Wednesday, August 29, 2007
OK, I'm on Facebook now. Satisfied?
I'm sorry, that was a bit abrupt, wasn't it. It's just that I was a hold-out against it for a long time.
Friends have been urging me to join for awhile, but these are the same friends who convinced me to start blogging and look where that's led.
Also, I'd tried social networks before and disliked them. Specifically, I signed up to Myspace just so I could see my blogger friends' pages, but I never really "got" Myspace. It all seemed very confusing, jumbled and generally unpleasant to deal with.
On the surface, Facebook is little different from Myspace. Yet, somehow the whole community seems to convey a more pleasant atmosphere. I can't quite put my finger on the difference.
But it is totally addictive. I've been on for a day and I'm utterly hooked.
...Which is scary, in a way. I still prefer blogging. For one thing, I'm a writer and an opinionated bastard, and blogging gives me an opportunity to practice both. Social networking doesn't seem to take much creativity or thought.
But it sure does explain a few things. I've noticed over the past few months a sharp drop off in blogging activity out there in my usual circles. Generating comments seems much, much harder than it used to be. Many of the people who got me into blogging in the first place have long since dropped off the map. Sure enough, all of the usual suspects are now at it hot and heavy in Facebook land. Once again, I feel like the last one to show up at the orgy!
Now, usually I'm a crazy partisan about such things. I stuck with Beta video until the bitter end, for chrissakes. Computer salesmen back in the day had a hard time convincing me that the Amiga did not have a future.
I'd like to think I've learned from those mistakes. So, while Blogger is clearly superior, it looks like I'm now also going to have to invest some time at Facebook.
I hope to see you all there, but please please PLEASE don't neglect this page. Automated email hugs may be all nicey-nicey, but this will still always be the place you get the primo Mentok material.
posted by Mentok @ 10:27 AM, ,
Monday, August 27, 2007
posted by Mentok @ 9:52 AM, ,
Thursday, August 23, 2007
For generations, scientists and philosophers alike have tried and failed to come up with the definition of what makes humans unique, that one special spark that separates us from all other apes and other potentially sentient species on the planet.
One by one, these theories have fallen, or at least weakened. Other apes have a sense of humour and can plan for future events. Apes and dolphins can recognize themselves in a mirror. Animals as small as gophers have been observed using simple learned language. Chimps use a variety of tools. All apes rape, steal and murder for economic and political gain. Dolphins may or may not engage in creative song and dance (it's hard to say since we have yet to decipher their language, if it is a language.)
This really isn't leaving much left over for us poor humans to claim as our turf. But I think I've solved it. I think I know what distinguishes humans from all other creatures and is the cause of both our successes and many of our failings:
Let's consider a few examples, shall we:
Math! How much have we benefited from math? Yet high level math is one big obsessive wank-fest. Competing over who can remember Pi to the most decimal places? Jesus, get a life guys.
Agriculture? Every vegetable we eat is the product of obsessive cross breeding that began 10,000 years ago. At the time, such pursuits must have seemed like gigantic wastes of time. Why spend all day trying to make inedible food edible when there's already plenty of edible food around? I used to think this only applied to bananas, but almost all edible plants have been engineered by humans it seems. Next time you eat a fruit or vegetable, imagine the cave-woman wife hollering at her husband "Oh for God's sake! With all the time you've wasted trying to come up with a seedless banana you could have killed 20 deer by now!"
Medicine: Even the most primitive tribes, through painstaking trial and error, accumulate encyclopedic knowledge of the medicinal and poisonous qualities of local vegetation (by the way, exactly how do primitive tribes conduct trial-and-error experiments to devise poisons?). Modern pharmacology, for all its pretensions, still lives by the ancient traditions of screwing around with plant extracts to see if they do anything to the human body. Fun!
I could go on, but I think you get the point. Practically every major accomplishment of humanity started off as somebody's goofy and largely useless hobby, at which his peers no doubt snickered.
The stamp collector, the model-ship-in-a-bottle builder, the sports trivia expert ... and, yes, the compulsive blogger ... these people are the true heirs of our species greatness.
As for me, I've had various obsessions over the course of my life. I'm still a great fanatic for all things Batman, but that comes and goes. Used to be a comic collector, but gave it up for good and all a few years back (a decade earlier, I'd decided the long-planned end of the Cerebus the Aardvark series would be my personal cut-off point.) For a time, I collected Batman paraphernalia, until my basement filled up with it, so I cut back to just action figures but even that got out of hand. I've also been lured from time to time by the siren-songs of beer-making, gardening, canning and ethnic cooking.
Now, how about you guys? All bloggers strike me as somewhat obsessive types, so I'm eager to hear all about your various compulsions. Fil has his stinky cheese, I know that. Colin of course is the king of Scottish indie music. Grumps has his gay lover Bob Dylan. I'm sure they all have many stories. Now how about the rest of you: 'fess up!
posted by Mentok @ 9:57 AM, ,
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
It's harvest time in my little vegetable garden. This is usually the time when my lady love Tomato and I frolic in our romance for one another.
Year in and year out, Tomato and I have enjoyed a new honeymoon every fall as we explore new dimensions to our relationship. Tomato, cucumber and basil sandwiches. Simple tomato and basil salads. Salsa. Pasta alla checca. Et cetera, et cetera.
From the simple to the exotic, there seemed no end to her homespun charms.
So why then have I gone so far astray this season?
Why have I barely looked at the bin of ripening tomatoes, beckoning to me in the kitchen?
Why have I taken up with that devil woman, Jalapeño?
Is it the danger, the excitement, the sense of the exotic? Is it just the novelty of the relationship?
I don't know, but I do know that I have totally lost my head over the sheer unbridled passion of this new relationship.
I eat the jalapeños raw, seeds and all, paying little heed to the consequences of my foolhardy appetites. I dice them up and sprinkle them on all sorts of other foods. I make jellies out of them, but even that doesn't satisfy me. I keep the left-over mash and juice from the jelly-making process and use them to make home-made hot sauces.
Naturally, this has put a strain on my family life. My kids don't like her. Even the dog turns up his nose at her. My wife has threatened to leave me if I don't stop brazenly cavorting with Jalapeño night after night.
But still I can't help myself. Even as I type this, my hands are burning, soaked through to the pores with her evil essence.
What can I do? How can I get myself back to the simpler, healthier charms of Tomato before it's too late?
Maybe a batch of salsa would help. Granted, it's a bit kinky, getting the two of them involved in the same dish. But at least it might help wean me off this dangerous obsession.
It's worth a try.
posted by Mentok @ 11:09 AM, ,
Monday, August 20, 2007
I shall now, Nostradamus-like, pick five news stories from the past week that say something important about long-term trends. Squint between the lines of these stories and you can make out the outlines of where we will be in 50 years, for better or worse. Open for discussion. Feel free to suggest your own.
Bollywood Tour Launched in T.O.
Russia, China Hold Joint War Games
US, Canada, Mexico Hold Security and Prosperity Partnership Talks
Governments Worldwide Bailout Banks Caught in Credit Crisis
World Headed for Old-Age Crunch
I don't want to provide a bunch of commentary on these, because I think they speak for themselves. But a couple quick notes on the first and last headlines:
- has anyone else noticed how much High School Musical resembles a Bollywood production? Just imagine what it will be like when everything on TV and in the theaters is a High School Musical knock -off.
- isn't nature wonderful? It looks like the grotesquely high human population of the 20th Century was just an anomaly. Although it will probably screw up the global economy, a plummeting human population would solve many other problems .... like finding a parking spot, for example.
posted by Mentok @ 10:20 AM, ,
Thursday, August 16, 2007
I'm at work and two colleagues ask me to follow them through a winding secret passage, down little-used stairs and behind secret doors. Before going through the last door, they warn me: "Brace yourself, this is going to freak you out."
I'm lead into a grand viewing room in what looks to be a gigantic space station. I can immediately see that things aren't good. The orbits of the solar system are in decline and the entire galaxy (maybe the universe?) appears to be filled with some sort of dark matter that threatens all existence as we know it.
The human race, I'm told, has been kept Matrix-like in an artificial dream state for an undetermined length of time in a colossal space station (possibly a Dyson sphere). Every so often, they wake somebody up to see if the person has any bright ideas about how to fix things.
To make matters worse, no one knows exactly how long this state of affairs has been going on or when the situation will go critical, since previous generations of awoken people have left few records. This could have been going on for a hundred years or a hundred million... nobody knows.
There is a community of perhaps a couple thousand awoken people, constantly hunting for solutions. I have no clue and no background that would be even remotely helpful, but I promise to give it some thought and get back to them.
On the whole, I wish I'd just been allowed to stay in the dream state, since it appears to be the only reasonable way to cope with the universe's apparently inevitable demise.
And then, I "woke up" .... ;-)
posted by Mentok @ 10:23 AM, ,
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
When I started this blog, it was meant to be a way to share jokes and political commentary with a small group of real-life friends scattered across the country. Today, most of my readers are from outside Canada, so I haven't done any commentary on current Canadian politics for a very long time.
But, it's my blog so I get to do what I like.
Over in Marcy's blog (I seem to be spending a lot of time there lately), I relayed the half-serious advice I used to give to my young political proteges back in the day. Believe it or not, politics generates a lot of unpleasant personality types, so I used to brace the younglings for this:
"Ninety-nine per cent of the people you meet in this business fall into five categories: Idiots, Weasels, Lunatics, Scumbags and Assholes. You are just starting off in this business, so you're an Idiot. But work hard and pay attention and someday you'll get to be an Asshole like me."
But this post isn't about all those unpleasant people. This is about a guy who fits into the 1 per cent not covered by the categories.
Calgary MP Jim Prentice is one of the few and true gentlemen of the political industry. Words like "loyal", "principled" and "compassionate" are usually used in an ironic, sarcastic tone about politicians, but not Jim.
This is, after all, the guy who lost his first attempt at the Tory leadership because he refused to sign a "deal with the devil". His opponent not only signed such a deal but promptly broke the deal a month later, showing that even the devil couldn't really trust Jim's opponent.
Jim represents a pretty heavily social conservative riding, yet unlike his Conservative colleagues he voted in favour of gay marriage because, as he said at the time, he didn't feel he could break faith with the many gay friends and colleagues he'd known over the years. The churches in his riding mounted a massive campaign against him the next time he came up for nomination, but he held on.
I worked for Jim as a volunteer on his leadership bid in 2003. As a candidate, he behaved the way every hack dreams of a candidate behaving: he was smart enough to take direction and good advice but also smart enough not to be led by the nose and to recognize bad advice.
I was in middle-management on that campaign. I had a substantial regional organizational role, but I was still just one of the grunts in the field. But Jim made it a habit, as all smart politicians do, of doing an end-run around his senior gate-keepers. He would regularly call the "grunts in the field" like me to get the real, unfiltered scoop. I still recall fondly getting calls in the middle of the night: "Lyle? This is Jim... Jim Prentice. How are things out your way?"
Since then, I've seen Jim regularly, whenever I'm out his way or he's out my way. Even though he's a big shot now, he still makes time to go for lunches and breakfasts with his old troops. You don't see that so much in politics. A lot of guys forget you as soon as they're elected.
In the recent Tory cabinet shuffle, Jimbo got the prominent Minister of Industry position. For about two years now, the inside scoop is that he is the Prime Minister's right-hand guy. There's talk now that he's being groomed to be the PM's successor.
This kind of thing almost never happens to the nice guys in politics. I'm glad to see an exception in this case.
I realize this post doesn't leave much room for our usual "tawk amongst yourselves" schtick, but let's try anyway: Do you know any truly good politicians? What makes you think so?
posted by Mentok @ 10:55 AM, ,
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Our dear friend Marcy at Lost in Your Inbox recently asked the musical question "Is it really crass to post songs about [the Minneapolis bridge collapse]?"
This got me thinking about the whole issue of bad taste in comedy. I think comedy is a universal and intensely useful reaction to tragedies of all sorts and should be used liberally. As one sage put it "Tragedy is the question. Comedy is the answer."
In fact, I would bet any money that the bridge collapse survivors themselves were cracking jokes at the time. One can easily imagine a bunch of cold, wet survivors, huddling under blankets on the shore, and suddenly one guy says "Oh great! Now I'm going to be late for my meeting!", to the great amusement of his fellow survivors.
Some would suggest that we have to draw limits around comedy and say you can't make jokes about this or that. The structure of comedy itself suggests this can't and shouldn't be done. Two of the key principles of comedy are surprise and juxtaposition (often expressed together as the principle of Reversal of Expectation). This suggests that making light of a bridge collapse is inherently funny, because we don't expect it.
This is a lesson our species learned early on. When apes of any sort are annoyed at something or just want to get an easy laugh, they fling feces at it. As comedy, this just works on so many levels. While the fascism of hygiene has all but eliminated actual feces flinging from human comedy, thank heavens this heritage is preserved in our language. As evolved as we allegedly are, we are still apt to fling verbal feces in the face of annoyance or amusement.
During my days writing a comedy fake news blog, I was accused of bad taste many times, but many more times I had positive comments on the jokes. I came to accept, as I think most stand-up comedians do, that pushing the envelope of taste is simply a risk you must take in comedy.
But it is definitely a risk. Comedians regularly crash and burn because they went just a little too far over the edge. The brilliant but ruined Mr. Andrew Dice Clay comes to mind.
Still and all, I have to admit to some limits myself. I almost never make or laugh at jokes about Nazis or Jews, because the whole topic just makes me very uneasy. But that's just my personal limit; I'm sure there are many who find such gags hilariously funny.
Anyway, enough warm up. Here's some of my favourite bad taste jokes from yesteryear:
Q: What was the last thing to pass through JFK's mind? A: A bullet
[During the assassination attempt against Ronald Reagan, his press secretary James Brady suffered severe brain damage from a stray bullet]
Q: What did James Brady say the day before he was shot? A: A guy needs to have a hole in his head to do this job.
Q: What did he say the day after? A: I have half a mind to quit.
Q: What does a 70 year woman taste like? A: (with a shrug) Depends...
And on that feces related note, allow me to turn it over to you, dear readers. Here's your opportunity to tell those awful awful jokes which you privately find terribly funny. No holds barred. Feel free to post anonymously if you prefer.
posted by Mentok @ 9:44 AM, ,
Thursday, August 02, 2007
Man pulls attacking cougar off 12-year-old while campingKamloops boy is recovering in Children's HospitalThe Vancouver Province, Thursday, August 02, 2007
A Kamloops boy is recovering in hospital after his friend's father rescued him from a vicious cougar attack near Clinton...
Near Clinton, no less! Not the first time there's been a vicious cougar attack near Clinton, I'm sure.
But wait, there's more! :
Conservation officers are now looking for the mother and brother of the cougar who attacked the boy. They told local residents the female is in heat and calling to other cougars.Waa-haa-haa!
In honour of this scary yet funny event (the kid is OK, by the way, a few fixable scratches), I'm reposting a song I picked up many moons ago from the inscrutable Mr. Fil:
Vancougar - Mine first
posted by Mentok @ 3:30 PM, ,