November 03, 2008


What are Spoons exactly? And who invented them? When did humanity suddenly become too good for the use of its own hands? It's not like it's difficult to drink soup or stew without them, any child knows this, you simply tilt the bowl towards your face and let Gravity work its magic, or should I say: Physic.

Were Spoons invented before Spades or the other way around? I suppose I can see some bronze-age man with a shovel imagining "Digging ground all well and good, but what if want to dig food?" and such a scaled down Spade was made, and we all use them today.

Speaking of Spades, why are the Houses in decks of cards called what they are? Why are they even called Houses? It's different the world over, of course, an Italian girl was just revealing to me how she called clubs 'flowers', and her word for 'Spades' had no translation. They don't even look like spades, if they were made to scale then the handle would be like an inch long. Are they catering for gardening midgets?

Gardening Midgets would be awesome.

Who would need ten shoddily made midget shovels though? Don't even get me started on clubs, however. I am sorry, but look at any club card and tell me the first thing that it reminds you of. Does it remind you of something you could beat someone over the head with? If it does, you're clearly mentally unstable and should report yourself in to some form of institution immediately.

What would happen if an escape artist went insane? The straightjackets would be useless, for a start, you might as well imprison an obese patient in a cube of marzipan. Or a nymphomaniac in a room constructed entirely from sex. That would be an interesting room to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.

Speaking of places I wouldn't want to live, I was talking to some Germans the other day...

Welcome, dear reader, to my mind.

This is not, of course, an austere recollection of my thoughts, as they are far too well formed. These are my thoughts as they are transcribed and left to be dwelled on. In reality, my mind far more resembles an argument between several thousand immensely passionate but easily distracted Gardening Midgets. Sorry, I mean people. Not that Gardening Midgets aren't people, you understand, but I don't imagine them running my mind. That is, I didn't, until now

I think you see what I'm getting at

People who know me often wonder at my perceived eloquence in these blogs, be not deceived, I am the self-same Alex I always was. In conversation I frequently -- regularly in fact -- draw blanks, fire of on tangents, get lost for words, dreamily air off into other dimensions and many other things that make me seem as though I'm not paying attention. I readily admit that I often seem like I'm not paying attention due to the fact that I'm not paying attention, but this is not always the case. My mind doesn't often like to work as a unity, more frequently parts of it will explore other paths and concepts whilst the conscious me is attempting to concentrate on a single one. This is all well and good, but occasionally one of the errant explorers will hit upon something interesting enough to warrant serious thinking time, and thus my mind is diverted. Think of my conscious mind as the Prime Minister of Alex, most of the time making the decisions, most of the time deciding our policies and actions; but occasionally a minor minister or assistant will run in with Papers that they necessitate that I read. In such times, decision making is put on a hold.

Unfortunately, once one informant distracts the Prime Minister's attention, all the others want their say too. Once I accede to one thought all the others come flooding in, and there's no hope whatsoever of me staying on anything like a topic. This can, in practise, become trying.

I like writing these blogs, and other features too, as they allow me to -- as Napoleon said -- "take an idea for a walk" and see where it leads me. This is often confusing, as to labour an already strained metaphor, this is equivalent to the Prime Minister himself going to the constituency of one of his Ministers and sorting out all the problems personally. Pitching in with a trowel and mortar if he needs to.

That's what we should call Spades! Trowels! Also, I've never had to pluralise 'Trowel' anymore, and the word looks wrong. I hope I never have to pluralise it again...

These little paths of thought are, as you may have noticed, entirely useless and often completely surreal in their scope; but nonetheless important for me. With so many little voices ringing off in my head, I often wondered if any of them had anything poignant to say. As of yet, they do not; but if you bring up this page one day and I've solved global warming, tell me to listen to that part of my brain some more. I'm currently wondering if it has anything to do with the most socially unacceptable situation to go barefoot. A formal ball perhaps? Or maybe a funeral? Let's follow a string.

'Agents of Fortune' by Blue Oyster Cult is what you are to buy if you haven't already. The demo version of 'Don't Fear the Reaper' is uncomprehendably better than the album one.

October 27, 2008

Mr. Darcy

I've currently forgotten to do my laundry three weeks on the trot, and am now wearing a little ensemble I like to call "best clothes with pyjamas for underwear", a look a believe is well on its way this winter. As such, I'm currently wearing a waistcoat and tie, with a suit jacket and a dress shirt. My attempt to make it seem 'just thrown on' nonchantly really rather more makes me look like a mad Victorian scientist. This is also accentuated by the fact I still have white dye in my hair from Thursday night, and on the best of days my hair looks like a ball of chaos unpicked by an adventurous kitten.

This led to my favourite line of today being uttered by a dinner lady, the conversation went as such:

Her: "Oh, you look dressed up interesting"

Me: "Well, you see, the thing is I hadn't planned..."

Her, noticing my accent: "OHHHHH, You're ENGLISH. I see"


Being English (actually from Jersey, but never mind) is an odd participating factor in my dealings with Canadians, which causes them to forgive me for a lot -- but expect a rather lot too. This is good when Police on the street attempt to give me a drinking ticket, which I can get out of by being clumsy and comedic; but bad when it's assumed that I will hold views by virtue of ethnicity.

To the rest of the world, the Englishman comes in two forms. Rom-com or Drama. Your choice is to be oddly attractive but incredibly misdirected and stuffy, or to build a volcano-base and try to kill James Bond. In attempting to break this delusion, I'm going for the both simultaneously option. Bond is a smug cunt anyway.

Another example of this:

Helen: "Can you be an Atheist Kantian?"

Sierra: "Alex, you're English, can you be an Atheist Kanitan?"

Me: "Hang on, I'm not... Well alright I am I guess but... I mean, that doesn't have much to do with it"

Oh yes, I forgot to mention, the third type of Englishman is the Atheist Bastard, as represented so well by Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. These are the English who know a lot, and can offer answers to most things, but don't like y'know, appreciate the love man. There's a very real perceived failing in the Logical kind of Intellectuals, in that there must be something robotic and inhuman within them to account for the fact that they don't see God in the world. They, and I up to a point, are regarded with a kind of angry pity. They deny the existence of Homoeopathy despite the fact that I once totally heard of when it worked on this guy, and he was like completely cured and grew a new arm. They deny the existence of ghosts but I've got this picture on my computer where there's like a smudge except if you draw a face on it it kind of looks like a face. They deny the existence of God, even though they know that we really, REALLY want to believe in him.

I'm occasionally, though not always, that guy. I suppose it must be just as frustrating for those who attempt to explain their point of view to me as it is for me to try and explain the benefits of logic to them. Many Canadians have been trying to encapsulate the movie 'The Secret' for me, so I may better my life. Essentially, it's the belief that when you have a thought, it gets sent out to the centre of the universe, and if it's desired highly enough it can attract events to you. If I think: "I wish I could meet a hot redhead", hard enough - a hot redhead will I meet.

I can see why people would think this, really. I can see why if you concentrate hard enough on something you'll be more aware of occasions where it seems you could fulfill that thought. I can see that if you express a thought so clearly it may motivate you to fulfill it. I can see why perception alters reality, as perception IS reality. However, I can also see why the whole thing is bullshit.

And you, dear reader, can too, even if you wrote the damn book itself. You can see all the reasons why it could easily seem true if it weren't. The point is, though, that you may also be able to see why it is true; as do thousands of adherents to this film.

This makes me seem almost unimaginably English. There is something about the world that I am unable to perceive that apparently everyone else can. This was okay in England, where there was only a small distribution of people claiming to see something beyond the physical world, of being party to a cosmic secret; but here in Canada I'm very much in the minority. The minority is so small, in fact, it appears to be me; and all the Canadians are so eager to pity my lack of ability, my cold soullessness.

Well the hell with them, and the hell with the Dinner Lady too. Perhaps I am predisposed to be more critical and more cynical of things, but that's not going to affect me. I can still see beauty in stars, complexity in life, magnificence in nature. Some of the most mesmerising things I've ever seen are photos from the Hubble Space Telescope. I admit to not being able to see farther than the edges of our universe, but that's plenty far enough for me. As far as it is, my smell has probably already reached there. I really should so some laundry.

You'll almost certainly have this week's album, but I'm now reminded how fantastic it is through having listened to it non-stop on repeat for about four days in a row. If you have it, I want you to bring one hand up in the air, and hi-five yourself. If you do not have it, bring one hand up in the air and slap yourself in the face. It's 'The Dark Side of the Moon' by Pink Floyd

October 20, 2008

Immanuel Kant is my Only Friend

How well do you know your friends? Really? Actually think about this, as it is a difficult problem. No-one knows enough about a person to predict their every action in detail, but it would not be true to say that we would have no idea how they would react in a given situation. Somewhere in between these two extremes there exists a value where we would be comfortable to say that we could definitely and definitively predict how a friendly person would act in a given situation.

This rather banal point comes from the very recent realisation I've had that I am absolutely abysmal at reading people. I can read people's words, that's fine. I can see their dancing lines around sensitive topics, their conspicous abscences of key phrases, their odd choice of careful and neutral language. Since language is incredibly varied, it's fantastically telling. George Bush once said of Putin that he could tell he was a good man due to the fact that he looked deep into his eyes, and the fact that he was wearing his Grandmother's crucifix. I unfortunately admit to being equal to Bush in this regard, without talking to someone, it's impossible for me to tell who they are.

This was never really a problem before, because anyone remotely interesting always has swathes to say, swathes which I can unpick something of a character from. There are Canadians, though, that act somewhat differently. When confronted, instead of excusing themselves thinly and making unfeasible distractions; they simply clam up. They are actors who follow a script. They know what they are going to say in advance, and deliver it coldly and dumbly. I can't react to that. I can't tell if this is a situation whereby their father has died, or a situation where I accidentally said something mildly offencive towards gerbils and they had one as a child.

As typical a male complaint as this may be, it's a worthwhile one. There are real drawbacks to not being able to judge social situations in this way. When someone says 'Go Away' and adds nothing to it I cannot tell the real motive behind the command. I'm aware enough of the situation to be able to judge that this does not in every case mean the imperative stated, but unfortunately not enough to know what my direct course of action should be.

There are people that, in distress, need people -- and as Babara Streisand said "people who need people are the luckiest people in the world". There's a type of nursing, wonderful, knowing person that exist in every corner of the globe with love so omnipresent that they could spend hours with strangers hugging them to happiness; and there exists equally people who need this type of understanding. More often than not, they're the same people -- anyone in need of comfort is generally willing to dispense it in equal amounts. These groups congregate around gravital centres in a dispersion of ultimate warmth; and are always easy to find. The difficulty is in having friends like this, I'm often called upon to be the one dispensing the understanding glow; which is fine except I never know when I'm being called upon.

I'd love to be able to be the one to know exactly when a friend needs a reassuring hug. Why would I not? I love my friends. The difficulty is that in some cases people try to communicate this need to me by means of a glance. This glance is more confusing to me than the head of Michael Palin sellotaped to the handle of a broom being balanced on the nose of a Skunk. I know it's liable to mean something, I just have no idea what.

I'm becoming increasingly and unfortunately close to the people I only experience in writing, hence the title of this post. Everything becomes easier when all I have to deal with is words on a page; which is why I really rather feel that I know some of the people I read about. For instance, for all you philosophy buffs out there, I think Immanuel Kant was an Atheist. I know he says he wasn't; I think he was. I can't see any reason Kant would put God in his philosophy (and don't try the 'moral' backroute because once you've accepted the existence of an absolute there's no reason to assume that it can't stop at the laws themselves) and Kant does not seem the person who would believe in something without real evidence.

So there you go, if I meet you in real life then be wary that I'm not as empathic as I'd like to me. If all you have to know of me is this blog, then fantastic! There's not more to know of me anyway; all I am I try to communicate through words. I am considering the benefits of wearing a crucifix, however, it may let me get away with the instigation of global terrorism.

Today's album is 'Panoramica' by 5th Garden. I lied when I said I was done with the Japanese lounge-pop, watcha gonna do?

October 13, 2008

Prometheus Unbound

I was recently listening to a debate on whether England should introduce blasphemy laws to stop the propagation of religious hatred. This was shown to me by John Nunn about two months ago, and is consequently slightly out of date regarding the laws of England concerning blasphemy at the moment; however I bring it to your attention because of two reasons. Firstly, Sarah Palin has stated in the past that she is for "keeping America Christian", which amounts to limiting the separation between Church and State and also propounding equal education of Creationism and Evolution in schools. This is a woman who thought that Dinosaurs were alive five thousand years ago, and there is a very good chance she may become president of the largest current superpower in the world.

Let's just time out for a second here, because I want the ridiculousness of that last statement to fully sink in. Hell, the surreality of the entire situation should be enough to make everyone gawp like wide eyed fish inhabiting the body of a deer caught in the headlights of a particularly surprising truck. This stupid, contemptible, grotesque, rash, racist, violent women may well be the one holding the keys to the biggest nuclear arsenal in the world. Are we really doing this, humanity? I understand it was funny at the time, but seriously it's looking as though there may actually be a chance that her and McCain win; and if they do, McCain won't last long. The man is around 70, a loud noise or a particularly buttery potato could kill him. This leaves the Hockey Mom in charge of a country.

It's like an especially terrible Disney movie, except that instead of the end where the inexperienced but cheerful hockey mom wins the country over with her dogged determination and back-country thinking, we get the end where she's put on the spot almost immediately by a Chinese ambassador, and we get to wave goodbye to the civilised world in a cloud of regret and radioactive vapour. The woman has spent barely two years governing Alaska, which has a population of around four separate people, and we take this to be enough experience to run a country? This crosses the boundaries of the astonishingly stupid into the downright suicidal, so we can only hope that the Americans find a less harmful way to collectively top themselves.

Anyway, secondly, Stephen Fry brings up the distinction between the Greek creation myths, and the current Western ones - specifically in the format of Genesis vs. Prometheus. In Genesis, Humanity is in some senses literally finding its feet. God has just made us (essentially as decoration, as we would introduce petunias to a bare patch of garden) and pushed us into Eden; without very much knowledge of our capability. As Hitchens says in the article: the first ever joke was Adam saying to Eve "you'd best stand back, I don't know how big this thing is going to get".

Being so introduced to this new and confusing world, Humans are given very little in the way of direction, other than "Don't eat that fruit over there". I call this direction, but this is misleading, because no sooner are we told not to eat certain types of fruit a snake wanders up and goes "It's cool guys, you can eat the fruit. It's super delicious". Being given such conflicting advice, we err on the side of the adventurous - and of course we eat the fruit. Turns out, not only was it super-delicious, but it gave us knowledge of good and evil, so it was a good thing then.

God, however, has other ideas. Being apparently otherwise occupied whilst all this was going on, he comes back to find us quivering and gleaming in the new sun, now complete with fig-leaf underwear. Long story short: God flips out, original sin is born, child-bearing becomes unbearable, working becomes hard work. Because of this misdemeanour at the beginning of time, every human being is created sick and commanded to be well.

For this tiny and meaningless slight, every human being is meant to feel shame. I remember being told this story in Sunday school, and the optimistic God-fearing volunteer teacher would almost scowl at us at this point, willing us to feel guilt for these actions. We are humans, we are dirty, we are unworthy to have the Grace of God thrust upon us.

Well I'm sorry optimistic God-fearing volunteer teacher, but I couldn't then and I won't now. I refuse to be servile to the point of emancipation, and I refuse to feel any mote of emotion for any action I hadn't the slightest bearing on, nor could have. This, then, is original sin - for what we are all ostensibly to go to hell for? I will not take responsibility for what two strangers did six-thousand years ago, no matter how apparently bad it may be. If I am to share responsibility as a human, am I meant to feel shame for the atrocities of Hitler, or the Khmer Rouge? Of course not, judgement can only be given on actions that require some form of participation from the person, be it action or inaction. If neither is possible, then we do not judge. Consider five people dying in a car crash, and then a man who lived five hundred miles away being taken to prison for it. Would we consider this action a correct one? Of course not, it's morally condemnable to punish someone for something they could not have prevented; so why are we to believe that a Benevolent and Omniscient God would take joy in it?

Contrast this, then, with the Creation story from the Greeks of Prometheus Stealing the Fire from the Heavens. The story is somewhat shorter and less complicated than that of Genesis, but nonetheless impressive. Prometheus, a Titan, looks down at the breeds of mortal inhabiting the earth - and focuses on one particular forlorn species huddling around for warmth. They have everything it needs to be successful, reasons Prometheus, all they need is a way to keep warm. So, Prometheus forms a bond with us, the humans, and our resourcefulness and verve; with our kinship and endurance, and eventually decides that he will do the unthinkable for us. He will steal the sacred fire, held only for the immortals, and bring some down from Olympus to earth -- for us humans.

Prometheus is succesful in doing so, and humans flourish into the dominant species that we are now, with all our flaws and with all our successes. As reward, Prometheus is chained to a rock for the rest of eternity, to have an eagle rip out and devour his liver daily, only to have it grow back the next day. However, us humans remember our beneficiaries and the Hero Heracles returns to the site of the Titan's chains so slay the eagle, and free Prometheus. Heracles returns triumphant, and humans rule supreme.

I guess the important point I'm trying to make here, laboured though it may be, is that the main thing I don't like about modern religion is the idea that Humans are somehow unworthy. That we are to be pitied, offered help, laughed upon like idiot children running riot by a vaguely condescending God. If there is one things that the Greeks taught  us, it is that humans can be brilliant, vibrant, intelligent, inspired beings. Why on earth would we want to claim servility to a perfect dictator? The Gods of Greece were certainly no better than humans, often mean, inconsiderate, incestuous, rapine, base, animalistic, capricious beings. The Greeks understood that humans were the Paragon of greatness, and that anything else remotely interesting must be in some way human.

So feel the divine spark of being within yourself! You're as much a God as anything else can claim to be. Every success in literature and the arts, in science, in human understanding is made by and for other humans. The fact that we can talk across ends of the globe, the fact that the hubble telescope can take magnificent, awe-inspiring pictures of the boundaries of space, 'The Well Tempered Clavier', 'Catch 22' and everything fantastic about society is human built. We share in all of these monumentous occasions, they show the capability of people. They show the capability of you. Remember that the greatest of human beings is no greater than you, and that there is, in fact, no such thing as anything greater than you. Not only is it bizarre to suggest some kind of divine influence for these things, but it's also slightly insulting to us as a species. Every action to praise God is an action to degrade humans. God is dead, long live man.

So what is the point of today's post? Be proud as a human, I suppose; and certainly don't share any of that pride with anything unconsidered. Remember that Pride is one of the deadly sins for a strategic reason: anyone truly proud in themselves is without the need for a God. Certainly -- don't feel shame for actions it is not possible for you to have a say in; though if Sarah Palin does end up getting into power I admit that I truly understand where you are coming from.

I realise that such a controversial post is bound to attract criticism, which I entirely welcome. Today's comments were more to illicit emotion than to deconstruct arguments. If you think I've gone wrong on anything feel free to let me know, and remember caps lock is cruise control for awesome.

Also: the album for the week is 'CARTOOOM!' by 'Plus Tech Squeezebox'. I thought I'd get all the obscure Japanese bands out the way in one swell foop, so here you are.

October 06, 2008

No it's not an eye–doctor

Sometimes people ask me where I get ideas for my articles. In reply, I generally patiently explain about how I do painstaking research on a given topic, and then weigh the various viewpoints to form a coherent conclusion. Then, when people patiently explain to me how they know that this is bollocks, I break down and cry.

I have absolutely no clue from where I get my ideas.

This sometimes manifests itself as a problem because sometimes, like now, my ideas don't arrive from the place they are usually so prompt in originating in. When this happens in conversation, I'm forced to trail away into a mumbling non-committal slump. When this happens in writing, I'm forced to moan about how I don't know where I get my ideas from. Douglas Adams' advice to aspiring writers on this topic was simply to drink too much coffee and buy a desk that is sturdy enough to withstand several repeated heavy blows from the head. I've been at Queen's for four weeks now, and mine has already developed a crevice.

I'd call it writers block were I to consider myself a writer. As it is, it's more like a relative you don't know and have never really met occasionally forgetting to send you a birthday present. I don't really feel as though I've done anything to deserve it in the first place. When the presents don't come, I have to just wait. Or in this particular case, talk about my deficiency of presents.

People often call me grumpy or angry; and I suppose in many ways I come across as it. However, as Ben 'Yahtzee' Croshaw puts it, I criticise things because I'm a critic. If people criticise me for being critical then we'll be trapped in an endless well of recursion. The worst thing about it is, though, I'm a critical optimist.

Critical pessimists have everything easy, they assume everything will be bad and then are unsuprised when it does. Open minded optimists have much the same lack of issue. Being a critical optimist is much like being a pacifist pirate: you're pretty useless, although people often wonder about how you got to that position in the first place.

I'm unswayable too. No matter what evidence is presented to the contrary I always assume the best of something. When we go to a restaurant which is little more than a hole in the wall, the waiter spits at me instead of taking my order and I can hear the chef singing "let the bodies hit the floor" from the kitchen; I still expect a good meal. I will order a pint of Guinness at a pub, then be served slightly cold mud; come back to the same pub the next day and receive a similar pint of mud, but this time with a shamrock drawn on top of it -- and then turn up in the pub a third time warmly hoping that the first two times were misled mistakes.

In short, I'm a very specific kind of idiot.

What I will say, though, is this. No matter how much people are expecting the new Watchmen movie to suck, I bear a single torch in the ocean of darkness. I'm almost certain that I'm going to be wrong, but I'm still full of so much hope that I won't be. If this movie is good, it will be so good.

I guess that it could be said that I get most of my ideas from misdirection. It could be the still beating heart of teenage rebel within me, but I tend to like to hold ideas opposed to the general populace, just to see where they lead me. More often than not, they'll lead me to the realisation that the general population was entirely correct; but I sometimes surprise myself. So if the Watchmen movie is crap, what did you expect? I'm a ridiculous optimist. If it's one of the best experiences you'll have in a cinema this side of Lord of The Rings then I want you to know that I fucking called it.

Also: as an addendum I'd like to introduce a new type of service, almost entirely designed for my own satisfaction. I'll be listing albums that I think you, the public, won't already own -- but that you should. It's liable to be obscure pico-pop / rock stuff, so feel free to ignore my suggestions if your taste in music is more mainstream. This week's album is 'Captain Vapour Athletes by Buffalo Daughter. It was made in the 90s, but it hasn't dated at all, and it probably some of the best calm electronic stuff I've ever heard. Grab it if you can!

September 29, 2008

Motivational Poster

Writing about web page

Einstein once said that most human actions were motivated by fear or stupidity. Genius though the man may have been, he was wrong on this occasion. Most human actions are motivated by lust.

This may sound ridiculous, but think of how many things in our life are there to serve no other purpose than to make us (ostensibly) attractive. There are women that insist on wearing make-up before leaving the house, and an increasing number of men that do the very same thing; hence the delightfully forced puns of "Guyliner" and "Manscara". In a weight obsessed culture I seem to be the only person left on this earth that doesn't go to the Gym. I don't understand where these people get their time. Do they not have blogs to update?

This brings me to my point, how often do we actually analyse our motives behind a decision? If you were to ask a regular gym-goer why they went, I'm guessing they'd say something along the lines of 'I want to stay healthy'. What does 'I want to stay healthy' actually mean? It means that the speaker wants a body that will make other people want to have sex with them, and that they're afraid of death. Dylan Moran said that all these people that went to pursue their ideal body are proving their limitations, as all they come back with is a bigger, more taught version of their old one. Why don't they come back with wings and a tail? That would be closer to my perfect body.

There are a plethora of psycho-philosophical questions surrounding this issue, of course. Such as whether there can be such a thing as a selfless act, or whether humans are in essence a benevolent people. My aim here is not to address these issues, but rather to establish whether we can ever truly be proud of our own motives.

An oft claimed pure motive is the religious one, that what someone did they did for God. This motivation could be pure even without the existence of the claimed God, the very fact that someone was acting for someone outside themselves, existent or not, would of course be praiseworthy. This example is thrown into doubt, however, by the heaven/hell doctrine. Imagine a Christian world, exactly the same as the bible suggests, but without the afterlife. No existence after death whatsoever, rather everybody -- saint or sinner -- died and stayed dead. Your actions had no bearing on anything after death. Would it still be true that people would act for God? If you answered 'yes' in a soft little voice, what would be the point? Why squander a life pandering to a being that doesn't care for you enough to grant you eternal happiness? If there were no carrot and stick, there would be no more christian soldiers.

Which brings be to a good point concerning lust and religion, one that appears to be hauntingly prevalent in Canada. Abstinence-only sex education. This seems a topic almost too ridiculous to rant about, but I shall endeavour to anyway. It is not only physically and mentally damaging to children, it helps spread prejudice and shame throughout the community. It is one of the stupidest ideas ever to have even be considered relevant education for today's society; and the fact that it has been granted over a billion dollars in federal funding makes me literally retch. This is my use of the word literal, and it is the correct one. The first time I heard this fact I had difficulty keeping my breakfast down. It makes me angry, but this is instantly replaced by shame at my own species. The worst part is, to qualify for this funding under Title V of America's Social Security Act, they must demonstrate that they will not teach about contraceptives. For them to be given money, they must promise to not tell children about Condoms and what they can do.

No independent survey has ever, ever found that any one of these programs produce a statistically significant increase in abstinence. The sheer fact of the matter is that the kids that want to have sex will have sex. There will be others that don't; which is of course a perfectly respectable decision. However, it is in no way more respectable than the decision that pre-marital sex seems a fun prospect. Both are personal decisions considering risks and benefits. There are some people that won't like bungee jumping. This is fine. This does not make them superior to the people who want to try it.

I just do not understand why people insist on spreading this message. Why not go out and inject children with herpes? Or would that not give them enough of the intense shame you're also peddling? Condoms break, but not as easily as promises.

So, we were talking about motivation I believe. I did say at the beginning of this post that I was trying to avoid the issue of whether there is such a thing as a selfless act, but I suppose I was inevitably going to find myself back onto it. It's true that you can certainly find a possible self-interest in an action, but is that what it is that truly makes us do the action? We see the earth from one perspective, our own. It makes sense that we only do things that benefit this perspective. It seems, however, that there is something more. I was worried about someone this Friday. Does that mean that I was simply aware of the fact that I enjoyed spending time with them, and did not want this to stop?

To be honest, I have no real conclusion about this issue; which was more intended to provoke thought. It has indeed provoked mine, so thoughts please -- and comments -- in the comments section. Also, since my motivation for writing this blog is neither fear nor stupidity, girls are welcome to leave their numbers too.

September 21, 2008

I Wanna Sing Like Sinatra

Who thinks that the life that they have shaped, that the person and soul that they are, can be reduced to a pithy two-word slogan? Think of all the things you are, to different people: children, brothers, lovers, friends, vague inphrasesable longings. Can you reduce the essence of what you are to less than seven letters? No? Then WHAT THE FUCK IS THE POINT OF PERSONALISED NUMBER PLATES?

What? What do you want rest of the world? Do you think that the letters "FRM D4DDY" will get you respect from your peers? Is introducing your love of wintersports via "LV2 SKI" entirely necessary? Would an undercover agent for MI5 really introduce himself on the back of a Mercedes SLK as "1 SPY"?

This is a message to all of the license plates which irked me in England, and through the sheer barrage in Canada make me detest them on a new level. Please, everybody that thinks that this is honestly a good idea, kill yourself in the most painful way anticapable. Humans are entirely complex creatures. Imagine the ridiculous amount of despair and panic you feel when asked to present yourself to a large group of people. There are, say, a thousand people in the room, and you have only a hundred words to present yourself forever to this audience. Their entire and everlasting impression of you depends on this unimaginably infinitesimal set of phrases. Would you not scream to the depths of your soul of the impossibility of the feat? Would you not insist on introducing yourself individually to each person on the basis that they might be a worthwhile social pursuit, and a good form of human to talk to? No? Then what the fuck is the point of personalised number plates?

When you introduce yourself as "K9 SUE" or "A1 LEO" you're not at all displaying aspects of your personality. All that every potential pedestrian seeing your inevitably shit car speed past from the pavement will think is "oh, that's the type of person who's life can be summed up in two rather insipid words".

Anyway, the theme for today is insecurities. I was trying to crowbar the previous rant into this topic, but I then realised it was impossible. These are two entirely separate thoughts.

I remember having conversations with Liam (AJ) about the nature of insecurity, and about how he ostensibly didn't have any. I remember repeating often and with vigour that that was impossible -- that every human being that exists must have little niggling doubts about their own abilities. However, when pressed to define an insecurity, I couldn't really think of a way to express it. It's not necessarily a failing, or an inability, it's more deep than that. It's any aspect of you that you feel should be better, for whatever reason, and because you feel it could be better you automatically become uneasy and embarrassed about it whenever it has to be shown. It could be the shape of your ears, or your abysmal poetry, or the way you cringe whenever someone mentions your name; whatever it is we regard it as an imperfection in our own life.

A human being is, as I mentioned in my initial rant, a social construct. We have, as Dennet would have pointed out, Second order desires about the type of person we want to be. In that, we don't want expensive white wine, but we do want to be the type of person that does want expensive white wine. We'd like to be a person who can appreciate good literature, which requires an outside effort. Insecurities are thigs about us that we can't shape, no matter how we'd like to; and the lack of control over our own nature disturbs us.

I suppose my own failings are ample demonstration of this. Working at a sports equipment shop over summer I was constantly quizzed about my feelings on the latest transfer or tactic. There is almost nothing in this world I know less about than premiership football, and certainly nothing I care less about. My own personal inability to join in conversations about most popular sports is no real problem to me, I do not wish to be a person who gets excited by this. I hold no grudges against those who are excited by it, but it's not for me. I'm not that man.

Contrast this with my utter ineptitude with any form of musical instrument, and you have a much better idea of what an insecurity is. I'd love to be able to sing, or play guitar with any actual ability besides four separate power-chords. I can play drums, yes, but not at the same rhythm as any band or music. Watching me on a drum kit is like watching a visual demonstration of chaos theory. Despite all this, I utterly wish I was that guy. The man that can pick up a guitar at a party and play 'blackbird' note perfect, or sing 'La Donna e Mobile' in the shower without sounding like I'm screaming for help.

Now I'm all growed up, at least for the most part, I've become a lot more easy with these insecurities. Whilst I still intensely wish for the genie of musical talent to grant me three melody-based wishes; I can't really see it being a problem in my life if he doesn't. Where I used to see my problems as constricting, I now see them as guiding. I'm never going to be the new Bowie, but that doesn't mean I can't be anything at all.

Where has it guided me you ask? Well as I'm writing a column for the Queen's Journal over here, occasional articles for the Warwick Boar back home and updating this blog with my thoughts in-between every week or so, it becomes pretty clear how my life is shaping out. I'm going to spend a good while certainly sitting here, at my most secure, writing for an audience -- provided there's at least one person out there willing to listen.

September 15, 2008

Why I like Canadians

I often wonder why I like Canadians so much.

I'm in the international accommodation over here, and it's been an odd presentation of my own bizarre little prejudices to myself. Most of the presentation has to do with it being more or less entirely correct. The man from the Netherlands is a 6 foot 6 blonde giant, and the girl from Japan is a tiny precious porcelain doll that I'm afraid to hug in case I snap her spine. The Australians are constantly drunk, and the New Zealanders are exactly the fucking same as the Australians, no matter what either party claim.

Faced with such selection I often feel giddy with the choice of who I wish to visit on any given night. It's almost like an incredibly cheap form of travel. I get to experience tiny amounts of the culture, based on my choice of which corridor to visit. International students are, invariably, awesome -- and awesome in the original sense of the word. Many have ridiculously interesting and complex stories; such as Steve's detailed account of his worse date ever (she actually obtained his police record and questioned him about it) or Andy's accounts of growing up in post-war Vietnam. Different tones for different occasions, but always shockingly vivid and magnificently told.

I've also found out how much I like Australians. They are always drunk.

It's peculiar, then, that when presented with some of the richest and most rare eggs of society to spend my time with, I frequently elect to spend a night with my frosh group. A group of first year, fresh-blooded Canadian undergrads -- some still 17 -- rosy-cheeked and innocent minded (for the most part). I wonder why?

I suppose more than part of it is the attention whore in me needing to be gawped over like a sureally plumed bird in a zoo, as much as the attempts to copy my accent pains me. Whilst I admit this, however, I do consider myself to have deeper reasons; which fuelled my decision to go to Canada in the first place. Canadians are brilliant. They often read as a selection of some of the best qualities from other countries. The staunch seperatism of Scotland, but without the cloisterism; the openness of America, without the acute stupidity; the grasp of culture of the English, without the stuffiness; the food of France, without anything else at all French.

Actually, that's a lie. They don't have the food of France at all. If you will allow me to digress into a rant (and if you didn't fully expect off-topic rants then you may find you've been reading the wrong blog), Canadian food is Terrible.

It is impossible to eat food without going to a restaurant, and even then - it is sketchy. The Wal-Mart near to my accommodation doesn't even have a fresh fruit and vegetable section. It has an engine parts section. I may buy engine parts. The good news is that they're getting one in 2010. So only two more years of scurvy to go.

Seriously, it is ridiculous trying to get food over here. There is no choice on items when there should be (if you want curry, you'd better really like madras), there is insane choice on items there is no need to be (the breakfast cereal isle spans four time zones), the bread tastes like doughnuts, the doughnuts taste like sugar, the sugar tastes like brain damage, the cheese appears only to have originated from milk in the same sense that communist China originated from Karl Marx (incredibly heavily processed, with all the good bits taken out), the bacon is only sold in packs of fifty and tastes like gammon, the chilli has no taste, the mustard tastes as though someone got mustard seed - then urinated on it - then took the mustard seed out, the salads are big enough to slay an ox and bland enough to be mistaken for packing paper and the bread is truly horrible. I know I mentioned the bread before, but frankly it deserves mentioning twice. I didn't think it was entirely possible to screw up bread on this level. It is bread. There is, however, a way. All of it, bar none, tastes far too sweet. This is alright with peanut butter or nutella, but with cheese or bacon it's just wrong. It's an abomination.

This is my only real problem with Canada. Why can't they do good food? Would God sue them for having a copyright infringement of heaven? Canada is an incredibly pleasant ointment, but with a fly this unbearable you can be forgiven for forming an opinion of the Country as a whole. It is, truly, dreadful.

Anyway, back on the railroad, I like Canadians. I like them disproportionately. It says a lot about them that when I met one in Jersey and told her I was going to Kingston, she gave me the names and addresses of five of her relatives that lived around the area that she fully expected me to stay with. The thing is, I could stay with them. I need only rock up with a suitcase, mention the name, and be escorted into the main bedroom. They're that nice. It also shows a lot of Canadians that I'm willing to use the word 'nice', which is so limpid and insipid that I generally prefer just to leave the sentiment out altogether. The problem is, they are nice. A girl in the street saw me struggling with a duvet and offered me a lift in her car to wherever I was going. She offered me the lift before she knew where I lived. I could have hopped in and said "Azerbaijan", and I've no doubt that she would start driving.

Canada is a brilliant, pleasant environment, which makes me happy in some hypothetical, shiny disney film sense. I feel better for being here. I just really hope they fix their bread. It's hideous.

September 07, 2008

Canada Bound

I'm in Queen's university; Canada. I've been here for just over a week, and already gleaned so much about the university and Canadians as an entity I feel as though I could write a book; however I'll pull it back to the category of irregular blog updates for the moment.

Blog writing tends to affix itself around central themes, and it appears as though I am destined to write a travel blog being so far from home. However, since I resent the idea of fate I will be endeavoring to break this pattern as often as possible. Expect long rants about the state of American Football, or Canadian beer; unpunctuated and clustered explosions on Quebecian politics and ironic but slightly longing drafts concerning cheerleaders and their ilk. Expect this blog to be weaving through the themes of Canadian university life like a drunken snake on rollerskates, whilst at the same time still remaining within my self-dictated subject.

The phrase for today is: School Spirit.

The Canadians refer to their universities as schools, which becomes initially quite puzzling. Most of the frosh (freshers) week I attended was to do with learning school chants - of which there are a seemingly infinite amount - getting to know our Gaels (fresher helpers) and watching american football. I was beginning to assume that the amount of cheers and responses we had to learn (almost always punctuated with pelvic thrusts, an oddity embraced far more by the girls on campus than the men) was some form of secondary test to check that the incoming students really were the best and the brightest, certainly the best at memorising little toccatas of language.

The community spirit is immensely different in Canada than it was in Warwick, which is not to say in any way that there was none in Warwick. If anything, I found it easier to fit in - but most of my time was dispersed to different cliques of the social scene. Thanks to the fact that my corridor was filled with some of my favourite people ever, and the corridor two stories below us was always goading us to come out; I was never without friends or a chance to go out. The clubs and societies I joined also led to a lot of time spent with parts of the university I wouldn't have otherwise met (social groups that almost universally spun around an axle of incredibly heavy drinking), and my course also provided me with an opportunity to meet some fantastic friends. The main difference here, though, is that I'm constantly in occasions where I find myself with the entire university. At talks and dances and football matches populated by thousands of students. There is much more of a coherent university spirit here, as opposed to sects of moons orbiting around bigger planets, again orbiting round a central star.

A hard question to ask myself is which one of these situations I prefer. I find myself, despite all the charms of Canada, erring towards the social circles found in Warwick. I still don't have sets of people to go out with, although I constantly have things to go out to; and I still don't know anyone with whom I could just walk into their room and talk to for hours on end. The community spirit, with all its cheers and school songs, does little to encourage the formulation of groups with similar interests; of groups of friends.

This being said, there is still plenty of time for the university to suprise me, and still plenty of fun to be had in the unified system of Queen's. We shall see whether I stick by this, my first blog post, by the time I have to leave Canada, or whether - like the engineers on campus - you're going to need teamwork, co-ordination and an awful lot of grease to get me out.

See you on the other side, guys

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