Cultureguru's Weblog

Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


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Roundup: Riverdale, Lala Land, Malcolm Gladwell, and more

I haven’t done anything major of late, but I’m still keeping busy with a number of minor items, such as…

Watching Riverdale

A very buzzy show right now, playing on CW in the US and on Netflix in Canada. Beforehand, I liked the idea of a dark, Twin Peaks-y take on Archie Comics, and I’ve been generally happy with the results. The tone is still somewhat uneven—sometimes exaggerated Gothic, sometimes gritty realism—and Jean does tend to roll his eyes at the drama, drama of some scenes. But we’re both pretty entertained by it, overall.

Doesn’t hurt that he took an instant shine to Betty, while I am seriously crushing on Jughead… On Jughead, yeah. This is not like the comics! Sure, Archie is handsome, but also a jock and a bit bland, and Kevin is cute, but not  in that Adam Lambert way. But Jughead is a writer, he’s sensitive, he’s moral, he’s troubled (poor and bullied; alcoholic father)—and also, so pretty!

jughead

[SPOILERY] There’s been considerable Internet discussion about whether the Jughead character would be asexual / aromantic as in the comics, so I was curious how that would play out. I can’t say I’m personally disappointed with the decision, but it is certainly a missed opportunity to do something groundbreaking.

Finding a movie Jean likes

Back in December we went to see Office Christmas Party, an over-the-top, light comedy we both found kind of fun. But then we followed withe Loving and Moonlight. These are both quality films that I enjoyed. But they are also slow-paced, character-driven dramas, and Jean was somewhat bored by both. So I took a pass on going to Fences and Manchester by the Sea with him—I’ll catch up on those myself.

The Lego Batman Movie seemed like it should be a good bet, though, right? And while it was not quite as good as the original Lego Movie, I was still very entertained by it. But while Jean wasn’t exactly bored, he was just kind of meh on this one. He just didn’t catch all the digs at the Batman lore that made the movie so clever.

And Lala Land? (“Did you know this is a musical?” he asked, walking in. Umm…)

But hey Mikey, he liked it! (Me too. It’s fun, and beautifully filmed.)

Fretting about details of a party we’re hosting

Usually late at night, when I should be falling asleep.

“Huh,” said Jean, when I reported this. “I don’t think about that at all.”

But he definitely helps me work on whatever aspect I’m most recently fretting about.

I guess that makes us a good partnership. Though I do envy his ability to just assume that things will be fine and work out.

Learning from Malcolm Gladwell

Revisionist History is a podcast series, available on iTunes and Google Play.

Each week, over the course of 10 weeks, Revisionist History will go back and reinterpret something from the past. An event. A person. An idea. Something overlooked. Something misunderstood. Because sometimes the past deserves a second chance.

I’ve listened to 8 out of 10 so far, and find them all fascinating. Like:

  • The Lady Vanishes, on how one woman (or African-American, or gay person) achieving breakthrough success doesn’t necessarily pave the way for more.
  • Thanks to The Big Man Can’t Shoot, I now understand that my very disinterest in looking athletic (a hopeless endeavour, anyway; I am simply not athletic) made me a basketball free-throw champion. (It was literally the only thing I was ever better than anyone else at in gym class.)
  • Hallelujah explains the creative process and unlikely series of fortunate events that turned Leonard Cohen’s original un-listenable song into the iconic tune it is today. (Though I think KD Lang should also have earned a shout-out in this piece.) And as a bonus, introduced me to a new Elvis Costello tune.

Listening to women

I’ve always been a feminist, of course, but the US election has made it all feel more acute. My Twitter feed has been feeling gender unbalanced, so I’ve been seeking out more women’s voices:

  • @robyndoolittle, who’s been working on an important series for the Globe and Mail on how many sexual assault cases in Canada are labelled unfounded. (The first: Unfounded: Why police dismiss 1 in 5 sexual assault claims as baseless)
  • @AKimCampbell, first woman Prime Minister of Canada, and also a really hilarious person. (And very active retweeter, but I’ve learned you can follow a person’s tweets but not their retweets.)
  • @kashanacauley, humorist and now writer at The Daily Show.
  • @tagaq, wherein singer Tanya Tagaq provides an interesting, First Nations perspective on the day’s issues.

I’ve also been listening to more music by women. This has led Spotify, who previously recommended me a whole lot of dance club music (thanks to following Adam Lambert, and perhaps enforced by a bout of listening to show tunes) to conclude, well, maybe I would enjoy some Indigo Girls and Melissa Ethridge as well.

I kind of do like their music, though, so it’s all good. And also, the songs by these strong women:


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I have opinions. About things.

One of the great achievements of free society in a stable democracy is that many people, for much of the time, need not think about politics at all.

The Madness of King Donald, by Andrew Sullivan

But this is not really one of those times. It seems to me it would be exhausting to be against the current US administration right now, whether you are actively resisting (so many protests! So many calls to make and letters to write!) or feeling guilty that you aren’t resisting, or aren’t doing so enough.

Meanwhile in Canada…

I haven’t written, called, or protested about anything lately, save this letter to the editor about the faux scandal of Trudeau not attending Trump’s inauguration. Remember that? It seems so long ago! A number of people mentioned to me that they saw it.

It leaves me heartened that so many still read the local newspaper.

Oh, and I did sign the official petition protesting the Liberal’s abandonment of their electoral reform promise. Still open, if you’d like to do so also, though we all know it won’t change anything.

Electoral reform wasn’t my most important issue, but I did want to make at least minimal effort (and that was minimal) to register that the Liberal’s handling of it was… Unimpressive. 

First of all in the drafting of the promise itself:

electoral-reform

If your goal is to no longer use first past the post, why are you studying mandatory and online voting? Neither of those is an alternative to first past the post! (You can be forced to vote or allowed to vote on your phone with any system.)

Second, in making such a big deal about it. This party made hundreds of promises, any number of which haven’t been mentioned since election night. Since we now know they weren’t so keen on it, why did they spotlight this particular one so much, repeating it, according to the Washington Post, 1813 times?

Third, their handling of the committee report. First, the Minister of Democratic Institutions insulted the committee members, saying “they had not completed the hard work we had expected it to do” [false!]. Then she followed it up with a press conference in which she made fun of math—always a good look on a young woman (so inspiring!).

Monsef

What a ridiculous formula!

Fourth, in the Prime Minister’s lame excuses for killing the promise, citing fears of extremist parties holding the balance of power. What, like having a party that wants to break up the country as the Official Opposition (Bloc Québecois, 1993 ot 1997—thanks, first past the post!)? And then bizarrely citing the example of Kellie Leitch running her own party.

Under first past the post, Kellie Leitch has a reasonably good chance of becoming Prime Minister in 2019

After all, she is one of the front-runners in the 14-person race to be leader of the Conservative party of Canada.

Look, if I’m sympathetic to PR, it’s because Canada’s major parties sometimes move in alarming directions, and I know they only need to convince slightly more than a third of a the population (living the right places) to gain a majority of seats. And these days the Conservatives are doing far too much cozying up to their lunatic fringe for my comfort.

Four of them—Leitch, Brad Trost, Chris Alexander, and Pierre Lemieux—happily attend a “Freedom rally” by “Rebel Media” (think Canada’s Breitbart) at which Muslims were called “unintegreteable” into Canadian society, and at which Muslims bans were requested. Nice!

And the rest? Four weeks after six Muslims were murdered while praying at their Quebec, the majority of them are reluctant to support a motion condemning Islamophobia and other religious discrimination. Why? Because the Rebel people had stoked fears and anger about this innocent motion, erroneously claiming that it would stifle freedom and speech and bring in Sharia law (!!!).

liberal-motion.png

Source: https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/a-liberal-motion-is-not-going-to-force-sharia-law-on-canada-duh

As Paul Wells says, “all parties must decide if it’s better to campaign on fear or campaign against it.” Are they with Iqra Kalid, the Liberal MP who brought forth this motion, or with the people now bombarding her with hate and death thteats?

So far, only Conservative canddiate Michael Chong has shown the courage and ethics to support Motion 103.

I never thought the first political party I’d join would be the Conservatives, but it’s the only way I can vote for Michael Chong as leader. [And you can too (if you’re Canadian): Sign up at https://www.chong.ca/. It’s only $15.]

Who also happens to be the only candidate with a climate change plan—one that would also give us a big income tax cut! Otherwise, we have one climate denier (Trost) and 12 people who claim to believe it’s a problem but apparently don’t plan to do anything to fix it.

And this is an issue because the Conservative leadership is not first past the post, but a ranked ballot. Meaning that even though I only like one candidate, I have to try pick out the least objectionable remaining candidates to rank higher than the truly odious ones (the Rebel four, plus O’Leary, wh0 apparently intends to run the country from a US base). Wish me luck.

Cute cat video!

If you’ve actually made it this far down this post, you deserve this:

 


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Hope

I didn’t want to write about it at all, and I won’t be going on about it now. But did want to say that yesterday’s fairly pathetic turnout:

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Obama inauguration crowds on the left; Trump’s on the right

Contrasted with the astonishing crowd who turned out today for the #womensmarch protest:

natl_mall_womensmarchnoon_earthcam_1

Along with the multitudes protesting in cities across the United States, from states both blue:

And red:

Boosted by protests around the world:

Is giving me hope.


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A most terrible year?

The year-end reviews certainly are gloomy this year. A sort of consensus that it’s hard to find anything good to say about 2016.

And for residents of some countries, that was certainly true. Poor Haiti had yet another earthquake. Syria! A daily dose of tragedy, made all the worse because our countries were involved in trying to stop it. And the Venezuelans—suffering under an incompetent President, their economic situation already bad and getting worse daily.

But as a global aggregate, the fact is that a lot of things are improving. (These charts don’t all include 2015—and can’t include 2016 yet, as it’s not done!—but the trends shown did not reverse themselves last year.)

Extreme poverty is down, and real incomes are up.

share-world-population-in-extreme-poverty-absolute

stephen-gordon

This one is for Canada specficially

People are healthier.

global-child-mortality-timeseries

Life expectancy is also up, globally

Education rates are much higher.

literate-and-illiterate-world-populationHomicide (and other crime rates) are down, even in gun-happy US.

homicide-rates-in-the-united-states-1950-2010-and-canada-1961-2009-pinker-2011-jpg

I think the source of all this gloom is the US election and its highly unfortunate result. Had Hillary Clinton won the Electoral College, Brexit would seem a weird mess the Brits got themselves into rather than part of an alarming global trend. We could celebrate the signing of the Paris Climate Agreement and some actual action on the front (carbon pricing in Canada! Mon dieux!) instead of feeling it’s all a bit for naught now. The loss of beloved celebrities, some at alarmingly young ages (had not realized just how contemporaneous George Michael and I were), would be just a sad thing that eventually happens to us all, and not a pile-on when we don’t want more bad news (on Christmas Day? Really?).

However… while the mood is understandable, it’s still troubling. Because it’s pessimism, and a nostalgic belief that things were better before, and a denial of the inconvenient fact that things are actually pretty good right now—that the President-Elect ran on and got himself elected with.

It’s not a good place to settle in, mentally. It leads to hopelessness, and inactino. This one bad event didn’t make all of 2016 terrible. (And not to bring down the room, but won’t it be worse once he’s actually in office?)

But in 2016, the US had a great President.

barack-obama-computer-wallpaper

The 2016 Olympics were fun and kind of inspiring.

penny-oleksiak-canada-flag

The number of women of colour elected to the US Senate in 2016 has quadrupled.

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After a serious health scare last year, Roger Daltrey came back with a Who 2016 tour.

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In 2016 the Canadian federal government and its gender-balanced cabinet made significant progress on trade with Europe, climate change, safe injection sites, assisted dying legislation, pipeline approvals (and rejections), and improvements to the Election Act.

trudeau-pipeline-20161129

The Hamilton Mixtape, released December 2016, was awesome.

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And Saturday Night Live (and other satirical programs) provided some catharsis.

“I’m not giving up. And neither should you.”


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The week that was

Well, I made it through two+ hours of reading politically minded tweets without bursting into tears once, so that’s a definite improvement. I think my body has worked its way through the “stress response cycle” and closer to equilibrium.

I’ve been unhappy about election results before. Mike Harris Progressive Conservatives majorities in Ontario. Stephen Harper Conservative majority in Canada. The second George W. Bush presidency.

But never have I experienced a reaction like this one, of such complete anxiety that my heart was pounding, and I got tremors. I was too shocked and horrified to even feel sad. Sadness would come the next day.

I can’t muster up any real understanding for people who voted for him. The most charitable thing I can say about them is that they’re stupid, or ignorant, or both. The most charitable. Because the least charitable would be to believe that they are racist misogynists who want to watch the world burn.

I have almost as much trouble with the idealists for whom Hillary Clinton wasn’t good enough to earn their vote—and who therefore stayed home, or voted for a third-party candidate, or left the presidential part of the ballot blank. How could they not see the difference between a highly competent candidate with potential to be a great President, and an individual unsuited to the office in every respect imaginable?

The majority who did vote for Hillary Clinton, and the millions who had their voting rights taken away by one means or another (voter ID laws, ban on felons voting, purge of voting rolls, long line-ups caused by having insufficient polling stations and advance voting days—you name it, the Republicans did it) do not deserve what those fools have unleashed on them. Thinking about those people makes my heart hurt.

Because Donald Trump will be a terrible President. As we know from his campaign, he will select a cabinet and aides who are as nasty and unqualified as him himself is. As we know from his rise through the GOP, he will not be stopped by the Republican-led Senate or House. As we know from history, he will appoint a Scalia-like Supreme Court justice who will continue to vote against citizen’s rights long after Trump has vacated the office. As we see on the news, he’s made racial attacks acceptable again.

But, we also know, from Trump’s campaign and business dealings, that he lies constantly and does not keep his promises. Here, we can take some comfort, because what he promised to do was really appalling. Maybe he’ll find renegotiating trade deals too much of a boring bother to pursue. Maybe he’ll be content with opting out of the Paris Climate agreement, and not actually go as far as abolishing the EPA. Maybe he won’t suppress gay rights, just to annoy Mike Pence, whom he doesn’t really like. Yay?

The calls to action are coming in now. As a Canadian, I know just what I can do to influence US politics: Nothing. Truly, I can’t think of anything I can do to influence what goes on there.

But, I can vigilant against similar threats in my own country. America might never have seen a candidate like Donald Trump before, but other countries have. A friend from Venezuela says he eerily reminded her of Chavez. Trevor Noah has compared him to African dictator / strongmen. Me, I think of former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, and his coarseness, constant lying, impulse control issue, racism, sexism, disinterest in facts and data, and love of the title but note the actual work of being mayor.

So don’t think it can’t happen in Canada—it already has.

We need to speak out against the Kellie Leitch’s of our land, who has cynically ceased upon Trump’s xenophobia and anti-intellectualism as path to victory in the Conservative party leadership. (And maybe even pay the $15 to get a party membership to vote against that woman—and for a more progressive option, like Michael Chong or Lisa Raitt. I’m thinking about it!)

And we should embrace that we currently have federal leadership that stands for the opposite of what was just elected south of the border. Arron Wherry has an excellent article on the potential here:

Whatever Canada’s faults, however it has failed in the past, there is much to be said for standing in opposition to what now seems to dominate American politics, not with self-satisfaction but with a renewed and newly urgent commitment to the plurality, community, benevolence and reason that is now lacking in the United States.

And when you meet your American friends, give them a hug, and encourage them in the fight to get their country back. What’s good for America is good for the world.


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Costs and benefits of reading Wired magazine

Wired magazine itself isn’t premium priced. Plus, they post most of their articles on their website for free. They get a little antsy about ad blockers, but that’s fair.

I started following Wired on Twitter during the last Canadian election. I thought that a little more science and tech news would be a nice break from all the politics in my feed. And I was right; it was welcome content. With the far worse US election on now, I can hardly give up on it.

But I hadn’t realized to what extent I was personally susceptible to constant promotion of the latest and greatest tech. I should have suspected, given that a single Wired article led me to spend I don’t know how much on a three-room Sonos system. I do love it, admittedly, but maybe there are other, cheaper wireless speakers that would have satisfied?

love-of-technology

Mmm, shiny new tech. (Image: Shutterstock)

Now I’m constantly drooling over new cell phones. Not iPhones, mind—I am simply not of the Apple world, and not even Wired can convince me to join it. (Possibly because I take such perverse amusement in reading about iWorld troubles; to wit the hilarious Don’t update your f-ing iphone!

nsoonaecxhen0kibllqmEnd of digression.)

But in “my” world of unlocked Android phones, look what they said about the Nexus 6P (the later iteration of my current phone):

There is absolutely no reason not to buy this phone. None. Zero. The Nexus 6P is the closest thing there’s ever been to a perfect Android device.

The perfect Android device! Why wouldn’t I want that? There’s no reason!

Except that, you know, it is a $700 (Can.) phone. Wired’s answer to that  point (in US dollars) [bolding mine]:

The Nexus 6P is absolutely the best Nexus phone ever. Hell, it’s the best Android phone ever. And at $499 unlocked, it’s even cheaper than nearly all its competitors. Everything Google could do, it did. It proved how good Android can be—that an Android phone can be better than the iPhone.

So it’s a deal! $700 is a deal, because it’s the best phone ever!

Only while I was pondering that, it basically went out of production, because there are new Nexus’s (Nexi?) coming out soon, and Wired hasn’t reviewed those yet.

But they did review the Huawei Honor 8!

Huawei’s new device, the Honor 8 (there have been many other Honors before), is every bit the spec monster smartphone. Glassy, colorful design; 12-megapixel camera, plus a second sensor just for good measure; ultra-fast processor and four gigs of RAM; fingerprint sensor that doubles as a clickable shortcut key; latest version of Android; lots of storage, with room to add more. In most practical ways, it’s not that far off from Samsung’s new Galaxy Note 7, or other Android phones like the new Moto Z. The only thing the Honor 8 is missing is the absurdly high (and VR-friendly) screen resolution, but you know what else it’s missing? $400 on the price tag.

Which translates to $520 Canadian. So look, by dawdling I’ve just saved $180! And, the Nexus is clearly too big (plus, out of production). I was about ready to order my new Huawei.

…Ignoring the fact that’s nothing really that wrong with my current phone, and the the little detail I don’t really use my phone that much, anyway. I’m much more the tablet girl, and Wired is kind of down on tablets these days (particularly of the Android variety).

I was also feeling some e-waste guilt. I started to ponder what could I do with the old phone, should I in fact get a new one. There are articles about that (you can guess where). It seemed it might serve as a sort of tablet extension for cases where the small screen isn’t so much an issue—for Chromecasting, Twitter reading, playlist display, and such. And yes, I can do that with the phone now, only that always risks me leaving the house without it—which doesn’t happen if I just keep the phone safely in my purse.

As I was justifying all that in my head, I won a 10″ tablet in a draw.

Haiti_5K_160911_(13of18)

The prize

Now, this is not the sort device Wired would rave about. It’s a bit slow and clunky. It has only 8 GB storage and limited ability to use the SD storage. The screen looks acceptable only from direct angles. It’s not sporting the very latest version of Android.

But as an extension to my “good” Samsung Pro tablet, it’s fine! There are even a few things it does better.

It’s proven enough of a distraction that I’m willing to put off the phone purchase again.

Well, that, and the fact that I’m also… Awaiting shipment my new Kobo Aura One ereader!

The new Kobo Aura One is literally big, a 7.8-inch behemoth in a world of standard 6-inch displays. But its features are also outsized, whether it’s robust waterproofing, a clever new nighttime lighting system, or a way to help you read as many top-shelf books as you please without paying a cent. More importantly, they’re all enhancements you won’t find on an Amazon Kindle.

It was a mere $250 Canadian, and Jean thinks he will use my old Kobo. (Which is good, cause it’s still perfectly fine.)

Umm, how long now til the election?


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Meanwhile, in America

Monday night, I’d had it with the “Bernie or bust” people. After that convention? After the almost cartoonishly sinister connections to Russia? You’re just going to pout—and boo!—because it’s not your guy?

This Seth Meyers piece summed up my feelings perfectly:

Hey! A message to the Bernie or Bust Die-Hards

Look, I’m Canadian. I’m from the country where 80% of citizens would vote for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. She’d win every province, every demographic—the men, the less educated, the old people. We don’t feel the Hillary hate. We don’t understand the appeal of the Miserable Angry Bag of Orange Jello™.

™ Tabatha Southey, Globe and Mail

But, but this is not meant to be another smug “look how great Canadians are” post. Because there’s one thing that’s brought me out of the doldrums the past few days, and that’s Americans.

After my disgust Monday night, I returned to Twitter Tuesday morning to find much discussion of Michelle Obama’s speech at the DNC. I watched the entire, amazing, inspiring thing on YouTube. And after wiping up the sniffles, the world felt to me like a better place.

Tuesday night I had dinner with friends (always a good thing), and one remarked that she was a bit sad about missing the DNC convention that night. And that seemed slightly odd to me, a Canadian watching all that live. I’m not sure that I ever had.

And Wednesday night, I had shit to do. I had to catch up on the dishes, the groceries, the laundry… I figured I might try to watch President Obama’s speech live, later. Yet somehow, between all the chores, I managed to catch much of Joe Biden speech of righteous anger.

How can there be pleasure in saying, you’re fired? He’s trying to tell us, he cares about the middle class, give me a break. That’s a bunch of malarkey.

And pretty much all of Michael Bloomberg’s (former Republican, current In dependant) take-down of Trump’s supposed business acumen.

Throughout his career, Trump has left behind a well-documented record of bankruptcies, thousands of lawsuits, angry shareholders, and contractors who feel cheated, and disillusioned customers who feel ripped off. Trump says he wants to run the nation like he’s run his business. God help us.

Tim Kaine (yeah, I saw that too) wasn’t ab entirely riveting speaker throughout, but those Democratic Vice Presidential picks sure are charming, warm men, don’t they? And when he started to imitate Donald Trump’s “Believe Me!”—that was good.

And then President Obama came on and knocked it out of the park. The speech was long. It was late. (And now I’m tired.) But I hung on every word. And I liked the world… even more.

See, Canadian politicians don’t do that. This country just doesn’t have that history of inspiring speaking. Trudeau Senior, whose movie bio I’m re-watching, was very eloquent, had some good lines. His son and current PM can put together a decent stump speech. The late Jack Layton’s last letter to Canadians touched many.

But it’s grasping at straws. It doesn’t compare. And I’m a total sucker for this sort of eloquence. I can’t put words to what made President Obama’s speech so great; I again have to turn to the experts, the Americans, for that, per this brilliant Esquire article:

The president is all those things—jazz musician, torch singer, politician, president—all fashioned from his own aesthetic derived from the hidden music he found in our common history. He appropriated optimism and the best elements of that tired, loaded concept called American Exceptionalism. My lord, he even jacked Ronald Reagan, ringing his own changes on the shining city on the hill. He is cool in all the ways that matter.

November is a long way away, and I still don’t how understand how this thing is even close. But at least for today, I’m feeling more hopeful.

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Passing the baton

A PS: CBC’s Arron Wherry writes about why Canadian politicians don’t make speeches like American ones do. And why that might be unfortunate.