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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 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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