Friday, December 31, 2004

Another Spin Around the Sun

You just completed a 942,000,000km trip! (and yes, boy are your arms tired). I hope the new one you are about to start is a good one.

Happy New Year! :)

Thursday, December 30, 2004


There was a young fellow from Trinity
Who took the square root of infinity
But the number of digits
Gave him the fidgets;
He dropped Math and took up Divinity.

There was a young man who said: “Damn!
It grieves me to think that I am
Predestined to move
In a circumscribed groove:
In fact, not a bus but a tram.”

If you are looking for physics limericks, click here. Even if you aren't really, it worth it to check the last one after reading a couple.

Or if you just want tons of general ones.

Saturday, December 25, 2004


Life is pretty good, eh?
(and even if it isn't, I find that reading those words at least makes me realize that life ain't that bad)

Thursday, December 23, 2004


On Friday, December 17th I had the wonderful experience of going to see Hawksley Workman in concert for my friend Sara’s birthday. I was in such a good mood for several reasons: (1) I made some headway on an essay I had to do and could see the finish line; (2) I got to be outside of the house and see the diversity that the subway in Toronto brings; (3) I was going to see my friend Sara whom I’ve missed and haven’t seen in about 3 months; (4) oh, and there was this concert thing too. The venue was a church, which translated into a peaceful atmosphere, seating, and happiness for acoustic music played. Those two things, sitting down and acoustic instrumentation, are my ideal listening conditions. (If you add the freedom from alcohol and smoke, you have a very happy Darren).
The concert was great, I’ve never seen Hawks before, but have heard his music. He’s a great performer: relaxed, passionate, a little funny, a little kooky, and talented. The Hawks can belt it out! Not only was I enthused, but Sara’s delight was happily infectious. It was a great show. I was tired at one point, but it was such a warm, cozy vibe it was still good. He did the appropriate encore thing, which rounded out the evening marvellously. After the show I felt no ear damage whatsoever. No “What?” and that annoying hissing static telling you that you need some instructions on how to use your ears. We then embarked to Sara’s for cake and conversation. It was great! So many laughs and so much silliness. I’ve missed doing my various voices for both others and myself. Overall, one of the best nights I’ve had in a long time. Heck, her birthday was more fun for me than my own birthday! I even received a lift home from her kind roommate. Good times. J

So… that was Friday. On to Saturday the 18th…

In the evening, my good friend Owen returned my call. After some excitement usually reserved for those with more estrogen, we decided to go out, despite my fatigue. We hadn’t seen each other in months and he happened to be going to a bar/club downtown to visit a friend. Not our usual thing for obvious reasons if you know me, but, heck, once in awhile. First off, $12 for parking! Back in the city, that’s for sure. But as there were 3 of us (myself, and brothers Owen and Rory), it wasn’t too bad. We went to see one of the bouncers to say we were on the guest list and he said you could get in the guest list line… which was the only line. Hmm… if we are all on the guest list… there really isn’t any specialness here now is there? Anyway, while we waited Owen got to listen to concerns (i.e., whining) about how we were not paying cover so we might have to go somewhere else if things don’t work out. Just as we are next in line, a bus with 50 people arrives and they all go in ahead of us. Punked off! Fortunately, it wasn’t too long a wait. I don’t know if we were supposed to pay cover, but we just walked in and no one stopped us. Meh.
“What the hell is going on!?!?” were the first words out of my mouth. Loud music, people, darkness, and girls I feel I should be paying just to for looking at them. My senses were bombarded by salacious stimuli. I honestly didn’t really feel I was there most of the night. Instead, it felt like some movie or TV show. I almost had trouble fully comprehending that these are real people and this is their life. We chatted about our lives, culture, corporations, media, the seeking of approval, and the uni-dimensionality of places like the one we were in. You know, what everyone else was probably talking about. I looked at some of the bartenders and thought “They don’t have that in Halifax.” Later I realized that Halifax might, I just haven’t gone to those places much while I was there. The jubilant drunk girl is always a fun thing, with her utterance of, “Yeah!” To which you can only reply “…Yeah!” Additionally, there are the servers who float and ask if you want anything to drink. I think they only know about 15 words. Several being “uh-huh, yeah, right, yeah…” Rory and I discussed how the whole thing was almost the antithesis of what we want to see in the world. Owen actually tried to enjoy himself on more than just a psychological level. (Silly Owen.) I couldn’t help but see the bartenders as drug pushers. Well, dealer is perhaps a better word, because I don’t think there is too much persuasion. Well… the cleavage and tight pants might help out a bit. “If I buy alcohol from the ‘pretty’ girl, maybe she’ll like me. Even if she doesn’t, I’ll like me more because my brain will function differently and I can escape from my own being. Regardless, shouldn’t you pay a girl something if you look at her and she’s dressed like that? Isn’t that the protocol?”
We can see that I all to easily condemn many of the practices and events occurring at these locals, but it appears even those who cogitate cannot escape. Ashamedly, I found a bartender's chest to be mesmerizing in its event horizon plasticity. Dang hemoglobin! It seems there is only enough to go around, and the brain all too often sacrifices its share for lesser areas. Such is the battle of mind and body, principles and libido, superficiality and depth. Goodness won, we left.
On the way home, we stopped by the lake in our traditional manner. It was peaceful, beautiful and freakin’ cold! Some catch up conversations, sharing of life’s events and emotions, and some sticks thrown in the water. Ooh, and some miniature sand cliffs crumbled. Home to try to sleep away the exhaustion (and ignore the damage to my ears that indicates I need some instruction on how to use them).
In summation, I learned things I already knew. Duh! Of course a calm, warm environment that allows conversation will be preferred (by me) than a noisy, drug filled one that promotes the evaluation of just the physical level. I could say “Life will teach you lessons until you learn them,” but any insightfulness connoted is actually specious and the statement is relatively trite once briefly pondered. Oh, and there is also a bit too much intentionality. One would think that someone who has several issues with a particular sentence wouldn’t write it in the first place, right?

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Do They Know It's Christmas

(The words in bold will echo in my mind for some time)

It's Christmastime; there's no need to be afraid
At Christmastime, we let in light and we banish shade
And in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy
Throw your arms around the world at Christmastime
But say a prayer to pray for the other ones
At Christmastime

It's hard, but when you're having fun
There's a world outside your window
And it's a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears

And the Christmas bells that ring there
Are the clanging chimes of doom
Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you
And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmastime

The greatest gift they'll get this year is life
Oh, where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow
Do they know it's Christmastime at all?

Here's to you, raise a glass for ev'ryone
Here's to them, underneath that burning sun
Do they know it's Christmastime at all?

Feed the world
Feed the world

Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmastime again
Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmastime again

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Roger and Me

I just watched Michael Moore’s 1989 Roger and Me, and I recommend it. A quick summary: General Motors, which began in Flint, MI, closed down some factories, which ended up devastating the town. I think Moore using contrast quite well. As I have a tendency and desire to think about other people’s lives, I appreciated the technique. The film isn’t perfect, but provides information that I think is important for people.
What follows are some of the ‘highlights’ and commentary. (in the order presented)

A representative saying that Roger Smith, CEO of General Motors has a “social conscience as big as anyone in the country.” Fascinating! It is hard to believe people can actually be sincere.

The contrast between some rich people having their annual “great Gatsby” party and the poorer locals hired to act as human statues… sigh. These rich people have no sense of reality. As such, they cannot be too faulted, but they are still assholes.

At one point Moore tried to track Roger down in an Athletic club because he couldn’t see him in his office. I felt the whole thing didn’t really work and it seemed like Moore was antagonizing the wrong people.

Robert Schuller, evangelist, saying to the broken people of Flint, “You can turn your hurt into a halo.” Priceless. Thanks for coming out.

Michael Moore being colour analyzed provided a wonderfully amusing visual.

Apparently, rabbits will chew each other’s balls off. When people say humans are just animals, we have come a little further than they would like to remember. Now we use electricity to shock the testicles. This allows for greater overall pain because of its repeatability. (I do think we ‘have come a long way’ but I couldn’t resist).

A great contrast of some older women playing golf and a scene of a family being evicted.

Flint built this huge visitors centre to try to revitalize the town and when a representative was asked what do people ask her about the most, she said “Where’s the bathroom.”

There was a little piece about a guy being evicted; his name was James Bond. I mention this not really regarding the movie, but about the nature of names. Some people must have lead fascinatingly annoyed lives. Imagine what someone would say, every time you introduce yourself. (Hi, my name’s Mike Hunt.)

Soon after Bond, James Bond was evicted, they pan to a little kid wondering what’s going on. The 7-year-old says, “Rough time, a really rough time. I got thrown out of my house once.” That is harsh… sigh.
Watching this lady bludgeon a rabbit with a lead pipe and need more than one strike was not a happy time.

Money magazine named Flint the worst out of 300 places to live in the country… ouch. The people of Flint were obviously not happy campers. I then realize what a privialge it was to have Toronto as the number place in the world to live by the UN, several years ago with Canada as usually the top country. Sure, who makes the list? Is it biased? Etc.. but generally, first is good and last is bad and on most positive criteria measure, there should be some consistency.
As well, somewhere has to be the worst. That would just suck. One would think everyone would try to leave. The expression “Anywhere is better than here” would actually be true! Then I was thinking about whether it had to do with the people, so if they kept moving from town to down they’d bring down other places to worst and then move on. A roving band of ‘worst people’ is a funny idea, but not a reality.

Flint’s economic fallout lead to a huge increase in crime. Consequently, the city needed a new jail. But just before the grand opening, the city offered people the chance to spend the night in a cell for $100. That was not a bad idea per se, as I would consider spending the night in a jail just for the educational experience and to try to be aware of others lives and what they entail. Buuuuuuut, this was not that. They first had a pub crawl, people dressed up (some in ‘jail’ costumes) and there was a band playing “Jailhouse rock” while these people got finger printed and got to feel like a criminal.
I was sickened. I think it would have been a bit more realistic if some of these people were beaten, sodomized or truly felt the feeling of isolation or being caged. It remined me of the recent trend of people thinking it’s cool to be a pimp, or a hooker (damn it feels good to be a gangster). People! Get some priorities! … sigh.

Moore snuck into a GM shareholder meeting and got punked off by not being able to ask his question because they just cut the meeting. I was actually surprised that he just stood there. Consequently, I can see why he has subsequently become more abrasive- because he had to.

A powerful contrast of Roger Smith’s Christmas party and someone being evicted on Christmas eve. The evictor said (paraphrasing) “We’re trying to get some done today, because you wouldn’t want to do it on Christmas.” Ouch. Hmm… better to be evicted xmas eve or xmas day? Those options would be terrible.

As a documentary, I thought it was good. I was happy to see some of Moore’s older work. I will grant that there is not a directly causal relationship between someone being evicted and GM closing plants, but I think one could say the GM closing was a prim causal vector in the devastation of Flint’s economy, which lead to various problems.

Additionally, the main problem seems to be that under Canadian and US law a CEO must put a company’s profits before people’s interests. That is the main problem, so Roger Smith cannot be completely demonized. Yet… if he did have a huge social conscience he would likely be the type of person to resign before being the main guy responsible for thousands of broken lives. He could have done so much more.

My main evaluative criterion of recent times seems to be “Is the world better with X in it.” Based on the information I have (3 works, a book, interviews, articles by and about, and appearances), I think the world is a better place with Michael Moore in it. I think he is fighting the ‘good fight.’ (I also love he slams random celebrities, Eubanks in this, Spears in 9/11). As for people like Roger Smith… I don’t really know, but chances are he is part of the problem. To show that the alternative is possible, one can think of the guy who is in charge of the worlds largest carpet-manufacturing company (From The Corporation, sorry, I’ve forgotten specifics) who felt how business was being done was hurting the world and tried to change things. If you don't have too much time, see The Corporation before Roger and Me.

Lastly, (during minute 27) I thought on of the best lines of the whole movie was by a guy who was (I think) trying to describe the different levels of awareness people have about the terrible things happening:
Some people know what time it is, some people don’t.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Memories and Infallibility

Have you ever forgotten anything? (I’ll pause while everyone answers ‘yes.’ For those that didn’t, maybe you should go hang out with the Pope who is also infallible. Oh, but remember even caved on evolution)

How did you know you forgot it? I would guess that you remembered that you forgot (i.e., something reminded you) or someone reminded you. If that didn’t happen, how would you know you’ve forgotten? My answer is that you wouldn’t.

You’ll never know how many things you’ve truly forgotten.

But before you think you might be forgetting everything, you can make some estimates and have some parameters. How often do you realize you’ve forgotten something? How often do people remind you of things? These will be good estimates of your memory abilities. As well, how much information do you carry around that isn’t relevant enough to your life to not have an adverse effect if there is a failing? Probably only self-knowledge. Not that that is important (insert eye-roll here).

Well, let me know your thoughts, if you remember to post a comment. ;)

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Commentary :)

Below are someone's comments to the previous blog (please read first) and my response. While I hope everyone would see and seek the comments, I'm not sure how probable it is. A full post is much more overt, hence my current submission. Please add your thoughts as you'd like.

Human Rights comments:
Anonymous said...
You know, I disagree when you say "You are not separate, this is a zero-sum game; you only win by someone else losing."

An iterated PD isn't zero sum, you win the most when you cooperate. Does Gauthier's constrained maximizing and mutual advantage theory mean much to you? :)

I'm know I'm nit picking, but I think it's important.

If someone else really has to loose - in the truest most extended version of that - then I do choose me - I don't think anything else is rational.

But, thanks God that's not how it is. For us to win (exceping perhaps some very mentally broken human beings) in the truest most extended version of that - we cooperate.

It only makes sense, if our species is going to survive. Unfortunately, we're not quite long sighted enough.

Sorta related, I really like the idea of government and laws based on MA and evolutionary fit. Teach people evolution and game theory and we should see a little farther than we do now.

Anyway, that's what I think - obviously. :)

1:36 PM
Anonymous said...
Woops, just realized that's vague. I meant to say 'I do choose me over them' so... I'll win and they loose.

1:37 PM
Darren said...
First off, thanks for the commentary, debate is (almost) always good. I was somewhat amused that you clarified a point I understood, but not PD, Gauthier’s theories or MA; none of which I understand nor have the time to look up right now. :P (ah... PD = prisoner's dilemma)

When I was trying to pinpoint the source our disagreement the only thing I could think of was context: who is my audience and what we are measuring. Any thoughts?

Who is the audience for this blog? Probably only some Canadians who know me or know of the blog through friends. Either way, these people have access to a computer, which puts them in the different socio-economic status than most of the world. So the argument mainly applies to the developed worlds. For others in developing countries to achieve some of ‘happiness’ that comes to us so easily in the developed world, we would have to radically restructure our whole economic system (not a bad idea btw). Most people would not be willing to give up a significant part of their land, water, power, meat, entertainment, hobbies, possessions…etc. In this context, we win by someone else losing. People here would be less happy, would ‘lose’ by cooperating and diverting most of their unnecessary resources to cooperate with the others in need.

Alternatively, if we are measuring the ‘contentment’ of all, of course cooperation makes sense. I’m trying to make that my reality, but that is not reality (sadly). Try to show me how your points make sense.

I agree that evolutionary models show that cooperation works and that more people should be exposed to game theory. But I think you forget a big point. There really isn’t much of a punishment for defecting when the defector has little power. The people being exploited have only recently been given a voice and exposure. The only ‘punishment’ thus far is guilt when we find out about it. People hear of terrible working conditions, they know people are starving, they know people are being tortured and what do they do? They go buy some ice cream or alcohol to consume while watching reality TV because they’ve had a ‘hard’ day. Someone who is eating bread made out of rocks and grass would find that laughable before they started crying, if they had the energy to do either. (The attack on the States and increasing global hatred is a kind of punishment, but the US has just kept ‘illogically’ punishing and made things worse. It might hurt them eventually, but they will all still drive their SUV’s to Starbucks).

As for choosing yourself to lose, you’ll have to help me understand the details of your point because from where I’m sitting I don’t see it. Have you ever seen a movie? Movies are wonderful examples where millions of dollars are spent to entertain ‘rich’ people. Often movies or TV shows will involve the destruction of things. Why? Because we’d rather see something blow up than give that money to homeless (my apologies to those who write letters to executives stating exactly this). What do you eat? Only what is necessary for a healthy existence? How much clothing do you own? The perfect amount that maximizes the washing cycle? All made in Canada from factories with good conditions? What about ‘leisure time?’ Wouldn’t it be better for you to ‘lose’ this time and spend it fighting for human rights? The only defensible argument I can think of is: Engaging in unnecessary activities in turn enables you to be more productive when helping others ‘win.’ I’ve never met anyone who does this fully completely. (I don’t know if people have the processing power.) Another topic of discussion is whether people should sacrifice completely or not. Do we want depressed Canadians and happier people in the Congo? Well… what are you measuring? Your happiness or the existence of another human? This is the stuff I end up thinking about daily. I admit that my words are more pessimistic than usual, but these are the hurdles to overcome for change to occur. I still think it is possible, but it sometimes seems less plausible. :( Additionally, nearly everything is on a continuum, so I don’t mean to completely invalidate the efforts you are making. I just wanted to point out that we all have our line in the sand.

People do not take what they need; in our society most have the ‘privilege’ of taking what they want.

3:59 PM

Friday, December 10, 2004

Human Rights (apparently, it only needs a day)

People are starving, people are being raped and people are being tortured. We know it is going on, yet what do we do? Self-report or otherwise, if we measure behaviour it would seem that not many people care. There are numerous specious arguments available, but they are exactly that, fallacious. What part of your life is worth more than the whole of another’s? If you are one of the very few people that could actually claim a true inability to help, then this does not apply to you. Alternatively, if you can help but truly don’t care and contentedly admit this, then I’m saddened. I’ll keep trying, but the mountain is that much higher. In this world, it would seem you either have to write a letter or send some money if you want to help. Admittedly, those are the best courses of action, but there is also one’s lifestyle. Did you need what you just bought? Do you know how that clothing company treats it workers? Where do your resources come from? Who makes your stuff? How are they treated? Do you have any idea?

You are not separate, this is a zero-sum game; you only win by someone else losing.

You’ve heard it before, “You can make a difference.” You’ve heard it so often because it's actually true. I don’t know how much I can change, but I want to be able to look into the eyes of a person who’s continued deplorable subjugated existence is not only condoned by my culture, but supported and say, “I’m so sorry. I did what I could.”

Watch this
Amnesty International
Human Rights Watch (statement)
Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Why Must I Be A Crustacean In Love? (Futurama)

This brought me some humourous reprieve from statistical drudgery. It may not work well without the visuals, but try it anyway. Here's the transcript:

(Background: Dr. Zoidberg has come to an island to mate but keeps getting shot down. Fry said he is willing to coach him)

Zoidberg: Hmm, this "love" intrigues me. Teach me to fake it.

[Scene: Ship's Rec Room. Fry has set up the room to look like a classroom. On a board at the front he has written "First Date: Champagne, Flowers, Lame Conversation." Zoidberg sits at a desk ready to learn.]

Fry: OK, you're on a date. What's the first thing you do?

Zoidberg: Ask her to mate with me.

Fry: No. Tell her she's special.

Zoidberg: But she's not. She's merely the female with the largest clutch of eggs.

Fry: Well, tell her that. And then?

Zoidberg: Then mating.

Fry: No. Make up some feelings and tell her you have them. [Zoidberg raises his hand.] Yes?

Zoidberg: Is desire to mate a feeling?

Fry: You're not even trying!

[Zoidberg buries his head in his claws and groans.]

Zoidberg: It's all so complicated with the flowers and the romance and the lies upon lies.

Fry: OK OK, don't worry. The love meister will take you under his wing.

Zoidberg: What? Now there's a bird involved?

[Scene: Outside Edna's Apartment Building. Zoidberg stands outside the sand building and Fry hides under a giant shell with his back to the building.]

Fry: OK, go ahead.

[Zoidberg throws an octopus at Edna's French window. She opens it and walks out onto the balcony.]

Edna: What the? Dr Zoidberg. Your mating display failed. Why are you trying to talk to me?

[Zoidberg shrugs.]

Zoidberg: (shouting) I have no idea.

Fry: (whispering) You just wanna talk, it has nothing to do with mating.

Zoidberg: (shouting) I just wanna talk, it has nothing to do with mating. (whispering) Fry that doesn't make sense.

Edna: Dr Zoidberg, that doesn't make sense. But OK.

Fry: (whispering) Start with a compliment. Tell her she looks thin.

Zoidberg: (shouting) You seem malnourished. Are you suffering from internal parasites?

Edna: Why yes. Thanks for noticing.

Fry: (whispering) Now ask her how her day was.

Zoidberg: Why would I wanna know?

Fry: (whispering) You wouldn't. Ask anyway.

Zoidberg: (shouting) How was your day?

Edna: Well first I got up and had a piece of toast. Then I brushed my teeth. Then I went to the store to buy some fish. Then...

Zoidberg: Fry look what you did, she won't shut up.

Fry: (whispering) That's normal. Just nod your head and say "Uh-huh."

Zoidberg [nodding]: Uh-huh, uh-huh.

Edna: ...And then you threw an octopus at my window. You know Zoidberg, it's crazy but, when you talk this way your obvious deficiencies as a male seem...less obvious. Your genes seem less detrimental. [She sniffs.] You even stink more!

[Zoidberg looks at Fry.]

Zoidberg: Do I ask her to mate now?

Fry: (whispering) Third date!

Somebody somewhere…

…just urinated in diapers they wear while working on an assembly line for 4 cents/hour because the bathrooms are padlocked except for 15 minutes each day.

…has slit their wrists because the pain of existence was too much. The blood is pouring out right now.

…recently watched a loved one die of starvation right before there eyes.

…is complaining there is nothing good on TV.

…is drinking alcohol because that is the only way they can get through the day.

…has fallen in love.

…is shooting at another human, trying to kill it.

…is delivering a child to happy parents.

…has drugged herself because the psychological pain of selling her body for sex is too much to endure.

…is helping to feed the homeless.

…has asked God for help. Someone else just asked a different God the same thing. Interestingly, the same thing happened with a third person and a third God.

…just had an orgasm.

…is beating their child.

…has just been asked to marry him.

…doesn’t care about any of this.

…is laughing so much their sides and cheeks hurt.

…will always been seen as a colour.

…is wiping away tears of joy.

…is trying…

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Adjectives worthy of the President

'In these days of dangerously fatuous fundamentalist clap-trap, and with the unelected, god-besotted, war-mongering, intellectually challenged nincompoop who is currently president of the United States proclaiming that evolution is still "as yet unproven," we could use a few more such exemplars of clear thinking and crystalline writing.'

-- David P. Barash, professor of psychology at the University of Washington, Seattle, in an review of Richard Dawkins' The Devil's Chaplain.

Switchfoot lyrics

Over the past year I was exposed to a band called Swtichfoot and their recent album “The Beautiful Letdown”. While I don’t entirely agree with their underlying ethos, I can appreciate many of their lyrics. I thought I’d put up some excerpts, the *’s represent the ones I like listening to.

Meant to Live *
Maybe we've been livin with our eyes half open
Maybe we're bent and broken, broken

We want more than the wars of our fathers

This Is Your Life
This is your life and today is all you've got now

This is your life, is it everything you dreamed that it would be

Look what a mess we've made
We've got ourselves to blame
Look what a bomb we made of love

Dare you to move *
Welcome to the planet
Welcome to existence
Everyone's here
Everybody's watching you now
Everybody waits for you now
What happens next

Tension is here
Between who you are and who you could be
Between how it is and how it should be

Life is more than money
Time was never money
Time was never cash,
Life is still more than girls
Life is more than hundred dollar bills
And roto-tom fills
Life's more than fame and rock and roll and thrills
All the riches of the kings
End up in wills we got information in the information age
But do we know what life is
Outside of our convenient Lexus cages

On Fire *

But everything inside you knows
There's more than what you've heard
There's so much more than empty conversations
Filled with empty words

And you're on fire
When He's near you
You're on fire
When He speaks
You're on fire
Burning at these mysteries

Adding to the Noise

I dont know
what they're gonna think of next
genetic engineers of the most high tech
A couple new ways
to fall into debt
I'm a nervous wreck but I'll bet
that that T.V. set
tells us what we've wanted to hear
But none of these sound bites
are coming in clear
From the third world to the corporate ear
we are the symphony of modern humanity.

24 *

I want to see miracles, see the world change

Twenty four voices
With twenty four hearts
With all of my symphonies
In twenty four parts.
I'm not copping out. Not copping out.

(of course, now I can't help but think I should have done this first for bands that have had a greater impact upon me... ah well, that'll be for the future I guess)

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

I have joke

I just thought I'd tell you about what has been making me laugh my ass off recently. (Seriously, I have no ass, sitting is getting to be a pain in the...)

Sacha Baron Cohen is a British comedian known for his character Ali G. Generally, he plays a stupid person immersed in the hip-hop culture and by asking people stupid or crass questions, he invariably makes them look stupid. Yet, he can get interviews with high profile guests or even visit the UN. He is absolutely huge in Britain, but only recently gaining notoriety here. When I found out it was an act, I had much more respect for the guy. He also does another character named Borat, who is supposed to be someone from Kazakhstan. Much of his humour is stupid funny, sexual (implicit and explicit) or insulting. That being said, some of it is freakin' hilarious! Additionally, a friend has been doing the Borat impersonation whenever we meet. That makes a greater positive association to something I was already amused by. Then I start impersonating it and those who understand catch phrases or inside jokes between friends know that now it will always be funny, even if eventually it sort of isn't.
Consequently, some of you may like this link, and some will not. Because they are sound files they are probably better once you have seen a full skit. All that being said, when it loads, go to "chair joke" on the right, second from the top. Apparently, this is the funniest thing in the world to me right now. (I'm laughing out loud while I type this because I just clicked on it). Ah... stupid funny.

Ps: I owe my thanks to Chris for the link + impression and Sam for the some exposure.

Monday, December 06, 2004


What is consciousness? I won’t be so presumptuous to think I know the full answer, nor have enough space here to communicate it if I did. But here are some recent thoughts, still in the developing stage of course. (Obviously, it really depends on how you define consciousness. Is it self-reflective ability? Is it a first person perspective/narrative? Is it the ability to report such a narrative? I’ll let you think about it)

In the psychological/scientific world, there seems to be a pseudo-definition going around: Consciousness is the patterns of activation that occur in the neural networks of the brain. Others have described consciousness as an emergent property of a complex system. Please think about both of these and any other alternatives for a couple minutes.

If consciousness is an emergent property of complex system, it would seem that it is an output of sorts. The system is processing information that yields results (i.e., actions), as well as the emergent phenomenon of consciousness (almost as an extra). As such, brain processes are over-determined if consciousness in turn impacts the system. There would be two inputs to determine an output. That seems superfluous. Alternatively, could consciousness be an emerging and impacting thing? This will require some more cogitation.

I’m starting to think of consciousness as an integral part of… well… consciousness. Humans get a lot of their processing power by not just reacting to situations in the environment, but by forming internal representations of the real world within ourselves. Instead of just reacting to a piece of food, we can ‘picture’ it and perform many more tasks upon the ‘item.’ You could think ( = ‘form a representation’) about what it would be like to hold the food, to eat it, to put it with other food… etc. You can even retrieve older representations; we could call these memories. The internal deliberative process allows people to perform actions internally without an external cost.
Example: Picture a situation about whether a hole can be jumped? Other organisms have to guess and check, but we can plan things out, a least a little bit. “Hmmm… well the hole is 4 feet wide, I can’t jump high, but maybe if I run, I mean my stride is probably at least 2 feet…. So I probably could.” Is this sense, the reflective nature of our brain is part of the processing that allows for greater understanding about the world. Consciousness would be both an input and an output.

One could ask if these terms should be used at all. Output to what? To yourself? “I made output to myself” seems incoherent as a statement (of course that doesn’t mean it is). That is because I’m been somewhat dichotomous with my definitions without really mentioning it. I’ve sort of been saying that consciousness is you, the one observing things, the I in the Mind’s Eye, and your sub-consciousness is all the stuff that is happening without your notice (i.e., digesting food, breathing, how your smooth muscle feels, heart beats, processing of information to make you not feel the chair your sitting in until now because I just mentioned it). To make a conscious and a sub-conscious distinction seems fallacious to me. (I think) I would prefer to think of a continuum of consciousness. Some things may never pop in (things without sensory receptors) and some things almost always will (one cannot stop a loud noise from being processed). All the other stuff falls somewhere in-between, and there will different levels of access for different individuals. We are all limited information processing systems, but some systems (i.e., people) will have more access relative to others. If accurate, this would allow for greater understanding of the effects of actions before they happen, as well as more precision about the nature of motivation for pleasurable and painful stimuli.

I will admit that I do think our consciousness (consciousnesses?) is distributed in space and time. There is no moment of consciousness, no place where everything comes together. If you open up the brain, there’s nobody home. Additionally, whilst there is great internal deliberation, this type of processing does not remove the dependence upon the external environment. It is still a stimulus-response, but the complexity has skyrocketed. I think one of the faults of Psychology during the Cognitive revolution was not to retain the accuracy of the Behaviorist’s keystone: Stimulus-response. Of course the Behaviorists were wrong because there are internal processes that do affect externally visible behaviour, but I want to ask the Cognitivists, “What else is there?” Thoughts are still going to explainable with a stimulus-response paradigm, just at a hyperfine level (and not likely for many years).

People who are happy to admit that the ‘problem’ of consciousness will never be solved are those that:
a) Have never learned any history
b) Are clouded by intellectual/emotional/spiritual walls of what might happen if consciousness was explained, and are not noticing the evidence accumulate.
c) Just dumb. It is illogical to use a word like ‘never.’ (‘may not’ is something one cannot argue against. It is not about softness, but linguistic accuracy of statements)

There may be other animal contenders, but no other organism is able to do what we can do. Tens of millions of species and only one can tell you about it. Pretty cool.

We know how it feels to think.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Random stuff

Funny Stuff on Busted Tees

I thought this was pretty cool. Some people obviously went to some work.

Apparently, money doesn't buy happiness.

Everyone has an opinion, it's just not necessarily informed

Opinions are simply just not equal. Unless two people say exactly the same thing, one opinion will likely have more worth than another. What do I mean by worth? We’ll start off with defining worth as “those opinions that provide accurate assessment or reasonable judgement based upon facts and/or reliable sources” as today’s answer and leave the delineating of idealistic societal values of worth for another day.

If one states, “all opinions are equal,” a contradiction will follow.
1) All opinions are equal
2) The opinion “my opinion is better than other opinions” likely exists.
3) Therefore “My opinion is better than other opinions” is equal to all other opinions.

Statement 3 is paradoxical. Whilst paradox does not necessarily imply untruth, the level of inconsistency obtained in the third statement is logically problematic.

I hypothesize evidence could be collected to support the notion that opinions are unequal.
So let’s design a little experiment. The general design will be to test people on a subject after they have been given various levels of information about that subject.
Ideally, you take a random sample from the population and then randomly assign the participants to 3 groups. Participants are told that it will be a reading/writing task, but will know nothing else. Create a story about a fictional country that has information about the landscape, population and demographics, history, and various socio-political details. Make the information into a paragraph that conveys either 20 pieces of informatio, or 10 (or the same information, but randomly cut by half). Make a 20 mark test that assesses all the 20 pieces of information. Have two tests with the exact same questions on them: one open answer and the other multiple choice. Give the open answer(T1) before the multiple choice test(T2).

Group A: Receives no paragraph, just a blank piece of paper. 10 minutes later T1, 10 minutes later, T2

Group B: Receives paragraph 1. 10 minutes later T1, 10 minutes later, T2

Group C: Receives paragraph 2. 10 minutes later T1, 10 minutes later, T2

Now measure the scores on the test. All tests are out of 20.
a) Group A will score near zero on the first test and at chance levels on the multiple choice.
b) Group B will score much better on T1, but not much above 50%. Their T2 scores should be about 75% (10/20 by knowledge and 5/10 by chance = 15/20)
c) Group C should be the best on both T1 and T2 with some participants scoring above 90%.

Generally, there should be a highly significant difference between:
1) Group A and Group B,
2) Group A and Group C,
3) Group A and the combined average of Group B + Group C.
It is also likely we would find a significant difference between Group B and Group C. (I could have been much more detailed in this design, but I think what has been proposed is sufficient). According to the definition postulated above, we can conclude from these results that opinions are indeed unequal in this experiment; because of the different amounts of information available to the different groups.

Now, we can all agree that all opinions are not equal, right? If you truly still think all opinions are equal, please write me and tell me why. I leave you to figure out the implications for society, democracy, discussions… etc. I will say that the inequality of opinions is one of the first things that should be clarified as a discussion begins to occur.

Addendum: The title was taken from a marketing slogan by the Globe and Mail from a couple of years ago. Additionally, the content of this post is an obvious implication of a recent post: Respect, not equality.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

A shot from behind the stage

Mike and Darren


Today, for the first time in my life, I was involved in a public protest. It was a wonderful thing to experience, and I recommend it to everyone.

We (my roommate Mike and I) began making some signs last night, which took a bit longer than I anticipated. We choose to go for the missile defence issue and some other more comical ones. Yesterday, I was looking forward to the event, with mostly excitement, but a tinge of nervousness. I realize that I’ve been conditioned to obey/defer to authority and usually feel badly if I violate social conventions or laws. My nervousness did not exist today, and it shouldn’t have. We all have the right to protest as well as free assembly; this is was far too important an event to be unnecessarily concerned. The protest was ideal from my vantage point(s). Mike and went to Grand Parade a bit before 10 and as we approached the group in the centre, a police officer handed us a pamphlet outlining our rights and the laws that could be violated. It was so amusingly Canadian. All about peaceful protest, eh.
There were people, music, chanting, and some speeches. I liked being surrounded by my fellow protestors. There were a lot of interesting signs, one that I really liked was “War is costly, Peace is Priceless.” It was nice to feel so connected. The thing about George W. Bush is that he can bring together many people of similar ideologies; on both sides. So if you’re for women’s rights, against homophobia, abhor torture, oppose unilateralism, or just support peace, he’s your one stop protest shop.

The crowd’s attention was turned to greet a youth protest group that was magnificently invigorating. We welcomed them into the fold with cheers. Mike and walked around and sat a bit. Some people would read our signs and smile, which in turn made us smile. After a decent speech, which importantly stressed the non-violence of the protest and respect for others and the city, the march proceeded along Barrington. Then to South and then past the Sherrington to Pier 21. The entire perambulation took about an hour. About 15 minutes into the walk I saw protestors ‘as far as the eye could see’ both in front of me and behind me. That was Great!

During the march it was nice to see spectators from windows in the buildings, some workers and some kids, of just people on the sidewalk watching it go by. Here’s how nice people were: no one really marched on the sidewalk because it might have blocked people just trying to walk in the city. That’s how it should be.
As we rounded the corner on the way to Pier 21 I started to get pumped. The main reason for this was some percussionists near-by. Two people had ‘real drums’ and this older woman had a bucket upside down with two tin cans, it rocked! Then the protest stopped near Pier 21 and the energy in the crowd was building. We were chanting “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, George Bush has got to go!” and things keep building. The drums were pounding harder and faster and the crowd eventually erupted in its jubiliant discontent.

We hung around a bit, then started going back from where we came and then assembled in the park while others kept marching through the city. It is possible that some of us left before Bush actually arrived at Pier 21, but so it goes in these kinds of things. I was tired, so I sat on a bench and took in some speeches about US foreign policy. As Mike and I left we gave out two cents to someone from the CBC Newsworld. I felt I didn’t express myself that well, but had a second chance and got in a decent soundbite. “Bush is ostensibly here to thank Halifax, but it is a little late. Three years? What, he couldn’t get a flight?” Home to rest and watch CBC’s news covering Bush’s visit to Halifax. I also watched a bit of the PM’s subsequent press conference. I was happy to hear “We will not participate in any weaponization of space” – Paul Martin.

Additionally, I was quite amused by the wholly superfluous narrative Peter Mansbridge provided while Bush was leaving Halifax at the airport. At one point he actually said, “…If you’re a plane afficianado you’ll notice that the nose is a slightly different shape…” and then went on to discuss parts of the plane. Peter Mansbridge: bringing you the issues that matter most.

All in all, it was a fantastic experience. Just generally being there to see it was one thing, to be a part of it was even better. To be a part of "Outside the museum, about 3,000 demonstrators waved anti-war placards aimed at Bush, mirroring protests in many Canadian communities over the past two days." As well, I was grateful that “Unlike protests in Ottawa on Tuesday afternoon and early Wednesday morning, however, the Halifax protest remained peaceful. “

Through all of this, I have felt increasingly proud to be Canadian. I usually say I’m not a fan of nationalism, even under the guise of patriotism. I still think this is valid, but I should give more credit to my country. Thanks, eh.

Wise words

"Naturally, the common people don't want war... But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship.
Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country." - Hermann Goering, Hitler’s Reich Marshall, at the Nuremberg Trials after World War II.

"No one except a dumb thief plays with the security of others and then makes himself believe he will be secure. Whereas thinking people, when disaster strikes, make it their priority to look for its causes, in order to prevent it happening again." - Usama bin Ladin