Walid's Wanderings

Reflections on life, good-and-evil, family, humanity, and anything else that occurs to me, usually when I travel. Right now I am on a 6-year trip through Lebanon, the homeland I had never really lived in before.

Saturday, May 10, 2003

I still can,t for the heck of me figure out how this blogging thing works. Where are the member directories?

Friday, May 09, 2003

28-Dec-1997 - 9:30 pm
Dear Diary-

It's the end of my first day in Lebanon. Amber street lights dominate the constellation on the mountain slope across from the valley outside the balcony. In fact, I can probably see electric lights form at least three mountain ranges, one behind the other, Twinkling traces of finally electrified civilization. Pinpoints of light on a mountain slope always remind me of home, and here I am at home.

We had had a nice cozy family lunch for 22 and I ate so

[So I start a diary ...]

I imagine the mind as an imperial court in ancient Rome, with a palace full of potential intriguers, some of whom have the emperor's ear, and some of whom are in the dungeons. Each person in that court has an ambition. Each tries to elicit any actions by the emperor which bring them closer to achieving that ambition. Sometimes, this is done by convincing the emperor. Sometimes, it is done by waiting for chance actions that unbeknownst to the emperor do advance that aim of the court denizen. But very often, it is done by presenting a new aim from the mouth of someone in favor, which has the effect of inducing imperial action that clandestinely furthers the aim of the imprisoned ex-wife or detained general or out-of-favor courtesan who encouraged that putative aim. The goal of any sufficiently aware human being should be to inform the emperor of their conscious thought about all the aims of all the court, visible and invisible, so as to see which actions will lead to furthering the goals of the undesirables, and which will not; which desirable companions turn out to be no more that mouthpieces for the out-of-favor and which have their own legitimate and worthwhile aims.

FLASHBACK: 25 December 1997; Christmas Day

I'm taking my first snow-boarding lesson at Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe

I put my legs through the drills of controlling the snowboard: first in slip-sliding
with the edge of the board like a butter knife, both facing up and facing down. Then swaying the butter-knife board by weigh-shifting, up through complete surfboard-style turns. Throughout, a weird discipline is involved in keeping the board balanced: only the uphill edge is allowed to bite the snow. With that edge firmly weighed down, the board slows down. Lifting some weight off that edge makes you go faster. Tricky enough already: if you are facing downhill, then the uphill edge is where your heels are, whereas if you are sliding backwards with your face uphill, then the toes are what control that all-important uphill edge. But the exciting and frustrating thing is this: if you lean away from that ambidextrous edge, your board becomes more level with the slope, friction goes down, and you slide more quickly and stop spreading butter. But right when that happens, you feel most free but you are really most constrained because now, novelty, forgetfulness or muscle fatigue may shift a tiny bit more of your weight away from the uphill edge. When that happens, the same action that was propelling you faster for the past few seconds will cause the DOWNHILL edge to bite the snow. That edge is at the opposite angle from the uphill edge, and all it does when it bites is make motion completely impossible. The board stops and you fall over, luckily before you have gathered enough momentum to make the inevitable spill a painful one.

I must have fallen over two dozen times in that exact same way, but only two left bruises. Those were both after partial competence had made me faster and fatigue had partially dissociated my leg muscles from my more confident brain.

29 December 1997 - 9:00 am

This morning, I woke up hungry and had my fill of the myriad treats lying around the house. Turkey sandwich in the oven, chocolate cake in the dining room, tangerines on the kitchen console, dried peaches on the counter and pies on the kitchen table. A piece of Godiva chocolate from the bookshelf in the library. I need energy for the skiing trip later today, but it is looking as if the trip will be sacrificed to premature forecasts of the day's weather based on the heavy pre-dawn rain we got. Walking around the sleepy house munching, I remembered the scene half a day ago in the entrance hallway. A light bulb had burned out and the sun was going down. The fold-out ladder we had was only 8 feet high and the bulb was suspended from the two-storey ceiling.

FLASHBACK to the 28th: My brother teeters on the top of a concrete cinderblock places over the top rung of the ladder. Adel is on the third step from the top, his shoulders providing a platform for Samer's hands. I'm three steps down from him, supporting Adel's back with my hand. Two or three teenage cousins hold the ladder from various angles. My sister May flashes away with her camera, and we all manage to keep our balance despite fits of laughter that the tension spontaneously keeps generating. Mom scurries around trying to convince someone older to talk some sense into us. "Give it up before someone gets hurt; we can always pay someone to do this!" A constant voice from my childhood which I resist, but whose influence sometimes sets me apart from the average American. In any case, the 40-minute project does eventually culminate in a successful light bulb change, and we can see again. I hope May's photos turn out well.


29 December, 12 noon:

We went up to the slopes and found that the rain down here was drizzle up there. Only the "baby" ski lift was operating, so we turned back, making do for the day with a nice drive and a "man'ouchee" (thyme & sesame thingy) baked on a "saj" (a dome-shaped hot plate) by a woman who according to my sister always wears a short-sleeved shirt even in the bitterest snowstorm. Winding narrow roads with half-assed new asphalt jobs offer views of miraculous limestone formations too often encroached upon by some ugly cinderblock building. Less often, it is a rather eye-catching stone and red terracotta cottage or chalet or a modern-day 5-storey equivalent thereof. Getting back down to the 700 meter altitude of home brought us in to a dense rainy fog bank which still shows from the window as I write this. Had a little tiff with mom over my polypropylene underwear: I wanted to wash it in cold water and mild detergent to avoid losing it to the customary boiling-water laundry practices of our live-in maid, but mom insisted that washing anything in her house was none of my business. I moped around the kitchen until I saw the pants soaking in a tub of cold water, then came up here to finish the account of the day. The fog is so thick that the
balcony railing right behind my computer screen is the furthest I can see: it might as well be the balcony at the edge of the earth.


Finally got my email to work. Had to locate a CD-ROM drive on someone else's computer, read some new software, load it on the Pilot...- anyway it finally worked and that's what matters.

Also today was the first day of Ramadan, prompting last-minute cancellations from half the people who were supposed to come to the afternoon party May had organized at our house. The remaining 12 of us mingled and sampled mom's supposedly last-minute snacks until we could not hold any more.

After all that, it was 2am when the phone lines were finally clear enough for the email to be received. The things we do for love....

31 Dec 97

Snowboarding was the order of the day. It was finally clear after days of rain, and I spent the day on the "school" slope working on my left turns and right turns and accidental somersaults. The sun quickly burned through the early-morning fog and my sisters and their friend, all of whom had skis on, went all the way up to the top and could see Beirut 60 miles away. I stuck to the training slope and drilled myself in simple turns. Every other skier up there had a cellular phone in a pocket somewhere; even among the four of us there were two. Did I ever tell you how ostentatious the Lebanese can be? In this case, the total inadequacy of ground phone lines following 20 years of wartime neglect combined with the unusually low rates negotiated by the government with the providers to reinforce the natural Lebanese yen for the latest little gadget. In effect, the cell-phone is our new national symbol. "You'll never guess where I am" was probably the most frequently transmitted greeting over the cell phone lines from that ski slope that day!

I napped in the afternoon and had some interesting discussions around the New Year's Eve dining table. Among them, I got a good lecture on how to stop putting my foot in my mouth, and how to avoid picking the "wrong" woman...

1 Jan 98

Skiing today. I used my brother's skis, and got to go all the way up. The fog persisted this time, and skiing from the high slope was a wispy dreamy all-white experience which dizzies some and confuses others. It was only in the afternoon that we got some sun. The snow had the beauty of the desert (think "The English Patient") and the brilliance of the Alps. One of our companions that day was from Switzerland and she could not stop enthusing about the beauty of the gently rolling mounds and the wave-like ripples in it and the contrast of slope between the windward and leeward sides of the snow dunes. We surmised that the wind we get here must have the same speed and distribution as what blows over the Sahara - probably comes from the same place.

In the evening we eat out in honor of May's departure tomorrow.

2 Jan 98

A cool air mass dominates Lebanon's airspace today.

That's meteorologese for "I can see for miles and miles and miles!" I made the 20-mile drive down to Beirut three times, and every trip was a pleasant series of clear postcard-perfect landscape views. The sea was three or four darker shades of blue with green tinges, the sky was a uniform pastel, and the distant mountains were various shades of pearl-grey. Coming down to the coast, at one turn, one could see two or three coves much like Big Sur, only here every one was a major city. In Beirut, I'm taken by the novelty of the brand-new underground tunnels that get you into and out of the same areas that I had spent hundreds of hours trying to penetrate when I used to commute here in 95. Not too different from any tunnels you already know, they shine only be contrast to the dilapidated alleys that you need to take to get to the mouth of the tunnel.

Anyway, I get all my chores done, shop for presents on the way back from the third trip (when the traffic finally became heavy enough to remind me of where I was.) Exhausted by all the car-time I can hardly stay awake past 9 pm.

3 Jan 98

: having had my full 9 hours of sleep for the first time all week, I'm up at 6:30 watching the sun rise behind the mountain. The distant amber road lights on the opposite mountain are still going on strong on the right side of my windowpane, almost matching the shade of the first glimmers of daylight all the way to the left. The sky in between gently leaks mauve from the hidden sun into a background of baby blue. It's hard to tell if the blue is a cloud or clear sky. As I write these lines, everything shifts, first to a blush pink on the left and a more distinct pattern of blue-grey cirrus clouds separated by the palest of blues. As the still invisible sun gets higher behind our mountain, the pink first suffuses almost a quarter of the sky, then fades back to orange then mauve again, and I realize the skiing will be good today again.

Other pleasant thoughts go through my head too but I'll save them for later.

Enough light has now leaked into my scene to show that there really are white clouds behind the wispy grey ones but they're all too high and too bright to be rainy. As good a time as any to fill in the gaps in my accounts of the past few days.

4 Jan 98

The first thing that catches my eye today is the red splotch to the right of my right eye, a bruise from where the sunglasses made an impact on their way off my face as I was rolling down a hillside yesterday. Yes, we did go skiing again.

FLASHBACK to 3 Jan 98

Suddenly everything turns white and I don't know which way is up. "This must be death" I thought, "which means it can't be that scary." True, I am screaming like a kamikaze but it's more to attract attention in case no one can see beyond that hill with the icy leeward side which just seconds ago had seemed so inviting. But I guess it's not that easy - I start to slow down as the powder gets thicker beneath me, and I see that I'm still holding one ski pole and wearing one ski boot. And, miracle of miracle, not a finger was broken or dislocated. I stretch every limb to double-check, then I see my sister's friend sliding down behind me. He's much more scared that I was, having seen me fall, followed me with intent to rescue, and fallen himself, and also escaped being hurt. He whips out the cell-phone to tell my sister we are OK. As we go about retrieving the bits and pieces that flew off of us while falling: my other ski boot, our four skis, the three pieces of sunglasses, the two poles and my chapstick! All found. He continues to shake and quake with fear of what might have been, and I cannot stop laughing.


I visit the church and say hi to the whole village, and the day passes by with family visits and tidying up around this house which I still have not decided whether to call home.

5 Jan 98

We have fog and drizzle again this morning, so I stay home and read a book. "Betty Blue", ever heard of it or the movie they made out of it? On this first Monday I had resolved to get back to work on my research. I hope [Mora] sees more sunshine today in Santa Rosa that I do here: the dark really does flow into your blood and your soul. I got an email from a guy in the department at Stanford offering to fly anyone anywhere in his 4-seater plane for the price of gas. I guess that, besides being a nice fellow, he must need the flight hours. It crosses my mind that taking plane ride might be really neat....

6 Jan 98

My worries somehow manage to manifest themselves in a weird dream:

I imagine I am charged with drawing a perfect straight line in black ink over a billowing downy blanket. It's impossible. I wake up and make my first New Year's resolution. My general resolution from the 31st was to make myself biweekly goals and try and meet them, and for these two weeks my goal is to grind away at my research.

8 Jan 98

I've done a bit of work on my research while it rained, but yesterday was too good to pass up skiing. Enough had melted that the white mountain face was showing a blond and orange five o'clock shadow of crags and shrubs. Up higher, the duney slopes also exhibit tufts of something akin to the third day of shaving. Beautiful.

In the afternoon, I take a 4-hour drive up the coastal highway and manage to watch the sun sink into the Mediterranean for the first time in over a decade of pollution and life near the congested city. My mind is more troubled than usual over where I'll wind up a year from now. I'm scared. I go to sleep early.

10 Jan 98

I feel like making some major progress on my research, and I do not mean just reading. Time to put this diary to rest and thereby keep it small enough to be readable.

For the first time this trip, I turn down an offer to go skiing with Becca.

12 January 1998

This won't be a regular diary anymore, but today is noteworthy because we woke up to over 2 feet of snow right outside out house! We had had three separate snowstorms in the past day, and it was still snowing, albeit slowly, when I woke up this morning.
Without any shovels in the house, we are snowed in until our reduced to squeegee mops can clear a path to the road that may get ploughed if the snow clearing equipment ever makes it here from six towns uphill.

Telegrammatic portion of diary:
11 - The unbanned TV interview with General Aoun lasted until 1 am.
12 - After shoveling snow in the morning, went down to Beirut to
visit Nicole, an old ex from the 80's.
13 - Went down to Beirut and managed five visits, between noon and
14 - Snow-boarding and learning to turn the board be swaying my hips
back and forth. Postponed my flight.
15 - First day of living on borrowed time. Finally got a good
installation of Becca's Pilot software on the desktop.
16 - Beirut. Arranged for the get-together tomorrow.
17 - Had my pre-birthday "gathering". The two couples and the two
single men cancelled, but the single women showed with their
chaperoning couples.
18 - Rainy Sunday, stayed home and read. Saw an excellent musical comedy
production in the evening.
19 - Beirut for some errands. None of the prospective lunch partenrs
was free. Chess in the afternoon and fortune-telling at night.
20 - Finished the book I had started - by Bibi Netanyahu! Local
visits in the evening.
21 - I start scanning my Game Theory text at a higher rate. It is
really more applicable to my research than I had thought.
Maybe I'll finish my dissertation soon after all. It's my last day
here as well as my Birthday, but otherwise pretty calm (so far)
22 - Flying all day.

Ancient - written from 1988 to 1998

... just by coincidence, later yesterday I felt somewhat restive and went out to window shop, walked into the bookstore where most of what I had read during my adolescence had come from, and picked up a copy of "Franz Kafka's Letters to Milena" for entertainment. Reading that inspired me to write another letter, but I am not above using the same quotation in two letters, so I will repeat what I told my other friend: early on, before she started writing him back, Kafka wrote to Milena supposing that "the reason for your silence is a feeling of relative well-being, which generally manifests itself in a disinclination to write."

Since we are all former MIT students, we all know that there are more pressing causes of reluctance to write than a feeling of general well-being! But there is a part of me that easily jumps to the conclusion that my letters are unanswered because not welcome ... I trust you will enlighten me, perhaps over the Thanksgiving break, since it's already Columbus day and I am still typing this. Enough of that though.

This morning, Kuwait smelled like a Syrian kitchen; honestly, the smoke that descended to street level for the first time since I've been here did not smell too different from a kitchen where a particularly heavy ethnic meal was being prepared. Later in the day, the stuff acquired an incense-like tinge, perhaps because of someone's perfume. I must escape to Lebanon for a few days of fresh air. Wishing to be back in the USA is too emotionally draining, so I console myself with thinking of wishing. What a concept! But honestly, I'm not really unhappy here on an emotional level, only intellectually dissatisfied. It's hard for me to see any future in this, and I only fear that at one point in the future I will start feeling more happy than "not unhappy", and then my life will be shot for good. But what with all the reading and cooking (we're all males in the house now, Mom's in Lebanon) in my spare time, and the seven-day work week, I keep myself content. The time I have for writing is a happy balance between zero and every day. Phone calls tend to take up most of my income in theory.

[…]every time I told you about a woman from my past? Well, I have
only one continuous thread running through the lot, and that is :
"Love is always a surprise!" You decide what you want in a partner,
then the next thing you know you are infatuated with someone who does
NOT have these qualities. SO it began to make sense to me that if
you are beginning to like someone because they fit your pre-conceived
image of what sort of person you would like to meet and hit it off
with, then it is not love. Love is what DEFINES your likes and
dislikes for the future, but likes and dislikes from the past are
only echoes of ideas and places to which, if you are really honest
with yourself, you are not actually going back.

> my old roommate sent me a copy of "the rules." i read most of it last night

Hmmm. Funny how these fads come and go.

>reluctant targets

Yep, that's the name of the game, unless you happen to be

a) In love

b) Ugly

c) Fat

d) Short

e) Intellectual

But it holds true for most people. Of course the particular
articulation of that strategy can take many forms.

> but failing to recognize that being the object of

>pursuit breeds real reluctance, the book concludes that

>one then lives happily ever after.

Yes, one of the books I have addresses that issue. You have to know to expect that meeting with initial success in applying the principles articulated earlier in the book, you will enter a period of temporary reluctance, and one of the strategies you have to develop is dealing with that exact primordial urge in your own mind so as to make your will master of your animal self and keep applying the principles to the animal side of the seductee until it passes away.

But in your case, I don't know, you might have to do something more drastic, like pin up a picture of an old lonely spinster aunt of yours and swear to do ANYTHING to not wind up like that. Either that or recognize that the only pleasure you get out of sex lies in the ne-night-stand, and make THAT your goal. Given the way men's sex drives are constructed, you won't have much trouble.

Let me tell you some of the little lies I have been telling myself about love. I'll start with the love of the puppy dog. The puppy dog that loves you wants, like I told you, to lick your feet and kiss your lips. What I did not tell you but I assumed you would guess is that the little puppy dog also wants work his way up from your feet and down from your lips and .... eventually get you pregnant. The little puppy dog, however, is harmless in his own way, but he wants to play with you, then the next day he will want to play with someone else, and he will keep looking for more young beautiful playmates forever if we let him.

The puppy dog is not the only part the cares about touching. There is also the love of the monkey. Monkeys have hands and they like use them to give each other hugs and massages, and to pick fleas off each others' backs. The love of the monkey is something that we all need because we all have backs that sometimes need to be massaged, and we are not physically built to be able to put suntan lotion on our own backs. Nor can we cry on our own shoulders or give ourselves comforting hugs - we need someone else, and the love of the (whoever it is) to give us these things. The love of the monkey is what says "I love to scratch you back as long as you scratch mine afterwards". Too much fear of the love of the puppy dog is the only reason why the love of the monkey rarely allowed to flower. The love of the little boy is what keeps the puppy dog in check. The little boy wants to see you happy because that makes him happy. If you are happy and he does not see you or if he sees you and you are not happy, then he is not happy. The little boy wants you and you alone, no matter how old you are or you look. The little boy takes a few months to fall in love and a few months to fall out of love. The love of the little boy is capable of destroying itself, because if the little boy wants to see you happy and your being with him makes you unhappy, then the love will eat itself up. It takes a few months to finish digesting, and then it can go to the bathroom, relieve itself and start looking for someone else.

During the time of little boy love, unless another kind of love comes in, one person is almost certain to get tired of the other, because they are after all two different people and there are bound to be times when one is happy and the other is not, so something else has to be there to cement the relationship during these times.

There are two variants related to the love of the little boy. There is the love of the teenager, which makes me want to be with you no matter whether you are happy or not. The teenager will find his heart beating faster when he is with you or even thinking of you, and he will find his appetite almost gone when you are not with him. There is also the love of the father, who wants you to be happy even when he is not with you. I call it the love of the father because it also applies, I think, to the relationship between parents and children.

While we are on the subject of children, let me tell you about the love of the scientist. The scientist believes that the reason for all these love feelings is in the end the production of children, and he wants his children to be the best and to have the best. He will not trust his other feelings about you until he is certain that you will make a good mother for his children. He will see that attraction of the puppy dog to beautiful women as a healthy way to assure that his children will be beautiful too, but he will also look for qualities that the puppy dog cannot see but which the little boy can, such as intelligence and kindness, which will also affect the children. There are elements that the scientist might consider which do not concern the little boy either, such as your family, background and formal education. The love of the scientist without the love of the little boy is the stuff out of which comedies are made, but the love of the little boy without some amount of the love of the scientist is the stuff out of which tragedies are made.

Then, there is the love of the philosopher. The philosopher knows that children are important for the continuation of society, but he is not so sure that the continuation of society is in itself a good thing. The exploration of Truth is the only good thing to the philosopher, and the continuation of society is only good if the society has as one of its goals the exploration of Truth. The philosopher wants someone who can be a partner in his search for better understanding of the Truth : of why things are the way they are, how they can be changed for the better, and what it means to be "better" or "worse", and what "good" and "bad" really are in the first place. The philosopher wants not only intelligence, but an open mind and a deep understanding of things and most of all the willpower to follow up on your beliefs, to do what you believe is right no matter how difficult it seems. He wants his children to grow up in an atmosphere where they too can learn to contribute to the search of the Truth, and not only to grow up to feed and clothe themselves and have more children to continue the society without aim. The love of the philosopher can only grow with time, because the more you explore the different corners of Reality with someone who is reasonably intelligent and keeps an open mind, the more you will want to explore the other corners of infinite reality with that person, and the more you will learn to respect that person's views even (or rather especially) when they differ from yours.

The love of the philosopher can serve to cement the love of the little boy forever, allowing the love of the puppy dog to surface without fear, because fear is just another (especially dark) corner of the reality that we will explore. It can also serve to ease the pain of the destruction of little boy love, whether that be due to an over-eager little scientist or to whatever other reason.

These are all different types of love that can exist between a man and a woman. They are all good and natural feelings if they are applied in the correct manner and in the right combination, and I personally do not feel afraid of any of them. There is, however, one kind of love that I am afraid of. The love of the hunter. The hunter loves his prey, and he will do anything, including the use of the other kinds of love, to catch his prey. But when he has caught it, then he will have achieved his goal, and he will abandon all the other kinds of love. This kind of destructive love probably only exists to help us catch animals to eat and clothe ourselves, but it becomes a dangerous weapon when it is applied by men against women and vice versa. I am afraid of the hunter in me, more than I am afraid of a huntress who will want to catch me and throw me away, but that is only because I have seen the hunter in me but not the huntress outside. If I saw her, I might be too caught up to be afraid until it is too late. I hope this never happens, though. So. . . .

The letter has ended, but you are probably expecting a conclusion too, so here it is. Writing these words has been a pleasurable experience for me. I have put in words the thoughts of many long hours spent thinking about Reality, Right and Wrong, You and Me, and what I can really believe. I am sure I left many gaps in my hurry to finish so that you can read it when I promised you could read it. I would love to write a lot more about anything in this letter that you ask me to explain in more detail. sleep well.

It is not realistic to frame my latest pinnacle of understanding in terms of "happiness" and "greatest good to the greatest number". The overriding principle is still the old trinity of Knowledge, Truth, Life, with a healthy dose of paradox to account for the inability of a single point of view to encompass the reality of which we seek knowledge and which defines truth. The absence of all of the above is the first order of evil, the Zero of all numbers. But it is not as bad as the conscious pursuit of negation of Good, the negative numbers, if you will, which have to combine with the positive to bring out zero. Then again, perhaps the zero is worst, but I find that hard to believe and not really pertinent at this stage - I promise to look into it before I go public! And, my latest question was, in what sense can one condone negative and zero Truth? The answer is when you have a sum of a series which contains some noughts and some negatives but which is bigger than any single member. But the series is not one over time, but over some sort of generalized didactic space, defined also by Reality and its relationship to different ways of looking at it, and subject to a weighing function which can be modified to reflect different philosophic approaches. Now I've got myself into a bigger mess than before: how to choose the weighing function.

Let's see: a weighing function of one everywhere is socialism of ideas: it does not matter what you think as long as you believe. A weighing function of one at a single point is dictatorship. Perhaps a function equivalent to the inverse of the distance from a defined point is equivalent to mysticism: you can approach that point with your knowledge until you are one with Truth, Beauty and God. A function that is a binary filter, where some arbitrary set of points is one and all else zero is a step, as yet undefined in scope, towards a sense of paradox; dialectic might be a good word for it if only I was sure what "dialectic" really meant and whether anyone really knows. Then there is the hope that there is a subspace of indeterminate topology which is defined by reality and which yields a weighing function defined by distance from the nearest of the points in the subspace. That is Kuhn's scientific method: each field will approach and eventually achieve its own truest possible state, but there are any number of fields each with its own true paradigm. Perhaps the sense of mystery I wish to convey is illustrated by a slight variation on the above: a subspace defined by reality which is infinite in one or more dimensions, and which thus has no defined center of mass, which is also topologically convoluted such that the center of mass may or may not lie on it, and which of course defines a weighing function by some combination of distance from this center of mass and a constant which is added when you are in that subspace.

Perhaps with that kind of meta-model, I can justify some degree of ignorance and laziness, even of deceit and cruelty, when it is inevitable to the combination of two or more greater goods. Does this theory provide any protection against unnecessary evil? My mind reels at the concepts involved, but I still do not have the answer. I do not yet know if I have approached a solution to how to define what a solution means, or whether I have added another "Great Turtle" theories of what the earth is carried on. Or the "Great Green Arkleseizure" for that matter (you have read the "Hitch-hikers' Guide to the Galaxy", right?

let me tell you about a theory I first heard (and mistakenly dismissed) during my suicidal phase in '89. A friend told me that falling in love (or was it "building a relationship"? - The exact words escape me.) is just like baking a cake: you need to get the right ingredients, then you need to follow a process to get the finished product. So although the beautiful, iced, decorated cake in a store window is not necessarily beyond your power to re-create in your own kitchen, you still had to get the flour, sugar and eggs. (And just hope we're not talking about a Twinkie ;>. which cannot be reproduced in a kitchen!) It's tempting to ramble on, but I'm sure you get the picture.

Cut to September '92.

Our times done together have been on the whole (to be emphatic would be inaccurate) fun. I cannot speak for you, but there were some special moments on our outings when I felt that, if I let my imagination run its course, I could easily wind up feeling hopelessly entangled in my romantic feelings for you(*). But that's just the point: I CANNOT speak for you, and I did not quite have what it takes to get you to speak for yourself (or to understand any hints or pick up any telepathic messages you were sending). You might think I'm presumptuous, out of line or out of touch, to get this far. Conversely, you might think I'm incredibly slow. Or we might be on the same frequency (out of phase or in phase, though ?:). But I know I'm right about one thing: that this is the ideal time to nudge you into articulating your views: If, on the one hand, you give me the green light to let my imagination run free, then the duration of our past acquaintance gives us better than average odds that a) we do, in fact, have all the ingredients, and b) we will wind up with a beautiful cake. And if, instead, you give me the old "let's just be friends", then that's fine too because a) we already are friends in the fullest sense of the word, and b) it is not a fully-grown infatuation that I have to get over, just a tendency towards one.

Please take the time necessary to give me a frank, straight answer. Since this is neither a commitment nor a promise (yet), but just a cross check of shopping lists, so to speak, there is no need for excuses, justifications, or discussions of logistics. They can come later.

"Saturday Night Live" 9-19-92 back-to-school special : "Jimmy says that Barbara wants to know if she liked you would you like her back?".

Yes, I do share your frustration at the necessity of having to master body language, sign language, human psychology (several schools!), cryptology, situational choreography and Who knows what else (Morse Code?) just in order to be able to properly initiate a romantic relationship(*). Being stuck between cultures is a special handicap which the two of us share too. There might be a saving grace in the high frequency with which the American civilization imports specimens, and that with which the Lebanese exports them It would be interesting to figure out whether there is a rational/evolutionary basis for the intricacy of the human mating dance. It took me a number of years following my post-high-school rejection of "leftover" moral codes before concluding that humans must have evolved a mechanism in order to discourage too slavish an adherence to the much older instinct of sexual promiscuity. The balance of the two allows a compromise to be reached between the need to secure the best genes for your offspring and the need to provide security for them during the long maturation process. The invention of contraceptives and the onset of the population explosion negate some of the need for the instincts, but the instincts are still there. My personal balance of instincts leaves me thinking that having a short-term relationship ON PURPOSE is akin to eating a sumptuous meal with the intention of vomiting it out afterwards - not inexcusable, but it leaves you with a pain in the throat! Of course I cannot speak for (or judge) other in this regard. You cannot change out-of-date instincts, but sticking to out-of-date moral codes is silly (except perhaps for public display). Right now I'm still trying to figure out the original reason for the incest taboo - I do not buy the "inbreeding" argument : cats and chickens are not any worse for it! Once I figure that out, maybe I'll tackle the "mating dance" problem next.

Last time a wrote you, the problem of justice versus fairness was on my mind. It is a very tricky question because the very same issue (i.e. whether there really is such a thing as fairness as distinct from the man-made societal necessity we call justice) is a very strong argument for the existence of God. The argument goes that, since little children who are supposedly not yet indoctrinated intoall the mores of society know when to say "It's not fair" and when to simply say "I wish", then there must be a built-in inclination towards morality in man which can only be the work of man's creator. Now, going as I do from basic uncertainty and celebrating that uncertainty as my only guiding principle throughout my philosophical journey, I cannot let myself fall into the Cartesian trap of neatly shelving that uncertainty and bundling out of sight with the escapist notion of a manifest God. As I see it, a sense of moral fairness emerges from the void in words that echo mystical writings of all denominations as soon as you realize that the entity you are being unfair to is not necessarily an entity that is different from yourself! You do not know anything for sure. Therefore, you do not know that you are not some spiritual imagination floating in the void and dreaming of the person you think you are and the person you think you are interacting with. In simpler terms, we are all part of God, hence we should be nice to each other. However, this basic notion of "do unto others..." is not quite enough to explain why the children in C.S. Lewis's treatise know the difference between having your toys taken away ("not fair") and not being allowed to take others' toys ("fair but not pleasant"). Having grown up in a non-western society, I remember many children who had to have all these things explained to them before they got the idea of fairness, so I know it is not totally inborn. The issue might be similar to language learning in that there is genetic predisposition to choose a certain pattern into which to assimilate all the instructions adults give without going to all the trouble that, say, a random hypothesis-testing machine would. The genetic disposition towards patterns of thought that make it easier to live in a society are of course as likely to have been installed by evolution as by a deliberate creator. Problem solved.

That was last time. Now I am struggling with the issue of communication (again). What is the way to be most honest given that different people attach different meanings to the same words or patterns? Remember that honesty is metaphysically desirable because deliberate misrepresentation of reality makes it harder for all of us to cope with it, hence we should not do it whimsically or for selfish gain. However, (as I am learning from being in the contracting business much more readily than as a student worried about his social life) it is essential to be as aware as you can be of the likely interpretations of anything which you might say; doubly so in case you are to reflecting a simple honest truth. To pick an example from the social world first, supposing I meet a very attractive member of the opposite sex. In some circumstances, simply stating that this person is attractive may be interpreted as meaning that I have a romantic interest. In other circumstances, not praising the appearance of someone who is not necessarily attractive to me might be interpreted as an insult! Many a time did I fall into such traps in my constant zeal to champion the truth as a child. Today, if I state something obvious such as "of course I did not personally inspect every square inch of the concrete for possible defects" or "of course I know that there is ten centimeters of steel rebar less than the drawings specify - it would have been structurally superfluous anyway", I know it would be interpreted as either "I am too lazy to turn out a decent product" or "I believe I know better than you do, hence my open contempt". Instead, I say "Everything is fine" meaning that in my best educated estimation and in compliance with my ethical prerogatives, I believe I am turning out a decent product. This is not quite the same lie as "Everything is fine" although I know that the building is going to leak but I cannot be bothered to take the flak for fixing it now and I'll be out of the country by the time it does anyway. A finer distinction might be between "I'll send the letter out tonight", meaning if it does not go out it will be out first thing tomorrow morning, and "I'll send it tonight" [... or if not then as soon as I have time, which might be in two weeks, I'm so busy...].

So now I know who is a liar and cheat and who is not, and I try not to be one, but do I dare speak out? It seems that the only worse insult that calling someone a liar who is not is calling someone a liar when he knows he is! So when someone says "tomorrow" whom I know to often mean "in two weeks", I use the information and show up the next day to ask about the thing. I do not assume that he will be late, because that would be judging the person instead of the action, and I do not tell him I strongly suspect he will be late because that would more likely slow him down, but I do act on the information that he is more likely to be late and take action. However, the temptations are strong to pass judgment on the person and get rid of my dependency on him once and for all. Hmmmm. Am I taking the first step down the long slippery slope of corruption? I cannot see how long I can stand to be different from all other 26-year olds who never failed to travel that road.

It's a slow day at work (the first I've had yet) so I sat down and looked over all my old mail in order to look busy. I found out that I had left out the two funniest French store names from my Paris letter to you: "Pantashop" which sells pants, I guess, and "Homme Sweet Homme", which sells men's underwear! I made a note of them in my Filofax to include in my next letter to you and then forgot about them. I made some more notes on my initial impressions of Kuwait which had been gathering (rather black) dust here : I wrote "smells like West Beirut, cooler than ever" (must have meant the temperature), and I also noted down the license plate number of a black Mercedes I had seen somewhere: 666 BOO! Also, a graffito on a wall saying "He laughs longer who laughs last" in Arabic, clearly directed at the Iraqis, caught my attention. And my last such note before I quit was about a newspaper headline about "President George Bush, the seasoned diplomat and skilled politician". When I see an American newspaper use adjectives like that for their President, I will have seen everything! But seriously, all crass political mumbo-jumbo aside, there are thousands of simple Kuwaiti men, women and children who think the world of George Bush regardless of what the rest of us will choose to think a couple of years into the future.

Sloppy thinking prevented me from defining two important terms in my last letter - a Math major would have skinned me alive. Here are the definitions: -FRIENDSHIP: a class of relationships between two people A and B where either A or B can (and often does) say anything to the other without fear of reproach. A's children will play with B's children. ROMANCE: a class of relationships between two people A and B of opposite sex whereby A's children will be B's children, with all attendant requisites and formalities, unless the relationship is interrupted. (Ignoring for the moment notions of political correctness with respect to sexual orientation.)

As with all mathematical definitions, the above represent necessary and sufficient conditions, but do not necessarily make apparent all other statements which follow from the definition given a set of axioms and inference rules which are typically well known to students of the field. And as is also true of mathematical definitions, the properties that follow from such a definition are more usually non-obvious than not! Finally, the definitions are always non-unique, and a REAL mathematician takes pride in picking the most obtuse for the purpose (unless it's a REAL GOOD mathematician). What do you think? Have I lost my sense of humor here in Kuwait?

In a way, Stanford is what you'd get if you took MIT, transplanted it into a virgin desert the size of Brookline, added lots of organic fertilizer too few sprinklers, and watched it grow for a couple of decades (watching what you step into all the while). It is sooo big that not only do they have their own fire station, but the also have their very own "old Firehouse" left over as a relic from when the campus was smaller - you know with the fancy lettering and the turn-of-the-century styling. The student newspaper is about as thick as the "Phoenix" would be without the personals section: it has four pull-out sections. The most frequently asked question on campus is "Your car or mine?". But somehow it all seems so fake, like a faint echo of something someone else saw in a movie. Have I been reading too much Ayn Rand?

Friday they had a sort of Activities Midway, but if you looked closely you would notice that the largest desks were by the Food Services (buy a burger for $2.40), the Transportation Services place (buy your parking sticker for $42), and Graphic Arts (copies for 2 cents, but read the fine print). I went and got my bicycle registered, then cycled over to a volleyball game and asked to join. After a few seconds' embarrassed pause, they told me they were having a tournament. How was I supposed to know that there are SUPPOSED to be 5 people on a court for this game?

The day before was the day of the Megaphones. The frosh were supposed to be moving into their dorms and the upperclassmen manning the sound systems at each door were making "WOOO Hey" noises which did not quite live up to the standards of the movie in paragraph one, and yelling out the names of the people showing up at the desk, especially other upperclassfolk who, according to the announcer had all either lost a lot of weight, gotten a beautiful tan or had their ears pierced over the summer. Meanwhile, the "International Graduate Student Orientation" function of the day was a tour of the Library and a talk on where the computers were. To get my mind off the fun I was not having, I tagged behind a couple of tall, blond German guys who were having a loud conversation in German, and tried to concentrate on understanding everything. Believe me, it was a lot easier than this understanding this Thai guy "Min" who decided to practice all his phrasebook English on me during he same Library tour. And during the dorm dinner afterwards. He had decided he liked me and we wound up in the same car. Luckily, a guy from Oregon and a woman from Argentina wound up doing most of the talking. But do you know what they did to us afterwards? After the rather not bad Mexican dinner (during which I discovered the joys of wine Margaritas - I'll never get a rum or tequila one again), would you believe where they took us for dessert? What name makes you just break down and howl for just a few hours of home in Cambridge? Cant's guess? They took us to _Baskin Robbins_, for gossakes!

Well, something remarkable happened there. I decided to tag along a conversation in French, between one tall tan very French-sounding guy and another more my height and complexion. When I finally decided not to repeat the morning's non-event and broke into the conversation, I found out that the a) both of them were actually Lebanese, and b) the tall tan guy who sounded sooo French even in English was really called Walid, and he lived across the Hall from me, where they had mistakenly printed his middle name on the door. Fancy that. The shorter guy decided that being in a group of three Lebanese guys in one Baskin Robins was more then he could handle, so he went off to have an intimate conversation with the Argentinean woman. And that was it for the night.

Well, it looks like I'll be spending next week in Paris. Do you remember how I told you last Friday that I was experiencing a strange void where my feelings were supposed to be just before leaving yet again? How I must have gotten too used to the idea of leaving a place that felt like home and all sorts of loved ones without any clear idea of my return date? Well it's still with me, that strange detachment. When I landed here, I was so nonchalant that I took the wrong train twice during my trip to my cousin's place. So I changed trains five times in all, although I had a plane ticket coupon which I should have used to fly directly to Hanover instead given the amount of baggage I had. I have now sent out two of the letters I told you about, two letters which might be perceived to be emotionally charged, but I still feel something missing, as if I were trying to invoke absent demons by merely calling their names! So although I feel justified to be indignant at Anne for not writing back earlier (among other things), I do not feel nearly as indignant in my heart as I will probably sound in her letter. I saw Kati once, but she's out of town now and she it looks like I'll see her only once more before leaving for Paris, although I had hoped to see more of her. I recall a time when that would have upset me.

Arguably, it might be a good thing to be able to swim without getting wet, but I sure hope that this is a result of some temporary daze or mental block and not a permanent part of growing up to be over 25. As a fellow member of the college-freshman-at-16 club, I wonder whether you will experience any of this too when the time comes. I went through what I could at the time only describe as a mid-life crisis between that ages of 23 and 24, so if I go by the same time scale, what I am going through now must be the whiz-kid version of senility. Is this too ridiculous? I am sure most of my acquaintances would think so, which is why I am only sharing it with you. I will let you know when I go through death and resurrection before the age of thirty (see, I can laugh at the ridiculous aspects of this even as I embrace the theory for all other intents and purposes!)

Why do MIT women seem so absent-minded?

  1. Sampling error: all MIT people are absent-minded, but I've
    met more women or paid more attention to them.

  2. Cultural bias: MIT women cannot afford to play dumb like
    the rest of the women in the country who think men hate women who are
    smarter. So they play absent-minded.

  3. Nerd defense: A natural way to keep uppity nerds from
    becoming too familiar is to plead temporary loss of memory.

  4. MIT admissions policy: If it is true that MIT has lower
    standards for admitting women, then perhaps focusing on their work
    leaves little spare mental capacity for them to use in everyday life.
    (see also point 1 for alternative build-up of same theory)

  5. They're hiding: Women who are both smart enough for MIT
    _and_ not absent minded exist, but
    1. I never get to meet them because
      1. They avoid me.
      2. I avoid them.
    2. They're too smart to come here anyway.
    3. Cruel society weeds them out when young.
    4. The get full scholarships to Wellesley and go there instead.

  6. More to worry about: What male student has to cope with an average of three members of the opposite sex constantly after them
    for dates in in addition to problem sets and extra-curricular
  7. Slowed down by society: Absent-mindedness correlates positively
    with IQ, and men who are smart enough to be as absent-minded as the
    average MIT woman
    1. Go to Caltech.
    2. Graduate and become professors before you notice.
    3. Realize the folly of life and commit
      suicide before anyone notices.
    4. I never meet them because
      1. They avoid me.
      2. I avoid them.
    5. I meet them all the time and never notice because I am one myself.
  8. Global consciousness: Women above a certain level of
    intelligence spend all their spare time worrying about issues like
    global warming, pollution, the third world population explosion, so
    they seem absent minded to similarly-abled men who prefer to worry
    about the entropy death of the universe, which is so far away in time
    that it's not worth more than a few seconds of thought a month.

  9. Not blinded by love: What seems to be absent-mindedness is
    no more than failure of women I've met to have the same single-minded
    attention to details of past joint activities as I do.

  10. Mutual perspective: We seem just as absent-minded to them,
    but they are too busy to
    1. Notice it.
    2. Sit down and write articles like this about it.
    OR too smart/sensitive/savvy to
    1. Make daft generalizations.
    2. Let any of us know they know.

>From: Geraldine

>Date: Tue, 10 Dec 1996 13:34:25 -0500

>To: wade@cive2.stanford.edu

>Subject: Marriage

> Hi-hi!

> What a coincidence! I was telling my parents and brother over

> Thanksgiving that one spends so much time cramming data in

> school, yet never really learn about how to handle life. Why

> aren't there lessons, every day, on how to interact with

> people, what marriage is all about, children and their impact,

> etc. And all the chemical changes, in a woman, that go along

> with childbearing. The list is endless. Handling mid-life

> crisis and old age and being a grandparent, etc. On-the-job

> training isn't enough. How about educating kids on how to

> function in society!


> I could go on and on but let me specifically give you my

> lowdown, and I do stress, MY, because it is but one

> perspective amongst many out there. My answers to your

> questions based on my experiences. Here goes: My marriage to

> Sari works really well because we put a lot of effort,

> patience and love into it. In practical terms it boils down


> EFFORT, i.e. never ever taking each other for granted. We met

> in our late teens and fell in love, so much so that we never

> wanted to be apart. We spent as much time as possible with

> each other and that was the most important thing: time, time

> and more time together to learn more about each other. We

> know more about each other than anyone. We are best friends.

> It's not always peaches and cream. There have been trying

> times. That strong bond, forged by all those hours you spent

> together in and out of bed, resists many strains. It's the

> old biblical analogy of building a house on rock, not sand.

> It's harder and takes oodles more effort but pays off in the

> end. If we don't maintain the marriage on a daily basis,

> things start crumbling. So you rebuild. However, if you sit

> back and watch for weeks, the relationship is doomed. Because

> we are human Sari and I have slacked off on occasion. It's

> terrible. You feel yourself being sucked away.


> Mundane? That's what happens when you start relaxing and

> getting lazy, when you stop making an effort and start taking

> each other for granted. I wouldn't use that word to describe

> marriage or kids. Sari and I together are the most important

> thing in our life, more important than our careers and our

> child. Recipe for healthy family: When mama and papa are

> happy, then baby is happy, so a great marriage is the key to a

> healthy, happy baby/child. We have to become the rock she can

> build her life on. If we focus on her, we start losing the

> contact with each other. I realized this over the past year.

> We, as parents, have the responsibility to work on our

> relationship for the little one's benefit. It is so easy to

> let a child destroy your marriage. Having Gabriella was the

> single most challenge to our marriage. She is an intruder in

> your relationship. I feel silly writing this to you because

> you haven't been there and probably don't identify, but I am

> being as honest as I know how: A child does NOT bring two

> people closer. It separates them. And as a couple we had to

> find time for each other which is not easy due to the strain,

> stress and chronic fatigue. Raising a child is so hard.

> There are no rewards. However, the amazing thing is the love

> I feel for her: fierce, strong, protective, possessive.


> Now, after what I just wrote, a Porsche really plays no role.

> Neither does money. A lack of it probably would. Take it

> from me, material goods are of no significance. They simply

> make your life comfortable. Don't get me wrong, I love speed!

> I love driving fast in my BMW, fast, so fast the

> adrenaline-rush is fun. But this has nothing to do with

> marriage and children. I just happened to love fast cars. As

> a hobby. Would be like trying to bring stamp-collecting into

> the discussion!! Not relevant in my book! When I met Sari

> neither of us had a car! Important point: of course there

> isn't just one person out there for you to marry. I believe

> any two people can get together and try. It's all about how

> much effort both are willing to put into making it work.

> Since humans are lazy creatures by nature we prefer easier

> targets. We want to find someone with whom we can make a life

> without too much effort. Effort Reduction Theory, I'd say.

> Personally I have pet peeves. I would never marry Mike Tyson

> because I hate stupid men. I couldn't bear trying to explain

> everything all the time because Mr. Right just didn't get it.

> If I were single and looking right now, here would be the list

> of requirements (random order):


> -Mutual physical attraction

> -Mutual respect and kindness

> -Great together in bed

> -Nuts about each other

> -Intelligence


> There are other factors but not financial ones. I don't want

> to be "provided for" or given lavish gifts at the expense of

> being but a part of my husband's life. I MUST be the most

> important thing in his life. I stand on top, ahead of his

> child, his career, dreams, etc. I must be his life. And he

> must be mine.

is it a dream or a fairy tale?

is it a tale of woe

or a tale of friend or foe

or perhaps something that just cannot go slow

something that has a tempo of its own

inexorable unremitting

and over-over-overwhelming

is this something that will last forever?

or is it something that will simply never

never be

in a life that is in a dimension altogether

apart from the place we discovered

where our soles fit together

like a lock and key?

discovering you will be the greatest surprise

gazing in your eyes

with a glow

like someone who has just won a prize.

Such is love.

I do not know where it will all lead,

but the present is so much lovelier

than a bird in the bush,

and one day the bush will reveal itself to be a mirage,

and you will be the only bird in the whole desert.

"In the desert, no one remembers your name

"and there aint no one to give you no pain."

The first thing you told me was that you were from the desert.

I'm from the desert too.

We need to drink one anothers' eyes. lips.

your understanding is enough.

Flow of words can be a chore

but emotions just billow out

like clean clouds

from a nuclear power plant