Friday, February 29, 2008

92; Where does he get his sources?

All right, all right. All right, already! ALL RIGHT.

So many people have been heckling and bothering me, trying to break down my door to have me update. I appreciate your concern, and here I am, updating.


I apologize for keeping up the Human Rights column for so long. I could come up with some bullshit excuse about keeping it up there. I could claim that I felt everyone should be familiar with the UN's Human Rights, and this was my subtle way of providing that information. It's not true, but it's a nice thought.

In reality the past few updates were written in a flurry many weeks ago, and I was able to stagger them appropriately. Having subsequently returned to school, and taking an absurd number of credits, I'm quite swamped.

Let's get this ball rolling, then. First off: Upon inquiry I've been asked to write about piglets, happy rainbows, plastic boardgame pieces, and Shakespeare in Love. Not only will I write about them, I will rock the socks off all of them.

On January 26th a firecrew saved nearly 1,000 piglets in Buckinghamshire from a blaze, according to the BBC.

On January 9th the Secretary of Schools in England failed to list the colors of a rainbow correctly, in an article amusingly titled 'Rainbow error makes Balls blush' (Ed Balls being the secretary) according to the BBC.

Yesterday an article on whether depression is actually good for you appeared, citing some psychiatrist's claims that rather than taking pills depression "can force a healthy reassesment of personal circumstances," according to the BBC.

On February 7th Rachel Lowe, creator of the boardgame Destination sold her idea, lambasted publicly by critics, to Disney and Warner Bros. for two million pounds, according to the BBC.

Speaking of plastic toys: A giant pacific octopus, as of January 10th, made friends with a Mister Potato Head in a Cornish aquarium. "Louis is well known for his curiosity and intelligence", according to the BBC.

John Fletcher's portrait was bought by the National Portrait Gallery in London for 218,000 pounds. John Fletcher was a rival and sometimes collaborator of William Shakespeare, according to the BBC.

And why is it when I search for 'love' in the BBC databse I get an article titled: 'Cake-eating contest death warning'?

Oh, and today is leap year. According to the BBC.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

91; Universal Rights

Hypothesis: All people are different, but equal.

To clarify, we must acknowledge the diversity of the human population and individuality of its members, while affirming an equality of rights for all.

The UN has come up with 30 rights "as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations" known as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Thirty rights are a lot to remember, though. So I thought I may try and consolidate, a la Carlin, the number of rights into a manageable number. Here goes.

One and Two read: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status." I think saying 'all beings' covers all the other predicates, doesn't it? Basically the second article is just a redundancy. We can par down these articles to saying 'all people are free and equal.' This brings us to numbers three and four:

"Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person and No one shall be held in slavery or servitude." But surely 'liberty' discludes any form of slavery? So we can ax the fourth article, and for that matter the fifth "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment", since torture is clearly in violation of 'security of person'.

Article six reads: Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law. Article seven: All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. So far as I can tell these are basically saying the same thing, namely 'All people are equal, (which automatically excludes the notion of discrimination) before the law.'

Article eight's statement, "Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law" and nine: "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile" just reiterate this same concern, and further that no one will be arbitrarily arrested, which is already covered by the right to liberty earlier noted. Ten: Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal. But this is not so distinct from number eight, which we agreed is covered by number six.

Eleven is that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, and so we can sum up articles 6-11 with 'All peple are equal before the laws which will assume thier innocence.'

Twelve: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation, and Thirteen that all persons have freedom of movement. Fourteen asserts: "Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution." Certainly these are all instances of encroachment of liberty, already secured.

Fifteen is odd: Everyone has the right to a nationality. Sixteen: Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. I think we can combine these into saying that you have a right to have a home, since a home implies family and location. Seventeen adds to this with the right to property.

Eighteen is freedom of religion, nineteen covers expression, and twenty peaceful assembly. Twenty-one: Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives. To consolidate: 'All persons are allowed to think what they want, with whoever they want, worship whatever they want, and vote.'
Twenty-two is pure repitition: Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security. This is just an amalgamation of security and the political liberty already described.

Twenty-three is the right to work, and twenty-four is the right to limits on work, which can be summed up as 'All people have the right to work a reasonable ammount.' Twenty-five covers the right to a healthy standard of living. Twenty-six, the right to education. Twenty-seven, "the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community". I think this last one sums them up nicely, so we can say 'All people can get an education and have a good standard of living.' The right to partake in one's culture is already covered under 'social security'.

Finally the last three state a right to have these articles enforced, that all states should implement these articles, and that persons are free to develop thier personality, which I consider an exercise of liberty.

What do we have left, then, of the above thirty?

'All people are free and equal,' Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person,' 'All people are equal before the laws which will assume thier innocence,' 'Everyone has the right to a home,' 'All persons are allowed to think what they want, with whoever they want, worship whatever they want, and vote,' and 'All people can get an education and have a good standard of living'. I sum these up in the following statement:

All people are free, and can use that freedom to better themselves in a society which grants them their liberty and societal rights before the law.

Monday, February 18, 2008

90; Liberal Arts

Here are some sample college or high school courses I wrote up a few years ago. (There's no other context. Sorry.)

LIT 2121.01
The Graphic Novel

Dillon, Ross

BAM! WHACK! CRUNCH! HASSELHOF! In this course we will be exploring the young field of the graphic novel and what makes them distinct as a novel from a comic book. Readings will include: Moore, Watchmen, Speigelman, Maus, Gaiman, Sandman, Herge, The Case of the Blue Lotus, Eisner, City of God, Smith, Bone, Thompson, Blankets, Deitch, The Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Miller, The Dark Knight Returns, Ware, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid in the World, and Brown, Ed the Happy Clown.

PHI 2212.01
America meet the East: Indian and Japanese spiritualism of the 50s, 60s, and 70s

Dillon, Ross

In the middle decades of the last century America saw a popular influx of Eastern philosophy and spiritualism in popular culture. We’ll explore the traditional Hindu and Brahman philosophy that was popularized by such movements and figures as Ram Dass and the Hare Krishnas in the first half of the course, and then focus on the Buddhist, particularly the Zen movement for the second half, popularized by Kerouac, Berrigan, D.T. Suzuki and other religious and popular philosophical figures.

CMD 2112.01

Dillon, Ross

What makes a stand up routine work? What differentiates between a stage comedian and a stand-up comedian? In this course we will take a cue from the masters of stand-up comedy and work on our own presentation of material that is designed to play to and make the most use of the stand-up comedy venue.

PHY 2111.01
Introduction to Wave Mechanics

Dillon, Ross

What are wave mechanics? How does wave mechanics apply to Newton’s physics? Quantum physics? My life? We will help answer these questions delving into the fascinating and complex realm of wave mechanics and its uses and difficulties explaining our physical world and the application of wave mechanics to the phenomena of your world including your cat.

ECN 2221.01

Dillon, Ross

Fuck the system! Never did me any good anyhow. If we reject capitalist economy what do we have left to choose from? Well, there’s socialism, Marxism, fascism, and anarchist approaches to economy. Excluding the latter we’ll investigate the three remaining forms of economy and ask where they got their roots, and how they’re related to capitalism as well as the arguments they make against capitalism and the grounds for rejection.

WCV 2111.01
The Vikings

Dillon, Ross

An elite group of warriors who ransacked and terrorized their neighbors, or peace-loving spiritual explorers and agrarians? In this course we are going to try and solve the mystery of the Vikings, the apparent discrepancies of their society and their impact on our Civilization. Research and two papers are part of this course.

DGA 2111.01
Numbers, Computers and Art
Dillon, Ross

In this class students will work with automatic art creation, using programs and statistical variabilities to generate art patterns and discover what art can be made by a computer or programmer asking when is the art is art and who is the artist?

PSY 2221.01
Are You Crazy?

Dillon, Ross

What is sanity and insanity? What are the measures of a sane mind compared to a normal mind? In fact, just what is normal, in terms of a healthy mind? This course aims to challenge the preconceptions of our definitions and explore the historical definitions and sometimes grisly treatments of insanity compared to sanity. Students will research topics of their choosing and interest.

All courses four credits, and meet during the period of that other class you have to take.

Friday, February 15, 2008

89; Happy Something

Let's just get rid of holidays. Anyone?

Holidays suck, and they do so for many reasons. You may dislike that most holidays have become too commercial. You may dislike that you do not share the sentiment the holiday is supposed to express. You may even dislike the historical roots from which our holidays are formed (Christmas, Valentine's, St. Patrick's, Easter and yet we claim to be a religiously tolerant country wha?).

If you squint the holidays sort of seem to correspond to the seven deadly sins. One could argue that Thanksgiving is for gluttony, Christmas for greed, Veterans day for wrath, Easter for guilt, Halloween for sugar, and Arbor day for hippiness.

Oh, and Valentine's day. For lust, obviously. Because that's what St. Valentine was all about. But wait! Just who was this guy anyway?

Well, first off, he wasn't just one guy. They know the one whose feast day we are supposed to be celebrating was buried on this day north of Rome. Except they're not sure if it was one guy or two who was buried, if they were both named Valentine, or what they did that was so special. Technically, like St. Nick, he's not even a real saint anymore, ever since 1969. Celebrating a feast for him didn't even start until 469, when our favorite Pope, Gelasius I, singled Valentine out as one of many "whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God." Which is some pretty good PR for someone whose sanctity couldn't be proven one way or the other.

We know he died. He may have died somewhere between the years 269 and 273. And he may have been a preist. Or a bishop. Or a martyr in Africa. Oh, and I didn't even get into the theories of how Valentine's is just a cover-up for that wildly popular pagan festival of Lupercalia.

And guess whose to blame for pinning the bawdy romantic love element onto this obscure person(s)? Geoffrey Chaucer. My reverence grows.

From which we end up with chocolate and greeting cards. What a mess. Two guys (probably) burried on a road outside of Rome, one maybe a bishop, the other maybe a preist, and both likely named Valentine. They don't know when these guys died, though they think they were martyrd, and it would be two hundred years until a Pope decides that this random fellow is worthy of a saint day. Which in the fourteenth century gets warped by an Englishman to reflect the interests of his times.

Basically I think this was a shrine that got out of hand. Reading through the history of the church they erected on the road, which Pope after Pope adorned and beautified, makes me think tht since this shrine was so near to Rome and was obviously popular they sanctified the guy in a hurry, and to prove they really meant it gave him a nice church, which, by 1425, was described as the church "beyond the gate without walls, [that] has no preist". It gets better, since the church (technically a basillica by this point) was built on top of ancient Christian catacombs. What's most likely is that Valentine, whoever he was, was just one of many Christians on the site, which would explain why it was so popular.

In case your interested in relics, by the way, the poor man's bones, (which they identified in the catacombs) aren't actually there anymore. They're in Ireland. Just thought you'd like to know if you were now planning a pilgrimage to his final resting place, which is now Dublin.

Writing this on Valentine's day I must confess I have a little more respect for the holiday. It's rather impressive the course history took that some guy, living somewhere, who died for his beliefs has been elevated to such a prominent position. Well, prominent in Europe and North America, at any rate.

All of this has been given as an example of why not to have holidays. Their messages and meanings, far from being universal, are warped and twisted through odd historical tales and persons. (Seriously, Chaucer? That's just so awesome.) If we question why these days are worth remembering then we often find ourselves at a loss. Not to mention the fact that many holidays aren't days at all, but moving landmarks, of course tied-in to the seasonal changes which differ yearly (most egregiously in the case of Easter.)

So you can celebrate the day if you want to. Or you can leave your friends behind. But I rather express myself when I choose, without having to make a special show of it due to a Catholic Pope thinking some dead Christian was pretty popular. That doesn't even make sense.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

88; BINGO!

Is the order of things important? To rephrase that in two ways: If you get to the right conclusion do the order of the steps matter? or, If you approach things in the wrong order can you achieve the same understanding form the conclusion?

On the 'right order' side of the argument you have examples like reading Dante before Virgil, creating a logical argument, solving a math problem without getting lost, or building, well, nearly anything mechanic.

In the red corner, representing 'order doesn't matter', are scavenger hunts, getting rich and famous, putting on your socks and underwear, and writing the introduction or conclusion first.

For you, perhaps, there is a vital order as to whether you should put on your socks or boxers, or you don't much care if you read Morgan before Mendel. (Geneticists. Mendel's experiments in plant hybredization blew the whole thing open, which Morgan followed upon with fruit flies. But you may ask yourself: are fruit flies more interesting to me? And you may ask yourself: can I stomach Mendel's prose? And you may say to yourself: this is not of any interest to me. And you may say to yourself: this is not my beautiful wife!)


Like most choices neither choice is the right choice. Each choice has potential to be the right choice, but there is no inherent quality to the choice which makes that choice the correct choice. And if you can follow all that then choosing to read this column was obviously the right choice.

You see my problem is Myers Briggs personality tests. The Myers Briggs test takes four categories and splits them into dual-choice options: Introverted or extroverted? Intuitive or Sensitive? Thinking or Feeling? Judging or Perceiving? Based on this you can get sixteen different categories of people. Further: based upon the combination of characteristics you can determine personality types, how people behave, think, and are likely to act.

So the query leads us to ask (in this case showing my preference to handle things in the right order): What is more important to our being? To take a case example, a friend of mine was raised for 18 years in San Francisco. Does that fact bear more relevance to trying to understand my friend's mindset than his being extroverted or introverted?

The priorities of the human condition. A plateau that we have arrived at before the final summit. If everyone is unique just like everyone else it is due to a sort of gigantic Myers Brigg dichotomy.

To take an example, start with a sample population, say the human population. Now isolate only those persons who are American citizens, narrowing the pool to about 350 million. Then isolate persons who live in Massachustetts, roughly 6.5 million. Then pick only those who are Republicans, or gay, or married. Eventually, if you add enough categories, your sample size will get to one.

But can we do this test with non-quantafiable conditions? In essence that is what the Myers Brigg test does, is asks you personal questions, which you cannot find on survey data. Nowhere in the Massachusetts State statistics will you find what percentage of the population considers themselves Thinkers rather than Feelers.

Bringing us to the ascent ahead of us. If people can, theoretically, be defined by a series of predicates, then I propose the possibility of a perfect human. Hear me out.

The idea of these predicates being applicable in every category would also lead to things like 'good listener or bad listener'? or 'industrious or generally lazy'? Virtuous traits would also be quantifiable. As such someone who had all the virtuous traits would be an ideal person.

Yet this may be a bit rash. Okay, I confess. That would be extremely rash, and the problem is inherent throughout the argument. While I may be 'generally lazy' until I'm 20 years old, the next twenty years of my life may be regarded as 'industrious'. If that person were to croak on their fortieth birthday would they be marked up based upon the first twenty years or the latter? In a word, the element which is lost is the question of change.

Let's create a grid. There's only one row, but thousands of columns. The columns are all labeled after virtues, and the row is either checked or unchecked. It's a scorecard, and everyone has one.

But the order doesn't matter. Someone may have 'humility' checked, whereas their boss may have 'good management'. Eventually, theoretically, you can get every box checked. You can look around and say, hey, I've got patience down, but that guy doesn't. Of course he'll be thinking that he's got good hygene, and you've got possum-killing breath.

So far I've not met anyone who has eberyhing down. Lessons I've learned have yet to be learned by others. Then again there are hundreds or thousands of lessons left for me to learn. The order doesn't matter. It may help, in certain cases and specific scenarios, but, to my mind, I think it's more in the camp of scavenger hunt. People will continue to develop at different rates, learn different lessons, and sometimes even regress. It's all good. The game eventually ends, and our scores are erased. All you can do, as they say, is try your best to make the summit. Or win the game. Pick your metaphor.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

87; Wind-up

I'm winding it down.

These columns have been fun, I'll admit. They've given me a chance to rant, think aloud, and write some, hopefully, amusing pieces. I hope some people have enjoyed them.

When I began writing them, at Leeds, I was in a very different place in my life. The excersise spurted out of two concerns. One was a lack of stuff on my shiny new Facebook page. These were the days before applications my friends. (Less than a year back, and yet it feels like so much longer, doesn't it?) At first I filled the space with entries by my friend John Wiswell's mighty blog, The Bathroom Monologues, which I may just plug in every installment from here on out. Seriously, go read it. The other column I would place in that section was Jon Carroll's actual syndicated writings from the SF Chronicle.

One week they both had a lack of material, and so I had to find something to fill the void. This coincided with the other concern I mentioned, namely that I had way too much time on my hands. I was bored, didn't have any social life and no friends. School was unpleasant. I had no movies to watch (although I eventually resorted to watching full episodes of MST3K on YouTube. That's how bad it got, friends.) I was obsessively try to cultivate some musical background and appreciation. But that was a slow task.

Usually Ross would, I can hear those who know me contest, read something long and pretentious. Yeah, that's generally the case. But it wasn't happening. I've pondered nights away, now as well as at the time, as to why I was unable to get any reading done during those months. Sometimes you just can't get up the... I rather not finish that sentence.

Actually as soon as exams were done I was able to read again, so, you know, that still leaves hosts reasons open.

And you know what? I needed to rant. I needed to philosophize aloud. Looking back on my journals of the time I made notes about what conversations I had. I don't need to do that anymore. I no longer feel the need to rant.

I kept writing after England, though. Transitions require pondering. The culture shock of adaptations, new surroundings, new friends and environments: those changes defined the last summer. That change required more writing. The second concern was still valid, as well: there wasn't enough to do.

Finally I arrived back at the place I'd fled. Everything that had happened that sumemr became another episode and another set of changes had to occur. Applying jumper-cables to old friendships, and one of those little flint-scratching spoons to start up new ones. So the writing continued, with issues and what have you.

* * *

So. Full circle. I think I'll be silly and play out this column until I hit #100 (the tally is kept on the actual blog site for those reading this on Facebook). The way I figure that ought that'll be roughly one calendar year.

Part of my concern is that I'm not saying anything too great these days. I can reread my old columns and laugh at them. None of my recent stuff has made me laugh. Current events are okay, but are, after all, the topic of roughly ten bazillion blogs out there.

Give or take.

Intellectually I'm not very active at the moment. I'm reading like crazy, which means translates to a lack of tackling new ideas, and instead doing some absorbing. But if you want a review of books try Oprah. If you want movies and television, on the other hand, you can read my sister's capable blog.

What, then, is the point? Trying every few days to come up with something entertaining. I thought it wasn't going to be that bad, and, heck, at the start these were daily. Then they were every other day. Now they are when I can muster up enough energy.

That's the reason. When the enjoyment has become a chore, it's time to move on. When the product has become a bore, it's time to move on. I'm no longer finding myself which ample time on my hand. If anything next semester is shaping up to be the busiest in my academic career.

The other pleasant half of this is that I have a social life again, am happy, and am able to talk to people, philosophize, and rant in person. Definitely beats Facebook, I think.

Bearing that in mind I will earnestly strive to make these last installments some of my best. I rather go out with a bang, and I hope they are satisfactory to your tastes.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

86; Bookstore Optimism

Bookstores can be nerve-racking places. They try not to be, and I give them due credit for their efforts. The atmosphere they try and convey is an inviting one of relaxation and comfort. A worries-away kind of space.

So many bookstores, even the individual ones, as well as every Barnes and Noble or Borders come with coffee and sweets. There's a mythos that nothing's better, or cozier, than spending a day curled up with a beverage, a pastry, and a good book. The stores know this, and they hope that you know this.

As if that weren't enough the Borders and Barnes and Noble places have become not bookstores, but entertainment stores. Movies, music and books all in one convenient place, and hey, don't forget to grab a scone.

(There's something worrisome here. Has entertainment now been parsed down to those things which you read, listen to, or watch? What happened to play? And what happened to do? Can't a hike, a bikeride, or a conversation count as entertainment? In My Documents there's a folder named 'My Videos', another called 'My Music' and a third called 'My Documents'. No sign of 'My Conversations'. Or 'My Adventures'. Yet I might like to have a folder presserving those things the most.)

The bookstore's difficulty, I find, is not the coffee, or the movies, or the music. I can always go to a small store to avoid that stuff. Not even the magazines daunt me. The daunting factor are all the books.

I love to read. Reading and me, we go way back. (Not really. I wasn't a big reder until high school, and wasn't a reading nut until maybe five years ago.) No matter what section I am in, there are multiple books I want to buy. Multiple books worth reading in Science, multiple in Philosophy, multiple in Poetry and History.

Diagnosing this isn't anything new, and I realize that. When we are given too many choices we feel trapped, uneasy, unable to make up our mind. The bookstore daunting is similar to the toothbrush aisle daunting. Over four hundred models of toothbrush to choose from. I remember once just turning to the woman next to me and asking her to choose for me.

Unlike toothbrushes, however, I plan to get to all those books. When getting a toothbrush I expect it to serve me well, have the bristles turn to mush, and be thrown away, afterwhich I get to go through the whole choose a new toothbruch expereince again. Yet, with the books, I won't come back after buying and reading one and looking for the same model. You need to a pick a new one every time. Unlkie toothbrushes, which you can safely gauge as the kind for you, in the Fiction aisle there is no hope.

This whole thing points to two bigger causes, that I must again concede aren't my own discoveries. Choices like these show us, 1) that we are damned lucky individuals who have problems like these to worry and write about, instead of writing about last night's bombing campaign or the lack of fresh water availability and 2) that if you are having these sorts of problems you must be an optimist. Only an optimist would worry about books in this fashion since only an optimist would think they'd get to all of those books 'some day'.

Now we approach the real question, right at the end. Are there such things as pessimists? Just to put my cards on the table, I think the two require one another to exist. But let me know what you think, and that'll be the topic for next time.