Archives for the month of: May, 2013

IMG_1745I don’t think I’m the first person to quizzically stroke my chin and ask why a dandelion is a weed an a daisy a flower.  We all know why dandelions are reviled: it’s because they can’t be controlled.  They grow all over your lawn, they grow up through the cracks in your patio, in fact they will take hold nearly anywhere a dandelion seed lands.  But the very qualities that make a dandelion a nuisance are revered in people: strength, persistence, tenacity, virility.  And what about roses, orchids, and the flowers that we love the most?  They are worshipped for the incredibly narrow set of circumstances required for their survival.  Humans above all else value weakness and submission in our plants.  We like plants that do what they’re told.  Even the plants that we desperately want to grow, we hack at their limbs the moment they get too big for their pot.

There is another way to see plants.  You must understand that we, the collective human consciousness, are in a war of attrition with the cosmos.  We like straight lines and golf greens and shining skyscrapers and white paint.  Yet like an anthill on a windy day, we build things up and the universe tears them down.  Plants are the foot soldiers in this battle, making cracks in the pavement, reclaiming the walls of old buildings, and taking hold anywhere there’s an opening.  If you don’t constantly mow your lawn it will take over, trees and bushes untrimmed grow until they are stopped, even your books, the food you left out, and your own feet begin to grow if you don’t take care.  IMG_1748 IMG_1738Because life is what you make it, why not take on a more synchronous approach to nature.  Feel the long grass between your toes and contemplate that long after the human species has gone extinct, plants will grow over our graves, consume our monuments, and bury the detritus of our civilization under a squishy layer of peat.  When everything and everyone that you’ve ever thought was important is gone, grass and vines and trees will clean up after our little social experiment.  Like the tortoise and the hare, we think we can win.  We have pruning sheers and lawnmowers and can kill any unwelcome plant that shows its face in our yard, our little corner of the world.  But when you drop dead the plants will eat you and use the nutrients you’ve spent your life collecting to make new leaves and new seeds and new plants.  In our frame reference we might be showing the plants who’s boss, but in the planet’s frame of reference we are a joke, a blip, a minor inconvenience.  IMG_1740So I say let em grow!  Why fight the battles when you already know you’ll lose the war?

I lived outside of Toronto for most of my life.  It’s only recently that I moved to the city and not long before that I lived in an even smaller city so I have a pretty fresh perspective on the differences between small, medium and big city life.

Many people outside Toronto talks about it with disdain.  They say that people from Toronto are cold and rude.  They say Toronto is stuck up.  They say Torontonians think they are the center of the universe.

And here’s what the people of Toronto say about the rest of Canada… (cue crickets)

That’s right, the people of Toronto don’t seem to talk about or even really think about anywhere else.  The disdain moves only in one direction.  That’s why I’ve determined that Toronto is like the coolest kid in school.

Everybody knows the cool kid’s name because he’s popular but the cool kid probably can’t remember the names of every uncool kid out there.  There are just too many of them.  Similarly, the other kids sit around talking about what’s wrong with the cool kid: how he dresses, how he’s not that smart, how he didn’t invite them to his cool party.  The cool kid has more money, fancier clothes, and a better car than the other kids.  He throws the best parties, eats the best food, lives in the nicest house.  And all the while, the other kids rightfully insist that none of these things make you a good person.

Most importantly, the other kids think the cool kid is mean because he doesn’t talk to them while he doesn’t think of himself as the coolest kid, he just thinks life is great, the food is tasty, and he’s enjoying it.  Just as cool kids don’t identify themselves as such, Toronto doesn’t identify itself as the center of the universe.

I believe in giving credit where it’s due.  There are annoyances that come with living in any large city.  People tend to be pushier and less friendly, the air is foul, and the streetcar rattles my single-pane window all night.  But Toronto, like the cool kid, just has more than smaller cities: more architecture, more restaurants, more theatres, more festivals, more cultures.  It’s a product of population density that city-dwellers take advantage of.  We in Toronto aren’t self-centered, we just know that Toronto’s filled with culture and art and hedonistic pleasures.

So to the people of Canada: Torontonians don’t think their city is the center of the universe, they were just too busy enjoying Toronto to think about your specific region and what it has to offer.

And to the people of Toronto: the streets are not so crowded that you can’t smile or say hello to people who pass by.  Try to be a little nicer.

I recently ordered a sandwich from subway.  The service was terrible, the employees miserable and imprecise, and the resulting sandwich was a disaster.  It was so bad it made me want to write a review on yelp.  So, being a writer and all, I spent the next hour thinking of creative ways to describe the cruelty that had been inflicted on my sub.

My meatball sub looked like a foal being born.

Mothers covered their childrens’ eyes as they walked by.

It made my shirt look like the end of The Departed and the table look like the end of Reservoir Dogs.

The police report’s marinara spatter analysis will be the pivotal piece of evidence in the trial that puts the Sandwitch Artist in jail for sandwich murder.

I didn’t end up writing that review.  I thought the late-middle-aged immigrant woman working at subway didn’t need any more trouble.

But it occurred to me: I’ve derived far more joy from my articulate outrage than I ever could have from a well assembled sandwich!  And that’s why life is what you make it.  All the small things that are wrong with your life disappear when you change your attitude, when you learn to quit moping and have fun.

A woman today told me that if I live my life by the ten commandments I’ll be just fine.  I thought very little of it.  After all, the ten commandments are the first thing people mention when they don’t know very much about the bible and I’m quite used to downtown preachers.  But it got me thinking about it, and when I really pressed myself I could only remember eight of the ten.  It really seems like the sort of thing one ought to remember.  So I opened up a digital bible and searched for the term “ten commandments”.  This is what I found. (Exodus 34.11-26 paraphrased).

1. Don’t make deals with the people of judea: destroy their alters, images, and crops.

2. Worship no other gods because I am jealous.

3. Don’t make deals with the people of judea because when they sacrifice to their gods they’ll offer you some and if you eat it and take a wife from among them and their children will sacrifice to their gods.

4. Don’t make cast idols.

5. Keep the seven day festival of unleavened bread in commemoration of your exodus from Egypt.

6. All the firstborn male livestock belong to me.

7. Work six days rest one.  All men have to come before me three times a year and I will expand your borders.

8. Don’t serve sacrificial blood with leaven and don’t leave the ceremony until morning.

9. Bring the best of your fruit to the house of the Lord.

10. Don’t boil a kid in its mother’s milk.

Exodus 34.27-28 “The Lord said to moses: write these words down; in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.  I was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water.  And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten-commandments.”

That is the only time the term “ten commandments” appears in the bible.  Of course that’s not what people mean when they say the ten commandments.  The usual ten commandments are as follows (again paraphrased for brevity)

1. Don’t worship the other gods.

2. Don’t make engraved images of anything in heaven, or below the sea.  Don’t worship images.  If you do I’ll punish your offspring for three or four generations.  If you follow my laws I’ll bless you for a thousand generations.

3. Don’t use the Lord’s name wrongly.

4. Keep saturday holy.

5. Honour your father and mother.

6. Don’t murder.

7. Don’t commit adultery.

8. Don’t steal.

9. Don’t bare false witness against neighbors.

10. Don’t covet your neighbor’s house, wife, slave, ox, ass, or anything else he owns.

Now that’s more like it.  But where does this confusion come from?  Well, moses got the tablets from god, smashed them, and went back to get them again.  The second set of ten laws given to Moses, and the first set written above, is what the bible calls the ten commandments but the first, written below, is what we call the ten commandments.  Even the most apparently simple and widely cited part of the bible is pretty complicated and the subject of intense debate.

And this is why you need to read your bible.  Regardless of your faith.  For Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Atheists alike: the bible is one of the most important and influential books ever produced by humanity.  Think it doesn’t matter cause you’re not Christian?  Well a huge part of the world lives their lives according to one book.  To understand the world we live in, you have to understand the bible.  I’ve studied it in school, I’ve studied it for enjoyment and i’ve read it cover to cover several times and I didn’t even notice that the ten commandments are all mixed up.  Bible illiteracy is a real problem.  The woman giving out free instructions on how to live a good life probably doesn’t even know how confused the ten commandments are.  I would be surprised if she could even name the ten that we’re familiar with.  And surely she doesn’t think I ought not engrave pictures.  Bible illiteracy leads people to believe that the gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written by the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John even though their authorship is explained in the bible.  Besides, if anyone really believe in all ten of the commandments, we would see less of this:imagesYeah, that’s a graven image of something from beneath the sea.

Read it.  Cover to cover.  Twice.  I might be the most important book ever.  If you don’t know what’s in it, you shouldn’t be telling anyone else whether it’s good or bad.  There are 613 laws in the Old Testament which, according to Matthew, Jesus promised to defend and uphold.  How many do you know?  How many do you endorse?  There are four separate versions of Jesus’ life in the four gospels.  Do you know where they converge, where they differ?  Which history do you take as truth if any?  Do you understand the challenges of translation from the original Greek and Aramaic?  These are real and challenging questions that must be answered.  You cannot escape the challenge by reading your favourite bits out of context and ignoring the rest.  Don’t hide behind the false security of consensus.  Find out for yourself.  Read it.

Just skip the bit with all the begetting.  It’s quite boring.

We’ve all told a joke to a group and waited those agonizing three to five seconds for them to get it.  After that small interval or if, god forbid, you should have to explain the punch line, the moment has passed, the joke is dead.  Comedy is all about timing after all.  But why is it that we put laughing at your own jokes in the same class as nose-picking or mouth-breathing?  What’s wrong with laughing at your own jokes?

The way I see it, there are two reasons to tell jokes:

#1. You want to make other people happy so that they will like you.  You deliver your jokes like a homeless guy holds the door at a Tim Hortons.  You provide a small service, then hold out your hands and beg for a laugh.

#2.  Life is ironic and hilarious, sometimes dark but often light-hearted, like a satire of itself, and you and your friends share this paradoxical but enthralling view of the human condition.

My bias may shine through my prose a little.  I don’t think I need to tell you which of these outlooks I prefer.  If people are to share in the joy if humour, they have to share in the laughter.  We all need an excuse to laugh more.

Lets do away with the social prohibition on laughing at ones own jokes.  Tell a joke, let out a real belly laugh, slap your knee, and enjoy life.  If your audience isn’t laughing, it just means they aren’t quite as clever as you are.

 

Alternative medicine is a popular term for any sort of treatment that you can’t get an actual doctor to prescribe.  One of the most popular fields of alternative medicine, so popular that Britain’s NHS funds it like real medicine, is homeopathy.  But the actual history of homeopathy reveals what a quackery it truly is.

Created in 1796 by Samuel Hahnemann, homeopathy is based on the idea that an illness is treated by the substance that causes it.  The cure for arsenic poisoning is more arsenic, if you’re bitten by a spider, you should ingest some venom, and I suppose if you get the flu, the only cure is hanging around the ill.  In the original context, it’s easy to see how stupid the idea is.

But give a stupid idea over two hundred years and memetics takes its tole.  Homeopathy has built up a wall of bizarre conventions and processes that make it seem, to some, a little less than totally bonkers.  For example, poisoning people kills them so homeopaths now treat poison victims with water that used to have poison in it.  They dilute the poison until there’s none left, charge patients for water, and claim that because the water remembers that there was poison in it before it will counteract the poison in your body.  Along the way they’ll repeat words like “vibrations” that have no meaning, and talk to you about crystals or your horoscope.

But none of this medical theatrics can change the fact that like does not cure like: you can’t treat a disease by exposing someone to more of that disease.  You see, medicine is an applied extension of the scientific method.  If a treatment were effective, beyond what the placebo effect accounts for, it would no longer be alternative, it would just be medicine.  Therefore alternative cures are, by definition. cures that have either been shown not to work or have not yet been shown to work.

Homeopathy is a racket and the sooner people realize it, the better chance we have to actually solve medical problems.  If the entire institution of science, biology, and medicine can’t fix you, what makes you think an 18th century quack can do any better?

When I say opinions are dumb I don’t mean your opinion is dumb or every opinion except my own is dumb, I mean the whole idea of an opinion is dumb, vacuous, and redundant.

My Dictionary defines opinion as follows:

a view or judgement formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge

On the other hand, a belief is defined this way:

something one accepts as real or true: a firmly held opinion or conviction

Neither an opinion nor a belief is necessarily based on facts or information, but rather both describe the position a person holds on a subject regardless of its foundation.  They mean exactly the same thing.  Saying “In my opinion…” or “I believe…” is the same as saying “I think…” or “It seems to me…”  They all imply the same status of knowledge: provisional.

However, there is a functional difference.  We have this mad idea that opinions can’t be wrong.  You might tell someone they’re wrong and they might reply “It’s just my opinion!”  as if that exempts their proposition from the laws of the universe.  “I believe” has a similar conversational veto.  It’s hard to find a conversational equivalence because we don’t use the words in the same contexts.  Thinking something implies that you’re not sure, whereas belief implies such conviction as to bind the speaker’s very identity to the proposition.

All this confusion is predicated on a simple common-sense misunderstanding of what it means to know something.  Descartes famously wrote “I think therefore I am.” making ones own existence the only fact that any human can independently confirm.  Every other thing you think is true is a matter of probability.  What that means is I only know one thing: that my mind must exists to think about what I know.  It couldn’t think about whether or not it existed if it didn’t exist.  I don’t know if my mind is attached to my brain and my body, if it’s really sitting in front of my computer, if there is a universe outside my window, or anything else.

And so everything you know about anything is a belief: a statement of what you suppose is true without being able to prove it definitely.  And that’s why your opinions are dumb: because they are the same as the things you think are true and subject to all the same discussions and debates.  Every opinion you hold for no reason can be deconstructed through the history of science and philosophy right down to fundamental truths about what it is to be.  That’s what thinking is.

Besides their philosophical nullity, they are functionally destructive.  Opinions are used in conversation as a label that people put on things they think are true but they don’t know why.  If you don’t know why you hold an opinion, toss it.  That’s the honest thing to do.

Lets do away with the opinion and stick with what we want, what we think, and how we think we can know what we think we know.

 

Parts of downtown Toronto are covered in a shiny facade of marble, steel, and glass.  But you don’t have to go far to see the old city peeking through between the cracks.  Once I started to look for it, I began to see how superficial the gleaming city is.  It’s like a veneer on the old crumbling brick townhouses and factories.   IMG_1644This is the alleyway behind the beautiful old building that’s now Club Monaco on Bloor.IMG_1517This is the alley behind a very nice and probably very expensive house near the University of Toronto.IMG_1604And this is Chinatown where they don’t even try to spruce things up.

To love this city, you have to love the crumbling brick, the iron fire escapes, the dark back alleys, the leaded glass windows and everything else that’s underneath the thin layer shiny that the tourists see when they walk down the main street.

If you’re not a photo-geek or tech-head, stop reading now.  It’s time to nerd out hardcore with some super camera pics and stats.  This is my wishlist of the top five cameras I’ve got to check out before I check out.  They’re in no particular order because, lets be honest, I want them all.

#1. Mamiya 7

source: moonpeak.org

source: moonpeak.org

This is a medium format rangefinder that’s so compact that you can shoot it handheld for street photography.  Besides that, the 6×7 negatives are produced with some of the most spectacularly sharp and vivid lenses known to man.  It’s so good that Ken Rockwell and others call it “the best camera in the world.”  Some say that the best camera is the one you have with you, others will do anything for the very best in image quality.  The Mamiya 7 combines the two.

#2. Yashica Electro 35

I admire early attempts at modern technology.  As beautiful as a smartphone is, I am more inspired by the two high-tech LEDs on the top plate of this compact rangefinder that indicate over- or underexposure.  Besides its retro charm, this little camera is equipped with a legendary 40mm F1.7 lens.  Combine that with a super quiet shutter and aperture priority AE and this is the perfect shooter for city walks, and also a great conversation starter!  I like it in black.

#3. Hasselblad XPAN

Some of the most spectacular nature and landscape photos I’ve ever seen have been produced my a Hasselblad XPAN panoramic camera.  It’s a 35mm film camera that shoots 24x65mm panoramas of incredible quality.  Besides that, it’s a near-pocket-sized rangefinder with Hasselblad glass and build quality.  When a camera this unique is produced by a manufacturer of this caliber, it’s an instant classic.  It would be perfect for landscape and mountain photography, and street photography of course.

#5. Any Pro DSLR

source: thenewcamera.com

source: thenewcamera.com

They really are all the same aren’t they?  I’ve looked at Sony, Canon, and Nikon DSLRs and there is so little difference in features that the competition begins to look silly.  They ought to just merge already.  Regardless of the lack of originality, I long to hear that playing-card-in-my-bicycle-spokes ten frames per second  as some fast sports action plays out in front of me.  Nothing makes you feel more legit than a brick-like DSLR body and a big white lens.

#5. Fujifilm X100s

This is the little camera that’s got pro photographers saying DSLR is dead.  It’s the coolest camera to come out in years and has started a revolution of fixed prime, retro style compacts with incredible image quality.  The hybrid rangefinder system is the most amazing rangefinder innovation since SLR and the ergonomics and controls are perfect for (you guessed it) street photography.  I like the black one cause that’s how I roll: under the radar.

Well there it is!  My top five of all time.  Ok, now that I’ve created my list I see that a pattern has emerged: I like black-bodied rangefinders and compacts with amazing image quality.  Some of these cameras are a little out of my price range but some are very attainable.  Hopefully someday I’ll get a chance to own, borrow, or shoot with each of these incredible tools.  For now I’ll have to just keep shooting on mom’s old Canon SLR which still does everything I need.

I do feel bad for omitting a few cameras that were either too big or too obvious so honourable mention goes to:

Leica M3

Leica M9

Contax G2

Fujifilm X PRO 1

Canon F1n

Hasselblad 500CM

Nikon D800

So was there ever or is there still a camera that you yearned for?  Tell me the story in the comments below?

Great architecture is uplifting.  That’s why it’s nice to work in a place that looks like this:IMG_1438