Friday, July 11, 2014

a midsummer's update

The fan for my heat pump stopped working. It's been wonky of late, and when I got home last Tuesday, after a day under the sticky glaring sun, my condo offered little relief. Indeed I ended up resorting to drinking myself to sleep, cursing the humid air. I was at the Evergreen Brickworks, enjoying beer and meat and fruit pies, a foodie event to be sure.

Yes, Canada Day, a country I love and cherish but is governed by fools I cannot abide, seemingly populated with people I hold less and less in common with. Well, not truly truly, but certainly I find the divide between us has seemingly deepened. Or perhaps it was always thus, and only as my eyes look broader do I see the chasms of empathy, of understanding, of relating. Let it be said that variety is both humanity's strength and weakness.

But the weather, the weather since that day has mellowed, a mild summer with much rain and cool winds. I find it comfortable; surely this is better than the raging waves of heat and humidity in summers we've known before here. Thus my heat pump (the fan, in fact) lies dormant, the comfortable evening air a viable, even preferable, alternative.

I volunteered with Cycle Toronto today, working as a bicycle valet for the opening of the nearby Corktown Commons, a thoroughly modern oasis in the city, nestled in a remote corner, complete with a water park and pond. It's quite the thing, and I hope to enjoy it again soon.

I've been burning through Death Note, an anime that holds up to the praise I've heard. The premise: a high school student finds a notebook that, when a person's name is written in it, will cause that person to die. Given this somewhat absurd item in an otherwise modern Japan actually makes for a good crime-drama, with a group of detectives attempting to find and bait out the killer, who sees himself as a kind of god, punishing those he deems unfit for the world.

I've also been trying some other iOS games, looking for an alternative to Hero Academy, which has unfortunately been neglected by Robot Entertainment, its creators. Such an excellent turn-based game! I dare say a classic, and I've not yet seen its equal. I lament its gradual demise. In any case, I've tried Summoner Wars, Uniwar HD, Outwitters, with the last of these being the closest (and yet still falling short) to the type of strategic thrill of HA.

Am I seeing anyone, you, like so many around me, may ask? No, I am not. Strange how one's outlook on daily life can change by such a small fact, such an innocent point. I remain single, comforted by little, dragging my feet through the days, growing heavier and wondering what next can I do to keep sane, to scrape up what little joy I can from the dregs I've surrounded myself with. Ha, but I exaggerate, a bit anyways.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

what i am doing, i am doing what, what am i doing

I spent the day at home, having to wait to get my heat-pump serviced (again) -- this time it seems it needed a flushing out, by which I suppose it was clogged in some capacity. A novel thing, working from home: cats at my feet, a large pot of coffee within reach, dressed in my most comfortable of attires. I rather enjoyed it, and got to try out the local Sky Blue Sky sandwich shop; excellent chowder!

Earlier this week I did one of my spur-of-the-moment rides across the city, from downtown to the beaches and back home, a circuitous route, some 20 km, navigating by will alone, without a destination or goal other than to feel the city pass by, to push my legs and lungs. Such glorious weather, I could not deny its call to enjoy it.

I have been keeping up with karate. Mostly keeping up, there being only the one class a week right now. I would like to say that I've been keeping up with my workouts as well, but that would be a blatant lie; I go through phases of regular and not at all. I often blame the waves of fatigue I feel when I arrive at home, though perhaps now that the A/C is on again I can self-persuade myself more frequently. Sleep is certainly a factor here, though the quality of that is my lack of willpower, my lack of drive.

Oh yeah, Monday night was so blasted warm I got very little sleep, having to resort to drinking half a bottle of wine to endure the evening air. Summer's early warning shots are scary indeed.

Saturday I was in Trinity Bellwoods, putting in some hours with Cycle Toronto. Strange to think of myself accosting strangers, attempting to raise awareness and sell memberships. I was glad to be out and about, at least. For I am in a funk, have been for the past couple months. I feel myself becoming farther and farther removed from those around me. I suppose much of it has to do with everyone settling down and coupling up, but even so.

I'll mention lastly that I saw Godzilla (terrible, just brain-dead action) and X-Men: Days of Future Past (the best of the series, has heart and teeth).

Here's to hoping for some joy in June!

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

zizek's the pervert's guide to ideology

Here are my notes made while watching Slavoj Zizek's The Pervert's Guide to Ideology. I've italicized those parts which I feel ring the most true or insightful for me. I've little illusion that you, dear reader, will understand all I've hastily scribbled down, but perhaps it'll give some fresh perspective into these films.

"They Live"
The glasses allow the wearer to see ideology. To put them on, to be free, and to have one's illusions shattered, is a painful experience; hence the big fight scene. Freedom is painful.

"The Sound of Music"
The guilt felt by people confessing is not from having sinned, or betrayed their conscience; it's from not having enjoyed the sin enough.

Coca Cola, Kinder Egg
Desire begets desire. The ultimate horror of desire is to have it fully sated, so that it disappears. The centre is the prize, which allows us to enjoy the chocolate (?), "probably made in some Chinese gulag."

"Ode to Joy", "Clockwork Orange", "West Side Story", 2011 England Riots
A piece of music with a fascinating history of use. Who is excluded from the universal joy? How can you know all this, that the actions are wrong, the causes of it, and still do it. "Even the most brutal violence is the enacting of a certain symbolic deadlock."

"Taxi Driver", "The Searchers", Anders Breivik
Fantasy is a lie in that it covers up a gap in consistency; fantasy provides an easy answer. What drives the violence of the hero is not that the victim is just a victim but rather that the victim enjoys and even participates in their own victimhood. Indeed, the violence should rather be directed inwards, towards the ideology that chains you, ties you.

"Jaws", "Triumph of the Will"
The function of the shark is to trade all of our smaller fears into a single target. Perhaps in a similar way as anti-Semitic Germany. Fascism aims to maintain a conservative hierarchy. Develop a narrative that explains the problems with a target, a foreigner.

(Sidenote: Rammstein have been accused of having Nazi sentiments (?), but in reality they separate the parts of mass group rituals from Nazism, allowing people to enjoy the ritual without the ideology.)

Airplane graveyard
Capitalism is a kind of religion, where one sacrifices oneself, one's environment, so that capital is moved.

"Titanic", "The Fall of Berlin"
Winslet's character has a broken image of herself, which DiCaprio literally and figuratively puts together; she draws energy from a lower-class person before she can return to the upper-class. The catastrophe overshadows this conservative message, of the rich taking advantage of the poor, using the couple as a vessel to hold the movie together, to make it more palatable to the liberally minded.

"Full Metal Jacket", "M.A.S.H.", "If...."
Military routine can induce one of two reactions: ironic distance e.g. joking around, or an obscene supplement e.g. marching chants. Communities always require unwritten rules. But to get too close to this obscenity is suicidal, destructive.

"The Dark Knight", rhetoric justifying the invasion of Iraq
Disturbingly perpetuates the myth that telling the truth (the Joker) means distraction -- the idea that if the public were to learn the truth (that Havery Dent committed those murders rather than Batman) would result in chaos. The lie maintains order, an old conservative wisdom: That the truth is too strong to be told to ordinary people.

9/11, the Big Other, "The Loves of a Blond", "The Fireman's Ball", "Brief Encounter", "Brazil"
"If there is no God, then everything is permitted." Patently the opposite is true; the concept of God allows people to do horrific things. The same can be said of true Communists, who see themselves as instruments of their shared perceived historical destiny; as tools they allow themselves to do terrible things, since it is not they, personally, who orders them. To undermine this ideology one needs to ridicule the practices of the individual in the system, not (just) their leader. The Big Other, sometimes embodied as a nosy busybody, forces us to act civilized, to maintain social appearances. Thus is the tragedy of our predicament -- the necessity of the Big Other, and yet there not actually being one.

"The Last Temptation of Christ"
All new inventions come from hysterical questioning. Judaism persists in the anxiety of the question: "But what do you want from me?" Christianity resolves this tension with love. However, in Christianity and Christ's death there is a strong atheist message -- that one is free to do as one sees fit (?).

"Seconds" (1956)
A change of the external did not change the man; the dream the company fulfilled was a shallow, materialist dream. The first step to freedom is not just to change reality to fit your dream; it's to change the way you dream. Which, again, will hurt, as all satisfactions we have come from our dreams.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Notes while watching Safety Not Guaranteed

WITH SPOILERS

Who names their daughter Darius?

Difficult to believe that Aubrey Plaza's character, she of the smouldering eyes, would be such a shut-in, speaking as an aspiring one myself; that kind of sarcastic, skeptical-of-life intelligence attracts the like-minded, at least to a close-knit few.

Weekend getaways, especially ones near the ocean, trigger memories of 2009, wherein I had many such trips. Quiet towns, lonely roads, quaint B&Bs, diner food.

Ugh, shooting without goggles? Running through the line of fire? C'MON!!

Not sure how I feel about the subplot, this slick guy, a self-assured jerk whom I care little for, seeking out his old flame. Is it my lot in life to be so agonized by these fellows?

Aw, he turns into a nice human and helps a virgin seduce high-school students with alcohol.

Heh, someone had a lot of fun making that thing: A combination of the classic Time Machine machine and the alien device in Contact, with lasers and a few Tesla coils thrown in.

Eh, the film was okay. Felt a bit rough in dialogue and jokes. Strange to see Plaza smile fully.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

back from Ottawa

Is it May already? Time does indeed fly, though I've little reason to let it to do so. Low, low have my thoughts, and heart, been of late. The weather has at least finally begun to turn, a gradual, teasing warming that comes and goes. On top of playing games, I have also turned to shows -- Archer, House of Cards (US), Adventure Time, Attack on Titan, Game of Thrones, The Office (US), Rick and Morty. The last of these I highly wholly recommend, and I rarely get excited about a television show.

Uhm, in local news.. turns out profits from the Green Beanery goes to a group that denies man-made climate change. That's some venti-sized greenwashing! Thankfully they are not my supplier of beans, slow as I am at consuming them.

But no, I have been busy this past week. Indeed even now, dear reader, I write to you from the comfort of the Ottawa train to Toronto, there to attend Skepticamp*. I quite enjoy the train: the separation from the fickleness of traffic, the quiet of gliding past the Ontario landscape. I was there for only 2 days and 2 nights, with my time split between seeing the talks, and walking to and enjoying Rockcliffe Park, that scenic escape. Ah, the mem'ries of my days in Ottawa came flooding back, a very fond time, though my recollection of it is riddled with wistfulness. I looked in on Auberge Des Arts, and 486 Cumberland St., that fabled dwelling. The city has changed, to be sure -- condos, those wretched lifeless boxes, are popping up like so many urban barnacles. But the cityscape is not yet too far changed and retains much of its historic small city charm.

To continue my recap of last week: Friday night I heard my friend's band (LeBaron) play at C'est What!, Thursday I saw Reg participate in a boxing match, Tuesday and Wednesday I hung out with some friends from out of town, and Monday I caught The Grand Budapest Hotel with Steve, the latest Wes Anderson film, and a most excellent one at that. A different flavour from Moonrise Kingdom; darker, a sense of saudade, of knowing that your friend is already gone.

Whew! Well I look forward to getting back to my usual procrastinating, and giving the cats some attention.

*I'll recap the Skepticamp at a later time.

Friday, May 02, 2014

podcasts i listen to

And here, ladies and gentlemen, are my most frequently listened-to podcasts. Whether it's walking to the store, doing chores or sitting on transit, these are the shows that find their way into my ear and eventually my mind.

Science & Skepticism
The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe
This is it, the one that started it all, the podcast that sparked my trip into the world of skepticism and critical thinking. Funny, informative, thoughtful, and just a bit nerdy, this is the science podcast by which others are judged. I have David to thank for pointing me in their direction.

The Reality Check
Consisting of members of the Ottawa Skeptics, this educational podcast has a more Canada-centric focus to the stories it covers. A bit dry at times.

Stuff You Should Know
Each episode covers a topic -- kind of a layman's reading of a wikipedia article. Entertaining and down-to-earth. Plus they've got soothing radio voices.

Inquiring Minds
In-depth interviews with scientists and writers.

Comedy
Comedy Bang Bang: The Podcast
Before the show, CBB was a podcast with the host interviewing an array of characters played by actors and comedians. The zaniness is best digested in small doses, but it is consistently laugh-out-loud funny.

How Did This Get Made?
Bad movies reviewed by three very entertaining hosts. While not a requirement, the show's a lot funnier if you've seen the movie they discuss. My favorite might be Mortal Kombat.

Other
As It Happens
Classic CBC radio show that interviews the people in the news around the world. Questions are intelligent and direct, allowing one to hear the word from the source. I've been listening to AIH for years and years, even before SGU. I say classic but they are also always relevant, consistently informative.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

new york in april

I'm back from Manhattan, having spent the weekend there for the Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism. I may get around to writing up some comprehensive notes about it later, but for now suffice to say that I enjoyed it very much, having learnt a lot and met many fine individuals. Additionally, David and I managed to hand out cards for the show, so here's to hoping that we get some new listeners! Although, I must admit I am simultaneously mortified at the things that people may hear me utter. Oh, I am neither eloquent or enjoyable to hear, and it stresses me that my spoken voice does little justice to my character.

New York itself was nice. The warm weather made for some glorious strolls, though I had only a handful of free hours to enjoy it in. On my longer hike I was pleased by how many people recognized my Siouxsie Sioux shirt, one of my few treasured garments. It genuinely felt good to breathe in the city, to observe its thick cultural mixture, to look up and see buildings that have been enjoyed by generations.

We ate humbly, there not being the time to fully, deeply partake in what NYC had to offer. My best meal was probably a simple bowl of oatmeal with almonds, apple, and maple syrup from Birch coffee, a moment of quiet where I had nothing but this meal to attend to. Else-wise, I had a lot of hamburgers, available on pretty much every corner.

I stayed at the Gershwin Hotel, it being economically located for my tastes. Adequate is how I'd describe my lodgings, though some might find its spartan rooms cramped and claustrophobic. Myself, I was quite comfortable with my earplugs, laptop and wine.

Getting to and from New York was a fairly trouble-free affair -- flight to Newark International, an hour wait at customs (!), shuttle to the train station, then a train to New York Penn. Station. The kindness of strangers came into play many times, frequently answering our troubled speculations.

Now I am back. And there is so much to do!