The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Cuba and Calibration

I'm trying to stay away from political stuff now, but I do have a question for someone knowledgeable: what in the world is the purpose of our non-engagement with Cuba? I mean, it can't be that it's a dictatorship. We do engage with dictators. Is it just to satisfy the last generation of Cuban-Americans in Florida? I mean, there is no evidence that the embargo has hurt Castro at all. He and his brother are said to be two of the richest men in the world. Then what exactly does it accomplish, other than hurting Cubans? When you try something for thirty years and it has no observable effect, what's wrong with trying another tactic? Do we engage with China because we need their resources? In which case our attitude toward Cuba would be simple bullying: we can do it, so we do. I really don't get it. There's a part of me that wonders if forces that be hold Castro responsible for the JFK assassination (it would make sense: after all, we tried to kill Castro multiple times. Would make sense for him to retaliate.) and we can't ever tell anyone, 'cause we'd have to go to war with Cuba and its puppet master the U.S.S.R.

Which doesn't exist any more. Damn, I'm actually confused. I just don't understand what all this is about. Can anyone help?


I've received email from three different people over the last week or so, from people trying to justify their belief that their bodies disobey the laws of physics. In other words, that they can decrease their caloric intake, maintain the same caloric output, and not lose weight. This is important to consider for reasons that have nothing to do with weight loss. It goes to the very heart of why human beings can have so much difficulty getting to their goals.

Let's get to it: I take the position that physics supersedes biology. That you simply cannot reduce calories below caloric output and not lose weight. Cannot happen in a universe that obeys the basic laws of physics. Anyone who honestly believes they can should present themselves to the local biophysics lab at the local university and collect their Nobel prize. Here is what's true: it seems that way. You reduce calories, keep your activity level apparently the same...but don't realize your body is slowing down to conserve energy, believing that you are in a famine. Wouldn't you realize it? No, not if your mind is affected the same way. It's kinda relativistic, in the same way that if you're in a sealed airplane traveling at a constant rate, you can't tell you're moving. Or, you aren't conscious of the calories you're taking in. Considering the number of times I've watched people munching their way through the day and then claim that they ate only at meals, I think that this is a very very common human flaw.

And a flaw it is. Because any hole that gapes in one arena should be assumed to gape in others as well. While the body responds to basic physics (losing weight is difficult because of the physiological, cultural, economic and psychological factors, not the physics) the other two arenas are much more difficult to nail down. The Beauty/Power axis isn't physics. Beauty isn't quantifiable, and neither is power, really. But still, I believe that if you have a little conceptual flexibility, you'll see how this impacts relationships, and can open the doorway to personal growth and success in love. It isn't an absolute, but about 90% of relationships fall right into it.

Finances are even trickier. Remember: losing weight requires your action and resolve, and you can do it with zero cooperation from anyone else in the world. But you simply CAN'T have a relationship without the cooperation of at least one other person. So whatever tendencies we have to delude ourselves, to ignore what we know to be facts (I've had people with degrees in math make the same mistake in relation to biophysics) are DOUBLED, if not squared, in a relationship. Two people, each with their own agendas, their own wounds, their own hidden value structures and negative emotional anchors. If a serious percentage of intelligent, educated and otherwise perfectly sane people can believe something that is disprovable with a calorimeter, no wonder relationships seem like Chinese algebra.

Making money requires the cooperation of dozens of people. Sometimes hundreds or thousands, each of whom has his or her own agendas, etc.

So: body is easiest, then relationship, then finances. The basic building blocks of perception, discipline, passion, ability to force yourself to do things that aren't fun (balance the checkbook, anyone?) and so forth are similar from arena to arena. You want to be very, very careful: if you find yourself believing something that logic says cannot be true, then the only thing that makes sense is to assume you do it in places where you HAVEN'T found it yet. That whatever creates that one little brainfart is going to spread to other arenas, and breed in the dark.


There are only two things to write about. Maybe only two things to really think about: what is the world? Who am I?

Cosmology. Epistomology. Deep identity. How do you know what you know? How do you check for errors? The calorie thing is fascinating not because everyone should lose weight. No. If you're happy with the results you're getting in life, GREAT!!! But relationships and finances are incredibly complex in comparison. Look at the simple arenas, where you can see basic math at play, and can't blame your results on the economy, other people, whatever. And you'll see that even with that minimum level of outside interference (in comparison) we are not a species that is honest with itself. Maybe that's the cost of consciousness. Meditation is important because it forces us to ask the question What Is? What Is? Over and over again, digging deeper and deeper, throwing away comfortable excuses, until we reach bedrock.

This is one of the foundations of thought, maturity, evolution, human communication. What is true? First, look at the beliefs you hold that simply aren't accurate, and ask yourself why your perceptions are flawed, why we live in illusion, why our emotions subvert our intellect. This is serious business, people. Your ability to reach your goals depends on having an accurate map, as well as an accurate compass.

Use body, relationship, and finances to calibrate, and you can find your way out of the woods.


Anonymous said...

I consider Cuba's Pariah status in US foreign policy a relic of the Cold War. During that conflict, successive American administrations attempted to economically starve the Castro regime, hoping to trigger mass disaffection and, ultimately insurrection. Note this tactic's similarity to the debilitating sanction applied to Saddam prior to Gulf War II. As with Iraq, economic strangulation failed to topple the regime. Yes, a steady stream of malcontents nailed plywood together and set sail fro Florida. But the embargo solidified the mass of the Cuban People behind Castro. Their country is under siege from the US, and they're fighting back as Americans themselves would if attacked.

Domestically, the draconian embargo is maintained primarily through a combination of momentum, and the anti-Castro Cuban emigre lobby. With the latter, I have little sympathy. The Cuban Revolution was a sordid, muddled mess that worked both noble accomplishments and atrocity. Some of those great achievements include the expulsion of Catholicism, the disenfranchisement of the descendants of the White Planter Class, and greater inclusion and opportunities for Blacks and Mulattoes. The Miami Cubans are largely drawn from the expelled planters, and in reality wish to re-establish themselves as Cuba's masters.

Byron Woodson II said...

Cosmology and Epistemology? Only if you're a new-ager. More specifically it would be metaphysics and epistemology. Many people think that metaphysics has something to do with physics, but it doesn't directly, its above physics (hence the meta). Cosmology is physics, metaphysics is philosophy (and so, for that matter is epistemology).

Cosmology and science for the literalists

Metaphysics and epistemology for the thinkers

Plus, Relations with Cuba is a drop in the bucket when compared to whether GM's bondholers, the union and stock-owners will come out of bankruptcy wit their underwear.

Anonymous said...

Steve it's simple. We're still embarassed by the Bay of Pigs failure. There is a very vocal population in Southern Florida that pressures politician's to continue our policies. Most importantly, we're still bruised from the potentially apocalyptic consequences of the Cuban missile crisis. It's not the communism anymore (look at our dealings with China), and its not the harsh dictatorship (we're still polishing Saudi ass even though they're one of the most reprehensible dictatorships on the planet).

Marty S said...

Steve: We have less control over our lives than we like to think. Today we found out that our 6 year grandson has a potentially devastating leg disorder. He may have to be hospitalized and put into traction. The disease could leave him wheelchair bound by age forty. No amount of knowing yourself or balance can prepare you for dealing with something like this.

Steve Perry said...

"No amount of knowing yourself or balance can prepare you for dealing with something like this."

I am sorry to hear this, Marty. I have a couple of grandsons who have disabilities, and I understand how this can cause major disruption.

But I beg to differ on the the notion that balance can't at least help prepare one to deal with such things. The Buddhists have been doing it for a couple thousand years (as have, if you are a believer, most of the world's major religions.)

Cultivation of a mind/spirit/body to help deal with life's adversities is a big part of all kinds of philosophy, and has been for as long as people have been around.

Nobody is bulletproof, but there are ways to deal with hardship, and practices designed to help one survive them.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

In re Cuba: The sanctions are an atrocity-- impoverishing people limits their lives a lot and sometimes kills them.

Also, it's an embarrassment if the sanctions are presented as a way of serving freedom. The sanctions are people who were expropriated exacting a group punishment that doesn't work.


In re weight: Here's a little something about the actual quality of life effects of pushing the calorie count too low.

A lot of people's bodies resist digging into fat stores-- they'll starve the brain first. Or go after heart muscle-- that killed some fat people who were put on long fasts in the sixties.

I don't know the physics, but a lot of women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PKOS) report having a very hard time losing weight until their hormones are straightened out. It's not a rare syndrome, and it's frequently hard to get an accurate diagnosis because a lot of doctors believe that those women should lose weight before they try anything else.

Losing weight isn't the same thing as taking care of your body. And the results of most diets are so dismal that I consider any diet that hasn't been researched for at least five years, and where the effects on people who aren't willing to stay on it aren't recorded, to be highly experimental.

On the romantic side, I've seen enough accounts from women who found that their love lives got a lot better when they stopped pre-rejecting themselves, that I consider that to be an excellent first strategy to try rather than losing weight.

Steve, you seem to be assuming that all healthy women default to hourglass shaped. This isn't true. Bone proportions and fat distribution vary a lot. Some women have small breasts. Personally, I just don't have much of anything on my hips, even though I'm moderately fat-- I don't think hourglass is likely for me at any weight.

Anonymous said...

An Australian study just released lends some credibility to Steve's theories. 2/3 of women were more likely to have an orgasm during sex if their male partner were rich. I don't think I need to delve into how psychologically driven enjoyment of sex can be. Steve, you've earned some extra credibility sir.

Marty S said...

Nancy: My wife has the same so called square build you do. Before she had children she weighed in the low 120's after she went up to the low 130's. It mostly went to her tummy and some to her bust, but she never puts on hips.

Steven Barnes said...

"Steve, you seem to be assuming that all healthy women default to hourglass shaped."
No, not at all. I'm assuming that in most cultures (especially western), the hourglass pushes the hindbrain button in men. And it is ABSOLUTELY true that health concerns can make it almost impossible to lose weight, and that dropping your caloric intake too low will trigger the body into starvation mode. Those things are all true. None of them are what I'm talking about: the fact that people will say that they can drop their input below output and still gain weight. THAT is self-deception. If they had said "it seems that..." or "it feels that" I could sympathize. But it scares me to hear intelligent people saying things that, on some level, they must know to be absurd. Women and men definitely are more attractive when they love and accept themselves, regardless of "fitness." And there are plenty of guys who like a rounded lady. And plenty of rounded ladies I found blisteringly sexy.

Steven Barnes said...

Byron: Metaphysics is "above" physics in the sense that the philosophy section was prior to the physics section in Aristotelian manuscripts. In this context, it doesn't really mean "more important than."
Nancy--the "hourglass" thing is a default that gets a lot of attention. I'd say that if your body doesn't go in that direction, then what you want is to fill your life, and any room you walk into, with energy. A person in love with life, with themselves, with animal energy to spare is just sexy as hell, regardless of "shape." I actually think that "controlled energy" is the real thing that attracts us to each other--but that there are simple symbols of its presence. A person who is actually maxing out whatever their particular genetics happen to be is just astoundingly attractive. The trick to is to be the best YOU can be--not to try to be someone else.

Mike Ralls said...

I'm probably the only one here who has actually been to Cuba. I studied at Havana University for a bit (me and Castro are both alums of the same school, although we went at slightly different times ;) and it was quite an interesting experience. I can't say that the people I talked to (the children of Cuba's elites) had much love for their regime, but they seemed resigned to it and weren't burning with passion to overthrow it. Probably because those who were were taken care of, one way or another. The ones I talked to thought there basic system would carry on indefinitely. They said, "After Castro, Castro" which is exactly what happened.

Regarding the embargo, the original thought was that it would hurt the regime, but the Soviets just shoveled in goods to compensate. It was then kept in place as a Cold War measure, where it at least had the benefit of making the Soviets spend more money propping up their ally than they might have otherwise had to do. A beneficial move in the zero-sum Cold War game.

After the Soviets fell, the hope was that without Soviet subsidies the embargo would finally start to have teeth, and it did. The Cuban standard of living plummeted with the end of the Soviet subside. A weak regime would have fallen, but Castro had built up enough of a power base that he could just weather the storm. It's been a while since I last checked, but I don't think Cuba's standard of living has yet to return to its 1980's level.

Today, yep, it doesn't really accomplish anything and is just kept in place by inertia. Dumping it would cost votes in Florida without gaining votes anywhere else. Opening up China, by contrast, did gain votes as well as lots of business opportunities.