June 24, 2007


Timmy!Last week I went to a conference called ideaCity. It’s an event that’s been going on in Toronto since 2001, and puts together accomplished people with great ideas from various walks of life, from a Nobel-prize-winning physicist to a Cape Breton fiddler to an “eco-warrior” to an evangelical street-preacher, and just about everything in between. It’s highfaluting and somewhat elitist, but it’s primarily a great way to think and learn about things you’d hardly ever think and learn about.

Each speaker has only 20 minutes to discuss whatever they want, as long as it’s with passion. When they hit the 20-minute mark the organizer, Moses Znaimer, very nicely gives them the hook.

As I settled into my seat on the first day awaiting the first speaker, Dr. Lawrence Krauss, a preternaturally smart professor of physics and astronomy. Within minutes I knew that the person right behind me had some mental issues. She was restless and occasionally very quietly muttering to herself, but, being the tolerant person I am, didn’t think much of it. After all, this is a conference for the open-minded, full of surprises and new experiences, and the lady was probably very smart and, for all I know, a Nobel laureate herself.

Krauss was a few minutes into his spiel, waxing on about quantum this and theoretical that, when the afflicted lady got increasingly animated. She gradually went from benign “grmf” mutters to full-scale blurts of obscenities.

“And so you see, Rutherford’s theory of . . .”

“^&*$ing Rutherford! Stupid @#!&”

“Ahem, as I was saying, Rutherf-“

“Bastard! Idiot science!”

Krauss and the audience’s agitation got commensurately bigger as the lady’s own Tourette-induced agitation grew. Krauss actually had to stop, and the whole crowd turned to see where the commotion was coming from.

“Crap! Zombies! Rotten teeth!”

It was a strange moment, this conference on being tolerant of those in complete control of their thoughts becoming increasingly intolerant of someone with little control of her actions.

Now, Tourette syndrome is a serious thing. I feel sorry for people with the condition, and I hope they find a cure for what must be a living hell. That said, during the conference I kept thinking about what it would be like for a piping or drumming judge to have the variety of Tourette syndrome that makes people blurt out things that are just under the psyche: the things you’re thinking but not saying or writing.

“D’s sagging! Need a bra!”


“Eff off!”


It would be a shame for the competitor but maybe a much clearer way to judge. You could say what’s really on your mind, always with a great excuse, chalking it up to the old Tourette’s.





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