Monday, November 29, 2004


I arrived at the library an hour before my lecture to print off some slides. I figured that was plenty of time, considering my two years of experience doing just that. As it turned out, I could not get a computer for about fifty minutes (very strange, considering what a short line it was). Then, as I sent my stuff to the printer, I realized that I didn't have enough money on my library card, so I went to the machine that puts money on your card. It was broken; as I stood staring at it with barely concealed murder in my eyes, a staffer came and put on an""out of order" sign. So I went across the lobby of my behemoth of a library to the other machine. It was out of order too. So I searched the building frantically, because I was almost late for lecture and I could not for the life of me understand how this had happened. I found a machine and rushed back to the lobby. Rushing is an exaggeration, seeing as I got stuck behind a flock of those goddamn people that stand on escalators and clog traffic whille chattering happily about the latest reality TV show or whatever. Wehn I got down there, I printed off one lecture (I needed two). I could not print the second one because I was $0.05 short. I had no time to climb three floors again. I would ave rushed out right there and then, but the printer got stuck. Apparently, printing off very simple black-and white clipart-quality diagrams made it want to kill itself. There was nothing to do but breathe deeply and curse this marble spawning pit of despair.

Why have I related this microaccount of my day-to-day experience? I suppose we all feel like something that happened to us and not fictional characters is worth sharing. But we will yet see.

Consider: "when saying that people evolved from apes, we are not at all belittling people. We aim to raise the status of all living beings, because either we all have some intrinsic value, or there is nothing to life but that apt yet disquieting purpose: to "perpetuate ribonucleic acids and their associated proteins". I have arguments to back up my asssertions."

Sunday, November 28, 2004

The czar

The largest explosion created by human beings (let's face facts: men) happened in the 1960s. The Soviets managed to rig up a bomb that could pack so much force that thare would be no way for the flight crew to escape if they dropped the bomb and fled in a jet; they named it "The Czar Bomb". So they rigged the bomb up with a parachute. Even so, it was close. This bomb released the energy of several thousand Hiroshimas. Several fucking thousand. The shockwave circled the globe three times. After that, the emphasis shifted from massive single weapons to clusters of smaller weapons. Sometime after that, the US and Soviet Union got enough nuclear firepower to destroy each other at least a dozen tmes over. A fucking dozen times over.

It's interesting that we've come from freaking spears and clubs to fire that can break the firmament of the heavens. Literally: the force of The Czar ripped its way past the cloud ceiling and continued to I know not how high.

Consider: "the industrial areas that surround our nation's highways are sorely lacking in hookah-smoking caterpillars."


Today I managed to connect my iBook to the internet. I had been mentally preparing myself for what would surely be a difficult ordeal. It took about a minute. I am very grateful, but the most I can really be is cautiously optimistic, seeing as it all happened too fast.

I've had a friend in town for a couple of days. A poli-sci type, brooding, reflective. I had forgotten how truly distressing (in so many ways) a place the world is. Basically, foo two days straight, he was expounding on all the ways society could collapse or regress or human stupidity could destroy everything that is of any value whatsoever. I enjoy those talks. And after that, he proceeded to shoot down my optimistic preconceptions. I rather enjoy that too.

Consider: "nobody values easy goals, We only really get off and have something to show for mad struggle: impossible exams, taxing jobs, collapsing societies, war stories, shocks and disappointments are all fodder for good conversations,"

Friday, November 26, 2004

The birdsongs of spring

Soon we shall collectively creoss the boundary between "Ooh! Look at all the wonderful white fluffy snow!" and "This brown-gray shit loks laike a pig-fetus brain that's been scooped and mixed with intestines!". I fear that moment, because everyone will then become like me after ten goddamn hours in front of a computer: unresponsive, jelly-like, shivering out sleep-crud from all their clothes. Where will all the wonderful random eavesdroppable conversation go?

On the upside, I suggest we find meeting places where we can huddle, share encouragement and body heat to help us deal with a) the collossal towering blasts of cold air working their ways across the boreal forests to end up in those crevasses in our clothes, eventually right next to our skins and b) the brown slush which somehow lays bare how filthy bustling city life is. My humble suggestion is street meat stands, or soup trucks. Everyone could use some hot soup, and who would deny company and conversation whiule they freeze and eat? The people of this city; they never cease to amaze me, both positively and negatively.

Consider: "god. God? I have no need of that hypothesis. But I do need soup, the kind with the little circular noodles that feels like oatmeal."

Thursday, November 25, 2004


Blogs are supposed to be quick reads. Nobody wants to get overwhelmed with dense or difficult material. We as writers ought to be terse and witty, ironic but not cynical, observant but not insulting, like little children skulking in the corners. We are not supposed to have egos, for we are just words on a page. Words on a page do not have desires, they never wake up in the morning with a stomach ache splitting their lower abdomen, they never wonder what to wear (their fonts are chosen for them by the big impersonal writer, the ghost behind the machine), they are slight and thin and very proper. They are flies on the wall, recording the sometimes beautiful events of human bustle from up a tree across the street through the fog: births, brises, recitals, workouts, ATM visits, lunches, laughter, drinking, walking, sitting, skipping, twirling, ululating, dancing, buffering, playing a musical instrument and on and on. We are white on black within lines of HTML; there is no intent behind a freely published site. There ought to be no appeal to friends to better themselves, no lovesick pages spilling with curves, lines, esses, accents, dashes--and blood.

Writers shoud not make long lists of things; those tend to make the reader's eyes glaze over. They should not fall in love with their writing. They have to let it do its own thing, even if that involves going to the club without him several nights a week and stumbling home drunk and reeking of another man even through the whiskey. They have to trust. No wonder they are so thin! Or, alternately, they are pear-shaped from sitting in the corner under the lamp while reading and eating the cake and drinking the vodka. Under the burnt out lamp. In the dark.

But at least writers, by being ephemeral non-ego nonentities, avoid being little question-mark shaped twigs bent over in front of a screen, paying their respects to the omnipotent machine god, that metal and plastic and electric Moloch!

Where was I going with all this?

Stolen quote: "ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science."

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Tales of the new country, part 2

I arrived here in the fourth grade with not a word of english in my head. Actually, I knew some basic swear words, because it was considered cool to be able to swear in english, despite the fact that obscenity was much more of an art in eastern Europe. (Ah, the phrases we had; the cadences of each nad every offensive syllable...) At any rate, I was not able to string a sentence of english together those first few weeks of school, but I tried hard. Six months later, I was more than fine. But I am reminded of one time early on that I approached a classmate and asked her to explain this strange word in the book. It was "until". Now, I still have no clue how I would explain this word to anyone in a non-convoluted way, especially to someone with a limited command of the language. So I spent months in an until-less haze of non-meaning.

The more I've learned about this language, and indeed others, the more it has become clear that our supposed consensus on the meanings of words does not really exist. As we get to more and more basic words, they become more difficult to define, but there even small differences in meaning can have a great impact on how one views the world. What is your personal definition of "is"? I often find that arguments are not really arguments at all when you get to that basic indeterminate level of meaning. Does God exist? It depends on what you mean by "exist".

Consider: "the dead do not know the value of clean sheets."

Diets and stalemates

I suppose it's a well-known fact that a majority of blogs tend to peter out, but I submit there is nothing sadder than stumbling upon a derelict, long-neglected diet blog with entries such as "tonight is Jan's party, but I'll be sure to keep to the diet; I've made so much progress" dated March 15, 2002.

On an unrelated note, I think I did a bad thing yesteraday. There is a snack kiosk at my university that actively and exclusively employs mentally challenged people. So I approached the teller and bought myself someting. It came out to $1.08. Now, I wanted a dollar back, so I gave the nice lady $2.10. I immediately regretted it. She looked at me, clearly not understanding, then getting confused, then mulling this unusual situation. I didn't know what to do, because I didn't want to be patronizing. She knew how to do her job, I reasoned. Eventually, her boss intervened to break the stalemate by walking her through the process in much the way we play peekaboo with children. I left with a bitter taste in my mouth (as well as the taste of what I had bought).

There's a lesson in all that. But is it positive or negative?

Consider: "if the probability of an event occurring is not zero, no matter how small, it will occur given enough time. The problem is, the universe does not have enough time."

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The gene trumpet

It's difficult to consider that I am expendable. On purely biological terms, this is quite true. Our bodies, these complex beautiful machines of skeleton and muscle and neuron and eyes and intestines etc. are leaves of the great deciduous tree of life. They are expendable, falling off and shrivelling up while the genes that constitute them continue their individaully aimless march of existence. A body is a gene's way of making more genes. And if this sounds like "a chicken is just an egg's way of making more eggs", it isn't.

We'd love immortality, but we can't have it. What makes it more frustrating is that parts of our bodies, at least potentially, are immortal. Our germ-line cells, our sperm and ova, form a line back to the first thing that ever lived. And, if we succeed at reproducing, they will go on and partake in the great genetic dance, metaphorically bumping and jostling other competing genes for their place in endless posterity. Odd to think of the maddening complexity of bodies as just machines that survive for the sake of preserving genes.

Obviously, that's not the whole story, but there's no time ot get into that now.

Consider: "biology is a good compromise of a science: not as technical as chemistry, and not as profound as physics."

Monday, November 22, 2004

Writing in the margins

Recently, I've brought back my idea of writing a long, long story about a female "heroine". So I set out to learn as much about women as possible; I think I know enough types of women to make some sort of generalization; I have also been taking women's studies, a slightly more cerebral approach to understanding. (Here I should add that my friends are not lab rats in my eyes, at least not entirely. At the very least, I mean no insult.) I was feeling cautiously upbeat, because I was getting an idea of the pressures young women are exposed to, something I never even considered (to be fair, I managed to escape most of the typically "male" pressures as well).

And then the whole structure collapsed, for I realized that in many respects, and definitely in the ones that really matter, there is little difference between the genders. The whole gender system may be bunk, at least our happy binary notion. I will not get into specifics, because that would be too time-consuming. This has put me in a difficult position, because now I'm not sure that there is anything essentially female to pack into my heroine. So, am I in the end left writing myself as a "female"? That is, as me, just socialized from birth to be different. I would certainly hope not, at the very least because that would end up being a pretty lousy read, and an even more boring write. That's just like me: torpedoing every incipient project as it slides off the dry-dock. I wish it were possible to write a decent story that goes beyond in a crazy multiplicity of ways: beyond time-place, beyond gender, beyond plot, beyond motivation, beyond economics, beyond realism, beyond love and revenge and redemption and reunions, beyond tears and alcohol and irony. But that would be too "pretentious" and nobody would read it. So it goes; I will continue to struggle to get noticed. There is romance in being unknown and frustrated. Now if I can only get beyond the romance.

Consider: "if you had the option of kidnapping one person, slicing their skin off and wearing it, compatiblizing your voice box to sound like them, and somehow downloading from their brain-in-a-jar the relevant memories and personality characteristics to mingle with your own; in effect entering that human, who would it be?"

Saturday, November 20, 2004


The past three days have been a litte storm of mad acronyms and tech specifications. At first I though I'd be buried under the sheer volume of stuff out there. But as the days progressed, I found my eyes glazing over less and less; maybe I'm being optimistiuc, but I might be on my way to making an intelligent choice. Maybe.

So, what's in the news? Today a man became a hero, others died ignobly, many more were ignored outright, some albums were issued on their slide to the bargain bin, it is raining here while old ladies slip on the early morning ice in Alberta, and, in what is apparently the seventh-most-important story of the day, according to Yahoo, some overpaid basketball players got into a fight. What's the deal here? Did someone die? Did the fight involve nuclear weapons? Because then the story would justify the fraction of a second I spent looking at it. At this rate, it just wastes my time and continues to pump the public mind full of circuses instead of keeping us docile and depressed and maybe, just maybe, moved to do something about the terrible things of the world.

I don't know where I'm going with this, but maybe the point is that if this society were embodied within one person, that person would either be horribly lopsided or paralyzed in some way.

Consider: "what base can you posibly have when you search for the meaning of meaning? A circular base; a house of cards built on a mote of dust in the winds of a hurricane."

Friday, November 19, 2004

But amid all your philosophy, be still a [human]

A letter to no-one:

It's fun, isn't it? Just sitting around, thinking. You've probably perfected it, that elbow-on-knee contemplation, or maybe a Nietzschean scowl witha slowly expanding moustache. Perhaps you've already worked out what your universe is and what it is not, perhaps it includes certain groups and acts and excludes others, perhaps it "flows" from one state to another incoherently. Perhaps you've managed to reify the vaues you hold dearest so that they take up physical space, like all your socks and vestments and hats and crazy scarves. Where, I wonder, will you store your values? Can your closet take such clutter? Or maybe, you've taken a wait-and-see approach. Maybe you're suspending all judgement until you have in your hand and, later, on your wall, your M.A.; then you may proceed to judge everything beneath you, for you have climbed the mountan. You are the free spirit; maybe all these colours exist just for you at this moment; maybe your crazy scarf is the repository of the colours of the world. November to you is a time of symbolic dying trees, just as March will be the symbolic re-emergence of life. And one day you may say to yourself: "finally, there is nothing tying me down; no vagaries of plot, no concern for my physical compromised safety; I can think. Just think".

I'd love to meet someone like you.

Consider: "a twenty-minute slow jam does not enlightenment make. But it sure is fun. And occasionally profitable."

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Sickness unto death

Despite the fact that this day seemed to my body like and endless hangover, I was the most mobile I've been in weeks; I actually managed to take the TTC enough times to justify the exorbitant amounts of money I spend on that metropass. Also, I consumed enough herbal tea to drown a small pony, and I had hoped the placebo effect would take care of it. It didn't.

This day is different from all the other days I've had recently. Nothing seems interesting; too much colour is needlessly garish, and everything else is monotonous. The little noises of the bus were almost unendurable: the people ruffling thir polyethylene bags, clothes rubbing against other clothes, the window latches rattling on every pothole, and the bass beat from some goddamn asshole's headphones reverberating in the shell of the bus were like little castanets lodged inside my skull.

Consider: "the first Europeans in the so-called New World constituted a biological invasion; not a human invasion, rather a deluge of little mites and bacteria, according to the finest medical science back then: "evil spirits". These evil spirits massacred tens of millions, with a little help from their human acolytes. Again, this is indeed a disturbing universe."

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Tales of the new country, part 1

The biggest adjustment people of my parents' generation have to make in the immigrant community is the transition from a lily-white country to the world's greatest ethnic salad. Not long after my family arrived in Canada, we heard a most curious story. The son of friends was playing basketball with a bunch of kids in the school playground. His game was not going well, and after a while he snapped, unleashing a string of expletives in Serbian.

A black kid approached him and asked, in flawless Serbian: "where are you from?"

The boy blinked, dumbstruck. "From Yugoslavia," he said.

"Where in Yugoslavia?"


"Me too."

The point: you never know who's speaking your language. And besides, it's not "your" language. The language will do just fine without you. That's something to consider.

My droopy muse

She ran outside into the backyard with her multicoloured iridescent robes flowing about her as usual to watch the meteor shower with me and capture some inspiration. We climbed the radio tower onto the roof of my house and stood there for a good half hour hoping for the clouds to clear so that we may see the masses of burning rock streaking their way through our atmosphere and charging this otherwise ordinary night with the prospect of unnanounced cosmic death. She looked at me and induced in me a mind's-eye response; in my head I was already riding a metor like I had seen on so many low-budget action films and science documentaries about the cosmos. Except this time I was engaged. She smiled, knowing that her work was beginning. Soon I would be quivering with anxiety, eager to get to a typing mechanism or notepad and try to immortalize these pangs striking my stomach but really localized in the cerebral cortex. The clouds, too, were beginning to clear, and I thought that I saw on the northern horizon the ascendant for I-know-not-what. She began to her dervish spin; I warned her not to get too carried away with the mystery of the dark, bottomless roof over our heads, but she just shot me that twisted half-smile that sent me on another meteor-related reverie. This reverie was never finished or properly started, however, for a few moments after, a rock the size of a walnut streaked between us, white-hot from friction, and forced its way through her left shoulder. She screamed a bat-like scream and tottered backwards, down off the roof, down into the pear tree, down onto the power lines. The noise woke the neighbours, and the slight illumination of the sparks and the robes led them to this place. They milled and talked amongst each other until the intermittent red and blue lights arrived. After that I could no longer see them through my veil of tears.

This is indeed a disturbing universe.

Needlessly cryptic question: if this story were a polypeptide with the following secondary structure: alpha-helix, beta-turn, unstructured region, where would the beta-turn occur?

Consider: "the Wikipedia entry on Margaret Hassan devotes about 15% of the space to her 30 years of humanitarian work and 85% to her last two weeks of life. We need to collectively celebrate her life and life's work and wonder, not her relatively short time of dying, tragic as it is."

Spiky city life

This would be a lot more encouraging if I didn't know that the spike in the afternoon was me from another computer. The chirping of the crickets was unbearable.

The net, for all its neon and glitz and glamour, is still a lonely, alienating place. So nothing has changed since the roaring twenties in that regard. Marquees flashed above grey, rain-soaked people in business uniforms trying to catch their filing-cabinet trains back then, as they do now. Except the marquees are laptop screens and the uniforms have a little more colour. The uniforms but not the faces.

Consider: "some of humankind's (well, mankind's) greatest battleships are now nothing more than kelpy little caves. They were the lucky ones. They avoided becoming restaurants and historic sites."

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The emperor has no clothes on

I'd like to get on a canoe right now and paddle away, down the streets of the university, or up to the stacks, anywhere but in this place which seems to physically reach into me and squeeze something vital. I want to see a large body of water and feel some sort of breeze; I can't believe I'm sweating in mid-November. In this climate, that should be a crime of some sort. All their fancy landscaping, and they couldn't add one stream. We've got trees and flowerbeds teeming, if they can be said to teem, with the occasional squirrel leaping between the trees and the occassional human animal sitting on a flowerbed to eat their goddamn hot dog, but not one piece of moving water, not one stream or brook or rivulet or cascade.

To be fair, there is a hidden fountain close to the IT centre, but I would have much preferred something with a little more fractal character in it. That, or an Escher fountain. I'd like to see those engineers accomplish that.

Lazy thought to consider: "Stalin and Gandhi were contemporaneous."

Monday, November 15, 2004

Inwards and upwards

The reasons I consider molecular biology my passion are many and entangled. For one, it has just as much to do with hatred as with love; in high school it was the first subject that challenged me, so I had to pound it into oblivion. After some give-and-take, I ended up here at the University studying it. We still haven't worked through our problems. Macroscopic biology angers me with its cheap showiness, its cuteness and furriness. I've always been an advocate for the small and invisible. But such is any relationship, and one day I hope that wisdom will temper my fears.

Right now the main joy I derive from reading this dense, dense textbook is the effect it has on my mind's eye. I find myself imagining the random walks of protein molecules, much like asteroid fields in time-lapse, bombarded by water, folding and refolding, colliding a million times before fulfilling their function in the crowded cytoplasm, motes of dust on speed just waiting for that fateful kiss with their substrate. After spending a couple of hours focusing inward (sometimes I stare at the back of my hand and think how amazing it is to be able to understand anything about it at all) I am suddenly confronted with the breadth of extracellular reality. Air! Granite! Light! Electricity! Clouds! Sky! Stars! And every walk thereafter is not just a walk, it is immensity as can only present itself to someone who five minutes ago gazed at a protein's immensity.

Consider: "oppressed cultures tend to produce the finest people. In the Old Country I spent a great deal of time in a gypsy encampment on the outskirts of our brave 20th century city. I could not appreciate it then, but the passion and carefree nature of those people is something I will always remember fondly."

Breakfast and oppression

There is serious hypocrisy to be interrogated; there is oppression to rage against; there are boundaries to push, there are norms to bite one's thumb at. And all that as I eat. I've got several hundred pages of article to skim through, to remind me if I'm forgetting anything about the horrific social order under which we all live. And yet, what would I do? What would anyone I know do? I know for a fact that us mostly pacifistic lefties really don't have the means to bring down the government; nor would we want to bring down the government. We need the relative stability it provides. I know I'm a reformist. If the security forces opened fire during our demonstations, I know I wouldn't be defiantly unfurling our banner on the barricades. It wasn't always like this; it really makes you wonder what's become of society, and why it became the way it did. I have in mind the one famous pictures during one of those French revolutions (the one on 1830, I think) of regular citizens manning the barricades and holding off the army with no impetus but liberty. I found it here. Obviously, that's not quite how it happened, but shut up.

We need to make sure we have our moral superiority right, otherwise we've lost the one weapon we have against "them". To our American friends: it's time you started defending both your first and the second amendment rights, and making active use of them.

On an unrelated note, I'll be brewing tea all day. I've got this system where I can get 2-3 large cups of tea out of one tea bag. I'm keeping warm.

Stolen Quote for the Day: "only two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity. And I'm not so sure about the former."

Electric circuit breaker dawn

I am a child of my time, a child of this here interweb. And I wouldn't have it any other way. I've accepted my hereness and thisness as a gift, even one that may be taken from me at the slightest breeze. I am not original at cringing at how unsustainable we have become, but what glorious light our unsustainably burning candle casts! What free spirit of the 60s, what Beat poet could access so much human mind as we can now? Randomly browsing for hours on end, you and I come in direct head-to-head contact with a cloud of people, each a tiny droplet, but enough to coat our skins in water. And after a short break to eat something, perchance to take a rest from all this unorthodox learning, we plunge back into colour, into flashing lights and flaring tempers, into brave religious piety, into edge-shattering musical riffs, into sober, judgemental faces blinking at the pyres burning just out beyond the next hill, into inhospitable landscapes, into reams of HTML code, into entertainment and introversion, propaganda and postmodernism, into the disturbed minds of allegedly libertarian time travellers. This place here and now is a crowded subway, but nobody is afraid to approach anyone else and ask for their life story.

Thought before I sleep: "no book ever hammered the imagination in quite the way that beeping tones and flashing lights do."

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Two languages in one head

The strangest blog I've stumbled on so far was a bilingual one; bilingual to the point where after finishing one sentence the author would translate into the other language. That is the only explanation I can think of for the strange now-making-perfect-sense, now-a-mass-of-strange-squiggly-words character of the entries.

How is it possible that a person can carry two linguistic systems in one tiny part of the brain? All research in this field suggests that such a person would experience violent head pains as two different grammatical systems vie for control of key cognitive functions. The person diagnosed with this unfortunate "bi-lingual disorder" can expect a severely impeded ability to communicate in either language, as well as a whole set of apparently unrelated side effects, such as diminished urinary continence, increased propensity to developing allergies, greater bone fragility and morbidly increased cholesterol. The only choice we have is to severely limit immigration to only the finest specimens, ones that would be able to carry this horrific burden of being now quite here, not quite there. This author would suggest males of caucasian descent over the age of 35.

My tongue is back out of my cheek.

Thought for the day: "go here. Read the section on the Pale Blue Dot."

Small triumphs

The past hour has been a lot like that show "Pimp my Ride", except for the glamour part, and the part where women want to have sex with you. Pimping a ride is like all of a sudden getting perfect skin, a soothing voice, money, a sense of humor and an orifice-pleasing penis. I did no such thing, so I really don't know why I even made this comparison in the first place. I was screwing around with the HTML, trying to get a links list going, and had to republish this thing because the slightest breeze sends everything crashing down. But I survived it; I am better for it. And I can add more links lists, if I so wish. I can go out and make enemies and make a list of them. I can promote my favourite sites.

Small triumphs are for the small people. To someone like me, even doing the dishes is a triumph against the enternal changing universe. In scrubbing the pans and putting them in the dishwasher, I add my own little speck of food colouring into the streams of time. Who knows where little specks of it will end up? A little of the cleanliness might end up at a fairytale wedding of some British royal, it might save a drunken man from being hit by a bus, it might make a media darling graphic artist feel proud of herself for the first time in her life. I cannot justify it by any tortured logic, but that is my extremely starry-eyed view of my own marginal importance.

But enough of self-pity couched in nonsense! I also do the dishes so I can eat off them the day after. Those meals are sometimes delicious, sometimes a little too clean.

Choose your own metaphor, again:

Cutting down an impenetrable thicket around your backyard to build a fence is like a) dropping a thermonuclear bomb but forgetting the detonator b) forcing an elephant to trample a den of snakes c) pushing a stone up a hill only to have it roll down again just to push it up again, and so on d) feeding a turtle beer and throwing it into East Jerusalem in hopes of stopping the intifada e) jumping a rope on an asteroid.

Consider: "in France, the unexploded shells from WWI and WWII will likely not be cleared or exploded in 700 years. So, the French are in no danger of forgetting those monstrosities. Canada, luckily, is not a country of artillery shells and land mines, but we have to make a conscious effort to remember."

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Aliens: past and present

Last night at 2 a.m. I realized I had spent two hours of my life watching a bad action movie about killer aliens for no reason other than the sad fact that I wanted to fill time until I fell asleep. In the course of the night, somehow the idea came to me to point out all the egregious logical inconsistencies and plain idiocy of the film. Then, in the morning, I thought better of it. It's been done to death. We know how screenwriters with good, dare one say groundbreaking, ideas have their souls eaten by studio executives. I wish I had something on tape to show for it.

One thought did come out of it, though. If there is to be a crippling interspecies conflict in the not-too-distant future, we will not be blameless in the perpetration of it. We've seen how cultural insensitivity has created an escalating spiral of violence, an unstoppable juggernaut against which appeals to "reason" are pretty much useless. If people are ready to pre-judge other humans as "savages" or "inherently violent" or "imbecilic" just by slight phenotypic differences such as melanin concentration, the presence/absence of epicanthic folds, lip size, etc., what monstrosities will we ourselves build out of some utterly alien species? (Here's a tie-in to my Women's Studies). Without sounding like a tin-foil hat conspiracy theorist, I'd like to posit that Hollywood has been brainwashing us into just this kind of mindset for generations. We’ve got to stop demonizing the "other".

As I write this, my brother is playing Halo II. I was playing it yesterday as well. It is an entertaining look at interspecies genocide.

Consider: "our attempts thus far to communicate with extraterrestrial intelligence, like the Voyager Golden Record. Hey, I find it interesting."

Friday, November 12, 2004

Who put the "trans" in transgender?

This is the title of one of the articles I have to know for my upcoming Women's Studies test. Seeing as how the last time I tried to study for this course I ended up writing here for too long, I've decided that this weekend will involve some strange combinations of studying and seeing what other people think of that writing (because you're all judging me with every post). This could end up a disaster, like when people mix business and pleasure, like drinking while working, an action that could completely undermine the redemptive power of the pleasurable activity (in this case, rambling, or blogging).

Anyway, the article:

The author points out that the prefix "trans" has three distinct meanings: in the first sense, it implies change, as in a "transformation"; in the second sense, it implies moving across, as some transgendered people move from one gender to the other; finally, the third sense is one of going beyond gender entirely. As an aside, I have to mention the transgendered couple in my tutorial; these are people, very interesting and pleasant people, who defy our common gender attributions. I find myself stopping when speaking to either of them because I'm unsure of what pronoun to use. That naturally leads to the question of why gender needs to be "one or the other" at all, why our language was constructed as such. We find that gender permeates our thought in such a pervasive and subtle way that changing our perceptions can have consequences that are profoundly far-reaching: on our views of race, ethnic, and class relations, just to name the most prominent.

The article talks about how being transgendered is (in certain circles) becoming accepted, but the notion that gender--for the most part--is "either/or" is still largely unchallenged. I wonder if it can be challenged? There are some methods of socialization that cannot be consciously undone. For example, whenever I'm a coward I know consciously that I ought not to be, that I am harming myself, yet I am far from being able to overcome the brick wall that seems to spring up in certain situations. So it goes.

Then we move on into other articles that basically document how female inferiority has been "proven" scientifically over the past few centuries. As someone who places great stock in the scientific method, the egregious mistakes that were not apparent to these respectable scientists are appalling: ridiculous a priori assumptions, fudging of data, biased sampling, all culminating in this freakish self-fulfilling prophecy whereby the expectations of inferiority contributed to inferiority.

I'm slowly stepping off my soapbox and melting into the general bustle. You'll never find me.

Consider: "the phrase "do or do not; there is no try". Consider just what bullshit it is. It all goes back to definitions. It seems that none of us can agree on them. In some ways Yoda is correct, in other ways, I am correct. This is far too common an occurrence."

Soon, I shall take a walk.


Earlier today, I posed a question I had stolen from somewhere to a friend. I asked, "when did our collective memory shift from black-and-white to colour?" Now, by this I don't mean to ask when colour photography or colour film was invented or implemented. What I'm going for is the moment where one more barrier to the resemblance of the copy (the simulacrum) to real life was struck down. The time when we began to think of great world events in terms of pictures and footage that resembled real life to a much greater extent than before. Obviously this did not happen in one day, but I'm willing to bet it can be narrowed down to a year. I thought it might have some social implications that I won't cover here, because, let's face it, this is not a journal of modern culture, although I do like the word "postmodern" and will probably be using it every chance I get.

Anyway, Beatlemania, circa 1963, was black-and-white, as I recall. Kennedy was black-and-white; Martin Luther King was black-and-white. I think the seventies were definitely in colour, so where is the transition? I'm looking for opinions here. I'm down to a seven-year period, but that simply won't do.

Consider: "the true benefits of a randomly educated imagination. By this, I'm espousing learning for learning's sake, sort of letting the currents take you where they will. I've found this online encyclopedia to be an excellent tool. The fact that it is hyperlinked to such an extreme extent has helped me stumble on facts I otherwise would never even consider."

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Stupidity--Haze--Ball pit--Bees

In view of a cynical conversation I had with a decent fellow today, I've scrapped the embryonic plan for this entry in favour of a loose, rambling account of how meritocracy at university is all but dead.

I remember, many months ago, I saw a movie on stupidity, which stated "we have thousands of universities, billions of books, the world at our fingertips through our information superhighway. Why, then, are we so stupid?". At first this struck me as exaggeration and an expression of some foreign bitterness, but now I am beginning to see the deep roots from which this argument has sprung. Maybe it's my second-year letdown, maybe some sort of wisdom being injected into me, but I feel more and more like I come to this area of the city, float through hardly interacting with anyone (in the course of my academic duties), and in three or four years I will receive a piece of paper after having dumped about $20,000 into the coffers of an institution I feel I neither understand nor care for. This piece of paper will tell employers "he's under our protection", in a very similar vein as an extortion racket. Doesn't matter how smart you are, you need this paper; you have a nice brain, lots of ideas; it would be a shame if such a brain ended up freezing to death on a frigid winter night after being unable to procure a livelihood, and, more immediately, a hot-air vent. Or so the registrar's letter goes, unless I'm wrong.

A high school teacher put it best: "let's face facts; no matter what economy we're in or what historical period we're in or what our technology level is, there will always be two essential jobs: taking care of the dead, and taking care of children." This is one of the outgrowths of this sentiment: our huge multi-billion dollar, high-fi, glamorous, glittering, bombastic playpen. The "ism"s that bounce off the walls during lectures are more similar to the individual balls of a ball pit than we care to acknowledge.

More and more there is the feeling that all I have read and all the sheets I've filled out and all the blue booklets I've scrawled in and all the gleaming hardcover textbooks I bought are as real as a conversation over the internet. One is left wondering: "did this actually happen?", "how could it have happened? It must have been magic". Lectures are becoming shows of smoke and mirrors and people getting sawed in half to please the audience. More and more lectures themselves become extraneous. Maybe they should move the university entirely onto the internet; it might resolve this feeling of displaced here-ness, if that makes any sense at all. Why do I need to commute if I can make my presence felt--or, more likely, not felt--around the would in an instant?

This ignores the social aspects of the university, its one possible saving grace. To all my friends, and indeed all non-automatic human beings: you make this place bearable. As if that needed to be said.

I still haven't gotten to how meritocracy is dead. We have to face the facts: most of us are here because we are rich. Relatively rich compared to the world. If we can afford to spend money on alcohol (God bless it), then I am clearly not quite struggling for survival. After we are out and we have poured our money in here, we will have the means of keeping ourselves rich because our big nanny, the university, will look out for us in its own impersonal way. And so on until we spin out somehow. Of course, I'm oversimplifying as always. That should be a given, otherwise I'd never be able to work up the nerve to write anything.

Consider: "how the person who is kicking your chair from behind during lecture is not doing so accidentally. How all the TAs that you really like and are inspired by are in it for the money. How professors "teach" your class so that they can get funding for their own egos (research). How the university bureaucrat is the queen bee."


This library is probably not the best place from which to write an entry, but I must try, as it keeps me sane to some degree (I'm sure some will disagree, but that is their opinion to hold and mine to reject). The activity in here reminds me of a squirrelly kind of bustle; people sit here rooting through pages and stacks and tons, binders and briefcases for something. In a less enlightened age, they would have burrowed little holes in their ground and would have stuck their nervous heads in, always on the lookout for the wolves around the corner, behind the tree. And, most of the time finding nothing, they would continue to a new hole.

Do wolves eat squirrels? If yes, Ok. If no, would they under exceptional circumstances?

This is us, jumping from branch to branch, book to book in search of what in the end boils down to survival. Mental survival, spiritual survival, physical survival: it makes no difference in the end. Here I go oversimplifying everything again.

Consider: "the mandala. Oddly enough, it undergirds my world-view. It amazes me how something so complex-seeming is really the product of simply derived strokes or lines or colours based on other strokes or lines or colours, all going back to that source, the very center, the dot which is not really a dot, which really represents the thought "I'm going to make a mandala". Humbling. Take a look at an example here."

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Moving furniture--Dishes--Mind "like wow"

I'm still getting settled into this new pattern of not shutting myself up in my room, not writing something that could potentially be viewed by anybody. In a fit of egotism (and, let's face it, work-shirking) I installed a site meter. Now I can count how many hits (excluding myself) I get.

New choose-your-own-metaphor feature:

If this site were a house, installing the counter is like a) moving the couch from the window side of the room to the other side, where I may look out into the resplendent beauty of my maple tree b) replacing the ringer on my phone with a buzzer 20 decibels louder so I can crank my music c) rocking out to a non-existent dance beat naked while Catholic and Hebrew school students trek to their respective schools d) more than one of the above.

I'd post a poll, but I haven't got the wherewithal to do so yet.

Having finished that bit of housekeeping, I spent a few hours browsing other people's blogs; first my friends' than complete strangers'. The variety of things people write about, and the variety of coherence is striking. Also, has anybody else noticed that about a third of random hits are obviously blogs written by computer scripts to randomize it just enough so that the blog is not erased by the "authorities". It was a mostly pleasant walk through the neighbourhood; I got to see the ultrasound of a 20-week-old fetus and almost commented on it, read the Declaration of Independence in its entirety (I skimmed the boring parts) , saw the thought process of a soon-to-be-divorced person, read gothic ramblings, ashcan rantings, saw jokes, bad adolescent poetry, pictures of the rainforests, tractors, mountainsides, anime and, perhaps most importantly, YHWH Him(Her)self. This is a scary world, friends, a scary world of hope and love and little riverboats, genocide and baby formula, wrinkles and fault lines, metal tables and hammocks and many other binary opposites. I do not feel qualified to write about it, but I am grateful that there is a chance that these words may affect someone somehow. (Very lucid, that.)

Thought "for" "the" day: "if religion is a reflection of the human capacity for wonder at seemingly unscalable heights of the mind and spirit, I consider myself the most religious man I know. I wouldn't be caught dead in a church, synagogue etc., but I abase myself daily at the altar of what is mysterious, what has not yet been achieved, but may be. I do it in less pretentious terms while I walk."


Sounds like the name of a very, very indie song, doesn't it? The kind of song scenesters would bobble to while pretending they weren't enjoying themselves. The kind of song that uses an esoteric instrument like a harmonium or a theremin or chittarone or lodo or veena or an ondes martenot (with thanks to online encyclopedias). The kind of song that thumbs its very abstract yet reified nose at lesser, loop-based songs. Except, of course, this title simply has too many syllables. It is overemotive, it doesn't get to the point. Much like this paragraph.

The point is: this is one of those "meta" entries, where a blog reflects on itself. Don't blame the human behind the web page, you can take your rage out against the internet directly. Try spitting on the screen, though I wouldn't recommend it if you're using one of those public terminals where the eternal nameless "they" have strict public health rules against that kind of behaviour.

So, as I wrote somewhere before, how do we go about constructing a useful, successful blog? (I dislike the word, but that's a tangent I don't want to get onto.) If it just includes little "slices of life", little observations, your friends (the ones who will initially read it) will not be impressed because, odds are, you've already related anything amusing to them directly, not via this torturedly roundabout way. If you get all abstract, political, scientific, philosophical, whatever, you're (probably) not informed enough to attract anyone other than friends. So, we're in a sandwich, being eaten by the internet; the internet is breathing and salivating on you and it hasn't brushed its teeth (it is, after all, a very busy meganetwork), and you're caught in the stench and squeeze: wet, stinky and stuck between two pieces of bread. (What did that have to do with anything?)

This is a problem only if you're seeking fame in the "blogosphere". (I hate that word even more. But I'll hold off until later. I probably have actual work to do.)

Consider: "sometimes I space out and right-click on Mr. Clippit, allow him to amuse me with his endless transformations. Now he is an atom, here he is a circle, now a box, maybe next time he will be a box of chocolates or a bouquet of flowers. His untiring electronic smile and forthright bug-eyes help fight the gray, cumulonimbus loneliness of working in this cold and empty house."

Post no bills

Walking by the gigantic construction site that has gripped College St., I saw (as I see almost every day) the building that I will probably do my grad work in. Now, the construction fence or wall (the barrier thing) is decorated with slogans hyping pharmaceutical and biomolecular research, with pictures of what are ostensibly students. The public relations people did a decent job of representing all races and two genders; I suppose it represents the "diversity" of the "dynamic" University of Toronto population; while I'm at it, I'll just throw in some more words: "progressive", "synergy", "action plan", "synergy", "networking", "paradigm", "human resources", "synergy" and so on ad nauseam.

What struck me initially, before my pointless attack on some words was the absence of unattractive people. I don't know how much time the people who put these boards together have spent inside scientifically-oriented buildings, but I'll tell them that's not the case. What kind of message does it send to someone like me, with my less-than-perfect skin, my asymmetrical face, my brow ridge and sloping forehead, and so on. I hope I get in on merit, because I'm not much of a poster-boy.

(Well, obviously; it's not like everyone didn't already know that. Still, I derive fiendish pleasure (not in that way, you sick bastard) from watching the word count rise and the scroll bar growing.)

I wonder, it is too early to start posting bad adolescent poetry? There are truly few things more fun to read.

Stolen thought: "in biology, the alternative to thinking in evolutionary terms is not to think at all."

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

New and Sexy Penicillin

Today in lecture the lecturing man mentioned how bacteria manage to develop resistances to any new antibiotics we throw at them. Saying they "manage" to develop resistance is misleading; it is a certainty. That's evolution in action, people. We need to go back to relying on our own immune systems and not so much the sexy new drugs that have been synthesized in sexy new ways to provide millions of chemists with jobs. I'm not anti-science; I'm steadfastly for vaccinating people, for boosting our own immune defenses, a sort of do-it-yourself defense helped and informed by science. Unfortunately, a lot of people have great deals of money invested in the production of drugs, and they're not budging. Nor should they; that's not their responsibility. So, where are we going? We are already a drug culture, saddled with our endless quick-fixes, taking pills to wake up and pills to go to sleep, pills to keep the swelling down and pills to keep the crying down, pills to prolong life in the withered shell of a human form, pills to stop crying about it. I have no solution, but I'm not throwing my hands up in the air just yet.

Maybe the sentient cockroaches millions of years from now will get it right. One thing's for sure: we won't be around to know. But I'm not bitter.

Consider: "AmpD mutants express AmpC constitutively; they are thus greatly favoured in settings rich in third generation beta-lactam antibiotics: clinics, hospitals, old-age homes. It's now a race between our cleverness and hyper-evolution."

Monday, November 08, 2004

Pens and Paper

I doubt anyone will notice, but there has been in this blog a leitmotif of "my computer exploded", and all the adjustments I've had to make in response.

Today I've gotten reacquainted with good old-fashioned pen-and-paper scribbling on the subway, rocking and rolling in a half-drunken stupor, scrawling down sentences resembling free-flowing robes in my indecipherable pseudo-cuneiform sewing-machine script. And, of course, every time the train accelerates or turns, my hand flies from the tiny pad. I think I should try this somewhere stationary, like a coffeehouse or a library, but then I'd just be approached by some chirpy extroverts in stylish multicoloured scarves using my scribbling as a conversational "in". Not that that will happen, but if it does, I'll end up a nervous wreck, unable to both write and speak, just staring dumbly out of the large wall-panes at the time-lapse bustle outside.

Stolen thought of the day: "the meaning of life is the survival and perpetuation of ribonucleic acids and their associated proteins."

Sunday, November 07, 2004


A while back I had a dream which frightened the hell out of me at the time (I suppose that's why I remember it), but on closer inspection was largely uplifting. The action opened with a good-old-fashioned nuclear explosion, a commonly occurring motif of my sleep. "They", whoever they were, destroyed downtown Toronto. I watched it all from the window of an apartment building, just waiting for the shockwave to hit me, feeling a physically crushing loss of, a sudden reversal of everything I had worked for, and so on and on into infinity. Except there was no shockwave, and we had lost nothing. Later, in conversation with a stolid man, he said that nobody was working those large downtown office buildings when the bombs fell, so there was nothing to cry about. Grocery vendors continued to peddle their wares, shouting at passers-by to buy their mangoes or cherries or cucumbers, burly women with jugs of soup continued to sit on the sidewalks, likewise peddling their wares with motherly twinkles in their eyes, snowflakes continued to swirl, caught in updrafts on arterial roads, businessmen on the evening trains continued on with small-talk and light deal-making and I was free to walk outside where the air was crisp and I never even once considered the fallout. There was more danger of death in collapsing icicles than from the collapse of society.

Dreams are silly things.

Thought for the moment: "dance if you can, even if you suck. Likewise, sing and write and cook."

At the gates of the alcohol...

So, last night I was standing with some unsavory characters in front of a liquor store, a few minutes after closing. We had lamented our bad luck and planning when two women approached the doors. We informed them that the store was closed. What ensued surprised the hell out of me. They all but wept. They prostrated themselves on the inactivated automatic door and began hitting the plastic and calling out to the clerks still inside the store. The more they were ignored, the more loud and desperate their calls became. They became frantic worshippers before the monstrous neon LCBO idol, gnashing their teeth in a gesture of atonement for their unworthiness. Even my borderline-alcoholic friend found it pathetic. Why this reaction? Surely, it being a gay old Saturday in the downtown, they could get boozed up at a hundred different bars, moreover they could probably get eager, lonely men to pay for the greater portion of it.

Maybe a few blocks over, their domineering boyfriends had made them an ultimatum. If they did not obtain intoxication for the lot of them they would leave for greener pastures, for looser girls, maybe even for Church Street. Maybe. We left feeling slightly better about ourselves. Slightly.

Thought for the "day": "if you want to weep, don't do it in a corner, where your tears will collect in an insignificant puddle. Instead, go out into the crowd and project your problems; sprinkle your grievances liberally across your guests, the couch, the carpet, the punch-bowl. Then rake in the sympathy."

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Soup--English majors--Great authors--Collaboration

Before I lost all my files, I was writing a story about soup. What can be said about soup? Well, it wasn't really about soup. The act of making this soup was the only thing that tied the narrative together, the only thing that would make the only character's musings seem coherent and believable. I later realized that in using a gimmick to hook the reader, I was helping contribute to the notion that a narrative is necessary. Maybe people are tired of associative leaps going on to nowhere. I'll admit it's hard to know when you're finished. But we're never finished. I had an acrimonious debate with some English majors a couple of months ago about just this. They maintained that Hemingway (for example) could make no changes to his a works, to which I said something that was euphemistic for "bullshit". I also didn't like the way they idolized these authors; I find much to commend, but I will not get down on bended knee to them, no matter how much more accomplished than me, no matter the quality of their gleaming prose, no matter the illumination that their life experience brings to the backs of their heads. That being said, I have surprisingly little bile to fling at them.

Thought for the day (actually, for the post): "take 10,000 people. Ask them to write a symphony (or am opera, or a rock-opera, or whatever). When all the egotists have submitted their earth-shaking ideas and the diplomats have synthesized the hell out of them and the misanthropes in the corners have fallen asleep, and the vast majority have voted on the finest course of action and the unruly have been expelled and marginalized, what will develop?"


Up until this point, I had a journal of sorts. I kept up with it, occasionally read it to bring back memories, generally loved the thing. Then my hard drive decided it would not take my overbearing, smothering tyranny anymore. So I lost everything. To ensure this never happens again, I started this. Now my private thoughts belong to the world (realistically, to about half a dozen people I know); if my computer erupts in another orgy of flames and violence I will no longer be left on my futon, clutching my hair and weeping as if a back-alley abortion had been performed on me against my will. I exaggerate. Worse things have happened to better people.

That'll be quite enough of using "me" words. I wanted to take this to a more abstract level, because somehow spewing my experience onto a computer screen (maybe, if I'm lucky, up to three computer screens around the world simultaneously) is an impoverished way of looking at my, or anyone else's, life. Even the finest writer is more than that collection of words on a screen, more than the millions of transistor chips that have brought them to you on a network meandering its way across the world, More, at last, than just a statically smiling pretty face in a personal. But I digress.

I want to have ongoing features in this blog. I want to try to make sense and keep the reader's attention. As will become clear if I maintain this "blog", I like philosophy and politics, I like relating what I consider interesting in everyday life, I also love stealing other people's lofty thoughts and well-written pieces, I also have an annoying habit of constructing huge, crashing sentences that go on without justification but their own exuberance. These are the kind of sentences that topple levees and spread their bulk along main street, flooding folks' basements.

Thought for the day: "You can fool some people sometimes, but you can't fool all the people all of the time. But you'll be fine so long as that group makes up more than fifty percent of the population."

It is time for a walk.