Category : Observations

2003 November 11

Lest we forget

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, an armistice took effect on the Western Front of the Great War, beginning the end of the most horrifying conflict the world had ever seen. In the course of this war, ten million men were killed and more than twenty million were wounded in the mud of the trenches. This day is thus remembered, variously as Armistice Day, Veterans Day, and in Canada, Remembrance Day. This poem is traditional. It probably has more resonance for me than any other.

"In Flanders Fields"

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
A lark, still bravely singing, flies
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, saw dawn, felt sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

                Written May 3, 1915 after battle(s) at Ypres,
                by Maj. (Dr.) John McCrae of the              
                1st Canadian Field Artillery Brigade          
                Published in "Punch", Dec 8, 1915

    November 11 . . . LEST WE FORGET

2003 July 24

Motivational speaking

Joey deVilla makes some prose beg for mercy. Bastard prose. It deserved it.

Bring it on: The other thing to keep in mind is that life, as The Stranglers song goes, shows no mercy. Sooner or later, you're going to be sitting in the back of the Metaphorical Pickup Truck of Life and realize that there's a guy in a Pikachu costume smoking crystal meth in the driver's seat. His foot is jammed hard on the accelerator pedal, he's drenched in sweat, he has the look of death in his soulless eyes, he's slashing his own leg with a stilletto knife and screaming "PAIN WILL BRING ME CLOSER TO FATHER!"

Lesser people -- those who can only thrive when the cards are dealt in their favour -- will curl up in a ball and wait for the truck to eventually go off a cliff or slam into a bus of orphans and puppies and explode John Woo-style.

Those who know that winning isn't in the cards you're dealt, but how you play them, would hop over the cab and onto the hood, Indiana Jones/T.J. Hooker style, smash through the windshield, pummel the driver into submission and bring the vehicle to a complete stop. And then take everyone out for ice cream afterwards.

I hope to be one of those people.

This is his way of putting a really bad date into perspective.

2003 July 8

European sports week

I find myself watching European sports this week -- the Outdoor Living Network (the Unpopular Sports Network) is showing round-the-clock coverage of the Tour de France, interrupted only by the Running of the Bulls. Apparently they run the bulls every night of the Fiesta de San Fermin, so it's on every night this week at 7:30.

Okay, so there's not much to be said about an event where the report reads: "Three gorings and a serious head traumatism in the second running of the bulls" . . . "something that is not unusual," except the obvious comment that maybe Europeans are not so soft as American rednecks like to think they are.

Meanwhile, the Tour de France is strangely not so different. The finishes of stages (at least the flat ones) seem to involve a few desperate breakaway riders trying to stay in front of a massive implacable pack, and spectacular 60-km/h crashes in dense traffic -- it's a hell of a sight watching a bent bicycle pinwheeling eight feet into the air. And Stage 1 ended with a fifty-bike pile-up, riders going down like dominoes. One survivor of that actually broke his collarbone and is still in the race, the madman.

But honestly, it's the rest of the race that I like watching. Like a long nordic race, there's something soothing about watching long lines of athletes metronomically coursing across pretty countryside. Yes, they may in fact be travelling 50 km/h and up, but often you can't really tell. The race is just a colourful snake winding through the countryside, with announcers nattering on about one rider or another, and couple time-differential numbers in the margin: gaps between the leader, breakaway group one, and the peloton. Hypnotic.

My only real request is for the riders to lose those godawful hornrimmed sunglasses.

By far the best ad for the Tour goes: "Time waits for no man . . . so it must be hunted down, and beaten."

2003 May 19

Don't forget to stop and eat the roses

The lilacs are in bloom along the bike path, and the air is thick with the fragrance.

I told Elizabeth on Friday they'd gotten back-ordered on Spring, and it was being rationed until the new supplies came in. It seems like they have.

2003 May 1


The question of "what an educated person needs to know" is currently running around the blogosphere. For instance, Matthew Yglesias writes

But then I stop and think about it and realize that I know lots and lots of very intelligent people who simply don't know where the countries of the world are located, and they all seem fine. It just so happens that for whatever reason (a strange love of maps, I suppose) I know a lot of geography and so it seems to me that everyone ought to know a lot of geography. [+]
(To which I have to say: There's nothing strange about a love of maps. Maps are one of the greatest inventions of humankind. Maps rule.)

Meanwhile, Kevin Drum worries:

Still, from a "cultural literacy" point of view you could argue that there are certain key aspects of science that everyone should know about. But which ones? [+]

It seems to me that arguing about what belongs in a canon is beside the point, or possibly actively counterproductive. Logic and analysis are tools; facts are lumber. You can't build a durned thing without having a good supply of both, but practically speaking, nobody has a big enough garage to keep everything on hand.

Am I arguing that squoshy underachiever's defence, then, that there's no point in memorizing facts because you can just go look them up when you need them? Hell, no, not least because you need facts on hand to tell you when you've run across a new one that doesn't seem to fit.

What the world needs, then, is an army of inquisitors all armed with different facts and different tools. To first order, it doesn't matter that much what you know, so long as you're doing your part in knowing stuff, and in fact, it seems to me it's a positive advantage if what you know is different from what your neighbour knows. The thing you have to have in common, I think, is a means of reconciling points of view, which means basic literacy, numeracy, and logic.

Beyond that, there's only one other thing that I think any educated person worth anything ought to know: that he or she does not know nearly enough about anything, and needs to learn more.

Maps, though, still rule. There are only 193 countries in the world. How hard is it to know where they all are?


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