Failure is just God’s way of telling you to try harder

When I think back over my life, I have few if any regrets for the things that I did. Even the very stupid decisions I have taken – like marrying a woman who raised more red flags than a Mao Zedong rally – have ultimately only led me to good or better life outcomes. I wouldn’t change them if I could.

But regrets I have. I regret every time I fell down, and didn’t get back up. I regret every time I allowed failure to dictate my course of action. Conversely, when I think of my accomplishments, the ones that matter most, the ones that give me satisfaction, are the things I persevered in doing, despite how hard it was; how stacked the odds seemed against me.

In that sense, failure isn’t just an unavoidable part of life. It is the very thing that makes life worth living.

Non-fiction is just fiction written by authors who are too lazy to think up a good story

Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols & Other Typographical Marks by Keith Houston

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sure, non-fiction is a way of getting a lot of ‘facts’ down on a page – some of those facts might even be interesting. But you can do that in fiction too; oftentimes much better. Think of how much historical context is written into Trollope’s Vanity Fair; how much social history of the early 19th Century, all effortlessly woven in to a cracking good yarn. Without the constraints of a good story, non-fiction authors often give in to the temptation to dump an enormous amount of information in an unstructured, unsorted way that leaves the reader overwhelmed, confused or just plain bored. This is why I don’t read a lot of non-fiction.

For Keith Houston’s Shady Characters, I made an exception. This was partially because the subject matter – the origin stories of punctuation symbols, weird and common – was sufficiently quirky and yes, so incredibly nerdy, that it seemed bound to read a little differently, even for non-fiction. It was also because the book fell into my hands at a moment when I had nothing else to read.

In all, the book was not a complete disappointment. I learned some wonderfully useless things about punctuation marks I never knew existed, like the interrobang – a short-lived 20th Century hybrid of the question mark and the exclamation point, which looks like this: ‽

More usefully, the twisted road to modern typography takes you past some genuinely interesting historical waypoints. I was particularly fascinated by the detailed description of the typesetting used by Johannes Gutenberg for his 42 line bible, which was, after all, the ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’ of books. It blows my mind to think that with all the algorithmic typesetting we have today, the line spacing used to justify the first ever printed book is so perfect that it remains, to this day, the best typeset book in the history of print.

Another plus point (see what I did there?) was Houston’s clever use of the punctuation, fonts and even writing styles he describes, in that respective chapter to illustrate the examples he’s discussing.

All that said, Shady Characters succumbs to the original sin of non-fiction books, allowing its author to indulge in detours and asides that made certain paragraphs seem like we would never get to the next ¶ (which is called a ‘pilcrow’, in case you never knew).

Even more irksome is the New York Times-reading, smug intellectualism of the author. Just as the nouveau-riche indulge in conspicuous displays of wealth in a way ‘old money’ never would, American intellectuals like Houston always try too hard to be literate and clever, made desperate by their transatlantic cultural inferiority complex. In doing so, they sacrifice something of the message in pursuit of their ostentatious displays of learning. Bad writing is when, while reading, you can hear the sound of the author typing. In reading this book, there were moments when the sound of Houston’s ego echoed with every keystroke.

With fiction, it is the story that acts to curb the author’s ego, because he or she is bound by the plot and by the fictional characters, who – once defined – begin to tell their own stories. In this book, Houston had no characters to whom he had to stay true (at least not in the figurative sense).

I ask you, is it so hard to weave knowledge into a true yarn‽

View all my reviews

Quotes end up profound when you rearrange the words to make a second idea – yet ideas end up second when profound words are rearranged into quotes.

I remember seeing the comedian David O’Doherty in the Fringe a number of years back. He had a great number on how a lot of rhyming expressions that seem profound are really stupid if you think about them, but the rhyme somehow makes them seem true.

It’s a lesson for how easily we can be misled by sophistry into believing false arguments, and points to the dangers of charming and gifted rhetoritians who shill for powerful interests. They can be funny, they can be convincing, but that doesn’t make them right.

Sanity is just the average of all the different kinds of crazy.

I went out last night with a group of people from work. It was a late summer night, the weather was near-perfect, the bars were crowded and everyone was in a good mood.

But the one prevailing sentiment was this: “we should make the most of it now, before the next lockdown happens and we’re all stuck back in our houses for an indeterminant amount of time, until ‘they’ decide to release us”.

It impaired my enjoyment of the event by more than a little, to witness how this received wisdom has become an average thought, and therefore is a sane point of view.

Because by the standards of my own internal logic, it sound crazy to me that intelligent, educated people would so easily accept that, in a country where 80% of the population has been vaccinated, we are likely to endure further lockdowns over a virus which, even in the absence of any vaccine or therapeutics, has an infection fatality rate known to be below 0.4%, and for which proven treatments are available which can drive that IFR to much lower levels.

I didn’t bother to question the premise very much yesterday evening – it was not the time, and I was not so inclined. But if I had, I know that I would have been dismissed as ‘crazy’ – in today’s language, a ‘CovIdiot’, for questioning the efficacy of lockdowns, for which the evidence is at best scant. For questioning the value of wearing facemasks, for which the evidence is at best scant. For questioning the efficacy of vaccines in a country in which 25% of new PCR positive tests are among the fully vaccinated. For vehemently opposing vaccine passports on the grounds that there is no logical reason for them, much less a clear cost-benefit case.

I am crazy for thinking these things. I am crazy because it is a ‘belief’ to hold that reason defines what is and what is not true. Most of human history contradicts this assertion, so only a crazy person would persist in believing it.

But they are crazy too. They are crazy for believing in the dangerosity of a disease that mainly affects the old and comorbid, and for which valid therapeutics exists. They are crazy for sacrificing all of their basic freedoms to enrich Big Pharma and Big Tech, in the vain hope of avoiding an illness they will in any event almost certainly get, but will do them little actual harm.

The only difference between our brands of crazy is that theirs is much more common.

If I fail to see further, it’s because my view is blocked by the heels of giants, onto whose impossibly high shoulders I cannot hope to climb.

There was a time when it was possible, through intellectual curiosity and persistent application, for a thinking individual to climb from the ground of primitive understanding, up to the pinnacle of human knowledge – in almost any discipline. Someone like Gauss, for example, was a curious child who received little more than a rudimentary education in mathematics, yet managed to make an indelible mark on the discipline. The same is true of Darwin, Keynes, Freud, Turing – the list is almost endless.

Such would simply not be possible today. In order to make an advancement, one must start from a relatively lofty position, taking for granted knowledge without having explored it from its fundaments.

Those unable to obtain that lofty position are effectively locked out of pursuit of this higher knowledge. I have no idea how to design a circuit board or build a semiconductor, and it would be impossible for me to figure such a thing out. Unless I am given and take for granted the assumed wisdom of those who have come before, I cannot make any notable contribution in that field.

I could start, of course, from scratch. But the futility of the pursuit would soon become clear to me. My lifelong endeavour would have less computing power than a toddler’s wind-up toy.

This basic truth drives a deep disconnect between the technology and knowledge we use, and our sense of ownership over it. It is one of the factors, I believe, which explains how we have become so enthralled to the technology which controls us.

We cannot climb onto the shoulders of giants, so we kneel down and worship their heels instead.

There are two kinds of people: those who shoehorn a complex and diverse populous into a simple dichotomy. And those who don’t.

When ancient man gazed up into the stars, he saw before him a wondrous display. But his curious mind could not quite accept that this pattern could be nothing more than randomness. He sought order, and therefore picked out constellations – Orion’s belt, the big dipper, the little dipper…all having only the most tenuous links to the images he felt they must … must … represent.

This, it seems, is innate to us. When confronted with something that is at once overwhelming and apparently lacking in order, our brains attempt, by whatever means, to make order out of it. Let’s call it ‘spurious pattern recognition’.

In our time, the temptation is great to want to find such a pattern in what has befallen our civilisation in recent months. Is there, after all, a smoky backroom table, around which Gates, Soros, Page and Zuckerberg are plotting the Great Reset, in meticulous detail? (We imagine Dorsey is there too, but a little doped out and only vaguely aware of the overall evil plot).

It certainly would explain a lot – from the ridiculous overreactions that were lockdown, to the silly face diapers we must still all wear, to the steamrolling of an experimental vaccine, in the teeth of an antiviral treatment that is safer and just as effective (Ivermectin).

But we cannot dismiss the possibility that there is, after all, no great agenda. Vaccines will not achieve mass population control. Governments are short-termist and basically not that competent, while Big Tech is really nothing more than a gangly teenager with a sledge hammer, some fireworks and a bottle of whiskey stolen from dad’s liquor cabinet.

Maybe we can put away our tin foil hats this time. Maybe everything’s just a mess.

Alliteration is Amazing. Assonance is Fantastic. But Rhyme is Sublime

Twilight Peace

You can’t define a peaceful frame of mind
In terms of states observable.

But if you could, you might try this:
A grassy slope, yourself reclined
A summer crop of people ripened right behind.

On one cheek the heat of evening sunshine
Still burns hard
On the other whips a chill nocturnal breeze –
Night’s vanguard.

You are the evening.
Your face is twilight.
Your nose the border between the Republic of Day
And the Kingdom of Nightfall.

The very air inhaled must show its passport
To move from glaring colour’s bloom
Into the comfort promised to the night’s caccoon.

If God had wanted us to be atheists, He would have made us with a much better capacity for rational thought.

I have always wondered at the impossibilty of atheism. To deny God, is to deny dogma itself. It is to be fool enough to consider that rational thought is sufficient to make sense of the universe.

A moment’s reflection suffices to reveal that this assertion is patently absurd. Without a dogmatic framework upon which to operate, no observations can have any meaning – even to trust in the reality of one’s own eyes or ears depends on an axiom. Likewise, in a world of infinite observations, no scientific method can prevent the formulation of a biased hypothesis. Infinite hypotheses would, in such a Godless world, result in an infinite scatterplot of results, but would bring us no closer to understanding truth.

Of course, even the most ardent self-proclaimed atheists are nothing of the sort. They do cling to dogma, and therefore have a conception of God. What it lacks is a codification – and therein lies the ultimate danger.

For despite the preaching of that famous evangelist Marx, religion is not the opiate of the masses. Rather, it is the conductor, who attempts to turn cacophany into harmony.

In 2020, we have seen what happens when the conductor is bludgeoned and left a cripple. Like Nietzsche’s madman who lit the lantern in broad daylight, we err through the streets, chanting Black Lives Matter, habited in our face masks, fearing COVID and self-flagellating our soft, white backs. Searching for God without even realising that is our purpose.

It is not without great symbolic significance that the churches, almost to a one, closed their doors, denying spiritual comfort, out of fear for their earthly flesh. Christ must surely weep for us, for His religion is dead to us.

And after finally gaining admittance, the madman asks: “What after all are these churches now, if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?”