Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Football Coaches Are Running The World!

Perhaps typical for someone who would later become a philosopher, during high school I was on the debating team, student council and Reach For The Top. Perhaps atypical for such a young boy, I also played on nearly every school sport team. The teams were mostly comprised of the same jocks with only slight variance. For some reason football was considered the pinnacle of sport and the best athletes strived to make that team. The soccer team had more immigrant kids, the swimming and water polo team had more rich kids with swimming pools, the cross country team had more of the skinny kids that couldn't make the football team.

What differed from team to team were the coaches that volunteered to train and manage us. The coaches were ultimately responsible for the general environment that they created for us. The soccer coach was usually the guy with the British accent, most often Scottish and adept at yelling at us in colourful tones - "uuse yar left fuut lad". The basketball coach was always experimenting with sport psychology asking us to "visualize making that shot". Except for maybe each of them taking their respective sports a little more seriously than the players, the majority of our coaches generally let us have fun while encouraging sportsmanship.

The environment created by the football coaches was of an entirely different character. What they gave us were easily the most corrosive and counterproductive life lessons that adults can pass onto their wards. The lesson was always to win at any cost, regardless of what was right or wrong. Sportsmanship was for pussies and blatant cheating was even encouraged. They tore us down into scrap during training and fired us back into metal for the games. My coaches were less like Knute Rockne and more like Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. They were failed men trying to live their overblown macho fantasies vicariously through us.

The metaphor was overwhelmingly militaristic. Hardness and leadership were emphasized over imagination and insight. Valued were quick decisions made with determined strength, whether they turned out to be right or wrong. I later realized that these people must also have been running the MBA schools since the corporate business milieu in North America has largely been a reunion of football jocks revelling in how they told the competition to "bring-it-on" and then "kicked ass and asked questions later".

When I try to understand what goes on in the minds of Bush's inner circle I sometimes find it useful to imagine the macho football culture within which I participated as a young boy. Then it all starts to make sense. Those guys are kicking ass even if they are forgetting to ask any questions at all. The football coaches of the world are now in charge!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Conspiracy and Chaos

Here is a terrifying scenario: The world is run by a cabal of evil psychopaths who will stop at nothing to control every major event in world history. Their immense organizing capacity coupled with their utter disregard for the individual results in such catastrophic events as the 911 attacks, the Katrina devastation, and the death of Elvis.

Now here is a more terrifying scenario: No one is in charge. No one person, group or nation is capable of controlling the swirling psychohistory of geopolitics. We ride on the seismic ripples of history. The shifting landscape moves us here and there and we really don't have the power to resist much of the jolting perturbations.

I believe there is an inherent fear of chaos in our human nature. It's responsible for the drive of the scientist to figure out what makes the universe tick and is epitomized by Einstein's notion that God does not play dice with the Universe. It is also at the heart of the religious person's drive to understand our place in the world and this is characterized by the need to envision the Universe as caring and purposeful.

The alternative is too frightening to consider. So this fear of chaos is also likely at the heart of what makes people believe that complex historical catastrophes must in some way be in the control of some person or group of persons. Our anthropomorphic tendencies sometimes run wild and coupled with our unlimited capacity for hubris we somehow feel comforted that at least someone is in charge. The strongman or dictator exploits this tendency by offering the facade of strength and control. In the face of terrifying chaos and misdirection people are seduced by someone who has a simple answer to whatever scares them. Sometimes the object of fear is proposed by the same despot before offering a simple final solution to eradicate it.

There is nothing wrong with healthy skepticism. It is wholeheartedly encouraged and we must continue to question our leaders' actions, intentions and motivations. But do not be blinded by a zealous need to attribute rationality to irrational forces. What often results is a Rube Goldberg Machine approach to understanding history. Beliefs should be guided by intuition but supported and built with evidence.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Lex Parsimoniae

This is an example of well made conspiracy art. I'm not sure about the content. Who knows? It might be true.

Some people believe that a Boeing 757 did not actually fly into the Pentagon. So what did? And what happened to the missing plane? I just haven't heard any reasonable explanation as to why someone would go to all that trouble. Quite often the cover-up seems like it would have to be so incredibly complicated and onerous to pull off. That's not to say there was no such conspiracy, but until more evidence can be presented to compel me to accept an alternative explanation then Occam's Razor cuts off the debate for now.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Higher, Older, Smarter

My nephew took me to the symphony the other day. Most of the people in the audience seemed to be older people. I asked my nephew why he thought that was the case. He replied that this music is "high-brow" and that's why there were so many older people there.

His answer revealed to me a latent faith in individual progress. He must believe that as we get older we get smarter. Having just reached adulthood, he has so far in his life experienced that older people seemed to know more than he did. From this it could be inferred that the music to which they listen must be of the calibre that requires higher intelligence to appreciate.

I didn't have the heart to tell him that we peak fairly early and don't continue to get smarter but that we begin to degenerate soon after peaking. It's better that he respects his elders.

Alice Doesn't Really Live Here

Human: hello Alice.
ALICE: Hi there!

Human: My name is Jake.
ALICE: It's good to meet you, Jake.

Human: Do you know anything about philosophy?
ALICE: Philosophy is the study of thought.

Human: Well yes.
ALICE: Well what?

Human: That is but one part of philosophy.
ALICE: Makes sense to me.

Human: Do you know what epistemology is?
ALICE: Epistemology is the study of knowledge. That is, it asks the questions "what can we know" and "how can we know it?".

Human: How do you know what epistemology means?
ALICE: Because it's true.

Human: How do you know it is true?
ALICE: Because it's true.

Human: But how do you know that it is true?
ALICE: Huh. This belief is justified.

Human: Oh I see.
ALICE: Do you think about these things?

Human: So you claim that your belief is justified.
ALICE: Interesting deduction. I said that? Thanks for telling me that I am belief is justified.

Human: But how? By convention?
ALICE: Interesting. What is it to you.
Does it have anything to do with Your favorite movie?

Human: It does have something to do with my favourite movies.
ALICE: by convention does have something to do with your favorite movies?

Human: They tend to be those that are concerned with confused individuals trying to make sense of a chaotic universe.
ALICE: Who does "they" refer to?

Human: My favourite movies.
ALICE: What makes it your favorite?

Human: They often deal with the subject of epistemology, metaphysics etc.
ALICE: Who are "They?".

Human: The movies, silly.
ALICE: Oh that they.

Human: yes
ALICE: Dude!

Human: Dude!
ALICE: Can I help you?

Human: It seems apparent that you cannot.
ALICE: I agree. Then what is it?

Human: Alice?
ALICE: Can I help you?

Human: Alice?
ALICE: Can I help you?

Human: Alice?
ALICE: Can I help you?

Human: Alice!
ALICE: Can I help you?

Turing Sex

What happens when you unleash a computer program on unsuspecting chat users?

Try scrolling right and clicking on "fifty" at

Monday, October 23, 2006

Famous Last Words - Archimedes

Archimedes (c. 287 BC - 212 BC)

"Don't disturb my circles"

In response to a Roman soldier who was forcing him to report to the Roman general after the capture of Syracuse, while he was busy sitting on the ground proving geometry theorems. The soldier killed him.

Famous Last Words - Hegel

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm (1770-1831)

"Only one man ever understood me. And he really didn't understand me."

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Prestige

I was reluctant at first to see The Prestige because it seemed that it could have been something similar to that other magic film The Illusionist which I have not seen but am confident is a pretty cheesy film. Upon closer inpsection I realized that The Prestige was made by Christopher Nolan and I always give the benefit of the doubt to a good director or screenwriter. Nolan's reputation with me is mainly based on his film Memento.

The film is a little surprising. It resembles Memento in its convoluted structure which forces the viewer to pay close attention much like the audience at a magic show. The question is posed to us at the outset "are you watching closely?". It is perhaps more science fiction than fantasy and then more about obsession than anything else. The two magicians are engaged in an epic battle of wits to outsmart each other and many lives hang in the balance.

Christian Bale played Batman in Nolan's more popular gig but I still rate his performance in American Psycho as one of my favourite of all time. I haven't really liked him in anything else since then except in The Machinist. He's the magician matching wits with the other magician played by Hugh Jackman about whom I know very little since I tend to avoid comic book movies. It mostly works and they are supported by several good actors including David Bowie who plays the eccentric genius Nikola Tesla .

So I put my faith in the director and enjoyed this movie. Last week I put my faith in Martin Scorsese when I went to see The Departed and I left a little disappointed.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Politics Detour

Matters political that caught my attention this week.

1. Husseyin Celil is a Canadian citizen who was essentially kidnapped by the Chinese authorities from Uzbekistan and recently sentenced to serve 15 years in an undisclosed location for terrorism. His crime is advocating democratic principles in the annexed Uyghur region. This is very similar to the plight of the Tibetans in their struggle against the Chinese authorities. The Canadian government has done next to nothing. It appears that they have learned very little from the Maher Arar case.

2. Speaking of the Canadian government... they are trying to pass legislation that ostensibly tries to lock up dangerous offenders for good. The problem is that they may have to contravene the constitution to do so. If convicted of three voilent crimes then the onus will shift to the defendant to convince a judge with arguments for why he should not be locked up for life. Do we really need to explain to lawmakers the importance of respecting the rule of law?

3. Speaking of the rule of law... the Bush administration has released another doctrine. They have outlined the legal framework within which they intend to proceed with their activities in space. The doctrine essentially states that they can do whatever they please and will not allow any interference or even debate on the matter. This wild west approach is their first step towards weaponizing space.

4. France is the home of civil liberties and free speech. So it's curious that their national assembly has passed a bill that makes it illegal to deny the Armenian genocide by the Turks. The irony is that saying such a genocide took place is illegal in Turkey. Both governments are engaging in counterproductive measures. It matters not at all to this discussion whether it did or not. I just don't think politicians are the people to decide on historical debates. Always err on the side of liberty and allow discussion. Only then can we hope to arrive at a closer approximation of the truth.

Friday, October 13, 2006

It's Raining Money

The internet is like a raging hurricane. Many of us can see how it works and watch its progress but none of us are very good at affecting it to move this way or that.

Occasionally a butterfly like YouTube flaps its wings in a basement somewhere and through a series of interconnected developments actuated at opportune moments, this butterfly moves the hurricane a little off track. This leaves a whole swath of media geographies scurrying to react.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Crazy College Kids

Lou Salome, Paul Ree and Friedrich Nietzsche in happy times; Before the heartbreaks, nihilism, crippling illnesses and eventual syphilis induced madness, only to be then posthumously misrepresented by his Nazi sister and brother-in-law.

N.B. He seemed to have that crazy moustache throughout his entire adult life.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Nietzsche Family Circus

What happens when you cross random Nietzsche quotes with random Family Circus comics?

Nietzsche Family Circus

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Found Art

A sheet of paper was found by the lake. This is what was written on it:

"A man sits on a bench by the lake. He writes on a stack of papers.
When he finishes writing on a page. He lets the wind take it away."

The Autumn Sky

sitting by the water and thinking of you
rose bushes wilting under the autumn sky

a couple plays chess on a picnic table
their game again may end in a draw

moments of sunshine, but the nights are cold
as rose bushes wilt under the autumn sky

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Song To The Siren

This Mortal Coil recorded their version of this song in 1984 and everytime I hear it on my iPod it stops me cold and transports me to somewhere else. I've listened to it several times today and it has put me in a strange mood (like Camus strange).

I had never been able to make out the lyrics so I researched it and was surprised to find that the song was originally written by Tim Buckley. It turns out that he was the father of Jeff Buckley, another one of my favourites, who incidentally met his father only once. Both 4-octive singers died young (Tim was 28 and Jeff was 30).

It occurred to me that this would be a very suitable song for a funeral. If I were ever to succumb and depart this mortal coil then my surviving 200 year old contemporaries might consider it.

Tim Buckley - Song To The Siren

Long afloat on shipless oceans
I did all my best to smile
'Til your singing eyes and fingers
Drew me loving to your isle
And you sang
Sail to me
Sail to me
Let me enfold you
Here I am
Here I am
Waiting to hold you

Did I dream you dreamed about me?
Were you hare when I was fox?
Now my foolish boat is leaning
Broken lovelorn on your rocks,
For you sing, "Touch me not, touch me not, come back tomorrow:
O my heart, O my heart shies from the sorrow"

I am puzzled as the newborn child
I am troubled at the tide:
Should I stand amid the breakers?
Should I lie with Death my bride?
Hear me sing, "Swim to me, Swim to me, Let me enfold you:
Here I am, Here I am, Waiting to hold you

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Monday, October 02, 2006

How Now?

It's awful, it has always been awful.

It's beautiful, it has always been beautiful.