The Literary Salon

A free salon wherein patrons and passers-by may view or contribute ideas on literary and generally intellectual matters. The blog will strive to maintain its commitment to wit, humour and perspicuous analysis.

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Location: Toronto, now Ottawa, Ont, Canada

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Sweet Home Alaba...uh, Toronto

Well, I'm off tomorrow morning to visit the city of my birth (Toronto, that is). I'll be staying for about a week, so I probably wont write anything new until at least September 6th when I return.

I'm especially looking forward to this trip because I will get to see 9 month old nephew whom I've never seen before except in photographs.

Man, going back to my suburb in Toronto is like going to the cottage: compared to where I live now, it's so quiet and peaceful. Best of all, there are no transients or crackheads wandering the streets.

I hope to return refreshed and ready to hit the books (and I mean HIT the books.) If I feel like it, I may reproduce my typed reading list to give you an idea of what I'm up against.

Best wishes until next week,

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Religious Logic

I culled the following brilliant quote by Thomas Paine from Ibn Warraq's compelling Why I am not a Muslim:

"It is a contradiction in terms and ideas, to call anything a revelation that comes to us at second-hand, either verbally or in writing. Revelation is necessarily limited to the first communication — after this, it is only an account of something which that person says was a revelation made to him; and though he may find himself obliged to believe it, it cannot be incumbent on me to believe it in the same manner; for it was not a revelation made to me, and I have only his word for it that it was made to him."

This of course applies to all revelatory religions. Indeed, wouldn't it make more sense for God to appear at, say, a soccer stadium full of 50,000 people?

Incidentally, Ibn Warraq is an ex-Muslim who is speaking out in favour of secularism. Unlike other "reformers" of Islam, such as Irshad Manji, Warraq is a scholar with a comprehensive knowledge of the Koran and Islamic tradition as well as history. He has a book due out in October called Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said's Orientalism. I have to read Said's book for my upcoming comprehensives, but I will most certainly support Warraq's efforts by buying the book. I have already read short pieces online where Warraq skewers Said on some very basic matters. In fact, Said is guilty of some historical inaccuracies that would make a sophomore blush! You can read the piece here

Warraq makes another point in his book that I'd never considered before. People, myself included, tend to believe that Monotheism is a natural human progression from earlier polytheistic beliefs. However, the historical record shows that Monotheism is incredibly intolerant (the track record of Christianity and Islam is not flattering). By contrast, polytheistic religions are, by their very nature, more tolerant.
One thing worth noting on this point is that the religious violence done in the name of God during the past 1500 or so years was unknown to the ancient word, i.e., ancient Greece, Rome, and Persia.

Res Ipsa Loquitur, vol. 3

This video can also falls into the category of extreme non sequitur. Enjoy.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Tale of more than two cities

Just read about the Economist's recent survey and ranking of global cities. Here are the top and bottom ten cities in the world:

Where is Montreal? The latter is certainly better off than Toronto in many ways (transit, etc). Toronto is a good city, but I wouldn't say it should be #5: I guess the "researchers" totally forgot to account for overpopulation and lack of infrastructure.
American cities did very poorly in this survey (I don't have the exact stats). Of course, this study measures a concept called "livability," which has little or nothing to do with, say, arts and culture, nightlife, etc.

I wouldn't mind ending up in Switzerland, but it's nice to know I'm in one of the most livable countries in the world.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

There goes the bride?

This video reminds me of a doc I saw on television a couple of years back.
As disturbing as the video is, apparently it is a real phenomenon in some countries. Although the caption for the video says it is Chechnya, I've seen it happen in Kyrgyzstan.

The video is SFW.

In many ways, the west isn't so bad after all.

Ahh, Memories

I found a clip of this game that I played about 2-3 years ago on my PS2, which has since become obsolete.

The game is called Manhunt, and it is in my opinion the most violent game ever. In fact, I believe it was banned in some countries, such as New Zealand.

If you end up watching the clip, don't feel bad for the "victims": most of them are gang members of neo-nazi hicks anyway :-)

Man I miss that game :-)

Friday, August 17, 2007

Kindred Spirits

Yesterday, I went to the National Gallery of Canada for the first time. I was accompanied by my neighbour, otherwise known as the flakey girl next door.

We went to see the temporary Renoir exhibit, but we were astonished to see just how large the gallery is. In fact, two hours was simply not enough time: we ended up spending far too much time looking at contemporary "art," including pieces of rope and felt on the floor (contemporary art is a rant for another day).

We didn't realize just how impressive the collection of European art was. I was surprised to see some portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds, though they were mostly his lesser known works. In the same room, we saw a portrait of one Thomas Taylor, whom I had never heard of before. He was a late 18th-early 19th century Platonist. My neighbour was especially amused by the portrait since she claimed that I resembled Thomas Taylor, and this was before we know who it was.

Turns out the Mr. Taylor was the English Platonist: he was the first to translate all the works of Plato and Aristotle into English.
Imagine my joy when I realized I had a scholastic double in the 18th century! All of a sudden, things make sense.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Guess that tune

This should keep you busy and amused for a few minutes. I got a score of 17/20, not bad at all, but some of these were just so obvious that people without TVs could figure them out.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Read one of those insults that is capable of producing physical pain in today's Metro.

Kim Catrall, better known as the insanely overrated mummy from "Sex and the City," was told the following by a director:

"Darling, you remind me of Marilyn Monroe--not in looks, of course, but in lack of talent."


It was on this day in 2003 that we saw the largest power outage in North American history, the infamous "blackout" that left some 50 million people in Canada and the U.S. without power.

I remember the day like it was yesterday. In fact, I remember I was at Chapters working when the power went off. Driving back home was a nightmare.

I can't believe it's been four whole years...

Monday, August 13, 2007

Ancient History

The ruins of a fortress were recently discovered in a part of Siberia. We're still not sure who built it, but from what I've seen, it dates back to the 6th-8th centuries CE.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Piss take

This seems like a pretty good idea. I can't believe no one else has come up with it.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

TV Rant no. 232

And people still wonder why I refuse to get, let alone pay for, cable.

I guess there's a lesson to be learned here: if I want to get my own show, I should merely sleep with some nasty ass ho, tape it, and have it mysteriously "leak" on the net. Voila.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Blinking Sam, indeed

This is a bizarre story out of England. Looks like someone is still really pissed off at either Samuel Johnson or Joshua Reynolds, over two hundred years later.

By the way, the portrait should look very familiar to readers of this blog.


It appears scientists have "found" the largest known planet in the universe. It is about 1,400 light years away and is twice the size of Jupiter.

I use "found" in quotation marks because, unless there have been remarkable developments in extrasolar planet detection in the past five years, we cannot actually see planets in other solar systems simply because they are too far and not bright enough (stars, by contrast, are luminous enough to be seen). Astronomers usually use one of two methods to infer the presence of a planet, so don't let news stories like this fool you.

I recall a few years ago astronomers claimed to have "found" a Jupiter like gas giant orbiting very close to its star. If true, this would demolish our current theories of planet formation. There's so much we don't know.

Fugly Rock

Here's a list of the most hideous rockstars ever. I must say there are some glaring omissions (Keith Richards anyone? he looks older than Noah).

It is interesting that in some cases these guys make up for their bad looks somehow. One thinks of Iggy Pop, Steven Tyler, Mick Jagger, and Gene Simmons, among others. Despite their less than photogenic appearance, they have a charisma that makes girls go wild. Still trying to figure out what that is... :-)

Fire, baaad

There's a first time for everything, and I had one such first experience last night: there was a fire in my building.

I was chatting with my neighbour at 12:30 at night when we both smelt burning wood. Naturally we didn't think anything of it, but after about 10-15 minutes, we could see smoke (we both thought it was coming from the house next door). Having become suspicious, I called the local police to investigate, but they suggested I call 911. After telling the 911 operator my life story, the fire alarm finally went off (this was also the firs time I ever called 911).

We descended the stairs amidst increasingly worse carbon monoxide. After waiting outisde for about a minute, what looked like Ottawa's entire fire department arrived. I'm guessing a few of us called 911 at about the same time.

After an hour or so, everything was back to normal. Parts of the building still reek of smoke, but it's much better than it was last night.

Finally, something to tell the grandkids one day.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Video 2 du jour

Let's just say this guy will comb you over.

I've never seen anything like this (Family friendly).

Prof gets Owned

Yes, I am aware of some 'net slang, though I refused to use the idiotic "pwned."

I first saw this video about a year ago, but enjoy if you yourself haven't.
No worries: it's family friendly and 100% SFW.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Wow What a Woman

This is an old clip I myself saw about six months ago, but I just rediscovered it today. I hate to use a male metaphor to describe a woman, but one has to admire her balls (or chutzpah). :-)

Ah Dawkins, my old friend

As fate would have it, I watched a recent documentary by the infamous (depending on your perspective) and certainly incendiary Richard Dawkins, which I caught on google video (I believe it is called the God Delusion, but it is in two parts).

Before continuing, I must make it clear that I'm not a Dawkins basher: I agree with much of what he says, especially the dangers of religion that we in the politically correct west tend to connive at (most notably Evangelical Christianity in the US heartland and Islamofascism).

Building on what I said in yesterday's post, I came across one point in the documentary that had me shaking my head. Dawkins was (quite correctly) arguing that one does not need a God to be a moral, good person. However, he tried to argue this using evolutionary biology, which is his background. He actually argued, based on no evidence, that, via natural selection, we have inherited altruistic genes. This is a fascinating claim, and one almost hopes that it's true, but Dawkins, a scientist, offers little support for it, which is odd coming from a man who derides religion because of its lack of evidence. What struck me as odd wasn't so much that he argued the genetic basis of altruism, but, given his background, that he argued that natural selection made it so. In other words, in our proto-human state, it became useful to be altruistic. (BTW, the argument over whether altruism was natural or merely useful raged in the mid-18th century). That's a very narrow conception of altruism, the "I'll scratch my back and I'll scratch yours, as Dawkins calls it. How does one account for "pure" altruism? When one sends money or supples to a country recently ravaged by an earthquake, what is that person expecting in return? Charity in its strictest sense is not utilitarian.

Of course, there are people out there who would argue that there can be no such thing as altruism. That is, they argue that even through selfless acts we are always doing something for ourselves (witness Hitchens's excoriation of Mother Teresa a few years ago). However, Dawkins, I believe, does not believe in this, or at least he does not say anything about it.

Here's a tangent on what has just been discussed: some argue that altruism is always selfish, presumably because it makes one feel better. Instead of arguing that this is selfish, could one not argue that "it feels good" to be altruistic because that is what you are supposed to do? It reminds me of what CS Lewis said about our sense of right and wrong in Mere Christianity, a fascinating, well-argued book, although his views on gender are antediluvian. To those people who say that there cannot be a God (or higher power, or whatever) because there is so much wrong and injustice in the world, Lewis argues that these people would not be capable of feeling thus if they did not have some sort of reference, i.e., the right state of affairs. He then goes on to argue for an innate moral sense that is nearly universal (example: no culture has ever praised cowardice as a virtue). This is not exactly the same thing, but I think Lewis's remarks illuminate the problem.

Not sure if this all makes sense, but I no longer feel like writing.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

In the Beginning...

Though this is a literary blog (mostly), I do have an interest in science. In fact, if I were better at math, I probably would have gone into astronomy, perhaps the most fascinating enterprise along with neurology.

There is one thing about science/scientists that bothers me, especially the mainstream variety (i.e., what is passed off as science to the public). My two pet peeves concern evolution and the big bang theory. Before continuing, I must insist that I am in no way shape or form a Bible thumper: I am not a religious man, but do consider myself a Deist in the loose sense.

Many well known scientists, such as Richard Dawkins, berate and denounce religion in all its forms, and claim that science is the only answer to everything. Perhaps one day science will explain everything, but this is a very narrow and what I will call a "chronocentric" view, that is, the view that the science of one's day is correct. We derogate and laugh at the science of those even as recent as one hundred years ago. What's to say that a century from now, more advanced humans will not look back on our time and shake their heads in disbelief?

But this is besides the point. On to the specifics.

I argue that in some cases, certain scientific theories or truths are just as religious as beliefs held by Bible thumpers. First case, evolution. Maybe one day evolution will be proven, but people tend to forget that at present, it is just a theory. In fact, some scientists have confessed that the theory is based on scanty evidence. There is also a notable and embarrassing lack of "transitional" evidence for it. We have seen what is known as "mirco-evolution," that is, evolution on a small scale within species. We have yet to "see" evolution on a larger scale (macro-evolution).

Again, I don't believe in Adam and Eve, and what really bemuses me are Bible thumpers who claim the earth was created in 4004 BCE. Obviously, the Earth is much older than that. What makes no sense about this date, despite the fact that it simply isn't true, is that you will find it nowhere in the Bible!! The date was "calculated" by Bishop Ussher, a 17th century Irish ecclesiastical figure.

Next up, the Big Bang. Personally, I think the Big Bang is one of the biggest scientific hoaxes ever. The theory as we have it actually contradicts known physical laws, such as the law of angular momentum. Not only that, but scientists cannot even agree on the basics: some say the universe is expanding (and thus the big bang was true), while others claim that it is in fact contracting. Although fewer scientists believe this now than thirty years ago, it is still passed off as unimpeachable fact (any documentary or visit to a science centre, like the one in Toronto, will demonstrate this).

For this reason, I agree with creationists to a point: alternative theories should be taught in school. I don't agree that the creation story in the Bible should be taught (even if it were, what's the harm in that? As long as it is taught alongside other cultural creation stories). But what of other scientific theories? Who has ever heard of the steady state theory of the universe? It is not popular, and is in fact more recent than the Big Bang theory

To conclude, I say to those people such as Richard Dawkins: don't get cocky. Some of the hard science you speak of is not "hard" at all. Such science requires a leap of faith, although admittedly, not as great as that required in religion.

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Confusing Signs

We've all seen confusing restroom signs at one point or another, usually in Irish pubs. I've never come across these ones, but I can see how they could be confusing, especially after a few drinks
(Click picture to enlarge):


Saturday, August 04, 2007

For Adults Only

Reading the Thousand and One Nights (or Arabian Nights), I was struck by the comical and frank depictions of sex, especially in the tale of "Ma'aruf the Cobbler." One part of this tale is particularly colourful in its sexual metaphors ("threading a needle," for instance). I believe, though, that this takes the biscuit: the act of coitus is referred to as "that hour when men forget their mothers." I think I'll use that from now on.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Wisdom of the Ancients, part 232

Here's an Arabic proverb I culled from A Thousand and One Nights:

"All men envy: the strong openly, the weak in secret."

Literary Gem

Here is, at long last, a literary post.

I wish to share with you one of the most profound short pieces I have ever read. It is a prose poem by Turgenev, one that I first encountered via A.C. Bradley's wonderful (but nearly unknown) lecture on the sublime, in which he challenges some of Burke's ideas on the subject. Here is the piece in its entirety, which should take no more than 2 minutes to read.


"I was returning from hunting, and walking along an avenue of the garden, my dog running in front of me.

Suddenly he took shorter steps, and began to steal along as though tracking game.

I looked along the avenue, and saw a young sparrow, with yellow about its beak and down on its head. It had fallen out of the nest (the wind was violently shaking the birch-trees in the avenue) and sat unable to move, helplessly flapping its half-grown wings.

My dog was slowly approaching it, when, suddenly darting down from a tree close by, an old dark-throated sparrow fell like a stone right before his nose, and all ruffled up, terrified, with despairing and pitiful cheeps, it flung itself twice towards the open jaws of shining teeth.

It sprang to save; it cast itself before its nestling ... but all its tiny body was shaking with terror; its note was harsh and strange. Swooning with fear, it offered itself up!

What a huge monster must the dog have seemed to it! And yet it could not stay on its high branch out of danger.... A force stronger than its will flung it down.

My Tr�sor stood still, drew back.... Clearly he too recognised this force.

I hastened to call off the disconcerted dog, and went away, full of reverence.

Yes; do not laugh. I felt reverence for that tiny heroic bird, for its impulse of love.

Love, I thought, is stronger than death or the fear of death. Only by it, by love, life holds together and advances.

Bradley uses this example to counter Burke's claim that the sublime always implies grandeur or largeness.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Osama bin Layin'

I know that Osama bin Laden (if he really exists) has been releasing more videos than a Bollywood director, but I never knew he had an"artistic" side to him.

(Warning: NSFW and definitely NSFkids).

Oh and don't bother asking me how I found this video...


Water water everywhere, and...lots of drops to drink

One phenomenon that has caused me much bemusement and headache, but which I have never publicly ranted about, is bottled water. Ubiquitous bottled water is a sign of a society with too much money but doesn't know what to do with it (Roland Barthes is probably turning in his grave right now).

I just read a brief piece in the local Metro paper, and it begins by stating that for the first time in recorded history, most of humankind, at least in developed nations, has access to clean drinking water. So what do we do to celebrate this? Pay exorbitant amounts for water that is probably worse than regular tap water.

I can understand certain exigencies which would require bottled water: once I found myself out of the house for most of the day, miles from home, and it was hot and I was thirsty, so I bought a bottle of water from a convenience store. However, I would never do that if I were at home or a restaurant. I simply do not understand the mentality behind spending hard earned dollars on this "luxury."

Oh, FYI, just as I have suspected for years: Aquafina, which tastes like shit, admitted that they use simple tap water. What Aquafina and Dasani (Pepsi and Coca Cola, respectively) probably do is use the water left over from processing cola beverages, bottle it, slap a fancy label on it, and charge upwards of two dollars for it. Corporations thrive on stupidity: if everyone in the world were smart, most of them would collapse. Noam Chomsky is probably right: the media is set on dumbing people down, otherwise corporations wouldn't exist.

For the record, I'm no hippie or Marxist: I think most such people are stupid, hypocritical, or both (that's a matter for another day). However, I do believe in exercising common sense (which isn't so common) and not falling prey to the corporate machine of artificial demand.

And people wonder why I don't have cable: f@%k commercials and crappy programming. I had the option of getting cable for free a few months ago and refused.

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This is an addition to my recent rants about film critics. I found out yesterday that Hairspray, a contender for the stupidest, lamest movie ever made (see my friend's review on has actually garnered nearly unanimous praise among critics, but "ordinary," "average" viewers (mere mortals) don't understand how it was made. Critics make me sick to my stomach.