How The Syrian Civil War Started

I’m quite proud of our new in-depth podcast series on how the Syrian civil war started. I think it’s the best work I’ve done so far. We’re 13 episodes in already and only up to March 2011. But we started back in 632 CE with the death of the prophet Muhammad and explained the Sunni-Shia split, then went on to explain some of the history of the Middle East, including the end of the Ottoman empire, the French mandate, the creation of Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia, the creation of the Ba’ath Party, the rise of Hafez Al-Assad, the Lebanon Civil War, the OPEC crisis, the duplicity of Henry Kissinger, and the transition of power to Bashar Al-Assad – because unless you have an appreciation for these events, there’s no way you can really grasp what’s happening over there right now. Start at episode one by clicking the image below or going to our iTunes page.

How To Print Index Cards From Word

I’ve wasted hours of the last couple of weeks trying to work out how to print 3×5 index cards from Word via my Canon MP250. I finally worked it out today and here’s how I did it.

  1. First of all, it’s worth knowing that the Canon Mp250 will NOT print 3×5 cards. So stop trying.
  2. It WILL, however print 4×6 index cards – so go down to your nearest office supplies place and buy some of those.
  3. Open Word and create a new document. Or just use this template I created for you.
  4. If you’re on a Mac, go to FILE>PAGE SETUP and select 4×6
  5. Copy and paste your content into this document.
  6. Place cards in printer vertically (ie with smallest edge at the top)
  7. aaaaand print!

These days I’m using index cards to memorise a bunch of things, including the opening monologue for my documentary about Jesus, the entire text of The Raven by Poe, and a bunch of random facts I want to remember. I’ve tried using Evernote as flash cards over the years, but it just doesn’t work for me. I can carry around flash cards made from index cards in my pocket or briefcase and just test myself whenever I have a few minutes. Sometimes you just can’t beat the old school methods.

Suicide, Free Will & A Monster

RIP Chris Cornell. I’m seeing a lot of posts on Facebook about suicide awareness today and I’m wondering if suicide hotlines work. If your brain is in a state where you’re seriously contemplating suicide (as opposed to just feeling down with remote thoughts of suicidal ideation), are you likely, in that state, to call a hotline? Does anyone have solid data? According to this article in Scientific American, “it is essential to recognize that most suicides are driven by a flash flood of strong emotions, not rational, philosophical thoughts in which the pros and cons are evaluated critically.”

This article quotes extensively from psychologist Roy Baumeister, who according to Wikipedia is now based at the University of Queensland. Baumeister simultaneously claims that “disbelief in free will can lead people to act in ways that are harmful to themselves and society” and yet “feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt, inadequacy, or feeling exposed, humiliated and rejected” lead to suicide. In my experience, when you stop believing in free will, those “feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt, inadequacy, or feeling exposed, humiliated” disappear. Where there is no free will, there can’t be any shame or guilt or inadequacy. Your actions are determined by physics, beyond “your” control. Even if your brain chemistry is going haywire for some reason, once the underlying neural structures have changed so fundamentally don’t believe in free will, it seems unlikely to me that any of those feelings can arise (beyond momentarily popping up before being negated).

In other news – Roger Ailes died. Not suicide, perhaps surprisingly after the year he’s had. I tend to agree with Matt Taibbi that Ailes was “one of the worst Americans ever”:

He is on the short list of people most responsible for modern America’s vicious and bloodthirsty character.

We are a hate-filled, paranoid, untrusting, book-dumb and bilious people whose chief source of recreation is slinging insults and threats at each other online, and we’re that way in large part because of the hyper-divisive media environment he discovered.

Ailes was the Christopher Columbus of hate.

And, of course, he played an enormous role in making Trump President. But as I keep saying (and I’ve been saying it since Bush) – Trump isn’t the problem, he’s only a symptom of the problem. I suspect that focusing on removing Trump is missing the point.

The Mythmaker

My latest obsession is using 3×5 cards as flash cards to improve my memory. Especially as I’m preparing for this documentary, there are so many people and dates I need to keep in my head, that I need a new tool – and there’s nothing that says ‘new tool’ like creating flash cards out of a pencil, 3×5 cards and a rubber band to hold them together. I’m using a regular old notebook for taking notes while I read books. The 3×5 cards I’m using to capture the key names, dates, ideas, just like a traditional flash card – question on one side, answer on the reverse, and I’ve got a pile of them wrapped up with a rubber band, that I go through a few times a day, to test myself. I’m also using groups of cards for other things – memorizing The Raven by Poe (which I used to know but have forgotten some of the verses) and the opening soliloquy from RICHARD III. Also using a separate pile for BIG IDEAS – I’m trying to write down the biggest idea I have every day or the best thing I learned and then I’m reviewing them every day. I’ve tried using notebooks and Evernote for this for years, but there’s something about cards that I really like – they are small, which force me to be succinct, they are easy to keep on my desk, and they are easy to randomize (a quick shuffle). And I’m crazy about pencils these days. There’s something about writing something with pencil on paper that makes part of my brain come to life – typing on a computer doesn’t have the same effect.

In other news: Chelsea Manning gets out of jail today. I hope she gets some peace, but I doubt it if she stays in America. So nice to see that “Backers have raised more than $135,000 for housing and other essentials and to assist her with her reentry into society after seven years in prison.”

Closer to home: Victorian police are deciding whether to charge Australia’s most senior Catholic over historical sexual assault allegations. But there’s concern that as Australia doesn’t have an extradition treaty in place with the Vatican, they won’t be able to arrest him unless he agrees to come back to Australia voluntarily.

Meanwhile, as I’m done with my Cold War research for this week’s recordings, I’m reading an actual hardcopy book (I typically only read ebooks) that I bought from eBay because it wasn’t available in a digital edition: THE MYTHMAKER: PAUL AND THE INVENTION OF CHRISTIANITY by Hyam Maccoby (1986). Maccoby was a British Talmudic scholar who makes the case that Paul was born a gentile, converted to Judaism, and later invented Christianity. He believes Jesus was a Pharisee who would have been horrified over what Paul did in his name.

Lou Reed Bids Farewell To The Wild Side

This has to be one of the last times Lou ever performed his biggest hit live. I saw him play live twice over the years and never saw him play it.

Speaking of Lou, I stumbled across this VERY high quality live bootleg from 9 October 1974 (the day before my 4th birthday), the “Sally Can’t Dance” Tour, featuring Prakash John on bass but without Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter, who had left his touring band by this stage (ROCK N ROLL ANIMAL was recorded ten months earlier). This was the tour where journalist Nick Kent from NME commented that Lou looked like a “ravaged monkey”.

The latest version of Garageband iOS is really a fun composing tool. I spent my lunchbreak adding a guitar track to a song I’ve been working on. So much fun.

I”ve been working on client stuff all day, now I’m going to try to get in a few hours on the documentary.

Wardenclyffe Tower

I like to listen to instrumental music while I work, sometimes jazz, sometimes classical, sometimes techno, or Rob Zombie, or Brian Eno. Tonight I wanted to listen to Wardenclyffe Tower by Allan Holdsworth. I haven’t heard it in a long time but I owned it on CD back in the 90s. Anyway I went to Wikipedia to find out what he’s been doing lately, only to discover he died a few weeks ago, heart attack, age 70. I bet a lot of people have never heard of him, but he was one of the most influential guitarists of all time, according to people like Eddie Van Halen (from who I learned about Holdsworth decades ago), Frank Zappa, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, etc.

Another guy who died today was Powers Boothe, who played Cy Tolliver on Deadwood, among many other great roles, usually playing the villain. A great actor who will be missed.

I spent most of today working on the script for our Christianity documentary, which is a complete mindfuck. So many rabbit holes, the story is so complex, it’s hard to know what to leave out. I had a phone call with one Aussie scholar who is going to be on the film, Mike Bird, and got turned down by another who doesn’t want to appear on film. Meanwhile, for research, I started reading a couple of books by John Dominic Crossan – The Historical Jesus in Context and God & Empire: Jesus against Rome, Then and Now. I’m sure they will open up completely new cans of worms I’ll have to unpick.

As I told Mike, my study of Christianity is the inverse of every other subject I’ve studied, in that the more I read, the more confused I become. It’s a complete clusterfuck. The scholars disagree on nearly everything, it seems.

Meanwhile Chrissy and Fox are still in the US, visiting her family. They’ve been away two weeks, due back in one more week.

QLD Coal Makes Half the World’s Steel

Kind of embarrassing, but until recently I had no idea how much of the world’s economy is based on coal from QLD. For example – Queensland exports half the world’s coking coal which is used to make steel. HALF! That means 50% of the world’s steel is manufactured with QLD coal. For the last year I’ve been working with a client who are coal mining consultants in QLD. They’ve been giving me an education. Mining – mostly coal, coal seam gas and bauxite with some oil shale and natural gas – makes up about 9% of the QLD economy. Meanwhile the cost of solar is dropping exponentially. I have to wonder what’s going to happen to the QLD economy over the next 20 years when coal becomes a dirty word and people are using solar-generated electricity to make steel instead.