jim's journal

retro redux


I have decided to move all future journal entries to an even more obscure and arcane format than hand-rolled html: Gopher. Gopher predates the web. It is text-only and does little more than serve up files. It's as simple as a worm and fun. It also turns out that freeshell/SDF has one of the largest and most active Gopher communities remaining on the planet. Simply too good to pass up. Most modern browsers no longer support the Gopher protocol so here is a proxy connection. Some of the entries here require reformatting for links but eventually I will get everything copied. See you in Gopherspace...


After a long hiatus I am apparently journaling again, not that I have much to say. This was spurred by creating a sort of universal homepage for myself here on freeshell.org simply as a lark while playing with ssh and ftp extensions on my new chromebook. I also read over this stuff and decided it wasn't quite as godawful as I remembered. Your mileage may vary.

Oh, and a brief comment on the recent legalization of "gay" marriage, at least at the federal level. This has always struck me as a simple case of civil liberties. Toss aside the jargon and cultural issues and you simply have the state offering to recognize a form of contract. It is to be between two consenting adults and grants both special priveleges and imposes special requirements. It is significant across a wide range of public, private and economic life. For anything else other than culturally mired "marriage" the notion of restricting such a contract to partners of different gender would be both laughable and clearly discrimatory . Technically the state does not recognize marriages per se. Rather, it recognizes contracts that give legal standing to the quaint cultural practice.


Note: The format here, if you can call it that, is one long html text file (so far). However each of the entries here has been individually tagged and can be specifically referenced, much like Wikipedia. For example: http://jeikner.freeshell.org/journal.html#20110810


A brief mention of my religious belief (I only have one). Actually it's theory but, presently, it's so highly speculative that it borders on belief. In the jumble of multiverse theories the notion of infinity seems to be a constant. Infinite universes cycling over infinite time, whether sequentially, in parallel or multidimensionally in which anything that is not strictly forbidden will not only happen, it will happen an infinite number of times. And one thing I know with certainty that is not forbidden is that a sentient, self-aware organism that calls itself Jim is writing these lines and I am that organism...


The only thing I find remotely interesting about The Church of the SubGenius is the notion of slack...

The Philosophy of Slack by The Necromancer

While I constantly come up with new ideas and concepts for papers, research projects, etc. I'm often woefully incapable of completing them. I'm hoping this dilemma doesn't end up derailing one of my more recent (i.e. in the last year or two) notions compiling a series of aphorisms devoted to the development of a "philosophy of slack". Slack may seem like a concept inimical to the rigors of philosophizing; but the reality is, I suspect, more complex. Anyway, without further ado, here is my most recent attempt at an aphorism, on "Slack and Ideal Form". There is an absurdist quality to this one, but not all of them employ the same tone. There will be, I suspect, more to follow...

"Slack and Ideal Form"

Platonic ideals are anathema to slack. For in essence slack thrives in the interstitial zone of chaos, a realm possessed of sufficiently obdurate irreducibility as to strike fear into the heart of any neo-Platonic dimwit looking endlessly for form. Plato's metaphysics emerges as a kind of bogus two-dimensionality like bad-tripping in Flatland. Slack, in contrast, was born with 3D-goggles on and yet also knows that only by taking them off can he truly see. Form and function dissolve into a surrealist funk the wobbly three-legged chair balanced precariously on the backs of taxidermied Chihuahua's, who themselves act as further "legs". Mysteries wrapped in enigmas those forms. Ideal or otherwise.

Slack prefers the liminal beyond the a priori, a point of pointlessness, an event unscripted, being as it is a high beyond the apex. Even the slacker can ride that wave. And yet "wave" is the utterance of pure form. No good. Then how about this:

Slack rides the wave/non-wave at a point beyond the apex that's never reached but then gets tired, and needs to take a nap at this, Platonic lameness seeps into his unconscious; he dreams about angry, pointy triangles. But, luckily, wakes with the setting sun and a caravan of dervishes camped by the Pyramids."

This could have been entitled "Slack and Materialism" but was avoided due to a confusion in the word materialism, which is both a practice (of acquiring stuff) and a point of view on the ultimate nature of reality and existence. Slack avoids drawing conclusions on the nature of reality as this requires both fierce conviction in one's conclusi ons (effort), and an accompanying necessity to justify and prove these conclusions (more effort).

The slacker's attitude to stuff (the former materialism) is simple, as is usually the case. Avoid acquiring stuff. Stuff adds unnecessary complexity. It needs maintenance, breaks down, requires other stuff to work, becomes obsolete, etc, etc.

In Towards a Philosophy of History, Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset argues that all action in life is rooted in conceptions of the world. Simply put, we act and do based on our conceptions and beliefs. Where does this leave slack? The slacker's conception and belief is founded in inaction. Is this a contradiction? Can one have an inactive theory of action? Of course!

Better still, slack is not crippled by inaction, feeling a sense of guilt or need to heed the call of responsibility. Inaction is not a negative state. Rather, it's a choice a conception. And so, slack is at peace in inaction. It is, by definition of being a product of belief, a natural state. Moreover, slack seeks (in not seeking) to achieve (by not achieving) new horizons of inaction. For as everybody knows, even in inactivity there is sometimes hidden purpose and motion.

Slack pushes inaction to new heights, finding that in the (non)-quest for infinite nothingness, one is at peace, and becomes inured to the very idea of action. In its inaction, slack is all action, all moments, all events, all happenings, all eternities. And here we come to see what is hidden beyond action the battle with time. Slack is beyond time slack is an epicycle, a looping literally a "slack" stitch in the fabric of all realities. If slack is any action, it is the action beyond time.



My mom used to watch a show called Queen for a Day . I didn't care much for it but the implied premise did make me think, "What would I do if I had unlimited authority for 24 hours?" Even today, some 50 years later, I still mull the idea over from time to time. I like to think my understanding of the problem has become a little more sophisticated and practical. First, I dimiss any notions of self enrichment or aggrandizement. Secondly, the biggest bang for the buck has to be through the law itself and in the US the ultimate source of law is the Constitution. Here is my current list of fantasy amendments:

  1. The government of the United States is and shall remain a secular institution.
  2. The Second Amendment of this Constitution shall not be interpreted so as to limit the power of the United States to regulate firearms in the interest of public safety.
  3. No corporation or similar creation of any government shall enjoy the rights or privileges of citizenship in these United States.
  4. The presidential veto power established in Section 7, Clause 3 of this Constitution may be exercised on a line item basis.
  5. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex or sexual orientation. (a slightly modified ERA)
  6. A primary responsibility of this government in the economic sphere is the promotion and safeguarding of market competition.
  7. The term of office for president and vice president is a single six year term. No person who has completed more than half a term as president or vice president may hold that office again.
  8. The President, if any nominee requiring the Advise and Consent of the Senate has failed to be either confirmed or rejected by the Senate within six months after their nomination, may confirm and install the nominee unilaterally.
  9. No member of the government, elected or otherwise, may seek favor, remuneration or employment from any entity they had dealings with, either directly or indirectly in their governmental duties, for ten years after they quit their position in the government.

There, that should just about do it...


I'll be trying to accomplish two things with this post. First, to get in writing something I have been churning and refining in my mind for quite some time and, secondly, to see if I can describe in words what would normally be illustrated with images. Sort of a little mental exercise on my part.

For some unknown reason my Dad subscribed to Architectural Digest when I was a teen. Very glossy with high quality photography and a wide range of modern architecture. I devoured every issue. Two particular designs stuck with me over the years. One was an open, almost austere space in Martha's Vineyard. The other was a particular design for the tropics to beat the heat and promote airflow. Eventually I began to combine in my mind the aesthetics of one with the technology of the other. I'll try to describe the result:

First, the floorplan. Imagine a series of super-imposed squares (would it be correct to call them concentric?). The outermost square represents the boundry of the slab. We will label this S1 (square one). I have no dimensions for this square. The size of the slab will depend on the amount of interior space you require. The next smallest square, S2, represents the load-bearing exterior wall of the structure. The distance from S1 to S2 is somewhere between 3 to 4 meters. The space formed by these two squares is an external porch and breezeway that encircles the entire house. The S1 "wall" is screened. The S2 wall is pierced on all sides with double-glazed french doors and tall casement windows, all of which open outwards into the screened porch.

At the center of the design is S3. Its size is determined by how much stuff is grouped in it. All heat producing things are located within S3. This includes the kitchen, washer and dryer, hot water heater, bathroom and perhaps even a small sauna. If it generates heat it needs to be located here. The distance between S2 and S3 is the open living space and is variable depending on the amount you require.

Now a stab at the elevation. S1 and S2 are of a normal, single story height with a bit of an incline in the roof for drainage. S3, however, is at least twice the height of S2 and is supported by four floor-to-ceiling columns. Depending on the span from S2 to S3 there may need to be an interim "square" of columns to support the roof beams between S3 and S2. There are, however, no walls in the S2-S3 space. More on this later.

The roof ends at the S3 perimeter. The open space is covered with a pyramidal cupola that makes it weatherproof and allows for venting the interior. Fitted into the S3 open space is a large exhaust fan like the ones used to ventilate warehouses. In hot weather all the heat generated by the S3 items at floor level is vented and a fresh breeze is drawn into the interior through the S1 screens and the open S2 windows and doors. Yes, the idea is to live without air conditioning in Texas which makes me certifiable. In cold weather louvers are shut above the fan and the rising heated air is redistributed downwards through baffles into the S2-S3 space. If the ambient heat is insufficient a heater can be added into the mix for the coldest days. This could be a real energy-saver, especially if you put solar panels into the mix.

And now concerning the disturbing lack of walls. The Martha's Vineyard structure was essentially a rectangle with glass walls. The roof was supported by slender wooden columns and no interior walls. The entire space was in dark hardwoods, sort of a New England take on Philip Johnson's Glass House. "Rooms" and privacy were achieved with chinese screens and window curtains. All the furniture, even beds, bookcases and wardrobes, were on lockable casters. The entire interior could be quickly reconfigured, whether by necessity or on a whim. Outlets and connections were all flush floor mounted. Obviously not a house for raising children or close neighbors and probably requiring a secluded setting. I've always wanted to live in a space like that. I'll never get the chance, of course, but at least I got it down on "paper"...


(This was orginally part of a Google Plus thread where terminology was being misused willy-nilly...)

Ok, I'm going to use some buzz words here that will invoke in many a knee-jerk reaction. Bear with me.

First, let's dispose with communism. Communism was/is an authoritarian political system that paid lip-service to socialism. Most communist regimes claimed they were both socialist and democratic. Both claims were false.

Next, let me assure you, that anything you believe to be true about socialism is also probably false. Socialism has absolutely nothing to do with the type of government it exists under. It has nothing to do with markets, planned economies, liberalism, oppression, freedom of choice or anything else you might associate it with. And, surprisingly enough, neither does capitalism. It is quite possible to have free market, democratic socialism just as it is possible to have authoritarian, planned economy capitalism (think fascist Europe before WW2).

How? The difference between capitalism and socialism hinges on a single, defining point. To couch it in Marxist jargon: Who owns the means of production? All wealth is created by labor. People who work, who labor, create all the bucks. Those bucks accrue to the company they work for. Under capitalism the ownership of that company and its wealth can be (and usually is) divorced from the labor that produced it. That means you can work your entire life and own nothing of what you created. That is the classic definition of a wage slave. It also means that someone who knows or cares nothing about a business can own and control it (that would be your stock portfolio). I am not implying that this is either right or wrong, it is simply the economic definition of capitalism.

And under socialism? There ownership is invested in rather than divorced from labor. In other words, to work for a company is to own and control that company (along with everyone else who works there). Can such an exotic entity exist and compete in a market economy? Yes and yes . There is your socialism. Not exactly the wild-eyed revolutionaries or suffocating bureaucrats you were expecting.

And how deeply entrenched is capitalism in the US? You could convert the US to socialism with a single change in law. Simply remove from any corporation or LLC the liability protection for all stockholders if that entity was not at least 50% employee owned within X number of years. Revolution over...

[edit 20130904] A slightly less coercive method of conversion has occured to me. Make the corporate tax rate only reducible by the percentage of employee ownership. If the rate was 35% then every 1% of employee ownership would drop the tax rate by .35%. At 50% employee investment (the magic point where capitalism becomes socialism) the resulting 17.5% tax would almost exactly match the current average rate paid by the Fortune 500. And yes, a 100% employee owned firm would pay no tax...

[edit 20130905] A few differences in employee owned companies:


Just wanted to remark that it's a real hoot to be cranking out butt-ugly, hand-rolled web pages using text tools again. My *nix skills have eroded horribly but I'm having the time of my life. It's the 1990's redux. The whole thing was set in motion by a thread on Google Plus about our first encounters with the internet and later the web. That started me searching and I was fortunate to stumble across freeshell.org. I had so much fun the first day I signed up for a lifetime membership at $36.00. Oh well, back to exploring...


After reading the post Plants as Persons: A Philosophical Botany I decided, as an experiment, to construct an ethical food pyramid. It descends from the most ethical to the least ethical ways to fill your pie-hole. Once you throw out sentience as a qualifier you get some interesting results:

1. Eating things that are meant for you to eat - This would be fruit in the broadest sense. The desirability of the fruit is the plant's strategy for distributing its seeds. Either the seed is large, hard and indigestible (olives, peaches, etc) and is meant to be discarded as a means of propagation, or the seeds are small, easily ingested (tomatoes, peppers, etc) and are meant to pass through the digestive track and be deposited elsewhere in a pile of ready-made fertilizer. I am unaware of any animal that employs these strategies, although the invasive tactics of parasites, viruses and bacteria show some similarities.

2. Eating things that are meant to be eaten but not by you - Animal milks (with the exception of human milk which technically belongs in the first category) and their derivatives such as cheese and yogurt, are the primary members of this category. Another is honey, essentially an insect "milk" produced from nectar, a top category food for insects and birds. With proper care, this category can be collected without harming the producer or starving the offspring it is meant for. The Land of Milk and Honey takes on a new meaning.

3. Eating things that are not meant to be eaten but it is assumed they probably will be to some extent - These are mostly leaves. All leafy vegetables and herbs can be eaten without killing the plant although destruction of the source is common in large scale agricultural practice. Essentially we are functioning as really big leaf munching insects in this category.

4. Eating things that are not meant to be eaten, period, but without killing the source - This is the controlled draining of nutrition from a host, very much like a parasite. Maple syrup is a plant example. Those cultures that extract animal blood from their livestock for food is another. Yuck.

5. Eating and thereby killing things in an embryonic state - Seeds, nuts, legumes and eggs comprise this vast category. Technically the scrambled eggs and the whole wheat toast on your breakfast plate are one in the same. Both have snuffed out potential developed life. Soy milk is less "ethical" to drink than cow's milk by this accounting.

6. Eating and thereby killing things in a developed state - This is everything else we consume. Both the sliced onion and the ground up cow on your hamburger dwell in this least-ethical category. Chopping the head off a chicken and ripping a carrot out of the ground are functionally equivalent.

Bon Appetit!


The problem I gave myself was to design a religion. No small task. It had to be completely reconciled with science, both existing and future, yet not be in and of itself scientific. It had to incorporate symbolism and ceremony yet not be an anachronism. Dogma or rigidity were best avoided. Most of all it had to be something I wouldn't feel silly in professing or practicing, if I was given to such things. Here is a sparse, incomplete framework I devised:

There is no story of the genesis of everything, only of the genesis of life. One does not make the soil but one can make life spring from it by cultivation. The genesis figure is The Sower. There are no pronouns associated with The Sower or other manifestations. The Sower, having determined the soil of the universe was ready, spread the Seeds of Life amongst the stars. The gesture associated with The Sower is a single casting motion with arm and hand suggesting the sowing of seeds. It is unknown if this was the first, last or even a unique planting of life, but with that single act The Sower's role essentially ends. However, metaphysically, The Sower represents a possible source of regeneration, a means for continuous renewal. If life on earth can happen once, it can happen again. If we can individually happen once, we can happen again. Indeed, both could occur an infinite number of times. But no guarantees. So much for cosmology.

Since we do not know The Sower's purpose in spreading life we also do not know the purpose of life itself. If life is some sort of crop, one to be gathered in when it has sufficiently ripened or matured, then we are subject to The Harvester. The gesture for The Harvester is a sweeping, cutting motion with the forearm suggesting the action of a scythe, one of gathering in. However, if life exists for its beauty, for some aesthetic reason, then we are subject to The Gardener. The gesture for The Gardener is a downward scooping motion with the hand suggesting a trowel digging into the earth, one of cultivating and tending. Yes, a bit of ditheism to keep it interesting.

The Sower, The Harvester and The Gardener are treated as separate entities although we have no proof of that. Rather than proposing certitude about everything, this belief attempts to incorporate the unknown and the indeterminate as well. Indeed, incertitude of our fate, individually and collectively, is a hallmark of the faith. Should The Harvester deem us ripe, our planet could be headed for the cosmic cannery. Should The Gardener find us withered or unattractive, we could be pruned and tossed into the cosmic compost heap, so to speak. Such possibilities cry for acts of ritual appeasement and a bit of trickery on our part. Hence, the (few) ceremonies of the faith. As is fitting, all celebrations and ablutions have something to do with food:

The religious calendar is divided into two equal parts. From the vernal equinox to the autumnal equinox is the realm of The Gardener. The other half, from the autumnal to the vernal, is under the influence of The Harvester. The Sower is unrepresented in the calendar.

In The Gardener's season the idea is to show the beauty and bounty of life here to avoid the pruning shears. Every meal should include fruit (fresh would be best) since it is freely available to eat without harming or harvesting the plant that bears it. While there are no prayers or blessings in this faith, there are several ritual gestures. For The Gardener one holds out both arms, palms up over the food to be eaten and looks skyward in a gesture of happy presentation. Ta-da! The summer solstice is supposedly the day The Gardener glances most closely at the Earth to see how it is doing (well, one hemisphere at least). That is a day for wearing bright florals and greens and for picnicking on huge spreads of fruit out of doors, preferably with other happy adherents.

The Harvester's season is much the inverse. The goal is to hide the bounty of the earth and avoid being gathered in. A root vegetable, underground legume, tuber, corm or fish is customary at meals. All hide beneath the surface, away from the eye, concealing their presence and value. For The Harvester one bends over your plate and makes a covering gesture with the arms while glancing nervously upwards (yes, a sense of humor is allowed). When The Harvester checks out the earth on the winter solstice believers stay indoors if possible, wear dead grays and browns if they must travel about and, in general, try to give the impression that nobody's home and the place is barren. The day's feast reflects the food of the season as well. Carrot cake is a ubiquitous dessert.

And there is a feast on each equinox as well. Those meals begin with the foods and gesture of the season that is passing and ends with those of the one arriving. On all feasts there may be simple, modest gift-giving, especially for the children. The symbolism of each particular feast of the year could be extended to the gifts, ceremonies, imagery and other observances. Such things tend to develop and evolve naturally over time so I won't deal with them here.

While there is no clergy, liturgy, canons, creeds, screeds or formal places of worship planned, a regular organized activity should be the potluck dinner, all in keeping with the general focus of the faith. Any charitable acts of the religious community could be towards feeding the hungry and helping them to feed themselves in the future. Political activism could be focused on the environment, in the broadest sense. Now, I suppose, all it needs is a name...

jeikner at freeshell.org