Archive for the ‘personal’ Category

You may have heard about it recently in the news, depending on where you live.

On February 10, 2008, the birthday of death-by-Scientology victim Lisa McPherson, the internet group “Anonymous” organized – without a notable leader or leaders – mass worldwide protests of the Church of Scientology. More than 7,000 people in nearly 100 cities protested outside Scientology churches, sporting inside-joke Guy Fawkes masks.

Today, on March 15, 2008, the first Saturday after the birthday of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, the same thing, under the code name “Operation Party Hard”. In parody of LRH’s birthday, Anonymous this time wore party hats and passed out party favors to fellow Anons. Cake was served. Along with chants of “CULT!” and “SCIENTOLOGY KILLS!” were hearty, mocking choruses of the Happy Birthday song.

Welcome to the internet culture of Anonymous.

Since Anonymous was first established, it has abided by its own “Rules of the Internet”. There is a list somewhere of 48 of them but only 3 “real” rules: 1, 2, and 34.

The first two are in the spirit of the Fight Club:

Rule 1 of the internet is “Do not talk about Anonymous.”
Rule 2 of the internet is “Do NOT talk about Anonymous.”

There have always been plenty of Anons who, feeling superior in being part of a group so cool that it can’t be mentioned to outsiders, have gone and shamed their fellow Anonymous by bragging about it to their friends and coworkers. (But most Anons have done this at least once.) In general, though, Anon kept it within Anon.

Through 2007, rules 1 and 2 kept weakening within Anon. Guy Fawkes masks (yes, an inside joke) started to show up at anime and gaming conventions around the globe. Anonymous’s flamboyance in the real world continued to increase until it declared war against Scientology, after which it did away with rules 1 and 2 for good. A couple of years ago, people arranging local meet-ups of Anonymous would be mocked for it. Now, Anonymous meets IRL with pride.

As long as there’s no longer a stigma associated with it, I may as well admit that I’ve been a “member” of Anonymous for over a year now.

Trust me, it’s not an elite hacker group at all, and Anonymous isn’t nearly as cool as it thinks it is. But to its credit, Anonymous is probably the most massive, effective, and fascinating destructive force for “justice” on the internet. Its culture is fascinating. Its methods, though disagreeable at times, are both hilarious and effective. Anonymous has its own subsects, its own politics, and its own justice system. I can’t tell you how wonderful it has been, as a person so intrigued by sociology, to watch this culture develop over the last year.

Anonymous would not be pleased, but I really feel like I need to share some of my more intriguing observations about the culture of Anonymous. Look forward to some fascinating posts about the other side of internet culture showing up in the next little while. If my readers feel that it interferes too much with the regular content of my blog, I’ll start putting them on seperate WordPress pages rather than the blog itself. I just need to share these observations somehow.

Read Full Post »

This isn’t so much a post as it is a short rant.  About – what else? – the 2008 presidential race.

I understand that after the last eight years, we’re all starving for change.  Us Web 2.0 people probably feel that more than most, because we see how fast the world is changing every single day, and we’ve had a chance to experience that and be a part of it ourselves.

I like Obama.  I really do.  I appreciate what he stands for and what he does.

But why, internet folks, is this spilling over into hatred of Hillary Clinton?

Out of the first ten results I get by searching “Clinton” in Facebook Groups, six are ANTI-Clinton groups, including the first three.  The most disgusting of them all is the third, “Hillary Clinton: Stop Running for President and Make Me a Sandwich,” with 33,731 members at this time of posting.  Its description: “Dedicated to keeping Hillary Clinton out of the Oval Office and in the kitchen.”

Do you know how sick I feel when I look at that, as a girl with high aspirations?  What kind of a world can I look forward to when I graduate, where a woman campaigning for the highest office in America is mocked for it and told to get back in her kitchen?

I could shrug it off more easily if it weren’t one of the top three groups to come up when I search her name on Facebook.  The top result, “Stop Hillary Clinton,” has 788,487 members, and gives no reason on the group’s page for hating her.

It’s not just the conservatives that join these kinds of groups.  “Stop Hillary Clinton” claims to be bi-partisan on the front page.  Digg, which is from my experience mostly liberal, has not dugg one pro-Clinton item to the front page in the last month.  I see at least half a dozen anti-Clinton items come in every day, while the top ten list is always filled with praises for Obama.  In the comments on the anti-Clinton items, anyone that makes a positive comment on her behalf is dugg down into the negative hundreds.  Digg, and similar online communities, have such a staunch pro-Obama/anti-Clinton stance that it’s dangerous for your reputation on those sites to dare support or even defend Hillary Clinton.  Most disturbing, misogynistic comments are the norm.

I like Obama, really.  If he became president I couldn’t complain, and if he follows through with what he’s promised it could be an inspiring four – or eight – years.

But the anti-Clinton bent that some of Obama’s supporters have been taking online, especially the misogynistic anti-Clinton bent, and especially on Digg, is frankly disturbing.  Not to mention distressing, to me at least, who has to see good, liberal-minded people taking to bashing a female candidate simply because she’s female, and not Obama.

I feel the same way about Obama as I do about Jesus.  Great guy, good message, but his more extreme followers are freaking me out.  If you support Obama, good for you.  Myself – he’s not my cup of tea.  I have my own reasons for it that I’ve devoted a lot of time and thought to.  If he’s elected and does a great job in office, I’ll be the first to change my mind.

So please support Obama (or McCain) as much as you want, but keep it clean, and not misogynistic.  Digg and Facebook seem to have a problem with that.

Read Full Post »

Web 2.0 Compatible

I had a really interesting slip-up in my speech this afternoon. My friend and I were doing a crossword puzzle in our History class, as is our new routine (we only recently got into them, but we rock at them unashamedly). We were stuck on the name of a river in Venezuela. So without thinking, I told her, “When we’re done taking notes, I’ll just google it on the map.”

What I meant was that I would look it up on the wall map, of course (it’s a history classroom, it has more maps than students), but somewhere in my mind the verb ‘look up’ just slipped out as ‘google’. I didn’t even notice what I had said until she pointed it out with a joke that I had been spending too much time on the internet.

It’s fascinating to see the impact that Google has had on people’s everyday lives.

In my world, I see Web 2.0 fully entwined with our normal lives. I do suffer a significant population bias; mine is the world of Echo-Boomer teenagers and the IB program. The collective geekiness levels are enough to maim a small child, I’m sure, but the experiences I have IRL are sometimes so indistinguishable from my online life that it can feel sometimes that logging in to MSN, Facebook, or my usual forum haunts after school is like walking back into class, but without a teacher scolding us for talking too loud and being off-task.

My lab partner and I in Chemistry once came up with a funny monologue. The first classmate we showed it to advised us to act it out together on Youtube. We insisted that it was just a writing thing, and that if we ever posted it anywhere at all, it would be a short written piece. It wasn’t the stuff of Youtube videos. “But it has to be on youtube,” he insisted. “A monologue isn’t funny if it’s not on youtube.”

Even earlier in the year, one of our Chinese projects was a cooking show that had to be filmed and presented to the class, no exceptions. The group commonly known as the class clowns (as close to class clowns as we get in the IB program, which is not very by normal standards) created the most amazing student video that we had ever seen that left us rolling in laughter. Someone on the other side of the class shouted, “That had better be on youtube tonight!” The same gang, doing an exaggerated dance to a romantic Mandarin song, was filmed on somebody’s cell phone with the promise/threat that “this is going on youtube!”.

The guys my lab partner and I team up with for dissections in Biology are “feminists”. This is the technical term they use to make themselves feel better about standing off to the side and looking sick while my partner and I (both female) cut open whatever slimy thing is on our dissecting tray. Our latest escapade was the dissection of a gigantic earthworm, which looked so cool when opened up that the guys forgot their queasiness and all four of us instinctively pulled out our cell phones to snap pictures of it.

Powerpoint presentations are the most commonly used medium for projects in all of our classes, especially History. More than half of the presentations I’ve seen link to a youtube video for a video clip or mini-documentary relating to the material, and this is completely accepted by all the teachers we’ve had so far.

I won’t even mention facebook. “Tell me on facebook,” “We’ll chat on facebook,” “Those had better be up on facebook tonight!” are phrases we hear many times a day. Any photos taken during school (a large percentage of us bring our digital cameras) will be on facebook within the next two days. And everyone has a facebook. Everyone. At the time of this posting, our school network has 1,444 people. I don’t know how many students are in our school, but I think that’s almost all of them.

Our more tech-literate teachers stalk MSN late on the nights before major projects are due and laugh about who was up at 3am in class. Little do they know that most of us are on facebook, checking our ‘friends online’ lists to see who shares that class with us so we can complain about the project, discuss our approaches, whine about what’s going wrong, and panic over the vaguely-defined criteria.

It should sound crazy, but it doesn’t. This generation – at least, my geeky IB circle of it – is totally Web 2.0 compatible.

Read Full Post »


To my shock and delight, I just got a link notification email from the Edublog Awards website… my post How to Prevent Another Leonardo da Vinci has been nominated as a finalist for “Most influential blog post” in the 2007 Edublog Awards! Of course I’m honored that my little blog has made it into the finals, even though it’s not a full-time edublog. I’m glad so many people have read and enjoyed my post. Consequently, if you have read and enjoyed my da Vinci post, I would really appreciate it if you voted for it here at the Edublog Awards. Voting is open until December 6.

Thanks again to all my awesome readers. :)

Read Full Post »

I was really disappointed when – on Blog Action Day of all days – real life once again disrupted my usual posting schedule.  It has been a really crazy couple of days, so my entry is a depressing three days late, but I have been determined to post something about it anyway.

The official statistics from Blog Action Day have been released.  I encourage you to look at their full report – it’s very inspiring!

At the end of the day…

20,603 blogs had participated.
23,327 posts about the environment had been made as a result.
The posts reached an estimated RSS readership of 14,631,038 subscribers.

You can see the rest on their site.

I thought for a long time about what I should say about the environment in this post, and decided on something that Wikipedia apparently likes to call “environmental vegetarianism”.  It matters a lot to me, personally, because I consider myself one of those environmental vegetarians.  It wasn’t the reason why I first became a vegetarian, but since then, it’s become my most important motivation for remaining a vegetarian.

Most people don’t usually associate vegetarianism with being good for the environment – if the two are ever associated at all, it’s because of the stereotype of environmentalists as tree-hugging, animal-loving vegetarian hippies.  The truth is that not all vegetarians are in it for the animals, or even the ideology against eating meat.  Some people become vegetarians for the health benefits, religious reasons, economic reasons, ideologies against how animals are raised in farms, and, yes, concerns about the environment.  The latter will be my focus.

Here are just three environmental reasons to go vegetarian, or at least reduce the amount of meat in your diet:

1. Reduced consumption of fossil fuels and reduced greenhouse emissions.
Animal agriculture produces a shocking amount of greenhouse gases.  It’s been estimated to account for 17-20% of methane emissions worldwide, and ten times more fossil fuel is required to produce one calorie of animal protein than one calorie of plant protein.  Think of all the energy needed to build animal farms, raise the animals, all the pollution put out by the machines, and the emissions made from trucking their food supply and the livestock themselves from location to location.  According to this article, the energy that goes into producing a single hamburger could drive a small car twenty miles.  A 2006 study from the University of Chicago showed that the average American with an omnivorous diet caused the emissions of 1485 kg more carbon dioxide than their vegetarian counterparts.  Driving a hybrid car supposedly reduces your emissions by just over a ton – so going vegetarian or vegan is actually better for the environment, and tens of thousands of dollars cheaper!

2. More efficient distribution of land and food resources.
It’s no secret that the world has a resource distribution problem (what is that statistic people are always throwing around – the wealthiest 10% of people own 90% of the world’s resources or something?), but how much of that is due to meat production for first-world countries is disgusting.  This site claims that 44% of the world’s grain production goes towards feeding livestock.  The Wikipedia article gives more local statistics: 90% of soy production, 80% of corn production, and 70% of grain production goes to livestock in the US.  This is more of an ethical issue than an environmental one: how much of the food that goes to feed our future hamburgers could go to feed the millions in the world that are starving?

Land use and distribution is another concern of animal agriculture.  Animal agriculture, not logging, is the number one cause of deforestation in the world.  According a study by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, agriculture accounts for 90% of deforestation – this vegetarian site gives only 70%.  Either way, that is certainly not good for the environment.  This article claims that 55 square feet of rainforest is destroyed for every hamburger that is imported from Central/South America.  Consider the dark side of McDonald’s claims of however many billion they’ve served.

3. More efficient use of drinking water.

Think about how much of the world’s water is drinkable (3%) and how many people in the world don’t have access to clean drinking water (27%), and then know that producing 1kg of animal protein uses about a hundred times more water than producing 1kg of plant protein.  On this site, which seems to be full of interesting examples, they say that the amount of water needed to produce one hamburger could supply enough water for you to have a “luxurious” shower every day for two and a half weeks.  That’s a lot of clean water wasted – and I won’t even get into the chemicals and waste products of animal agriculture that pollute the water supply every day.  To paraphrase all the articles on the subject: it’s just not good for the environment.

Since humans can clearly live a healthy (sometimes healthier) life without needing to eat meat, why are we wasting so much on animal agriculture?  What do we get out of it – a nice taste?  Cheap, questionably-produced fast food?  Nutrients that we can now get elsewhere?  If you live in the West, it’s easier than ever to become a vegetarian.  The more I talk to older vegetarians, the more I realize how spoiled the vegetarians of today are.  If you’re so inclined, you can replace every meat item in your diet with a vegetarian substitute that is almost indistinguishable from the real thing, if you know where to look.

Even just reducing the amount of meat in one’s diet can have a positive effect on the environment.  It may not seem like reducing it by say, 10%, could do much to save the environment, but what if ten people did the same thing?  That’s 1485 kg less carbon dioxide emitted right there.  But what if it was twenty people?  Fifty?  A small city’s worth of people?  The whole US – reducing by just 10%?  What if some reduced it further and stamped it out of their diet altogether?

I don’t need a calculator to tell you that that’s a whole lot of carbon, rainforest, and water saved.

Read Full Post »

First of all, I’d like to announce my participation in Blog Action Day this coming Monday!
Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day
On “Blog Action Day”, October 15, thousands of bloggers will post about one topic – the environment – in many different ways. In the site’s last stats announcement, more than 12,000 blogs have been registered to participate, with a combined total of more than 11 million readers! If you want to include your blog, the banner on the right is linked to the site.

Speaking of the environment, pause for a brief thumbs-up to the IPCC and Al Gore for the Nobel Peace Prize!

And now I redirect back to my topic.

If you haven’t already done so, please read Gifted labeling: a force for good and evil, Part 1. It’s not absolutely necessary, but it helps to understand the controversy.

Here are my own thoughts on the matter:

I think that what being labeled “gifted” does for a student is separate intelligence from grades in their mind. This can be a force for good or for evil (hence the title) depending on how the student uses this information. The reason I used the flip of a coin to describe it before – it’s not actually that great of an analogy – is that there are typically two alternate results, both being “different sides of the same coin.” That’s why both good and bad results have been observed from informing kids of their giftedness, because it could easily go either way.

Result 1
We’ll start with the good result: the student is happier, or at least has a higher self-esteem after being told. There’s now a reason behind their always feeling different. If their identification means placement in a gifted program, there’s a chance for them to learn about themselves and meet other people like them – which is important for any gifted student. I can say that for myself and all the other gifted kids I knew at the time, being pulled out for the gifted program was the best part of our day, if only because we could hang out together and talk about things that other kids thought were weird. Almost like a support group.

For underachieving gifted students, being identified can be even more important. The separation of smarts from grades means that bad marks reflect their work habits, not intelligence. In means higher self-esteem and in some cases higher achievement, if they realize that they are capable of better if they tried for it. Again, placement in a gifted program should be ideal. Being surrounded by people like themselves can work wonders.

Result 2
The less desirable one: separation of grades and intelligence gives gifted students a new reason to slack off and be snarky about it. For this group, it means that there isn’t a reason to worry about grades anymore. If they really are as naturally gifted as everyone seems to think they are, they’ll do just fine, no need to sweat for anything. Additionally, knowledge of having a higher IQ than roughly 98% of the population (the traditional IQ-based definition of giftedness) will definitely inflate some egos and may create some precocious brats out of this group. Sometimes these people turn around in later life, sometimes they don’t. Their futures are much more uncertain than those of Result 1.

Sometimes, when identification doesn’t mean inclusion in an adequate gifted program or any program at all, students that might otherwise have been happy R1s can develop the traits of this other group. It’s not easy being a gifted kid with no one to talk to, and the lack of a support group might cause them to lose their motivation to achieve. That’s not always the case, but it happens, and with alarming frequency. Few gifted kids actually grow up into gifted adults.

Both of these results are the same sides of a single coin: the separation of intelligence from grades that being labeled “gifted” causes in one’s head. Calling them “results” might be inaccurate, because one can turn into the other over time… a better word might be “paths”. In the end simply telling a student that they’re gifted can change things for better or for worse. Regardless, I think kids should always be told of their giftedness anyway. It’s their right to know, and isn’t it worth it for the chance of making things better?

Read Full Post »

My impromptu vacation

Yes, I seem to have taken an impromptu vacation for the last month and a half!

It was completely unintended, but I have missed writing here so much. Since my last post (in August, wow), there’s been a little voice in the back of my head telling me that I should really sit down and write again. Then instead of my own inner voice, it was Dave Truss saying (sort of) the same thing to me, and I thought, okay, it’s time to actually cut some time out of my day and my week to start blogging again.

So. Regarding myself and the future of Wandering Ink

1. Wandering Ink‘s original update schedule of Mondays and Fridays will return starting on this coming Sunday or Tuesday night. This Monday is the Canadian Thanksgiving, and I probably won’t be home from visiting relatives in time to post something.

2. Weekend Readings will return as Weekly Readings on Wednesdays. I still haven’t decided whether it should be every week or alternating weeks, but I suppose that it could be flexible depending on how prolific I am with my link-finding over the week.

3. You may or may not have noticed that my name is now listed as “Kris Bradburn” instead of just “Kris”. It’s a pen name, but close enough to my real name that it doesn’t really matter. (Bradburn is my mother’s maiden name.)

4. One of the new things I’d to try on this blog is writing about topics picked by others. So, I’d like to start taking some requests. If you have any topic that you’d like to see here, please suggest it in the comments and I’ll write a post about it. If you have a website or blog you’d like me to link to, please include that as well, so I can give credit back where credit is due!

I hope that you all enjoy these new changes. I’m very pleased to be back!

And, there’s one more thing – John at the Jig-Saw History Blog tagged me for the “8 Random Facts” meme way back on my latest (ha) post, and I’ve very rudely put off posting it. So here it is…

The Rules

1. Post these rules before you give your facts.
2. List 8 random facts about yourself.
3. At the end of your post, tag 8 people and list their names, linking to them.
4. Leave a comment on their blog to let them know they’ve been tagged.

8 Random Facts About Me

1. My parents originally planned to name me Holly, because I was due around Christmas.

2. Back when she was popular, I was infamous among my classmates for sharing a birthday with Britney Spears. I wish I was lying.

3. By some strange coincidence, four members of my maternal family that were raised apart – my grandmother, my grandfather, my step-grandfather, and my uncle-to-be – majored in Economics with a minor in Political Science.

4. My grandfather (maternal) lives in Berlin. I have only met him once, when I was almost too young to remember it.

5. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky is my favorite book of all time, and Ivan Karamazov of the same is my favorite fictional character.

6. I am one of those people whose Western zodiac sign (Sagittarius) describes them almost perfectly.

7. I’m addicted to science podcasts.

8. I can read and write in Chinese faster than I can read and write in English, but I can’t form a single sentence orally without notes nor comprehend what is being said to me in that language.


I’m not quite sure. If you read this and own a blog – consider yourself tagged right now! Yes, that means you. No, I’m serious. It does.

Read Full Post »

Since I left the last ‘Weekend Reading’ until mid-week, this one has only a few days’ worth of links.  I believe these ones date back to… last Wednesday?  Anyway, enjoy this week’s very short list!

Best of the Week – Religion: Blind Faith (Washington Post)
Some disturbing information about religious literacy in the US here – for the most Christian nation in the world, I find this horrifying.  For instance, cited in the article is that less than half of Americans know that Genesis is the first book of the Bible, that only half can name even one of the Gospels, and a little over 10% think that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.  The title of this article is very fitting – what are all these people following?

Psychology: This is Your Life (and How You Tell It) (New York Times)
How you view and retell memories says a lot about you, and can have substantial impact on your thoughts about them.  Sad and embarrassing memories viewed and recalled in the third person can actually seem less sad and embarrassing, and the people who recall them that way seem to have apparently learned more from them.

Software/Advice: Firefox Keyboard Shortcut to Retrieve Lost Tabs
The BEST Firefox tip I’ve ever heard.  It happens so often to me: I start closing down unused tabs, and accidentally delete one that I really needed.  Pressing Command+Shift+T (Ctrl+Shift+T for us Microsoft slaves) will bring back any tab you just closed.  No more accidentally deleting the wrong tabs!

Gender/Psychology: Girls do badly at math when told boys do better (Reuters)
A study from the University of Chicago shows that when girls are told that their male counterparts are naturally better at math, they start doing badly on tests.  This was also shown to impact achievement in whatever tests or classes they took directly afterwards, and was not limited to just mathematics.

Coffee: Understanding Coffee People
Coffee can be a link category all on its own, who says it can’t?  I found this accidentally through Google hunting for myself (you know you’ve done it).  These are descriptions of a few distinct “coffee types”… the Addict, the Snob, the Teenager (proud to say I’m not one of them in this context), etc.  Which one are you?  (I’m the Addict – I like my coffee bitter, black, and lots of it.)

Nostalgia: 15 (Painfully) Unforgettable Cartoon Theme Songs
Ahhh, pre-Y2K cartoons… how I miss that blurry quality that I thought was so awesome as a kid.  To think there are kids today growing up without classics like the Looney Tunes.  This is a list of 15 memorable cartoon themes (YouTubed and embedded!) from the 80s and 90s.  (Some of these I can just barely remember, and some I didn’t even realize had stopped airing. I miss the 90s… I made a Mister Rogers joke to some kids I know and they just gave me blank looks.  I shouldn’t have to feel that old yet.)

That’s it for this week!

Read Full Post »

Since my cousin moved back to Vancouver from Manhattan, I’ve noticed that she has a strange, urban serendipity about her: every time she walks to a street corner, the light instantly changes in her favor. I’m not kidding about this; every time I walk with her downtown, she never has to wait for the ‘Walk’ signal. It comes on the second she approaches the curb, and with no conscious effort whatsoever on her part. And, since I first noted this in my cousin, I’ve been seeing the same crazy luck in both my aunt and her boyfriend – who, like my cousin, are self-proclaimed urbanites living in a very trendy part of downtown.

It was all a strange coincidence – until it started to happen to me, too. Whenever I approach a street corner downtown (this does not work in the suburbs), the light just seems to change in my favor, regardless of my intent to catch it. I used to have the worst luck with my timing downtown, always just missing the light I wanted. Now… well, I don’t think I’ve had to wait for a light to change in weeks. Even my friends are pointing out to me that I have the greatest luck with these things.

I have a theory about this urban serendipity. Cities really do have a pulse. That pulse becomes the pace of the whole city… and that pace is the speed at which each traffic light turns after the other. I think that people who spend a lot of time in the city, like my urbanite family members and now myself, start to fall “in tune” with the pace of the city. Over time, we just develop the perfect pace of walking that gets us between streets right as the lights turn, because it’s such a consistent rhythm.

(This kind of pulse isn’t something I see much of in the suburbs, but I think that it has to do with the lack of traffic and the length of suburban blocks. Suburban streets are more likely to be empty, so we tend to jaywalk more often. And, at least in my neighborhood, the blocks are much larger than those in the city, so it takes a long time to walk from one street to the other – long enough to distract someone from developing the rhythm a city would have.)

With or without the logical explanation for it, the idea of being “in tune” with a city – belonging to a city – is so romantic to me. There’s comfort in knowing and loving a city inside out so much that everything between the limits feels like home. My favorite expression of belonging and comfort in a city are the opening lyrics of “Under the Bridge” (1991), the most successful and best-known song by the Red Hot Chili Peppers:

“Sometimes I feel like I don’t have a partner
Sometimes I feel like my only friend
Is the city I live in, the City of Angel
Lonely as I am, together we cry

“I drive on her streets ’cause she’s my companion
I walk through her hills ’cause she knows who I am
She sees my good deeds and she kisses me windy
I never worry, now that is a lie”

Then, later on in the song, is my favorite verse of music:

“It’s hard to believe that there’s nobody out there
It’s hard to believe that I’m all alone
At least I have her love, the city, she loves me
Lonely as I am, together we cry”

Lead singer and frontman of the Chili Peppers, Anthony Kiedis, actually wrote the song about his former heroin addiction – and the full lyrics strongly hint but not explicitly confirm this (though Kiedis himself has). This song once almost lost the potential to become the hit it did because Kiedis had hid the lyrics due to their personal nature. I thought this was odd because Kiedis has sung some pretty wicked-crazy stuff over the years. And those are just the lyrics I don’t feel guilty linking to; some are so explicit I wouldn’t even dare – and some of the above are still pretty graphic. Point is, this is not a guy who’s afraid to put it out there. (Much too literally sometimes.)

Many other musical artists and writers have similarly paid tribute in some way to the cities they love. The cities that seem to get the most love are New York City and pretty much anything in California. Wikipedia has lists (linked in the previous sentence) of hundreds of songs dedicated to NYC, the state of California, cities in California, and even individual streets in California. New Yorkers and Californians really love their homes.

Yet there are hardly any songs (I found two, neither are known widely enough to have lyrics posted anywhere online) dedicated to my city of Vancouver, even though we’re ranked third internationally for quality of life. Canadian cities just don’t get the love they deserve.

Read Full Post »

I’ve done a post on coffee in the past, but I had a really odd moment of perspective this morning. Caffeine-addict that I am, I was preparing my daily intake… drip coffee for the morning and a thermos full of black tea to last me the rest of the day (tea is less expensive to brew in bulk). It’s a daily routine, so I didn’t think much of it, but when the caffeine high started to kick in on my way out, it somehow hit me that…

…Douglas Adams (author: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and various other projects) once wrote an email instructing an American tourist on how to brew a proper pot of tea. (The email was later published in a posthumous collection of some of his shorter works called The Salmon of Doubt. If you’re a DNA fan and have not read it, go do so. Now.)

…George Orwell (author: 1984, Animal Farm, and various other books and essays) also wrote at length about the proper way to brew tea. Like Adams, he was very picky about the details of brewing tea, and had his own quite strong opinions about how it should be done. Orwell had chosen some weird essay topics in his life, but I always thought this one was particularly odd.

…Malcolm Gladwell (author: The Tipping Point and Blink) wrote an article for The New Yorker about the joint cultural history of coffee and revolutionaries, with the subtitle: “How caffeine created the modern world.”

…Frank Sinatra (if you don’t know, I’m not telling you) performed a song called The Coffee Song about coffee obsession in Brazil. (“The politician’s daughter/Was accused of drinkin’ water/And was fined a great big fifty dollar bill/They’ve got an awful lot of coffee in Brazil… And when their ham and eggs need savor/Coffee ketchup gives ’em flavor/Coffee pickles way outsell the dill/Why, they put coffee in the coffee in Brazil”)

…And countless other people who have made creative contributions to society have commented on, or made tributes to, coffee/caffeine culture.

Which led to my moment of perspective, captured beautifully by artist/physicist Randall Munroe in his webcomic xkcd:

Coffee/tea is a drink.

What is wrong with us?

That feeling of sudden perspective quickly faded away, as in the comic, but the idea had already taken off. Coffee is a drink; tea is a drink. They contain caffeine, a mild stimulatory drug. It makes us more alert and energetic… not much else. Yet there’s an entire coffee-culture and tea-culture built up around these drinks. A caffeine culture.


Sugar and energy drinks increase energy and alertness, too, but do we see famous figures writing/singing/painting odes to sugar and energy drinks? Maybe if energy drinks had a longer history, but not really, no. What about detailed instructions from famous writers on how to squeeze oranges for the optimal production of orange juice? No. Do we have sugar or orange juice subcultures that have contributed to the development of modern culture? No.

Maybe we idolize and romanticize caffeine consumption as a drug that’s not dangerous enough to really harm us, but enough to give us a little buzz. It would explain the existence of Jolt and cannabis culture, but those two still fall into separate stereotypes (geek and hippie – though the latter is changing) while coffee culture is more widespread. Similarly with tobacco; though with its relatively recently discovered health complications, smoking is increasingly regarded as belonging to a more delinquent stereotype.

When I think about it, even the stimulation seems like something so trivial to build a whole subculture around… much less one that has impacted human cultural development. Coffee is a drink. A damn good drink, but a drink nonetheless. It just boggles my mind that we – collectively, I mean, over history – have become so enchanted by it. It’s an odd thing for me to say, personally, because I’m probably more addicted to and enthralled by caffeine than anyone I know (my excessive coffee consumption has raised eyebrows at many social functions). I once wrote that coffee is not just a drink but a lifestyle. But why? How is this feeling so universal? What is it about coffee and tea that holds us spellbound? Are we as a society just held captive under the effects of a mild drug?

Why does coffee have a subculture? For heaven’s sake, it’s just a drink!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »