Word Play


Sea lion, sea horse, sea l.  Sea L?  Someone got lazy.

Water polo. Marco Polo.  Why do water games end in Polo?

Why is c the only letter that sounds like a type of water?  Maybe there are other letters that have bodies of water that sound like them  — the D – the E – the F — but we don’t know about them because they are very far away

Sometimes when something sounds like something it doesn’t matter.  “Laminated” sounds like “lemonade”.  But lemonade is not laminated.  There’s no connection.  Unless, there is a connection.  When we are thirsty we don’t have lemonade. And then our thirst is laminated.  By lemonade.

An “Elephant” is like El Infant which is Spanish for the baby.  Because an elephant is like a Spanish baby.  I’m not sure about that.  Because babies are small.  

Maybe the only words that sound like what they are the water ones.  Lemonade has water in it.

If somebody received an email and it said “see attached links” and they expected a “lynx” meaning the animal that would be dumb.  Dumb joke or an actual dumb person.   Or both.

Sometimes I write jokes and sometimes I say things that i am sincerely trying to understand.   Sometimes I do what I can.  Sometimes I do what I must.   It’s like the difference between living in Canada and living in Mustada.

These things I say sometimes seem silly and sometimes seem serious. Maybe that’s cause they’re things.

There used to be a toy called silly string. I would like to market serious string.  There used to be a toy called silly putty.  I would like to market somber putty.  

There are fun size candy bars.  But I can’t marked serious size candy bars.  Because they already exist.  And they are fun.

There is justifiable homicide but no justifiable rape or arson.  But homicide is worse.  You’d think that would be harder to justify. I don’t want to be murdered or raped or arsoned.  I don’t even want to be thieved.

Would I rather be murdered in a justifiable homicide or in a plain old homicide?  On the one hand, a justifiable homicide is better than a plain old homicide.   On the other hand Justifiable seems worse cause then I would not just be dead.  I would also be wrong.

You can commit homicide in self-defense.  But you can also steal in self-defense.  Cause you’re hungry.  Any time you attack you can say you’re doing it in self-defense.  When you attack yourself you are making a self-attack in self-defense.  And vice versa!

Why do I make jokes?  I believe I make jokes about things that I don’t have a handle on.  Like women’s breasts.  They interest me but they shouldn’t because they are a source of food for a baby.  And I’m not a baby.

In addition to being a source of food for a baby, breasts are also a possible source of starvation for a baby.  If the mother makes a different decision.  

So a woman’s breasts are full of meaning.  Milk and meaning.  Possibly that’s why there are two of them.

I think that’s why I, a man, have nipples.  They are not full of milk and meaning. But they are full of meaning.    And no milk at all.  That’s too much meaning. Men have too much meaning and not enough milk.  That’s why we are so annoying.

I think it is lucky that we evolved as a life form with breasts because they are helpful organs.  If we were all cobras we would not be nearly so affectionate to each other. Because we would not have the organs to express that love.   On the other hand we could shed our skin.  

Early humans thought that meant snakes were immortal.  Early humans were dumb. Part of the problem was that they didn’t know they were early humans.  Because they hadn’t been around long enough to see that there were going to be more kinds of humans.  They thought they were just humans.  They didn’t know people would come who stood up straighter.  They thought they were already standing up straight.  I am smarter than an early human only in this respect. I know I am an early human.

I made some jokes about breasts and that might be offensive because some of us are men and some of us are women.  But I think the two genders should be honest and share information.  For example, woman did you know that a man if he really needs to urinate can hold the tip of the penis tightly, let it fill with urine and thereby add a tiny amount to his urine carrying capacity?  If you did not know that now you do.

I heard some women have penis envy.  They shouldn’t.   They should commit no penis sins at all.  No penis envy, penis lust, penis vanity or penis anger.  Or penis schadenfreude

Schadenfreude means shameful joy.   Schaden — shameful.  Freud – joy.    People talk about guilty pleasures.  And they mean watching Real Housewives Atlantic City or eating fudge. But those are not guilty pleasures.   A real guilty pleasure is enjoying your friend’s death.  

If you were really guilty about a pleasure you wouldn’t tell people about it.  You’d keep it a secret.

I was trying to be funny when I said if you were guilty you wouldn’t share.  You would if you did it to be forgiven.  I did that.  I was guilty of telling a lie to be funny.  And I confessed.  Do you forgive me?

The only thing you don’t forgive is if somebody hurt you cause they get off on being forgiven.  Unless you like that.  Then you’re a masochist.

Is masochism self-defeating?  Yes.  But if you never do anything self defeating you’ll never defeat yourself!  And then who can you defeat?  Some dumb masochist who wants it anyway!

People can want impossible things.  A friend of mine made a joke about a gay man who wanted straight cock. This was his joke: I have some news for you about the straightness of the cock you’re getting.  But my friend was being unfair.  

There could be a masochist who says beat me and is disappointed when the sadist says “okay”.  Because he wanted to be frustrated.   People say that’s a joke.  But actually it’s a serious.

You can want to be surprised.  And you can tell me that and it can make it harder for me to surprise you.  I can want you to understand me without words.   And I can tell you that using words.  That’s life.  Some people are at home outside.

Some people exhibit their sexiness by hiding it.  Some people are voyeurs by not looking.

I had a friend who didn’t want to be aroused by women’s bodies.  So he moved to a country where women kept their their bodies hidden.  But there was a chain going from a woman’s pants in the woman’s house — a slender silver chain —  to a bell.  And whenever the woman took off her pants the chain would move and the bell would ring and he would hear it and think somewhere there’s a pantless woman and become aroused.

One time a man rang the bell and he was aroused.  So he was gay.  Then it was a dog.  So he was a bestialist.  Then it was a baby.  And he was a pedophile. Then it was the wind.  So he was erotically attracted to the wind.


If you don’t believe me look it up.  The wind ringing a bell is a real thing.  It’s called a wind chime.

Billy Joel had a favorite cubist painter.  George Braque-aque-aque-aque-aque

One time I played strip chess.  It made the chess more sexy.  But it also made the sex more chessy.

Some people never show off. But they show off how much they don’t need to show off.  You’re like.  Hey show off.  And they say — no.

That’s what jokes are I think.   They’re when we say we want something but we’re afraid to say we want it.  When we believe something but are afraid to believe it.

That’s why jokes are the saddest thing there is.  Except for serious things.

This essay includes a lot of word play.  But word play is also word work.

Louis Armstrong said about jazz that if you have to ask what it is man you’ll never know.  Jazz is different from a droop.  What is a droop?  A droop is a fruit with flesh around a single pit.  Unlike jazz, If you have ask what a droop is, man you will find out.

I wish I didn’t have to work with words to get people to understand me.  Or to love me.  I wish I had the life of an aphid.  All I would need to be happy would be to stick my mouthparts into the leaf I lived on and suck leaf juice.  If I were an aphid it would literally be living the life of Reilly.

But as I’m sure you already know — aphid is as aphid does.


My Friend Flip, The Fictionist

My friend Flip wrote fiction and worked as a para-legal for a big firm, and had a very organized mind, and a lot of time, although to be honest, what he produced was not so much fiction as ideas for fiction, contracts between himself and his (imaginary)audience that were never notarized.  Not even signed.

Example: Flip would start with the basic idea of a detective solving a crime and then think to himself: Flip!

Meaning: How can I flip it?  So he would write an outline where the murderer wants to be caught, and auditions the detective, out of so many detectives.  So at the end of the day he had flipped the murderer from — WANTING NOT TO GET CAUGHT — to the opposite WANTING TO GET CAUGHT — and had flipped the plot from — A DETECTIVE TRIES TO SOLVE A CRIME — to A MURDERER TRIES TO FIND A DETECTIVE.

Further examples: He flipped a story about two lovers finding happiness to a story about happiness, an evanescent trait of bliss and oneness, seeking the two people who could give it a birth in this messy world.

Flip: Eric is not making up a character named Flip to give his readers something to mull over, but Flip is a real person making up Eric.

And Flip again: the relationship of Eric and Flip and Flip and Eric is a natural constituent of reality — the flip — and it is seeking the brains of its readers and writers to roost for a second in this swirling, boiling caldron of atoms, that calls us “life”.

And Flip again: the relationship of “flipping” is seeking out a flip, from flip to non-flip to finally find rest.

And having rested…TO AWAKE!


Heidegger on Atoms, Hammers, and People

As I read him Heidegger thinks there are three kinds of things we run into in our lives.

Things Like Hammers and Other Tools

We don’t tend to think about them because they disappear into the background of whatever we are doing with them.  They form interrelated groups.   Example: hammers.

Things Like Atoms

These are items we encounter when we try to figure out the laws for how things work abstracting from what our own needs and perspectives are.  Example: atoms, sets, enzymes.

Things Like People

These are things for whom what they are is an issue for them.  If you find yourself asking the question “What am I and what should I be doing with myself?” you are one of these.  Heidegger’s word for this is “Dasein.”

In a sense, a single thing can be all three depending upon how we run into it.  So my hand might be at the same time a collection of atoms, a tool for me to scratch my back, and a part of me which I am challenged to interpret.  There are definitely weird border-line cases as well.  Is a sickness — say a malaria infection — a free-standing scientific phenomenon or a drag on my ability to get things done?  You might say the first — it’s just a bunch of plasmodia running around after all — but that wouldn’t get the “sickness” aspect of it.  If those plasmodia were not interfering with my life, we wouldn’t call them a sickness.

When we do computer programming we are viewing the interaction of atoms in our computer as a tool.

When we view DNA as a computer program we are naturally using our language for interacting with tools to get a handle on cells and their history.  That makes sense because it’s one of our fundamental ways of getting a grip on something.  But it also doesn’t make sense because when the DNA first started evolving in the primordial soup there was nobody around who was using it as a tool.

What is the DNA really?  It’s part of our history which we are challenged to get a grip and understanding because that’s the kind of thing we are.

Can we make an artificial Dasein?  In a sense we always are.  Part of how we interpret ourselves is by endlessly making new versions of ourselves, through art, and projects we solicit others to participate in.  Dasein interprets itself by producing and projecting new versions of itself, and by responding to challenges to do so. It has to do so within limits — it has limited time and limited resources to do so — and that’s what makes it fun.  Of course it also makes it scary.

Heidegger calls death “the possibility that there will be no more possibilities for Dasein”.  That’s part of what it means for Dasein’s being to be an issue for it.  If there were endless possibilities of more possibilities, with no possibility of the possibilities running out, then Dasein would have no need to interpret itself and interpretation would have no meaning, or mattering.  An interpretation is always saying — this thing is like this and not like that — a family is a dictatorship and not a democracy for example.  With limitless time and no death we could say a family is a dictatorship and a democracy and a duck pond and etc. etc.  We would have no need to fix an interpretation to live with and that would mean what a family is would not be at issue for us.

This is an optimistic interpretation of death, because it means where there is no death there is no Dasein.  It’s only because of the possibility of the end of possibility that we can be what we are.  Maybe the end of possibility can also be seen as the final resolution of the issue of what it is to be Dasein — a heaven-like, nibbana-like state of bliss.  Or maybe that makes no sense!



Be Kind and Gentle. Let People Whine and Complain. Don’t Use Curse Words

There’s an idea that the way to get people to do good work is to be tough on them, encourage them to be tough on themselves, require them to endure emotional pain, scold them for being fragile and vulnerable, and for admitting that things hurt them.  Don’t whine, the advocates of this idea say.  Don’t complain.  It’s hard for everybody.  Suck it up.

This is wrong.  If somebody is experiencing pain there is a reason that person is experiencing pain.  We as their encouragers — teachers, employers, teammates — want to know why they are experiencing pain.  They shouldn’t be encouraged to lie about the pain to us or to ourselves.

Maybe the pain is based on a mistake — they are trying something too hard, or going about it the wrong way.  Maybe the pain is because they have an internal battle — they think they believe in the goals they are working for but don’t entirely — they see problems or fear some consequences.   In any case, to deny the pain is to close our eyes to information.

There is no need to be tough on people, to curse them or scold them.  Learn what is difficult for them and help them address the difficulty, whether it’s a mistake — that can be dispelled by knowledge — or a the lingering effects of a trauma or an internal conflict.



Political Discussion

At the end of a long march they were talking about politics.  “We should go back to the time when everybody felt they were a big family and worked together” said Nimmi.  “That’s crazy” said Raoul.  “That led to incredible loss of life and wars.  We should go back to a time when people were united by a common belief about what Truly Matters.”  “That would mean going back to the bloodletting of the Inquisition.” said Marie.  “We should go back to the time when we were simple technologically undeveloped bands of hunter gatherers who wandered across the savannah.”  “Oh but that led to all the other things — to slavery and religion and then wars of national conquest.” said another.  But they fought alongside each other when the Ant-Men of Kadap attacked and they were swallowed all three of them — Nimmi, Raoul, and Marie — and the ant-men brought them back to life in virtual form inside the brain of the Hive Queen there to conduct their political dialogue until eternity and a day.  Maybe they have figured it out by now.

Hope so!


Online Communication

I wanted to recount three stories of online communication and draw some conclusions.  I think it’s worth thinking about because of how much of our lives we spend online, and how many romantic and political decisions are made online.  That prompts fear and worry, on the one hand, but attraction on the other for reasons some good, some bad, and some mixed.

First story: story of the angry trolls.  I have accumulated a lot of online facebook followers over the years and don’t know who many of them are in real life.  Usually they are people who liked some sort of art or entertainment that I put out there.  A few months ago I made a joke online supporting a boycott of Uber, which seemed to be involved in some shady price-gouging.  There were some obnoxious posts making fun of me and accusing me of being a stockholder in Lyft.  The last part was untrue and was known to be untrue by the person who posted it, so I deleted it.  Then I went to the store to do some grocery shopping.  While I was waiting online I saw my feed was filled up with personal attacks including altered photos of me, from two people.  I googled how to block them and blocked them and deleted all their posts.   I wondered what the story was — why would people who want to interact with me online lie about me and end up getting blocked.  What good did it do them?

Second story – story of the Islamophobia debate.  I got involved in a twitter debate about whether or not Sam Harris was Islamophobic.  Somebody I didn’t know with a weird twitter handle argued with me and gave me the challenge “Can you give me one example of people blowing themselves up who are not motivated by a promised afterlife, from religion in general, and often Islam in particular.”  I felt his whole take on Islam was quite bigoted, but a challenge was a challenge, so I suggested Cato the younger, who killed himself because he didn’t want to live in a world where Julius Caesar was in power.  My online debate partner said, quite reasonably “That was suicide but he didn’t bring anybody down with him.”  I responded “Sure but that’s just cause he didn’t have access to a suicide vest.  The Romans participated in political assassination and if Cato could have brought Caesar down with him, he would have.”  But I knew this was pretty weak on my part.  My unknown debate partner would be justified to say “Look we are talking about real things that actually happened, not some made-up counterfactual situation where Cato the Younger had access to a suicide vest.”  So I was driving to get some milk and wondering “Hmmm….homicide plus suicide plus atheism…”  And then I thought “Aha!  Dylan Klebold!”  So I pulled over to a side street whipped out my phone and tweeted back.   I had a great counter-example of a murder suicide not motivated by religion.

Third story – I reposted an article about how the ultra-orthodox in Israel are alienating US Jews.  A friend of mine from high school said this was the sort of thing that alienated him from his Jewish faith.  An online acquaintance — a religious woman and political commentator posted that if that was the sort of thing that shook my real friend’s faith then he had no faith to begin with.  I am pretty non-confrontational but I thought — why not put my foot down.  I told my online acquaintance publicly and privately that she shouldn’t attack people’s faith to defend her political position.  She agreed and posted a nice apology though I don’t think my real life friend cared.  He felt she had shown her true colors.  The online acquaintance felt bad — she feels she is a compassionate person and that her zeal had been misunderstood.  I also told her she can’t respond to people’s points with stickers of somebody vomiting into a toilet bowl, and had to restrict herself to rational arguments.  She agreed she would.

What do these stories teach me about online communication?

One is that it is fun and has a game-like quality.  When I came up with my counter-example I felt a feeling of triumph.  I scored a point against an opponent whom I had never met, but I felt a rush of dopamine as I do when I win a chess game or see a tweet get a lot of likes.   This game like stance is a guarded stance — you don’t feel that the online response can actually hurt you.  And yet people can really get hurt.  Actual lies can get spread, and actual enmities can form and fester.   That’s why the “troll” strategy is appealing — act in such a way that you can really hurt others, but don’t let them know you well enough that they can really hurt you.  Sun Tzu really.  I’m not saying I was a troll but my activities were troll adjacent because my interactions were more about winning an intellectual game than really putting myself out there.

My conclusion is that when you are willing to show vulnerability you can actually accomplish something, as I think happened in my third story.  When you try to treat things as a game you at best can just win a game, at worse can do real damage.  As Plutarch says “Though the boys throw stones at the frogs in jest, the frogs do not die in jest, they die in earnest.”

Of course the ability to protect yourself, hide behind a fake persona, and treat interactions as a game is in no way limited to online communication.  You can be real online and fake IRL.  Whole fifty year marriages might as well take place in a chat-room for all the actual honesty that is on display.


Mixing up the Weird and the Normal

Do you know the story of the English-speaking kid who learned Spanish?  He learned that Spanish has another word for the second person plural — usted — used in polite contexts and for speaking to more than one person.  And he wondered why English had no such form of the second person.  So he sojourned forth into the world and asked everyone he met “Do you know the English second person?  Do you?  Do you?  Do you?”  Joke being that the word he was using — “you” — is the English second person plural, and in a foregone age due to excess of politeness and deference, English speakers stopped using the English second person singular — “thou.”

This kid was subject to a confusion.  He thought “thou” was a weird word, used only in old-timey contexts, by witches and Shakespearean kings, and “you” was the normal word.  But actually he had it reversed.  What he took for normal was weird and what he took for weird was normal.  He was making a mistake cousin to that of the fish who don’t know they swim in water because they have never experienced anything else.   But unlike the fish he had experienced the weird, and he sought for it, but didn’t realize as he sought for it asking “Do you?  Do you?  Do you?” he was an example of the weird thing he was looking for.

Similarly people seek out the monstrous and the strange and imagine it.  The minotaur: half-man and half-bull.  The sphinx: half-man and half lion.  The centaur: half-man and half horse.  But what do these monsters have in common that make them monstrous?   Not, bull lion and horse which are just animals, as normal as a spring rain.  They share their monstrous nature in the monstrous ingredient: the weird true and original monster: man.

We seek weird heavens and hells but the weirdest locale is the one we were born to: the world.

The world is cognate with the weird and both are cognate with “were” — the weird and spooky man for all of us.  The world is the were-held — the home of that original weirdo.