Spirit Day

Spirit Day is meant to help raise awareness about LGBTQI bullying in schools and otherwise, how it affects queer youth, and what we can do to stop it. As I found out in my teens, you don't even need to be gay to experience abuse.

I will always remember the summer I got a bad perm and had to nearly shave my head. It was almost a military brush cut, short back and sides with a bit to work with on top.  After the initial shock wore off, I decided it was comfortable and actually looked pretty sweetl when I spiked the top bits. Why should the boys have all the fun? So I kept the short cut a bit longer than I previously intended.

When I returned to school to begin 8th grade the harassment started quickly. At first it was just 'baldy' and 'Uncle Fester', but eventually a classmate told me that a lot of the girls thought I was a lesbian. Some had even said that they didn't want to be alone with me in the locker room any more. Eventually the lesbian taunts came out in the open daily, on the school bus and in the halls. I willed my hair to grow back faster, faster! But even when the hair returned, it didn't matter what I told people, no one believed me, the damage was done. I would face those slurs (as well as the ever popular Uncle Fester) for years to come.

The unfathomable part about this, that even bothered me at the time, was that it shouldn't have been damaging at all. A haircut shouldn't cost you friends and cause you cruelty. If other students thought I was a lesbian...that should have been an absolutely ok, everyday thing. A question to be asked and clarified to help sort out the high school dating scene a bit maybe, but that's it. At times I felt better off than the boys in the same boat. 'Faggot' quickly got attached to guys who were already at the bottom of the social pecking order. While I copped ongoing verbal abuse and ostracism, I'm certain they experienced physical assault.

Looking back, I feel like I failed them. I should have fought against it, I should have talked to the other kids I knew were gay and initiated a school advocacy group. Instead, I resolved to disappear as much as possible, to remain unnoticed and redouble my academic efforts. Eventually I made friends with the other outcasts, a fine group of misfits I'm still close with today.

I was lucky, I survived, many don't.

Despite all the progress made across most western countries, for a lot of people of all ages, LGBTQI still equals 'sexual predator', 'overly sexual', 'outsider', and generally a bad thing to be, or be associated with. Considering I wasn't gay, think of the courage it takes for a LGBTQI teenager (or even most adults) to be out at their schools and workplaces, expressing who they are, and their gender, always risking abuse, and much worse.

Maybe instead of continuing to harp at teens about bullying - a subject a lot of them have almost tuned out to at this point - the best thing may be to just ask kids as early as possible what they think and feel about LGBTQI relationships.
  • Try to find out how they perceive fellow students who are gay/lesbian or otherwise without judgement about their initial reactions
  • Address questions or underlying fears and misconceptions about queer/trans/intersex people, their relationships, the types of sex they have, and gender transitioning.
  • Ask them how they'd handle being accidentally hit on by a classmate, or finding out that a friend or classmate was gay, and how they can report harassment and abuse they might witness
Set them up to meet awkward situations with confidence, so one day, it is no longer any more awkward than coping with budding heterosexuality. Let them meet these situations with humour, honesty and understanding, instead of spreading rumours or letting their fears lead them to ostracise friends or fellow students.

If we can safeguard against homophobic attitudes and archaic prejudices by diffusing them early, it will make thing better not just for queer kids, but for all kids.


Rebels with a Cause

While keeping an eye on the American election and specifically the speeches of Bernie Sanders, most Canadians listening might be reminded of a similar socialist from our past, who was able to fundamentally change the values of a nation. He steered the country away from the for-profit free market capitalism of America and founded the public healthcare system. From the beginning, his first political speeches were emphatic, and unashamedly clear on the party's purpose:

"the establishment in Canada by democratic means, a cooperative commonwealth, where the supplying of human needs and the enrichment of human life shall be primary purpose of our society"

For words like these, he faced the same derision that Sanders faces today. Yet he continued to win among the people, and to take unpopular positions throughout his political career, including opposition to the war in Vietnam. Decades later, rather than being criticized or forgotten, we voted him 'The Greatest Canadian'.  
That man was Tommy Douglas.

In an election field with Drumpf as the opponent and Clinton, who is funded by all the banks that helped crash the market and cash in on bailouts in 2008, let's hope American democrats can renew their love for the underdog and choose Sanders as their candidate. Yes, the odds are slim, but as Tommy would have said:

"Courage my friends, tis' not too late to build a better world"

A safe world for mice everywhere.


The Cybernetic Goddess

Terence McKenna is an amazing speaker and a slightly odd guy for the uninitiated, but I highly recommend his hours of youtube lectures. Whether you ever try psychedelics or not Terence has done plenty so his mind is loose enough to discuss society, philosophy and media from perspectives you've never considered before.

In this four minute clip he talks about the birth of the internet and how despite it's creation by men -  and the military no less - the net is essentially feminine. It makes me wonder if he'd feel the same way had he lived to see how it evolved into ubiquitous entity we use today.

Watch the whole lecture.



Remember when you were a kid and your mother had to go out and get you valentines to give to your classmates? I really miss having to go to the store and try to choose the funniest or prettiest ones I could. I even miss the nervousness of giving one to the nerdiest, quietest, sweetest boy I had a crush.  

 Jordan Lewerissa drew this one up in 2014, and it has been my favourite valentine ever since. So in the spirit of the the day, now I give it to you. 

After dropping this Love Bomb a few years ago I feel like I've said most of what I need to say on the subject, and what I feel real love entails. Now years later, having been married and...not married, I often tell people if you'd like to get hitched, go on ahead. It's a great party and it can be a beautiful day in your life. Though I also tell them that you don't really need any of that, you can save a great deal of money when you truly love each other because you'll know you don't need a wedding, or a ring. Their word will be enough every day, and you'll feel it in everything you share together. 

If do you have that, go on out and revel in it today, you lucky creatures. 
There is almost nothing better. 


Fantasy, Fire and Flying Fish

I've been very happy to discover the quietly prolific Nanomortis has re-surfaced over the last few months after what seemed like a long hiatus.

I've always assumed this talent is female, but I can't be absolutely sure. The artist bio is short, apologetic but simply clear that English is not their first language, and they're shy. Besides that, there's only the gallery of  their vast mindscape and a few more clues about their personality in the captions.

There are recurring themes - it's often hard to tell which side of the water's surface you're on. Where schools of fish or fire aren't swirling about, there's a consistent use of shattered colours, like a thick confetti floating through the air. It's a signature a few other artists are using lately, but no one else seems to have mastered it quite like Nanomortis.

 If you'd like to discover more unusual and beautiful work like this, you can 'watch' Nanomortis and the previously mentioned ArdenRey at  Deviantart.com. Providing a free hub for artists since the year 2000.


Matthew 5:43

Whether it's Jesus, Buddha, Ghandi or Martin Luther King Jr - 'loving' your enemy has often been a concept that feels like false hope and idealism in the face of reality. Consider ISIS, Idi Amin, Pol Pot and more generally psychopaths and sociopaths, those men and women who often just want to watch the world burn. If love is wanting and working towards another's happiness, of course we could never fulfil the desire of some of our enemies to wreak destruction and suffering upon us. 

If they can't be rehabilitated or reasoned with, the only love we may be able to show the most dangerous among us is in the principles of justice, a fair trial, and a compassionate incarceration without execution.  For those that argue war criminals, serial killers, terrorists, murderers, and other perpetrators of the most disgusting crimes deserve to die, it would be worth remembering that unless we are willing to engage in exactly the acts the criminal has, not even vengeance can be served. You cannot make a person suffer - an eye for an eye- as they have made others suffer without engaging in monstrosity yourself. Would you torture them slowly as they did their victims? Do you have the stomach for that kind of retribution? 

Logically the debt they owe cannot be paid back to them, no matter how much we loathe the acts they've committed. Even if they were slowly tortured to death - there's no equivalency for a genocide of starvation. If you kill them in any traditional execution, they only swiftly lose their lives. For some that is a terrifying punishment, but many are not afraid or remorseful, only bitter and furious at the injustice of their great motivations being misunderstood. A life without freedom, incarcerated and alone or with similar peers might be the only thing more miserable to them then death. Though if we are measuring punishment by infliction of misery, then once again, we aren't being very loving are we?

So then maybe to love the most violent and chaotic we can allow their lives to run their course in conditions of basic human dignity. If during that incarceration they want to end their lives, in the spirit of decency and respect for their choice we should provide them with humane means to do so. Considering all this then the only 'happiness' or appeasement of their desires might be to simply administer justice onto them in the same measure we would apply to ourselves. A compassionate justice, which I believe is possible.


Nine Alignment

The new year has been rung in for weeks already but maybe today feels a little more special due to a planetary alignment that hasn't been seen for 10 years. So despite being a bit late, it still seems like a particularly auspicious day to drop the checkered flag on 2016.

I labelled 2015 Year 8 due to being able to reduce it to 8 using numerology (2+0+1+5=8) which means 2016 is a 9 year. A number famous as a cutoff for cats, and an excellent but under appreciated film (IMO of course). I was partial to 8, it being my favourite number, but nine also has some mystery to it. Especially as part of Nikola Tesla's famous quote:

"If you only knew the magnificence of 3, 6, and 9, then you would have a key to the universe."

 It doesn't take much research to show there really is obviously some interesting mathematical behaviour going on with those three digits.

Today (20/1/2016 Australian Eastern Standard Time) also happens to reduce to the number 3, a multiple of 9. The Canadian philosopher of communication and media, Marshall McLuhan was quite partial to 3, likely because of his Catholic faith, the flavour of Christianity that most embraces the Trinity.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not here to hold an advanced math class or start down the path of discussing the significance of elaborate geometry and repeating codes in nature. You can do that on your own time. Let's get to the best part of the new year - Charlie Brooker reviewing the old one.


Three Panel Soul

This deep thinking dog reminded me of the Platonian ideal and was originally stumbled upon via The Partially Examined Life, eventually leading me to the source - Three Panel Soul.

It's a place of many more unusual, curious and philosophical cartoons about Death (as a character), magic, alchemy and ultimately wry, subtle and witty work by artist/writer team Ian McConville and Matthew Boyd. Worth a few hours of your time to enjoy just how much can be said, and quite often not said but very well understood, in only three panels.


Félicitations Justin

It is very late coming but maybe it's even more relevant to wish him congratulations on vanquishing Stephen Harper after witnessing the drastic shift in government during the first months of his leadership. So far he has been sticking to his most controversial promises following the Paris attacks, and he continues to project the image of one of your good friends (or maybe your good friend's husband) coping with tragedy and leadership the best he can.
Though he's been at this for awhile now. 

This natural charm, 'sunny ways' and refusal to engage in mud slinging during the campaign was more than enough to sway the Canadian majority. They got what they paid for as Trudeau was more open in his first days as Prime Minister than Stephen Harper had been in almost a decade. The morning after handshakes and documentation of his first hours on the job by the Canada's  public broadcasting station (The CBC) almost seemed too much humility to handle.

I've mentioned it before but of course it bears repeating that despite the slight difference in politics it's clear that no matter how much he may have learned from his father, he has certainly taken many pointers from Jack Layton's playbook. The same simple strategy that won Layton the official opposition has fulfilled the promise of a different kind of of leader. Canadians already becoming fickle over their terrorist fears need to remember that Justin Trudeau's Liberal Party is a change that will take getting used to. 


For We Shall Not Repeat the Evil

Take a moment of silence to honour the lives of those lost 70 years ago today.

May we be ever vigilant and never allow our leaders to unleash such a weapon again.


Your Chance to Play Banker

Why should Wall Street have all the fun?  You can start offering loans that will help people start their own business, go to school, and buy supplies to build infrastructure or provide training for valuable skills they can put to use in their communities. 

Kiva provides due diligence and monitoring support on your behalf and you choose who you make your loan to. Then you wait to be paid back, it's that simple. 

All those times you said you didn't believe in donating to charity because it didn't actually help people in developing countries? How much better can you get than creating real long term impact with a repayment on your investment? Republicans, conservatives, hipsters, liberals and general do-gooders can't deny that despite a negligible risk, if you do what you can to make the initial loan (as low as $25), getting involved doesn't have a significant downside. 

Happy lending!


Celebrating Change: And then there were four...

For some reason observing the news cycle and social media feeds feels like the world itself has legalised gay marriage, despite the fact many countries have already adopted marriage equality several years ago. Maybe social paradigm shifts aren't worth acknowledging until America has validated them? 

Let's not wonder about that, this is a time to celebrate, not to fuss over semantics or the pervasiveness of American culture. It's also not the time to focus on the fact that 4 Supreme Court Justices still voted against changing the law. However, Stephen Colbert does an excellent job of making them feel awkward about it.

Rainbows for everyone.


Dance, Dance

THIS.  It is really the best thing you might see today. Spot on editing, and special kudos for making the smart choice to choose a specific selection that kept a fun continuity rather than trying to desperately jam in as many scenes as possible. Like many commenters on this video, I plan to keep this on hand as a pancea for bad days. 


Save the Reef

Sometimes news from home takes awhile to make it down under, and so I only just learned of the oil spill in English Bay, Canada. Another lesson that no matter what a company says, no matter what corporate funded scientific reports they generate to try assure the public that an industry can protect the environment and do business, negligence and accidents will happen. The damage in the long term aftermath is incalculable and downplayed, then swept aside in the name of the economy, until the next disaster.

The English Bay Spill may not have been prevented, but it could have been properly responded to. We can't go back in time to stop the spill, but in six months you can oust the government that facilitated the circumstances that caused more damage.

Image: WWF

There is now a serious similar risk in Australia - what will be the world's biggest coal port attached to the largest mine in Australia being built directly on the coast of the Great Barrier Reef. It sounds unbelievable that anyone could sacrifice a natural wonder like this, but the plans are nearly finalized. The current federal government absolutely supports it. If there are protests you can attend, petitions to be signed, writing your representative, or whatever small way you can contribute to stopping this - I hope you do. With enough public initiative there's a small chance we could still change this.

For all of us - sign all the things, do what you can.

Fight for the Reef
Save the Reef - Getup
Save the Reef - Greenpeace
Stop the Industrialisation of the Reef - WWF


Beam me up

This is a fine article that explains a great deal of the struggle Leonard Nimoy had with Spock as well as what he contributed to the character. As a 'Trekkie', I admit even fans take a great deal of Nimoy's contribution to Star Trek for granted.  In the last few weeks all the ways he added the crucial nuances that define Spock have surfaced - not just among sci-fi and Trek fans, but through all mainstream media. No matter what you may have known about him or his work before, sadly it's upon his passing that we find out much more about the kind of man he was.

Film stars often get all the press for stories of legendary method acting, Christian Bale and Daniel Day Lewis are standout examples whose seemingly strange behaviour was widely publicised throughout their careers. If you have any experience with acting, you know that as much as an actor studies their character, and brings their own interpretation, they will often defer to the director's vision. Especially young actors simply deeply relieved to have been cast in a paying gig.  Not suprisingly, TV actors rarely get full credit for the work they put into realizing their role.

From one of the most iconic scenes in science fiction
In his case, Nimoy was speaking not just for Spock but for an entire alien culture. I feel it is the mark of a great actor to fight for your character when necessary, not allowing the director or even the writers to have that character behave in ways that would be completely illogical (pun not necessarily unintended) to their fundamental being. As well as adding depth and purpose to every detail about that character. For Nimoy, maybe the most iconic example is that he was the creator of the Vulcan salute, which was a variation on a Jewish ritual gesture he'd seen in childhood.

The freedom to affect the long term narrative of a fictional world is really rare, and only possible in a bit of an ideal environment. It's possible because Star Trek was not expected to be a hit, the cast had more of those opportunities.  Great credit goes to Nimoy, but also to Roddenberry, the casting team, and the early directors of the original series who listened and put faith in their actors when they provided insight on set.

Those who have the kind of talent and sensitivity to create personas that have left an immortal mark on our culture generate an equally shocking impact when they are inevitably forced to leave us, no matter how old they may have been. As friends, family, fans and the general internet mourn this loss, an image surfaced that was especially poignant. My condolences to the remaining crew: William Shatner, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols and Walter Koenig.

In Memoriam


Inside the Black Box

A Black Box, is often thought of as the flight recorder found after an airplane crashes. But in scientific circles it is understood as any closed system where the inputs and outputs of the internal processeses are known, though what is happening to create the outputs is the result of such a complex interaction that the internal processes cannot be strictly tracked or determined using a traditional cause and effect method.

Within the financial markets algorithms are bouncing around reacting to each other at the same time as they respond to their programmed variables. A quant can create a brilliant algorithm but once it's unleashed into the black box of hundreds or thousands of others,  they have no certainty of what it will produce. If it does well everyone gets paid (a lot more than you), but it also has the potential to create cataclysmic destruction in seconds.

You may say - well of course we know some things about how the stock market functions! Buy low and sell high!  Invest for the long term, don't bet on bubbles or take high risks without consulting a broker and doing your research. You're responsible for your own choices, right?  Usually that's true, and you can certainly choose to keep your pension investments out of the stock market, and I would too - except I live in Australia. 

The digital marketplace has gone far beyond what an average person can concieve of. Yet our pensions, employment prospects, interest rates, all flow through the playground of traders and the weaving, reactive algorithyms created by the quants. The future of millions of people around the world is risked for the sake of profiting on a fraction of a cent on a trade taking place in a milisecond.  As you'll see in the documentary above and those listed below, many quants will strictly not invest in the stock market themselves. For those with a choice, I'd recommend following their example.

Other recommended viewing:
The Wall Street Code
Quants, the Alchemists of Wall Street
Inside Job - not specifically about high speed trades, it's still the standard for understanding how the abstract nature of packaged 'financial products' caused the GFC


From Me to You

A spark that will be forever missed.

Welcome to Year 8

Before we properly begin 2015 (a year with the value of 8 - numerologically speaking) let Adam Curtis via Charlie Brooker explain the new trends in propaganda that have characterised the haze of media distortion that was 2014. If you're unsure what to watch this quiet Tuesday night, I suggest you try the whole 2014 Wipe

Once you skip to youtube you'll discover Mr. Brooker has an extensive back catalogue of hits, all equally sharp and funny - you'll laugh while you cringe, and ultimately appreciate that he's devoted most of his career to providing this public service. Also see the modern Twilight Zone-esque series Black Mirror, for his fictionalised take our potentially bright, shiny tech driven dystopian future.

From those grim revelations, let's shift perspective and find some hope for this new beginning. On New Year's Day my friend and I were lucky enough to catch a wish as it blew through the Woodfordia festival site. 

But what to wish for after a year like 2014?  
When caught off guard with a wishing opportunity, the Metta Sutta is a sound choice. Besides maybe Corinthians 13, I have not found a better passage to encompass the hope that every creature who needs it should be blessed with a complete freedom from anxiety, anguish or despair - to feel safe and loved.  If even for a short time so they may replenish their strength. 

Only taking action will improve people's quality of life, whether it's in your own home or the Middle East.  But if you are faced with a wish there's no harm in using the Costco of all wishes to be certain you've done all you can in that moment. 

 So let the Metta Sutta be our wish for the coming year.  Happy 2015 - on with the show.

*Special note: Thanks to all volunteers, sound techs, and performers who made the Woodford Festival possible. It's a refuge of wonder in a sweltering holiday heat wave that I hope you are able to attend in your lifetime if you happen to be passing through Australia over the Christmas weeks.  


The Aum Lands

In the wake of dark days, there are times we'd like to escape this world to planes more vast and magical than the one we know.  Why not visit the Aum Lands? 

The locals are...friendly.

Transport is available.

With nothing but the best accommodations. 

Plenty of group activities to suit anyone, or anything.

Enjoy your stay, and remember to be mindful of the wildlife.

The wizard who stewards this place is ArdenRey.

See more of what The Aum Lands has to offer, and book today for direct flights and special rates. 


How's the Water?

I am very glad to see this has resurfaced (pun sort of intended) after having been removed for copyright infringement since the creators of the video didn't get explicit permission to use David Foster Wallace's speech. It's an excellent exposition on a quote I first heard via Marshall McLuhan.
Though the observation that those so immersed in something cease to be capable of percieving it,(if they were ever able to) - has been around for awhile.

Unfortunately DFW didn't make it, he lost the battle with depression, and I expect the cynical among us might say he didn't do so well taking his own advice. Some of his peers have had the gall to hurl insults at his ghost, calling him pretentious, and a fraud for his vulnerable style - that he was trying to appeal to the soft, self-help generation.

Wallace also provided his take on the American Psycho author's writing choices.

Look, if the contemporary condition is hopelessly shitty, insipid, materialistic, emotionally retarded, sadomasochistic, and stupid, then I (or any writer) can get away with slapping together stories with characters who are stupid, vapid, emotionally retarded, which is easy, because these sorts of characters require no development. With descriptions that are simply lists of brand-name consumer products. Where stupid people say insipid stuff to each other. If what’s always distinguished bad writing—flat characters, a narrative world that’s cliched and not recognizably human, etc.—is also a description of today’s world, then bad writing becomes an ingenious mimesis of a bad world.
If readers simply believe the world is stupid and shallow and mean, then Ellis can write a mean shallow stupid novel that becomes a mordant deadpan commentary on the badness of everything. Look man, we’d probably most of us agree that these are dark times, and stupid ones, but do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is? In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness. Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it’d find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it. You can defend “[American] Psycho” as being a sort of performative digest of late-eighties social problems, but it’s no more than that.
If anything - This is Water, is another example of Wallace's lack of pollyanna attitude or pretension towards the brutal realities or dullness of everyday existence and nihilistic worldviews around him. I don't believe his suicide invalidates any of his insights, it only demonstrates the destructive force of depression.
We frequently find people who have the most brilliant mind, the sharpest intellect, bursting with creativity cannot overcome the counterintuitive emotional states that crush their lucid thought patterns. To quote another excellent writer in a different genre: I don't agree with suicide, but I understand it. There comes a time when you want to leave this planet.  People who do it don't fail to appreciate the horrible impact it will have on their friends and families. For the most part they are not selfish, they simply cannot endure any more and often fear they will cause more suffering to their families or serve no purpose by staying. They are tired of being the depressed person that everyone worries about, the pressure to 'cure' themselves, live up to their own high standards, and simply conceal and paint over how they are truly feeling.
Not unlike Eyedea (whose death was accidental), we can mourn that a tremendously talented voice was lost, but embrace everything he left behind.  This is Water is an engaging and well done interpretation of his speech. There's an appetite for it because he fundamentally empathized, understood and articulated the grinding feelings we all cope with. They may seem like distinctly first world problems, but patience and consideration translate across all cultures. Whether you're in line at a supermarket or waiting for someone to get their goat herd off of your mountain path. Not unlike Kurt Vonnegut, he gets the message out while reminding us that we always have a choice.
Many people need desperately to receive this message: 'I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.'