August 30, 2008


A time lapse study of inky cap mushrooms by Kent Loeffler, via the Cornell Mushroom Blog, which contains a much larger [and better] video of the same and an explanation of the autodigestion process at play. The former leads to the Cornell Plant Pathology Lab, which presents yet another career path I never had the chance to consider.

There are so many ways of being alive, as the inky caps and plant pathologists make clear. Yesterday was the last day - 8:30am to 9pm - of my summer schedule, and I'm now on full release, only teaching for two or three classes in the evenings from now on, doing proofreading when I want, and generally in a position to master my own time and system. The elation has yet to kick in, but I expect the number of posts here to finally pick up after the three month lull, and that will make me happy.

August 23, 2008

Busted rhythms of limited interest

"Wealth is passed down from generation to generation, you can't get rid of wealth. Rich is some shit you can lose with a crazy summer and a drug habit."
Chris Rock
I wrote a post entitled Manumission a few months ago, before this summer of lost IQ, declining health and massive opportunity costs really kicked in, and now only five days to go until everything becomes more human, In the middle of the summer I finally got my permanent residency, so I can do anything to make money that's legal, which opens up a whole arena of things that I don't want to do, but also the possibility of functioning independent of a boss, which is key. Although my class hours will fall way down, as desired, but I'm lucky the remaining ones are all in the evening. It greatly reduces the opportunities for mischief inherent in being able to start drinking at noon. I spent my 20s and early 30s coloring outside the lines, and am happy to set myself up within strict limits.

Still, no idea how people cope with a long career of 9 - 5 with a commute at each end and continual debt. It's been interesting to watch myself deteriorate, but not a lot of fun, and I never want to work like this again, 50 - 60 hrs a week on projects not of my choosing. Still, I've got $$$ in the bank for the rest of the year, and that's always good. F*** you $ beats possessions every time.

The main thing is to get my health back into condition, so more cooking rather eating out, more exercise beyond bike riding. Basically back to the paleoconservative plan of veg / fruit/ meat - low / no carbs - and short bouts of hard exercise interspersed with frequent, low level activity. Living like a caveman again, letting the system right itself.

With regard to exercise, I got bored with my regular free weights routine. Too many programmed actions that isolate muscle groups rather than giving a workout that mimics real actions. To keep things fresh, the next phase of hefting metal disks on steel poles with be based around these sledgehammer routines. I haven't bought a sledgehammer but just took the weights off one end of a regular EZ curl barbell, and I don't use anything to pad the heavy end. Certain elements of the routine will change after I've had my first accident, but the sense that a false swing might cause intense pain / lasting damage is a good way to keep attention on form.

Decline is inevitable, so you have to keep moving just to stay the same, but add a little more effort, a little more smartly, and gains can actually be made, at least terms of learning, strength, performance and finances, if not my face, which has already moved well from the boyish to the characterful phase of its existence, aka the Dirty Old Man.

August 15, 2008

On walking away from bad food

There used to be a good Sichuan restaurant near here, with the owner from Chengdu. Most of the food was inedibly hot, but - and I've been to Sichuan - it was the real thing. I went there a month ago and the food had gone downhill a lot, perhaps a combination of static prices / inflation / catering to local tastes. I gave it another go tonight and was left filling up on beer and sunflower seeds. The food was no good, so I didn't eat it. At one time I'd have thought that was wasteful, but now I understand that as long as something rots it's being eaten.

I often feel bad for not posting more often, but a truly erratic man is

Unhealthy food, should be thrown away as soon as you realize that it is negative to eat it. "Do not waste it" is irrational and unethical. The Talmud recognized it two millenia ago, when saying that the prohibition of wasting stuff, is irrelevant when the body is the counter party." The waste of the body is more important".

There has been times when it was crucial to keep food. Nowadays our trouble is the opposite and attitudes should be adjusted accordingly.
His previous post:
cool + true observations...
- how much do you do for your body (instead of wasting time on ... whatever)?
- and why the body as a measure, why not the soul, the spirit, the other ... or what?
English is not his first language. His blog is here.

Are you real?

Bragg: "I believe you play roulette, don't you? Why is that?"

Bacon: "Well, they say it's the silliest game you can play."
Reasonably long article on people's memories of Francis Bacon 16 yrs after his death in the Observer. A mention of a South Bank Show interview / profile, part one of six below, with parts occasionally being removed and then replaced, but worth the time if you have an interest. A vivid defense of figurative art with the work to back it up. The interviewer, Melvyn Bragg, tries to pull him into depths, but Bacon kicks ass and holds onto nothing but the moment, while getting drunk and saying it all. Really straight, no pretense, no complications. Amusing moment when Bragg expresses surprise shock that Bacon feels that humans are - shock - animals. Lately I've begun to think this is the only thing worth learning, so simple and yet it overturns everything we're supposed to accept about our special place in things. What a joke.

At one point he asks Bragg, "Are you real?"

But it must be said that I hate drunks, and nearly all that drink has made me do. But I keep drinking because I like to be in some control of my chemistry, and it cuts the caffeine and adrenalin at the end of the day.

August 14, 2008

Instruments of our passions

Thelonius Monk / me typing, from Pinamar
Botany is a study for an idle and solitary person: a point and a magnifying glass are all the apparatus he needs to observe plants. He walks about, wanders freely from one object to another, examines each flower with interest and curiosity, and as soon as he begins to grasp the laws of their structure, he enjoys, in observing them, a painless pleasure as intense as if it had cost him much pain. In this idle occupation there is a charm we feel only in the complete calm of passions, but which then alone suffices to make life happy and sweet. But as soon as we mingle a motive of interest or vanity with it, either in order to obtain distinction or to write books, as soon as we learn only in order to instruct, as soon as we look for flowers only in order to become an author or professor, all this sweet charm vanishes. We no longer see in plants anything but the instruments of our passions. We no longer find any pleasure in their study. We no longer want to know, but to show that we know. And in the woods, we are only on the world's stage, preoccupied with making ourselves admired. Or else, restricting ourselves to armchair and garden botany at the most, instead of observing vegetation in nature, we concern ourselves only with systems and methods - an eternal matter of dispute...
From the Seventh Walk in Rousseau's The Reveries of a Solitary Walker, p 98
Other posts in this series:

August 09, 2008

Human Evolution and the Environment

An interesting talk by Paul Ehrlich at the Long Now Foundation called The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment.

The first four steps on our path to dominance:
1) Living up in the trees [binocular vision, judging distance, grasping hands]
2) Down from the trees
3) Up on two legs
4) Language with syntax

A considerable gap, then the next four, which are rather obvious, but added for completeness:
5) Agriculture
6) Writing
7) Printing
8) The Industrial Revolution

Related. An overview of Merlin W. Donald's theory of How our mind, brain and culture evolved. Many of the actual papers, which I've yet to dig through, in pdf form here.

"The story you tell yourself is largely the story you're living"
Terence Mckenna in his farewell speech to the community, Posthumous Glory, via Lorenzo

I resigned the post I then held

From the time of my youth, I had set the age of forty as the terminal point for my efforts to succeed and as the one for all my vain ambitions. I was fully resolved once this age was reached that whatever situation I might be in, I would struggle no longer to get out of it and would spend the remainder of my days living from day to day without ever again concerning myself about the future. The moment having come, I executed this plan without difficulty; and even though my fortune then seemed to want to take a turn for the better, I renounced it not only without regret but with actual pleasure. In releasing myself from all those lures and vain hopes, I fully gave myself up to carelessness and to the peace of mind which always constituted my most dominant pleasure and most lasting propensity. I forsook the world and its pomp; I renounced all finery: no more sword, no more watch, no more white stockings, gilding, or headdress; a very simple wig, a good coarse cloth garment; and, better than all that, I eradicated from my heart the cupidity and covetousness which give [sic] value to everything I was forsaking. I resigned the post I then held, for which I was in no way suited, and began to copy music at so much a page, an occupation which had always greatly appealed to me.
From the Third Walk in Rousseau's The Reveries of a Solitary Walker, p 30
The text goes on in a way that'll appeal a lot if you like the above, and I find it hard to believe that it's unavailable for free online.

My summer of far too much work is now over, and today's the first day in eight weeks I haven't had a backlog of proofreading / class prep breathing down my neck in every stolen moment to myself. So, a day to do nothing, to let being busyness wash off me with frequent showers and a shaved head and no aims beyond watching There Will Be Blood, drinking tequila, riding my bicycle, and gardening.

Related post: Reveries of a solitary wa*ker

I always elected to ship out

In a sense, the better you adapt to school the less your chances are of later adapting to the actual world. So I figure, the worse you adapt to school, the better you will be able to handle reality when you finally manage to get loose at last from school, if that ever happens. But I guess I have what in the military they call a 'poor attitude,' which means 'shape up or ship out.' I always elected to ship out.
It reads good until you find out the author was Philip K. Dick in a letter to his daughter, Laura, in 1974. It'd be hard to find someone who achieved so much and failed to adapt both to school and then to 'reality' after it in such a spectacular fashion. With 'reality' in quotes, of course, since this is PKD.

Amazon just delivered the second volume of the Library of America's PKD set, and the quote is from an appendix. They're handsome volumes, the highest quality books - in terms of paper, binding and so on - in this house. Volume two is 1,100 pages in slightly over an inch, with all the amphetamine logic you'll ever need.

A good site, regularly updated, for all that's old and new in the worlds of PKD:

August 07, 2008

Insincere faith

A brief profile of Nassim Taleb in Bloomberg magazine, photographed with part of his collection of Christian icons. Taleb often expresses disdain for atheists, and at least an aesthetic interest in religions.

I can't get with the faith, for so many reasons, but let's pull out one for today. Why do Christians get sad when a loved one dies? It makes no sense. The loved one is now with God, in paradise, forever. The sweetest deal that ever could be. Sure, it sucks that they're gone and you'll miss them, but a) they're in a good place, and b) you'll get to spend eternity with them in the relative blink of an eye. It's like me getting pissed off because my wife gets to go on vacation a week before I do.

I'm sure there's a neat argument around the above, but I'm not smart enough to see it for myself.

Still, I have my collection of psychedelic literature that's no less - but certainly no more - absurd in places than the Christian faith is throughout, although I just to go it for ideas to play with, not for rules to live by. Consequently I can be legitimately sad when someone dies, although to date I never have been and can't imagine that I will be. Death's the main thing to prepare for, the only thing that definitely happens.

August 03, 2008

08-09 UK tour dates

Only one more week of this ridiculous, self-inflicted schedule. Essentially 60 hours a week, hence the reduced posts. But things will ease up somewhat after August 8th, and much more so at the end of the month, when I'll only be teaching in the evenings.

The exhilaration that comes with working hard and like a good machine wears off pretty fast, although at least the job isn't monotonous in the details - I can do what I want in class, and this summer has seen a lot of good students who repay all my efforts with their own. And there's $$$ in it.

The next big thing is my trip back to the UK, the first in several years. No tickets have been bought yet, but the provisional dates are December 20th until January 10th, with the bulk of the time being spent with my folks in Devon, and a few days in London at the end. For the few who might be interested in hooking up for food / drink, email me nearer the time.