Sunday, September 21, 2008

Liar, liar, campaign's on fire.

I came across this article today, that talks about how the word liar is traditionally an out-of-bounds term in American politics.

Hahahahahahhaahaha. I wonder what the article's author would think of our current election campaign, where everyone is accused of being a liar, and lying in favour of some kind of personal agenda?

Was there ever a time that Canadian politicians were more timid about accusing their opponents of lying (or “misusing the truth” or “using disinformation”)?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Wii Fit?

It has been four months now since I bought into the Wii Fit craze. There were a lot of preliminary reviews that praised and criticised the gaming platform. I figured that I would let some time pass before I bothered adding my own impression to the discourse.

A couple of things: first, I disagree with suggestions that Wii Fit is just for fat, lazy gamers and stay-at-home moms. I am an above-average athlete, in that I workout/train for more than 8 hours each week, and I found some of the games rather challenging. Granted, when you start playing most of the games and activities are pretty easy. Most of the 'strength' category exercises only involve a few repetitions, and the 'aerobic' category games are very short. However, I was impressed by many of the "unlocked" exercises: especially the "challenge" games that push you to do an ever-increasing number of push-ups, or to hold the plank position for longer and longer. These exercises can challenge most athletes. Many of the games are really very fun, and I found myself learning quite a lot about my own centre of balance in the process.

Of course, WiiFit's limitations are manifold. The one peeve that I have seen repeated on the game reviews is that the exercises do not seamlessly connect, as they do when casually working-out. For instance, after doing a round of push-ups one is directed back to the exercise menu. However, before doing so the game suggests a yoga or aerobic exercise to combine with the push-up workout. I would like it if there was an option to continue on to the suggested exercise, rather than going back to the menu. This would reduce the time between exercises, and would make for a better workout.

Another comment that I recall seeing on some of the reviews (either by an author or as a follow-up comment) was that the game "was just a fad." I certainly agree that the game is just a fad. However, after the honeymoon period ended, and the novelty wore-off, I find that do return to it regularly. At first, I had tried to combine Wii Fit with my existing work-out regime (jogging, tennis and swimming). However, for reasons regarding loading times, I quickly dropped-off the amount of Wii Fit exercising that I would commit to on a weekly basis.

As an occasional supplement for a regular exercise schedule, I think that the Wii Fit is excellent. It has plenty of fun and challenging exercises that give it great re-play value.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Catching up.

Somehow I seem to find the time to work on projects that should have been finished several weeks ago, and no time to keep up with my blogging. Some things I want to say:

Going to the Cinema
I had a chance to see the Dark Knight. I think that most of the movie reviewers have mentioned all of the high points, and the failures (length and slow-to-frenetic pacing). The one thing that I want to add is: people, please do not bring your CHILDREN to this movie. I knew that it was going to be rather disturbing, but I was much more disturbed by the number of young children in the theatre with their (stupid) parents.

Election Time
Canadian election season is gearing-up, right alongside a very exciting election season south of the border. So far the Canadian election promises to be amateurish and juvenile.

The liberals have started out strong by declaring that Harper and his cronies are liars. Well, everyone already knows that. When you make that into your message at a given event, it is sort of like calling the dumb kid and "idiot" in front of the class. It may be true, but you still look like an ass for having nothing better to say.

Layton and NDP, who looked primed to make a difference by challenging the conventional distribution of seats in Ontario and Quebec, have lost a lot of credibility as the "alternative party" by trying to block May and the Greens from the televised debates. Honestly, Jackie-boy, you have nothing to worry about. Let May get on camera, let her look like the hack she is, and then let her become the historical footnote that she is destined to be.

The conservatives....where do I begin? They have this "family guy" campaign on the radio and television right now. The only problem is, they are undermining themselves with a slurry of gaffes and fiascoes. The "pigeon pooping" and "Liberal Dad" incidents are not just INCIDENTS. They are SYMPTOMS of an aggressive, threatening and distrustful culture. These SYMPTOMS did not appear because a lone actor was "extreme" in their conduct. These SYMPTOMS appeared because the party cultivates it. Something is rotten in the state of Conservative land.

I'm not even going to comment on the Bloc.

The Green Party? Who?

The weather is great outside...and I guess that one of the reasons I have failed to keep up with my blog is that I would much rather go jogging, or swimming, than sit down and write (once I am finished work for the day).

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The consequences of Stephen Harper.


What everyone has been missing.

Douche, turd, control-freak, automaton, 'neo-con': at some point or another, I have heard our current PM, Steven Harper, described with those words. On the one hand, Harper should feel quite flattered: even if people think he is douche, at least there is no one out there questioning his intelligence. On the other, it is troubling that despite the (seemingly) constant image-campaigning by the PMO, he is still thought of in less-than-flattering terms by Canadians. However, it is Harper's intellect that is the most under-analyzed aspect of the government. The Cons have had a tough summer, and I seriously doubt that anyone will disagree with that statement. After being "Cuillard-ed" in the spring, they have had to watch the economy slowly slink towards recession. On top of that, they have to had to plan a (real) response to the new Lib platform (I'll cover that one in another post). Then there is also the increasingly unpopular war in Afghanistan, and the (ridiculous) furor over the Order nomination of Morghentaller and the (equally ridiculous) furor over Bill C-61.

Personally, I sympathize with Harper the control-freak. After all, just look at the hand the guy has been dealt in terms of a government. His party was (at first) so entrenched in "opposition mode" that they came across as amateurish during question periods, when the most common response was to blame the Liberals for being corrupt or incompetent. Especially Baird "the Bulldog." With morons sitting in your cabinet, how are you supposed to come across as a credible GOVERNMENT? You micro-manage. First, you kick McKay to the sidelines because the only accomplishments of note that he could list (after holding a variety of portfolios and party positions) was being chummy with Condy Rice and making inappropriate remarks about his "dog." Besides, the guy is a douche who can't be trusted to keep his promises.

Then, you get the rest of the party to SHUT THE HELL UP. Baird the Bulldog can't be kept quiet, but you make damn sure that everyone else does not say a peep to the press because they are categorically so unreliable. Harper has recently received some flak from the liberals for his “culture of secrecy.” It’s not a culture of secrecy, it is a culture of “my guys are too stupid to talk to the press so I tell them to SHUT THE HELL UP.”

SO, after a couple of years of micro-managing, Harper finally has a government that can argue about policy and governing and not the usual fall-back of party-politics. Unfortunately for the Cons, whatever momentum they have been trying to gain is stymied by the Liberals: the official opposition is a very well-experience political machine, and they know how to make life a living hell by bringing party-politics to the centre-stage of media coverage. Committee this, committee that. This leaves you with two options: let your government get embroiled in the myriad lawsuits and committee inquiries that are threaten to derail your ability to govern; or, you seek a majority government in a snap election.

The Catch-22 is immediately apparent: the first option is an enshrined process integral to democratic society, seeking to avoid or subvert it is anti-democratic. On the other hand, Harper promised that elections would start being held on a regular schedule, so that the nation is not disrupted by opportunistic elections. Since Parliament was dissolved today, Harper loses any integrity he could pretend to have earned by going back on a promise (and bill) his government made. He deserves credit for being pragmatic, but certainly does not deserve votes.

Basically, I don't doubt that Harper is a capable leader. He may even be one of the best PMs this country has ever had. His government is simply plagued with an un-sellable brand, and a bunch of douches.

Unfortunately for Harper, though, I still think that he is a douche because his government is devoted to a program that is completely opposite to what I think Canada needs. Unfortunately, I feel that I am in the extreme minority of Canadians who understand this fundamental point.

Allow me to elaborate. Glance through any of the myriad news-sources that you can scan online, and you will come across a variety of mouth-pieces that make sly and vague remarks about how the Cons platform is "whatever it may be"; or, they try to make direct comparisons to the 'neo-cons' of the Bush administration. Both perspectives are missing an essential point. The current Conservative government DOES have a platform, and saying that it is similar to the neo-con politics of the Bush administration completely misses the mark.

Let's pull a quote from a recent Globe and Mail article:
Speaking to a Montreal business crowd, Mr. Harper launched his harshest attack on the Liberal policy, saying it would concentrate money and power in Ottawa.
“I tell you that this new tax on carbon is going to destroy all that our government has built in the last two and a half years,” the Conservative Leader said.
Waitaminute. What does it mean that everything achieved in the last two years is threatened by concentrating money and power in Ottawa?

Harper's platform, really more of a program, is one of de-federalisation. After all, what sort of an idiot cuts taxes AND raises spending? The sort of idiot that wants any (future) federal government's spending to be so tight that they can't meddle in regional affairs by holding a massive coffer of cash. That's right. Remember: ‘Stevie-H’ entered national politics as an advisor for Ross Perot and the Reform Party. A regional party devoted to preserving REGIONAL (in this case, Western) interests. In many ways they were just like the Bloc, but without the annoyingly puerile sabre-rattling of the Quebec separatists. From what I understand of the Reform agenda, they just wanted to make sure that the West (mostly Alberta) was protected from policy sent out by Ottawa.

Harper's government is simply actualizing this agenda. This is why, when I read the news, one can connect several seemingly independent events to form a single constellation of de-federalisation: recognizing Quebec as a "distinct society"; the listeriosis outbreak in Ontario; Arts Funding cuts; rejecting the goals outlined in the Kyoto accord; and, increasing military spending.

A distinct society?

The recognition of Quebec's "distinct" status should require little explanation: it is simply an instance of the federal government acknowledging (without submitting) regional interests. By giving French-Canadians recognition for being a distinct society, however, Harpo can accomplish two things: gain political capital and set the stage for more regional recognition. The Cons want to gain votes in Quebec, and the only way that they can do it is by showing that a (supposedly) federalist party can promote Quebecois identity more successfully than the Bloc. Since the Cons expect to be locked out of the urban areas (liberal strongholds) they will have to fight in the predominately Bloc battle-grounds.

Furthermore, recognizing Quebec’s distinct society easily paves the way to recognizing any number of other “distinct” societies. Why not also recognize the Gàidhealtachd in Eastern Canada and Eastern Ontario as distinct societies as well?

In my opinion, when you start recognizing “distinct” groups, especially in response to regional urging, you (as a Government) are setting a stage that will make permissible new means of exclusion.

Tainted Meat

The listeriosis outbreak (sandwich-gate?) highlights a program of eliminating federal-level inspectors in favour of local-level (corporate) ones. In the case of the tainted sandwich meats, we are seeing the detrimental result of limiting the federal government's ability to impact business.

It is one thing to remove strings that may impede business. Unfortunately, it is something else for a government to neglect its duty to protect its citizens from harm. Unfortunately, in Ontario, there are still strong memories associated with another (conservative) government’s cuts to inspector funding: Walkerton.

The Kyoto Accords

The Kyoto Accords, and the general discussion (argument) about environmental policy is certainly a touchy issue today. Here in Ontario and the rest of the Eastern Provinces, most people have the opinion that people living out West don't care about the environment, and don't mind the massive cloud of death sitting over northern Alberta. Why else would the government be so opposed to the accords, rather than taking the Liberal strategy of delay and re-write? Well, one of my best friends is from Calgary, and I have also had the opportunity to meet many people from Alberta. I left all of those experiences with the impression that the environment is very much a real problem on their minds. However, it was also quite apparent to me that they are thoroughly opposed to the Ottawa-East dictating how they should approach the problem. Based on these experiences, I doubt that Harper simply "does not care" about the environment in the way that many say he does. Rather, I think that he would rather let individual regions determine their own response.

When (the premiers of ON and Quebec) McGuinty and Charest announced plans to adopt carbon taxes, and their own commitment to protecting forests, the government was (perhaps uncharacteristically) demure in its response. Despite what Harper and his cronies may think, they will not try to force a regional leader's hand to follow the federal plan (cap-and-trade being the most recent suggestion). Of course, there are exceptions to this. Jim Flaherty (that moron among imbeciles) decided to let his own politics (as a Conservative) influence his reaction to the news of the Ontario economic slow-down. He decided to play Conservative against Liberal in that debate, and the Conservatives are going to lose ground in Ontario because of it. However, that instance is, to me, a failure by Harper to yank the leash in time.

Canadian Smut

At first, when I heard about Canadian actors and filmmakers lamenting the number of cuts made to Arts funding, I laughed and thought “if you can’t get enough private funding it is because your project is a bad idea.”

Of course, the issue is much more complex, and much more politically motivated. When your government is threatened by impending deficits, you have to cut money from somewhere. Well, why not strike two birds with one stone and cut money to Arts Funding?

On the one hand, the arts grants were established to help to promote Canadian identity. Of course, this assumes that everyone in Canada agrees on what the council that awards the grants determines to be “Canadian.” I have a strong feeling that when it “Bubbles Galore,” Canada’s “XX” film was revealed to have been produced through funding from the federal government, some of the more “conservative” elements in Canada (nationwide) may have felt slightly off-put by the insinuation that the film was in some way “Canadian.” Similarly so for many other productions that have benefited from the same funding system.

Hmmm…so, how does this relate to a program of “defederalisation?” Well, in my opinion, I would hazard a guess that a politician interested in representing regional interests would want to reassure voters that the federal government will no longer be giving tax dollars to film makers that present content that [voters] would find offensive. Basically, Harper wants to make sure that (Ottawa) the federal government cannot force a particular (disagreeable?) “Canadian image” on the Canadian people.

In some ways, the cuts to funding are similar to cuts to business inspectors. This is a program of removing the government’s involvement in the arts. I doubt that the intention is to stifle artistic development in Canada. Of course, this government’s decisions have proven to be nothing if not short-sighted (re: the Cadman Affair).

Arming the Army of the Republicans?

My final instantiation of the Conservative plan is, admittedly, a bit of a stretch. After all, if I am insinuating that Harper is so strongly in favour of regionalism why would his government promote a strong (central) military? This has more to do with the fundamentals of government’s responsibility than a particular agenda of de-federalisation. One of a government's responsibilities is the defense of the state. Pumping money into the army satisfies his government's desire to impress upon the international community a Canadian commitment to self-determination. Basically, I am betting that Harper has some advisor who has told him that the reason that other leaders don't take him seriously is because Canada lacks military muscle.

Or, maybe not.

So, the real problem with Stephen Harper? He believes that it is Canada's best interest to have a weak federal government. In a follow-up post, I will discuss why this view is erroneous.

UPDATE: added quote from recent Globe and Mail article.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Why the Olympics need a new category of competition.

A couple of weeks ago I was watching Michael Phelps win his eighth gold medal in the men's 4x100 medley relay. It was a spectacular race, and it certainly reaffirmed my conviction that Phelps is probably the best human being to ever (purposefully or not) enter the water. Even if anthropologists find some failed version of the human species that had webbed fingers and ridiculously short legs, I doubt that they could compete with Phelps.

Of course, my enjoyment of the event was slightly tarnished by the presence of my...bombastic...friend and colleague, Dr. Sauce. The good Doctor expressed his jaded opinion that the Olympics are (And I quote) ridiculous because it is ultimately about rewarding the "best cheater." He went on to express his desire to see a "narc-Olympic" games where the winners are the pharmaceutical companies that make humans do the most ridiculous things.

Usually, I roll my eyes and laugh when Dr. Sauce gets talking this way, after which I express my (contradictory) opinion, and we get more drunk and forget what we were talking about.

-Before continuing, I want to make it clear that I enjoy sports and admire athletes that devote themselves to their event to the exclusion of a normal life.-

However, this time I could not quite let the good doctor rant without prodding his statement. So I happened to ask him: "why ever for?"

His response was interesting and illuminating: "Well why not just come right out and let everyone do the drugs that they are pretending not to do?"

Rather than take my usual contrary stance, I found that I (partially) agreed. Of course, there was a problem with his opinion. As I explained (and I admit I may be full of the bull$%!^ herein), performance enhancing drugs are banned from the Olympics because they are supposed to be accessible from any level of competition. Let's suggest that there is club swimmer somewhere in Manitoba. Depending on her competition times, she can become eligible to compete at the regional and then the nation level. Pending her results, she could represent Canada at the upcoming Olympiad.

However, if the Olympics were (overtly) just about who has the best drug regime, then casual and amateur athletes could never hope to compete at anything more than the local/club level. Unless they were willing to absorb the risks associated with taking performance enhancing drugs, there is no way to compete with 'professionals' that have been recruited into professional programs. This is why there had been a ban on professional athletes in Olympic hockey and basketball. (IMHO) The ban was lifted because the IOC (rightly) decided that programs outside of N. America and Europe could produce teams that can compete with the best Russian, European, and N. American squads (in hockey), and the best U.S. teams (in basketball). Of course, baseball was still limited to amateur athletes (before being canned this year).

So, the IOC tries to keep the games "clean" because they are supposed to be accessible. Basically, a swimmer in Saudi Arabia should be able to compete on equal footing with a swimmer from France or Australia.

Better yet, the individual sprints are true marker of just how accessible the Olympics can be. How much skill does it take to run 100m? None. How much work does it take to run it in under 10 seconds? That depends on your training. If the Olympics were just simply a drug regime, there is no point to allowing many of the world's nations to enter competition, since the wealthiest programs would make it impossible for the poorest to compete. Without drugs, it is about training, genetic predispositions, and more training. In essence it should be fair.

Of course after mentioning the 100m sprint I have to admit that the Olympics are also supposed to be a showcase for the expansion of (what is possible regarding) human potential. Every Olympiad, the 100m time decrease evermore below the 10-sec mark (in the men's event). It is on this point that I accept that Dr. Sauce is right. If we want to showcase (and to push) the limits of human performance, why don't we give the athletes every possible advantage?

I absolutely think that it would be fantastic to "see" a human being break the 9-sec barrier in the 100m. However, I seriously doubt that is possible without performance enhancing drugs (and without surgery). In another 50 or 60 years? Maybe. But not until then. With performance enhancing drugs? Why not?

I would like to recommend a "games" from my conversation with the doctor: "athletes" compete in the typical blue-ribbon Olympic events. However, medals are not gained by performance alone. Rather, judges (a mix of physicians, physiologists and ethicist(s)) determine how detrimental to health an athlete's regime is (in the long run), and award handicaps to the athletes that adopt a supplement regime that favours performance over health. So, a sprinter that takes some performance-enhancing supplements that will eventually render him dead from a bloated and weakened heart will be awarded a lower "score" than one that adopts a regime that only improves muscle-twitch with no long-term affects.

Basically, what I would want to watch is a Games where human potential is pushed beyond its current limits. However, the public can rejoice in these Games because they will showcase technologies that may one day improve their own lives. Dr. Sauce should be applauded for his desire to see a "NarcOlympics."

However, having said that, I believe that the current Olympic philosophy, of keeping the games accessible, should be encouraged and preserved. Winning a Gold Medal, after four years of hard training, is an award that should never be tarnished.

Simply put, I think that we should create a venue for those athletes that want to push the human speed limit, or the amount that a body can dead-lift.

Of course, I may be wrong about the Olympic philosophy (I know I neglected to mention all of that nationalist crap about sportsmanship around the world), so my vision may be worth nothing.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Busy Summer, and "On Being Too Important to Update My Blog (?)"

Well...I really have no excuse this time. I have spent much (most) of the summer in front of computer screens, as I have somehow found myself working my butt off.

For what? I'm not sure. Nonetheless, I have managed to not once update my blog. All of a sudden, it is the end of August and I wonder what I have been doing.

SWMBO thinks that I am a loser and would rather work than socialize. Then again, her opinion of me changed after I announced that we are going to go to Chicago in September. Now, her faith in the Captain and President-for-Life of Team Awesome is magically restored.

Aside from work, lots of stuff has been happening. I am expecting to write some posts on:
  • Harper's Subversive Strategies (and why Canadian Historians will agree with me);
  • The Green Shift- great Tax reform, poor environmental action plan;
  • Why OLD (text)books should be digitized;
  • Team Awesome's Emissary to Australia;
  • Delusions of Fitness (WiiFit after three months);
  • What I love about jogging;
  • And, how to make a better Olympiad.

Updates are forthcoming. To my (one or two) readers, the long wait is near an end!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Great Beef Soup Challenge Commences!

I was in the canned soup aisle of my local grocery store last night when I was hit by a sudden urge for canned beef soup. It was not one of those "I need beef soup now" urges, but one of those "you know what would be really good for lunch tomorrow? Beef Soup" urges. There was just one problem: choice.

Rather than risk getting "the bad" canned beef soup from the large selection, I decided that I would spread myself across the board: I bought one of each and will spend the next week eating beef soup for lunch.

I haven't eaten this way since I was an undergrad, so there is an off-chance that I will go insane by the end of next week. Now, this may sound strange, but that result will be a little comforting as it will help to explain those "crazy undergrad" years. Kind of like the discovery of the heavy amount of lead in ancient Rome's water pipes...

First up: Campbell's Healthy Request Vegetable Beef with Barley.

I decided to start with the "Healthy Request" selection because I guessed that "less sodium" and "healthy request" would also equal "no taste" and "leaves you strangely hungry." It turns out that I was right on both accounts. The soup has the thickness and texture of a good beef soup (chewy-but-not-tough meat and squishy vegetables), but none of the flavour. Aside from the faint taste of beef, I could have been eating any kind of soup at all. Very disappointing.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


I am really pissed-off by MDG Computers right now. I took in my less-than-one year old PC, as well as SheWhoMustBeObeyed's (SWMBO's) PC to get serviced last week. My unit required the mother-board to be replaced because of a faulty LAN card...that was alright because it was still under warranty. SWMBO's PC, it turned out, was having come problems because its version of Windows (XP SP2) was corrupt. Whatever, the PC is 5 years old so this sort of thing is expected. There was also a recommendation to upgrade the RAM to 1 GB (to which I agreed).

When it came time to pick-up the units, I "discovered" the following facts:

1) My antivirus software was no longer functioning, my start-up group of programs had been modified, and my version of windows required activation;

2) And, (this is the important complaint) SWMBO's harddrive was completely wiped because Windows had to be re-installed.

When I called to ask (re: yell until I was satisfied that the moron on the other end was just as angry with me as I was with him) about what was going on, I was given some lame-ass explanantion that:

"It is MDG policy to ask about whether or not a back-up should be made, at extra cost ($X), in the event that Windows requires re-installation."

Since no request was made, a back-up of the (SWMBO's) hard drive was not produced. Well, well, well. The big problem with that statement is that I was never offered a "back-up", and I was never told that this service would result in SWMBO's hard-drive being purged. Of course I would have wanted a backup if I was told that the hard-drive was going to be wiped! And, there was a big "silence" at the other end when I asked why my antivirus and startup settings were modified (re: broken).

Now, I have been pretty happy with my MDG computer and I am NOT recommending against buying one. I am proud of the fact that the computers are built and sold by techs and salespeople here in Canada. However, if you are going to get your computer serviced, stay as far away from the Etobicoke store as you can get. They may have gotten my $300, but they will never get me to return.

Monday, June 23, 2008

I am going to bet it was goose poo.

The National Post recently published a warning issued by the Toronto Police Department concerning a spate of dog-poisoning in High Park. I run through the park 3-4 times a week, and my money is on goose-poo being the culprit. At this time of year, there are so many geese wandering the park and the area around Grenadier Pond that the path is, in some places, covered with a slick green slime.

I feel really bad for the owners of the dogs, since it is impossible to watch your dog for every minute of the walk. It is especially impossible- and, I would argue cruel- to keep them from sniffing (and thereby licking) at the things that interest them. No I don't mean that dogs sniff by licking, instead, I am trying to say that if one is to prevent a dog from licking foreign objects/substances, one must prevent them from sniffing it since their tongue and nose will be equally close to the object of inquiry.

Here's to hoping that a pathologist or veterinarian figures out the vector for the poison. Once again, I am betting it is a massive bacterial infection caused by ingesting goose feces.

Update: According to this story the dogs have been poisoned in what appears to be a deliberate attack, against them and their owners. Personally, I don't buy the "person disgruntled against the off-leash areas" statement made by the police. However, I guess that I am not quite willing to accept that someone would be willing to do something so cruel and petty over such a tiny matter. Then again, one would have to be the sort who regards an issue like off-leash areas to be quite important to be willing to lay such a cruel and petty trap. Not to mention pathetic, tiny (morally and literally), and weak.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

On the topic of beer.

I wanted to take a look at the Stella Artois site today to get an image of the brand logo ,or an image from their advertising, for a joke I wanted to make about the beer. To my surprise, I found a rather impressive assortment of flash-based movies and games. Then again, it is a web page for beer...

My beef with this whole "Courage 1366" campaign that they are promoting is that it is absurdly anachronistic. Medieval Europeans did not think that the world was flat: anyone who lives in a coastal city would have told you as much as they watched a boat disappear over the horizon. Another thing about the other games is the talk of "gods" and "spirits". Although I won't deny that Europeans were a superstitious lot, they were (at least back then) devotedly Christian. Although they would not have explained lightning as static charges, I doubt that the common farmer thought that Zeus was hurling bolts at him.

But, I digress. While out at dinner last night, I ordered a pint of Stella Artois with my dinner. When asked by a friend to describe the beer, I replied:

It's flavour is sort-of on the border of being French; but it also has an invasive German bitterness.

It's official: I should give up everything and become a comedian.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

We Are All Scottish Now.


"How the Scots Invented the Modern World."

Writing popular history is something like a tight-rope act: lean too-much in one direction and you will plummet to oblivion. In "How the Scots Invented the Modern World", Arthur Herman attempts such a perilous act.

Herman's central thesis is far from new: "western" institutions, culture, and practices have been fundamentally shaped by "Scottish" culture. In a narrative that alternates between argumentative storytelling and meandering anectodotes, "How the Scots" is a story of Scotland and, at the same time, the story of the long eighteenth century.

Although I may joke as much when among friends: the narrative of this book does not reduce all things to "Scottish origin," in the way the dad from "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" reduces everything to Greek origin. Rather, the fundamental point is that the socio-politico-economic and moral conditions in Scotland that encouraged the period of intellectual, cultural and technological advancement now recognized as the "Scottish Enlightenment". In other words, a more apt name for the book could be "How SCOTLAND invented the modern world."

This notion of a "Scottish Enlightenment" has only recently gained attention in the historical community. Most historians of philosophy and STM had long recognized the influence of a "scottish school" in the late eighteenth century, but there had not been much work that focused exclusively on it. Herman's narrative is drawn from a diverse selection of older and recent literature that does just that.

Starting with a Braudelian examination of the geography of the Scotland, the story explains how a unique landscape produced recognizably "Scottish" social and economic conditions. Conditions which ultimately produced a highly literate and, for the main part, disciplined population. Basically: the Scotch are a product of Scotland. Duh.

Yet, the story is not so simple. As the first few chapters explain, the geographic factors that produce Scottish socio-economic conditions also condemn the Scotch to inferior status with regard to their southerly neighbours: the English. In fact, not only are the Scotch inferior to their southerly neighbours, they are pretty-much inferior to the whole of Europe.

This may lead one to ask: so, the "Scottish Enlightenment" occured because of pressure to overcome a northerly inferiority complex? As the author explains, the answer is "yes and no." Yes, inferior economic and political power encouraged innvoation and new ideas. At the same time: no, because the "Scottish Enlightenment" has a quintessentially "Scotch" character.

Herman explains that conditions in Scotland produced a unique a mindset (or perhaps the better term would be epistemic mode?) that encouraged the aforementioned "enlightenment." Without making reference to any "other" cultural mindsets, the Scots are made out to be a people who are uniquely capable of reconciling progressive idealism and cynical realism. To illustrate, the first Scottish figures whom the author turns to are the "founders" of the "Scottish School:" Francis Hutcheson and Lord Kames.

In an analysis of their respective philosophies about the nature of man and modern society, Herman attempts to show that both men, though quite divergent, demonstrate the essential "Scottishness" on which the rest of the story will rely. In a pseudo-biographical analysis, Hutcheson and Kames' teaching careers and social activities are traced, to demonstrate how subsequent "waves" of Scotch intellectuals can be traced back to them.

The rest of the book covers the philosophies espoused by the giants of the eighteenth century, with David Hume and Adam Smith being the main players. The narrative does not just talk about the intellectual achievements of the Scottish, but also illustrates the social achievements of the Scottish people in their homeland and throughout the world. Unforunately, Herman tends to rely on biographical stories to such an extent that the book seems to be as much a story of the Scottish people as it is a chronological who's-who-and-did-what in the eighteenth century. Ranging from the Scots fighting in the American Revolution (on both sides), to the opium runners in the Far East, it seems as though everything is in some way Scottish.

Of course, that is the point of the book. However, it is also its failing. Herman fails to establish anything particularly "Scottish" about most of the people (men) he mentions. Yes, in many cases a particular person demonstrated a worldview that appreciated both the ideal and realist perspectives. But, as the book progresses, there is little strength in his claim that all of the Scotts he mentions belong to the same School: for instance, how can Sir John A MacDonald (Canada's first PM) and Alexander Graham Bell (telephone) belong to the same "Scottish" school? Aside from being of Scotch descent, the men had very little else in common.

Herman casts his argumentative net too far, which results in too many holes, to be able to justify that being well-educated, pragmatic, and influential are necessarily Scottish traits. There is a wealth of information to be gleamed from this book, and it is also a very enjoyable read because of the smooth-flowing prose. However, by the end of the tale, I do not believe that the thesis will stick with most readers.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Objectivity and the Future of Knowing (anything) with Certainty.

I recently had the opportunity to attend a conference at U of T titled: “Reclaiming the World: The Future of Objectivity” (St. George Campus, The Bahen Centre for Information Studies, May 23-24 2008).

Now the first thing that I have to get off of my chest is the fact that it was run really poorly. Admittedly, my opinion may be negatively skewed, as I showed up on the Friday afternoon to find no record of my registration. I HAD registered about a week before-hand, but this did not seem to matter to the folks who were organizing it: they were content to have my money. My main peeve about the registration was that despite being a paying client, I was treated like some bozo who just “wandered in.” I was left wondering why I had even bothered paying. I had verified that it would not be a problem if I missed the morning lectures (as I had a conflicting appointment), but obviously this was not quite the case.

That said, I was very impressed by the speakers and discussion at the conference, and I found the variety of topics fascinating. Certain papers were particularly interesting: Karen Barad’s examination of “objectivity and the ontology and ethics of knowing” through the example of the brittle star (starfish); Mike Pettit’s history of the use of deception in early psychological studies; and Natasha Myers' discussion of embodiment in protein crystallography.

I really want to committ some of my notes to digital form, but I also do not want to write a fifteen-page blog post. In the future I will try to discuss those papers individually, so that they can get some attention on the web.

Speaking of getting attention on the web, the keynote address for the conference was also very interesting. Delivered by Bruno Latour, it was a rather convoluted lecture about using new virtual tools to encourage an epistemological shift in techniques of representation. Dissent and argument that stems from the implicit political nature of “matters of fact” and “matters of concern” can be overcome by new tools that enable a witness to enter into any stage of a controversy, as well as trace the facts and opinions therein.

Does that make any sense? I’ve read that paragraph a couple of times now, and I am really not too sure what I mean by it. Basically, Latour was making a case for a new methodology used in science studies, namely co-author and co-citation mapping. Of course, the applications that create these maps can be used for much more than co-citation: that is merely the extent of my experience.

The underlying message of the lecture really seemed to rely on a kind of pseudo-positivism. In order for the datascapes of a controversy to be as accessible (and accurate) as Latour says they CAN be, the digital archive has to catch-up and parrallel the natural world. In a lot of ways, I think that this can be possible: after all, surgeons can perform laproscopic operations through devices that are located in operating rooms in different parts of the world. It is merely another step to make the operating theatre just as remote, and at the same time just as intimate, because the witnesses COULD share the surgeon’s “perspective”: or, “representation.”

In other words, the problems and politics of objectivity can be overcome by relying on a “second-degree” objectivity that enables the tracing and representation of all matters of fact and matters of concern at any intermediary step.

Obviously, the lecture was incredibly interesting and (believe it or not) very useful. I believe that Latour is correct when praising the potential of the usefulness of the digital archive, but I disagree about accessibility that (he argues) it offers. On a personal note, I am quite interested in the study of objectivity in so far as it relates to standards and protocols. When I consider how procedures are written one of my main concerns is the amount of information that can be learned.

Whether it is a text-based manual, or an interactive tutorial, there are implicit goals and assumptions framing how a process is created. If all of the parties involved in a procedure, (broadly speaking) the producers and the users, can use the digital archive to demonstrate and interact on individual levels, then a standard (objective), becomes inaccessible. For instance: person A says it should be one way, and writes it as a textual process; person B says it should be another, and records the process in flash (.swf) format; while person C says the process should be articulated in a completely different manner, and draws a schematic. All three persons may be talking about how to logon to Windows, but they describe the (simple) process very differently.

There are a variety of tools available to map this controversy over starting Windows, but if I look at it this way (where every party can articulate a procedure differently, and present their version differently) I still fail to see how the digital archive can overcome the problem of whether or not there is a standard (objective) protocol that can be agreed upon.

I am going to wrap-up this post before it gets terribly long. However, I will probably revisit the topic in later posts.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

What the F!*K Was That?

Back in April, Team Awesome attended our inaugural showing of Evil Dead: The Musical. As expected, we had a great time. In fact, we had such a great time that we went again, a month later! We invited a group of our friends, and after the show the general consensus was “Hells Yes! It was Awesome! (We’re Awesome).”

The production does a great job of capturing the ‘camp’ feel of the classic horror movies. Lots of gore, ridiculous situations, and witty dialogue interposed by hilarious musical numbers delighted the entire audience.

At the same time, the script reveals a lot of reflexivity with regard to the genre and the movies on which it is based: upon hearing a strange voice urging her “Join Us!” coming from [offstage], one character asks “What was it my mom always told me to do if I hear a strange voice coming from outside a cabin? [pause] Oh yeah! Don’t wake the others and tell them, and go out alone to investigate!” Another character acknowledges that he is just a “bit-part demon”, and laments his fate: doomed to be killed by the hero.

The story itself is true to the Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2 movies. In fact, since Evil Dead 2 retcons the story from the first movie by limiting the weekend getaway to Ash and Linda, it is more of a combination of the two. The first act covers the events of “The Evil Dead”, where Ash and his friends go to a cabin in the woods (also the title of the opening number), with disastrous results following their discovery of an ancient book bound by flesh.

The second act retells the events of Evil Dead 2, where the daughter of the cabin’s owner arrives with her friends to discover a mutilated (one-handed) Ash in the midst of chainsaw-ing his demon-possessed girlfriend: “This isn’t what it looks like!”

A great aspect of the script is the way that the famous one-liners from Army of Darkness are interpolated throughout the play. The audience, especially yours truly, delighted in hearing classics such as:

“Wait! It’s a trick: use the axe;”
And, “Good, Bad: I’m the guy with the gun;”
And, of course, “THIS is my BOOMSTICK!”

Those members of the audience who recognized the lines would join-in, delivering with a roar the famous quotes that made Bruce Campbell into a B-Movie icon. Given the ‘intimacy’ of the venue- the audience sits right up at the edge of the stage- I expect that the producers intended for this level of involvement.

Of course, the ‘intimacy’ of the theatre brings me to the last point: the splatter. I can’t describe the experience without bringing up the enormous amount of blood sprayed from the stage onto the audience. Before the second act commences, one of the theatre staff travels throughout the first couple of rows and distributes rain ponchos, explaining that things will get a little “wet” if you are sitting up-close. Important note: you can bring your drinks with you into the theatre, as the show is great to watch over a pint of beer (or two).

Naturally, Team Awesome did not fear getting covered by a little “blood.” The final fight scene, which follows the Time Warp-esque “Do the Necronomicon”, had so much splatter that Team Awesome was more than a little soaked:

All in all: fantastic time. I recommend being familiar with the movies, as you will better appreciate the one-liners and some of the humour. Most importantly: sit close, get soaked, and have a great time! Great show.

Note: the title of this entry refers to one of the musical numbers.
Missing In Action

I'm going to take a second to re-orient. I've been pretty busy for the last couple of months...and (obviously) have not been able to sit down and write a post.

A combination of a busy work schedule, and then lacking free-time on the weekends to write conspired to keep my number of new posts limited to one for all of April, and nil for May.

I have been pretty busy: finished a couple of books, saw a few movies, went to Evil Dead: The Musical (twice- hells yes!), attended a conference on objectivity, and painted my apartment.

I've made a promise to myself to try to put as much as I can to paper (or blog). Subsequent posts will be coming promptly.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Not Forgetting Sarah Marshall anytime soon.

A couple of nights ago, Team Awesome went to see an advance screening of "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." What little information I could find about the release indicated that it was made by the "guys who brought you 'Knocked Up' and 'The 40-year Old Virgin'." Since I really enjoyed seeing both of those movies, this one had some expectations to live up to.
And it did. Sort of.

Allow me to explain.
There has been a bit of a viral marketing campaign appearing on street corners and on the TTC, running ads about how much Sarah Marshall sucks, and how "I am so over you, Sarah Marshall." Here's an example:

A better ad that I could not find an image of was the "I am so over you, Sarah Marshall." Based on the choice of phrase on these posters I was expecting a sort of 'disastrously immature campaign of emotionally masochistic demonstrations of 'moving on' with the goal of regaining lost love.' Well, I was only partly right.

After being dumped by his five year girlfriend, now a famous actress, Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) sets out on a campaign of debauchery to try to ease his aching heart. He whirls through a series of intimate encounters: ranging from the humiliating to just plain strange. But hey! At least he's getting action, right? Well, Peter admits to his brother-in-law that he is still feeling depressed and uncomfortable, as well completely heart-broken. So, he figures that the best cure for his melancholy is to do the one thing the two of them always talked about doing: take a trip to Hawaii.

Well, as any RomCom veteran should know, it just so happens that the (in)famous ex-girlfriend has also decided to do the whole 'Hawaii vacation' thing- with her new beau, an outrageous British rock star (played by the scene stealing Russel Brand- just wait for the serenade). Of course, awkwardness and hilarity ensue.

In between scenes of emotional breakdown, Peter makes some new friends: a newly-wed husband who experience failure anxiety during sex because of his sense of spiritual cleanliness; a surfer-dude who suffers (albeit unknowingly) from anterograde amnesia; a massive native Hawaiian; and others. Of course, among the 'others' is the new love-interest: free-spirited Rachel (played by Mila Kunis).

I'm pretty sure that you can figure out the rest from there: Boy goes on vacation to forget lost love, encounters lost love, pines, gets comforted by new friend, realizes new friend is hot chick and promptly falls for her...blah blah blah...just wait for the dinner scene, because it is great.
That said, here are the (IMHO) highlights:

The Good:
  • Full frontal male nudity. There's no better way to combine humiliation and anguish than to have a man dumped while he is butt-naked;
  • The music. The soundtrack is good, the original soundtrack is fantastic. I can't do it justice by trying to describe it here;
  • Ridiculous segues from drinking with the buddies to crying alone on the balcony. Well, not so ridiculous;
  • Rachel's fight with her ex-boyfriend. It's funny and very effective character-building;
  • The dinner scene. Fantastic. It's too bad it comes so late in the movie;
  • And, a vampire puppet rock opera. 'Nuff said
The Bad:
  • Marketing really did not do a good job on this one, as I was expecting something else before I could get comfortable with this story.
  • Too long. The movie is 2 hours, where there could have been about 20 minutes less.
All said, if you liked Knocked Up, you'll definitely enjoy this one. The humour is very similar, especially considering the number of appearances by actors from other Apatow productions. It's a very funny movie, just get ready to be in there for a while.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Boring? Surely Not Canadian History!

Part 1: Wherein your author rants about the geopolitical relevance of Canadian history.

I was speaking with some work colleagues the other day, and the conversation turned towards my area of historical specialty. I did the usual "I studied this in grad school", which leads to "so I am very knowledgeable of A, B, and C", which is why today I am doing (X). Usually, turning to this area tends to be a bit of a conversation killer. My area of specialty is rather esoteric, so most hear about it, nod their heads, agree that it is quite interesting and that I must have done a lot of work, and then: silence.

This time, however, a rather interesting remark was made: "well, it makes sense that you don't do Canadian history, because it is just so boring." I was more than a little taken aback. First, I thought I had made it clear that although I am not a Canadian-ist, I am very familiar with Canadian history. I have studied events in Canadian history for the purposes of comparative analysis, as well as for case studies. So in a way, although I may not identify as a Canadian historian, I certainly do believe that there is merit to the study.

My response to the statement was a little long-winded, but I'll summarize it here: Canadian history is more than just about Canada, it is a case study of modern state building. Now, a quick definition for a "State": a political entity with clearly defined geographical borders, autonomous authority over that territory, and effective power with which to coerce its population. "Modern States", IMHO, are characterized by a central government with a complex bureaucracy, having the power to levy tax(es) and legislate policy. In Europe, the "Modern State" GREW out of the ancien regime. Parliamentary democracy and bureaucratic institutions came about through a slow trial and error process.

Canada, on the other hand, came into existence with the entire arsenal of a modern state. Parliament and various federal ministries came into being with the ratification of a single document, the BNA Act. Now, quibbling about the nature of the ruling British authority aside (not to mention the transfer of power from the colonial office), the Canadian state came into existence with all of its modern machinery intact.

This is different from the experience of the United States (equally interesting, but different) where the people making up a territorial region chose the incarnation of their state, and determined its structure and powers.

Is Canadian history boring? Certainly no one who has studied any of it would say it is. I think, however, that the intent of the person from whom the original statement emerged was to conflate uninteresting and irrelevant into one term: boring.

As far as the relevance of Canadian history is concerned, I tend to think that it is more relevant than the histories of most other nations. This is not just because I am both Canadian and an historian. If you just look at Canadian history "from afar", you are looking at the colonial and post-colonial experience of the people living in Canada. The fact that Canada came into being with a fully-formed modern State, and continues to exist today is incredible considering the problems that the nation has had to face: uniting an ethnically and religiously divided population, as well as uniting and maintaining control over a vast geographic area.

I think that if you want to find out what has gone wrong in other areas of the world where a post-colonial modern state has crumbled, it is more than useful to compare that story to the Canadian one. By understanding what went right in Canada, and what made the Canadian state as successful as it has been; one can gain a useful understanding of the problems facing other regions and other peoples today.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Mansy Fool's

I came across this little ad in a local paper last week. My initial reaction was "What the shit"? What could be a rather serene picture, unfortunately involving yoga, is ruined by a modified lady's speedo. The main thing that disturbed me: why did my eyes keep getting drawn to the crotch? My original title for this post was going to be: "Why I am never moving to the West Coast."

However, something about the ad just did not sit right with me. First of all, it was too outrageous for a Lululemon ad; I might expect this from American Apparel, but not Lululemon. Then there is the "Mansy available April 1" note down in bottom left. Unfortunately, you can not see it clearly in the photo I found here, but trust me: it is there.

So I did a little bit of searching on the net. Aside from a hack at the National Post treating the ad as though it was a real shock campaign, the general consensus seems to be that it is just some plain ol' viral marketing. For an April Fool's joke to be delivered well, a company has to show great brand awareness, and be able to communicate it well enough that people will get the joke. At the same time, I think that there is a bit of a tongue-in-cheek poke at recent American Apparel ads. This is probably why some people look at it and still think that lululemon is trying to 'set a new trend.'

So kudos to Lulu, despite the fact that I still hate them and the yuppie crap that they stand for.

Photo by Tobyvs from Flickr.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Evil Dead: the Musical

Some rumors have been circulating for the last week-or-so, and I think that it is time an annoucement was made to clear things up.

It's official: Team Awesome is going to see "Evil Dead: The Musical".

I'm stoked about this show, because the movie franchise is one of my favourites. I'll admit that when I first heard about the show, I was a little concerned. However, after some consideration I became baffled by my initial response. The movies basically have one set, the Cabin, where all of the action takes place. Talk about ideal for moving it onto the stage.

Then I did a little research, and came across this little quote in the FAQ section on the show's website: "...we cannot guarantee you won’t get blood on you (so perhaps you should save the white cashmere sweater for another outing)."
Cannot guarantee that you won't get blood on you?

Intrigued, I read on: "What do I need to wear in the Splatter zone? Can I bring a raincoat/umbrella?"

Hells yeah. Basically, I am expecting this show to be like a trip to SeaWorld, but with blood. A whole ton of it.

Unfortunately, SheWhoMustBeObeyed forbade the purchase of tickets in the splatter section. Something about 'not wanting to be covered in blood when we go out for dinner that evening.'
Obviously I am considering a renegotiation of SWMBO's position on Team Awesome.

Luckily, SheWhoMustBeObeyed does not know that:
the spraying, splashing, pouring, and splattering of blood into the audience is not an exact science, so if you are sitting in the first few rows, it is entirely possible you will get some blood on you.

I'm hoping that our tickets, which are in 221-224, are still close enough to get some action.

If the show rocks (I think it will), Team Awesome will be returning at a later date. In the splatter zone.

Since we are not going until April 18th; if anyone has a review or any comments that they would like to share, feel free to let me know what you thought of the production.

Monday, March 03, 2008

This week's LCBO gem.

Alright, I'll admit that I am a bit of a wine-o. I grew up in a household where wine accompanying a meal was chosen according to its characteristics and flavours. So, aside from being a wine-o, I am also a bit of a wine snob.

But, that does not mean that I believe that good wine is only found in the vintages section. In fact, I prefer to pick out bottles from the variety found in the aisles. Sometimes I will try out something cheap, sometimes it will be a bit expensive.

Admittedly, I tend to drift towards the cheaper bottles, as it is easier to buy 2 or 3 at a time, and not feel as though I am taking a dent out my budget. After being a student for so long, these considerations tend to come naturally.

So, I recently came across this little gem at the LCBO:

It's the 2007 "Astica" Sauvignon/Semillón bottled by Trapiche. The wine is described as a "remarkably fresh with soft tropical fruit flavours." Now, I am not so sure about the "tropical fruit" descriptor, since the dominant flavour seemed to be peach: a fruit local to the Niagara region.

Quibbles about the tropical-ness of the fruit flavour aside, the wine went really well with stuffed chicken breast, accompanied by rice and a creamy mushroom sauce. Although the recommended serving temperature is 10-16°C, I find that serving it in the 6-10° range compensates for the acidity that follows each sip.

The best part about this find: the price. At $8.10, it is a deal. The wine can be served casually, or you can also keep it around for special occasions. It’s probably best with chicken or white fish, but it is also pretty good along with nachos and mango salsa.

So: Peachy, cheap, and a little dry.

Trapiche (Argentina)
LCBO#: 359083
750 mL bottle
Price: $ 8.10

White wine, slight dryness with mild peach flavour

Monday, February 25, 2008

Obay This

For the last couple of weeks I have noticed some rather peculiar ads while riding the TTC.
Here's an example:

If the "From the makers of WhyBecauseISaidSo" did not jump out at you, the subtle tongue-in-cheek humour of the ads implies that something else is going on here. I think that most people would immediately suspect some kind of viral marketing campaign, but the immediate question was: whose?

My own suspicions were that it was some kind of "anti-ritalin" awareness campaign.
Turns out that the campaign source is a little more mundane. According to a recent article, the guys at Torontoist managed to trace the campaign to (get this) Colleges Ontario, a group representing 24 colleges across Ontario.

Kudos to Colleges Ontario for the creative campaign. I will be keeping an eye peeled for any more details surrounding Obay and its "side-effects for Ontario's Post-Secondary education."

Photo by Mark Belvis, from the Obay Marketing Flickr Pool.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The (triumphant) Return. Of me. To the blogosphere.

Whew...better blow the dust off of this before I do any writing...

It has been a little over a year since I last published anything. Main reason: laziness.
Second reason: school.
Third reason: I could not log onto my blogger account. I suck. Neglect and forgetfulness combined to thwart my attempts to reclaim the blog, as I could not remember my password and username.
Months passed, and I thought: “no point in starting a new blog, I just need to remember the old one…”
Then, out of the blue, I found an innocuous little slip of paper in the back of my desk drawer. Sure enough, I had scribbled all of my relevant blogger information on it. For once, my inability to throw away anything on my desk worked to my benefit!
I’m back!
Today’s lesson: Don’t throw out anything. No matter how trivial. Ever.