Friday, June 26, 2015

Carefree Conversations

Of late, I and my pub mates have grown tired of all the consistent doom and gloom so prevalent in today's media reports. So at last Thursday's get together at The Three Q's we all decided to explore the lighter side of things, and forbade any mention of ebola, ISIS, the wonder of Zimbabwean democracy or, closer to home, gas plants and the valiant and increasingly successful attempt of Ontario to emulate the financial position of Greece.

Present were John Digg, who farms the property next to my own, Alice Deptford, a truly adept economist, and Dr. Phillip Pratt, Head of the Philosophy Department at the University of Toronto, and simply a gem when it comes to an interesting conversation.

And an interesting conversation  was the aim of this evening's outing, along with the proviso that the topics should be of the light-hearted, even fluffy variety.

Once we were ensconced at our table, with pints ordered and fetched by Professor Pratt, Alice began by suggesting that some of the most interesting discussions she had ever had centered around those  things that had one meaning, but could be reached by any number of approaches, whether mathematical, metaphorical, logical or historical.

This seemed to be heading directly into obscurantism, so I asked Alice, "I think some examples might help."

"Second that," said John. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

"I think," replied Alice, "that I may have described the matter in overly complicated terms. All I meant was that a given topic always has many sides to it, all of them valid, and none of which takes away from its central meaning. So if we have an equation that states that ten plus three is equal to five plus eight, or nine plus four equals six plus seven, it doesn't matter to the end result, that is, thirteen.

"So what you're saying, Alice, is that regardless of the roads taken, providing that individual numbers one to twelve are used, the answer, thirteen, will always be correct."

"You have it. Now if you apply that thinking to the making of, say fettuccini alfredo, you will --- yes, Phillip?"

Dr. Pratt had been unusually quiet through all this, and one wondered just why. Or at least I did.

"There is," Pratt said, "one other aspect to your example. A rather interesting one, if I may be so bold. I note that one equation has not been brought forward for use as an example, to wit, "eleven plus two" is equal to "twelve plus one." Any reason for this, Alice?"

"Yeah. I didn't think of it. Why is this so of interest?"

"Look at the two sides of the equation. Note anything odd?"

Silence around the table until John Digg piped up, "Anagrams. 'Eleven plus two' is an anagram of 'twelve plus one.'" He sat back, took a good draught from his pint, and looked mighty pleased with himself.

"Puts the icing on your cake, Alice, does it not?" I put in.

"That it does. Now take fettuccini alfredo, forget about anagrams and pretend that ......."

And this is why I treasure these little get-togethers.


Friday, June 19, 2015

She: A Progress Report

This year marks a significant historical event -- the signing of the document of Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215 by King John of England. The document promised the protection of Church rights, promised protection for barons from illegal imprisonment, promised access to swift justice and -- very important this -- promised limitations to feudal payments to the Crown.

Not referred to at all were the common people, children, and not a word about women. Mind you. some two years later King John reneged on the whole thing, so even its partial acknowledgement of certain rights still had to await more enlightened ages.

In the twenty-first century, all too many women are still awaiting for their rights to be acknowledged. To put a thirteenth century view of women into the vernacular of the twenty-first century, I turn to congresswoman Bella Abzug of New York, who, channelling Theodore Roosevelt, once stated, "Women have been trained to speak softly and carry a lipstick."

Now if any woman broke such a mold, to was Ms Abzug, but she has not been alone. Admittedly, the pace of change borders on the glacial, but the following could never have occurred in the thirteenth century:

1) A woman in Gary, Indiana swallows a pill, and terrifies the Pope.

2) A woman becomes a tech "baron' -- Marissa Mayer is now the Chief Executive Officer of Yahoo.

3)A woman wins the Nobel prize -- congratulations to Marie Curie.

4) Women run for high office, get elected to that office, and do very well in running entire countries. Step forward Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel.

There is, of course, some distance to go. Women and girls, trapped in cultural and religious backwaters, are still treated as chattel by insecure males, subject to genital mutilation, "arranged" marriages and, if they stray, are killed for "honourable" reasons. But day after day attempts continue to be made by a variety of good people and organizations to shine light into these dark corners and argue that the best way forward for the male leaders is to cease and desist being sadistic idiots.

Let us so hope, although I did feel a tad discouraged when I ran across this comment from filmmaker and playwright David Mamet, who wrote, "The perfect girlfriend: one who makes love until two in the morning, and then turns into a pizza."

So female advancement will, I'm afraid, have to follow a prescription offered by "Grook" author Piet Hein: "T.T.T."*


*Things take time. -- Ed.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The God Of The Mountain

Fredrich Nietzsche once wrote, "2000 years, and no new God!"

Sorry, Freddy, not entirely true. It has come to my attention that one god, hitherto unknown to me and I suspect a great many others, is certainly active. He/she/it apparently lives in the bowels of Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia, and is very powerful.

The following incident makes my point. A number of tourists were clambering around  the mountain in question, having a great time. Perhaps too good a time. Four Westerners, two Canadians, a Brit and a Netherlander, for whatever reason, thought it cool to exhibit a bit of nudity. I mean, why not?

Around this time a severe earthquake occurred.

Shortly after this, Malaysian police obtained a court order to hold the offenders for four days, to allow for an investigation into their indecent behaviour.

In many Malaysian minds, however, the earthquake itself had been precipitated by the nude cavorting that had occurred on Kinabalu's slopes. This view was echoed by a Malaysian official who suggested that the quake was a signal that the mountain god was angry at such behaviour. In the words of Deputy Chief Minister Joseph Pairin Kitingan, they had shown "disrespect to the sacred mountain." A special ritual, he added, will be conducted "to appease the mountain spirit."*

I hasten to add that at no point was any mention made of tectonic plates.

Now what we had in actuality was an act of youthful stupidity, but really no more than that, a point that various consular officials will be making with the Malaysian government. Yet where a strong faith in a disturbed god is concerned, all bets are off. In past ages, the offending four almost certainly been sacrificed to the god in an act of hopeful appeasement and the prevention of future upheavals of the earth. Let us hope that a more sane approach is adopted.

There is, however, no guarantee. As Benjamin Franklin has written, "The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason."


*If left to the actions of the most committed and ardent believers, that "special ritual" could prove to be harrowing indeed for the offenders. -- L.S.S.

Friday, June 5, 2015

A Blatter Is Relieved

Occasionally you win one.

In my last report, I had written that the President of the Federation Internationale de Football Association, (FIFA) Sepp Blatter, would be likely to remain in his recently elected position of President. This in spite of growing concern regarding various forms of bribery and corruption that had  plagued this organization for years.

I am delighted to report that I was wrong.

The Americans, assisted by the Swiss, swooped down and arrested seven of the worst offenders, armed with charges of criminal activity that were likely to stick. The investigation, involving the American Department of Justice, had been going on for some time, so it was not just a case of rumours and further rumours. Suddenly, there were photographs.

Mr. Blatter, perhaps uneasy for the first time, suggested that he had been aware of the investigation, and implied that was one of the instigators of the process. (This would be akin to General Custer, after assessing a certain situation at Little Big Horn, fleeing to the side of Sitting Bull and saying, "let's have at 'em!" Unlikely to have worked then, and certainly wasn't going to work now.) 

Mr. Blatter, in attempting this strategy, was I believe remembering Juan Samaranch, who had successfully fought off similar charges while head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). But Samaranch, or his preferred title "His Excellency", had served with Generalissimo Franco of Spain, and that tutelage had paid off big time.

Mr. Blatter had no such tutor, and when certain pressure was brought to bear, finally agreed to step down,* although he would continue in his position until a new election could be held.
Mind you, there can be many a slip between the cup and the lip, but for now, those who have witnessed the Beautiful Game being dragged through the mud too many times can now take heart.

So it's bye bye Mr. Blatter, and I conclude with the following words from the American writer and poet, Catherynne M. Valente, who might well be speaking not just on the fate of Mr. Blatter, but on the electoral situation in the Province of Ontario: "Never out your faith in a Prince. When you require a miracle, trust in a Witch."


* The likes of Olympic sponsors such as Nike, McDonalds et al were not going to put up with the type of invective that would have been directed at Mr. Blatter by Europe and North America, and by association at them. These firms marketing and product sales would have taken a hit that was a bridge too far. At this point I suspect an offer was made to Mr. Blatter that he could not refuse. -- L.S.S.