Complexity and Ignorance

In pursuing the objective to generalize theoretical models we must ask ourselves whether greater detail in formulating the contributing processes is warranted by truncation errors, by sensitivity of the results to detail, by the resulting increase in computational complexity and time, and by ignorance of the way these processes really work.
- Joseph Smagorinsky. "General Circulation Experiments with the Primitive Equations: I. The Basic Experiment." Monthly Weather Review, 91.3 (1963): 99–164.

Chance

Chance is not simply a matter of choosing, but the result of that which might have happened anyway.
- Laszlo Krasznahorkai, from "Downhill on a Forest Road," in The World Goes On

To Rule Forever

To rule forever, it is necessary only to create, among the people one would rule, what we call...Bad History. Nothing will produce Bad History more directly nor brutally, than drawing a Line...through the midst of a People,— to create thus a Distinction betwixt 'em,— 'tis the first stroke.— All else will follow as if predestined, unto War and Devastation.
- Thomas Pynchon, Mason & Dixon

What Bores You

Q: What things bore you?

Roberto Bolaño: The empty discourse of the Left. I take for granted the empty discourse of the Right.

  • From an interview with Monica Maristain for Playboy Magazine, republished in Between Parenthesis as “The End: Distant Star.”

Swimmin Time

In the distance is the gloom of the end of days, when the sun calls home its wandering rays, when all of the iron has gone to rust, and every living thing has turned to dust. There won't be anyone left to float your boat, they all went to high ground while their vessels still float, they scream God's will but you know it's a lie, by your own book it says by fire next time; the golden eggs cracked open, and there was nothing inside. Cast all dispersions build a levee of lies. I can see it comin': bite down on the leather, and close your eyes, there's nothin' to be done that can turn the tide. The money in your eyes has left you blind. You'll be the one drownin' when it's swimmin' time
 
  • Shovels and Rope, “Swimmin' Time”

On Poets

If I had to hold up the most heavily fortified bank in America, I'd take a gang of poets. The attempt would probably end in disaster, but it would be beautiful.
- Roberto Bolaño, in "THE BEST GANG," (January 1999 - April 2000), Between Parenthesis

Never Real Historians

We are never real historians, but always near poets, and our emotion is perhaps but an expression of a poetry that was lost.
- Gaston Bachelard, in The Poetics of Space

The World is an Enigma

I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.

 

  • Umberto Eco

 

 

 

Rag Water and Bitters and Blue Ruin

Well, it's Ninth and Hennepin

All the doughnuts have names that sound like prostitutes

And the moon’s teeth marks are on the sky

Like a tarp thrown all over this

And the broken umbrellas like dead birds

And the steam comes out of the grill like the whole goddamn town’s ready to blow

And the bricks are all scarred with jailhouse tattoos

And everyone is behaving like dogs

And the horses are coming down Violin Road and Dutch is dead on his feet

And all the rooms they smell like diesel

And you take on the dreams of the ones who have slept here

And I’m lost in the window, and I hide in the stairway

And I hang in the curtain, and I sleep in your hat

And no one brings anything small into a bar around here

They all started out with bad directions

And the girl behind the counter has a tattooed tear

One for every year he’s away, she said

Such a crumbling beauty

Ah, there’s nothing wrong with her that a hundred dollars won’t fix

She has that razor sadness that only gets worse

With the clang and the thunder of the Southern Pacific going by

And the clock ticks out like a dripping faucet

Till you’re full of rag water and bitters and blue ruin

And you spill out over the side to anyone who will listen

And I’ve seen it all

I’ve seen it all through the yellow windows of the evening train

  • Tom Waits, “9th & Hennepin,” one of my favorite poems, which came to mind today when I crossed 9th Street, while driving down Hennepin, in downtown Minneapolis.

Never Attained

...until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned...until there are no longer first class and second class citizens of any nation...until the color of a man's skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes...until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race...until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained.

- Halie Selassie, in an address to the United Nations, 1963.

I thought we could all use the reminder.

The Non-Eclipse

What if this eclipse somehow just didn’t happen? It would be even more terrifying for us than the eclipse was to people a thousand years ago. Suddenly, some very hard questions would need to be asked. Unrest; scientists, facing an incredulous public, desperately search for the moon, finally discovering that 60 years ago a researcher (the fourth of five listed authors of a widely-cited paper on the computer modeling of lunar orbital mechanics) incorrectly translated a punch-card into COBOL, because the process is mind-numbing, nothing like the life of the astronaut he wants to be, but anyway, in his distraction, he introduced a small, but compounding error. In the mean time we’ve burned down all the universities for nothing, all the scientists are in hiding, we’re all chain smoking and using computers to bludgeon livestock. The pope’s army is marching on the space station, and the caliph’s call echoes through Valles Marineris...

Medicine, Magic, Art

It's a turn-around jump shot it's everybody jump start it's every generation throws a hero up the pop charts medicine is magical and magical is art think of the Boy in the Bubble and the baby with the baboon heart.
- Paul Simon, "The Boy in the Bubble" Graceland

The Default Setting

The world will not discourage you from operating on your default-settings, because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able to truly care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the "rat race" — the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing. I know that this stuff probably doesn't sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational. What it is, so far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish.
- David Foster Wallace, This is Water (pdf)

Just reading that you can imagine a little bit of how hard it must have been for Wallace to operate day in and day out with an awareness of the world this raw and difficult and intimate. I never met him, but miss this man sooooooo much.

The American Fate

yet there is no avoiding time, the sea of time, the sea of memory and forgetfulness, the years of promise, gone and unrecoverable, of the land almost allowed to claim its better destiny, only to have the claim jumped by evildoers known all too well, and taken instead and held hostage to the future we must live in now forever. May we trust that this blessed ship is bound for some better shore...where the American fate, mercifully, failed to transpire...
- Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice

Men of Action

All "direct" persons and men of action are active just because they are stupid and limited. How explain that? I will tell you: in consequence of their limitation they take immediate and secondary causes for primary ones, and in that way persuade themselves more quickly and easily than other people do that they have found an infallible foundation for their activity.
- Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from the Underground

(Quick tip: want to read all kinds of great classic lit eBooks for free? Head over to Project Gutenberg.)

Street People

I'm hangin' out with the street people / They've got it down / Hangin' out with the street people / Driftin' from town to town / Who's gonna work, make the economy grow / If we all hang out in the street / Well I don't know, and I don't care / Just as long as it ain't me
- Bobby Charles, "Street People" 1972.

History and Fiction

History, really, is fiction - not because it is made up of invented facts, for the facts are real, but because in the organization of those facts there is much fiction.
- José Saramago, The Paris Review, "The Art of Fiction No. 155"

The Storyteller

It is the storyteller... who makes us what we are, who creates history. The storyteller creates the memory that survivors must have — otherwise surviving would have no meaning... This is very, very important... Memory is necessary if surviving is going to be more than just a technical thing.
Chinua Achebe, as quoted by the imitable Brain Pickings

Prophecy

What prophecy actually is is not that you actually know that the bomb will fall in 1942. It's that you know and feel something that somebody knows and feels in a hundred years. And maybe articulate it in a hint — a concrete way that they can pick up on in a hundred years.
- Allen Ginsberg, Paris Review, "The Art of Poetry No. 8"

Sermons

Is a sermon most off putting when delivered from the pulpit of a cathedral or a street corner?
- Mauro Javier Cardenas in The Revolutionaries Try Again

I'll Rise

You may write me down in history With your bitter, twisted lies, You may trod me in the very dirt But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
  • Maya Angelou, “Still I Rise”
There is no folly of the beasts of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men.
- Herman Melville in Moby Dick