Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Differentiating products?

Lately, a number of advertisements have included speech bubbles with catchy, yet banal statements like "Now that's different!" and extraneous adjectives such as "ultimate," "cool," and "amazing". Presumably these statements help the modern consumer make an informed choice; they provide the "skinny" for the shopper who does not wish to be burdened with details or draw any conclusions for themselves. Nevertheless, they're doing much more than the thinking for that shopper. They're blatantly informing them of their preferences; before, it has always been subtle, manipulative and conniving. Can't a reasonably informed shopper determine what is different or amazing? Given that I'm a techie I ignore these speech bubbles and focus on the features, but they still grate me the wrong way. They should read "good margin," "better margin," and "best margin". These statements do not shine like the newly waxed and elevated car at a dealership, rather they read with the intended simplicity of a children's book. Just give me the features, so that I'll know what I'm getting and, yes, so I can rattle them off to anyone that shows the slightest interest in my latest purchase. Come on advertisers, you've already duped us into double mortgages for flat screen TVs, do you have to add insult to injury by insulting our intelligence?

Shock Rock

Lately, I have been thoroughly enjoying the sounds of Shock Radar. Here, you can sample a bunch of songs and download a few of them; the highlight of this site is virtual concert video where they perform Methadone. At the end of the film they mention doing a cover of War Pigs. I guess this is the reason why I like the music so much; it satisfies my desire for a nostalgic yet progressive sound. System of a Down is another band that does the very same thing.

The latest Vinyl Cafe podcast (a fantastic show, also available on streaming and conventional radio, that will engender a deep appreciation for Canada in you and make you laugh so hard you ...) featured a band called Great Lake Swimmers. They have a very interesting sound, combining 70's folk standards with the subtleties of "alternative" music. Plus, as a bonus, they maintain the non-violent protest lyrics of the 70's.

On a totally separate topic, check out this hilarious video. It is in German, but you get the point anyway.
video

Monday, December 03, 2007

Creation Care

Last month I went to the Creating Wealth and the Created World conference at Regent College in Vancouver. They have just recently posted the notes and presentations of some of the speakers, notables such as Preston Manning and Clive Mather, on their website. The facts on the oil sands alone is worth a visit to the site. A favourite of mine from the conference was Cal DeWitt, he is an impressive individual who passionately yet eloquently communicated his concerns and wisdom concerning the environment. His work with the Town of Dunn, a sustainable community, is particularly laudable. All of the ordinances are posted on the website, so other towns can use them for their own use.

See Biblical Environmentalism? for more on this subject.

While I was speeded to UBC aboard the new network of express buses I read that TransLink intends to implement a wireless system which will post information on arrival times, change traffic lights so buses can maintain their schedule and, perhaps, offer wi-fi on board the bus (something even B.C. ferries can't even pull off). My bliss on public transit was rudely interrupted when I had to wait for 25 minutes for the bus to arrive on the Swartz Bay side. Then the bus weaved its way through Sidney and many hours later I made it home. Victoria transit, in my experience and to my chagrin, runs has buses arriving early at stops (sometimes up to 5 minutes early) and has poor connections, although I have seen some progress on the latter in recent years.

Rendition and Torture

A friend of mine who is a source for many documentaries recommended I watch Taxi to the Dark Side (BBC) and Extraordinary Rendition (PBS documentary by Stephen Grey, the author of Ghost Plane; this website is excellent, here you can watch the film and read a chapter from the book). My spirit sank as the last hope for disbelief was squashed; it was as bad as I knew it would be, but the protective barrier that my subconscious had erected was now razed. I have asked myself repeatedly how this can happen. Jeffrey Addicott, a former U.S. Army lawyer who advised the Bush administration on its policies for torture answered this for me. In Extraordinary Rendition he states, "Justice, in my view of things, is the last priority as it is in any war." Some very disturbing facts presented in Taxi are: 1) only 5 to 7 percent of all detainees have been captured by Coalition Forces. In the case of Daliwar, the main subject of the documentary, it turned out that the commander of an Afghani regiment had rocketed the U.S. base and turned over innocent civilians to take the rap in order to gain credibility with the Coalition Forces. Is it too hard to believe that local militias would hand over innocent people for their own gain especially when a bounty is involved. 2) only 9 percent of all detainees had any links with al Qaida.

What is most disturbing, even haunting, is that no one has been held responsible for these actions and the Bush administration continues to justify these means. Worse, even when it yields to public pressure and officially bans these acts the administration continues to employ them via different means. The latest version is for independent countries such as Kenya to rendition subjects themselves, in one case 11 children were among those taken and held, so countries like the U.S. can interrogate them. Now the U.S. does not do the rendition themselves, but still, allegedly, tortures these victims itself. Allegedly? Whether U.S. citizens administer the torture is irrelevant, they still support the practise while they ban it.

Duplicitous, vague and obscure are appropriate adjectives for this administration; somehow, there is no paper trail, the practises of torture from Bagram transferred (with Captain Wood) to Abu Ghraib then practises specifically reserved for Guantanamo were administered in Bagram. Since my discovery of the Project for the New American Century in 2001 (see my entry Duped from May 2006) I have wondered when people will wake up. At least there has been progress, e.g., these documentaries and Dennis Kucinich's motion to have Cheney impeached. Nevertheless, it will probably take 20 years for the common individual to truly comprehend the extent of this administration's nastiness. What troubles me is whether all administrations, including those of my country Canada, have been so underhanded, the dirty deals so dirty. Is the Bush administration especially bad or has 9/11 just let them do it all publicly with the peoples' rubber stamp, given that extreme times require extreme measures. Keep your head up.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Middle-East Mess

I am on an excellent mailing list that sends me a flood of good information on the "situation" in the Middle-East (If you want to join it, write it in a comment which will then be emailed to me and I'll put you on). These cartoons are from the Center for American Progress Fund.


Democracy Now is an excellent resource for this topic. The latest show includes talks by Noam Chomsky and Archbishop Tutu on the Annapolis conference. There's even an interlude with Hendrix's performance of the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock. Start the video at 9 minutes to skip the current headlines. If you don't like RealAudio get the Real Alternative, it works well with Media Player Classic (not Windows Media Player) and you get it in the download.

Geist giddiness

Geist is one of my favourite reads. In addition to publishing the witty and intelligent Geist Atlas, pure bliss for $25,



each issue contains a number of well written articles that frequently cause me to pause at their beauty and ingenuity. The latter applies to Okay, So If the Seventies, Then What? Check out a few entries:

Seventies

pierced ears

conceptual art

The Joy of Sex

handicapped

elephant pants





Eighties

pierced nose

post-modern art

safe sex

disabled

Elephant Man


Nineties

pierced genitals

Day Without Art

The Joy of Cooking

physically challenged

elephant garlic


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Good Old NG Reliability

The latest issue of National Geographic has a story about modern day Bethlehem. After having seen a photo essay on Bethlehem, I was impressed with the quality of the reporting and the fact that the magazine, especially since it is published in the U.S., did not sidestep the issue. Here are some stills from the essay, the first is of the gate and the second is of a once thriving boulevard now split in half (for other essays and video tours go here).


Here is a cool map that sums up much of the issue:


If you want to support Palestine in a non-political way (my preference, since my views are mixed) Zaytoun Olive Oil and Canaan Fair Trade sell organic/fair trade olive oil from Palestine.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Bovine Humour

Both the Uncyclopedia and TheCapitol have collections of "you have two cows" statements. Although many are very cheesy and the Uncyclopedia's use of terms like Cowtegory and Politicowl offputting, I find some very funny (I guess its due tomy economics' background on which they are based). Here are a few of my favourites:

Socialism: You have 2 cows; you give one to your neighbour.
Communism: You have 2 cows. The state takes both and gives you some milk.
Fascism: You have 2 cows. The state takes both and sells you some milk.
Nazism: You have 2 cows. The state takes both and shoots you.
Bureaucracy: You have 2 cows. The state takes both, shoots one, milks the other, and then throws the milk away.
American Corporation: You have two cows. You sell one, and force the other to produce the milk of four cows. Later, you hire a consultant to analyze why the cow has dropped dead.
Chinese Corporation: You have two cows. You have 300 people milking them. You claim that you have full employment, and high bovine productivity, and execute the newsman who reported the real situation.
Iraqi Corporation: Everyone thinks you have lots of cows. You tell them that you have one. No one believes you, so they bomb you and invade your country. You still have no cows, but at least now you are part of a democracy.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Mozilla bliss

Years ago I left the relatively obscure but satisfying browser-world of Opera (over the years it has developed unparallelled compatibility with hand-held devices) to support Firefox, a browser with much press and a gaining share against the Windows-embedded Explorer. I still can't believe America did not arrive at this conclusion (as the EU did) in its anti-trust case. A distaste for Outlook's control also formed this decision as I gladly switched to Thunderbird, Firefox's compliment. Despite incorporating a number of add-ons (Adblock Plus and FoxyTunes, although I now frequently use the first-class iTunes Companion widget, are my favourite), the Candian-English Dictionary, and the Google Canada Search Engine to Firefox, until yesterday, I had not done the same for Thunderbird. The need for reminders to check my budget status (I am a chronic over-spender) led me to ReminderFox. With this add-on every time I open Thunderbird a frame pops up with the reminder, "Today's reminders: ...; Upcoming reminders: December 1 BUDGET". You can modify it to suit your necessary level of annoyance. From searching for this program I found Signature Switch, which not only allows me to turn on or off my signature, but also to choose from many. My favourite is the Fortune Cookie which randomly selects from a number of signatures. This program requires some HTML know-how, but can be relatively easily figured out by consulting the fragmented help-pages (my only criticism).

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Iraq bits

Of course, American foreign policy has much to be desired. Here's a couple of items to add some levity to the situation.


This video shows the way that Humvees rule the streets of Baghdad. Unfortunately, only a tantalizing bit of dialogue is included, "There's a guy just picking his nose, not a fucking care in the world."


Thursday, November 08, 2007

Gracenote and Joseph Arthur

Gracenote, the famed and incredibly extensive database of music that a number of programs including iTunes uses, has produced a new feature: Music Maps. Click on a region of the globe and find out the current top artists and albums (based on the number of times they are looked up by applications from that region). Unfortunately Canada, that great country of mine, is not broken up by province like the U.S. but you can get a good idea of what those segments with computers or similar devices (jukeboxes) are listening to.

Today I just discovered Joseph Arthur via his song A River Blue on the Serve2 (Fighting Hunger and Poverty) album. Given that he is such a great artist I feel somewhat ashamed that I have not heard of him previously. I downloaded a few free tunes and listened to his new album Nuclear Daydream. I also downloaded a recent concert featuring most of the songs as well as a number of others. The concerts cost $9.99 (less in Canadian $, ha!) and are available in MP3, AAC, and FLAC. In addition, nearly all the proceeds go directly to the artists. The sound quality of each concert varies widely so preview them before downloading.

After watching M.I.A's creepy Best Story Every on The Hour, I checked out some of her music. The track Paper Planes combines the haunting but jolting sounds of a gun firing, the gun being cocked and a cash register ringing. The clever mixing of these sounds provides an social commentary on its own which underpins the song's verses. Brilliant but disturbing.

Steve Tilley

I came upon a column he wrote in 24HRS.CA on November 2 which was hilarious: "The closest I've ever come to experiencing gadget sex is when I was oohing and aahing over a robot dog at a Sony product showroom in Tokyo and it tried to hump my leg." He continues that if gadgets could mate he would have the Sony Ericsson W580i and the HTC Touch do so to produce the ultimate cell-phone, "I would happily get some scented candles, a Barry White album and a nice hotel room [for them]." He ends this entertaining review with, "They come from different worlds, these two phones, and their ill-fated love would probably end in tears. But man, they'd have some great looking kids."

I would have liked to provide a link for this review but the 24HRS.CA website is centred on the latest issue and one can only find random access to their back issues through Google. Their Canoe.ca search sucks and did not return the above article neither did the link www.canoe.ca/canoe/blog provided on the print version for his blog work. The site definitely needs some work.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Design

Recently I have come across a number of great designs. MILK is a very innovative desk in which a fish tank, trash can and iPod housing can be incorporated. In the case of this product the website design is just as clever as the product. Check it out. Mobelform has developed a number of lines of very clever convertible furniture; my favourites are the Doc which converts from a couch to bunk beds and the Nuovoliola which is similar to a Murphy bed, but has a couch in front of it when it is closed and a shelf which remains horizontal while the bed is pulled down. The k500d is a table with a built-in leaf. They also have well designed T.V. stands such as the Periscope that allows for remote-controlled height adjustment. The Histoire d'o is a circular rotating bed with a built-in unit on one side that is drool-worthy. I really recommend viewing the Flash animations for these products.

In Vancouver the Danish Way of Living exhibition at 142 Water Street has a number of profound designs: the Yoga chair (with side table and stool) designed by Erik Magnussen is fashioned from a single piece of tubular steel and Arne Jacobsen's egg chair is a whimsical version of the original. The exhibition also features lamps, household accessories, carpets and jewellery.

Political web

The Internet as a relatively unregulated domain provides some brilliant resources (and satires) for the U.S. political landscape. The Democratic Candidate Mashup is an excellent example of the versatile offerings of the Internet. This resource allows the user to select two candidates and compare their opinions via video interviews on the issues of Iraq, Health Care, Education, and my favourite, The Bill Maher Grill.

Of course, satire remains a favourite prong of attack and the offerings range from the strangely satisfying Falling George Bush Screensaver to the brilliantly conceived Lil' Bush (click the link and look under Lineup; the site also has a number of shows including a favourite of mine, Corner Gas). This show is only available on-line so they don't have to pull the punches; the premise is that Bush created this show to distract the populace from his policies. A favourite scene from the latest episode is when Cheney dies and goes to hell only to out devil the Devil. Satan returns him to earth so that he can rule his domain and return it to a less sinister level of evil. Remember the Transformers have nothing on Bush, only he can transform a surplus into a debt and a lost election into a win.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Fama

How long will it be until I, a well-worn piece of gossip, am finally thrown away?
When will I no longer devour the generous ears?
How many times can I, a mere morsel, echo throughout empty halls?
Was I such a good story to last so long? Not a bit!

I am a doubt more persistent than waves before the wind.
I also wreak havoc wherever I'm driven, a cowboy no bull can buck.

Connecting with nature

I have often observed with wonder the way that relatives and friends who many would consider to be "country-bumpkins" circulate seamlessly among the ranks of high-society guests, such as ambassadors and executives. They do so effortlessly neither changing their relatively unsophisticated manner nor their unrefined speech. What holds their audience are the embellished accounts of hunting, fishing and farming. Their rapt audience is usually either an urban/modern who distantly admires those upon whom their society has been built or a person born and raised in the woods, but since detached. The refrain if uttered would be "oh the good old days!" I like many city-folk straddle this divide: I love working outside in the wild, but am compelled by conditioning and a number of factors to remain near the jobs and institutions. Every now and then I experience a bond with fellow nature-lovers, e.g. while splitting fire-wood this weekend a neighbour remarked, speaking to the legitimacy of my endevour, "Now there is a man at work". I frequently feel like giving it all up and returning to the hills, but am always discouraged by the nagging feeling that I may not really belong there either for any period of time. So for now I'll awkwardly observe the country-folk in action at various parties and visit them as often as I can.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Ponderings - Why I don't have to be right (always)

In the same way that the flood may have been a local event that the residents of the Levant thought encompassed the earth, so may a person's religious views, which he thinks of as applying to everyone, be local (specific to a faith community rather than universal). Instead of justifying them, claiming they are the Truth, is it not better to hold onto them because they are your own or because they make up who you are? With this approach there is no need to over-ride others. Could they really be Global? Is Krishna Das' belief, revelation, and worship any less sincere, honouring or right than mine? I too see a wall around my heart that separates me from true love. Am I speaking a dialect of a common tongue, a tongue much like music where different styles and learning blend into the beautiful (only with mastery though can a tabla player jam with a banjo player)? How much of the one, true way is caused by power struggles? Although my entire being rejects Dawkins et al.'s notion we would be better off without religion, I agree with his assertion when the journey of belief becomes one hollow institution at war with the other. Why do questions of authenticity (to use a catch-phrase) evoke such a harsh response? Because on one level a piece of a person's identity is assaulted. That is why it can often hurt. Everyone's identity is valid though, so be specific about religious practise. Respect others and peace may really happen on earth and it will be seen if God can really live among men.

After having traversed the wide expanse bordered by fundamentalism and liberalism at various times I wonder at my faith journey, all the turns I have taken. I too wish to break down the wall one stone at a time, a wall certain conventions have encouraged me to build in the name of righteousness. Nevertheless, I can hardly breathe. How can something that is so natural be so stifled? Some of the thoughts that I journaled years ago reflect this:

The Trinity can be compared to elements in the universe: space (omnipresent Father), matter (Son), and time (unseen Spirit). The three dimensionality of space also reflects this. A single dimension rendering reveals a scant part of the picture, the second shows everything, but in a flat manner and the third combines to provide an experience.

I now venture to extract the pure essence of being and live true to myself and my god with as few constructs as possible (some framework for interpretation is always necessary). There are, however, no easy answers, no hastily spoken quips to consider the depth of faith.

Dialogue #2

"Listen to me, Dad! I am the police!"

"That is fine Honey, but the police is answerable to the government."

"Dad, I am the government!"

Music

Lately, I have come across a lot of good music courtesy of Calabash music. They now offer 10 free tracks a week and if you buy credits you only pay 80 cents on the dollar for songs. This is a great way to get introduced to World music. This week I downloaded a bunch of Ernest Ranglin's work; he is an amazing guitarist that blends fluid lines with cultural voices. Past favourites are Hoya Hoya by Bole2Harlem and DJ Disse's Walk on the Wild Side. Vusi Mahlasela is a wonderful human being and inspiring performer; check out his amazing performances at TED.

I am an early adopter of technology, ideas and values and, given the fact that I had counted down the arrival of iTunes Plus to free myself of the antiquated DRM, I bounded to download In Rainbows. I favour the artist and not the label, so I paid them the equivalent of $8.00 to support this move to direct access. Although I would have rather previewed the album and then decided on the amount, I arrived at this amount by considering the amount they would profit from in a regular release and doubling it. No album artwork was included with the download, so I did a search and found a number of good entries at this site. I attached my favourites to each song. I have played the album a number of times but it is Reckoner that I put on constant repeat and can't get enough of.

Graphic novels and a surfing Jesus

On Sunday I had a cool time hanging out with my son. First I took him to his acting class and then we cruised around some shops. One of these was Curious Comics. I was glad to hit this store because it gave me a chance to check out Casanova, which GQ had favourably reviewed but I found passable at best. It was not charged with the historical and political brilliance of Pekar's Macedonia or the comical cross-cultural charm of Delisle's work. Neither did it have the ingenuity of other adaptations, namely Sienkiewicz's Moby Dick. I also found this great book for my son, Lost in Skookum Valley. It is published and set in B.C. and follows the Herge style. Check it out.

In this shop I also encountered the Fishermen. Given the sincerity of the founder's message I feel bad finding them so funny. I can see his point, but NFL Jesus comes off like Toyota's "what would Jesus drive". These are definitely of higher quality than the ridiculous Testamints, but they only serve to push forward capitalism's agenda that it is the best mechanism for serving everything (since it defeated Communism) including democracy and religion. The "access" that Capitalism brings is often a cheapened one. Today the remark came up in jest that religious services will soon be offered in a pay as you go format: 1 visit by the priest $40, one by a deacon or elder $25; much like getting your fortune told. Well I'll sign off with, D€r€k given all this talk. Just remember that a free market is not the same thing as freedom; yeah prosperity fosters choices, but equality -- come on!

Friday, October 05, 2007

Finding a voice

For the last while I have been trying to return to blogging and have been working on many topics, but have always felt restrained by the events of the last year. Without going into detail about all the things that have happened I have finally begun to learn that approval must come from within first. Circumstances can suck, more importantly people can really suck: it really amazes me how vulnerable my being is to some people under certain conditions. People who don't give others the benefit of the doubt suck. Nevertheless for every person who at a moment in time choose destruction there is another who breathes life. Really it is through vulnerability that the good can shine through. Today I had the pleasure of meeting Margot Van Sluytman who shared her story at coffee at the Centre. Her journey to find her voice and her ability to express it so passionately spoke to me (and others) on the deepest level. Victimology really is a trap, an imposition on yourself. There is no question that it defined(s) you. Circumstances and blunt, pessimistic, blind or similar type of persons should in no way make you lose your voice. There is such a deep well to drink from in life, so many good souls. There is no question that community is an ecology; other people will impact you. Nevertheless, only a weed thrives on poor soil. The noble, good and beautiful not only often go deep, but they also respond, practically depend upon, nurture. This ethereal connection to the living rather than surviving transcends corporeal form: it embeds itself in the expressions of people who in moments of time breathe the deep breath of life: the story, song or poem that makes you cry. The real mystery is how happenstance governs this realm. How does it all come together?
Obviously much of life is toil. There's little escape from that: even the most privileged make their own toil. One essential part of transcendence must be communing with others, on one level or another. The discordant joy of those in the impoverished regions of the globe has always struck me. How can they smile. More importantly, why do if feel a deep connection with these people? How do they access my heart so readily? How do they change lives? How can they so readily look you in the eye without demanding anything or revealing shame? How do they disarm one so well protected?
One answer is not by having a larger house, iPod or car because they don't. I love gadgets, convenience and comfort so I will never really give them up. It is not the items themselves, rather the false expectations these items bring. Sure they bring happiness, pride and wonder. What they are, however, is a symptom (and vehicle) of a culture of isolation and disconnection. As I stand waiting for the bus or riding my bike on many a morning the smell of pollution sickens me. Yet, as I am passed by so many cars I wonder if the drivers know. I cannot believe how sick I feel after cycling on a rural road when a car that has just been started goes by me. Now I know there are naysayers on global warming and the responsibility of humans, but get out of the car and breathe. That red glow on the horizon really is pollution!
What are we plugged into? Community? Anything that centres us? Now life is often presented as a battle from which me must unplug ourselves to once more enter the fray. Live 1 week (a three week vacation yields one week without toning down or ramping up) out of 52? Yet, many I have met swim with the current. The nourishers, what is it about them? Those with a community, those who fit in their own skin, you know them. Moreover, what about children and the child-like natures of those who suffer most. What really nourishes the soul?
Other humans: I am sure that every individual (even those I hate) has shown at least one act of kindness, which nourishes others.
Self: navel gazing aside, a deep realization of the wonder you are. Check out these guys: one suffering and one a comic.
Nature: as a model, but more of where we belong.
The mysterious wonder that governs (or created) serendipity: enough said.
Breathe deep!

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