Friday, October 31, 2008

Shooting for Immortality

Sure, I'd like people to notice when I die. That would be nice. I can't explain why really, since I'd have to already be dead for people to notice that I was dead. But...still, as irrational as it may be, I'd still like to leave some sort of lasting legacy to the planet.

My achievements so far, I think, have been fairly meager. Yes, I have had some success at radio, but that seems like a long time ago. I'm grateful for it...but in some way, it just doesn't seem like enough.

What would be enough? One thing might be some cool phrase that I invent, which enters common speech and just goes on forever. I thought for a few seconds this past week that I'd finally come up with a good candidate; but four seconds later, after a Google search, I discovered that it was already in common usage. I must have heard it but just not remembered (the phrase was, "who you are is more important than what you know").

There is one phrase I think I might actually have invented which seems to express something true - or at least true to some extent - and which might be a good candidate. It came to me when I appeared on Global TV a few years ago commenting on the Canadian federal election, and in particular, Liberal Party candidate Paul Martin's shambolic campaign. The phrase was, "if you can't run a campaign, you can't run a country". Yes, it was in Canada - but it was on national TV.

Now - I have run a google search on my phrase, and interestingly, what few usages of it all post-date my appearance. Could it be...?

I hope so (even though if I'm not credited, it will be as if I'd never come up with it anyhow). But in the absence of some cool aphorism or slogan or word known as my own coinage, I suppose I should concentrate on what legacy I am leaving for my kids. God knows I've tried...and I did get what for me was a nice "atta boy" one day a couple of weeks ago from my ten year old daughter, Lady Lu (once again, hip-hop nickname).

She said, "Daddy, it's fall again - and that means it's time for all our fall family rituals. Like stew. We have to start making our stews again! With the bread bowls!".

WOW. Someone noticed; someone remembered; someone appreciated; someone saw the stew as more than the stew; someone saw it as 'sacred family ritual'. That's what I was shooting for! Cool!

And so it was that last night, I took Sno-Cone and Lady Lu and Peaches out to the little local grocery store, and we bought chicken, and barley, and bean mix, and lentils, and potatoes, and we washed everything up, and threw it all into the crockpot along with some rosemary and basil and a bay leaf...and today, I picked up some sourdough bread bowls...And tonight, we turned off all the lights, and lit a fire and a bunch of candles, and all gathered round the table to eat our super-duper chicken stew out of our very own sourdough bread bowls, just like we do every couple of weeks every fall, and we drank a special punch that Skinny Dip made...And afterwards, we all gathered in the living room, and I taught all the little kids an old Kinks song about a witch called "Wicked Annabella" (Halloween and all), and then we finished by reading "Hansel and Gretel". And my story sort of went awry - I ended up doing a Bullwinkle imitation for Hansel's voice, and a Rocky imitation for Gretel's, and all sorts of other things which I think only little kids might find hilarious...and we all went to bed feeling cozy and happy...and I dare to hope that maybe they will remember some part of tonight, forever...

And now that I think about it...if they do, it will be far more than enough. :)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Little Miracles

One of the best things about having children is that through them, we get to see the world for the first time, and feel all those first blushes of wonder, over and over again.

I was reminded of that today. E and I took my three year old son Trixta (I'll be using their hip-hop nicknames for privacy's sake) and my six year old son Sno-cone for a walk up to the University of Victoria library where I had to photocopy an article (E's hip-hop nickname is Skinny Dip).

On the way there, Trixta - a very attentive little chap - noticed that there were no more blackberries on any of the bushes along the trail by our house.

"Where did all the blackberries go, Dad?".

"They're gone now" (ridiculous answer, I know).

"Where did they go?".

"Well, the blackberries stopped growing, and the ones that were there fell on to the ground, and...the birds probably ate them all".

Trixta stopped and investigated the bushes more carefully. I thought I could guess what he was thinking and feeling:

Why do blackberries just start growing all of a sudden, and then just stop growing all of a sudden? How does that work exactly? It seems all kind of strange...kind of mysterious...

And in that moment, I realized just how good those questions were. I didn't have any better idea than he had.

We finally got up to the library. I swore them all to silence and made Skinny Dip promise to not throw the rugby ball around inside (we'd brought it with us to play catch on the way up). We entered and made our way over to the photocopy machine. I didn't realize it, but neither Trixta nor Sno-cone had ever seen one in action. Both were entranced. They took turns pushing the big green button, and "oohed" and "aahed" every time a new sheet of paper popped out. ("WO. That's cool!")

And hearing all their questions about how the machine worked made me realize how little I myself knew about it. The best I could muster was, "it takes a quick photo of the piece of paper". That that was the extent of my knowledge left me, again, feeling quite a bit of wonder myself.

And now I am about to push the "send" button on this laptop computer; and the words I type here will magically float through the air, and - I guess - into an antennae, and through a wire, and into something called "cyberspace", and be instantly available to people all around the globe. And I have no idea how any of that works, either.

And I wonder just how much more, really, I understand about the world, than my kids...

Problems of Philosophy, Indeed

When I was a little kid growing up in Lynden, Washington, I used to listen to Seattle classic rock radio station KZOK (102.5 FM). What's funny is that if I turn the station on now, the playlist is exactly the same. It's all still "All Along the Watchtower", "Won't Get Fooled Again", "Barracuda", the whole deal. Nothing's changed since 1980.

Philosophy is like that. One day I'd like to write a follow-up to Bertrand Russell's classic "The Problems of Philosophy" called "The Problem with the Problems of Philosophy", and chronicle the inability or pathological unwillingness of modern philosophers to ever ultimately solve, or even want to solve, any of their philosophical "problems". (That reminds me - last year I chatted with a well-known philosopher at the London School of Economics. I asked him if he knew of any philosophical problems that had ever been solved. He acted as though he'd never considered this before, and after a few moments, admitted that he couldn't think of one). Point is, a list of current "problems of philosophy" in 2008 would be pretty much indistinguishable from a list made twenty, fifty, or even one hundred years ago.

So ingrained is the habit of yakking forever about problems is that even if some philosopher somewhere were to "solve" some "problem of philosophy" - like, say, the "problem of induction", the "problem of other minds", or the "problem" of how one thing can be two things and yet one thing at the same time (thanks, Heraclitus) - no other philosopher would acknowledge it.

Perhaps I am putting the matter a tad too harshly. You see, it is not quite that philosophy is characterized by total stasis. There is "progress" of a twisted sort: "progress", in the world of professional philosophy, is when someone, somewhere, thinks of a BRAND NEW unsolvable "problem" for philosophers to yak about. But such "progress" is fairly rare. After all, so many philosophers have been trying for so many centuries to come up with brand new "problems" to talk about, that the creative faculties of the human mind appear to have been fairly mined out. Besides, most folks just aren't that creative to begin with.

That's why most professional philosophers now spend their time yakking about the exact nature of the yakking of other philosophers before them - AND, yakking about the yakking about the yakking of other philosophers. As if the pointless ramblings of Hegel were not pointless enough already, philosophy journals now treat us to articles like "Husserl on Hegel's Teleological Animus Mundi in Light of Heidegger's Theory of Being". Such stuff at worst is one step away from an inmate-written insane asylum newsletter. But what it mostly is, is just pointless.

I'd like to think of some snappy ending to this post, but I can't. Besides, this post is probably pointless itself...

Friday, October 24, 2008

The World Can Go To Hell (and for some reason, that feels great)

At the moment anyway...I really couldn't care less if the world went to hell.

I don't care who wins the US presidential election (though maybe that's because I can't stand either candidate). I literally didn't spend one single minute paying attention to the just-passed Canadian election. I didn't read a single newspaper article, didn't spend a single minute watching election coverage.

I'm sick of hearing about how McDonald's is the root of all evil, how I should buckle up, how I should go green, how I should only use recycled printer paper, how everything in the world is poisoning me, how I should stop wearing cologne, how "Bush lied", how every bank in the world is collapsing, how I should attend all four thousand PTA meetings they have each year, how I should volunteer for yet another soccer fundraiser and on and on and on. I feel like lighting most of my stuff on fire (I'll keep my book collection and the computer), setting up the Island Kingdom of Bachmania (subjects by invitation only), and staying there for the rest of my life. Or else requesting a transfer to a far distant galaxy from earth's alien overlords (I know they're there because I have had "special spiritual experiences").

All I want to do anymore is hang out with trusted friends (which currently include my children, my brother, and three or four others). Everything outside that bubble seems, now, either rotten or soon-to-be rotten.

Yet strangely, I feel sort of at peace about it all...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Failed Prediction?

As I write this, Barack Obama appears to be heading towards a clear victory over John McCain in the upcoming US presidential election. However, I predicted a McCain victory months ago, long before Obama even won the Democratic nomination.

I did so having no idea gas prices would spike as much as they have, and no idea that there would be a massive financial meltdown. And rightly or wrongly, American voters tend to view the Democrats as stronger than Republicans on domestic economic issues: these crises have significantly benefited Obama.

It seems now that for McCain to win, some new issue will have to induce greater fear than these economic crises, and McCain will have to be seen by voters as more likely to erase that fear. That seems to be how it works: which ever candidate voters believe is most likely to remove their most pressing fear, wins. In practical terms, I think this means that the only thing that could get McCain elected now is a brand new Osama bin-Laden video, or God forbid, a terrorist attack.

In any case, if my prediction fails, as it now seems certain to, it will be another testament to the difficulty of establishing an impressive track record of long-term political prediction (by impressive, I mean notably above what random guessing would yield). There is an inverse correlation between the possibility of accurate prediction and the amount of (uncontrollable) variables. And certainly, not just political science but all the social sciences - if indeed it is even accurate to call them "sciences" - labour under the difficulty of trying to understand phenomena which occur as the result of an infinity of uncontrollable, unknowable stimuli. And this is not even to factor in the possibility that humans have something like genuine free will. If we do - if volition in some way is not constrained by physical laws - then the possibility of ever being able to accurately predict social or political phenomena - history maybe I should say - seems even more daunting, if not impossible.

To attempt predictions where the variables are few and the relevant laws may be inferred, as Thales showed with his eclipse, makes sense; but to attempt predictions where the variables are, practically speaking, infinite, and the relevant "laws", if there even are any, are not only unknown but probably in principle unknowable, as in the case of an election many months in the future whose candidates have not even been selected - appears so impossible in principle that only a complete idiot would try :P.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Fasionable Murder

One might think that murder - arguably the worst crime - would remain taboo. But that would be to presume that human beings are inherently sane, or ethical.

In fact, humans are both sane and insane, ethical and unethical, savage and urbane, a mixture of best and worst motives. There is often no coherence or balance to what we believe, feel, or do; and in my lower moments, I wonder what essential difference there might be between the human and any other animal. Perhaps it is the capacity of some people for self-discipline in conformity to nothing more than abstract ideals of virtue; I don't know of any animal which demonstrates any capacity like that. But a little time on the planet shows that even that trait is in fairly short supply.

But back to murder. A visit these days to any North American university campus will reveal the fashion craze of wearing a black and white PLO scarf, as though it were nothing more than a leather bracelet or earring. Evidently, it doesn't matter that wearing the PLO scarf is only a step away from wearing a swastika armband. Forget Huey Lewis's old "it's hip to be square"; I guess it's now hip to champion murder, and to speak the truth, genocide, since that is what the PLO's founding premises add up to.

The PLO is, and always has been, dedicated to wiping out the state of Israel through murder. Its record of bloodshed includes murdering school children at the Ma'alot School, murdering Israeli Olympic athletes, murdering airplane passengers at Ben-Gurion Airport...the list goes on and on. Its late leader, Arafat, was a corrupt, bloodthirsty, psychopathic virtual dictator, who in no sense could ever be conceivably linked with ANY characteristic of liberal democracy: not rational discussion, not democratic procedures, not free press, not free speech, not checks and balances, not rule of law, nothing.

Yet the same students who constantly chant that Bush is a "war criminal" for "murdering Iraqi civilians", who denounce "Chinese atrocities in Tibet", who feel perfectly free to denounce what they view as "terrorism" anywhere they see it, carve out a big exception when Jews are the victims of the violence. In that case, the murder's great! So great that we all ought to wear PLO scarves to show our solidarity - like wearing a New York Giants jersey the week before the Super Bowl.

As though murder, genocide, and terrorism weren't bad enough on their own, there is also the underlying question of Israel's right to exist. And on that question, I think it can be safely said that if Israel does not have a right to exist, then no country in the world has a right to exist.

But that's probably a topic for another post.