Kirk Israel's commonplace and blog. Quotes and links daily since 2001.
I always took umbrage at "both parties are equally opportunistic" in terms of gerrymandering and vote shenanigans. Somehow, when there are statistical anomalies, the weirdness always ends up favoring red.

Or even on the face of it- it's such coincidence that Democrats and Republicans have been leaning into their names so well to the extent that republicans remind us "we live in a republic not a democracy". one party pulls its strength from the majority, the other from protecting more rural areas.

more too in this twitter thread


Note to self: Oliver Selfridge's pandemonium theory seems to be a precursor to Marvin Minsky's "Society of Mind".
This whole self-loathing a lot of software engineers engage in is entirely unproductive and is never going to be resolved. The idea that software development is a young industry and if we just give it another 30 years of ISO compliance or whatever rigor, we're going to arrive at a romanticized notion of engineering they have in aerospace, or elevators, or bridges... no, we're not. This is a fundamentally different domain that requires a fundamentally different approach.

We already have many of the answers. We're simply afraid of embracing them. For example, in traditional engineering estimates are a huge part. Things run on estimates and on critical path diagrams because that's simply the way you build a skyscraper. You don't get to reconfigure how the pylons go after you pour the concrete. Software development is nothing like that. Software in many ways is far closer to the creative process of writing, game making, movies. Experiences where you design the unknown and you don't know whether it's good or not until you see it.

Look at movie making. We've been making movies for a hundred years. Haven't we figured out the creative process yet? No! We haven't. You can take a great director, a great cast, and still make a totally shitty movie. Versus in building, largely speaking, if you take a great architect, a great engineering firm, and a great general contractor, you're gonna arrive at a building that works. You may make minor mistakes but the basic structure is going to be sound, unless someone makes a completely negligent error. In movie making, in music, in software things fail all the time. Even when good people who know the techniques of how to build things get together and work on something, they still end up failing.

Folks from my band BABAM has been participating in a weekly vigil in West Roxbury to support Black Lives Matter. Here's the crew that was there last week along with a bonus glitch-y photo of other participants.













Photos by Stewart Ting Chong
My friend Rayna Jhaveri asks deep questions on Facebook, tying in with her general interest in people as well as her consulting/coaches for the coaches gig. My dialog with her in response to "what were you like as a child" ("insufferable" was my first concise answer) let do this


I did this illustration for this blog entry - - basically, having parents who worked for a church - whose housing was provided by and whose city of residence was select by a church - gave me a pretty direct connection of authority, God > Church > Parents > Me.

I'm not sure who or what exactly informed my childhood views on the difficulty of getting into heaven. My parents were hardly fire and brimstone preachers, and certainly a lot of my peers seemed more relaxed, the "just accept Jesus into your heart and you'll be fine" view.

Hmmm. The Salvation Army, as a church, was designed around the "one time big repentance", you know? A street church, where people who were broken by demon rum or generally consumed by devilish things could have a moment of epiphany and repentance and then build from there. When I was in it, it was a bit more sedate (the "open air" street preaching was a bit pro-forma) but there was still regular altar calls - most meetings ended with an invitation to come to the altar and get right with God. Maybe it was that sense of repetition, and the suspected backsliding it implied, that worried me. It might be more or less ok to get knocked down, righteousness wise, but what if you fail to get back up? Or you die suddenly before the natural rebound occurs. ETERNAL HELL!

My claim that I wasn't interested in the approval of my folks per se, but rather them as manifest spokespeople for God (being both my parents AND my ministers) is a bit challenged by the decade or so after I lost faith (again, triggered by noticing that my faith's truth claimed to be Absolute and Universal, yet many people believed many other things, presumably making the same claim) - I was petrified of talking about it with my Mom, or her finding out. So that MIGHT be a need for parental approval for its own sake, but it could also be that "disappointing your parents is objectively bad"- or even a hubristic fear that my reasoning on faith - that these religions can't ALL be right - would be damaging to her own.
As I get older I'm starting to let go of the guilty urge to build permanent habits. Like, a while ago I decided I would start jumping rope every day. I did it for like three weeks and felt good about it. Then I got bored, because of course I did, because I'm a human person. So now I do a bit of kickboxing because that's what I like now. The other week I cut all sugar from my diet, just for a week, to challenge myself. Now I'm back to eating sweets but I don't crave them as much.

Growth is about stretching, trying new things, and setting small, realistic goals for yourself, not picking a "good habit" you've decided you *will* be doing always and forever from now on. That's not discipline. That's pointless self-torture and unhealthy resistance to change.

What's good for you today will not necessarily be what's good for you tomorrow.
This makes sense but I think I have trouble living it. The difference between trying some improvement and then dropping it because of lack of gumption is too difficult to tell from dropping it because I've grown beyond the need for it...
Definitely been feeling this GIF lately...

Part of is fortifying my equanimity for an election result I may or may not like.

I know I may well be chastised for expressing this kind of burnout, for not acknowledging the dangers and overall shitness that could result if this election goes wrong, if the political party (the one that's so intent on undercutting voter participation at every level, to the point of almost making a catch phrase out of "we're not a democracy" to justify their minority rule) gets its way. And just how much privilege I enjoy in having - I hope - limited personal exposure in my day to day quality of life regardless of outcome.

Voting in general is weird. You gotta do it, but the power of votes is an emergent property; it only shows up in groups. You gotta join the team and pull together! But that us-vs-them mentality - sometimes feeling weirdly akin to team sports, like all that pointless anxiety and hope I felt about various super bowls and world series - is grinding us all so much. The stakes are more than civic pride here, sure, but there's a parallel.

I think of this quote:

Hmm, I don't know. I guess one person *can* make a difference, but most of the time they probably shouldn't.
But of course, we shouldn't act on that! If everyone leans into that, the world is significantly shittier.

Heh, looking up another quote -- Natalie Goldberg's quote on stress ("Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency. Nothing is that important.") made me realize I had this EXACT same set of issues 3 1/2 years ago - longing for.... almost permission, to have equanimity yet still have confidence that I'm taking the appropriate or at least reasonable amount of action. I don't think I have anything smarter to say about it now than I did then. Three and a half years ain't what it used to be.


my look for Extinction Rebellion's funeral for a sustaining climate ...


In general we can relax about COVID-19 and surfaces...
you've heard of existential dread and existential horror, now get ready for existential peace, which is that feeling when you stare up at the nightsky and think, "huh. i exist. that's pretty neat."
andiwriteunderthemoon
It reminds me how I - legit - want Vonneguts Last Rites of Bokoninism read at my funeral - at least up to the "good night!"
I've been told I really missed out by not having The Wombles in my non-UK childhood, but I get the feeling most of the episodes weren't as tuba centric as this:
October 22, 2020
You know it's funny... I'd like to be a better blanket snob but I lack the vocabulary to describe what I like! Growing up I lazily used sleeping bags on my bed (I especially remember this Pac-Man one I got as an 80s kid - terrible fabric and a really bad smell out of the package, but man was it awesome) and later had pretty typical synthetic comforters.

In college a romantic interest introduced me to the pleasures of nice Duvets - and thus decades of frustration of the inner piece sliding all to one side.

Lately I've been experimenting with gravity blankets, and I find the weight pleasant but not strikingly soothing as some folks do - it's not like I tend to have problems falling asleep anyway. The two I've had have the same problem as the duvets, and all the weight ends up in one weird strip.

An ex left behind this great living room blanket, a dense gray textured thing... the label says "Eileen Fisher Home" and I think it might be this Rippled Organic-Cotton Coverlet. Seems like the inventory is running out, which bugs me, but for now the one I have plus a normal comforter might be a good winter combination.

The living room also has this one great quilt-ish thing, but all the label says is that the cover is 100% cotton, filling 100% polyester and it's made in china. Still it's notably more pleasant than the other throws, including the "sherpa" style one we have.

But the ultimate blanket is a bit of a family heirloom that a virtual cousin of mine has claim to... we call it the "Happy Blanket", it's this rich red, dense and luxurious thing. It's as heavy as a gravity blanket but the weight is integral to the crushed (?) style fabric of it. Looking at this blanket type guide it might be Chenille? It seems much thicker than that, and I'm not sure if I know what I'm talking about at all, fabric-wise. I might be willing to shell out for something similar, if I just knew how to seek it out!

I remember taking one (pre-quarantine) trip to Bed Bath + Beyond, but it wasn't as good a way of "browsing texture" as I'd hoped, there were just a few model beds out and everything else was safely in plastic.

UPDATE: I'm glad I posted this where some extended family saw this on Facebook - the "Happy Blanket" was a Korean (like, authentically from Cousin Jimmy who was stationed with the military there for a while) "Mink Blanket". Not actually mink, they are made of synthetics and are naturally heavy (not w/ like an inner weighted quilt of pellets like a typical weighted blanket). I've ordered what I hope is a similar one online.
This week I went to the polls in Texas. Truth be told, I am a pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, small-government, strong-defense and a national-anthem-standing conservative. But, I also believe that black lives matter, that the Dreamers deserve a path to citizenship, that diversity and inclusion are essential to our national success, that education is the great equalizer, that climate change is real and that the First Amendment is the cornerstone of our democracy. Most important, I believe that America must lead in the world with courage, conviction and a sense of honor and humility.

If we remain indifferent to our role in the world, if we retreat from our obligation to our citizens and our allies and if we fail to choose the right leader, then we will pay the highest price for our neglect and shortsightedness.

I voted for Joe Biden.

RIP The Amazing Randi! NY Times Obit. STAY SKEPTICAL PEOPLE!!!

On the same day Republicans finish reversing unpacking the court with "no SCOTUS approvals in an election year" to "ALL THRUSTERS GO GO GO", we handed in our ballots.

Happy to see "Ranked Choice Voting" on the menu in the commonwealth! If we are ever going to put a dent in the crazily entrenched duopoly - this extra-Constitutional split that divides every part of our politics - this is where we start.
America can be counted on to take any good idea, or any bad idea, and absolutely run it into the ground.
George Carlin

O, laugh, laughers!
O, laugh out, laughers!
You who laugh with laughs, you who laugh it up laughishly
O, laugh out laugheringly
O, belaughable laughterhood - the laughter of laughering laughers!
O, unlaugh it outlaughingly, belaughering laughists!
Laughily, laughily,
Uplaugh, enlaugh, laughlings, laughlings
Laughlets, laughlets.
O, laugh, laughers!
O, laugh out, laughers!
Velimir Khlebnikov

Animator Chuck Jones once quantified the exact margin of error on one of his most famous jokes: Wile E. Coyote, when falling off a cliff, had to hit bottom exactly fourteen frames after he disappeared from sight. "It seemed to me that thirteen frames didn't work in terms of humor, and neither did fifteen frames. Fourteen frames got a laugh."
Ken Jennings, "Planet Funny: How Comedy Took Over Our Culture"

The ancient Greeks believed that the diaphragm muscle was the seat of humor appreciation, which is why the nearby armpits are the most ticklish part of the body.
Ken Jennings, "Planet Funny: How Comedy Took Over Our Culture"

Because a brief moment of happiness is pretty good. I also think that just focusing on making money and buying stupid things is a good way of life. I believe materialism gets a bad rap. It's not about the amount of money. Nothing's better than a Bic pen, a VW Beetle, or a pair of regular Levi's. If your things don't make you happy, you're not getting the right things.
The rest of the speech is even more bitterly sardonic.
'Every little bit helps,' as the old woman said when she pissed in the sea.

Certainly it's true that a little ironic distancing can work wonders as a coping device. At Groucho Marx's separation from his first wife, Ruth, for example, he told a joke. After many unhappy years, they had agreed to a divorce, and so she packed up the car and was leaving the house for the last time. Groucho put out his hand and said, "Well, it was nice knowing you . . . and if you're ever in the neighborhood again, drop in." Ruth laughed, and the tension was broken.
Ken Jennings, "Planet Funny: How Comedy Took Over Our Culture"

Finally, humor has the distinct advantage of overcoming power asymmetries: if protesters can drag a debate into the level of the ridiculous, the powers that be have much more to lose than they do. In his book Blueprint for Revolution, Serbian activist Srdja Popovic lists examples of what he calls "laughtivism": deflating authority in ways that are hard to retaliate against, because they provoke laughter instead of anger or violence:
  • Opposition leaders in Serbia painted dictator Slobodan Milosevic onto barrels, then placed them around Belgrade along with baseball bats. "Smash his face for just a dinar," read the sign. Delighted citizens lined up for a turn. When police showed up, there were no organizers to arrest--so they arrested the barrels.
  • Syrian protesters wrote antigovernment slogans on Ping-Pong balls and dumped them out in public places. Soon cops were being deployed to chase little bouncing Ping-Pong balls, something that no one in history has ever looked cool or scary doing. The demonstrators also rigged up tiny USB speakers to say things like "Assad is a pig!" on a loop, and left them in garbage cans and manure piles, for the authorities to dig around in.
  • Russians in one Siberian city were denied permits to protest against Putin, so they placed little plastic toys in the streets to march in their place. The trend for toy demonstrations began to spread, so the government was forced to ban assemblies of Lego mini-figures and the little plastic toys from Kinder eggs.
As the Italian situationists warned oppressive governments, "a laugh will bury you!" This line of protest seemed especially promising when it came to the thin-skinned Donald Trump. The marchers with funny signs may not have wounded him, but TV and Internet jokers realized that the president's massive ego, his own deluded mystique of mastery, was his greatest weakness. Jokes about the unimpressive crowds at his inauguration immediately produced defiant tweets and defensive press conferences. Jokes referring to White House aide Steve Bannon as "President Bannon" led to Bannon's swift demotion from the National Security Council, the New York Times reported. The leader of the free world could be manipulated into changing policy by pointing and laughing at him; this was either hopeful or horrifying, depending on your point of view.
Ken Jennings, "Planet Funny: How Comedy Took Over Our Culture"

But satire and comedy haven't had a great track record against totalitarianism. Popovic's student movement in Serbia did actually help to topple the government of Slobodan Milošević, who ended up dead in a Dutch prison cell while on trial for war crimes. But there's not a long list of powerful people brought low by jokes. Putin and Assad have so far managed to survive the Ping-Pong balls and Lego sets strewn on sidewalks by their unhappier citizens. "There are those who thought that we could laugh Hitler and Mussolini out of court," remembered theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, "but laughter alone never destroys a great seat of power and authority in history." This raises the possibility that subversive jokes might actually be counterproductive. What if they're just a convenient escape valve, a way for unhappy people to let off steam and feel better about their lot without actually fighting back against oppression?
Ken Jennings, "Planet Funny: How Comedy Took Over Our Culture"

Jokes are thermometers, not thermostats.
Christie Davies
(Ken Jennings references this while explaining how sardonic Russian jokes caused Lithuanian emigre and political science Alexander Shtromas to predict the fall of the Soviet Union as early as the 1970s, but that the jokes didn't actually bring down the party.
Cold night in Fenway...
John Smoltz during game 1 of 2020 World Series, in an inning where Mookie Betts stole 2nd alone and then 3rd as part of a double steal, and got home because of his amazing reflexes and speed...
October 20, 2020
The body is a nation I have not known.
The pure joy of air: the moment between leaping
from a cliff into the wall of blue below. Like that.
Or to feel the rub of tired lungs against skin-
covered bone, like a hand against the rough of bark.
Like that. 'The body is a savage,' I said.
For years I said that: the body is a savage.
As if this safety of the mind were virtue
not cowardice. For years I have snubbed
the dark rub of it, said, 'I am better, Lord,
I am better,' but sometimes, in an unguarded
moment of sun, I remember the cowdung-scent
of my childhood skin thick with dirt and sweat
and the screaming grass.
But this distance I keep is not divine,
for what was Christ if not God's desire
to smell his own armpit? And when I
see him, I know he will smile,
fingers glued to his nose, and say, 'Next time
I will send you down as a dog
to taste this pure hunger.'
Chris Abani, "The New Religion"
Via the Poetry Unbound podast. This one really spoke to me; I conflate the body with the subconscious part of the brain; the mind/heart split can be so pronounced that the mind can challenge the legitimacy of the heart; almost its existence. But what a thought: "For years I said that: the body is a savage. / As if this safety of the mind were virtue / not cowardice. For years I have snubbed / the dark rub of it, said, ‘I am better, Lord, I am better'" For someone like me, who as a child gulped drank from two vials, one "I am super smart" and the other "I have to control myself or I am going to spend eternity in Hell"... pointing out the dialog of virtue and cowardice that represents is a crucial reminder.
Just thought of the old Arabica Coffeehouse in Cleveland (at least in the late-80s and still there by the looks of it.) They were generally pronounced "air-uh-BEE-kuh", not like the coffe bean. But I remember someone mentioning nicknames for a few of them - Freak-abica for the bohemian neighborhood in Coventry, Geek-abica for the one near Case Western Reserve University, Chic-abica for one in an upscale neighborhood, and then there was some other coffee place the coffee cognizati called "Wanna-bica".