Friday, June 29, 2007

Federer vs Safin

We are unapologetic Safin fans, drawn to him like moths to a flame. For us, this is perhaps the most anticipated match up of Wimbledon, though really, we think our headline ought to be Marat vs Safin, because in our estimation Federer, majestic as he may be, could very well be relegated to by-stander status, overshadowed by the internal character drama that Safin can bring to the match. A Federer/Safin match is unusual for Safin, of whom one commentator remarked "He displays more talent falling out of bed than most players show in their whole careers." As the chronic underachiever, it is not that often that Safin is faced with a player obviously of equal or greater calibre than himself. Getting psyched up for this match should not be a problem for Safin. Maintaining composure may be, after all, Marat is something of a Doesteyosky novel played out on a tennis court.

IfMarat Safin shows up ready to play, then we may have a repeat of the last match-up of these two, in Australia 2005, where Safin eventually went on to win it, after beating Federer in the semi-finals, and the level of play provided one of the most fascinating games of recent years.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Best Bar In The World

In one of our rare spare moments we came across this somewhat blurry photo from our SXSW sojourn earlier this year and it caused us to reflect on just what it is that we would look for in a drinking establishment. In the photo, we are outside in an alleyway, next to the stage where Cursive is about to play. The fellow with the white bucket in the centre of the picture has just set up a bar in the alleyway, and it strikes us that this is just what we want.
Despite our democratic tendencies and our belief in liberty, fraternity, and the whole egalite thing, sometimes we just want to be alone. Or rather, almost alone save for a few friends in some small dark hole in the wall. This little bar set-up, in this tight corner of the world, captured for a moment the whole transistory dream-like quality of a night out in the demi-monde, offering the opportunity that everyone longs for: this bar might never be here again, and this night will never be experienced again, yet for those select few who were there, it provides a shared moment in a rather exclusive secret.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Is The Boom Over?

The newspapers were awash with predictions from the provincial Finance Minister that the decade of unbridled oil wealth is coming to a close. Sure, Lyle Oberg admitted, the provincial surplus from oil revenues was the second highest in provinicial history, but a sharp decline is coming. This announcement follows recent reports that the summer months could bring with them much labour strife, as hundreds of provincial unions have contracts that expire. This fact makes Oberg's news seem very likely to be a bit of posturing to help prepare the public for the government's position on holding down wages. However, casual conversations heard on the street, in shops, and even in grocery store check-out lines, speak to the feeling that new oil discoveries are becoming harder and harder to find, lending some credence to Oberg's stance.

More interesting though, are stories of more and more people leaving Calgary, either disillusioned with their inability to find adequate housing, or that the promises of good pay cannot match the ever-increasing cost of living in Calgary and Edmonton. As well, a number of educated, middle-class bureaucrats are also checking out of the major urban centres, cashing in on the real estate boom as they move back to the cheaper climes of Saskatchewan or Nova Scotia.

Is the boom really over then?

The last fifteen years have perhaps done significant damage to the social infrastructure of the city. First, the nation-wide recession of the early 1990s inhibited all sorts of growth, while encouraging youths to enter post-secondary education (since fewer and fewer out-of-high school jobs were available). Unfortunately, the glut of university graduates produced during the period of 1992-1997 infamously saw degree-holders mired in entry-level service sector jobs, that did little to encourage any form of social stability, and in fact increased worker mobility (ie, I can just as easily get a crappy job elsewhere as here). This transience delayed marriages, home-purchasing, and even child-rearing. Without significant income, this population remained part of the renting class and very few were able to take advantage of the subsequent dramatic rise in real estate values that began in the late 1990s and approach significant levels in recent years. More recent graduates however, have had something of an easier time finding post-university careers and are enjoying a larger degree of prosperity than those five to ten years older.

One wonders if we are not something of a lost generation, but the pain has not been limited to the university education. Residential values in working class neighbourhoods remained flat throughout the 1990s, only recently increasingly significantly. This contributed to the sharpening division in Calgary between the rich and poor. Those who were barely surviving in 1991, continue to barely survive, while those who were even somewhat ahead are now tremendously further afield.

Furthermore, the recession, coupled with the budget slashing of the deficit fighting years prevented much necessary infrastructure work from occuring. The social services, designed to adequately cope with a population of approximately 650,000 were reduced by ministerial order, even as the population began to rocket towards a million. Many of the major projects that are currently causing traffic chaos, are projects first designed in the last decade, some even longer.

The wealth generated in this province, very little of which has been used to deal with these problems in a sustainable or constructive manner makes things all the more frustating.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Paul Virilio vs. Facebook

Having recently finished Paul Virilio's 1998 text on the nature of science in the age of the Internet, The Information Bomb, as well joining Facebook, we could not help our Facebook experience inform our reading of Virillio, nor could we prevent Virillio from colouring our views of Facebook, for the two make an interesting pairing.

On one hand, and at the simplest level, Facebook does nothing that email does not, except that Facebook would be an email program that allows one to search other people's address book as well as letting you spy on other people's notes to each other. The increasing popularity of the social networking site, however, has led to the development of numerous applets and widgets that people can use to customize their Facebook pages. In this sense, Facebook appears to be more of a synthesis of many singular aspects of the Internet. They've even added a marketplace option.

The Information Bomb, while not necessarily easy to follow, nor concise in it's thinking, was the French philosopher's take on the whole Internet experience. Given the apparent failure of various space exploration endeavours of the 1990s, Virilio became convinced that we were entering a period of internal colonisation. He was also concerned that the American government had not abandoned all of its designs for the military origin and applications of the Internet. Indeed, this is where the title comes from, for he ominously suggests in the closing pages of his book, that perhaps the marketing campaign and push for publicizing the Internet was just another avenue to ensare the citizens of the globe in an American net. As soon as one established an online presence and became dependent on it for access or exchange of information, one became vulnerable to any American attempt to disrupt or limit service.

However, there is also an intriguing sort of sidebar story to The Information Bomb that Facebook clearly illustrates. Virillio was somewhat fascinated with the introduction of webcams and declared that the ability to peer at live events any where in the world marked the collapse of "local time". Many earlier commentators have mentioned how the rise of the twenty-four news channels had shrunk the world, but for Virillio the web cams were something different. First of all, they were incredibly mundane, but more importantly, the user/viewer had more control over what to watch. One did not have to wait for a particular point in the news cycle to find out what was going on, one simply went online and watched it live.

With Facebook, we find out instantly what is happening among our friends and family. Where Virilio talked about the telescoping effect of technology, we can see that the sixteen hours and thousands of kilometers between Calgary, Canada and Sydney, Australia, are no barriers to the immediate flow of information. We can find out instantly what is going on anywhere in the world provided we have a Facebook friend online. Granted, Facebook does not seem to have to capacity for live video (yet), but with the ability to post immediate photos and captured video, it's pretty close.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Early Morning History in the Making

It has almost become a ritual, a match-up we all wait for Nadal vs. Federer, Roland Garros. One of these two men will make history this morning, but it remains to be seen just how large of scale, that history will be. Will it be Nadal, becoming the first man in over twenty years to win three consecutive French Open titles? Or will Federer become well and truly on his way to winning the first Grand Slam in men's tennis since the 1960s?

These two met a few weeks ago at the finals of the Hamburg clay courts, and Federer dismantled the young Spaniard with authority, ending his impressive clay court unbeaten streak. It was the first time that Federer beat Nadal on clay, and it could not have come at a better time. Federer wants the Grand Slam, having won everything else tennis has to offer, but as Bud Collins said, Roland Garros is the gateway to the slam, and Nadal is Cerberus.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The G8 and the Future of Canada

We have spent the last two weeks or so watching and reading reports coming out of Germany predicting and the reporting on Canada's behaviour at the recent G8 meeting, asking ourselves, what need for commentary is there? The Harper government's position has been abundantly clear on the issue of climate change, and even the rumours that Canada was attempting to block or delay an aid package to Africa was not as surprising as it might have seen on the surface, given the government's own treatment of minorities and disadvantaged groups at home.

Upon reflection though, what is becoming increasingly surprising is the rapid change that the Harper government is bringing to the international Canadian identity. For quite some time now, Canada has been active in the international arena, acting as something of an intercessor, or go-between for developing nations seeking access to other members of the G8. That role, along with a host of other international roles that Canada has played, seem now to be over.

It is no longer surprising, but perhaps becoming alarming, the degree to which the international Canadian position is changing. If you consider the issues that dominated the last Canadian election, where Harper eked out his minority government in January 2006, there was very little debate over internationalism. There was discussion over the Canadian role in Afghanistan, which as moved now from a more "traditionallly Canadaian" peacekeeping role, to something more aggressive under NATO auspices, as well as debate over Kyoto which the majority of Canadians continue to report they agree with, at least in principle, and the Harper government has effectively walked away from. Now, to peacekeeping and a history of pushing environmental causes (the CFC ban in Montreal 1976, Mulroney's role at the Rio Summit), the Harper government is shifting Canada's role in the developing world.