Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Friends On The Scene

We are pleased to announce that our friend, documentary filmmaker Dominque Keller as launched a new blog aimed at collecting the stories of young women coming to grips with the various and conflicting legacies of feminism.

We are very interested to see how her project unfolds and encourage one and all to visit her site:

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Heath Ledger, Best Supporting Actor

Warner Bros. is apparently pushing to Heath Ledger for a Best Supporting Actor nomination. At first we were looking forward to such a thing, viewing it has an apology for not winning one for Brokeback Mountain. However, watching the way that critics have started to rally around the film has put it in a different perspective. Now it seems that the push is not so much to honour Ledger, who died back in January just as promotions for the movie began, lending an air of tradgedy to his portayal of the Joker, but rather to give legitimacy to movies based on comic books as serious films. By extension, this legitimacy would extend to comic books themselves.

It seems about right that we are going through this cultural acceptance of comic books and graphic novels. Other genres, like the Western, have been through it as well. The successes of movies like Unforgiven and Brokeback Mountain came decades after the genre was pioneered in the 1920s and 1930s. 

In a larger perspective, this is perhaps signalling the momentum of the cultural shift that we have talked about elsewhere, i.e. as members of those generations raised in the primarily visual medium of television, movies, and yes comic books, mature to become cultural producers, they seek to validate the myths that they grew up with.

We'll write more about this in a few days. 

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Okkervil River

Hiphop and electronica figure prominently on our year end lists, but let's not forget our unabashed love of sweet rock n' roll. The Islands may be quirky goodness, but Austin's Okkervil River gives it straight up. Aside from some stellar songwriting, the band also has it's own peculiar sense of humour, as witnessed with their videos for their new album The Stand-Ins, made up exclusively of footage of their friends re-recording covers of all the songs. All of the videos are available on YouTube, and include the likes of A.C. Newman (shown here).

Not to be outdone, Tokyo Police Club, with their album Elephant Shell, has also been filling our sweet tooth musical cravings.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What's Playing In Our Office

Remember when we argued that Obama represented the end of the 1960s? It seems like Washington, D.C.'s Fort Knox Five collective felt that this year's election was an opportunity to wind the clock back with booty-shaking results.

Speaking of sonic time-travel, we've also been giving Portishead's latest album, with more than a nod to 1960s style psychedelia, heavy rotation of late:

While the Fort Knox Five record seemed to presage a mood change in the nation's capital, it put us in our mind to revisit the Beastie Boys' own love letter to their home town on the post-9/11 To The Five Boroughs.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Music Update

Here are some YouTube clips of what's been on our stereo lately, starting with something off of the stellar Herbaliser album, Same As It Never Was:

We've also been spinning Cadence Weapon's Afterparty Babies pretty heavy too:

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Sean Avery, we thank you, really

Yes we agree that the above title requires a lot of explanation, but it's true. If Sean Avery of the Dallas Stars had not spoken so poorly last week while the team was in Calgary we never would have had the chance to talk about what he reportedly said, something that ended up catching us offguard. According to Avery, he was simply trying to stoke a little hype and emotion about the game since Calgary defenseman Dion Phaneuf is dating Avery's ex-girlfriend Elisha Cuthbert and referred to Cuthbert as "my sloppy seconds". This created an immmediate sensation, especially among the NHL's older guard. What became evident though, is that while everyone seems to agree that the term is innappropiate and extremely disrepectful to Cuthbert, there is some argument as to how disrespectful it actually is because, as it turns out, the meaning of the term has slowly changed over the last few decades.

That langauge changes and slowly evolves is nothing new, but that we can hear this happening as a generational argument is rare. For example, Avery's use of "my" implies that "sloppy seconds" is a noun, objectifing Cuthbert and putting her on a level with last night's dinner leftovers. A lot of our younger friends are in agreement with this kind of usuage for the term - not that he was right to use it, but rather that he used it in the correct manner. However, for many of older friends, say 50+, the term is much more explict, describing an action. Thus, it would be wrong to say "he can have my sloppy seconds" just as it would be wrong to say "he can have my ménage a trois", and in fact this term is a little closer to the idea held by older speakers, although ménage a trois implies a sort of consensual character that is absent from sloppy seconds, though to call it gang rape might take it too far, but not necessarily.

Our conversation quickly turned from Avery to another derisive turn who's definition has dramatically changed over the last forty years ago: punk. Prior to the establishment of Legs McNeil's magazine Punk, the term described, as Williams S. Burroughs poetically put it, "the boys who gave their asses to the wolves". It was always something of a msytery to us how the term went from describing gay prostitutes to rowdy musicians, but Sean Avery's comments led us to reconsider the impact that the infamous 1969 Stonewall Riots had on the emerging punk scene. The raids on gay bath houses and subsequent marches are typically seen as the jumping off point of Gay Rights, and it would be hard to imagine that as Greenwich Village was the locus for much of this activity, as well as for what would become punk, that the two crowds did not mix, nor that media-savy types like Legs McNeil would not notice the press the gay crowds were garnering.

We think, and largely because of Sean Avery, that the time is ripe for a critical re-evaluation of gay culture on early punk. 


If you're not using Twitter, then you're probably missing out on the informally organized Month of New Music. Twitter prompts users to post 140 character updates as to what they are doing, though what users actually write is highly variable. Some use Twitter as a microblog and talk about what they doing, watching, or eating, while others use it to start conversations, organize meetings or events, or share news in a kind of RSS-style. Realizing that new music was a fairly common discussion on Twitter, user cawlin suggested that folks listen to one new album a day for the month of November. The albums do not have to be "new" as in recently released, but rather new to that particular user, turning the Month of New Music into a kind of referral music for people on the look out to expand their musical circles.

Twitter users can actively participate in Month of New Music by including the phrase #monthofnewmusic (the # flags phrases for Twitter's search engine), or can simply view what users are playing by visiting cawlin's dedicated Month of New Music site: http://cawlin.com/monm/

Over the next few days, we will posting YouTube clips of some of our own selections for #monthofnewmusic here, so check back often.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Las Vegas: Paying a Price to be Left Alone

It's sometimes funny how often you can look at a thing and then suddenly it gives you a new idea. A recent trip to Las Vegas helped focus an idea that we probably had been working on for awhile, but it took Vegas to tease out.

Reading some of our earlier posts on theories of consumption and wealth, as put forward by the likes of Thorstein Veblen, we have, in the past, toyed with the idea of purpose and uses of wealth. Last week, Vegas helped illustrate that wealth is anti-social and insular. Walking around the tourist areas, proved the inspiration for this.

Tourists areas are by nature supposed to attract people, giving one ample opportunity to study crowds and crowd behaviours, so one of the interesting things we noticed about Las Vegas was the general trend that geography and social density are related to wealth. True, this has been pointed out before, that zoning permits tend to group like economic groups together, something that is reinforced through real estate prices. Also it is true that the distribution of wealth is uneven, there are the numbers of wealthy people decreases as the value of wealth increases. However, quite a few tourist areas are free, or have a significant portion of their attractions available for free. This leads one to suggest that the distribution of tourists, whose goals are to see attractions, would be relatively even across destinations.

This is not true, however, in part because the ancilliary services (like food and souvenirs) to support these attractions are expensive. The prospect of visiting an attraction and paying six dollars for a cup of coffee dissuades a number of people, in effect turning the extra few dollars per cup into a premium some are willing to pay in order to have a cup of coffee in less crowded conditions. A survey of restaurants can yield the same interpretation: witness the crowding of buffet lines and the sparse attendance of the Michelin-starred restaurants. With restaurants particularly, but also many other services, such as shopping, not all of the price differential can be attributed to what we'll call a "privacy premium". Part of the price differential is to recoup costs from superior or rarer ingredients, as well as the higher real estate prices. Furthermore, some higher end shops also include a more personalized shopping experience as part of their price differential: fewer customers in a store increases the likelihood that the shopper can receive individual attention, either informally or through appointment. This extra attention can often help identify a better suited item for purchase, just as eating more expensive food can result in eating food with healthier ingredients.

Again, we find wealth a fascinating area of study, especially the ways in which the possession of even a little bit of wealth helps to reinforce or maintain the benefits of wealth.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cinema Whispers

Face it, you're all talking about it . . .

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Sixties Are Finally Over

Back in March, in a post entitled "The Ghosts That Haunt Us (Richard Nixon Lives)", we mused about the ebb and flow of revolutionary and counter-revolutionary movements, specifically in the context of the French Revolution and the tumultuous American 1960s. At the time, we talked about the current Bush II government having its roots in the Nixon administration, and drew some analogies to the French Revolution, in the wake of Barack Obama's presidential victory last night, we'd like to extend that idea, suggesting that now, finally, the United States can begin to move past the divisions that erupted during the 1960s. No longer will they haunt every political argument. Sure, the short-term  will probably see a lot more talk about the 1960s, but a post-Obama U.S. will be one that faces new problems, instead of rehashing old ones. A post-Obama U.S. will finally admit, the Sixties are over.

Back in March we talked briefly about the reign of Louis Phillipe, the last King of France, and so-called Citizen King after his liberal tendencies. Louis Phillipe came of age during the French Revolution, that starting date of which most historians point to 1789. That his coronation came in 1830 does not lessen the claim that Louis Phillipe was a child of the Revolution. Despite ten years of Revolutionary government, followed by reign of Napoleon, who pronounced the Revolution officially over, the return of the Bourbon monarchy after a twenty-five year absence saw an effort to unwind many of the changes made during the Revolution. After the death of Louis XVIII in 1824, matters only escalated under Charles X, creating support for the liberal backlash that enabled Louis Phillipe to assume the thrown in 1830.

Part of what happened in the years after Napoleon was the aging of the Revolutionary generation. The men of 1789, who might have been in their thirties and forties at the time, were by 1815 in their sixties and seventies, and by 1830, in all likelihood, dead. The generation that had to live during the transition from Napoleon to the Bourbons did much to give rough shape to what the legacy of the Revolution would be, and it was their children that grew up to support Louis Philipe in 1830.

We have often referred to the 1960s as a failed revolution, but this assumes that all revolutions have as their aim a political regime change. As a social revolution, the 1960s have left the United States a vastly different place than where it was in 1959. Watch AMC's Mad Men and you get to see some of those differences, but there are all sorts of formalities, traditions, and rituals that did not survive the 1960s. The back and forth between Republican and Democratic presidents can be seen as part of an on-going debate over which aspects of the 1960s should be allowed to endure, which carried forward, and which overturned. 

Just as Louis-Phillipe absorbed the lessons of the Revolution in his youth and they provided a context for society under his reign, Obama is literally a child of the sixties (born 1961), and they provide part of the framework for his vision of the United States in a way that George W. Bush (born 1946), Hillary Clinton (born 1947), and John McCain (born 1936) cannot match. For Obama, the sixties were a reality to be lived, not argued over. 

The sixties are over. The future is now.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Who Says There's No Global Warming

Everybody wandered around town today in something of a daze. The first day of turning the clock back an hour left everyone somewhat off their game, but the real confusion lay in the recent warm weather. The high today reached 17 degrees celsius - an unsual feat for a northern Canadian prairie city. True, Calgary is home of the fabled "Chinook" or "snow-eater" a warm high pressure system responsible for unseasonably high temperatures in winter, and the telltale Chinook-arch cloud formation was visible all last week, but nevertheless it makes one wonder . . . 

Monday, October 20, 2008

Flotsam and jetsam

Here's another piece of classic internet effluvia that looking for information on Joy Division yielded - a short clip from a review of the biopic Control:

The line we loved was the opener: "Any biography of a fringe performer with a cult following must give the uninitiated some clue as to what the fuss was about"

Our answer is no. 

Granted, Ray Bennett goes on to argue that such efforts are necessary for the film to move beyond a narrow circle, which is true, but that presupposes a desire to move beyond a narrow circle, as if that were the goal of all film, music, or art. Certainly, Control's lack of effort is in keeping with the music of Joy Division. That same turning your back on fame is echoed in the sentiment behind American Hardcore, where American punks deliberately tried to avoid mainstream success. In fact, somewhere out there is a whole catalogue of deviancy literature on the efforts of subcultures to keep themselves below the radar. 

Who Killed The Electric (Mini) Car

Seriously, it's hard to believe the following news report. BMW is announcing that they are coming out with an electric version on the Mini Cooper - great news to electric car fans. However, we question how many electric car fans have not seen Who Killed The Electric Car. Obviously not BMW. They are still running the electric Mini on the same leasing plan that GM did - at the end of the lease period that cars are to be returned to BMW. You can't be serious.

For an article, click here.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


We'll be honest. After almost a decade of looking at "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelets, the iNietzsche application  for the iPhone with it's  "What Would Nietzsche Say?" function  makes us giggle. After all, when it comes to timely advice, who would not want to turn to a man who said:

"That passion is better than Stoicism and hypocrisy, that being honest in evil is still better than losing oneself to the morality of tradition, that a free human being can be good as well as evil, but that an unfree human being is a blemish upon nature and has no share in any heavenly or earthly comfort; finally, that everyone who wishes to become free must become free through his own endeavour, and that freedom does not fall into any man's lap as a miraculous gift" (Untimely Meditations, 1876)

Friday, October 17, 2008

We're All Marxists Now

Yes, the above is something a common phrase around here, often used to reference Marx's idea that technological change causes economic changes which in turn leads to political change. We are currently finding this notion hard to resist, as computers and the internet represent some pretty major techonological changes, the impact of which is only now starting to be understood.

However, here's a little news headline from Germany (via the UK Guardian) that suggests we're not the only ones thinking this way. Click here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Election Results

The last week provided a lot of chatter in our office regarding the Canadian Federal Election, and they ranged from the reluctant prediction of a Conservative majority at 157 seats, to almost nothing changing (how right that almost was!) to a Liberal-Conservative tie. It was the prospect of a tie that generated the most controversy, not necessarily because it was wrong (though it was), but because it was based on some troubling long-term trends that last night's voter turnout indicated might in fact be right.

To begin with, we had the suggestion that Canada is in for a string of minority governments, probably for the next seven to ten years. The idea for this is based on demographics. Currently, the most populous demographic in Canada is the aging Baby Boomer generation.  The Boomers and their parents also happen to be the demographic most likely to vite. If you accept the argument that people grow more conservative as they age, then this becomes the premise used to predict a Conservative win.  

The Liberals meanwhile are thought to be favoured by the "middle-classes" and more importantly the so-called Generation X cohort. The suggestion is that this particular group is currently the most frustrated and jaded politically. In part because this was the group most hurt by the Chretien/Martin cuts of the 1990s. Attempts to influence the direction of those policies was blocked by the presence of numerous middle-aged Baby Boomers  who had joined the political process in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This group is therefore leaving the Liberal Party and in many cases the political process altogether. Last night's voter turnout at 59% has the distinction of being the lowest turnout in over a hundred years. Previously, that honour was held by the election that Paul Martin won (two elections ago) in which 60% of the voters showed up and gave Martin a minority. Furthermore, this is complicated by accusations that the "middle-class" is shrinking.

Despite their success last night, the tie scenario predicted the NDP losing seats based on the belief that they are "too much about unions" (indeed, fears about the economy might have helpd them out in Ontario). Union membership is declining, especially amongst youth, who are finding the workplace a radically different place than post-WWII factories. Layton perhaps has sensed this and is trying to transition his party to something else with their green platform - the notion of a tie was based on the Liberal's ability to steal voters away from the NDP.

Which brings us to the environment.

When Canadians are polled the environment is constantly one of the top issues. However this consistently fails to translate at the voting booth. With the prediction of a tie, the premise hear, and indeed the one that further projects a series of minority governments, is that the environment is one of THE major issues of the millenial generation, a generation that is widely suspected of failing to vote by the widest margins. Demographically, it also outnumbers Generation X. Thus, the environment ought to be seen as a kind of bellweather of voter participation. The first election that sees both an uptick of voter participation and votes for environmental policies will signal the entrance of the millenial generation. The next majority government will only occur once the millenials have fully entered the ring.

This is also why the heat is on the NDP. The Greens are nipping at their heels, and have none of the baggage the existing parties have and thus are capable of wooing voters disenchanted with the current political system.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Mako, A Man for Many Seasons

Something we just stumbled upon, and it leaves us shaking our head. Born in Kobe, Japan, Japanese-American actor Kobe (he became a citizen in 1956), started acting in 1962 with an appearance on The Lloyd Bridges show, at the age of 29. Since then, he worked almost continuously until his death in 2006, although his last film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, where he provided the voice of Splinter, was not released until 2007. Seriously, from 1962 to 2007 (forty-five years), he appeared or contributed to at least one project per year excepting 1985, and 2002 (perhaps needing a break after taking a turn in Pearl Harbour). We are hard-pressed to think of another acting career as consistent and are super-impressed. To check out his full v.c., head on over to his entry at IMDB.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Music Update

Here's a quick rundown on what we've been listening to:

The new Okkervil River, The Stand-Ins, has been on steady play lately, despite it's unexpected polish. The album art makes us think mid-period Social Distortion, but the song-writing belies a much stronger pop sensibility.
The Streets, Everything Is Borrowed, is causing something of a stir, as half the office is finding it a brilliant mixture of self-awareness and retro-style beats. The other half claims it as sappy platitudes over cheesy muzak. Bring on the cage match.

Surprisingly, Sloan's Parallel Play has only managed to get on air twice, as it's polished pop seems somewhat less so when stacked next to Okkervil River. 

Or, perhaps it's because certain elements have fallen in love with the Minutemen and Gang of Four again and are holding our radios hostage. 

There are worse things that could happen, we suppose.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

American Hardcore

Yesterday we took time out of our oh-so-busy schedules to watch the documentary on early American punk, American Hardcore. For perhaps the first time, the historical focus has finally started to shift form the early CBGB days, London, and late 1970s Los Angeles, to the development of hardcore punk in Washington, Southern California and New York. It was odd to watch the documentary with local counterculture historian Sean Marchetto present, as the film seemed to vindicate several points he made in his University of Calgary Masters' Thesis, Tune In, Turn On, Go Punk.

"The conversations I was having with people in 1999 was very different from what people are talking about now. Books like Legs McNeil's Please Kill Me and Clinton Heylin's From The Velvets to the Voidoids were really all that were out there. Hardcore was still to recent, people were still trying to remember the beginnings."

One of the things that Marchetto seemed particularly pleased about were the brief discussions about hardcore punks and their broken homes, "You'd read these early oral histories about people coming to New York or L.A. and there'd be suggestions that they came from broken homes. Rarely would they come out and talk about their family life, though Henry Rollins and Lydia Lunch have been rather upfront, but instead they'd talk about showing up at the bus stop in a particular year. If you took that year and worked backwards from their birthday, or their approximate age in 1999, it turned out a lot of these people were fifteen, sixteen, or seventeen when they started getting involved in what turned out to later to be hardcore.  Groups like Bad Brains and Black Flag were older though, and you could tell that they belonged to that earlier generation of punks because they were the originators."

"There has to be some kind of connection between punk, and the counterculture in general really, and family life. Ideally sociologists and psychologists would find this a fertile area of study."

Driving Through Traffic and Into the Past

As we noted earlier via Twittter, we are currently reading Tom Vanderbilt's Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do (and what it says about us). Halfway through, Vanderbilt makes the rather poetic notion that driving in traffic (as opposed simply driving) is driving into the past. He says this based on the observation that each driver is reacting to an event that has occurred in front of them, driving towards the event horizon so to speak, while at the same time the locus of that horizon expands outwards to engulf more and more traffic, much in the manner that the light of stars now reaching our eyes burnt out millions and millions of years ago. 

Friday, September 26, 2008

On the campaign trail

Suprisingly, we are less than enthused about the upcoming Canadian election and it is taking real effort on our part to stay interested and informed. The Conservative Party's campaign slogans, "Dion - he's not worth the risk" seem to acknowledge implicitly that Harper himself is no catch, but is at least marginally better than Dion. Dion, for his part, is generating all of the ideas in the campaign, something ideally, ought to indicate that he should win - if, Canadians agree. Layton, meanwhile, appears to be tarred with fallout over Tony Blair, even though the two superficially have nothing to do with each other. However, Layton, like Blair, we suppose, is seen as a vigourous and well-spoken leader who's modern style is at odds with the blue-collar roots of his party, and after Blair, that is generating significant doubts. 

"Modern style" is an interesting term to crop up in the campaign as well. All three of the major leaders are from the same social generation and have many of the same foundational views on things, unlike a certain other presidential campaign south of the border. This is mostly a problem for Layton, as the world has changed and the NDP have yet to find a new position as a true left alternative (whatever that may mean, and it's clear that NDP doesn't know).

Who will win? Harper is fear-mongering in a time of economic uncertainty. Dion is suggesting solutions. How afraid of the future Canadians actually are will determine the winner. 

Monday, September 15, 2008

Tweet of the day

Twitter user ParisLemon offers a brilliant summary of the news worth knowing today:

"Stock market is crashing, but the new kings of leon album sounds good."

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Music Update

Just a quick summary of some of the things that we've been listening to over the past few weeks. The new Michael Franti & Spearhead album, All Rebel Rockers, really took us by surprise at it's overall danceability - kinda like when Chumbawamba released Tubthumping and everyone wondered at the disappearance of the politics, subsumed as they were in the background. Speaking of good feelings, Montreal's Hexes and Ohs appear to us to have inherited Sassy Magazine's Cute Band Alert mantle. Don't believe us, check out this video for "H-H-High School" from their new album Bedroom Madness.

Finally Portland, Oregon's Jaguar Love have grown on us substantially. Their album, Take Me To The Sea, is filled with classic metal moves, but with a freedom and reckless abandon akin to The Bronx.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Best of Summer Movies, L'Enfant

We watch a lot of movies in our office; typically once a day someone shows something, either after the coffee buzz has worn down and everyone has entered that mental no man's land of three o'clock, or else late into the evening when folks are too wired to go home. Our tally for the summer stands at seventy-three films.

The two most noteworthy are perhaps David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises (2007), and a Belgian film entitled, L'Enfant (2005). Eastern Promises, is filled with all the tension and edgieness that one expects from a director like Cronenberg who is capable of arguing that filmed car crashes can be high art. Further, as his second time working with actor Viggo Mortensen, he is able to coax out perhaps one of Mortensen's most nuanced performances. Concerned with the migration of Eastern Europeans into the West (specifically London), the film looks at the descent of some of these travellers into the world of organized crime and human traffically. A visually stunning, and not just for the extensive tatoos of the Russian mob characters (including Viggo), it left us awed.

If Eastern Promises captivated with it's stunning intensity, L'Enfant was something else entirely. Filmed in a cinema veritie style, it had none of the production value of Cronenberg's studio/art house movie. One never forgot that Eastern Promises was entertainment. L'Enfant, on the otherhand was different. The film explores the struggle of a young couple who have just had a baby. We never really find out their ages, but a rough estimate is that he is perhaps twenty, and she sixteen or seventeen. He, Bruno, is a neighbourhood hoodlum, having roped two local grade school boys into his "crew", and the threesome commit all manners of petty crimes. The film begins when she, Sonia, returns home from the hospital with the baby and finds that Bruno has sublet her flat, and is currently living down by the riverbank. She is upset at the fact that Bruno appears unconcerned, and Bruno slowly begins to realize that his lifestyle must change. 

The baby presents several challenges that neither Bruno or Sonia are capable of dealing with, likely owing to their youth and absence of family network. Despite the added financial burden of a baby, Bruno demonstrates little understanding of money, using his ill-gotten proceeds to by clothes, rent cars, even a baby seat for said car, only to sell or barter the goods away hours later for a fraction of their cost. When Sonia, in a bout of post-partum despair that she wished the baby had never come, Bruno takes that as a sign to contect his fence and arranges to have the baby sold. From there, the film is on, through many twists and turns. At no point is it "entertaining" but just as much, never let's the viewer go. At times, one feels like Alex the Droog being forced to watch the images of violence accompanied by Beethoven's Fifth.

Monday, September 01, 2008

The Watchmen Addendum, Part II

While The Watchmen's opening negation always stuck with us, clearly linked to it's cause, the other memory we had of The Watchmen lay dormant for a long time. Well over a decade later, after reading the The Watchmen, we came across an interview with Jimi Hendrix in which he claimed "I don't want to be a clown anymore", referring to the fact that he felt people expected pyrotechnics and not musicianship from his performances. Something about the remark struck us with half-filled rememberances of existential angst. Re-reading The Watchmen, we came across it:

"Man goes to see a doctor. Says he's depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says 'Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.'

Man bursts into tears. Says, 'But doctor . . .

. . . I am Pagliacci.'"

Watchmen Addendum, Part I

One of the key moments in The Watchmen that resonated with us for years, was in fact the opening lines:

"The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout "Save us!" . . .

". . . and I'll look down, and whisper "No.""

Obviously the film makers charged with editting the trailer for the movie were struck with it as well.

Years later, when reading Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged (soon to be it's own movie, with Angelina Jolie), and found ourselves disagreeing with the celebrated Rand over how her protanganists' own "No" played out, it was perhaps because we were still hung up on The Watchmen and looking for something a little more dramatic, with a touch more nihilism.

We Watch The Watchmen

A few weeks ago we found ourselves hanging out, across the street from a bookstore, aimlessly watching people stroll along the boulevard. Over coffee we watched people coming and going, and eventually noticed a steady stream of customers entering and exiting the bookstore. We noticed that single men paid the store little attention, but it was the men walking with significant others that caught our eye, as it appeared that something in the window caught theirs. From where we were sitting we couldn't make out what it was in the window that was causing the causal commotion, but after investigating further, we found that the store and setup a display of of The Watchmen trade paperback. A twelve part comic book miniseries when we were younger, the book was stunning - unlike anything else we had read. It seemed to turn the entire notion of superherodom on its' head. Good guys were bad guys, and bad guys were . . . well, everyone was bad. It had swearing and nudity, and the guys behind the counters wouldn't sell it to you if you weren't old enough. Borrowed copies circulated through our grade six class like wildfire.

All of the men walking past the display, seemed like us, to have been right around thirty, too young to have past the "cool test" when the Watchmen came out the first time and were now picking up the trade paperback to make up for lost time. Without thinking, a few of us picked up copies, and we all felt like we were apart of some kind of generational moment, simultaneously, we also felt kind of lame, as if we were trying to make up for our lack of cool some twenty years ago.

Obvisouly, we are eagerly awaiting the Warner Brothers' film adaptation slated to appear this fall (though apparently a lawsuit from 20th Century Fox is threatening to delay it).

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Lost Grooves

It's hard to believe that things have changed so much, and yet at the same time, not enough. Below is a story about Paul Mawhinney, a former record store owner who is trying to part with his record collection, spanning decades of collecting. The collection, valued at $50 million US, is being offered for $3 million, and has no takers. Surely some univeristy, like Bowling Green, home to prestigious popular studies programme would be interested.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Suburbs are bad, m'okay.

We've long held that suburbs are bad, poorly designed, wasteful, and divisive, but now it seems that the suburbs will make you fat to boot.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

More two cents worth

Other albums from the 1990s that might deserve a space somewhere would be Becks "Mellow Gold" or perhaps "Odelay". To a lesser extent, Stereolab's "Emperor Tomato Ketchup Soup".

And of course, hard to beleive, but it was so of the 1990s, Pavement's "Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain".

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Few More Candidates

Here's some more candidates for our list of Top Ten albums:

R.E.M.: Automatic For the People
Beck: Take your pick, Mellow Gold or Odelay (though everyone wants to say One Foot In The Grave)
My Bloody Valentine: Loveless - this one perhaps shows the difficulty of picking such a list, phenomenally popular in the early 1990s, it signaled the end of My Bloody Valentine, and one has to wonder whether "shoegazing" had any lasting impact. Putting this one on such a list could be like putting Frampton Comes Alive on a similar list of bygone era - sure it sold a lot of records, but did it go anywhere (other than crashing into a tree, high on coke)?

An interesting point was raised regarding the debate on which Red Hot Chilli Peppers album would be more deserving: Blood Sugar Sex Magic for sheer shock and funk, a kind of harbinger of what the 1990s might have been, or Californication as an album that mourned the reality of what the 1990s actually were and convinced a whole new generation of fans to lament something (that hazy period circa 1982 - 1992) that they never knew they had lost.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Flotsam and Jetsam on the Web

Here's a little something that we found on YouTube last night, a duet with Beck and Jane Birkin, perhaps for French TV. Beck is charming and appears happy to be there, even though it is clear he doesn't know all the French lyrics.

Watching Jane Birkin made us realize how much we missed her partner in crime, Serge Gainsbourg, so if you're wondering what all the fuss was about, here you go:

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Top Ten Albums of the 1990s

The Olympics are being projected on a wall in the other room and several of us are taking a break and having a break. Allan Parker, the latest addition to our fold, has just finished reading Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, the film version of which is something of an annual kino classic. Parker, in honour of Hornby, has challenged us to come up with a Top Ten list of the best albums of the 1990s. We're not even sure such a thing can be done, but Parker argues that it's almost been twenty years, surely allowing enough time to have past.

So, at any rate, in no particular order, we assembled a list of albums that would challenge for a position on such a list:

1. Smells Like Teen Spirit - Nirvana
2. Ok Computer - Radiohead
3. Twice Removed - Sloan
4. Trouble in the Henhouse - Tragically Hip
5. The Lonesome Crowded West - Modest Mouse
6. Fear of a Black Planet - Public Enemy
7. Blue Lines - Massive Attack
8. Repeater - Fugazi
9. Post - Bjork
10. Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magic/Californication - Red Hot Chilli Peppers (vicious argument over which gets the nod)
11. (Something) - Blur
12. O.G. Original Gangster - Ice T (though really, we want to suggest 1989's Iceberg)
13. Blow Your Headphones - The Herbaliser

This conversation sort of grounded out in the realization that no one in the room could credibly talk about the development of post-NWA hiphop or pre-Chemical Brothers dance music.



Reality Still Bites

The problem with taking a holiday is that there is often lots of things to catch up on when you come back. For example, we are trying to find the time go see The Wackness, a coming of age story set in 1994's New York, with Ben Kingsley in a supporting role (who we recently enjoyed as an alcoholic hitman attempting to dry out in You Kill Me). As something of a hold over, we did re-visist 1993's Ben Stiller flick, Reality Bites. At the time, we felt the movie was a little too-cliched (or perhaps that the cliches struck a little too close to home). However, fifteen years has given us enough perspective to look past some of those cliches, such as the GAP working alterna-girl, the angst-ridden indie rock slacker, etc.

So this time around, what strikes us is the prevalence of divorce, and it was something that other movies, such as the phenomenal The Squid and The Whale have also done, as well as, surprisingly, Bobby. Details' columnist Jeff Gordiner has recently suggested that the Baby Boomers have done Gen X'ers much wrong in his book X Saves The World. If Tom Brokaw and company can affectionately refer to a "Greatest Generation" one is tempted to subtitle the Baby Boomers as "The Most Self-Absorbed Generation". Tempting. What other generation has proen to be so afraid of growing old that they invented Viagra?

We digress.

In many ways, the United States is still dealing with the repercussions of the 1960s and the sky-high divorce rates of the 1980s are perhaps indicative of this. The scene from Bobby that gives us pause, is the one in which the audience discovers that Lindsay Lohan and Elijah Wood are getting married, not because they are in love, but rather because she likes him enough to not want him to get killed in Vietnam. What happens to these marriages down the road, as these people realizes that fear of Vietnam is not enough to build a marriage around?

Thursday, August 07, 2008

More Mountain Goats

One of the things our sojourn in the Rockies allowed us to do was catch up on some music. Despite being released months ago (February), and highly recommended by many of our friends, we finally got around to giving the new Mountain Goats album a spin. Heretic Pride is full of lush instrumentation, cellos and violins, coupled with guitairs and such - it's a wonderful sound, and the songs are filled with complex, literate lyrics (really, how else could you describe a song about H.P. Lovecraft's experience living in Brooklyn?), it's unfortunate that John Darnielle's vocal's aren't up to the challenge. Instead he's distinctly at odds with the music, whose depth makes his voice sound quite nasal and flat.

Monday, August 04, 2008

All of Our Problems Should Be So Sweet

From mountain retreat to shore leave, all of our problems should be so sweet.

An aunt of one of our office mates recently dropped off a package of Kimbo coffee for us to consume. It's an intriguing package, as it is all silver, without the usual Kimbo branding. There's an Italian note the coffee is not for individual sale, which as some wondering if it is industrial (commercial) coffee, but the package is just average size so others consider it a part of some corporate offer.

Regardless, we are all eager to have some (Kimbo being a summer favourite around these parts). However, we've yet to finish our delightful Kicking Horse Coffee, and everyone knows it's bad form to open to packs of coffee at a time (since they'll both start to lose their freshness). What to do? Drink more coffee.

Thus, it is late in the evening at we are at the office goofing around and drinking coffee. Some are watching The Mummy in the main room, while offers our surfing YouTube with the overhead LCD hooked up. Fan favourite so far: clips from Zidane: 21st Century Portrait, with Mogwai providing the soundtrack, something we've meant to order online for some time now.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Espresso Fuel

As if to squeeze every last ounce of pun, simile, allegory, and metaphor out of our sojourn in the Rockies, the last few weeks we have been especially enjoying local (well, Invermere, BC anyways) Fair-Trade roasters Kicking Horse Coffee's Cliffhanger Espresso beans. Curiously mellow for espresso, without any of the chocolately hints that we sometimes find.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Mountain Battles For Mountain Goats

We've been listening to a lot of music over the last month, and one of our favourites (perhaps befitting our mountainous retreat) has been The Breeders' Mountain Battles. At first we were a little apprehensive, afraid that Kim Deal was just participating in a little lifestyle maintenance. We admit that this was based on our understanding of her reluctance to re-join the Pixies, as reported in Josh Frank's Pixies biography, Fool The World, and Frank's insinuation that she had no financial need for such a tour. The Twitter comments proved otherwise though, and we found ourselves in agreement as sound as the album hit the stereo.

Happily, Mountain Battles is no attempt to relive the fanciful magic of Last Splash, and certainly doesn't have the same eclectic pop whimsy but it does stand head and shoulders above Pod. The childish innocence of "Istanbul" or the seductive ease of "Regalame Esta Noche" perhaps hearkening back to the early days of the Deal sisters' genre-spanning home-recording (again as noted in Fool The World). Yes, songs like "Walk It Off" or "We're Gonna Rise" re-capture the tension of Last Splash, but without the screaming guitars. In fact, despite it's title, Mountain Battles is an album full of mature restraint, as if Kim Deal wasn't trying to one up Frank Black or The Pixies.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Wimbledon And A Whole New Ballgame?

A warm welcome to all of our friends who have checked in with us since Wimbledon and have been disappointed to see the lack of updates. We have been out in our secluded mountain retreat, communing with nature and crunchy little insects, armed only with our cellphones - one of which includes a shiny new iPhone, but none of which is capable of posting to blogger. Anyways, we hope to make up for our seemingly lacklustre July, with a more fulfilling and robust (some might say august) month ahead.

As for Wimbledon itself, as much as we enjoyed watching Safin and Federer go head to head, hope that this bodes well for Safin in his return to New York next month, the Federer v. Nadal final was everything that one could hope for - Sports Illustrated and many tennis commentators seem inclined to agree that it was perhaps the greatest match of all time, certainly of the last ten years. What is even more fascinating to us, is the potential of what is to come, and frankly, we are surprised that more commentators have not picked up on this yet. With Federer losing in the opening round of Toronto last week, and Nadal winning the tournement, it is increasing looking like Nadal will win the overall No.1 spot by the end of the year, regardless of who wins the U.S. Open.

In some instances though, who wins the Open is immaterial provided both Nadal and Federer make it to the same approximate stages, the excitement comes in what happens next. If Nadal proves that he can at least equal Federer on hard court, then the Australian Open will witness perhaps the greatest race in all of sport: the quest for the tennis' Grand Slam. It is hard to imagine an athletic feat as rare to accomplish, simultaneously being pursued by two players, both with equal chances to pull it off.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Something the Web Brought Up

Surfing the web has its uses: here's a little something we discovered via twitter user cafexperiment. You can visit their website at www.cafexperiment.com where they post daily collections of photos taken in cafes. Quite stunning for us espressoheads. Subscribe to their twitterfeeds for regular updates.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Safin to the Semis!

Marat "I Don't Like Wimbledon" Safin, is about to enter the semi-finals of the famed grass court tennis competition on Friday, facing down the sublime Roger Federer. For all the anticipation over yet another showdown between Federer and Rafael Nadal, this particular meeting of Safin and Federer is looking to be one of the most long-awaited match-ups in recent tennis history. As we write, Nadal is up two sets on Andy Murray, and really ought to be able to close out his match, setting himself up for a next round match against Clement or Schuettler, two opponents ranked around 140th on tour and not likely to offer a healthy Nadal much of a challenge.

Which brings us back to Safin. For all of the greatness of Federer, it was once fairly commonplace to hear Federer referred to as "the most talented male tennis player outside of Marat Safin", or "the only person with a forehand better than Roger Federer is Marat Safin". Of course, Safin's inconsistency has allowed Federer to take an 8-2 career lead over the Russian, including a third round dismissal at Wimbledon last year. What's different this year, is the composure that Safin is showing, much more reminiscent of when he beat Federer in the Australian Open semi-finals en route to his second Grand Slam.

Should Safin beat Federer, then a final featuring Safin and Nadal will be extremely exciting, as it truly will be anyone's game.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sometimes Safin Is Like A Box Of Chocolates

Today was the opening day at Wimbledon and Safin's opening round match against Fognini did not disappoint. After going up an easy two sets, Safin suddenly found himself face-to-face against his own inner demons, allowing Fognini to extend the third set all the way to a tie-break. Once again, we are fascinated with Safin, the troubled perfectionist. Safin, who plays some of his best tennis against the toughest opponents, and some of his worst when he only has to play against himself, exhibits all of the hallmarks of the classically gifted student who is not challenged often enough to develop his or her full potential. What Safin really needs at this point, is not a better coach, really, but more likely a sports psychologist who can help him "let go".

Darren Cahill made an intereting comment about an episode in which Safin came to have dinner with Andre Agassi. Safin, fresh from defeat, was hoping to hear some words of wisdom from the older tennis champion. Unfortunately, as Cahill recalls Agassi stating afterwards, the two grand slam winners spent the evening talking past each other. This is sounds fairly reasonable, as Agassi was brought up with a rather mechanistic approach to tennis (right down to the memorization of how many steps it was from one point on the court to another), that allowed him to develop a strategy based on returning balls, making high percentage plays, and outlasting the competition. Safin on the otherhand, was encouraged to make something out of every shot, and early on in his career, had the talent to pull it off. Agassi was taught to defend, Safin attack. No wonder the two couldn't understand each other.

In two days, Safin meets Novak Djokovic, and both are at the opposite ends of their career spectrums and promises to be highly entertaining. It only remains to be seen which Safin shows up . . .

Monday, May 26, 2008


Half-Nelson was featured in our afternoon Kino session about a week ago, and it prompted some of the following discussion, but first a brief synopsis for anyone not familiar with the premise: The film stars Ryan Gosling as an inner city teacher who befriends Drey, one of his students (played by Shareeka Epps). Gosling is also the school's girl's basketball coach, an aspiring author, and drug addict. In fact, the moment of "befriending" occurs when Gosling's student catches him smoking crack in the locker room. It turns out that the girl, who's father is gone and mother works all the time, actually knows Gosling's connection, who was responsible for Drey's brother being jailed and is now taking an active interest in the welfare of the family.

Having known many teachers through our friendship with Sean Marchetto, over at www.explodingbeakers.blogspot.com , we found Gosling's portrayl of a young, idealistic, teacher quite true-to-life, despite his seemingly fantastical crack-habit (which we are afraid to wonder just how pervasive such things might be), in a way that is very akin to Richard Burton in Look Back In Anger, as suggested by Lucy, from the knitting site www.goodgrieflucy.blogspot.com.

1. Gosling, with his focus on Hegelian dialectics and their Marxist connotations, reveals himself in as a believer in the possibility for social change. This seems reinforced by his parents, aging hippies, who constantly remind him of their efforts to change the system. As we said, we know many contemporaries who found themselves questioning the system in the early 1990s and rather than going for more overt politcal agitation, ended up in the teaching profession as a way to affect change.

2. However, the school system demonstrates that it is not as open to immediate change as one might think. To begin with, there is the official curriculum, which is a legally binding document and a teacher who does not follow and fulfill the curriculum can face official sanctions. Second, the school is an institution with a life of its own, one that seeks to subsume it's constituent parts. Many of Gosling's co-workers have long since abandoned their outward activist stance, and have settled into something of a humdrum ease.

3. The days are long. When Gosling is done teaching, we see him coaching girl's basketball. A coffee-break conversation with a co-worker leads to the revelation that Gosling is a long way from his dreams of teaching by day, and working on his novel by night. As a way of consoling him, his colleague offers, "There's always summer".

4. One of the initial comments on Gosling's characters' drug use associated it with perhaps his frustration at his lack of writing prowess. The image of the author or artist who needs a little "help" with "inspiration" is fairly typical and so the thought was that day-to-day teaching was so draining that Gosling turned to drugs to perhaps fire himself up for writing. However, we soon learn that Gosling's character has a history with drugs, leading to the comparisons with Burton's self-destructive angry young man from the 1950s. Again, we can infer from Gosling's classroom talk that he does not believe that political change is possible without a social change occurring first, a process that can take decades. Later in the movie he makes the statement to the effect that "A man acting alone is nothing", which leaves him in a rather frustrating position, that of a man acting alone in front of classroom trying to deal with social forces much larger than himself, and knowing full well the futility of his actions. No wonder he's on drugs.

Of course, there's a huge effort to redeem himself and demonstrate what one man can do acting alone in his relationship with Drey that provides the bulk of movie's plot. We chose not to comment on that aspect, as it is covered in most reviews of the movie, but rather to focus on an aspect of teaching that we don't usually see.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Cognitive Surplus

This just floated our way via the web, and gives us a different spin on or theories of the consumption of university education. Below, Clay Shirky is speaking of television watching as a way of dealing with a "cognitive surplus", or as he admits, the surplus of time that post-WWII workers experienced when they were finished working for the day. You can almost hear Adorno whispering in the background . . .

Sunday, April 27, 2008

On the Study of Popular Culture

As a further clarification, where we find value in the study of popular culture, is in the act and intent in it's creation. Our preference is to treat an article of popular culture in terms of the ideas or values that it was intended to convey or reflect. As a secondary area of research, we are interested in how various audiences have expressed their reaction to these items, however, we find that these expressions are all too often limited to mere consumption, and these consumption patterns are of considerable less interest than the acts of creation themselves.

Before advancing further, for us, the study of popular culture is decidedly different than the study of mass culture or commercial culture. Our roots are in the so-called counterculture, based on political dissent and acts of artistic creations. We recognize that any material study of the counterculture in terms of the intellectual development and value-expression is difficult because of how quickly the counter-culture became subsumed in a mass, commercial culture (think especially of "grunge"). However, it must be noted than in going back to the fundamental roots of bohemian, beat, hippie, and punk cultures, the emphasis was on being first, identity and material culture second. A study of punk makes this most dramatic and highlights the problems and confusion. The early drama of punk was about performing, not recording, and this became evident in some of the notable problems that several groups had in translating their performance into the recording studio.

The advent of industrial production methods of objects of art and folk culture, leading to the development of mass objects of consumption (mass culture), devoid of individual craft identity, has led to individual workers looking for emotional and artistic expression outside of their normal work routines. We want to juxtapose these countercultural goods made for private expression, with those goods made for public consumption. In fact, part of the problem with studying a counterculture that has become commodified (as happens to almost all of them) is the blurring that occurs between these public and private roles.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Consumption of Post-Secondary Education

The last few evenings Sean Marchetto has been hanging around our office, clearly agitated (one might say consumed) by an idea that has generated some interesting ideas. They're not completely thought out, or fully developed by any stretch of the imagination, but we simply want to capture them here. This is also cross-posted to Marchetto's own Exploding Beakers blog.

Let us begin by acknowledging that the following rests somewhat on the ideas of Thorstein Veblen, Theodor Adorno, and Max Weber. You would also be correct to guess that the conversation revolves around "class", ie. "working-class", "middle-class", and "upper-class", though such labels bring to mind specific occupations and our talk deals more with social outlooks, values, or beliefs, independent of specific occupation.

To begin with, we believe in the value of studying popular culture. We believe that popular culture is an important vehicle for the exchange of ideas. We subscribe to the Journal of Popular Culture, although we are increasingly disappointed with the approach that the journal is taking to the study of popular culture. For years though, we have been unable to describe just what it is that makes us unsatisfied with it. Perhaps now we are a little closer.

Thorstein Veblen is noted for his ideas about the consumption pattern of social classes, specifically that people tend to follow their social betters. For example, in the nineteenth century, the houses of the rich had large rooms for receiving guest, while middle-class homes developed the parlour. Working class structures attempted to mimic this to the best of their abilities, given their often cramped floor space. Or, take kitchenware. The upper classes, it is assumed, eat meals off of expensive plates, and many families (of middle and working-class status) have special dinnerware (china) that they save for "fancy" occassions, where family members are dressed up, and elaborate, and sometimes expensive, food is served.

There is a crucial difference in the consumption trends between the social classes though, and that is the degree to which each class is able to make their wealth "work", that is, function as capital. For working-class families, much of the wealth is tied up in the family home, and generally not available as ready capital. Middle-class families tend to be to convert some of their wealth into capital in the form of stocks, bonds, etc., while the upper-class is assumed to have ready supplies of capital on hand not just for stocks, bonds, but also for business start-ups and such.

According to Theodor Adorno, there is also a difference in the relationship of these groups to popular culture. If we allow the division of popular culture into so-called "high-brow", tending to carry with it moral messages, or intellectual overtones, and "low-brow", popular culture that tends to satisfy emotional needs, it is generally assumed that the upper-classes favour popular culture that is "high-brow" and working classes favour "low brow", with the middle-classes enjoying a spectrum of both. Adorno was also one of the first to articulate the belief that popular culture (or what we might term "mass commercial culture" as opposed to "folk culture" both of which tend to be wrapped up in "popular culture"), could also function as a method of pacifying the working classes. Later writers on consumption, such as Conquest of Cool author Thomas Frank, and even in his own way, John Leland, author of Hip: The History, have suggested that richess of popular culture's emotional experience and the desire of novelty on the part of the working-classes, are effective ways of bleeding off wealth from that same class.

At it's heart, this kind of argument rests on the same sort of self-denial premise that Max Weber put forth. The so-called middle-class thrives under capitalism because capitalism reward self-denial in favour of disciplined investment. The working-class on the otherhand, fails to "get ahead" because it is too interested in self-pleasure. This is also typically the premise behind many of our rags-to-riches stories.

So, our question becomes, do these two social groups have different viewpoints on the purpose of post-secondary education? We would argue that there are (at least) two different social groups present in post-secondary institutions, those who view it in terms of self-denial and self-investment, and those who do not. To reference Veblen, for this second group, post-secondary education is not seen as a utility, but as a social goal attained by higher social classes. The proliferation of courses dealing with topics of popular culture, that treat it as an area of relativistic meanings and interpretations (a sort of atomizing of the audience) and not as the basis of praxis, enable post-secondary education to be consumed as novelty items and effectively bleeding off the wealth of students and student families.

Thus, the attainment of post-secondary education has generally been seen as one of the most effectives of social mobility, but we are increasinly wondering whether or not this remains the case, and whether more and more courses about popular culture are in fact undermining this effectiveness?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Salt Spring Island Coffee Company

When is a coffee company more than just about the coffee? Typically when it's a megabrand like Starbucks or Tim Horton's where it's as much about the image as the coffee. However, for the past week or so we've been enjoying British Columbia's Salt Spring Island Coffee - Sumatra Dark Roast. Like many micro-roasters, Salt Spring is trading as much on their coffee as they are information about their coffee - 100% Organic, 100% Fair Trade, and they claim, Carbon Neutral. However, what has really intrigued us (almost as much as their coffee), is the company's website and the range of interactive spaces it provides, from an official blog to a carbon neutral quiz.

The coffee itself has proven to be surprising mellow. We've talked about the distinctive flavour of certain other brands that we've enjoyed, such as Moak, Kimbo, and particularly Illy. The Salt Spring though was by far one of the most subtle beans we've experienced. As an espresso shot, it had none of the aggressiveness that we typically look for, much more suited to lattes and cappuccinos (which tend to be much more muted by the presence of milk). A refreshing and welcome change of pace.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

What to tell them at your next intervention

Courtesy of Life Hack - but why would anyone want to give up the world's favourite, legal psychotropic drug is beyond us.

Put that gun back in that holster, bub

So we have disagreement on yeaterday's encounter with the Michael Jackson fan. Some of us feel that it is a mistake to equate the two listening experiences. The first counter-argument runs as follows:

1. We do not know for sure that the listener of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" was experiencing it as nostalgia, nor specifically as nostalgia for life in the 1980s.
2. Feelings of nostalgia for the feelings of a particular time and placed evoked by a piece of music, is not the same as an appreciation of a particular piece of music's ability to evoke those images and feelings. Granted, there is an undertone here that engaging in criticism is more valid than engaging in nostalgia.

This might seem a bit like a hair-splitting endeavour to save face, as if listening to the Descendents and Michael Jackson are of different aesthetic value, but (enter the second argument):

1. The casual listener's appreciation of music rests on either an enjoyment of well-crafted pop elements, such as melody (Michael Jackson's not called the King of Pop for nothing you know), or else because the initial listening of a song is linked in memory to specific episodes of personal or shared cultural experiences. A "hit" occurs when many, many people find resonance in the same song at the same time. Some theorists explain the rise and fall of hits as being related to the songs larger cultural resonance, while a few see it more in terms of the capitalist underpinnings of radio and other media.

2. Songs that never become hits are trickier, because a listener's first encounter with them may be well after their initial release. While they undergo the same sort of experiences as noted above, the emphasis is often on the personal as opposed to group experiences (unless the song is re-released, think "Unchained Melody" from the Ghost soundtrack). Furthermore, these experiences may be linked to more contemporary events, and not those surrounding it's initial release (thus, "Unchained Melody" evokes Jr. High, the age most of us were when Ghost came out, and not so much 1955 when it was first performed, nor 1965 when the Rightous Brothers recorded its' most famous version, and certainly not 1977 when Elvis sang it weeks before his death).

If one is to suggest an aesthetic superiority to a piece of music, then the "superior" listening experience is to be had by the song with the ability to engage in novel pop constructions, evoke personal as well as group nostalgia, and reveal insights into the larger cultural moment in which it was constructed.

Given how much of this is dependent on the listener's ability to develop a context for listening to a piece of music, one cannot truly state a universal merit to a particular musical piece, only a personal one.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Sometimes the glittered glove is one the other hand

The carefree weather in Calgary today, we found ourslves spending a fair amount of time outside. As mentioned in our twitter post this morning, some of us gathered at the office to watch the light-hearted Cole Porter adaptation of Taming of The Shrew, Kiss Me Kate, as an antidote to a late night viewing of the autobiographical and somewhat gritty A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. Dito Montiel's recounting of growing up in a dead-end New York neighbourhood in the 1980s, raised some eerie similarities for some of us, who grew up in NE Calgary during the same time frame and virtually all of the cultural reference points came from New York.

Later, while leaving our office, a passing car was overheard playing Michael Jackson's "Thriller". A smile crossed our lips as we initially began to think about the anachronism of the 1983 hit song, how out-of-touch the driver of the car was - but before we could say anything to each other, we stopped. Not only had we just been furiously rehashing our own lives during the 1980s, but had followed this up with an extended discussion on the merits of the Descendents 1985 album I Don't Want to Grow Up, as being indicative of West Coast adolescent suburban life (and also, however good the band and the album were, perhaps guilty of creating much of what is wrong in contemporary "pop punk" - but more on that in other post).

So really, crank the Thriller, 'cuz we're no better.

Friday, April 11, 2008

I Drank Your Milkshake. I Drank It Up!

Know what we're saying? 

Techcrunch has perhaps the first (to us at least) manifestation of the cultural impact of There Will Be Blood and it's made us chuckle. Especially the image at the end.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Brand City?

This weekend we had the delightful opportunity to have a cup of coffee with local musician Aaron Booth and his family. Booth has a new CD, available here, but ours was a social visit, and in the course of our conversation, Booth mentioned that he felt Calgary, as a city, was more brand conscious than others. This comment resonated with us.

Surely, everyone feels that their city is somehow unique, and we are no exception in our belief that there is an aspect to Calgary missing from other cities. At least, an aspect that we feel is worth investigating. In terms of demographics, Calgary exists in an intriguing location as a magnet for migration. One of the factors "pulling" newcomers to the city for the past thirty years has been the allure of riches. Literally. The promise of Calgary has been the promise of employment, supposedly higher wages, and the opportunity to create a better life (largely in terms of material prosperity). If you can hear a voice whispering "What happens in Calgary, stays in Calgary", you might not be too far off the mark. Very little has been done in terms of reflecting on who such a promise attracts.

Booth's comments led us to wonder how much the promise of personal re-invention plays in the decision to move to Calgary. We feel it is easy to believe that someone to whom personal re-invention rests at least partially on the promise of increased wealth, would be very eager to demonstrate this new identity through the display of wealth. As corporations move increasinly to branding consumer goods as part of a lifestyle, the consumption of brands can be seen as an integral part to communicating this new social identity. Just think about the battle of coffee consumption, Starbucks and Tim Horton's conjure up very different customer images.

The risk here is that it would be easy to divide the city's population into native-born (or naturalized) citizens and newcomers. Supposedly, one could suspect that the native-born citizens would not feel the allure of personal re-invention based on increased wealth as much as the newcomers, otherwise the native-borns would leave for parts unknown but of greater promise. This would help to explain the partial successes on local, non-chain brands, such as Higher Ground, one of Calgary's longest-running independent coffee houses, standing two doors down as it does, from a typically packed Starbucks.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Earth Hour in Calgary

Lucy, from Good Grief Lucy, was the first to share the results from Canada's participation in Earth Hour with us, and frankly we are a little surprised and disappointed by the whole thing. Canada.com has published an article here, with firmer numbers. With one critical exception, power consumption during Earth Hour last week dipped in a range of 2 - 7 %, depending on the community. Not necessarily significant results, but definately something to build on and indicative of grassroots support for conservation movements.

In Calgary however, energy consumption rose - as if people wandered around their houses actually turning lights and appliances on.

What is extremely disturbing about this is not so much that energy use increased, suggesting that perhaps few people participated in the event. Calgary does have a sizable environmentally aware community, one that actually translates into fairly strong Green Party results. So the question becomes, if we assume that this small minority actively worked to lower energy consumption during Earth Hour, then how much energy does the average Calgarian use? Remember, Calgarians have the highest carbon footprint in Canada, and one of the highest in North America.

Good grief indeed.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Coffee Update: Micro-roasting

It is by coincidence perhaps, that the closing of one of our favourite coffee shops on Edmonton Trail, Blends, brings with it our our introduction to two smaller coffee concerns, Cochrane Coffee Traders, and Molise Coffee, of Vancouver's Falesca Importing. That Blends roasted and sold its own coffee beans was not unusual, though it was one of our favourites, and its demise has led us to go looking elsewhere for fresh beans.

In an economic age that is increasingly putting a premium on product information and individuality, the rise of what we might call "micro-roasters" might be seen as inevitable. Like micro-brewing, the creation of small scale coffee companies, set to sell and distribute their own coffee within a limited geographic area is an evolution of a consumer market dominated by large scale chains. As coffee drinkers look to carve out their own personal, local, and regional identities, companies like the Cochrane Coffee Traders will emerge to serve the high-end, socially consciencious crowd (our East Timor dark roast promised not only to be Fair Trade, but also bird-friendly).

If the CCT represents an emerging coffee company, then the Molise brand of Falesca can be seen to be a more mature offering. Having started roasting their own beans in 1983, Falesca's products can now be found throughout Western Canada, whereas one can only find the CCT in a limited number of coffee shops. For our part, we enjoyed the CCT dark roast to the Molise Medium Roast Super Bar Espresso.

We've provided a link to an article on fair trade coffee and the Cochrane Coffee Traders from Fast Forward Weekly, as we were especially pleased to see the closing comments about attempts to develop consumer awareness of the geographic taste and characteristics of different beans.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Ghosts That Haunt Us (Richard Nixon Lives)

One of our favourite historical eras is the French Revolution. We're always up for a good book, essay, or even movie (really, we're afraid to admit that we'll even find time for Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette) on that tumultous period. In fact, one could almost say that we find it inspiring, as it has proved to be a fertile ground for historical analysis.

This time around, the cause for review came from Charles Savage's book Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency, examining political efforts by post-Richard Nixon administrations to expand presidential power in the United States. Savage's treatment of this phenomena reminded us of a similar experience in Revolutionary historiography.

One of the enduring problems of studying the French Revolution has been attempting to fix an end date to the Revolution. Napoleon himself once declared the Revolution over, while some historians speak of French Revolutions in the plural. For our purposes here, the problem is the revolutionary/counter-revolutionary ebb and flow that French society experienced as conservative and liberal elements traded power over three decades, each attempting to undo some of the work of the other. Some sort of concilliation and consensus did not occur until the reign of Louis Philippe, the so-called Citizen-King, which attempted to merge the interests of the surviving Bonapartists, Jacobins, Girondins, Bourbon Monarchists, and Phillipe's own Orleanist groups. Louis Phillipe marked the final consolidation of the revolution, and the end of his reign, could effectively be said to mark the conclusion of the Revolution. Unfortunately, this unity came at the expense of his own popularity, as his government was overthrown in favour of Louis Bonaparte in 1848, some sixty years after the original Revolution.

Similarly, Hunter S. Thompson once described Richard Nixon as a unifier, on the same grounds that Americans were all united in their anger towards him. Perhaps it would be wrong to blame Nixon entirely for the sheer depth of illegality surrounding White House corruption, in the same sense that Louis XVI cannot be blamed entirely for the long-running structural weaknesses that plagued France on the eve of the Revolution. As Savage explains, virtually every Cold War president since Truman had sought to expand the ability of the president to act without having to refer to Congress, chief of amongst these, revolved around conducting war and declaring war, in response to perceived communist threats. The Constitution of the United States clearly separated these powers between the President and Congress, and events like the Korean War, Bay of Pigs, and especially Vietnam, would see different administrations employ all kinds of tactics to evade congressional oversight, ultimately leading to the so-called "secret wars" conducted by Nixon in Laos and Cambodia. In the aftermath of Watergate however, it was revealed that Nixon had been deceiving Congress in domestic matters as well, involving domestic intelligence gathering and the undermining of liberal-minded government insitutions, giving full scope to the term, "imperial presidency".

So what does this have to do with the French Revolution? As much as the Revolution was a specific response to conditions in France, it was also an ideological manifestation, and much of the turmoil experienced during the later decades stems from the tug-of-war between different ideological factions, a contest that would dominate French politics in one way or another for almost half a century. In the same way then, the Nixon presidency also had its fair share of ideologues who supported a president free from Congressional intervention. The Unitary Executive Theory, as it was called, held that the separation of powers articulated in the U.S. Constitution made it unlawful for Congress to create agencies capable of interfering with the President's ability to execute law. Following Nixon, the Supreme Court found that this theory was an improper interpretation of the Constitution, giving Congress an open hand at reigning in Presidential perogatives.

As with the French Revolution however, rival idealogical factions did not disappear the moment they were out of power. Supporters of Unitary Executive Theory from the Nixon administration continued careers in and out of politics, many finding homes in the Reagan-Bush administrations, where they often worked to scale back the restrictions to presidential powers. Chief among these was Dick Cheney, who served under Nixon, Ford, Reagen and Bush, before becoming vice-president under the current Bush. Unlike the Revolution, where we can clearly see the ebb and flow of these sides before they come to some sort of consesus, Charles Savage's book documents the extent that the Bush-Cheney administration have been able to return to Nixon-like levels of presidential control. In fact, Bush's signing statements, closed-door meetings, undisclosed foreign prisons, have all gone beyond Nixon.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


It's been awhile since we posted, but that's not to say we haven' t been busy. In fact, the office of The Daily Wenzel has been awash in new music, and our afternoon kino series has been as productive as ever, with a viewing of Nick Cave's screenwriting debut, The Proposition. However, what has kept us from posting has actually been the results of the recent Alberta Provincial election. We had hoped to offer some sort of insghtful commentary on the meaning of the election, but have recently come to grips with the fact that such a thing will take months, if not years to analyze properly.

One of the things that we would like to examine is the electoral boundaries. Calgary and Edmonton each have roughly 1/3 of the electoral ridings. With approximately a million people in each city, this means that the remaining 1/3 of predominantly rural ridings (Red Deer, Lethbridge, and Medicine Hat, the next largest urban populations, each have two ridings) have a combined total of one million people? Have we really grown so much outside of the cities?

What is clear is that at the moment, the province is caught up in all sorts of demographic trends. Our earlier prediction that recent immigration to Calgary and changes in housing prices, has caused Liberal support to increase, and more importantly disperse throughout the city. We have yet to see exactly how this is playing out provincially though.

However, one needs to be very careful when talking about Liberal or Conservative support, since voter turnout was at its lowest point ever, something that is especially troublesome when the media was perhaps the most inclined as it has ever been to change. Earlier we made the comment that the Calgary civic election, with its faux David Bronconnier (returning mayor) vs. Ed Stelmach (unresponsive premier) battle for responsibility over the mismanagement of Calgary's growth. At the time, we said that Bronconnier's re-election could either be viewed as Calgarians blaming Stelmach for the city's problems, or else, the voting population of Calgary (again an election featuring a record-low voter turnout) being quite content with whatever regime is in power so long as the money keeps coming in, leading us to wonder what $110 oil will bring.

What worries us most though about the low voter turnout is that there is not much discussion over who is not voting. Generally speaking, it is assumed that the poor and the young do not vote. However, in Calgary (and we suppose Edmonton, or any other Albertan area experiencing an influx of people), the question really needs to be asked, to what extent do the new arrivals participate in the political process? How many Albertans failed to vote because they could not provide proof of the residency requirements - remember, Calgary shamefully has thousands of working homeless. Also, remembering the stories of the increasing outflow of workers from Calgary and Alberta this summer, workers and families selling their now doubled or tripled in value homes and moving back to Saskatchewan or further east where the housing prices have yet skyrocket, or else never really could establish themselves with Calgary's new cost of living.

To extrapolate, to what extent is the low voter indicative of a growing population that does not consider Calgary (or Alberta) home? a population that does not, or cannot, engage with the social fabric of the community around it? a community within a community? Such a thing would be disasterous for a city and a province that already has a lacklustre record in dealing with disadvantaged communities.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A Piece On Criticism

We saw this piece on the role of criticism in the form of gaming journalism and were surprised by the nature of both the article and the discussion that followed it. Note how one of the respondents even brings in the work of anthropologist Clifford Geertz in terms of the work and function of the critic.

In general, we feel there is a difference between the focus of a critic and a reviewer, and agree with the author Costik in terms of the difference between these two activities (even though some of the respondents disagree on terminology). Too often our media, and because of it, our more media dependent citizens, operate ahistorically. Costik's article, we feel, is a good introduction for all would be critics.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Espressin' It?

We once heard a particular cup of Kimbo referred to as "robust and sexy, like something down near dockyards," a questionable description at best, however we did wonder what sort of comment the drinker would have had for the following:

Monday, February 18, 2008

Education Leaves It's Mark

Some recent postings by our friends over at Exploding Beakers has left us wondering. The current posts centre around notions of play and "unsupervised spaces" in schools. One of the sources of inspiration for the posts was an earlier one of our own, referencing a childhood game called "Murderball", as part of our own interest in what children do when adults are not around, and just how omnipresent parents are starting to become.

However, what is interesting is the choice of "unsupervised spaces" and the knowledge that Exploding Beakers main contributor, Sean Marchetto (a frequent contributor here too), has like us, read Hakim Bey's lengthy poem The Temporary Autonomous Zone, an influential underground piece based around pirate utopias (to read an online version, or something else by Bey click here). In The T.A.Z. Bey searches for areas of the world where the run of the mill rules governing day-to-day living are suspended in favour of more spontaneous, exuberant forms - one would be forgiven for thinking of the Burning Man festival in a way, a place where traditional leaders and rule-enforcers are noticably absent or weakened.

While Marchetto was still a CJSW DJ hosting The Twelth Ave Paylot in the mid-1990s, he would often reference Bey, but we are very surprised to see some of theses ideas creeping back around in Marchetto's work with educational structures. To us, it illustrates just how deep and easily assimilated certain ideas are, that they can sink to the bottom of our consciousness and lie dormant for over a decade, only to resurface in completely different contexts and attached to different companion structures.