Archives for category: People

So there has been a hubbub, a brouhaha, a kafuffle in the news lately about facebook privacy.  It seems that until recently, those between 13 and 17 were forced to keep their facebook profiles private, or visible only to friend and friends of friends.  This was to protect the identities of minors.  But now the people at facebook are allowing teenagers to post pictures on the internet that just anyone can see.  Concerned parents groups and PTA moms all over the world are speaking out.

Here’s the thing.  Internet privacy is not a thing.  It never existed.  The very term is an oxymoron.  I personally have had my facebook account hacked twice, that I know about.  Worse yet, facebook, along with almost all the big networks, sells your personal information to third party organizations.  If that weren’t bad enough, the NSA has a file on you with copies of the emails you send and records of the sites you visit.  Internet privacy?  Puh-lease!  You never had it.  The only crime was that anyone told a teenager that there was such a thing in the first place.

And yet parents and the people informing them are teaching their kids to use facebook privacy settings to stay safe because the parents don’t understand it either.  The only sane way to look at the internet is essentially the same way we look at everything else.  Consider dressing.  When you are at home you can wear whatever you want.  When you go out, anyone can see you because you’re in a public space.  You might run into your boss or your ex or a celebrity but you have no control over who will see you.  The internet is a public space.  All of it.  It’s what the internet is: your files stored on other people’s computers.  When you store your files on your computer it’s just called a computer.

And so as usual the your salvation lies not behind the paper thin security systems of facebook, hotmail, or twitter, but with education: with understanding that every single piece of information you post is stored on someone else’s computer.  The only security afforded to you by the world wide web is security in numbers, the anonymity of the crowd.  It’s hard to target individuals when there are billions of them.  That’s why there are more spammers than hackers.  Don’t put your faith in security settings and don’t teach your kids to either.  Assume that every bit is broadcast to the whole world, and hope Obama never comes looking for you.




It has become a cliche to say that self-centered people spend their time googling themselves.  There are a few reasons this doesn’t make sense.

Many people who use the internet are not self-promoting, they are not trying to craft an image for themselves or drive traffic to their content.  Indeed many internet users have no content.  If you are in that category then googling yourself should yield no results.  Another option is that you are so popular in the wider world that people create content about you – you’re a celebrity – and your narcissistic behavior is most likely justified.

The third option is that you are like me and you are building a public image and a skill set based around the inner workings of search engines and other internet tools.  In that case, googling yourself is a purely intellectual endeavor.  You could even call it professional development.

Well I partook in some professional development last night and I was a little disturbed at what I found.  The first results google turns up are my linkedin profile, posts from this blog, my twitter feed, my youtube channel, posts from (another blog I write), and other things I’ve created that have my name stamped on them.  But interspersed with these links are links like this one and many more like it.  Next I went over to the images section and when I google my name I get this:Picture 2My apologies friends, dad, and Patrick Watson for dragging you into my social media vortex!  I seem to have so over-saturated the internet with content that one persona alone cannot contain it.

I don’t know what to make of all this.  Have I over-marketed myself?  If an employer were to google me would they see how aptly I have manipulated the google crawlers, or would they see only a picture of me with a foo-manchu?  It’s difficult to say.  I’ll have to ponder it further, and maybe rethink my personal marketing strategy.  At least I can breathe knowing that, if you leave out my middle name, you just get pictures of a certain elderly gay wizard whose name I don’t share.  Luckily people misspell his name a lot more than I write mine.

Balance restored.

There was a story in the news recently that was so stupid it was undeserving of my attention or that of anyone else.  Then the story got even more stupid: so stupid that I feel compelled chime in and add to this circus of stupidity, this black hole of journalism and intellect.

Justin Bieber got into the kitchen at a bar, peed in a bucket, and cursed former US president Bill Clinton while spraying cleaner on his photo.  This is the kind of dumb stuff that stupid young people do.  It’s not surprising and it’s not newsworthy.  But it’s Justin Bieber.  When he farts it makes headlines, so it had to be discussed all over the entertainment rags and the internet.  Then something even more pathetic happened.  Someone thought that the kind of person who pees in buckets has some sort of responsibility not to insult a former US president.  The topic of respect was discussed at length, as if an immature pop star should be held to a standard of public political discourse.

Bieber called Bill Clinton on the phone and he actually answered!!!  This moron who pees in buckets said mean things about a former president, called to apologize and he actually answered!  What is wrong with these people?  There is no scandal when stupid young people do stupid things.  The only outrage is that the restaurant didn’t call the police.  Doesn’t Bill Clinton have something better to do?  Can’t the public realize that Justin Bieber is a young pop star and lose their expectation that he make socially and politically responsible decisions?

This kind of thing doesn’t deserve a response, especially from Bill Clinton.  A stupid person did a stupid thing.  It’s not news.  A world where the public demands that stupid youths don’t disrespect politicians, yet don’t notice when politicians have the time to take personal calls from stupid youths, is a world with its priorities all messed up.

In one of his best soap-box rants, David Mitchell very astutely pointed out that living in the moment is stupid.  I’ll illustrate why it’s stupid with his example modified for the Bluejays’ epic winning streak.  A baseball game where your team scores constantly and wins handily is pleasant while it’s happening because you avoid the uncertainty and discomfort of not knowing if your team will win, however that joy is short lived.  Conversely, a game that is neck-and-neck all the way to the finish and ends with a dramatic win will be a source of cheer for years to come.  Thus, living in the moment, or doing what makes you happy now, is a recipe for disaster.

Take a more extreme example: I once broke my arm very badly and the bones had to be set.  To do so required drugging me quite heavily but not putting me under.  I’m told I moaned with pain while my bones were wrenched apart and jammed back together.  And despite all that pain and suffering, I am not traumatized by the experience because I have no memory of it.  If I were living in the moment, my forearm would still be bend like a hockey stick.

You see, our experience right now is not informed by how happy we were during the past, it’s informed by how happy we are now about the past.  Therefore the key to happiness is not living in the moment, but rather strategically choosing activities, be they joyous or miserable, that will positively impact your future perceptions.

Lets talk about the weather.  Yesterday in Toronto, the temperature reached 32 degrees and the humidity made it feel like 40.  Normally I would hate this kind of weather.  You sweat and it doesn’t evaporate because of the humidity, your shirt collar gets sticky, and everyone stinks.  But that’s not what I was thinking about; I was thinking about Madrid.  The last time I felt such overpowering sunshine and warmth was exploring the streets of Madrid, walking through narrow alleyways, shopping at flea markets, and drinking sangria on the terraces.  Did I enjoy the heat in Madrid?  Heck no.  But I enjoy it now because it reminds me of Madrid.  That’s the incredible power of positive association.

Plaza Mayor

Me and Laura sweating like pigs at Plaza Mayor, Madrid

What about inclement weather: rain, sleet, hail, snow?  What about when the wind blows precipitation horizontal?  It may make you think about how cold and wet you are, but it reminds me of mountaineering.  It reminds me of waiting out a lightning and hail storm while climbing in the pyrenees.  Now I didn’t really enjoy the hail storm itself, but it is close enough to the utter bliss of pyrenean climbing that they are stuck together in my head.  Certain crummy weather conditions will forever cheer me up.

Our tent after the lighning and hail storm in Parque National Ordesa y Monte Perdido

Our tent after the lighning and hail storm in Parque National Ordesa y Monte Perdido

Positive association can turn miserable life events into wonderful, transformative memories, and you’ll have the memories a lot longer than you’ll ever have the life events.  And that’s why you should never live in the moment.

It’s been said that the true test of insanity is whether or not a person thinks they’re crazy.  If you think you’re crazy, you can’t be because crazy people don’t think they’re crazy.  If however you don’t think you’re crazy… I’ll let you work it out from here.  Well there is a similar dilemma when it comes to competency and intelligence.

There is a psychological phenomenon called the Dunning-Kruger Effect which states that there is “a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average.  In other words, people who are bad at things can’t tell how bad they because they’re not smart enough to identify what being bad is.  Of course if they knew what it was that made them so bad they would stop doing it.  Furthermore, the theory states that “Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding.”

And the concept applies to competency in anything: fishing, baseball, painting, writing, even thinking itself.  You may think you understand how logic and reason works but if you don’t you can’t know because if you didn’t you wouldn’t have the capacity to logically decide how well you understand logic.  You see the problem?

People who dress boldly but badly, people who think they’re sports prodigies but have no success, everyone who sings karaoke, and exactly half of all people who ever did a debate and went home feeling like they won: these people believe that they are good at what they do because they aren’t competent enough to know what bad is.

Everybody thinks they’re logical, everybody thinks what they think makes sense, everybody thinks they’re good at something, and most of those people are wrong.  Just think: half of the human race has a below-average IQ.  Do you think half of people think they are below average?

So how do you escape this trap?  How do you figure out how bad you are at what you do?  Well most of you won’t think too hard about it.  But for those who care, research is the answer.  If you want to know if you’re dumb, take an IQ test.  It’s not a perfect indicator by any means but it is the best and most convenient indicator we have.  If you want to know if you are logical, study formal logic.  The more time you spend studying any field, the more likely you are to know something about it.  If you want to know if you’re good at sports, trust the statistics.  The things you think have to be confirmed by others, and your mom doesn’t count: she’ll always think you’re great.  Many of those people will lie to you and tell you, “You were great when you sang karaoke up there!” but if they are bad too then how would they know?

I think there is a threshold beyond which people stop thinking they know stuff and start researching to learn stuff.  The more people cross that threshold the better off this world will be.

Picture this.  You’ve reached a rough spot in your life.  Things aren’t going the way you’d like them too.  Maybe there’s been a crisis.  Maybe someone close to you is in trouble.  In this time of need, you confide in a friend.  This friend listens to your problems and gives you a piece of advice: don’t do anything.  When life gives you lemons, leave those lemons alone.  The best way to solve a problem is to ignore it!  Now consider:

When I find myself in times of trouble

Mother Mary comes to me

Speaking words of wisdom:

“Let it be.”

What kind of wisdom is that?  Gandhi said “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  but Paul McCartney says “Nooooo.  The world is a tough place but just let it be.”  If you try to separate the idea from the pretty song and the soothing diction it’s pretty awful advice.  It’s the opposite of the Trooper’s didactic masterpiece Raise a Little Hell which teaches “If your don’t like what you’ve got why don’t you change it?  If your world is all screwed up rearrange it!”  Paul McCartney would say “If you don’t like what you’ve got let it be.  If your world is all screwed up let it be.”  You see Mother Mary’s wisdom starts to lose its value when you apply it to problems.

Be weary of music.  Pop music is complicated.  It’s a multimedia art combining sounds and poetry.  Just because the sounds are nice doesn’t mean the poetry is any good, and just because the poetry sounds pleasant doesn’t mean the message is good or true.

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.