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February 02, 2009
Yes, Yes I know.
This is it then, I've been delaying upon delaying upon delaying, due to a combination of poor planning and an inhuman workload; so there really is a great deal of pressure to make this a full and frank disclosure of my adventures as so far. I start, then, with an analogy:
Canada is like the snooker theme tune
You know the one I mean. If you don't, look it up on youtube. Relaxing but adventurous, with a sense of existent familiarity that transcends any actual familiarity. The snooker theme tune isn't quite as fundamentally cold as Canada, and fails to grasp the exact scope of the place being as huge as it is, and I guess it doesn't actually show the massive division of the people between extremes of maturity and immaturity. I suppose, in retrospect, the analogy breaks down. Let me try another one:
Canada is like another hour in bed on a remarkably cold morning.
Comfort and Cold are the two things I've come to associate with this place. Well, that and heaps of work. I suppose if you spent the extra hour in bed working. That, however, would be less comfortable.
I'm not sure I'm trying the right tack at explaining Canada, mostly because my experiences are entirely relative to me. Derren Brown once showed without any tricks or magnetism or double headed coins or camera cut-outs on television himself getting 10 heads in a row, when flipping a coin. This has a probability of one in one thousand and twenty four of happening, yet he still did it. He then showed how.
He spent nine hours in front of a Camera flipping a coin over and over and over and over again until finally a run of ten heads came up. He achieved the probability of one in one thousand and twenty for by performing the act one thousand and twenty four times, approximately. He was making, through what I'm sure was an incredibly tedious route, a point to do with the fact that experience is nothing if you don't know the context in which it was achieved. Unless you understand the perception and bias of the observer, you don't understand the result.
So now I'm going to tell you about myself.
Not the standard things that many, if not all of you, would know about me -- as that would be entirely pointless for them. Instead: I'm going to list ten things that make me me that many of you won't be aware of. Here we go:
1. I don't really care about changing the world anymore. I used to so much it was basically my defining force. Full of ideals, full of revolutions; I was quite ready to get into power and overthrow the shackles of society. Since then, I've become more weary and more passive and more cowardly. I suppose the only positive way to spin this is by telling you that my new wish is to understand the world. Properly. Actually figure out somethings that other people haven't figured out. I hope it will allow people with more fire than me to know exactly HOW to change the world.
2. I'm not as entirely disdainful of people as it may seem. To be honest, the more comfortable I am in insulting and belittling people the closer to them I feel. Knowing a person involves knowing their flaws, and the best way to show this is by exploiting them.
3. I don't actually like Left 4 Dead. I'm sorry.
4. I like being alone, and being with people in equal measures. I think this comes from the bizarre juxtaposition of my parents, but depending on my mood I'm liable to be encouraging a five hour long pub-crawl at 1am on a Tuesday, or sitting in my room sipping at tea and reading Edgar Allen Poe and not answering the phone for the entire night. Hegel said that there was no such thing as the private human, we are utterly and entirely defined by our relations to others. This may be true, but sometimes I quite like not being a person and simply being a vessel for poetry and caffeine.
5. I really miss my Year 12 and 13 days, where everything was a little less complicated. I was too irritating and energetic a child to really fit into a stereotypical idyllic and innocent perception of my younger days, and since then university issues and work have spiralled up like nothing before. Those two years of bomberman in the common room, however, provided a brief respite. Some of my best memories are from that time.
6. I think slightly too much about my hair for a healthy hetrosexual man.
7. I'm beginning to lose my faith in Philosophy. I used to know I was the best of the best, and that I could take on Descartes and Kant in a battle of the rational. I'm less certain these days. Revelations seem to lack the spark they once did, and I don't seem to be able to argue as much. Maybe this is the move into a more regurgatory form of learning in Canada, but I felt it at the tail end of my year in Warwick. We'll see how my final year plays out.
8. I really don't like watching sports of any kind. Except snooker.
9. I'm pretty sure Swearing is God's gift to a pious mankind. It's fucking fantastic.
10. I pretend that girls don't confuse me but they really do. I think they must confuse themselves. They're a personification of Chaos theory.
So there you go. That's me to see, naked and shivering (if indeed any of you would like to see me naked and shivering). Put yourself in that mindset, if you can, and bear with me as I travel over my exploits in Canadaland.
One thing that I have noticed is a lie is the repeated and I think genuinely held proposition that 'Girls dig English Accents'. They really don't guys. The only type of girl swayed enough by a British Accent is the giggly 17 year old blonde type that you daren't put your penis into lest stupidity turn out to be a sexually transmitted disease. Weirdly enough, British Accents aren't enough to turn most girls, or at least mine isn't. My slightly scholarly always sarcastic and wonderfully pronounced accent isn't the type of accent girls are looking for. I simply sound like a Bond Villain. Girls do not want to sleep with Bond Villains, they're always worried about the Magma.
This is not, of course, to suggest that my trip over here has been one long American Pie style quest for booty. If anything, I've been pretty relaxed on that front. I'm not entirely certain why I'm sharing this with you, world, but there you go.
As well as this, I'm spending more and more time with the international students. It may be the sense of shared adventure, or it may simply be the fact that we're all grouped together in one residence and therefore have no choice but to bump into each other; but the fact of the matter is that sometimes the whole Jaunt feels more like Joseph's Techniculture Dreamgroup. I see and know Canadians, but not as well I guess. Not as well as I used to anyway.
I feel very seperated over here, and not just from the Country. Out of all the fantastic Scottish and Irish and Dutch over here I don't feel that there's a single one that actually knows me. This isn't a moan, I'd like you to understand, but simply an observation. I still haven't felt the connection I did at Warwick, or the friends I have in Jersey. All the people here are perfectly eager to invite me out, and I always enjoy their company a lot, they are by no means distant. I realise, in retrospect, that I've been the distant one. I'm alone here. Happy, but alone. There's nothing wrong with that.
But of course, my time here is by no means over and everything here stated could change. I promised you a full disclosure and a full disclosure you have. Of course I've loved my time over here, and if given the chance I'd take it again. But I do miss my friends. Being back in Warwick and Jersey over the Christmas made me realise how much I miss them. Of course, the fantastic thing is I get to see them again, and regale them with tales of adventure and moose. If you are one of them, I'll see you very soon. If not, why haven't you introduced yourself to me?
Whoever you are, see you soon.
January 15, 2009
They got a message from the action man
I'm happy, hope you're happy too
I've loved all I've needed love
Sordid details following
The shrieking of nothing is killing
Just pictures of jap girls in synthesis and I
Ain't got no money and I ain't got no hair
But I'm hoping to kick, but the planet it's glowing
Ashes to ashes, funk to funky
We know Major Tom's a junkie
Strung out in heavens high
Hitting an all-time lowwwwwwww
Yeah so that was pretty much my Christmas present to myself.
Hello! Greetings once again, I am definitely back and alive and blogging. I trust you are all the same, except for the blogging, except for those of you who themselves have blogs (if so, link me!). Only two sentences in and I'm already using up my quota of commas, which I swore I would resort to less these days. To all of you that have been awaiting this, I'm sorry. I know you've all been emailing me and swearing at me and phoning me to try and get me to be something like consistent. For this: I apologise. I'm terrible I know. With that said, shall we continue?
I'm back. It's cold. When it used to rain in England my Gran referred to it as "Nice Weather for Ducks"; this weather, however, has no upsides. Polar bears down here complain that it's a bit nippy. My frostbite is getting frostbite. The tic-tacs by the side of my bed are turning blue. Any inch of flesh left exposed to the elements protectively loses all semblance of feeling, and you're left nursing it for the next six weeks. My cheeks and nose are so rosy I've frequently accidentally acted as landing lights for aircraft. I saw a squirrel fall out of a tree yesterday; it went 'clink'.
I could go on.
I really am out of my element here, it's just too cold. It has become the case that the outside doesn't really have a temperature anymore, but rather just a degree of pain. The weather is relatable in terms of "Jesus Christ"s on coming indoors. Warm is simply a "Jesus..." whereas today's temperature relates better in terms of a "JEeeeesus CHRIST"
I've just realised I did go on.
The point is this: it's cold.
Also: I promise you, and I do actually mean this one, a full and frontal exploration of my first semester in Canada this very Sunday, but it's hard to type through a veil of Cold and work. When things settle down a little, a real update will be available. Patience, young ones.
In other news: an article I wrote concerning the effect of Achievements in games and game development is being published in The Escapist. I know! Hooray for me. Look for it on the 7th of April.
December 08, 2008
My bedroom, usually in a state whereby bomb detonations would be a marked improvement, is pristine. All of my laundry for the next three weeks is done, folded away and hung up. My diet now consists of, instead of Bacon and instant soup, lavishly prepared three course meals gently roasting away in the stove. I reply to emails on time, I respond to optional surveys, no job for a friend is too big or too small.
What does this tell you reader? It is exam time.
I procrastinate at a superhuman level. I think this is something to do with the discovery I made as a child that if it was easier to do something yourself than to wait the eons it would take for me to perform said task; no-one would ask you to do anything. Charlie Brooker, who I feel a sense of innate companionship towards, once said that it took him three weeks to change a lightbulb in the kitchen. I mean him no offence, but three weeks is copping out too early. Learn to love the dark.
Hell, even as I'm writing this blag I'm checking Facebook and Gmail, reading webcomics and buying things I don't need or even want off of ebay. I only started this blog to get away from doing the washing up, and I only had a meal so I had an excuse to stop revising. I am four layers into recursive procrastination. That's got to be some form of achievement, even if it is a retarded kind.
I am possibly the worst person at revising in the world, including the deceased. My notes are always scrawled onto random sheets of paper as if a drunken spider covered in ink was crawling across the page, and then organised chronologically. I am using 'chronologically' in this context to mean 'not at all'. I then lose them, where they are compacted into blocks of wood which have friezes of the baby Jesus carved on to them. This is, of course, conjecture -- but they might as well be. Heavens be damned if I know what I did with them.
So of course I go to the library, take out twenty-seven books vaguely related to the topic and arrange them on my shelf back at residence, and watch as they slowly accumulate late fees. I assume everyone else does this too. Sometimes I'll open one at a random page, read about four lines of it, and then I will have finished the book, without reading any of it at all. I will simply be turning pages whilst in my brain I kill Orcs with a Thomson Submachine gun.
I suppose this is a direct result of the type of brain I have, which would rather explode in a fit of rebellion than stay on one topic for more than twelve consecutive seconds. The stupidest thing is that I spend half my time wondering about philosophy, but just the wrong kinds of philosophy. The day before my test on Kant, I'll spend considering the metaphysics of Frege; the day before my philosophy of language exam I'll ponder the categorical imperative. It's almost as if my brain is actively trying to sabotage itself.
Also: as a sidenote, to all of you that were worried about my safety when the blog failed to update last week (i.e. none of you) everything is cool. I'm sorry I missed a week, but I was in Toronto. Was it fun? Yes it was fun. I hope this won't come between us.
Of course, the fact that I'm in the middle of a massive insomnia attack doesn't help with revision terribly much. A common misconception about insomnia is that it is the condition of being constantly awake. This is not true, rather it is the condition of not being able to sleep. When you have insomnia, you're never really awake either. You exist in some bizarre fugue state of existence, where it is almost impossible to remember anything. After periods of insomnia, things you've done surprise you. I've literally forgotten about conversations I had, people I saw, in one case even a movie I went to the cinema to watch.
Anyway, I'm sure I'll go into more detail in some future blog post, but let it be known I'm over the worst of it. Naught but two days ago I had a fantastic thirteen hour long sleep, and one of the coolest dreams I've had for years. I was back at my old house in Jersey, with some friends from both Canada and Warwick, and we fought a Tyrannosaurus Rex. For those of you that knew him, Sundeep Watts was there, and delivered the killing blow to the beast. This will be his Eulogy in my mind. Sundeep Watts: Kicking the ass of Dinosaurs all the way from heaven.
Anyway, to leave on a high, or at least mid-level, note -- I'm going to be okay. I know this because I always am with these things. I won't revise nearly enough, and it'll scare me, and I'll do more work next term. I know this will happen now, and yet I still wait for it. On the plus side, my room really is spotless.
'Howl' by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Their Awesomeness is directly proportional to the amount of constanants in their name. Check them out now.
November 24, 2008
As a brief note I'd like to apologise for last week's abomination; I really should stick to writing non-fiction. In my defence, I had little else to give, and now I've started updating I feel a certain sense of -- as Yahtzee put it -- 'blogligation' to make sure I have something at the same time every week.
A long while ago now, when I was nary more than a nipper at the teat of education, my A Level English teacher introduced me to the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. It is hard to explain the effect this had on me really, especially since I had been incredibly interested in poetry before, but I will attempt to do so anyway. All good poetry has an effect on you, as a person. D.H. Lawrence's verse embeds itself within you, it stamps out words like engraved ink on bronze across your brain; Siegfried Sassoon's visceral poetry is almost tactile, thudding itself with great guttural blows to your head and assaulting your senses; Hopkins -- though -- Hopkins' work burns its way through you like a white-hot trail on your soul. Every carefully constructed line flies out like shards of napalm screeching their way across your core, and you are left -- bare, naked and burning.
Douglas Adams once said something similar of the music of Bach, but Hopkins' work truly speaks to the personal element. When you read Homer you know what it is to be a hero, when you read Browning you know what it is to be Browning, but when you read Hopkins you know what it is to be human.
It's difficult to understand what it is that makes me connect so much with Hopkins, especially because we are -- on the face of it -- so dissimilar. Hopkins, for those of you who don't know, was a man of massive faith who rejected his family to become a Jesuit priest, and then was sent away from his friends and colleagues at Oxford University to become a teacher in Dublin. He wrote poetry for most of his life, though he burnt much of it in his massive fits of self-doubt, but it is the poetry written at this stage, at the very ends of his life, that interest me the most. The so called 'Sonnets of Desolation'
Hopkins wrote that in moving to Ireland he was at a "Third Remove" from his old life, but not "in all the removes [he] could get". The final sonnets of Hopkins' life detail his desperate and faltering belief in God.
At first, all Hopkins expresses is his anger at God for his situation, but the tone of the sonnets become slowly more questioning -- and eventually pleading. I cannot nearly communicate how incredibly fantastical these poems are, your only recourse is to read them; and thank me later. Hopkins captures impeccably the feeling of howling loneliness, of utter and total abandonment as one by one of all the things that keep his life tethered disappear. All his connections to reality slowly fall away, and to read the final sonnets before his death is to see the look of desperation in a dying man's eyes as he fruitlessly scrabbles at the cliff edge.
This is, of course, somewhat depressing as you might imagine; and not something I would recommend for light reading. If ever you want to know what poetry should be, however, Hopkins really is the place to start. It almost details the fall of a man, as you read each poem detail the gloriousness and true awesomeness of God (I'd recommend 'God's Grandeur' or 'The Windhover' for this stage) and see the true hopelessness as the poems decline in mood, and then decline further; and finally: stop.
Why do I choose to write about this now I hear you cry? Well, I am in Canada now, I am at a first remove. I'm not one for large groups of friends, I typically find a few select people I really care about and latch on to them like an irritating -- but loving -- barnacle. This is why I really don't like loss of connections. It is happening, now, not in great numbers nor in any way definitively but it is happening. I'm drifting apart from people that used to be major parts of my lives, people that at other times I genuinely could not imagine living apart from. It is true, certainly, that I am forming new connections constantly, and there are plenty of people here in Canada I find myself honestly attached to. You never really, truly, forget the people that formed stages of your life: how many of you can still remember some of your kindergarten friends? We grow into life, around the mould that other people imprint upon us. I don't like losing these connections, but I suppose I am. I don't like losing people, but I suppose I will.
There's not really any cause for me to moan about this. I'm worlds away, and it's a decision that I made. As well as this, making new connections all the time does blunt any accusations of loneliness I might field. Me losing people was always inevitable, and I was always aware of it as a consequence. I left Jersey, then I left England, and soon I'll leave Canada (too soon) and I don't suppose I thought that I was going to stay close to everyone I knew. That doesn't mean I have to like it though, and that it doesn't mean I'm not going to take advantage of your time, reader, to bitch about it. It just leaves me in a state of nostalgic depression, as if I were indoors by myself with a mug of hot chocolate, wistfully staring at the beating rain outside. Unfortunately it tends to snow here, so that option is out.
Things will be better, I assume, when I get back to Warwick and get to talk to my old friends back there. I'll bet you, however, that around this time next year I'll be bemoaning all of my friends in Canada that I'm fading away from. That will be until I come back the year after, of course. Watch this space.
Christmas time, Chil'rens! I think a new theme will develop in these latest album recommendations. I suggest 'We Three Kings' by Reverend Horton Heat. Check out some of their other stuff too. Also: feel free to suggest bands for me, I don't want this to become a one sided relationship.
November 10, 2008
There's a constant and relentless flash from the corner of my room, that's been there since week one; a little irritating red light taunting me on, and off, and on, and off. This is a psychological form of torture for me, as the phone knows my weakness. The phone knows of my lack of perseverance and anger at unfriendly interfaces, the phone knows how hard it is to operate and it laughs in this idyllic niche.
On first discovering I had a phone message, in week two, I eagerly pressed the little button next to the flashing light that read 'messages' in the hope that this would direct me to the messages. Apparently, in Canada the word 'Messages' means 'Scream Static into my ear'. That option was a no go, so I asked a friend how you accessed the message inbox. He then set off on an explanation so ridiculously lengthy and specific I began to wonder if he was still talking English. The sheer amount of numbers he detailed made me consider whether he'd just switched into binary and was directly ordering my phone to give me the messages.
Sadly, this was not the case.
I need to know something like three separate extension numbers along with my phone number and student number and student pin and the value of pi up to 74 decimal places and the exact score of the word "Salubrious" in Scrabble, provided the 'b' is on a triple letter score. I don't know these numbers. I don't like these numbers. I don't know anyone that would be able to memorise these numbers.
Assuming you can remember all the numbers, which you won't, and get them all in the right order, which is impossible, there are still thousands of hurdles to be cleared. The talking speed of the robot lady at the other end, for example, makes geological drift look playful. This coupled with her awful habit of leaving gaps at the most inopportune places (If you would like to access your message folder, please input your student number............ preceded by a hash) forces me to believe that she is the spirit of the phone, and laughs at how much misery her petty existence is enforcing upon my life.
The flares of red are irritating, the numbers you need to remember are inhuman, the controls are unintuitive, the woman is unhelpful, for some utterly arbitrary reason the '5' key is smaller than all the other numbers which makes me feel sorry for it every time I use it and thus reluctant to use it too much; the phone itself is positioned so that you need to lift the base of the phone to you to use if and for those of you who realise that the other hand needs to be fixed on the receiver you'll see the clear and apparent problem this poses for the pressing of buttons, I still haven't worked out how to use the volume control which means that slow-voiced-robot-lady is constantly yelling at me -- albeit it in a bland and preprogrammed voice, and it is connected to the wall by three separate cables. Power: yes I can get behind that, Phone Cable: of course necessary for your existence as a phone. Where does the third cable go? It just happily trails off directly into the wall with no apparent purpose.
I have not yet ruled out the possibility that this phone was placed here from the future.
This damned phone will be the death of me. I know as soon as I finish writing this piece the phone will flash and flash until eventually I cannot withstand its taunting and break down; and I know that my breaking down will at first be calm and organised, and I will slowly write down all the numbers I require. Bit by hellish bit I will realise that I've written down one number wrong, or one in the wrong order and I have to listen to the dull monotonous robotic daemon-woman trail off on an epically slow rant. My patience will wear thin. I realise I will finish the night at 4am wearing only my underwear, phone in one hand and a half-empty bottle of Jack-Daniels in the other, screaming "MESSAGES!" into the receiver whilst weeping to myself.
The world has, however, gotten a little bit better recently. I'm fairly certain one of the inaccessible messages in my answerphone is one of many well meaning Canadians screaming 'YES WE CAN' at the top of their voices. Despite sharing the same slogan as Bob the Builder, the Democrats are in. The good guys won. The teaming of Miss "So ridiculously stupid and incapable it's a wonder she's trusted with a can-opener" and The Emperor from Star Wars proved not as attractive as hoped to the American Public. It has to be said though, Palpatine's concession speech was remarkably graceful, well formed and timely. He seems to be the first Republican candidate I don't actively hate, rather I just disagree with him. I suppose I have to buckle and admit I don't really hate Palin either, she's so vapid there's not really enough there to form any opinion about. I admit it would be funny to see her running a country, provided it was one of the smaller ones with no nuclear capacity; and if the only residents were Hitler and Barry Scott from the Cilit Bang adverts.
I don't really have anything particularly interesting to say on the topic, other than this: doesn't Obama have something of the messiah about him? There's something so innately noble of the man that I feel as though he was in some way destined to lead. If he found a soapbox and started claiming he was leading us to the new Babylon I can't honestly promise I wouldn't follow. Fortunately he seems responsible with the power he wields, and his values are so incredibly well formed that not obeying the man seems almost literal sacrilege. The number of people I've seen with 'Obama' t-shirts could easily form a fair sized cult. I'm just glad he's a good leader, as well as being a good leader.
We're in something of a depression right now, everyone knows, and I suppose it's fair to say that it'll get worse before it gets better. Maybe it will get better, though. Maybe Obama's slogan is right, maybe we can. Have hope.
Today I would like you to buy 'Wreckage' by Overseer. This may be slightly well known, and as such ruin my indie street cred, but fuck it, it's a fantastic album.
October 27, 2008
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
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
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
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
Writing about web page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abstinence_only_sex_education
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.