Saturday, December 10, 2011

On Toronto's men and masculinity (or lack thereof)

Christie Blatchford is an irascible, reactionary columnist for the neoconservative National Post newspaper. (A friend of mine once aptly described her as the female Don Cherry.) And she's written another one of her typically awful pieces, this time about how Toronto men (and boys) are not properly manly. Rather, Toronto is a "city of sissies".

I could pick it apart, piece by piece, and complain at length, but I'll just grab a couple particularly hilarious parts:
"Do not mistake this as a plea for head-banging in sport, a defence of bullies, or a veiled anti-gay message."
However, that's exactly what she is doing. Blatchford criticizes bullies explicitly, sure, but the column itself becomes her endorsement of bullying - because she is herself being a bully. In the column's initiating incident, she is "mortified and appalled" at the sight of adolescent boys hugging, and proceeds to mock and deride the people whose policies she blames for causing this offense. She calls these men "delicate, slender, and arch", "delicate creature(s)", and "fey". Subtle, sure, but this is bullying.

And as for it not being a "veiled anti-gay message"? Well...
"It is possible to be a gentle and kind man without speaking in a soft, sibilant voice that makes all sentences sound to my ear as though they were composed entirely of Ss.", it's not a "veiled" message. It's actually pretty obviously homophobic. Why rely on a stereotype of gay men, and use it pejoratively, in order to illustrate the point that something is wrong with straight men?

But what, might you ask, are men supposed to act like?
"I know men have feelings too. I just don’t need to know much more than that. On any list of The 25 Things Every Man And Boy Should Know How To Do, hugging is not one of them. Killing bugs is. Whacking bullies is. Kissing is. Farting on cue is. Making the sound of a train in a tunnel is. Shooting a puck is. Hugging is not."
So men are supposed to kill, whack, fart (on cue), sound like a train (what the fuck does that even mean?), do sports, and avoid emoting. Basically, Blatchford think that a properly masculine man should have all the complexity and depth of Homer Simpson.

Well, I'm glad that's settled.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

When market researchers call...

Them: Can I speak to someone over the age of 18 who pays for the utilities?
Me: Well, we rent. So we just pay everything as one lump sum.
Them: [pause] So, you pay maintenance fees?
Me: No. We pay for it in the rent.
Them: A maintenance fee.
Me: No.
Them: [pause] How familiar are you with Toronto Hydro? Very familiar; somewhat familiar; not very familiar; did not hear about it before his phone call.
Me: Somewhat, I guess.
Them: On a scale of one to ten, how satisfied are you with your internet service?
Me: Eight, I guess.
Them: [aggressively] Eight?
Me: Yeah, eight.
Them: On a scale of one to ten, how satisfied are you with your natural gas service?
Me: Well, I don't pay for my utilities, so I don't even know if I have natural gas.
Them: You don't have natural gas?
Me: I don't know if I have natural gas.
Them: [pause] So, a one?
Me: [laughing] I could give you a number, but I would just be making it up.
Them: [annoyed] Well, I gotta put something.
Me: How about we just cancel this call?
Them: Okay, bye.

I'm not sure whether the communication failure is with the me, the caller, or her script... but that was kinda hilarious.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Political stuff, of the Ontario provincial variety

There's a provincial election in Ontario in a few days and a lot of mud flying, so I thought I'd capture some of it - and my responses - on here. (Really, some of it is right up there with the Carcetti-shaking-hands-with-a-slum-lord photoshop job from The Wire. That shameless, that manipulative, that bad.) If it's not for you, specifically, then at least it's for posterity:
  1. The first bit is a shamelessly misleading set of charts from the Progressive Conservatives' platform. The designer came up with impressively deceptive visuals like a comparison of 5 stick-men (representing $64b in spending) and 25 stick-men (representing $113b). That's an apparent increase of 400% vs. an actual increase of 77%.

    Given that charts/graphs privilege visual cues - they supplement and even replace a textual-numerical explanation, even if the text and numbers are there - that's just horrifically misleading.

  2. The more recent headscratcher is a pamphlet that's been handed out by Tory candidates that slags equity-based education in Ontario's kindergarten classrooms. Now known as "the homophobic flyer", the Conservatives and their leader, Tim Hudak, are standing behind it, in spite of the fact that its arguments have been denounced as largely misleading. (This site dismisses 4 of the 6 claims as "misleading", another as a splice that misrepresents its source, and confirms that only one point is "accurate".) Some of the inaccuracies are stupid-but-understandably-stupid - for example, the harmless suggestion that boys and girls should swap gender roles, which probably amounts to boys holding babies and girls playing with hammers and wrenches, is misinterpreted as an instruction to enforce "cross-dressing."

    But one is just hilariously (or disturbingly, depending on your mood) deceitful: a headline that says the Liberals are "keeping [Ontarians] in the dark" about the curriculum, which is attributed to CTV News. Only it turns out that CTV News was quoting someone in that headline. And who were they quoting? Conservative leader Tim Hudak.

  3. I wish I had taken a picture of it, (foolishly, I thought it'd be easy to find online) but the Toronto Sun - a foaming-at-the-mouth-reactionary, lowest-common-denominator, and unabashedly right-wing rag - ran the most deceiving cover page that I think I've ever seen on an ostensibly mainstream newspaper. The background was solid blue (which is the color of the Progressive Conservatives) and it featured only the head of a smiling Tim Hudak and words of praise for him. You would swear that it was a paid ad. Only it wasn't.

  4. Slightly off-topic... My daughter and I went to Ikea to pick up whimsical green shelves for her room. While we were sitting in the cafeteria eating ice cream, I overheard an entire phone conversation where a well-dressed 40ish white guy was pitching the formation of an "Ontario Tea Party, only we wouldn't call it that" comprised of "people in construction, farmers, landowners, people in Northeast Ontario, and people [who] are upset about the school curriculum." One small problem: the guy had a very smart man-purse, (Seriously, I was jealous of it.) and as my friend Alex noted on Facebook, "if anything is guaranteed to exacerbate the cultural rift with their Tea Party allies, it will be the Toronto Tea Partier's tendency to carry around a murse."

Friday, September 30, 2011

It had to happen: Sagan vs. Snooki

So, this appeared in my Facebook newsfeed, yesterday. Apparently, I should be congratulated:

I recognized Snooki in an instant; I know who Carl Sagan is, in a vague sense, but I can't say that I had any idea what he looked like. So, good for me - I am, apparently, what's wrong with the world. Here are all of the other responses to the picture, again from Facebook:

  • I know I've seen that guy before, but have no idea who the woman is.
  • Carl Sagan! Do I get "billions and billions" of Science Points for that? And no, I don't know who the other one is.
  • I don't know Snooki enough to recognize her on sight, so until reading these comments I had no idea who either person was.
  • Val is happy to report that still she has no idea who either of these people are
  • i can spot sagan at 500 paces... who is snooki?

(An important note: this was posted on the Fb page of a graduate student, and likely responded to by other graduate students. I don't know whether this means that they would be inclined to be disingenuous about knowing who Snooki is - that is, I don't know if they would lie in order to save face - but I wouldn't be surprised if these people are actually intellectual clichés of the
I-don't-even-own-a-TV variety.)

Now, I get the joke. Carl Sagan could be any intellectual who is/was on TV and the point would be the same - people care more about vacuous celebutantes and reality stars than they do about substantive stuff, like how the universe works. Point taken.

But... for the purposes of this illustration, it's Carl Sagan and not Steven Hawking or, especially for us Canadians, David Suzuki. And that annoys me for a few reasons:
  1. Awareness of Snooki's existence does not necessarily make one a fan of her or of her show. Collapsing those two things into one-and-the-same makes no sense.
  2. Carl Sagan has been dead for 15 years, and his TV show first aired more than 30 years ago; that someone might not know what he looks like is probably not surprising. (Granted, his show's been aired many times since then. But, to use but one example, Seinfeld, which ended in the late 90s, is aired constantly in syndication - and despite that, it's usually the case that none of my 18-21 year-old students have ever watched it. Which brings me to a related point...)
  3. The comparison is ridiculously ageist. Because the Sagan reference is so dated, the person who put the image together must have known that virtually everyone under the age of 20 (if not 30) will have no clue who he is. So this isn't so much directed at the ignorant and intellectually-stunted - which is what the image implies - as it is at the young. (The choice of a smart dude and dumb woman also feels just a bit sexist.)
  4. Frankly, I'm actually more stunned that there are people who don't know who Snooki is. Snooki is everywhere: You go on the internet, she's everywhere. You turn on the TV, she's there. You wait in line at the grocery store, her face is plastered on tabloids and bad magazines. If you don't know who is, you're either terribly unobservant (which doesn't speak well for all of those grad students that I quoted above) or you've been purposely ignorant of her existence for two years, which seems like an odd use of one's energy. (Now, if you admitted that you do know who she is but you dislike her intensely, well, then we could bring this into a discussion of guilty displeasures. And that I can totally get behind...)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The DC relaunch: some reactions

1) DC Comics made waves - of the bad kind - in July when their co-publisher, Dan DiDio, got in an argument with a fan at Comicon. The fan had a legitimate beef: DC was canceling and relaunching all 52 comics in their superhero line, and in so doing was slashing their compliment of women from double-digits to just 2. And if this wasn't problematic enough, DiDio decided to chew the fan out, questioning whether it made a meaningful difference and demanding that the fan tell DiDio who they should have hired. It reflected pretty poorly on DC, especially given that women, in comics, have always been underrepresented as creators and problematically sexualized as characters.

2) I've picked up only two comics from the relaunch, including the very first one, the flagship Justice League title from Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, and Grant Morrison's Action Comics. (Though I've seen a lot of reviews and responses to other comics - but more on that later.) I don't know what the objective is with these new comics, but it seems to me that DC has actually rid itself of two of the things that gave its universe a unique character among the various superhero worlds - an optimistic outlook and bigger-than-big powers. Especially in relation to Marvel - where the world order is always tenuous, the situation is always dire, and the (anti-)heroes unliked and over-matched - DC has always seemed bright and bubbly. So, at least according to this guy's initial assessment, the newly brooding and irascible DC universe looks a whole lot like Marvel's. And this isn't a good thing.

3) In the past week, though, all of the attention has shifted back to the sorts of concerns that were, at least implicitly, being voiced back in July. Specifically, it's these comics, Red Hood and the Outsiders and Catwoman:

Now, admittedly, these are just small portions of bigger comics. But they're also pretty fair representations of the whole from which they've been taken. And they also seem to offer good evidence that the jokes that non-comic folks make - y'know, about superhero comics being filled with T&A and comic readers being horny fanboys - are well-founded. So rather than completely stealing someone else's thunder, I'll post some good quotes and refer you to the source - it`s worth reading it all:
"Most problematically, we are shown [Catwoman's] breasts and her body over and over for two pages, but NOT her face. [...] Can't you show us the playful or confident look in her eye as she puts on her sexy costume? Because without that it's impossible to connect with the character on any other level than a boner, and I'm afraid I don't have one of those."

"If you really want to support Starfire's 'liberated sexuality' like she's somehow a person with real agency, what people should really be campaigning for is more half-clothed dudes in suggestive poses to get drawn around her, since I'm sure that's what she'd like to see. But people don't really want that, do they? Because it's not about what Starfire wants. It's about what straight male readers want. [...] but let's be honest about what's happening and who we're serving (or not serving) and at whose expense."

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Depressing for even more than the obvious reasons

In a pre-season NHL hockey game in London (Ontario) on Thursday night, an unknown fan threw a banana on to the ice. Predictably, it was when one of the few black players in the NHL was also on the ice. And everyone is outraged, which certainly sounds good enough.

Here's the thing, though. There are all sorts of quotes from players of color and suits who say that London isn't a racist place and that this is a wholly isolated incident. (Because, the logic goes, if other black/brown players haven't felt/seen it, then it must not exist, right? In spite of the fact that racialized celebrities more easily "pass" as if they were white?) And then the article that I linked to provides a list of other explicitly racist, and ostensibly isolated, incidents in hockey games. And they note that in spite of everyone's outrage, no one has been able (willing?) to identify the fan who threw the banana.

So, I'm not the only person who sees a disconnect, here, right? It's isolated, but it happens with some regularity; it's not indicative of some racist sensibility among people in the city, and yet no one has helped identify the banana-thrower. Stuff like this seems like such an obvious launching-pad - a "teachable moment", as it were - for a discussion of systemic racism and how events like these are linked, and how indifference to racist acts is itself an act of racism. But, somehow, I imagine that every time this happens in the future, it'll be just as shocking, surprising, and isolated.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Live-Blogging: Terrible Sports Analysis

Presumably because they're folksy, likable, and/or have good anecdotes, TV broadcasters choose to hire sports analysts who rarely understand how to analyze the sports that they used to play professionally. They can tell you, for instance, how to identify a curveball but they can't actually explain why it is or isn't advantageous to bunt or not. (Which wouldn't be so bad, except that they pretend that they know and their reasons are nonsensical, if they're even offered.) And this is hardly a contentious claim to make - every decent sports blog makes this complaint about their local announcers. (And, in fact, there was once a blog devoted entirely to critiquing/mocking bad sports announcers: Fire Joe Morgan)

So, here I am, sitting at home and 1) reflecting on the depressing fact that The Shopping Channel has found someone more qualified than me to write copy for them, while 2) my daughter refuses to go to sleep and calls my name, and I'm watching the Blue Jays play the Angels. And it occurs to me that I should blog about the errors, misunderstandings, and absurdities that the commentary team, Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler, are sharing with the audience on this particular night. (And honestly? The broadcaster, Sportsnet, has no excuse - I emailed them months ago to beg them to hire a stats guy who could offer them good stats and nudge them away from the bad ones that they love so much.)

1st inning

Buck: “[Howie Kendrick]’s had a consistent season.”
One of the annoying things that sports announcers do is confuse the words "good" and "consistent". Because Kendrick has had a very good season, (about 20% above average on offense, and well above on defense) but hasn't been at all consistent. During the 6 months of the season, his monthly batting average has ranged from a bad .231 (September) to an amazing .348 (May); he's hit 6 home runs in two months, and only 0 or 1 in three others; his wOBA shows that his bat has been excellent in three months, almost exactly average in two, and below-average in another. Point is, for a long period he was excellent, then he was very mediocre, and now he's playing badly - that's consistent? (I'm kicking a dead horse at this point, but I wanted to be thorough.)

Pat: “When you have Jose Bautista in front of you, you’re gonna have baserunners.”
This isn't really a dumb statement in isolation. What it does reveal, though, is that these guys are capable of saying really stupid stuff even though they're conscious of the fact that sluggers get RBI - in part, at least - because the players in front of them are good at getting on base. So when they say that sluggers who get out way too often are "producers" because they get RBI - as if the people on base had nothing to do with it - there's really no excuse.

2nd inning

Buck: “I think the most misleading statistic fielding percentage.”
Pat: “The only thing it tells you is how many plays he makes.”
This one could have been good. Buck actually makes a fine point, and one that statsheads have been making for decades: fielding percentage doesn't tell you how many balls the fielder failed to reach but should have, so a good percentage can mask a terrible fielder. And then Pat shows that he doesn't really understand that at all - because what he claims is the "only thing it tells you"? It's actually the exact opposite.

Pat: “Forget about the average, [Mark Trumbo] has been producing.”
Ah, yes - the "producing" that I mentioned earlier. If a good fielding percentage can mask a bad fielder, then good "production numbers" - home runs and runs batted in - can mask a mediocre hitter. The Blue Jays' J.P. Arencibia is a great example, but Trumbo works, too - lots of home runs but a terrible batting average and a low walk-rate. Because, in a league where the average player reaches base 32.5% of the time, Trumbo's 29.6% is worse than about 90% of his peers. Sure, Trumbo hits for so much power that he's a marginally above-average hitter, but "forget" that he reaches base at one of the league's worst rates? That's terrible analysis.

Buck: “[Brett] Cecil’s been much better than his win-loss record.”
This, again, is a reasonable statement that is routinely undermined by Buck's typical expression of love for the pitcher's win-loss record. Buck has, in fact, said in the past that wins are the most important stat for a pitcher. Which is absolutely ludicrous, and here's why: a typical starting pitcher usually only throws about 2/3s of his team's pitches (and, of course, none of the opposing team's), does almost none of the fielding, and either none or very little of the hitting. I don't quite know where to find the number crunching, but i recall that Win Shares credits all pitchers with only 34% of the game's result - and your starting pitcher, again, isn't eating all of those innings by himself. And yet assigning him a win or loss gives him all the credit.

Pat: “[Colby Rasmus] becomes a very dangerous breaking ball hitter.”
This one caught my attention because Pat often makes statements like these - "analysis" that can be, and is, quantified but only with great difficulty, and probably too much difficulty for Pat to bother with. So I looked it up on Fangraphs: Rasmus has been a below-average hitter against breaking balls over his career, while this season he's been awful against sliders but marginally above-average against curves. But "very dangerous"? Not by any measure.

Pat: “They don’t have a stat of plays that should have been made. Yet.”
Well, this is just plain wrong. TotalZone, DRS, and UZR all measure this, though none of them can do so perfectly. Pat doesn't need to agree with their methodology or results, of course, but he should probably know that they've existed for more than two decades. That's right - these things existed when Pat Tabler was still playing.

Pat: “The Angels are a good defensive team. They have athletes all over the diamond.”
The Angels may well be a good defensive team, but their athleticism is really neither here nor there. No one disputes the athleticism of, say, Torii Hunter, but plenty of analysts will point out that his age and declining skills mean that he's become a below-average fielder; likewise, the Jays have some pretty good, fast athletes in Rajai Davis, Brett Lawrie, and Eric Thames, but they're all demonstrably poor defenders. (That said, while Pat's reasoning is faulty, his conclusions are sound - the Angels grade as the 5th best fielding team in baseball, according to UZR, and are much closer to 2nd than they are to 6th.)

4th inning

Pat: “[The Angels] go 1st to 3rd better than anybody in baseball.”
This is tough to verify, so I can't imagine that Pat actually knows this. Like most analysts, he's probably guessed this based on what he's seen - and 'traditional wisdom' - and no other evidence. I couldn't find any stats, but evaluations of base-running on the whole are easy to find: the Angels are slightly above average on both the Speed Score and Baserunning metrics. That doesn't suggest to me, though, that they're likely to go 1st to 3rd better than anyone else.

5th inning

Pat: “At the Major League level, you fail 70% of the time and you’re a super-star.”
Pat's surely pretending that walks don't exist, here - or, maybe, thinking that they count as a "fail" - because this is patently wrong. Of the 25 best hitters in baseball, (according to their wOBA) none reach base less than 35% of the time. And, remember, failing 70% of time means that you're not only not a superstar, but you're one of the very worst at not getting out.

6th inning

Buck: “[Peter Bourjos]’s is just a triple shy of doing something that no Angel has ever done. [Have double-digit doubles, triples, and homers.]”
Pat: “Impressive.”
Well, not really. It's a quirky bit of trivia, I guess, but it certainly doesn't indicate that Bourjos is an "impressive" hitter. (He's slightly above average, and his overall offensive performance is almost identical to that of the aforementioned Trumbo.) What would be better for the player and the team, though surely less "impressive", would be if those 9 triples had actually been homers.

End of 7th inning

Gregg Zaun [between-innings and after-game analyst]: “You can’t put a price on guys like [Mike McCoy] in the organization.”
McCoy is a career .200 hitter with a below .300 on-base average, and he plays multiple positions competently. Basically, he's a replacement-level utility guy and there are dozens just like him. And you can put a price on him - somewhere just above league-minimum.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Blogging about bookshelves

Recently (or, at least, recentishly), my friends Jen and Alex both blogged about home libraries* and encouraged other people to send/post pictures and talk about how they go about displaying books. I didn't take either one up on the offer, but not because of apathy - I simply hadn't gotten around to taking any pictures of my furniture/rooms since we last moved.

Clearly, though, I'm going somewhere with this. And if you guessed that I wouldn't write about home libraries and my lack of pictures unless I had finally taken some and was going to post them, well, you'd be right.

This is a shot of the legal bookcases in our dining room, which are just ridiculously sexy - hence, they're prominently displayed in the room at the center of the house. The one on the left houses most of our fiction and poetry, roughly half of that lowest shelf devoted to cook books. The one of the right is mostly fun stuff - poppy and mindless books on the top shelf, mass market hardcovers and 50 year old kid's lit on the middle shelf, and books that will eventually be Penelope's on the bottom. (Along with a box set of John Lennon demos and Queer as Folk DVDs, both of which had nowhere else to go.) But the point is, clearly, to showcase the bookcases themselves.

This is from our office. I have one of those big shelf units with the desk attachment, which is why the four squares in the bottom-left corner are basically a wash (my files, some computer junk, and the power-bar). The higher eight shelves are almost exclusively comic books, and the other four shelves mostly books about politics and theory. It's spectacularly hard to actually see any of them, though, I can tell - in part, that's because I used a moody, high-contrast visual effect on all of these; in part, it's because Blogger absolutely sucks when it comes to preserving the detail that does exist in the image.

The tower beside it is exclusively academic stuff, with whole shelves devoted to our particular fields (a masculinity shelf, a third-wave feminism shelf, and so on), except for the very top shelf, which is all Foucault and Butler. It's was previously an ugly, tan-colored Billy bookcase, but I spray-painted it black to match the other unit and bought the black door to increase its impressiveness by at least 200%.

This one's just fun. It's another Ikea bookcase, which matched nothing in our last two places but fits really well with the trim on the doorways in this house. Anyway, it's in the hallway and filled with goofy/cool stuff that earns us hipster capital.

* A fun note about Jen and Alex's ways of approaching the topic: superficially, at least, they bring some very different concerns and investments to the table: Jen uses the term "book storage" in her post's title, while Alex throws around the word "bibliophilia". And yet they're also both responding (with a lot of derision) to paranoia around The Disappearance of The Book, so they're really not all that different.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Self-indulgently blogging about my blog

[All the numbers exclude any views from my own IP address]

Average number of daily pageviews* over the past month: 31 (high: 59, low: 12)
Average number of monthly pageviews over the past year: 1201 (high: 1641, low: 869)

Average number of daily views since August 2008: 41 (high: 366, low: 7)
Average number of monthly pageviews since August 2008: 1251 (high: 6463, low: 439)

Most viewed blog entry for September 2011: Leo Quintum is Lex Luthor (35 as of today)
---A friend of mine, who taught All-Star Superman at the University of Toronto, told me that this blog entry was recommended to him as THE argument in favor of Leo and Lex being considered the same character. (The guy who made the recommendation had no idea that we knew each other and my friend, it should be pointed out, was unpersuaded.) I've since learned that, amazingly, this actually is passed around on the internets as the last/best word on the subject. Yay me!
Most viewed blog entry since August 2008: The hysterical Joker (17277)
---More than 75% of the pageviews in my record month were views of this page. Somehow, right around the time that the film came out in July 2008 - and despite the fact that I wrote that particular blog in December 2007 - the image of the Joker that I had posted became the #2 Google Image search result for "Heath Ledger Joker", but the #1 full-body shot of him. So, evidently, people were looking for a picture of him and found my blog. Unfortunately, they found my reaction to the promo photos - I initially hated it - and mistook it for my reaction to the film, which means that the response thread is full of people telling me off for hating on the movie.

A very small sample of the some of the bizarre/hilarious searches that have led here:
- "turn your partner dosey doe bullshit"
- "why are all films about masculinity considered homoerotic?"
- "can i be your favorite color?"
- "superhero fetish porn"
- "neilshyminsky-demon"

I have no idea why someone would write that last one. But I kind of love it.

* I'm using pageviews because this is cobbled together from both my Google Analytics data and Blogger's own stats. The latter only counts pageviews, not unique visits. But considering that most people who visit my blog visit only 1.17 pages - that is, for the most part, they just read whatever's on the front page - the numbers are pretty comparable.

Monday, September 12, 2011

"Electronic literacy"

From Alexis Madrigal in The Atlantic, in conversation with Dan Russell, a search anthropologist (what the hell is a search anthropologist and how do i become one?) with Google:
"90 percent of the US Internet population does not know [about ctrl+f]. This is on a sample size of thousands," Russell said. "I do these field studies and I can't tell you how many hours I've sat in somebody's house as they've read through a long document trying to find the result they're looking for. At the end I'll say to them, 'Let me show one little trick here,' and very often people will say, 'I can't believe I've been wasting my life!'"

I can't believe people have been wasting their lives like this either! It makes me think that we need a new type of class in schools across the land immediately. Electronic literacy. Just like we learn to skim tables of content or look through an index or just skim chapter titles to find what we're looking for, we need to teach people about this CTRL+F thing.

I have my own problem with ctrl+f, though it differs substantially from the phenomenon being described above. I rely on it so much that I find myself reading books - the paper kind - and thinking I should use the ctrl+f function... and needing a second to remember that it doesn't exist. (Similarly, there are times when I'm watching live sports - not even necessarily pro sports, either - where I find myself eagerly awaiting the instant replay.)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Follow-up on a blog about a news anchor

About a year ago, I complained about the needlessly scary promotional images that Global TV was using to promote their new anchor, Dawna Friesen. But since I don't watch Global News, I haven't really seen whether they adjusted their strategy or her appearance. They did, and they have, so here's a comparison of the shot they were plastering everywhere before she debuted and a picture that seems indicative of how she's currently styled:

What I wrote then was the under-lighting was creepy, she's sneering instead of smiling, her tiny pupils look cold, and her hair is limp and dead - with my conclusion being that she looks like a vampire. And in this picture it seems that they addressed all of those things. (Except, maybe, for the pupils, though the smile appears so warm and genuine that the eyes aren't the least bit disturbing.)

Holy shit, though. What an improvement. (And what were they thinking??)

Sunday, September 04, 2011

An uncharacteristically emo blog about cars

Despite my complaints about hegemonic masculinity, I'm not an anti-masculinity guy. I love baseball and I've been referred to - only in my 20s, mind you - as a jock more than once. And, of course, there's my ambivalent relationship with hyper-masculine super- and action-heroes.

All that said, there are still some characteristically masculine things that I have a powerful aversion to, probably because they're particularly overdetermined. (In fact, I think that I like things like baseball and superheroes, in part, because they're somewhat problematically associated with masculinity - baseball is mocked as being boring, unathletic, and/or a numbers-game, and superheroes are still pretty geeky.) That is, I resist/resent the kinds of things that guys are just expected to know about or be interested in, even by people with feminist politics.

But this is just a longish way of getting to the point - I hate being expected to know anything about cars. I hate that knowing nothing about them is somehow a knock against my manhood and competency as a male partner and parent. And I just hate the idea of knowing anything about cars. I hate the kind of gruff manliness that's associated with cars, I bristle at conversations about cars, I actively disidentify with the kind of people who tend to be into cars, and I can actually feel an embodied response when the topic even comes up.

So when our car's battery just suddenly died at a gas station and we barely completed the short drive home after being boosted, I was fine with leaving the task of replacing the battery to people who know what they're doing. Because, like I said, I just don't want to know.

Is this unreasonable? I'm sure that it is. It makes a lot of practical sense to know this stuff, and it doesn't look particularly difficult, either. And it's probably dumb to let my somewhat-political-but-more-complicated-than-that relationship with cars get in the way of that.

So, all of the above issues aside, I'm gonna try to replace the damned thing anyway. But I'm gonna hate it every step of the way.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Baseball, hazing rituals, and Poe's law

What with the beginning of September being the part of the baseball season when rosters expand and teams are flooded with younger players, a bunch of news outlets are running their annual 'rookie players are forced to do embarrassing things' stories. (A Toronto Star story published today talks about how the youngest pitcher in the Blue Jays' bullpen is tasked with carrying all of the relief pitchers' snacks across the field in a kids' backpack, but I couldn't actually find it on the site.)

Of course, aside from mentioning that the juxtaposition of professional male athlete and Dora the Explorer is funny because it's unmanly, there's little by way of critical reflection. Which is why it was nice to see
a piece from Jezebel, where the author points out, of course, that there's certainly a sexist element to some of the choices. (Jason Isringhausen, for example, is explicit about wanting to find pink, flowery bags.) But Jezebel makes another point that's likely to be missed - that it also has to do with embracing childhood, especially in a number of examples (like Heath Bell's, who collects Star Wars bags that are shaped like the characters) where the older players are clearly not trying to emasculate their teammates.

Naturally, some people will take umbrage at any suggestion of impropriety, and so both a) the reply thread on Jezebel's site and b) the Jezebel Facebook page are loaded with people who think that the authors are taking things too seriously/seeing things that aren't there. (Because sexism is just good clean fun, am I right?) Here's one of the Facebook responses:
"Why do liberals have to ruin everything? It's baseball. LEAVE IT ALONE. Who gives a flying **** about gender politics in the game. Next you'll be saying how they should provide an equal opportunity for women to play."
To go off on a bit of a tangent (although "tangent" implies that I have a single, focused point, and I don't...): I think it's hilarious that I can't tell whether this guy is being sincere or ironic. The caps, the ***, the 'next you'll be asking for equal rights' rhetoric... this guy could be remarkably dense OR sarcastically clever, and one seems just as possible as the other. It's a great example of Poe's law - less a rule than an observation, it says that internet extremism and parody of that extremism are impossible to tell apart.

(It also behaves a lot like
Godwin's law, I'm realizing, insofar as every internet discussion eventually reaches a point where you can no longer tell whether what you're reading is an actual argument or the mockery of that argument.)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Reasons to be cynical: David Cameron's analytical skills

[Forgive me for being a little late on this one - other stuff got in the way.]

Findings from a paper titled "Austerity and Anarchy: Budget Cuts and Social Unrest in Europe, 1919-2009", by Jacopo Ponticelli and Hans-Joacim Voth:
"Does fiscal consolidation lead to social unrest? From the end of the Weimar Republic in Germany in the 1930s to anti-government demonstrations in Greece in 2010-11, austerity has tended to go hand in hand with politically motivated violence and social instability. In this paper, we assemble cross-country evidence for the period 1919 to the present, and examine the extent to which societies become unstable after budget cuts. The results show a clear positive correlation between fiscal retrenchment and instability."
Wisdom from British PM David Cameron:
"[T]hese riots were not about poverty: that insults the millions of people who, whatever the hardship, would never dream of making others suffer like this. No, this was about people showing indifference to right and wrong, people with a twisted moral code, people with a complete absence of self-restraint."
Well, then, I suppose that settles it. I guess it was too much to hope that Cameron and company might have actually learned something? Something that would lessen the likelihood that this might keep happening, and then happen again? (And again...)

Monday, August 29, 2011

VMAs and Gaga

In what was an unsurprisingly awful show - Britney and Foo Fighters won the first two awards of the night, making it feel as if we had been transported back to the late 90s - Gaga managed to steal the spotlight at the VMAs, again. What was surprising was that she did it by completely abandoning her shtick - no costume changes, nothing absurd or abstract or excessive. She just played the role of her own ex-boyfriend, Joe Calderone, for the entire night. (A character who has mostly elicited comparisons to Bob Dylan but strikes me much more as Al Pacino-as-Scarface if he were also one of the T-Birds from Grease.)

Predictably, the tween and teenybopper response on Twitter has been a mixture of amusement, disappointment, and transphobic outrage (in a poll on EW, I'm told that Gaga was the number one choice for both the most and least favorite thing about the show). Here's what I just grabbed off the Twitter feed for the VMAs:
  • no offense lady gaga but if you are transgendered you are not BORN THIS WAY!!!! [this could be transphobic in so many different ways that i won't bother trying to unpack them all]
  • I think Lady Gaga has lost the plot
  • Lady Gaga is amazing!
  • Lady gaga looked messed up last night
  • The VMA's was more of a freak show than the Cantina on a Wednesday night. Only think missing was Gaga shooting first [it's a Star Wars joke - Gaga is being compared to a green, reptilian alien]
The great thing, though, is this - for the first time in years, Gaga has managed to unsettle and disturb people again. Her method of coming up with outfits and routines that were increasingly bizarre had become, well, routine. And so she did the only thing she could to recapture her audience's sense of wonder and horror: she wore a white V-neck and strapped her breasts down.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

When journalism takes an embarassing turn

It didn't take long for someone to write a mean and cynical piece about Jack Layton's death and the surprisingly warm and loud response that it's garnered - in fact, it took less than 12 hours.

Most of Christie Blatchford's snark is directed at the outpouring of grief, as if Layton is undeserving or the people saddened by his death are somehow misguided, which is both a cowardly thing to do (if you're suggesting that he's unworthy of the attention, why mock the people who are giving it rather than the object of their attention?) and cruel. To be so casually dismissive of grief, especially on the day the man died and when it's still so new and even raw, is indecent and inhumane if not simply inhuman. And to demean it as "spectacle"? I find it hard to critique even the most showy politicians for being a bit effusive - again, these are knee-jerk, gut-reactions to the news that a colleague and/or friend has died. Docking them points for style is just unwarranted.

But when Blatchford does turn her attention to Layton, the venom is actually worse. Her discussion of Layton's letter opens innocuously enough, as she characterizes it as an example of "what a canny, relentless, thoroughly ambitious fellow Mr. Layton was", and these things are certainly true. The letter is not an apolitical one - Layton knew, as did we all, that it was his cult of personality that won the NDP second-place in the election, and that he probably wanted to make some grand gesture and take advantage of that one last time. Blatchford gets nastier, though: she describes his prose as "vainglorious" and "sophistry" that's full of "bumper-sticker slogans" and "ruthless partisan politicking" . Whether it was with the sophistry or bumper-sticker comment, one thing is certain - we've crossed solidly into the territory of shamelessness.
Real classy stuff, right there.

She also asks, "Who thinks to leave a 1,000-word missive meant for public consumption and released by his family and the party mid-day"? To which I feel it necessary to reply, who thinks it necessary to use 1,000 words to kick a warm corpse and heap scorn upon the people mourning it?

(I should add that I don't think Jack Layton's parting letter is perfect, by any means. It's sweet, but probably too precious. I suppose we could begrudge him the overt partisanship, but I wouldn't really expect anything less from him. But, really - given that he finalized it from bed, two days before his death? Do we really expect perfection? I'll let Andrew Coyne sum it up for me: "You're allowed to exploit your own death. You get a free, one-time-only pass.")

Monday, August 22, 2011

Jack Layton, 1950-2011

Jack Layton died this morning. It wasn't surprising so much as sudden - I knew when it was announced that the cancer had spread that he probably didn't have much time, but you never think that today will be the day.

I got it in my head to write a blog about Jack - about how refreshing his choice to campaign on optimism was, about how hilarious and cutting he could be ("that's a hash-tag fail" remains my favorite debate line, ever) - but then his family released his final statement to his friends, the party, and the country. His own letter's concluding lines seem a far fairer tribute than I could ever devise.

"My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world."

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Thinking about Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I caught Rise of the Planet of the Apes yesterday with a friend, and we both reached the same basic conclusions:

1 - On the whole, it was better than we expected. The revolution plot was well-constructed and Caesar (as an adult) looked shockingly real and made for a surprisingly compelling and sympathetic lead.
2 - But it was just as racist as we expected.

I don't know what it is about monkeys and apes, but corporate media doesn't seem capable of writing stories about them without stumbling into racist clichés, representations, and/or rhetoric.

In the new Apes film, the opening scene takes place in Africa, where poachers are capturing the apes for scientific research. The poachers, of course, are generic African mercenaries with rag-tag clothing and cleaver-like swords.

Now, it's not really clear why this is necessary - and the scene is so unnecessary that the Wikipedia summary of the movie omits it entirely. What I'm guessing is that it was meant to show how similar humans and apes are in the first place. As the apes run from the poachers, they hoot and scream - and so do the poachers who chase them. The only obvious inference is that we're supposed to note their similarity, or even note how difficult it is to tell them apart.

But this doesn't really resonate in the intended way, I think. Because if they thought they were saying something about how animalistic humanity is, they probably should have said it in a way that isn't quite so outrageously cliché and recognizably white supremacist. I mean, really - you can't make this point in a way that doesn't display a stunning lack of creativity and, worse, have centuries of racist symbolic weight attached to it?

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

A joke that's making the rounds...

A public union employee, a tea party activist, and a CEO are sitting at a table with a plate of a dozen cookies in the middle of it. The CEO takes 11 of the cookies, turns to the tea partier and says, 'Watch out for that union guy. He wants a piece of your cookie.'

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Star Trek's dangerous, savage child race

I was talking about Star Trek: The Next Generation with some people in my department last week, and it gave me a renewed appreciation for the show's ability to be reflexive about its own liberal progress narrative.

Now, to be fair, the examples of TNG's failure to note its own racism and neocolonial attitudes greatly outnumber the contrary examples. (Which, it should be added, are mostly confined to the show's final season, too.) A cursory look at the show's first season, especially, reveals some hilariously racist stuff, especially with the utopian planet of beautiful white people and the dystopian planet of murderous, polygamist, black tribes. (Admittedly, there is a dark-lining to the silver cloud in the former episode, but there is nothing to redeem the latter one.)

What specifically occurred to me, though, was that the show both begins and ends with episodes that challenge its own teleology and smug self-righteousness. Take, for instance, the pilot, where the omnipotent Q puts humanity on trial for being a "a dangerous, savage child race" that goes looking for wars. Picard's response to the charge is to ask Q to "test us", noting that "our mission is long". And while Picard passes the test in the pilot, we eventually learn in the finale that, to quote Q again, "the trial never ends" - that the entire series has been a continuation of the test that began six and a half year earlier, making the show one gigantic exercise in allaying Q's concerns.

In the end, Picard convinces Q to spare humanity because, for "one iota" of a second, the captain realizes that the laws of science are being broken and they need to roll with it rather than waste time figuring out ways to make it conform to their expectations. There's no assurance that humanity is
not essentially barbarous, and no confirmation that humans have indeed evolved - only the realization that we're still, and always will be, on probation.