Category Archives: Yottapede

Among other matters: The Joy of Inertia

The day approaches when I will have to pull together all the ramblings and suggestions of the past fifteen weeks in order to make some sense of the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice. I have perhaps three more weeks to go rambling on, before the fell day arrives.

Last week I excoriated the CBC for shoddy journalism in its misinterpretation and misapplication of a very bad poll. The issue is important, because whether we should or not we, by whom I mean the body politic, are paying attention to polls and perhaps even using them to help us decide how to vote. If the polls are statistically flawed, as last week’s was, and the interpretations technically invalid, then we are being systematically misled. I think that is a problem. Fortunately it is one we can solve.

Today I am going to draw attention to some other journalistic practices that cause me concern. Again I am going to pick on the CBC, not only because it is probably the most important source of politically important information in the country, but also because of its pretensions.

First, for today, I will focus on the phrase, “The system is broken.” We hear this from time to time when a “system” (we need to scan that word thoroughly but I am not going to do it today) has made a decision that someone didn’t like. The CBC will interview that person, and report on the interview or broadcast the quote as “news”. Fair enough, as far as it goes. In some cases however that is as far as it goes. In others perhaps they will interview someone else who thinks the system is not broken, or perhaps a reporter will  try to add some balance. Usually these efforts will not yield any phrase nearly as catchy as “the system is broken” and that is what sticks in the mind. Sometimes it is taken up by a politician, and reinforced. The idea that “the system is broken” is thus implanted without any equally effective counter-idea.

I believe it to be true in fact, and fully verifiable by empirical research, that not one of our important public “systems” is broken, although every one of them can be improved, every one of them is staffed by people who can make mistakes, and every one of them operates under constraints and must occasionally, or often, make difficult decisions or choices under conditions of uncertainty or risk. People are sometimes hurt by these decisions. If they were made differently, somebody else would be hurt. These situations are evidence of the human condition in complex circumstances, not of broken systems.

A recent, particularly egregious example of this kind of journalism was the recent CBC study of medical implants. We were treated therein to a small number of blood-curdling accounts of what instances when things went terribly wrong and to some statistics on the number of occasions when they went wrong but without any indications of severity. On no occasion were we ever told how many of these implants were in fact being carried around by people. The study provided no calculation of risk, nor any data that  would allow us to make our own calculations. Is it possible that someone might react to these lurid reports by refusing to receive an much-needed implant?

Another bad phrase: “That is a worthy enough measure but does not go far enough.” Or words to that effect. Can we point to even one example, in the whole history of human progress, when perfection was achieved in one mighty bound? Real progress evolves incrementally, and so does regress. The cause in the hearts of people of good will (I am paraphrasing the dying Stephen Leacock) is not perfection, but steady improvement. It will be incremental, whether we like it or not, because that is how the democratic world wags, and should wag. Those who believe in immediate perfection are always authoritarians.

One of the realities that I believe to be fundamental to the pursuit of Social Justice is the tremendous inertia we have built into our human world, or has been built in for us, and a jolly good thing that is too. It may slow down progress, although we continue to make some so this inertia cannot be said prevent it. It also slows down regress, giving time to people of good will whose hearts are in the cause, time to slow down the regression or even reverse it. This tremendous inertia, that I have elsewhere called the Yottapede, imagined as a living organic presence, is both friend and enemy. That is part of the Riddle of Social Justice. This one becomes an Unsolved Riddle only if we don’t believe in it.

I am not finished with the CBC and its journalism yet, but I will leave my next gripe for next week. It has to do with predictions, forecasts, auguries, divinations, and other forms of articulated anticipation that pop up on the news under the guise of information. I believe it was a woman in one of O. Henry’s stories about the gentle grafter who offered the public “a dollar’s worth of honest prognostication”. We don’t need any of that, or even the dishonest kind, to pursue Social Justice. Facts and intelligent understanding about the present and the past will serve us quite well enough.

As we move forward, please keep our evolving set of key words in mind: Knowledge; Imagination; Compassion; Humour;—these comprise Leacock’s set, evolved in his lifetime;—Pluralism; Doublethink; Both-And;—these are evolving. Social Justice needs them. No Unsolved Riddle can stand up to them when they work together.

Exploring the Yottapede II: The Inside Story

Leacock Post 05-16.jpg

I am displaying last week’s pictoverbicon here because we ran into a technical glitch that prevented up-dating of the web site. I hope to get that solved in a day or two. I am sure the server’s intentions were good, in changing the up-dating regime, although the old one was working very well for me. The new one appears much more powerful, but also more complicated. The problem may lie entirely in my awkwardness at finding my way around.

Mnemochiron and I experienced no such awkwardness however. We simply walked into the tremendous maw of the Yottapede to make our way directly into its internal workings. As we made our way human beings of all descriptions flew past under the force of the suction I described last week that nearly caught me, but none hit us. As long as I was mounted on Mnemochiron I remained immune, able to observe.

The Yottapede was indeed a most remarkable creature. The people sucked into it were not digested in the natural way, its inner workings lacking all such equipment. The insides appeared as a giant, shallow domed continuum, dimensioned in space and time, where I beheld hundreds of millions, even perhaps billions, of humanoid actors apparently well incorporated into the imperatives of the Yottapede yet retaining the appearance and trappings of individuality. I spoke to many as we circulated in their midst and received from all their heartfelt and I am sure sincere assurances that their individuality remained complete and was in fact the most important thing about them, and yet clearly their incorporation into this amazing creature was equally so.

Each person a hard hat onto which was fastened the handle of an umbrella, the outer sides of which formed the Yottapede’s distinctive carapace. Some umbrellas were fastened to only one hat, others in couples or family or even larger groupings. I asked what they were for, and the answer was always the same: they kept the sky from falling on the people’s heads. And I could see that this was so, or apparently so.

In a blog posting it’s difficult to describe great things. One should keep it short. I have said a little about how the inside of the Yottapede looked. I have not yet described the sound, which I think should be called a Powean Roar. I will elaborate when I have time. I have not yet described the smell, which was not nearly as bad as you might expect in such a densely packed mass of humanity. The air was humid, almost clammy to the touch; I could taste it. I could see that Mnemochiron could too, and in fact was just as whelmed by the whole sensory experience as I was. Over and above what sight, sound, smell, touch and taste had to offer, however, were the vibrations,—I can’t think of a better word,—of a whole milieu, both massive and intricate, that permeated every aspect of the crowded interior. It was both pleasant and unpleasant, distressed and satisfied, a most curious mixture that I cannot yet describe adequately. Please be patient. I’ll get there.

I shut out as much of the sensory riot as I could, to concentrate on the Yottapede’s feet, which I had seen from the outside, which I now saw were the accumulated feet of all the people inside. I have already described how they moved every which way without getting anywhere. From the inside, however, the effect appeared much different. Here the apparent movement forward was obvious, even to me, let alone to the people attached. And yet I knew there was none. This was marvellous. It must have had something to do with the reality that all this was taking place within the organic four-dimensional space-time continuum of the Yottapede, and not what the poet Auden has called “the moderate Aristotelian city … where Euclid’s geometry and Newton’s mechanics would account for our experience …” The Yottapede was turning out to be a city indeed, but not like that.

As we made our through the domed interior we kept asking people, as best we could through the din, “Have you seen the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice?” Most looked back at us warily, as if we were insane. A few dismissed us, the word “mirage” either spoken aloud or etched upon their faces. This continued until we met one who was a clown. He, or under the woolly yellow hair and behind the bulbous nose it could just as easily have been she, laughed and said, “My dear pilgrims, can’t you tell? We are the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice! This is the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice!” And she spread her arms to take in the umbrella dome, the whole yottopedian interior, and all the footed folk therein. “We’re all in it together! And so are you!” And he danced way, laughing, her twinkling toes finding spaces between the shuffling feet where was visible a little solid ground.

I could tell by her quivering and prancing that Mnemochiron was as anxious as I, both to get out of the Yottapede back into the sane world of waterfalls and trees, and to explore the interior more thoroughly, suspended, as it were, between repulsion and curiosity, between triumph and horror. Like the clown, she was able to find solid ground among the feet, which was more than I could have done I am sure, especially considering the size of my feet.

To be continued …



Exploring the Yottapede, Part I

Leacock Post 05-09.jpg

The Yottapede Saga evolves in the eighth week of the Leacock Anniversaries, on May 15th.

Normally I don’t hang images in these blog posts, although there is no reason why I should not, the mechanics being simplicity itself. I do so this time simply to show you the apotheosis of my riffing on words that begin with “M”, as it appeared in last week’s social media posts. I think it’s an interesting list. So too is the observation that “M” and its mate “N” are the middle two letters in the English alphabet. “N” for No, Negative, Nothing, Nihilist, Nemesis, Number, etc. “MN” for Mnemonics, related to Mind, Mindful, and Memory. “MN” for Mnemosyne, Goddess of Memory and Mother (by Zeus) of the nine Muses, one of whom,—I am not sure which one,—has Unsolved Riddles in her portfolio. Perhaps it’s all of them.

“N” for Nematode, a kind of worm, a parasite, a worm within. My centaurian companion and I are about to confront the Yottapede, also a parasite, also possibly an host for us who are its parasites. It’s a poor parasite that kills its host, as I was instructed when studying the phenomenon, although we might consider, if not killing this one, at least putting it in perspective.

I need to explain a couple of things about my equine-feminine companion, whose name I soon learned is Mnemochiron, descended from Mnenomsyne, with all the associations entailed thereby, and from the centaur Chiron, renowned according to Bullfinch not for carousing and mayhem (another “M” word!) like other centaurs, but “for his skill in hunting, medicine, music, and the art of prophesy.” I can’t imagine a better lineage for the purposes of our hunt for the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice. I also need to explain, in case you are concerned for her ability to carry my weight, that Mnemochiron, though fully as shapely and shining in both her feminine and equine aspects as I described her last week, has some of the draught horse in her bloodline. Not the big hulking breeds like Clydesdales, Shires, Belgians, or even Percherons, but the smaller, more graceful ones, like Canadians. John La Farge, in his depiction (see below), makes his Centauress more delicate than is Mnemochiron, at least in her equine portions.

Being carried by such a creature, however, is a delicate matter. A gentleman could hardly put a saddle on her, a bridle would be entirely out of the question. Bare-back it must be, but how to hang on? La Farge Centauress.jpgBy gripping with the knees, of course. To wrap one’s arms around her waist for greater stability might be considered fresh; any jostling could cause extreme embarrassment. When all blushingly I put the problem to her, she gave me permission to grip her by the shoulders, with a request that I should massage the muscles from time to time, as the effort of constantly considering Unsolved Riddles first on the one hand and then on the other was often tiring. I did offer to walk alongside, but she thought that we would travel more quickly if I rode, and if matters came to combat we would gain from her speed and manoeuvrability. As we approached the Yottapede we soon learned the wisdom of this arrangement.

The creature before us was a huge gape-mouthed blobby arthropod with a truly astonishing number of feet, not arranged in pairs as with some, but forming a dense mat underneath. Each foot was human in form. Even at the first scanning glance we could see that these feet did not all point in one direction. Rather, they pointed in all directions of the compass and some no compass ever considered. All were in motion, striving to advance forward as it appeared to them. The Yottapede, therefore, stayed put, unable to advance on the whole, in a state of constant internal struggle. Its flexible outer covering, a carapace of loosely linked plates domed in umbrella shapes, did however ripple variously, sometimes even bulging out in one way or another, as if the whole creature were about to displace itself. It never did, or at least, only so slowly that its progress was almost undetectable. As it rippled and bulged, the colours and shadows of its iridescent carapace shifted and changed under the plural illuminations of the heavens, all quite unobserved, as we found out later, by the urges governing the feet.

The Yottapede was far too large to encircle, but we rode back and forth for some time, surveying its exterior, before we approached the gaping mouth. It was here we found out the wisdom of our arrangements. I thought it would be more fitting if I dismounted, in order to greet the Yottapede in courteous form. As soon as my feet hit the ground I was subjected to a mighty sucking wind that threatened to pull me right into the hungry mouth. It was almost irresistible. Fortunately, I am tall and long-armed; I still had my hands on Mnemochiron’s shoulders. Using my grip for lift I flung myself once more onto her back. Immediately the wind died, at least from me. If it was sucking at her, she was completely unaffected. I scrambled back into proper mounted posture, and we both looked around.

That’s enough words for today. Next week I will tell you what we saw, and what we found when we willingly entered the great black mouth to explore the Yottapede from within. Jonah, after all, would have learned nothing of whale anatomy if he had stayed on shore.