from Kurt Vonnegut's "Jailbird"

March 17, 2023
Here's to God Almighty, the laziest man in town.
Holocaust Survivor Ruth Starbuck in Kurt Vonnegut's "Jailbird"

I am now moved to suppose, with my primitive understanding of economics, that every successful government is of necessity a Ponzi scheme.
Kurt Vonnegut in "Jailbird"

"Money is so strange," she said.

"Does it make any sense to you?"

"No," I said. "The people who've got it, and the people who don't--" she mused. "I don't think anybody understands what's really going on."

"Some people must," I said.

I no longer believe that. I will say further, as an officer of an enormous international conglomerate, that nobody who is doing well in this economy ever even wonders what is really going on.
Kurt Vonnegut, "Jailbird"

"You inconceivable twerp," she said. Most of the speeches in this book are necessarily fuzzy reconstructions--but when I assert that Sarah Wyatt called me an "inconceivable twerp," that is exactly what she said.

To give an extra dimension to the scolding she gave me: The word "twerp" was freshly coined in those days, and had a specific definition--it was a person, if I may be forgiven, who bit the bubbles of his own farts in a bathtub.

"You unbelievable jerk," she said. A "jerk" was a person who masturbated too much. She knew that. She knew all those things.
Kurt Vonnegut, "Jailbird"

Two top drawers in the dresser easily accepted all I owned, but I looked into all the other drawers anyway. Thus I discovered that the bottom drawer contained seven incomplete clarinets--without cases, mouthpieces, or bells.

Life is like that sometimes.
Kurt Vonnegut, "Jailbird"

"What is the difference between an enzyme and a hormone? [...] You can't hear an enzyme"
Kurt Vonnegut, "Jailbird". That is such a better version than the two versions I know, which always start "how do you make a hormone"? which is a blatantly artifical setup.
Jokes play an important role in the main character's relationship with Sarah, a tall college girlfriend. One minor theme is how their relationships was based on jokes and it replaced regular intimacy, maybe because physical intimacy seemed so ridiculous. Somehow that struck home for me.
SHE: How dare you kiss me like that?
HE: I was just trying to find out who ate all the macaroons.
Kurt Vonnegut in "Jailbird" citing it as a joke oft-reprinted by The Harvard Lampoon.

He actually said one time, "Working for Mrs. Graham has been a religious experience for me. I was adrift, no matter how much money I was making. My life had no purpose until I became president of RAMJAC and placed myself at her beck and call."

All happiness is religious, I have to think sometimes.
Kurt Vonnegut, "Jailbird"

We are here for no purpose, unless we can invent one. Of that I am sure.
Kurt Vonnegut, "Jailbird"

"I want to thank you for hugging me," she said.

"Any time," I said.

"Once a day is enough," she said. "I've had my hug today."

"You were the first woman I ever really made love to," I said. "Do you remember that?"

"I remember the hugs," she said. "I remember you said you loved me. No man had ever said that to me before. My mother used to say it to me a lot--before she died."

I was starting to cry again.

"I know you never meant it," she said.

"I did, I did," I protested. "Oh, my God--I did."

"It's all right," she said. "You couldn't help it that you were born without a heart. At least you tried to believe what the people with hearts believed--so you were a good man just the same."
Kurt Vonnegut, "Jailbird"
Oof. With that last one... Hume wrote "Reason Is and Ought Only to Be the Slave of the Passions" and for a lot of people that's more or less how it works; the subjective emotional experience leads, and reason comes up with ideas to help those desires and justifies our impulsive actions after the fact. But for people like me... like, our feelings are grown in a controlled greenhouse, not a natural garden, and we are gardeners compelled to nurture some feelings and leave others to wither on the vine, all based on what seems to be the greater good, rather than springing from the mysterious soil of personal preference.

March 17, 2022

One of my all time favorite lyrics is early in Portal's closing song "Still Alive" - Aperture Science is the game's incredibly messed-up parody of big orgs, and the line is "Aperture Science: We do what we must, because we can." - i.e. we'll do these (presumably ethically dubious) things because no one can stop us."

But I guess for my life there's a humbler reading of that line - I'll muddle through even the crap parts of life, and I have enough privilege to do so.

A few years ago I remember some memes, maybe echoing this NY Times article on Is Resilience Overrated where the author quotes friends saying "'You're so resilient' is just code for 'You're on your own, sorry.'" and "resilience is made up by our capitalist overlords".

But the world is what it is, right? Everything is the way it is for a reason. Some of those reasons are malice and greed, some are just the unfortunate truth of entropy, but most of the deliberate ones are serving some "good" or other, and change will only come with a range of sacrifice of one type or another.

Some of it swings back to my recent wonder at people being driven by emotions. Raging and ranting against the unjustness of the world... maybe it's needed to power efforts to correct what we can, but it's a SUPER inefficient energy source - the waste heat it throws off is so damaging to our internal mechanisms and sometimes those around us...

(Thinking on despair and people's emotional reactions to things - yeesh, almost a decade ago I tackled a parallel line of "if you can't live without me, why aren't you dead yet?!". And the idea of how while "can't live without" isn't a literal claim of life and death it does point to a real sense of not being able to live as a whole, complete person. The death of our best self, the break from our self-actualized self. There's a parallel with outrage at the world for not letting us live up to our potentials.)
When People imagine Superman pushing a planet, they imagine him being in space, in reality he'd just be doing a handstand

March 17, 2021

Ran into this a while back:  Automating my job by using GPT-3 to generate database-ready SQL to answer business questions. "Natural language programming" has been a long sought-after goal and this is impressive but I think it will be a while before we trust the results!

on not getting swamped

March 17, 2020
FB offered this image for me to repost from 2017:

The core issue of it still sort of remains for me. I mean I *feel* things, but mostly anxiety and what not, and I cultivate sympathy and empathy for loved ones especially when they get knocked over by a wave of fear, but lately I'm even more aware of this philosophical safe space of emptiness I have, that my feelings and preferences don't matter much from the objective potential God's Eye View that I am forever subservient to, so I might as buck up and give the world a sardonic grin and get ready to roll with it.

To accept that it's not morally wrong to not get swamped by feeling is tough - whether it's fear of viruses and being part of a chain of infecting the vulnerable as well as myself, or concern for an economic future that suddenly has many more questions than answers (and the answers we have are all pretty bad), or of outrage that might lead me to be more politically active.
The older ya get
The more it's gonna cost
To do the things you did
When you were young

When an old man's in love
He just *thinks* he's in clover
He's not cooking with gas
He's just warming it over

Riley Shepard
Via the Hidden Brain podcast The Cowboy Philosopher
Y'know, I really had high hopes for 2020. Usually even numbered years have a good vibe for me.
So a question about R0, how many people an infected person gives it to, on average... a few places I've seen them run the exponential math that results:


Now, I don't want to underplay it- viral spread is exponential, and this explosive growth is fundamentally true. And if seeing these exact numbers helps someone get the message, and do the right thing, and stay the hell home for a while, good.

But... does R0 assume 3 new cases, of people who otherwise wouldn't be infected? At some point - maybe sooner maybe later - the contact is with people who were going to catch it anyway. Exponential growth eventually ends. (Just like: "All Bleeding Eventually Stops")

So the math geek in me is irked or at least questioning, but I don't want that "skepticism" to detract from the fundamental correctness and truth and Truth of the issues at hand...

(Oh, did I not post that brilliant Washington Post Simulations of Viral Spread?)
Under current guidelines one's milkshake is only permitted to bring nine boys to the yard.

March 17, 2019

"you cannot kill me in a way that matters" is so raw and powerful but it comes from an incomprehensible shitpost about mushrooms

March 17, 2018

I think it's easy to forget the advances we've made in optical illusions over the last few decades. While some of these are surely computer assisted to generate, with most of them there's no reason to think an illustrator couldn't have done them a century ago. When you go to, say, a Ripley's Believe It or Not, a lot of the dank old 50s-era attractions hold up well, but their 2D optical illusions tend to be like "can you believe these two lines are the SAME LENGTH"?

as if losing Ryles (after Johnny D's) didn't suck enough, what the hell is this about??
For the first time in my life I noticed St Patrick's day is always a preview of the day of the week for my birthday. Huh.

Incidentally a while back I made a "figure the day of week for a date over years" toy tool :

March 17, 2017

From Barking Up The Wrong Tree (very good weekly email newsletter) 5 Questions That Will Make You Emotionally Strong:

"Can a bat still be brave if he's afraid?" "That is the only time a bat can be brave."

Today is the 17th day of the third month of the 17th year of the third Millenium

March 17, 2016

Last night I played at Aeronaut Brewery in Somerville... they're trying to improve their zoning situation, though last night's hearing got postponed we had a mini-rally anyway.

Man, it's tough to look cool playing a tuba. Never sure of the best place to put my other hand. (and at one point I'm sneaking in a Second of the Day...) Still, some great footage.
Irvin D. Yalom's "When Nietzsche Wept", spoken by the title character:
Dying is hard. I've always felt the final reward of the dead is to die no more!
The enemies of truth are not lies, but convictions!
Maybe, Josef, Living safely is dangerous. Dangerous and deadly.
I've always believed, Josef, that we are more in love with desire than with the desired!
A very solid book, I think it's a great introduction to Nietzsche's view of the world, especially as lived through his own suffering, as well as early psychotherapy.

March 17, 2015

I've gotten some positive response to my "optimistic realism" post the other day. In terms of thinking of better names for it I realized I could think of it as SNAFU ≠ FUBAR; Situation Normal is ok, and doesn't mean things will inexorably go FUBAR.

March 17, 2014

They're called 'alpha males' because they're broken, primitive, buggy versions of real humans.

March 17, 2013

Black holes happen when reality has an overflow error: you put too much stuff in one place, and it breaks both the stuff and the place with gravity.
I like that as an extension of the "Blackholes are where God is dividing by zero" idea. - the second one (#5) kind of weirds me out, where Chicken express the same preferences for faces that College Students do with a .98 correlation. That suggests that big parts of beauty are objective, or at least cross-species.

new license

March 17, 2012
I got my license in the mail the other day. A few years ago they changed designs.

I think the new design is a real step backwards. I'm no font-wonk, but come-on, a serif font for the proud name of the commonwealth? And the old design was nothing special, but this new one is worst in about every dimension.

mad nature boy

March 17, 2011

--In looking for versions of the Mad Men theme on youtube yesterday, I found this gem... Nat King Cole's "Nature Boy" fits the "Mad Men" theme to a T.
One way or another, if human evolution is to go on, we shall have to learn to enjoy life more thoroughly.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Probably just my poor intuition of random chunking, but it's weird how iOS "shuffle" seems to have moods. Today is retro day, for instance.

super o'heroes

March 17, 2010

--from designrfix'spage of Comic Book Inspired Vector Artwork
"Erin Go Braless!" Man will I ever get tired of thinking that?
The only obligation to which in advance we may hold a novel, without incurring the accusation of being arbitrary, is that it be interesting.
Henry James. Man that's why I look for the interestingness of everything!

It is better to be quotable than to be honest.
Tom Stoppard

Today's weather: scattered begorrah

If I'm gonna go down in history for one quote, let it be "Everyone knows cupcakes are just muffins in drag."

I think I was a strictly rationalist skeptic in a former life.

the chef of the midwest

March 17, 2009

--The other day I wondered aloud about what my Todo "united states chef" meant... JZ reminded me it was something his gal Heather showed me, a bit of Midwest Lore, how there is a figure of a chef embedded in the USA serving up a Tennessee platter of Kentucky. Not quite as impressive as the boot of Italy, but some of those state borders are outlined by the large rivers, so it's not quite as arbitrary as you might think.

Has anyone else heard of this?

makeaworldfilm -- Ed Emberly has a posse! Or at least a film. Neat. - the original LP for Cecilia had hidden high pitched sounds, maybe for/about a dog?

hello japan! (backlog flush #68 and travelog)

March 17, 2008

Travelog of the Moment
So I thought Monday would be mostly travel, but I got to see some important things. I braved the Tokyo subway and then the bullet trains all on my own, got to Hiroshima, and then determined to heed Josh's admonition to "don't be that girl from Lost in Translation" (i.e. sitting moping around a hotel room) I headed out for a few hours of exploration.

So, the trains. It's too bad that "and the trains ran on time" has such a negative connotation, because it's actually quite handy. They are extremely punctual, except when someone stepped in front of one... a not uncommon occurrence, maybe 2 or 3 a month - infamously the result of a nation that has A. a strong and idiosyncratic sense of honor, B. not much of a religious prohibition against suicide, and in fact a social precedent for it (A Spitzer in Japan would be dead by his own hand by this point, Josh says) and C. Really, really fast trains.

to think i saw it on the way over from newbury street

March 17, 2007
Last night I had a few hours to kill before meeting up with some folks at Harvard Square. I was thinking of hitting a bookstore, but I wanted to finish the last 20 pages or so of my current read. It was a mini-blizzard out, so I decided to loiter on one of the waiting benches by the red line... the bench wasn't well lit, and at one end had a little clutter, including a cup with some kind of orange slush looking stuff in it, full, with a lid and straw. So not the optimal reading environment, but it was fine, reading as many trains passed, playing the jutting rock as the crashing waves of people actively commuting came and receded.

Until some guy in business wear came and picked up the orange drink, and walked off drinking it. I had to fight the urge to run up and ask "Sir? Was that always yours? Do you always give your frozen beverages some 'me time' alone on benches at public transportation? Were you concerned about people sampling it, or would-be Samaritans throwing it out, or did you just find it and decided it looked good?"

And now I'll never know.

Video of the Moment

--Speaking of things by the shore, it's Sand Castle Unexplosions

Event of the Moment
Hey, has anyone heard anything about BarCamp? Odd little geekish event at MIT, but I hadn't heard anything about it..

orange you glad i didn't say banana

March 17, 2006

of shots and shouts

March 17, 2005
Political Geek Art Snark of the Moment
snark, boojum Source code // Built with Processing
A little Java on the window and you can type in your own message to be placed over the shot of Bush waving a small flag. I'm surprised I haven't posted that Thurber poem here before, it's one of my favorites and I know it by heart. I suppose depending on your political persuasion, you could type in something more supportive of or more nasty about our Commander-in-Chief.

Keen-eyed regulars may recognize this (not terribly original) technique of text-over-image, last year I made three pieces Cider, Accuse, To Sleep, though those were all "By Hand" as it were. Now I can let the computer do most of the dirty work.

I should make up a webpage that lets you upload or use an arbitrary image from the web and with some better text editing options. (The current thing only understands "backspace" for editing.)

Actually, now that it's a java applet there's more things I could do than with the static images...I already use a "one letter at a time" display, but also theres no reason the image behind couldn't be changing, either some frames of an animation, or just flipping through various images.

Thought of the Moment
So last night I was showing that app to Candi...she thought it was kind of cool that I program "for fun" too, while she just does what she needs to for school. I was going to say that that's what seperates "real programmers" from other people, but then I realized I know a large number of "real programmers" but very very few of 'em do this kind of stuff for fun per se, as far as I can tell. But I've been doing that for years and years; I think a lot of the kids in the 80s did that, but then a lot of people just gave it up. "Recreational Programming" is a bit of an arcane field.

el día de la cerveza verde

March 17, 2004
Product of the Moment
So the other night I saw a commercial for the Phillips HeartStart Home Defibrillator. Which is, for some reason, mildly amusing to the easily amused in a Homer Simpson getting one and then realizing he can eat ALL the bacon he wants, he'll just self-defib through any heart attacks and go "ahhh" kind of way, though I'm sure for some people it's very serious indeed. But what's odd about the tv pitch is, on the one hand they say "have this around, Often no prior symptoms" scare tactic but then they mention that you need a doctor's prescription. Maybe that's not quite a contradiction, but it seems a little odd, or at least paranoia inducing.

Of course, being a separated and soon to be divorced guy, I become aware that this kind of product pretty much relies on someone else being arond.

Paranoia of the Moment
In the spirit of yesterday's parnoid with a slashdot account, it's the works of Tammy, who seems to have some serious problems. She'd write these long, Dr.-Bronner's-Soap-like rambles on sheets and hang them outside her house, but if you're in a hurry, just check out the pages about people (looks like they think I'm trying to eat up their bandwidth, go to main page, about 3/4 of the way down, the one with all the snapshots) with various psychic powers, two shown here. (It took me a second to realize that Judy Nielson's ability of "HEAVY PERIODS" probably means causing that in other women, not just having them herself.) The author has a bit too much schadenfreude in it all, but it's still compelling.

Actually, I just realized that those pages remind of Jesse Reklaw's brilliant compilation Applicant, scavanged from Ph.D. applicant files (1965-1975) where Reklaw takes the headshot and a really telling, tiny snippet from that person's letter of recommendation. (The quote, which the applicant him or herself wasn't privy to, often says more about the time period or the letter's author than the applicant...on the other hand, you can look at the picture and guess that some are strangely apt.) That booklet is only $ it, it's the best $2 you'll spend this week, I promise you.

happy evacuation day

March 17, 2003
So in parts of Massachusetts, today is Evacuation Day...Boston's way of celebrating St. Patrick's Day in a revolutionary war history kind of way. It seems like Bush has decided to observe the holiday as well, telling the UN inspectors to get the hell out.

Turns out my thoughts on this issue have been pretty constant for almost a year, last April I started a thread on Usenet about it (with the unfortunate title "Attaq Iraq?"--what can I say, I was young and foolish)... back then I was surprised how this just wasn't on people's radar, even though a New Yorker editorial I had read mentioned the Pentagon thought it was an inevitability. And the administration gets its way by ramping up the military encirclement to such an extent that backing down looks even worse than going on with the damn thing.

Joke of the Moment
President Bush and Colin Powell are sitting in a bar. A guy walks in and asks the barman, "Isn't that Bush and Powell sitting over there?"
The barman says, "Yep, that's them."
So the guy walks over and says, "Wow, this is a real honor. What are you guys doing in here?"
Bush says, "We're planning WWIII".
And the guy says, "Really? What's going to happen?"
Bush says, "Well, we're going to kill 140 million Iraqis this time and one blonde with big tits."
The guy exclaimed, "A blonde with big tits? Why kill a blonde with big tits?"
Bush turns to Powell, punches him on the shoulder and says, "See, smart ass, I told you no one would worry about the 140 million Iraqis!"

Quote of the Moment
According to Lifton, the standard requirements for a really sparkling clean brainwash include: isolation of the subjects, control over their information, debilitation, degradation, discipline and fear, peer pressure, performance of repetitive tasks, and renunciation of formerly held values. (All of which sounds eerily like law school to me.) it real, or just a pseudoscientific way of explaining why seemingly nice and smart people believe certain things (especially religious/cultish) that we find unacceptable?

Article of the Moment
"Luckily" I have too many "clear and present" frets to give the Boston Housing Bubble much attention.

the five stories

March 17, 2002
Housewarming party went very well last night. There was dancing, conversation, pictionary, video games, and a pretty amazing assortment of cookies by Mo. These cookies to the right were the most extravagently decorated...people had trouble believing they were homemade, actually. It's a little frightening, come to think of it.

Quote of the Moment
Right now, I'm working on trying to learn some new old songs. You know, there are so many tunes, but you tend to whittle yourself and your memories down as life goes by. You know how you kind of become the same five stories in the end? I've done that already, and I'm fuckin' 31 years old.
I think this journal is my way of trying to keep my other stories accessible, beyond those five. I also think I really need to get a cd from Drums & Tuba, one of the bands on her label.

Useful Link of the Moment
One of the most useful community sites on the web, (I remember the dash by realizing without it, the name could be read "expert sexchange") The theory is you get points for answering other people's technical questions, and you give points to people who answer yours. In practice, you spend the points they give you daily just for being a member, and your question is answered by some amazingly smart people who seem to have a lot of time to answer tough questions, because they get to it before other people have the chance. (Actually, a neat etiquette spontaneously emerged, where people started posing answers as "comments", so it wouldn't lock out other potential answers. Eventually the site added the feature "accept this comment as answer" to better support this natural behavior.) It amazes me how well this point system motivates some of these people, who amass huge fortunes of points that aren't good for anything except reputation within the community. It's a more reliable source of answers than Usenet, and you don't have to feel like a mooch using it, because of the point system.


March 17, 2001
Quote of the Moment
Bed is the poor man's opera
Italian Proverb

Related Quote of the Moment
I don't need viagra at all... all I need is a skinny, boney female

Wired article with the vi guy's essay on the obsolesence of humanity and, much more disturbingly to me, this  geometrically increasing "Oops!" factor that nano-, bio-, and maybe cyber- technology will be bringing on over this next century. In particular the "grey goo" idea, and custom bacteria multiplying like clouds of pollen stick in my head as vivid images of biosphere imploding disaster. Sigh- hopefully these memes won't rush in to fill a void Y2K left behind.

Right now I'm at Home Depot, trailing Mo as she gets paint color sample chips to base a wedding color scheme on (and to get the makings of a murphy free flower & plant shelf)