read. But that was written twenty years ago and it’s time to give this science fiction great another chance.

ganzfeldThen I read an interview with her in Wired. The quote that got me was “Willis does enjoy writing about the paranormal, but as far as she’s concerned it’s pure fiction. For her new novel Crosstalk, a romantic comedy about telepathy, she did extensive research into the history of psychic claims, including the notorious Rhine experiments. ‘I found no evidence at all of actual telepathy,’ she says. ‘I don’t buy it.'”

A lot of people would agree with her. However, I was put off by her tone. How odd to write a book about an ability and yet to harbor no feel for how it could be possible, and no sense of “maybe, if ….” to help bring the magic to life. I probably will read Crosstalk eventually, but now I’m in less of a hurry to do so.

However, Ms. Willis does make an interesting observation in the interview. She says “Let’s say telepathy became the norm … the first thing that people would begin to do would be to attempt to stop that, for themselves at least. They would try to build barriers, mental barriers or physical barriers—I don’t know, tinfoil hats maybe or something—that would prevent other people from being able to read their thoughts … I don’t think most relationships could survive if you knew virtually everything that flitted through the head of your partner.” Good point, In fact, a very good point.

And this brings me to the third reason why telepathy is heavy on my mind these days. I’m finishing a book of my own, the sixth book in 46. Ascending, and it is revisiting my hero Lola and her organization of telepaths. Obviously new problems have arisen, including the discovery of non-empathic telepaths, once thought to be impossible. As my heroes and villains go to increasing lengths to keep each other out of their heads, I’m forced to confront just how difficult day-to-day life would be in a world where telepathy is common. It’s forced me to revisit my own world-building, and to better define my own fictional ideas about what telepathy is.

I’ve had to conclude that while technologically aided brain-to-brain communication is cool, is likely, and poses dangers, it is not what I am writing about. I’m also trying not to write about X-men style sentences popping unbidden into the heads of others. Rather, I’m playing with the idea of extreme empathy. I postulate emotional connections between skilled receivers that enable the exchange of ideas without words or machines, and I’m having some fun finding the charms and the limits of my particular theories.

Do I believe in them? I tell people that I’m a scientist first, and a writer of science fiction second. To me, being a scientist means believing that any thing is possible. It also means knowing that while many things are highly improbable, the universe has a way of surprising us, no matter how much we think we already know.

 

 
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Posted by on January 7, 2017 in telepathy, writing

 

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A way to wish you joy and peace

sunriseI woke up to this sunrise today,  a reminder that every day brings us a fresh chance to embrace, improve and enjoy this wonderful gift we call life.

It’s been a tough couple of months for me, and for others who want to encourage tolerance and empathy. I’m looking for positive ways to deal with my concerns about the direction in which my country is headed, and I hope that you are too. Lucky for me, my sister, who is full of good ideas, had a suggestion for me.

With her encouragement, I reviewed, edited and sorted through the 159 posts on this blog and put the best of them into a new book called “Face Painting for World Peace.” This short (121 page) volume of essays attempts to be both humorous and thought provoking as it examines what I like to call “intra-species harmony” (aka world peace) from a wide variety of angles.

The eBook is available for FREE on Smashwords, for a short time. Soon it will be published on Amazon as well, and distributed by Barnes & Nobel, Apple and other retailers, at which point I will be required to charge ninety-nine cents. This is not intended to be a money making project; I have pledged to donate half of all proceeds to “Doctors Without Borders”.

Here is the description:

I am passionate about the cause of the world peace. From early 2012 on I have maintained a blog in which I often write about empathy and peace. I have arranged these short essays in book form, to be published for Christmas 2016. A lot has changed in the world over the past four years, but what has not changed is how I continue to cherish time with those I love, and how others do the same throughout the world. This book is my holiday card; my way of wishing hope, joy and peace to every human on earth, with no exceptions.

Please download, please enjoy, and please share with others. Meanwhile, I will try to wake up every day during this coming year, catch a glimpse of that beautiful dawn, and then seek out positive ways to add my voice to the chorus still being sung by those who believe that kindness should guide our politics, our words and our actions. I invite you to sing along, too.

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2016 in being better, empathy, peace, writing

 

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Seeking your thoughts on world peace

I will soon be publishing a book of essays on world peace, and I am seeking YOUR thoughts on the subject. If you would like to contribute an short essay (approximately one to five thousand words) please contact my character Lola.Zeitman at her gmail account or ask me for more info here. Any thoughts expressed with an open heart and good intentions will receive serious consideration for inclusion. Pieces with unique perspectives or unusual ideas are most likely to be used.

seeking

The book will be published electronically in about 4 weeks on Amazon and Smashwords. It will be sold for ninety-nine cents but there will be several promotional giveaways, so no significant profits are anticipated. Half of any proceeds that are received will go to the humanitarian organization “Doctor’s Without Borders.”

tshirtAll essayists will retain the full rights to their own work but must grant me permission to use their words in this publication. Writers of all pieces that are accepted for inclusion will receive full credit for their work in the book, as well as a “Telepaths for World Peace” t-shirt in a size of their choosing, and the chance to use their essay as the cornerstone for a guest post on this blog. I hope to hear from many of you. If the world ever needed our ideas on this subject, it is now.

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2016 in peace, writing

 

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Happy International Day of Peace, Lahcen and Najet

The Airbnb site says my hosts at the Riad speak English, French and Spanish along with the local Arabic, but it only takes a few minutes for me to realize that the claim regarding English has been exaggerated. Lahcen, the helpful house manager who greets me, probably does know several hundred words of English, compared to my several dozen words of French and two of Arabic, but his ability to answer my questions is limited. Najet, the cook and custodian who assists him, speaks some French and no English at all. Soon the three of us are communicating with gestures, key phrases and facial expressions, and it’s not going as poorly as you might think.

img_3275Still jet lagged, I get a slow start the next morning and Najet is anxious to begin cleaning my room. I am sitting in the public area getting organized for my day when she gestures to her cleaning equipment and my quarters and gives me a questioning look. I nod my consent. She pauses.

“No douche?” she asks clearly and politely. I’m sure that my eyes widen before I remember that douche is the French word for shower. “No douche aujourd’hui,” I declare, thinking that sometimes even a few words in a common language can make all the difference in the world.

When I return that evening, there are lots of things that I want to ask Lahcen. Is Najet his wife? A relative? Is he from Marrakesh? Is this his full-time job? What does he think of tourists, of Americans? But every time I start talking he nods and smiles and looks confused, which is exactly what I do when I can’t understand someone.

img_3290The next day he volunteers some information. “I love Hollywood,” he tells me. “I love your movies, but I watch them in French.” He shrugs, a little embarrassed. “In English I can’t tell what they say.” And I get that I’m like one of those movies to him. He thinks that he ought to understand me but I talk fast and use idioms and shortcuts and make no sense to him at all.

“I wish my French was half as good as your English,” I reply and I mean it.  I think he understands me for once because he gives me a genuine smile back.

“I think that all of your country should learn Arabic. In school,” he adds. I’m sure my eyes widen at the idea. “And we should all learn English here. In school.” He looks at me hard for signs of comprehension. “If we could understand each other, then we would get along.”

img_3284I get where he is going with this and I have to admit that I like it a lot. I appears that my gracious host is a kindred spirit of mine, someone hoping to bridge the gap between cultures, filling it with empathy and a compassion born of recognizing our common humanity. I lack the vocabulary and the inclination to argue with him about the practicality of his plan, so I just say “I hope it happens.”

When I settle my bill, ready to move on to my next destination, I leave him and Najet a generous tip. He takes my luggage to the cab and speaks to the man in rapid Arabic. I realize that he is using part of my tip to pay my cab fare, which I also notice is a only small fraction of what the cab drivers have been charging me. I appreciate his gesture.

I remember my last encounter with people with whom I could not speak. A few months ago a couple in Portugal named Alberto and Maria helped my husband and I rescue our rental car when it became stuck on a dirt road. A few days later, when I discovered it was “International Day of Peace,” I wrote a post about them, and about how the wordless experience was so intense that Maria and I hugged each other afterwards with tears in our eyes.

img_3304I have enough cultural sensitivity to realize that a hug would be inappropriate with Lahcen, especially in such a public place. But I am equally grateful to him and Najet and I wish them both joy and peace, even if I do not know how to tell him so. I can only nod my thanks to him as we part, two souls seeking the same harmony in a fragmented world.

(For more about my trip to Morocco see  That’s Why you Make the Trip, I see ghosts , It’s an angry world in some places and My Way on my other blogs.)

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2016 in empathy, peace

 

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Everything is Going to Be Alright

There is barely anyone alive today who did not grow up with movies. We almost all understand the concept of having a soundtrack for our lives and in fact a lot of us spend a good deal of time designing playlists or inputting musical preferences to get just the right music playing for us as we live.

Our needs for certain kinds of music vary with the times. So, let me just ask you straight out — are you seeking out more songs of reassurance these days? I sure am.

I’m also in the process of looking at the last song referred to in each of my books as I update the music pages on each blog. Today I got to song number nine for x0 and guess what? It’s Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds”. This particular song has gotten me through several tough spots in my life, and it shows up in my book when my hero Lola is at her most distraught. A fellow telepath provides her with reassurance by singing a bit of this timeless song. The result? Lola becomes calm enough to do what needs to be done.

As part of updating the music page, I had to seek out a video to which to link. There are so many wonderful ways to enjoy this 1977 classic online. One of my favorites manages to use Bob Marley’s original music, some footage of him and his performances, and clever graphics and a story line to make this wonderful song come to life visually. I recommend playing this daily as needed for, oh, the next twelve days or so, and longer if required.

One can also enjoy (and buy) the powerful version of this song performed by “Playing for Change.”  The song is also available for purchase at Amazon.com.  

Finally if you want one last shot of reassurance, check out the very first recording at “Playing for Change” as a powerful group of folks sing and play instruments to calm everyone down in this moving version of a song calledDon’t Worry.

For more oblique election commentary, see my posts Our brand is crisis?, We need to talk about this, just maybe not so much, and Is it over yet?

Finally, here is the excerpt from x0 that refers to “Three Little Birds. Hope you enjoy it also.

Lola absolutely did not want to go to New Zealand. But even more than that she did not want to miss her plane and then have to leave the secured part of the airport and try to figure out what else to do instead. So she did as instructed, and grabbed a quick copy of The Daily Telegraph at the newsstand on the left and was a little startled when the sales clerk actually did call to her as she turned to go.

“I, I think you left this miss.” The girl offered a small brown ladies handbag out to her.

“Thanks, yes.” She slipped her own purse onto Nwanyi’s shoulder and took the new bag. “Thanks so very much.”

She allowed herself to slow down enough to look inside while they walked. There was a wallet containing quite a few New Zealand twenty-dollar bills. Wow. She had been considering just staying put in Singapore, but decided against that option completely when she also found the little disposable cell phone bearing the logo of Vodaphone New Zealand. These folks were really looking out for her.

She dug further into the purse. More ibuprofen and lots of aspirin. Headaches must be a well-known part of this gig, she thought. At the bottom of the purse was the item that made her heart stop. Oh my. She knew this one. A little Beretta Bobcat. Her gun collecting and gun-loving father had bought her one for protection years ago, and the two of them had spent hours getting her familiar with the gun. As a girl she had shot rocks and tin cans with whatever her father gave her, like most kids did who grew up where she had, but this particular model had been his gift to her as a young woman, and he had wanted her to know it thoroughly. She’d kept it locked away for years now as Alex did not share her ease with guns, and he’d had little trouble convincing her that a house with teenagers and their friends was not a good environment for firearms. But still, she knew this gun, and though she had not touched a handgun in years, it was a comfort in her hand. Who was this guy who had met her anyway? Some sort of super-spy?

She felt a chuckle and saw her helper whose name she did not even know working on a pile of tax returns. He was a tax accountant? She felt a surge of gratitude for her unknown benefactor, and in return she felt a soft feeling of You’re welcome, and Be safe. She had a reassuring image of him heading over to say hello to an old friend who worked in airport security, and Lola had the distinct impression that his visit with his friend would last at least until the man was very sure that he could leave Heathrow safely himself.

As a final gift, she heard him softly singing the words to her favorite Bob Marley song ever, “Three Little Birds“. Nwanyi, who had been walking quietly, stopped and gave Lola a funny look. Lola realized with surprise that she had been so grateful to hear those lyrics assuring her that everything would be well that she hadn’t noticed that tears had started to run down her own cheeks.

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2016 in music for peace

 

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Happy International Day of Peace, Alberto and Maria!

Thanks to a crude bomb that just exploded in a dumpster in New York, much of the world learned that the United Nations General Assembly is preparing to convene in New York, as it does it does every year at this time. What much of the world does not know is that at the same time the U.N. sponsors an annual International Day of Peace “devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples.”

1-multiGiven that I write a blog about world peace, I’m a big fan of this day. This year, I will celebrate it in another country. I’m also a big fan of travel. I believe that war is often (though not always) the result of old grievances and common fears being nurtured and ignited by politicians eager to preserve power and prestige for themselves and wealth for their friends. I recognize that any interaction that results in armed conflict is complicated, and that many people try to do what is best. However, my own reading of history tells me that “bloody few” armed conflicts were ever noble or unavoidable; the only thing they all have in common is that they were bloody.

Those of us not in politics have few ways to steer the human race away from the machinery of war. One of those is travel. As we spend time with others who are currently demonized, or who once were, we learn to question the assumptions about other nations, religions, races, continents, and what ever else you have when you describe “those people” in terms vile enough to make the average citizen believe that they must die. Of course, you can’t just get on a bus or plane and go somewhere. You need to interact.

roadYou need to try to drive up a road that your GPS should never have thought was a road in the first place. You need to try to turn around on a steep, narrow hairpin curve and manage to get your rental car stuck with its nose in the dirt and its ass two feet off the ground while your tires spin. You need to hike down the hill, stand out on a highway, and hope that some decent people will stop and give you a hand.

Odds are they will. If you are lucky, someone like Alberto and Maria will pull over cautiously, looking nervously at their daughter in the back seat. They will see how sweaty and frustrated you are, and ask what is wrong in a language of which you speak only a hundred words quite poorly. You will figure out that they speak no English, but you might manage to convey carro for car and espouso for husband and point up the hill. If you are very lucky Alberto will say “cima?” very clearly, like he cannot believe both the car and husband are up there, and you will recognize his word for “on top of” from your hours with Rosetta Stone and you will nod.

On a good day, Alberto and Maria will take it from there. They will drive their old car up the road that brought you to a standstill, chuckle with sympathy when they see your predicament, and gesture to the two of you to help them lift your car and literally set its rear end down in a better place. While you marvel that it is even possible, it is done. You will try to press some money into their hands, helpless to thank them any other way, and they will not want it, at least not until you insist. Maria will give you a hug and, as she does, you and she will both have tears in your eyes, brought on by the intensity of the exchange you have managed without a single word. They will drive off and you will never see them again.

c_norman_rockwell_do_unto_others_2But later that night, as you read about the ideals of learning to coexist with your fellow humans, you will think of them, and understand how one can travel for world peace.

So, Happy International Day of Peace, Alberto and Maria. May others always treat you with the same kindness that you showed to us. And happy Peace Day, as well, to your seven billion brothers and sisters, most of whom have needed help at least once or twice and, in turn, have helped a stranger or two along their way.

(For more vacation-inspired epiphanies see The Moon Rises on my c3 blog, Our Brand is Crisis on my z2 blog, and That’s Why They Play the Game on my d4 blog.)

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2016 in being better, empathy, peace

 

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