january 2006

click here for permalink January 21, 2006

The last time I voted was the first year I could legally do so and I'm happy to say I contributed to deposing George I, thereby delaying the inevitable by eight years. In 1996 I moved to Canada just before the election but I wasn't too worried about Bob Dole...

Technically, I think I could have voted absentee in the last two US elections and I felt bad about it the first time, worse the second, but come on — that's a lot of paperwork considering they're not actually counting (and if they're not counting absentee military votes, they sure as hell aren't counting expatriate traitors')!

So I guess you could say I've been apathetic bordering on smug in my total disregard for the political process. However, I'm now thinking about breaking my 14-year voting intermission — timing coincidental with Canada's federal election on Monday.

Why now, you ask? Well... for one thing, Michael Moore told me to.

Also, I keep thinking about this friend of mine whose return flight from Christmas vacation in Mexico stopped in Phoenix. He had known all about the security procedures in effect at US airports but somehow it didn't prepare him for standing there with his shoes in his hands, lined up with hundreds of other people who were all waiting to have their luggage and carry-on bags searched for the second time just to change planes.

He said, "It's like entering a police state."

Not that my voting in Canada is going to have any effect on that. But that was one of a few things that got me thinking about voting the same way you get little kids to think about finishing their dinner. There are other countries that aren't peaceful, reasonable, representative democracies like Canada and the citizens of those countries probably wish they could vote and have their votes counted so that their leadership reflected their concerns.

What would they think about someone who lived in a place like that but couldn't be bothered to vote?

Also, did you know that the Greeks established the first democracy in Athens in 508 BC? Well, you must know that 2008 is (can I get a Hallelujah?") an election year in the US. Since Michael Moore is actively guilt-tripping Canadians into voting, this is my appeal to American voters:

(I know, considering the last two elections, this may be pointlessly salting the wound but...) Don't skip this next one, okay? Start planning for it now. Google-map your polling station, pre-book the day off or get someone to cover your shift, hire a sitter, arrange for a ride; whatever you have to do, okay? I'll be up here doing the Canadian version on Monday, for what it's worth.

Here are a few more additions to my recommended viewing list of two weeks ago:

  1. Loose Change — one of the best documentaries about 9/11 I've seen.
  2. Why We Fight — history of the justifications for modern war.
  3. The Constant Gardener (on DVD)
  4. The Shield: Season IV (it's even better than 3!)

And, apropos of nothing, here's an excerpt from an interesting interview with Joan Didion from The Guardian Unlimited:

"In 2002, she discussed [her use of irony] in an address at the New York Public Library, following September 11, when it was fashionable for a while to announce the death of irony. Didion argued against it. Used properly, irony is not a mannerism, or a smirk, but a function of history and as such a useful response to September 11, the gravity of which she said, "derived specifically from its designed implosion of historical ironies." In relation to her own writing style she says: "It's a way of expressing disappointment, disapproval, without actually... it's another one of those concealing devices."
The reporter asked, "Why does concealing something heighten its impact?" and Didion replied, "It's like dressing. If you're covered up, it's sexier than if you're not."

click here for permalink January 10, 2006

We've entered that magical time of the season in Vancouver when not only do we have to travel to and from work in total darkness, like research scientists at some outpost in the Arctic Circle, we have to face a whole winter's worth of "news" items like this one...

According to The Vancouver Sun, January 10 was Vancouver's 23rd consecutive day of rain, bringing us within a week of the standing record of 28 days, which was set in 1953 (this was the same winter, incidentally, that London experienced months of "Killer Smog" and the North Sea rose over ten feet in a single night, flooding the coasts of France, the Netherlands and Great Britain; the death toll for these two events was over 6,000).

At the prospect of beating our 1953 record, The Sun (no pun intended) would have us believe that Vancouver is optimistic. A meteorologist is even quoted as saying, "All we have to do is hope the weekend is wet and Monday is wet and we'll make it." To what? A record year for SAD-induced suicides?

In the face of daunting statistics, it's best to refer to the visual record, in this case, to remind us of what it is we like so god damned much about Vancouver. When we can actually see it, that is.

click here for permalink January 1, 2006

I knew I wasn't the only one who loved year-in-review top ten lists but today I discovered to my great delight that I'm not alone in my love of lists of the best top ten lists...

The List of Lists can be found on Alternet.org but I found it thanks to Alex Jones (of InfoWars) who posted it at Disinformation.com. One of my favorites on the list is the Top Ten Baby Names of 2005 which, if nothing else, proves the cliche that new mothers love their soaps.

I can't entirely explain this but the chronicling and predicting of baby names over time is, for me, somehow evocative of the whole color trend prediction phenomenon, the existence of which I found inexplicably sinister when I first heard about it.

(FYI, the Color Association of the United States is the oldest color trend prediction organization in the US. After WWI, representatives from the textile and manufacturing industries "assumed the obligation of standardizing a list of 'staple colors' for the purpose of having the shade of color the same in every American industry. The idea behind standardization was to promote color coordination among the various trades." The first standardized color card was issued in 1915 and consisted of 110 colors.)

Okay, maybe it doesn't sound sinister to you but just knowing that some shadowy organization was behind the rise of avocado appliances in the 70s — that it wasn't just a decade-long consumer-driven lapse in collective taste — is creepy, don't you think?

Anyway, the observation of language usage trends can be even more disconcerting, as evidenced by the List of Most-Looked-up Words and others brought to us by The Global Language Monitor. Creator of such lists as the Top Words, Top Phrases, Top Names and Top Word Spoken on the Planet, Paul JJ Payack observed "contradictory language trends [in 2005]: the major global media became more pervasive yet actually less persuasive." Right. George Orwell called it Doublespeak.

Also of note on the GLM's year-in-review, the Top Word Spoken on the Planet (weren't you dying to know?): OK — that's the word. Not "okay" but OK. They even divulge the word's etymological origins in case you were curious about that.

Finally, the GLM's list of the most confusing high tech buzzwords of 2005 includes acronyms like HTTP and VOiP that have slipped, apparently undefined, into common usage (again, acronym = word) as well as words or phrases, once clearly defined, that have been corporately jargonized into meaninglessness, like "robust," "paradigm" and the insufferable "best of breed."

Back to the list of lists — from Popular Science magazine, we get the "10 Worst Jobs in Science." Number nine on the list, enigmatically entitled "NASA Ballerina," cried out for further investigation which resulted in this disturbing (and, in terms of its place on the list, very convincing) bit of NASA footage.

The Top Ten Out-of-Print Books list is unremarkable aside from the first and last entries, Madonna's Sex book (our list-compiler quips, "Apparently, significant numbers of people are still fumbling with the Mylar wrapping." Heh) and something by Dean Koontz, published in 2003. Never mind the actual title, just contemplate for a moment how anything published in 2003 can technically be considered 'out-of-print' and, more importantly, the absolute impossibility that any Dean Koontz novel is actually hard to find.

(Seriously, that would be like if you searched every aisle of a used bookstore looking for an Anne Rice book and you came up empty-handed.)

Last week, I also discovered National Geographic's Top Ten News Stories of 2005 which includes Filming the Red Devil Squid, about capturing the first-ever LIVE giant squid on camera.

Be sure to watch the video wherein photographers descend 200 feet to provoke the giant squid by shining a bank of 650-watt red lightbulbs into its environment. They are almost immediately attacked by not one but two giant squids who, with eerily intuitive efficiency, go straight for their cameras and breathing masks. Another camera captures the ensuing struggle as they try to escape the onslaught of tentacles lined with row upon row of powerful suckers — "each ringed with tiny teeth to help snare prey," the article notes — as if we hadn't already decided we were never going in the water again.

In the spirit of pictures being worth a thousand words and all, I felt the need to put MY list of recommended viewing from 2005 out there. Bearing in mind that I don't have cable TV and I haven't seen a movie in the theater in over two years, I submit for you my hastily thrown-together Top Ten Things Worth Watching in 2005 (including a few downloads that frankly could have been released in 2004 but close enough). In no particular order:

  1. Lost: Season One (DVD)
  2. House MD: Season One (DVD)
  3. March of the Penguins (DVD)
  4. Murderball (DVD)
  5. Born Into Brothels (DVD)
  6. Crash (DVD)
  7. Layer Cake (DVD)
  8. Painful Deceptions: An Analysis of the 911 Attack
  9. 911: Evidence to the Contrary
  10. The End of Suburbia (wmv)