Monday, July 30, 2007
All religio-ethical systems have a weak point. In my opinion, monotheism (and Christian style monotheism especially) falters on the old Omnipotence Paradox: "Could God create a rock so heavy even He could not lift it?" (although I personally prefer the Simpsons version: "Could God create a burrito so hot even He could not eat it?")
Long-time readers will recall that I like to think of myself as a Buddhist (whether I do a good job of that is an open question.) But sometimes Buddhist ethics can be tricky. Its major weakness, I think, is passive aggression.
Take bugs, for example. Strict interpretation of Buddhist ethics suggests that you should never knowingly, intentionally kill anything, but with bugs this is not always practical and Buddhism is first and foremost a practical religion.
I thought I had it cased when I devised my own qualified rules about bugs: Never intentionally kill a bug unless it is a) a demonstrable health hazard, such as cockroaches (which fortunately I've never had to deal with) or b) an aggressive insect, such as a mosquito or wasp, in which case one's natural defensive reaction can be interpreted as the insect's bad karma rather than one's own.
But at an outdoor BBQ last night I encountered a real poser. A wasp flew into an empty champagne flute whose opening was almost totally covered by a slice of lemon. The wasp managed to wrangle its way in but then couldn't get out and started to buzz itself into a panic.
Now, if I had set this as a trap for the wasp, that would obviously be bad, but it was just an accident. Once the wasp was in the trap, though, was I under any kind of obligation to help it? After all, the wasp had clearly landed in its predicament due to its own bad karma, the inate greed and aggression that led it back to the picnic table over and over again, despite our many efforts to shoo it away.
If it was a nice bug, like a ladybug or a spider, there would be no question. I routinely go out of my way to save spiders. But wasps are so mean, well, one less flying around is a good thing, isn't it?
This ethical question is not as trivial as it may appear. Just bump it up from the bottom to the top of the evolutionary chain and see how tricky it gets. If a psycho killer landed in prison or, perhaps more to the point, was trapped in a burning building, what's the ethical response? Should you help or not? Free him, knowing he'll likely kill again, or let him die thereby engaging in negligent homicide yourself.
I know most people will find it laughable to ponder the fate of bugs and its not as though I lost any sleep over it or anything. But what would you do, dear readers? Assume that you had to treat all life consistently and state reasons for or against freeing the dreaded wasp.
Or, if you prefer, talk about other funny, kooky religio-ethical dilemmas.
Or talk about funny BBQ anecdotes. Whatever ;-)
posted by Mentok @ 9:29 AM, ,
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
This story is kinda sad. End of an era..
Hassenpfeffer Incorporated to Change Jingle
Milwaukee (FN) - Forget the schlemeil . Forget the schlemazel. Hassenpfeffer Incorporated, whose catchy jingle made it America's most famous processed rabbit meat company in the 1950's, has decided it's time to change its tune.
The Milwaukee-based firm today announced that it has commissioned infamous shock-rock band Gwar to compose a new jingle to replace the company's decades-old standard.
"I don't want to run down the old jingle. It has served us very well. It was just time to go with something a little fresher. Fifty years is a long time to stick with anything in advertising," said company communications director Jerry Everitson.
Hassenpfeffer Incorporated, which supplies so-called "surplus" rabbit meat (some would call it road kill) to the dog food and dried meat snack industries, first launched its famous "One, two, three, four..." jingle in 1957. It was featured on the Edsel Show, a series of hour-long Bing Crosby musical specials also noted for being the first TV show recorded on videotape.
In perhaps one of the first occurences of viral advertising, the song became entrenched in Americans' minds after it became incorporated into a then-popular version of a children's hopscotch game.
The song enjoyed a revival in the 1970s, when it was used as part of the opening sequence to Laverne and Shirley, a 1950's nostaligia spin-off of Happy Days.
Everitson predicts the new song by Gwar will prove equally enduring. The proposed new lyrics of the Hassenpfeffer jingle are:
"Yaaaaar! All you motherfuckers! Eat my shit! Gaayaayaar! Suck my dick! Hassenpfeffer Incorporated! Naaagaayeeaa!"
"We feel the new jingle puts a fresh new twist on the Hassenpfeffer brand and will help us build market share by positioning us to reach a younger demographic," said Everitson.- 30 -
posted by Mentok @ 9:50 AM, ,
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Report: Quebec Inuit's traditional way of life threatened by warming temp.
MONTREAL (CP) - A report on climate change in Quebec's north says warming temperatures are making it more dangerous for Inuit to travel and hunt.
Shorter winters and thinner ice mean increased risk for Quebec's Inuit, who rely heavily on Ski-Doos to get around.
“People are preoccupied because the traditional life up north, the traditional diet, are very important here,” Dr. Tremblay, a geographer and environmental researcher based in Kuujjuaq, near Ungava Bay, said in a telephone interview from the Kativik offices.
Researchers are even suggesting it may be necessary for the Inuit to return to dog sleds, which are lighter and whose dogs can detect precarious patches of ice.
OK, so their traditional way of life is threatened because they might have to go back to using dog sleds?
I imagine there will be a million hippies blowing a mental gasket trying to compute this story. On the one hand, climate change - bad thing; on the other hand, return to traditional aboriginal way of life - good thing.
A news debate about the value of dog sleds over Ski Doos: Man, I'm really not doing much to help stereotypes of my country, am I?
posted by Mentok @ 11:17 AM, ,
Monday, July 23, 2007
As previously warned/threatened, I'm going to spend much of the remainder of the summer blogger-doldrums brainstorming over a new angle for this blog.
When I started this, it was just meant to be a place to share gags and thoughts with a handful of local friends who were also blogging at the time. Then it morphed into the whole comedy fake news thing and ultimately into its present "reflections on life" mode, which is frankly starting to bore me.
So over the next while I'm going to trial balloon some new ideas.
First up, perhaps I could do more to focus on my Monkey Principle.
Long-time readers will already be familiar with this, since it is one of the first things I blogged about. More of an attitude to life than a principle, it can be summed up in one line:
Humans are a species of ape and should be judged accordingly.
Now, this may seem very obvious, but these days there's a pretty hefty amount of misanthropic thought rampant amongst the environmental movement and some other lefty causes. There are so many over-earnest types who hold humans to an impossibly high standard; who gnash their teeth and wail:
"Oh humans are so bad. We're the worst creatures on Earth. We're so mean and greedy. We've wrecked the environment..." etc. etc.
Well, no shit. What do you expect from a bunch of monkeys?
To put it in perspective, let's imagine a genetic engineering experiment involving baboons.
Let's say you took a bunch of baboons, locked them up in a big biosphere lab and gave them some kind of DNA booster shot that made them way too smart, way too soon without any counterbalancing evolution of their social development. Now let's say you let them have a bunch of chemicals, nuclear weapons and pointy sticks and left them to their own devices for a few years.
Does anyone actually think that experiment would have a happy ending?
If some hippy-dippy type on the research team said: "I would bet any money that when we come back we will find the baboons living in peace and harmony, caring for each other and their environment," I would happily take that bet and soak this person for every penny he had, since he would clearly be the biggest idiot the world has ever seen.
No, it is obvious that such an experiment would have one of two possible conclusions:
1. We come back to find the lab covered in baboon excrement, half the baboons with pointy sticks stuck in their eyes and the other half mixing toxic chemicals with no regard for their own or others safety; OR
2. We would come back to find the baboons had fiddled with the nuclear weapons and blown themselves up.
So, you see, we humans are currently living in the best case scenario of what is reasonable to expect from technology-using primates. This is a blessing to be celebrated, not a failure to be condemned.
Now, how would this affect the blog theme? I'm thinking I would make this more of a news commentary site. I would hunt for goofy news clippings that epitomize the Monkey Principle and provide some (hopefully) humorous commentary to illuminate.
Readers could discuss the general silliness of the selected news item, or suggest others for future posts.
On the whole, the site would have more of a Jon Stewart / Stephen Colbert vibe to it.
I'll try this out tomorrow so you can see what I have in mind. In the meantime, let me know if you have any suggestions.
posted by Mentok @ 9:50 AM, ,
Monday, July 16, 2007
OK, I'm back now and already busy brainstorming a redesign. Any thoughts?
I remember once hearing a superstitious theory that there is one place on Earth each person is meant to be and, until you find that place, you will have bad luck.
Well, I've had plenty of bad luck in all the other places I've lived, so I know those places aren't my ideal locations.
But the Kelowna, BC region, my favourite vacation spot, remains a possibility.
All my life I've been cursed with a bad sense of direction. This in spite of the fact that I live in a place that is the archetype of unimaginative 19th century transportation planning. Virtually all the roads, both highways and urban streets, are in nice square grids. How tough can it be to navigate a grid? Very tough, if you're me.
In Kelowna, though, I had a perfect sense of direction. . This was in spite of the fact that the terrain is hilly, the streets are winding and irregular and the towns and neighbourhoods appear thrown together, following no discernable development plan. This is exactly the sort of place that confuses most people. Mrs. Mentok, who usually serves as my navigator (like those birds that perch on the noses of half-blind rhinos), frequently got turned around as we were driving. Yet somehow I always had an accurate sense of where I was and how to get to and from any other location in the area.
So somehow or other, I simply have to end up living out there. If only the mortgages weren't so astronomical!
How about you guys? Have you ever been to a place that just felt so right that you knew it was the place you were meant to be?
posted by Mentok @ 10:07 AM, ,
Friday, July 06, 2007
I'm on vacation for the next week, so you won't see much around here for a bit. What else is new, eh? Seems like half the blogosphere is on vacation at the moment.
I've been working my nuts off the past month, so I feel I've really earned this holiday. Our clan is headed to the wonderful Okanagan Valley. You foreigners probably aren't familiar with it. Nestled amongst the western foothills of the Rockies, the valley is the heart of the Western Canadian wine and fruit country.
A couple of years ago, we discovered a hidden treasure, an economically priced bed-and-breakfast that offers a pure slice of heaven. For no more than economy hotel prices, we get the whole lower level of a split-level (i.e. valley built) house, complete with our own fully stocked kitchen, a private deck, barbecue and - get this - private hot tub. The grape-vine entwined deck looks out over Lake Okanagan and catches the moonlight perfectly at night. Many of Canada's most famous vinyards are literally down (or up) the street. Fruit hangs heavy off of every tree, which is always a sight of wonder for prairie dwellers like us.
I dream about returning to this place every minute I'm away from it. I may retire there.
Of course, getting there is an ordeal. No pain no gain as the cliche goes. A 16 hour haul, much of it over mountains. Kids can say "are we there yet?" a lot of times in 16 hours.
Fortunately, this year I have a new defence against the driving doldrums: a ton of new music. Thanks to all my MP3 blog friends, I now have dozens of hours worth of tunes to while away the miles, as compared to the dozen or so overplayed CDs we typically took on past trips.
So, Rachel, Fil, Tim, Colin, JC, Marcy, Liz, Cindy ... I'm going to be thinking of you all very fondly over the next couple of days. Thanks for sharing your superb tastes in music with the world.
I'll see you all in about a week. When I get back, we'll have serious business to discuss: it's about time for me to re-invent the blog again. Any suggestions or requests?
The Cure - Mint Car
(But I can assure you our mini-van will not smell mint-like after a 16 hour drive ;-)
posted by Mentok @ 9:58 AM, ,
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Don't you just hate it when you get back from a long weekend to find a stack of work on your desk and a dozen brush-fires to put out?
In the little bit of down-time I took today, I decided to read up on Element 69 from the Periodic Table of Elements. I've been meaning to do this for some time, expecting there to be a treasure-trove of juvenile gags and double-entendres to exploit.
No such luck. Bummer. Element 69 is called thulium. It's a rare earth and one of the rarest substances on earth. It has some limited applications in lasers and x-rays, but it is so scarce and expensive that these applications aren't commercially feasible. Thulium compounds have no commercial application. There are no interesting anecdotes about its origin. It's named after an island off the north coast of Greenland. It couldn't be more boring.
No bonerium. No cunilingium. No such fun to brighten my work-day. Ho hum.
Really, it wasn't very thoughtful of the Periodic Table people. Couldn't they have said "Hey there Per Teodor Cleve. We know you are a noted Swedish chemist and geologist, but could you hold off on publishing about this thulium stuff for a couple months? We've got number 69 coming up and we'd like to save it for something really special."
At the very least, they could have nudged him to come up with a better name. Would it have killed him to call it bigbreastedSwedishblondium ?
You know what I'm saying?
posted by Mentok @ 6:45 PM, ,
Sunday, July 01, 2007
Some day, there will be no nations or countries.
When you think about it, the whole history of the human race has been a gradual trend towards larger and larger political units. And, on the whole, that's a good thing; the Brotherhood of Man and all that.
Still, it's sad sometimes to look back through history books and read the oh-so-many names of long dead countries: Babylonia, Medea, Illyria, Bithynia, Prussia, Normandy, Jutland. The names all sound so beautiful and mysterious, yet in many cases we know almost nothing about culture and lives of the people who lived in those places.
Take a look at Carthage, a mighty ancient empire, easily the rival of Rome. I'm sure there are any number of alternate quantum realities where they won the Punic Wars and Medditerranean and European history therefore took an entirely different direction.
But they didn't win in this quantum reality and the vengeful Romans made sure that there is little history or literature left to tell us about them.
My country, Canada may not be Carthage but it is a great country. We took a big, cold, barren, almost uninhabitable chunk of rock and turned it into one of the great economic powerhouses of the world. Through our extensive Hollywood mafia, we have had a major impact on the culture of the world, albeit invisibly. And then of course, I need hardly mention, there's hockey. We have a lot to be proud of.
Yet, for all of our accomplishments, this country has always struggled with the subconscious knowledge that we are here for a good time, not a long time. From the very day this country was founded, it has been inevitable that we will eventually be swallowed up by the larger North American society. It may happen in 100 years or in 1,000 years, but sooner or later it will happen. Like Medea, like Prussia, like Normandy, our country's sad fate will be to end up as a footnote to the history of another country.
Unlike some hysterical Yankee-hating lefties, I don't think Canada or any parts of it will ever join or be taken over by the US in any direct sort of sense. I think over the course of time both Canada and the US will fade away and gradually be replaced by some entity with some name like the Security and Prosperity Partnership of the Americas (SPPA...kinda has a ring to it), an entity that won't exactly be a country or a federation as we know them now but will be a totally new and different thing.
And then finally some day in the very distant future there won't even be an SPPA, as humanity continues to experiment with new and better styles of political organization. At least we can hope they will be better.
All of that lies in the distant science-fictiony future. For today, we have this marvelous country of Canada. This country, that has always sought a more tolerant, caring and less obnoxious style than our North American brothers. This country, that has offered a home to post-American Revolution political refugees, escaped slaves, McCarthy-era exiles, Vietnam draft dodgers and any number of others for whom "the Land of the Free" had become an irony.
I hope we can leave some sort of legacy. I hope that we Canadians can use our time on this Earth to do important things, big things that will leave our mark on the evolution of mankind.
Some will say that big thing involves building the best social welfare system or becoming the most environmentally conscious country in the world. Others will say it means building the best infrastructure, becoming the richest country or sending troops to help people in other countries.
I don't know. Probably, it's a bit here and there of all such things. All I know is that, despite all of our bickering and apparent disunity, we Canadians have managed to reach consensus on many more things than we realize and, almost unconsciously, have muddled our way into building one of the 21st Century's great countries. We need to keep it up, keep it together and keep aiming higher.
Happy Canada Day!
Labels: Everything is Impermanent
posted by Mentok @ 10:18 AM, ,