The End of Political Science

The core idea is sound.

According to the author of The Three Languages of Politics, there are three separate buckets of political thinking in the USA: a libertarian bucket, a progressive bucket and a conservative bucket. For each bucket, there is a corresponding axis along which we evaluate political ideas. For example, a libertarian will evaluate an idea based on whether it increases or reduces freedom; a conservative will evaluate the same idea based on whether it conserves or imperils some important aspect of civilization; and a progressive will evaluate the idea based on whether it helps or harms some oppressed minority.

Most of us fall into one of these buckets and, while we are very quick to evaluate ideas using our **own** axis as a guide, we are cognitively unable to grasp that people in other buckets use a different axis. This causes us to dismiss those people as stupid or wilfully obstinate.

This basic idea calls to mind George Lakoff’s Moral Politics and Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations.
In Lakoff’s version, we evaluate political ideas using one of two metaphors according to whether we are conservative or liberal.

In Haidt’s version, we all share six moral “senses” that are activated in different proportions in liberals and conservatives. The details are a bit different but the advice is the same: we can be more effective politically if make more of an effort to understand our opponent’s point of view.

So far so good. We could all benefit from understanding what our opponents are saying and from learning to make arguments using our opponent’s axis for reference. My problem with the book is that I know of almost no one who fits into one of the author’s buckets. I certainly don’t fit in any of them.

I know that progressives have a disproportionate influence in academia and in the Democratic Party. I mostly know this because they terrify the conservative writers that I read on the web. In real life, I know just a handful. The left-leaning people that I meet in real life are either freedom-loving liberals who believe society should be organised to be fairer to the disadvantaged or people who picked Team Blue early in life and buy whatever the Democrats are selling in any particular election.

Living in Silicon Valley, I know a LOT of libertarians. Even the liberals are libertarians. However, I know vanishingly few people who believe that the US government is a greater threat to liberty than the corporations who own our media (social or otherwise), our food supply, most of the land and wealth in the United States and, even, the politicians who run the goverment.

On the evening of the last election, a prominent conservative personality said he had always believed that most Republic voters were conservative but “it turns out that there are only about 200 of us and we all know each other”. The Republicans stopped being conservative many years ago.

The people I know who voted for Trump were either a) Christians who are afraid that atheists and progressives want to eliminate Christianity from the public square (I think they are right to be afraid), b) Make America Great Again types who want to return America to its former glory and think that a swamp creature is just what we need to drain that swamp and (most of all) c) people who picked Team Red early in life and have been persuaded that Team Blue is out to destroy everything they cherish or d) Very Rich People who think their wealth is safer with Republican hands on the levers of government (totals may add to more than 100%).

I do know a very small number of conservatives but they all started voting Democrat in about 2008 about 4 years after the Republic Party lost its moral compass entirely.

To summarise: full marks to the author for encouraging us to try to understand our opponents views but I’m afraid his buckets do carry even a passing resemblance to real life voters.

The author, a libertarian, proves his own thesis by entirely failing to understand the political views of everyone who is not in his bucket. As to understanding libertarians, I’ve found it much easier to predict their views since I started to think of them as “Propertarians”. They don’t value **liberty** so much as they value **property**. If you own something, you probably deserve it. The government should not be allowed to interfere with your property rights. If you own nothing, well. Hard luck to you. You probably don’t deserve it. Try to own more stuff in your next life.

Fukuyama announced the End of History in 1992. I’m announcing that political theory ended in 2016. Political science has nothing more to say about American elections that can’t be explained by assigning voters to Team Red or Team Blue. Even when Team Red reverses it’s policy on everything that the Red Team previously held dear, the Team Red voters change their opinion along with them. There’s a small number of people who think about the issues more deeply but not enough to influence the outcome of an election.

Read the book though. It’s cheap and short and easy to read. You might learn something or, more likely, it might encourage you to come up with your own taxonomy like I did.

The Curse of the Worthy Movies

When Netflix first started their DVD service, we did what everyone else did. We loaded up our queue with classic movies from the old days and started watching stuff we’d always wanted to see but never gotten around to. Then Netflix recommended “more like this” and the movies we watched got worthier and Worthier and WORTHIER. Before we knew it our queue was full to the brim with Iranian Tragedies and French Kitchen Sink Dramas. It got to be too much and we quit Netflix.

You have to pace yourself.

It’s great to watch the occasional worthy movie—those films are on everyone’s Top Ten list for a reason—but you have to mix in some fun stuff too or it starts to feel too much like hard work.

In my ideal movie club we’d think about movies according to two attributes.

  1. Are they fun?
  2. Are they good quality?

We can plot our movies on a chart with four quadrants. As always, it’s best to be high on the right.

Click chart to embiggen.

Movies that are high on the left are the ones you find on famous people’s top ten lists. It’s Citizen Kane & Battleship Potemkin. It’s Metropolis and The Bicycle Thief. Anything by Shakespeare or Kurosawa.

You can tell you’ve watched a Worthy Movie if, when you get to the end you say “I’m glad I watched that, but I hope I never have to watch it again.”

Watching your worthy movies is something you should do occasionally, like having a colonoscopy, and you should feel good about yourself afterwards. But it’s no fun spending all your time with a tube stuffed up your arse.

The bottom right has your fun movies that you watch when you don’t want to think too much. They are just good, escapist mind fluff. Think Clint Eastwood and an Orang Utan or gym teachers who howl when you take them to the dirty laundry room. Sex with Pies.

Mindless Enjoyment is a fine thing once in a while but too much of it and you’ll rot your brain.

There’s only one reason to watch a movie in the bottom left quadrant. Remember when you watched a whole bunch of movies that you thought were hilarious when you were twelve. You should watch them one more time as an adult, just to remind yourself how far you’ve come. Farting cowboys are not as funny as they used to be.

There are so many classic movies up in that top right quadrant that you might wonder why anyone would watch anything else—especially in a movie club whose charter requires them to watch classic movies of yesteryear.

There are two reasons why that doesn’t happen.

First reason: If everyone follows the same algorithm (a worthy movie now again is a good thing), then we’ll all have a worthy movie in mind. We’ll all have to watch everyone’s worthy movie before we get to the good stuff and, in a movie club with 100 members, if we each nominate one worthy movie we should start watching classic movies in about two years.

The other good reason to watch a worthy movie—and we’ve all made this mistake—is to ask someone else for advice. You know, that brother-in-law who loves movies, or the co-worker who went to film school. Or maybe there’s some famous film critic online. Ask any of these people what their favourite movie is and they’re gonna pick a worthy movie. Their reputation depends on it.

They won’t tell you that the movie is no fun of course. After you complain that you just sat through 3 hours of Egyptian Brass Bands wandering around the Israeli desert or Japanese business men held captive in some sand dunes, they’ll say “Oh yeah. It was a bit heavy going in places…” or “Right. It’s a long time since I’ve watched that one.” It was probably an honest mistake but you are not getting those three hours back. Trouble is, we all have a brother-in-law like that and they all want to recommend a worthy movie.

Anyway, so I’ve started a movie club and we got off to a great start. One mindless fun movie to get us started then a couple of classics that are among the top-rightiest movies that have ever been made.

We’re currently lost in The Worthy Zone but I have high hopes that we’ll get back to the top right soon, though we may have to make a slight detour into oh-my-god-no-land before we get there.

This week’s choices fill the quadrants completely. I hope we choose well.

Come join us, why don’t you?

I’ve seen Winston from both sides now

I know about all the setbacks and and the successes. I know all the great put downs (Lady Astor: “If I were your wife, I’d put poison in your coffee.” Churchill: “If I were your husband, I’d drink it.”). I know all the speeches. But I didn’t know about all the times Winston Churchill came close to death. It’s as though he lived his life right on the edge to derive the maximum use of his allotted time.


I’m reading Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill by Gretchen Rubin. Forty Ways is one of the books recommended by Dan Carlin in his often excellent Hardcore History series. Dan’s show was great. Gretchen’s book…not so much.

The central conceit of the book is that Winston was such a complex character, you have to see both sides to fully understand him. Each chapter is a kind of He Said, She Said testimony on each of Winston’s traits— Was he an alcoholic? Was his marriage happy? Was he suited to high office? —with anecdotes from his numerous friends and even more numerous enemies.

The overall effect of this rather shallow treatment is to reduce the great man to a series of caricatures and the sense of his overwhelming presence that comes across in more conventional tellings is somehow lost.

The book contains very little information that would be new to anyone who has more than a passing knowledge of Churchill’s biography but there’s one chapter in the middle that sheds a little light on his charmed life. In Churchill’s Destiny—How He Saw Himself, Gretchen rattles off all little details that might have become the most important episode in an ordinary man’s life; the kind of episode one might tell and retell at every opportunity. But, in Churchill’s over-stuffed existence, they barely merit a footnote.


Here’s a sample:

  • Churchill battled pneumonia twice: in 1886 and again in 1943.
  • At age eighteen, playing tag, Churchill jumped from a thirty foot bridge and tried to land in a treetop on the way down. He ruptured his kidney, injured his spine and was unconscious for three days.
  • A few month later, he nearly drowned in Switzerland.
  • In a letter to his mother in 1897 while fighting the Pashtun as a Second Lieutenant in British India, “I am so conceited that I do not believe the Gods would create so potent a being as myself for so prosaic an ending.”
  • At age 25, he helped rescue a train that was under attack from enemy fire. He was captured by the Boers.
  • After the Dardanelle disaster, Winston resigned and went to fight in the trenches (could you imagine a modern politician resigning and then going to fight in the trenches?). His shelter was destroyed by a shell five minutes after he left it to deliver a message.
  •  After surviving the trenches, Winston took flying lessons. One plane caught fire; another flipped after takeoff; another crashed after the guiding stick failed. He finally quit after a fourth crash that injured his flying instructor.
  • He was hit by a car on Fifth Avenue in New York in 1931.
  • He was shot at by a sniper in 1944 in Greece. Winston’s response: “Cheek!”


After he became Prime Minister in 1940, Winston “was conscious of a profound sense of relief. At last I had the authority to give directions over the whole scene. I felt as I were walking with Destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.”

No Apologies

I’ve developed a habit in recent years of getting so excited after reading the first few chapters of a book that I want to write a provisional review before I even really know what it’s about.

Two chapters into Unapolagetic, I was shouting yes! yes! yes! and couldn’t wait to capture my agreement in digital ink. I even, for the first time ever, used the highlight feature on my kindle so that I could accurately report all the many, many points that resonated with my own experience.

On one point in particular Spufford was singing my life with his words. When he described that transcendental moment when I meditate on the immensity of eternity – Spufford calls it ‘praying’ but, whatever – and I experience a little shimmer in the corner of my mind’s eye and suddenly everything makes sense and the whole universe lines up for my inspection and appreciation….  I didn’t know that other people experienced it too. I thought that was just me and I had no idea that some people called that shimmer ‘God’.

Seeing my secret thoughts in pixels, I was tremendously excited to document my assent to Spufford’s project which, as I understood it from tentatively supportive reviews by a couple of Christian bloggers that I follow, was to describe Christianity’s benefits in words that a non-Christian could identify with. I could get behind that project.

Real-life intervened though and the reviewable moment was lost. An emergency dash down to Santa Barbara later and the blogging window slammed shut. As I ploughed on through the next chapter on theodicy all my admiration fell away.

Spufford concedes that the problem of evil  is not a problem for atheists. It’s only a problem if you believe in one very specific kind of God: that is, a God who loves the world and is in full control of all the outcomes. There is no problem of evil if your God doesn’t care about children with cancer. Without love, there is no problem to be solved.

Likewise, there’s no problem with a God who cares an awful lot about you but is powerless to do much about it. That God would be lame and not much worthy of all the cathedrals that get built for him and he’d create all kinds of problems for his marketing department but he wouldn’t create any particular challenges for philosophers.

Since the God that Spufford worships is allegedly both omnipotent and benevolent, the problem of evil is a big problem indeed and Spufford absolutely demolishes all the usual excuses for why God allows evil to happen to good people. Let’s just say that if Spufford were in God’s marketing department, God would’ve fired him by now. Spufford works in mysterious ways.

I just went back to my Kindle to read over all the sections that I highlighted back when I thought  this was a great book. Spufford really is an astoundingly good writer. He wasn’t just singing my life; he was strumming my secret pain in ways that make me wonder if he isn’t in league with the NSA. I really want his project to succeed but chapters three and four make me despair for the whole liberal Christian project, cuddly new popes notwithstanding.

I’ll report back if I learn anything new.


It’s all good

lesmisI saw Les Misérables on stage with my wife-to-be on one of our first dates and read the book soon after. I watched it again last night with my daughter after a twenty-something-year gap and I think I spotted something new about the story that I have not heard mentioned before. I even went to check the SparkNotes to see if this was some obvious theme that only I was missing but… nope. No one else noticed it but me.

When anyone mentions Les Mis, there are a few themes that immediately pop into your mind: it’s very long and tedious; it’s sentimental kitsch; the songs are awful; the story is an entirely predictable tale of redemption for Jean Valjean; the scene on the barricades is totally unnecessary and out of place.

All those things are true but I think there is something quite profound about how the characters interact with each other. All of the characters (*with one possible exception below!) are very moral according to their own particular version of morality. Of course, since it’s a liberal play/book/movie, all the ‘good guys’ subscribe to liberal conceptions of morality: everyone deserves a chance; kindness will be repaid; poor people commit crimes out of necessity.

But if that was all there was to the story, it would be a very shallow fable about a very liberal morality — we all get to cry for Fontine and boo at Javert — but I suspect that there might be more to it. We have all been missing something quite shocking.

Everyone in Les Mis behaves quite morally—according to their own understanding of right and wrong. Even the baddies.

Jean Valjean gets off to a bad start but learns the power of love and earns his redemption many times over.

The priest believes that everyone deserves a chance and gives Valjean his at great cost to himself.

Fantine gives up every sliver of self-respect to keep her daughter alive.

Javert believes in the Rule of Law above all and it matters not at all to paladin-types like Javert that Valjean has done good in his life. Valjean has broken the law and must be punished. Javert is willing to devote his whole life to bringing Valjean to justice.

The anarchists on the barricades believe the government is corrupt and should be overthrown. The soldiers who gun them down have the opposite view.

The slut-shaming women that get Fantine fired from her job believe that sexual impropriety and non-traditional families are Very Very Bad and should be punished. The Slut-shamers’ beliefs are probably shared by a majority of People Who Consider Themselves to be Morally Upstanding.

The photo that got Ashley Payne fired from her teaching job.
The photo that got Ashley Payne fired from her teaching job.

The foreman who actually sets Fantine on the road to self-destruction is following an ethical code that has held sway for most of human history and has only recently begun to retreat from the mainstream. In the glorious 50s that conservatives love to reminisce over,  most young women would have been suffered the same fate as Fantine. Even today, young teachers can be fired for inappropriate Facebook photos.

The only exception to the ‘everyone is moral’ rule is, of course, The Master of the House but I bet, if you asked him, even he would say that all those other conceptions of morality were invalid and that the only proper behaviour is to look out for your own interests.

[* OK. That last one is a stretch. The Thénardiers are quite evil]

It’s quite something that all these conceptions of morality still have their champions 150 years after Hugo wrote it all down for us. Will we ever figure out which one is correct?




The Gift of a Book

When I was 20, my girlfriend’s brother bought me Bleak House for my birthday saying “I love buying books for people who will get pleasure from them.” I’ve flirted with Bleak House more times than I can remember but there is always some other book ready to steal my affections.

Bleak House at Broadstairs. The scene of many a childhood misadventure
Bleak House at Broadstairs. The scene of many a childhood misadventure

I’ve been through a substantial proportion of the Dickens canon in the last thirty years – and loved every one! – but, somehow, something about Bleak House keeps me from making that final commitment. But Colin! Believe me when I say that I am so grateful for your gift and your faith in me and, one day, I will prove myself worthy of your kindness.

I have been a committed reader since I first learned ITA and I formed the habit of keeping 5 or 6 books on the go soon after. I keep my active books in a pile by my nightstand, each waiting for the privilege of being the next to come to bed with me. I’ll sample a little of each until one seduces me, whispering I am the one, and commits me to reading on on on until the finish.

R. Dragon took me on flights of fantasy.

In the early days of my reading adventure, Green Smoke and The Little Wooden Horse and The Magic Faraway Tree were my night-time companions but, these days, Mr Bezos’s magical device sends me sample after sample to tease me and tempt me into making that brief, literary commitment. I do still have a few pre-electronic books on my nightstand, waiting for their turn to join me in bed and one of them is Bleak House, waiting longer than Pip waited for Estella – nearly 30 years now – for a turn under the covers.

On the RoadOther friends have had more luck giving me books. Matt currently holds the title Most likely to buy me a fantastic book, a title he first earned with On The Road, telling me “I hesitate to give you this, because you might just take off and leave me behind”. In the end, it was he that took off and I stayed put, probably to both our chagrin(s). Matt has since bought me several books out of the blue and every one was a winner. I have tried repaying his complement on more than one occasion, but I fully expect my attempts to settle the debt are still piled on his nightstand.

Another memorable book-shaped gift came from Colin’s (and therefore Fiona’s) brother-in-law Rod. I can’t tell you how many times I re-read Fungus the Bogeyman and I’d be more than a little ashamed to tell you how many times it made me cry.Fungus the Bogeyman

Perhaps the best ever surprise book came from an unusual source. When I was 15, my dad who, as far I know, never actually read a book, bought me Principles in Organic Chemistry, a second year (american) college textbook. I say my dad bought it for me, but what I almost certainly mean is that my stepmother bought it for me. Sue, if you are reading, I don’t know how you ever thought to buy me that book and I have been meaning to ask you since forever. That book was perfect for my fifteen-year-old self as, at the time, I loved chemistry and I read it over and over. I still remember all the methyl-, ethyl-, propyl- prefixes and the difference between an -ene and an -ane and how Americans had different names for everything (and still do!). I’ll forever be grateful. I wish I still possessed that book just as I wish I still possessed the Joy of Frogs (think: Joy of Sex but with frogs) that you bought me the year before.

Michael Freeman's 1000th book on photography.
Michael Freeman’s 1000th book on photography.

It’s a little bit sad that I have no one to buy books for these days. Mrs Clown reads occasionally, but not any book that I would ever think to buy for her. I have bought her many a book but our secret agreement is that I buy the book for her, read it myself and then tell her what’s in it. She particularly enjoyed me reading Michael Freeman’s The Photographer’s Mind.

My biggest little clown couldn’t get enough of books when he was an even littler clown but one too many deadly earnest Great American Novels For Children doused his passion for books in elementary school. I seem to recall that Little House on the Prairie provided the final bucket of water that killed the flame forever. The other little clown still enjoys reading in theory but, in practice, has too many electronic temptations to sit patiently with something so old-fashioned as a book and certainly wouldn’t let people from another generation recommend books for her.

It’s a great shame because I so desperately want them to love the books that I love. I am still able, across the vast generation gap that separates us, to choose a movie and force them to sit still (put that phone down!) through those crucial first 15 minutes until the plot grabs them and drives the electronic temptations from their minds but it’s a skill I have to use sparingly because, although my success rate is impressively high, I feel that a little of my influence drains away each time I use it.

Only for children who love dogs

One small clown still trusts me to recommend TV series for us to watch together despite the attempts at sabotage by the other two but my book-recommending mojo is, I fear, gone forever. I still have full confidence in my ability to choose a book for my little ones, but I have no confidence that they will actually open it and let the words cast their magic spell. One little clown, just last week, even made it all the way through one of my favourite books from my childhood but I have no evidence at all that the Call of the Wild was ever more than mere words on a page for her.

If I had a teenage daughter to recommend books for, I would certainly recommend that she read The Bell Jar. OK, maybe I’d wait until she was a little older so she could appreciate the wit and the delicious cynicism more completely, but I have no doubt that she would love it and that it would change the way she thinks about life. It’s always risky to recommend a book when you are only half way through but I am sufficiently moved by the first half that I wanted to put down my Kindle for long enough to write how much I’m enjoying it.

Sylvia Plath, for me, has always been a footnote in Ted Hughes’s biography. Mr Banks, my teacher for the last two years of primary school, was a Ted Hughes pusher and if we weren’t reading poems about attent, sleek thrushes on the lawn, we were making enormous collages about The Iron Man but I didn’t know anything about his wife, Sylvia Plath, except the thing with the oven. I understood that a certain kind of american feminist held Hughes responsible for her death but I never understood why they cared so much about her death in the first place. Now I do. She’s a brilliant writer.

I’m not much of a feminist myself – and I’m even less of one after the PyCon thing last week – but if I were a woman and a feminist, I think I’d want to be the kind who succeeds because she’s great at what she does, not because she’s a feminist and Plath was a great writer and she tells a story that I know well. I hear she’s pretty good at poetry too, and that’s where my reading adventure will take me next.

The Bell Jar

Religion for Atheists

[It’s that time again. That time when I rummage through my unfinished posts folder and decide which one’s would be better out than in and which belong in the digital toilet bowl. This one from March 2012 (barely) made the cut. 3 others weren’t so lucky. Two more (Run Silent, Run Deep and Confessions of a Comic Sans Lover) get to remain in limbo for a little while longer before the reaper calls again or my muse returns whichever comes first.

I still haven’t read the book but it’s waiting on my Kindle.]

I love reviewing books before I have read them then cycling back afterwards to see how completely I got the book wrong. In a sense, my pre-reading review is purer; unsullied by actual knowledge of what the book is about.

The blurb on Alain de Botton’s website says:

What if religions are neither all true or all nonsense? The boring debate between fundamentalist believers and non-believers is finally moved on by Alain’s inspiring new book, which boldly argues that the supernatural claims of religion are of course entirely false – and yet that religions still have some very important things to teach the secular world.

Religion for Atheists suggests that rather than mocking religions, agnostics and atheists should instead steal from them – because they’re packed with good ideas on how we might live and arrange our societies.

My initial expectation was that de Botton was proposing a project similar to my own campaign for ceremonial deism but, actually, as I learned from watch Bob Wright interview him on, he is proposing something far more profound.

I have written many times about my reverence for the Church of England and how I wish we could keep the rituals, the traditions and the trappings while just quietly assuming that the myths, though stirring and deeply meaningful as they often are, are not actually true. de Botton covers all that (I’m guessing) and funerals but tackles a lot of other areas where there is a religion-shaped hole in modern, secular society.

I found one idea particularly intriguing. When you go to church, they have sermons that are explicitly about virtue. While morality tales abound in cinema and books and, I assume, modern kids get to discuss ethics in the context of a novel or poetry, there is no context outside of a church where someone sits you down and says here are some important moral principles and you should follow them.

Now clearly, religion’s choice of topics, especially in 21st century America, does not entirely match my own. I expect that’s a big part of the problem. When Santorum  talks about morality and virtue, he is talking about abstinence and contraception and gay marriage and other evils of the modern world.

[I’m sure the next paragraph would have been profound but, sadly, I forgot what I was going to write.]

Here we go out of the sleep of mild people

Four years ago, I drove up to Portland, Oregon to make a new life and I fell entirely in love with every detail of the city. I loved exploring Portland and I found something new each time I looked.

I have a sense that the puritans never made it as far as Portland. In San Jose, the mayor is proud that they haven’t handed out a new liquor license in years. They just recycle the old ones. They make-believe it’s a virtue. In Portland, the mayor is named after a beer. In San Jose, bars are either dingy and shallow or new, shiny and shallow and when they die, they are replaced by another just the same. In Portland, bars spring up on every corner and reach for the sky as a tree in the rainforest reaches for the canopy and the sunlight beyond.  Undaunted by the diversity of what came before, new bars are excited and eager to become part of the diverse ecosystem where everyone feeds off everyone else’s success.

I loved the little details of the city. I loved finding the kind of place that has 27 beers on a blackboard, ranked by IBU and scribbled out as new beers are put on tap and old ones run dry. I loved that Portland has more strip clubs per resident than anywhere in the United States and I loved finding myself in the middle of a World Naked Bike Ride and seeing co-workers cycle by with a delighted wave. I loved going to the movies and being brought my dinner on a tray. I loved seeing the realtime display above the bar announcing who had just checked in on FourSquare and I loved that every new bar had three new beers that I had never previously tried.

My favourite bit of Portland was the New Old Lompoc on 23rd. It was the kind of crappy, divey, dingy bar that is always filled with real people and even when it wasn’t made you feel real. The Lompoc brewed their own beer and I began with the Condor because I had been warned that the hoppier IPAs would shrivel my labia. Condor gave me cramps in my calfs just like Courage Sparkling Bitter did all those years ago and like no other beer since. By the time I was done with Portland, I always looked for the hoppiest beer or the strongest beer on the blackboard, genitalia be damned. In Portland, I found barley wines and even, for the first time in 25 years, a prize old ale at Steve’s wonderful Cheese Shop that took me back to that tiny pub in Horndean.

On my first visit to the Lompoc, four long years ago, the waitress brought me my Portland Dip and a pint of Condor and smiled the brightest, widest smile I have ever seen outside of a Hollywood movie. Last Monday, the same waitress smiled the same bright smile as she delivered my labia-shrivelling Kick Axe at my last farewell to Portland before I departed for my new life back in San Jose. The Lompoc is closing down next week to make way for some nice new condominiums. They tell me that it will reopen in a couple of years, but it won’t be the same. It feels oddly fitting that the Lompoc will close down just as my love affair with Portland ends and my new life begins.

This week, I started a new job with a brand new startup. The kind of startup where everyone looks at each other and decides whether we should use Python or Ruby or, perhaps, Perl because no one has really thought about trivial details like which technology to use yet. The kind of startup where the furniture is scavenged from a previous tenant and where, if you want to talk to the CEO, you swing your chair around and talk to him. WebMD wasn’t an especially big company but, in many ways, it felt like the biggest company I had ever worked for and by the end it felt very safe and comfortable. It’s time for something a little more dangerous and exciting.

The title quote, by the way, is stolen from the book I am reading.

Here we go out of the sleep of mild people, into the wild rippling water.

I have seen the movie, Deliverance, three or four times already but no one ever told me I should read the book too until now. The writing sears my senses.

In many ways it reminds me of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  There too, I had seen the movie so many times that I could almost recite the lines but the quality of the writing in the book just took my breath away. I was totally unprepared for how it would move me. I remember reading a paragraph of Cuckoo’s Nest and putting the book down gasping for breath at the audacity of the words and then rereading the paragraph to check that it was as good a second time. It almost didn’t matter whether the plot was good. He could’ve been writing about turnip farming and I’d still read it with joy for every root vegetable and planting.

Deliverance has that same quality. The movie catches a little of the delight of creating a scene where nothing happens but the nothingness is burned into your consciousness as when the albino kid joins Drew in Duelling Banjos. Who has ever seen the movie and forgotten that scene? It has nothing to do with the plot. The plot almost does not matter and those scenes keep coming and coming.

I am just at the point in the book where they put their canoes in the river, a little afraid of what’s around the next bend. For now, they know nothing of squealing like a pig or of what they will have to do to survive as their adventure turns dangerous but they have a sense that something important is going to happen.

I like to think that even if they knew all the things that might happen downstream, they’d still get in those canoes and paddle down that river and enjoy the thrill of the whitewater along with the calm certainty of future success. Anyone who has ever joined a startup knows the feeling of pregnant possibility and the quickening as the ideas swell and kick the new company into life.

It feels great to dip my paddle in new waters and to bend my bow knowing that the shot I fire will change the world. The rednecks hardly scare me at all.

Photo Credit: Naked Bike Ride by Stefan

Things I Got Wrong


  • Maester
  • Khal


  • Catelyn is much older and harsher than I expected. In my mind she had a stark beauty.
  • It was inevitable that Ned would look like Sean Bean but I had him older and more refined.
  • I can’t get the hang of Rob but Bran and Jon Snow are exactly as I pictured them. What’s the deal with Rob’s accent? Was he not brought up in Winterfell?
  • Arya is a little younger than I expected; Sansa is much older and much too tall. I don’t recognize her even though I know exactly who she is.
  • Robert as the fat dude from every english black comedy for the last ten years? Caught me by surprise. I expected a Brian Blessed-alike. It works though. I’ve already forgotten he was in Full Monty.
  • Cersei is close enough to be recognizable. Jaime too.
  • Joffrey is laughable. A cartoon character. Like the latter-movie Malfoy. Viserys is no better.
  • Tyrion’s actor is too familiar to be convincing. Tyrion in the book was much more evil in the beginning and only trended neutral in later volumes.
  • Daenerys is exactly as hot in a not-really-my-type kind of way as I expected. The book has her at 13 years old but I fully expected HBO to age her for guilt-free letching. They’ll sell more posters that way.
  • The Dothraki in general are not nearly exotic enough but Drogo is freaky. I expected mongols. It is known.
On a personal note, I am entirely delighted by Arya. She is by far the most interesting character in the book and the actress who plays her exudes chaos. I don’t know whether I’d rather be 9 years old so I could fall in love with her or be 9 years old and actually be her.


  • Well done on The Wall!
  • The clockwork cityscapes in the title sequence are charming.
  • I expected more exotic landscapes for the horse folk to wander over. More semi-desert, less south down.

Waiting for the little red envelope containing episode 3…back to reading book 5. Sigh. It’s a slog.