31 July 2008

Gopnik and Gladwell on Canada: Nation or Notion?

I know, I know: this debate between Malcolm Gladwell (l) and Adam Gopnik happened a while ago.  But they played it on CBC's Ideas last night in its entirety, and I listened to it and drank, sitting in my green chair, two glasses of Cono Sur merlot, on sale this week for $10.47 a bottle at the LCB.

By their applause, the crowd voted Gopnik the winner, I think because he was 35 per cent funnier. Both were powerfully interesting, though, and, I have to admit, a touch whinier than I'd have hoped. Below are the two primary arguments; judge for yourself.

(In his intro of the two writers, Maclean's national editor Andrew Coyne used a qualifier in front of "unique." Yikes.)

25 July 2008

Friday Miscellany

Go ahead, try to find the link between Chinese propaganda, the Theory of Everything, dark thoughts about Peter Hessler, and the subtle virtues of pannioli.

I still read the magazine. These long absences as a sign not of a slackening regard for you, dear reader, but of a daunting work schedule. I know, I know: how long does it take to blog?

Anyway, the others are in a sales meeting right now—on the invitation I was listed as "optional"—and so I've stolen a few moments, in the now wonderfully deserted digital media bullpen, to give you a few recent thoughts about New Yorker articles that come to mind.

—The one about CTGZ, the Chinese propagandist (above) with piles of books all over his dorm room ("Angry youth," by Evan Osnos; July 28th):

1) Why isn't Peter Hessler (one of my favorites, and a writer for whom I could work up [okay, already feel] a dark mixture of envy and admiration for) covering this story?

2) His video sucked; Osnos's description of it does it way too much poetic justice. It looks exactly like something you'd produce on Windows Movie Maker in a half hour's patriotic arousal—which isn't to say it fails as propaganda. I watched it with a Mainland Chinese colleague, who, as it ran its six minutes, more and more got a sheen of "See?" and indignation about her, even as I snorted at the amateurishness and paranoia, crescendoing drums and strings.

—The one about the surfer dude who may have cracked the Theory of Everything ("Surfing the universe," by Benjamin Wallace-Wells; July 21st):

1) Everybody loves the idea of the rogue intellectual who comes in from the hinterland and solves the unsolvable problem. I'd never given a full thought to the idea that, within an academic discipline, proponents of the ascendant theory—in the particle-physics case, string theory—hold sway and make things miserable for dissenters like Garrett Lisi, this article's central character. I have a friend in linguistics who says it's this way with Chomskians (Chomskiites?) and Universal Grammar at the moment. That debate harks back, of course, to John Colapinto's fantastic (top ten, easily) article about the Piraha, who live in the Amazon rain forest

2) The dude has a novel way of consoling himself: "When Lisi encounters a physicist of his own age whose skill he envies, he reminds himself that he is a better surfer. When he comes across a better surfer, he thinks, I’m much better at equations." And I suppose if he comes across an older, better physicist and surfer, he thinks, "I'm younger and hotter." Or if it's a younger, hotter better physicist and surfer, he thinks, "I am distinguished in my carriage."

We all play this handicapping game in our minds, though, no? What do you say to yourself? (Ashamed as I am to admit it, one of mine once had to do with proficiency at golf. Now it's all gerunds and how well I hold my liquor.)

—The one in which Paul Simms shows, once again, that he's far and away the funniest bastard doing Shouts & Murmurs ("Stump speech," July 28th), with occasional competition from Jack Handey:
"I’m talking about the young man—a boy, really; he couldn’t have been more than eleven or twelve years old—whom I met in an online game of Halo, who said to me, 'Headshot! Suck it! Pwned! Be less gay!,' after he had killed me by camping a respawn point, which really should be illegal.

"I’m thinking and talking about a man I met in New Carsmell, Vermont, before my campaign even began. He had inherited from his step-uncle, after much legal wrangling, the family diner. I remember as if it were yesterday asking this man for a ham-and-cheese sandwich. And he made me one. But, before he served it to me, he smooshed it down in this hot-presser thing that sort of looked like a copy machine. So, when it was done, the sandwich was like a flattened-out grilled cheese with ham, which the man claimed was an Italian delicacy. That thing was delicious. I can’t remember right now what it’s called, but more and more places are starting to serve them, so, if you ever get the chance to have one, definitely try it. I think it might have been called a 'pannioli' or something. Something Italian-sounding."
Okay, back to work. I hope you're well.

14 May 2008

Describing: Pascal Dangin

Dangin is on the short side, with a scruffy mustache and finger-in-the-socket frizz. He maintains the hours of a Presidential candidate; lately, he is a little tubbier than he would like. He was wearing, as is his custom, an all-navy outfit: New Balance sneakers, ratty cords, woollen sweater with holes in the armpits. He is not immune to the charms of things—he owns an Aston Martin, along with houses in Manhattan, Amagansett, and St. Bart’s—but, for someone who can pick apart a face in a matter of seconds (he once, apologetically, described his eyes as “high-speed scanners”), he is remarkably free of vanity.

—Lauren Collins, in "Pixel Perfect," a profile of Pascal Dangin, the world's foremost retoucher of photographs, in the May 12th issue.

[Extra: An example of Dangin's work, on the model who "needs the least help."]

09 March 2008

Stooped and typing II

The title is a misnomer. As it happens, I'm lying nearly on my back, in a green corduroy armchair, feet up on a tufted leather ottoman. There's Frank Sinatra on the CD player, which is the only music to play with tufted leather ottomans. Laundry's going downstairs, so I've got 25 minutes or so. I'm going to pour out the remnants of the half-bottle of Bailey's Waterhouse gave me as a housewarming gift and try to reacquaint myself with the blogging instinct.

Women seem taken with this week's New Yorker cover, a painting of a cartoonishly wide-faced, narrow-eyed, and ivory-skinned woman whose hair and blouse both are converging thatches of vines and blossoms. Two made special mention of it. I think they think it's pretty.
In unrelated news, you'll see below that I was at Northern Voice, the "blogging and social media conference." (I include the quotation marks because that's the way I say it in my mind—the same as on the news, when you hear "Facebook, the social networking website" in each new report about the Filipino kid whose stabbing death on an East Van schoolyard provoked a flurry of RIP "wall" posts.)

I spend the day among the bloggers, and before I run down to secure my position among the dryers, let me tell you that they're smart, chubby, and casually dressed. That you could have guessed. Their defining characteristic, though, is more interesting, and more alien: an unqualified love of technology and, by extension, the future.

The belief seems to me to have an ominous underside, but I don't know why.

22 February 2008

Dept. of stooped and typing

Um, if it's a cliche to be blogging in the Tim Horton's right next to a blogging conference, it's a new one.

Today is Northern Voice, which describes itself as a "blogging and social media conference." You'd think all these hip, connected people could come up with a name that sounds less like a souvenir shop at YVR, where tourists buy maple syrup, vacuum-sealed smoked salmon, and deep-green sweatshirts emblazoned with stylized loons.

Silly me, I woke this morning, ate a bowl of Raisin Bran, grabbed a coffee by the bus stop, and was out here 70 minutes before the thing started. I'm working on workaday time, obviously. I'm going to chill out here with a breakfastwich, or whatever they call them.

Oh, there's activity around the registration table now. I'll tell you what I see.

One overweight, bespectacled guy in a blue plaid shirt punching the air, animating a story. Star Wars blogger.

A half attractive girl in a black skirt with a slit, carrying a packing tape dispenser. She has a limp, though. Maybe she's a hot blogger.

An artsy-looking guy with tight jeans, bright orange Chuck Taylors, high feathered bangs, and a scarf. Emily Carr blogger.

Three girls behind folding tables: one's shifting from foot to foot, one's looking at a piece of A4, one's talking to the sort of older man that proliferate at Canadian universities (sorry, the conference today is at UBC)—kind bearing; red Gore-Tex windbreaker; longer hair, usually white; backpack with laptop inside. A kind of dorky intellectual yachtsman.

I gotta get over there. They're giving out the lanyards.

More to come.