340 meters per second

Trust only movement. Life happens at the level of events, not of words. Trust movement.

&mdash Alfred Adler (1870-1937)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Under the whelmed.

A movie that starts, progresses and ends badly is less disappointing than one which ignites a glimmer of hope before smothering it in a wet blanket of mediocrity. Over the Hedge, the latest star-studded Happy Meal advertisement from the creators of Shrek falls into the latter category.

The movie opens promisingly enough, using the plight of a small collection of woodland creatures as a wedge into the larger issues of urban sprawl and over-consumption. Facing the steady erosion of their natural habitat at the hands of voracious subdivision developers, the furry protagonists must contend with all manner of backyard mayhem; hilarity ensues.

Unfortunately, the early hints of subversive content are quickly revealed to be lies: the film reverts back to form at about the ten-minute mark and we're left with the same stale jokes, thin, stereotyped characters and crappy molded-plastic (landfill-cluttering) toys lining the shelves at Zellers. This film could have been really good but everyone involved just shrugged and walked away. Whatever.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Ironically enough...

...this Saturday Night Live short was only ever aired once.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Teething and seething.

When I was in my early 20s, there were two people I really disliked. Which is to say, there were many people I disliked but only two are germane to my point. One was a friend of a friend, a handsome know-it-all with an aloof, impatient demeanour. The other was a professor with a well-earned reputation for irritability, arrogance and dismissive condescension. I would eventually learn that both individuals were in constant pain due to chronic medical conditions.

B's been teething heavily for about a month and a half now. Eight teeth have pushed through the skin but the rest are cusping: perpetually on the verge of blossoming into her mouth, they remain just below the surface, jagged edges pressed against frayed nerve endings.

Although daytime distractions are usually sufficient to keep her smiling and pleasant, evenings are much harder: already exhausted and prone to mood swings, she becomes newly conscious of her throbbing gums and can no longer ignore the constant subdermal assault.

We manage her pain as well as we can, but the stress and fatigue are taking their toll on all of us. I can't wait for this particular phase of toddler-hood to end.

* * *

Speaking of B, for her birthday this year Pacanukeha posted a link to an excellent article in The Guardian. "Ethical shopping is just another way of showing how rich you are" is an acerbic breakdown of the problems inherent to so-called "green consumerism" and the pervasiveness of our sense of entitlement vis-à-vis consumption and property. Succinct, original and merciless in its critique of bourgeois "capitalactivism", this piece is a must-read.

Green consumerism is becoming a pox on the planet. If it merely swapped the damaging goods we buy for less damaging ones, I would champion it. But two parallel markets are developing - one for unethical products and one for ethical products, and the expansion of the second does little to hinder the growth of the first. I am now drowning in a tide of ecojunk. Over the past six months, our coat pegs have become clogged with organic cotton bags, which - filled with packets of ginseng tea and jojoba oil bath salts - are now the obligatory gift at every environmental event. I have several lifetimes' supply of ballpoint pens made with recycled paper and about half a dozen miniature solar chargers for gadgets that I do not possess.

Last week the Telegraph told its readers not to abandon the fight to save the planet. "There is still hope, and the middle classes, with their composters and eco-gadgets, will be leading the way." It made some helpful suggestions, such as a "hydrogen-powered model racing car", which, for £74.99, comes with a solar panel, an electrolyser and a fuel cell. God knows what rare metals and energy-intensive processes were used to manufacture it. In the name of environmental consciousness, we have simply created new opportunities for surplus capital.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

I loved you then as I love you still.

I'm not entirely sure why, but yesterday's post was truncated: my brief review of 300 was made even shorter with the omission of a few paragraphs. I have edited and re-posted the entire piece and it seems to be displaying correctly now.

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Reuters is carrying a short Q&A with Billy Bragg; if you're curious about what he's been up to for the last few years, it's worth a read.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Hi, kids! Today's word is "fascism".

In 1995, Umberto Eco published a pithy distillation of fascism's essential elements in New York Review of Books and an excerpt has been circulating ever since. Aside from being an insightful and easily-quotable reference source, "Eternal Fascism: 14 Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt" also serves as a great segue into my other points.

* * *

And speaking of militarism, the Iron Man trailer is up: check it out here.

* * *

I caught 300 a while back and my feelings on it are decidedly mixed. While stirring on a technical and esthetic level (the digital effects are gorgeous, striking yet beautifully nuanced), it is those same visuals which made me the most uncomfortable. Much has been said about the film's fascist imagery and rhetoric so I won't add to the din with my own critique; rather, I'll let Susan Sontag's analysis of Leni Riefenstahl's work (from her 1975 text "Under the Sign of Saturn") make the point better than I ever could.

The one thing I will add is this: despite director Zack Snyder's persistent denials of any homophobic intent to his film (necessary in light of the mounting criticism he's faced since the movie's mass release), this quote from "Entertainment Weekly" exposes his true intentions:

The scenes of a bejeweled, long-fingernailed Xerxes offering King Leonidas peace in exchange for "submission" have a decidedly sexual undertone. Snyder says that's not accidental, that it's intended to make young straight males in the audience uncomfortable: "What's more scary to a 20-year-old boy than a giant god-king who wants to have his way with you?"

Snyder deliberately exploited his intended audience's latent homophobia. That's straight up hatemongering, no ifs ands or buts.

From "Under the Sign of Saturn":

All four of Riefenstahl's commissioned Nazi films—whether about Party congresses, the Wehrmacht, or athletes—celebrate the rebirth of the body and of community, mediated through the worship of an irresistible leader.


Fascist aesthetics (...) flow from (and justify) a preoccupation with situations of control, submissive behavior, extravagant effort, and the endurance of pain; they endorse two seemingly opposite states, egomania and servitude. The relations of domination and enslavement take the form of a characteristic pageantry: the massing of groups of people; the turning of people into things; the multiplication or replication of things; and the grouping of people/things around an all‑powerful, hypnotic leader‑figure or force. The fascist dramaturgy centers on the orgiastic transactions between mighty forces and their puppets, uniformly garbed and shown in ever swelling numbers. Its choreography alternates between ceaseless motion and a congealed, static, "virile" posing. Fascist art glorifies surrender, it exalts mindlessness, it glamorizes death.


Fascist art displays a utopian aesthetics—that of physical perfection. Painters and sculptors under the Nazis often depicted the nude, but they were forbidden to show any bodily imperfections. Their nudes look like pictures in physique magazines: pinups which are both sanctimoniously asexual and (in a technical sense) pornographic, for they have the perfection of a fantasy.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

It's a little messier in real life.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Lies, damned lies...

Canwest papers recently ran a piece on the increase in female federal bureaucrats. While interesting, the data needs to be read in a very particular context.

In 1995, men represented 54.1 per cent of all "core" public administration employees. By 2006, the situation had reversed with women representing 54.2 per cent of core public administration employees, according to a Statistics Canada report released yesterday.

The study looked at employees of the Treasury Board, which excludes the military, RCMP, crown corporations and the Canada Revenue Agency.

That last sentence is absolutely crucial, as it significantly restricts the statistics' scope; furthermore, it has less to do with a change in hiring practices and more to do with a sharp rise in layoffs and outsourcing of male-dominated positions.

Plus, all this happened under Liberal governments... I wonder what the numbers will look like in five years?

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The Arts & Crafts label, home to indie luminaries like the Stars, Broken Social Scene, Feist, the Hidden Cameras, the Dears and others, has a nice collection of videos available for download on their site. I'm especially fond of BSS' "Almost Crimes" with its herky-jerky silhouettes and the low-rent charm of Amy Millan's "Skinny Boy".

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Animated? It's barely moving.

Put off by the hype, we resisted watching Happy Feet until just recently; we should have given it a pass entirely. Although the animation is excellent, the story is more of the same regurgitated tripe found in every other kids' movie out there. Crassly capitalizing on the success of La marche de l'empereur, this saccharine cash grab is poorly-edited, sloppily-scored and ultimately nothing more than a product tie-in waiting to happen. A boring hodgepodge of lazy cultural references, predictable conflicts (and inevitable resolutions) and tired ethnic stereotypes, Happy Feet left me stone cold and I stopped watching halfway through.

For the record, why is Rosie O'Donnell's over-the-top caricature of Chinese mannerisms correctly identified as racist idiocy while Robin Williams' over-the-top caricature of Latino mannerisms given a prominent role in a children's movie? Anyone?

Hoodwinked! stands head and shoulders above Happy Feet, though that isn't saying much. This clever and amusing take on a familiar story suffers from uneven pacing and a somewhat anticlimactic ending, but didn't leave me feeling like I'd wasted my time after watching it.

Steering clear of many hackneyed children's-movie tropes, Hoodwinked! features a fun story, interesting characters and excellent voice acting. Put together outside the mainstream studio system on a shoestring budget, the movie has real heart and endeared itself to me despite its flaws. Recommended.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Tiny terrors.

We're in one of those transitional parenting periods where our offspring is clearly on the cusp of a new, exhilarating chapter in her life and we get to watch our tenuous grip on childrearing falter and fail as all of our recently-acquired skills become obsolete. Just when we were beginning to feel like we could handle a baby, she went ahead and metamorphosed into a toddler.

I wonder if this is how Truman felt when the Russians detonated their first nuke.

She's been walking for about four months now, but her climbing and rappelling skills have recently improved dramatically. This, combined with an innate, unshakeable confidence that a less charitable observer might characterize as foolhardiness, has forced me to completely overhaul a living space I had only recently decided was child-proof. My naiveté shames me.

Her motor skills are such that, upon stepping outside and being set free on the front lawn of our apartment building, she immediately bolts for the sidewalk and makes a beeline for the nearby park. This secluded play area behind our building has become her sanctum sanctorum and now that she can make her way there under her own power, any obstacle to her play &mdash present company included &mdash is met with the raw, full force of her teeth-gnashing fury.

Teeth... oh cripes, don't get me started on her teeth...

* * *

Pacanukeha links to a riveting article which appeared in a recent issue of New Republic: "Death Grip" explores a remarkable theory put forward by a small group of political psychology scholars and lays out a clear blueprint for the manipulation of fear on a massive scale.

Bush carried West Virginia and won the election partly because he ran a better campaign than John Kerry. But that wasn't the only reason. There was something odd about the support for Bush in places like West Virginia. Unlike voters in New York City, voters in Martinsburg had little to fear from terrorist attacks; yet they backed Bush, while New Yorkers voted for Kerry. If gay marriage were legalized, Martinsburg would be unlikely to host massive numbers of same-sex weddings; yet voters I talked to were haunted by the specter of gay marriage.

Some pundits have tried to explain away this mystery by arguing that Bush backers voted for their values rather than their interests. But this explanation is unsatisfying, since many of those voters didn't opt for "family values" in 1992 and 1996, when the country elected a well-known philanderer as president.

In fact, many political scientists can't begin to explain what took place in West Virginia in 2004. In recent years, the field has become dominated by rational choice theorists, who have tried to develop complex mathematical equations to predict voting behavior. These equations rest on a view of voters as calculating consumers choosing a product on the basis of relative cost and utility--a view that generally leaves little room for the possibility of voters acting irrationally.

There is, however, one group of scholars--members of the relatively new field of political psychology--who are trying to explain voter preferences that can't be easily quantified. The best general introduction to this field is Drew Westen's recent book, The Political Brain, but the research that is perhaps most relevant to the 2004 election has been conducted by psychologists Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski. In the early 1980s, they developed what they clumsily called "terror management theory." Their idea was not about how to clear the subways in the event of an attack, but about how people cope with the terrifying and potentially paralyzing realization that, as human beings, we are destined to die. Their experiments showed that the mere thought of one's mortality can trigger a range of emotions--from disdain for other races, religions, and nations, to a preference for charismatic over pragmatic leaders, to a heightened attraction to traditional mores. Initially, the three scholars didn't attempt to apply their theory to elections. But, after September 11, they conducted experiments designed to do exactly that. What they found sheds new light on the role that fear of death plays in contemporary politics--and, arguably, goes a long way toward unraveling the mystery of Martinsburg.

The complete article may be found here and I urge you to give it a read; it's a compelling, thought-provoking article.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

...but I know what I like.

If you've visited this space recently, you may have noticed major changes in the entire aesthetic; changes which have been &mdash for the moment &mdash rolled back in favour of the current, "classic" look. The long and short of it is that I currently have neither the time nor the inclination to grapple with a new site layout. Unlike Steenblogen, my HTML-fu isn't up to the task. Perhaps I'll try again.

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Speaking of Steenblogen, she forwarded me a fascinating Washington Post article which brilliantly illustrates the importance of context when consuming, digesting and appreciating art. "Pearls Before Breakfast" is a poetic deconstruction of "art appreciation", a gentle dismantling of a performer's complacency and a powerful criticism of our culture's relentless annexation of the individual's sense of play and higher aesthetic sensibilities.