Monday, October 31, 2005

Reconstruction Site

Spend any amount of time looking at blogs and you'll quickly see how overused Minima Black really is. Don't get me wrong, it's one of the nicer templates, but much like "Rebellion (Lies)" it's sort of gotten overplayed. Thus I'm going to make some changes around here.

Jam in Toronto (!)

That's right folks, I met up with Jam on Saturday at the Distillery. There were sandwiches, then beer, then coffee. This picture is looking west outside Balzac's at about 5pm.

In about a month Jam is going to Sri Lanka with a bunch of people from Portage La Prairie, Manitoba. Feel free to insert your standard joke about avoiding a prairie winter.

Reflections on Robertson Davies and Archetypes

Davies' World of Wonders centres on the life of illusionist Magnus Eisengrim as he retells it. Davies has Magnus move in and out of the conversation though, so the other characters are left to analyse what he has said. At one point when Magnus is absent there is a discussion about the nature of biography:
"That's another of the problems of biography and autobiography, Ingestree, my dear. It can't be managed except by casting one person as the star of the drama, and arranging everybody else as supporting players. Look at what the politicians write about themselves! Churchill and Hitler and all the rest of them seem suddenly to be secondary figures surrounding Sir Numbskull Poop, who is always in the limelight."
(Confession: I used more of that quote than I really needed. I just really wanted Sir Numbskull Poop in there.) This quote reminded me of the first book in the Deptford Trilogy, Fifth Business. In Fifth Business, the hero, Dunstan Ramsay is never playing the role of the hero, or the villain for that matter. Rather he is what those theatre (or maybe opera, I lent this book out so I can't recall) refer to as the fifth business. In other words, an essential element, but never the main one.

In so far as I empathize very easily with all kinds of fictional characters (Which Karamazov am I today? - yes I've wondered that) I found a really profound echo of Dunstan in my own life. I seem to be a supporting character in someone else's story. I don't think that we consciously go around thinking about ourselves as heroes in our life dramas. Actually I'm pretty sure that most people do not do that - except for first-year literary theory students maybe. I think that unconsciously though most people are working on that level. Where I feel I can identify with the notion of being fifth business is in the fact that I am consciously uncomfortable with the notion of myself being the main character. I almost take comfort in the idea that I'm moving along the plot for everyone else.

I also find myself identifying a lot with other fifth business types. Read Crime & Punishment, and you get to be right Raskolnikov's head pretty much, and yet, I was amazed at how much I saw of his friend Razumikhin in myself. Razumikhin is a classic example of a fifth I think. He's not that anti-hero Raskolnikov; he's not Raskolnikov's tormenter like Svidrigailov or the police inspector either. No, he just shows up to move the plot along.

Now for a chicken-egg question: Do I live my life based on those assumptions, or has my life-experience shaped those assumptions? I don't know. I wonder how many other people regard themselves primarily as fifth business?

Friday, October 28, 2005

Literacy in North America circa 2005

In a local Chapters tonight I noticed that books by Cervantes were filed under "D" when they are allegedly to be filed alphabetically by author. There are two plausible explanations for this. Perhaps someone somehow assumed that "Don Quixote" was the name of the author and not the title of the book. Alternately, someone saw books by Miguel de Cervantes, and assumed that the "de" was part of his proper surname. Either way, it's disconcerting to think that even those working in a bookstore lack the functional literacy to complete the relatively simple task of putting away Don Quixote, the first modern novel and a true classic, in the right place.

I wonder about the Danielle Steele books, I bet they were in perfect order.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Jam in Toronto (?)

I got the word today that the man himself is back in the city.

Back story for new friends/readers: I've known Jam since we were both 11. I told him once that I've known him over half my life, so everything wrong with me is 50% his fault. He laughed, he brings it up with other people now. He's the only person I know with an Afghanistan stamp in his passport (even though he says he hasn't actually been to Afghanistan). He had to explain that to an American border guard once. I was sure we'd all get cavity-searched for it.

Jam, if you are reading this, I hope you still have Mario Kart for N64, I will take you to school on it one more time!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Mix Tape at Dusk

I now have the capability to listen to an iPod in my car. But with that capability it seems like I will be saying goodbye to something else - the mix tape in my old tape deck. (Yes this car is old.)

The mix tape, and it's little brother, the mix CD. For a solid three decades or so (1970s, '80s, '90s) the occupied a special place in our culture. It was a way to make an artistic statement without having any artistic ability. Nick Hornby pointed this out in Songbook. You need not play an instrument or be able to write well. All you need is the ability to choose songs. For yourself, for someone else. The mix was simultaneously entirely someone else's work and entirely your work. Other people wrote the songs, but no one put them together quite like you did. I can pick out sequences of mix tape beauty that I'm still happy about. Squarepusher's "Tommib" into Stars' "Elevator Love Letter" - perfect. Weakerthans into Joy Division into Metric. Again, beautiful.

I fear for the future of the mix. I still make them, but in an age where you can get every piece of music online (legally or otherwise) and where the audio tape is obsolete and the CD going that way I don't know that they will survive. Will it be the same to say, "here, download these songs in this sequence and listen on your iPod? I doubt it. But that's your other choice I guess. I don't know, maybe this is just generational. I'm sure that many decried the decline of lute-playing as a recreational activity when that happened. Maybe that's all that's happening here.

Monday, October 24, 2005

A Moment of Small Delight

So everything has been weighty and existentialist around here the last while. But cast that aside for a second, 'cause I got out of an opening shift this week, and not by my own doing either! Opens are not, shall we say, my forte. I set four alarms to wake up. Two on the clock radio, one on my watch, one on my cell phone.

My cellphone alarm's default tone has got to be the weirdest thing I've heard. It's like a robotic dog wimpering. I was expecting some kind of ringing sound or something. But no, I hear this robot wimper every morning that I open. On top of this, usually the radio is going too. So I have an announcer reading the news with this wimper in the background.

But not this Thursday!

636 to go...

Well, I'm still not feeling better and the weather is not helping. But I don't want to dwell. My hair is getting somewhat shaggy again, and as usual, I have to have that debate with myself about how much I should let it go before getting it cut.

I thought about this once, and you could measure your life in haircuts. Like, if I live to be eighty, and I have a about one haircut a month, then I have 636 haircuts to go, give-or-take. I don't know why, but it's fascinating to measure out things like this. I don't know why. I don't think it's morbid though, I mean it's just a realisation of something that's inevitable.

Whatever you believe about your soul, your earthly life is finite, it will end. The Stars have a song about one day being "sand on a beach by the sea." What's the appropriate response to that thought? I'm not sure.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Unbearable Weight of Cultural Memory

In an art gallery today we got talking about artists and their challenges. One thing that came up was the trouble of dealing with centuries of Western art. This is not just in the visual realm. How does the author have an original idea? Or the composer?

There are so many different threads of expression out there in every discipline. The 20th Century has only accelerated this phenomenon.

At one point in Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov despairs that the man (Raskolnikov says "man") with an original idea is truly rare, maybe one in a million.

Try and do something - anything - that's truly original, and you will push up against this very fast. I can't count how many ideas for prose or painting or what-have-you I've abandoned once I realised that I was rehashing someone else's work. I suppose that I could take solace in the notion that some themes are universal and wrap myself in the warm blanket of the collective unconscious. But then there are those one-in-a-million people, able to create something original. And you know, you know that you can do something original, if only...

Friday, October 21, 2005

Slow News Day

I was talking to Deb about this:

I am consumed by small concerns.

Right now I'm waiting to hear if the government will give me a loan for schooling. I need the loan, because I need the schooling for the career I want.

I think very little about this.

I will however worry for an entire day whether my shirt is cool.
I will curse you out if you cut me off in traffic.
I will have a mental argument about whether my amp produces highs with good definition.
I will ponder whether big DJ headphones would be better than the stock iPod earbuds.

And I will do this long before worrying whether my loan will be approved.


This girl at my work, despite everyone's suggestion that it was a bad idea, has taken up smoking to lose weight. First of all, she seems fit enough as it is, and second, everyone - even the smokers at work - told her this was stupid.


I haven't listened to old (1980s) R.E.M. in quite a while, so I thought I might do that. I keep hearing "Begin the Begin" in my head. R.E.M. is a curious case, because they were SO BIG from 1991 to 1995 and then they sort of faded. You don't even hear there stuff on the radio that much anymore. Actually you don't hear much early-mid 1990s stuff out there any more. It's too new for classic rock stations (Q107) but I guess not new enough for, say, The Edge or something. Same with Vs.-era Pearl Jam. I think it still sounds good but there's really not a place on the dial for it.

Thursday, October 20, 2005


(With apologies to The Daily Show for the title.)

Lately I've been reading a bunch of posts about what the US should do now that it's in Iraq.

As someone with a bit of training in history, I tried to think of a successful model for rectifying such a situation as the one in which the US military finds itself. In other words, what is the best move when you've invaded another country (for whatever reason), overthrown its government, and you are now facing a growing opposition that fights asymmetrically.

The problem is that I can't. It's either staying the course like the US tried in Vietnam or the French did in Algeria, not great results. Or you can bail out and hope that you've equipped the locals well enough to fend for themselves. When you do this though, you usually end up with the country in the hands of a shadowy man (usually a man) hiding behind either military or religious garb.

The exceptions that you usually hear about are Japan and Western Germany. There are exceptional because they were both on the border with the USSR. Stalin was far more fearsome than anything the other allies had. And I think that the US and the defeated Axis powers found it to their mutual benefit to work together and against Stalin. The US wanted somewhere to put bases and neither West Germany nor Japan wanted to be invaded. There are a lot of bad men in the middle east but none that can hold a candle to Uncle Joe.

It makes me wonder whether taking out Saddam was like beheading the hydra, a bunch more Saddams will grow in his place. From where things stand I can't see how you'll get a nice democratic society with Arabs and Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites living in harmony.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Here Comes The Sun

I think I'm almost completely better now. Of course that's an easier claim to make when the sun is shining (which it is).

(Edit: Some two hours later it appears that I have completely jinxed the weather here! It is now getting dark and it's very blustery. Before long I think that the Beatles song-of-the-day may well be Rain instead!)

Monday, October 17, 2005

Fear and Loathing?

On Saturday night, I get home and this cold-flu thing is just killing me. I feel a bit dizzy and generally out of it, I turn on the TV, what's on? Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas! Oh boy, yeah, that's how I felt. Mmmmm, pass the mescaline...

I seem to have mostly cured my ailment by sleeping almost all of Sunday. That said, I still have a sort of cough. I tried drinking chamomile tea, but that didn't work as well as I expected. I think orange juice works best for me. Mmmm vitamin C. They say that Guinness is "good for you" but I don't think that it helps out for colds. Not even if you're Irish.

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Naked Gun Model for Understanding Geopolitics

I was reading Juan Cole's dissection of one of Bush's speeches about terror and evil-doers and all that. Cole is an expert on the Middle East and has little trouble mocking Bush's ideas about secular Baathists, Shiite Iran, and Sunni radicals all colluding against the United States. All of these groups have specific interests and agendas. But Bush lumps them, along with Chechen separatists, the Bali bombers, and Abu Sayyaf of the Philippines into one group. In another post today, Cole reminded us that the neo-cons also claimed that Cuba and Iran were working together on biological weapons.

All these disparate groups don't like the US. But most of them don't like each other as well. secularists, members of opposing religious sects, leftists, it's difficult to imagine them forming deep, long-lasting alliances. All of this reminds me of the opening of the first Naked Gun movie. In it, all of the United State's enemies of the time are sitting around a table plotting. The Soviets, Khomeini, Arafat, Gaddafi. I think Idi Amin was there too. Anyway, they are all sitting around one table scheming against the US. The scene is absurd if you have even an inkling of how the world works. Yet I can't shake the feeling that this is how Bush sees it. All these groups that have separate agendas and, in fact, hate each other as much - or more - than they hate the US are somehow working together in a grand conspiracy.

More Reading

The Manticore is now done, so I've started to crack World of Wonders. Once it's done, I'll have read all of Davies' Deptford trilogy. Now that I think of it, I don't know that I've completed any literary trilogy. Of course, I'm not sure how many trilogies I've even started reading. Most the books I've read seem to be stand-alones, or whatever the technical term is for that. Dostoevsky hinted that he want The Brothers Karamazov to be part of a series of books. But then he died. Which is a shame, because the end of Karamazov seems to hint that more is to come.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Reading List

So I finally got around to finishing Don Quixote. It was strange because the first 600 pages took me forever. But once I got over halfway, I tore through the remaining 490 in relatively short order. Smollett's translation, despite being from the 18th Century, was quite a treat. It seems to magnify the Don's absurdities if anything. The book itself is quite a pleasure to read. So much of it is episodic and so you can read one adventure and leave for a while without struggle to retain all kinds of detail. All you need to know for the next one is Don Quixote and Sancho will be the ones facing it. Far better critics than I have thoroughly disected this book, so I won't deal with it too much in the critical mode. I have to say though that I agree with the suggestion that Cervante's exploration of perception and reality has, in way or another, probably shaped all our subsequent prose fiction.

The new prose fiction is The Manticore by Robertson Davies. This is part of the Deptford Trilogy that also includes Fifth Business and World of Wonders. So far it's shaping up to be very much about Jungian psychology in some ways. It does include though Davies' usual reflections on small-town Ontario, critique of the Canadian psyche, and his little side-interest in absurdly antiquited medical practices. Poetry continues to be The Poems of Paul Celan by, you guessed it, Paul Celan; and non-fiction continues to be Training in Christianity by Soren Kirkegaard.

Side note: Kirkegaard is one of those guys with names where it's almost not worth mentioning the first name. Could you imagine someone saying, "Oh no, I'm not reading Soren Kirkegaard, I'm reading his cousin, Gus Kirkegaard. Gus wrote about cockfighting, not that philosophy stuff."

Sunday, October 09, 2005

In Other News...

First I should note that my fears of catching cold are, for the time, unfounded as I can still breathe in an agreeable manner. Of course I've probably just jinxed myself by making such a statement.

All that notwithstanding, I did enjoy a splendid afternoon yesterday. I picked up the new Broken Social Scene disc and an old Magnetic Fields disc. Both are very good so far. If you like the idea of a new wave revival, stop listening to The Killers or The Bravery or the what-have-yous. Instead pick up Holiday by the Magnetic Fields. I humbly submit that it is superior to the aforementioned bands.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Cold Coming

I can feel it in my throat. Oh man, I hate that feeling. Like, "heads up, the next 3-5 days will feel like crap." Maybe it won't happen, I really hope it doesn't, but too many people have been getting sick around me lately...

The Pro-Torture Vote

I think five years ago, the idea that you would actually need to have this debate in any Western nation would have been considered absurd. But now it appears that there are actually nine US Senators who voted against an amendment "that would prohibit the use of "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" against anyone in U.S. government custody, regardless of where they are held."

The amendment was put forward by John McCain who actually spent time in a military prison in Vietnam. In other words this wasn't something that could be pinned on "bleeding hearts" or something like that. Ninety Senators voted in favour of this motion too. So it's probably enjoyed more bipartisan support than anything in a while. This is what a distinguished veteran has proposed and there are nine pieces of human scum in the US Senate who voted against it.

What really bothers me is how movable the ethical goalposts really are for these people. Like I said, imagine that you'd get anyone to vote in favour of torture just five years ago. But now we have all kinds of torture apologists.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

New School Colours

Niagara University (where I will be pursuing a Masters) has, as its official school colours, purple and white. I feel like a certain musician would approve.

Warm Fall

It's nice to feel the heat of the sun in the week leading up to Thanksgiving. I keep meaning to spend more time outside because I really don't like the cold. I think I'll go for a walk this evening to rectify that.

Computers are Ironic

Now that I'm apparently in a world of computer hurt, I'm looking at new ones. I've thought for a while about getting a Mac. Being that I like arts-type things more than, say, gaming or ripping apart computers to examine them, a Mac makes a lot of sense for me.

The people I know who are the most ardent defenders of Windows tend to either a) like to play a lot of games (many of which are not available for Macs) or b) have the sort of technical knowledge that allows them to mess around and truly customize a Windows-based computer. I know a little bit about computers and how their insides work, but not nearly enough to dick around in BIOS and feel confident that I'm not destroying everything. A simple, stable platform like the Mac is much more fitting to my needs and interests. It speaks volumes about them that they include something like Garage Band in their basic software. These people understand me.

So where is the afforementioned irony? Well, I have an iPod Mini, and the way that the mini is set up is such that it will work with Windows or Mac. One or the other, not both - or so my understanding goes. So the one piece of equipment that arguably gets the most exposure for Apple is now one of the major impediments to me getting a Mac. If I don't get a Mac, one of the reasons is that I can't use it to interface with the one piece of Apple hardware that I already own.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Computers Suck (Well, Mine Does)

Yeah, I know that's a really mature sentiment, but that's what I'm feeling like today. I'm trying to set up the whole wireless network thing, and it was all going so well until my damnable HP desktop decided that it hated having a wireless card in it. As a consequence, it shut down. So I took out the wireless card. It was still bitter at me for having the temerity to attempt such an invasive procedure in the first place. So then I took out the other (wired) ethernet card, still nothing. Then I put the wireless card in the slot where the wired card had been. Still nothing. And I mean nothing, I turn it on and nothing happens. What a waste. I'm going to take a crack at fixing it, but really this computer is so outrageously sensitive about drivers and things like that, that I don't have much hope. HP is such a well regarded company, but I'm starting to question whether they've been coasting whilst turning out garbage.