Sunday, January 12, 2003


From Cary at, on how a girl should get a boyfriend:

You are not trying to make him laugh. You are not trying to figure out if his politics agree with yours. You are not sprinkling your conversation with cynical wisecracks. You are not arguing about philosophy or aesthetics. You are trying to form a picture in your mind of the unique constellation of emotions and desires that is his spiritual signature. You're trying to picture what it feels like to be him....

If you approach it in this careful way, you should be able to ascertain, through reflection on what you have observed, whether he wants to go out with you or not. And, of course, along the way, you will discover for yourself whether you are really interested in lying next to him at night listening to the sound of his breathing.

Take your time. Observe. Practice. See what works. Does he like it when you ask to feel his muscle or does it just embarrass him? Observe. Watch what happens. Keep watching. Move slowly. Don't scare him. When he kisses you, don't let go. Just keep kissing him until the phone rings. Then don't answer the phone.

And, assuming you like him and he likes you, as far as the kissing and making out and sex thing, if you're not sure what to do, you can always just say, "Is it OK if I take off all my clothes and lie down on the bed?" Then take off all your clothes.

Sunday, January 05, 2003


It has come to my attention that there are people who don't know who Martin Luther was. I wrote a thunbnail for the person who brought this to my attention, and I'm reproducing it here as a public service. I make no claims to authoritative Luther scholarship, so please feel free to offer corrections or additions in my comments.

Martin Luther, a topline thumbnail

Martin Luther was a Catholic monk. In the early 16th century, he basically got fed up with the corruption, indulgences, political meddlings, etc. of the Catholic church at the time, and started a fight with them. He did this by nailing his '95 Theses' to the door of the biggest cathedral in his hometown.

Basically, the 95 theses argued that Christian faith is essentially a direct relationship between the individual and God, and that the individual uses scripture to mediate that connection. Which flew in the face of the Catholic understanding, which was that the church and the clergy were the only legitimate mediators between the faithful and God.

Practically, this meant rejecting papal authority over scriptural interpretation, translating scripture from Latin to the common language, letting lay people preach, etc.

This set off the foundation of first one, then a number of new churches (Lutheran, Calvinist, etc.), and a few centuries of (very) bloody conflict between followers of Luther, who came to be known as Protestants, and Catholics. This schism became know as the 'Protestant Reformation'

In some parts of the world, they're still fighting.

Here's what he looked like, if you're interested.

Sunday, December 29, 2002


Remember when I said I had the flu? I think I was wrong because it's still around. I think I have Mumps. WICKED!! THAT'S how you kick off the new year. I can barely swallow!! How jealous are all of you?

UPDATE: I went to the doctor, turns out it's strep throat and an ear infection. Yay, Penicillin!

Sunday, December 08, 2002


How to talk someone down from a bad trip

What follows is from personal experience. It's obviously not professional advice.

(1) Why do you care?

Because it can cause serious damage. Even if you don't personally do drugs, or even know anyone who does, your 17-year-old son might some day. What do you do when he comes home and falls to the floor in the fetal position, sobbing like a baby?

(2) OK, what the hell is a bad trip?

This is actually the hardest question. It can be difficult to convey, especially if you've never done hallucinogenic drugs. Think of it like this:

Your brain has some mechanisms to control your imagination. Specifically, it needs to discern between what you're picturing in your head, either from memory or imagination, and what you're actually seeing. Otherwise, we'd run like hell every time we remembered seeing a tiger. This is a ridiculous oversimplification, but what hallucinogens essentially do is suppress this mechanism. The more potent the dosage, the more repressed the mechanism. So the more hallucinogens you're on, the more 'don't think of pink elephants' generates not only a mental image of pink elephants, but the perception of actual pink elephants dancing across the room.

This is fine (and cool) when it's pink elephants. Sometimes things go poorly, though, and it stops being pink elephants and it starts being 'the end of the world', or 'you're going insane' or 'you're dying' or 'everyone hates you and is conspiring to harm you' or 'there is a massive unnameable crisis' or 'you've lost the ability to process language' or 'you're never going to recover from feeling this way'. When those ideas get in your head, and your ability to discern that they are not true fails, things can get not just unpleasant but unimaginably horrifying.

Imagine the stark terror of a massive crisis, then imagine it's all in your head, and then imagine that, recognising this, you believe that you've gone insane, and will spend the next 60 years feeling this stark terror. Imagine further that you don't believe that anyone can help you because you think they hate you.

(3) So what do I do if someone I know is having a bad trip?

First, diagnose the situation. Find out what they took, make sure it's an hallucinogen like LSD or mushrooms. The response when someone is twitching on the floor from, say, heroin, should be to rush them to the hospital. The worst possible thing you could do to someone on a bad mushroom trip is take them to a hospital with stark neon lighting and injured strangers running around in a panic.

After this, do not mention drugs again. The last thing this person needs is a reminder of how high they are.

Next, get them somewhere safe. Don't take them far, but to the best of your ability get them somewhere well but not brightly lit, enclosed but not cramped, and with as few people as possible. Ideally, it would be a place the person feels safe in general, like their bedroom. Again, a hospital would be about the worst possible place. That's only a last resort.

Now you've got to give them control. Part of a bad trip is that you can't control what's happening to you. Start with their own body. Get them to breathe deeply and slowly. Focus on that. Breathe with them. Let it be the only thing they're thinking about. Get them to sit up. Breathe in, breathe out.

Good. Now lay down the rules. Put them in charge. If they want the lights on, the lights will come on. If they want them off, you'll turn them off. Tell them that if there's someone there they want to leave, that person will leave. Tell them that if there's someone they want, you can try to get that person to come. Tell them that you're going to talk, but if they want you to be quiet, you'll be quiet, if they want to talk, you'll listen. Keep saying this, keep reminding them they're in charge. Keep them breathing in and out, deep and regular while you talk. The only thing you should not, under any circumstances, do is leave them alone.

Calm them down. Tell them that nothing is wrong. Explain that the feelings they have will pass. Say they'll feel normal in the morning. Keep reassuring them of this. Tell them that everyone around them is fine. There is no crisis. No one is angry, no one is hurt, no one is upset. You are not in any way put out by needing to take care of them. Keep saying this until htey seem to believe it, at least a bit.

Do not stop talking until they start. They likely won't start yet.

Now you've gotta get their imagination under control. The way to do this is to focus them on the most mundane, concrete, local, and immediate things you can. Tell them their name. Tell them what they do. Tell them what time they wake up in the morning. Tell them their best friend's name. Keep it really close, local, and immediate. Don't worry about repeating yourself. Don't make them think abstractly - if their family lives some distance away, don't mention their family, because the image of the distance might be scary for them.

What you're really aiming for here is to slowly hand this narrative off to the tripping person. Start trying to slowly get them to describe their daily life to you. Keep it simple, help guide them to talk about easy and mundane things. Get them thinking about their fondest memories, people who they feel safe with, etc. Keep them talking, keep talking to them, until they say it's OK to stop.

Ideally, don't leave them until they're asleep.

Once it's over, you gotta still be sensitive. A really bad trip is a bona fide psychological trauma, and should be treated as such. Make sure they're OK, take them home and to bed. Call them the next day and offer to take them for coffee, offer to listen if they have more they want to talk through.

It's a tough thing for a person to go through, but a lot of damage can be averted if there's a person there who know's how to handle it. Now you know.


Eugene Volokh wonders:

Reader Jim Thomason mentioned in passing John Lennon's "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," and this reminded me of my enduring puzzlement about what that line means. "Happiness is a warm hug" or "a warm bowl of soup" or even "a warm teddy bear" I can understand -- those are things that are more comforting when they're warm. But when is a gun warm? When it's just been fired. Is Lennon talking about deriving happiness from killing someone? I can see why that might work in, say, a song about murderous jealousy, but that doesn't seem to be what this song is about.

It's a cock, Eugene. Maybe gun-rights folks don't follow this. But the gun:phallus analogy is pretty commonly understood. Which should also help you with the 'I'm going down" line, and the 'Mother Superior jumped the gun' line, and the 'My finger on your trigger (trigger=clitoris)' line, and the 'his hands are busy working overtime'...

Sunday, December 01, 2002


Natural selection of the Canadian population

Some Canadians already have left for Iraq to serve as human shields against bomb attacks on Baghdad. More will follow before Christmas.
Irene Vandas and Jennifer Ziemann of Vancouver are heading to Iraq on Friday. Vandas, a 32-year-old registered nurse, and Ziemann, a 30-year-old home-care worker, will fly to Amsterdam, board a plane to Amman, Jordan, then drive into Iraq all the way to Baghdad where they will live with Iraqi civilians. There, they will join friends Linda Morgan and Irene MacInnes, two Canadians who travelled to Iraq in mid-November.
The four Canadians, sponsored by an anti-war organization called Voices in the Wilderness, have volunteered to be human shields in an effort to dissuade American-led forces from attacking Iraq. “I’m not too scared,” Vandas told CBC News Online the day before she left. “I think it will be a powerful experience.”

There are so many things wrong with this project I barely know where to start.

Sunday, November 10, 2002


Unleaded Gas

I think I mentioned that the air in Athens was atrocious. I was talking to a Greek guy about the problem. I think I was making note simultaneously of the fact that Athens is a fairly low-density city - it's built outwards instead of upwards - and so had a highly car-dependent population. I said that if only they could figure out a way to get people to drive less, the air would be a lot better. He was confused.

"But we use unleaded gas," he said. Unleaded gas! I hadn't even thought of the notion of unleaded gas in years. I'd forgotten there was such a thing as 'leaded' gas. When I looked around, though, the gas stations all advertised their regular formula as unleaded. Amazing. More amazing still that the guy I was talking to hadn't put it together that smoke itself, not the specific content of the smoke, was what he was choking on every day.

Early-stage Capitalism

Here's a neat fact, from my Greek associate. 60% of Greeks are self-employed. Sixty percent! That's ridiculously high.

It's actually really fascinating, because Greece is still developing a modern capitalist society. I'd never been in a country that wasn't fully corporate, and it was interesting. I was there on business, of course, and I did notice a few things in the business culture that I'd call less 'sophisticated'. In North America, corporate capitalism has systematically identified and filled every obvious consumer need anyone can think of, and so a lot of our business now (except for the occasional real innovation), is kind of like rock climbing, scraping away for little niches here, little bits of leverage there, 1% of the market by headcount over there.

In Greece there isn't nearly that detailed a look at the market built up yet. So the way that business gets done is fairly simple. Instead of looking for so-called 'white space' in the market and tailoring strategies to dig it out, they just take the most obvious and universally applicable route, storming into it. It feels more like a 98 mph fastball over the heart of the plate than a sharp curve on the low-away corner. Fucking cool to watch, especially because they're close enough that it's possible to trace out the path between them and us, and so understand the way that high-end 'developing' countries might become fully 'developed' countries.

I expect I'll be referring back here next time I write on development.

The Interfering State

On Friday night I was hanging out in a bar in Bsili (approximate spelling), a really cool area of Athens, drinking with a Swede and an Indo-Russian. The DJ was playing great old rock 'n' roll (a rare sound in heavily dance-oriented Athens nightlife). Loud. A guy in a suit came in through the door at around 1:30am. He was carrying a clipboard. He gestured to the DJ - 'cut it out'. The music went down, and then stopped. The suit left. The music went right back on, loud as ever.

I found out later that there's a law on the books in Greece prohibiting the playing of music (whatsoever) after 11:00pm. The suit guy was some sort of public official. Wondering why they were so daring as to turn the music right back on? Because the point of the suit enforcing law, as one guy put it to me, is not that it be followed. The point is that the fine be collected.

As I mentioned above, Greece is a massively entrepreneurial economy. For the better, I feel. It's a sign of a hardworking people really putting their shoulders to the economic wheel, and I think it bodes really well for Greece's mid-to-long-term economic prospects. On Saturday, strolling through the crowded streets in a major shopping district, I was heartened to have my perception reinforced - in front of every single high-end fashion store there was at least one street vendor, hawking a usually random-seeming array of goods. Many were immigrants, the only non-Greeks I saw during my time in Athens. So I was walking along eating a street-vendor pretzel (an absurd 40 cents). When all of a sudden, every vendor in my field of vision leapt to their feet. All of them had their wares laid out on blankets on the street. Now I saw why. they quickly grabbed all four corners of the blankets, pulled them together, and threw those makeshift bags over their shoulders, bolting up the street towards me. And away from a police car (the first non-security-related cop I'd seen, I think). Turns out street vending is illegal. That's right. Rather than leech off the social security system, these people struck out on their own, trying to scrape together enough cash through their own entrepreneurialism to survive. And the cops were trying to stop them.

The lesson from these two events? While I like government, I don't like government doing the unnecessary. And if Greece fails to meet the potential I noticed above, I'll know who to blame. The government

Sunday, October 13, 2002


Some other people have done this. It seems to usually turn out well. Here we go.

1. I really like music.
2. I’d rather go blind than deaf
3. If aliens came down, and told me they’d destroy the earth unless I gave them one thing to justify humanity’s existence, I’d play the Moonlight Sonata.
4. I jog in the morning
5. My brother is one of my best friends
6. I’m a low-grade hypochondriac
7. Nine Inch Nails is my favourite band in the world
8. I look much better when I wear shirts with collars. I don’t know why.
9. I think that Picasso is the greatest painter ever
10. I’ve never driven a car in my life
11. On a related note, since age 13, I’ve always lived in town, never the suburbs
12. I did IB in high school. It was far enough ahead of my peers that I was given a year’s worth of university credits for it
13. The credits were in European History, English Literature, and Chemistry
14. I didn’t deserve the ones in Chemistry
15. My secret life plan is to move to New York in my early 30s, and then to Paris when I have kids
16. I speak French quite well. I write it less well.
17. My father and his father are both diabetic. Since I learned this, I’ve been getting much more attentive to my health than I might otherwise be
18. I smoked about a pack of cigarettes a day from about age 15 to age 22
19. My low-grade hypochondria actually keeps me from going to doctors, for fear of what they’ll find
20. I’ve worn glasses since I was about 8. I needed them earlier. When the doctor checked my eyes the first time, he exclaimed ‘this boy can’t see the broad side of a barn!’
21. I’ve only met 5 or 6 people in my life with eyesight as poor as mine.
22. Being so nearsighted would give me really thick lenses, so I need to wear glasses with small lenses (like John Lennon). This exacerbates the impression people have of me that I’m somehow intellectual.
23. I’m a really big baseball fan
24. In high school, I did an essay on Nietzsche, which probably changed my life.
25. I have inhaled.
26. If I ever run for political office, I’ll have an awful lot to write off as ‘youthful indiscretion’.
27. I’ve considered suicide in the same sorts of grounds as I expect Camus did, and rejected it on the same sorts of grounds as I expect Sartre did.
28. I’m a committed atheist. I recognize the implications of this, and yes, they terrify me.
29. One of the types of people I most enjoy talking to is the profoundly and thoughtfully religious.
30. I used to worship the sacrifice bunt, but the sabermetricians have convinced me that Earl Weaver was right – “God bless the 3-run homer”
31. Like most Canadian kids, the first French I learned was from cereal boxes.
32. Unlike most Canadian kids, I never played hockey.
33. The CBC is the only radio station I listen to.
34. I don’t have and don’t want a TV
35. I enjoy cooking
36. I think that the French and the Japanese are the two greatest masters of fine food, and that the Italians and the Indians are the two greatest masters of simple food.
37. I drink a lot of Australian wine
38. “America, I was a communist when I was a kid, I’m not sorry!” - Allen Ginsburg
39. I don’t know whether or not I should go back to school for a JD.
40. My friends in law school tell me I should be a lawyer. My friends not in law school tell me the last thing I should do is be a lawyer.
41. I lost my virginity when I was 16. I was drunk, I barely remember the girl’s name. Surprisingly, I don’t regret this.
42. I don’t know how many people I’ve slept with since then – I can’t count anymore. I don’t regret this either.
43. My favourite authors of fiction are Kafka, David Foster Wallace, and Umberto Eco
44. I’m usually single. This only occasionally bothers me.
45. I don’t accept race as a useful way of classifying people at all.
46. In my more radical moments, I also don’t accept gender as a useful classification.
47. Inasmuch as it matters to others, I’m a white, English-descended, Anglophone, protestant-baptized, right-handed, middle class, ostensibly heterosexual, male. I occasionally feel guilty about this.
48. I never really had pets.
49. When I was very small, my parents had a cat. I used to pull its tail, until one day my Mom let it scratch me in retribution.
50. The cat ran away when I was probably about 3 and a half. Looking for him with my Dad is one of my earliest memories.
51. I take gay rights more seriously than nearly any political issue.
52. The name of the first person I ever kissed was Marcie
53. I like amber beers
54. I think shorts look silly on men
55. I have gray eyes
56. I wear a plain silver ring on my right hand
57. I like expensive pens and shoes
58. I like Oxford cloth
59. I can’t stand Russian authors
60. I can’t stand 98% of the English literature written between Shakespeare and Joyce
61. If I could live anyone’s life instead of mine, I’d probably choose John Maynard Keynes
62. Like John Lennon, Pierre Trudeau is (or was) my favourite politician
63. The living person I’d most like to buy a beer is Bill Clinton
64. I want to have a six-pack so that I don’t feel so inadequate next Gay Pride weekend
65. When my brother was born, I really wanted him to be called Leslie. When my parents named him Paul, I was furious. Apparently I called him ‘the baby’ for about the first year of his life.
66. My holy trinity of film directors is Kubrick, Kurasawa, and Fellini.
67. I am distantly related to James Fenmore Cooper
68. I have big palms and short, thick fingers
69. I have a minor lordosis of the spine
70. I feel like I belong closer to the Atlantic Ocean than to the Pacific
71. I’ve been called a ‘nigger’ twice in my life. Both times I’ve taken it as a compliment.
72. Once was by a Neo-Nazi skinhead who decided that I was a traitor to my race.
73. The second time was by an African friend when I scored a lucky goal in foosball.
74. I cried when Kurt Cobain shot himself
75. My greatest intellectual inspiration was Richard Thorne, who taught me European history in high school
76. Richard had a very open classroom – he liked ideas, and he liked us talking about our ideas, and asking for knowledge.
77. He only ever stopped us from learning one thing. It was during a class discussion of Auschwitz, when Mengle came up. He shut down a conversation when the content of Mengle’s experiments came up.
78. I usually cry when I think about the Holocaust.
79. The first woman I ever saw naked was Madonna, in an issue of Playboy.
80. My favourite comedian is Bill Hicks
81. There are many things that other people think smell bad that I don’t
82. I wish I didn’t have to shave
83. I get really addicted to computer games and waste obscene amounts of time on them
84. I’m very bad at staying in touch with people when I no longer live in the same city as them
85. I’m about 6’1”
86. I weigh about 200 pounds
87. I used to be able to name all 43 US Presidents, but can’t anymore. I get lost in the 19th century
88. I was born at about 10:43am on March 28th, 1979.
89. I was born in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada.
90. The hospital I was born in has since been torn down. Or rather, imploded.
91. My mother was 30 years old when she had me.
92. She had been married for about eight years.
93. Which means that she got married at an age younger than I am right now. Which spooks me.
94. Dogs don’t much like me
95. I used to be able to sing very well, before puberty.
96. I run faster than it looks like I can
97. I played football in high school. I was a defensive lineman.
98. I stopped playing football because I couldn’t stand the ultramasculine, ultraconformist environment.
99. I’d still like to play a sport, although I don’t know what I’d play
100. I love being alive.

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