Sunday, December 3, 2017

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Case for Spectral Thinking and A Return Reason

It's been a long time since I posted a blog. But I've been wanting to start writing again so here we go.

So yesterday I officially changed my party affiliation from Independent to Democrat and though the title didn't warn you, this is in part a political piece. But more than that, it’s a philosophical exploration of the underpinnings of reason in life and politics with some science tossed in. Which, let’s face it, are all intermingled.

First I should say I have always considered myself a middle path guy. A left leaning centrists who considers other viewpoints and avoids extreme polarizing thought. I think if you could make a giant Venn Diagram of overlapping circles of each individual's beliefs, there would be one tiny overlapping speck in the middle labeled truth. Furthermore, that diagram would have a level of fluidity,  looking different to everyone who gazed upon it.  Or perhaps the truth would be off the page looking down chuckling "Silly humans."

This has been my approach in almost every aspect of my life. I have been both an artist and a salesman. Both a hippie and a punk rocker. A weirdo performer and professional. I identify with aspects of conservatives and radical liberals and libertarians and more. Both a mystic and a rationalist. A person of faith and an agnostic.  A person who is perhaps not "enough"  of any of those things to be considered "one of us" by the card carrying members of those groups. Possibly just enough to fit in without being labeled a poser,  perhaps not enough to fit in at all. Close enough to identify with and connect,  while still not entirely buying in to what they a saying or doing. Some might view my stances or level of dedication to the issues surrounding these "roles" as being inauthentic or wishy washy. I would argue the opposite however and that it my middle ground position is squarely where I feel I ought to be. I can see that the things I love are not perfect. I can see the things I despise are not entirely without value. I understand that I can believe something with every fiber of my being and still be wrong. I appreciate the value of a dark teacher, an enemy from which you learn and become better. I don't think this makes me less authentic or less honest. In fact I believe it is a more honest way to experience an authentic life.

I believe in the path of rational mysticism. The amalgamation of both the reasonable analysis of facts and the intuition led collaboration with the mystery. An openness to being ok with uncertainty, with being wrong, or more importantly, not having to be right. A willingness to listen without needing to correct or judge. Not being rash and close minded. Being able to disagree with civility and to search for common ground. The ability to love your enemy. To realize the greatest enemy is within. One that can only be defeated through a combination of affectionate nudges and firm self discipline. That one thing being right does not necessarily equate the other thing is wrong. That there are degrees of rightness and that context frames and defines them. That I cannot have control and must surrender to the unknown without fear. My faith is a faith in embracing the unknown, that mysterious fickle friend, not a faith of certainties. I admit these are ideals that I often fall short of but they are my magnetic north to which my moral compass aligns.

Yes there are things that given due consideration I outright reject. On that imaginary Venn diagram some circles would fall completely outside of the range of that overlapping truth. Some things simply do not hold up to scrutiny and honest reflection. I feel we have now in our national discourse, a clash between reasonable spectral thinking and irrational binary thinking. Those who engage in that scrutinizing of their own thoughts and values versus those who simply perpetuate the echo chamber of internet memes and media talking heads. That coupled with an intense irrational tribalism within our politics feeds a growing self destructive narrative.

So I have realized I am deluding myself with the idea that I am an Independent in our current political climate. I used to live in Maryland and in that state one must be registered Republican or Democrat to vote in the primary. When I moved to North Carolina, the election laws here are such that I can vote for whoever I want in the primary regardless of party affiliation. I eagerly changed my affiliation to Independent to reflect my desire to be nonpartisan and not bound to a corrupt two party system. Looking for the qualities in any candidate or policy from any party that would best align with my values. Which are simply: To do the most good for the most people and if you can do no good, do the least harm.

But the fact is for the last 20+ years of voting I’ve yet to find that republican politician that I could get behind. Sure I can find common ground with some and continue to look for it. Some engage in bipartisan cooperation for the greater good. There are many good folks who are Republican and the people under that flag a varied spectrum like our whole nation is. I am proud of the many Republicans who have the courage to denounce the current demagogue candidate their party has brought to the forefront of the foray against reason.

I’ve watched that party be wrested out of the hands of any rationally thinking members and become a dark insipid caricature of itself. I’ve watched as it has moved farther and farther, some would say to the right, but I see many conservatives would agree is actually a move away from reason. They have abandoned their roots to become the obstructionist party of NO. Facts have become annoying stupid things that get in the way of their corporate agenda to bolster the rich at the expense of the downtrodden. They pander to a twisted ideology. Bigotry, xenophobia and intolerance masquerading as Christianity. Their own constituency, the American people  has become their tool and their enemy. They manipulate titillating absurdities to twist people's faith, fears and prejudices into a perverse self defeating cycle that eats away at our liberties and our populace. Like a sick snake swallowing it's own tail while decrying “Look they (insert your personal fear trigger here) are stealing your tail!”

Does it happen on the Democrat side too? Don’t all politicians lie. Yes. But any reasonable assessment shows it happens far more and far worse on the Republican side thanks the tabloids like FOX News, the conservative Onion posing as legitimate journalism. People become so aligned to supporting team red and bashing team blue, that they will demonize the people on team blue even when they are pushing the same agenda’s they have championed. It’s only progress if their team does it and it’s an outrage if the other team does it. They can’t stand to admit if the other side does anything right. So they end up looking like immature hypocritical children. Polarization on steroids has tied and gagged reason, tossed in the trunk and gone speeding down a bumpy road.

How can this be? How can we have come so far away from reasonable cooperation toward our collective mutual benefit? I believe the answer lies in both our ethical and our neurological laziness.

Now I am no neurologist and I am not deluded for a moment to think that just because I’ve read a handful of books on the subject that I am by any means an expert. But stick with me if you will. See, the brain is a complex network of electrical connections and it is also a muscle. Electricity will always follow the path of least resistance and muscles will wither away if not exercised. With every experience we have and every thought generated we either form new neurological pathways (a lot when we are younger) or reinforce existing pathways (a lot when we are older). So as adults with our primary neural framework mapped out we spend most of our time reinforcing the existing pathways. When we encounter new information we compare it to our existing network and look for the easiest place it fits. In fact I would suggest that the electrons follow the path of least resistance to closest thing that we can settle on as a match if we don’t actively engage the muscle to explore other pathways. This is why we see faces and animals in clouds and why, as a white middle class liberal supporter of racial equity, I still see the brown person across the street as more threatening than our white neighbor. It's not about truth it's about complacent and habitual conditioning.

Whatever this thing in question is, there is a neural pathway that has been reinforced over and over in our own past experience, in the media, in stories we have heard, songs we have sung, prayers we have prayed. The thing is, just because it fits in our preconceived narrative doesn't mean it is true. We’re simply engaging in habitual automatic thinking, which when you think about it, is hardly thinking at all. That is what happens if you don't actively engage in the process. We also have a tendency to stimulate the short term pleasure centers of the brain at the expense of long term gains. That this the pathway to addiction and we can become addicted to reinforcing our beliefs, surrounding ourselves with friends who agree and media sources that reinforce our biases. Because it feels good mentally to be "right". We get a little shot of dopamine every time someone likes something we post online or agrees. The same my be true for taking an easy jab at someone else's belief. Trump has shown us that it can be fun to be a bully and lash out.

But there is another way to think. You can consciously intervene and flex that muscle to explore and create new neural pathways. It’s called critical thinking and it is work. It takes effort. It is learning and it’s easier not to do it. So most of us don’t, most of the time. I would have to seek out and successfully navigate a lot of positive relationships with people of color to override the systemic racism spoon fed to me since birth. A message perpetuated in a million small ways that feed into a bias I like to pretend I have fully overcome, because I know I should. But it's easy to just say black live matter or write a post like this and not actually do the work of trying to form more deeper relationships with my black brothers and sisters. If I'm honest I have to admit I have more work to do.

Now, when I go to work in the morning and I think; “Where are my keys?” The least path of resistance in my brain is to first think of what I usually do with my keys in recent history. That is the well worn easy trail. Many aspects of our lives are like finding your keys, this is actually extremely helpful and enables us to be able to function and perform our daily duties. If we had to relearn or really think hard how to go to the bathroom every time we went, you can imagine what a mess that would be. In fact I wrote a good bit of this article in my head while I was driving. The function of driving on the highway is such a well worn pathway, it requires almost no effort. This frees up my brain to flex some other pathways and think this through. But this amazing autopilot aspect of the brain is also a trap. Because we do the same thing with ideologies, biases, relationship patterns and political beliefs. Actively observing and engaging in the automatic thinking of the brain is what is referred to as mindfulness.

Let’s say I go to work and I always hang my keys on the hook by the door. I’ll have that moment where I think about my keys and I know that they are hanging on the hook by the door. I am confident and feeling good about my place in the world. But today I look and the keys are not there. Even though I knew I was right, I’m not! Suddenly I am in a panic, my heart sinks, I experience fear. I lash out, “Who took my keys? I know I put them there!” Now I am forced to engage my brain muscle. Discomfort forces me out of autopilot. I have to start searching across the neural pathways. There must be some small fresh trail somewhere that will lead to my keys. I start to hate myself because I realize that no one probably stole my keys. I have sabotaged myself again like the idiot I am. Finally I remember that they are in the shorts I changed into yesterday after work. I swear to use the well worn neural pathway next time so I can avoid the discomfort of actually thinking about what I did with my keys. Actually thinking is too painful sometimes.

We can easily fall into that trap with everything we believe in. We form an opinion and seek out information to reinforce that opinion and reject information that challenges it. If we do that for too long unchecked we can find ourselves clinging to the last shred of our ideals when all reasonable analysis would reveal us to be wrong. We fear the annihilation of our ideas because we attach our self identity to them. We will engage of all manner of ethical and rational contortions to try and keep it together. We believe that If I am wrong, then I matter less, or not at all.  In reality it’s when  you can't admit that you have been wrong, that you matter less. Rational people will see you are irrational, that your opinion is of lesser value because you do not value objective truth over your treasured ideals. That protecting your pride is more important than pursuing a more objective truth or considering nuance and context. Their same fear may lead them to insult and degrade you for the wrong reasons. Not because you are standing up for a loving ideal in the face of tyranny. But because you have chosen to become a fool driven by fear, to embolden tyranny against the beacons of hope. They will no longer tolerate your proliferation of the ideal that your ignorance is as good as their knowledge. It will be your own fault. And they will also be at fault for resorting to low level attacks. But when reason will not be met frustration will lead to lack of tolerance. Anyone can choose right now to begin the hard work of forming new pathways to join those on the side of reason. It will not be easy but if you open yourself up to reason, the reasonable will welcome you with open arms. Now I should point out there are unreasonable people on the left and right of the political spectrum and that we all fall into these mental traps at times. Eternal self-vigilance is required to keep us all moving on the direction of reason and civil discourse.

A more engaged mind will consider more viewpoints than their own and come to realize that the complexity of life and politics is made of an overlapping dimensional latticework of nearly infinite spectral variation. That sometimes we must choose between a menu of only bad choices. They will use their suffering as tool to empower empathy. A lazy habitual mind will only see things as one dimensional, black and white, good and evil, left and right. Their suffering may lead to fear and hate against the "other". That type of lazy binary thinking makes it rather challenging to engage the world in a meaningful way. That line of thinking is a self imposed isolation. An intellectual hermitage. In our current landscape it has become a prevailing mindset that has brought forth a candidate for the most powerful position in the world, whose platform is based on childish hate, fear and isolationism.

Bernie Sanders realized to have a chance at affecting the level of change he envisioned, he had to join the Democratic party. One of his current great achievements is having moved the party platform to an even more progressive one, from within and bringing new young passionate voices to the table. These new passionate voices also would benefit from embracing altruistic spectral reasoning over zealous puritanical idealism.

I want to see that progressive change carried forward for my children and grandchildren. So I'm stepping back on board as a Democrat. The difficult work of leveraging power to do the most good for the most people, and if we can do no good, to do the least harm, seems like the rational choice for me today. It’s Ok that it’s not perfect. I’m not either. No one is. But when you pile it all on the scales of social justice and American ideals the choice of reason seems clear. I’m still trying to do better and to get outside of my comfort zone, to build new pathways to yet undiscovered keys in my mind and yours.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Bathroom Redo

A couple weeks ago our little boy went to spend the week at Oma & Opa's house with his cousin. While more sensible parents would have used this time to go out partying and having morning sex, we instead decided to redo our bathroom which was in serious need of some attention. (Truth be told we did stay up late, go to a show, sleep in, get massages and go out to an amazing dinner at Woodberry Kitchen too.)

So the walls in here were cracking a lot all over and we had a problem with mold growing on part of the wall. We'd wash it with bleach and it would go away for months and slowly creep back up. With no exhaust ventilation and layers matte paint, plaster and wall paper, the combination was not aging well. You can't see so well in this before shot, but that wall straight ahead is not doing so well.


So we got to scraping and I worked away removing the loose bits and discovering multiple layers of wall paper and other unknown substances below. We sealed off the door with plastic to contain everything so as not to get lead out and about in the house.  That also keeps all airflow out and so major muggy sweaty yuckiness ensued.


We could have stopped here and just gone for the post war torn Bosnian bathroom motif, but onward we went anyway.  Little A decided to paint the cheap looking wood finish cabinets and the brass light fixture white. It would take a few coats to get there. Kilz on the walls, Kilz on the under sink cabinet. After we got everything primed we painted a light blue on the drywall walls surrounding the shower and decided that the war torn walls required a textured finish to hide the mess I made chipping off all the loose stuff. Getting it smooth again would have been pretty near impossible and given our tight schedule and fondness for textures this was clearly the way to go.


We used joint compound with trowels and scrapers to create a random Tuscan Plaster like effect. Your not really supposed to use joint compound over plaster but I figured a couple coats of kilz over the painted plaster and crossing my fingers would be a foolproof course of action. (If it fails we will be calling in the pros next time.)


Little A picked up a new BIG mirror for the vanity as we had one of those cheapo depot ones that is the ugly brown wood and triptych divided mirror doors on it. So his one has no storage but we have another storage unit over the loo and are keeping bits and pieces in there. Painted all the textured areas an almost-white-but-slightly-blue color and got everything done it time (barely) to go pick up our boy and get back to the normal routine. It's hard to take pictures of our little bathroom but here are a couple completed shots. The big mirror does help in that regard!



Thursday, March 24, 2011



Here is a little doodle I worked up as an idea for a thank you card. I plan on making these available for purchase soon, so I'll post the link to that once I do.

Available as a card for purchase here.

Monday, February 14, 2011



Happy Valentines Day everyone!
I drew this for my wonderful wife on her birthday this year. I'm so proud of her and thankful to have her by my side. Not to mention this little bugger too:

Hunger Strikes

I also made heart friendly vegan pancakes this weekend. They were quite good. Here is the recipe:

1 Cup Flour (All purpose)
1 Cup Almond Meal (Trader Joes)
3.5 Tsp Baking Powder
1 1/4 Cup Rice Milk
1 Tbsp Flaxseed Meal (Trader Joes)
3 Tbs Water
1/4 Cup Olive Oil

1. Mix Flax meal and water and let stand for 2 minutes (This is the egg substitute, alternatively you could use a couple Tbsps of organic "no sugar / fructose syrup added" apple sauce)
2. Wisk together remaining dry ingredients
3. Mix together wet ingredients.
4. Make a well in the dry bowl and pour wet into it. Mix until just combined.
5. 1/4 cup per cake into a pan over medium heat.

The olive oil makes them taste very buttery even without butter. I ate them plain and they were delicious. But top with fruit or berries for added yumminess. These will have more of a fluffy cakey consistency than a typical pancake. They are slightly more fragile so flip them gently.


Friday, February 11, 2011

Signs of my Time

So aside from the occasional doodle, drawing and other designs I post here on a regular basis, most of my time is spent playing with letters. That's right I elected years ago to pursue a fun and exciting career in signs. Click the photo below to view some of the work I've been a part of the last several years at Chesapeake Sign.

White Marsh Family Dentistry Interior Logo

Friday, January 7, 2011

Self Portrait of the Artist as a Memory of a Rock Star

Self Portrtrait of the Artist as a Memory of a Rock Star

This piece is actually a culmination of 20 years of work. I started with a couple a drawings from my high school sketch book. One was a psychedelic portrait of Jimmi Hendrix and the other a study for a self portrait. I scanned these two drawings and overlaid them together in Photoshop. Along with a third image for which some back story is appropriate.

In high school my intrigue and enthusiasm about various rock stars led to me playing music and attempting to be a rock star myself. A couple years or so after high school I joined an indie "conspiracy rock" group called The Penny Regime. My "audition" was an impromptu sitting in with them at a live gig at EJ Bugs in Fells Point. I sat in on drums and having no drum sticks, played with coat hangers and rolled up City Papers. I continued playing in this band for 7 years, switching to bass after the first couple. In 2010 we had a reunion show at The Ottobar and Mike "Cheech" Simmons took some photos of our set. I used one of those photos as an additional overlay to create the final composite image used as the basis for this drawing. The drawing itself is on a piece of paper from the same high school sketch book. The "penny regime" scrawled in the top corner was written there way back in the late 1990s when I first started playing in the group.

When viewed from a close perspective the original two older drawings are more prominent. But when viewed from a greater distance of about 10 feet (or as a thumbnail on screen) the newer reunion show photo image comes more into focus as the older fade into memory.

This piece was inspired by and created for the exhibition Self Portrait as a Rock Star at the Current Gallery on Jan 28, 2011.
More Info :!/event.php?eid=114089415311952

Current Gallery Website

Mike's original photo is here:

Below are the three separate source images side by side.