September 29, 2008

The Book of Disquiet, text 152

Picasso's last drawing, a self portrait the day before he died at 91, which looks a lot like me at 38
In order to understand, I destroyed myself.
More from Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet.

Cool adolescent quote, but to what end? Disquiet is full of great things, and passages that don't work today will another time, but I'm curious how much Pessoa had a good life, on his own terms, and if not, why not. I know almost nothing about him. Still, it's the book of disquiet, so naturally it's full of disquieting passages, with other feelings written down or not and kept elsewhere or forgotten. But he is often moping, when Lisbon is a very fun city, with possibilities for any kind of diversion.

There is a short Chinese work that acts as a counterpoint to all this, Ah, is this not happiness?, that I can't seem to find complete online. I could add it here, although I don't remember it as being all that great. Disquiet is so much easier to write about than happiness.

September 28, 2008

The Book of Disquiet, text 150

No problem is soluble. None of us unties the Gordian knot; we either give up or cut it. We brusquely resolve with our feelings problems of the intellect and do so because we are tired of thinking, because we are too timid to draw conclusions, because of an absurd need for support, or because of our gregarious impulse to rejoin others and rejoin life. Since we can never know all the factors involved in an issue, we can never resolve it. To reach the truth we lack both the necessary facts and the intellectual processes that could exhaust all possible interpretations of those facts.
More from Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet.
I'm sure the passage above is about personal problems, but I came to it thinking about chaos in general, and the importance of long practice and then a lack of awareness when engaged in the task at hand. Being prepared and then letting things happen
...the only system that can replicate the behavior of the Universe in every detail is - the Universe itself. Even if...the Universe is entirely deterministic and the whole future is contained within its present state, there is no way at all to predict or know the future, except by watching the universe evolve. Whether or not we have free will, the Universe behaves as if we have free will, which is really all that matters. The Universe is ignorant it's own future, and is its own fastest simulator.
John Gribbin, Deep Simplicity, p69

A commitment to diversity

Researchers report genetic evidence bolstering the socially contentious idea that polygyny—the mating practice where some males dominate reproduction by fathering children with several women—was the norm for sexual behavior throughout human history and prehistory. Because polygyny means other men father few or no children, the study, published today in PLoS Genetics, also shows that, on average, women bequeath more genes to their offspring than men do.
Scientific American, [but more at the PLoS link]

All posts labeled sex

September 27, 2008

The Book of Disquiet, text 139

Inside the chicken coup, from whence he will go to be killed, the cock sings hymns to freedom because they gave him two perches all to himself.
More from Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet.

A turkey is fed for a 1,000 days—every day confirms to its statistical department that the human race cares about its welfare "with increased statistical significance". On the 1001st day, the turkey has a surprise.

Related posts: Wilhem Reich's Listen, Little Man

September 26, 2008

A fair exchange

Suckling pig from Mid-Autumn Festival barbecue

I finish work at 9pm on Friday night on the other side of town, although that's only a 15 minute scooter ride from home. The joys of high density living. It means I get out of the east district and finish the week in the bright night lights of an area filled with bars, restaurants, pachinko halls and sex work places.

Today I left work feeling good and with enough $ in my wallet to own the night. I went to a barbecue restaurant and sat inside at a corner table and ordered draft beer in frozen mugs and ate only meat. I didn't want to see anyone. I'd found Pessoa again, lost in the shuffle of the books being read / to read heap on a low shelf behind this desk.

Reading in such places is great, I feel like a king. All the distractions are good ones - just the girls in skimpy clothes promoting beer, office ladies after work, and people who bring me food and drink if I ask them. Bending their will, and for what? For the paper I have in my pocket. It's a fair exchange if they're happy to make it.

September 24, 2008

To make my children more well-behaved

For animated Turing patterns click here

I'm an English teacher / proofreader living in Tainan, Taiwan. I read a lot of student papers.
One of my parents' punishments was to threaten me that I will be kidnapped if I am a bad boy. I was very scared of that and could not go to toilet alone for a long time. I think it was a funny experience, and probably I will use the same method to make my children more well-behaved.
Unidentified male student, mid-20s
Related posts:
Pattern recognition

Things that happen all the time

Two cool videos of Rayleigh-BĂ©nard convection.

September 23, 2008

Achieve success, kill yourself

Camus said there's only one serious question, and that's whether or not to kill yourself. Even after I grew up that quote stayed cool for a while, but mostly struck me as dumb. Life is not an either / or decision, there are many ways to live or slowly die.

The aim of this blog is to keep a record of various things and see what emerges many years later. The patterns aren't supposed to be too apparent at first. So, time for the first of a series of posts noting when people who have achieved professional success and the respect of their peers choose to kill themselves. Since all information will be gathered online, it's likely to be restricted to famous people. In addition, the basic rules are that the person should still be at or near the height of their powers and with no impending health crises, no obvious external reasons to kill themselves. The model for this is Yukio Mishima.

First up, as you can probably guess, is David Foster Wallace,
(February 21, 1962 – September 12, 2008) was an American novelist, essayist, and short story writer as well as a professor at Pomona College in Claremont, California. Wallace was best known for his 1996 novel Infinite Jest which Time included in its All-Time 100 Greatest Novels (1923-2006).
Who'll be next?

Posts tagged Mishima.

September 22, 2008

Consumption / production

An interesting talk by Richard Lewontin entitled The Coevolution of Animals And Their Environment, which is about the micro-environments that each organism, at both the individual and species levels, creates around itself.

In the talk he uses a quote, which I think may come from Marx, but my search only came up with the following reference: every act of consumption there is production, as in every act of production there is consumption.
Consuming People: From Political Economy to Theaters of Consumption
By A. Fuat Firat, Nikhilesh Dholakia p77
Which made me think of all the microbes feasting on discarded food and just getting on with things, thriving in whatever we do.

Related posts:
Human Evolution and the Environment
The planet will save itself
Misdirected anger

September 21, 2008

Who writes these things about you?

A very relaxed Lou Reed in Australia, 1974, answering journalists' questions.

September 19, 2008

Simple rules, randomness, feedback

Lorenz attractor: unpredictable mood swings
...healthy systems are ‘chaotic’, while disease is characterized by a more regular rhythmic behavior...
From Dynamical Behavior of Estrous Cycle in Mice, an unpublished paper I'm proofreading
Toying with the idea of trying to map out the simple rules that would produce a somewhat realistic version of myself in a computer simulation, inspired by hours of GTA IV play, the thought of what makes me tick, and the idea of not having to be here, but something else taking up the slack. Also, Marvin Minsky's Society of the Mind has been facing me on the bookshelf behind this desk for a long time, waiting to be opened, although I think most of the key ideas have filtered through from elsewhere, and I'm always open to having the idea of a centralized, conscious, controlling self cut down to size / blown apart.

A few simple rules, plus randomness - outside events - and feedback. Like a I wrote a few posts back: ...when I feel fat / ugly / poor / stupid I work harder, leading eventually to a period of contentment / over-confidence. Bouncing between moods in a deterministic fashion, albeit one that's too complex to ever get ahead of, essentially unpredictable. Far better just to let go and not worry so much about what happens next inside my head.

I used to have mood swings, elation / despair, but not so much now, rarely ever. In part I ascribe this to being genuinely more content in all aspects of my life, and also to diet / exercise - the chemical basis of things that lay within my control, and finally to a certain cultivated disassociation from my feelings, a lack of identification with whatever just happened, because something else is always happening now, and then that's gone and there's something else.

Alternating periods of gaining energy, information and experience with blank spaces of becoming less complex, less contrived, less reflective, less assured and less self-aware. Being prepared and then being relatively passive.

Of course, you do this and then wake up and the better part of half the time has gone and you've done nothing by anyone's account, and possibly not even your own. The school report will be a bad one: must try harder, could do better. Alternatively, you work terrifically hard on some misguided project - truly misguided, as it doesn't come from some internal drive, and wake up much the same, far progressed along a road you had no intention of setting foot on long ago.

The idea for the rest of the year is to seem to do nothing, while still making $ and expanding in all areas of interest.

September 14, 2008

Blue Recursive

A lazy weekend of work and rest. The above is Blue Recursive by Don Relyea, made with software and based the Hilbert space filling curve. The link takes you to many other beautiful images.

September 12, 2008

Do you feel lucky?

I want to avoid politics, because I think the best way to such express such things is how we spend our time day to day. The personal is political, and all that. Still, the idea of McCain / Palin gathering momentum is like watching someone gleefully about to do something stupid, and you feel a responsibility to step in, but then the joy of the moment, and the fact that karma is almost certain to be enacted there and then, is somewhat infectious. I have a tendency to look at jackasses and think just do it, so long as I don't have to pick up the pieces.

American exceptionalism as a faith, the idea that no matter what happens something [i.e. God] will protect it, is one that an English person, especially, can't quite get a handle on. Things fall apart, nations lose their mojo.
That was the fatal flaw in Tim Leary's trip. He crashed around America selling "consciousness expansion" without ever giving a thought to the grim meat-hook realities that were lying in wait for all the people who took him seriously... All those pathetically eager acid freaks who thought they could buy Peace and Understanding for three bucks a hit. But their loss and failure is ours too. What Leary took down with him was the central illusion of a whole life-style that he helped create... a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the essential old-mystic fallacy of the Acid Culture: the desperate assumption that somebody... or at least some force - is tending the light at the end of the tunnel.
Hunter S. Thompson
When you've had a run of luck it's hard not to believe in something, and when you couple that with obvious ability I guess the combination is heady indeed. But pushed far enough these things almost always end badly, which is why they end. The random nature of certain things vs. the apparent reversion to the mean.

Even without ability and little native good sense my luck has held for a long time. I once made a list of genuinely terrible, life-ending / ruining events that I narrowly avoided due to situations beyond my control. It was a long list and a fun thing to do, but a literary exercise, not a practical one. I can see how things could have gone a lot worse for me without some luck, but it's hard to see how things could have gone better without stepping off into fantasy.

There's a Chinese folk story that starts with bad luck, that turns to good luck, that becomes bad, and then good, and then so one, as long as the teller can spin it. ( Mao being asked about the consequences of the French Revolution: "It's too early to tell").

A fun time had listing my narrow escapes, but no fun if I consider some reversion to the mean, which is to some extent why I remain so fearful of cars, suspecting that I'll be on my bicycle ogling some woman when the last line is written.
"What's wrong with a miniskirt? You can cause an accident because some of our people are weak mentally,"
Nsaba Buturo, Uganda's Minister for Ethics and Integrity, here.

September 10, 2008

Style over speed

Click on the picture for something like a mission statement from Copenhagen Cycle Chic

I'm big on riding my bicycle. Tainan is not a big city, and it's easy to get around pedaling so long as you don't need to be somewhere far, soon and not sweating. If you can move at a leisurely pace then every thing is good on a bike, and I'm all about leisurely paces.

Bicycle sales have increased a lot in Taiwan this year, and this is clear in the number of people riding them in the evening and at weekends. A new breed has emerged, generally moving in packs. Riding high-end, Giant cycles and clad in lycra, with face masks and helmets. They can't step off and do anything without attracting attention. This doesn't seem very easy or practical.

My unease about this was just a vague distaste at cycling being set up a hobby or sport rather than a means of transport, and one that demanded a lot of expensive equipment to become part of the club and one of the kool kids. So it was nice to come across Copenhagen Cycle Chic, which takes as it's tag line normal people in normal clothes on normal bikes. Many good pictures of people riding bicycles downtown, and I hope the practice becomes a lot more popular. Cheap, healthy, quiet and clean.

September 07, 2008

Why I am so chaste

I think if I worked in an office I'd be far more lecherous and alarming than I am, far more prone to obsession and liable to lose my bearings if an attractive young woman struck up a friendly conversation. Yet because my job - teaching adults English - puts me in classes of mostly women from 16 to 40 there is a high level of ambivalence that goes with any attraction or appreciation, because someone else with something else will always be along a moment later. This summer especially had all these cute young things who were smart and enthusiastic and appeared to get my jokes and the overall way that I like to get things done, and it was gratifying that I fell for no-one and not once thought of doing anything rash, at least, no more rash than the general run of ill-considered actions that I consider far too long but rarely carry out.

Like I wrote a few posts back, the main attraction of the young folk, beyond the shallow cuteness, is a) their obvious, relative health, and b) that they haven't yet f***ed-up in many ways beyond repair. My attractions, if I have any, are going to be much more contrived.

All posts labeled sex

September 05, 2008

Doing nothing, getting things done

I would caution that what one wants to think about is not hours of work but rather disutility of work--the extent to which work is not play, but rather something that alienates one from one's essence.
Brad DeLong, here.
Indeed, but this week it seems my work's become play again, a nice mix of conversation and exam prep classes along with some proofreading, but mainly time to cook, exercise, read, rest and play [GTA mayhem amid beauty], and so my essence, for good or ill, is starting to bloom again.

Taken somewhat out of context:
...for when we have abandoned our natural temperament, there are no longer any limits to hold us back.
From the Sixth Walk in Rousseau's The Reveries of a Solitary Walker, p 80

Henry Miller, by Peter Gowland
"To move forward clinging to the past is like dragging a ball and chain. The prisoner is not the one who has committed a crime, but the one who clings to his crime and lives it over and over. We are all guilty of crime, the great crime of not living life to the full. But we are all potentially free. We can stop thinking of what we have failed to do and do whatever lies within our power. What these powers are that are in us may be no one has truly dared to imagine."
Henry Miller, The Rosy Crucifixion, p341

September 04, 2008

Scattered points along the path of life

Burning ghost money
In the vicissitudes of a long life, I have noticed that the periods of sweetest enjoyment and most intense pleasures are, nevertheless, not those whose recollection most attracts and touches me. Those short moments of delirium and passion, however intense they might be, are, even with their intensity, still only scattered points along the path of life. They are too rare and too rapid to constitute a state of being: and the happiness for which my heart longs is in no way made up of fleeting instants, but rather a simple and permanent state which has nothing intense in itself but whose duration increases its charm to the point that I finally find supreme felicity in it.
From the Fifth Walk in Rousseau's The Reveries of a Solitary Walker, p 68
Dull to add at this point, but near the end of my first week on the new routine and the charm of it's only starting to sink in, albeit unaccompanied by any kind of horror at how long I did things that I didn't really want to. Not just the three hellish months of 08:30 - 21:30 this summer, but the years of having to do what my visa-holding bosses wanted me to. So, a week or two of self-indulgence before I want to kick off more seriously with a return to studying Chinese via podcasts, a friend's excellent book, and, y'know, just living in Taiwan and spending less time in classes where I'm supposed to teach / speak English.

I'd like to be able to talk more clearly with my wife about things, and although ideally that'd be in Japanese or English, it seems Chinese is the most practical option for now. My Chinese is relatively good, but there are large gaps in my advanced vocabulary and overall it's an insanely slapdash affair, with islands of extreme competence in an ocean of ignorance.

September 03, 2008

A rod for my own back

The kindness of folk in Taiwan, which could be a running series, either that or the devil sent a man who had a spare Xbox 360 [hardcore gamer, bought one early and then an updated model] and a copy of GTA IV that they lacked the English to play, so the console is staying with me. I'm pretty hopeless, mashing buttons when I fight and knocking down way too many lamp posts / pedestrians, but some late night urban mayhem is exactly what I need at the end of the summer.

And I have my new routine, classes only in the evening, proofreading from 7:30am until 11am, the afternoons all free, my training wheels for a greater freedom, until good habits are more deeply ingrained.

Meanwhile, bouncing between over- and under-confidence, which seems to be a natural state that I need to accept. The idea being that when I feel fat / ugly / poor / stupid I work harder, leading eventually to a period of contentment / over-confidence. I see this at work with the smart and beautiful students I know - they tend to be very insecure, hence the exercise, make-up and study. Harnessing low self-esteem for self-improvement. I guess the key is to narrow the gap between the extremes, to get the good habits in deep enough that they're automatic, require no prompting from a sense of weakness, and all the time to be on guard against arrogance, et cetera. Ha.... At the moment I'm on a clean food / exercise kick on the old paleo model, which, coupled with my new found mastery of time and the concomitant ability to eat when I'm hungry, sleep when I'm tired, is leaving me feeling very good.

September 01, 2008

Tainted, in on the joke

Francis Bacon: Self portrait 1973

Being 38 a lot of people who were young when I was a kid have now become old, with the implication clearly being that for the kids I see today I'll be old before too long, when they're finally getting the hang of things. Always a lot of high school / university students in the summer classes, and the idea that I'll be almost 60 when they hit my age freaks me out a little, although I intend to make it in good physical shape. And when I meet them on the street 20 or so years later they'll also be tainted, in on the joke.

I started losing my hair when I was 18, so I've done the mid-life crisis thing enough times to have burned through it, and I shave my head with relief twice a week. I have a good skull, a stroke of luck.

I like living in an aging society, it means that I won't look out of place, but I also like folk young. It's such a seemingly arbitrary property, but no more so than being attracted to something because it's on sale, the same as before but just cheaper. When something is a bargain you can afford to take a risk, as the chances of regret are greatly diminished, and at a certain cost/wealth things become disposable. Much the same is true of youth, plus it's usually an attractive package. So little permanent physcial damage has been done to anyone under 21, little that a good rest and a month or two of diet and exercise couldn't put right.

The other reason why I like some young people is that they haven't f***ed things up yet, but then others are wasting away. I have nothing against people being young and confused - I spent years wandering around - but it frustrates me to see people tearing themselves apart within such narrow boundaries, "should I do A or B?", with neither appeals to them, without testing either to see if it really works, let alone considering C or extending their options even further. If you're going to f*** up at least do it in a spectacular fashion that leaves you twisted and broken from pursuing something you actually wanted.