Saturday, April 30, 2005


I don't know what's up with all these historical references recently. Maybe I'm just looking for some escape from the here-and-now tethering me to the desk and the textbook, to the eye strain and the laziness, to the endless games of Risk on the computer and the gray and cold.

When I was younger, I liked insects when the other kids liked to throw rocks at other kids. I liked looking at maps over walking down the street. I liked goung out to the backyard and thinking about the winter solstice instead of playing with the dogs. I liked raiding plum trees more than eating breakfast. None of these things made me very popular, but lest you think I was some sort of rejected freak, I moved in normal enough circles. I just happened to have a lot of time on my hands. Childlike imaginaton combined with circumstances I could not appreciate created a strange alchemy.

I don't think I had a fully working Theory of Mind. The assumption that others had had the same ideas as I did was beyond me for a long time. It was encouraging when it came, because it assured me that there was a group I could belong to. (And we all search for that, no matter how jaded or independence-minded we are.) The next phase of the realization was crushing disappointment. I have been trying to come to terms with my own lack of uniqueness. I think I finally managed it, but it's not a realization one just blithely throws out there at parties or, even worse, at random.

Maybe that's why I dislike writing anything with a plot. Every conceivable type of plot has already been done. But my favourite alternative, the associative stream-of-consciousness, is not user-friendly in the least. One day, we shall come up with a synthesis of these two, but not just yet.

Consider: " you lie to yourself to be happy. There's nothing wrong with that. We all do it."

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


A story for no-one:

"The heat inside the tiny apartment was oppressive, as always. Ken was sprawled out on the tiny couch. It had been four days since he had left the room, and there seemed to be no end in sight. He wanted so desperately to get back to his work. Sure, being a lowly lab technician was not a coveted or particularly interesting position, but there were other reasons to go to work. But that was impossible now. He would have to wait out the current trouble. His neigbour had agreed ot bring him supplies as he needed."

"Why was Ken hiding in an oppressive sweat-block? Well, it was 1968 in Guangzhou. Gangs of unruly youths dressed indentically and carrying before them the Oriental equivalent of the Ark of the Covenant were roaming the streets, flollowing directives that shifted and changed like the weather. They were just as predictable. So, it was inevitable that those with foreign features were to be singled out as scapegoats for the stagnating ecenomy, for the natural disaster, for the crimes and the human stupidity and human failure, for oppressive geopolitics and restrictive social mores. Ken's father had been a Japanese national when he had been conceived. He had never had trouble for his difference before (save in the countryside, but he did not veture out there often--he had no reason to)."

"His savings would weather this storm. There was enough food and water. His neighbours were kind people. It was a close-knit community that had survived earlier riots and displacements. Ken had never been antsy; he had taken what he needed to take, whichever burdens life threw in front of him. He had made it through the cutthroat university and the vocational training, the loyalty training, and the doctrinal training. What bothered him now, what made his skin feel lumpy and driven to move was, predictably, her."

Reader participation survey: will Ken a) get up and brew some tea on his makeshift samovar, b) take a nap, since there is nothing better to do, c) get up nad look out the window, or d) memorize some poetry (in Chinese, of course)?

Consider: "why do you insist that the genetic code is "sacred" or "taboo"? It is a chemical process, and nothing more. For that matter, we are chemical processes, and nothing more. If you deprive yourself of a useful tool simply because it reminds you uncomfortably of your mortality, then you have needlessly and pointlessly crippled yourself."


I'm amazed at just how slippery pro-God arguments can be. I mean, a whole industry, both ecclesiastical and academic, is based on ignoring the really, really obvious question and taking an untenable (and some would argue meaningless) concept and running with it. They argue about the properties of their particular Moloch, when they just choose to brush off the fact that the very foundation of their inquiry is sketch.

Perhaps I'm being unfair, and not at all humble about this. What makes me think that my feeling is right and all those academics are wrong? Well, if they had come up with an airtight proof of YHWH, Moloch, Allah, or whatever the new hotness is, I feel it would be blared out across the TV screens and in all the journals. I'm sure it would be elegant in its simplicity, much like the really good scientific theories. And I'd say: "OK. Good." Because we all want that belief, even the most unreprentant sinners, even the hopeless libertines, or the people like me, who contend it would make no difference. Who wouldn't want an invisible brother-like superhero to look out for them? But that has not happened. The only "arguments" I see used are logical fallacies form the 12th century, arguments from design that attenuate with each advance in scientific thought, other arguments that read a lot like the "definition of "is" defence" used by a former US president", and of course endless waves of circumlocution. That doesn't strike me as elegant at all. And elegance is a vague concept that we can all agree exists.

Or am I wrong? Send me your thoughts.

There are at least a dozen buildings dedicated to Molochology at my university. I don't get it. But I guess I've been deprived of the childhood indoctrination that normal kids receive. Poor me. Left with all these nagging doubts.

Consider: "au lieu de pain / je mange les etoiles" (I'm missing an accent on the last "e".)

Sunday, April 24, 2005


In my daily perusal of this here interweb, I stumbled on an interesting, if hack-ish, writing method. It involves making up three lists, entitled Characthers, Goals, and Obstacles, and combining the elements from them randomly. That ought to generate the kernel of a story. For a second, I thought about it, but then realized that it wouldn't work for me, since I'm not big on plot (read: the kind of writing I do will never be published by anyone except those student journals with funny monosyllabic names--but only if you're friends with the editor). The problem with this method is when brainstorming things in isolation, one always falls back on familiar stereotypes: the jock, the loner, the construction worker, the optimist, etc., and similarly stereotypical situations. I don't know if those can be combined to yield anything unique.

Actually, that's probably wrong, but I don't feel like deleting the last paragraph. Why is it wrong? Let's take a look at language. Any language system is capable of producing an unlimited number of utterances. And the English language has only 46 distinct spoken elements from which everything else is built. It looks like I failed to appreciate the power of combinatorics. (Kind of like the awesome power of nature, only with the capacity to grow endlessly.)

So I'm asking for people's ideas on 1) characters, 2) goals and 3) obstacles. The crazier the better, but do try to keep it generalizable. Here's hoping I don't turn into a hack wordsmith who wil lend up producing mountains of pulpy rubble. But who are we kidding?

Consider: "existentialism will not take man as the end, since man is still to be determined. We have no right to believe that humanity is something to which we could set up a cult."

Friday, April 22, 2005


I don't understand people who want "beautiful books". I just can't accept that some people would spend hundreds of dollars on something with a sexy cover when they can get the exact same words for a vanishingly small fraction of the price. A book's physical shape is utilitarian. It is meant to hold a mass of pages together. There is nothing mystical or especially beautiful about it (unless you consider everything that serves its purpose especially beautiful, such as drywall, desks, pens, etc.) Of course (this is obviously a trite observation), the real appealing stuff of books is what is in the words, and what you take away in your own little streamlined, functional skull.

What disgusts me is the wastefulness of leather-bound encyclopedia sets that have never been touched. I'm a child of the internet. If there is a body of knowledge that takes too much space to store, put it online! Use the empty shelf space for something more useful, like the ashes of your ancestors.

Quotage: "hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out."

The city of the dead

No, this is not some crappy horror movie title. What I wanted to express with is this idea: 200 million years ago, an unknown plant or animal died and somehow ended up in a high-pressure underground pocket where, by a torturously slow process, its myriad mass of biosynthesized macromolecules was converted into hydrocarbon chains of varying lenght and saturation, what we have come to call "fossil fuels". This animal is powering the plant that generates the electricity to run my computer. So, in a very real sense, we are all stuck in a city powered by the dead. Ancient death is what keeps the streetlights ruining the view of the night sky; ancient death pushes us along freeways. This morning, I used death to warm up my breakfast. Tomorrow, I will shower to water warmed by death. I could go on, but the point has been made somewhat redundantly.

There is another sense in which this society is powered by death. Guess what I'm going to write about now?

Nothing at all. I'm too tired to explore the ways everything I and others do spins way beyond our control into morally reprehensible activities. But what is morality, anyway? It is not perfection, surely. I suspect it is something much closer to "good enough". Certainly, if not supernatural, it cannot be greater than individual human beings, in all their snivelling fallibility and weakness. Suffice it to say morality is nothing mysterious or otherworldly. We don't know how it evolved, but it most assuredly did evolve. And it was shaped by other people and the brutal choices of survival and competition, not given or imposed by space monoliths or Moloch (I'm going to be returning to this again and again, I feel).

Consider: "I and my brother against my cousin. I and my cousin against the stranger."

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


There is a spot in a coffee shop where I like to sit and watch people pass by. The shop is in a market district that has become (through a well-documented history, I'm sure) an eclectic little microcosm of this cosmopolitan city. As I sit there, I see almost every human type in North America pass in front of me. We have the students (of course), here for cheap stuff and shits and giggles, who breeze by on their bicycles with plastic bags hanging off the handlebars or stroll leisurely along as if the big man in upstairs didn't own all their time in the service of academia. We have burly mountain men in plaid shirts and flaming red beards who are making their way down to the rocker bar. They have probably returned from prospecting expeditions where they have spent years searching for cobalt or someting in Attawapiskat or some place like that. We have our dreadlocked rastas emanating from the cluster of music and clothing stores. Their beats are contagius, but more on music later. We have queers proudly unfurling their freak flags. We have anarchists blocking the streets to cars and delivery trucks, clashing with the stolid old Chinese and Portuguese and other immigrant merchants. Aging hippies in torn clothes and newer hippies who are still fresh take their seats on the curb. Little troupes of street urchins coming back from Catholic or Chinese or Hebrew school get into everything. Mad prophets come out of the woodwork form time to time. Recruiters for political parties stalsk the alleys. Homeless people with gimmicks approach passers-by with no shame.

The stores themselves are something marvelous. We have every kind of food, from Eastern Europe to the fruits of South America, the nectars of Italy and the spices of the orient, subsistence ingredients and crazy fusion cuisines. Trinkets from all over the world grace the windowpanes. Drug paraphernelia lines the walls of several stores. Musical instruments from Africa rub shoulders with fatalistic Russian balalaikas, to give an example. Idealistic literature of every ideological and linguistic stripe can be found. Clothes from army fatigues to priness dresses, from hand socks to fishnet stockings is there for the taking. Costumes and ironic t-shirts too.

Several styles of music clash with each other and vie for dominance in a subdued way. Eech personality type, I believe, gravitates to a different part of the street as a result. Chillin' island beats go head-to-head with the smooth jazz pouring out of the cafe up the street; the punk rock can sometimes be heard together with the pleasant, coffee-drinking ambient electronica of the coffee shops; mainstream classic rock pushes and shoves with mainstream new rock, whatever that means. Occassionally, guitar or drum circles spring up at the intersection where the coffee shop is locates, where I drink and watch the orgiastic bustle intently. I don't even think I like the coffee much, but it would be unseemly to use up space in the shop without helping them out. In the shop, people sit on jerry-rigged swings and talk. Occassionally, some concersations drift out and consume other tables as well.

There's more.

But what would I do if They came to bulldoze it all and turn it into clean square condos?

Consider: "I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I shall remain."

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Taking stock

Economics and political science really are the most dismal fields of study. In case you don't believe me, read this. This is at least arational and unblinking look down into the Abyss. When you look at economics, all personal agency vanishes. Now, while I don't understand the intricacies of economic models, I can understand good old supply and demand. And the consequences are fucking frightening. Reading that website reminded me of when I lost faith in God, except a secular lifestyle has redeeming qualities, qualities I have come to value immensely. This is just dismal.

Tomorrow: something upbeat.

Consider: "whatever happens in our lifetimes, life will still (probably) be worth living."

Saturday, April 16, 2005


Considering that our ancestors faced such great selection pressures to belong in groups, to reproduce, to survive and seek status and step over whoever they needed to, why is it that there are so many people these days who do not choose to bow down to the greeat Moloch for the sake of group cohesion? (I use Moloch in the broad sense of an all-seeing malevolent Judeo-Chistian-Islamic God. By the way, if you clicked the link, did you see the "God is love" ad right next to an article about baby sacrifice?) I sure don't feel like feeding babies to the statue. Is it because I'm rich? Well, in absolute sense, maybe, but there are many richer people who are willing to gladly prostrate themselves on altars and sacrifice their first-borns just to see the sun rise tomorrow, plenty of people who are all too happy to ship their parents off to retirement homes where they are pacified with drugs (not the exciting psychotropic ones, either), then cross themselves and confess ther sins in a little box. Then the little berobed salesman speaks comforting words, and everyone leaves in Moloch's grace, back to the offices to turn out more little sacrifices to Moloch, or miles of polyethylene to crown the skyscrapers of His glory.

Aside: Aldous Huxley (I think) had his wife inject him with LSD on his deathbed. He died seeing beautiful visions while she spoek sweetly and comfortingly and reassuringly in his ear. No mention of Moloch, no mention of afterlife. Just a pleasant, visionary end to a life well lived.

Consider: "this happy creature."

Tuesday, April 12, 2005


..."but sir, that's a graveyard!" (Meaningless quote.)

Shards of ice in my
Soul... O vainglorious
Reddened angel of
Tybalt, I feel--
As Empedocles did--
Collapsing in the assembly--
Choking on flower petals--
Which were shards--
In my soul (Terrible poem.)

...growth factors can promote progress through the cell cycle; these growth factors are called mitogens; e.g. EGF and FGF2. Most mitogens act during G1-phase; they trigger signalling pathways that release brakes on Cdk. For example, EGF binds to EGF receptor (an RTK); this activates a Ras-MAP kinase signalling cascade which activates Myc. Myc is itself a gene activator protein and its effects ultimately result in increased E2F activity. Myc activates the cyclin D gene which activates G1-Cdk which leads to Rb phosphorylation; Myc also activates the gene for SCF which increases p27 degradation which activates G1/S-Cdk which leads to increased Rb phosphorylation. Myc also activates transcription of the E2F gene itself. So increased Rb phosphorylation and increased E2F transcription and translation lead to increased E2F activity which drives the cell into S-phase. (A paragraph I have to know the hell out of.)

RACHEL: We need a new icebox.
THOM: I'll do it tommorow.
RACHEL: Get up off the couch and get to the store.
THOM: Ring road Supermarket: on Sundays.
RACHEL: It is Sunday!
(NOAH Throws a ping-pong ball at the news anchor on TV.)
THOM: BUt I have a new track to mix tonight.
RACHEL: What does that have to do with anything? (An imagining of Thom Yorke's domestic life.)

Consider: "your response to this."


All this thesis-antithesis crap, all this polarizing discourse, all this categorization is a giant sinkhole into which millions of people are happily strolling in the course of their "daily constitutionals" or whatever. I'd try to relate (hardcore) categorical thinking to environmental damage, or something important like that, but that would take too long, and too much effort.

This is why I will talk about Hamtaro. In case you, wretched creature, are unfamiliar with what I'm talking about, sate your curiosity here. Now, it might be unexpected that I'd mention, or even admit that I have a great affection for that show, but in my headspace it makes perfect sense.

When I was in high school, this show was on in the mornings. It served as pleasant counterpoint to stress and all that self-consciousness and all that crowdedness and dirt and cynicism and nihilism. It is, in short, the antithesis of my values, but that does not mean I can't embrace that pleasant fiction. Why? Because Hamtaro does not judge; Hamtaro does not punish non-watchers. (Why does everyhting I talk about end up being religion-related somehow?) Hamtaro is how I'd like the world to be, but it says nothing about how it is, or how we get from the former to the latter. Hamtao is me embracing the "other", for we can co-exist, even in the same head, in the same pattern of actions, in the same sentence, even.

Consider: ""today sure was fun, and I'll bet tomorrow will be even better." Consider it, evaluate it, hope for it, but do not for a second believe it."

Sunday, April 10, 2005

I know!

People like it when you break down an issue into a numbered list. It gives the illusion of progress, and the appearance of the auther's lengthy consideration of the topic. I think it's a similar impulse that drives people to dance in unison in large gymnasiums. Actually, that probably has nothing to do with it. Anwyay, the topic of the day is "knowledge". I think this problem can be approached in four distinct ways: 1) known knowns, 2) known unknowns, 3) unknown knowns, and 4) unknown unknowns. What do I mean by this?

Known knowns are the easiest class, and probably the only one worth writing at length about. As the name might suggest, they are phenomena that are known to our limited apprehension, and are understood as known. I know I'm typing at a computer right now; I am aware of staring at the back of my right hand. I am aware of the pain I might be causing the reader with the previous sentence's shoe-gazer-esque tendencies. My point is not that there are some first principles we derive this knowledge from, but they fit quite neatly with our everyday functioning. What could be more natural to me than my eyesight? My emotional response to music? What I hear? These phenomena just fit. More distant, but still plausible forms of knoweldge are reports of other people and the laws of nature; they do not impinge on my awareness incessantly, but they satisfy another part of me with the sense they induce. There are a lot of questions we may legitimately pose about all this. But we move on.

Known unknowns we are still capable of discussing with some clarity. They are either 1) phenomena we should stop trying to pin down and decide on, because we will never do it (I suggest most metaphysics falls under here; for example: is reality made of many things or one thing?), and 2) the much more mundane matters of things we could figure out, given the chance (or sometimes the funding). For example, if I did not know whether a lion cub was born with its eyes open or closed, I could go and take a look. Similarly, if I wanted to know the three-dimensional structure of some protein, I might be able to sweet-talk a funding committee into it. The point is, these are known unknowns.

Unknown knowns. I can't make much sense of this, and so will not touch it. But there are those who appeal to categories like these as "ineffable" or "mystical". They are wrong. Those things belong in the second category. This category is not-talk-aboutable. Just like the next category of unknown unknowns.

After all this: have I made any progress in breaking things down into categories? I think not. Myabe I pushed the bounds of what we can cram into the struture of language. Are the terms "known unknowns" and "unknown knowns" different? So maybe ategorical thinking is misleading. I'm becoming more and more in favour of the "fluid" character of what I know I know. But I have to do it in my own way. Bah! Tomorrow, I'll write about kittens, or bunnies, or Hamtaro; something like that. That would be nice.

Bulgarian Proverb: "За вълка говорим, а той в кошарата. (Talk of the devi, and the devil appears.)"

I don't actually speak Bulgarian.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Aside, to himself

The dramatic device of the solliloquy in the middle of another conversation has been underused lately. Or maybe I just haven't been soaking up the drama.

Scene: a busy street

MARCEL: So that's over and done with, huh?
KATHY: I know. It's kind of sad. We were a pretty tight group of people. And now, just like that: strangers.
MARCEL: Well, it doesn't have to be like that.
KATHY: I guess not.
MARCEL: (aside, to himself) There! You see it? There's that opportunity, that "in", that wake-up call, whatever you want to call it. Go for it. Remember, you have to be unambiguous. You know what problems come from that. Ok. Now just remember: you can ask to get a cup of coffee, see her extracurricularly, whatever. And remember body language. Release some of the rein from your facial features. You want her. You've been setting up this moment for the past few weeks. Think about it; you're walking along here, to what? This is out of your way. You'll have to double back anyway. Come on! She likes the same things you do! She's pretty smart. And easy on the eyes. So what if it's a huge cliche? Life is the essence of repetitive, stereotyped behaviours. Ask for your coffee. There is absolutely no reason not to. You'll never see this person again if you offend her horribly. But that's impossible. She likes you. You make her laugh; you listen. Come on, wuss. She knows wat boys and girls do. I'd bet you a fucking falafel she'll be glad you asked. (to Kathy) So, what are your plans? What's coming next for you.
KATHY: Well, I've got a couple of months in the city, then I'm dispersing. I'm not sure to where. But somewhere away. Somewhere warm.
MARCEL: I wish I could do that. (Aside, to himself) You know what else, you could do? Not be a fucking idiot, you idiot. She just gave you a fucking signal. What kind of man are you? Men are supposed to overinterpret signals, not cower while they walk. Make eye contact! Jesus fucking holy christ! Look, if you don't to this, everyine you love wil ldrift away from you. They are laughing at you behind your back, you pathetic weakling man-child! It' not complicated. It's an ancient practice. Look, she's looking over at you. I said meet her gaze! Meet it! What are you afraid of? Doesn't all this idiocy seem repetitive? Look, be reasonable. She knows all your imperfections; she probably categorized you in the first fifteen seconds of seeing you. She hasn't run away. Come on! Marcel has needs too! You don't control others, but you are master of what you do. Reach out! Look! Here comes the bus stop. She knows you can't follow her there. Do it now! Look, there's a place across the street. Say it's to celebrate the end. It's a legitimate fucking celebration!
KATHY: Well, see you around.
MARCEL: Take care. (Aside, to himself) You know what? I think I'll refrain from spewing bile all over you. Your life is now hopeless, and so you're not worth the time. How boring. Fucking coward...

Consider: "we must find meaning in the meaningless odyssey. It is our very nature."

Wednesday, April 06, 2005


I've always had a soft spot for communist propaganda. I realize that this era, at the very least the reign of Stalin, was probably the most violent and tragic time of oppression known to humankind, yet whenever I get fed up with all the bullshit that everyone (including me) get fed and gladly eat every day, I imagine myself as a young agitprop officer, spurring the masses onward in those hilarious posters with the cyrillic captions. If truth does not matter, and the only thing that really matters in shaping attitudes is mass psychology, then I would have liked to be one of the shapers of that psychology. That way, my truth becomes the truth of the masses.

But then I calm down, and remember that people are pretty neat computing machines, and they can be persuaded by reasonable discourse. Well, that question is up in the air.

Consider: "without music, life would be a mistake."

Monday, April 04, 2005


Before the exam storms broke loose, I was slowly working my way through a little self-help book that taught meditation from a Taoist perspective. In case you're unfamiliar with Taoism, it is one of those unfalsifiable belief system that is quasi-mystical, quasi-religious but nevertheless acceptable to the secular Western mind. It does not judge you; ideally, it does not burn anyone; it does not perscribe morals, only a general outlook on existence. What is the Tao? We cannot speak of it; we cannot characterize it or unite its cntradictory meanings through dialectics. It is The Way; it is change and flux and it is balance; it is a path yet it is undirected; it is everything and nothing. It is mystical and empirical; it cannot be captured by a word, but we use "Tao" as shorthand.

Anyway, I still haven't decided whether it is watered-down New Age "spiritual" bullshit or a subtle theoretical shift, the smallest detectable, that makes the pieces fit and will allow one to be more content with life. Not happy, but content. It brings another, unrelated, doctrine to mind. The Hindu/Buddhist notion of reincarnation: a very satisfying metaphysical idea, and elegant and balanced and intellectually satisfying idea, which unfortunately flits in my mind between the extremes of "the one unifying concept" and utter fairytale bullshit. It doesn't help that my beliefs shift like a house of cards in a windstorm: they change with the fullness of my stomach, how much sleep I've had, the day I've had, the conversation I just had, the pamphlet I've just read, the song I've just heard. How anti-metaphysical.

Consider: "When you want to fool the world, tell the truth."

Friday, April 01, 2005

Book club

Middle-aged quasi-famous urbane yuppies gather in little basements in churches and what have you for their book club. The club where instead of reading the book and experiencing a kind of "thrill" at the end or thoughts of some aesthetic breakthrough they sit around and practice their skills at telling others how insightful their experience of the book was. Can I really blame them? If all there is to being a person is what you make others believe, they are on the track to perfection. Passionate, political, incisive, humorous, sensitive. Those are their comments, interspersed with some delightful irony as well as some nice grandstanding on the chair and on the fold-up table.

I know! Let's start a book club! I just finished reading The Brothers Karamazov. Here is my summary. Of course, nothing beats slogging through roughly 950 pages of filler.

The author is really talking to himself with the drape of a plot over the whole enterprise. Dmitry represents his passioante youth, which led him astray into prison, labour and pain. Ivan represents his intellectual side: the logical, atheistic curmudgeon who beleives everyhting is permitted because the devil whispers in his ear. Alyosha is his religious and conservative side: the is the best. Yay God! There is a murder and a young boy dies, but it is all redemption. It has to be!

Famous last words: "Why not?"