All posts for the month April, 2009

If you can’t learn from mistakes ? Just joining up some dots between simple mistakes and the meaning of life, the universe and everything. Thanks to Arlo and Ron (on MOQ-Discuss) for this Swiftian Monty Python quote that prompted the thought.

“We must never forget that, if there was not one thing that was on top of another thing, our society would be nothing more than a meaningless body of men gathered together for no good purpose.”

Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things

And talking of other things … where did I see this Catch-22 (Joseph Heller) quote the other day ?

What does a fish remind you of ?
Other fish.
What do the other fish remind you of ?
Other fish.

Which reminds me “Fed Squid” to close that circle of life. Thanks Arlo.

“Superstition brings bad luck” Ray Smullyan 5000BC

There exists a secret society with branches throughout the world, and its plot is to spread the rumour that a universal plot exists. Synarchy – a new European order led by a government of wise men, above party lines – […]  is a plot of international technocrats.

It’s like the story of the man with the bad stammer who complains that the radio station wouldn’t hire him as an announcer because he didn’t carry a party card. We always have to blame our failures on somebody else, and dictatorships always need an external enemy to bind their followers together. As the man said, for every complex problem there’s a simple solution, and it’s wrong.

And if, on a train I find a bomb wrapped in a flyer that speaks about synarchy, is it enough for me to say that this is a simple solution to a complex problem?

Of course [there] is only one thing to understand. Synarchy is God. […] people put bombs on trains because they are looking for God?

Umberto Eco “Foucault’s Pendulum” (1989)

Interesting reference in Umberto Eco’s “Foucault’s Pendulum” – the book is (a fiction) about a germ of deadly truth behind endless crackpot mystical and occult theories of mythical conspiracies of Aryan, Hebrew, Templar, Catholic, Masonic
coincidences and cabals.

I’m only 40% through, but whilst Eco doesn’t mention Pirsig or ZMM work by name he does include this phrase.

“To avenge the bourgeoisie you hadn’t managed to overthrow, [you] sold them videos and fanzines, brainwashed them with Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance. […] You’re not taking me seriously by any chance, are you ?”

Probably no coincidence that Mystic Bourgeoisie (Chris Locke’s) alter-ego Rage Boy has Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum as one of their top picks over on Entropy Gradient Reversals ? [Earlier post from 2005]

Thanks to Euan Semple for the link to this Independent interview with John Gray, plugging his latest book “Gray’s Anatomy”.

I find the fact that he “predicted” the recent financial crisis utterly irrelevant, but the pragmatic political view of philosophy without fundamental isms and ideologies is refreshing. Interestingly, I was just reading a piece from 2006 by Matt Kundert in defense of isms. No-one likes to be pigeonholed within an ism, but like any classification it serves a purpose, which has nothing to do with being in any sense fundamental nor even clearly delineated or defined.

Interesting post from Ben Goertzel. Nihilism gets a bum rap. Discerning parody from reality – if something subtle or hard to understand is parodied on the basis of a simplistic view, then the simplistic view sticks. Time for a new name rather than flogging a dead horse by trying to rehabilitate the original name.

Not sure I’d agree that Dostoevsky ultimately relied on god or an “absolute” faith. Definitely a faith in a moral compass – a direction towards progressive good – once we are cast adrift from the idea of absolute objective truths.

Only one post in three weeks. Mentioned I’d enjoyed a weekend in Austin, TX, then spent the whole of the following week in Vegas (well Henderson, NV actually) at a conference – worst place on the planet IMHO, anyway …

Spent one day in New York on the trip home. My first, so I just spent the day walking the streets orienting myself. Starting early morning at Penn Station, Madison Square Garden, up the Empire State, Broadway, Columbus Circle, Central Park, Times Square, Greenwich Village, Hudson River, World Trade Center site, Brooklyn Bridge, The Bridge Cafe, Wall Steet, Battery Park, Staten Island Ferry, and the subway back up to Penn Station, and home to Oslo via Newark.

I was sick for a day or two on the return home, which was a shame because we had vistors this past week. After a few days of rain in Oslo, we drove over to Bergen for a couple of days. Bright clear warm weather worked out fine to see Hardangervidda and Hardangerfjord on the way over and Sognefjord on the way back – many of the lakes still substantially frozen, but lots of meltwater already swelling the many waterfalls. A good break.

Managed to complete Don Quixote (Smollett’s 1760’s translation of Cervantes 1610’s original) Volume 2 in the process. The thousand pages of slapstick and masqued anecdotes amuses to the end, returning home to die. The knight was often misguided but his aim always true, the whole thrust being to question which is reality and which madness. Sancho Panza gets it; when logic fails, the question is “What is good?”

“Senor, a large river separated two districts of one and the same lordship–will your worship please to pay attention, for the case is an important and a rather knotty one? Well then, on this river there was a bridge, and at one end of it a gallows, and a sort of tribunal, where four judges commonly sat to administer the law which the lord of river, bridge and the lordship had enacted, and which was to this effect, ‘If anyone crosses by this bridge from one side to the other he shall declare on oath where he is going to and with what object; and if he swears truly, he shall be allowed to pass, but if falsely, he shall be put to death for it by hanging on the gallows erected there, without any remission.’ Though the law and its severe penalty were known, many persons crossed, but in their declarations it was easy to see at once they were telling the truth, and the judges let them pass free. It happened, however, that one man, when they came to take his declaration, swore and said that by the oath he took he was going to die upon that gallows that stood there, and nothing else. The judges held a consultation over the oath, and they said, ‘If we let this man pass free he has sworn falsely, and by the law he ought to die; but if we hang him, as he swore he was going to die on that gallows, and therefore swore the truth, by the same law he ought to go free.’ It is asked of your worship, senor governor, what are the judges to do with this man? For they are still in doubt and perplexity; and having heard of your worship’s acute and exalted intellect, they have sent me to entreat your worship on their behalf to give your opinion on this very intricate and puzzling case.”

[ …. ]

“Look here, my good sir,” said Sancho; “either I’m a numskull or else there is the same reason for this passenger dying as for his living and passing over the bridge; for if the truth saves him the falsehood equally condemns him; and that being the case it is my opinion you should say to the gentlemen who sent you to me that as the arguments for condemning him and for absolving him are exactly balanced, they should let him pass freely, as it is always more praiseworthy to do good than to do evil; this I would give signed with my name if I knew how to sign; and what I have said in this case is not out of my own head, but one of the many precepts my master Don Quixote gave me the night before I left to become governor of this island, that came into my mind, and it was this, that when there was any doubt about the justice of a case I should lean to mercy; and it is God’s will that I should recollect it now, for it fits this case as if it was made for it.”

“That is true,” said the majordomo; “and I maintain that Lycurgus himself, who gave laws to the Lacedemonians, could not have pronounced a better decision than the great Panza has given; let the morning’s audience close with this, and I will see that the senor governor has dinner entirely to his liking.”

(PS This quoted text actually from John Ormsby’s 1880’s text in the Project Gutenberg edition.)

Had a weekend free between business in Houston last week and conference in Vegas this week, so I spent Friday & Saturday on my first visit to Austin, TX.

The SXSW festival was a couple of weeks ago, so I had no idea what to expect from Austin. I’d noticed Todd Snider supporting Yonder Mountain String Band at Stubbs BBQ, so I had a reason to drive up to Austin anyway (even though Todd was also playing Houston House of Blues on the Saturday). Have to say as support, Todd’s set was too brief, but good to see the Stubbs place – a little outdoor “festival” site. Too many in the audience who seemed to know Todd’s songs (Todd has serious fans), singing, whoopin & hollering in recognition at the choruses and riffs, but talking loudly through his verses. YMSB were just not to my taste … trading mandolin and banjo licks … clever, but ….

It turns out Austin is a real bluesy town – live music bars over several blocks downtown, all year round, and particularly lively this weekend with the Urban Music Festival in town … rap on every corner, surreal number of uniformed black biker groups cruisin on their choppers amongst the pimped sound systems on wheels …. with hundreds of Austin’s finest taking their meal-breaks in the bars too. Made for a great atmosphere in the spring warmth … did I mention the meadow flowers lining route 290 on the drive up … beautiful ?

Anyway, blues … Canadian Jo Hell at Latitude 30 – stunning range, technique and an entertainer. Swamp Sauce at Friends with Dave K on guitar (and the tiniest practice amp at full volume) and Jeff Clark on harp and vocals (the latter so reminded me of Graham Parker) great sounds and energy.

The Urban Music Festival after show party (recommended by the latter), at Antone’s (now there’s a place), with Bavu Blakes in front of a real strong band …. rappers not usually to my taste, but done with wit and I enjoyed him/them, supporting Gary Clark Jr. Another great young blues guitarist – heavy too, doubly heavy with Eric Zapata on the very loud and very different rhythm guitar – good job the two obviously get on. Good and loud.

Anyway, judging by the number of live music bars, as many as Nashville and Memphis put together it seemed, looks like my kinda place. I mean I really like Nashville; as well as the obvious lower-Broad venues catering to the C&W tourists, it actually has plenty of real music too, but Austin was kinda like Nashville without the cheese. Good looking place too, the mix of modern high-rise corporate statements and old stone / warehouse blocks, and a little Chicago-style “gothic” high-rise too. By way of variety, after watching the bats (and the water-fowl / pond-life) at sundown under the Congress Bridge, and sunset on the state capitol, I treated myself to a meal at Trulucks Crab House, complete with cocktail pianist. Good food and good service, courtesy of Pedro.