Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Filler Blog Posting

This is the end of my third full year of blogging. During 2006 and 2007 I averaged about 1 blog posting every 3 days. In 2008 I averaged a miserable 1 posting every 13 days. I can't promise I'll post any more frequently next year to this blog but my creative output should increase through some other projects that are underway for the new year.

I'm working with director Andy Keen to produce and write a basketball-related feature length documentary film called DUNK! You might be hearing more about this as the project progresses. It is now in production and slated for completion in early 2010.

Visual Art:
I've teamed up with long-time friend Robert Anthony to produce a regular web comic strip that doesn't yet have a name. You will see the first of them in January 2009 and probably on a weekly basis thereafter.

I plan on finishing one and possibly 2 novels during the next year. One novel is a sci-fi-psy-phi love story about a physicist while the other is written as a memoir/bio by a philosopher about his troubled childhood artist friend.

I've got nothing here besides a few Garage Band mixes that I've created on my iMac, but I would be willing to play drums with anyone who'd be interested in jamming.

Plus there's some talk of a podcast with a broadcaster friend of mine and also that screenplay that's been half finished for over 5 years.

If I blog one more filler posting before the year is over I could get my average up closer to once every 12 days.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Circling the Drain?

What if a billion people were suddenly removed from our Planet? I had a conversation recently at a family gathering in which it was suggested that this was our only hope if we were to avoid an upcoming environmental and economic collapse.

I'm not going to even consider the residual environmental effects of what would be a massively unbalancing event. Let's assume that one billion people in Asia (only because that's where it's most densely populated) were removed in a magical way without any radiation, toxicity, or similar side-effect. Because our global economy is so interconnected I would contend that such an occurrence would probably wipe out at least another billion people and probably more in other parts of the world. Think of how many industries rely on products, parts or services made in China, Japan and India. Most global industries would grind to a halt. Food production would be affected, trade routes would be disrupted and the resulting starvation and geopolitical chaos would likely sink the world into another dark age. It would probably take at least a generation to recover from such a radical depopulating of the Earth.

I've heard some others say that things are probably not as bad as it seems. Citing historical situations in which it seemed hopeless until things changed in ways that were not anticipated. They seem to have immense faith in our capacity for technological innovation and count on these kinds of developments to save us.

I believe that the solution to the upcoming environmental and economic crisis does not require us to radically and rapidly depopulate the Earth. Nor must it rely on future technological innovations to save us. It requires another kind of innovation to help us to make necessary decisions in a way that overcomes our paralysis. I feel strongly that we already have all of the technological tools necessary to avert the collapse and that we are already aware of what needs to be done. The problem is that we are stuck in a kind of Prisoner's Dilemma.

1. If we all fail to do the right thing then we all suffer economic and environmental collapse in the future.
2. If you do the right thing but others don't then you end up suffering the collapse in the future anyway, but worse, you have the added indignity of losing out economically to your competitors and being poor until the collapse arrives.
3. If we all act to do the right thing then the worst of the collapse could be avoided.

But nobody is inclined to be the first to voluntarily take the appropriate steps to avoid collapse because they can't rely on the others to do the same. This applies inter-personally as well as internationally. Why should I sacrifice or why should Canada sacrifice when others with whom we are competing won't do the same? This is why it becomes much like what's called a Mexican Stand-Off in gangster films. Imagine a scene in which several people have guns pointed at someone else in the room. If any one of them shoots their gun then it will likely trigger a cascade of bullets and all of them will probably die. If one of them does the right thing and lowers his gun then he risks being killed by the person pointing at him who may not act as honourably. So they're all frozen in indecision until someone takes the initiative to fire or somehow convince everyone to lower their guns simultaneously.

The social innovation required is to find a way in which we can all lower the gun at the same time. The Prisoner's Dilemma is only a dilemma because each prisoner is not allowed to consult the other and to act in concert. If they were allowed to collaborate and cooperate they would arrive at the best result for both of them. We can perhaps subvert the prisoner's dilemma by communicating to each other that we will simultaneously do the right thing in order to arrive at the best possible result for everyone. The innovation which is required is social innovation and effective cooperation. Perhaps our ever-expanding access to ubiquitous media could help us to achieve this.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Promise of Collective Intelligence

I've been involved with a group of thinkers called Overlap who annually organizes a conference of just 50 individuals. When we gather we like to sit in a large circle so that the lines of communication can be readily drawn between all participants. We believe this to be better than the more traditional "one-to-many" method of communication when someone stands at a podium and delivers to a listening crowd. At the end of each of our conferences some of us wonder whether we have accomplished anything beyond encouraging a sense of community through stimulating conversations. Most of us believe that even this is enough to consider our gatherings to be a success.

Even with the circular seating arrangement and openly democratic structure of discussions we inevitably find that there will often be an imbalance of input between various participants. The conversation is usually steered by a handful of the bolder participants. We just accept this to be an inevitable imperfection of human interaction. Beyond the circular seating arrangement I find it ironic that Overlap gatherings are very minimally designed given their attendance and organization by some very gifted designers.

Buckminster Fuller discovered that in order to build the most efficient structures he needed to mimic nature's design tendencies. Nature tends to organize matter in a way that optimally balances the tensions within structures. This is how he came upon the geodesic dome as an example of maximum strength made with minimal materials and surface area. Tensegrity is the name given to this optimal balancing of tensions.

I recently went to a talk at the Rotman School of Management. The speaker from Syntegrity Group was describing how their consultancy uses the structure of the icosahedron to help their clients reach goals and solve problems. They claim to be able to overcome the imbalances of human groups by mimicking the perfection of Platonic solids. They employ a system of collaboration that allows a complex web of stakeholders to work together in the most efficient way possible. They start with 30 people and identify the twelve most important questions or goals to address.

Each person is assigned one of the 30 line edges on the solid. There are 12 vertices where 5 people meet to address one of the twelve issues. Without getting too deep into the process the thinking is that mimicking the ideal way in which the lines are organized in an icosahedron will allow us to get closer to perfection when organizing how people can meet, talk and work out the issues at hand. It's interesting to note that many viruses occur naturally in the shape of an icosahedron as it is the most efficient way of organizing identical repeated proteins.

Naturally I wondered if we shouldn't apply the Syntegrity structure to our Overlap gatherings so that our collection of gifted participants could start to tackle real world problems but I couldn't help wondering if it could also be applied to personal therapy. What if I was to gather a group of 30 or so people from my life; family, friends, people I've dated, hated or worked with. Maybe we could finally find a purpose for my life.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


The presentations which came to be called Greek Tragedies often coincided with the sacrifice of a goat. There were recitations of goat songs, and the people of the chorus in the drama often dressed as half-man, half-goat satyrs. The word Tragedy comes from the Greek tragōidiā or "goat song". Remember this the next time you hear something described as "tragic".

P.S. Aristotle and Nietzsche had some interesting things to say about tragedy.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Democratic Capitalism

George W. Bush recently made a point of stressing that Democratic Capitalism is still "the best system ever developed". This, despite the fact that his administration has recently engaged in some economic activities that even his party members have called "socialist" or even "communist". I don't often agree with this President but I found myself nodding in agreement but also chuckling a little bit when I heard him make this pronouncement. It seemed like he didn't want anyone to think he was going all pinko on us, he just needed to pull some pinko tricks to save the banking system and stave off the worst financial calamity since the great depression of the 1930's.

Democratic Capitalism while clearly not perfect is a reasonable and efficient means to the end of maximizing happiness. What we've seen championed by the recent White House has definitely been Capitalism, but Democratic?... Not so much. As long as the Democratic side of that characterization is prioritized then Capitalism can be employed to arrive at some excellent results. What happens sometimes, as it has recently in the Western financial system is that we've forgotten that Capitalism is a means towards the ends of Democracy, not something that should be pursued at the cost of Democratic priorities.

Just because Capitalism is an efficient means of arriving at economic results doesn't mean that the most extreme version of laissez-faire Capitalism will therefore be the best possible road to success. Why do we create wealth in the first place? If you think it is only for the purpose of lining your own pockets at the expense of anyone else living on Earth now or in the future, then you might want the most open system of unregulated markets, especially if you already happen to be someone of wealth to begin with. If you think that wealth should be created so that you and as many of the people on your planet as possible could also live happily then you might accept that Capitalism is an efficient way to arrive at this goal. With this in mind you wont mind that the system is regulated and occasionally tweaked to ensure that we keep our priorities in focus. Trickle-down economics only works to a limited degree. After certain high levels of wealth have been attained the trickle mostly stops.

Capitalism went too far recently and the resulting pendulum swing may destroy wealth faster than it created it in the first place. Why can't we learn that fundamentalism of any kind is a dangerous and doomed mindset to embrace? The free market capitalists that were pushing for the deregulation of markets and the decommissioning of government are just as dangerously fundamentalist as the extremists who wish to destroy them. The key to surviving any crisis is to try to avoid whip-lashing in the opposite direction. Just because Capitalism is flawed and has caused this current turmoil doesn't mean that a hyper-controlling style of government is therefore better. Let's try to keep our heads, remember our priorities and move toward our New Capitalism to meet those needs.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Does This Image Make You Want To Rape?

I am a strong proponent of liberal expression even when it is somewhat offensive. At the same time I am sensitive to the issues surrounding the exploitation of women. American Apparel ads have served lately to cause a schism in liberal circles between those who would more value one consideration over the other.

When this ad appeared on a billboard in New York's lower east side someone eventually spray-painted it with the message "Gee, I wonder why women get raped?". I've seen the same ad on a billboard on Yonge Street in Toronto and I have to say that I didn't decide to rape anyone as a result of seeing it. Consider that this photo is a self-portrait taken by the Artist Kyung Chung. Her backside wrapped in tights is turned to the camera as she's slightly bent over. It is undoubtedly an erotically charged pose but I fail to see any exploitation. She is a strong women artist in a strongly sexual pose, completely in charge of the situation. There is no hint of compulsion within the narrative of the photo. The character is bent over suggestively and one of the reasons it is so alluring is that she is in charge of the situation and seems to be demanding the service of her imaginary lover. Chung's photo does not portray the female character to be vulnerable in any way in which she doesn't want to be.

People seem more sexually liberal in Europe where you're likely to see this kind of advertising but with even more nudity. In cultures where women are presented and represented in scant cladding we don't find them to be at higher risk of being sexually assaulted. I would argue exactly the opposite. Cultures wherein the revelation of skin is discouraged seem much more dangerous to women. If a women shows any flesh in Saudi Arabia she might be considered a slut and therefore much more likely to be raped than in Copenhagen where she can walk around (weather permitting) in next to nothing.

Someone is quoted in a newspaper article about Chung's photo saying "I don't think you need a PhD to recognize that ... [this] is nothing but an ad for - and I'll put this gently - anal intercourse," - What? First of all who would produce such an ad? Would it be presented by the AIAA (Anal Intercourse Association of America)? Secondly, why does penetration of one kind seem demeaning to her besides another kind. I think there are actually some people who enjoy such things and don't need to be forced to do it. Also she might want to note that that's not the the only kind of penetration possible in that position, but if your dirty mind causes you to leap to that scenario then you have to see that the model in the picture is demanding it not resisting it, so how does rape or a demeaning scenario even come into it?

What if instead of discouraging sexually suggestive ads we just didn't make such a big deal about them? Wouldn't women be safer in a society that viewed such images as commonplace? It seems to me that sexual repression is more likely to lead to desperate acts of violence against women than sexual liberation. I'm sure that the critics of these ads have nothing but the best of intentions to protect women from harm but that photo of Kyung Chung can also be seen simply as a beautiful and powerful image created by a beautiful and powerful women.

As a point for comparison the story being told in the D&G ad below seems to more clearly cross the line. The narrative within this vignette clearly suggests a gang rape scenario. Even though this ad is aimed at women and even though some women may have such fantasies I can see why it may be offensive.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

September 9, 2001

I was on a 23 hour bus ride from Rize Turkey to Istanbul on September 9 2001. My shiny new MP3 player was busted and the cassette Walkman I borrowed from a cousin was drained within the first hour after departure. I was seated at the very back and centre of the bus so I could see everyone's business in front of me.

The buses in Turkey have stewards working the aisles just like on airplanes and I was able to observe the hard work they put in. I wasn't sure if I would rather work with them instead of sitting for 23 hours. It was also interesting to realize that the entire trip was captained by the same driver who tried his best to exhale his cigarette smoke out of his driver's side window. He made an apologetic statement claiming that despite the smoking ban it was surely better for everyone's sake that he smoke to keep from falling asleep.

People started drifting off and after several hours of numbing boredom I was mercifully able to doze in and out for short stretches. The first few hours seemed like days and I fell into a surreal haze. The short naps made the trip seem even longer and during one of these I had one of those hyper real and frightening dreams. I was in a tall building in New York. We heard a tremendous noise and looked out the window as everything started shaking. While we wondered aloud if it was an earthquake the building directly across from us just crumbled before our eyes and disappeared to the street below.

I immediately knew what was about to happen and to our horror the walls around us started to cave in and everything went dark. I instantly knew that we weren't going to make it out of there alive. I heard a ringing bell and a very distant yet familiar bittersweet feeling started to come over me. As our building started to fall down I was transported back to recess break in my grade 4 schoolyard.

Children can play as hard as any adult can work and during some of those games we would become so entirely immersed that we would completely forget where we were, what time it was or that it would ever have to end. Only when the bell rang were we brought back to the reality that we had left completely behind. Only then were we reminded that it all had to end and only then did we experience that bittersweet feeling within which one simultaneously appreciates the value of the game just as the tragic realization of its ending sets in.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Stuff ist Angst

I've got this fantasy of selling everything I own and living a simpler and more meaningful life. The more I have the more stressed I seem to be. Owning more things just means more to maintain, more to worry about and more to feel guilty about owning.

This guy has taken on the project of limiting the things in his life to just 100 items. His goal is to arrive at that number by November 2008 and he has been blogging about his progress. He's gotten it down to 132 when I last checked. Many people have been inspired to follow suit and there's been some discussion online about what counts as a single thing. Does a pair of shoes count as two or one? Should you count each piece of your cutlery, socks, underwear etc? Some people are being more fundamentalist than others. One girl insists on counting her 20 pairs of shoes as a single item for her list.

Of course 100 is an arbitrary number. It may be an incredibly difficult count to attain but this type of exercise is a great way to force yourself to focus and prioritize what's important to you. It reminds me of the Dogma 95 restrictions for film making that were devised by Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg. Also, the endless variations of the "desert island question" that asks you to pick your 5 books or 5 albums or 5 movies that you couldn't live without.

All of these regimes are limited arbitrarily but all of them will force you to ask something of yourself; what do I really need and what is superfluous? Each of them will force you to be more efficient, more effective and more conscious of yourself, whether it's by reducing your environmental footprint, allowing you to make a leaner film or discovering and being able to express that which is truly important and inspiring to you.

I don't think it really matters if you're so strict or not. I'm guessing that whoever decides to limit their possessions to 100 things will gain the invaluable benefit of perspective no matter how they choose to do it. Simply counting the number of things you own will undoubtedly cause you to think about those things in a new light. Whether you pare them down to 100 or 200 things you will likely come to realize that you may not actually need to have so many material possessions.

I have some friends who are talking about establishing an award to be given to someone not for their creation of something great but for their removal of something not so great. We rarely reward such things. Rather, we have become obsessed with growth as the only indicator of prosperity. This leads our current form of capitalism to encourage unhealthy growth. We have become far removed from any paradigm of balance and have embraced what can aptly be described by the metaphor of cancer which is the best example of unhealthy and unchecked growth. It eventually eats away and kills the system within which it grows.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

iPhone, Rogers and Genghis Khan

Most successful leaders have this in common: They love to be loved but don't mind being hated. The name of Genghis Khan enjoys god-like status in some parts of the world. But it would not be surprising to his devotees to find that others would revile the historical man. It is a part of the game of being a conquering hero that your own people will probably love you and those you vanquish will paint you as a baby-on-bayonet rape and pillager.

As a child living at one end of the legendary Silk Road I had heard stories about the great Genghis Khan. I was even named after him. Even though I've been called Jake since coming to Canada my real name is a derived form of Genghis. But growing up in the west I noticed that his name was often associated with a less than heroic narrative.

Billionaire Ted Rogers is a captain of industry well known by Canadians as a leader in the realm of telecommunications. Shareholders in his Rogers Communications love him while his competitors likely don't. His customers however seem to despise him. Owing to actual or near monopolistic positions in various businesses people have had to grudgingly make monthly payments to his companies while seething and hoping for some competitive horizon to level the field. As it turns out Apple's iPhone will only be offered for service on the Rogers network and they've taken up their monopolistic position by gouging their customers with exorbitant data plan rates. What has resulted is an explosion of displeasure that expresses itself in countless thousands of Internet postings decrying their rapacious opportunism.

While reading through some of the thousands of comments on fuckrogers.com (which became ruinediphone.com) I noticed a pattern among the more colourfully metaphorical postings. There were countless references to the "raping and pillaging" of customers or how Rogers has engaged in "a scorched earth approach" to the sensibilities of the Canadian wireless consumer. These kind of characterizations are usually reserved for other types of leaders. The Genghis Khan brand is finally getting some reprieve for his name and legacy in the west through films like The Mongol but it has taken the better part of a millennium for this to come about. Maybe Ted Rogers doesn't mind being hated but he should take note and realize that the rehabilitation of the image of such a leader could take a very long time; longer perhaps than shareholders are willing to wait.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Waiting in Limbo

While waiting in a New York City emergency room someone fell off their chair and died. No one noticed for about an hour. The security video shows patients, nurses and doctors walking past as the woman lies face down on the floor. I could write about the sad diminishment of our instinctive concern for the well being of others or how such a thing is surely only typical of a cold-hearted metropolis like NYC, or validly make enquiries about class and race but I think something else needs to be considered here. If that person were to fall over on the street, in a subway car or in a store I think people would probably call for medical help. Ironically where medical help is most abundantly available no one moves to do so.

We need to consider the context and environment within which the event occurred. Whenever one finds oneself in a typical human environment there are a whole set of understandings, assumptions and expectations around what happens in such situations. To some extent the sidewalk on which you walk, the subway car in which you sit or the mall in which you shop can be viewed with some ownership. It is your town, transit system or shopping area. If something unexpected occurs like someone falling face down in front of you, this event is processed within the background of what you would expect and what you are supposed to do as citizen, customer, or human being. You would in most cases do something to help and we would all be reassured of our human dignity.

The hospital ER is an alien place unlike many environments that people know. It feels more like a transitional realm between the living and the dead. Like one of Dante's circles of hell it is terra infirma and terra incognito. People don't really know how to act or what to expect while waiting there and the fact that it is a highly regulated and designed environment leads people to assume that every contingency has been considered and that things will funnel through this process and fall where they should. They have an implicit faith in the system to take care of their needs.

Unlike their everyday earthly surroundings patients have no sense of ownership of their environment in an ER. In their alienated situation they are disassociated from their otherwise normal set of human practices; like acting in concern for another human being. All of this while very likely being acutely concerned with their own injury and their own mortality. One can almost understand, if not accept, the failure of the other patients to act but the callousness of the staff is unacceptable. It is here that we can question whether something more basic like human dignity is being compromised. As functionaries within a way of life in which they are also the designers they should have been able to notice the anomaly and acted accordingly. If they couldn't, then they need to be criticized for how they have so poorly designed the system in the first place.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Fellini's Roma - Catholic Church Fashion Show

You just don't see such magnificently self-indulgent film making any more.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

New Capitalism

It's now considered a myth or gross exaggeration that the Inuits used to put their seniors on ice floes and send them adrift into oblivion. In extreme times of famine such things may have been considered but it was not a normal part of their culture. This approach however has become an acceptable practice in times of extreme wealth such as we have in the west.

In our GDP growth obsessed economics the value of companies are based on their ability to continue growing. The value of all things are reduced to their exchange value within our system which monetizes everything. Nothing is real unless it can be counted and booked within the appropriate column on a ledger sheet. This system is so efficient and works so well that we have erroneously applied it to everything in the world and begun to use it to measure every kind of value including the value of people.

When taking count of value we seem to be missing a great deal because we don't have the appropriate columns within which to place some things. Is a young university grad worth more than a aging retiree? To corporations looking at their human resources the answer is clear. The young person has more future growth potential and therefore more value. Almost everyone one will agree that there is considerable value in the life of a senior but because these values are not the kind that can be represented on balance sheets they are considered by some hardened capitalists to be wishy-washy and irrelevant. So our culture metaphorically sets our seniors onto ice floes by warehousing them in homes, over-medicating them to make them more manageable, and generally disrespecting their value.

A similar insensitivity to cost is ironically causing ice floes around the world to melt. Corporations produce their products and in doing so expel a great deal of pollutants into the atmosphere. Up to now no appreciable cost had been assigned to the damage that it was causing. Because they were not held accountable, there were no costs to enter into their ledgers. But just because it wasn't counted doesn't mean that there were no costs to consider. The costs were simply shifted and distributed societally. The corporations didn't pay for it but collectively we all pay for it in the end.

We have to do a better job of considering social value and social cost when redesigning our new capitalist system. This process is already fully underway even if it hasn't been noticed by the old capitalists. A new capitalist system is being designed in an open source way by all of us collectively. We do this when we engage in free music downloads, support companies that try to do no evil, and create content and applications to share amongst ourselves. This new system of value exchange seems better suited to address questions of social value and social cost as these considerations seem often to be at the heart of the discussion when they were not even considered before.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Law of the Living Dead

The Romans had a very peculiar legal designation. A man could be deemed a Homo Sacer and thereby could be killed by anyone with impunity. He would lose all rights associated with being Human thereby reducing him to Bare Life or Zoe. It's a bizarre notion that can't just be attributed to an uninformed and primitive culture. By this time the Romans had a lengthy legal and political tradition and they had legal scholars who could argue the fine details of proposed legislation. So it seems anomalous that such an advanced culture could devise such retrograde legislation.

Recent developments have shown us that it is quite possible for a highly advanced culture with a long tradition of Human Rights to go seriously off track in much the same way as the Romans did. Those who have been held prisoner in Guantanamo Bay over the last several years have effectively been stripped of their human rights and been reduced to Bare Life. Some have debated on American television that these prisoners had no rights because they were the intended targets of American bombs and just happened to accidentally survive the attack. They have actually been called "ghost prisoners". Are they to be considered zombies or living dead? Everyone knows it's OK to torture and kill zombies because they're not really human, right?

I grant that it's possible that some of these prisoners are really bad guys. It's also very likely that most of them are probably clueless zealots who were at the wrong places at the wrong times. We have a process for sifting through this indeterminacy. It's called a functioning legal system that works for the most part in arriving at guilt where there is evidence of guilt. Let's just put them through the system and see what sticks.

Canada has been well regarded throughout the world for its stand on Human Rights. It has mostly deserved this regard until now. The current Harper government refuses to respect the rule of law when it goes along with the US insistence on incarceration without charge. Furthermore, Canadians have been pioneers in advocating child soldier laws for African children but its government has been sitting idly by as one of its citizen children has been languishing in Guantanamo Bay for the last several years without charge. Omar Khadr was 15 when he was shot in the back and captured by US soldiers in Afghanistan. He should have been classified a child soldier and dealt with through the processes that have been designed for children who are caught up in military movements often within the control of malevolent adults or family.

Let's bring him back to Canada and deal with him like we would any child soldier. Hopefully he will not be too far gone to reintegrate into society and come back to the land of the living.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Scrap Metal

Sometimes paying more costs less. Why pay over a thousand dollars for a washing machine when that other one looks almost as good for half the price? But what if the more expensive machine will last more than twice as long? What if it uses half the energy? What if it was made from recycled materials and will be fully recyclable after you're done with it? All of these considerations might move you to pay more.

Beer fridges in basements and garages are usually ancient appliances that were already inefficient when they were made. Eventually the insulation inside these fridges turned to dust so that most of them consume four to ten times more power than a newer energy star fridge. Encouraging people to recycle inefficient machines will have a huge impact on overall consumption and carbon emissions.

We are entering an age of carbon credits and offsets. If governments are going to get serious about reaching overall reduction targets then at some point in the future they may have to consider some novel incentive programs. Might we one day consider enticing people to recycle their SUV's by offering to give them a highly subsidized or perhaps a free hybrid car in exchange? Or better yet, how about a 5 year transit pass? I wonder what the overall true costs of such a program would amount to. It might seem ludicrously expensive at first glance but what if you consider all of the environmental and social benefits of taking a million SUV vehicles off the road? Someone should do the math.

If the price of fuel continues to rise along with the value of carbon offsets then these recycling credits might be the only tangible value that these vehicles will be able to maintain.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Geography of Hope

I was at the Gladstone a few days ago to see Chris Turner's slide show about his book The Geography of Hope. This was part of the This is not a Reading Series.

The standing room only crowd indicates to me that people are thirsty for his kind of message. It's too easy to feel hopeless when those in power either don't get it, don't care, or strategically ignore the climate and pollution crisis. Too many of us just feel overwhelmed and as if we're just reorganizing the deck chairs on the Titanic but Turner wants to stress that the science and the technology required to solve or significantly mitigate our problems already exist. What's lacking is the will to do something about it.

Another point he made is one with which I agree: that we have to stop preaching to the converted and start speaking to corporations in their own language. I believe that there are strong business cases to be made for environmentally responsible approaches to business. The short form of the argument is to say that The Environment is the Economy.

Some governments are catching on and they come in all political stripes. Governator Schwarzenegger of California has surprised everyone by becoming one of the greenest leaders in America. The government in BC made their province the first jurisdiction in North America to introduce a carbon tax. They are shaming their next door neighbours in Alberta who are turning their province into an environmental disaster zone with the hyper-developed Tar Sands projects which are under way.

Left to their own devices both corporations and governments can do a good job of messing things up. But corporations are very skilled at bringing about rapid and efficient change. Governments need to use the levers at their disposal to create the incentives and disincentives for business and let them do what they do best. The Conservative Party in Canada seems unwilling to even treat the Environment as a serious issue. The Liberal Party talks a good game but does not seem to have the will to carry out important changes. The NDP seems to distrust business and ironically will often support dirty industries to mollify their labour constituents. The only reasonable choice for responsible action seems to lie with The Green Party.

I've been voicing my support for the Green Party for some time here in this forum and amongst friends. A federal election is just around the corner and this time around I will be volunteering to help the Green Party.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Great Interview Experiment II

I interviewed Chris of cdcstudios.com as my part in The Great Interview Experiment.

You share a birthday with a famous man from Nazareth. How's that going for you?

When I was a child it wasn't the most spectacular thing (either nobody could come to my birthday party due to being out town or else I'd get combo presents from relatives). Typically when people ask me nowadays if I'm a Christmas baby I just reply so far, but then I have a rather dry sense of humor. As for the guy from Nazareth, it's a shame that his standard bearers are so very unlike him.

How a long haired hippie who hung out with the dregs of society and copious amounts of THC (turns out the anointing oil was 70% Cannabis according to the Smithsonian) could be similar in any way shape or form to the right wing neo-con movement is almost as confusing as Ann Coulter (off topic I still think she's secretly a very good performance artist that we just don't "get") being a sane person.

You've written how wonderful it was to hold your baby for the first time and you've got another one on the way. Would you consider yourself a daddyblogger? And what's with the funny spelling of Alexandr's name?

Holding my son is and was one of the greatest things ever! As for being a daddyblogger I split my blogging topics evenly enough to say I'm an all around blogger not just a daddyblogger. Besides, the term daddyblogger makes me think they should make a live action movie based on the comic strip "Adam" with Michael Keaton in the lead role.

As for the spelling of his name it's the spelling used for a long dead ancestor. His full name is Alexandr Phelan O'Rourke so he's got a healthy mix of easily pronounceable yet unique names. If he wants to spell it differently when he's older, no problem by me.

What is a Nerd and are you a Nerd? If not, then why are you a fan of XKCD and write at length about CSS?

I am a firm believer in the hierarchy of status (not really) and think that a nerd is a very smart person with negligible social skills. The lowest rung is dork (smart with zero social skills). Geeks are the penultimate state of the really smart (almost too smart but with decent to good social skills). xkcd is a hilarious geek comic with some very profound ideas (the chinese proverb strip is amongst my favorite).

CSS is a geek designers wet dream. Combing the best of semantics with the structure of art is something that is astounding to see. Even more so when it's accepted by all (for the most part) yet not being the intellectual property of some greedy corporation.

Mac or Windows?

It depends. I like to mix the two but am leaning more and more towards Apple in the workplace. Lesser cost of deployment for server infrastructure ($999 for an unlimited client license copy of Leopard Server) than a windows environment plus a greater amount of functionality out of the box. I hope that Microsoft can clue into that.

Of course, on the other hand Mac is still playing catchup in the gaming world but happily that's changing (dear Valve, plz give us an osx steam client soon). My overall preference is about 60% mac / 40% windows. (No offense to the Linux crew but I work on broken computers all day long. The last thing I want to do when I get home is tinker with an OS).

Drum and Bugle corps? Do you do it for all the ladies?

Drum & Bugle corps is the coolest thing ever. Like marching band without all the woodwinds. Good brass blowing your face off plus huge meaty drum licks equals an awesome way to spend the summer. I miss being able to march since it's only for 14-21 year olds (at least the competitive side of the activity) but hope my sons will follow in my footsteps.

I do it all for the great feeling of playing an intricate multi-metered exercise spotlessly clean with no ticks. There is nothing like that feeling. If you've never experienced it there are tons of videos on youtube as well as multiple events in most parts of the country all summer long.

You've started a film-related site called DreamFlicks.com. Seen any good movies lately?

I did start dreamflicks although it was originally purchased for a vastly different reason than it ended up being. A friend of mine and I thought it would be neat to have a site where people could suggest ideas for movie casting for properties the studios hadn't done anything with. Implementing that proved to be something we both lost interest in, so after owning the domain for 4+ years I started a wordpress multiuser blogging site.

Good movies? I watch tons of them. My recent favorites were Juno (phenomenal cast, script, music, everything. I hope Ellen Page gets the Oscar) and Across the Universe (everything I liked about Juno plus Eddie Izzard & Bono add just the right touch of hilarity).

iPhone user eh? Do you remember the Apple Newton?

I am an iPhone user (and love nearly everything about it although there are a few things I'd fix/change:

1. either make notes sync to my mac or else get rid of them
2. hard disk mode
3. copy and paste
4. unlock for tmobile to use).

As for the Newton I do remember it quite fondly. I knew they'd eventually bring it back in fact when the iPod was originally released I predicted something like the iPhone because the name iPod was too generalist to just be a media player.

I was in Portland many years ago to entice Intel into a buyout. Have those bastards started spending again? What else is going on in Portland?

Nope, Intel are still the cheap disorganized un-streamlined companies they've always been. I think their success is in spite of their organization rather than because of it.

Portland is a hugely tech-friendly place. It's sort of become the Berlin between the East (Microsoft/Seattle) and the West (Yahoo/Apple/Bay Area)

How has your thoughts on the war in Iraq been shaped by the loss of your friend Mike?

I'll support our troops through thick and thin but I have yet to see a valid reason why our troops are in Iraq. Afghanistan makes sense since our fight with the Soviets 25+ years ago helped the Taliban rise to power but Iraq was and is a quagmire that we need to either find humility and ask the rest of the world to help or risk losing forever what little respect we have left.

Mike is a perfect example of why we've lost sight of things. He was a devoted caring father who didn't ever want to hurt anyone. He joined for his daughter and she'll never get to know him because we needed more cheap oil. I really wonder how anyone in government sleeps at night. In their shoes I don't think I could.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Great Interview Experiment

I've been interviewed by blogger Matthew of Childs Play x 2. You can read his posting with my answers to his questions here.

This is part of something started by Neil at Citizen of the Month which will have me interviewing another blogger in kind. Look for the results of that very soon.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Still Ill

During my morose teenage years The Smiths played their one and only Canadian concert at Canada's Wonderland in the summer of 1985 and I was there. I had to open the Kiwk-E-Mart in the morning that day on Hamilton Mountain and worked there until mid-afternoon. After work we piled into my blue Renault and headed up to the Kingswood Concert theatre north of Toronto. We got there well before the concert but too late to see Morrissey and the opening act Billy Bragg galavant through the park. They had apparently taken advantage of their free park passes and tried nearly every ride and rollercoaster on the premises. They were followed by a posse of young fans, some of whom got a little too much celebrity intimacy when both singers apparently puked during one of the rides. About midway through the concert Morrissey introduced a song by laughing and saying "this is a song about our favourite subject, 'Still Ill'". By then the story about their misadventures had made it around to everyone in the crowd and we all laughed at the inside joke.

There is a question posed within this song:

Does the body rule the mind

Or does the mind rule the body?

Descartes couldn't even be sure that he had a body. The only thing that he could be certain of was that he thought and therefore he was. So the mind was primary and the body followed. Plato before him considered the realm of ideas to be the true reality and the realm of experience to be merely shadows of that more basic truth. Sometime between them Budhha, Jesus and countless other holy men spoke of the body as merely a husk that housed the kernel of the soul. Throughout most of western and eastern thought the body is relegated as a secondary and profane adjunct to the true reality that is somehow separate and distinct from the mind. The so-called mind/body problem arises when we have to consider how two totally different modes can affect each other.

It is not really until the previous century that the mind comes to be seriously considered within the realm of the physical. Materialist thinking reduces the mind to the brain and thus psychiatry and biology intersect to understand the mind/body problem. This approach is still dominant today and is responsible for the pharmacological approach to mental illness. If you are depressed or manic or violent or can't sleep then a pill or injection will be administered to alter your physical chemistry to achieve desired changes within your brain to therefore alter your mind. The physical is now understood to be the primary basis that can affect the mental.

But what about the Placebo Effect? This seems to be a process that goes in reverse. If you give someone a regimen of non-medicated sugar pills but tell them that they contain powerful medicine then in many cases these people will undergo physical changes similar to the people who are given the actual medicated pills. The power of positive thinking has also been well and widely documented to affect the speed and extent of recovery from illness. As much as the body alters the mind it seems clear that the mind can alter the body. This points to the possibility that things are not so clear cut. It is reasonable to consider that everything around us is comprised of physical matter and therefore subject to physical laws but that does not preclude the possibility that the mental could be understood as another mode of reality.

The study of Emergence considers the circumstances when certain properties arise out of more fundamental properties but is irreducible to them. The process is uncomfortably similar to magic but nevertheless employs a useful language in which to frame our understanding of exceptional things like mental events. When Morrissey poses the question he wisely and immediately answers "I dunno... " because there isn't a black and white answer to that question. Each rules the other and they can spiral upward or down. When I'm down I don't feel like going to the gym which brings me down further and I'm even less likely to exercise. This positive feedback loop can be altered and stopped dead in its tracks simply through the act of making a decision. I can decide to break the loop and start a new one. If I'm busy doing productive and enjoyable things then my spirits are lifted and I'm capable of doing even more.

I'm going to go to a yoga class tomorrow.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Modeselektor - 2000007 (Feat Ttc)

French Electronic Rap

Let it play through. It really grows on you.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Fuck Earth

The feminine is associated with the Earth while the masculine is associated with the higher realms. The results of this simple rule of thumb has had disastrous consequences for both the Earth and the female souls that inhabit her. The earthly bits of our being are all around us and because of their abundance are debased and rendered to a lower rank than the ethereal bits.

First, with respect to women: Desires of the flesh are so outside of the realm of reason that they are described as a form of ecstatic madness. The men who wrote about these matters had an unhealthy view of sex it seems and so began to debase not only these sexual desires but also came to resent the objects of their desires. Women were thought to be incapable of higher purposes and their roles relegated to that of executors of worldly functions like birthing, feeding, and sexual gratification. The injustices of this world view became glaringly obvious with the advent of a more industrial and technological age. We have been slow in rectifying it in the West while it seems to have stalled completely in much of the Islamic world.

Secondly, this separation of the profane and divine along the lines of the physical and spiritual have lead to an inherent disrespect for the environment. Religions and cultures that don't make the delineation in this way almost always have a comportment to the Earth that is not one of seeing it simply as exploitable material. These cultures have a more sensible sense of the divine which considers it to reside in the world around us. In fact it is often this very Nature and Earth within which we live that is considered divine and such divinity is achieved through accepting and living with this revelation.

Descriptions of the sexual act are sometimes used in hurtful and derogatory ways such that to "fuck something" means to damage it; as in "Capitalism has really fucked the Earth". But Capitalism doesn't have to be rapacious. Both rape and lovemaking can be described as fucking. I advocate fucking the Earth but in the attentive caring and gentle ways that one would make love to a woman, considering her joy as much as your own.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Silver II

[More of my family's misadventures with silver.]

It turns out that my great grandfather had saved a small chest full of those silver coins and it had been passed down to his son (my grandfather) who then didn't get around to officially giving it to anyone and almost everyone forgot about them. His daughter (my aunt) somehow got possession of them. By the 1970's these coins had been sitting locked up for about a century when my aunt came across them when she was moving some boxes around.

She had recently been over to dinner at one of her friend's house and was very impressed with their beautiful silverware. She coveted them but couldn't imagine being able to afford such a nice set of her own. That's when she came up with her scheme. She took the box of useless old silver coins and brought them to a silversmith. They made a deal in which she gave the coins to him and a pretty good sum of money to melt the coins down and turn them into a set of flatware.

My Father shakes his head when he tells the story convinced that the silversmith would have been far too shrewd to melt those antique coins. He probably kept them for himself and acquired a set of flatware to give to my aunt, telling her that it was made out of the coins that she gave him. I don't know what a set of 1970's silverware is worth today but I'm guessing a lot less than a chest full of rare Ottoman coins.

Here is another silver scam.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

In The Beginning... of The End?

The picture above is a partial shot of the gene sequence of a life form that was replicated from scratch. Just think of all of the possibilities for good and for bad.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


I ordered my OLPC laptop a few seconds after they opened up the order page in November. I only received it a few days ago despite their promise to try and deliver before the holidays. It's an ambitious effort to get computers into the hands of the poorest children in the world and they're off to a decent start.

I've been testing it and am impressed so far. It's a lot smaller and lighter than my 12" Apple PowerBook and has a more powerful WiFi receiver. In my local Starbucks here at the edge of High Park where I do some writing I normally can't pick up any open router transmissions but with the XO laptop I can see a few available signals. The browser is a little slow compared to the PowerBook and seems to have trouble with Flash video but otherwise is quite robust.

When we featured it at the last Juice Dialogues by bringing in a representative with a working model we had a very positive response from the participants although I was surprised to hear from some of the more radical young people that it was perhaps just another example of our cultural imperialism imposing our techno centric and even logo centric culture on more traditional and probably richer oral cultures. Even though that interpretation may factually be true I'm not sure what the alternative is supposed to be. Unfortunately the game is rigged and one needs to be able to read, write and electronically communicate in order to escape poverty in our world and this is an elegant way to give some children the opportunity to develop these skills.

If you'd like one you can pay a total of $400 for two laptops. You will be sent one and automatically donate one to some deserving child in a developing setting. Every time I open it up in public people inevitably ask about it and this is really the reason I got it. It is a way to spread the word. I encourage you to buy one, donate, or just talk it up.

[Update: The first wave of the Buy 2 Get 1 program seems to be over for now]

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

No Silver Lining

My father's family has had some bad luck with silver. It starts with a story about one of his ancestors that made a living on the Silk Road. It seems this woman went to ask a holy man for some advice. She wanted to know what she could expect for her son in the future and what she could do to ensure his success. The young man in question was my great great grandfather and his mother was worried that he wouldn't amount to much.

The young man was asked by his Mother to find her a kurus coin. He went around town and couldn't find any of the older coins so he brought her instead a newer coin with a higher denomination. She insisted that she needed that specific type of kurus coin and pestered him for weeks to collect these for her. He soon found that other young men were also asking around for the same coins and began chatting them up. Through a series of conversations he was able to piece together an emerging story.

The mothers of these young men all had been known to seek the advice of the same holy man. It seemed that this holy man told his mother that he would be a successful man and grow to produce a large number of grandchildren but only if she were to produce the appropriate sacrifice in the form of the specific coins that he requested. If she did not produce these coins in sufficient quantity she was told that her son would end up in a terrible mess, possibly even in prison. The young man also had several conversations with people about rumours that some silver coins were about to be replaced with copper versions and thus was able to put two and two together.

Angrily and without much consideration for the consequences he went to visit this so-called holy man and ended up giving him a pretty good beating. It was clear that this charlatan was engaged in an effort to collect all of the soon-to-be much more valuable silver coins and he was exploiting the hopes and fears of the simple women of the town in order for them to do his bidding.

When his mother came to visit him in prison she apologized for not finding enough of those silver coins to give the holy man crying that his fortune-telling was obviously very accurate since he did end up in prison just like he had predicted.