Archive for the Uncategorized Category

The Habs: Turning the Page on 100 Years

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on May 18, 2010 by 99ppp

The Habs’ recent playoff success has captivated the imagination of the entire province.  Yet there is an interesting subtext in the current fervor towards the Montreal Canadiens. More than a few times,  I saw younger fans being interviewed on TV wishing for their own heroes after hearing about the hockey heroes of time past. In the current salary-capped NHL, there is a high degree of parity in the league, evidenced by two teams ranked 18th and 19th overall facing off for the conferance final. The age of dynasties is over, and the nostalgia during the Canadiens Centennial celebrations seemed to weigh on the contemporary teams,  expectations amplified by the Habs history. Now it seems more fans are ready to recognize the new NHL reality, and enjoying the Canadiens making it farther in the playoffs since they won the last cup, 17 years ago. A new generation of fans is hoping for a taste of what their parents often took for granted for many decades:  A reduced gap between championships.

The party was shortlived as the Habs were trounced 6-0 in game one by the other “Cinderella” team these playoffs, the Philadelphia Flyers. A tough, talented and hardworking team that made a historic comeback, unseen in 35 years, from a 0-3 deficit to win 4 straight to advance and face the Canadiens. They carried that momentum into game 1, and now looks like a formidable adversary, unlike what was described by some hockey analysts and overconfident fans.

I’ve heard some valid arguments against organized professional sports as “bread and circuses”, a distraction for the masses to keep attention away from the problems of society. Men with sticks getting paid millions for pushing a rubber disk around and the fanatics cheering them on. The enthusiasm is undeniable and contagious nonetheless. The Montreal Canadiens are an notable part of the culture of this city. A mere advancement to a quarter final caused celebrations rivaling other teams winning championships (see video below). What else can I say, but Go Habs Go!!

Deciding to Decide

Posted in Culture, Economy, Philosophy, politics, Uncategorized on January 23, 2009 by 99ppp

“The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt” – Bertrand Russell (philosopher)

“I am the decider…” – George W. Bush

I had a difficult time deciding what to write about in the new year. There are so many topics that capture my interest but not one that overwhelmed me in importance. There is the economic crisis, the Obama inauguration , the conflict in the Middle East (although I prefer discussing ethics over politics), and the costs and benefits of competition. So I thought about decision, why we need to make more of them, who should make them, and how to make them.

Why is there a need to make decisions?

Eventually we need to act. Without making conscious decisions, we are simply reacting to circumstances, often out of fear. In my case, I couldn’t pick an essay topic, had many potential ones but I didn’t know if I had enough content in each to warrant a post, so I failed to write a full essay on ANY of those topics. I HAD to pick one in order to get anything done. Paradoxically, choice is pain, yet making a choice is freedom from that pain. Once I made that decision, that pain was relieved. So whatever variance there will be in quality, there WILL be content here every Wednesday at the very least. This one is late, but it is done.

If you don’t have a plan, someone has a plan for you.

This is why Bush said he’s the decider. Not A decider, but THE decider. That means all of us can’t decide on some important issues that affects us. And there’s a dark truth to that, as many of us don’t want to make decisions. This is associated to the word “responsibility” which I have previously written about. To avoid getting blame, or being bound by duty, we give away our power. We make others make decisions for us. This is why so many are so giddy about Obama becoming president. Many people see him as a saviour, and will keep us from making decisions for ourselves. Like this Monty Python clip, many need someone to tell them what to do. We are quick to blame the politicians, but we placed them on that pedestal, just to knock them down when they are wrong. Better that someone else be wrong. This is why politicians need to project an air of infallibility to get elected. They don’t admit mistakes, and the system relies on it. This is why during the Iraq War, they were so adamant that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. They couldn’t admit a mistake until much later, especially considering the human cost of such operation.

Obama seems like a thoughtful enough fellow but he (or anyone else) can’t be trusted with power over others.  It’s not because he’s mean or duplicitous, he may be perfectly well-intended. It’s because power over others is addictive and even I wouldn’t trust myself with it. It’s best for each of us to decide what we value, find consensus and explore disagreements among ourselves. Looking towards the peak of hierarchies keep us as perpetual children, avoiding responsibility, and looking to the Daddy-state to solve our problems for us.

To make a decision does one need to be “cocksure” and restrict your intelligence as Russell suggests? It is good to acknowledge our ignorance, we don’t know exactly what’s the consequences of our actions will be. This is when we fall on faith, faith in ourselves, or confidence. Many will embrace a faith that comes outside themselves, from some ancient book or archaic traditions. While some contain great wisdom, the self is the best arbiter to selecting principles. We can listen or read, consider, accept or reject.

How to make a decision?

There are a myriad of resources on how to make decision, and some very creative tricks to do so all around the internet, although I’d be cautious on those that seem too complex. Whatever the tool, guided by conscience and acted upon will help give us direction through pure trial and error. In these uncertain times, we have a great space to direct our actions, yet that won’t start until we make the decision to do so.

Instruction Manual for Life

Posted in Culture, Philosophy, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2009 by 99ppp

Well worth a peek, good food for thought. [Vid: 8:01min]

Animation by TheraminTrees and QualiaSoup

Responsibility: Duty, Blame or Power?

Posted in Culture, Philosophy, Relationships, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on November 13, 2008 by 99ppp

The word “responsibility” is fascinating, especially the context and the spirit in which it is used, primarily in three contexts that often interrelate: duty, blame and power.

Duty

Responsibility as duty can restrict the psyche from reflection and contemplation. Duty and obligation often suggests a standard of behaviour, right and wrong, that hasn’t been formulated by the individual but simply by regurgitating the mores of the prior generation, convention or tradition. When someone wears traditionalism as some badge of honour I become extremely skeptical, since it suggest that the person hasn’t examined the “traditions” enough to formulate their own opinions. This is not to say that there aren’t good values that come from our human past, and yet to say one is a “traditional” says little about one’s values and suggests one hasn’t examined them fully.

Some take more than their share of responsibility, so they take on much more duties that they need to. They can deny any chance for those who simply pass it off to get their shit together and stop being dependent. I believe most people don’t want to be dependent they just have lost confidence in their ability to act, and simply look to someone else to take care of things. This is what happened during the Obama campaign, where this particular person believe that the fact that Obama has been voted in would magically solve all their problems (see vid below).

Often the phrase “This is how I was raised” is used to justify behaviour and morals that haven’t been examined by the individual. It often comes from a distorted admiration to some authority figure, often parents or the larger society. This is an example of either empowering oneself of responsibility from one’s opinions. When I hear “This is how I was raised” I often translate it as “I haven’t taken to the time to examine the values I was indoctrinated with(even if well intentioned) . It is easy to simply obey the morals of another instead of constructing a personal sense of ethics. To question everything can plunge one into an existential dilemma and it is understandable to wish to avoid that. Yet the cost of avoiding it can leave one feeling a nagging sense of helplessness, especially when the voice of a suppressed personal conscience increases in volume and contradicts what we are taught to believe.

No one can guilt me without my permission. Any person who says to me, “You are making me feel guilty” is a person who hasn’t taken responsibility for their own conscience. They have embraced someone else’s values without examination. Guilt can be a useful emotion when it is a violation of our own personal standards and principles, and not someone else’s, as long as one doesn’t wallow in it.

Another form of responsibility as duty is “I am only doing my job”, in other words, simply doing as one is instructed. This is a difficult one since one’s livelihood can be in jeopardy if one disobeys. Personally, I previously began to see my job as an opposition to my personal ethics and I was having trouble sleeping and began to get aches and pains in my body. Then came the breaking point and I quit, and all the pains went away. Stress places the body and mind in continual survival mode and can exact a heavy cost on people: anxiety, heart disease, hypertension, depression, substance abuse and so on. This question has no easy answers since people are being pulled in two directions, have bills and families to feed.

Blame

Many use the word responsibility to lay blame unto others. By using the word in this matter, ironically dissuades many people to take more responsibility. You see, we have to allow for people to make mistakes. If we easily forgive mistakes,  share our insights on how to improve things instead of finger pointing, those who try to evade responsibility will use it to learn instead of mindlessly escaping them. There are those who claim to take responsibility as a lever to gain more power. Since I have greater responsibility than you, then you should do what they say. This is why it is easy to point fingers at politicians. They make all kinds of promises to gain power, suggest that the problems entrapping the society will be fixed without any discomfort. I found it interesting during the Obama acceptance speech, that when he mentioned there may be sacrifices to stem the expectations projected onto him, the crowd became temporarily silent from the boisterous jubilation. Obama was already feeling the pressure of being anointed as “a saviour” facing the current economic crisis.

During times of war those who commit atrocities such as the killing of innocent lives and are later confronted by a barrage of questions, often pass the buck once again by saying “I was just doing my job” instead of looking into their conscience. They believe it absolves them from looking deeper into the actions they take with a more critical eye instead by following blindly the orders of others. Here “I am just doing my job” translates into “The person giving me the orders is responsible”.

When we refuse to take responsibility for our actions over and over we tend to lose respect, and trust from others. We also start losing confidence in our own abilities in the things we do and continue to pass the buck unto others and yet continue to learn nothing from our own experiences.

Power

Responsibility can be power. Response ability, the ability to respond..To avoid it can make one feel powerless, a paper boat in a tsunami, where we are directionless in the currents of circumstance swirling around us. It would be facile to say we are directly influential in everything that happens to us, but often we underestimate our ability to cause effects. I elaborated further on this on the “Fat acceptance” post earlier in this blog.

I am in full agreement that each of us could take greater responsibility for our lives, this I say in the spirit of compassion and advocating people empowering themselves instead of passively waiting for others to help them. Unfortunately, many have used the term “personal responsibility” as a blunt weapon to demonize those who are in difficult position and suggest that their situation is fully of their own doing. This is using responsibility as analogous to blame, not power.

One way to pry blame away from responsibility: To feel responsible for everything one does, but not responsible for everything that happens to us. This may first seem like a paradox. Allow me to elaborate.

Humans are fallible. We aren’t capable to predict exactly what results our actions may trigger, but we can’t allow that uncertainty to paralyze us from action.We will fuck up. But that’s ok, if there is a sincere recognition of the error. There is conditioning we may need to emancipate ourselves from. Prejudices and fears that cloud our ability to see clearly. Pressures we may have felt from others. We have to be cautious though, to see them as influences and not excuses, since it may lead one to place blame on circumstances and simultaneously disempower ourselves from the ability to act. We can see them as obstacles to move around instead of walls that paralyze us.

Blame, duty and power relate to time as well. Blame (past), duty (future), and power (present). To live closer to the moment, it is best to frame responsibility to the present.

[Obama supporter referred above]

Gay marriage banned in two states, leading in California

Posted in Culture, Love, Relationships, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on November 5, 2008 by 99ppp
According to CNN as of this writing, a ban on gay marriage has passed in Arizona and Florida, and it’s winning in a close vote in California (52-48). In addition, there is a ban on unmarried couples adopting children in Arkansas.This is very unfortunate but I am hardly surprised. There is a strain of traditionalism woven into the concept of marriage in most people’s minds. Introducing a newer concept like civil unions (or common law) that could grant the same protections of state marriage , would likely get greater consideration as the issue becomes more about equal rights than “desecrating” an ancient tradition.

Here in Canada, particularly in Quebec, marriage as an institution has had it’s popularity and cultural importance erode over the years:

The number of couples forgoing marriage has more than doubled since 1981, the first time the statistic was tallied. At the time, there were 357,000 common-law relationships – about six per cent of all couples. By the 2001 Census, roughly 14 per cent of all couples were common law. Common-law unions are most prevalent among young people and couples living in Quebec, where more than 30 per cent of all families are common law. {LINK)

As I mentioned in my previous post, equal rights activists would likely be best served to simply let go of the word “marriage”. As far as I’m concerned the institution itself is losing prestige, and energy towards promoting a fairer world can be better placed elsewhere.

Surrenderring “Marriage” to Religion: A Case for Civil Unions

Posted in Culture, Love, Relationships, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 4, 2008 by 99ppp

There is a controversial question placed before California voters today, Proposition 8 which will legally impede same-sex  couples to marry if it passes. Plenty of money has been placed to pass the measure, most prominently, the Mormon Church which poured approximately 20 million dollars into the campaign to pass it. The progressive viewpoint is to champion the cause of same-sex marriage, and at first I would be so inclined, as it isn’t fair to discriminate how people choose to unite regardless of their sexual orientation. The deeper problem is the word “marriage” itself. This issue will not go away, and the best way to transcend it, is to give the word “marriage” to religion and have the state only perform civil unions for ALL couples.

I am not a fan of marriage as an institution to begin with. I’ve already argued that it has nothing to do with love, yet I can concede that there are potential reasons why two people would want to get married: children and property. Civil unions can provide the identical protections without calling it marriage.

Giving religion the word, will dismantle the lever which those who wish to project their religious morality through the mechanism of the state. Those who get the religious ceremony would still need to get a civil union to be recognized by the state. Those same-sex couples of faith who still wish to get married, may need to wait for a while, yet surely there will be some progressive religious groups who would perform the ceremony, since the freedom of religion is inviolate.

Additionally, by giving the word marriage to religion, it gives greater clarity to the division of church and state.

All this time and energy fighting over a word is pointless, attention that keeps us distracted from more important issues, like the economy, the environment and questions of war and peace. Those with progressive secular values could simply abandon the quibble over one word, it simply isn’t worth it. Religion can even take the words “husband” and “wife” and we can embrace the inclusive gender neutral “spouse”.

Changing what I can’t accept. Accepting what I can’t change.

Posted in Culture, Philosophy, Relationships, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 1, 2008 by 99ppp

This post is a followup by my previous one on the Fat Acceptance movement. It is clear that many in that movement have given up due to how hard they believe it is to lose weight and keep it off. So they chose to accept it.  This is a deeper exploration of the word “Acceptance”, both as necessity and liability inspired by my secular interpretation of the Serenity Prayer.

Acceptance is a refuge to today’s success oriented and “chasing the carrot on a  stick” world. Eastern faiths like Buddhism and Taoism also vaunt the idea to accept and live in the moment. But how realistic is that? Fully engage in the moment, one has to decimate the idea of self. The self is how we discriminate ourselves from our environment. It can be argued that the self is an illusion, but perhaps it is a necessary one, the cost of conscious thought and being able to construct time to concoct causality.

So when is it the time to accept, and the time to change things? The question goes to desire. Desire in the western industrialized world is often associated with aquisition of more and more goods. Wealth is linked to freedom as getting more stuff, makes one presume that there is a greater range of activity that could be done. Freedom of possession and freedom of action are not equivalent, and often we sacrifice one to get the other. Imagine having all these possession and not being able to enjoy them out of lack of energy or time. Everyone gets twenty four hours in a day, whether rich or poor.

Acceptance thus is an invitation to live in the moment. Buddhism says that life is suffering and the solution is to eliminate “craving”, which is just a slightly stronger word than desire. Desire propels us to where we can be fully ourselves, but only temporarily. Man’s insatiable curiosity, will move us to change, even out of sheer boredom. No amount of meditation will destroy it.

The dynamic struggle between novelty (change) and tranquility/stability (acceptance) makes many of us confused about which of these two paths to move through. What I find is that this struggle makes many of us running around like a dog chasing his tail, frantic activity heading nowhere. Many of the stoic philosophies tell us to see.. and not judge. The analytical ones tell us to judge then see. A graceful dance between acceptance and change isn’t easy, many will only change facing a crisis, or accept after endless energy has been wasted striving to achieve some futile result.

Making decisions in a state of crisis often work temporarily. A means to an end to alleviate immediate suffering. There are a myriad of self-help books giving suggestions to change, or to accept, but few mention how to harmonize these two. The idea of wu wei, efforless effort, or flow as described by some can only come after getting in touch with whatever authentic self we have at the moment. Our idea of self changes as time goes on, so the idea of a static “true” self is deceptive. Our sense of self is dynamic, like a river whose source can not be rigidly defined.

Changing what I Can’t Accept

The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation – Thoreau

Thoreau’s quote above describes what many experience because they feel they have no choice but accept their lot in life. Desire contained within a cocoon of acceptance, and calling it peace of mind.

Many people don’t change simply because they don’t think they deserve it. They leave their passions at the door, often claiming some higher spirituality (acceptance) to rationalize it. But the acceptance is often an evasion, a lack of faith in one’s ability, or confidence. This has occurred to me quite often, related to writing as I tend to write as I speak, while others weave their words so eloquently that my writing feels inadequate. My lack of consistency lies in my prior belief that writing stemmed from pure inspiration, now I see it as a craft. I believed that reading more about how to write effectively would stifle my creativity, and while I believe that it is a valid concern, it has previously diminished my inclination to hone my craft. I was a strong believer in wu wei, a good philosophy in its proper context, but using it to rationalize my rebellion. In a world full of rules, it is easy to fall into the role of “rebel” without exploring the rules and seeing why some others heed them. My co-blogger and editor here wisely said “You need to learn the rules to break the rules.” I initially rejected this premise as I saw it as an invitation to indoctrination, which I got enough of at school. Now I can read other peoples ideas and not fear their influence by judging them prematurely, and just allowing myself to be exposed to them. Judging comes later, to see if I can selectively use them or amend them to fit my philosophy, or style of writing.

This is the kind of rebellion I often saw in the FA movement, confronting the valid concerns about equality and media images of beauty by self sabotaging and indulging in sensory hedonism, almost out of spite. Behind the surface I saw many people who were discouraged from their lack of success in losing weight. Both of us here at 99ppp have gone on bouts of lethargy and poor nutrition, before finally making a decision to make the shift towards exercise and healthy eating. The road is not a straight line, and we are hardly perfect. We make adjustments to the exercise programs we use, and allow for temporary nutritional indulgences, with full awareness of what we are doing.

Accepting what I can not change

Here the philosophy of living in the moment triumphs, as time melts away and the division between the self and the environment dissipates. Meditative practices and some ancient philosophies mentioned above certainly remind us to look, a relationship with who and what surrounds us before jumping to judgment.

Indulging in perpetual wants, wishing, pining, fantasizing can erode one’s energies and can contribute to feeling helpless, instead of accepting perhaps some harsh realities and acting within the sphere of where one has choice. Finding a vision that is both inspiring and realistic is a challenge to many, often we can sell ourselves short, or overestimate our ability to affect matters.

The wisdom to know the difference: Life as a winding road

Learning this wisdom is where the adventure lies.

We often want novelty and stability simultaneously, and can suffer through the quiet desperation Thoreau describes. There are no answers, only approaches that work well under certain circumstances. There are as many philosophies in the world as there are people, and every path is unique. Many are looking for quick formulas, systems, or rigid ideologies and religions to keep them from the risk of making some mistake. There’s nothing wrong with exploring other people’s conceptual maps, I do it myself, yet at the end we’ll each have to chart our own, and recognize that sometimes we may feel lost despite having one.

I will expand on the tension between desire and acceptance, freedom and security, AND order and chaos in future posts, since this can fly on various tangents but all of these apparent dualities interrelate.