Friday, December 30, 2005


Picture a cheese grater. No, a granite cheese grater. And it is grating a hackey sack. The hackey sack that your hippie neighbours would hack into the wee hours and never allow you to get any sleep because every hack caused in a geyser of patchouli oil (concentrated musk) to shoot out in every direction and stir up the insects, blight the trees and make the motorists miss a beat. Imagine the driver of one of these cars has his bass turned up all the way, so much that it makes the rear grill of his car vibrate unmelodiously. But this is a necessity and not just an ill-thought-out mating display, because he needs the bass beats to keep his pacemaker going until he gets to the hospital. Imagine if he misses a beat. Imagine the panedmonium, the total un-hippieness of it all. Imagine turning over in bed to find your ceiling splashed in ambulance blues and firefighter reds. Imagine tiny little Buddha statues crawling up the outside of your windows, escaped from the paramedics who use the Buddhas to drain and clean wounds. No Buddha could start the young man's heart, and nobody was bothered by this. At long last the hippies stopped hacking and everyone realized the source of the madness, X-Files style, but Mulder and Scully had left five minutes earlier, leaving us with yet another disappointingly unfinished mystery. And it would remain unsolved because the collossal cheese grater was coming to hack apart the community, to hack apart the continuity like a Vogon construction crew ultimately just really looking for comfort in a pitiless space where stars burn too hot and light moves too quickly to catch except when you really need it to peer through the clouds or some shit like that. But that is our place. But imagine it not being so. Can you? If not: it is to be expected. If so: jai guru deva om.

Consider: "In the information age, you don't teach philosophy as they did after feudalism. You perform it. If Aristotle were alive today he'd have a talk show."

Thursday, December 29, 2005


Streetcar wires pop up again and again whenever I try to churn these posts out, so let's focus on them for a while, or as long as it's feasible. I've always had a respect for them that goes far beyond their function. It's strange to me that naked apes could string up an entire sky above an intersection and preserve it against every imaginable kind of weather, and that this would cause conveyances to move. I admit, this is not a particualrly excellent engineering achievement; certainly nothing to rival the Discovery Channel specials or that artificial island airport terminal in Tokyo-Yokohama where they say you can see the curvature of the Earth in the floor. But these are my goddamn unchanged-since-the-1970s streetcar wires. I'm always afraid I might get electrocuted on the tracks, but that might be unreasonable. The other day the wire slipped off while I was on the streetcar and the conductor apologized to all of us for the inconvenience.

So I expected the holidays to be a booze-and-writing fest, but they turned out to have a little too much family togetherness, also moments of poignancy I cannot help but acknowledge: the kind of things that paradoxically make one glad to be alive, which made it possible for me to believe M.S. when he said that he enjoys his life after dumping even more salt on his revisited wounds. So the human togetherness has been hiked up, and the booze kept down. Except this human togetherness occurred in the context of the most crippling vicarious loneliness to hit me in a long time. "Closed due to Christianity," they should have said. Which cruel patriarch mandated we shouldn't be able to drink on Christmas eve, though the day and into the night? (Of course, there is no conspiracy; there never was.) Wandered the city for a while; walked by here. We are not clubbing types.

And what better to illustrate the shuffling and scuffing and sniffling, etc. of the Annual Gift Day season than with a walk through the Eaton's Centre. (Incidentally, I think I ran into the guy taking these pictures today while jaywalking. Me and him and this other guy were stuck on the median. He was trying to get a perfectly framed shot of Toronto's widest street. And he snapped some more pictures, one of which included me. But I don't think I'm ready for web exposure. I'd melt or something.) There is a spot on the other end of the Centre where I stand and if you get it right most of your visual field gets covered with people walking everywhere. It's strange and exhilarating and humbling and disorienting all at once.

I got back to the Eaton's Centre the next day. There was more despair this time. I was on my way to my counselling shift: talking to the most disappointed devout holday celebrants juxtaposed to the most irreligious and desperate. It equals out, the despair of crushed hopes and the despair of no expectations. But my job is to never let it get to despair. We try to take that negativity and dispel. And it's amazing how little it affects me. Most of my despair is somatogenic. I think.

Consider: "One thing virtual reality could do is dispel some of our most cherished illusions. Such as our wish for omnipotence."

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Urban Soup (Part VI)

Remember: today someone will look down from their balcony and wonder about jumping; someone will let go and do something surreal; someone's hero will fall; someone will regain their self-respect; someone will get food poisoning; someone will lose a child; someone will find a way to make a quick buck; someone will be beaten; someone will be thrown off-balance on the streetcar; someone will read a poem that affects them like nothing has affected them before; someone will cry for the first time in living memory; someone will listen to a terrible bland on headphones, but will be unable to stop; someone's friend will become a stranger; someone's stomach will churn psychogenically; someone will knock on wood to give themselves confidence; someone will regain the faith that was lost since childhood and someone will lose the same faith in a very ugly incident; someone will get rained on; someone will lose their glasses; someone will buy a stranger a gift; someone will organize a large game of manhunt at a major landmark; someone's computer will exibit a minor malfunction that breaks the end user; someone will take a nap and will hate themselves for it; someone will hit rock bottom; someone will answer every question on Jeopardy; someone will change their distary preference; someone will mindlessly amble through the motions; someone will be taken advantage of in several ways at once; someone will get an attack of nerves; someone will dream of angels in a movie theatre; someone will acknowledge that they have a mental disorder; someone else will deny it vehemently; someone will fail to visit a lonely relative; someone will feed the flocks of pigeons in the park; someone will spend hours watching the faces as they pass; someone else will sit in a room with the blinds down and will do the same; someone will climb down a ravine into the Heart of Darkness; someone will dance in a meadow; someone will play a lousy tennis game; someone will spend a day fraternizing with half-real internet friends; someone will buy as many books as she can carry from a bargain bin; someone will polich a table; someone will give L. Ron the benefit of the doubt; someone will die surrounded by family; someone will cry at the end; someone will rasp out unfinished last words--it will be sad; and someone will clean the fruit flies from the window of the hospital room.

Consider: "What could have happened."

Wine (Part IX)

It is the end of illusions. Why does the "gene" that favours my godlessness persist? Maybe because of other qualities, like allowing me to criticize my own cherished beliefs and making me eminently sane, come what will, come what shocks the body and mind are prone to. And it's not a little shock by any means, the colossal staggering, looking at my refelction framed in grafitti in every possible orientation and mood. Talking up loneliness and intimidation and all the people I had lost respect for over the years over a gradually abcessing table with its ridiculous widening and foreshortening and ruts and canyons and vistas and dark grottoes and beer patches and nacho hunks and wadded snot rags. Where am I going with this? I am going for an emotion: that "hopelessness" which I raged against the entire night to the puddles and the ruts. By now I really need to stop tilting at fucking abstract windmills, but I can't stand the sight of their turning machines grinding methodically through every person's history, incoherent but ocassionally removing the fan from the face to reveal a Fool mask. I could not pass a Turing test in this condition. Every whore at every bar would look me over: not carrying enough money, or not determined enough, or not stylish enough, or too self-conscious despite the gin and tonic.

Spirals and streaks. Too much wine. But wine beats beer. Liquor grudgingly accepts wine. Wine wins. Suddenly the lips that were chapped are chapped no more. And the hair that was itching all night no longer itches. And new choruses well up and spiral up in my articulatory loop and I articulate and gesticulate, sinister-brilliant-chic for once, for ten minutes, while I can get a word in. To stretch this for a couple of days would make me supremely articulate and actually half-believing my own esoteric knowledge forms some useful gnosis.

Fuck eventualities (e.g. the ladder). Praise be to contingencies (e.g. the stable tree branch). Eminent sanity blows like blowhard sheepdog busybody matrons herding us all in for group photos. But what's on the other end? Insanity spurs creativity, but it also stifles it: so spoke the man in the aisle of the convenience store (from his perch in a magazine).

Consider: "What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it."

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Collections & Doppelgangers

The book currently occupying the top of my spread-open book stack has cover art which features a spread-open book stack. It's right now when I start wondering why this stack should exist. What do I expect out of poetry? Is is some sort of enigmatic fetish which I'm hoping will help me find that ultimate ass-kicking Other to share my narrative and then later enter it wholesale? (You'll have to forgive me; I'm feeling more than the usual share of self-loathing for reasons not at all apparrent to me.) Perhaps I'm just looking for the equivalent of the humiliating gimp-mask which seems to work for some people. It's strange: the lengths our whole teeming human mass will go to, all the places we'll visit just to search the Self (as far as to try to resuscitate some old side projects). I'm thinking out loud here because there is a nagging uncertainty over a few cases this month where I've apeshitted and overinterpreted others' words, and I'm unsure whether the mythology I've built up (a mythology that made me happy) can justifiably continue. I did some web research and I've established, to my everlasting exasparation, that the above-mentioned mythology is about 50% likely to survive to the new year. How's that? It induced an unwelcome autonomic nervous system response. If only I coould slow down time, I could have taken a nice long look at all the accumulated wisdom of my body in action, spotting a threat to my well-being from just a few words on the internet.

Here's a Fun Fact from my personal history: I always get out-competed by my doppelgangers. It's always someone very much like me that gets the job or the girl or the idea or the recognition or the confidence or the attention. And I've responded by denying (or futilely attempting to deny) each of those things. But I can't do it any more. I can't blame my doppelgangers because I identify too well with all of them; indeed, many of them are indispensable to me as friends and relations. So that means that next time I have to be a competitive dick. It's a dick world that makes me have to be that. Two years ago K.Z. said that if I wasn't selfish in a particular mindfuck affair of the heart, I would turn into a bitter old man. She was absolutely right, that guru of mine.

No doubt you are frustrated by my vagueness. I can't help it. Is it strange that I've never used a single person's name in all my entries over the past year, preferring psych-textbook-esque initials. (Aside: the anterograde amnesiac H.M., quite possibly the most famous psychological test subject in the world, is named Henry.) I name famous people and animals, but that's about it. Is it just a bullshit attempt to be mysterious, or is is something far more sinsiter and psychologically ridiculous?

As I write this, Phoebe (the cat) is the only thing keeping my mood stable. She's monopolizing my chair, but I could use the body warmth.

Consider: "福無重至, 禍不單行. (Fortune seldom repeats; troubles never occur alone.)"


Another letter to no-one:

When Shakespeare (or the real Shakespeare) first wrote "'tis bitter cold and I'm sick at heart", people went fucking wild! Wild at originality! And now what? Do you honestly expect me to have the same appreciation after five hundred years of people driving it into the ground? It's the same with these: we run to the safe and the trodden despite the best efforts. It's the anti-forbidden fruit. When I was in high school I ascribed the motive to crawl back into the womb as the driving force behind all manner of fucked-up shit. We're like that, my friend. Teetering phylogenetic relics. We never bothered to diversify. I'll bet we were both high-school kids sitting on the halls, all "beat", all "faces of stone", all filled with obsessions and outlets, all roaring to speak and grasp this world and shake it until it made sense.

And maybe you're not no-one. Maybe you are one, or maybe you are thousands. I won't ascribe hive-mind status to you, because that would be a relic of my own gaming-driven imagination. An imagination fired by hard-boiled role-playing artwork, hopeless social gospels, the tears of whole races with lost homeworlds. Planets and cities shattering. And you stand on a cliff, swept by a headwind with your cape, looking down, hair oddly resistant to gravity, eyes glittering like nobody's business. Cape billowing impossibly, delivering lines deadpan with that quivery-voiced thingy. And it's just like the end of CD 2 of Final Fantasy VII. I'll admit, I let my emotions be manipulated, lulled into the illusion of choice by the game's flawless dynamics. I never did find out how it ended: CD 3 broke. It was a copy of a copy of a copy. So I guess it's the ass-kicking female that survives and somehow manages to endure and touch me to this day.

Where am I going with this? I have perhaps given away too much of my past nerdery. I'm confused, but I know that if something has confused me in the past, it has always been worth pursuing. So take that how you will, you non-adresseed non-singled-out One; I suspect you prefer it this way. Shit.

Consider: "One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws."

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


It's time for some edutainment! (Although realisitically very few, if any, will find what follows either educational or entertaining.) Now that I've disposed with the opening thrust, we can proceed. Someone found a pamphlet on the street from some religious center or other which outlined a kind of Argument from Design. Normally, I take the pamphlet and sneer. But today I thought, in the interests of intellectual honesty, I'd make explicit the reasons I sneer. So I will present the pamphlet in its entirety, with running commentary.

"Suppose you find a watch in the middle of a desert. What would you conclude? Would you think that someone dropped this watch? Or would you suppose that the watch came by itself?"

This opens into an argumentation style called an intuition pump, arguing from analogy. But this is just the preamble.

"Of course no sane person would say that the watch just happened to emerge from the sand. All the intricate working parts could not simply develop from the metals that lay buried in the earth. The watch must have a manufacturer."

Of course. I wonder where this is going. The use of the word "sane" seems a bit perjorative, but I'll let that go.

"But what else tells accurate time? Consider the sunrise and sunset. Their timings are so strictly regulated that scientists can publish in advance the sunrise and sunset times in your daily newspapers. But who regulates the timings of sunrise and sunset? If a watch cannot work without an intelligent maker, how can the sun appear to rise and set with such clockework regularity? Could this occur by itself?"

Yes. If we accept for a second that something cannot come from nothing (in my mind I find this too simplistic, but let's run with it.), then your creator needs a creator. And that creator needs a creator. Where do we stop the regress? Is it turtles all the way down? It seems more parsimonious to postulate so-called brute existence at some point. Where shall we put that? Does the "creator" exist brutely? Or does the universe exist brutely? I propose the universe is more likely to exist brutely. Why? Well ,then we can avoid questions like: if there is an intelligent designer, why are there so many examples of sub-optimal design in all aspects of the universe? I'll take the astronomical view. Why do comets crash into Jupiter if the system is so perfectly in balance? Why do stars burn out? Why have there been six mass extinctions on Earth, most likely caused by astronomical collisions? By refusing to accept the premise implicit in the rhetorical question there is no need to go through the rest of the argument, but I will anyway.

"Consider also that we benefit from the sun only because it remains at a safe distance from the Earth, a distance that averages 93 million miles. If it got too much closer the Earth would burn up. and if it got too far away the Earth would turn into an icy planet making human life here impossible. Who decided in advance that this was the right distance. Could this hapen by chance?"

This is the Anthropic argument for design, stating that the parameters of the universe are too finely calibrated to have happened by chance. Apart from stretching the analogy even more, the argument now veers into biology , which is where we can pick it apart. What always irks me about these arguments is that they gloss over the fact that life is inherently opportunistic. Without getting into the details of evolutionary theory (which I can argue endlessly, if you so wish), it is safe to say that evolution is a bottom-up process. Looking at ti from this point of view, we can say that the existence of life does not explan the exstence of (near)-optimal conditions for life, but the existence of near-optimal conditions explains why there is life here, as opposed to, say, Mercury. It's a curious inversion of reasoning that often goes undetected. It ptems, of course, from the premise that something must have designed the universe. That's a circular argument, however. The argument uses the existence of life to assume near-optimal conditions for the existence of life, and then uses those near-optimal conditions to explain life. Hmm. Very sneaky. We go on.

"Without the sun plants could not grow. Then animals and humans would starve. Did the sun just decide to be there for us?"

Of course it didn't.

The rays of the sun would be dangerous for us had it not been for the protective ozone layer in our atmosphere. The atmosphere around the Earth keeps the harmful ultraviolet rays from reaching us. Who was it that placed this shield around us?"

I'm getting tired of answering these rhetorical questions. Consider this: if the creator is capable of placing a protective shield around our planet (presumably because She loves us), why doesn't She use that pretty awesome-tastic power to feed the 30,000 Africans who die of malnutrition every single day? Or to stop El Nino? Or to allwo humans to synthesize vitamic C like most animals? Or to stop debilitating genetic abnormalities caused by those same ultraviolet rays?

"We need to experience sunrise. We need the sun's energy and its light to see our way during the day. But we also need sunset. We need a break from the heat, we need the cool of the night and we need the cool of the night and we need the lights to go out so we can sleep. Who regulated this process to provide what we need?"

Except in polar regions where there is no sunrise and sunset. But again we see the inversion of reasoning. Why is visible light only a small band on the electromagentic spectrum? I actually found this quite fascinating. Visible light (of wavelength of about 700-350 nm) is a region of the EM spectrum that is not absorbed by water. Life evolved in the oceans. And the EM spectrum is a great way to get information about the world. Light-sensitivity is widely spread on the tree of life, and eye-like structures have independently arisen at least three times. An eye is an incredibly intricate thing, and the costs and odds against its evolution were huge. Except that it did not happen by chance. The payoff would have been huge and the process of natural selection would have favoured the eye-enabled individuals in a major way. But I'm straying off topic. This could not have occurred to someone who accepts the creator. I don't and I find nothing inconsistent in my position. (You are free to disagree; I do feel as if I'm giving short shrift to a number of very interesting controversies.)

"Moreover, if we had only the warmth of sun and the protection of the atmosphere we would want something more--beauty. Our clothes provide warmth and protection, yet we designe them to look beautiful. Knowing our need for beauty, the designer of sunrise and sunset also made the view of them to be simply breathtaking."

I agree with everything that was said, except the part about the creator--obviously. Look, I'm not a machine-head. Beauty is hugely important in my life. But it is at least plausible to explain beauty in a non-trivial way. A friend of muine suggested this long ago: "when you look at a valley, or a forest, or the colours of the clouds, or light seeping in through cloud cover, a part of you buried deep under your sophisitcated, rational brain is saying "you can survive here!"". And this should not, indeed cannot, take anything away from the "wow!" experience.

The creator who gave us light, energy, protection and beauty deserves our thanks. Yet some people insist that [She] (paraphrase mine) does not exist. What would they think if they found a watch in the desert? An accurate, working watch? A beautifully designed watch? Would they not conclude that there exists a watchmaker? An intelligent watchmaker? One who appreciates beauty? Such is God who made us."

The watch analogy doesn't really hold up. Why? Well, to begin with, the watch does not reproduce. The watch is not subject to selection. But I won't take that up here. Seeing as the writer ended with an eloquent (though vague) appeal to our emotions, so I shall end.

We do not look around ourselves and find a watch. We find complexity; we find chaos and turbulence. Can you compute the trajectory of a ten-dollar bill thrown off a balcony on an even mildly windy day? Can the most brillain physicist? What is amazing is that in this world of uncertaintly and change, we manage to persist, to endure. In you is the combined weight of the good decisions of all your ancestors, the wisdom of your body and the wisdom of your intelligence. This is what carved out our place and what allows us to hope and live life in a disaffected universe. We share our voyage into the unknown with all life on this planet. We were throwin into it; we did not decide to live. But most of us accept it. Creators have always been comfort zones and repudiations of our vast cosmic responsibility. I ask you this, for the sake of your life, your morals, whatever progeny you decide to leave: would you cower under the awning when you wish to dance in the rai? Be not created, be a creator!

Consider: "After all that: Voidness."

Monday, December 19, 2005

Wine (Part VIII)

Is a world of streaks and speckles supposed to be magical? Childhood cartoons certainly suggest it. Certiainly it makes the whole approach/avoidance gradiant experience easier to bear. Tonight: the shouting of aspiring stand-up comics and the plesiomorphic din of our drunken posse, managing to heckle and rebut, and me in the corner wondering how it is done. I had no idea what to say when the stand-up guy started talking and poking fun at my lush-ness. I hadn't actually started drinking at 9 a.m. but I led him to believe it. Why not? Why shouldn't we transofrm the familiar landscapes and bend them under the weight of history? Today I found out that they had replaced the jukebox I was reared on. How's that for pathos?

I am tired. I can't take the richness of the experience. I have no local conversational optima to attain. Anecdotes have been mined and I've wandered up and down the bar for the last time tonight. It is a time to settle with the homebodies and the friends and hope to get somewhere in the future world of potentialities. I realize tonight that my only gift was in couching obvious ideas in new and almost-indecipherable terms. That is the gift and the curse, and people will not get enough of it. I cannot talk about the streetcar wires again, even though they are as beautiful and filled with life as ever.

To you who waits and lurks in the world of unrealized opportunity: the search space is vast and the optimum small, but at least you're aware it exists! With that step you take the intractable Abyss of a problem and turn it into something we can handle by more-or-less brute computation.

Consider: "Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past."

Friday, December 16, 2005


All intelligence is artificial intelligence.

There is a sense in which that is trivial. There is a sense in which that is perposterous. There is a sense in which the above statement is ambiguous to the point of pain. I intend to use all three of these readings in what follows.

I'd like to explore the sense of artificial as "affected", as "put on", as "for show". Why would I say such a horrible thing? Well, we have to look at the purposes of intelligence. I love intelligence. It gets me excited in every way I can conceive. I feel a dfistinct affective response; often I am jealous; sometimes I'm intimidated. It can be healthy to lock horns in a fine duel. It can be healthy to stand there dumbfounded. Intelligent oratory is better than most movies; better than browsing the interweb, for sure. The one thing that stands out is the purposes we put intelligence to. We are most certianly not built to process all information; ignorance is in some ways constructed into our bodies. Intelligence is used to get our way, to bullshit in bars, to do better than the other. It is a tool in the struggle for existence. I am somewhat inclined to agree with the theory that all human culture: art, language, morality, science, technology, is just a diffuse episode of sexual selection. So I put on my erudition and hope that you'll stay in my niche so I can dominate. Now, I don't mean this in an absolute way. I never mean anything so abolutely. But it is our mask. I'd like to think that this particular affectation maximizes utility, but honestly I have no explicit idea what this utility is. I couldn't spell it out.

Now, if by "artificial" I mean "mechanical", or "material", then of course! If you disagree you might cite some philosophical issues which I am willing to entertain, but not accept. Like the Paradox of Mechanical Reasoning. You have to realize that it comes from a particular metaphysical stance which is no more likely to be "the truth" than my stance. Where it's obvious--obvious!--that we reason. And I see no angels. No discoroporeal forces. Evolution was physical. If these forces are so powerful, why did they have no effect on all other organisms on the planet?

At the same time, if by artificial we mean "human-made", then it's perposterous. Except that sex is a series of mechanical acts that produces, among other things, intelligent beings (most of the time). Humans are necessary to the process. But I can't grow a brain in a vat, or connect Los Angeles as an elaborate medium-independent neural network. Yet. But I bet if it happens some people will be freaked the fuck out. But that's precisely the point. Of one of the points. Artificial intelligence should reflect on ourselves and make us a little more introspective, a little less hubristic, and maybe just a little more wise.

I'm not even going to touch the meanings of "intelligence". I'm inclined to think it's one of those buzzwords: plaudits for those who have it, and boos for those who lack it. Like "cognitive". Like "paradigm". Just remember: it's not that special. You're not that special. I'm not either. We value inelligence because we laid down the rules of the game. But to make intelligence we have to go outisde the game. People have problems with that, but consider that science has been steaily pushing humans farther from the center. We have fetishized human needs, but human exceptionalism is dying. And rightly so. It'll make for better humans.

My theory of spirituality is this: it is the overcoming of our inherent and very powerful drives toward egotism. This is not trivial. You and me were built to meet our needs, to see ourselves as inherently valuable. So it seems pefectly natural that you should view that statment as nihilistic. But one can recognize that the world is so vastly interconnected that it is mind-boggling. So mind-boggling that you lose the self. This is what the Buddha taught when he talked about Voidness, the inherent emptiness of all things. Look at your computer. It has no "soul"; it does not mean; it feels no joy. It is different from you. But spirituality comes from understanding that you and it (and the walls of your room, and the air, and the nuclear furnace of the sun) are radically the same. No wonder I bash human exceptionalism. You're not special. But don't despair: it is as it always was. And you're doing fine.

Consider: "A lot of good has come from drugs. I think 'Penny Lane' is worth 10 dead kids. Dark Side of the Moon is worth 100 dead kids. Because a lot of kids wouldn't even be born if it weren't for that album, so it evens out."

Thursday, December 15, 2005

18 Questions

Can material things pay attention to meaning? How many metaphysical keystones are just artefacts of a particular cognitive bias towards certain levels of analysis? Is spirituality really distnict from religion? Is it just a tendency to generalize and draw connections? Is the holistic/reductionist debate a keystone of modern philosophy? Should we overthrow all past distinctions in light of this? What role do we asign to history? Do we really wholeheartedly accept Darwin's theory--a theory of constraint? What is it about cherished assumptions that makes them get overthrown? Where do we fit my joy of making snowmen? When will they have appropriate secular crematoriums? Is it possible to choke on a snowflake? If so, would it not be more like drowning? What is it about the modern world that disposes one to non sequiturs? What reason is there to hope for the future? Can't we just say consciousness is global availability, nipping the tendentious debate in the bud? What are we going to do with our intuitions in a world of externalities and expertise? What's up with songs that take half their time to peter out, repeating a line or two from the chorus the entire time? What do you think?

Consider: "It's not the hatred or the fear that saddens me. Hatred burns our eventually; fear dissipates in the hedonic treadmil. What really makes me cry is the ignorance. It's here to stay."

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Urban Soup (Part V)

A prose-poem to the city:

You're large and broad and gleaming and dark enough that anyone--absolutely anyone--can draw inspirations in your crevasses and spin the longest, thickest threads of story and narrative. There are pools in your irises: the highway knots and dirt piles and gargantuan trees in shared backyards. But you've always been too big for me: I could never narrate properly, and besides there was way too much to follow. Your wrinkles spawned the angry wanderings of the unhappily ripped-off schizoid, the ten years in solitude, climbing offices and billboards and aqueducts, rooting for truffles in your garbage-heaps and looking for the illuminating half-light in front of marquees stationary and scrolling, managing and sweeping your cumulonimbus alley cats and teeming posses of grasshopper persuasions, trying to persuade your winter-hardy plants to sprout and head-scratching in mystery, useless by the lake-breeze where I fell into the striated cloud universe overhead. And then one day it all vibrates together: one day the pattern of the rushing strangers singing outside the pub and the hot-dog man struggling with mustard and the loner grabbing for the buraucrat's hand in the office and never letting go and the proprietary man with the trenchcoat and corner seat all meet at some gleaming shorted-out intersection to confess to each other. Themes of redemption and epiphany course through your streetcar wires overhead, saltatory across the eavestroughs under which secrets are whispered and donuts are thrown into the gutter: confessions and epiphanies not of the modernist spelunking of the unconscious mind, but confessions of irredeemable vagueness and lack of judgment and epiphanies of gas prices, love triangles, essay theses and unpublishable pamphlet/tract topics. Streetcar wires: the neurons of my city. Also the cages of my city. You can never see the sky beyond them. They are some sort of focus barrier. I come to you and your statues and I walk much less than I normally should (these days I hop and fall and slide): I wished once to stand on the tops of the spinning ad-blocks and size up all four cardinal directions each in turn and slow as all get-out; I demanded once in my earlier youth to see halos over the obelisks, to see arrows on the ground pointing my way down the alleys and up the fire escapes where the secret meetings went on and all the best poker games happened, but now I wouldn't think it. Your irises are enough; irises: the highway knot viewed from a satellite, the hole dug out and filled up again, the shallow pool working with tidal constraints, seeping into the shack, the weeping willow as tall as thirty hardy Norse woodsmen. I know them: I know how they constrict and I know how they come to have the colours they do. But what of this inner pitch-blackness? What of that mystery?

Wow. Pretty self-indulgent, eh? Don't ever try some freaky voodoo component analysis on this text. You know who you are.

Consider: "This is the story of the boys who loved you / Who love you now and loved you then / And some were sweet, some were cold and snuffed you / Some just laid around in bed. / Some had crumbled you straight to your knees / Did it cruel, did it tenderly / Some had crawled their way into your heart / To rend your ventricles apart / This is the story of the boys who loved you."

Wine (Part VII)

I try not to post as a drunken buffoon, but sometimes when the antsiness hits and I end up consuming the entire bottle for no reason while my companions stand around snickering I feel I have to validate myself somehow.

I think I crossed the barrier today. I started empathising with the counselling clients. I saw echoes of myself in all their problems. I know this would be a problem if I didn't keep a lid on it, a careful detachment. But today it went so well that I thought it useful to truly and warmly empathize. But the drawback comes later in the day, when you realize you've failed in exactly the same way that the lonely peple have failed, and that all your frustrations are really just weaknesses: nothing to get angry over, just something to cry about. And I can't accept that. I mean, the rational part of me can to tally accept it, but rationality is thin ice floating on a deep lake of subroutines which vie for control. And some of them are quite fundamentalist about what they're willing to accept. So I guess I didn't drink the whole bottle for no reason. And I guess I'm seeing what I could become: no prophet and no madman, no teacher and no failure, no soldier and no firebrand, just a mediocrity with combinatorially exploding regrets. Suddenly all the melodramatic songs make sense, but just for a while. Just as long as I've been drinking long enough to be able to discuss this. Unlike many, I don't drink to escape. I drink to face the whole brilliance of life, the whole complexity and the whole madness when am incapable of processing it, incapable of even pretending to keep a lid on it. It's a shame the culture has raised me to suppress these "feelings"; once you've had enough and feel loosened anough you'll face up to anything. I feel: I tremble, I toss and turn, I wake in terrors, I tuck my arms in to avoid the snakes, I feel jealous amd inadequate, I feel naked and soft and wooden and dusty, bereft of face and voiceless, I feel as if breath has been knocked out of me, I feel sad for no reason, I feel pity and I snicker ironically, I mock eanestness which I could never work up the courage to exhibit, I shake in strangers' gazes. A few weeks ago I saw a streetcar making a right turn at the bar where I was sitting and this wave of incredible elation and anticipation hit me. It was this entire foreboding that everything would exlode and multiply and carry on better than before, that I would be better and more deserving, that I would be more active in the shaping of this thing we call life. But what of it?

I've managed to fit myself into a fucking emo song. Great. fucking great. It's a pretty crazy existence. Pretty repetitive. For fuck's sake, it's my seventh wine-themed post.

Consider: "What do you despise? By this you are truly known."

Friday, December 09, 2005

Stem Cell (Phase II)

I know, I know. I've been hitting the multi-part vaguely related threads a bit too much, but that's to indicate some continuity. I'm not racking my brain every day for new ideas: I need to flesh more of them out. and in the end I will be the patriarch, content at last on my grand armchair as grandchildren play at my feet. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Some of these future scenarios are far-fetched, but all are doable.

The Nationalist: A brief trip to the old country inspires me and ignites the flames of an ancient race-memory. I scuttle the trappings of the Western man and buy and build a homestead in Bosnia. I compare my former life to "a lion forced to dress up in little stripy clothes and parade his civility through the streets of the boorish, drunken town". I shun the English language and spend my days reciting patriotic poetry and singing songs of old days, of old heroes and saints who chose a heavenly kingdom over an Earthly one, committing their people to eons of suffering which will pay off a thousandfold in that time to come after death. in short: I will become everything I hate, just like that discoroporeal shade of a father back in the old country whose fucking drunken boorishness left the rest of us in the lurch, who tries to soothe his conscience with yearly e-mails. Go dance in your traditional clothes and recite your ballads, you piece of shit! (What? Me having issues? Unpossible!) But from where I come from, diametrical shifts of attitude are not uncommon.

The Family Man: Not anyhting remotely resembling the patriarch I alluded to in the first paragraph. The way I envision this is most similar to James Joyce's Dubliners, story number 8: "A Little Cloud". The basics: I will be forced into family life when the domineering wolf's teeth come out. I will be made to feel guilty for not having children by parents and the in-laws. A few years will pass and I won't be sure who I'm living for. Forced to give up writing. Forced to switch to decaf. Watching my dietary fiber. Worrying about varicose veins. Looking at colour wheels for hours on end to find just the right off-white for the den. Arguing with the lanscapers about their choice of turf. Lounging to nondescript classic rock. Buying the really expensive doilies. Worrying about the price of gas at the pump and listening intently to the morning traffic reports. Finding out the value of really good seats at the game. Browsing the catalogue of Baby Einstein products. (This doesn't need to go on: I've riffed at this lifestyle enough.) At least one positive: I've survived long enough to know I'm not schizophrenic.

The Man in Room 2039B: Schizophrenia has its onset in males during the early twenties. Everyone has a 1/100 chance of developing it. Everyone. In this scenario, I'm thirty-four. I rant. I like to talk: echoes of a life long since disappeared. Things fleeting catch my eyes and mind: foregrounding and backgrouding is really difficult. I wish they'd just leave me be with my books and peotry, to rock bakc and forth and memorize every line ever written and ever read. What's the harm in that? Can't they set me up outside somewhere. They don't know how far I've come from their mores, the mores that bind, the mores that do their lariat thing and bind. It's just a lot of old cheese anyway, dreadful clacking at the ward C talent show. Who plays bluegrass music anymore? Don't we know how reticulated our culture has become such that you can't draw genre distinctions. It's more a measure of coherence than a measture of distance; I've become convinved that's how the mind works these days and I'm well on my way to furnishing a statistical methodology to bakc up my assertions. Too bad I'm a fucking nutter and nobody except the nice social worker will believe me, but that's just to reduce her own cognitive dissonance. But I swear to you it holds the key to unlocking all the problems philosophy and science and politics has thrown at us. It's too fucking bad I'm a fucking nutter.

Zarathustra: Once, crows pecked at my gardens. I was beset by doubts that are insoluble. I was as the great teeming mass was. I was afraid. But I overcame the trepidation in my soul and while I withdrew I longed to return bearing my staff. I longed to pour out what I had learned at the marketplaces and the meeitng halls. I longed to return to the bars, the opium dens, the cocaine rooms of the world, the night clubs and taxicabs and talk. Talk with everyone and everything. "Digging" it all, as we tried in the 50s. Dig, but also change. Change and awaken. Awaken with the gentle teachings of A Siddartha, and then counter with the brutal pessimism of a Schopenhauer. We shall, in our lifetime, reconcile the Holy of Holies with an downtown San Francisco S&M joint, and we shall see it is good. We shall see how both are good, and how both are necessary. What is not necessary is the completion of my sermon to the world. The world is too mature for sermons. It dies not accept the prophet on its knee as it did in days of old. This new world effloresces because, and only because, we have heard all the stories of suffering and overcoming and some of them set off respective empathies within our own circumscribed areas. These areas were circumscribed but overlapping. And so the world have a final Yes, a final cleaning and a final act of will, a glorious affirmation to all that is vital. Not good or evil or just or unjust, but just vital. And its power grew. And it grows.

Cons: "Ability is of little account without opportunity."

Monday, December 05, 2005


It's not a contest, all right? Nobody should feel that they have to live up to some minimal standard of formative suffering that baptizes an individual. One degree of separation from me I know of a guy who fought as a child soldier in Afghanistan. He was in the motherfucking war between the ages of eight and eleven. Is that enough? I volunteer in counselling. I hear fucked-up shit on the lines all the time. I hear about the abuse, the small-mindedness of people, the petty obsessions, the really unhealthy and really, really petty obsessions, the people saddened for no reason at all, the people isolated by the crush of others and rent and food and governments, the spiritual crises that befall a creature stuck in time repeating the same shitty moves year in and year out, shouting at some imagined persecutions, or some real persecutions, cutting themselves so they can feel something. Have we had enough? Have we had enough beatings? Enough racism outside convenience stores? Enough dumpster-diving for liquior, not food? Enough hitting the junk to make the feelings stop? Have we had our fill of the dramatized despair in living, breathing suburban homes where people watch these stories on big plasma TVs so they can discuss something, anything? What about the children who use different TVs to blast their eyes with blinking lights so they can spend all day jumping up and down relentlessly? What about the old people dying the death of a thousand polite smiles and good intentions with their little Icons of the Saints on the wall (crooked, as things would have it). Have we really had enough? Has this been "broadening" enough for us? Have we shot ourselves up with the finest fictions so we can cry about the dying embers of pride, about the trepidations of a hundred Ishvars and Omprakashes? Are our personal histories not overloaded with it? With suicides and unrequiteds and indecesions and brutal cutting ironies and mountains of protection? What about diseases that come unbidden and light as the breeze? What about sick and dying animals? What about the brunt of the permafrosted mid-February landscape rushing in through every hole in your coat? Is there a pit in your stomach yet, or are there too many tracts of this exact spirit? Are there too many speakers like this? Too many characters cranking out the same dreadful tune on the same hand-me-down crank organ? I don't know. I won't even generalize that claim to you. But I say this with as much force and passion as I have ever been able to summon: I don't know.

Consider: "He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me, in those who harbour such thoughts hatred is not appeased. / He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me, in those who do not harbour such thoughts hatred is appeased."

Sunday, December 04, 2005


I've been searching for "reflections of self" in this vast discoroporeal landscape. Here are some (very limited) results:

Google Image Search for "Obstructively Cynical" yielded this.

Here are some pictures of the neighbourhood.

I found my web comic near-double; not surprisingly, he appears for one panel and then disappears forever. To those who know me, this is no surprise at all. And to those who don't, panel 3 says more than writing ever could. By the way, if you haven't done so already, you should set aside six hours of your life and catch up on the back story of this comic. If you're anything like me, you'll find much goodness.

Here are some of my favourite posters.

Consider: "Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world."

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Urban Soup (Part IV)

Middle of the day. Uptown. I'm wandering the old neighbourhood. Squat buildings containing laundromats, convenience stores, pizza joints, Russian bakeries, billiard halls, Chinese take-out. It is drizzling nad I"m thinking where everyone is and I feel humbled by the energy that goes into making a city's etire population migrate every single weekday from their houses to their work sites: their boring laundromats, scaffolds, counters, bars, lecture theatres, street sweepers. And it occurs to me that I'm back in high school, walking past a neighbourhood where I can remember some non-heroic exploit on every few meters of street. Here is the corner I stood and brooded over gummi cokes; there the building with the strange homoerotic sauna; there my home for two years, a little further down the block another of my homes; around the corner we find the pre-penultimate. You have to be willing to relocate in this town. I stroll past the hills I used to toboggan down as a wee lad and I look up at the tenth-floor window where more often that not I obseved children play, from where I saw car crashes, lighning, the attenuated constellations and wondered at the lives of the people in the building facing us. I remember the living room where my brother almost died from choking on a grape; I remember the benighted hallways and mail slots; I remember the community pool where prurient boys chased less prurient girls and occassionally succeeded in tearing off an article of clothing. Ovelooking that is the apartment where the grandparents lived and watched, far above the parking lot where one time a young driver plowed a car into my uncle's near-dead jalopy and we stood arguing with them, in front of the stairs where the paramedics rushed up when my grandmother had some sort of fainting spell or cardiac arrhythmia. I walk down the laneways I walked with my friends, humming Beatles songs from time to time (we only knew two), thinking of the way to school and all our secret shortcuts to the schoolyard that taught me English and taught me to swear and one time the tough kid just kept punching the portable until his hand bled and the portable was minimally dented. I recall the time we played our first game of tag on the rickety wooden structure and for the first time we allowed girls to participate. I stutted and shimmied down the beams and down the metal pole and up the rope dealy. I knew who I was chasing: always had a thing for Asian girls, especally ones who gave me cookies. Nowadays I find them no different, but that was then: I was young and in a new world: literally a new world. I could just as well have languished in some ditch in some unknown town in Eastern Europe, poking snakes all my life. But I digress. The school I remember, but I also remember the walk from school: the lawns trampled where they meet the sidewalk because we always walked three to a sidewalk, where we dallied and my grandmother would urge us to hurry up in broken English and we laughed at her. At home we'd play the Nintendo or whatever was available: I always preferred the open-ended games. And they have the temerity to call them the projects! To consider our neighbourhood the wrong side of the tracks! (Literally: there is ahighway that divides our immigrant hive cluster of apartment buildings from the well-off area of sprawling, waste-of-space houses. I pass those blocks quietly; I reach a sort of philosopher's walk where I always did my first halting thinking. That's how I thought: not in books, not in class, but on this path. School was simple and well-defined: this was the real thing in all its complexity. But I didn't put it that way back then. Then I climb on the subway and flee back downtown to just as much squalor and just as much living.

Native American Proverb: "With all things and in all things, we are relatives."