Something I’ve Never Seen

Never, not once in my life, can I recall seeing a woman drive a motorcycle with a male passenger behind her. Oh, I’m sure it happens, but I have certainly never seen it.

Even if you search Google Images for a woman driving motorcycle with male passenger the instances are very few. I did find this scene, though: two Indian movie stars swapping the stereotypical gender seats on a motorcycle to promote a film. That’s right: a woman driving a motorcycle with a man tagging along for the ride is so rare it works as a publicity stunt

The so-called ‘backseat’ of a motorcycle is called a pillion — which, according to Wikipedia, comes from Scottish Gaelic for ‘little rug’, being derived from the Latin pellis for ‘skin’ or ‘pelt’. Apparently, back in the day, chivalrous equestrians placed a few extra animal skins behind them on the horses back for their lady passengers to sit on.

Unsurprising, then, you see about as many women driving motorcycles with male passengers as you see depictions of medieval women riding horses with male knights riding pillion… which is approximately zero.

“Bitch seat” or “bitch pad” is vulgar North American slang for the pillion on a motorcycle, as is “riding bitch” instead of “riding pillion”. (Wikipedia)

Ultimately, there should be nothing strange or unusual about a man riding pillion with a woman at the wheel.

Motorcycle culture, it’s time to get out of the Middle Ages.


The Anatomy of a Terrible Idea


A few days ago I found myself standing before the breathtaking majesty of Niagara Falls.

But all I could think about was Lake Huron, which lies upstream, about 250km to the West.

There is a plan to bury radioactive nuclear waste on the shores of Lake Huron, in the basin of these very headwaters, despite extensive public protest.

Overview_of_the_Great_Lakes_from_orbitIf you could guarantee me with 99.9% confidence that buried nuclear waste in the Huron basin would never leak — an idea which alone ignores some basic principles of entropy, as far as I can reckon — this still seems like a terrible proposition to me. Expediency in the short-term is not worth the risk, even a 0.1% risk, when you look at the magnitude of what is interconnected to these waters.

Canadian_Horseshoe_Falls_with_Buffalo_in_backgroundI’m not a physicist. Far from it. But I stood before Niagara Falls — with it’s cooling spray showering me, along with hundreds of other tourists — I found myself wondering: could radioactivity be aerosolized in this gigantic cloud of mist constantly pluming above us? Am I only fear mongering myself, now? All I can say for certain is that this is not just a debate for one company or one municipality… This involves us all, irrespective of borders. I’d encourage you to take action on this, and to invite your own personal network to do so as well.


Emile by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

51xY+ytewnL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_As one of the earliest, systematic attempts at developing a framework for educating children, Emile highlights the timeless question that faces every parent and teacher: what do I believe are the most important truths to pass on? To teach another is to define one’s own priorities and hierarchies of values. In this sense, education is inherently and unavoidably philosophical — it is a de facto triage of importance.

Emile is classic Rousseau. His devotion to reason as the highest value and his belief in the power of observation and nature to lead us to truth carry a familiar ring in our world — a world largely shaped by the Enlightenment in which he and others were integral players. At the same time, Rousseau’s idea about women and their roles in society can, to us, be as offensive as they are anachronistic.

This is a profoundly provocative read for every parent and teacher. While very little in here is particularly relevant to the contemporary education systems of modern, developed countries, Rousseau is wholly preoccupied with a more fundamental question: what kind of people do we hope our students become? If we respond, “We want our children to grow into adults who can think for themselves and act as autonomous, free-thinking agents in the world,” Rousseau will retort: “Then why are you so preoccupied with making them parrot back your answers and with forcing them to obey your curriculum? Isn’t this implicitly training them to be just exactly the opposite of what you want them to become?”


Divine Comedy: Purgatory by Dante

51+SJAJM70L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I recently heard a lecture by Roberto Manguel at my local museum. During the question and answer period, he mentioned that he reads a canto from Dante every morning as part of his routine. Having already read Inferno last year, I decided to experiment with Manguel’s meditative approach as I continued with Purgatory. I must confess only a limited success here: admittedly, I am too far removed from Dante’s 14th century Italian world to enjoy his poetry in a ‘spiritual’ or deeply aesthetic, contemplative sense. (Perhaps this makes me a pagan in the world of literature?) To be sure, I do appreciate the Divine Comedy, but it requires no small degree of effort to grasp the context and backgrounds of the historical characters Dante employs. Perhaps one day, you know, when I can speak and read Italian like Manguel (and go get a degree in medieval history), I will be able to appreciate Dante as a transcendent muse… but for now, I can only appreciate Dante like a student awes at the complexity and multidimensional properties of a distant text.

To this point of entering Dante’s world as an outsider, I continued to appreciate Mark Musa’s translation and editorial efforts with this volume. After reading his translation of Inferno and comparing it with a few others, I decided to continue on with him for Purgatory and Paradise (which is presently sitting on my bookshelf as well). In addition to the helpful, substantive introductions to each volume, he begins each canto with a brief outline of what is about to happen in the narrative, and then concludes each canto with a relatively comprehensive commentary. For me, this commentary was absolutely vital: I’m not sure if I would have understood/appreciated a fraction of what I’ve been able to take away from Dante so far without it.

One final note about Dante: I can’t help but marvel at the depth to which Dante’s vision of the afterlife influenced the evolution of Christianity. Of course, Dante himself was deeply influenced by medieval church thought (and especially,¬†indelibly, by Thomas Aquinas), but encountering his interpretations of, say, the stories of Cain and Able or the Tower of Babel leaves one to wonder at just the extent to which Dante influenced later theological endeavors. In hindsight, many of the images and assumptions I had as a young child about heaven and hell didn’t necessarily come from the Bible directly — they actually came from Dante, but I certainly didn’t realize it at the time.