Sunday, December 28, 2008

Kind of the Same

So, a couple weeks back I published a post called "Favorite Things" in which I gave some recommendations or things to read/watch/listen to this holiday season. This entry is similar, but no more interesting. Everyone does one of these at some point in December or January, and I've decided that there's no point in refusing to give in. All my favorite bloggers have taken up the task of the year end "best of" list with great gusto, and I'd very much like to join their ranks. For the sake of ease and laziness, though, this will not be many lists. This will deal with music, because I find that's what most people end up caring about in the end, anyways. And we embark! (Note: none of these lists are in any particular order)

Top Albums of 2008:

1. Third by Portishead
Very few of these selections will come as surprises to regular readers, this first one included. Third isn't an album that I instantly loved, which was kind of disheartening. I remember listening to Dummy for the first time and how utterly new and engrossing it was to me at the time. Third isn't like that. Its electronic brutality, apparent on tracks like "Machine Gun" and the latter half of "The Rip" can, on first listen, be exhaustive. With some time alone with this group of songs, though, that brutality slowly shifts into a kind of sensuality as gentle and sumptuous as, say, "Roads" (my favorite Portishead song). The work you put in on your first few spins of this record will yield an incredible listening experience down the road. Trust. 

Highlight(s): Machine Gun, Silence, The Rip
Weak Spot(s): Deep Water

2. Chances by Jill Barber
The best word for this album is probably "effortless." The concept seems trite- a short collection of 50s-style love songs crooned by the classically beautiful Barber, and packaged as something of a throwback album. On first listen, though, it becomes very apparent that to use the word "concept" to describe this album is entirely fallacious. A "concept album" implies a kind of once-off, masquerade album that assumes a particular sound, aesthetic and structure distinct to a particular genre, era, or audience. The sound on this record, though, seems like a natural progression for Barber. When you hear the title track, You have a hard time imagining her singing anything else- this is where her voice belongs. Wonderfully produced and orchestrated by Les Cooper, Chances is Barber's most satisfying release to date and makes me stupidly happy every time I listen to it. 

Highlight(s): Chances, Oh My My
Weak Spot(s): Some less-than-perfect programming choices: "Old Flame" shouldn't follow "Be My Man" (picky much?)

3. Acid Tongue by Jenny Lewis
A ripper of a follow-up to Lewis' first solo record, Rabbit Fur Coat, released in 2006. Where Rabbit Fur Coat excelled was in the deeply nuanced and constantly surprising songwriting of Lewis herself, highlighted supremely by the plaintive title track and on the slightly more ruckus "The Charging Sky" and "The Big Guns." Where the album stumbled, though, was in a lack of forward energy on the remainder of the tracks. After the jangling, rollicking opening to the album, I felt kind of let down by the tepid, ultra-slow burn of the rest of the collection. Acid Tongue makes up for these missteps by taking the whole works into the deep south and retuning with a serious boot stomper of a good time. Tracks like "Jack Killed Mom" and "Acid Tongue" show off Lewis' serious lyrics chops while still delivering the loose, brassy, rough sound of southern rock. Very enjoyable- Rabbit Fur Coat if you fried it and served it with grits.

Highlight(s): Carpetbaggers, Jack Killed Mom
Weak Spot(s): Bad Man's World

4. Man Descending by Justin Rutledge
I’m on an unofficial quest to find the achiest and breakiest of all achy and breaky folk and country being made today. I find this kind of music profoundly comforting for reasons that are totally beyond my powers of explanation. Not rap, not rock and roll, not even punk can make alcoholism and heartache seem as surreally glamorous as folk music. Lil John, Keith Richards and Sid Vicious, for me, have absolutely nothing on some wineo sitting in some bar off some highway in some state that probably grows potatoes singing about how booze is the only thing that’s reliable in this crazy world anymore. As a note, I’ve just realized that I have really shitty life goals. But anyways, that freakish fascination with alcoholic country is part of why I love this album. It seems to be a genuine recreation of the conflict between Godliness and destruction that weighs down so much of the classic country and folk I grew up on, despite being generally (sort of) upbeat. But I think the root of my love for this music comes from the fact that we live in a period where every review of every album claims that the given artist is “defiantly unclassifiable” or some such nonsense. Justin Rutledge is, I think, defiantly classifiable. He creates classic country in an overcrowded country supergenre that’s merged with pop and rock in what is, I feel, probably the worst thing to happen to man kind…like…ever. He isn’t alt-folk, anti-country, alterna-blues or post anything. He makes really excellent folk country music with serious soul, artistry and skill, in a time when transcendence is slicker than whale shit in an ice flow *.

Highlight(s): Alberta Breeze, St. Peter
Weak Spot(s): ...

*Disclaimer: I think boundary breakers are rad, but only when the breaking of boundaries serves to individualize the music being made, not necessarily when the breaking of boundaries is done simply in the interest of creating “crossover appeal.” This is why Taylor Swift sucks so bad.
5. This Riot Life by Veda Hille
I’ve talked about this album a great deal on this blog so far, and with very good reason- It’s straight up exciting to listen to. I’ve listened to some seriously messed up music in my short time, but none of it has ever sounded so refreshing and fundamentally new as This Riot Life, despite the fact that nearly the entire album is based off of traditional hymns and, on more than one occasion employs conventionally classical arrangement and orchestration techniques. It just seems completely new and never stops being fun for me. “Ace of the Nazarene,” almost shrilly satirical stands directly opposed against the almost choral “Constance” and “CowpersFolly” which are all challenged by the absolutely bizarre and theatrical “Soapland Serenade” about the girls who work in a “full release” spa. It sounds completely pretentious and deliberately inaccessible, and, on the first of those two counts, I’d probably agree. It’s totally insane, totally artsy fartsy, completely schizophrenic, but relentlessly fun and exciting. A fantastic album. Also, Veda wins hands-down for coolest album cover this year, if not in the history of man.

Highlight(s): Constance, Ace of Nazarene, Lucklucky
Weak Spot(s): This Spring

Top Songs of 2008:

"Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" by Beyonce: 
Look. You just have to accept it- there has probably never been a sassier song or music video in history. This song is awesome. So awesome that I’m even willing to forgive the almost inexcusably annoying Beyonce/Sasha Fierce marketing gimmick that she pulled on this album. This habit for rock stars to adopt a split personality has (unfortunately not by me) been referred to as the “poppelganger.” I wish I’d thought of that so bad. Oh well…"Single Ladies" is awesome- you know it, I know it, we all know it, we might as well accept it.

“New Romantic” by Laura Marling: 
Probably the most impressive thing about this song is the fact that I’m older than Laura Marling, yet she has more soul, maturity and experience in her songwriting than I think I ever will. “New Romantic” has incredible lyrics which are just as witty and surprising as they are downtrodden, and Marling’s loose, gentle, effortless delivery is at once soothing and heartbreaking. These are the incoherent but poignant 4 am ravings of anyone who’s ever been hurt.

“Paper Planes” by MIA:
This song is not technically from 2008, coming from the album Kala, released in the summer of 2007, but nonetheless, “Paper Planes” exploded when released as a single last February and deserves some mention here. I love this whole album, and I think that “Paper Planes” is an ideal example of why it’s so great. On Kala, MIA has taken common hip hop tropes and narratives, but manipulated them to make them personally and politically relevant. In “Bamboo Banga,” for example, when she repeats “we’re knocking on the doors of your hummer hummer,” she’s using a common symbol of American wealth, especially in the rap community, and placing it in the context of Third World degradation, implying street children running alongside a Western car, pounding on the doors as it passes. Similarly, in “Paper Planes,” she assumes the decidedly Western role of “bona fide hustler,” yet still pumps gas, and constantly references the challenges of Third World living- “pirate skulls and bones,” “lethal poison through their system.” What “Paper Planes” did for hip hop was to recontextualize it and, in the process, completely undermine and change it. Here, following the stereotypical “hustler” role seems absurd when people are stuck pumping gas, dealing with lethal poisons and bombs. Also, it’s hella catchy and fun.

“Wanderlust” by Bjork:
Also not from 2008, but again, released as a single in April of this year. I don’t even really know what to say about this song, other than that it’s really great. Bjork has called it the heart of the album it’s drawn from, Volta, and I’m inclined to agree. The “relentless” craving that saturates the song underscores the liminality implied on the rest of the album, especially on tracks like “Earth Intruders” and “The Dull Flame of Desire.” In the context of the album, “Wanderlust” works beautifully, helping the nameless revolutionary protagonists introduced in “Earth Intruders” march onward throughout the collection.

“Fabulous” by Dan Mangan:
This is probably the best song to listen to on a bad day. Ever. Mangan growls his way through this track like a really sad drunk at the tail end of a really shitty party, telling people things they don’t want to know in ways they don’t want to listen to. If you can listen to him sing “wishing the world would fuck off” without somehow feeling better (or at least self-righteous), you are surely made of stone.

“Jack Killed Mom” by Jenny Lewis:
This song is probably the highlight of Lewis’ Acid Tongue. The lyrics teeter between funny and seriously disturbing, and they’re laid over a rollicking, southern saloon rock track that seems to highlight both of these characteristics. I hesitate to say that the song is fun, simply because the subject matter is 100% not awesome, but dammit if I don’t find myself honky-tonking with the best of them every time I hear it. There’s just something about the song that’s totally magnetic, and its explosive momentum is far beyond anything seen on Rabbit Fur Coat.

“Help I’m Alive” by Metric:
I’m basically in love with Emily Haines, and this song has reminded me why. Her unaffected, totally dead-pan lyrical delivery has always been one of Metric’s signatures and it shines on this track. When Haines sings “If I stumble, they’re gonna eat me alive,” she seems absolutely stoic about the whole experience. Even on the great chorus/refrain “can’t you hear my heart beating like a hammer,” there isn’t any attempt at a grand, swooping, star-search moment. It just kind of is. I don’t know why this kind of delivery makes it sound so good. By all accounts, it should make it boring as fuck, but “Help I’m Alive” somehow makes stoicism into a killer slow-burn that I’m ass-over-tea kettle for.

“Elephants” by Rachael Yamagata:
I loved Yamagata’s last album, Happenstance, and have been waiting eagerly since its release in 2004 for even a little hint of something more from this soulful balladeer. Her new album, Elephants…Teeth Sinking Into Heart has finally arrived, and on this double disc, Yamagata explores both her tender and feisty sides. “Elephants” is drawn from the first disk and is the perfect show case of Rachael’s amazing ability to squeeze blood from a stone. I’m not really sure I understand the huge conceit about elephants and lions that she carries throughout the song, but it’s all worth it just to hear her nearly silent delivery of the final stanza, “So to those of you falling in love, keep it kind, keep it good, keep it right. Throw yourself in the midst of danger, but keep one eye open at night.”

“Coyotes” by Brian Borcherdt:
This song is what would happen had Eliot Smith been sadder and slower. Borcherdt puts an enthralling new twist on the guy-and-guitar routine by stripping back acoustic folk songs to their absolute bare bones and giving Michael Stipe a run for his money in terms of cryptic lyrics. This is ideal dead-of-winter-middle-of-the-night music: slow, sparce, moody, dark, lonesome, and all kinds of great.

“Jerk It” by Thunderheist:
The people responsible for this song maintain that “Jerk It” simply means “dance,” and nothing more. Whether or not you believe that, the song is still awesome. The low-key vocal delivery helps turn this “booty poppin” track into both a pleasurable listen as well as a great dance floor beat. In my opinion, at-home good and club good are notoriously at odds in a lot of electronic and dance music. I don’t usually dig electronic because I just can’t stand listening to it at home. People tell me “but at the club, it’s great.” This is usually true, but I kind of feel swindled when I have to get all dressed up, pay 20 bucks cover and have a few drinks in me before I can stand to listen to a song. I’m a lazy, lazy man. “Jerk It” solves my conundrum- great to listen to on its own and a perfect track for the clubs. Canadian rap FTW!

“Gunpowder and Lead” by Miranda Lambert:
I was only going to put 10 songs on this list, but I heard this song for the first time in ages last night, and remembered that it’s probably the only thing this year to rival the sassiness of “Single Ladies.” Again coming from a 2007 album, (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), “Gunpower and Lead” makes murder seem like more fun than ever before. Lambert wails “I’m going home, gonna load my shotgun, wait by the door and light a cigarette. He wants a fight well now he’s got one, he aint seen me crazy yet.” These aren’t terribly uncommon sentiments in radio country, even in the pop-country-rock morass mentioned earlier, but when Lambert threatens “His fist is big but my gun’s bigger- he’ll find out when I pull the trigger,” I believe it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Everything

I know it probably seems stupid to be blogging on Christmas Eve when the family is supposed to gather and chill and laugh and be merry, but everyone is either beating down old ladies in the grocery store in a mad attempt to buy a functioning turkey baster, or working for the first half of the day. Thus I have opted to spend my morning with Restaurant Makeover, the 2008 Bucky Awards CBC Radio 3 Podcast (likely the best award show of the whole live-long year) and my wonderful readers. I don't think it gets any more luxurious than that. I love Christmas for this reason. I'm in pajamas, desperately need to shower, ate too much junk food over the last two days, and have done nothing of value for days, and I feel totally centered and happy and content. This Christmas break, while unimaginably cold (-35 before wind chill FTW!) and sometimes hectic and busy, has been decadent in the extreme. The other night I was at a good friend's house and had what is probably one of the most Christmassey days on the books- Gingerbread making, Christmas movies with cocoa on the couch, carols all night. It was wonderful. Take some time to let yourself have this. It can be impossible in this party season to just shut down for a day and be slow and kinda gross and lazy. But everyone in the world is working harder than ever before, functioning on less sleep and giving up time with friends and family to try and make up for our dismal markets. Give yourself a break from all that gobbledy gook and just be happy and full of food and drink. It makes the coming year seem less daunting and the one we're leaving behind not so miserable after all.

And now without further adieu, GINGERBREAD CELEBRITIES:
The Joker

Beyonce: Notice that someone has, indeed, put a ring on it.

Samantha Ronson: Complete with vest and headphones

Kanye West: Always looking fly in his useless plastic shades and Louis Vuitton

Angelina Jolie: Big lips, even bigger heart. (Note: There was a gingerbread version of Angelina's son, Pax. But he got sampled)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


New header! Thank you to Colin Sharp for the design. See some more of Colin's awesome work here.

Hope the holidays are treating you well!


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Famous Last Words


Thank you all for being so patient with me as I finished exams, came home for winter break, and caught up on about 2 weeks of lost sleep. I hope the holiday season is treating you and yours well and you're taking time to relax and reflect on the year gone by. It seems fitting this time of year to think about conclusions and beginnings, stops and starts. Thus, it is a happy coincidence that one of my favorite YouTube vloggers, John Green of the vlogbrothers, just posted a really funny and interesting video featuring the famous last words of 50 historical figures. Take a look below:

This may seem morbid/twisted/inappropriate, especially at this time of year when we are supposed to be celebrating life and joy and all those wonderful things we take for granted, but this video really got me motivated to come up with some really great last words. I've been mulling over it for quite some time, and have struggled to come up with anything profound, funny, incisive or timeless in any way. Here are some of my ideas:

1. "Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt."
This is a quote from Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five and just about the only thing I've ever considered getting tattooed on my body. Granted, these would be seriously bad ass last words, but I can't help but feel that they're a cop out. They are brilliant, but they aren't mine, and should I ever become some sort of canonical figure, people in the future would always read "TM, quoting Kurt Vonnegut, said on his deathbed..." If I can, I'd like to get rid of that qualifier "quoting Kurt Vonnegut" and make it my own.

2. "What a terribly predictable ending."
I'm kind of partial to this one. This is something that I'm prone to say frequently regarding movies with people like Kate Hudson and Reese Witherspoon in them. It often results in me getting called a snob by my mother and sister and hearing once again that I "just need to learn to have fun at the movies!" So not only would it be a hilarious way to go, it would be just poignant enough to be quoted in the future.

3. "Tell Jill Barber I love her."
This is just true. No explanation needed.

4. "My only regret is that I didn't live to see cyborgs rule the Earth."
Also true.

5. "At my funeral, make sure there's an open bar."
True, and profoundly functional. I don't want a funeral where people sit around and cry and wave incense about and talk about how I'm in a better place now (cause I'm not). I want people listening to great music, dancing, drinking many different kids of rum cocktails and doing things they'll regret in the morning. It'll be great, you'll always remember it, and I won't have to clean up the mess- perfect plan!

6. "I'm just going to say it, Vampire Weekend makes me sick."
This is inspired by one of the quotes from the video above, only with Vampire Weekend in place of Dante. Vampire Weekend doesn't genuinely make me sick, but if I read any more articles on Pitchfork or Rolling Stone about how Vampire Weekend is so overrated that they have, in fact, become underrated once again, I will put a bullet through my skull. This phrase suffers the same curse as the first one though, it isn't really mine.

7. "The Egyptians buried their dead with cats and gold, the Greeks buried theirs with coins over their eyes. Bury me with wine, cheese and music, and you will have gotten it right."
I like this one quite a bit, mostly because it has just enough Oscar Wilde-esque arrogance about it to make it hilarious and endlessly quotable. This is much more suitable to a life of historical significance than Vonnegut's words coming out of my mouth.

8. "I give this life an 8.9 out of 10"
This would be my final "suck it" to Pitchfork Media, an obnoxious-as-fuck website that rates music on a scale from 1-10, but allows decimal points, so it is effectively a scale of 1-100. They often wait until after all other major reviews have been published, THEN publish theirs, which is often self-consciously against the grain. So annoying. Also, they don't edit their pieces before they are posted, so you often end up in a nightmarish world of semicolons, obscure references, and appositive phrases galore. I'm not so sure I want to devote my final breath to something so appallingly stupid, though.

9. "If they ever find a cure for whatever it is that has put me on my deathbed, make sure you give it to sick people, not pharmaceutical companies."
Medicine should be used to make sick people better, not to make insurance and pharmaceutical companies more impervious to recession. I'll be spreading that word until I'm dead. People seem to listen to someone when they know that someone is dying, so maybe the message will finally get through. Cold, boney, lifeless fingers crossed!

10. "People are people. Make the most of it"

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Favorite Things

So I may not be Oprah, and I may not be able to give you a car, or mixing bowls, or other really mediocre crap that no one cares about until there's a big sticker that says "Oprah" on it, but I can give you a list of the things that have brought me joy, happiness, pleasure and laughter this year. Some are material, some are musical, some are mythical and others are mindless, but they are all uniformly great and I hope you enjoy them this holiday and New Year as much as I have in the past months. 


"New Romantic" by Laura Marling:
The most sublime cure to the late-night study blues. Marling's introspective, self-deprecating, and charmingly downtrodden lyrics are the perfect complement to her sweetly melancholic voice and smooth guitar. "New Romantic" has kept me afloat on those many nights where midnight came and went while I was up to my eyes in notes, books, remorse and abject frustration.

"Tiger Mountain Peasant Song" by First Aid Kit (Cover of Fleet Foxes):
I kind of hate the original version of this song. The guy who sings it is pretty dreadful. But these two girls, collectively known as First Aid Kit, make the beauty of the song abundantly apparent. It's a cover I've listened to God knows how many times at this point, and I've yet to get sick of it.

"Too Sober to Sleep" by Justin Rutledge:
I won't lie- I basically wish I was Justin Rutledge. His newest album Man Descending is fantastic (and partially inspired the name of this blog), he writes the songs that I can only dream about writing, and he's about the only person who's ever made me say "God I wish I could hurt this bad. Maybe then I'll be able to play music like that." Maybe not such a great goal, but nonetheless, "Too Sober to Sleep" is amazing and one of my favorite songs by Justin. I could only find a relatively low-fi version of it on YouTube, but I urge you to buy the song from iTunes- it's on his album No Never Alone

"Ace of the Nazarene" by Veda Hille:
This isn't actually my favorite song from Veda's new album This Riot Life, but it's close (and it's the only one on YouTube. Lame excuses FTW). This Riot Life is insane. It's so great. It's unabashedly artsy and challenging and obscure, but is unstoppably pleasurable to listen to. It swings from the manic and the wryly satirical in this song to lush and hymnal on tracks like "Constance." I sincerely hope that you check the album out. 

"La Vie en Rose" by Pomplamoose (Cover of Edith Piaf...duh):
I happened upon this insanely talented duo one night on YouTube (surprise!) while I was dodging studying and papers (double surprise!). They call themselves Pomplamoose, and both their original songs (in particular "Hail Mary"), as well as their covers (see "Gatekeeper") are fantastic. Very high production values combined with a ton of talent makes for very easy viewing- enjoy!

"Now That All My Dreams Have Come True" by Jill Barber
Almost as much as I want to be Justin Rutledge, I want to marry and bear many musically talented children by Jill Barber. This song is taken from her new album Chances, which, frequent readers will be aware, basically sustains me. It's fantastic, charming and so impossibly loveable that your head almost explodes on listening to it. Again, this is a lo-fi live version, and great though it is, the full-orchestration of the album version is 100% required listening. 

Other Favorite Music for the Year: Portishead's Third, Dala's Who Do You Think You Are?, Wendy McNeill's Guide to Hardcore Living, Laura Barret's Natural Science EP, Dan Mangan's Postcards and Daydreaming and Donovan Woods' The Hold Up

I haven't read too many "new"books this semester, due in large part to existing under a pile of academic articles most of the time. Nevertheless, I will give you a list of the writing (be it fiction, opinion, blog or otherwise) that I have taken solace in over the course of the past year. 

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut:
My absolute favorite book of all time. I just finished re-reading it for about the 7th time, and it still feels like the first. A hilariously unsettling portrait of the future, the end of the world, and how we should behave when the human race is domed to extinction. This book is beautiful, funny, frightening and brutally honest in even its most dishonest moments. Read it!

A Taste of Honey by Shealagh Delaney:
Again, not a new play by any stretch, but one that was new to me when I bought it for an English course this semester. Delaney's examination of domesticity, motherhood and identity in the industrial slums of working class England was a revolutionary work in the post-war period that radically undermined notions of what terms like "family," "mother" and "wife" really meant. Still relevant, still fascinating and always worthy of a read. 

Slate Magazine:
Slate is an online magazine that is blissfully unfocused. Almost like a Sunday paper- filled with trivial information about books, food, life, business and politics- Slate immensely fun and comforting to read. It provides things that other general-interest magazines just don't care about, like a weekly poetry podcast, photo essays on architecture, and (ghasp) a concern for things happening outside of the United States. Slate is just fun, and even if it is just pandering to people who aspire to feel intelligent, it does a damn fine job of it. 

Clarity, 2008: 
Clarity is just about my favorite blog. You can find a link on the right hand side of this page under the heading "Good Folk." I feel sort of creepy and weird reading other people's blogs still, but this one is so wonderful. It follows the author's own experiences, but never gets hung up on internal tumult or becomes a way of airing dirty laundry. The author always finds a way of drawing broad conclusions about how to center yourself in a frantic professional life, even amid the pushes and pulls of home, office, family and friends. Kudos to the author, and I urge you all to take a look. I dare you not to feel better and more centered afterward. 

StopSmiling is a quarterly magazine that professes to be for high-minded low lifes and runs a fantastic blog that you can read here. It's great fun, short, and updated frequently. Also, the magazine is pretty great if you don't mind paying a stupid amount of money for a magazine.

I have encountered two main problems when it comes to movies so far this year: 1) I have neither cable nor peasant vision, and thus can't even watch re-runs and 2) I have lived this semester as a hermit. It's pathetic. The tragic consequence of both these problems is that I have not watched a single new movie in the last four months, with the exception of the first half of Pulp Fiction which, obviously, is not new. As a result, this section will be comprised of a short list of movies that I think are really great and will make you feel wonderful over your much-deserved winter breaks:

Wall-E: 'Nuff said

Finding Nemo: See above

Irving Berlin's White Christmas: Likely one of my favorite Christmas movies. Mostly because it is basically Irving Berlin's version of Purple Rain. It may be really atrociously long, kind of dull and ultra-hokey, but I never stop being impressed by how great Bing Crosby sang despite being such a bastard in real life. Also, the final number is so over-produced and garishly staged that you can't help but love it. 

A Muppet Christmas Carol: Not even kidding- the funniest and most cheerful Christmas movie I've ever seen, and the only Christmas Eve tradition that's held up in my house. I demand that you watch this movie over the holidays. 

Jingle All The Way: If there's anything more jolly than Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad fighting off cigar-smoking midgets in a warehouse as they battle for possession of a Turbo Man Doll, I haven't seen it. 

Things That We're All Supposed to Say Over Christmas and That I Truly Mean:
Now for the sappy stuff! This year has been one of extreme difficulty and loss for many, many people. Our financial, banking and industrial structures are breaking down, taking with them the stability of old assumptions about energy, labour and resource exploitation. Every day, we hear news of human and social tragedies- the bombings and gun battles in Mumbai, wars that continue to rage in the Middle East and claim the lives of civilians and soldiers alike, the intensification of slum living and extreme poverty in developing nations, human rights abuses in Myanmar, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. The list is endless. Yet from somewhere amid this turmoil, tumult and struggle, hope emerges. This year, we have seen the election of the first African-American President of the United States, citizens across Canada participating in political rallies and engaging in debates about democracy, the emergence of truly viable clean technologies, an unprecedented public scrutiny of nations such as China that have been accused of human rights abuses, and numerous other victories in the name of equality, social justice and basic human rights for all. We are not there yet, but we are gaining ground. 

I can't shake the feeling that my generation is maturing in the midst of a truly foundational social shift. For so long we have assumed that cheap energy is effectively unlimited, for so long we have assumed that people living in poverty cannot be helped, for so long we have assumed that racial, social, economic, sexual, gender and political differences are fixed and insoluble. I feel that this is finally starting to change. People are questioning themselves, others, their governments, their technologies, their entire system of reality like never before as old assumptions are shown to be fallacious, reductive, incomplete, unjust. My generation will bring in a new form of social order, not through revolution, not through revolt, but through the constant questioning of truth; by constantly asking ourselves why things are the way they are.

Thus my Christmas/whatever else people want to celebrate wish for anyone who reads this, and to the world at large, is that you seize any chance at education you get, take advantage of any little scrap of knowledge that you can get your hands on, and use it to increase your awareness of the world around you. Use those bits of knowledge that you gather from school, from the news, from magazines, from YouTube, from your parents and friends to critically examine what truth is, what your truth is. Always question, always seek to improve, always seek to change for the better, always believe that there is a stronger, more ethical and more just way of doing things. Only through this constant re-evaluation of our own system of reality can we ever hope to turn the few glimmers of hope amid tragedy into a fully realized beacon of change. Take time this year to question, to hope for change and to believe that we can be better as a community engaged in common struggles. That's my wish for all of you. Merry Christmas, thanks for reading, thanks for thinking, thanks for being. A million times thank you. 


*For the record, the new widescreen YouTube format is sweet when viewed on the YouTube pages, but makes embedding significantly more arduous and frustrating. Forgive the wildly fluctuating frame sizes and the possibility of dead links and non-functioning videos. Fingers crossed that the Internet god** is on my side.
**I imagine the Internet God to be something like in that Simpsons episode where they show Vishnu at the centre of the Earth, furiously pressing buttons, pulling levers, cranking cranks, Supermanning Hos (not actually) and making the whole world run properly. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

It's Very Late

Just thought I'd let you know my new all-time favorite joke:

What's the difference between a writer and a park bench?

A park bench can support a family.

Maybe I should be getting a degree in park benchery? It's late, and I just spent many hours reading about sustainability. I love finals. Sleep now. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Shut Up and Sing?

This will be brief, as I have a pile of information on my desk on sustainable development that needs studying. This is kind of an old issue, but only recently has the mixing of politics and celebrity seemed worthy of actual discussion to me.

I, for one, just can't understand why it is that people seem to be so horribly offended by celebrities (singers, in particular) that share their political views through their music. To again refer to my favorite YouTuber, Julia Nunes: She recently posted a video to her channel in which she performed a very nice cover of the song "Brighter than Sunshine" by Aqualung, and followed it up with a vlog update on what's been going in her life. In this section, she mentioned that Obama had won the presidency, and that the eruption of excitement on her college campus is an experience that she will tell her grand children about. She then discussed the passing of Prop 8 in California, constitutionally banning gay marriages, making a sincere and heartfelt apology to those who had been ripped apart by the legislation. The amount of shit she took for this video was astonishing to me. She was called horrible names, over and over again, and people who had been long time subscribers and fans instantly turned on her and brutally attacked her through the cowardly anonymity offered by the Internet. It isn't hard to think of other examples of this disgusting reaction to the mixing of music and politics. On the eve of the invasion of Iraq, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks (I am not ashamed to say that I love them) said at a concert in London, that she was ashamed that the President of the United States was from Texas. She and the band spent the next 4 years of their lives fighting radio boycotts of their music, disgusting and hurtful names like "Dixie Sluts" and "Saddam's Angels," and even a threat against Maines' life. 

This is so insane to me. When someone decides they want to make music, or when someone signs a record contract, they don't sign away their right to participate in political and civic discourse. Spending time in a studio doesn't make you any less of a person and certainly doesn't strip you of your freedom of expression and speech. I write and perform music myself, and my politics and views on social reality are an integral part of where my lyrics come from. My songs are as much an articulation of my beliefs as are the papers I write, the blog entries I post, the arguments I make in debates with friends and peers. Putting these beliefs in musical form and performing them in public does not make these viewpoints any less valid, and certainly doesn't take away my rights as a free citizen to dissent, speech and expression. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a fan of the politics written into the music of far-right wing musicians such as Toby Keith (fully explained in the entry called 'Ditches and Hoes') and, given the choice, I wouldn't opt to listen to his music. It's critical to mention, though, that it's his politics with which I take exception, not his expression of them in a public forum or on a stage. He can write whatever he wants in his music, and I can choose not to listen to it. To actively try to destroy or hurt someone just because their politics become exposed in front of an audience of any kind, though- that's ridiculous. 

Being a musician or a public figure doesn't take away your ability to feel and think and speak in a way that reflects your politics. I'm not usually one to side with complaining celebrities (read, I'm never one to side with complaining celebrities), but when it comes to that stupid aphorism "shut up and sing," I feel my bile duct raging. Music is personal, and the personal is inherently political. If you don't like it, don't listen. But the expression of beliefs and values is not a right that should be restricted, unless it infringes upon the safety and well-being of others, or denies others the right to free expression, as well. Seems to me this is a pretty basic argument that's been kicking around for along time. In fact, it's suspiciously similar to the ideas put forth by Classical and Reform liberal philosophers emerging from the Enlightenment. The in the period of history emerging around 1600(ish) and lasting until about the end of the French Revolution (1789). That's over 200 years ago. 200 years and we still haven't gotten it right. Maybe it's time to stop telling people to shut up and sing. I think we should finally shut up and listen. 

Friday, November 21, 2008

Things and Stuff

Dear Readers,

Thank you for being readers! I have been very lacking in the update department as of late, so here is some news for all you wonderful people:

1. The guest blog has been arranged and the entry is being written at this very moment. I hope to have it up sometime before the end of next week. I'm super honoured to have someone so brilliant and talented writing for little old me, and on a subject which I feel many people misunderstand- stay tuned!

2. One of my good friends, Mr. Colin Sharp has designed an awesome logo for Man Descending at one of the busiest times of the semester. Huge props and thanks to him. I haven't uploaded it yet, but I plan to do a bunch of revisions to the page over the Christmas holiday coming up. Stay tuned for those, as well, I suppose. Check out Colin's work here. He's a talented fellow.

3. Once the guest blog goes up, I will likely go on a temporary hiatus until exams are over. I have much to do in not very much time. Forgive me! 

4. The CRTC (for all you non-Canadian folk, the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission) has just fucked up in a big way. They chose to not take Bell to task for the allegations of Internet throttling brought against them. I don't have the time/energy to go into this issue in any substantial way, but basically the notion of net neutrality has been ditched in in favour of the illegal and immoral strangling of Internet access by service providers. Take a look at a story outlining some of the main issues at play here, then help me try and understand why this isn't being stopped.

5. One of my favorite YouTubers, Julia Nunes has just put a sweet video up on her channel for her song "Maybe I Will" that she'll be playing on Saturday at the YouTube Live event in San Francisco:

6. I AM SLEEPY! I just finished and presented a project that I've been working on for 3 months. I'm going to go relax for a bit then start my studying for finals. Huzzah!

Thanks again to everyone who helps, supports and reads this little thing.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Obama : Socialism as Apples : Oranges

It’s no secret that I’m pumped that Barack Obama is the new president. I acknowledge and respect, however, the opinions of those who consider themselves Republican. A couple days ago, I read something attempting to explain the Republican opposition to the allegedly Socialist policies of Barack Obama. The writer used the following analogy: A student who gets a 4.0 GPA shouldn’t have to give up some of their grade to boost the GPA of a 2.0 student so that they both end up with a 3.0, so why should hard-working Americans be forced to give up their hard-earned money to help those who are lazy and unmotivated? This type of analogy, while superficially convincing, is based on a faulty parallelism between the example of the students and the reality of American society, and makes a few key assumptions about the capitalist system and the “freeloaders” who unfairly take advantage of the hard work of others. Here is a brief explanation of those oversights.

1. Social government is not Socialism:

If Barack Obama is Socialist, I’ll eat my shoe. Obama is a left-leaning politician who supports increased government intervention into those areas of the social system that require attention form a less volatile institution than the market. Socialism, on the other hand, is a political ideology fundamentally rooted in issues of class conflict, fetishization of the commodity and the abuse and devaluation of human labour. Granted, one of the creeds of Socialism is “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” However, this is not the policy adopted by Barack Obama. To call Obama a Socialist is to demonstrate ignorance of both Democratic Party policy and Socialist ideology. It is a faulty comparison, at best, and one that I feel is indicative of the remnants of irrational Cold War fears.

2. Not all people who believe in social government are the lazy, hard-partying free loaders that reductive analogies make them out to be:

Many of those that depend on the programs of social governments such as accessible health care, governmentally regulated health insurance practices and quality public education are, contrary to popular iconography, capable, educated, employed and contributing members of society. The problem is, it’s really hard to say to your opponents “get a job you lazy bum” when your opponents are working professionals. So the hard-line Republican has latched on to the image of the low-income, frequently unemployed citizen as a way of making people believe that social programs are just a big money grab, meant to give more purchasing power to those who couldn’t give a shit about whether they fail or succeed. There are people in the United States who make money, who have families, who own homes, who buy cars, who carry briefcases, who go to meetings, that cannot get health insurance because their welfare and safety has been left to the vicissitudes of an unregulated market. As a caveat, this is not to say that I am against market economies. On the contrary, I believe that the market can be used to both corporate and social ends, if properly regulated. However, allowing physical well being to become a tradable commodity has effectively barred millions of Americans from being guaranteed adequate health care. The problem with deregulated health insurance is that the sickest people, those who require the most assistance from insurance companies, are the people that are least likely to be covered. If someone is in danger of dying, or if they have a condition that requires any sort of intensive, long-term treatment, they’re left to fend for themselves. Helping these people costs too much money. And when money is the sole determining factor in who is valuable as a human being and who is not, the demands of the market will always win: cut your losses, invest in strong futures. To say that social government punishes those who work hard to the benefit of lazy, unmotivated freeloaders, then, overlooks the barriers and stonewalling that are built into the social structure of American capitalist ideology. This oversight ultimately amounts to an ignorance of one of the most fundamental aspects of power relations and cultural studies: Hegemony.

3. Ignorance of the Nature of Hegemony:

Nicholson (1997) provides us with a productive definition and discussion of hegemony that is worth quoting at length:
“Hegemony is a form of consensual control... a sort of society-wide agreement which attempts to maintain a social order among the various members of that society. This may sound like a harmonious situation, but a problem arises in that most nonfictional societies continue a degree of oppression against certain members of the population…the subordinate group. Subordinate groups are deemed ‘subordinate' because they are subject to the various and sometimes seemingly invisible, forms of power the dominant group possesses...Hegemony occurs when the subordinate group acquiesces and accepts the ‘reality’ produced and then maintained by a dominant group. That is to say, the subordinate group has an understanding that their position within society and culture is for the most part, preordained- that is, it is common sense that things are the way they are, given the information we have to work with.”
What Nicholson has touched on here is the crux of understanding the way in which social relations function, particularly in (to borrow Jamieson’s term) a late capitalist society. Those who have been vilified by Republican rhetoric as the lazy, the freeloading, the non-contributing, can be said to belong to the subordinate group described above. While their unemployment, generational cycles of poverty, and other economic shortcomings have been constructed as self-inflicted wounds by those who oppose social government, Nicholson provides us the tools to discuss these “failures” as the consequence of restrictions, boundaries and limits that are built into the very system that we call “reality.” As mentioned in my last point, if someone has trouble getting health insurance, it is not necessarily because they are naturally or inherently subordinate, but likely because there are features of their reality, characteristics of the dominant social paradigm that prevent them from doing so. If any true apathy or ‘laziness’ occurs on the part of those contributing members of society who are barred from certain social institutions, it is not because they are bad people, but because of an “acquiescence” to the “seemingly invisible forms of power the dominant group possesses.” The negotiation of hegemonic power, in this way, silently, but without fail, grants the cultural and economic capital necessary for access to certain services and institutions to some, and seeks to normalize the will of this dominant group among others. To criticize those without health care, those without stable employment or those without the means to an education is to criticize those that have been made subordinate through the very policies of those who criticize them.

The student with a 2.0 GPA has a low GPA because he/she did not make an effort to succeed once given an opportunity, not because he/she was never even given an opportunity in the first place. The lazy freeloaders so often mocked and derided in Republican rhetoric have been shut out of certain institutions through the negotiation of hegemony, and through the establishment of hidden, but universally enforced limits to advancement and growth.

E.T. Bell said “‘Obvious’ is the most dangerous word in mathematics.” Turns out that the same can be said of cultural studies. The equivalencies implied between social government, Socialism and redistribution of wealth by reductive analogies are false, and based on the social construction of a group of subordinate people that has little or nothing to do with their actual nature. I am not a Socialist, I am not a Marxist, I am not a Republican. I believe in questioning truths, and helping people because it’s the right thing to do, not because it’s the first stage of a proletarian revolution, or because it will generate more money. It’s just something that should be done. I think that’s fair.

"Poor wanderer," said the leaden sky,
"I fain would lighten thee,
But there are laws in force on high
Which say it must not be."

--"I would not freeze thee, shorn one," cried
The North, "knew I but how
To warm my breath, to slack my stride;
But I am ruled as thou."

--"To-morrow I attack thee, wight,"
Said Sickness. "Yet I swear
I bear thy little ark no spite,
But am bid enter there."

--"Come hither, Son," I heard Death say;
"I did not will a grave
Should end thy pilgrimage to-day,
But I, too, am a slave!"

We smiled upon each other then,
And life to me had less
Of that fell look it wore ere when 
They owned their passiveness.

~Thomas Hardy

I think that I should probably clarify my own political views a bit. I do not support just throwing money at those in need. Without the necessary infrastructure to make sure this money is used in the areas where it's most needed, the money itself is useless. A lot of countries have run into the same kind of problem in trying to get more of their citizens online. When programs are launched to "wire" more homes, governments often buy a whole bunch of computers, and give them to people without any understanding of how to use them- the physical and mental infrastructure has to exist before you can expect people to use services effectively. In its purest sense, then, I don't support "redistribution of wealth." I do, however, feel that taxation provides an effective means of distributing wealth in the interest of establishing the physical and institutional infrastructure necessary to provide essential social services. Okay. That was a lot of writing. I'll call it a day. 

Monday, November 10, 2008

Peer Pressure

So, some time ago a fellow blogger/best friend pitched an idea to me for a blog entry- 50 things about myself/50 things I want to do before I died. I initially resisted because I wasn't sure that anyone wanted to read about me on a personal level. In the last few days, however, I've come across a few "50 Things" lists on YouTube and Blogger and they're freakishly interesting to listen to and read. I don't know if there's actually 50 things on this list, and I'm not sure they actually reveal anything about me, but nonetheless, here's a list of stuff about me. Tune out now if you don't care. Just so you know, the guest blog is coming- it just hasn't been totally arranged yet. It'll be cool, though.

Inconsequential Stuff About Me:

1. I live in a "sustainable community" where most people shop organic, but drive land-yachts.

2. The best thing I've ever read is probably the poem "First Fig" by Edna St. Vincent Millay:
"My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends--
It gives a lovely light!"

3. I never feel worse or more guilty than when someone honks their horn at me while I'm driving

4. I think clubbing (as in going to nightclubs, not as in bludgeoning), as a rule, is way too much effort. It's just not worth it to get dressed a certain way, act a certain way, etc., just to have the privilege of buying overpriced booze and spending a few hours in a commercially-sponsored sweatlodge.*

5. I promised myself a long time ago that I would follow through on one of my oldest dreams this coming summer. And I'm doing it.

6. I didn't like the movie Juno. Just didn't like it.

7. The best Simpsons episode is "Lisa the Vegetarian," the best Futurama episode is "The Devil's Hands are Ilde Playthings," and the best Family Guy episode is the Christmas episode where Lois goes ape shit.

8. I love watching vlogs on YouTube, but the thought of making one myself horrifies me for absolutely no rational reason.

9. Fall is my favorite season.

10. The only movie that's ever made me cry was E.T. In my defense, I was like...5. The only other movie that's come close to making me cry was the Dixie Chicks documentary, Shut Up and Sing. Judge me.

11. I remember talking my parents into getting the Internet at our house.

12. I love the city.

13. I think the most scared I've ever been is when I watched Gremlins.

14. I can't hear the song "Hit 'Em Up Style" by Blu Cantrell without thinking of 9/11. The back story for this is more complicated than this list will allow. Just accept it.

15. I fell asleep 10 minutes into Citizen Kane and have yet to make any serious effort to watch it all the way through.

16. I've seen one of those perfect tropical sunsets. They're even more insane in real life than in photos.

17. I think people should sing more. A lot more.

18. I always say how much I like IKEA. Then I spend 3 hours in that place, buy something, build it with all the grace of a caveman going after a dead antelope, end up with 2 screws and a bamboo peg left over, and have to seriously fight back the urge to go back there and just torch the bitch.

19. The idea of the army horrifies me.

20. These are the 5 CDs I'd take with me to a desert island:

Chances- Jill Barber
Man Descending- Justin Rutledge (And just in case you're wondering, the answer is yes and no.)
Amnesiac- Radiohead
Lady Day- Billie Holiday
The Hold Up- Donovan Woods

21. There's an essay by Frederick Jamieson about Jaws that's influenced the way I view the world more than almost anything else.

22. I hated high school, and wouldn't do it again to save my life. But at times I miss it a lot.

23. I've had a perfect day.

24. I miss thinking that I know stuff.

25. I'd rather gnaw off my own foot than sit through a T.V. commercial.**

26. I know that it isn't really fair to say that a certain movie or type of music is good or bad because taste is subjective and stuff. Nonetheless, there are musicians and movies that just should not be. Some stuff is just bad.

27. It baffles me when people say they're going to vote for someone because they "identify with them"or because they can "relate to them." Call me crazy, but the last person I want running a country is someone like me.

28. I think that volatility and neurotic-ness (is that a word?) are probably the most attractive characteristics in the world.

30. I play a "game" with myself to try and improve my powers of articulation and explanation. Whenever I see something that would be baffling to someone from say, 1478, in my head, I do my best to try and explain it in such a way as to make that person understand that particular thing. It drives me nuts.

31. Surprise! I ran out of energy and motivation before I hit 50! I have to go work now, on thingsway less interesting, but more important than self-reflexive blogging. Until next time.

*There are exceptions to this rule
**My friend was kind enough to point out to me that I do, indeed love the "Magic Bullet" Infomercial. I refuse to include this under the umbrella of 'T.V. Commercials' on the grounds that it's more of a lifestyle choice than anything else. 

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Just so you know- the reason I haven't posted in days is cause I'm working on getting a really great guest blogger to put my intelligence/writing ability to shame. Stay tuned and thanks for reading!

Thank you to everyone who reads, and especially to my compadre, Alli, who is in the process of relaunching her blog "Kiss and Confess" and was kind enough to link my blog on her page. Make the universe happy and give her a visit- the link is under "Good Folks" on the left side of the page. 

That's it for now. I have to go read a pile of essays from the 60s on W.H. Auden. Jealous?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


OBAMA-BIDEN 2008!!!!!!!!


Monday, November 3, 2008


Fingers crossed for tomorrow!

In the very small amount of time I've been alive, I've only seen the world change for the worse. Let's hope that tomorrow can finally prove me wrong.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Just So You Know...

Never, ever buy a cleaning product called "EasyOff: BAM"

It claims to do quite a number on greasy, baked-on foods.

Word to the wise: The only thing that EasyOff BAM does easily is sear your flesh off of your bones. My stove is still gross, and half of my hand was rinsed down the drain. On the bright side, it did smell like a Citrus Breeze. 

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Heartland

I think that, by this point, it should be fairly clear where my sympathies and endorsements lie in terms of the US presidential election. Nonetheless, I saw something the other day that I feel justifies a more explicit declaration.

So, I was wasting much time on YouTube the other night (as I'm prone to do. It's a problem), and I stumbled across a video of a recent Sarah Palin rally in Ohio...or of those flat states that probably smell like manure in the spring. In any event, the clip was of a guy with a mic asking people, in very basic terms, "Why do you support Sarah Palin?" and "Why do you support McCain and Palin above Obama?" I recognize that these are angled questions, that they were looking to draw certain responses out of those interviewed. Regardless of this biased questioning, though, the responses proved to be much more sinister than I'd ever imagined. What I heard were things like "If Obama wins, the blacks will take over. I'm afraid he and his wife could be hiding a hatred of white folks," "Sarah will bring the righteousness of God to the White House," "Obama treats white people like scum, like trash." Be aware that I omitted much more hurtful descriptions.  

And this is middle America? This is what Palin has called "Real" America? I'm not sure why I'm so surprised. It's not like I'm unfamiliar with the racist, bigot, ultra-Conservative country bumpkin stereotype. In fact, one of them has been running the US for the past eight years (oops?). But I think finally hearing it, finally seeing it in its most pure and unadulterated form crystallized for me, the vicious hate and polarization that saturates the American experience. More than Sarah Palin's ignorance of foreign policy, more than her stunning inability to put together a coherent sentence, more than her generalized idiocy, her pursuit of this vote is what makes me so vehemently opposed to her and McCain. Instead of fighting hate, instead of refusing to involve racist and religious fanaticism in the public and civic discourse, they actively seek its promotion. These hate-filled, ignorant clods are actually DESIRABLE VOTERS! Palin and McCain pander to, appease and stroke the egos of these people in hopes of winning their support.

Something is fundamentally fucking wrong with this picture. Racism, fanaticism and hatred have no place in local communities, let alone federal government. I may just be nuts, but isn't the US currently trapped in a quagmire war in Iraq, trying to get rid of precisely this type of governance (up for debate, I know)? How is a fanatically Muslim theocrat who campaigns on the ostracism and killing of "infidels" any different from a fanatically Christian theocrat who campaigns by pandering to racism, hate and violence? Easy answer: They're not. 

If this demographic is, as Palin said, "Real" America, or "Pro" American, then I say screw the "Real"American vote. Regardless of how strong, deeply entrenched or insoluble these feelings of hatred are, they are not real, they are not valid, and reinforcing them through institutionalizing them in government does nothing but spread the myth that irrational, violent, polarized hate is acceptable in any form. 

So I close by saying:


Sunday, October 19, 2008


More proof that Canada is awesome: 

So, Jill Barber's new album, Chances just came out and if you check out one album I tell you to on this entire blog, please for the love of all things good and holy make it this one. It's a short 9-song affair, but probably the most instantly lovable album I've heard in at least a year. It's a "throwback album" in some sense- drawing most of its influence and aesthetics from the 1950s love song. HOWEVER, let it be known that this is not a superficial stylistic choice on Barber's part. This isn't her answer to Christina Aguilera's Back to Basics. If you're familiar with Barber's work, you'll listen to this album and instantly know that she's finally come into her strongest niche. She's been chipping away over the course of her last three releases to get to a place where her spirit, her voice and her songwriting meet up in perfect sync. And this is it, and it fits like a glove. Beautiful, charming, simple songs. They're damn near perfect. 

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Just Sayin...

I write many papers, take many notes, and have many conversations on my computer. Despite an absolute over saturation of word processing, the fact that Microsoft Word and Mac Messenger still underline the Canadian spellings of behaviour and colour has not become any less irritating. 

If I specify my language preference as English (Canada), then I don't like being told I'm wrong all the time. 

Fix that shit, Microsoft and Mac. 

Monday, October 13, 2008

Open Letter

To those who will listen,

Tomorrow could mark a turning point in Canadian history. Tomorrow we will vote to determine who will lead our country through one of the most tumultuous and uncertain periods since the Great Depression. We will are balancing on the brink of economic disaster, local, regional and global social tensions have exploded, our cities are crumbling and our agriculture is failing. We are living on the edge. Of what, we’re not so certain. But we’re on the edge of something significant.

When you vote tomorrow (and you should vote. Apathy is no longer an option), consider the values that you hold close. Don’t fall prey to polarizing politics, don’t buy into strategic voting campaigns, don’t be bullied into voting one way or another, and don’t be afraid to develop your own political persona. We all have specific values and morals and ethical frameworks that differentiate us from those around us, even if only in very subtle ways. Vote according to these principles. If you believe the financial crisis will be best solved by an open market, vote for the party that promotes an open market. If you believe that regulation is the way to go, vote for a party that promotes regulation.

We are constantly told to be informed, and to make educated/informed/logical/strategic decisions. So to inform ourselves, we run to the media, parents, teachers, authority figures of any variety in the hopes that we make the “informed” (read, correct) decision. What we fatally regret to consider, though, are our own feelings, ethics and persuasions. If your research has “informed” you that particular party promotes an open market, and you have been informed that this is good, but something inside you says otherwise, don’t ignore that tension. You know your own beliefs and wishes for society better than any person, newscast or website. Trust that voice of dissent within you. The nation only exists because we allow it to. Canada is nothing but an abstraction made valid through a shared mythology. This mythology is rooted in the individual spirits, hopes and beliefs of Canadian citizens. It is our wishes that construct our notion of “Canada,” so don’t ignore them. Your beliefs are the building blocks of the complete abstraction of the nation. So respect them, listen to them, and vote according to them.

I’m sitting in an airport right now. All around me ideologies are flowing into and around each other- the newspaper the guy next to me is reading, the broadcast on the TV in the bar across the terminal, the kid listening to his iPod, the girl hunched over her binder- every single one a different embodiment of a shared fantasy, every single one a different social entity with different priorities. You are one of this distinctive multitude. Tomorrow, when you’re in the voting booth, remember who you are, remember that you are as much a part of the political, social, ethical and philosophical discourse of Canadian identity as any official authority.

Please vote, please do so according to your convictions, regardless of what they may be.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


I know!

I suck at being up-to-date! And there's so much to write about- Sarah Palin just got her passport last year and thinks people and dinosaurs used to be bros. The fact that I only have time to write about the symbolic representations of children in late 19th century Feminist fiction makes me more bummed out than you know. 

Please forgive/bear with me. I have a long weekend coming up, so I'll REALLY try to get something to you crazy kids by Tuesday.

Apologies all around! 

In the mean time, enjoy something else that I didn't do:

Meallat's YouTube Channel

Monday, September 29, 2008


As I've mentioned before, I'm Canadian, and aggressively so. I believe that this country truly is wonderful and diverse and pluralistic, and doesn't just appear great on paper. As a nation, we posses an incredibly powerful creative impulse that manifests in world class music, art, literature and theatre. I try my absolute best to celebrate, defend and promote these creative pursuits. I listen to Canadian music, read Canadian plays and routinely tell people about how rad institutions like the CBC are. 

At the moment, however, I'm finding it increasingly difficult, as a fan and creator of the Canadian arts, to feel valid in my own nation. Our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, has already slashed funding to arts programs across the nation, and is campaigning for re-election on the promise of more of the same. When asked how he could justify such a policy, he responded by saying that the arts in Canada were a "niche" interest, and that "ordinary" Canadians don't support arts funding. 

I call bullshit.

I am a student of the arts- I immerse myself in the culture that surrounds us, I analyze, interpret and represent my social world in my own creative efforts in music, writing and social performance. I will make my career in the creative and cultural industries. When I say that art is my life, it's not just a pithy cliche that teenagers use to seem educated. I mean it in a profoundly functional and utilitarian way. The arts ARE my life and will continue to be my life until the last nail has been put into my coffin. 

In these sentiments, I am not alone. My friends, teachers and family embody the creative impulse of Canadians. I know musicians, artists, writers, actors, directors, performance artists, dancers. Every one of them finds their identity and their functional goals in life through artistic endeavors. And rest-assured, they are all normal people. We are not the Gore Vidals or the David Sedarises. We are not the Kidmans or Cruises (thank Christ) or the LuPones. As Margaret Atwood as put it- Canadian artists, at the level I am speaking of, do not stand at gallery openings complaining about their grant money. We live and work at the level of every day interaction. I play music as a part of my day, my friend keeps a journal that she updates every night, her friend doodles in the margins of his notebooks during class and his mother creates elaborate needlepoints before she goes to bed at night. 

This is the Canadian creative class. These are ordinary Canadians, making manifest the creative impulse inherent to all humans in non-institutionalized ways. To cut arts funding based on an assertion that normal people do not care about creativity, and to segregate artistry into the realm of "casual hobby" or "meaningless pasttime" is to declare these creative individuals unfit for participation in the social discourse. By telling us that we are an anomaly, a "niche" or a statistical throw-away, Mr. Harper, you have labelled us as second-class citizens. 

All Canadians are creative. All Canadians are artists. By cutting funding to formal arts programs, you have permanently crippled those grass-roots community organizations which focus on the creative industries. In your mind, you have simply grounded the highest strata of professional artistry, knocking those snobbish, gallery-going creative types down a peg or two. In reality, however, you have disabled and hindered community organizations- small groups of weavers or knitters, volunteer-based community theatre programs, media literacy groups, accessible music education for youth. You have dismembered, based on the opinions of "ordinary" Canadians, the very bonds, institutions and shared experiences that bring together even the most "average" citizens. 

As Canadians, and as innately creative and artistic individuals, we deserve to be heard. We are not second-class citizens, we are not worthless simply because our paintings or songs or plays don't contribute in any appreciable way to the GDP. We are the ordinary, creative and artistic class at the core of Canadian pluralism and diversity. If we are made unimportant, it is only because of false labels, blind ignorance, and eyes shielded from the social worth of creative activity. 

Demand better! Demand to be taken seriously! You are a Canadian with the same rights and freedoms as any "ordinary" person. Recognize the value of your creative efforts and defend them to the ends of the Earth. 

The artists and the creative workers are always the first people silenced by fearful and weak governments. 

Speak up. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Word on the street is that P.E.T.A. wants Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream to switch from using Cow's milk in their product to using human breast milk.

Titty Garcia?

Lactalicious Lemon-Lime?

Mammarific Mocha?

Bosom Berry?


I could go on for days. 

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Some of the best things going for me right now:

"Oh, My My" by Jill Barber from her new CD, Chances

"The Erl King" by Ghost Bees from the CD Tasseomancy

"Still In the Room" by Julia Nunes from the CD Left Right Wrong

"Lucklucky" by Veda Hille from the CD This Riot Life

"At the Bottom of Everything" by Bright Eyes from the CD I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

"Wood Between Worlds" by Laura Barrett 

"Freak Night" by Hot Pink DeLorean

"Never is a Promise" by Fiona Apple from the CD Tidal

"Elephants" by Rachael Yamagata from the CD Teeth Sinking into Heart

"Fernando" by Jenny Lewis from the CD Acid Tongue

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Knowledge is Power?

I am in university, and I love it. Abstract theories, things that can't possibly be proved right or wrong, and discursive semantics are pretty much the shit. That said, academia has its problems, and they're pretty serious. 

In my first year, I arrived at school, pumped on knowledge and the promise of finally being a part of the great liberally intellectual morass of "The Academy." It was a good year, to be sure, but not what I had anticipated. For so long, the university has been painted as an island of intellectual salvation in an ocean of inanity, a fortress against the judgmental, against the exclusive, against the less pleasant vicissitudes of every day life. I pretty much bought it. I came expecting a universalized, liberal education stressing the dismantling of boundaries between knowledge and the people, and was kinda disappointed. What I have discovered is that the university establishes an internal hierarchy which is just as rigid, if not more so, than the social structure of real life which is so thoroughly ripped apart in lectures. It's just sneakier. Rather than badges on a lapel, or some type of uniform (which I would argue actually exist in Universities, but maybe I'll get to that in a bit), rank is clearly deliniated through discourse, articulated through diction. Syke! I'm super guilty of it, too.

What I mean: When I sit down to read an academic article, an essay, or anything "peer reviewed," I do so in the spirit of the university. That is to say, in the pursuit of breaking down boundaries of knowledge, of enlightening myself. Too bad this isn't what happens. I sit in front of that damn article for hours sometimes, struggling just to find where the sentences break, never mind figuring out what it actually means. The knowledge that is supposed to free us from our socially restrictive shackles is bound and chained to the sinking brick of an inflated ego. Any knowledge that could be gleaned gets lost underneath the heavy gloss of academia, of discourse, of "validity." The dialogue between the student and the text becomes irreparably frustrated and we end up reading for its own sake, or perhaps because the syllabus tells us we're supposed to. In either case, the lofty goals of the university crumble under the weight of academic non-sense. Basically, in my experience, the majority of students read something they can't grasp, for reasons they don't understand. Score one for academia!

This frustration of communication between text and student sort of segues into the next problem I've found. The people writing these articles that we can't understand in any event are mostly old white men. Why is this a problem? Well, basically it means that any knowledge that we hope to gain from a university which celebrates pluralism, diversity and equality is encoded and structured and formatted by the hands of the dominant majority. This problem, at first just seems statistically accurate. In Canada in particular, there just simply happens to be a whole lot of old white men, and accordingly, there is a larger proportion of them writing academic articles. It gets sticky, though, when we link the first problem to the second- no one can understand what these guys are writing, and thus very few are capable of challenging them. So we have a "liberal" system in which a dominant majority (and its accompanying ideology) becomes irrefutable and inaccessible. Help? A boundary, then, is clearly placed between the university student, and "the academy." We are kept at an intellectual distance, just struggling to get through another definition of culture or communication, and the old, white, male figureheads of the academic world remain firmly where they are. 

But what about grad students? What about new, young professors? Good point. I have had some wonderful professors who do much to demystify the academic world for me. However, it is still an unfortunate reality that to become that professor, or to become a PhD candidate, you have to be willing to accept the ground rules of academia which have been laid down with some serious conviction by (you guessed it) the old white men. The hegemony of academia, then, isn't just entrenched, it's bacterial. It breeds further domination through forcing new students to simply accept that this is the way it's supposed to be. Want to be a successful PhD? You'd better write like one. Too bad the person you're modeling your writing after has probably written himself so deep into a logical tailspin that to try and fish him out would be fucking impossible. 

And so is the university: An oasis of liberal, pluralistic knowledge, buried under the egos and complications of confused students, WASPy-as-fuck professors, and hopped-up-on-caffeine-pills PhD candidates. What an oasis it is. 

(PS: Not all academics are like those WASPy Chaps. I know some amazing profs and TAs)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Funniest Thing Ever

Seeing Naomi Klein's newest book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism on one of those up-sell, impulse buy racks by the till at Wal-Mart. 


(As a close second, AdBuster's last issue was also pretty hilariously awful. The cover carried a message along the lines of "Hipsters: America's Cultural Dead-End." Way to alienate your entire audience, AdBusters.) 

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Secret Lives of Shrimp

So, I don't consider myself an 'environmentalist' in any capacity, really, but I try my best to consider my decisions and carry out my actions in a way that minimizes my environmental impact. That said, It's nearly impossible for me, or anyone else to effectively minimize their ecological footprint. Often, the environmental waste and degradation in which we currently find ourselves, and the environmental crises which we now collectively face, are often linked rather obliquely to the phenomenon of consumerism. Effectively, our disproportionately huge ability to create solid waste, our reliance on huge amounts of space to sustain ourselves, and our toxic methods of production have been blamed for the modern consumer society butting up against the environmental limits of our planet. What is unfortunate about how this relationship is presented, though, is that it often leads to laying guilt on the individual consumer. We come to see ourselves as gluttonous malcontents leeching off a defenseless planet for little or no actual gain. Granted, this is kind of true- we do consumer a whole lot more than we need to, and easily fall hook-line-and-sinker for the process of planned obsolescence.

It's hard to blame our glut on our own nature, though. Everyone, in some capacity, has an environmental conscience (or so I like to believe). We all know to recycle bottles, we know to try and re-use bags and containers, rather than throwing them out. So why, then, is it so hard for us to grab a hold of these feelings of environmentalism and carry them through to some productive end? I believe the problem is disclosure. We simply don't know what they hell we're buying, eating or wearing. The roots of any given product are either directly obscured by the company who sells it, or are simply ignored by individual consumers. I feel that the waste cycle of consumerism is rooted in these two problems: 1) The repression of causal links between source and final product by producers, and 2) The apathetic attitude of consumers toward the source of their products.

It's not super easy to change the first of those problems on an individual basis, but the second is well within our reach as individuals. When you consumer, do it intelligently, do it with some effort, don't simply trust the veneer of consumption. By the way, this is not to say I'm one of those anti-consumer, blow shit up people- I like stuff way too much for that. For example, one of the most environmentally destructive commercial practices is the trawling of ocean floors for marine food supply such as fish, but in particular, shrimp. To commercially harvest shrimp, boats trawl fishing areas. That is to say, they dropped weighted nets to the ocean floor and scrape it clean, gathering their target of shrimp, but also large amounts of "refuse"- other, undesirable creatures, which are killed and thrown back to decompose. This is not to mention the fact that the actual scraping of the land can drastically alter and even destroy the physical geography of marine ecosystems. Now, I like shrimp a whole lot, and I do eat quite a bit of it, as I'm sure many people do. This does not make us bad people. We are not going to hell for having that prawn curry. However, we can demand better. We need to demand full disclosure of certain commercial practices in order to make the best possible choice. When you go to a restaurant, ask them if they can source their produce, meats and fish. Don't be afraid to do so. Often at any decent restaurant, they will be able to let you know where a particular product came from, and how it was harvested. Some systems are already making this an easier process. For example, the Vancouver Aquarium has set up the "OceanWise" seafood rating. Any seafood product on a menu or in a store with the OceanWise seal of approval on it has been sourced and determined to be harvested sustainably. Given the choice between a regular prawn and an OceanWise one, try and pick the latter. 

That said, don't rely on others to source out your food for you- put in some effort. If you can find a market or a grocery store that has a solid system of tracing a product back to its origin, maybe consider switching your routine a bit. It's not a hard thing to do on an individual basis. It takes a bit more effort, and yes, trying to find food that is easily sourced can be frustrating, and even a bit more expensive, but if that's the case, pick a few things that you eat the most of- maybe rice, chicken and fresh fruit, an start with those- demand full disclosure of its roots, and buy your most popular groceries based on that. It's small individual actions and initiative such as these that can really alter a person's ecological footprint. 

Don't feel bad that you eat shrimp, don't get down on yourself because you cook with commercially-produced crops. Just do your homework, and work to reduce your impact on an individual basis. Get enough individuals together, and an action becomes collective and has great power to change the status quo. It sounds idealistic, and it is. But that's the point. It's just an idea, it's our jobs to make the effort to turn it into real, tangible change.