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.