Friday, January 18, 2008

2000 hits!

It was a busy day today, with several lengthy discussions on institutional change and ideas of "cultural sensitivity" that did not equate "culture" with ethnicity, sandwiched between exciting tennis from the Australian Open.

Amidst all this then, we almost didn't notice that The Daily Wenzel crossed the 2000 hit threshold earlier today. For some, with much broader appeal, and a large blogger network of cross-advertisers, two thousand hits may come a lot faster, but we are absolutely thrilled.

Feel free to tell your friends about us!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

In the Thicke of It!

We were a little hesitant after the CBC aired the first episode of Douglas Coupland's TV adaptation of Jpod, but the return of Alan Thicke to primetime television has completely won us over. Perhaps things are made easier by the fact that he is playing an aging actor aspiring to be . . . Alan Thicke. Brilliant.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

What the World Needs Now, Is Songs, Sweet Songs

Someone brought in violinist Sarah Chang's recording of Antonio Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, and a comment about her dress sparked an interesting exchange.

The comment was related to an observation about the marketing of young classical musicians in the mid-1990s, with women often dressed in "sexy" evening wear, or in a few cases, nothing at all. Part of this was the attempt to make these artists appear as "edgy" as their rock n' roll counterparts.

The exchange then centred around the different expectations audiences have for classical vs. rock musicians. In the classical musical idiom, the emphasis is on technique and conveying emotion, not songwriting. There is little expectation that a musician as talented as say, Chang, would be equally talented as a songwriter, and Chang can comfortably expect to make a living essentially by playing covers. In rock however, a musician who played primarily covers would be scoffed at, especially early in their career (please note this expectation is different in pop music), or at least would rarely be considered "elite". The expectation for rock n'roll artists is clearly that they write their own material, with the subtext being that the music somehow reflect the "spirit of the age". This was articulated by famous rock critic Lester Bangs in his reaction to early 1970s "prog rock" (perhaps not so ironically the moment when rock stars started to consider themselves the equal of classical musicians, such as with Deep Purple's Concerto for Group and Orchestra) in large part perhaps because rock emerged during periods of social change and has often served as the soundtrack to that era in our collective consciousness.

Few us quiver in our aristocratic boots at the playing of Figaro these days.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Top Ten Lists

We recently jibed fellow Daily Wenzel stalwart Sean Marchetto for his Top Ten Albums of 2007 list in Fast Forward Weekly as being perhaps the most mainstream of the bunch, with his inclusion of Feist, Modest Mouse, Arcade Fire, etc. While Marchetto shrugged off our good-natured ribbing, what followed was a good discussion of such "lists", as one of our favourite past times (or time-wasters, really) is comparing "All Time Best" lists from different years and trying to tease out social and political reasons as to why particular cultural artefacts appear at specific points. In defense of his own 2007 Top Ten list however, Marchetto pointed out that he listened to over 70 new albums this year - number we find logistically staggering. Essentially one and a half albums per week. Now, it's no secret that Marchetto's journalistic activities are a side-line to his education day job (We don't call him Il Professore for nothing), but it's easy to imagine that he can't sit around all day listening to music, making his actual music-listening time rather valuable. The decision to re-listen to a particular album then means sacrificing time that could be spent listening to an incoming album and requires making a committment to make up for that time at the expense of some other activity.

"After listening to two dozen middle of the road albums," Marchetto explains, "You really want to listen to something that stands out. It makes it really easy to appreciate something like Peter, Bjorn, and John, even if everybody else is listening to it."

On another note, here is our own 2007 Top Ten list, but of our most frequently read postings. Chances are you dedicated readers have already seen them, but maybe something flew under your radar the first time around:

1. Paul Virillo vs. Facebook
2. New Days for the Old Republik
3. Adios! Heidi and Howdy
4. A Good Cup of Kimbo
5. Vancouver, City on the Edge of Tomorrow
6. Federer Wins Again
7. Woodpigeon CD Release Party
8. Nights of the New Republik
9. Brain Heart Guitar; Dudes Bringing It All Back Home
10. We Are In Spooky Country

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Speed of the Age

There are books one reads that contain messages so profound, they force into the brain new visions of how the world might be, others present messages that must be decipher and considered, but ultimately yield dramatic insights. Then, there are books whose message is mainly banal, but contain perhaps a chance phrase or random association of words that spark entirely unintended lines of thought.

For us, Vince Poscente's The Age of Speed, was this sort of book. Aimed primarily at the business set, it functions as a basic time-management primer for the 21st century. Readers are encouraged to adopt new technologies and strategies to minimize time spent "at work" and to maximize time spent "at leisure". Poscente makes the most of the fact that mobile technologies have caused the work/home, labour/leisure divide to become porous. If I answer emails at home, am I working? If a client contacts me for consultation while I'm on a weekend getaway, am I working? Does it have to be one or the other?

Aside from urging readers to reflect on the nature of their work, hoping that individuals find themselves doing work they love to do, Poscente also strongly recommends businesses move to a task-based, instead of a time-based system. This was something we used to argue back when we worked in the parking lots. Our employer paid us to park cars and direct traffic, if no cars or traffic appeared, then we were free to spend our time as we liked, provided we were available should a car or traffic appear. Thus parking truly did blur the leisure/labour divide, as most of our "work" hours were spent in various forms of leisure (working as we did in rarely frequented parking lots). Within a more professional context, a task-based system would appear to encourage decentralized decision making, as individuals made choices about their time. Clearly spending eight hours at a desk with very little to do is not anyone's best use of time.

Our main benefit from The Age of Speed however, was a confirmation about the the importance of time. It might be cliche to refer to time as the new wealth, but the fact remains that this is where the culture appears to be headed. In the pre-modern era, wealth was based on land, during the transition to capitalism, the accumulation of cash was often spent on acquiring the trappings of aristocratic wealth (ie. land, Thorstein Veblen has written much here), but at some point things changed, "the edges of the map were filled in" (to quote our favourite volume of The Pirates of the Caribbean), and there was no more unclaimed land to possess. Perhaps this explains the mid-century fascination with space travel with its promise of new sources of land. At any rate, the emphasis shifted from land to time, and cash was used to shortcut the consumption of time, where possible, via faster travel, personal chefs and personal telecommunications, etc.

This is an idea that Poscente attempts to evoke, and fails, but a chance encounter for us that saw Paul Virillo follow Poscente helped organize these ideas somewhat better.

Oddly, this is not a 21st century idea, but rather a more 19th one, prior to the onset of mechanization where the assembly-line required precise timing of labour. ,

Friday, January 04, 2008

Imagine a better city

It is hard to picture the amount of change necessary in the attitudes of Calgarians for the following to become an eventuality, but it is easy to see how the benefits might play out. As traffic becomes more and more of an issue in major urban centres, the talk of "congestion charges" surfaces more and more frequently. A congestion charge, like that recently adopted by the city of Milan, is essentially a tax on driving downtown during business hours. In some cities, it is enforced at parking meters based on license plate numbers or special stickers. Here in Calgary, despite some progress being made towards carpooling, and increases in transit ridership, the average car occupancy rate is still considerably less than two people per vehicle.

In Milan, the congestion charge is $14 a day, the monetary equivalent of adding over three round-trip passengers to the transit services, as well as encouraging an increase in actual passengers. While the city actually does as fairly efficient job of moving people from the periphery to downtown, especially in peak hours, travel across the city, from east to west without stopping downtown, is rather poor and could benefit from expanded services, helping to alleviate congestion on major arteries like Glenmore Trail or McKnight Boulevard.

Of course, many Calgarians will argue that perhaps we already pay too many taxes, or that we should simply increase parking rates, allowing the market to decide. But the fact remains that Calgary has the largest carbon footprint of any Canadian city and we tend to be spoilt by the luxury of our lifestyle.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Christmas Wish Fulfilled!

It looks like Lucy, over at Good Grief Lucy was listening to our appeal for fiction and has forwarded a copy of David Liss' The Coffee Trader to us. Set in seventeenth century Amsterdam, Liss tells the tale of the birth of the coffee industry, mixing in elements of the burgeoning stock futures market as well as the city's Portguese Jewish diaspora. A fascinating introduction for us to Liss, who's debut novel, A Conspiracy of Paper, won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel, and makes us thirsty for his next book, due in September 2008, entitled, The Whiskey Rebels.