I Find Karma (adam@cs.caltech.edu)
Tue, 7 Jul 1998 02:18:40 -0700

Hello Losan,

You wrote:
> From csopsu@teleport.com Mon Jul 6 22:21:22 1998
> To: <adam@cs.caltech.edu>
> Subject: the Iliad and your pages
> Adam,
> I was looking in altavista for a certain type of web page, a nice
> homey personal web page, with intellectual content, and with an
> interesting essay. I was looking for a web page with a certain
> quality... realness and wit... Your web page has provided me with a
> couple of hours of entertainment and food for thought. I think your
> web page is an achievement of no small proportions.
> I just thought that it was interesting that there were a couple of
> images in your account of your proposal, that reminded me of a couple
> of images in Homer's Iliad which talks about the Trojan War. (I'm an
> English Major, studying the Iliad at the moment. . .) These are just
> minor, but when you talked about how the bird took the beached
> starfish and put him in the water and how you took it as a good sign,
> it reminded me of how in the Iliad bird-signs are really important. A
> bird sign was a message from the gods, Zeus in particular, people took
> bird-signs seriously three thousand years ago... Also, you talk about
> how calming it is to gaze at the sea. In the Iliad whenever a major
> character is undergoing serious stress he walks by the sea-- its a
> type-scene. At one point in the Iliad an eagle carries away a snake
> and drops it among the Trojan fighters --it is dead--a bad bird-sign.
> Hektor, the main Trojan guy, ignores it and charges ahead. In
> the end things don't turn out well for the Trojans. Can I use your
> bird-sign for a paper, if I have the opportunity? I will properly
> credit the source. I am an undergraduate at Portland State
> University here in Oregon.
> One can see the work and care your web page took, and I applaud you.
> I don't expect to get an email from you, but I hope that this gets
> read. Marriage is wonderful, sometimes challenging, but ultimately we
> are alone in the most profound sense, no matter what our marital
> status is. It's good though, because if we don't get our love from a
> higher source than human, we will never find it, and can never truly
> give it. A truly unselfish and unselfed person is an absolute marvel.
> Keep up the good work.
> Mrs. Losan Johnson

First off, I am glad you enjoyed the story of my engagement at


and I want you to know that I would be honored if you used my bird-sign
for a paper. All my life whenever my choices forked in multiple
directions, I have looked "for a sign" in nature whenever I felt lost or
confused. Perhaps this is a silly, superstitious attempt to connote an
underlying order to the universe when there actually is none. Or
perhaps there are no coincidences and everything happens for a reason,
and looking "for a sign" is our best way to receive divine guidance.

I'd like to share with you a little story to this effect. Last Friday,
July 3, I saw a sign, and it opened up my eyes. I was eating a fruit
salad for breakfast when my fork dug into a cantalope. Just then I
heard a stream of noisy squawks outside my window, and I got up from the
breakfast table in an endeavor to discover some signal contained within
that noise.

Outside my window was a tall tree, and I could make out at the base of
the tree a tiny bird who was the source of this ruckus. It was
squirming on the ground, struggling as if being held there by an
invisible juggernaut. All of a sudden, it broke free of whatever was
holding it down and flew away. That bird could fly.

I returned to my fruit salad and saw the fork in the cantalope and
decided we *can* elope, and I gathered Expedia tickets to Las Vegas
later that day. I flew down from Seatac, met Michelle in LAX, and
together we flew to Las Vegas, where among other things we got to pay
$90 apiece to see German eugenicists-but-nonetheless-lovers Siegfried
and Roy (mein fuhrer!) brag about their racially questionable habit of
saving (and breeding in their laboratories) all of the white endangered
species on the planet (white lions and white tigers and white bears, oh
my -- and maybe a white elephant or two as well). We enjoyed the
fireworks and the room service in our Treasure Island cornershop a whole
lot more... and...

On Saturday, July 4, we were wed. 222 years to the day a bunch of old
white slaveholding men signed a document declaring "all men are created
equal" as if this "motherhood and apple pie sentiment" somehow justified
the fact that they no longer felt they should have to pay taxes.

And now it's July 7 and we are newlyweds, living 1200 miles apart for
the time being.

Although I agree that marriage is wonderful, I do not believe that we
are ever "alone in the most profound sense," as you indicated in your
letter. I believe that all the love you've ever given in your life is
replicated back to you, and accompanies you wherever you go, like a
"positive energy aura" that holds fast and never abandons you. And,
the more unselfish you are, the more of this love you have.

My friend Rohit would call this the "Altruist's Paradox": that altruism
as defined as doing good for good's own sake is inherently flawed as a
concept, because whenever a do-gooder does good, he or she feels a whole
lot better and hence he or she did good for a selfish reason (to feel
better) and is no better than anyone else. Hence altruists are
unselfish for very selfish reasons!

I don't agree with Rohit, because I don't think selflessness is a
zero-sum game. Both the generators and the recipients of selfless
events benefit as a result, triggering a net positive gain for all
involved. And the positive network effects of such feedback cycles (as
interconnected worldwide) have tangible "butterfly wings" benefits that
ripple throughout the globe.

I love my wife. It is a cushy, fluffy, gossamer love that envelopes me
with the feeling of being a part of something cosmically kismet and
chaotically kudzu and comically karmic. This love I feel is the kind of
love that I hope everyone one day will discover, too.

That is my everlasting wish for this world.


Hey, I don't have all the answers. In business as in life, I've failed
as much as I've succeeded. But I love my wife, I love my life, and I
wish you that type of success.
-- Dicky Fox, "Jerry Maguire"