23 February 2006

fun with jack and tom


see jack.

see jack get in a lot of trouble.

see jack's friend tom try to distance himself.

see tom fail.

the bad tourist office


in case you're visiting toronto, perhaps you'd like a subway map.

seems appropriate

i never put these things here, but this one seems appropriate, for various reasons.

You Are Strength


You represent both fiery energy and steadfast will.
You are innocent and naive - yet unafraid and undaunted.
Perhaps you don't have the most powerful physical strength...
But your mental powers make up for any amount of muscle.

Your fortune:

Lately, you have been a pillar of ethics and moral strength.
And while things may be difficult, your faith in yourself will come through.
You may need to conquer the animalistic nature of yourself or others, with gentle force.
Although this may seem like the darkest hour for you, victory is near.

21 February 2006

make 'em laugh?



quick, what was the last comedy to win an academy award for best picture? got it? how many primarily comedic writers have won the nobel prize for literature? (you can have a few minutes to look that one up.)

...

have a glance through the personals section of any newspaper or on the internet and probably the most important characteristic for both men and women is that the person they date must have a sense of humour. everyone knows that one of the things that’s ultimately going to make or break a relationship is whether or not you’re able to truly, deeply laugh together, at each other and at the world. it’s a truism, something so obvious that you hardly have to say it. someone can be beautiful, intelligent, sophisticated and still bore you to death. it doesn’t take long for a lack of humour to become unnerving, to set you on edge.

so if this is so obvious in relationships, why should it be such a big secret when it comes to art? plenty of art includes humour. the dadaists would probably be shocked (and privately amused) that their work is taken as seriously as it is today. thomas pynchon routinely incoporates absurdism of a similar stripe into his novels. we show our appreciation when artists can inject humour into their work, while still being able to project a serious message, but the last part is the more important in our evaluation. we love to laugh, but the generation of laughter shouldn’t be a goal of anything we refer to as work.

(that makes the creation of art very different from entertainment, which is entirely humour based. in television, seriousness takes a back seat to comedy and its close cousin, melodrama (where we are given the opportunity to laugh at something “serious” because of its innate absurdity). on the other hand, entertainment is generally seen as disposable (and a lot of it could do with being disposed of a lot faster).)

being, in some ways, an average person. i like to laugh. i like to laugh a lot. in fact, there are very few things i enjoy more. i’m one of those people who, while i’m perfectly capable of maintaining a serious conversation, doesn’t have a lot of interest in doing so most of the time. i have, however, generally avoided letting that side of myself loose on in my writing, because, like most of us, i have an underlying assumption that that which is funny is somehow disqualified from being artistically worthy.

realistically, i know that this is rubbish, and that those rules are imaginary. but somehow, a lot of people, very intelligent people, abide by them without thinking. the rule is that great art reveals something about humanity or about life, while at the same time making an emotional connection with the individual, and that this is done by appealing to the individual’s more serious side. but why?

is it that much harder to connect with something if it makes you laugh, as opposed to if it makes you cry? or enraged? no, it isn’t. but the assumption is that if you are laughing, it means you aren’t thinking, which would be antithetical to finding a larger meaning. but that isn’t the case. the best comedy, the bits that will stick with you, is that which does make you think about both what was said or written and about why it is funny.

perhaps it’s the internalisation of those lessons of youth, that laughter is unproductive, that in order to succeed in life, we need to be serious, we need to have gravitas, or else we will never accomplish anything. this is drilled into us in school, that laughter and humour are somehow antithetical to learning. and it’s complete nonsense.

people in marketing have figured this out already. think of as many advertisements as you can. how many of them use humour? i’ll bet it’s a significantly larger than the number of humour writers who have won a nobel prize.

19 February 2006

music review :: bad sector :: kosmodrom



there are obvious advantages for musicians who work within genres that are alaredy established. most people choose specific genres they like and find other music that fits within it. bands that are not easily placed in any one category either because they change their sound radically (witness the first ten years of current 93), or because they are simply difficult to define, like italy’s bad sector.

bad sector’s lone member, massimo magrini, is an outsider’s outsider in the music community. a forty-year old computer scientist and engineer, he builds many of the instruments he uses. His music reflects the cool scientific detachment one would expect from his background combined with the eccentric originality that comes with nought but a passing acquaintance with popular and underground music tropes.

since their inception in 1992, bad sector have released some awesome albums (“polonoid” is a personal favourite, although “the harrow” and “plasma” are likewise excellent.) the sound is alien in perhaps the most literal sense of the word. it’s lack of association with organic sound, to the extent that the electronics even sound different than other electronics and the static-suffused snippets of recorded sound that cross the field are like a cosmic recording of pulsars and quasars, interrupted by eerily decontextualised radio bursts. deep, involving stuff, but it isn’t the kind of music where you can easily reference other bands that sound the same.

to that extent, kosmodrom is a bit of a departure for magrini. the harsh, crystalline sweeps that have added such drama to his music thus far have been burnished a little, smoothed out and prettified. the new, polished, bad sector is identifiable, but changed. the sound lacks a certain rawness, a certain expansiveness, although it does, happily, retain its essential frigid beauty.

for the first time, i’ve read reviews that compare this bad sector to other artists. one review cited tangerine dream (the early bits, one assumes), which is not inappropriate. to me, the sound is also reminiscent of saw-period aphex twin, another artists whose music, like that of bad sector, was ridiculously distinctive thanks in large part to his constructing or reconfiguring his own keyboards.

i’m not able to figure out if the similarity is purposeful or accidental. if i had to guess, i would say accidental, simply because bad sector seems so far removed from that- or any- scene. the interesting part for me is that i finally feel able to compare their music with something, to give people a reference point. strangely, although this makes it easier for people like me who like to give people quick music recommendations, this isn’t a change i feel really good about. there is something about a band that defies description that makes you realise that they are special.

kosmodrom is, overall, a very good album, drawing on the best elements of ambient electronica and turning away from the directinoless noodling that can make the genre so annoying. but it isn’t the best bad sector album, which is really what i would have hoped for.

18 February 2006

each moment as it flies


collection of some of the most stunningly beautiful images i've ever seen, capturing the essence of moments that are at once fleeting and still. it's an oneiric experience just looking at these.

15 February 2006

follow the leaders?

in the wake of the latest photos from abu ghraib (WARNING- this may not be something you want to open at work or in the presence of children), you would think that the american government would finally be putting it's seriously sorry face on, at least for the cameras.

instead, the sorry press attache/ flack who drew the short stick that morning went out to answer questions armed with this response: it's unfortunate that the photos (which were taken in the same time period as the original photos of prisoners at the prison facility in iraq) are now being circulated.

no, it isn't. there are many words to describe the latest round of photos and "unfortunate" isn't anywhere on the list. repulsive. nauseating. profoundly depressing. "unfortunate" doesn't cut it. and it certainly doesn't cut it when what you're saying is that it's unfortunate that people are seeing the photos, implying that it's more a problem that the acts are known than that they happened in the first place.

it would be nice to think that the people who say they want to rid the world of tyranny could hold themselves to a higher standard than the tyrants they are decrying.

i'm sure someone will swing for this, too, and i'm sure it won't be anyone in a position of actual authority (as per usual). someone needs to explain to the american government (a very different animal than the american people, i would like to point out) that leadership does not come so much from imposing one's will as from setting an example and taking responsibility for the consequences of one's actions.

a modest proposal

ok, every four years there is an orgy of sport where canada has a shot at doing something substantial. we can't compete in the summer olympics but, dammit, in the winter olympics, we should be able to accomplish something great. of course, right now, we're having our great white northern hides whipped by a country with a population that's less than that of our largest city. so i think we need to change our focus. canada, with all its creature comforts, may be becoming immune to winter's edge. we no longer have that love of the snow and ice and wind we once did. our skiers go slower, our skaters fall down, it's not pretty.

it's time to participate in a different kind of games. you see, canada's population is becoming increasingly urban. a far greater proportion of our population live in cities than many places in the world, so, in order to capitalise on this strength, i would like to propose:

the urban olympics

lots of events based athletic-ised versions of the crap we have to do every day. here's some suggestions (more always welcome):

dumpster diving (single and team)
running for the bus (the runner must start out running towards a parked bus, which will pull away as soon as the runner gets close enough for the bus driver to get a good look at him/ her)
shovelling (could be adapted to raking leaves for seasonal appeal)
moving furniture up the stairs
carrying groceries (automatic disqualification for broken or torn bags)
highway cycling (complete with cars; bronze medal means you survived, gold medal means you have all your limbs)
commuting (in traffic)
jaywalking
taking the stairs because the elevator is broken (5 floor, 10 floor and 20 floor competitions)
getting ready for work after your alarm doesn't go off

the possibilities are endless and, what's better, we could probably do a lot better than we are are in those other olympics...

08 February 2006

it's a good thing


i wasn't sure about the colbert report (both words given the french pronunciation) at first, figuring it was just an add-on to the overwhelming to the juggernaut that is the daily show. but stephen colbert's piss take on bill o'reilly and his loathsome ilk has really won me over. it's not merely that his "character" is funny (which it is), or that the show is finding ways to outpace it's admirable parent (which it does), but the fact that it is so proudly brainy that endears the report to me. i mean, when was the last time you saw a television show reference william carlos williams and lars von trier? they don't even care who they're alienating and for that, i love them.

the cultish aspects of the show, built through regularly occuring segments and gags are already finding their way into my psyche. i've started putting people "on notice" in recent days.

so tune in, relax and enjoy the truthiness...

07 February 2006

the dishonour role


parade has compiled a listing of the ten worst dictators of 2005 (along with the ten runners-up). for the second year running, sudan's omar hassan ahmed al-bashir takes the rotted, befouled cake. a real rogue's gallery, this.

bacon, beavers, tim hortons and me


some of you (mainly those who know me ex-blog) are aware that i recently finished a draft of a first novel. this was quite unexpected, since it started life initially as something quite different. in fact, some day i'll probably find a way to make the story of the creation of the novel into a work of fiction, thus allowing me to get the maximum impact from every idea that runs through my overtaxed little brain.

the next evolutionary step in my progress as a writer has been to start researching different avenues by which i could get this published. this is tricky (ironically, so is the name of the novel) at the best of times, but i've discovered that i am working from a peculiar handicap. i'm geographically incorrect.

being a canadian, it occurred to me that it would be easier for me to start researching publishers in canada for my magnificent octopus (if you don't get that, you need to watch more blackadder). turns out, this may have been a bit of a mistake on my part.

it turns out that canadian publishers are not interested simply in works by canadian writers. in order to be considered by most publishers in this country, a book must have the appearance of being canadian. that means that it should be set in canada, should feature canadian cultural icons, that it should reference canada in more than just the author's bio. and my novel doesn't do that.

what i wrote is set in san francisco, with a few cutaway scenes in salt lake city. there are a lot of reasons why i chose to do this, all of them important to the structure of the story. most importantly, the contrast between these two places, culturally and geographically, is important to the theme. i chose them specifically for this reason. i could have tried setting it in vancouver and rural alberta, but it doesn't have the same meaning. i've been to both cities (one for work, the other for enjoyment and if you can't figure out which is which, there's something seriously wrong with you) and felt comfortable writing them into the story as it went along.

unfortunately, my choice of setting seems to have disqualified me as a canadian in the publishing world. a setting is apparently more important than an author's actual ethnicity when it comes to the written word. maybe some of these publishers would actually enjoy what i've written, or maybe they wouldn't. i can't even cross that hurdle, because i don't meet the qualifications they set out as proper canadiana, so i wouldn't be up for consideation.

it's a weird feeling, suddenly having your sense of nationalism amputated in this fashion. i've always identified fairly strongly as canadian, but not necessarily with the icons of canada. i'm not a big hockey fan. i think tim horton's coffee tastes like chewing on day-old grounds. in a country with the second largest expanse of f**k all in the world, i am more at home in the city. the thing is, i've always understood my national identity to be a more subtle thing, something that reveals itself when pressed, but does not advertise, sort of like superman (a canadian creation himself). i wasn't aware that this made me sub-standard.

the ironic thing is, i would have a better chance of getting published in canada if i had set the story on the moon, or in some mythical country whose name i cobbled together from ancient sumerian legends, because once you decide to completely abandon the realm of the real world, all bets are off. if you're not specifically stating that your story is set someplace else, you are canadian again. if you're writing about vienna or london or buenos aires or san francisco, you'd better be doing it from the point of view of someone from small-town canada who's aching to go home.

i have another idea for a novel, one that i had actually started working on a long time before, but which has proved a struggle to finish, that's set in montreal. some day, i'll take that book to a canadian publisher and be recognised as properly canadian. until then, i'm checking out publishers in the us and my canadian identity will have to remain a secret...

05 February 2006

things i learned today


what you are seeing at the right is an approximation of what i saw as i was walking back to albert in the parking lot of the yorkdale mall after picking up some cat food for my boys. today, i have learned a few valuable lessons:

1. it is not always a good idea to buy a skirt that's too big for you just because it's on sale.
2. a silk skirt and silky stockings are not as good a combination in practice as one would think.
3. there is no graceful way to recover from having your skirt fall off in public.

i think i'm going to be wearing some tight clothing for the next few days.
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