340 meters per second

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

&mdash Alfred Adler (1870-1937)

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Stop and smell the Coffea Arabica

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, an espresso is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?

There's nothing like a good-quality, well-shot espresso savoured late on a Sunday morning when I don't have to actually be anywhere. Don't get me wrong: an impatient doppio quickly quaffed at 7:30 AM on a Wednesday has its own charms. There's a certain appeal to the brisk functionality of the process, the science of caffeine metabolism and the ritualistic nature of the whole process: filter water, fill container, begin heating, select cup, get coffee from fridge, measure out grounds, tamp, fill cup with hot water to heat the ceramic, etc. ...

Still, one type of pleasure is of the thing itself (espresso qua espresso) and the other is of the thing as mechanism. There's enough of a hedonist in me to prefer the former to the latter. Believe it or not, I'm not really a coffee geek (yet); but I thought it was worth lingering over a perfect pleasure on an otherwise busy weekend.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Old jokes, new punchlines

Humour's a funny thing.

Why'd the chicken cross the road? We've all heard it a million times. Even if you've never heard the joke, you've heard it. It's atavistic pop culture, like the melody to Happy Birthday or "shave and a haircut--two bits!"

It's been said that much humour stems from incongruity or absurdity. So when an anticipated event is replaced by a surprise, it may be funny. To wit:

"Hey mom, why did the chicken cross the road?"
"To get to the other side, dear."

Not funny. However...

"Hey Machiavelli, why'd the chicken cross the road?"
"So that its subjects will view it with admiration, as a chicken which has the daring and courage to boldly cross the road, but also with fear, for whom among them has the strength to contend with such a paragon of avian virtue? In such a manner is the princely chicken's dominion maintained."

...is pretty fucking funny.

(for more chicken-joke replies by famous people, you may go here. Some are stupid, many are worth your time.)

Old jokes aren't funny because we know what's going to happen: grass is green, sky is blue, chicken wanted to get to the other side. However, they can be made funny again if we invent new, unexpected punchlines. Then, the humour stems from the ironic relationship that the new punchline has to the old one.

Ronald Reagan (that miserable, manipulative, trigger-happy liar) once said, "politics is supposed to be the second-oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first." In saying so he did a great disservice to sex workers everywhere, but he also underscored what is commonly accepted as a truism: politicians, like prostitutes, are in the business of selling us fantasies. The chief difference is that sex workers are honest liars.

Old jokes, new jokes, sex workers and politicians... yeah, you guessed it: I want to talk about Belinda Stronach.

I don't really have much to say that other people haven't already said more eloquently than I ever could (Steenblogen really did frame the whole thing really well--checkitout). Shannon Rupp over at The Tyee also wrote a great story on the issue. When a career-minded individual sees an opportunity to advance, they take it; when a politician with a modicum of self-respect sees an opportunity to remain true to whatever particular philosophy they've espoused thus far in their careers, they take it.

Why did Belinda cross the floor? Because it was the right thing to do and the right time to do it. If she'd been a man, no-one would've said fucking boo and you know it.

It seems that Conservative bully-boys, self-important meathead pundits and blowhard policy wonks can only handle the same tired old jokes:

"Hey, why did the politcian double-cross his allies?"
"Because he had to do what he felt was right."

For example, when Peter Mackay signed an agreement with David Orchard, he fully intended to knife him later--for the good of Canadians, of course. Perfectly reasonable.(*)

But add a new punchline and suddenly their heads start spinning like Linda Blair in a tilt-a-whirl:

"Hey Mackay, Harper and all the rest of you hypocritical dinosaurs--why'd the politician cross the floor?"
"Because she had to do what she felt was right."

And coast to coast, everyone loses their shit. She's a whore, a dipstick and unable to understand complex situations (I'm quoting pretty much verbatim) and poor Peter Mackay's the heartbroken sod left twisting in the wind of her passing. Pardon me, but in the words of Mae West, he's so crooked he uses a corkscrew for a ruler. This whole Belinda thing is karma, baby--ain't it a bitch?

As for the lady herelf... well, she managed to satisfy her professional ambitions while remaining true to her stated principles. In politics, there are no sweeter deals. Good on ya, Stronach.

(*) Thanks to Bruce McDonald for the links.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Treat yourself.

I strongly suggest you go check out a restaurant called 'Sapori Pronto' in NDG/Westmount. I'm not sure which city it's technically in 'cause it's straddling the borough border. Anyway, it's 4894 Sherbrooke, south side of the street, about a block west of Victoria, right on the corner of Prince Albert street. It's right next to the Dairy Queen and it's a little deceptive 'cause it shares an entrance with a clothing boutique. Just walk in and take the stairs down on the left.

My "review" might be a little long-winded but it really was a fabulous place. I went last month with Candis & my folks and it was fucking AWESOME. The décor is trendy minimalist without being cold: the atmosphere of the place is actually quite relaxed and inviting. Because it's in a basement and rather small (seats maybe 20-25 people), it has a very intimate feel to it.

In a wonderful contrast to the very modern aesthetic, the staff is old school: very professional, extremely efficient, deferential without being obsequious, knowledgeable about the food and wine list, friendly without being too friendly... people who take waitering seriously. Really, some of the best service I've received in a restaurant in a long time. The wine our waiter suggested was a Masi and it couldn't have complemented the meal better.

We opened with some delicious grilled vegetables and a plate of lightly sautéed oyster mushrooms that were to die for: a hint of sesame and garlic lingered in the white wine sauce--perfection. I ordered the spaghetti carbonara, partly because I hadn't had it in ages and partly because I loved everything else about this place and wanted to know how their carbonara held up. It was unbelievable. Thick and creamy without being heavy, it managed to be rich without feeling decadent. I could almost taste the fresh eggs in there and the parmesan was soaked in but still a little crumbly. It was wonderful.

Everything else we ordered was superlative: Candis had a pair of chicken breasts stuffed with tomato, basil and mozzarella; the chicken was so tender it just collapsed in my mouth... unreal. My mom ordered the lemon veal and raved about it all the way home, and my dad had a fantastic risotto. To top it all off, when we asked for the bill, they brought our table complementary porto in these little fluted shot-size glasses--a post-meal digestif on the house.

For the first time in a long while, I think I can give a restaurant a 10/10. Regarding cost, it wasn't too bad: the pasta dishes range from $14 to $22 and the most expensive things on the menu are the veal porcini and the giant garlic shrimp, both $36.

If you're of a mind to treat yourself, you should definitely check this place out.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

With ruin upon ruin.

Remember the massive hostage-taking at a Russian school last year? The Guardian has an interactive slideshow which should jog your memory of the events; go check it out, I'll wait.



Okay--not bad, huh? Pretty, in an iconic sort of way. If one were inclined toward generosity, one might say it was an "abbreviated" or "introductory" report. Like I said, it's just a refresher.

I've often railed against the overuse (and abuse) of the term 'tragedy' to describe any sad or unfortunate event the mainstream media deems worthy of coverage. I realize that it's the literary geek (and the literalist) in me speaking, but dammit--a tragedy is a story about an initially noble person or group who because of some tragic character flaw brings predictable ruin upon themselves. Part of what makes it so devastating is that everyone sees it coming but nothing is done to prevent it: the inevitability of the calamity heightens the sense of doom. Columbine was a tragedy. The devastation of the Canadian beef industry in the wake of BSE is a tragedy. The invasion of Iraq is a tragedy of truly epic proportions.

Given that the GRU's really just the KGB after a quick shot of Botox, their ham-fisted handling of the hostage-taking was woefully predictable: from the moment I saw the first scenes on CBC Newsworld, I knew that the final scene would end "with ruin upon ruin, rout on rout / Confusion worse confounded." (*)

In any event, today marks the beginning of the Nur-Pashi Kulayev's trial on murder and terrorism charges. Kuyalev's a 24-year-old Chechen and one of two surviving attackers (rumours persist that the rest of the 30-odd gang of hostage-takers were executed on the spot by the attacking Spetsnaz); he maintains that he is "innocent" because although he participated in the taking of hostages and placement of explosives, he did not actually shoot anyone (Russian news-camera crews aired footage of him being led into a police truck shouting "by Allah, I did not kill anyone" over and over again). At the risk of sounding flip, I'm pretty sure he's gonna hang anyway.

The BBC's coverage is a good starting point if you're interested in pursuing the issue.

To be honest, I'm less interested in reliving the stomach-churning tragedy than in placing the trial within the larger context of Russia's creaking, grinding lurch into the 21st century: Chechenya, Afghanistan's ghosts, Putin's aristocratic distaste for anything remotely resembling a free press, industrialists like Mikhail Khodorkovsky in chains for the crime of garnering absurd, hyperbolic wealth (wait, that one sounds good)... a lot to chew on.

More on this later in the week.

(*) John Milton, Paradise Lost. Book ii. Line 995

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Life is like a mop.

1989: I was twelve, Ben Mulroney's dad was in office, official multiculturalism was a novel idea and it was a good summer for movies: Batman, Born On The Fourth Of July, Driving Miss Daisy, Dead Poets Society, Field Of Dreams, Glory, My Left Foot, Steel Magnolias, UHF... wait, UHF?

"Not many people know this, but the turtle is nature's suction cup."

Alfred Yankovic insists to this day that the only reason his oeuvre flopped was because it had to go up against such stiff competion that summer, including some of the above movies as well as Lethal Weapon 2, Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, etc. After seeing it for the first time last week (thereby repairing one more glaring pothole on my personal info-cultural superhighway), I think he's right.

"You get to drink from... the FIRE HOOOOOSE!"

Besides basically launching Michael Richards' career, UHF boasts a higher joke-per-minute ratio than anything else released that year. Yankovic draws heavily from the Mel Brooks school of comedy, adopting a "see what sticks" approach and pitching everything he could at the audience--if a few gags fall flat, there's plenty more to come! It's a successful formula, with occasional lulls in the pacing obscured by the flurry of sight gags, slapstick and surreally ironic juxtapositions that just keep comin' atcha...

"Badgers? Badgers? We don't need no stinking badgers."

Where else can you hear The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre filtered through Blazing Saddles? Props to my baby for finally making me watch this.

Friday, May 13, 2005

When James Bond needs to relax.

"Bob, I'm bored today. What do you want to do?"
"Hell, I dunno--let's create a maniacally dangerous sport and make it look easy."

(caution to those of you at work: link immediately takes you to a video.)

Thursday, May 12, 2005

I subscribe to a rag, part II.

Montréal's a world-class, cosmopolitan city with an international flavour and multiculturalism out the wazoo. At least, that's what the tourist brochures like to tell us (how does 'wazoo' translate I wonder?). Consequently, we must have world-class media outlets, right? The kind of urbane, sophisticated newspaper that wouldn't waste its precious front-page space on a public figure's momentary (and ultimately meaningless) deviation from protocol. Surely not; that's the kind of fluff "journalism" better left to back-page society columns.


Meanwhile, further evidence that the Canadian government was entirely two-faced in dealing with Maher Arar and his family is relegated to page 15; shameful data on mass illiteracy among Canadian adults is on page 16; and Cornell University's creation of a self-replicating robot (think about it for a minute--the implications boggle the mind) is shunted back to page 22.

I've got to start subscribing to Le Monde.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

For what ails ya.

It ain't clever, it ain't relevant, it ain't got a speck of meaning beyond the purely superficial--but I can guarantee that it'll do ya good. And if that doesn't, this will.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Colour me unsophisticated.

Granted, the Montréal Gazette is a rag but where else am I going to go for daily English-language local news? The Chronicle? If it's true that competition is the whetstone of talent, then the corollary must be that monopolies dull the mind--and nowhere is this more evident than in the news media. And politics. And the "new left."

But I digress.

So I read the Gazette because I have little choice and I read Jay Bryan's column in the Business section because he usually approaches his subjects with a blend of bourgeois wit and no-nonsenseness(*) that makes for an endearing (if not always informative) read.

But sometimes he's full of shit.

Apparently, Wal-Mart "succeeds" ($256 billion in annual sales, largest retailer in the world, etc.) because it's "operate[d] more intelligently and more efficiently" than its competitors and applies "information technology and creative retail strategies to undercut competitors." Uh-huh. Its unbelievable dominance of the retail market couldn't possibly be due to its union-busting policies (which Bryan briefly--and dismissively--refers to) or the alleged widespread and systematic discrimination faced by its non-white, female or senior employees. Or the allegations of employees not being paid for overtime.

Naw, couldn't be. They're just tough competitors, right Jay?

(*) It all depends on who is to be the master: you or the words. - Marc Bouffard

Monday, May 09, 2005


So you know how notoriously congested Japan's commuter-rail system is, right? You know that people stand literally shoulder-to-shoulder for hours every day, right? You know that Japanese culture is just as misogynistic as Canadian culture, right? You know that as a result of the confluence of these factors, sexual assault is rampant on Japanese commuter trains, right?

Did you know that they've come up with a novel solution to the problem?

Sunday, May 08, 2005

'Tis to laugh.

Maintaining a website of pretentious erotica (http://www.belinda.com/): 650$ / month

Renting an escort in Czechoslovakia (http://www.belinda.cz/): 40 Euros / hour

Getting hoisted on your own neo-con values after your PR team doesn't do its research (http://www.belinda.ca/): priceless.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Suspect Zero

A crypto-thriller starring the prodigious Ben Kingsley, set in the sun-bleached American southeast and pledging to explore the mysterious world of remote viewing? Count me in. After the disappointments of Saw and Darkness I was hoping for something I could really sink my teeth into and I wasn't disappointed: Suspect Zero is an emotive and compelling film.

Kingsley is riveting as antihero Benjamin O'Ryan (the punned surname isn't accidental), delivering a nuanced performance that manages to inspire both sympathy and suspicion. Aaron Eckhart and Carrie-Anne Moss co-star as combative FBI agents who become increasingly bewildered and lost in their jigsaw-puzzle case.

The cinematography is gorgeous and the movie gets maximum mileage out of the stark contrast between the expansive landscape of New Mexico's painted desert and the claustrophobic interior shots of old houses, blood-stained car trunks and dank basements.

Perhaps best of all, this movie doesn't pander to audiences or presume that we're stupid; it demands a certain level of thoughtful engagement. If you're willing to let yourself get immersed in the film and commit to an attentive reading, you'll be rewarded with a tight, well-written, suspenseful thriller.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Enraged by the machine.

So I'm channel-surfing the other day and I alight on MuchMusic, specifically a show called One Hit Wonder. The premise is simple: 22 minutes of "cracking open the vaults and unearthing videos from the biggest hitmakers ever to be forgotten" (according to the blurb on the site); i.e., playing old hit videos from artists who later quickly faded from the charts. The show's hosted by fresh-from-a-hair-conditioner-commercial Devon Soltendieck, formerly the managing editor of Non-Threatening Boys magazine.

(before I continue, a quick caveat: I know it's just a stupid teevee show on stupid MuchMusic; I know it's supposed to be tongue-in-cheek; I know that the whole thing is an exercise in acontextual reconstructive history-making; I get all that. I also understand that there are more important things to get mad about, but something significant is going on here...)

They aired Arrested Development's Mister Wendal and US3's Cantaloop. The first represented a radical new voice in early-90s hiphop and the second was an innovative blending of Jazz and hiphop. Neither belongs on a show that celebrates failure--even commercial failure, which both of these bands did, admittedly, experience.

US3 built on ideas first presented in De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising and crafted their own unique sound that defied convention and became massively popular both in North America and the UK.

Arrested Development have even less business beging name-checked on this show. Emerging during the heydey of G-funk, this progressive group delivered an explicitly political, anti-racist, Afrocentric vision. Their melodies were spacious, sweet, breezy and uplifting; they combined a spiritual bent with a political will and intense, undeniable musical ability to create a totally unique sound which put "Southern Rap" on the map long before Goodie Mob or OutKast.

Hosted by someone too young to remember anything he's reading off the teleprompter, this show just reinforces the idea that once an artists drops off the Billboard radar, the inevitable slide into irrelevance has begun in earnest. It's just one more example of MuchMusic's allegiance with the corporate music industry and their combined need to straightjacket the public's understanding of music, history and who the "important artists" are.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Because we have a right to know, that's why.

Two related stories:

1) The Italian and American governments have completed their joint investigation into the killing of Italian security agent Nicola Calipari by U.S. troops. Their conclusions differ somewhat (to put it mildly) and, in the language of international diplomacy, the two nations have "agreed to disagree." CBC's coverage of the story may be found here.

More to the point, an uncensored version of the joint report on the shooting was "accidentally" leaked to the internet (a hundred karmic blessings on the anonymous whistleblower!). You may find the complete document with the classified information completely 'de-bowdlerized' and legible right here. Get it while it's hot!

2) The following is taken directly from this article in today's Globe & Mail:

Previous government releases of evidence in the Arar inquiry, including a CD-ROM last week that contained about 800 pages of information, have been heavily censored.

Yesterday, human-rights advocates at the inquiry released two versions of the same Foreign Affairs e-mail from Oct. 23, 2002 -- a complete copy obtained under access to information, and another "redacted" by the government.

The complete version reads: "When asked if he wished the Embassy to provide him with anything he might need he answered that his needs were all taken care of by his Syrian hosts (his answer was dictated to him in Arab by the Syrians.)"

In the government-released version, the bracketed clause is blacked out.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Darkness Falls... Flat

In the woefully mediocre Darkness, Anna Paquin does her best "curious fawn" impression, sniffing around the edges of an increasingly-improbable "horror" (and I use the term loosely) "narrative" (actually, I'm using that term loosely, too).

I'm a big scaredy-cat when it comes to horror movies, but this flick just put me to sleep--literally. I dozed off about two-thirds of the way through and from what Candis told me, I didn't miss much. Paquin may not have the range of some of her contemporaries, but she's got the skills to bring a solid script to life. This is not a solid script. This is uneven, pedantic and totally unimaginative.

The only enjoyable element was the cinematography, which occasionally rose above the adequate and, for a moment, became beautiful. These moments are few and far between and so totally not worth the price of a rental.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Have you hugged an anarchist today?

Given Premier Charest's shortsighted neoliberal "re-engineering" Five-Year Plan in general, and the recent (pre-emptive) closing of a unionized Wal-Mart in Jonquière in particular, it's worth noting that yesterday was my favourite "holiday": May Day.

For those of you who don't know, here's a short historical reflection on the origin of May Day:

A great international demonstration shall be organized for a fixed date in such a manner that the workers in all countries and in all cities shall on a specified day simultaneously address to the public authorities a demand to fix the workday at eight hours and to put into effect the other resolutions of the International Congress of Paris.

In view of the fact that such a demonstration has already been resolved upon by the American Federation of Labor at its convention of December 1888 in St. Louis for May 1, 1890, that day is accepted as the day for the international demonstration.

The workers of the various nations shall organize the demonstration in a manner suited to conditions in their country.

--Resolution introduced by Raymond Lavigne, International Socialist Congress, Paris, July 20, 1889

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Have Juno, will boutique

Paul Langlois, guitarist for Confederation signatories the Tragically Hip, has decided to launch hs own label: Ching Music. Guess it's time to give something back.

His first protegé will be the Hugh Dillon Redemption Choir (yes, that Hugh Dillon: latterly of the Headstones and, of course, the muse who swings a big Joe Dick).