Canadian Candor: Why Canola Oil Spills Aren’t Fun

30 11 2007

I’m not sure how popular this has become on the internet, but give it a few more days. For your Friday viewing pleasure, here’s a clip that is just about as disturbing as you can put on national TV — even north of the border. (Courtesy of Tony)


Sublimation Nation

29 11 2007

There’s a point in every year — this point is known colloquially as spring through fall — when it happens. Simultaneously occurring at virtually every beach, every small-town coffeeshop open mic, every stoop in front of a college dorm and every big-town cover-band night, someone’s playing Sublime covers.

Sprouting out of Long Beach, Cali., the trio rose to fame and fell apart within two-and-a-half years, hitting a crescendo in 1994 and breaking up after the death of frontman Bradley Nowell in 1996. What’s remarkable is not that, with only three original albums, they’ve far outsold peer bands like the Gin Blossoms, Better than Ezra, Counting Crows and virtually every non-Incubus/Lifehouse/Creed/Nickelback/other Pearl Jam derivative rock band over the past 10 years. What’s remarkable is that people still want to hear them, all the damn time.

But why? Why is a band that is just so, so general regarded as so damn cool?

It’s because Sublime derives its fame among people between the ages of 20 and 25 thanks to influences both coincidental and tragic.

At the precise moment when Sublime was coming of fame, we were in turn coming of musical age. At the exact time when Sublime became the it band, we began to associate our tastes with our senses of selves.

It was middle school when we began to truly detach from the innocuous, generally milquetoast offerings our parents had provided us during development. Goodbye, Beach Boys. Hello, Nirvana (although a bit late). And, awkward and self-aware as we were, it was only natural to chase around the pack which was, in turn, chasing Cool. At that point, Sublime was Cool, embodied in some carefree Southern Californians.

Consider this a phase in the modern lifestyle. Eric Ericsson, the post-Freudian psychologist, saw developmental stages in a much more socially postive way than his predecessor did. Where Freud imagined development in sexual terms, Ericsson saw growing up in terms of personal relationships. He would have seen this Pursuit of Cool as a formative time as essential as the periods of Trust and Delayed Satisfaction.

Here, at the point when Sublime was just edgy enough to be cool in the mainstream (although not edgy enough to be ever called pioneering), we decided if we were to go along with what the crowd felt was cool or if we were to diverge. Today, we repeat that choice time and time again: To buy in or opt out. To follow Cool or define it.

But perhaps there was no greater influence in Sublime’s peculiar ascent than Nowell’s death. Long has it been an artistic law that an early or otherwise untimely death will secure one’s spot in aesthetic mystery (it’s the theme of Chuck Klosterman’s Killing Yourself to Live). An early death (at the age of 27, coincidentally, or maybe not) froze Jimi Hendrix, James Dean, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison and others in perpetual youth and possibility.

Nowell, who died three days after his wedding day and two months before the release of Sublime’s third album, Sublime, from a heroin overdose that came after years of addiction to the drug, has realized the same posthumous forgiveneness that came upon so many entertainers before him. He, too, is possibility. 

I’ve never been a Sublime fan. But there’s something special about this group of men who caught us at the right time in our Zeitgeist and managed to remain relevant through our secondary maturation.

To Nowell’s undying credit, he lives on still, on the airwaves, in iPods and in groups of dudes who walk by people playing guitar on the beach, and pause before taking a breath and asking “Yo, do you know Santeria?”

Question 12

28 11 2007

What is the lowest-priced (or, perhaps, least exciting) thing or service for which you would trade your right to vote for the President in the upcoming election? How about forever?

For 20 percent of NYU students — and really, that’s gotta be a good deal lower than the national average for their peers — an iPod Touch is enough.

Subway Monkey!

27 11 2007

When subway conductors go on strike in this city, denizens often employ comparisons of those on the picket line to apes, as in their job is so easy, monkeys could do it.

Well, this clip proves that the act of getting onto a train (even with a bulldog) is a task accomplishable by our genetic brethren (thanks to Quinn & Jen for this one).

Also, for those who were at the BU/Cornell hockey game on Saturday — or those who simply want to spend four minutes looking at a cool-ass college hockey montage — check out this multimedia package by the Daily Free Press’ fStop.

Memory Lane

26 11 2007

The human mind, when not otherwise occupied, turns to play. In normal operation, it requires an object upon which to concentrate, a need usually fulfilled by conversation, walking, reading or jumping over flaming buses. When not satisfied, however, it does not hesitate to jump without warning into less controlled territory. Here it finds a sufficient playground in the valleys of memory, doubt and possibility.

And Thanksgiving, with its diluvian, sepia-tinged carbohydrates, seems the holiday best suited for introspection. It moves at the speed of bureaucracy and involves a lot of sitting or reclining with one’s hands resting upon one’s inflated stomach. Not a whole lot of inspiration for the cerebellum. 

With its setting — often our childhood homes — it’s also the holiday best suited for nostalgia. Much more personal and raw (is that the right word?) than Christmas, it promotes the migration of thoughts back to easier times, when answers were plenty and the future had little to do with reality.

Last weekend, we spoke of old times, telling old stories and conjuring up old ghosts. I loved it. But is nostalgia something useful, or just a sentimental, abbreviated halt? Can we learn something from it, or does it just represent a reluctance to embrace the present and look toward the future? Shortly, can tomorrow benefit from trips to yesterday?

My buddy Justin used to call nostalgia a ‘mental holiday,’ a respite from life that really doesn’t bring you anywhere. No growth, no change, merely an escape. I tend to agree with that assessment, at least in the short-term.

But maybe there is some practical value in nostalgia. That is to say, maybe longing for the past can offer us impetus for growth, or, at the very least, better understanding of ourselves and our self-images. So, how, exactly could this be?

Let’s take a look at the word itself (I guess that’s how you start these things). The term originated in English in the mid-18th century, derived from the Greek ‘nostos’ — referring to a homecoming — and ‘algos’ — referring to pain or distress. Originally, according to the internet, it meant ‘severe homesickness,’ but morphed into the modern ‘wistful yearning for the past’ in the early 1900s. In its original form, it was linked most closely to the German word heimweh, which means, if you break it apart, home-pain. It’s apparently a phrase embedded deep enough German culture to be emblazoned on the walls at its most famous beer hall: (the picture link goes to my old European blog)


“Thirst is worse than homesickness.”

But what do we long for, exactly?

We’re not nostalgic for times gone by. We can always return to cabins, lakes, mountains, roads, beaches and diners. The setting is more or less irrelevant, just a symbol for ourselves at the point we resided in it. No, we’re nostalgic for the way we used to see the future. We’re nostalgic for the way we used to see ourselves, and the way that self-image interacted with its environment. We don’t miss the water as much as we miss the way we felt about the water. We don’t miss the summer between senior year of high school and college because of the time off, we miss it because we knew, absolutely knew, that we were gonna be great, before the doubts intervened over time.

So maybe we should use nostalgia, these old folk tales, as fuel for personal archaeology — glimpses into the way we were before we were re-molded by new environments. If we can accurately pull ourselves back to those distant experiences, we can draw distinctions between the me of then and the me of now. If we’re honest with ourselves, we can see what’s remained constant and what’s been lost or gained. In doing so, yesterday can feed tomorrow. Living in the present doesn’t mean disregarding the past.

But the problem with nostalgia is that accuracy’s always compromised. Any memory, really. We look back and we see scenes. Sure, they can be vivid. But context is missing unless we take really, really good notes. Then handwriting’s an issue, I suppose. But we don’t want to look back fondly on standing in line at the DMV or filing toenails. We look back on emotionally charged events, ones that we couldn’t fully comprehend when we were engaged in them, and still struggle to grasp their entirety now. We see the sides that tell the story we want to tell, and our past becomes a series of folk stories.

Maybe that’s ok, though. The emotionally charged events are the densest ones, packed with a myriad of stimuli, bundles that can be unpacked if we really try. If we go deeper, a rich experience will only get richer.

Ultimately, nostalgia proves a shackle if not understood. How many of us came to college and tried to pigeonhole new friends into old models, to force them into archetypes that worked in one past context but didn’t translate so well in the new one? It was when we opened up to new models, ones that we hadn’t experienced before, that life really took off.

Even then, we only longed for the past because we’d begun to doubt the future. And we still do it, boats against the current, borne ceaselessly into the past, like Fitzgerald says. But our tethers to the past need not restrict. They can enliven and enlighten, adding depth to lives that are always pushing forward. By picking apart our own stories, by questioning our anecdotes, we’ll find layers and layers that will help equip us for what comes next.

In all of this, the single-person perspective is the greatest hurdle we’ll face. The perception is always the preserve of the perceiver, and thus, as any journalist or lawyer will tell you, every story has infinite sides. So, hell, join together with friends. Bring beers. Tell the stories. Laugh and all that. Pick up factoids you’d forgotten. But enjoy it — it is, after all, the narrative of our lives.

Remembering Sitcoms

21 11 2007

Now that Hollywood has virtually shut down completely with the writers on strike, we’re told that we can now expect a string of reruns, reality and really bad TV. However, all of this could be atoned for by one show — the return, on NBC, of American Gladiators.

But, if you find yourself pining for sitcoms to come back, this man will remind you what you’re missing.

U cnt run, U cnt hYde

20 11 2007

While I was covering a legion baseball game this summer, another writer — a sunburned matchstick of a man whose deficit of charm undermined his very impressive moustache — turned toward me after I received a text message and boasted that he would never pay for ‘those things.’ Realizing that he wasn’t talking to the woman next to me about the pair of half-spheres that hung from her chest, this comment struck me as peculiar, given that we both dealt heavily in text as a profession.

He went on to explain that phones are phones –– they’re used to talk to people. Not to write things to people, or get the internet. Faced with such logic, I brought up cars, which are adorned with such excessive and useless accoutrements as music playing devices and heating systems. He answered with an actual harumph.

But every statement has a little bit of truth in it, no matter the moustachioed mouth that delivers it. And this hesitance to step into these technological times warrants a bit of examination.

We’re not Generation X. We’re Generation XM. Wireless, we’re at once unbound yet tethered continuously to each other and all the electronic information the planet has to offer. We see ourselves as free. Physically, we are more than ever. But when we’re free together, we’re more shackled than ever. The expectation that you’ll be able to get in touch with anyone, at any time, also creates the same expectation placed upon yourself. We’re never out of range. Privacy is in a historically tenuous state.

Take the BlackBerry, an implement that seems to be in the pockets of virtually every person involved in every sort of business, legitimate or otherwise. People are fused to the contraptions, enough to start calling them CrackBerries.

When BlackBerry users can’t find the gadgets, the ensuing ritual is akin to losing one’s keys or kids. Sweat, escaping en masse through pores along the hairline. Eyes forced open. Hands, chaotically feeling in pockets, digging through jackets. Cursing.

It’s a common phrase now, even among those who don’t own BlackBerries: my life was in that phone.

Is it hyperbolic? Possibly. But more than likely, it’s true.

It is the distinct preserve of our generation to feel, because of this ceaseless connectedness, that we’re always missing something. Something’s always going on, and we’re just one phone call away from that. Opportunity doesn’t knock. It calls from an unknown number.

Take the Facebook ‘news feed’ — or Facebook in general. Facebook ‘news’ involves a mass of adjustments to interests, tastes and locations. But so does celebrity news, which has slipped into the regular newscycle on networks that specialize in war, politics and, uh, China. With the Facebook feed, we all become celebrities, all worthy of broadcasting whatever events in our lives we deem fit to an interested audience.

We are a generation of Watched People. We’ve grown up with a hawklike media that has blurred the line between noteworthy and arcane news, between fame and infamy. Virtually everything has equal airtime. As such, have we lost our abilities to separate relevant from irrelevant, and do those terms even mean anything anymore?

Much has been made of our culture of voyeurism. Less has been made about how it affects our daily lives to be the target of such vague and encompassing Peeping-Tommery. According to Thomas de Zengotita, in a 2005 Harper’s story called Attack of the Superzeroes: Why Washington, Madonna and Einstein can’t compete with You, we have all become ‘method actors.’

“This is the ultimate significance of all the technology: cable, satellite, the web, camcorders, video phones–all the usual suspects. They were the means to virtual revolution.

Coached by performer heroes, seeking the recognition to which they felt entitled, spectators pushed themselves forward as the technological venues opened up, and not only in what we call the “reality show.” Other reality shows, under other names, sprang up everywhere. What they all had in common was the celebration of people refusing to be spectators–all the mini-celebrities, for example, who dominate chat rooms and game sites, and the blogs, the intimate “life journals.” Think also of raves and flash mobbing, marathon running, karaoke bars, focus groups, talk-radio call-in shows, homemade porn, sponsored sports teams for tots–and every would-be band in the world can now burn a CD and produce cool cover art and posters.

Being famous isn’t what it used to be.

Has it ever struck you, watching interviews with people in clips from the 1940s and 1950s, say, or even just looking at them in photographs, how stiff and unnatural they seem? Even prominent people, but especially regular folk, the way they lean into the mike and glance awkwardly around as they say whatever they have to say in semi-formal tones, almost as if reciting; and the way they raise their voices, as if they can’t quite trust the technology to reach an absent audience. But nowadays? Every man on the street, every girl on the subway platform, interviewed about the snowstorm or the transit strike–they are total pros, laughing in the right places, looking directly at the interviewer or into the camera, fluid, colloquial, comments and mannerisms pitched just right for the occasion, completely at ease.

Method actors all.”

I tend to agree with de Zengotita. One of postmodernism’s chief tenets is the sense of an invisible audience taking in and judging/appreciating all of our actions. Postmodern fiction goes out of its way to acknowledge not only the reader — Dave Eggers ‘Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius’ even opens with a rather considerable discourse on possible themes you could take from the book, an ironic Reader’s Guide to the work — but to delve into the writing process itself. By nature, it is an art that is aware of being an art, like that picture of the hand drawing itself.


 (something like that)

Life, too, has become an artistic process, just as hyper-aware of itself. “Why so serious — when it’s only your life that’s at stake. / Why so serious? Life is the art that you make,” sang Superchunk in its classic song, ‘Art Class.’  

And here, we suffer. The mediated experience, they call it, demands that we play constantly to an audience. Omnipresent cell phones, aim, Facebook and Myspace allow us to remain up-to-date with those we care for — an accessibility that should keep us more in touch with people who have shaped our lives than our parents ever could. But that accessibility is a two-way street.

It’s made us a society that sees introversion as a flaw, as if dropping out of the frenzy makes us unfit. More, it’s made us a society of stressed-out folks.

We demand perfection from ourselves, just as our media experience has demanded perfection from those actually in the spotlight. If unattainable (like perfection seems to be), we shrink, we cower from the attention. We try to hide from the audience that isn’t actually there, to allow those outside of us to see a dressed-up version of ourselves.

Image is, after all, everything. So maybe Big Brother isn’t some ominous force looking over us. Maybe it’s what’s in our TV sets, on our desks and in our pockets.