The elitist nature of ink.

We live in a very visual world today. Do words have any power left?

I was at a symposium some years back with my friends Joseph Heller and William Styron, both dead now, and we were talking about the death of the novel and the death of poetry, and Styron pointed out that the novel has always been an elitist art form. It’s an art form for very few people, because only a few can read very well. I’ve said that to open a novel is to arrive in a music hall and be handed a viola. You have to perform. [Laughs.] To stare at horizontal lines of phonetic symbols and Arabic numbers and to be able to put a show on in your head, it requires the reader to perform. If you can do it, you can go whaling in the South Pacific with Herman Melville, or you can watch Madame Bovary make a mess of her life in Paris. With pictures and movies, all you have to do is sit there and look at them and it happens to you.

Many years ago, you said that a writer’s job is to use the time of a stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted. There are a lot of ways for a stranger to pass time these days.

That’s right. There are all these other things to do with time. It used to be people would wonder what the hell they were going to do for the winter. [Laughs.] Then a big book would come out – a big, wonderful book – and everybody would be reading it to pass the time. It was a very primitive experiment, before television, where people would have to look at ink on paper, for God’s sake. I myself grew up when radio was very important. I’d come home from school and turn on the radio. There were funny comedians and wonderful music, and there were plays. I used to pass time with radio. Now, you don’t have to be literate to have a nice time.

You’ve stated that television is one of the most viable art forms in the world today.

Well, it is. It works like a dream. It’s a way to hold attention, and it’s awfully good at that. For a lot of people, TV is life itself. Churches used to provide people with better company than they had at home, but now, no matter what your neighborhood life or family life is like, you turn on the television and you get relatives, family. I don’t know if you’ve heard about this, but scientists have created baby geese that believe that an airplane is their mother. Human beings will believe in all kinds of things that aren’t true, and that’s okay. And TV is a part of that.


"Life is very unpopular here"

The most horrible hypocrisy or the most terrifying hypocrisy or the most tragic hypocrisy at the center of life, I think, which no one dares mention, is that human beings don't like life. Bertrand Russell skirted that, and many psychoanalysts have too, in talking about people lusting for death. But I think that at least half the people alive, and maybe nine-tenths of them, really do not like this ordeal at all. They pretend to like it some, to smile at strangers, and to get up each morning in order to survive, in order to somehow get through it. But life is, for most people, a very terrible ordeal. They would just as soon end it at any time. And I think that is more of a problem really than greed or machismo or anything like that. You know, you talk about the dark side of life: that's really it. Most people don't want to be alive. They're too embarrassed, they're disgraced, they're frightened. I think that's the fundamental thing that's going on. Those of you with your devotion to peace and all that are actually facing people perhaps as brave and determined and resourceful and thoughtful as you are on some level. And what they really want to do is to have the whole thing turned off like a light switch.


When I'm engaged in any action I have to take into consideration that many of the people on either side of me don't care what happens next. I am mistrustful of most people as custodians Of life and so I'm pessimistic on that account. I think that there are not many people who want life to go on. And I'm just a bearer of bad tidings really. You know, I just got born myself and this is what I found on this particular planet. But life is very unpopular here, and maybe it will be different on the next one. 


It seems to me the whole world is living like Alcoholics Anonymous now, which is one day at a time, and it seems to me that President Carter is living that way too. Every night when he goes to bed he cackles, "By God, we made it through another day! Everybody said I was a lousy President, and here we've survived another day. That's not bad." We are living day by day by day now, but there seems to be very little restraint in the world. What an alcoholic does every day is not take a drink, and only not take a drink for a day. But I see no real restraint with regard to warlike actions. If we were truly interested in surviving, and having sobriety, each day we would congratulate ourselves not for merely having gotten through another day but for making it without a warlike gesture. But there is no such restraint. More weapons are manufactured every day and more arguments are gladly entered into and more enormous, dangerous lies are told, so there is no restraint. It would be truly wonderful if we could live as alcoholics do, to be unwarlike for just another day. We don't. We're totally warlike, and sooner or later something's going to go wrong. The book I'm working on now is about a kid, he's grown now, grown and in his 40s and his father was a gun nut. It was a house with dozens of guns in it. At the age of 11 this kid was playing with one of his father's guns, which he wasn't supposed to do, put a cartridge into a 30-06 rifle and fired out a goddamn attic window and killed a housewife, you know, eighteen blocks away, just drilled her right between the eyes. And this has colored his whole life, and made his reputation. And of course this weapon should not have existed. He was brought into a planet where this terribly unstable device existed, and all he had to do was sneeze near it. I mean, it wanted to be fired; it was built to be fired. It had no other purpose than to be fired and the existence of such an unstable device within the reach of any sort of human being is intolerable. 


Man created God in his own image and likeness, on Halloween.

The gods play games with the fate of men. Not complex ones obviously, because gods lack patience. Cheating is part of the rules. And gods play hard. To lose all believers is, for a god, the end. But a believer who survives the game gains honour and extra belief. Who wins with the most believers, lives.

Believers can include other gods, of course. Gods believe in belief.

There were always many games going on in Dunmanifestin, the abode of die gods on Cori Celesti. It looked, from outside, like a crowded city.* Not all gods lived there, many of them being bound to a particular country or in the case of the smaller ones, even one tree. But it was a Good Address. It was where you hung your metaphysical equivalent of the shiny brass plate, like those small discreet buildings in the smarter areas of major cities which nevertheless appear to house one hundred and fifty lawyers and accountants, presumably on some sort of shelving.

The city's domestic appearance was because, while people are influenced by gods, so gods are influenced by people.

Most gods were people-shaped: people don't have much imagination, on the whole. Even Offler the Crocodile God was only crocodile-headed. Ask people to imagine an annual god and they will, basically, come up with the idea of someone in a really bad mask. Men have been much better at inventing demons, which is why there are so many. 

*Few religions are definite about the size of Heaven, but on the planet Earth the Book of Revelation (ch. XXI, v.l6) gives it as a cube 12,000 furlongs on a side. This is somewhat less than 500,000,000.000,000,000,000 cubic feet. Even allowing that the Heavenly Host and other essential services take up at least two thirds of this spate, this leaves about one million cubic feet of space for each human occupant-assuming that every creature that could be called 'human' is allowed in, and that the human race eventually totals a thousand times the number of humans alive up until now. This is such a generous amount of space that it suggests that room has also been provided for some alien races or - a happy thought - that pets are allowed.


The path is the goal.

Para sanar o solucionar un problema se necesita una férrea voluntad. No poder hacer lo que deseamos ni poder no hacer lo que no deseamos, nos provoca una falta de autoestima profunda, causa de depresiones y enfermedades graves. El luchar incansablemente por lograr una meta que parece imposible desarrolla nuestra energía vital. Esto lo comprendieron muy bien los hechiceros medievales, creando recetarios que proponían actos imposibles de realizar, como por ejemplo un método para hacerse invisible. «Ponga a hervir un caldero de agua bendita con leña de vides blancas. Sumerja dentro un gato negro vivo, dejándolo cocer hasta que los huesos se aparten de la carne. Extraiga esos huesos con una estola de obispo y colóquese delante de una lámina de plata bruñida. Métase hueso tras hueso del gato escaldado en la boca, hasta que su imagen desaparezca del espejo de plata.» O bien un filtro para seducir a un hombre: «En un vaso modelado a mano con el barro que ha excavado el hocico de un jabalí, mezcle sangre de perro con sangre de gato más su sangre menstrual, agregue una perla molida y dele de beber a su amado diez gotas de este brebaje disueltas en una copa de vino». En el primer consejo, podríamos pensar que quizás no se habla de invisibilidad material, sino que quien debe hacerse transparente es el yo individual del aspirante a brujo. Después de tanto empeño en realizar algo tan cruel y dificil, se esfuma la personalidad individual y aparece el ser esencial, que es por esencia impersonal. En el segundo consejo cabe imaginar que si la bruja, por amor a un hombre, logra encontrar barro removido por un jabalí, asesinar a un perro, a un gato, y sacrificar dinero haciendo polvo una perla, despierta en ella tal seguridad en sí misma que se hace capaz de seducir a un ciego sordomudo. 

Ciertas curaciones en lugares lejanos declarados milagrosos son en gran parte debidas al largo y costoso viaje que debe hacer el enfermo para llegar a ellos.


Fictions and facts.

A picture hung on the wall of our parlor. In it, a woman was taking a shirt from a clothesline. She had clothespins in her teeth and it was windy and a boy was tugging at her dress. The woman looked like she was in a hurry and the whole scene gave me the idea that, just outside the frame, full, dark clouds were gathering. But that was not what it was. It was paint. So I decided right then and there to see the picture as it really was. I stared at the thing long and hard, trying to only see the paint. But it was no use. All my eyes would allow me to see was the lie. In fact, the longer I gazed at the paint, the more false detail I began to imagine. The boy was crying, as if afraid, and the woman was weaker than I had first believed. I finally gave up. I understood then that it takes a powerful imagination to see a thing for what it really is.


Death is a funny thing. Not funny haha, like a Woody Allen movie, but funny strange, like a Woody Allen marriage. When it’s unexpected, death comes fast like a ravenous wolf and tears open your throat with a merciful fury. But when it’s expected, it comes slow and patient like a snake, and the doctor tells you how far away it is and when, exactly, it will be at your door. And when it will be at the foot of your bed. And when it will be on your flesh. It’s all right there on their clipboards.


Matter Turns Intelligent.

Hydrogen…, given enough time, turns into people.
Edward Robert Harrison, 1995

One of the most spectacular developments during the 13.8 billion years since our Big Bang is that dumb and lifeless matter has turned intelligent.

(...) there’s clearly no undisputed “correct” definition of intelligence. Instead, there are many competing ones, including capacity for logic, understanding, planning, emotional knowledge, self-awareness,  creativity, problem solving and learning. (...)

intelligence = ability to accomplish complex goals

This is broad enough to include all above-mentioned definitions, since understanding, self-awareness, problem solving, learning, etc. are all examples of complex goals that one might have. It’s also broad enough to subsume the Oxford Dictionary definition—“the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills”—since one can have as a goal to apply knowledge and skills. Because there are many possible goals, there are many possible types of intelligence. By our definition, it therefore makes no sense to quantify intelligence of humans, non-human animals or machines by a single number such as an IQ. (...)

It’s natural for us to rate the difficulty of tasks relative to how hard it is for us humans to perform them, as in figure 2.1. But this can give a misleading picture of how hard they are for computers. It feels much harder to multiply 314,159 by 271,828 than to recognize a friend in a photo, yet computers creamed us at arithmetic long before I was born, while human-level image recognition has only recently become possible. This fact that low-level sensorimotor tasks seem easy despite requiring enormous computational resources is known as Moravec’s paradox, and is explained by the fact that our brain makes such tasks feel easy by dedicating massive amounts of customized hardware to them—more than a quarter of our brains, in fact.

I love this metaphor from Hans Moravec: "Computers are universal machines, their potential extends uniformly over a boundless expanse of tasks. Human potentials, on the other hand, are strong in areas long important for survival, but weak in things far removed. Imagine a “landscape of human competence,” having lowlands with labels like “arithmetic” and “rote memorization,” foothills like “theorem proving” and “chessplaying,” and high mountain peaks labeled “locomotion,” “hand-eye coordination” and “social interaction.” Advancing computer performance is like water slowly flooding the landscape. A half century ago it began to drown the lowlands, driving out human calculators and record clerks, but leaving most of us dry. Now the flood has reached the foothills, and our outposts there are contemplating retreat. We feel safe on our peaks, but, at the present rate, those too will be submerged within another half century. I propose that we build Arks as that day nears, and adopt a seafaring life!"


Entrepreneurship never sleeps.

The phenomenon of disruption occurs when successful firms fail because they continue to make the choices that drove their success. In other words, it does not apply when firms are poorly managed, complacent, fraudulent, or doing things differently because they are now shielded by barriers to competition. To be sure, firms can fail because of those circumstances, but that is not what we mean by disruption. (...) a “disruptive event” occurs when a new product or technology enters the market, causing successful firms to struggle. (...) an organization strains most to assimilate new architectural knowledge when it has been successfully focused on exploiting innovations based on the previous architecture.

The key to dealing with disruption is to understand that it emerges surrounded by uncertainty. While hindsight often suggests that certain disruptive events were obvious, this is far from clear when those events are emerging. (...) Some firms may be shielded from disruptive events because they possess key complementary assets, the value of which is not changed and may be enhanced by those events.

Self-disruption was proposed by Christensen as a means of proactively avoiding the consequences of demand-side disruption. The idea is that the firm takes control of disruption by charging a new division with the competitive role that would otherwise be taken by a new entrant. While establishing an independent new division can appear to be an effective response, firms often fail to translate it into successful and sustainable models as they kick the dilemmas associated with disruption down the road. Managerial conflicts emerge, and established firms find themselves unable to resolve them effectively.

If a firm wants to ride out continual waves of disruption, it needs to maintain organizational structures that preserve and can evolve architectural knowledge. Integration and continual coordination of component-level teams in product development has been shown to be an effective way to avoid existential threats to successful firms. But what has not been appreciated is that integration and coordination stand diametrically opposed to the independence and self-disruption mantra many firms have adopted to mitigate disruptive risks. It stands to reason that if your problem is how the parts fit together, adding another unit charged with doing its own thing is not going to solve it.

Dealing with disruption to ensure a successful and sustainable business involves more than just taking some additional bets with autonomous units that may get you slightly ahead of the game. (...) you need to bake your response to disruption into your mainline organization. The dilemma you face is that betting on sustainability is not without cost to short-run competitive advantage and profitability. Not all businesses will take the same path. However, once you have gone through the journey of disruption—its intellectual history, its practical reality, and the way leaders have dealt with it—you will have the two paths clearly laid out for you. What you do at that point is up to you.


Beware of friendly enemies.

I don’t prefer to work with one actor rather than another, I don’t have a troupe like Bergman has in Sweden. I'm interested mainly in the story, and I cast to realise that story. I don’t know who I shall use in my next picture, which will be made in Greece, but it will probably be somebody brand new again, only because it's more real to me that way. An actor is a person who quickly becomes “an actor," whereas there's a simplicity and unselfconsciousness and mystery about a new actor that an experienced actor often loses quickly. A person when he feels something in life would prefer to hide it, whereas an actor is in the habit of showing it. I’m not saying this is a general rule for other directors or that it is right for anyone but me, but it fits my own temperament and my own feelings about a film.

A star undercuts a story in some ways; you know he’s not going to die in the second reel or going to do anything unpleasant and that he'll get the girl in the end, and if he doesn’t come out well, the audience is disappointed because they've gone to the cinema to see him. I don't want an audience to come to see a star. I want them to see my story.

Very often recognised actors in a very subtle way condescend to a part; they clean it up, and make it more pleasant, glamorous, brave, courageous or resourceful than it is. There's nothing more boring than the bravery of an actor, and when you get a person that's new, he’s not on the lookout to always be brave or be cleaned up.

I can't stand a hairdresser on the set, and I try not to have one. But if the unions force one on me, I tell her to go in a room and play solitaire or something. If I see one fussing with the leading lady’s hair, I have a fit the first day, and then they don’t come round again. I mean I like them personally, but I don't want the hair in place. One objection I have to most costumes is that they obviously look like they were made for the film and have never been worn or used before. It's a very hard thing to fight unless you’re terribly determined and persistent; everybody's trying to clean everything up on you.

The set is full of many charming and very friendly enemies, people who are in the habit of making things pretty and more comfortable. This is the whole technique of Hollywood, to make everything more digestible. My whole effort is to bring the impact of life to the screen, so you don't ever know quite what’s going to happen.


(Not always fake, but often sloppy) Media

I’m tired of television announcers, hosts, newscaster, and commentators, nibbling away at the English language, making obvious and ignorant mistakes. If I were in charge of America’s broadcast stations and networks, I would gather together all the people whose jobs include speaking to the public, and I would not let them out of the room until they had absorbed the following suggestions. And I’m aware that media personalities are not selected on the basis of intelligence. I know that, and I try to make allowances for it. Believe me, I really try. But still… There are some liberties taken with speech that I think require intervention, if only for my own sake. I won’t feel right if this chance goes by, and I keep my silence.

The English word forte, meaning "specialty" or "strong point," is not pronounced "for-tay." Got that? It is pronounced "fort." The Italian word forte, used in music notation, is pronounced "for-tay," and it instructs the musician to play loud: "She plays the skin flute, and her forte [fort] is playing forte [for-tay]." Look it up. And don’t give me that whiny shit, "For-tay is listed as the second preference." There’s a reason it’s second: because it’s not first!
Irony deals with opposites; it has nothing to do with coincidence. If two baseball players from the same hometown, on different teams, receive the same uniform number, it is not ironic. It is a coincidence. If Barry Bonds attains lifetime statistics identical to his father’s it will not be ironic. It will be a coincidence. Irony is "a state of affairs that is the reverse of what was to be expected; a result opposite to and in mockery of the appropriate result." For instance:
If a diabetic, on his way to buy insulin, is killed by a runaway truck, he is the victim of an accident. If the truck was delivering sugar, he is the victim of an oddly poetic coincidence. But if the truck was delivering insulin, ah! Then he is the victim of an irony.
If a Kurd, after surviving bloody battle with Saddam Hussein’s army and a long, difficult escape through the mountains, is crushed and killed by a parachute drop of humanitarian aid, that, my friend, is irony writ large.
Darryl Stingley, the pro football player, was paralyzed after a brutal hit by Jack Tatum. Now Darryl Stingley’s son plays football, and if the son should become paralyzed while playing, it will not be ironic. It will be coincidental. If Darryl Stingley’s son paralyzes someone else, that will be closer to ironic. If he paralyzes Jack Tatum’s son that will be precisely ironic.

I’m tired of hearing prodigal being used to mean "wandering, given to running away or leaving and returning." The parable in the Book of Luke tells of a son who squanders his father’s money. Prodigal means "recklessly wasteful or extravagant." And if you say popular usage has changed that, I say, fuck popular usage!

The phrase sour grapes does not refer to jealousy or envy. Nor is it related to being a sore loser. It deals with the rationalization of failure to attain a desired end. In the original fable by Aesop, "The Fox and the Grapes," when the fox realizes he cannot leap high enough to reach the grapes, he rationalizes that even if he had gotten them, they would probably have been sour anyway. Rationalization, that’s all sour grapes means. It doesn’t mean deal with jealousy or sore losing. Yeah, I know you say, "Well many people are using it that way, so the meaning is changing." And I say, "Well many people are really fuckin’ stupid too, shall we just adopt all their standards?"

Strictly speaking, celibate does not mean not having sex, it means not being married. No wedding. The practice of refraining from sex is called chastity or sexual abstinence. No fucking. Priests don’t take a vow of celibacy, they take a vow of chastity. Sometimes referred to as the "no-nookie clause."

And speaking of sex, the Immaculate Conception does not mean Jesus was conceived in the absence of sex. It means Mary was conceived without Original Sin. That’s all it has ever meant. And according to the tabloids, Mary is apparently the only one who can make such a claim. The Jesus thing is called virgin birth.

Proverbial is now being used to describe things that don’t appear in proverbs. For instance, "the proverbial drop in the bucket" is incorrect because "a drop in the bucket" is not a proverb, it’s a metaphor. You wouldn’t say, "as welcome as a turd in the proverbial punchbowl," or "as cold as the proverbial nun’s box," because neither refers to a proverb. The former is a metaphor, the latter is a simile.

Momentarily means for a moment, not in a moment. The word for "in a moment" is presently "I will be there presently, Dad, and then, after pausing momentarily, I will kick you in the nuts."

No other option and no other alternative are redundant. The words option and alternative already imply otherness. "I had no option, Mom, I got this huge erection because there was no alternative." This rule is not optional; the alternative is to be wrong.

You should not use criteria when you mean criterion for the same reason that you should not use criterion when you mean criteria. These is my only criterions.

A light-year is a measurement of distance, not time. "It will take light-years for young basketball players to catch up with the number of women Wilt Chamberlain has fucked, "is a scientific impossibility. Probably in more ways than one.

An acronym is not just any set of initials. It applies only to those that are pronounced as words. MADD, DARE, NATO, and UNICEF are acronyms. FBI, CIA, and KGB are not. They’re just pricks.

I know I’m fighting a losing battle with this one, but I refuse to surrender: Collapsing a building with explosives is not an implosion. An implosion is a very specific scientific phenomenon. The collapsing of a building with explosives is the collapsing of a building with explosives. The explosives explode, and the building collapses inwardly. That is not an implosion. It is an inward collapsing of a building, following a series of smaller explosions designed to make it collapse inwardly. Period. Fuck you!

Here’s another pointless, thankless objection I’d like to register. I say it that way, because I know you people and your goddamn "popular usage" slammed the door on this one a long time ago. But here goes anyway:

A cop out is not an excuse, not even a weak one; it is an admission of guilt. When someone "cops a plea," he admits guilt to some charge, in exchange for better treatment. He has "copped out." When a guy says, "I didn’t get to fuck her because I reminded her of her little brother," he is making an excuse. If he says, "I didn’t get to fuck her because I’m an unattractive schmuck," he is copping out. The trouble arises when an excuse contains a small amount of self-incriminating truth.

This one is directed to the sports people: You are destroying a perfectly good figure of speech: "Getting the monkey off one’s back" does not mean breaking a losing streak. It refers only to ending a dependency. That’s all. The monkey represents a strong yen. A loosing streak does not compare even remotely. Not in a literary sense and not in real life.

Here’s one you hear from the truly dense: "The proof is in the pudding." Well, the proof is not in the pudding; the rice and raisins are in the pudding. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. In this case, proof means "test." The same is true of "the exception that proves (tests) the rule."

An eye for an eye is not a call for revenge, it is an argument for fairness. In the time of the Bible, it was standard to take a life in exchange for an eye. But the Bible said, No, the punishment should fit the crime. Only and eye for an ey, nothing more. It is not vindictive, it is mitigatory.

Don’t make the same mistake twice seems to indicate three mistakes, doesn’t it? First you make the mistake. Then you make the same mistake. Then you make the same mistake twice. If you simply say, "Don’t make the same mistake, " you’ll avoid the first mistake.

Unique needs no modifier. Very unique, quite unique, more unique, real unique, fairly unique, and extremely unique are wrong and they mark you as dumb, although certainly not unique.

Healthy does not mean "healthful." Healthy is a condition, healthful is a property. Vegetable aren’t healthy, they’re dead. No food is healthy. Unless you have an eggplant that’s doing push-ups. Push-ups are healthful.

There is no such thing or word as kudo. Kudos is a singular noun meaning praise, and it is pronounced kyoo-dose. There is also a plural form, spelled the same, but pronounced kyoo-doze. Please stop telling me, "So-and-so picked up another kudo today."

Race, creed, or color is wrong. Race and color, as used in this phrase, describe the same property. And "creed" is a stilted, outmoded way of saying "religion." Leave this tired phrase alone; it has lost its usefulness. Besides, it reeks of insincerity no matter who uses it.

As of yet is simply stupid. As yet, I’ve seen no progress on this one, but of course I’m speaking as of now.

Here’s one you can win money on in a bar if you’re within reach of the right reference book: Chomping at the bit and old stomping ground are incorrect. Some Saturday afternoon when you’re getting bombed on your old stamping ground, you’ll be champing at the bit to use this one.

Sorry to sound so picky, folks, but I listen to a lot of radio and TV and these things have bothered me for a long time.

George Carlin (1997) If I Were in Charge of the Networks
In Andy Borowitz (2011) The 50 Funniest American Writers

I'll drink to that.

The idea that creative endeavor and mind-altering substances are entwined is one of the great pop-intellectual myths of our time. The four twentieth-century writers whose work is most responsible for it are probably Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson, and the poet Dylan Thomas. They are the writers who largely formed our vision of an existential English-speaking wasteland where people have been cut off from one another and live in an atmosphere of emotional strangulation and despair. These concepts are very familiar to most alcoholics; the common reaction to them is amusement. Substance-abusing writers are just substance abusers—common garden-variety drunks and druggies, in other words. Any claims that the drugs and alcohol are necessary to dull a finer sensibility are just the usual self-serving bullshit. I’ve heard alcoholic snowplow drivers make the same claim, that they drink to still the demons. It doesn’t matter if you’re James Jones, John Cheever, or a stewbum snoozing in Penn Station; for an addict, the right to the drink or drug of choice must be preserved at all costs. Hemingway and Fitzgerald didn’t drink because they were creative, alienated, or morally weak. They drank because it’s what alkies are wired up to do. Creative people probably do run a greater risk of alcoholism and addiction than those in some other jobs, but so what? We all look pretty much the same when we’re puking in the gutter.