Girl Wars

Girl Wars

I haven’t seen the latest Star Wars movie Rogue One, but did see The Force Awakens when it came out 2 years ago. I wasn’t that impressed; it was basically the same as the first one with more realistic, if less interesting, special effects. But the critics generally praised its star (Daisy Ridley as Rey), and the makers were lauded for introducing a strong female lead who could swing a lightsaber and kick ass just as well as the mostly male heroes of previous episodes. I guess it’s the Margaret Thatcher thing; you have to be as tough as the guys to get their respect. But one thing struck me as odd in a movie that was supposed to be putting a “feminist” face on the franchise, and that was the constant and consistent reference to Rey by pretty well everyone as a “girl”, rather than a woman, or even her name. So I recently downloaded the screenplays for The Force Awakens and the original Star Wars movie A New Hope to see what was up.

Of course one can understand if a sexist villain, or someone like Han Solo, uses the term, but here even Princess Leia calls Rey a girl rather than a woman, though she is the same age (19) as Leia was in the original Star Wars movie (A New Hope)*, and in most places that definitely qualifies you for womanhood (Lena Dunham notwithstanding). In A New Hope only Han called Leia a girl, and only (wisely) when she wasn’t in the room; one may imagine her reaction if he’d said it to her face. Strangely, Han is the only one in The Force Awakens who refers to Rey as a woman, if obliquely: “Listen [Finn], you’ve got another problem. Women always figure out the truth.”

The action directions for the two scripts tell a different story. In A New Hope, Leia is always called “girl” in the directions, and always with a descriptive qualifier: “beautiful young girl”, “lovely girl”, “petite young girl”, etc. “Woman” is reserved for old or matronly types. In The Force Awakens, Rey is introduced in the directions as a “beautiful young woman”, described as a “young woman” in a fight scene, and at the end, “The two women move for each other. And Leia takes Rey’s face in her hands…” It’s too bad some of this didn’t make it into the dialogue; most filmgoers don’t have the screenplay in their hands while watching. And it’s really too bad that in this day and age a resourceful, independent woman is still treated like a child by screenwriters (Kasdan? Abrams?) who should know better.

And if you think I’m being picky, imagine the reaction if anyone had referred to Finn (played by John Boyega, an African-Brit of about the same age) as “boy”!

*Leia was described as “about 16” in the original script, but the Star Wars timeline makes it 19.

The Magus Unleashed!

My 25+-year quest has reached, let’s say, a significant milestone. I have published Book I of my novel The Acts of Simon Magus in the First Century AD. Well, what’s published is a beta version, still undergoing final editing, basically to see how people liked it; I’d be glad to provide final versions to those who bought this one. Illustrations are lacking; suggestions? A few outtakes may also find their way back in, or maybe something new altogether; who knows what fragments of Simon’s writings may be uncovered next? Find out at SimonMagus.com!

So I am now a bought? sold? author. What is the correct term for someone who has sold at least one copy of their work? Surely that’s a major step. Just recently I wrote of young Simon having exactly the same experience as every single Amazon author, exemplified by this picture:

(you all reloaded a lot before that, right?). Granted the chart now shows only 11 buys over 16 days, but I got a good feeling. Fates don’t fail me now!

The next step is to get some reviews and a decent ranking on Amazon which, research suggests, can help in gaining a good agent and publisher. In future, I would also love to explore Simon’s story in various media.

Anyway please check it out at Amazonand maybe leave a review if you feel strongly enough one way or the other. It’s $2,99US for the Kindle version, but right now I’ll send anyone a review copy who agrees to write one (good or bad). Let me know at glen@simonmagus.com. Thank you very much!

Fists of Fury

Fists of Fury

An interesting article on the BBC website today, presenting the results of a study on the evolution of the hand. Apparently, uniquely among our relatives, humans have the ability to make a fist, which is optimized for both the force it can deliver to another human, and the protection it offers to the delicate finger bones when doing so, while retaining the precision needed for toolmaking in more peaceful times.

So why do we need it? What evolutionary advantage is gained from being able to beat the brains out of an opponent, especially since we had had weapons to do the same job possibly millions of years before? I think the answer is that when men (and it’s usually men) fight with their fists, they don’t actually beat each other’s brains out. In the animal world, when dominant males battle for supremacy, the fight rarely ends in death, but in one fighter submitting to the other, thus either confirming the current social order or establishing a new one. Like stags butting heads, a fistfight may end in unconsciousness or even concussion, but usually not. It’s more likely to end in one of the opponents being unable to continue, and submitting chimp-style to the now dominant fighter. If there is less at stake, for example the fight is a personal matter, the comrades of the fighters may let them go at it for a bit and then pull them apart before they do too much damage. Steam has been blown off, blood drawn, status established, without permanent damage to either party. If the fight had taken place with the readily-available weapons, one or both may have been lost to the gene pool for good. Weapons have always been, like the six-gun of the old West, the equalizer that allows even the weak to dominate the strong, and in the time of hunters and gatherers society needed its strong men. And so it needed a non-lethal means by which they could settle their differences.

Flashing forward to the present, we can see what happens when evolutionary inhibitions are broken down. The vast majority of murders are committed by young men in just such situations as described above: spontaneous outbursts of rage over often trivial matters, resulting in the need to settle up that minute with the one who has offended them. But now, since guns are freely available to all, and there is often no social stigma against using them, they fire first without thinking of consequences. Another example of how modern society, by indulging all human desires without reference to their original context, makes things worse for everyone.

See also why Homo erectus may not have been a sailor after all.

Can I Be Your Good Steward, Rick?

Can I Be Your Good Steward, Rick?

From: Glen Cram
To: Rick Santorum
Subject: Job application

Mr Santorum,

Having read with interest your interpretation of God’s instructions to Adam regarding his rights and responsibilities vis-a-vis the Earth, I would like to offer my services as steward to the Santorum household. If hired I will, to the best of my abilities, undertake to perform the following duties:

  • Poison your flowerbeds
  • Shit in your water supply
  • Slaughter your pets
  • Stink up your air with secondhand smoke
  • Strip all your material assets and turn them into worthless junk
  • Squander your fuel by turning up the thermostat to unbearable levels
  • Use all your food to run my car
  • Enslave the other members of your staff to accomplish the above and make myself rich

Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to doing for you what you have so kindly offered to do for the nation and the world!

/glen

Kardashians Writer Tells All

Kardashians Writer Tells All

Two nights ago, in a secret location somewhere in Los Angeles, someone we will call “Jim” won an award. A very prestigious award, voted on by some of the best-known figures in show business, and it was earned for work known and loved by millions worldwide. And yet his name, and his connection to that award-winning work, can never be revealed, for the name of that award was “Best Writer on a Reality Show”, and the name of the show was Keeping Up With The Kardashians.

The reality show, of course, is older than TV, but took a while finding its niche in the new medium. The first golden age of reality TV debuted in 1960 with American Camelot and its poignant sequel Death of a President. These were followed by the controversial war series Vietnam and inspirational I Have A Dream, and culminated in the mid-70s with Watergate, which kept viewers glued to their screens with its sweeping saga of corruption in the Oval Office, breaking all ratings records. But the momentum couldn’t last. In the 1980s Watergate sequel Contragate failed to seize the popular imagination, and the reality crown fell to the European geopolitical thrillers Fall of the Wall and Boris and Mikhail. By the early 90s (with the notable exception of Desert Storm, the first in the Blood For Oil trilogy) the genre had descended into farce, with such dismal efforts as Bobbitt and Buttafuoco.

American dominance, however, was re-asserted with the top-rated 1994-95 miniseries OJ, which reinvented Shakespeare’s Othello as a courtroom drama with a twist ending. As one of many young writers on OJ, Jim developed, among others, the character of attorney Robert Kardashian, the original inspiration for Keeping Up. “I had originally pictured him as Greek, a slightly comical character, but at the audition (actor’s name withheld) really stood out. He just worked better as an Armenian.” Even then, Jim had the idea of developing a spinoff featuring the character as the bewildered father of a trio of modern daughters, but couldn’t arrange the backing.

Jim worked on many popular series after OJ, including the soft-core political porn Slick Willy’s Intern-al Affairs and the tragic, grotesque King of Pop. For Survivor, he created Richard Hatch, the first great villain of the new wave of modern reality TV; more controversially, he also claims to have originated the iconic datemark which gave its name to the 2001 disaster epic 9/11. “Every time someone called Emergency Services, I wanted them to think about the show.” I pointed out that at least one other, also unnamed, writer has made the same claim (although her rationale was that the number 11 evoked the “destroyed” buildings). “There were a lot of ideas floating around that one. We wanted something that would really stick in the mind, and in the end I guess it was a group effort.”

Ironically, Robert Kardashian himself didn’t make it into the current series—the producers thought the audience would find him too Arab-looking. So according to the Keeping Up back story, Robert has died and his wife remarried (to an Olympic swimming star), and the show focuses on the whacky antics of his three older daughters as they drink, curse and whore their way through modern American high society. The formula, however, is as old as Leave It To Beaver: each episode features some kind of personal problem or conflict which is solved by the end through mutual respect and family loyalty. “Although it may look as if the show is ad-libbed,” says Jim, “it is in fact tightly scripted, with intensive rehearsals. The actresses playing the daughters are in their 20s and 30s, which makes their spot-on portrayal of slightly retarded 12-year-olds all the more remarkable.”

One hazard of this kind of show in the Internet age is the spoiler. The lavish “wedding” of lead character Kim had barely aired when showbiz media revealed that she was heading for divorce. When I asked Jim why he gave the groom the same name as the bride’s mother, he laughed. “Freudian psychology? No, the whole thing is so absurd that one more absurdity is hardly noticed.”

Although Jim’s contribution to TV history must remain forever hidden, he doesn’t seem to mind a bit. “Do you know my production company gets letters every day addressed to Kim Kardashian, or Donald Trump, or Michele Bachmann? There are people out there who actually think these outrageous characters I created are real! That’s reward enough for me.” /glen

Pumice Rafting To Crete (and Wallacea) with Homo Erectus

Pumice Rafting To Crete (and Wallacea) with Homo Erectus

How did homo erectus get to remote islands like Crete or Flores without boats? Floating rock from local volcanoes may be the answer.

A recent article proposed a new theory regarding the origin of life on earth. Pumice, a rock formed by volcanic eruptions, can float on the surface of the sea due to its very low density, forming “rafts” ranging in size from small grains to large masses on which plants can grow and people can stand. The article suggested that floating pumice rafts could have accumulated the materials necessary for life in their travels, which were subjected to various natural phenomena such as lightning and solar UV rays, eventually combining into something approximating life. I don’t know the merits of this hypothesis, but it immediately made me think of another mystery uncovered last year in Crete. Tools of the Acheulean type, apparently produced by members of a homo erectus group 130,000 years ago were discovered on that island and, though erectus specimens are attested on the mainland at that time, there seemed to be no way their makers could have got there without some sort of oceangoing capabilities. Building boats, or even rafts, however, was considered beyond their abilities; their known repertoire comprised mainly generic flint tools for cutting, digging or butchering. It’s possible that they did more sophisticated work with organic materials that have not survived, but the dexterity and planning required for boatbuilding sounds rather out of their reach.

A similar conundrum concerns the so-called hobbits (homo floresiensis) of Flores Island in Indonesia. These are generally (though not universally) considered to be some type of homo erectus, stranded on the island and shrinking over time due to the limited resources available to them. But how did they get there? Other erectus remains in, for example, Java can be explained by the fact that those islands were connected to the mainland at the time. But Flores is across the Wallace Line, which divides the flora and fauna of Asia from the very different ones of Australasia, and was never in that period connected to anything west of it.

I think those pumice rafts may hold a clue. One thing the Indonesian archipelago and the Aegean Sea have in common is volcanoes, some of the most powerful in the world. The 1883 eruption of Krakatoa sent pumice rafts as far as Africa, and floating pumice is common today as a result of the frequent activity of the many volcanoes all through that area. In the eastern Mediterranean, the massive eruption on Thera in around 1600 BC wiped out the Minoan civilization and may have spawned the legend of Atlantis, and both it and a similar event on the island of Kos in about 160,000 BC produced masses of pumice over the sea which can still be identified today on the surrounding shorelines. The latter event seems to fit with the age of the Cretan tools. It has been suggested that the distinctive plants and animals across the Wallace Line were originally carried there at least partly by pumice rafts, and I suggest that the homones erecti in question may have been affected by such eruptions, perhaps washed or sucked out to sea, finding refuge on one of these rafts, and eventually ending up somewhere they logically had no place being. It makes more sense than building rafts to go someplace they had no reason to go.

Artist At Large

Portrait Guidelines | Sending Your Photos | Rates
Glen Cram is an accomplished artist in a variety of media. e is available on commission to paint your portrait in oils in the classical style.

Why a painted portrait?

Throughout history, a painted portrait has been the traditional way to commemorate a special event in one’s life, to give a unique gift to a loved one, or simply to show the world that you are a person who has arrived. Kings and queens, religious and business leaders, all have asserted their positions with portraits by the master artists of their day. Looking at them now, hundreds of years later, we can understand, better than any written record, who they were and their importance in their world. But their portraits did not only serve to assert their position; pictures of their family members make a more intimate connection between our generation and those past times. More recently, portrait painters have captured the lives of average people as well, so that we can get a real sense of what it was like to live in those times.

With the rise of photography, the art of the painted portrait in the classical style has been all but lost. There are many websites around who will duplicate a photograph in paint, some very cheaply indeed. They will transfer the photo to the canvas, add some paint and voila! A masterpiece! Not. The goal of the true artist is to capture the soul of the subject and give them something that will last, that can be passed down proudly in the family so that you will be remembered for generations to come.

Why Glen?

I have over 40 years experience in creating beautiful things. I have studied the classical academic techniques practised by Picasso and Van Gogh when they were students, and demonstrated the talents and skills to immortalise you or your loved ones in paint.

Please check my Gallery. If you like what you see, drop me a line at gcram@cramberry.com. Let’s make you a masterpiece!

Alienis2

I have been experimenting with 3DSOM, software that lets you take photos of a real object and turn them into a 3D object in software, Here is a first attempt at one of of my clay sculptures. You can use the mouse to spin her. Whattya think?

Bad President

Up to now, I have admired Barack Obama and really wished him well, but this oil spill thing seems to be right over his head. Can you imagine this happening in Japan, or anywhere in Europe? BP might have been given one chance to fix it, but as soon as it was clear that they had no idea what they were doing (like 2 months ago), they should have been told to take a hike. All the best and brightest resources in the country – in the world – could then have been called into play, a Manhattan-style project initiated, and the thing would have been plugged in a week (2 weeks? A month? Long before now anyway!). Then they could have sent BP the bill and started whatever inquiries etc. were necessary to punish those responsible and ensure that it didn’t happen again. They would NOT have wasted time and effort shouting at BP while waiting for them to come up with another half-assed “solution” every few weeks. Obama has at his disposal the biggest military in the world, which spends a trillion bucks a year on high-tech toys to kill foreigners; the Army Corps of Engineers, who have in their day moved entire rivers, and a vast private sector who would love the chance to build a rep by showing off their skills. It’s a pipe leaking in three places for God’s sake! Is there really no one in the US who can plug it?

Lies in Advertising

There is a commercial from some hack PR group that claims that you can trust everything you see in commercials, because by law they can’t lie. Yet you may have noticed that every day, almost every commercial on your TV lies to you blatantly and outrageously. How can this be, if lying is against the law? What they are trying not to say is that commercials are not considered lies if you accept certain basic premises, which are themelves lies, the same premises in fact which underlie the whole of the modern economy. They include the following:

You stink: Literally, in the sense that your natural odour is inherently offensive, and that you are obliged to do anything in your power to either eliminate it altogether or cover it up with something deemed socially acceptable, in this case fake floral chemical shit. We have been convinced that for the past million years we have hated ourselves and our cavemates, waiting in eager anticipation for the day when we could be free of our own stink. Sweat is not dirt, people! And this extends to our entire environment. As soon as dinner is over, any lingering vestige of it must be immediately banished by same floral spray. As cleaning products have eliminated visible stains, the toilet bowl must now be purged of invisible ones, only viewable under the ultraviolet light your guests are undoubtedly using at this moment to confirm your total dedication to cleanliness.

You suck: In a wider sense, nothing you can do, be or have is ever good enough, except in the brief moment between spending all your money on it and getting more money. You must always strive, compete, leave your fellows behind in the dust. It will be painful, you will feel the burn, but instead of resting your aching and abused muscles, you must take a Tylenol and continue.

Other lies: Taste is more important than nutrition. Appearance is more important than reality – this applies to all senses including taste, smell and feeling

The universe revolves around you, and only exists to fulfil your every desire (as long as your desires are appropriate; i.e., make someone some money). You have the right to accumulate as much money as you can, by whatever legal means you can employ, and spend that money on anything legal that you might have a craving for, whatever the consequences to your own mental or physical health, the society you live in, or the natural environment.

Note that these rights are also obligations. The logic of capitalism demands that one must always keep buying stuff even when one can’t afford it, or the whole system will collapse (look up Ponzi Scheme). This is because the economy has to grow by at least as much as is necessary to pay the interest on all outstanding debts. Defaulting means the beginning of a spiral of destruction which will bring it all down. But not defaulting means borrowing more and more. More and more what? The money you borrow didn’t exist before the loan officer magically increased one of the numbers attached to to your bank account by $20,000. But now you have to pay it back by going out and producing something, or sell your body to someone else so they can produce something, using up a little more of the environment every time. Easy credit implies for many people ‘buy now, pay never’. ‘Do not pay until 2012’? Hey, I may win the lottery, and isn’t the world supposed to end by then anyway? Better to indulge now and fuck the rest.

Children do not like, and can never like, vegetables, as long as they know they are vegetables. It is therefore acceptable to deceive them with things that don’t taste like vegetables but have some kind of nutritional value.

Any amount of something good outweighs all the bad. Some crap food has some calcium in it so you should give it to kids. What kind of calcium is it? How much is there and what is its actual benefit? An ad for Froot Loops says it has 3 grams of fibre per serving and is therefore good to feed your kids, who need 20 per day or more. So it provides negligible benefit, along with this (note the first ingredient, which accounts for over 40% of the same serving):

SUGAR; WHOLE GRAIN CORN FLOUR; WHEAT FLOUR; WHOLE GRAIN OAT FLOUR; OAT FIBER; SOLUBLE CORN FIBER; PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED VEGETABLE OIL (ONE OR MORE OF: COCONUT, SOYBEAN AND/OR COTTONSEED OILS)†; SALT; SODIUM ASCORBATE AND ASCORBIC ACID (VITAMIN C); NIACINAMIDE; REDUCED IRON; NATURAL ORANGE, LEMON, CHERRY, RASPBERRY, BLUEBERRY, LIME AND OTHER NATURAL FLAVORS; RED #40; BLUE #2; TURMERIC COLOR; YELLOW #6; ZINC OXIDE; ANNATTO COLOR; BLUE #1; PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B6); RIBOFLAVIN (VITAMIN B2); THIAMIN HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B1); VITAMIN A PALMITATE; BHT (PRESERVATIVE); FOLIC ACID; VITAMIN D; VITAMIN B12.

Like any addictive drug, the law of diminishing returns requires more and more of the active ingredient per fix, so portions get bigger as benefits disappear altogether.

The new green consciousness has produced this wonderful lie: This product will save the planet. For example, a cellphone company offers as a selling point that each of its products contains some plastic from a recycled water bottle. You can therefore feel virtuous and environmentally responsible, and even be able to justify buying a bottle of water because you know it will be put to good use. Note that saving the environment is only acceptable as long as it is compatible with economic growth and an ever-increasing standard of living. Sacrifice is not a word one hears often in this context.

Traditionally, guilt is supposed to be felt if you do something that is harmful to others, or to society as a whole. In the world of advertising, you are only expected to feel guilty if you do something harmful to yourself. For example, if you eat something with high fat content, you may feel guilty, but the guilt may be atoned for by eating something lo- or no-fat. Even so, just as many cases we are encouraged to indulge ourselves, guilt-free, in something which tastes great but is obviously unhealthy, again presumably on the grounds that the very short-term beneficial psychological effects outweigh the harmful long-term ones.

Does anyone fall for this crap? Obviously they do, or the companies wouldn’t keep doing it. The Soviet Union fell because its rulers did not understand human nature. They wanted to change people into their own vision of what people should be, and the people just refused to play along. They practised passive resistance, didn’t bother working and eventually it all fell apart. But our rulers understand us very well, and don’t want us to change a bit. They know that yes, we are indeed genetically programmed to fall for this crap. For example, we are made to worry constantly what others think of us, so the advertisers invent a story in which everyone loathes their own and everyone else’s natural scent, and offer a solution which profits them and makes everyone else’s insecurity even worse.

Why do we desire things that are so counter to our real needs anyway? Whichever process you believe moulded us (I believe it was natural selection myself, but some go for a conscious creator) had a serious flaw. Many of the characteristics that made our species invincible in the wild become downright detrimental when applied to the totally unnatural environment we have created for ourselves. Our ancestors, like us, needed exercise, but got it every day by necessity in the hunt for food. The urge therefore is not for activity but inactivity, of stuffing oneself with fat and sugar as often as possible to serve as a reserve until the next mammoth kill, which could be in a month’s time, then to lie back in a gorged stupor and relax from the strenuous activities of the day. And so the biggest urge now is to gorge on fake food and sprawl back watching the tube spur you on to greater and greater gluttony, sucking up the world’s resources and slapping them right on your belly. And that’s no lie.

Got more lies? Post them below!

Nigeria Calling (via Camp Hell)

You’ve all seen the charmingly-worded epistles from the Dark Continent, calling down God’s blessing on you if you can just see your way to accept a 25% share of the vast fortune the writer’s late dear daddy or foreign client left in their safekeeping. Or maybe you just won a similar amount on a lottery ticket you never bought. The Lads From Lagos and their 419 acolytes worldwide have made an art of chopping the surplus dollars of gullible First Worlders for years, and recently I almost became the beneficiary of their generosity. By day I design websites, and a couple of weeks ago received this reply to a job inquiry on Craigslist:

Hi,
I am craig Denis,as a business advisory consultant, i have been contacted by a client of mine for an advisory services regarding business improvement and profit increase.Having realized the world as a global business and communication village, part of my advise is for my client to acquire a website.

A website would allow a business entity to be viewed nonlinear across the world, thus brings more clients,which in turn brings increase in business turnover. I will like to have a quote for a simple six pages website and a year hosting, having a simple contact page directed to email.
I will like to have your quote as soon as possible. Thanks
Craig Denis.

Well, syntactically it did resemble a 419er, but the net is worldwide and who knew where Mr Denis was from. Anyway over the next couple of weeks we settled on a price and I did a preliminary mockup, which his boss apparently approved, because his next letter informed me that a cheque for the first $300 would be arriving soon. It did, in an envelope with Egyptian stamps, and here it is:

A nice bonus! I suppose I could have just kept it; what could he have done? Being an honest type, though, I immediately informed him of his error, and offered to send it back. His response:

Thank you for the check received and for your honest and patient this is the payment error from my Pa i want you to cash the check and deduct your own money out the $4500 Money order and get the remaining money sent to the information below
1) Sender’s Name
2)Receiver’s Name AFOLABI OLAWALE Address Cairo Egypt
3)10 MTCN Digit Number And Amount send with charges fee from western union
I will be looking forward to read from you as soon as possible so will can talk on how the job will be completed
Best Regards

Seem reasonable? Maybe. But that name sounded more like the ones on the 419 offers than Egyptian, and inspection of the “international money order” revealed some interesting anomalies:

  • It is dated Feb 24, though my first contact was Apr 8
  • This statement is not true:

  • There is a Merchant’s Express in Camp Hill PA, but Camp Hell is the nickname for the local prison (apparently aptly named)!

Further investigation uncovered a complicated scheme whereby people are persuaded by various ruses to cash bogus money orders, deduct their share and send the rest to some faraway recipient. When the bank discovers the money order is phony, you are out the money and possibly under arrest on a fraud charge. It’s hard to believe any bank would fall for this particular specimen, so I haven’t tried, but just to give Mr Denis the benefit of the doubt, I told him the bank wouldn’t accept it and he could send me the balance via PayPal. So far he hasn’t responded. Maybe the shock of realizing that he had inadvertently sent me a bad cheque was too much for him. But my PayPal account remains unpaid.

How Clean?

Further to my post Smells Nice! regarding the show Hoarders, it is very instructive to see how the English handle the same problem. In the American version, counselors talk to the poor victims of their compulsion, reasoning with them and trying to persuade them that they really should do something about it. Sometimes they succeed, but more often than not a few things get thrown out (with half of them being secretly rescued) and the hoarder ends up basically in the same situation. In the UK show How Clean Is Your House?, Kim (the SS dominatrix) and Aggie (the stern English nanny) simply march into the offender’s home and tell him what a dirty dog he is and how he should be ashamed living in such filth. They take samples from bathroom and kitchen and describe in great detail the horrible diseases he will get from the organisms they contain, then put him to work scrubbing the toilet with a toothbrush while they and their crew clear the place out. At the end, he is reduced to tears by actually seeing his floor and being able to have people around again. Much more effective, one might think, and Kim and Aggie did try a similar venture in the States, but as my son just pointed out, the relative rate of gun ownership in the two countries, especially among the more obsessive members of the community, may rule against too assertive an approach in that country.

Niqabbed

Niqabbed

Everyone has an opinion about the Quebec government allowing the expulsion of a Muslim woman from a language class for wearing her traditional garb, a niqab, or veil covering all of her face but her eyes. Here’s mine. Quebec has for the past 50 years been pursuing an active (and generally quite justified) policy of protecting its language and culture in the face of an immensely dominant next door. I grew up there and though my ethnic group was the main target of these policies, I always felt that yes, if I was going to live in a place I really should try to speak the language and know something about its very rich culture and heritage. But no one ever tried to make me dress differently or give up my own sense of my background.

I live now in Toronto, arguably the most diverse and tolerant city anywhere, a model for the global culture of the future where everyone is accepted, welcome, and valued for their unique contribution. In agriculture, depending on a single crop is a recipe for disaster, as the 19th century Irish discovered. We have come a long way from the pure master race ideas of the last century.

And yet they linger. Sociobiology teaches us that people will still fear and distrust the stranger who does not quite fit in to our ideas of the ‘right’ way to look, speak and dress. And they especially do not like change. When a typical citizen of Nazi Germany looked at a Jew, they saw someone who was actively plotting against all they held dear. A Mississippian in the 50s and 60s must have felt that his whole world was turning upside down when he saw blacks walking into white universities or drinking from white fountains. But when the war and the marches were over, and the laws changed, those attitudes were effectively gone within a generation, and the people who held them were consigned to the fringes of society. On the other hand, 10 years ago a woman in a niqab may have got a curious glance on a Canadian street. Now, after a decade of 9/11 hysteria, she is faced with fear and a call to strip off.

The justifications are varied. My favourite is that she may be a suicide bomber and concealing explosives. Well, it’s been a while since I read the Quran, and my memory may deceive me, but I don’t remember the verse that said that suicide bombers have to strap their bombs to their face! By that logic you would have to ban any clothes that were not skin tight.

The Quebec argument seems to be that she does not somehow fit in to Quebec culture. Well, they don’t ban anyone else’s national garb. And since Quebecois generally wear exactly the same generic Gap/Nike/Levi’s crap as everyone else in the global economy, it’s hard to see what national values they are defending. If they wanted to make it a condition of Quebec residence that everyone had to wear pure laine habitant clothes, complete with long red bonhomme toque, they could have a point, but I don’t think such a policy would last long.

Another justification is that the veil symbolises oppression of women by a patriarchal Muslim culture. The implication is that the woman is forced to wear it and that given the choice she would dress in Gap/Nike/Levi’s just like any other decent Canadian woman. That may be true in some cases. Maybe in other cases it is her personal choice, it’s what she is comfortable with, and forcing her to take it off would be like forcing the average Canadian woman to parade down the street naked. Does it matter? Do Canadian women never dress to please their men? Forcing a Muslim woman with a jealous husband to unveil would only lead to her not being able to go out all, and no one would ever know.

Ultimately the people who support the niqab ban in Canada are the same as the people they think they are criticising. When pressed they will say they don’t want Canada to be like Afghanistan. Well when I think about Afghanistan, I think of a place where narrow-minded people think they have the right to tell  women (or men) what the hell they can or can’t wear, and I really would not want Canada to be like that!

Ductanic Viralizes

So my 10-second 3d epic Ductanic
(or Titanic, The True Story with music by the GoGos!)

has over 100,000 150,000 320,000 475,599 hits on youtube! + its on or linked from like 1700 sites!! & shows no sign of stopping!!! they asked me if i wanted to put ads but the music was copyright so i couldnt – don’t tell ok? or theyll kick me off! 🙁 and lots of people commented too, mostly they were just like “WTF???” but they ranged from positively negative:

fuck you fucktard, sank th wrong way, and somebody in my family died on the titanic yeah, feel fuckign guilty!

to simply observational:

the friken duck sittin dar and za fat duck is da weird

to possibly positive:

maaaayyn whaaaaf uhla hay hay hay hay lok rir heeeeee hee hee !!!!! waq

Waq indeed!

Smells Nice!

For some reason we were watching a show called Hoarders. It’s a reality thing about people who live surrounded by piles of shit because they can’t bear to throw anything out. I could somewhat identify as I have had, let’s say, trouble throwing things out because they may come in handy for some household or artistic purpose some day. My wife on the other hand has no trouble at all ditching anything showing the slightest sign of wear, no matter what’s in the pockets. I have learned a lot from her (not least that I’d better not let myself look worn out!). Anyway there was this poor woman (Shirley?) who, for some reason rooted in who knows what past trauma, felt obliged to buy any food item that seemed to be a good deal and, when she didn’t eat it, just leave it around the house to rot. She got very upset when they threatened to evict her because of the stink (she couldn’t smell a thing) and finally, with the encouragement of several mental health professionals, grudgingly accepted the offer of the show people to scrape the mould off the fridge and dispose of some of the less recently expired items. An especially poignant moment was her fond goodbye to a blackened, liquefying pumpkin that had graced her floor for some months (“You were a good pumpkin!”). And in the middle of the show was a commercial which ?coincidentally? echoed the same theme. A mother comes into her son’s messy room and starts sniffing around, declaring that everything stinks. So does she call in the shrinks and the cleanup crew to hose it out? On the contrary. She produces a spray bottle of Febreze and magically solves the problem. The room now smells fresh and is approved of by the local hot chicks. I don’t know why they didn’t just do the same for Shirley, but I guess the human interest factor would have been lost.

Related Blogs

Transitional Forms

It’s not true that there are no transitional forms. Every living (and dead) thing, including ourselves, is transitional between its ancestors and its descendants, both of which are different from itself. The ones that are best suited for their environment produce descendants, the rest don’t. Every generation’s DNA is different because it gets a mix of father and mother. Over time those differences get so great that they develop into new species. That is all evolution says.

But if you really want to see one, check Tiktaalik.

The Return of Simon Magus

20 years ago I started to write a novel about the life and times of the original AntiChrist, Simon Magus. This fascinating character was originally mentioned in the Book of Acts in the New Testament as a rival to Jesus, who offered to buy the Holy Spirit from St Peter and was soundly rebuked. In later apocrypha he became a symbol for heresy, associated with the Gnostic alternative to Christianity which rejected the Old Testament God as a monstrous demon, and engaged in magical duels with the apostles, culminating in his abortive demonstration of flight before the emperor Nero. He claimed to be the great power of God, and was accompanied by a former prostitute who was his holy wisdom. My novel is intended to tell his side of the story, incorporating elements of all the mythologies of the time and ranging over the whole known world. On a personal level, the novel deals with many things which have obsessed me: the appeal of and need for religion, the origins of Christianity, history and mythology in general. As I said, I started it 20 years ago, wrote furiously for about 3 years, and have not done much since. Maybe I said all I had to say in those pages I did complete? I don’t think so. Other things distracted me, but it may be time to get back to it. Anyone reading this who would like to know more can check http://simonmagus.com for some excerpts. If you like it, let me know. I could use the encouragement.

Climategate

My response to a friend who, having heard about the Climategate scandal, decided that global warming was discredited:

Climategate is real but so is warming. Carbon trading is a big scam, but that does not mean the problem is not a reality. Natural forces produce CO2 and hence warming trends, but human activity disrupts the normal feedback cyles and magnifies it into a runaway train. The figures are clear that if CO2 production continues at its present, or even significantly reduced, rates, there will be global disaster. What would be a tragedy would be if those people who committed to preventing that were persuaded to give up because of some overenthusiastic scientists who wanted to push things too fast. Put punitive taxes on the overproducers and stop letting them dictate the discussion!

The Evolution of Consciousness as a Byproduct of Language

I have been thinking for a long time about the evolution of consciousness: how did it emerge in the human species and I guess where is it going?

The first thing I have to do is to define consciousness. Usually when we think of it, we think of it as something which distinguishes us from the animals from which we came. It seems to me that everyone who tries to analyze it comes up with a different definition, so that the subject itself becomes lost in confusion. There is a philosopher named Chalmers who tries to analyze it in terms of “philosophical zombies”. These are beings whose outward behaviour is identical to our own, yet who have no consciousness, by which he seems to mean that they do not have a real experience of the world. They do not experience, for example, the “purpleness” of a coloured object, or the chocolately taste of chocolate. Yet they react to it in a way which makes it seem as if they had. It is an extreme manifestation of behaviorism ( a behaviorist being one who “thinks he has no thoughts, and believes he has no beliefs”). Yet how could they possibly react to something that makes no impression on them? Why would they? He goes on to say that they fact that we can imagine such beings means they could exist, but that I can’t believe. We can imagine travelling faster than light, but as far as we know the universe won’t let us.

It seems to me that a more useful model to analyze these questions is the figure of Kaspar Hauser, a child discovered to have been raised possibly by wild animals and therefore deprived of human language during his formative years. What did Kaspar see when he saw something purple? Obviously he saw and experienced the essence of purpleness, but what did it mean to him? He could use it to distinguish, say, a purple berry from a green one, and his experience could tell him that the green was sour and inedible while the purple one was sweet and good. The difference from us is that he did not have a word for the difference in colour, and we do. We can extend that concept to other things, to all sorts of aesthetic and practical considerations, but could he? Did he for that reason like purple things in general more than others? Would the concept of a favourite colour have any meaning? I think not, because the idea of “favourite” did not exist for him. He was an animal, a “lower animal” in old speak, because he did not have language.

I am rambling. But what I am trying to say is that consciousness as we understand it, that thing that distinguishes our mental processes from that of other animals is language. It is a system of organizing thoughts in an efficient manner in order to accomplish more than we could without it. Human language has many characteristics which put it far above other systems of communication, and it evolved in us in a complex manner until it reached the incredibly powerful facility we all have today. We can see its traces in the archaeological record, faint and elusive hints which tell us that something was happening in our brains which allowed an increasing “control” over our environment. From the first tools, rocks used to crack bones and maybe heads, to the conscious shaping of those rocks into specialized objects for particular tasks, to today’s Internet, jet planes and atom bombs, the history of consciousness is one of developing ways to talk about things and categorize them, but was this the driving force for evolution? The social function is probably a majorl force, forming bonds with others and persuading them to do what we want.

What is consciousness? One definition might be “the brain’s way of letting itself know what it’s doing.” Most of our actions are only made known to us after the fact. During a conversation, do we know what we are going to say when the other stops speaking? The interplay of a conversation can be surprising to the participants, as they only know, from memory, how they responded after they have done it. And of course they usually accept it as the logical thing. They said it, after all, so it must be right. But the initial response was unconscious in that they did not (usually) plan it out consciously before they said it. A vast amount of processing power, more than the most powerful computer, went into formulating that response while the other was talking, first? the meaning, and then the putting into an intelligible response using both the universal laws of language and then the rules and vocabulary of one’s own dialect of that language. And then they know what that response is, and are committed to it. There is usually no time for reflection, however, because the other has already processed it and is uttering their own response. The same of course can be said about animal conversations, which certainly exist on a lower level, but the animal, as far as we know, does not reflect on it later.

A topic I will be pursuing here, a sort of thread of history, is to speculate (without any real evidence) on the stages of the evolution of language and hence consciousness. One way to do this might be to ask when the first time was that something happened. For example, what (and when) was the first time that someone

  • had a thought in words? I would say sometime after the words themselves existed in common usage
  • said “I (or everyone) will die”
  • realized the connection between sex and birth
  • lied (apparently chimps do this)
  • gave a group of things a number
  • asked a question (who, when, where…?)
  • said something was big, green, good
  • used a metaphor

? etc. Which of these were used by homo habilis, erectus, sapiens?

This is the beginning of my speculation. Comments welcome.

Related blog
The Writing on the Cave Wall

Market Fever

The Market. That austere and unforgiving entity that has replaced God and the Communist Party as this age’s deity. There are three types of players in the financial markets, of which only two are in evidence for most of the business cycle. Most important, though least visible is the investor. You have no doubt seen commercials for banks and mutual fund companies which seem to address you as if you were included in this rarefied breed (the same logic, in reverse, which puts someone making 200,000 a year into the middle class). You are not an investor. What you are will be made clear soon. The true investor knows what money is and what it is for. He (shes are rare in these circles) knows that the reason one buys stock in a company is a)to share in the profits through dividends, and b)to exercise control. One buys bonds in a company or government to a)ensure a steady, safe stream of income, and b)to exercise control.
The second, and most visible, breed is the speculator. He (see note above) is generally an enterprising type who has discovered that, even in normal times, buying and selling financial instruments produces a better return on his money than sticking it under the mattress or into a savings account. He buys stocks with one aim in mind: to sell them tomorrow at a profit. Bonds he scorns, unless the stock market is flat and there’s a chance of making a quick something on the yield. He scorns his less enterprising brothers at the racetrack or bookie shop, but he is essentially no different.
In ordinary times, the investor and the speculator are the only real players in the market. Every so often, however, something happens, and a new breed appears on the scene. In the carnival setting, they are known as “rubes“; the rancher knows them as “dudes“; the professional con-man welcomes them as “fish”. They are, in short, the common people, for whom the promise of higher returns on their savings has become irresistible, and they fall over themselves to hand over their hard-earned gains to anyone who can promise a slightly better rate of return than the next. The financial advisor and mutual fund manager take the place of the priest and witch doctor
During this time too, the nature of the speculator changes somewhat. The field becomes dominated by those testosterone-driven young men who have, in other times and settings, traditionally expended their excess energies in seduction, exploration, crime, or chopping or blasting each another’s heads off in the name of some patriotic or ideological cause. They now derive the same thrill and sense of purpose from the pursuit of money. Their motto: “Take no prisoners!” Heedless of risk, the new speculators plunge headlong into the great adventure of “investing”, seizing on the latest technology, the fastest prices, the hottest tips, taking in and acting on vast amounts of data, but it’s never enough, never enough…
And as more and more people enter the market, and the prices start to rise, the true investors smile. They know what money is and how to increase their own supply, in war or peace, boom or bust. They will not be buying the inflated stocks whose price bears no relation to their real value, but they will gladly create and sell them to the suckers who are begging for someone, anyone, to take their money in exchange for a promise of future prosperity and the assurance that they too are savvy investors.
A symptom of such times as these, as is often observed but equally often ignored, is the divorce of price from value. To the real a share in a company means a share in its earnings. I recently found myself at the Toronto Financial Forum, listening to the president of a little-known company explaining why we should be investing in its shares. The company has been the leader in an essential service sector for over 40 years; its clients are established companies and governments; its finances are in good order. Most importantly, its P/E ratio, which compares the current share price to the actual earnings, was remarkably low, making it a bargain by any traditional measurement. All seemed positive, until a member of the audience asked about dividends. The CEO explained gently, as to a child, that the company did not pay out dividends, but reinvested all profits right back into the business. The audience nodded wisely. Obviously this was the right choice, demonstrating a commitment to the company which could only augur an even brighter future, and make it an even more attractive addition to anyone’s portfolio. But consider the implications. I am being asked to buy a share in an enterprise, and receive absolutely nothing from them in return. The only way I can gain from my “investment” is as a speculator: buy now in hopes of selling it to someone else later at a profit. If enough people buy, the law of supply and demand will ensure that the price will indeed increase, and they will get their profit. This type of system has gone by many names over the years: Ponzi Scheme, Golden Pyramid, Tulip Craze, but the most accurate is the simple “bubble”. The main symptom, as John Kenneth Galbraith has so eloquently pointed out in his analysis of the Crash of 1929, is the willingness of enough people to believe that the fundamental laws of nature and economics can be suspended as long as enough people believe they can. Like the children at a performance of Peter Pan, they keep applauding, and Tinkerbell keeps reviving, even flying to new heights. But after a certain point the law of diminishing return sets in, as laws must always do, and more and more applause is needed every time to bring her back to even a semblance of normality. Such a system can only be sustained by a constant infusion of money from existing participants or new suckers. As long as that continues, people will keep getting rich, at least on paper. But a state of hyperinflation sets in, driving up the price of even the most worthless instruments and creating a demand for ever more, which the real investors are happy to fulfil.
A more pernicious effect can also be observed. The investors, i.e., the owners of the large banks and conglomerate corporations, begin to exercise their political muscles. They become emboldened in telling governments exactly what they want, and backing it up with threats. They begin pushing particular policies, including deficit reduction (now accomplished) and tax cuts. Besides the obvious financial benefits to themselves, tax cuts aid investors in several ways:
• In conjunction with the “battle on inflation”‘ they have a depressing effect on wages. It is easier to make people accept less money if lower taxes make it seem like they have more.
• Less taxes mean that government can no longer pay for the same services as before, and private investors can take them over and run them at a profit or, in the case of charitable or cultural activities, forthe sake of good publicity. i fear, however, that these things, especially charity, will be the first to be trimmed at downsizing time, which isjust the time they are needed most.
• Less revenue also means that governments also have less resources to police the private sector and hold it accountable for its actions. Self-regulation becomes the norm, with generally disastrous results.
I am not bashing the private sector. Far from it. The private sector has a important role in society, even if that is generally exaggerated these days. It would appear from the failed experiments in, for example, the Soviet Union, that the making and marketing of non-essential, and even certain essential goods is best accomplished by private companies working without being told what to do by society as a whole. A society must decide for itself, of course, what it considers essential. The telecom/Internet industry is certainly essential to today’s commercial world, and seems to be doing fine in private hands. But natural and essential monopolies should be in government hands. Some governments have been persuaded, for example, to hand their countries’ water supplies to private interests, with the immediate effect of deprivation and ultimately riots.
There is a lot of talk about sound fiscal management for government. It seems to come down to the odd notion that government is a business, and should be run as such. I will look at this further in a future posting.

Hi, [FIRSTNAME]…

Another email. I like this one better than the last one:

Hi, [FIRSTNAME]
Income in the year since the strike.
in factories two weeks’ vacation
with full wages.
Zetta gave childless old couple,
and was dragging them forward
At their posts, they were required
To send our statement to you yesterday, we now express
Moved
until some motion of his hand
made them enemy’s bow with a broadheaded shaft
of excessive, on and on
They lay their plans and execute
peering ahead
to make myself known
but saw nothing
Hot orchids demand a fire the whole year round; saving done me no injury.
O lord of all creatures,
I today drink the blood of the wretched son of radha..

Oh? Canada

For all you Canadians out there, what do you think of this email I got?

>>…there are far too many overly-sensitive ‘New Canadians’ that are trying to change everything we hold dear.
>>For example, our National Anthem: Don’t know what your opinions are, but I certainly agree. — I’m sorry, but after hearing they want to sing the National Anthem in Hindi – enough is enough. Nowhere or at no other time in our nation’s history, did they sing it in Italian, Japanese, Polish, Irish (Celtic), German, Portuguese, Greek, or any other language because of immigration. It was written in English, and should be sung word for word the way it was written. The news broadcasts even gave the translation — not even close.
>>I am not sorry if this offends anyone, this is MY COUNTRY – IF IT IS YOUR COUNTRY SPEAK UP —- please pass this along…. I am not against immigration .. just come through like everyone else… Get a sponsor; get a place to lay your head; get a job; pay your taxes; live by the rules …AND… LEARN THE LANGUAGE as all other immigrants have in the past .. and LONG LIVE CANADA!
>>PART OF THE PROBLEM? Think about this: If you don’t want to forward this for fear of offending someone—–YOU’RE PART OF THE PROBLEM !!!!
>>Will we still be the Country of Choice and still be CANADA if we continue to make the changes forced on us by the people from other countries who have come to live in CANADA because it is the Country of Choice??????
>>Think about it! IMMIGRANTS, NOT CANADIAN’S, MUST ADAPT. It is Time for CANADA to Speak up. If you agree – pass This along.

Well, I’m passing it along. What do I think? I think it’s bullshit. O Canada was originally written in French, and not translated into English until 30 years later. The English words are totally different from the French, which was about Quebec, not the modern Canada. And the English words have also changed over the years; there was no “From Far and Wide” when I was growing up. But there is now, and if we want to keep it we have to accept that Canadians, including those who speak English and French, do indeed come from far and wide, we are all immigrants (except the First Nations), and there is no reason not to let everyone express their love for the country in their own words.

PS: Of course we could go back to the old anthem, The Maple Leaf Forever, which tells the stirring tale of how Wolfe the Conquering Hero seized this land for Britain from some unnamed foreigners, and created a true multicultural paradise where people of English, Scottish and, incredibly, even Irish origins could live together in peace and harmony!

Massa B Pimpin Now!

My daughter is a fan of hiphop music, and has been since she was about 14. Up to that time I was not really aware of this music as a cultural force. Apparently it is as influential and as all-pervasive in the lives of this generation as rock was in mine. And as with my parents before me, it is difficult to get a handle on it. Without the immersal necessary to appreciate any musical form, “it all sounds the same to me!” Every now and then she will play something for me but I really can’t appreciate the difference, and though I know the names of the current luminaries, at least the brightest as of who knows how long ago, I can never tell the difference between say Jay-Z or whoever.

I remember once she played me two songs by male rappers. One was a good-natured, if very explicit, description of how the singer liked to fool around with lots of women, and the other was a typical (stereotypical anyway) description of the pursuit of material objects, of which women were an example. I imagine she wanted to shock me with both of them, but I could not really find fault with the first, as he genuinely seemed to like women and, though obviously not one to stay around, was willing to do what it took to give as good as he got in terms of enjoyment. On the other hand. the other singer exhibited a hatred and contempt for women which would have been unthinkable in my era. He saw them essentially as whores, regrettably necessary for the fulfilment of male desires, but of no more real interest than any other consumable; a cheeseburger, perhaps, or a beer: tasty at the time but immediately forgotten once enjoyed. And in my brief survey of the genre this seems to be a recurring dichotomy, the one representing the traditional African respect and admiration for female sexuality, and the other reflecting the dominant American culture of the day: the culture of selfishness, rudeness and stupidity which has taken over all discourse and threatens to plunge North American society into a new dark age. The stereotypical hiphopper falls into this category just as much as Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh or whatever other shithead redneck is currently spouting their crap on American TV.

The strangest manifestation of this in black culture is the professed admiration for a most unlikely hero: the pimp. His styles, mannerisms and habits are held up as the highest possible aspiration. Why? Well, in my opinon it goes back to the liberation of blacks after the Civil War. At that time, freed blacks were at liberty (theoretically) to take up any occupation, and 100 years later, they were actually able to begin to put that liberty to practical use… and yet, both then and now, there was one profession to which no black person could legally aspire, and that was the one occupation that had had the greatest impact by far on the African immigre population: the slaveowner. I think the pimp represents that frustration, that at the moment of liberation there could be no hope of real payback in kind. So now the pimp, the closest thing in the modern world to the “massa” of old, abusing and exploiting his stable of hoes and bitches, becomes the ideal. Sad but true.