Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The Decline of the Domestic Car (or: every blog can't be a winner) 

A bit of my vehicular history

To do them credit, my parents almost always drove foreign cars. The first car I remember (though only vaguely as a beige sedan) was an Austin Martin that dad came home with instead of the Volvo station wagon that he had gone out for (this was a contributing factor to the divorce almost a decade later). Before that they had owned a Mini Cooper and an MGB convertible. Granddad had a Jag way back when and ended up with a Nissan Sentra (diesel) that was driven by dad and then me and I am certain would still be going strong if my wife hadn’t backed a 26 foot cube van over it. When I was six or seven we crossed Canada in a VW Camper Van and, a year later, we crossed the U.S.A. in another one. Mom’s first car post-divorce was that same VW Van and while dad did have a brief post-divorce encounter with a domestic station wagon we always had Volkswagons at home after that. Currently I own an used Izuzu Trooper and my wife has a Jetta, one sister has a Jetta Wagon, another has two Golfs and a third has a Saab and a Volvo (both very pre-owned). My brother, when he can be bothered having a car, is partial to Renaults.

The first car I ever owned was a 1975 Toyota Corrolla that a good friend gave to me in 1993. It had not had a working gauges, was about to drop the spare tire and the passenger onto the pavement had 400,000 kilometres on it when my friend got it in the 80s and lasted almost exactly the 500 kilometres it took for me to get it home. After that I inherited my granddad's Nissan the fate of which you already know, bought a used BMW 520i that is still parked somewhere in a garage waiting for me to win the lottery and fix up and then a 2-door 4Runner (one with the removeable roof - what a great truck) and finally the Izuzu. As far as I know, the engine from that 1975 Corrolla is still being used to chop wood somewhere.

Me and the Domestics

Of course, I have had some experience with domestic automobiles. One sister has a Ford Focus (her husband has a Toyota 4-Runner - good man) and my mom has a Cavalier (think dirt cheap). With 6 kids and a dog, my dad had a ¾ ton suburban and I have one brother-in-law with a GMC half-ton. My (ex) step-dad was always partial to the price of American cars but they always had problems (and so, it turns out, did he). I have driven Mustangs and Econoline Vans (there’s a misnamed vehicle) , Pontiacs, Buicks and even Citations. In fact, from 16 to 18 I would drive anything that anyone would let me drive and you would never hear me complain. Even back then, however, the domesticsever seemed as good as the foreign built models.

They still don’t.

Why am I on this topic at all?
(after all, I know squat about cars)

All this is my long winded way of saying that Steve Maich's column in the April 4th edition of MacLean’s in which he describes the decline of the “big three” car companies (GM, Ford and Chrysler) really intrigued me ... but failed to surprise. You see, although I have been driving a mere 20 years, I have always had a bias against "domestic" (i.e. "North American", i.e. "American") cars.

There were several aspects of the decline of the American Automobile that Maich did not raise and I for one would be interested to see more about them.

To begin with, "educated" "Gen-Xers" like me have been extremely slow coming into money of our own. In fact, from what I can tell, we are just now moving into positions that allow us the luxury of a new car (or even a "certified" used one). Add to this extreme lack of fiscal power the difficulty corporate America has had advertising to our deeply cynical demographic; mix in some social consciouseness that naturally gravitates away from all things born in the U.S.A.; stir in the image that Ameri-cars have always had as containing more horse power than horse sense; combine the price of fuel, the retro-sci-fi steel box designs coming out these days; finish off with a dollop of being turned off by "big sales events" and you have a recipe that explains why none of my friends, acquaintances or colleagues (who can afford to) own any vehicle created by what was the big three auto makers.

Design Distraction and Digression
Having mentioned design I feel I should take a moment to criticise what I loathe about contemporary American automobiles and hate about almost all other models. What in the hell are designers thinking. Granted, with Pontiac caught on quickly that the Aztec was not going to sell well (although you can still get one). But who thought it up in the first place? My wife actually feels sorry for people who bought one of those space leggo designs the min-van visual atrocities (I kid you not).

Keep in mind that all of this is only my opinion but have you seen the new line-up from Oldsmobile?!?! I truly believe that these new designs are an image spawned by the current American social culture. Look at the Chevy Alavlanche or Silverado. Look at the Caddillac STS, SCS, Seville, or Escalade. The Pontiac Montana or the Chrysler 300 series. Look at the Dodge Magnum! People are buying these cars! I have seen them driving around! These are serious cars with serious attitude and that attitude says that you are more likely to come under gun fire than you are to want to look out a window. I must admit that I fall prey to advertising just like everyone else (well, maybe not just like). Because of this I guess that having a "Hemmy" is something powerful in an engine. On the other hand, holy shit! Did they hire 14 year old boys to design the fronts of these things? The style is all "I could crash this through a brick wall and bring democracy to the people on the other side (but I don't want to see the view)" kind of thing. Where is this type of futuristic look seen as cool?!?!

Don't get me entirely wrong. Some of the North American Products look decent (mind you, the Chevy SSR is not one of them ... INTERIOR CHEVY HEADQUARTERS - Chief design guy speaks: I've got it! Remember how much everyone loved the El Camino? Well, we'll make a new one like that, only bigger.). The new Corvette certainly stands out, particularly standing around with the rest of the Chevy line-up. Pontiacs still look like pontiacs so I guess the up and coming red-neck wanna be's are happy (the Solstice may be the exception to the rule). Some of the Buicks look okay (although I haven't seen a real one). The Hummer H1 Alpha is sweet looking (but the H2 Series is a big step down from the original). The Dodge Viper is a dream machine to the Magnum's nightmare and the Sprinter (a Mercedes in disguise I believe) is an interesting looking item.

And that is it!! With this sort of line-up why would anyone bother buying a car that was designed and manufactured on this continent!

Back on Track
Of course, I have several friends with domestic trucks, a few with SUV's and one with very little money who broke down and bought a Focus (poor dear) but the fact of the matter is that the prestige cars of our grandparents do not appear to be the prestige cars of today (if they ever were).

Maybe the problem with domestic cars today is the bottom line mentality. The bottom line when it comes to power, the bottom line when it comes to speed, the bottom line when it comes to size and weight, the bottom line when it comes to price… but very little of the nimble finesse that people appreciate these days.

The bottom line, after all, is usually the bottom of the barrel and no one I have met who is anywhere near my age has ever acted excited about owning a domestic car. In fact, those few who have come to own one through inheritance (and a financial inability to be rid of it) are apologetic ("Oh, yeah, I hate it, but it is surprisingly reliable).

It may not even be so much the image of the cars as the image of the country in which they were born. American car companies have an image as being socially unconscious megopolies with little or nothing to endear them to the up and coming purchasers of today. The boomers are still buying them but that is a market that literally can not last and very few vehicle purchasers remember a time when "Buy American" meant anything other than "Support the Republicans".

Nope. The problems facing American car companies can not be changed by merely re-shaping the outside of their products (trying to be cool always ends in failure) and offering better financing (inexpensive is Cheap). It is going to take the overhaul of the whole Ameri-corporo image and that may mean actually changing the bigger things like, say, how they do business.

Nicholas Otto built the first practical 4-stroke in Germany in 1876 and Gottilieb Daimler, who worked for Otto, partnered with Wilhelm Maybach and made motor vehicles practical (and founded Mercedes in 1901). Another German, Carl Benz (any of these names sounding familiar) is credited with the first practical, gas-fueled car in 1885 and Rudolf Diesel (a Frenchman who studied in Germany) patented the first diesel engine in 1898. The Duryea brothers were the first Americans to build (1893) and manufacture cars (1896) and John Lambert was the first “American” to invent a car (there’s the rub, where does a country get off insisting that people hold title as “the First American…” to invent anything? The qualifier negates the meaning of the verb). Henry Ford, of course, revolutionized the industry (and the world) with his methodology and Charles Franklin Kettering patented the world’s first electric ignition. But the automobile had already been around for 24 years when Ford started his motor company in 1900 (a year before Mercedes) and the first electric starter wasn’t installed until 1911 (in a Cadillac) and didn’t hit production until several years later.

End Note
For anyone interested, Maich’s column is decent (bit bland maybe but not being threatened is half the reason to read MacLean’s) and can (probably) be found at (I have not looked).

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Desparate Idiots 

The girl-next-door is still good fodder for the male fantasy (always has been, always will be) but the girl-next-door’s mother is fast becoming a favorite wet-dream as well.
I think that there are several reason for this including (a) an expansion within the mind set of North American men and women to find sexy those people who are healthy and happy (rather than sweaty and anorexic), (b) a shift in population demographics that has created a lot of demand for maturity, and (c) the fact that, as fantasy-fodder, a desperate housewife has an edge over a picky playboy bunny.

The fact of the matter is that the sex objects we see in the main stream media are aging.
What seems absolutely ludicrous to me is that people seem surprised by this.

For example, my 61 year old mother saw the movie Calendar Girls and thought it was wonderful. She thought that it was particularly wonderful because the movie dealt with older women as sexual subjects (or objects). She was happily surprised that we, as a society, were coming so far forward in our appreciation of more mature women.

But perhaps my mother, an avid avoider of all things current, is not a good example. A better example would be the editorial in yesterday’s newspaper's television-supplement in which the author claimed surprise at the growing list of older women who are making it into mainstream television. The editor in question cited Glen Close, Farah Fawcett, Murphy Brown and the main cast of Desperate Housewives as evidence that in his opinion, quite suddenly, we are seeing older women get acting roles as attractive older women (Apparently the Golden Girls and Murder She Wrote support the theory of change).

Sure, this phenomena may have recently hit TV, but where did this change come from and how long has it actually been with us?

I think the answers to both these questions can be found, at least in part, with Internet Pornography.

The fantasy of a younger man with an older woman (for both the young men and the older women) has been around since there were young men and older women. It should come as no surprise to anyone (least of all an editor for a television supplement) that, despite the fact they are all pushing 40(at least), the women of the television program Desperate Housewives would be popular as sex symbols. Boys have probably been fantasizing about the cute mom living next door since there have been mom’s living next door. There are countless of media examples over the years that portray this kind of thing. The Graduate (Ann Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman in 1967) is a prime example. However, we do appear to be currently seeing a bubble of the sexual appeal of the mature woman in the main stream media (i.e. television and film).

Moreover, people do seem to be remarking on this trend with mild surprise when, if they had been paying attention to the growing number of porn sites dedicated to the mature woman, there would be no surprise at all.

Of course Desperate Housewives is weak as an example for my point (Desperate Housewives is a weak example of any point). After all, the women of this show (excepting the one they killed a few episodes ago) are hardly representative of the average physique for their age group. Hell, they are hardly representative of the average physique of women of any age. They are slim, fit and sexy women no matter how old they are and it would be wrong to suggest that male attraction to these women is based solely on their ages.

For that reason I am not going to suggest that the attraction is based solely on their ages. I am, however, going to suggest that part of the attraction men have for these women is based on their ages.

Anyone who has read the book Boom, Bust and Echo by David K. Foot (MacFarlane Walter and Ross, 1996) could predict that, as the “baby boomers” get older, so too will their taste in “sexy”. Nor, with seniors being the fastest growing demographic on the internet, is it difficult to imagine that the age of models depicted as “sexy” might be on the rise as well. After all, while 45 may seem old and wrinkled when you are a horny adolescent, it probably seems damn fine and spry when you are pushing eighty. More importantly, I think that 45 is starting to seem damn fine to contemporary adolescents as well.

For one thing, health is becoming attractive on its own regardless of “body type”. Oh, sure, during the Eighties it was all about what you actually looked like and there is still great appeal for the “perfectly” shaped Playboy model (and, for some reason that escapes me, the borderline anorexic teenager too). However, there seems to currently be a huge demand for “healthy” and “happy” as sexy, and this demand transcends the supposedly "ideal" body type.
Blame it on the social growth of the male and female mind and give credit to the women’s movement whether you want to or not: the fact remains that, while people may not be getting less attracted to the current (basically unattainable) ideal of beauty, they are getting more attracted to people who do not meet the requirements of perfection.

This widening of what the average man will consider beautiful (and I firmly believe that women have always held each other to higher standards than those to which men have held them) transcends such things as body-types.
It also transcends age.

M.I.L.F.’s (as they are known on the Web), or Moms I’d Like to Fuck, seem to represent an ever larger proportion of the pictures on the Internet (mind you, this is merely a casual observation). Of course, it is easy to see why any straight guy (and maybe some gay ones too) would love the idea of banging away at Terri Hatcher (at least in theory - in practice she’d probably snap like a twig). But a quick scan of the supply of porn out there demonstrates beyond a doubt that not every MILF needs to be a Terry Hatcher look-a-like.

There is a growing demand for healthy looking, normal, middle-aged women among the men out there (at least, there is a growing demand for pictures of them naked). Because of this desire for older models, middle age amateur women (and over-age porn actresses like Nina Hartley) are finding themselves in higher demand. Be it glamour shots in dated lingerie or grainy, poorly lit pictures of some guy's wife taken in the living room, the number of these photos as a percentage of all the photos out there appears to be ballooning rapidly.

A final (and probably the most important) factor, of course, is the all important world of possibility. Call it the bird in the hand factor.

Face it, for practical purposes we can state that zero percent of men are going to get to sleep with Madonna. The fact of the matter is that most guys are just going to keep sleeping with their wives and girlfriends and be thankful for their good fortune. On the other hand, guys (and girls) do like to fantasize and the more real the fantasy is, the easier it is to… well… have a “successful” fantasy. While I believe that men are expanding their horizons regarding the nature of beauty, the added appeal of the less than “perfect” model is that there is some small chance (but at least a chance) that the fantasy could become real.

The appeal lies in this miniscule (possibly only theoretical) but real chance.

Think of it like day-dreaming about traveling on vacation. Most people probably spend a lot more time dreaming about a trip to… say… Greece, then dreaming about.... say … a trip to the moon. This is true even though most of us would agree that (risks removed) the moon would probably be a lot more interesting as a travel destination. The reason Greece is more fun to dream about is that you might actually get to go to Greece one day. Even if you can just never see it happening, it is a real possibility. On the other hand, as facinating a trip as the moon would be, there is simply no way you are ever going to get to vacation on the lunar surface. A moon vacation is still possible, but it is not a real possibility.

Like a trip to the moon, a romantic (probably “romantic” is the wrong word) encounter with Britney Spears is not a real possibility for any men (or, at least, not a real possibility for all but a statistically negligible percentage). On the other hand, a similar encounter with that reasonably attractive 30 or 40 year old woman at the Coffee Shop … well … that could happen. Of course it is not going to happen(we all know that), but that’s not the point, is it? What is important is that it could happen. That is, the event is within the realm of real possibility.

Similarly, middle aged men are not going to get to bump uglies with last month’s Playboy centerfold. They might, however, get to do the deed with the good looking “desperate” housewife who lives next door.

Again, the fact that in real life they won’t actually get to seduce Mrs. Robinson is not important for the male fantasy world. The fact that these housewives are desperate (a double entendre if I ever saw one) is important. The Terry Hatcher’s of TV land are not the ultimate goal. They are, after all, unattainable. What they do, however, is create the scenario into which someone a bit like Terri Hatcher might fit.

From Calendar Girls, to Desperate Housewives, to the romance in Something’s Gotta Give (Jack and Diane, 2003) and the song Stacy’s Mom by Fountains of Wayne (2004): the shift towards more mature women as sexy is not a surprising change in the mainstream media. The mainstream media, in fact, has been pretty slow at catching on to the trend. The chance of meeting a so called “cougar” (i.e. older women who haunt bars looking to pick up younger men for casual sex) has been titillating young men for more than a decade now and porn sites catering to photos of women who might be a real possibility, have been growing steadily since man figured out how to make a picture out of zeros and ones.

And I know. I know. These fantasies have been around longer than that. The Graduate is a prime example of the main stream dealing with a sexy older woman and a younger man and it was filmed almost 40 years ago. More importantly, boys have probably been fantasizing about the cute mom living next door since there have been cute mom’s living next door. There have been countless media examples over the years that portray this kind of thing. What I am saying however, is that we are seeing a bubble of it in the main stream media right now. What I am saying is that people are acting surprised when, if they were paying attention to the growing number of porn sites dedicated to the Mom Next Door, there would be no surprise at all.

What I am saying is that porn can be a predictor of upcoming trends in the main stream media.

I know it is weak. It is just an observation. I have not done a scientific study or anything.


So, what is the next trend in Main Stream Media? Well, based on an informal survey of growing porn topics (and since kiddie porn is, thank god, still illegal), my guess would have to be transexuality. We are starting to see a bit of it late night on odd channels like Showcase now but I foresee a series of movies and television programs dealing with this topic before the end of the decade. Neither will these contain the tame androgyny of Bosom Buddies (Tom Hanks, circa 1980). We are talking about shows with some sexy…. well…. transgendered people to add to our long list of all things beautiful (and acceptable).

Monday, March 14, 2005

Get the Obscenity out of my Pornography 

[Sorry that this is so long]

There seems to be a lot of pictures showing naked children showing up in my pornography these days. While the regular contributors to the sites and newsgroups I visit generally seem to be trying to put a stop to it I still find it distressing. I find it distressing because I worry about the harm to children and I find it distressing because the mere act of accessing the photos (which is sometimes hard to avoid when you, in fact, are surfing for porn) is something that is illegal in Canada.

Years ago I was working on a Master’s Thesis tentatively entitled “Pornography, Hate Propaganda and Canadian Jurisprudence”. I never finished my thesis (or the Masters program) partly because I moved on to other pursuits and partly because I had become tired of life in “The Academy”. The primary reason that I was unable (or, at least, unwilling) to continue was that I had become extremely disheartened with the idea that there was actually any reasonable way to choose one set of views over another.

At that time I had been formally studying and thinking about thought (the history of thought, the logic of thought, the psychology of thought and the underlying beliefs about thought) for almost 7 years. I was, and I hope I do not sound too boastful, not a half bad thinker myself. The problem was that I became so adept at dismantling the ideas of others that I was virtually unable to substantiate a basis for any ideas at all. Not even my own.

Sure, in my regular, everyday life I still had opinions but these were more like gut instincts than any kind of idea founded on a solid belief system. For example, intellectually I became pro-life and pro-choice. Similarly, I was against the death penalty but could see no solid, rational argument to support that position. I was against America’s conquest of the world while, at the same time, wondering how I could justify it as wrong.

I had (and I still suffer from this) lost any sense of having a moral measuring stick upon which I could support or condemn the actions of myself or others. The supposedly reasoned arguments of the centrist left, which I tended to agree with (and still do), became, in my mind, no more rational than those arguments from the extreme right, which I came more and more to empathize with even if I didn’t agree with the conclusions.

The root of the problem was my realization that, to take any stand on any issue, there are certain basic things you have to believe to be absolutely true. The Christian Right, with their anti-abortion position, believe it to be true that human existence begins at conception. This, in turn, is based upon their belief in God the Almighty and certain other unalterable “Truths”. The pro-lifer’s, on the other hand, believe in variety of humanistic rights based systems which place the value of a human life as something that occurs somewhere closer to the time of birth. While pro-choicer’s have the longer argument, the length of your argument is not a measure of its truth and neither side’s argument is more “rational”.

The bottom line is that, forced to justify their beliefs, those in the pro-choice camp eventually hit some basic beliefs that cannot be logically proven and are just as unassailable by reason as a belief in God and His word.

Human rights, whether I agree they “should” exist or not, are simply an unjustified belief. There is no moral ruler upon which we can measure the value of existence. I personally believe that there is a basic value that is intrinsic to human (if not all) life. I have no rational justification for that. It is not written down anywhere. In fact, on the basis of external proof, those who believe that the Bible is the Word of God at least have something to point to. As a rational humanist (I guess I would be that), I have nothing to support my beliefs at all.

Which is a long-winded way of explaining why the Porn vs. Obscenity problem became so vexing to me. Like everyone else, I wanted to be the one who decided what was obscene and what was not obscene. Unlike everyone else, I was writing a paper on the subject and needed an argument to support my position.
I could not find one.

You see, I like porn. I just do not like all porn. I do not like bestiality, child pornography or violence. I do not think that the possession or distribution of these sub-categories or erotica should be legal. But how to justify my position? There are, after all, a great number of people out there whose tastes are tamer than mine. People who feel that there should be no pornography at all and people who feel that pornography should be limited to the glamour-type images that one finds in Playboy. On the other side of the coin there are people who think that absolutely nothing should be taboo. People who see nothing wrong with man-boy love and hard-core S&M.

Whether I agree with them or not, who am I to tell either group that they are wrong?

There are a myriad of arguments to support those on either side of the debate. There are absolutely hundreds of books and thousands of articles which explain in great detail why pornography is either harmful or helpful to us. Granted, most (but a far cry from all) pro-pornography activists argue that it is not so much that pornography is good for us but that the alternative (indiscriminate censorship) has such negative consequences that it can not be tolerated in a free and democratic society. Then again, those arguing for pornography from the bastions of our Universities and Political Forums are hardly in a position to argue that jerking off simply makes them feel good.

Women also argue both sides of the debate with some stating that pornography is liberating and inherently gives women power and others arguing that it is degrading and perpetuates the stereotype of woman as sex object. Libertarians argue that pornography is merely a less than particularly useful (but nonetheless necessary) aspect of freedom of expression. Religious groups everywhere argue that it is just wrong and point to the exploitation and bad manners that seem to go along with it.

I could argue any of these positions. I could not argue them as well now as I could when I was reading about the topic every day, but, to me, none of these positions is definitely right or definitely wrong.

Forced to choose a manner of justifying my own position I think I would use one that involved “harm” as that would provide me with a lengthy and rational sounding argument, justify my position reasonably well and garner the support of the liberal elite who in general populate our universities and are amenable to arguments formed upon that basis.

In the end, however, how far would I get? Is a cow actually harmed by being sexually assaulted by a man? I doubt the cow even notices. Is there a definite harm only in pictures of pre-pubescent children? Computer generated kiddie-porn? Stories? What about the harm in consenting adults living out a rape fantasy on video?

Before you get yourself all in a knot of deep moral outrage, keep in mind I personally think there is harm in all these things. My problem is figuring out how to unequivocally demonstrate that harm while, at the same time, claiming that the porn I do want to be able to look at does not carry with it the exact same (or similar) harmful effects.

Really trying to justify your own moral position becomes untenable unless you have a God who hands down rules that can not be challenged. I have to believe that porn is not inherently harmful because I like pictures of naked women but I do want to draw a line somewhere. How do I condemn the hedonistic assholes who appear to enjoy pictures of young girls without in the same breath justifying the bible-thumping bastard who wants to condemn my tastes?

You would think that drawing the line would be easy. Maybe drawing the line is easy for you. Certainly I have no problem condemning a person who molests a child or the guy who takes pictures of little kids. I have a harder time condemning someone for viewing the final product, mind you, but generally I would be willing to punnish anyone involved in the manufacturing process or dissemination of obscene material.

It is the justification for these beliefs that I have a problem with. I believe very strongly that children can not give consent (real, informed consent) to anything more socially complicated than whether they want to play on the swings or the slide. I am adamant in my belief that even older children should not be allowed to make all those decisions that could affect their entire lives until they are old enough to at least partially understand the consequences of those decisions. Young kids and even teenagers often need to be protected from themselves.
As soon as I try to justify this position, however, even just to myself, I get caught up in issues of consent and autonomy that are so mind-boggling infinite that there is no place upon which to rest my beliefs. What age can kids start giving consent? Can adults truly give consent? Can all adults or just some? What about people who have been conditioned to think poorly of themselves (think the poor, uneducated masses) and, therefore, are easily exploited? Does the mere act of exploitation remove the possibility of consent? If we take away the ability to grant consent, how do we hold people responsible for anything?


In the end, I would just like to be able to look at the porn I like without downloading a bunch of the obscenities that, apparently, others enjoy.

Is that too much too ask?

Friday, March 04, 2005

The Apprentice 

NBC Programming at its worst

It is a sad day when characters in the Showcase program Trailer Park Boys are closer to being a satirical representation of the business world than they are of any real people who stereotypically might live in a trailer park.

Okay. So The Apprentice is popular. Can’t argue with that (in fact, that is what scares me). I had never watched more than a few seconds of it before either changing channels or switching off the television. Last night, a bit tipsy, I watched about five minutes of The Apprentice after The Family Guy had ended and while waiting for Law and Order: Trial by Jury to begin.

I gave up on The Apprentice very quickly. I have heard enough about it that I know it must contain something that the public can call “drama”. Hell, our newspaper devotes a column to it every week. I don’t read the column. But seeing it in the business section (rather than the entertainment section where it belongs) is enough to convince me that (a) it is a damn popular show and (b) there must be something dramatic involved. I was, however, seriously unprepared for the five or ten minutes I just managed to watch.

I mean, holy crap, are these the people that are going to be sitting in the boardrooms of America soon? Am I actually expected to believe that these people will be running the corporations of the world? If they are, we are all a lot more doomed than I thought we were.

Doesn’t the show supposedly get something like a million applicants with each series: all desperate to perform like trained animals? Moreover, have I not been led to believe that the people on this show (other than the education vs. street smarts series – which, mind you, the one I just watched could be part of) are well educated at some of America’s top business schools?

If these things are true how can these people act like such dramatic idiots? I am from “Lower Rubber Boot”, Canada, and the businessmen and women here show more decorum over casual business meetings at Tim Horton’s than the people on The Aprentice demonstrate in the boardroom. I certainly would be unwilling to go to any meeting where the people attending acted in the manner that the people on the show did during the few minutes I watched.

And what is going to happen when these whiny, back-stabbing cry-babies bring their arrogant, egoistic mannerisms to the real world of business? Isn’t there are move on to have corporations be more ethical in the future? How will these people ever bring ethics and morality to American corporate culture: They don’t have it in their personal lives?

No, if the people I saw, including a tobacco chewing clown (literally), are any indication of what tomorrow’s leaders will be like then we all better start hoarding food and water and learning to speak Mandarin right away. Common sense and common decency are looking like they are about to go out the window. If American schools are churning out idiots like this I am glad I didn’t choose to attend one (and that was an option).

But are those responsible for this lowest common denominator programming really kidding anyone? The people on this show were chosen because they treat each other like trash. The show is popular because many people (too many people I think) can relate to this ignorant and obnoxious manner of social interaction. It isn’t even that these people are educated that scares me the most, it is the fact that the show must be popular because viewers see something of themselves in these infantile gesturing bafoons.

What is the most terrifying aspect, however, is that the people on The Apprentice treat each other like Ricky treats people on Trailer Park Boys. The important difference being that Ricky is played by an actor (remember them) who is putting all his skill into being the most ignorant, self-centered, criminally-minded trailer-park trash stereotype that he can possibly be. The people on The Apprentice, on the other hand, are supposedly real people with some manner of education in the business world (be it formal or otherwise) who act the same way!!!

What does this say about our society and culture? Too many things to mention here.

Far too many things.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Colour Blindness, Dreams and Feeling "Special" 

I am still reeling from my dreams of the night before last (two of them thanks to the dogs wanting to go out at 6:00 a.m.) and am now suffering the tensions brought on by the dream that was fresh in my mind upon awaking this morning.

I am not certain that I have ever actually seen the psychology text that makes all the claims about dreaming but I can tell you that at least two of the common beliefs about dreams are not correct. At least, they are not correct in my case.

The first misnomer is that dreams only occur during R.E.M. sleep (named due to the Rapid Eye Movement that occurs at this stage) and that R.E.M. sleep takes from about 45 minutes to an hour to reach. I can lie down on the couch on a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon, fall asleep for no more than fifteen minutes and have a dream that feels like it lasted hours. Either I am slipping into R.E.M. sleep exceptionally fast or the psychologists who supposedly say that you only dream while in that state are full of shit.

The second lie that is commonly told (and this despite the fact that many people refute it) is that humans dream in black and white. I am partially colour-blind due to a degeneration of my cones (the colour receptors in the eye). Because of this I essentially see anything with a lot of blue in it (e.g. blue, violet and purple) as blue, anything that is light in tone as either beige (light brown or green) or grey (turquoise, aqua-marine, pink, grey) and anything that is dark in tone as kind of earthy brown. I enjoy mid-tones, get mixed colours confused all the time (e.g. maroon, brick, forest green) and can only tell amber from red if they are together (the brighter one is amber). I essentially live in what is a colour-reduced world where tone (brightness and sheen) tend to be more important than actual colour.

Occasionally this is an advantage. When I was a boy, finding the “brown” army men in the “orange” grass was always easier for me than for my adequately-eyed friends. Also, places where paint has gone on thicker tend to look like whole different colours to me so they stand out and certain camouflage tend to fail (I cannot see hunter orange in a bright green forest but I can see brown and green really well on the same background). More importantly (I see I have rambled off track – the irony of which will be seen in a moment) my dreams are in full and vibrant colour. More amazingly (but hard to describe) is the fact that in my dreams I am very aware of the fact that I can see colour.

I can not explain what this is like; perception simply will not allow it. For example, have you ever heard a fog-horn? If you said yes then take a minute to remember what the fog horn sounded like. Do you actually hear the horn? Do you mentally make a low-noted see-saw sound? Is it the same as hearing a fog horn? Of course it isn’t but, if asked, you would claim to remember having heard one before. Same as remembering the smell of bread baking: You don’t actually smell the bread again when you remember it.

The worst part of being colour blind is being asked: “What do you see blue as?” One of the best parts is replying “Without using the word blue, what do you see blue as?” I can not describe what it is like to see blue in my dreams any more than I can describe what it is like to see a blue sky other than to say, it was such an amazing … well…. blue.

So am I completely exceptional in my dreaming? Am I an alien being of some kind who only shares most of my world and experience with humans? Of course not. I do think, however, that we as a society accept these myths into our common conscious so we can feel special as individuals.

If it is commonly accepted as fact that people dream only in black and white then I (and many other people I have met) are the fabulous and special exceptions to this rule. If it is generally believed that people can only dream while in R.E.M. sleep then, likewise, myself (and probably a few million others) are exceptional. Does this make us “better” than other people? Of course it does. Don’t be offended: it does not make us “better” on any real (i.e tangible or important) scale that is quantifiable or even matters in the greater scheme of things. However, as humans, we have a need to single ourselves out and feel good about it when we can. This lets us feel “better” or “special” for at least a moment. It is all in our own heads of course. I mean, hell, we don’t even know why we dream, what about the fact that some of us dream in colour could be important?

Despite all the work of the good-intentioned simpletons who think equality has something to do with reducing everyone to the lowest common denominator, it is important for each of us to feel “different” than those around us. You even hear people bragging about infections for god’s sake! “When the doctor saw it,” the woman bragged, “he said it was the worst case of multi-ethno-egognosis he had ever seen”. “Oh yeah,” replied the man, “I broke my leg in two places waterskiing and they were both spiral fractures! Do you know how uncommon that is? The Doctor told me that he had never seen that before! And that spiral fractures are the most painful.”

Doctors know that many patients like to be special even if it means being the sickest, or being the sickest and still standing. How many times do we hear “I can not believe your managing to still walk around after what you’ve been through!” It makes us feel good. It makes us feel different than other people: like we are somehow special.

There are a myriad of other examples of this from constantly having high temperatures to low heart rates or being able to hold your breath for greater than the average length of time. With me, maybe it is dreaming in colour (and in linear stories with shifting points of view – they are very exhausting but at least they are interesting) and/or being colour blind.

The point is (if there ever was one) that I think we invent these commonly held beliefs so that we can feel special. Or, maybe, when an idea, even a flawed one, allows the creation of a situation where some people feel special, that idea generally has a good chance of being accepted into common culture. Thus, when someone did a study in 1962 (or whenever – I do not know of any actual study) which found that people dream in black and white, even though the study was seriously flawed it caught on because it made people who dreamed in colour feel more interesting.

There must be a balance though. If the idea makes too many people special it will quickly be “disproved” because when too many people are special in a certain manner that manner of being ceases to be special.

I would like to see a study that shows how few people need to be affected before something like this will become part of our common conscious and how many people need be affected before it falls out again. I think that would be an interesting social experiment.

I could slip from that into other reasons why bad studies become part of our collective conscious but it seems like a good place to end so maybe another day.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Movie madness - don't read this if you still plan to see "Saw".
[get it - see saw]

Okay, so I just watched the movie "Saw". Before you say "Well Mr. Hunter, there is two hours you will never get back", I should say that this movie does have some redeeming qualities for those people who like the horror genre. The Premise, for example, is pretty good, the acting is not bad. Carey Elwes (who has done nothing I liked since Mel Brookes' Robin Hood: Men in Tights) can't really hold up to being on screen as long as he is but Leigh Whannell (also a co-writer) was very good.

It was depressing to see where Danny Glover has gotten to and the movie was gorier than it was scary, the pseudo-villain was pretty banal and the real villain was as ethereal as to me non-frightening. Still James Wan and his buddy Whannell had one good idea and a few other ideas to back it up. They were obviously given a decent budget and they equally obviously didn't really care.The non-linear story telling was more than a waste of time and on several occasions it was difficult to tell where the movie was (did this action happen in the past?). Movies like Pulp Fiction demonstrated the benefits of non-linear (split narrative) story-telling and Saw showed us it can fail.

Mostly this movie bothered me because these guys didn't care. They didn't care about little things like making certain that the background in the Polaroid showing the kidnapped wife and kid was the same background that the wife and kid were in front of. They didn't care that two guys with more than six hours on their hands could, in fact, hacksaw through a piece of non-galvanized three inch chain. They didn't care that you can not just send electricity through any conduit and have those attached to it get zapped or that a doctor standing a few feet from a guy for six hours or more might notice that he is breathing.

I like the horror genre and have seen some absolutely awful horror movies. Movies that make Saw look like a masterpiece. What I hate, however, is that this movie was all about getting us to see the movie using scenes that worked well for 30 second commercials and not a care was given as to whether anyone would like it post viewing. There was no deep pride in this movie. It started as a cool idea and got no further. No one put any heart and soul into it and no one thought of hiring anyone to make certain that it made sense.

This kind of thing has been getting worse and worse since, say Basic Instinct, when Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) is accused of shooting a woman with a 9mm pistol and is asked by the chief of police to hand over his own. Curran's weapon is a .38 Caliber revolver but the chief of police smells it anyway to make certain it has not been fired even though the bullet that was recovered from the girl could not possibly have come from that gun.

I know, the problem started before then but it is getting worse. While more and more drivel is hitting the theatres less and less time is being taken to make certain that things are right. I mean, why bother? The audience will be packed with teenagers who want to be scared; all we need to do is scare them. Two options: gross them out or have things appear suddenly. Suspense? What? No. That Amityville stuff is too risky. Too difficult to make work.

I have no problem with gross and shocking. If Hollywood is unable to find the talent to make a really scary movie that is fine. Gross me out and scare me. But don't insult my intelligence. Get some continuity experts. If you are using science, get a science guy. Hell, get a grade twelve physics major who will work for free if you let him watch the nude scenes. I am not looking for high drama and fine acting here but at least make the integrity of your work be relative to your budget and projected box office sales and stop saying, like I know you do "No one will notice that anyway. Just leave it in."

Friday, September 19, 2003

Just a rant about my dog

Why do I even bother? Really. Do I think that my words will somehow carry the weight to change anything? To effect anyone? To stop a war or prevent starvation?

Probably not. With all the "bloggers" out there you, the reader, have enough to look at without adding my page to your list of stops. Eventually, maybe I will find something that amuses you to the point of returning again and again. Eventually maybe I will have links that are important to you or other links will bring you here.

On the other hand. Maybe I am just writing this for me.

It is a beutiful sunny day today and I just got back from taking the dog for a w-a-l-k. He had to come to the office today as he was sick this morning and I did not want to leave him home alone all day. "Alone all day!", I hear you think, "What kind of sick bastard leaves his dog home all day?". Well, I do. And he's used to it. I am certain he would like it better if there were someone in the house with him from 9 till 5 or someone to walk him at lunch-time but, you know what, he is used to it. He plans his own meal times (I free feed him) and has grown accustomed to a meal when I get home and a meal before bed. His dish stays full but he leaves it alone during the day until he is certain I am home and he can get out to answer the calls of nature.

There is some fear, or so I am told, of "bladder stretching" which leads to trouble holding it in later in life. Perhaps this is true but he is generally good about water too. He knows the schedule. On weekdays he is keen to get out in the morning and on weekends he generally sleeps in till about 10:00, knowing, somewhere in his tiny doggy brain, that there is no rush to get outside before I leave and take with me his ability to open the door to the yard.

In many ways, he is not as stoopid as many people I know. He certainly is better at looking after himself than a young child. He stays out of trouble and has his rituals. One is, of course, the post-man, who causes the dog no end of grief. On weekdays when I have been home, the dog waits with one ear half-cocked for the sound of the boot on the porch steps heralding the man in blue's arival. Then it is all rushing and growls to the sofa in the living room to watch and bark as the mailman comes out of the porch and leaves the yard. Usually there is a small, disgruntled "wuh-hoof" as the postman passes from site and then it is back to bed for the dog. His daily chore complete. Once again he has kept that strange guy from entering the house. Once again he has fulfilled his duty to me.

Once again he has been up on the coach without anyone scolding him.

The rest of the dog's day is spent in a fairly deep sleep. Deep to the point where some days, upon my return, he does not even hear me come in. Other days, he stays on the bed and waits for me to get upstairs before jumping up and wagging hello. On those days he looks at me as if to say "I would have barked but I knew it was you."

Today in the office he is bored. He is probably a bit worried about what will happen to the post-man if he is not home to shout "Hey! Hey! Hey!" ad nauseum.

Which brings me back to why he is lying on his dog bed in my office in the first place, whining when I speak to people on the phone.... nausea. Poor little guy.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?