There is no such thing as Liberal vs. Conservative!

I was listening to a podcast today about how Mormons are becoming more and more conservative, and it occurred to me that people are completely misled about what the terms “liberal” and “conservative” really mean.  People nowadays think of a political spectrum with Liberal on one side, represented by the Democratic Party, and Conservative on the other, represented by the Republican Party.  In fact neither party is Liberal and both are Conservative.

To understand what I mean, you have to realize that the opposite of a “liberal” is actually an “authoritarian.”  Liberalism is a philosophy that asserts that individuals should have liberty from government interference in their personal lives and business.  The opposite of that philosophy is one that believes that the government should use its authority to tell the individual what is best for them.  The name of that philosophy is “authoritarianism.”

The second thing to know is that the opposite of “conservative” is actually “progressive.”  Conservatism believes that we should conserve tradition and policy in the current state, not changing much, but respecting the path that has led us to the current state.  The opposite of this mindset says, no, we need to make social and political progress by agitating for change and be willing to toss aside cherished traditions in the process.  This is called “progressivism.”  By the way, there is an extreme form of Conservatism called “reactionary” which believes that changes are not progress, and thus we should react to so-called progress by reverting back to older, better ways.

In this sense, it’s clear that both modern parties are conservative, in that they seek to maintain and enhance the status quo for their own benefit, and are threatened by change.  Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are truly progressive in that they are pushing for new change.  They are “progressing” with different goals.  I suppose you might call Donald Trump reactionary due to his apparent xenophobic tendencies, but the same could be said of Bernie Sanders with his offering up of tax hikes that harken back the 1950’s (and which tax hikes on the wealthy I favor by the way).  I think my definitions might be nonstandard, even unique, but I think they make a lot of sense.  If you think of politics this way, you will see that what we have are six groups:

  1.  liberal progressives:  believe individuals should agitate for change to give people more freedom
  2. authoritarian progressives:  believe we should use government power to effect change for a better future
  3. liberal reactionaries:  believe there was more freedom for individuals in the past, and we need to fight the government to return to this earlier bliss
  4. authoritarian reactionaries:  wish the government would bring back older laws to encourage people to go back to better, older ways
  5. liberal conservatives:  believe that we should not change things, that we are good the way we are, and people should be left alone
  6. authoritarian conservatives:  believe that we should use the government to block damage which would be caused by progressive or perhaps reactionary changes

Anyhow, that’s the way I see it.   Go ahead, poli sci majors, please step in and correct me.  By the way, I see myself as a liberal progressive for the most part, but I have tendencies to each of these on different topics, like I suspect most people do if they are honest about it!

Let the fear make you stronger

There is no doubt that this is not an easy journey at the moment.  However, I realize that I have two choices in the face of my fear.  First, I can strengthen myself and learn to overcome my challenges.  Or, I can turn around and run to safety.  There is nothing wrong with either strategy.  Both can make me stronger.  It almost seems like a stylistic preference from an intellectual viewpoint.  But I have to think there is an intangible and as-yet unknown to me benefit from the “strengthen and overcome” approach.

I realize that much of my life has been avoiding really living.  Drugs in my early years, religion, even college to some extent were all ways of hiding in the ways of others to discover the “real truth” about life.  I never had the confidence to truly strike out on my own path, and so I figured out a very safe and good route.  Good old engineering to the rescue!  I highly recommend it!  Profitable and secure.  It has been very useful to me.

But now there is a glimmer of a possibility I can see winking at me in an unfamiliar distance.  It’s not easy to see through the fog of war as I slog it out with my demons.  Maybe it’s just swamp gas churned up by a fertile imagination, but there is something in me that sees a beautiful treasure in this journey and I intend to play out my hand.  I’m determined not to turn and run.  Instead, I’m going to explore and I’ll report back what I find, I promise.  🙂

Luckily, I’m well equipped for the journey and once I find my stride, this might even get really easy and fun.  I sure hope so!

Swamp gas in the night. Source:

Uncertainty and regret have already begun

It is 5AM and I cannot sleep.  An hour earlier, I had lain in bed dreaming of being trapped in a dark building, with Soviet-style oppressive guards planning to kill me. I  barely escaped by taking an elevator down and walked quickly down the street.  It was a sunny day and I was right by the park which I had crossed when entering the building.  I tried not to garner unwanted attention but was suddenly aware that I was wearing slacks, shiny shoes and a white shirt, very much like a missionary, which made me stand out as an escapee from The Building.  A policeman spotted me, so I turned down an alley, thinking I had to avoid notice.  Suddenly it was nighttime and a third world hell greeted me.  I sloshed through mud and drying concrete and got more and more lost.  Lights from the work crews shone on the unfinished work, piles of rebar and brick blocked my way in every direction.  I had to turn around and get out of this alley….  then I woke up.  It was 4:30AM

Picture of a dark grim alley in Hong Kong
Source: “Inside the Kowloon Walled City where 50,000 residents eked out a grimy living in the most densely populated place on earth.” By PAMELA OWEN Read more:

Being awake was not much more pleasant.  I lay there in my bed in Livermore, CA, sun not yet up, trying to go back to sleep.  I thought, my God, what am I doing, I just left my job of 15 years to go on a so-called adventure, but so far all it is is uncertainty and fear.  I’m not up to the task, this is going to take an enormous amount of energy and time, and who am I kidding?  I can’t even muster the discipline to sell my motorcycle.  My house is not ready to sell, and the market might tumble any month now.  Every minute of inaction weighs against me.  I only have so much time before everything goes to hell.

I have been telling people that I want to live forever, that I love life.  Medical science is advancing, maybe I’ll be one of the lucky ones to live to 200 years old if I work it right.  I wonder, is that because I finally found comfort and stability here at my job, and now I’m throwing it all away?  Am I giving up a chance for a longer life, based on what?  A vague sense of being unfulfilled?  A desire for new experiences?  Is that really worth it?  Am I the biggest jackass that ever lived?

Well, welcome to my Monday.  I have one month left before my last day at work, on June 1.  It’s official and there is no turning back.  This grand experiment in freedom and travel is about to begin, and if I’ve ever been this worried and uncertain before, it was during a dark time of my life I don’t care to go back to, which was my teenage years.  It all seems very inauspicious.  Very ordinary.

What do I have to contribute to the world, other than what I’ve been doing?  Am I totally being overconfident?  My deepest fear is to fail, lose all my money, and be left out of the good life, all the while realizing that I had it and tossed it away.  And in the process, struggling to no avail, wasting my life in a struggle for mere survival that doesn’t even interest myself other than it contains the constant urgency of not dying, not failing.  Stress and mortality are correlated, this “retirement” or whatever is very stressful so far!

Haha, I hope your week is going better than mine so far.  🙂   You can see how dark my thoughts can go in the morning.  I call this worried part of myself “morning Rich,” and I’ve decided he’s not going to get to steer the boat.  But something deep inside me is saying, hey at least Morning Rich is not the kind of guy to take us over some giant waterfall and end up drowned.

I can’t stand to let Morning Rich have the last word.  But it’s morning, and this is Rich, so I guess it is what it is.

Sitting on my front porch in Livermore, contemplating Thailand

It’s turning into Spring in Livermore.  The nights are finally warm enough for me to sit on my front porch in Livermore and type a few words into my computer.  I’ve had a few glasses of bourbon and there is no way this blog post can possibly serve my readership, which means it will never see the light of day.  I’m smoking a thankfully rare cigarette and staring out onto the peaceful empty street.  Livermore is quiet, and the street is a typically wide, empty Livermore street.  In the far distance, I hear traffic on the freeway.

My roses are starting to bloom.  My yard is a dirt wasteland, with a single tall cactus planted long ago as its single distinguishing prize.  Soon I will sell all this and move away.  I’ll take my car, my backpack and a few belongings, and start on a new adventure into a life designed to impress only me.  I’ve earned and saved, studied and explored the life of a single man in Livermore.  I’ve looked for love and really failed to find what I want.

My life is unspectacular to describe, at least by my lights.  I finish my cigarette and think, what a shame to sleep when I have this warm feeling of something.  I can’t even describe to my own satisfaction the things of my heart right now.  A single car drives by at low speed, looking for a driveway to pull into, careful not to hurt any pedestrians that by unlikely chance might dart into the street.  America is so cautious, so safe, so unambitious.  There is really nothing to fear, but everyone is optimizing their safety.  People feel daring by having a bit of small fun, perhaps yelling their happiness, but quickly shushing themselves.



Too Much Resistance From Within

I’ve got much to do to prepare for moving out of this house and striking out.  I need to sell my possessions, clean my house, get it ready for sale, and sell it.  This needs to be done in 6 weeks and 2 days, according to the schedule which I have set for myself.  But I’m hiding from it!


I’ve already resigned myself to being late.  I’m procrastinating brilliantly.  I am studying computer science, learning German and Thai.  I take long walks and play volleyball every day.  I listen to Dan Carlin podcasts, binge watch Vikings, and go out to drink with friends.  I drink alone, too.  Oh, and occasionally I move forward with my plans.  But the pace is slow.

What is wrong with me, God damn it?  I wonder, is there anything I could seek after that will bring me to decisive and consistent action?  I remember being in college, as an undergraduate, and I worked diligently.  Same as a graduate student.  But somewhere, some of the life has gone out, some of the radiant hope has been replaced with apathy and bad habits have crept in.

What is the purpose of all of this?  I am seeking to find adventure and at first blush I’m only meeting resistance.  It reminds me of “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield, wherein he talks about Resistance with a Big R that artists must fight in order to discover their muse.  I also think of the saying that the muse will only find a man when he is working.  I’m thinking of how I’m supposed to find my passion by dropping the pretense of the rat race.  By simplifying my life, I will uncover my true desires.  Or at least, that’s my working premise at the moment.

Right now, I have only to report that it’s slow going.  It’s too late to turn back, thankfully;  I have thrown my hat over the wall and must now get to the other side to retrieve it.  But by every measure at the moment, my destiny is to cultivate my lazy nature.  I feel like I’m hiding from the path I’ve set out for myself.  I know this is going to be epic, but no Hero’s Journey can be had without some slogging.  In all this resistance, my current goal is to get a few hours’ work done per day.

I fear none of this post will make much sense to the reader.  Perhaps it just sounds like a bunch of self-absorbed musings from a confused and uncertain man letting an ordinary midlife crisis drive him into a foolish dream.  Well, so be it.  I apologize to anyone reading this.  I hope the story gets more interesting as time goes along.  THAT is truly the goal!

Are there stars in Bangkok? I don’t remember

I stood tonight in the street where I live, smoking a cigarette and staring down the street reflectively.  I saw the wide, clean streets, the careful drivers, the clear skies with stars in them.  I looked up and thought, when I live in Bangkok, will I see the stars?  Will the haze of the high humidity and hot environment obscure them?  Will I care?  What will be my concern?

I have 55 day, 19 hours and 2 minutes until 5pm on June 1, 2016, when I quit my job at 50 years old and start a new life.  At that point, I will have sold much of my belongings, and on my way to selling my home of 15 years.  I have engaged in an intense process of expatriation, for the sake of adventure and whatever is beyond my event horizon.

This is where I am tonight.  I’m afraid and alone.  I have friends who understand, friends who do not understand.  But I have friends and that is quite remarkable.  I have plans that make sense, plans that are instinctive, plans that will change, and plans that are inspired and fundamentally unchangeable.  I know that being fully who I am is the passport to my adventure, and yet I cannot fully admit that to the world, or even to myself.

We are all just evolved monkeys.  I feel that clever monkeys want to see the mess that other monkeys have made so they can avoid their own messes. This is the motivation for the maxim “if it bleeds, it leads,” in the modern press.  We strive to learn from each others’ mistakes.  But there is also the risk versus reward paradigm, where the greatest riches are available to the monkey willing to swing to the farthest branch, not knowing if it will give way to the waiting tigers in the jungle below.  Some monkeys learn to display their risk and the other monkeys gawk at the spectacle.  There is no optimum, all are necessary for a functional human society.

And in each of us, there is a risk taker, a watcher, a fearful monkey.  Do you want to collect the bananas, or do you want to find another tribe of monkeys?  I see that my passion lies with discovery, even if it involves risk.  I think the current environment favors risk takers.  As Warren Buffet says, “Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful.”  Look around.  What do you see?  I see fear.  And I’m making a bet that therein lies my opportunity.

But as Ragnar in the Vikings series says, “Rule with your brain, and not your heart.”  I take counsel with my heart, to tell me what I fear.  I then ask my brain, is this what others fear?  If so, I do the opposite.  I have not done the math, but I suspect this leads to a good result.  And of course, I ask, is this what others find comfort in?  If so, I do the opposite.  I bid you choose counsel of your heart but let your brain rule you as well.  What strategy do  you follow?  I’d love to hear your comments!

My current plan to rule the world

In his book “Getting Things Done,” David Allen points out that if you do not put everything in your life into a reliable personal organization system consisting of concrete things that you need to do, then your brain will keep on interrupting you with random worries and reminders on the order of “Oh that’s right, I need to do X and Y!” at all hours of the day and night.  This is stressful and not productive.  As he puts it, “if you are thinking too much about what you need to do, you are not thinking enough about what you need to do.”  This is also called the Zeigarnik effect, which says that if you have a trusted plan for something, your brain will quit worrying about it.

So I have a list of to-do items, but I find having a nice timeline for the Big Things in life really helps.  I thought it might be neat to share that here and perhaps spark some soul-searching for any of my many readers.  So I give you my “Prepare to Move to Thailand” Omnigraffle document in all its glory.  Each Sunday I update it.  The columns are areas of interest and importance to me and of course time increases going down.

At a glance, I can see where I need to put more focus perhaps, and it’s clear what to prioritize in the current week and the impact of missing my deadlines.

Enjoy and stay happy out there.  Oh, and by the way, this weekend is when I discover my passions.  I’ll explain that in a later post.  🙂

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The subtle negative effects of too much daily caffeine

I recently took two days off from caffeine.  In the calmness that I felt as a result, I could see how caffeine had been impacting my mind.  Caffeine forces me to stay in action and never rest.  This prevents my meditation from being fully effective, limits my sleep, and reduces my ability to recover from injury or fully feel my body.
Caffeine puts a layer of dishonesty on my experience.  It makes me less happy.  I feel a rush and a need to achieve that makes me overlook the moment.  It seems that without caffeine, I’m more able to stay in the moment, and more attuned to it, and willing to listen  and having the freedom to do and not do things, as opposed to being driven by a chemical impulse in my body.
With caffeine there is a “do something, anything” kind of push in my experience, which removes the possibility of doing nothing and therefore everything that I do is that much less of a choice.  I hate feeling trapped, like I’m not in control.
Caffeine has me moving from experience to experience, with the times between the experiences being considered as wasted.  Meditation encourages and strengthens the experience of feeling every moment and the ability to stick with a plan and not deviate.  I prefer the latter.
I’m switching to one cup per day.

There’s never enough time! So slow down.

One of the challenges of being a distractible and curious person is that I sometimes think I don’t have time to do what I’m doing at the moment.  My mind wanders to the next thing on the agenda and I second-guess my choice to be doing what I’m doing.  That’s true even as I sit to type this.  I need to work out, I have a girl in my bed that I want to cuddle with, I have about six super important things I should be doing, and I don’t really have time to write this entry.  There is no time set aside in my routine, I’m not convinced it’s worth doing, and right now just doesn’t seem like the right time.  And so my blog languishes.  And why shouldn’t it?  A voice in my head reminds me, “Nobody’s reading it anyhow, and you’re never going to make money off it, so why bother?”

Given my last post, you might think these are strange thoughts for a man about to chuck it all and venture into a life of travel and ease.  Why stress out about whether to write a blog post?  Welcome to my mind.  I’m the best second guesser on the planet.  I double back on everything, and that’s a very bad habit.

A man is the sum of his habits.  The neurons that fire together wire together.  We each have habitual ways of thought and action that take us through the day, consuming our energy and weaving a story we tell ourselves about not having enough time, not being good enough, or being a rock star, unstoppable and lucky to be alive.  No matter what thought you are thinking right now, the chances are it was planted there by your habits and patterns from yesterday, including a habitual view of tomorrow you keep coming back to.

To that end, I try to shape good habits into my life.  I’m continually reformulating my approach to the day, but certain elements are bedrock.  When I see a negative mindset, I habitually challenge it and question my assumptions, creating a more positive and productive outlook.  If I don’t feel like exercising, I ignore that and work out anyhow.  In the morning, I get up as soon as my eyes open, regardless of how I feel.  I brush my teeth before I go to bed.  I don’t drink alcohol unless I have a friend to drink with.  I eat healthy foods.  I think I finally have meditation ensconced as a daily practice.  And so on.

I’ve heard bloggers say how much value it provides to them to write new posts each day.   I can see how that would be so.  Making declarations to the world will have the power to shape my life in a way that privately committing to things does not.  Writing things out will requires me to deepen and sharpen my thoughts in a way that the chattering monkey in my head is not used to.

But blogging is a new habit that I’m not sure will stick.  And this is a challenge in general for me.  Many times, I find a new habit that seems like a potential winner, and I put it down as something to try.  But I get stuck, or stop early, because I get overwhelmed at the choices I have.  There are many potential good new habits, and how will I know which is going to pan out?  Talk about a first world problem!

OK, time to push the Publish button and let the chips fall.  I can always edit this post later when I realize how crappy it really is.  They say “much thinking without practice leads to confusion, and much practice with a little thought leads to knowledge.”  Let’s see if I can insert blogging into my list of successful practices.

Hello World, as they say in Silicon Valley

I’m a 50 year old computer scientist living and working in Livermore, USA.  I have a great job, and make a reasonable, six-figure salary, which is enough to save on and never worry about money while living a relaxed and easy life in the great state of California.  Despite that, I’ve decided to quit my job on May 31 and leave the US for parts unknown, but very likely Thailand.

Travel has never been my forte.  I’ve always preferred 4 star hotels to hostels, and I never camp.  And yet my plan is to throw a tent into my car and travel around the US until I’ve seen enough, visiting family and chilling out, then check out South America, and then it’s on to Southeast Asia.

How did this come about?  Well, it really started in May of 2013, my first trip to Thailand, where I spent 10 days, mostly in Pattaya.  I was blown away by the culture, the freedoms, the food, the sights, the women.

The culture!  Temples and a feeling of gentle Buddhism pervades everything.  The freedoms!  Nobody is going to judge you for being a ladyboy, or for walking down the streets with a beer in your hand.  You can pet a tiger and get picked up by an elephant.  The fireworks are off the hook.  The food!  Thai food is legendary and there is a reason there are so many Thai restaurants in the USA.  The sights!  Temples, crowded markets, clear warm water and beaches, jungles.  And the women!  Ah, the women, so attractive and willing!  My first day or two there, as I recall, I was able to go out on a date with a young pretty lady in Bangkok, about 23 years old.  She was the first girl I asked, just an ordinary girl selling phones in a shopping mall.  The chances of that going that way in the USA are obviously very low, although I’m too intimidated to even try here.

I went back 3 more times, for a month at a time, to explore Vietnam, Cambodia, Philippines, Hong Kong, China.  I became more and more desirous to spend time there, to work and live there, to expand my experiences, learn a new language.  If you’ve ever been bitten by this bug, you’ll understand.  If not, then I cannot explain any more than I have.  There is just something about sitting in a small alley in Bangkok, sipping spicy soup, thousands of miles away from home, that just lights my soul up.

I asked my boss and there was no way to set up a telecommute or to take more time off.  I didn’t want to change companies and wait for a chance to possibly transfer over there.  I wanted to just go!  I looked at my life, realized I could make this thing work, as I have enough money saved, and thought, hey, what grander and more challenging adventure could I make for myself?

And so here I am.  Hello world indeed!