Diary, 6/28 to 7/2/19

Copyright 2019 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

Uptown Girls
Brittany Murphy and Dakota Fanning in Uptown Girls

{6/28/19}  Weight 223.6.  Since I’ve stopped actively trying to lose weight, my weight has been going up.  Looks like it’s back to toast-for-dinner instead of eating out.

Watched a couple of movies last night, DVDs from the library.  Uptown Girls [13% at Rotten Tomatoes dot com] is the more interesting.  Brittany Murphy is over-the-top, alternately goofily charming and cringeworthy, in a contrived and predictable script that ends up sticky-sweet, but I bought it [metaphorically], being a sucker for that sort of thing when it’s sold to me by Dakota Fanning.  Unfortunately, Dakota was not enough to save Hide and Seek, a psychological thriller that, on “the revelation,” had me saying out loud, “No way!”—and not approvingly.  There was enough good about the movie along the way that I was not inclined to fast forward or even to sigh very much with impatience.  As it happens, I had seen this disappointing movie before but had forgotten it almost completely.  In my defense, it is quite forgettable.  The problem, as usual, is the clichéd script, plus an unsympathetic central character played by Robert DeNiro.  As a whole, it’s not so much terrible as it is meh.

I’m more or less done (the last two chapters are unappealing) with Walter Kaufmann’s The Faith of a Heretic.  For the record, Walter Kaufmann:  The Faith of a Heretic, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 1961-2015, pb.  Two standout points for me were 1) the virtue-based ethics which I found persuasive, and 2) the view of death that I also found persuasive.  These are eminently worth reviewing in detail, and although I want to get to Kick Me, finally believing that I can finish the rewrite because of my “soft commitment” to “turning pro,” I also fear that if I don’t do it now, I never will.  Accordingly:

I’ve always struggled somewhat with questions of ethics and what they should be based on.  My final answer was to say, if anything deserved to be called evil, it’s unnecessary suffering; thus, if anything can be called good, it’s the prevention of unnecessary suffering.  Further, if one disputes this to-me self-evident claim, then “I don’t know how to talk to you.”  This is somewhat shaky (“Suffering isn’t evil, only the causing of suffering is evil”) but otherwise okay as far as it goes, but it only scratches the surface.  However, the problem, I now think, is that I’ve always been looking for a rule-based ethics, even while I doubted that a rule is really a solution; Kaufmann offers a virtue-based ethics, which seems to solve the problem by not offering a rule, except perhaps an unstated “pursue these virtues.”  A quote:

“My own ethic is not absolute but a morality of openness.  It is not a morality of rules but an ethic of virtues.  It offers no security but goals.”  (§83, p. 306)

The thing that persuades me to “an ethic of virtues” is that rules are constricting, must be defended, and seldom work out in practice, while goals allow one to figure things out as one goes.  Goals are weights to put in the balance pans.  This is better than the (false) “security” of behaving in accordance with (somebody else’s) Absolute Rule, like Mill’s or Kant’s or the bobble’s.  Sort of the difference between geometry and carpentry, which I’ve come across in a different context, I think.  Though the “silver rule” is good, too.  (“Do not do unto others,” etc.)

Kaufmann’s four virtues are actually five:  “humbition” (a combination of humility and ambition), love, courage, and honesty.  An important quote:

“An ethic cannot be proved; to be held responsibly, it has to be based on encounter upon encounter.  This notion of encounter is of the utmost philosophic importance.  It makes possible the safe passage between the untenable claim of proof and the unwarranted charge of irrationality.”  (§85, p. 321)  Well, the last part isn’t clear out of context.

As for the attitude toward one’s death, this quote I remembered from decades ago:  “Once I strove with the gods, and more is not needed.”  Which the text corrects to:  “Once I / Lived with the gods, and more is not needed.”  (§97, p. 370)  It’s from a poem by Hölderlin.  The idea is that if you’ve done the best that is in you, accomplished your life goals or mission statement, you’ll be content to go—with no hope of eternal life—without excessive whining.  This is attractive and verges on the heroic.

{6/29/19}  Weight 223.6.  McDonald’s for dinner.  So much for that “decision.”  Since Pablo said he’d pay for his own, I weakened and lived to regret it.

I’ve worked for about an hour on Kick Me.  Sorting out the events of my childhood is very difficult and many details remain uncertain.  Some disorganization of the text remains unresolved.  I stopped to eat a banana, but I’ve still got about 45 minutes on my “soft commitment.”  The commitment is getting me through the revision, but I’m not enjoying it, especially this morning.

Yesterday I got an “Obama phone.”  The guy, just out of high school, who set me up with the phone was not especially competent—he said I’d be able to keep my current phone number, but he couldn’t manage it, nor did he instruct me in the use of the phone, beyond explaining the four icons, despite my telling him that I’d never used a smart phone.  The process took about an hour because he had to resend my information several times before it got approved.  I had a number of difficulties in getting started with the phone, a typical new-device learning curve, but the difficulty of typing, which was error-prone, became intolerably frustrating.  I do not blame myself for this difficulty, and I suspect that the problem was the too-cheap phone.  I returned it and asked the guy if others had returned phones—he said no.  He made no effort to help me with the typing, nor to offer an alternative phone, nor did he even try it himself, apparently assuming that I was just a befuddled old doofus.  Perhaps he’s right; I’ve certainly accused myself of it often enough.

Last night I made the mistake of trying to watch Rachel Maddow, but it was depressing so I typed in some quotes from the Kaufmann book, then went to bed at 7:00—still a bit depressed, but thinking that I’d just get up after an hour.  But I slept until 10:00 and decided to keep going.  At 11:30 I got up again and read Nietzsche for a while, then back to bed until 5:00.  I kept needing to pee—annoying, but I have many nights like this.  It’s now 6:30.

I’m going to print up some of the Kaufmann quotes for discussion at the Hemlock Club tomorrow, though I don’t expect much edification.  It’s more likely to be an exercise in irrationality and digression.

Listened to a disc of chamber music by Górecki last night—strange sounds, very dissonant, even ugly at times, but overall I like it.

Have I really spent $140 on books and discs already?  I have a bid in on a Yale Shakespeare ($30 + $15 shipping).  Bought the Fürtwangler Ringthat will keep me entertained for a while.  Bought Russell’s History of Western Philosophy at Barnes & Noble, which also will keep me entertained for a while, if I read it (I expect to, but it will be in competition with several Kaufmanns and Nietzsche).  Used copies cost about as much as this new copy with the 30% off I had.  Also bought 50 Psychology Classics and Emma Goldman:  Anarchism and Other Essays at B&N.  Got Barry Stevens:  Don’t Push the River and Nietzsche’s Gay Science in the mail from Thriftbooks.  Many more to come.

Typing in more quotes from Kaufmann’s Faith of a Heretic, this:  “It does not show a low regard for honesty if one does not make the rounds of the local hospital every evening looking for old women about to die, so one can deprive them of their faith before it is too late.”  §85, p. 325.  Kaufmann reveals his sexism:  as a neutral pronoun he exclusively uses “he”; here, he is careful to specify the sex of the putatively foolish.  The point, however, I find valid—as I decided recently (see 6/18/19 et seq.), there is no point in convincing people of our coming doom if I have no hope to offer and the little that can be done is—hopeless?

Am I so sure?  I would in fact do something in the activism line if I could find somebody to do it with.  It is worth doing to keep “our doom” from becoming ever worse by doing nothing.

Listening to Brahms’s violin sonatas.  Good new (used) disc from Bookhounds.  Zuckerman and Barenboim—you couldn’t ask for better names.

{6/30/19}  Weight 222.0.

Watched Becoming Jane, a sorta true-life Jane Austen novel, in other words, a biopic, starring Anne Hathaway as Jane Austen.  It was good, with some chemistry between the leads, though I remained dry-eyed and mostly unexcited throughout.  Given that the BBC was involved, one might hope that the putative facts presented weren’t totally fiction.

Less amusing was Les Enfants Terrible, which I found frankly terrible.  I usually find something to like in these old B&W French “classics,” but not this time.  It seemed to be trying way too hard to be amusingly offbeat but seemed to me claustrophobic, chaotic, and weird, an endless love-hate squabble between two siblings.  The music—Vivaldi and Bach—was frenetic and overbearing.

Hemlock Club today.  I’ve selected three pages of quotes from Kaufmann’s Faith for discussion.  These things generally end up being read aloud but not much discussed.  Also on the agenda is a possible participation by Salomé, from Florida, via Skype.


{7/1/19}  Weight 222.8.

As it happened, Salomé and I talked via Skype for about half an hour.  When we first connected, I was the only member present, though J showed up a few minutes later.  Nothing much to report.  Later, Sebastian and Pablo arrived.  Sebastian recently graduated from CSUB with a degree in mathematics, but he is going to New York in three weeks to study actuarial science.  He said that he hoped to learn from [Hemlock] club members, though I’m not sure what.

We discussed the first four or five items from the Kaufmann quotes, and Sebastian expressed agreement and enthusiasm for some of them, so one might hope that he’ll go on to read the book.  The consensus was to continue with the quotes next week.  So it was a good meeting.

Well, I’ve worked on Kick Me for more than an hour this morning.  But I still have half an hour to go on my “soft commitment.”  Unfortunately, I also am lacking eggs and orange juice for my normal breakfast, so I’m thinking that I’ll be cutting the commitment short to go out.  Well, yesterday I didn’t work at all except a brief diary entry, but I had the Hemlock Club excuse.

Working on KM, I needed to check Epstein’s book for a reference, and now I want to review it or even reread it; the title is Cognitive-Experiential Theory:  An Integrative Theory of Personality.  I thought it really excellent in October of 2017.  “Essential reading—important and very useful” is what I wrote on the title page.

{7/2/19}  Weight 223.6.

Up at 5:07.  Not what I wanted, but I couldn’t get back to sleep, and I just missed the headlines from Democracy Now!, so I sit here yawning.  Does this constitute insomnia?

Reading Tom Butler-Bowdon:  50 Psychology Classics:  The Greatest Books Distilled.  Unfortunately, it’s looking more like 50 Pop-psych Self-Help Bestsellers, not quite the same thing.  It seems like I should have been able to see the deficiencies before plunking down my $14.36 (discounted from $19.95 by coupon + membership at B&N).  I have been skimming and skipping, so after a day I’m nearly done with it.  The most promising “distillation” so far seems to be Hans Eysenck:  Dimensions of Personality, from 1947, but I doubt that I’ll actually use it.  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi:  Creativity looks good.

Listened to Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder last night, found it uninteresting.  I got that disc and his Das Klagende Lied from the library, which I haven’t finished yet—I’d owned both previously, but hadn’t heard them in several decades, so I thought I’d give them a try again, since I’ve been enjoying the Gurrelieder (Schoenberg).

Also got some DVDs:  Agent Carter and Legion, both TV shows.  Watched the first episode of AC last night and the second during breakfast, and liked them well enough.  Inexplicably (or not), I missed an episode of Agents of SHIELD, after also missing the first episode, but watching the second (third?).  Since the last season seemed to “drag on forever,” my hopes for this resurrected “final” season were not very high, though it is nice to see the stars again.

Clobbered my “keyboard” again.  I was trying to tidy up macro files and templates as shown in the Visual Basic display, so I deleted what seemed an unnecessary file (or whatever it is) and ended up deleting all the macros.  So I reloaded the macro file, and the key assignments were gone.  It seems that these “unnecessary files” are just links to the one set of macros and [in?] the normal template.  But, a discovery:  by closing all the open Word files, I get rid of the “unnecessary files,” such as “duplicate” Normal templates.  The setup they have seems unnecessarily confusing, but I suppose it will make sense eventually.  It seems that the Normal template—which is where the key assignments are—is saved every time you change something in it, such as style definitions.  Perhaps you have to save the document you’re working on to save the Normal template.  I think in future when I have my key assignments back, I’ll need to save the Normal template into a second file, so that things I muck up in the Normal can be undone.  All of this has interrupted my work on Kick Me.

But still I got a lot of good work done in my two hours.  Unfortunately, what remains is all mixed up, and it’s difficult to reorganize in Word.

My email to Sebastian bounced.

My “automated callback” from Bank of America resulted in a big nothing.  Trying again.


Copyright 2019 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

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