Archive for the ‘Platonic travel’ Category

So I guess it was J. M. Keynes who said “In the long term, we’ll all dead.”  Fair enough.  But what about our society, our species, and our planet (or even–despite Keynes– us, once we figure out how to stop ageing)?  I’ve already written a post about what our goals should be as a species, over, say the next few hundred years.  But what if we move beyond this timeframe?  I find it’s always good to give you some perspective.  And it helps us to answer, in a more serious fashion, that high-school and comic-strip metaphysics question, ‘what is the meaning of life?’  One can actually be more precise than one might think, nowadays.

When I was a kid, I was a big astronomy buff.  I memorized most of the constellations and their brightest stars; I remember standing out on frigid, crystal-clear winter evenings and checking out Aldabaran in Taurus, the Pleides, Betelgeuse the red giant  in Orion, and Rigel, the ginormous blue star at the other end of Orion.   I subscribed to Astronomy magazine, saved my allowance and bought an 8″-wide  mini ‘light bucket’ dobsonian telescope, which was very economically priced by the way, and when it arrived, it turned out that it was made of a big tube of cardboard, painted red.  That was a bit of a disappointment, but the thing was still so big, that it was magical.  On summer evenings, my best friend and I, and maybe a parent or two, would sit on our back porch in the dark; we had an unobstructed south view, and we were on a bit of a hill, so we could clearly see Scorpio crawling along the southern horizon; the sinisterly red Antares is truly wicked in the context of the scorpion, and is perhaps my favourite star.  Although Vega in Lyra is also a favourite.  With my telescope, I remember checking out the globular cluster near Antares; my favourite was M13 in Hercules.  They still looked incredibly faint and patchy through the lens, and my parents would never have chipped in to buy a camera and tracking apparatus to take photos, but it was magical nonetheless.  At first I wanted to be an astronomer, until I realized that they have to be total math whizzes, and basically just spend their entire time looking at and analyzing data streams.  It seemed unbelievably sterile and tedious to me as a late teen, and so I went for the arts and language instead.  And the really interesting stuff, theoretical physics and cosmology require a math ability that I might have had, but I jumped off the math train in middle school, and once you’re off for a year or two, you can never catch back up.  At any rate, it’s been a bit too long since I’ve really enjoyed the stars on a summer’s evening.  Many years of living in urban apartments have driven a wedge between me and the sky, even though now we finally have the possibility of enjoying it again from our back porch.  (more…)

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In the Matrix, we get glimpses of people who have been turned into fuel sources for an ambiguous controlling elite (of robots); this is just one example of a ‘cell-people’ theme that runs through a lot of Sci-Fi.  Another obvious example is the Borg, where individuals have become entirely subsumed into the ‘collective’ and basically serve as worker drones for a hive mind.  There are other variations where people are simply raised for food.  The main recurring elements in this genre are that people have almost no space in which to move or exercise independent action (because they docilely inhabit tiny cells), and are essentially kept alive for the purposes of others.

The reason why this type of story has resonance, is because it calls to mind some salient truths about the present, and also provides a warning about various metaphorical futures for humanity.  In this post I would like to point out that the world is actually heading in this direction, in a much more real sense than is usually perceived.

There has always been slavery; (more…)

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My motto when traveling is “soyez prudents,” as the French highway signs have it.  This can be roughly translated as “don’t be stupid.”  So, when I travel, I try and avoid doing anything obviously stupid.  I mean, I have invested going on 20 years in postsecondary education and job experience in order to get a middle class job in my profession, so I’d prefer to stay on the planet long enough for all this to pay off.  In short, I’m not an adventure seeker:  I don’t climb mountains, I don’t skydive, and I have intentionally avoided being a combat photographer.  Even though I do have some adventurousness in my veins:  my grandfather was a dive-bomber pilot and flight instructor for the navy, so that’s about as thrill-seeking as you can get.  Though lately, since I’ve had kids and a bit of money, I’ve both been more prudent (due to the kids) and able to insulate myself from “adventure” while travelling.  As a rule, the more money you have, the less “adventure” you have while you’re travelling — unless you’re intentionally seeking thrills, that is, which for reasons suggested above, I don’t do.

But when you’re travelling on a shoestring, and especially when you’re younger and people therefore respect you less, a lot more interesting things happen to you, interesting being a euphemism for things which are potentially dangerous, uncomfortable, or anxiety-inducing.  But they’re usually the ones that make the best stories afterwards.  As the poet laureate Morrissey would put it:  “I can smile about it now, but at the time it was terrible.”  

So, without further ado, here’s Trivium’s list of the top 10 unintended things that have happened on my travels.

1.  I guess that having a shotgun levelled at your chest probably counts as a fairly dire predicament.  (more…)

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So having lived in Europe, the US, (and Canada–america’s hat) for a while, I’m starting to get some insights into how the US and the northern part of the European continent measure up, quality-of-life-wise.  So, without further ado, here’s the Platonist’s list of why america is better than europe (and vice versa).

Part I.  Reasons why the US is a better place to live.

1.  Target.  Wal-Mart serves as a filter for the true dregs of american society, and so if you pay a small target tax of 10% (Target’s mark-up from walmart prices), you can avoid the often horrific peopleofwalmart.com and bask in the glory of incredible amounts of stuff for sale, for cheap, under one roof.  This is simply not to be had in Europe.  Americans really, really miss target over here.  Especially Holland, which doesn’t even have any large-scale grocery or superstores at all (unlike germany and france, which have them, only there, everything is basically at department-store prices–nowhere do you walk into a big box store in Europe and say, “wow, that’s a good deal!” –except at Ikea.  (Thank god for ikea, or Europe would literally be sitting on the ground.   Ikea is the one reason why Europeans have advanced beyond the middle ages).

1.5  Breakfast.  I almost forgot this, until breakfast this morning.  Simply put, the europeans are ridiculous for insisting that breakfasts of coffee and pastries are satisfying every day of your life.  Coffee and pastries can be a wonderful change of pace for breakfast, but, nothing in the world comes close to touching the Anglophone breakfast of pancakes/waffles (with real syrup-i.e., maple, baby), eggs, toast, bacon, and/or sausage, with oj–and coffee.  How could the continentals be so absurd, as not to adopt this clearly delicious and satisfying custom?  This is one thing about them that I really don’t get.  Not to mention, without this kind of breakfast, diner culture is all but impossible.  A major downside of being in europe is the lack of diners with 24-hour breakfasts.  What do you eat after the disco?      (more…)

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To become a platonic traveller, you can follow these simple instructions.  First, watch Kenneth Clark’s “Civilization” series, which you can buy complete on DVD for maybe 60 bucks. Then watch them, and note that each episode characterizes a different step in western art history:  dark ages, romanesque, gothic, renaissance, and so forth.  This will give you an understanding of how oddly linear western art has been, or more startlingly, how evolutionary it has been:  in other words, it has gone through a series of major stages every 100-200 years or less, since the romanesque first evolved over a thousand years ago.  That is what characterizes it from most other art traditions:  the amazing dynamism.  Why did it do this?  (more…)

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