THE UGLY , DELUDED AND HILARIOUS


– I know, it’s ironic and self-knowing. Still was a crappy movie.

Greetings,

I am not an unkind man.

One of my mid-year resolutions is to be less cynical in mindset. So far, it’s working. This being said, the world is full of evil and ugliness sometimes, and to me, it’s best to keep a healthy, realistic viewpoint on the world.

Today while heading downtown, in downtown and leaving downtown, I came to the realization that only after reading Michel Houellebecq (great French author, highly cynical, very interesting) can provide.

Get too close and you’ll see how men really behave in their natural state of being. It’s disgusting sometimes.

First off, I’m at the GO station this morning. I walk towards my usual spot and a guy is crouching on the ground. He’s reading a magazine. I casually check to see which magazine it is – it’s Hunter Magazine. As in shooting animals hunting. The headline reads: Big Bad Beast.

I don’t know what’s more pathetic an activity than hunting in this day in age. There’s really only three groups of people in this country that can get away with hunting: people who can’t eat or live without hunting, a.k.a. the Inuit, rural farmers that sometimes have to shoot pests and, it’s very un-PC I know, wildlife officials that may have to curb some species populations when they get way too out of control. Otherwise, there’s nothing good in killing an animal for sport to make yourself feel like a real man. Who knows, maybe the guy was one of the above. But if he wasn’t, it’s disgusting.

Next, I’m at a Starbucks waiting for a friend from my Journal days when a family comes in. I’m sitting in one of the comfy chairs, reading and minding my own business when dad comes over with two loud kids, one in a stroller and another out and about. His wife, I guess, goes up and gets all the food and drinks while he sits with his kids (I guess someone has to take care of the brood). My friend comes in, sits down and the kids start acting out, as in running around the table in front of us and hitting me and my friend as he runs around, no one says anything or tries to stop the kid from acting out. I look over in that special way I do to the father, who’s glaring at me. I glare back. I suppose most males in the animal kingdom enjoy marking their territory, but this is ridiculous.

Last, I’m on the GO Train back when a guy behind who has a voice as if evolution stopped for him at the Homo Erectus stage talks loudly on his cell phone. “You threw up! You threw up everywhere!” or this shocker, “I’ll come over and beat you if you don’t get up” or “go watch your f*cking movies and drink your martinis” or “get some skin cancer this weekend.”

This guy is so loud people are looking at him. He looks like a moose, sounds like a moose and talks like a drunken sailor. I turn around and look at him. Sheepishly, he lowers his voice and then shuts up the rest of the way. The women around us look at him with a collective sense of indignation.

Moral of this story? Men can be really ugly sometimes, ladies. Sure you probably already know that on some level. But really, look close enough and you’ll have as much of a hard time looking past the flaws as I did today.

Rule of thumb: being a man means a lot more than guns, grunts and gruffness.

BABY BOOMERS, HUZZAH! The Globe and Mail ran a series of stories in the Globe Focus section this past weekend on the Baby Boom generation (i.e. those born after V-J Day, circa August 1945 to roughly 1964, although there’s debate whether the late Boomers are both Boomers and Generation-Xers) finally turning 60.

Good on the Globe for writing the articles. Interesting question poised by the Globe: are Boomers are the most optimistic generation in history or the most deluded?

I’d say both, actually.

Boomers have reasons to be optimistic: they’re the most privileged generation in history with every opportunity given to them due to the Post-War Boom and robust economic growth throughout the 1950’s and 60’s. They’ve got houses, by and large, that have insane property values now, which will mean they’ll retire comfortably.

Now, of course, it’s delusional to think Boomers are a “Great Generation” in a comparative sense of the term. After all, the generation before the Boomers, the grandparents of today, dealt with two massive, earth-shaking wars, the Holocaust, the worst economic downturn in 200 years and a pre-welfare, pre-medicare society that simply didn’t care if you lived or died – you’re on your own. That generation is a Great Generation because they overcame it all.

Boomers didn’t do that. They reaped the aftermath, a world that was distinctly more comfortable, compassionate. Boomers have called themselves the Greater Generation, but it’s just not true. This being said, Boomers did do more for social justice than the previous generation did.

I guess any idea of a generation nowadays is becoming a bit irrelevant, considering the time period we’re in now of rampant individualism and a lack of common, shared values. But it’s still an interesting concept.

MALE HILARITY: Interesting idea from Michel Houellebecq’s new book The Possibility of an Island. Why are women so interested in men being funny? Is it because much humour (at least, actually funny humour) is predicated on cruelty on some level? Does cruelty denote masculinity? Or does it reflect a real insecurity in women that for a man to truly be funny, a.k.a. Dave Chappelle, that jokes must be at the expense of weaker individuals or easy targets?

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CELEBRITY DISSECTION

Greetings,

The new Adbusters has an article in it about the rise of perfectable female standards of beauty in the celebrity machine nowadays.

The article indicts one specific example of this phenomenon: Jennifer Aniston.

This article really made sense to me. Aniston may be the most overrated, boring celebrity on the planet, not because she’s a bad person (I doubt it) in real life, but simply because she’s about as close as a human gets to the 21st century ideals of what constitutes beauty: perfect, well, everything. I’ve never found her attractive because of this fact – she’s too perfect, too flawless, too much of everything.

The article also discusses, albeit briefly, how the celebrity machine has evolved now to the point where we’re using methods to dissect not only the personae, but also the body. We’re taking apart people bit by bit in the public arena in order to satisfy some wunderlust for these replacement Gods of ours in the era of individualism.

MAKING US COUNT, WEB 3.0 AND VEGETARIAN DIETS

Greetings,

One of the great things about being into science and technology journalism is, unlike so many other areas of human endeavour, I don’t feel like I’m consistently dealing with the negative side effects of the latest online app or swarms of killer nanobots overwhelming humanity in a binge of function creep gone completely mad. No, science and technology journalism is exciting stuff and genuinely hopeful, positive material. I’ve always been into technology’s ability to connect people and communities, but more to the point, I’m a big believer in that idea that the next steps in human evolution will be dictated largely by how we respond to the ever-growing challenges poised by the culture of digital. There are some who argue that the next stages in human evolution will be about the transhumanist movement and the conflict some people will have with such a radical change in the human condition.

And, of course, there are many who argue that any steps we take in taking control of our evolution must be done in accordance with the laws of nature: don’t speed up things nature never intended to go fast without considering every potential outcome, the law of unintended consequences grows ever more at odds with the intended result of self-directed change depending how “big” a change it is to an organism(s), and any changes made to the human species can’t fulfill cultural/ideological/class/ethnic/sex stereotyping in order to serve a political or economic end. In other words, any major evolutionary changes to ourselves have to be very well-thought out. They must have established international protocols that defy socio-political-militaristic alliances or conflicts. Finally, human changes must be done in a way that doesn’t violate bioethical standards that we must establish before we proceed, not on the fly when one rogue scientist decides to create a weapon for a terrorist group that happens to go off in a major city somewhere and kills millions because we didn’t realize what kinds of unintended consequences would result from a new technology. Don’t laugh or think this is sci-fi; nanotechnology, for example, is very real and will likely be ready for mass medical deployment and infrastructure-based use within the next 15 years. The Super Soldier idea – the kind of soldier with multitasking interfaces and heightened sensory inputs and outputs – is closer than you think. There’s a lot of very new technology coming and if we don’t start considering laws and protocols for them now, we may regret it.

Al Gore makes a very interesting remark in his new movie, An Inconvenient Truth. Old technologies plus old habits equals consequences. New technologies plus old habits equals dramatic new consequences. It’s a very simple idea, really. Our old habits have to start changing and fast. I’m concerned, as many of you must be, that this is all utopia – people being people, some folks will always look for advantages and ways to exploit others to that advantage. Hell, the most alarming technology of the 20th century – atomic weapons – is still in the disarmament stage among developed nations, but as we all know, up-and-coming powers like India and China would love to get their hands on an arsenal of those weapons and we don’t need a history lesson on why North Korea or Iran wouldn’t exactly turn down an offer for nuclear technology either. Even these technologies – long thought the veritable razor’s edge of human existence, the tipping point technology that has pushed our moral instincts to their very limits – are still considered the Pandora’s Box that no nation would ever, truly, dare use again.

There are several things that human beings clearly need to do to make us count and function in the new era of digital technology (not only for quality of life purposes, but just so we survive this century).

Are human beings capable of acting non-selfishly? Of course we are. For the many evil acts humans do everyday on this planet, we’re capable of great generosity, kindness and compassion.

Can and should technology help us move towards a more compassionate, evolved future? Perhaps. One can also make the argument that any uses of technology to “change us” suits a very clear ideological purpose no matter what the intended goals are; changing us to be less selfish and more evolved (say, removing or reshaping certain aspects of human limbic system to be less motivated by emotion and more towards long-term memory) may make things better for many of us in terms of conflict resolution, but who’s purpose would that serve? Would that serve elites who could enjoy a much more docile populace who’d remember the horrors of crime, violence and war much more readily but would be willing to sacrifice freedom for peace?

These are very complex questions, I admit. I certainly don’t have any answers. All I know is we have to face these issues sooner or later and it’s vital we start dialogues on what we are, where we’re going and we can all make this work together before we reach the point of no return.

WEB 3.0: Web 2.0 is so last year. Bring on Web 3.0 – an incarnation of the web that will start delivering on that all-important aspect of online activity: Semantic Searching, or the Semantic Web.

It’s a common annoyance when it comes to search online; you look up something and you need something specifically-related to your topic. You punch in the search terms and you get a ginormous number of hits that may or may not have a relationship to your search terms.

Web 3.0 will really start to deliver on specific needs online, which could be a boon for search engines. This article, while dense, is very much worth a read.

Personally, I’m also of mind that Web 3.0 will not only be about a more “intelligent” Semantic web, but also about the rise of the mobile web into everyday life. Today, we’ve got loads of devices – BlackBerry, cellphones, wireless internet on laptops – that use the web without wires, no big deal anymore. But what about the web on fridges? Microwaves? Washing machines? Cars? Daily appliances that could be activated from work? This is an important area of Web 3.0 – the next logical step of the web into the public sphere.

VEGETARIANISM: As I’ve mentioned, I’m going on a two-month experiment of vegetarianism. It’s part of a set of personal goals with the intent of small goals reaching into bigger ones. If all goes well, I’m cutting red meat and chicken out of diet forever (I may, rarely, eat fish for the essential fatty acids human bodies need, as fish are loaded with healthy goodness, minus the mercury poisoning).

ONLINE SEARCH, ROUND OF 16 & HOT, HOT HEAT ON MACS

Greetings,

For some reason, I think this photo is a riot. I can’t explain why, but it is. Maybe because it’s so true, strangely accurate and cute all at the same time when it comes to describing the online search wars between Google, MSN, Yahoo! and Ask.com.

I wanted to add some Illustrator dialogue boxes but I couldn’t be bothered today. Still, what would these tortoises and rabbit be saying?

Google: “Oh, there’s competition behind me, I’d better get moving *snicker*”
Yahoo!: I’ll get you, I’ll get you good!”
MSN: “Oh crap, I’m falling behind!”
Ask.com: “I can do it! I can do it! I’m coming!!!”

Yes I know, I have a very strange sense of humour.

This being said, the Economist’s article and the above photo does describe a very real situation for Google. Google’s evolution is growing so significantly that challengers like Yahoo!, MSN and Ask.com could start making dents in the core searching business of Google. It’s simple, really: the bigger you grow, the more challengers you’re going to face.

This battle for search is one of the two main pillars of life online in the 21st century (the other being advertising). One of the big questions for Google is how far the company is prepared to go in terms of expanding beyond the core PageRank search system and into products that have little to nothing to do with search. I’ve read about a Google Space Elevator for God’s sake.

ROUND OF 16: Well, it’s all kind of surreal that the World Cup is already into the Round of 16, but this is going to be a great second round, won’t it? Pretty shocking the U.S. and Czech Republic are going home, but my pal John who’s in Ghana at the moment is probably savouring the nation’s collective outpouring of joy at the result of Ghana moving forward.

Go England! It sucks there’s no Michael Owen now. Still, this is the best English team in recent memory and probably the best chance England has to win the whole prize – do it now or not at all. Look at France as to how holding onto past glories won’t do you any favours on the field.

MACBOOK HORRORS: The new MacBook laptop line from Apple, the replacement for the iBook and PowerBook lines, is having some issues with batteries and the overwhelming heat coming from them. Check these pictures out.

SEXY NERDS

Greetings,

Don’t ask me why I’m doing this, really. In lieu of the fact my blog is an elitist snob’s paradise and has been particularly crusty in tone as of late, I’ve decided to take a step back and focus on what we all came here for: hard-core nudity! (Ah, brilliant Simpsons riff)

I’ve compiled a fun list of folks who, like it or lump it, can be classified as nerds, albeit sexy nerds. There’s an outdated tendency among some folks that “nerd” and “sexy” don’t work together anymore, but that’s just not true. The edgiest, most innovative people out there are the ones who act and look like they don’t give a damn what people think, and that’s damn sexy. Being “cool” is, in the words of Fugazi, eternal but always dated (tip of the hat to Chris Turner on that quote). Nerdy folks? Doing their own thing with passion in this individualistic era is the coolest thing of all. Incidently, nerd, in this case, does not always equal digital. It can just be doing what you do because you have a passion for it.

Hilary Rowland is the kind of person who sort of makes you wonder, are you really doing something with your life? Because this woman’s almost other-worldly in terms of the creative energy she comes up with. She started designing web sites in 1994, launched hilary.com in 1995 and is a Ford agency model. Did I mention she dated James Woods at one point? Oh, and she’s from Toronto no less.

Damon Albarn? Well, yeah, he’s a nerd. But I mean that in the nicest possible way: Blur’s definitely for the Britpop alt.nerd.obsessive type on some level, but his real claim to geek fame is Gorillaz. Their web site just won a Webby Award for Artist of the Year and it’s easy to see why. The site is a Flash-enabled tour de digital force. If that doesn’t make Damon a nerd in the best way possible, I don’t know what does.

Steve Jobs may be a geek, oh yes, but he’s a geek that embodies the new mantra of “technosexual” – the urbane, well-groomed type who still digs his gadgets like an MP3 player or cell phone. Steve may also be the first nerd in modern history to embrace the all-important design quotient for the digital world. Let’s face it: if the iPod looked like a dank, crappy little metal gizmo, nobody would have bought it en masse. But while Steve’s geek cred was with the digital music thing, he made the geek du jour item – the iPod – a sexy creature.

Steve Nash. What can’t be said about this guy that hasn’t already been said? World-class b-ball player in every way, a stand-up guy who’s one of the best liked players in the NBA, and he reads Immanual Kant and does a distinctly intellectual, anti-jock move by wearing an anti-Iraq war t-shirt during the warm-up to the 2003 NBA All-Star Game.

Keanu Reeves is nerdy in a way that defies normal expectations. He’s almost like the personification of all the qualities we espouse to nerds. Zen-like in his commitment to his craft and a damn fine actor (I say that without a trace of irony – few others could have pulled off Neo in The Matrix), Keanu’s sci-fi cred – the underrated Johnny Mnemonic, Matrix, Constantine – is huge. He loves video games, loves chess (see, chess is the game of intellectual titans everywhere!) and knows the value of special effects in his movies. He’s also apparently quite nice and very generous with his money.

Sharon Stone? What? I know, sounds weird to have an actor on here who once bared her crotch to the world in Basic Instinct. But Sharon’s a nerd because she’s done a whole bunch of films that are basically for nerds, by nerds; Sphere, Broken Flowers, Catwoman, The Quick and the Dead are just some – all by very nerdy filmmakers or based around geek content like comics. Concidence?

Will Smith may be the most unexpected entry here. But get this: Smith loves chess, the nerdiest (and best) game around, was once considered for Keanu Reeves’ role in The Matrix, has starred in some sci-fi films you may have heard of like Men in Black or Independence Day (two ultra-geek films), was a big enthusiast for Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, was recruited by MIT (which is basically a geek paradise on earth) and has three iPods to his name. Smith may play the role of detached and cool, but really, he’s a nerd at heart.

Feist is part of that mantra of nerdy girls who play it cool. Let It Die is still one of the best EPs in recent indie music history, and her video for Inside and Out is awkward dancing at its most endearing way possible. She’s bloody awesome.

Ah, that was fun, eh? So please, be a nerd, it’s ok. Really.

A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION AND STEPHEN JAMES JOYCE

Greetings,

Slate.com has a great article on the mysterious appeal of the one, the only, the syrupy Garrison Keillor. As some of you may not know, Keillor’s the host of Prairie Home Companion. Think of this show, in case you’ve never heard it, as the American version of The Vinyl Cafe – very home spun, very Middle American, a mythological place of Americana best described in terms of those ideas we’ve all had about the simpler days when morality was sacrosanct and people didn’t do bad things to each other. In other words, the City on a Hill myth come squarely to life (some would say this idea about pre-industrial America is about as real as a P.T. Barnum presentation, which is to say, tragically and insidiously not). But unlike Vinyl Cafe, which is worldly enough and realistic enough to be appreciated for what it is, Prairie Home Companion exists in a weird, metaphysical place in the mind where how we’ve learned about The Simple Folk Out West involves daily bakeoffs, children scraping knees on the road and flowers (wasn’t that in a Simpsons episode?).

Depending on your point of view, the show’s either the greatest radio experience since the days of ma and pa sittin’ around the fire with banjos playin’, or the lamest experience in radio you’ve ever heard. There’s very little middle ground with this show.

Well, as we all know, Prairie Home Companion the movie debuted last weekend with throngs of Baby Boomers and their older brethren heading to the cinema for the first time in many moons to watch the “hilarious” antics of Robert Altman’s star-studded cast on stage.

Honestly, I resent this show. I can’t help but dislike it, not because I’m a self-satisfied urbanite who looks down his nose at the idea of the show. I’m not confined to a space in this world that assumes these places don’t exist – they do, in some fashion.

I suppose what bugs me is that the show is an inauthentic experience, but more to the point, it’s simple-minded hokdum that only reinforces ridiculous ideas about America that most people can’t stand or believe anymore. The overarching theme is the idea of American Innocence; time forgot Lake Wobegon in Prarie Home Companion and the people, seemingly, forgot the world too.

I suppose, in a time of incredibly high speed living, shows like these mean something to those folks who just want to be entertained with simple stuff. Fair enough. But what turns a lot of people off in our generation from this show is the fact it lacks, at least on the surface, any kind of self-knowing irony or awareness. As the article states far more eloquently, and I’ll say with far more gruffness, do people really believe Garrison Keillor’s speaking from the storytelling heart, or is it all just propagating a bunch of easy answers?

In any case, here’s what my fantasy involves with this show one day:

NEW YORKER: Ever heard of James Joyce? Of course you have. Probably even read one of his books (I read Ulysses in the summer before Queen’s, tried Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man). But read this article – wait until you get a load of his grandson, Stephen James Joyce. He’s kind of like a member of the British Royal Family: he’s descended from greatness, he’s largely resting on personal and institutional hubris now, and he’s got way too much money that’s not his.

A NEW LOOK & TIDINGS

Greetings,

Well, it was bound to happen at some point. This is now the fifth change to my blog’s template since I began this thing in 2003. Personally, I think this is the best look yet. I much prefer it over the old look – it was getting pretty stale but this is a huge improvement.

There are likely to be more updates coming, including some tagging features. It’s very much a work-in-progress at this point.

TIDINGS: My article on the relationship between science and the humanities came out yesterday. It’s not yet available online but it will be soon – here’s a link to the King’s alumni site.

It’s articles like these that really stimulate my interest in ideas. Definitely worth a gander.