Archive for October, 2006

And Then Nothing Happened

Sunday, October 29th, 2006

I’m reading a book right now about messianic eschatology in the middle ages — Norman Cohn’s The Pursuit of the Millenium. I saw it for sale on the street while I was on my way downtown, but hesitated just long enough for the bookseller to tell me that all books were one dollar. So I grabbed it and he immediately retreated to “Normally I’d charge five or ten for that one… Good eye.” I felt a little bad for taking advantage of him, because it’s a really nice book, but I figure don’t make the pitch if you don’t want to honour it, right? I probably would have walked by if he hadn’t said that.

I don’t read much serious non-fiction anymore. What use is it to me what heretical cults in the thirteenth century thought about the end of the world? It makes me feel like a bit of a Clavin. The knowledge flows through me like water without getting me wet, if you know what I mean. Writing about it helps though.

After reading the back flap I realized that I’ve read another book by him, Cosmos, Chaos and the World to Come: The Ancient Roots of Apocalyptic Faith. Although Cohn is a historian and TPotM is aimed at an academic audience, he’s an uncommonly talented storyteller. These tales feature a multitude of messiahs and ascetics who sprouted up throughout Europe to proclaim their, and their followers’, world-historical importance in the eschatological fantasies of an imminent End Time, when a Warrior Christ would return to judge the wicked, overthrow the rule of Anti-Christ (usually identified with the Pope) and rule as Emperor over a thousand-year kingdom of true believers. It’s a belief which has persisted for thousands of years now, right up through the present-day American president, and it’s difficult to exaggerate the amount of bloodshed it has caused. In the twelfth century the crusading Pastoreux travelled from town to town to “convert” the Jews, (the conversion of the Jews to Christianity being one of the common features of apocalyptic prophecy), and it wasn’t long before people figured out that there’s more than one way to purge the world of non-believers. Jews who refused baptism were slaughtered en masse by the followers of various messianic figures who, as a commentator at the time put it, “sought to please God in that way.”

The changes taking place in the tenth and eleventh and twelfth centuries provided fertile soil for millenial fantasy. The feudal arrangement between armed, landed nobility and the serfs, for all its injustice, at least had the weight of timeless tradition behind it; a codified set of historical rights to protection that the Lord owed to his serfs, and which the latter did not hesitate to enforce through rebellion and uprising. With the emergence of the capitalist merchant class and urbanization, this covenant broke down and serfs became renters and flocked to cities. Cohn shows how this societal upheaval, the anxieties it created in the poor, their dissatisfaction with a clergy that had become too compromised by weath, hermetic isolation, or political interests to fulfill their spiritual needs, and the natural catastrophes of famines and plagues which befell them, all of these forces ensured a sympathetic hearing to any holy-man willing to annouce that the poor had a role as God’s favoured people in paving the way for Christ’s return. This apocalyptic ideology is of a piece with Nazi fantasies of a thousand-year Reich. It is also an ideology which has grown dramatically in the U.S. during the past half-century, and that’s a thought that keeps me up at night.

I haven’t finished it yet, right now I’m on chapter 8, “An Elite of Amoral Supermen” (the chapter titles are wonderfully evokative; the chapter on flagellant movements, “An Elite of Self-Immolating Redeemers” being my favorite), which deals with the anarchistic Cult of the Free Spirit who preached radical freedom and mystical eroticism. Fascinating stuff, I hope to write more about it soon.

Podcast it at the setting sail

Saturday, October 28th, 2006

My friend Ben has a podcast/blog thing, you should all “subscribe” to it, or whatever you do with podcasts. I never really got into the whole podcasting phenomenon. I much prefer putting my words in text, and including an mp3 track as a sort of garnish. Do any of my readers subscribe to podcasts? Which ones? Let me know in the comments.

I used to listen to the cbcradio3 podcast, which is pretty good but a pale shadow of it’s former glory, which you can see by clicking the Magazine Archive link at the bottom of that page.

But I don’t feel tardy…

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

On Friday I went to see Michael Apted’s documentary 49 Up. It’s the seventh film in the Up series, which began by interviewing ten seven-year-old English schoolchildren in 1964, and checking in with them every seven years (at ages 14, 28, 35, 42, and now 49) I’d never heard of the series before reading the Cinemateque listing, and apparently I’m the last person on the planet to know about it.

Fortunately for me, this edition incorporates a great deal of footage from the previous Up films. Despite this, and despite the 135-minute running time, I felt like I was missing a lot of the context that would make these people interesting to me. The film consists of a lot of sit-down type interviews, with Apstead off-camera asking fairly point-blank questions about what they think about their lives. Their satisfaction in their career and family life, interspersed with previous interviews with their younger selves talking about what they want out of life, whether they want kids, and so on. I found it sort of surprising that a majority of them, it seemed, ended up roughly where their 7, 14, and 28-yo selves had predicted. Most of them were happily second-married, with between three and five generally normal-seeming children. They were all basically generous, decent people. Makes you think life isn’t so hard after all, really.

Except for John, the working-class kid from Liverpool, who spent most of his early adulthood living in squats in London and wandering homeless in rural Northern England. At 49 he’s become a Social Democratic politician on income assistance. His life was the most interesting, basically because suffering is inherently dramatic. And also, terrifying as it sounds, I found him by far the most relatable. Like him, and unlike most of the other subjects, I feel a severe discontinuity with my past hopes, desires and fears. Although my life hasn’t gone off the rails quite so catastrophically, where I am now, fast approaching thirty, has very little in common with my expectations ten and twenty years ago.

The point of the documentary isn’t really drama, though, or even character. It felt much more like a nature show, an oddly distant anthropological study of the baby boomers. On a typical reality tv show, the subjects self-select for shamelessness; here, they were chosen as children, nominated by their school boards. The fact that all but one of them has stuck in there for 42 years is a little surprising. One subject deals with the intrusion into her privacy by not allowing her husband or children to take part in the film. Nevertheless, she continues, perhaps out of a sense of obligation to the project. Another uses the project to promote his charitable organization in Bulgaria. “Watching people get old, bald and fat,” he jibes, “… it’s thrilling, I’m sure.”

And it is, in a way. It’s life, and what could really be more interesting. Phillip Roth’s book Everyman is interesting in the same way, dealing with the life trajectory of a mostly ordinary, good-hearted, selfish man who gets a job, gets married, has kids, has affairs, gets divorced, gets old and then dies. Of course, the novel form allows Roth much more license to explore the nuances of inner life and self-justification, which are all the interesting parts of ordinary lives.

Waiting for the foam on my protein shake to settle

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

The rain has come back and it’s time to hunker down for a few months of darkness. My work gave me a fleece company sweater. Well I don’t technically work there, I’m a contractor, but I guess I’m there often enough that they felt I deserved some merch. I was resistant to the idea at first. When asked what size I wanted, I was hesitant, like “Oh, you don’t have to do that…”

It’s tan with slate-grey stitching and shoulders, and the company logo on the breast. It’s quite tasteful, but not something I would ever wear in public. They ordered one for me while I was on vacation and I brought it home last week. Turns out it’s very cozy and warm. Also, a definite step up from the denim shirt I got from my previous employer.

Watching Project Runway has made me way more fashion conscious. I’m so stoked for the season finale tomorrow! Even though Jeffrey is kind of a jerk, I hope he doesn’t get disqualified, as was suggested by last week’s gripping cliff-hanger. His collection is so far superior to what the other finalists came up with, it’s sad really. If he does get the boot, then I want Uli to win because she is completely adorable and her accent makes me feel dizzy.

Buddinski

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

Him: In primary school whenever we answered a question, the teacher made us repeat the question with our answer or we’d be in trouble. Like, the teacher would ask “Why is the sky blue?,” and if you started with “Because…” she’d stop you and make you say the whole thing: “The. Sky. Is. Blue. Because…”

Her: Why’d you have to do that?

Him: Because you’re not supposed to start a sentence with the word ‘because,’ or something.

Her: Oh. So why is the sky blue?

Him: It reflects the colour of the oceans, and water is blue. I guess they asked us pretty tough questions back them. I should have hung onto my grade six notes.

Her: In math class we had to always show every little step, like if you were doing addition you had to write all the little ones in on the top, or it would be marked wrong.

Buddinski: Excuse me, sorry, I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation and actually, the reason the sky is blue is because of something called Rayleigh scattering. There are particles in the air that diffracts the blue wavelength of light but let all the other wavelengths pass through, so we see the sky as blue. Sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude….

Her: No, hey, don’t worry about it. Are you a scientist or something?

Buddinski: Me, no, I just when I heard you talking I remembered that. And actually, the reason that the oceans are blue is because they reflect the colour of the sky, not the other way around.

Her: I guess you learn something new every day!

Him: Where did you hear that about the oceans? Because that doesn’t sound right to me.

Buddinski: It’s something most people don’t know. Well, sorry for interrupting, have a nice afternoon.

Her: Sure, you too!

Him: Who the hell does that guy think he is? Why doesn’t he mind his own goddamn business?

Her: Oh, honey!

A Fruitless Weekend

Sunday, October 15th, 2006

Finding a date is harder than it really ought to be. I had plans to Body Worlds on Friday, which is the exhibit of plasticized human bodies and organs. It’s sort of a hybrid anatomy lesson and art exhibit created by Guther von Hagens, I’ve been wanting to see it for a while, and have had plans several times with a certain female to go check it out, but events have conspired to make that an impossibility.

On Saturday night I went to the Califone show, again dateless. I even went so far as to post a M4W ad on craigslist, which garnered precisely zero (0) responses. Maybe all the cute, available women were at the Yo La Tengo show, or the Ladytron show, or the Sufjan Stevens show, or maybe my desperation is palpable. I also somehow managed to lose weight during my convalescence with my ankle injury, down to 120lbs from an all-time high of around 130, so I’m not feeling particularly menschlich lately. How one manages to lose weight while being immobilized is beyond me. But anyways, I’m pretty sure that somehow I’ll make lots of money someday, so even though I don’t have a car or a rugged jawline or any discernible ambition, I think I’m a pretty good catch. This is your chance to get in on the ground floor, ladies!

On the bright side, when I was at Scratch buying tix for the show I found the last Danielson CD I was missing: the live Danielson Famile/Soul Junk tour support disc from 1998. Oh consumer goods, at least you still love me!

Death Of A President

Thursday, October 12th, 2006

I watched Death Of A President last night. It’s a television fake-umentary about the aftermath of the assassination of President George W. “Dubbya “Hitler”” Bush in 2007. He’s taken out by a sniper while leaving the Chicago Sheraton after a speech. Concurrent with this is a massive, unruly protest in the streets, so naturally protest leaders are rounded up. Then they identify a Syrian employee of the building from which the shooter attacked and are pressured to build a case against him. The unfolding of the investigation, the pressure to treat this as a Syrian-sponsored terrorist act, and the political consequences, are all handled in a pretty plausible and interesting way. U.S. domestic politics was left moot, which is probably a wise decision. Can you imagine what Fox News would be like for the next three months afterwards? Can you imagine the Atrios thread? “Comments (62,967)”

The story is primarily told through acted interviews, spliced with newsreel footage of Bush and Cheney speechifying, and acted scenes of protests and secret service agents scrambling. Repurposing scenes of actual events within the fictional context created a seriously eerie effect. particularly President Cheney’s eulogy over “Bush’s” casket, which I guess was a real eulogy he gave for someone else. It’s really Cheney, and he’s really eulogizing. At one point they overdubbed the words “George Bush,” but it was the only time I noticed it. Uncanny.

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CALIFONE

Tuesday, October 10th, 2006

I’m listening to the new Califone album, Roots and Crowns. I keep turning it up a little bit louder and a little bit louder, I can’t help myself. Try to imagine a whole album of The Notwist’s “Neon Golden”; in other words: imagine perfection, only lots of it. The songs all shimmer and breathe like living things.

And they’re playing at the Media Club on Saturday! Good timing! This will more than make up for missing TV On The Radio last week.

Congratulations North Korea

Monday, October 9th, 2006

N. Korea detonates a nuclear device. According to seismic data, the underground detonation was between 3.8 (S. Korean data) and 4.2 (US Geological Survey data) on the Richter scale, which translates to approximately a 1 kiloton bomb. Which means the device probably failed to achieve critical mass. So that’s good news, I guess.

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The Official Desktop Image of Baboon Palace

Sunday, October 8th, 2006

By request:

Images are all 1600×1200; right-click to download.

Survival Research

Wednesday, October 4th, 2006
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Ankle Injuries

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006

It’s a drag being on crutches. Aside from the hassle of not being able to carry anything, I don’t like being seen walking around on them; it makes me feel like sort of a pathetic specimen. It’s intensely frustrating to need people to buy my groceries and bring me stew and jam and movies; it’s nearly as bad as being poor. But it’s also great to discover that I can count on my friends, and that I haven’t yet succeeded in alienating all humans.

So when I was at the Emergency Room getting my ankle checked out, there were two other people waiting there, both also with injuries to their left ankle. The guy to my left, in his twenties and heavyset, with short dark hair and a goatee, twisted his ankle running at UBC; on my right was a blonde athlete, tall and good-looking, who had hurt his falling down the stairs wasted at a party. Several of his frat brothers were with him, keeping him company and reminiscing. (My injury was from tennis.)

The really weird coincidence was that I’d downloaded a new album onto my mp3 player before I went to the hospital, because I’m smart like that. It was Fujiya & Miyagi’s Transparent Things; good album, reminded me a lot of The Notwist, but a little bit more upbeat and loopy. I checked the track list a few days later, and the first track on the album is called “Ankle Injuries”. Weird, huh? It’s hard to know what to make of coincidences like that, simultaneously remarkable and vacant. They don’t really mean anything, obviously, so in a sense the observation is worthless. But it also seems in some weird way like a confirmation. Of what, I have no idea. The realness of reality, maybe. I guess all you can do is shrug and say “Weird, huh?”

PS I took some pictures of my ankle, because I was fascinated by how gruesome it turned for such a nothing little stumble. And now you can be too!