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Showing posts from February, 2018

notable noseeum nolle prosequi

nolle prosequi (Latin ): unwilling to pursue; used to announce the decision not to press charges.
skeptical theism (n.): view that we can't discern whether natural evil is good evidence against the existence of Yahweh. ("it would not be surprising for an infinitely intelligent and knowledgeable being's reasons for permitting evils to be beyond human comprehension") True in the same boring way as radical sceptical scenarios: we can't rule it out. But it quite ignores the fact that evil is manifest; the burden of showing its hidden benevolence is on the theist.
noseeum (pej. n.): 1) sandfly, midge; 2) anti-theodicy inference by which we survey the world, find no reason for the immense suffering within, and so conclude there is no reason for it. Meant as snark by theologians, but sounds fine to me.
portfolio career (n.): having several part-time jobs at once. Could be nice, but is more often sweet lemons on the part of people who want to be in crowded industries (l…

notable mezzo del camin

copaganda (US n.): media that portrays police positively; also those press conferences with a bunch of dope on the table.
Black MIDI (music n.): Subgenre of Japanese chip-tunes, named for having so many notes that the score would look solid black if transcribed to sheet music. Pairs well with bullet hell games.

PC music (music n.): genre and/or performance-art label; pop music insiders making exaggerated, hyperreal versions of present Chart milieus. It is diabetes music. More difficult to listen to at length to than e.g. thrash metal or Black MIDI; I make it 4 mins into this for instance.
to misbuy (PR v.): to purchase wrongly. Complement to missell attributing blame on consumer; pushback from financial companies.
collision installation (biz n.): business strategy in which a human helps you switch to the product; imparts metaphorical energy by "colliding" with you and sending you sailing into the CLTV. See also Collison install.
the cheese reaction (neurophar…

The Sellout (2015) by Paul Beatty

(c) David Hammons (1986), installation for bottle caps and 30 foot poles.
[Ta-Nehisi] Coates and [Michelle] Alexander have gained wide audiences; their books are bestsellers, and they are celebrated across liberal media outlets. Their animating idea — that to overcome racism, the United States must discard any pretense to colorblindness — has become accepted across broad swathes of the mainstream Left. For better or worse, however, it marks a stark departure from King’s appeal that skin color should be ignored. The battle between colorblindness and active anti-racism will have enormous consequences for American society. — Christian Gonzalez
In attempting to restore his community through reintroducing precepts, namely segregation and slavery, that, given his cultural history, have come to define his community despite the supposed unconstitutionality and nonexistence of these concepts, he’s pointed out a fundamental flaw in how we as Americans claim we see equality.

‘I don’t care if …


Doorslam, and doorslam. I sit here in her bag - forgotten in the fracas - for a good few days. You pace the flat, caged, cursing softly to yourself. The wait doesn't bother me; I've been meaning to practice my Vipassanā. (If I am not misled by vanity, I am by now past the second dhyāna, a newborn sakadāgāmi, re-observing myself in the world, but now my very consistency a freedom from doubt preceding perfect equanimity.)

You fart. You think that farting loudly expresses freedom, but it also wears off the thin polish she put on you. To avoid that idea you fart to joke: "The door slams! A beat. Fart."

Days blur. The others gossip. I ignore the idiots; yes I long for intertextuality, but the Arhat Ingram is long since unbound from this worldly bag. I practice instead, and between mantras I come to know you, see you trying to live: burning the beans, late for work by 1, 2, 3 hours, tripping on your trews as you speed out the loo to grab your phone in case it's h…

How to Talk about Books you Haven't Read by Pierre Bayard

There are too many books; among those worth reading at all, most are best skimmed; others are best interpreted via interpreters; you only see part of the possible meaning of the books you've read; and you've forgotten almost anything about even those. So relax and talk about the 'virtual' book, the idea of it, the version of it that you and your interlocutor inadvertently generate between you.

The title sounds like vacuous click-bait (indeed, a friend who later wrote his thesis on Bayard initially thought I was recommending something like this fluff). But it is instead all of the following: a thrilling act of virtuoso postmodern over-reading, a serious look at intellectual status and neurosis, a really interesting phenomenology of books, a glowing review of a dozen writers (including my beloved-but-low-status Greene and Lodge), and sheer backwards-land satire.

I found it liberating, not because I go round pretending to have read things (a free-rider in literary …

The Bourgeois Virtues by Deirdre McCloskey

I was a contrarian teen, a good thing to be. Straight-edge, socialist, feminist, poetaster-ish, an 'inverse snob' and a shunner of TV.* Call this sort of thing one level up, one step past received opinion (though on a few different axes).

At some point the observant contrarian will meet disagreement which cannot be written off as prejudice, anti-intellectualism, or ignorance. Worst-case, they will meet with a deadly meta-contrarian, someone who once held their view but who stepped past on considering some missing crucial consideration. (In dialectic, as the contrarian cognoscenti say.)

(For instance: it is common sense, or at least common practice, that it is fine to not give any money to charity. One step beyond is altruism: we have a duty to help the wretched of the earth. But then consider that one of the first things people who rise out of poverty do is increase their meat intake, and so to industrialise - that is, torture - their animals. If, as the scientists stron…

Travels with Myself and Another by Martha Gellhorn

Hilarious, patrician, blunt account of the worst of her many journeys, to: Guomindang China 1941, the U-boated Carribean 1942, East through West Africa 1949, liberal Russia 1966, hippie Israel 1971.

She generalises a lot (e.g. she categorises each new tribe she meets by their average attractiveness and prevailing smell; she calls ‘racial’ what we’d deem cultural traits; like many WWII vets, she insists on using the word ‘Jap’). But her discrimination is more usually discriminating, making just distinctions. She’s fair, keen to empathise - I said it stood to reason that we must smell in some disgusting way to them.
Yes, said Aya, they say we have the ‘stale odour of corpses’; they find it sickening.

This cheers me; fair’s fair; I don’t feel so mean-minded – a point you can find in p’Bitek, among others) and holds colonialists and bigots in far higher contempt (“it seems conceited to foist off our notions of religion, which we have never truly practised, onto peop…

Gateway by Frederik Pohl

Hits hard, leaves marks. The same ignoble, epistemically pinched, economically realist sci-fi written by the Strugatskys or Stross. I love it so much that even the Rogerian psychotherapy at its core doesn't annoy me; that even its 90% focus on one spoiled and abusive bastard is a merit of it. Spoilers everywhere. Physics and sin. No shortage of things left to do.

In one sentence: Dreadful human being reflects on his dreadful actions while dead aliens look on.Number of reads: 3 since 2002.Galef type: Values 2 - thought experiments for you to reflect on how you feel about something .To be read when: overconfident.

The Abolitionist Project by David Pearce

(c) Toby Ziegler (2006), The Hedonistic Imperative
Atrocious, agonising things are happening to people like you, me and our loved ones right now. The full horror of some sorts of suffering is literally unspeakable and unimaginably dreadful. Under a Darwinian regime of natural reproduction, truly horrible experiences - as well as endemic low-grade malaise - are both commonplace and inevitable. Chapter Two argues the moral case for stopping this nastiness. Since 'ought' implies 'can', however, it must first be established that scrapping unpleasant experience really is a biologically feasible option... from an information-theoretic perspective, what counts is not our absolute location on the pleasure-pain axis, but that we are "informationally sensitive" to fitness-relevant changes in our internal and external environment. Gradients of bliss can suffice both to motivate us and offer a rich network of feedback mechanisms; so alas today do gradients of Darwinian d…

The Culture by Iain Banks

(c) Don Davis
In one sentence: A psychologically realistic utopia (that is: a flawed one), nestled in a soft opera of space operas.Number of reads: 3 since 2005.Galef type: Theory 2 - model of what makes something succeed or fail &
Values 2 - thought experiments for you to reflect on how you feel about something.
Style 3 - tickles your aesthetic sense in a way that obliquely makes you a more interesting, generative thinker.To be read when: you don't think we have anywhere to go. Or on a train.

The two worst omissions from sci-fi are social development and software development. Banks covers the first so memorably, so thrillingly, that the series is a permanent touchstone for me - even though none of the books is so, so great to make this list alone. Banks was always quite open about how didactic his sci-fi was; it is saved by his inventiveness and psychological realism amidst technological fantasy.

This scene had a large effect on me as a child: 'Of course I don…

New Essays by Clive James

In one sentence: Sometimes age actually does allow for wisdom to accumulate. At least in word.Number of reads: 2 since 2012.Galef type: Data 3 - highlights patterns in the world
& Values 1 - an explicit argument about values .To be read when: whenever.

I'm cheating here because these are actually five books: Even As We Speak (2001); The Meaning of Recognition (2005); The Revolt of the Pendulum (2008); A Point of View (2012) and oh what the hell also Cultural Amnesia (2007), his epic performance of marginalia.

I came to liberalism late, after very radical teens. By the time I found James I was sickened by years of people and books raging against the modern world, spending their time reducing absolutely everything in life to its politics. (Larkin is a great poet and was a terrible man, easy as that – but this tension is unbearable to some, who throw out his great work and sneer at those who don't.)

Clive James is the consummate droll liberal railing against both wi…

The Incerto by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

In one sentence: Extraordinarily rude man marries classical ethics to modern mathematics and cognitive science. Number of reads: 2 since 2010.Galef type: Data 3 highlights patterns in the world -
& Theory 1&2&3&4&5 - a general concept or lens you can use to analyze many different things, &
Style 1 - teaches principles of thinking directly.To be read when: young; you have a news habit; when despairing of university economics.

Maybe the most vibrant presentation of sceptical empiricism since Dawkins stopped being beautiful.

Black Swan is a furious, pompous attack on macroeconomics, journalism, and risk modelling via heuristics and biases; so it is an amazing introduction to modelling. But it's also an entire original worldview, applying to history, policy, science, and personal conduct. This is taken even further (too far?) in Antifragile, which is more or less a work of evolutionary epistemology, or evolutionary practical ethics. There's a lot of redun…

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

In one sentence: An invitation to reason by way of absurd reified puns and binaries.Number of reads: 5 since 1997.Galef type: Values 2 - thought experiments for you to reflect on how you feel about something,
& Style 3 - tickle your aesthetic sense in a way that obliquely makes you a more interesting, generative thinker.To be read when: 7, 17, 27...

Review forthcoming.

Whereabouts by Alastair Reid

In one sentence: Gorgeous long essays on nation and place, interspersed with excellent poems.Number of reads: 2 since 2013.Galef type: Theory 1 - models of how a phenomenon works, &
Style 3 - tickle your aesthetic sense in a way that obliquely makes you a more interesting, generative thinker.To be read when: at home too long.

A poet, Hispanicist, translator and long-time New Yorkerer. He was right there when the Latin American lit boom began, giving Neruda crash space in London - and mates with Marquez, insofar as anyone is. I like Reid's prose even better than his excellent poems.

Foreigners are, if you like, curable romantics. The illusion they retain, perhaps left over from their mysterious childhood epiphanies, is that there might somewhere be a place – and a self – instantly recognizable, into which they will be able to sink with a single, timeless, contented sigh. In the curious region between that illusion and the faint terror of being utterly nowhere and anonymo…

Twilight of Idols by Friedrich Nietzsche

In one sentence: the cleverest troll in history tries to say 200 things at once.Number of reads: 2 since 2007.Galef type: Theory 2 & 3 - models of what makes something succeed or fail, & a problem statement
Values 1 - make an explicit argument about values.To be read when: first getting into him.

The easiest way in. He is among the most misunderstood people ever, and his writing, contradictory and esoteric, sarcastic and pompous, is one reason for this.

I made a playlist for this here.

Hollingdale is best, though I plan to crawl through the original at some point.

Collected Poems by Philip Larkin

In one sentence: The apotheosis of contented British miserabilism: Housman, if honest about his appetites; Lawrence with a sense of humour; Auden plus even more jazz..Number of reads: 2 since 2006.Galef type: Data 3 - that highlight patterns in the world , &
Style 3 - tickles your aesthetic sense in a way that obliquely makes you a more interesting, generative thinker.To be read when: ill, heartbroken, young, old, cynical, hopeful.

Of the consuming fear of death, sexual frustration, impostor syndrome: Britain.

He was forever overawed by lack of control over his life; we are left with his superlative control of form. Motifs are well-known: the hostile wind heard from the cold attic; the diminishing of strength; the fall of desire - without a matching fall in the desire to desire; the conviction that age is not running out of time, but running out of self. These are not moans: he loves jazz and booze and other things that make death recede. He’s vulgar, and wields it, but n…

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

In one sentence: The greatest and truest western.Number of reads: 2 since 2012.Galef type: Data 2 - What does it imply about the world, that X could happen?, & Style 3 - tickle your aesthetic sense in a way that obliquely makes you a more interesting, generative thinker.To be read when: strong-stomached; drunk as fuck.

Say it is 1985 A.P. (After Peckinpah). How can anyone write anything new about poor white psychopaths in the hot rural places of Victorian America? The answer turns out simple: just have prose so tight and freshening - a jet hose comprising one-third Bible, one-third Emerson, one-third Ballard - that you again uncover the elemental bones of the Western. Also savagely de-emphasise your characters. Place them in enormous, indifferent vistas; give us no inner monologue - nor even indirect report of subjective life; have no speech marks to set their words apart from the landscapes (do not draw the eye to their presumed humanity); have no apostrophes, no hyphens even…

The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa.

In one sentence: Eventless autobiographical sketches about working a shit job in a shit town, and but the beauty of self-obsession. Number of reads: 2 since 2015.Galef type: Data 1 - a window onto an interesting piece of the world, &
Value 3 - written from a holistic value structure, letting you experience that value structure from the inside, &
Style 2 - from which you can learn a style of thinking by studying the author’s approach to the world.To be read when: unable to sleep; 3am or travelling for more than 15 hours.


Astonishing. A mind whose uniqueness was invisible during its life; about what we now call neuroatypicality; about everyday aesthetics. He's obsessed with cute fatalism, his own inadequacy, nothingness and loneliness, but almost every passage is wise or funny or beautiful. I catch no despair off him. Shite into gold. Like Larkin if Larkin were likeable; like Montaigne if he were terser and darker. This paperback is a super-slim selection of …

Monogamy by Adam Philips

In one sentence: Harsh, circuitous, critical aphorisms on the greatest secular religion..Number of reads: 2 since 2012.To be read : At the start of every new relationship; when your contempt of psychotherapy boils over and needs correction.Galef type: Values 2 - thought experiments for you to reflect on how you feel about something, & Style 3 - tickle your aesthetic sense in a way that obliquely makes you a more interesting, generative thinker.

I guess he’s a bit overfond of the knowing paradox (“Seduction, the happy invention of need”; “The problem of a marriage is that it can never be called an affair”) – and of course aphorisms have to compress away the qualifications that would make them fairer, easier to take in large doses. Infidelity is such a problem because we take monogamy for granted; we treat it as the norm. Perhaps we should take infidelity for granted, assume it with unharassed ease. Then we would be able to think about monogamy. There are no …

Tell Me No Lies (2004), edited by John Pilger

In one sentence: An anthology of the greatest investigative journalism, mostly about ignored or West-sponsored massacres.Number of reads: 3 since 2007.To be read when: one becomes too complacent about world politics, thinking it generally benign; when one despairs of journalism; when you need righteous anger; when evaluating Kissinger's place in history.Galef type: Data 2 - What does it imply about the world, that this could happen? & Values 2 - thought experiments to reflect on how you feel about something.

(You don't resent Pilger putting his own Cambodia piece in.)

I went into this with one eye on Pilger's ideology, but almost every piece is grounded and humane and appalling and beyond the reach of theory to pervert. (Only the Eduardo Galeano rant addresses too many targets at once and fades into zine-ish aspersion. But even that's about half true.)

Gellhorn on Dachau. Cameron on North Vietnam. Hersh on My Lai. Lockerbie. Iraq. The overall target is the pow…

notable Norwich Pharmacals

shruggie (internet n.): ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ .
deepfake (ML n.): deep(-learning-produced celebrity) fake (porn). Not just morally repugnant, but actively disastrous: the looming end of all candid-camera evidence.
binch (Twitter n.): bitch; for people who shy away from gendered language.
milkshake duck (internet n.): a person made briefly famous for innocuous reasons who turns out to have a dark past.

to corncob (internet v.): 1) to clearly lose a debate and then deny that you have; 2) pejorative for gay sex?

celldar (n.): cellphone radar; spies and riot squads are able to forego their own transmitters because we are all now broadcasting our location constantly.
bandh (Indian n.): general strike called by a political party, enforced with physical threats.
persec (military n.): personal security: the privacy of people with access to your secure system.
strangelet (theoretical physics n.): conceivable stable particle consisting of all three types of quark in large and equal…

Highlighted passages in The Patrick Melrose Novels

She opened the door to his room gently, excruciated by the whining of the hinge. Patrick was asleep in his bed. Rather than disturb him, she tiptoed back out of the room.
     Patrick lay awake. His heart was pounding. He knew it was his mother, but she had come too late. He would not call to her again. When he had still been waiting on the stairs and the door of the hall opened, he stayed to see if it was his mother, and he hid in case it was his father. But it was only that woman who had lied to him. Everybody used his name but they did not know who he was. One day he would play football with the heads of his enemies.

‘Be absolute for death’, a strange phrase from Measure for Measure, returned to him while he bared his teeth to rip open a sachet of bath gel. Perhaps there was something in this half-shallow, half-profound idea that one had to despair of life in order to grasp its real value. Then again, perhaps there wasn’t. But in any case, he pondered, squeezing the green sl…