December 29, 2008


While Mr. Parsons, whose incarceration is not related to his work for WaMu, oversaw a team screening mortgage applications, he was snorting methamphetamine daily, he said.
“In our world, it was tolerated,” said Sherri Zaback, who worked for Mr. Parsons and recalls seeing drug paraphernalia on his desk. “Everybody said, ‘He gets the job done.’ ”

December 19, 2008

The most hopeful thing

So why hope? Isn't it just a runaway train, out of control? I don't think so. I think the out-of-controlness is the most hopeful thing about it. After all, whose control is it out of? You and I never controlled it in the first place.
Terence Mckenna, in the clip above

chemical brothers + bernard sumner: out of control

Despite everything, something

Houellebecq, thinking about something
...this film strove to be a vigorous plea against friendship, and more generally against all non-sexual relationships. What in fact could two men talk about, beyond a certain age? What reason could two men find for being together, except, of course, in the case of a conflict of interests, or of some common project (overthrowing a government, building a motorway, writing a script for a cartoon, exterminating the Jews)? After a certain age (I am talking about men of a certain level of intelligence, not aged brutes) it's quite obvious that everything has been said and done. How could a project as intrinsically empty as two men spending some time together lead to anything other than boredom, annoyance and, at the end of the day, outright hostility. Whilst between a man and a woman there still remained, despite everything, something: a little bit of attraction, a little bit of hope, a little bit of a dream. [....]

Launching an attack on not only friendship, but all social relations as soon as they are unaccompanied by any physical contact, this film thus constituted - only the magazine Slut Zone had the perspicacity to notice this - an indirect eulogy to bisexuality, if not hermaphroditism. All in all, I was harking back to the Ancient Greeks. When you get old, you always hark back to the Ancient Greeks.
Michel Houellebecq, The Possibility of an Island, p60
Colorful profile from 2006 here
Houellebecq's one of the few writers I've read as an adult who makes me feel like when I was a teenager and fell in love with certain books, that things I kept secret from even myself were being clearly expressed and I was not alone in the world. Of course, that doesn't make those things healthy or right, only true to myself, which isn't always grand if the self needs more work.

When I taught English we would have classes on jobs, and the language for describing them was always inadequate - not all engineers are the same, or accountants, or clerks. There are more specific ways of making a living and a life than you could list in a day, the things you actually get paid to do, not the job title. Yesterday I saw man who worked for a coffee store at a busy intersection, and his job was to stand by a sign telling people not to park their cars or scooters out front and make sure that no one did. He had a bright orange jacket and a device like a toy light saber to draw attention to his enforcement role. There are far more jobs I don't want than ones that I'd prefer, which ought to make me lucky.

If I'd lived before the economic and social developments that allow an individual to thrive in a vast array of niches - then I'd been either f***ed or brought into line long ago, probably both simultaneously. I'm not a natural top dog, but I can't stand being in second place. Instead, I opt out of the system as much as possible, although that's a weak escape, as I remain a primate. My affinity for shamanism is half on the visionary / daydream side and half on the idea of being a socially sanctioned outcast who retains some status within the group as a whole, both of it and outside it. Essentially left alone, but able to survive.

Anyway, my classes have almost ended, only a few hours per week at the local university, and these are unlikely to continue next year, as they interfere with other things. So for the first time in a long while I'll have no work based interaction with people, and the thought is a little dizzying. I work at home, and my wife has her atelier elsewhere, out all day. She'll come home and wonder if I've spoken to anyone since the morning. Or I'll tell her that I went to a certain restaurant for lunch, and her usual response will be a (fake?) incredulous alone?

The only people I like to talk to for any length of time if I'm not being compensated are women, and perhaps it's hard to widen your circle of female friends for lunch / dinner dates when you're married, although it's something that I'm going to have to try and do when I come back from my vacation.

My wife encourages me to see other women, but I have no idea how sincere she is.

Related posts:
Man in a monkey suit
Animal nature

December 15, 2008

UK trip

Will be in the UK from December 21 to January 10th, starting in Devon and ending in London. I haven't been there in three or four years, and I think maybe six not at Xmas, so looking forward to it. Will spend my time in the South West with my family and hiding from the cold / wrapped up warm and gawping at all the non-Asian sights, then in London bookstores / restaurants reeling at the prices. If anyone wants to meet up for a drink then they probably have my email and should use it.

December 11, 2008

Experiments in living

Richard Feynman uses chess to explain how the rules of nature are uncovered.

The above is how we must live with our own needs and natures. The workings are hidden, but we can perform experiments in living.

This is coming at the game from one one angle, but approaches radiate from each object. Another attempt is to simplify the problem and take things down iteratively - what sits behind this and what sits behind that.

In some ways, all computer games can be reduced to the classics: Pong, Spaceman, PacMan, Donkey Kong and so on. Hitting, shooting, dodging, jumping. The reason why the truly classic table games [go, chess, cards and so on] have not changed for a long time, is that ever flashier pieces would add little to the experience. In its day, Pong was as fun as GTA IV.

For example, why do we want money? To buy things, to feel secure, happy, powerful and so on. Whatever, keep asking why and work from there, and perhaps you'll get some more direct route to your goal

For example. I used to day dream about being a writer, but as much of the dream was the lifestyle as the act of sitting down and typing for a few hours each day - which anyone can get, any time. Just sit down and type, and you have that part down pat.

I've used the quote below before. It's one of my favorites, as if you switch the boy to girl then it's pretty much exactly how envisioned my future as a teenager:
As a child I wanted to be a writer because writers were rich and famous, they lounged around Singapore and Rangoon smoking opium in a yellow pongee silk suit. They sniffed cocaine in Mayfair and they penetrated forbidden swamps with a faithful native boy and lived in the native quarter of Tangier smoking hashish and languidly caressing a pet gazelle.
William S Burroughs
Was the writing really important? I think so. And the desire for simplicity and to get at root causes works only so far, so often, and it's probably best not to press the case beyond when it feels strained. We eat for nourishment, and in theory taking shots or pills to get the same results would achieve the same ends, but at the expense of everything we enjoy about the process. So the guiding principle isn't only simplicity, but whether it feels right at the time and works over the long term.

Some extreme examples. Drinking heavily and eating to excess feel right at the time but don't work over the long term. Taking pills and shots instead of real food works over the long term but feels wrong. This is not a static process, but one of self-experimentation, observation and change.

Howard Bloom reaching a peak in a classic clip, although if you watch the longer version you'll see he's nearly always like this.

December 10, 2008

This be the day

A more attractive man would have had another life
My life is as simple as I can make it. Work all day, cook, eat, wash up, telephone, hack writing, drink, television in the evenings. I almost never go out. I suppose everyone tries to ignore the passing of time—some people by doing a lot, being in California one year and Japan the next. Or there’s my way—making every day and every year exactly the same. Probably neither works.
Philip Larkin, here
The above is from a good site that pulls quotes on the daily routines of writers and artists.

December 08, 2008

Goodbye to all that

William Steig illustration for Listen, Little Man

My wife says it's good to change your life every five years or so, it keeps the brain fresh. For the last 20 my own has tended to fall apart or fall together on such cycles, with each side not too clear until later, and even then the judgments remain preliminary.

Ten years ago I left London to hide out in China for a year-long vacation to break everything in an old life and take only the minimum for the new. Five years ago I was in a business that fell apart and, to over dramatize, lost everything. But that turned out to be a stroke of luck, as it enabled me to skip out of further commitment to a series of bad choices - professional, romantic, chemical - and to slowly rebuild things in a simpler, better fashion.

I fell into teaching. I graduated in 1992 and my parents were living in Portugal and so I took a short course in Lisbon, but I never followed up. I went to London and did other work. I hated the little teaching I'd done, had no idea what to do, and was terrified of getting up and taking charge.

When I first came out here I still hated teaching, but I liked the lifestyle, the extended student / adolescence of all the fun things in a warm climate and cheap city.

Five or so years in I settled down and began to pay attention to what was happening in class, and I learned how to stand and do the job. It taught me a lot, but now I'm tired of standing up and being 'on'. I'm retreating into freelance proofreading and it's a giddy, good feeling to be stepping out of one job into nothing organized.

I have no idea if the following true. Let's imagine that an animal's been inside a cage for a long time, when someone opens the door, does it run out or does it wait for the shock of the scene to compute. I know our cat will sit in it's little box for a long time after even short trips to the vet, but his intelligence is fairly limited, although brilliant as far as it goes.

You get the point. So then what? Ten years ago I quit one life in London and gave myself a year of not working in China and SE Asia, and as anticipated (and wanted) fell in with my animal spirits. The temptation was always to get fired up and look for low life adventures.

I have a copy of The Pleasures of the Damned on the shelf behind me, a collection of Bukowski poems selected by his editor, John Martin. I got it as a gift, because like nearly every other guy I was a big Chinaski fan in my early to mid-20s. I could be at an awkward age [38], or in a comfortable place, but I don't feel too much sympathy for the old guy now. The outsider thing will never get old, but the alcohol is no longer so romantic.

After 30 everyone knows some alcoholics and the body is less forgiving, hurting it becomes less fun.

I still drink, but I avoid getting drunk and rarely get hangovers, and when I do I feel like shit for more than half the day, guzzling coffee and water, swallowing pills. So I've learned to stop drinking before the hangovers will come, which is just before the urge to put my hand up the shirt of a stranger seems like a really good idea that'll bring fun to everyone.

Digression. If you want to do bad things, don't drink first- it'll only cloud your judgment. When drunk everything seems like a good idea, but the aim now is to embrace the best bad ideas, not the worst. The best transgressions are commited more than half sober, if not fully. It depends on how much initiative you have.

Back to the thread. It's no wonder Bukowski was a grumpy old man. He woke up with hangovers and let himself get trapped in jobs that he hated, and perhaps only with the good luck of finding John Martin - who promised $100 a month for life back when that was a living - was he able to leave the post office and make things better, but even then, always with the hangovers, with the shitty feeling half of the day.

This matters because I can now drink all day if I want to, and generally play the Bukowskian fool. There are many ways to get in trouble, and all of them are open to me.

It's been a full week now, and I'm wildly impressed that so far I've done nothing I regret.

December 04, 2008

The process, not the outcome

Art De Vany [71 and fitter than you] with a nice clip on fractal variation / power laws in work.

Related posts:
Stochastic jerks