“Everything that could move, had moved away; but some human beings had remained. The empty structures were vertical rubble; they had been eaten, not by time, but by men: boards torn out at random, missing patches of roofs, holes left in gutted cellars. It looked as if blind hands had seized whatever fitted the need of the moment, with no concept of remaining in existence the next morning.”
— Ayn Rand, “Atlas Shrugged”. Although written about a fictitious town, it perfectly captures the feeling one gets while wandering the industrial ruins of Detroit.
5:38 pm • 7 September 2013
It occurred to me that maybe I was the odd one on the subject,but that was disposed of too. Most touring cyclists know how to keep their machines tuned. Car owners usually won’t touch the engine, but every town of any size at all has a garage with expensive lifts, special tools and diagnostic equipment that the average owner can’t afford. And a car engine is more complex and inaccessible than a cycle engine so there’s more sense to this. But for John’s cycle, a BMW R60, I’ll bet there’s not a mechanic between here and Salt Lake City. If his points or plugs burn out, he’s done for. I know he doesn’t have a set of spare points with him. He doesn’t know what points are. If it quits on him in western South Dakota or Montana I don’t know what he’s going to do. Sell it to the Indians maybe. Right now I know what he’s doing. He’s carefully avoiding giving any thought whatsoever to the subject. The BMW is famous for not giving mechanical problems on the road and that’s what he’s counting on.
I might have thought this was just a peculiar attitude of theirs about motorcycles but discovered later that it extended to other things. Waiting for them to get going one morning in their kitchen I noticed
the sink faucet was dripping and remembered that it was dripping the last time I was there before and that in fact it had been dripping as long as I could remember. I commented on it and John said he had tried to fix it with a new faucet washer but it hadn’t worked. That was all he said. The presumption left was that that was the end of the matter. If you try to fix a faucet and your fixing doesn’t work then it’s just your lot to live with a dripping faucet.
This made me wonder to myself if it got on their nerves, this
drip-drip-drip, week in, week out, year in, year out, but I could
not notice any irritation or concern about it on their part, and
so concluded they just aren’t bothered by things like dripping faucets. Some people aren’t.
What it was that changed this conclusion, I don’t remember — some intuition, some insight one day, perhaps it was a subtle change in Sylvia’s mood whenever the dripping was particularly loud and she was trying to talk. She has a very soft voice. And one day when she was trying to talk above the dripping and the kids came in and interrupted her she lost her temper at them. It seemed that her anger at the kids would not have been nearly as great if the faucet hadn’t also been dripping when she was trying to talk. It was the combined dripping and loud kids that blew her up. What struck me hard then was that she was not blaming the faucet, and that she was deliberately not blaming the faucet. She wasn’t ignoring that faucet at all! She was suppressing anger at that faucet and that goddamned dripping faucet was just about killing her! But she could not admit the importance of this for some reason.
— Robert Pirsig, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”
10:34 am • 29 March 2013
“The other day I was in the post office when a man in line in front of me bought one of those U.S. Postal Service boxes. Then he moved down the counter a few inches to assemble his package while the clerk waited on the next person. But the man soon discovered that the books he wanted to mail were going to rattle around in the box, so he interrupted the clerk to tell her his problem. She offered to sell him a roll of bubble wrap, but he told her that he had already paid $2.79 for the box, and that was a lot for a box—he could have gotten a box for free at the liquor store—and what was he going to do with a whole roll of bubble wrap? Carry it around all day? The clerk shrugged. Then the man spotted a copy of the Village Voice on the counter and laid hold of it to use it for stuffing. "No!" said the clerk. "That’s my Voice." Annoyed, the man put it back and looked around helplessly. Now a woman in line behind me said she’d give him the sections of her New York Times that she didn’t want, and she began going through the paper. "Real estate? You can have real estate. Sports? Here, take sports." But the real estate section was all the man needed. He separated the pages, stuffed them in the box and proceeded to the taping process (interrupting the clerk once again). Another man in line asked the woman if he could have the sports section, since she didn’t want it. She gave it to him, and so finally everything was settled.”
11:58 am • 27 March 2013
“There is much talk of “diversity” in education, but not much accommodation of the kind we have in mind when we speak about the quality of a man, or woman: the diversity of dispositions.”
We are pre-occupied with demographic variables, on the one hand, and sorting, into cognitive classes, on the other. Both collapse the human qualities into a narrow set of categories, the better to be represented on a checklist or a set of test scores. This simplification serves various institutional purposes. Fitting ourselves to them, we come to understand ourselves in light of the available metrics, and forget that institutional purposes are not our own. If the gatekeeper at some prestigious institution has opened a gate in front of us, we can’t not walk through it. But as a young person surveys the various ways he could make a living, and how they might be part of a life well lived, the pertinent question for him may be not what IQ he has, but whether he is, for example, careful or commanding. If he is to find work that is fitting, he would do well to pause amid the general rush to the gates.
-Matthew B. Crawford, Shop Class As Soulcraft
6:56 pm • 12 January 2013
“To be a good soldier you must love the army. But to be a good officer you must be willing to order the death of the thing you love. This is…a very hard thing to do. No other profession requires it. That is one reason why there are so very few good officers. Although there are many good men.”
“They rode for a while in silence, a tiny island in the smoky stream of marching men. Then Lee said slowly, in a strange, soft, slow tone of voice, “Soldiering has one great trap.”
Longstreet turned to see his face. Lee was riding slowly ahead, without expression. He spoke in that same slow voice. “To be a good soldier you must love the army. But to be a good officer you must be willing to order the death of the thing you love. This is…a very hard thing to do. No other profession requires it. That is one reason why there are so very few good officers. Although there are many good men.”
Lee rarely lectured. Longstreet sensed a message beyond it. He waited. Lee said, “We don’t fear our own deaths, you and I.” He smiled slightly, then glanced away. “We protect ourselves out of military necessity, not do not protect yourself enough and must give thought to it. I need you. But the point is, we are afraid to die. We are prepared for our own deaths, and for the deaths of comrades. We learn that at the Point. But I have seen this happen: we are not prepared for as many deaths as we have to face, inevitably as the war goes on. There comes a time…”
He paused. He had been gazing straight ahead, away from Longstreet. Now, black-eyed, he turned back, glanced once quickly into Longstreet’s eyes, then looked away.
"We are never prepared for so many to die. So you understand? No one is. We expect some chosen few. We expect an occasional empty chair, a toast to dear departed comrades. Victory celebrations for most of us, a hallowed death for a few. But the war goes on. And the men die. The price gets ever higher. Some officers…can pay no longer. We are prepared to lose some of us." He paused again. "But never ALL of us. Surely not all of us. But…that is the trap. You can hold nothing back when you attack. You must commit yourself totally. And yet, if they all die, a man must ask himself, will it have been worth it?”
-Michael Shaara, The Killer Angels
4:02 pm • 20 November 2012
“That at some point the U.S. acquired a new platform to conduct these strikes is not particularly relevant to the character of that war and even less to its nature.”
— -“The Drone War Does Not Take Place” found via @AntDeRosa
3:36 pm • 20 November 2012
“Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.”
— Cormac McCarthy, The Road
4:08 pm • 17 November 2012
“There was madness in any direction, at any hour. (…) You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning…”
Strange memories on this nervous night in Las Vegas. Five years later? Six? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era—the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run… but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant.…
History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of “history” it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time—and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.
My central memory of that time seems to hang on one or five or maybe forty nights—or very early mornings—when I left the Fillmore half-crazy and, instead of going home, aimed the big 650 Lightning across theBay Bridge at a hundred miles an hour wearing L. L. Bean shorts and a Butte sheepherder’s jacket… booming through theTreasure Island tunnel at the lights of Oakland and Berkeley and Richmond, not quite sure which turn-off to take when I got to the other end (always stalling at the toll-gate, too twisted to find neutral while I fumbled for change)… but being absolutely certain that no matter which way I went I would come to a place where people were just as high and wild as I was: No doubt at all about that…
There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down101toLos Altos or La Honda.… You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning.…
And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.…
So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.
-Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream
11:36 am • 17 November 2012