how a squirrel can ruin your life
Posted Feb 5, 2008
my friend graham claims his shot at rock and roll fame was ruined when the band fell apart after one of the boys died from rabies on account of being bitten by a squirrel in a london park in the early 70s.
it was the drummer.
some things you just can't plan on happening.
the happiest man in creation
Posted Feb 5, 2008
i was reminded today of a picture i once adored. it was in an old boys' annual about cowboys my mother had picked up from the thrift shop. the book, not the cowboys. my mother wasn't that sort of woman. it has been a long time since i held the book but it was old when i had it so i'm guessing it was from the 1940s or 50s.
i am interpreting here, and from recollections of many years ago, so it is likely i present it not entirely accurately.
the picture is black and white. it is heavy woods and a small clearing. a cowboy is sitting next to a camp fire. there is a percolator of the old fashioned type and a frying pan. he is largely in silhouette, as is his horse nearby. steam rises from the warm body. behind, the shadows are long. i decide it is early morning. through the trees can be seen a valley stretching down to rise up on the other side into a great mountain range. perhaps the cascade range in the great american north west.
as a boy i knew the coffee was strong and aromatic and that it would be drunk sweet. in the frying pan is bacon and eggs. the soft sizzle would have muffled and echoed through the conifers. with his second cup he would have waffles with maple syrup.
and in the minutes between finishing the last of his coffee and preparing the horse's pack for the day's ride ahead, he would have spoken in a soft low baritone to the animal; not more than a few words, but not the less affectionate for it, and he would have stood before that great scene: the happiest man in creation.
Posted Feb 1, 2008
one of the effects of being a philosophy graduate is to separate you from your fellow man. i did 5 years many years back and it still haunts me. yes, i did do other stuff, so no, i do not drive taxis if this is what you are thinking.
it separates you, in one sense, because, done well, you are robbed of the solace of certainty. particularly if any epistemology was involved.
it needs to be said that much of what i learnt has been forgotten, as much unused knowledge will be. so i cannot tell you if the present king of france is bald. i could probably give it a fair crack but don't go to the betting shop with it. this is because having studied philosophy i talk less of it than those that have not. the reasons are simple. questions about the neo hegelian position on the dialectical method don't emerge often in ordinary conversation. secondly, much of what passes as philosophical discourse in the community generally, is frustrating to those of us formally trained in it. do not mistake this for elitism. i am simply being honest.
and you cannot short cut, fast track, or give study note versions of 2000 years of argument in a few minutes of conversation or in a few posts on a forum. i know because i have tried.
we think differently. not necessarily better; many a profound thing is uttered by babes, but certainly differently. because we know most of the tricks in argument, and possibly indulge in them more often too, when a discussion passes into argument the form of it all usually moves centre stage. now the difficulty here is that there are many out there who have a passing, sometimes impressive, understanding of logical fallacies. but many more believe they have this knowledge than possess it. unlike medicine, engineering or homeopathy, there is seldom any concession to the philosophy graduate's education. perhaps because it is not a vocation. perhaps because any smart person will assume their ability to think about thinking is as good as the next man's. regardless, the phil grad's usual dilemma is to be dealing with a fallacy at the other end that he can name, but can usually not explain with persuasive authority and brevity to the rampaging amateur.
which helps to explain why so many philosophy discussions are absent of actual philosophers. and this is so whether the debate (god, evolution, the nature of theoretical physics etc etc) is happening in the media, at dinner parties, or in fora on the internet.
you wouldn't expect a chess player to continue the game if you decided pawns always moved diagonally would you? same deal really.
so if i've encountered you anywhere in the threads and have absented myself from a particular discussion with you, at least you know why.
why i didn't give up smoking
Posted Jan 31, 2008
imagine if you work in the city and are fortunate to have a nearby park in which to enjoy your lunch. you are about to pat off the crumbs and take a leisurely stroll back to the office with some extra minutes up your sleeve.
suddenly you are confronted by a very loud and aggressive person demanding that you surrender your seat.
now this presents a dilemma. you were about to leave anyway, but seeming to acquiesce to this level of arrogance doesn't sit well (scuze the pun). so you tell the person you will leave when you are good and ready and elect to use the extra spare minutes keeping backside in firm connection with bench.
i dimly recall this as behavioural reinforcement of some type. or perhaps reverse psychology. i also accept that some people would simply do what they intended to do.
this is something like it feels to be a smoker in today's world. most smokers know the habit is bad, offensive to many, and, well, a complete waste of time and money really. but to have such constant demands to quit from every corner, allows the smoker little chance to yield with grace. nor even with volition, since it will always seem like a surrender to public opinion and censure, rather than a positive affirmation towards good health. even the words, 'quitting', 'giving up' and such are loaded with negative connotations.
to this is added the constant identification of the smoker as a smoker. and by implication as also some kind of antisocial perverted deviant. there can be no such thing as a person who occasionally has a cigarette, say with brandy at christmas and birthdays. no, this person is a smoker and hence officially, legally, medically, on the wrong side of the fence. and what perverts smokers are, poisoning their children, co workers, and eskimos 5000 kms away who happen to be downwind when you ignite the filthy tar sticks. and for all that smokers know smoking is bad, really bad, for ones health, they usually also know there is a mountain of fudging involved in the anti smoking case. so to give up smoking isn't just to yield to public censure, it also becomes necessary to yield to lies. and lies by governments and scientists at that. as foolish as it sounds, there are smokers, perhaps millions of them, who see smoking as an act of political defiance.
all of which confuses the real issue: that a person is better off not smoking.
so when i recently decided to be better off, i didn't declare i had given up. and for the same reason i hadn't given up for the many years beforehand. because i am not a smoker. i am not a non smoker. i am now simply a person who does not smoke. just like i'm a person who doesn't play basketball or deliberately fart in elevators. just like i used to be a man who smoked cigarettes. not a smoker. not any kind of label other people want to hang on me.
so if you want less cigarettes to be bought and smoked, lay off with the name calling and the threats. it keeps more people smoking than the marlboro man ever did.
Posted Jan 30, 2008
i recently wrote about an animal welfare organisation that had outlived its brief but was still rolling around soliciting donations. it seems that i am encountering more of this all the time.
my latest head knocking is with the scouting movement.
scouting celebrated its centenary in 2007, which means that it was already very old when i was involved in the 1970s. like many kids of my generation i joined cubs, moved onto scouts, spent a few years learning knots, playing with fire and setting up tents, before deciding it was seriously uncool and leaving.
unsurpringly, we tended to see those that stayed, particularly into adult life, as peculiar. catholic priest and choir boy type peculiar.
so when, a few years ago, my wife sugggested we put our kids into scouting, my eyebrows moved skyward.
after some discussion and research i accepted that scouting did have a role to play in my kids' lives. the scouting ethos encouraged independence, personal responsibility and ethics, developed useful personal skills, encouraged community service, and gave an environment of reasonable risk-taking in controlled circumstances.
mindful of the perception of predatory scoutmasters, i took pains to attend cubs and joeys nights. i didn't want to be a stage parent so tried to be discreet; helping where needed but so far as possible allowing my kids to develop independent relationships with their peers and other adults. and this in fact was what i perceived to be one of the benefits of scouting: it allows children to have meaningful relationships with adults other than their family, teachers and paid tutors- something some social commentators have suggested is one of the great losses of our times.
times being as they are however, an adult seen as available at the scout hall soons finds themselves pressured to put on a uniform themselves or to otherwise commit to ongoing regular responsibilities.
now this i wasn't going to be doing. nor were any of the other parents watching from the sidelines. so, in a variation of the mexican standoff, the people currently in uniform are constantly trying to get parents to relieve them of their duties, and the parents themselves hang around each night, trying to be useful without being so useful that they slip into being the next cub master.
this doesn't look normal. from wanting an environment that fosters independence we now arrive at a situation where there are often more adults at cub and scout nights than there are children.
strike one for the development of independence.
then we discover that for all sorts of health, safety and insurance reasons, cubs, joeys and even scouts have serious restrictions on what they can and can't do. these restrictions range from the plain bone headed, (no jeans in canoes), to plain old fashioned nannyism (cubs can be in boats but can't do any actual sailing- they are in effect- cargo.)
strike two for encouraging controlled risk taking.
at least, i think, there is the community service aspect. well no. bobs for jobs ended long ago for safety reasons. recycling went because it cost more to do than was raised. helping the local lions' club deliver christmas cakes for the same reason. funding shortfall? just add it to the annual subs.
strike three for community service.
so what is left is the development of personal skills. well you'd think so. in this regard scouting has managed a remarkable act of self castration. presumably trying to make scouting more 'relevant and interesting' to children of today, cubs and scouts do a lot more than knots and bushcraft. which would be fine except this means a lot LESS of knots and bushcraft. so much less in fact that i had to teach my kids knots myself outside of scouts.
and on this point scouting leaves reality altogether and enters a dimension only intelligible to the inner sanctum of uniformed scouting.
my wife and i spent many years bushwalking and camping. and while we are not les hiddons or edmund hillary, we do at least know some of the basics. one of which is to minimise so far as possible what you carry.
so the list of things required to be taken to camps by my kids came as something of a shock. ludicrous amounts of spare clothing. multiples of plates, bowls, cups and eating irons. blankets, pillows, spray jackets, jumpers. it took literally hours to put together camp packs for my kids. the idea they would be able to do it themselves was beyond all reasonability.
and then there's the cost. a rough calculation tells me that subs are about 5 times what they were when i was a kid. adjusted for inflation of course. some camps costs thousands of dollars each. and no, that isn't camping abroad or to ski chalets. that is the cost of some camps in the same state, under canvas.
in a nutshell scouting doesn't deliver anything i expected.
so in a time of falling membership, why does it exist? well the first reason might be that a core of lifetime scouters won't allow it to fade way. and good luck to them for that too. but the second reason is that there are really two scouting movements. the first is the one children, parents and your local scout group live in. the second is a large multinational conglomerate worth hundreds of millions of dollars. a hundred years of donated land, volunteer built halls and fund raised assets adds up. these usually do not belong to the peopel who built them or raised money to purchase them: they belong to the central organisations. as do the profits from the retail and commercial aspects of professional scouting. no one would expect the paid employees of the scouting movement to run it as a loss. financial responsibility is important. however it is inescapable that the sale of uniforms, camp ground charges etc are themselves profit centres.
and as people leave scouting, or more to the point, never join, groups are merged, halls and land are sold, the central scouting organisations become indistinguishable from retail and property investment corporations and the balance sheets get bigger.
sorry baden-powell, i'm putting my kids into a sailing club and a bushwalking club. it's cheaper and they'll learn knots and sailing. and without the stupidly high expense, the nannyism and the nonsense.
and were you alive today, i'm sure you'd agree that modern scouts has precious little to do with what you were on about.