Tag Archives: education

Words to live by: IF.

13 Aug

I hope noone in the authors estate is gonna get antsy with me for putting this up here. All due respect to them and the man himself.

If you’re not into reading it, jump to the bottom.

IF

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
‘ Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

-Rudyard Kipling.

(he forgets an important -to me- line in the first stanza; “If you can wait and not be tired by waiting”, but still it’s a pretty good performance. Seems it’s an important piece to him aswell, seeing as he’s been reciting it off by heart since the seventies)

 

Captain America: This is the logic we’re teaching now? really?!

8 Aug

I haven’t seen the film yet, so no spoilers ahead. I know admitting this might render my argument completely invalid, but I highly doubt that seeing as it’s near impossible to hide a shakespearean tragedy underneath a punchy blockbuster. Yes, it happens in the comics, but almost never in films which are hoping to rake it in at the box office by aiming themselves at the widest marketshare possible.

There’s one line in the trailer that caught my attention. It’s an innocent, shy little line that can easily pass unnoticed. But, unfortunately, it’s the basis for pretty much the entire films logic.  I should tell you now that I hesitate to apply the same logic to the comics, because I do love me some Captain A. He’s a legend…I don’t want to think about it too much just yet to be honest, i don’t think I’d like it.

After Steve Rogers asks doctor Abraham Erskine, the doctor who will transform him with the super soldier serum he has created, “Why me?” The good doctor replies:

“Because weak men, know the value of strength…know the value of power”

It’s a tight argument, one I agree with to a point. I don’t agree with the implication of it though, an implication that shines through once you take into account the rest of the setup.

Steve rogers is chosen for the super soldier programme because he has repeatedly applied to join the war effort but been denied because he is physically inadequate. He doesn’t have half the muscle mass the other men have and, in the film, he’s actually ridiculously exaggerated. In the comics he’s just an average guy with a bit of an underdeveloped body but in the film he looks a malnourished child who has to grapple with gravity itself to gather enough air to breathe.

Anyway, you’ve probably seen the scene: Scrawny guy steps into a machine then steps out of the machine a hulk of a man, ready to fight for his country.

Now, my (first) problem is this: All those other guys, the odd million or so who succesfully got into the army, didn’t start off looking like Adonis. (for the sake of argument I’m gonna deny historical accuracy and ignore the fact that most of those who enlisted were nothing more than average joes who played a season or two of highschool football). They all toned themselves up through sweat and hardwork. They put in the hours working on their fitness, and it paid off. They got in by virtue of that work they put in.

But it’s not okay to give them the super soldier serum because they “Won’t know the value of strength”? Oh I’m calling that one. I’m calling that one straight up. They’ve decided to improve themselves, probably gone through a hell of a lot of heartbreak for it, and they won’t know the value of strength just because…well, damn, I dunno: just, because! Because they said so! Because!!!1!

But the kicker, and the thing that has me really worried for the state of the world, is that the implication is this:

You can bestow great power and strength on a weak but intelligent, morally strong, courageous, humble, respectful, honourable and benevolent person, but you can not bestow these virtues on a person who’s already strong and powerful.

This is the lesson we’re teaching people: If you’re strong, muscular, or if you can be described in any way near the label ‘jock’, you’re finished, we can’t teach you anything. You just keep on keeping on. No no, it’s okay, don’t worry about it. You’ve got great power and strength, but don’t you worry your little head about the essential virtues which, throughout history, have been used to keep the powerful in check and the warrior class aligned on the side of justice and righteousness. We threw those out the window with the 80’s, so just chill: you’re all good.

I’ve been scratching myself to think of a tribe of warriors in Western history that could illustrate my point properly, but none quite come up to scratch. The spartans, although they’ve gotten a good reputation in the past few years, were a crazy bunch. Sure, they pushed themselves to the pinnacle of the art of war, but they denied themselves a lot of virtues along the way that makes a good warrior. The greeks, although not in the same class as the spartans, were much the same.

The vikings, although they had a great reputation for courage and bravery, were a little bit too keen on rape and pillage to be held up as perfect examples of the warrior pinnacle. Native americans were pretty close I think, but I don’t know enough to say definitively.

No, for a good example of what a warrior should be we have to look East. The samurai in japan and the warrior class (shaolin monks, if you must…but there was a lot more to chinese warfar than the monks) in China lived by a strictly defined set of virtues and principles that kept them in check throughout their life.

Granted that didn’t stop them from getting into fights and wars the same as anyone else, but my point is that when being trained in martial arts and warfare, they weren’t simply taught how to fight, maim and kill. They were taught how to live humbly, with honour, courage, benevolence and a host of other virtues drilled into them. No matter who you were or what size you were, you were taught the same as everyone else. If you were  a weak little shrimp you were taught how to fight and how to live a virtuous life. If you were a seven foot powerhouse, you were taught how to fight and how to live a virtuous life. There was no distinction, or rather -ignorant presumption, made on someone. If they wanted to learn, they would learn both sides of the coin, not just the one which they already knew.

Sure, weak men know the value of strength and power, but who’s to say we can’t teach strong men the same?! Why can a weak man be given incredible power and strength, but a strong man not be given incredible humility and perspective?…it saddens me to know that this corrosive mentality running through society is, and will be, met with a simple “hey, that’s just the way it is” mentality.

Anyway; if your interest has been sparked by the idea of a complete person then I suggest you read ‘hagakure’ or the ‘Tao te ching’. Both were read furiously by ancient warriors in the East to help them gain a complete understanding of themselves, the world and how best to live in it.

(oh, and I’d turn this one up…those first few bars are just beautiful;)

Doc of the day: Assault in the ring

6 Aug

I saw this a while ago, and must say it’s really something. The basic story covered is one of a fixed fight between two relatively unknown boxers way back in the day, but the bigger picture is an incredible insight into the people involved’s lives, motivations, regrets and -unbelievably in one case- lack of them, and a host of other nuances that probably won’t be seen on first look.

The documentary follows Luis Resto and his journey to understand, deal with and ultimately accept his past and the effect it’s had on his own life and everyone else involved. Even if you know or care nothing about boxing, it’s worth the viewing just to observe the people involved. Personally I love people watching; trying to understand people’s reactions, their behaviour and reasons behind, and this film is complete with a host of interesting characters.

Be warned though; there are some graphic images of violence and unsavoury characters, who may or may not have your blood boiling.

Have a look of you get a chance, it’s an incredible story. First part below. Can’t link the playlist for full viewing in youtube, but search for ‘assault luis resto 1/2/3/etc…’ and you should find it easily enough.

 

Zombie apocalypse: Are you ready? You probably aren’t…

30 Jun

Although I’d love to think I’m ahead on the circle of these things, I’m probably way behind the times with this subject. Still, it’s an interesting one to me.

After shouting a drunken argument for the futility of Zombie survival lists across a crowded table at someone that I barely know, I thought I’d get those thoughts together on page. It was a huge trend at the time, taking over most parts of the mainstream culture. Zombies: what will you do when they come?

I’m not against preparing for the inevitable, no way. The part of this trend that got me thinking was the sheer stubbornness of it all. You had people making lists of their favourite weapons, escape plans, vehicles, places they’d settle and how many buxom blondes they’d save on the dash away from the city regardless of the reality of it all. It all got a little bit delusional to be honest.

I did find it uplifting to see that people weren’t averse to creating plans to save their family and friends in case something horrific happened, but the superficial level of thought put into it was a little disturbing. You’d use a baseball bat to knock the heads off Zombies? well done, well done…you do know that it takes a lot of strength and awareness of your physical abilities to do that, don’t you?

It’s all well and good to proudly declare you’d be knocking them off left, right and centre, but what happens when your first feeble attempt at heroics results in the bat gently bouncing off the zombies head because you either just don’t have the strength to hit any harder or don’t know how to apply bodyweight behind your swing?

As for using a sword, that mainstay of well seasoned zombie hunters, well…I always giggle at the thought of someone bravely running into a group of ferocious brain hungry zombies, ready to do some damage with a glint in their eye, before realising that they can’t get the blade out of the first head they chopped into because they just haven’t got a clue how to handle a weapon like that.

Then comes the hard question, the really hard one. The one that probably didn’t cross anyone’s mind when making these lists and grand schemes of heroics. But before that, there’s a slightly easier one to ask:

What if you won’t be the hero? What if, instead of rampaging through hordes of zombies in an effort to save a doomed stranger, you’d be the one running amok on innocent groups of women and children, doing your best to look out for yourself and yourself only? What if, rather than bravely standing out as a beacon of hope in an otherwise ruined world, you’d be the one bastard raping and pillaging your way through the last remnants of civilisation?!

What if, when faced with the complete destruction of civilised social structures and boundaries, you realise that you’re not as good a person you thought you were?

And the hardest question of them all? the one that none of us could probably contemplate without ending up a gibbering wreck huddled in a corner?


…don’t go huddling into the corner now, please, do as hobbs sez..

…What if you’re just not good enough to survive in the first place? We all like to think of ourselves as the one-in-a-thousand who miraculously survives the zombie apocalypse, but what if we’d end up dead in the first few minutes; foiled by a late night stoner haze that made us think that zombie creeping along the ground was nothing more than a pile of laundry. Or else, even though you’d stocked up on twenty different guns and cases of ammo, you’d be undone within seconds of a zombie getting close to you because, tragically, you were too focused on using a gun to adapt to a changing situation?

I’m being too hard, I know. People made zombie survival lists because it was a fun thing to do, nothing more. Aside from a few, rare, people constructing safehouses and going to bed every night with a survival kit ready beside their bed (I swear; i didn’t keep a kit…okay I kept my shoes close, but that’s just common sense, isn’t it?) no one gave the phenomenon more than a passing glance in the grand scheme of philosophical, moral and ethical debate. They’re just zombies, right? there wasn’t much point in connecting the dots.

But it still got me wondering, because it’s a good basis to jump off from. You’d save your family? cool, what are you gonna do if you’re injured? cool, what would you do if it was a disabling injury, like you can’t walk or run? etc…

These are good questions to ask, to begin with, but the basic ones are the most important. Forget about which grenade attachment you’d put on your rifle, where you’d settle in isolation, what car you’d drive and which bland backup party-member you’d seduce first. Start with the basics: Would I survive in the first place? and then, would I survive as the same person I am? and if you’re really serious about those questions, and the zombie apocalypse, ask yourself how you can make sure of these things.

I’m sure you’ll find It’s not with fancy lists; just a good, old fashioned-back to basics- look at yourself.

Off topic: economics, fear and loathing.

22 Jun

Just so you know: I’m creating a new category with this post because there’s only so many times I can repeat the same, very simple, message without boring you to death. Yeah I know there’s a lot of different ways to tell it, but in the end it’s the same point.

Besides; I’d like to write about larger things in the world that are indicative of the smaller problems we face without having to, badly and awkwardly, tie it back in to the main point of this page. The point is always there, you just have to look for it.

Like a hawk…a sexy, sexy hawk.

Anyway, banks. I was watching a programme about the rise of the drug trade a few days ago, when I heard something interesting. I had heard it before, and knew the process well- seeing as I’m pretty sure I smoked a mix of rubber tyres and plastic a fair bit in my day- but this was the first time I realised it applied to something else.

The banking collapse around the world, and particularly in America, happened because mortgage companies packaged the bad debts with a bunch of good ones, then sold them off to investment companies. To break it down, here’s how it went:

– family on low income want a house but can’t get a mortgage. Because of good markets around the world, loan companies and banks start giving credit free and easy based on the assumption that, well, shit’s never been so good!

-Banks then, in an effort to create some easy money, package one bad loan with a chunk of good loans and sell it off for instant cashmoneymoney. This is appealing to investment companies, many of them pension funds and the like, who figure  if things go wrong then their loss from the bad loans will be covered by all the good ones.

-Crash.

-Banks, investment funds and economic institutions realise that, rather than some of the loans being good and foolproof, they’re all bad when packaged together seeing as they all rely on each other for their value.

Simple enough? sure is (…I’m no economist though, so don’t quote me on that). What does this have to do with drugs? Everything.

– Man buys kilo of heroin,then cuts said kilo of heroin with chalk because he wants to capitalise on his investment, and double his money.

-customers figure its doing them good, because pure heroin has a reputation for being very dangerous when taken on it’s own.

-crash.

-people realise that, wait a minute, it’s all bad! Even when something that’s seemingly good, in a certain contex: chalk, is cut with the bad it gets spoiled, resulting in people getting allsorts of health problems because of it.

Business models are notoriously easy to transfer from one discipline to another, and the ancient art of cutting the product is no different. Of course no one would ever admit that it was the same thing, god no.  This might also be one of the reasons things went to hell in the first place: If you think of a mixture of Heroin and chalk, you only think of that bad- the Heroin. Doesn’t matter how good the chalk is, it’s mixed with Heroin! Apply that same logic to an investor shitting his pants: Good loans mixed with a few bad? Doesn’t matter, I don’t want the bad!

There’s been a lot of hoo-ha about Greece in the past few days, because they need another bailout to keep the country running. Me? I’ve got absolutely no problem with Greece needing a bailout, none at all. What I do take offense to, is the word ‘bailout’.

A bailout is something you do for your friend who’s penniless and needs to feed his children. He needs to keep them alive and healthy? give him money, just give it to him. You don’t however, attach all sorts of terms and conditions to this bailout, because then it becomes a loan. A loan, plain and simple. Not a bailout, a loan.

If those terms and conditions dictate that your friend must…

A: tax his children on everything from food and board to education, denying them a good chance to grow into mature adults who can help alleviate their father’s plight.

B: tear down a few supporting walls of his house, only so that they can then be rebuilt by a private company at twice the cost (and he must be happy about this, naturally. No complaining allowed when it’s a bailout: You’re doing him a favour after all)

C: pay you back at the equivalent of his total yearly salary (providing he finds a way to make a decent living, somehow) plus the same in interest over the next seven to ten years

or D: accept the debt created by his, non rent-paying food-eating beer-drinking, friends as his and his alone.

Well then… I smell a shark.

…and a blind hobo. Who took fourth place in the national chalkshark finals.

One of the main reasons all this contributes to a mad mad world, is that we here in the west have fallen so in love with privatisation, cost cutting and outsourcing (to the East, mainly) that we have nothing to trade anymore, leaving us to rely on devious banking methods to create our wealth.

It’s a lot harder to predict what will happen to your money when you ring up Vegas and drunkenly shout down the line “Put it all on a fat man wearing a fur coat walking through your hotel lobby at exactly 10:15 during the summer solstice”, and a hell of a lot harder to control when someone else then says “NO! I wager he’ll be wearing high heels!” and you then have to reasess and revalue your original bet and compensate for it. (this is starting to sound like nonsense: sorry, but it’s hard to boil down the worlds financial system into a single sentence…I think that’s pretty close anyway)

Actually, the Vegas thing rings true. If you want to get a decent idea of the mindset of a financial employee, either watch or read ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’.

We can’t stop here, this is VAT country.

My point? we’ve got nothing to trade anymore. Privatisation, and the ‘magnificent’ economic system we have today destroyed the coal mines (and the unions) in England during the 80’s, leaving england without any exportable natural resources to make money money make money money. The car industry in America was shipped off to Asia because of cheaper labour, leaving the country without a decent industry to call its own.

Of course America has full access to a host of oilfields…but they’re in the hands of private companies. Here in Ireland, we could use our oilfields to wipe out our national debt within ten years and get out country back on track…but it doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to shell (another long story, I’m sorry about this I really am).

What does that mean? well, when you’ve got nothing to trade and no proper industry to create wealth from, you tend to make money by betting on other people’s money and invisible products, then hang on to it for dear life when you get it. Sadly.

If you’d like to actually understand what’s going on with the European Union, the International Monetary Fund, our current economic model and the countries involved, I highly suggest you read ‘The shock doctrine’, by Naomi Klein. It’s an invaluable tool for understanding the world.