Monthly Archives: April 2007

Four Things That Make Me Angry

To whom it may concern, I submit a list of annoyances that I regularly encounter in everyday life. In this entry, I will describe those annoyances and give thorough explanation as to why I find them so aggravating.

1) Ingrateful Automobile Passengers

Perhaps the biggest of my peeves is ingratitude I encounter from the people who end up riding in my car. For those of you who do not have to deal with the enormous financial burden of owning a motor-vehicle, allow me to to explain:

Monthly Insurance Fee: $148.00

Monthly Gasoline Total: $180.00

Monthly Loan Interest Payment: $25.00

Oil Changes: $48.00

Air Care Tests: $46.00

No Measly “Thank You” When I Drop You Off: Priceless

I’m not saying my passengers should help split the bill. In fact, I would never ask my passengers for a penny. All I ask is for a little common courtesy. A simple “Thank you for the ride” would suffice. Contrarily, the absolute worst thing you can do is make your driver WAIT outside your house while you get ready. In my books, this is one of the most flagrant displays of ingratitude I’ve ever experienced. And the worst part is, it happens all the time! It’s usually people who don’t drive, and therefore don’t realize what an insult it is.

If you know that your driver is coming to pick you up for a free ride, it’s your civil duty to make sure that you are waiting by the door with your shoes already on. By doing this, you at least show your driver that you appreciate the fact that you are being provided with free transportation, despite the unreasonable costs that he ultimately faces providing you with it. Simply put, making your driver wait adds insult to injury.

Exception: if you make your driver wait, but have an explanation beginning with “Sorry to make you wait…” then it’s totally fine. It’s not the waiting that hurts, it’s the lack of recognition that you are inconveniencing someone – that is what speaks so much to your lack of character.

Having said that, I’m not one to lecture my friends about it, because lecturing someone about being polite is pointless. Respect for your friends must come from within. I recognize that, being a motorist, I will probably always have to put up with this. But let it be known that I consider it a huge display of character when somebody is ready, and I consider it to be a blatant show of disrespect when somebody is not.

2) Tipping

I have a big problem with the idea that compulsory tipping in restaurants should be the status quo. To my mind, you tip someone because they go above and beyond in their field of service, and you feel the need to recognize it. All too often I find myself leaving tips because of social pressure to do so. Usually when I leave a tip, I leave the restaurant feeling like I’ve been robbed. The food is already overpriced, and the only thing my waitress served me a glass of water, a hamburger, a fake smile and a bill.  

I’ve heard the counterargument a million times: servers merit tips because they are serving you. This is retarded. We are to believe that, somehow, this is the crucial variable that separates servers from the rest of us? Last time I checked, there was something called a “service industry,” and it included grocery store clerks, toll-booth operators, electrical technicians, piano-tuners, projectionists, and automotive repairmen. Are these people somehow not serving me? Are they not deserving a tip?

Of course, the answer is obvious: if someone who serves you makes a special effort to improve their service, then they warrant being tipped. If, on the other hand, they provide you with the standard level of service, then their wage should damn well suffice.

I’ve also heard the argument that food servers somehow need tip money in order to survive. Interestingly enough, one constantly hears the very same people boast about “how good the tips are” and how they can make “hundreds of dollars in a night.” This, my dear readers, seems to me like an obvious inequity, and requires swift rectification. I know you servers love to prattle on about how much more challenging/stressful your jobs are, but the reality is that serving food is equally as unskilled as any other minimum wage job, and that is precisely why you make minimum wage.

It’s a well known fact that short skirts and flirtatious body language tend to enhance tip income. Thus, one wonders what kind of ‘service’ tipping ultimately facilitates.

3) The Stigma Against Dating Young Girls

I hear it all the time: girls in my age category scolding their guy friends because they are dating girls who are 5 ot 6 years younger. They call it “gross” and imply that he must somehow be “desperate.”

Shut up, girls.

The very same girls in my age group also tend to date guys who are 5 to 6 years older. Essentially, girls are admonishing guys for doing the very thing that their older boyfriends are doing: dating stupid younger girls! What a goddam paradox!

It’s perfectly normal for people, out of highschool, to date people on the periphery of their age group. As it just so happens, it seems natural for men to be older than their partners. Thus, it makes sense that, since the girls are looking up the age ladder, guys must look down. Enough with the judgement!

Actually, this brings me to my final peeve:

4) Gold-Diggers

I’d always heard that women marry for money, but I am only now, at age 23, beginning to see what a profoundly truthful statement that is.

Now, at that crucial age where careers are dealt and friends are more readily subject to class distinction, I have noticed that the girls in my age group have mysteriously tended to date older men with steady careers and more money. Was I a fool to think that love and romance could transcend social class and petty materialism? The answer is yes.

The hilarious thing is that every girl that is reading this right now is shaking her head and saying “Not me. I’m going to marry for love.”

In many ways, I suppose it’s only natural. Money, as a natural coder for social status, inevitably must be factored in as another step in the complex dance of human courtship. That is not my peeve. My peeve is simply this:

Girls: stop denying it. 

I hope everybody enjoyed my list of things that make me angry. Ironically, this list will probably make a lot of other people angry. But I stand by it. Death Cab Rules!

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Book Review: “Ishmael”

A book was recommended on this blog a few months ago. It actually wasn’t recommended by me, it was recommended to me by Mark Fynn in one of his comments. I always do my best to take recommendations from friends, so yesterday I went out and bought the book. About 24 hours later, I had finished it. The book is called “Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn.

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I have to admit, the book took me completely by storm. It has to be one of the most fascinating books I’ve ever read. I’d love to give you a synopsis, but there is no way to explain what it is about. It can really only be summarized in words: humanity, creation, gods, agriculture, evolution, sustainability and above all… mythology. 

Citing only basic natural laws, Quinn paints a ‘different’ picture of humanity than the one we are typically familiar with. The prose is structured as a conversation, reminiscent of Plato’s style of writing, and creates the kind of logical flow that ensures that his ideas are communicated with absolute clarity. Unfortunately, the book is so well argued that the reader is totally arrested, and has no choice to face up to the disturbing fact that civilization has been condemned to failure since the dawn of agriculture – not necessarily due to any failure on our part – rather, due to the inviolable laws of nature.

I can’t really say much more. Let me just say that, after reading this book, I will never look at humanity and civilization the same way ever again. This book gets my highest recommendation.

The Mandlebrot Set: The Geometry of Chaos

As very young children, we get taught about “shapes.” These include triangles, squares, circles, etc. All of these “shapes” are fundamentally determined by their own set of mathematical parameters. For example, a square is characterized by the fact that it has four equal sides, whereas a triangle is characterized by having only three sides. As very young children, these “shapes” seem very innate to us.

As we grow older, we learn about more shapes that are subject to increasingly complex mathematical parameters. For example, a parallelogram is like a rectangle, but it has the distinguishing feature of having acute/obtuse angles instead of right angles at it’s corners. We also learn to conceive of shapes in the third dimensions, such as spheres, cubes and tetrahedrons.

As we grow up, we apply our basic knowledge of shapes in our everyday lives. Furthermore, it becomes apparent that these geometric principles are actually laws so fundamental to existence, that to try to conceive a universe without a circle or a triangle is impossible.

There is one shape, however, that tends to elude our education system. This particular shape, though complex beyond all reckoning, is equally as intuitive to the natural processes of the universe as a circle or a square. It’s called the Mandlebrot Fractal, and it looks like this:

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The thing that distinguishes this shape from squares and triangles is clearly it’s apparent complexity; it lacks the ostensible simplicity of form that makes “shapes” so familiar to us. At first glance, it appears to be nothing more than a randomly generated series of blobs with serpentine extensions. But make not mistake: this is a basic “shape” all the same. You’re just unlikely to find it pinned on the wall of any kindergarten classrooms.

The reason this is considered a “shape” is because it’s based on a very simple set of mathematical parameters (the formula is actually z=z^2+c). This is really not a novel idea: even the circle, in all it’s apparent simplicity, is still governed by the mathematical constant “pi,” which in itself is a number so dauntingly complex that it remains incalculable to this day. In this regard, the Mandlebrot Fractal is really no different – we should therefore not judge it by it’s cover. It is really no different, in terms of complexity, than a circle.

“Mandelbrot held the view that fractals were, in many ways, more intuitive and natural than the artificially smooth objects of traditional Euclidean geometry.”

The astounding thing about the Mandlebrot Set is it’s truly incomprehensible complexity. The above image shows it’s full size, but the beauty of the fractal lies in the details – within it’s seemingly infinite complexity – the trillions and trillions of spirals, tails and antennae all branching off and interconnecting with each other with a strange kind of perfection. This video demonstrates just how detailed the Mandlebrot Fractal really is:

(When you watch this video, remember that it is not art – it is nothing more than a mathematical function rendered into a coloured graph. This formula is as fundemantal universal concept as pi, a square, or the number 3, and it becomes clear that this Mandlebrot Fractal is fundamental to many of the processes in nature, and physics.)

I think the Mandlebrot Set is fascinating for one reason: it aptly demonstrates man’s tendency towards wrongly categorizing nature as a necessarily informal system. Organic and chaotic though nature may appear, it is still fundamentally governed by formal mathematical principles, and I think that speaks to an even deeper understanding of nature and the universe. I commend Benoit Mandlebrot for making such an intriguing contribution to human knowledge, and it makes me wish I had the conceptual toolset to be able to understand mathematics further.

“Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line.”

– B.Mandelbrot, introduction to The Fractal Geometry of Nature

The “New Left:” Doing More Damage Than Good

Do you think that George Bush is trying to take over the world? Do you think that corporations are all inherently evil? Do you tend to blame other people for the problems in the world?

If you answered “yes,” then chances are you are part of the “new left;” a cultural movement composed primarily of impressionable young people who complain about the problems in the world without having any real proposition outlining how to meaningfully change them. This political body is a product of a general trend in our media towards ‘rising against the man’ and throwing off the shackles of an oppressive government.

The main problem I have with this movement is that it is founded on hypocrisy. All you need to do is consider the people who are typically part of this movement: spoiled teenage brats living in suburbia. These people typically:

1) Consume a large amount of energy

2) Do not make significant contributions to the workforce/economy

3) Engage in a variety of illegal activities including drug/alcohol abuse, vandalism and mischief

4) Are ignorant to the broader context of social development, economics, political theory, and history.

I don’t know about you, but to me, these are not the kind of people who should be in any position to be critical of their system of government. To me, these sound like the kinds of people who need direction. Allow me to present an example:

Graffiti: the voice of the subculture. Many people praise graffiti as an important form free speech. They argue that, by virtue of being subversive in nature, graffiti is a medium for the underclass – attacking the establishment by means of bright colours and colloquial jargon. I’ll agree insofar that the artwork can be aesthetically pleasing, and the message is sometimes commendable. BUT… it does not detract from the fact that it is a defacement of somebody’s private property, and that our society considers it a crime.

To graffiti artists, I ask: what exactly are you ‘rising against?’ Are you rising against Mr Wong, the owner of the Chinese restaurant who has to pay his own hard earned money to re-paint his exterior walls? Are you rising against our legal system, which is ultimately the product of centuries of philosophical thought and experimentation regarding morality and the necessities of social order? Are you rising against corporate America, the economic system which ultimately implemented the necessary economies of scale and industrial infrastructure to provide you with affordable sneakers, hoodies and paint canisters?

I say this: if you do have a problem with the way our society is run, and you think a change is necessary, then you need to propose HOW to change things rather than vandalizing the property of your fellow citizens. Hurting your fellow citizens is not helpful.

Calling President Bush an idiot, while true, is not the most productive political dialogue. Picking on corporations is not fair either. In both cases, one must remember that both Bush and the corporations are a result of our own free democratic society: Bush WAS elected into power by the people, and corporations are bestowed with more power every time you buy something from them. Instead of picking on them, just don’t vote for them.

Maybe rather than attacking those in power, we should look at the root of the problem. Instead of placing blame on a few figureheads (which is easy), we should start being critical of our damned selves (which is harder).

For example: most people today are concerned enough about global warming to agree that more preventative measures should be taken. But how many people are actually prepared to pay twice as much for their energy consumption? How many people are willing to pay $3.00 a litre for gas, and $4,000 for a plane ticket? How many of these self-righteous global-warming activists are actually willing to get rid of their iBooks and designer frames in the name of their cause?

Furthermore, there is an inherent snobbery to the “New Left” culture. Al Gore recently released a book and a film entitled “An Inconvenient Truth.” The movie was very well received because it made audiences feel like, by seeing the film, they were now part of some kind of movement towards a solution. Gore explains that wise energy choices can make a difference to the environment.

Well Mr Gore, it’s easy to focus your time on making “wise energy choices” when you are wealthy, and NOT so easy when you are in the lower classes. Gore explain that he is helping the environment because he owns three $40,000 hybrid vehicles. Congratulations Gore, you can afford to be a conscientious consumer! And what about your mansion in Belle Meade?

“Gore burned through 22,619 kWh — consuming more than twice as much electricity in one month as the average American family uses in an entire year. Gore’s average monthly electric bill topped $1,359, the research group said.”

I think most young people today just want to feel like they are part of the revolution, but in reality they have only been distracted from the real problems that face our society. People seem to have this idea that our society is “oppressed” by some invisible autocracy, but that is not likely. If the American people really wanted it, they could change their country for the better, but because of the trends in “New Left” thinking, everybody just goes on consuming energy and being wasteful while believing that they are part of a solution! We shouldn’t be listening to Al Gore. He is a politician. Politicians should listen to the people instead of lecturing them about energy consumption while touring the country on a private jet, and consuming 30 times more than the average American.

Having said all of this, let it be known that I DO think a change is needed. I DO think that our governments continue to fail us. I DO think the corporations have become too powerful and are posing new challenges to capitalism. I DO think that we are capable of ameliorating our energy consumption habits.

But I DO NOT think that the emerging culture of rebellion is going to result in any kind of solid reform, or present any feasible answers to our current social dilemmas. I think it does just the opposite: it makes people feel warm and fuzzy, because it shifts the blame from everyday people to figureheads and logos. The blame should be squarely on US. Our citizenry is not going to charge the gates of some bastion and reclaim freedom. We are all hedonists and emperors; effectively disinterested by our self-affirming media, and convinced that we are something more than links in one long chain of exploitation and greed.

Chippy The Mutant Squirrel

I think one of the most pivotal moments in the development of humanity is the moment that man classified himself as an animal. Since then, some people in the world have been slow to accept this notion, primarily because we (people) are very unique on this planet. We, as a species, by virtue of having opposable thumbs, developed the ability to manipulate and change our environment. Mankind has thus developed complex societies; civilizations, technology, literacy, art and philosophy. These factors distinguish us from animals in a very real way. And so maybe ‘animal’ isn’t a good conceptual umbrella for humanity… 

But

I would argue this: though we may be incredibly distinguished from the other forms of life on Earth, we’re still pretty much the same as them! Read on, and tell me if you agree! I promise I won’t use any science.

The other day I was lying on the couch with my cat, as I often do. We were both a bit drowsy, and we were both starting to doze off. Suddenly, the washing machine in the next room made a really loud buzzing noise which signal that it’s load was done. At that moment, both me and my cat were abruptly jarred from our sleep. And in that moment, we both instinctively looked around our immediate surroundings to see what made the sound.

Snowflake’s breathing got very fast for a moment, just as mine did. Adrenaline, probably. The pupils in his eye dilated as he awoke from sleep, as I’m sure mine did. Having now been fully woken up, we both stretched our backs and got up to find something to eat. He ate cat food, I ate people food, but we both drank water.

Kinda funny, I thought, how we both have exactly four limbs and one head. Also, we both grow hair. Also he has teeth just like me. And a tongue! Actually, my cat has a liver, a bladder, a heart, a brain, blood, circulatory veins, a spinal chord, a stomach, shoulder blades, skin, two eyes, two ears and, if it wasn’t for mankind, he would even have sexual organs too! Don’t believe me? Ask your vet! Or take a gander on the side of the highway sometime! You’ll see plenty of guts that are just like ours.

Yes, it’s a fairly clear fact of daily life, that all in all, people and animals share the same basic biological features. In fact, if you look at all the animals living with us in our world, you will find that they all share at least something in common with the other animals. Some have tails, some have wings, some live underwater, some live above it – but ultimately, every living thing on this planet shares something.

After the incident with my cat, I started thinking: “What are the odds? I mean… what are the odds that, considering that people and animals are supposedly DIFFERENT… what are the odds that all these ‘animals’ living around us would share the same fundamental architecture? What are the odds that this “cat” would have a brain and a heart and blood and a skeleton, and that all of these should function and interoperate according to all the same processes as my body?

When you think about what an unlikey coincidence it is… it blows the mind. Defies logic, doesn’t it? It’s like all the life on Earth is connected, and we are apparently connected to it as well. Do you agree with me so far? Is that much fair to say?

Why do I have nearly the exact same skeleton as an animal that lives in some jungle in the Congo? Why do all birds have feathers? I mean… aren’t different birds supposed to be just that? “Different?” Why are so many creatures on Earth so similar, even if they are called by different names?

Just then, I started thinking about something else that was totally baffling!

I suddenly realized that white people never had asian babies! There are so many asians and so many white people, but for some reason only asians produce asians, and only white people produce white people! What another astonishing coincidence? I did some research, and I found out that it’s the same for black people too!

It goes even deeper … apparently people with blonde hair tend to have blonde-haired children, and people who are tall tend to have tall children! Even EYE-COLOUR is inherited from parents, grand-parents, great-grand-parents, etc. Weird!

Then I started to wonder… what if something happened to the sun one day… just randomly in space… and it made it so only people with dark skin could live on Earth? Wouldn’t that mean that all the other people would eventually die, and people with dark skin would be the new “humans?” And since dark coloured people only have dark coloured children… wouldn’t light skinned people be… extinct?

To illustrate what I mean, I wrote a little story. It’s called:

“Chippy the Mutant Squirrel.”

Long ago, in the jungle primeval when the Earth was young, a young squirrel was born named Chippy. But he wasn’t like other squirrels. Oh no. Chippy was special. When he was very young, still in his mother’s tummy, something happened to Chippy. Maybe he got bumped on the head, or maybe his mother ate something she shouldn’t have. In any case, when Chippy was born, he had weird long arms, and he had ugly flaps of skin between his armpits.

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At first, all the other squirrel children made fun of him. They called him “mutant boy” and “skin flaps.” He usually got bullied a lot by the bigger squirrels.

One day, a group of mean squirrels chased Chippy all the way up a really high tree so they could steal his acorns. They chased him right to the end of a narrow branch. Chippy was terrified, and he knew that if he fell off the branch, he might die. But the bullies didn’t care. They charged at Chippy until he lost his balance and he fell.

But then, something magical happened. As Chippy fell off the branch, his arms spread out and his ugly skin flaps spread apart. Without even trying, Chippy glided across to safety. He was the luckiest squirrel in the world.

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In fact, Chippy didn’t know it, but there had been exactly 9,384,392 mutant squirrels born before him, over millions of years, and none of them had ever mutated for the better. No, he was the FIRST!

Later that year, some very large predators moved into Chippy’s part of the jungle. These predators were very good at catching Squirrels. Luckily, Chippy was always able to escape them, all because of his tiny accidental skin flaps. Because he survived longer than the other squirrels, he was able to settle down with a nice girl and have kids of his own – and wouldn’t you know it – his kids looked just like he did, skin flaps and all!

As the new predators settled in, and the ‘normal’ squirrels were unable to escape being eaten, Chippy and his family stayed safe, and his kids had more kids, and they had their own kids. Millions and millions of years later, Chippy’s family (or ‘species’) was named Eupetaurus cinereus.

THE END

A lot of people treat ‘evolution’ as if it were an isolated scientific notion. That is, they sometimes think of evolution as being seperate from the rest of biological science. But the laws of evolution are undeniable, because they are just very simple rules of everyday life! Ask yourself: do you deny any of the following?

1) Offspring inherit the traits of their parents.

2) Changes in the environment can be good for some living things, and bad for others.

These facts are irrefutable, and no matter what system of beliefs you’ve been brought up into, I doubt you could ever find a way to ‘deny’ them. It would be like denying the existence of the sun, or denying that the ocean is big. Right?

Scientists like to use fancy names like “natural selection” to explain these processes, but all that really matters it that you look like your parents, and your parents look like theirs! A scientist might say “Organisms inherit the traits of their ancestors, and in the broader context of time, these traits tend to only be passed down if they are beneficial to survival in a given environment”… but that’s just jargon for stuff that you already know and see every day.  

I believe that the story of life on Earth is one of the most divine testaments to creation and higher power. But at the end of the day, it has nothing to do with religion or belief, and it’s a shame that groups of people seem to feel threatened by it, so much so that they teach their kids that it’s all lies and devilry.

I ask: why feel threatened by the notion that man is an animal?

We should feel honoured.