Tag Archives: 9/11

License to Ill

Friends,

Back in March of 2011 I went on what was to be my first and last jaunt across the pond in the “pre-9/11 world.”  It was a school trip to Italy and France (not in that order) and I was in grade eleven.  Like most (all?) school trips, a high premium was placed on student safety, and beyond an appropriate number of chaperones, what this translated to on the back end were room checks to curb fraternization, prohibitions on students buying alcohol (outside of beer or wine at mealtimes) and naturally, prohibitions on drug use.

Well, being forced to spend the better part of their childhoods indoors, confined to a desk and having to ask to go to the bathroom, it should come as no surprise that students are second only to prisoners when it comes to resourcefulness in flouting the rules.  This defiance was encouraged by the fact that the chaperones were mostly cool, recognizing that the trip was supposed to be fun, and their attempts to transplant Canadian high school rules to a bunch of young people in another continent were gestural.

That said, reinforced habits and the fear of punishment can be powerful deterrents as they were to me and the groups of fellow squares I hung out with throughout the trip.

IMG_4512L to R: Mike, Metro, Horesman, Scott and Me

We weren’t bad kids; we were nerds.  We were a low-priority when it came to students who should be supervised.  This became very clear to me on the second day of the trip when we were approached by my French teacher, Mr. Harper.  He told us that he had come by our room at lights-out the night before to make sure we were in bed and knocked a few times.  Figuring that we were just jet-lagged and in a deep sleep, he gave us the benefit of the doubt and went on with his room checks.  To give you a glimpse of just how goody-goody we were, he wasn’t even mad when he explained this to us but we still apologized and assured him we would be more attentive next time.

So on the trip went with us mostly staying in our lanes, taking pictures of the sights and removing our hats when entering cathedrals. However, a peculiar change began to happen.  As we observed all of the rule-breaking going on around us and the “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” attitude of the chaperones, we started to act out in our own measured way.

IMG_4511Here is us sitting on the base of a column in St. Peter’s Basilica when we were explicitly told not to.

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Here is me jumping into an empty fountain at Versailles and humping one of the statues.

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And here is me grabbing my junk in Rome.
I am a bad motherfucker, am I not?

Intoxicated with the thrill of being a rebel and wanting some token artifact as a memento of my flirtations with a life of crime, my degeneracy reached its apex in Rome on (fittingly) the Ides of March. Visiting the Coliseum I decided to make my move, climbing some decrepit wall while security was out of sight and posing for a picture while testing furiously for loose bricks which I could abscond with.

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The bastard love-child of Lara Croft and Indiana Jones clad in baggy dungarees.

JACKPOT!

I wiggled one such brick free and jumped down like the future traceur I would become years later.  I walked out of the coliseum as fast as I could, looking over my shoulder the whole time and feeling my heart furiously dry-humping my rib-cage.  I remembered one chick even asked me while I was up there if there was any bricks I could hand to her.  Bitch Please. I felt like that gangster in Training Day who, when Denzel demands someone shoot Ethan Hawke, places a .38 on the ground in front of him and is like,

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You got us twisted, homie; you gotta put your own work in around here.

After we had safely smuggled the brick out in someone’s cargo shorts pocket, me and the fellowship of the brick stood in a circle marveling at its plainness and lack of any special defining features.

“Guys, this is a billionth of the Coliseum we’re holding right here,” I said.

Then my long-time friend, Michael chimed in, “Yeah, but its OUR billionth.”

Yes it was.  Upon returning to Canada I took a hammer and chisel and broke each of my co-conspirators off a chip of the brick and hopefully those chips still serve as a reminder of the day we hit back against a system and took what was ours.

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Let’s re-cap.

Here are the transgressions I didn’t commit that others on the trip did and the potential punishments they held:

Hooking up with other students: Legal but might have gotten suspended or sent home early or both
Buying Booze: Same
Buying/Using/Possessing Marijuana:

ille
Note: These are current for 2013

Now here’s what I did:

Looting Artefacts from Roman Antiquity: “…those caught were left ‘highly embarrassed’ but were not arrested, instead they were cautioned and allowed to return home and their ancient souvenirs returned to Rome council…” -From Mail Online, 24 June 2012

I willingly put myself in a position where I could have been highly embarrassed and allowed to return home.  How gangster is that?

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I think the moral I was trying to get across initially was that a reputation for being a goody-two-shoes is a license to be a badass, but when I found out how casually my particular offense is actually treated by the Carabinieri, it kinda changed the way I viewed my own act of flagrant rebellion.  While that original moral still stands true, I think a more apt lesson to be taken from my pilfering of precious pebbles is that sometimes you gotta break the rules for good stories and souvenirs.

It’s probably why some of my best travel stories have to do with running from the police, surfing with sharks and trespassing.

To put it in an acronym, W.W.D.Q.D.?

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo

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When Truisms Lie

Friends,
Carpooling to work today, it was fitting that the conversation between the driver and myself drifted to the topic of Pearl Harbor.  Today is after all, the twelfth anniversary of another day that will live in infamy.

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When discussing the possibility that Pearl Harbor may have been allowed to happen to justify U.S. entrance into the war, the driver seemed skeptical and paraphrased Hanlon’s Razor:

“Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”

More accurately, he paraphrased an interpretation of that maxim from Sir Bernard Ingham:

“Many journalists have fallen for the conspiracy theory of government.  I do assure you that they
would produce more accurate work if they adhered to the cock-up theory.”
The basic idea implied of course is that conspiracy is a far more elusive jackelope than human ineptitude.
Seems true doesn’t it?  After all, we all know stupid people, but in truth we probably don’t know very many outright evil people (though we tend to use good/evil hyperbole in vain in our rhetoric) so the statement resonates with our own experience.  Adherence to this self-evident postulation then allows us to dismiss the very notion that there might be a conspiracy afoot because we are very well-acquainted with human error, and its (counter-intuitively) more comforting to believe human beings are stupid rather than clever.
Well, the problem here is that we tend to associate conspiracy with evil, when more accurately it could be described as “Competitive Deselection.”  In fact, conspiracy itself rarely (if ever) amounts to more than an advantageous commercial/power consolidation decision which has pronounced detrimental impacts on others while benefiting those who perpetrate it.  Evil has nothing to do with it, its simply the ultimate expression of the behaviour demanded by the world we live in.  Namely, getting ahead at the expense of all others.
Once you demystify it and eliminate evil out of the equation, you see that so-called conspiracy exists all around us.  After all, who among us has not been screwed out of earnings or exploited or robbed?  We typically don’t attribute these actions against us to conspiracy, but this has less to do with their dissimilarity from formal notions of conspiracy (i.e. shadowy, behind closed doors, nefarious dealings) than it does with our lack of imagination when extrapolating the consequences of the actions of ourselves and others.
Another such razor, and likely the more famous of the two, is Occam’s Razor.   Although there are more nuanced aspects to this maxim, it is most widely understood as, “The simplest explanation is (often) the best.”  And sure, why not?  We can all conjure in our minds images of some complex lie that was told to us to obfuscate the truth.
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But think how easily this maxim can be manipulated to discredit alternate, often more plausible explanations.  For example, you have often heard me rail against superstitious concepts like good and evil, but they serve as much simpler explanation for human behaviour than things like systems theory or sociological studies.  So, should Occam’s Razor be applied here?
Similarly, early explanations of men in the sky (gods) are much more simplistic than concepts like gravitation, electro-magnetism et al., but should Occam’s Razor, or more accurately Occam’s Razor as it is widely (mis)understood, be applied uniformly because it sounds true?
Of course not.
Now I must qualify what I am saying by mentioning one of my favourite quotations from the samurai, Musashi“If you know the way broadly, you will see it in all things”
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Fractals, dude!
It’s the difference between saying that some countries are wealthy due to better governance, mineral wealth and scientific progress, and saying that some countries are wealthy due to a global system based on differential advantage.  Notice how both explanations are very simple but only the latter serves to explain socioeconomic divisions at the regional, municipal and individual levels as well (After all, you can’t explain the financial disparity between two next-door neighbours by making reference to better governance, mineral wealth and scientific progress).  It is this simplicity, that of having a single explanation which can be applied to all levels of the phenomena being discussed which I think should be gleaned from Occam’s Razor.
Now I started out writing this post aiming to point out the inherent lies in some of our taken-for-granted turns of phrase and truisms, but it ended up being more of call to be aware of how to judiciously apply your truisms, because these statements (the ones examined and others) do hold at least a kernel of truth if nothing else.  But if you misapply truth you might as well be lying.

Best,

-Andre Guantanamo

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