Pirates are Cool.

Captured bits of life... Pirates at no extra cost. Arrrg. Also cool: Zombies, Aliens, Ninjas, Dinosaurs, Vikings, the Noble River Horse, the Sinister Octopi, Robots and Kittens.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

A Selection

First Kiss

She looks at me and says
I’ve never kissed a boy before
So I tell her, it’s just like kissing a girl
Except that I have facial hair.

Too bad it doesn’t really work that way

While you were sleeping
I taped a battery to your heart
Like a pacemaker for love.

Midnight Soap Opera

It's the middle of the night when I suddenly realize
Your entire body smells like Ivory soap,
Even that place between your shoulder blades.
And instead of wondering how you managed to clean
That one unreachable spot
Without my help
All I can think is:
“Bitch, that’s my soap.
Get your own!”


Was there grass here once
Before the walls went up
And so clearly defined what was ours
And what was theirs?

Was there a time before
When I could talk to my neighbor
Without looking over the fence?
Did Tim Taylor ever really know Wilson?

My Cat is an A-Hole

Your keenest expressions of love
Is kneading my chest at four AM
Licking my face
And declaring that you are hungry.

Four score and twenty years ago

Sometimes I wish I was Abe Lincoln
Not because he was president
Not because he was the emancipator
But because of his sideburns
Damn, those were some wicked sideburns
I’ll bet Abe got all the chicks.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sith Lord

I still pretend I'm using the force when I walk through the automatic doors at the grocery store.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The Uncanny Valley of Academic Clarity

I have often found myself getting annoyed with one of my friends because of her penchant for complex verbosity - especially when it comes to matters of academic discourse. Setting aside what this might suggest about how intimidating I find people who are vastly more intelligent than myself, I am still forced to ask myself why I get annoyed. The answer, I think, lies in the fact that I have always been a supporter of simplified language in an effort to keep the meaning of an argument as clear as possible. She uses considerably more complex language so that her meaning cannot possibly be misunderstood. In short, while she enjoys big words, I like small ones, but we are both trying to be as clear as possible. Really this is a personal choice, but when I tried to puzzle out which is more effective in an academic setting, I realised that neither one of us has the high ground.

There are a few key principals we need to cover before we get into why I think our opposite view are equally flawed. First of all, we must understand the idea of an idea. That is to say, in the abstract, what is an idea? As with many philosophical concepts presented in my writing, these arguments can (and maybe should?) be refuted, but I am not attempting to set up an irrefutable definition of the concept of an idea. I am merely attempting to create a working definition for the purposes of this paper. Simply put, an idea is an absolute that exists in a person's mind, but it exists without articulation. To share an idea with the world, or even to fully understand it ourselves, it must be processed through language. In an effort to make sure that the idea is conveyed properly, there are two routes we can take. The first is that of complex language, which in my infinite ability to let bias seep into my arguments, I will call verbosity. Verbosity carried a negative connotation of buffoonery (more on that later), but that is certainly not what I mean in this case. It is merely a convenient way of describing complex language and advanced vocabulary in one word. Remember, I like simple terms. And indeed, the second way ideas can be conveyed is through the use of simple language, a sort of Hemmingway-ian discourse.

The second basic concept we must understand is that of the uncanny valley. Without going into too much detail, as only a cursory understanding is necessary to set up my analogy, the uncanny valley is the point at which technology comes to resemble life so closely that we are repulsed by it. Robots cease to be cool (like pirates) when they start to look too much but not exactly like people. A robot that looks almost human is disgusting and terrifying - this is the concept that villains like The Terminator or the Cylons are based on. But, we must remember that at a certain point, technology can come to resemble life so closely no difference can be discerned, and thus the revulsion disappears.

What I would like to suggest is that there is an uncanny valley in language, but instead of producing disgust, it produces gibberish. The interesting thing about this uncanny valley of language is that it works in both directions. As you approach a certain level of verbosity or simplicity, language descends into gibberish. Yet, after a certain point, out of that gibberish comes profound ideas.

Consider Lucky in Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot. His monologue is notoriously difficult to memorise or deliver simply because it is pure gibberish. And yet, Vladimir and Estragon assert that Lucky's spewing of "Knowledge" is not only impressive, but profound. To them, at least, his ridiculous verbosity has passed the uncanny valley of language and moved into the realm of genius. Perhaps this was Beckett's way at poking fun at the institution of academia. I would like to think he too was somewhat annoyed with people who used big words in an effort to sound intelligent, and especially so when those people were lecturing in front of a class. In my experience, this sort of buffoonery does not seem to exist in the real world, but it is an amusing thought when you consider some of your less than inspiring educators.

In an effort to understand why neither my friend nor I has the high ground when it comes to expressing ideas, let’s pick apart the idea of the uncanny valley of language a little. Philosophers are notorious for attempting to express their ideas as exactly as possible. In the immortal words of John Donne, "Phenomenology means to let that which shows itself be seen from itself in the very way in which it shows itself from itself." What John Donne has done here (get it?) is reduced language to something less than it is meant to be. Essentially, in an effort to preserve the meaning of his argument, Donne removed art from language. He has attempted to turn words into a science. This is doomed to failure. Language is supposed to be an art. What we have here is an example of simplification that has caused an idea to descend into gibberish. By attempting to make sure nobody could misunderstand what he meant by this sentence, John Donne assured that nobody would understand it the first time they read it. Spending some time with the language here will untangle the knot of self-reference, but it’s not a particularly enjoyable experience for those of us who do not enjoy complex logic puzzles. (It helps if you draw a diagram, by the way. Also, some context never hurts, if you're interested in phenomenology.) Phenomenology can also be described using much more traditional academic verbosity. Yet the mode of discourse does not seem to matter, the idea itself (much like the song) remains the same.

Perhaps one of the most interesting facets of the uncanny valley of language, however, is the fact that it is entirely subjective. The curve of profundity/gibberish will actually shift depending on who is reading the text we are applying the idea to. It depends entirely on a number of different factors, including but probably not limited to affinity for the language in question, the level of education, the nature of education, and preference for verbosity or simplicity in language. For example, I might pick up a paper on neurobiology and find that I recognise one word in every three, and thus the verbosity of that text would cause it to descend into pure gibberish. But, the author of that paper could just as easily read Ezra Pound's "In a Station of the Metro" and find it a puzzlingly straightforward fourteen word poem, easily dismissed as liberal arts wishy-washy gibberish. What that neurobiologist does not recognise is that I, and indeed most English majors since 1913, have written multiple papers on those fourteen words and recognised so many subtexts and themes that entire volumes could be collected on it (and indeed Google tells me they have). It is all a matter of perspective.

So who is better, the neuroscientist or the English major? The answer, as I have suggested, is neither. My delightfully verbose friend taxes my vocabulary on a regular basis, and no doubt she gets frustrated with my simplification of terms, but neither one of us is more right than the other. We are each products of our own tastes and educations, and I often find that we argue about ideas we agree on, simply because we cannot agree on how to articulate them. Perhaps we are both in danger of slipping down that long slope into the realm of gibberish - but only when we're talking to each other.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Invariably, when I start thinking about one topic, its hard to stop. I've had the Ghostbusters on my mind for some time now, and one thing that I have been considering that never occured to me as a child is the religious implications of tangible proof of the afterlife in a modern context.

What does it mean to the world that the Ghostbusters have proved the existence of life after death, and, from a moral standpoint, should they be busting ghosts at all?

These are issues addressed obliquely within the franchise itself - you may recall that Lenny, the mayor of New York City is close friends with the Roman Catholic Bishop present at the meeting between the city officials and the Ghostbusters. The Bishop says that officially, as a representative of the church he can take no stance on the events unfolding in the film. In the short term, it would appear that the church is playing the long game, waiting to see how things play out. And indeed, it seems that in the second film, after the Ghostbusters’ fall from grace and, largely speaking, from the public eye, a major theory concerning the Ghostbusters is that they are con artists rather than legitimate paranormal exterminators, using nerve gas and light shows to dupe their customers into thinking that a ghost has been present and trapped.

As for the morality of Ghostbusting, on one of the many voicemail messages you can listen to in Ghostbusters: The Videogame, a clichéd hippie voice asks the Ghostbusters to consider the ghost's feelings concerning the busting process. "That could have been somebody's Grandma," the anonymous caller accuses, "have a nice day, aggressors."

While these interactions are undoubtedly intended to be part of the joke, they do raise questions of morality and religion in the context of the franchise. If the Ghostbusters existed in the real world, they would be the impetus for changes that could have a profound effect on the entire globe. Proving the existence of malevolent spirits is bound to lend some legitimacy to the idea of Gnosticism, the idea that the world was created by an imperfect god. The essential (and apparently inherent) impurity of ectoplasmic entities suggests that there is no guarantee of your spirit reflecting your actual personality. Granted, most of the ghosts in the series are ghosts of criminals or followers of an evil demigod, but this in and of itself suggests some sort of determinism; a criminal is possessed of a "bad soul," and thus their actions in life reflect the type of soul that have. This bad soul occasional returns from the ethereal plane to shush Ray Stanz or slime Peter Venkman. Undoubtedly the old argument between determinism and free will would arise, and at some point words would be slung from one party to the other. The arguments for determinism would broadly remain the same, merely backed up by the evidence provided by the malevolent spirits in the Ghostbusters’ containment unit. Those that believe in free will would have to serious consider their structure of belief, and I feel that the only out they would have would be to describe god as imperfect. To believe in free will is to suggest that God has created ideal souls because God, by definition is an absolute ideal. Free will is an expression of that absolute power allowing us to either accept or reject recognition of that power. For those who do not believe in determinism, a perfect benevolent God would not create a malevolent soul. Thus, from the existence of malevolent spirits, it follows that a perfect benevolent god does not exist. This is not an exclusive argument, of course. There are a myriad of ways the argument could be taken. I am only attempting to enumerate one possible line of thought in the interest of suggesting the impact that proof of ghosts could have. Consider if you would the arguments you have undoubtedly already taken with what I have here proposed. Likely, they are all valid objections. The proven existence of malevolent spirits is bound to bust open the discussion on God and what nature He takes.

Thus, I humbly propose that the Ghostbusters, in the real world, could easily go by the name Gnostbusters. Not because of the links to Gnosticism I have suggested, but rather taking the word from Greek, "Gnosis," or knowledge. The Ghostbusters, through all of their ghostbusting, have simultaneously busted open the realm of knowledge of the spiritual and religious. Proof of something beyond the physical world would have wide-reaching consequence, and would no doubt be the center of much study and debate. It would be a veritable Pandora’s Box with a proton stream as a key. Some may even say it would be like the tree of knowledge of good and evil all over again - what would John Milton think? Could there be another sequel to Paradise Lost that had the Ghostbusters in it? Maybe that's too much to hope for.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Who you gonna call?

I for one am glad that Ghostbusters is an enduring franchise. I know Dan Akroyd and Harold Ramis were initially opposed to the idea of a sequel, but I am glad they made it. Of course Ghostbusters 2 couldn't ever really touch the original, not with the cultural impact it had. Let a film like Ghostbusters stew for five years, and suddenly fans are excited about the return of a cast of characters they have not seen in half a decade, and of course there is going to be some let down when the movie finally shows. This is largely the problem with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, as well. Given the formative nature of these films, Ghostbusters and Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, it is nearly impossible for the sequels to live up to the originals. And, despite what the internet might have you believe, it is not because these sequels are inferior films. Neither Ghostbusters nor Indiana Jones fell victim to that crushing habit of so many film franchises: the rehash. Far too often, with an unsuccessful sequel, we're met with a film that doesn't give us anything new - the plot is uncannily familiar. Think of National Treasure 2. Likely you don't even remember that film, even though (and you have to be honest with yourself here) despite Nicholas Cage you kinda liked the first one. The second film flopped because it did not offer us, the audience, anything new.

Neither Ghostbusters 2 nor Indian Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull fell into this trap. Okay, you can reduce things to pretty simple terms and say "The Ghostbusters meet a supernatural power, bust some ghost, save New York" or "Indian Jones finds macguffin, saves world," but these are unfair treatments of rather more complex films. Ghostbusters 2 gives us a possessed painting and a river of slime, which contrasts well with an evil Gozer-worshiping architect's spirit antenna/apartment tower and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from the original. Indian Jones gives us Communists instead of Nazis (okay ... maybe there's a bit of formula here, but it is a franchise after all, and "enemies of America" make for good bad guys in period pieces. It’s really no different from having Felix Lighter help James Bond fight terrorism instead of Communists, or worse yet, S.P.E.C.T.E.R.) and a bountiful number of 1950's jokes to go with a plot that involves Mesoamerican societies and inter-dimensional beings (AKA aliens). Stop and think: is this really so far removed from the idea of the power of god melting a Nazi's face off? Or Rahm Molla pulling somebody’s heart out of their chest without leaving a mark? Or, say, a crusader living in a cave without any damn food for seven hundred years? Of course not. People bandy around the idea that the first three films were based on religious concepts. This is true, but what they seem to forget is that so is the fourth. Sure, there’s a lot of invention in the story, but that’s true of all the films in the franchise. Just because there is a base from a culture that we the consuming audience are (generally speaking) less familiar with does not make it any less valid as an Indiana Jones plotline. Think about that last sentence, by the way. Particularly the word "valid" in conjunction with the phrase "Indian Jones Plotline." Beginning to see why pooh-poohing Kingdom of The Crystal Skull as unlikable because it is unbelievable is a foolish idea? "But what about the nuclear fridge?" you are bound to cry. There's no way I can defend that, right? Well, when you think about it logically, it seems impossible to believe anybody could survive that. But then, it seems unlikely anybody could survive falling out of an airplane on a life raft and riding it down the Himalayas, only to have the lift raft land safely in a river. The occupants are fine, and perhaps more unbelievably, so is the raft. Shouldn't it have a hole or two, maybe? The fridge, like the raft, was meant as an inane adventure, and unless I'm very mush mistaken, it was supposed to be funny. I laughed. Lead lined fridge, Howdy Doody on the TV during a nuclear bomb test, "I like Ike" ... to anybody familiar with 1950's Middle America, this over-the-top characterisation should have all been funny.

Hey, wasn't this post about Ghostbusters, not Indian Jones? I'm getting there, trust me. I just felt the need to defend what was actually a pretty good Indian Jones movies that got slammed by the Internet and as a result, people think they hate.

What I'm trying to get to the root of is why people can't lighten up and enjoy a sequel five or twenty years after the original movie is released. I think it all has to do with the concept of the original films as it exists in the mind of the viewers. We have a tendency to forget the less-likely and focus on what we enjoy about films, especially when we are young. Many of the people nay-saying Indiana Jones are doing so without having even been alive when the original films were released to theatre. Simply put (and I include myself in this category), these people grew up with Indian Jones pre-existing as part of their culture of youth. Films this entertaining become part of the formative experience of youth; watching Indian Jones is like a rite of passage in our culture. Every kid that sees these movies loves the adventure, and loves the character. Indian Jones is like unto a modern folk hero. There is a certain mythology surrounding the character, a heavy significance that we all recognise that has nothing to do with the plot or content of the films. For example, children are more likely to associate a fedora and a bull whip with Indiana Jones than they are with the 1920's and, well, bulls. These children grow up (I grew up, too). Yet, even as we mature, our cultural understanding of Indian Jones remains the same. These films, this character, they are literally a part of who we are. They shaped our childhoods. How can any new film possibly live up to a legacy like that? It can't, not if we are too mired in our own imaginations to allow for the editing of something that is culturally encoded. This is the reason why sequels that come twenty years later (some would say twenty years too late, but I’m trying to fight that mindset) are seen as inferior to the original films. And we must remember, sequels are rarely better to begin with, but c'mon, Indian Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull really only suffered from one problem: our impossible expectations.

So, at long last, we return to Ghostbusters. With the recent release of Ghostbusters: The Videogame, Dan Akroyd and Harold Ramis realised that Ghostbusters was in fact still a viable franchise. Part of the success of this game lies in the authors of the content (mainly, Dan Akroyd and Harold Ramis), but also with the return of all the original actors to play the voices of the Ghostbusters. As far as the film franchise is concerned, the game counts as cannon: when Ghostbusters 3 comes out, the game counts. And there it is: Ghostbusters 3. Its been over twenty five years since the original film came out, twenty since its sequel. Part of the success of Ghostbusters: The Videogame is that the target market for games of this sort are people around my age: early- to mid-twenties. We are the people who grew up with Ghostbusters, and really, I think it is one of the most influential and formative films of our generation. Ghostbusters: The Videogame succeeds because it allows us to live out our childhood fantasies of busting ghosts. It's backed up by a fantastically funny and well acted story, even if the plot really isn't anything special. In a nutshell: go here, bust this ghost, go here, bust that ghost, go here, bust a third ghost, go back to the first place, bust another ghost, look out, an island in the Hudson river! Central park turned into a graveyard, ARGH GOZZZZZZEEEERRRR!!!!! ... wait, I mean, Ivo Shandor as a Destructor ... cross the streams (again), bust Shandor, save the world (again), the end. So now, we've all lived out a childhood fantasy, shooting a proton steam through a fleshed out version of the first film, and all of the importance that Ghostbusters held in our youth is fresh in our minds. We are primed and ready for more of Drs. Venkman, Stanz, Spangler and working stiff Zeddemore. Ghostbusters 3 is in production, and I can guarantee, there will be hype. People will be excited, and when the film comes out, ultimately, it will probably be pretty good, but like Indian Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, because of our built-in cultural expectations, Ghostbusters 3 is going to get bad reviews. There is no way it can live up to the pedestal we have placed the franchise on. That is why I implore you, when you see Ghostbusters 3, don't let the internet ruin it for you. Watch it on your own terms. Do not let people tell you how much the nuked fridge sucked. Try to enjoy it for what it is: a return to a fantasy world that you loved as a child. Don't think it's going to be the best thing ever, don't expect it to top that formative film of twenty-five years ago. Just relax, sit back, and enjoy the return of the Ghostbusters like they are friends you haven't seen in years. I'm not asking you to forget the importance Ghostbusters held for you as a child, but I'm asking you not to let that get in the way of you enjoying the film. Relax, and take it for what it is: you'll thank yourself when the credits roll, you have smile on your face and the dude behind you says "Ghostbusters in hell? Yeah right, that was fucking lame!" Because really, the statue of liberty dancing through the streets of Manhattan is any more believable?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Nazi Kittens

Sometimes, when you're up at almost two in the morning, the internet can be a very strange place. Looking at pictures of cats (the greatest passtime on the internet/in the world) I realised that I had recently seen a number of pictures from world war 2 of german soldiers with cats. Naturally, this led to a google image search for "nazi kittens." I do not reccommend this google search.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Without grace

Its pretty easy to get caught up in the moment. One minute, you're feeling kind of tired (you've just been selling a few more copies of New Moon to middle-aged ladies and you can't help but wonder - is this for you, or your daughter?) and the next, you pick up your feet at head out the door because you know that out there is another adventure.

After getting home from Chapters 919, I organised my Saturday evening to include dinner and a trip out to see Barn Owl, who were releasing their third album. You see, even after all these years, things haven't really changed much: live with Tom, go see Barn Owl ... same old stories. Of course, the previous evening Tom and I had gone to see Up In The Air, which proved to be a fantastic film, but left us both rather parched. Its a good thing the liqour store is right there beside the theatre. Needless to say, thanks to Arturo Perez-Reverte, I walked out with a bottle of Bombay Sapphire. Unfortunetly, we decided to stick to having a beer that night, so when I did get back to Chateaux 128, there was that ghostly blue glow of gin just sitting there, taunting us. When Matt arrived home, Gin and Tonic practically forced itself upon us. I even had the foresight to buy limes!

Its a rare occassion that the three of us can sit down together, so, since we were all there, a second round seemed appropriate. I'm setting myself up for a lengthy story that ends without grace, by the way. You should expect alcohol to be a central element of this story. Anyway, it came time for the three of us to part company, Tom to his business, Matt to his party, and I to my CD release show at Cinecycle. I had never been to cinecycle before, so I didn't really know what to expect.

That night was special, though, because after two and a half years there was a chance that Jack, who has returned from Europe, would be attending. Not to mention a new Barn Owl album. Like I said, basically everything is still the same, despite everything that has changed.

I made it downtown with little incident, but promptly wished I had researched my destination with google street view or something (not that it would have helped). It took me a minute to realise that the spray painted door down an alley off Spadina was actually where I was supposed to be going. However, inside, I did find what I was looking for, and surprise, Jack was there too.

Revelling in the occasion of being able to hang out once again, Jack promptly bought me a beer as I bought him one. Our bartender was Aaron, who wasted no time in telling me that beer was two dollars and "if the cops show up, this is a house party." Back alley? Yes. Sketchy bike repair shop/cinema? Yes. Roomful of political activists (some with prior arrests for said activity)? Yes. Illegal bar? Yes. This seems like the perfect opportunity to get rascally drunk! You're expecting me to get arrested at the end of the story, aren't you? I'm afraid that its nothing so exciting, and rather the simple truth is that my moment of ill-grace was merely falling up an escalator because Jack and I got rascally drunk on cheap two dollar beers while we enjoyed the music AND caught up on some of the things we missed during the two and a half year period he was away.

And look at that, now you don't have to worry about me being long-winded for the rest of my post!

Morale of the story? Beware the mighty escalator when rascally drunk. Its bigger than your shins.