Thursday, March 27, 2008

Unforgettable Fire

In 1974, an elderly man (Iwakichi Kobayashi) walked into the Japan Broadcasting Corporation with a painting entitled "At About 4 P.M., Aug. 6, 1945, Near Yorozuyo Bridge". It was a painting of an indelible image in his memory -he wanted it to live on: seeing burn victims from the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

The television station put a call out for drawings and paintings by any survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Survivors are known as hibakusha. I think this is the most effective collection of a people's history that I have seen. I am affected by the simplistic translations of the text, the varying quality of the artwork, and knowing that people can still vividly recall these images. Of all the images that I have seen I've noticed the following traumatic images recur frequently: dead children, insects in wounds, melted skin dripping off of fingers, and dead bodies in water (cisterns and rivers) from people trying to cool down.

Mother unable to save her child trapped under the buildingIf she were alive now, she would be a woman of 35 or 36. “Hiroko, don't give up, be strong. Namu Amida Butsu, Namu Amida Butsu.” Hiroko... Only her head stuck out from under the fallen ceiling. A girl of 5 or 6.
Shigeru Miyoshi
(40 at time of bombing, 70 at time of drawing)

Two little girls fanned their seriously wounded mother
Two little girls, one about five and the other about three fanned their seriously wounded mother.
Hiroshi Shindo (33 at time of bombing, 64 at time of drawing)

How old should a child be before they are shown these images? They would undoubtedly be traumatic before they developed the adult ability to desensitize. Worthy trauma? When I was a child I remember Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes being read to us. I knew Sadako had died in the hospital and that pushed history further away, the past was another world. Does remembering help? Some Japanese don't want to reveal that they are hibakusha for fear of discrimination or misunderstanding.

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, bless their utopian souls, are a tragic bunch. They collect memories with a goal: to prevent this from happening again. A realist can barely resist telling them that their paper cranes, labyrinthine website, and declarations will not stop future nuclear wars. Still, they collect and preserve. A book was published that contained a series of hibakusha artwork. It's called "Unforgettable Fire: Pictures Drawn by Atomic Bomb Survivors". I'm trying to find a copy of the book but I was shocked to find Chapters/Indigo doesn't sell it, my city's library system doesn't have it, and Toronto's massive web of libraries has one copy that you have to request to look at (but it must stay in the library). It looks like I'm going to make my first Amazon.com purchase.

U2, inspired by the Unforgettable Fire exhibit at the Chicago Peace Museum, took the same title for their album -making it difficult to google. So, here are some online Sources:
Floating Lantern: Hiroshima Speaks Out

Hiroshima Peace Site

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What would you do if you saw a dog get kicked?

The concept:
An interesting conversation punctuated by an event. This project was a worthy Saturday with a friend (we wrote the script the night before).

Conversation 1: Animal Rights.
The first foray into a series. I was satisfied with this collaboration and I feel inspired because I know the best stuff is still to come. I think the goal for next time is to modify the formula to include:
an interesting conversation + an event + an interesting image

Monday, March 24, 2008

Play the Song

One of my finest last minute birthday gifts. Kayla suggested I write her a story (an honour of a request) and I suggested I pay her library fines. Here is half of her gift.

Musicians know that you get used to the pain of playing. Instruments hurt. They steal your breath, slice your skin, and damage your ligaments with their relentless demands. Either you build the right muscles and your skin hardens or you quit. It takes time. Music is mostly for lonely people who use the pain to feel alive. It's penance for rock star dreams. The faithful know that if enough worshipers flock to the altar then one of them emerges as the sacrificial lamb.

She made it. She had the record deal. She heard herself on the radio. Now she had the chance to play to thousands of strangers who liked her before they met her. They had bought her album. It was that song. It had become the collective anthem for sad. We all had walked slowly in the rain or stayed on the line to hear the dial tone or felt a dog's heart stop while that song had played. Here are some important statistics about that song that could never be collected:
-Second most total volume of tears caused by a song while listener was in public.
-Fourth greatest average decibel increase when appearing on car radio (the so called "turn it up" effect).
-Most often sung in the shower (indexed by an exposure-to-shower ratio)

Most listeners could not articulate their addiction. They were not aware of the single line that kept them listening to the song. In the third verse she sang "and I found myself, found myself, forever lost" and her voice cracked with emotion. It took great strength for her to continue. The art had almost overpowered the artist. It was a gasp of reality for a culture that was submerged in photoshopped images of beauty and food.

The setting for the concert was beautiful. Summer. Outdoors. They came in great numbers to hear her play the song she had written. She played. She was full of joy. They booed her. In one tremendous voice they booed until she stopped playing.

"What do you want from me?" she was frustrated. She yelled into the mic and it bit their ears with feedback.
"Sing it like it's supposed to be sung." The crowd yelled in unison as if they had rehearsed.
"It's my song." she said.
"Sing it like it's supposed to be sung." The crowd said again, still speaking as one.
"I'm not going to pretend I'm sad." she yelled at them and left the stage. She was crying.
"Do the song now." The crowd said but she had already left. Someone saved the concert by playing her CD through the massive sound system. The familiar recording soothed the masses which were on the verge of rioting.

When asked about the concert no one mentioned how uncanny it was that so many people had spoken as one. Yet they all said the same thing:
"It was bad. She didn't know how to play her own song."

The style became more whimsical than I intended. When I originally thought of the idea I pictured Umberto Eco phoning all of his buddies from semiotics. At least now the story has been created and can enjoy the luxury of retrospect.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Holophonic Sound

Holophonics, I have always thought that there is great potential for this recording technique. This sample requires that you listen with headphones.

It's interesting that good ideas need investment and an entrepreneur to reach the mainstream. It reminds me of screenplay writer William Goldman's description of the Hollywood production system. The whole thing is based on "reproducing past magic". So films are rarely pitched on their artistic merit but on their profitability. It's common to pitch a film idea by comparing it on two previous successful films: "It's like Titanic meets Jurassic Park" or "it's like Star Wars meets March of the Penguins". It's a paranoid way to soften risk in a volatile industry. It's interesting to see the forces that quell popularity. Was the electric car buried by the oil industry?

Are you surprised that something hasn't caught on?

I also thought that stevia would be everywhere after eating some snacks from the Pan Asian Trading grocery store. Perhaps in your world my Great Great Grand. Although I feel that my generation will be looked back upon as a Golden Age of consumerism and I'm not sure if the same infrastructure will exist for you. Do you have a mainstream? I'm trying to sign off but I guess I should explain it.

A level of popularity in our culture which makes a thing (usually a product or information) omni- available. It has been hoisted into the light for the masses but once it touches the sun it melts and is destroyed. This cycle is known as the economy. Once a thing has become too available and obvious it is often ridiculed and replaced to encourage further consumption. The goal of business is to introduce new forms that can only be replaced in content. When some forms hit the mainstream they become so entrenched that our lives seem incomplete without them. This is the exalted status reached by television, toilet designs, news, shoes. Take shoes for example. The form has been irrevocably mainstreamed (no one can live without shoes) but the particular brand of shoe that is mainstreamed often changes. These changes are known as trends.

Bland Mysogyny

Catspaw's blog about the "boys club" in engineering and the University of Ottawa's student engineers' paper being shutdown for misogyny inspired this comment from me.

As a comedian I've seen a lot of amateurs (a community dominated by white males) make crude, taboo sexual remarks. It's the shortest route to reaction. Misogyny is the haven for the talentless. A desperate shield from the heat of the stage lights. They're like children in a schoolyard calling each other "fags" without knowing what it means. They're trying so hard. They just want to be liked.

I'm not trying to defend the boys' club writers. I'm trying to explain the "can't you take a joke" backlash that feminism often faces. Look who we're dealing with. University papers are like NHL expansion teams. Forgettable squads that dilute the league's talent. We're left with an embarrassing amount of mediocre male writers reaching into their shallow bag of humour to produce a bland attack on women and homosexuality that they don't even feel. Don't get me wrong. Women can make for shitty writers too. It's a numbers game and our patriarchal history gives more opportunities for talentless men to speak their minds. Should we heckle them off the stage?

On a related note:
I have a friend who has time-traveled here from the early 19th Century. He was a plantation owner in the southern US. At dinner parties he makes all sorts of jokes about his Negro slaves. It's awkward for all of us. No one has the courage to tell him "history has moved on" so we tolerate his racist puns and limericks. When the room grows deathly quiet he shouts "can't anyone take a joke?" and nervously polishes his monocle.


Also. This blog is an index of insight. Turns out, there's a cultural war going on even if we don't consciously choose a side:

Friday, March 21, 2008

Airplane on a Conveyor Belt

An airplane is sitting on a conveyor belt. The speed is set to its takeoff speed. Will it take off?

I have to add my two cents to this delightful question. I know little of physics (though I can confidently name all twenty subatomic particles). Grab your Sol Niger, it's science time!

My answer:

It's obvious when you consider the original version of the question from the Medieval Ages:
If ye flag bearer joggeth on the moving ground, Would thoust kingdom's flag fly true with wind?

Obviously, no. If you ran on a treadmill with a flag it wouldn't fly. But you could build speed using a wizard's moving ground and then run off the end to fill your flag with maximum wind.

But let's update this answer into our modern world.

Airplanes fly by running really fast into the wind. A jumbo jet needs to run at about 280km/hour (175mph) to take off. You can help it reach take-off speed using a conveyor belt but it would be stuck on the ground, running on the spot. It still needs the second chemical: running into the wind.

Think of the airplane's feelings. It doesn't give a sh*t how it reaches take off speed. If it could start at 280km/hour it would and take off instantly. But it has to travel the long, sad journey called the runway before it can happily gaze at its own shadow. Aircraft carriers use a slingshot to increase the plane's speed. A giant conveyor belt would be even cooler. But once the plane reached take-off speed you'd need to hit stop on the conveyor built so it could push itself through the wind and take off.

They recently did the airplane/conveyor experiment on Mythbusters (including a wonderful full scale version). It was obvious that the conveyor shortened the runway but, in the end, the airplane needs to move forward so that it could take off.

The science behind it (a more detailed description for scholars):
Since Earth's atmosphere was created by the Mugarath and the wrath of the Seventh Mountain Giant it follows that any attitude taken before the sun smiles upon the shadowedland will be in futility. Listen for the laugh of the Beegoo Root. If the seas ripple clockforth then sip on your nectar. Still on the ground? The wings of Tamforge were built in a day but they must clean the stains of Growth before they can Decay. Hug all the weeds found without eyes. In a pinch, follow the example laid down by four by forty temples before thee. Recall the era of the battle of the secret of the way of the era. And simply do as the Wizard Fozbucket would do: grab your skull staff, hop on (or next to) a dragon, and angrily accuse the sky.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Webaroo 2 is a program that allows PCs to download websites to their hard drive. It's perfect for me -perpetually in transit. Now I can browse Wikipedia offline. Well, not all of Wikipeida but a selection called a WikiSlice. This is a neat service set up by Webaroo. It allows users to download sections of using Wikipedia's categories (or sub-categories). Example: search for philosophy and it tries to grab all of the relevant links (in this case that's 25,152 web pages). Unfortunately, a WikiSlice has to be under 2, 000 pages. So you can refine your search and download the "Philosophical Arguments" which is a more reasonable 271 pages. Damn it's frustrating when your selection is a couple hundred pages over the limit. Additionally, Webaroo let's you download any url and choose your own link depth -though it caps the capture at 999MB.

Bad news:
The new version also has a tonne of media crap and a relentless RSS feed that could sweep the coveted trifecta at the Malware Awards: "Meaningless" "Relentlessly Invasive" and "Tricky to Remove". The other catch is that Webaroo is constantly trying to update your downloads -even if they just finished -basically it's like a sad junkie, unaware that it's high and desperately seeking to score.

My current WebSlices (downloaded sections of Wikipedia because they are less than 2, 000 pages)
* Ancient Greeks
* Classical Greek philosophy
* First French Empire
* French Revolution
* Great Depression
* Philosophers by era
* Philosophical arguments
* Renaissance
* Roman era philosophy
* Roman Republic
* Socratic dialogues
* The Enlightenment
* Timelines of military conflicts

Friday, March 14, 2008

Love - Some Definitions

Love is a terrible word.

I love you.
I love my family
I love nachos.

Love is a realm in need of definitions. I presented these at Corbin's Something Worth Talking About Show. It was themed: Love (revisited).

Flirting is the energy between two people caused by desire. It's much like soccer baseball in high school: it's a game that you have to play even if you don't want to and there are no internationally accepted rules. Playing flirting in different cultures can result in quite different experiences. What is accepted is that, in flirting, the first to ten points wins. The goal is to make someone desire you by suggesting that you desire them. If you don't desire them at all then you are being a tease. If you desire them too much then you are being creepy. Each player must choose to escalate the flirt game to the next level. This can be done through language, touching, or through the clever use of pauses. Most flirting games end in a draw known as "confusion". No one has ever won a game of flirting but sometimes it ends in "doing it" or "getting it on".

A crush is the person that you pick for your own imagination game. This game involves picturing yourself and your crush doing things together. If you only picture you and your crush "getting it on" or "doing it" then you do not have a crush. You have lust. If you picture you and your crush holding hands, living abroad together, or doing something that you saw in a movie, then you have a crush. Be warned, a crush can transform from a game into an obsessive condition. This happens because of the sheer joy of imagination, quizzes in teen magazines, and general boredom. A crush can be cured by skeptical friends, the bitter potion of aging or, in some cases, by meeting your crush.

Unconditional love
This is when someone supports you in a completely irrational way; they support all of your choices before you make them. People who love you unconditionally never listen to what you say. They smile and nod, shower you with praise, and cry because you're growing up. You cannot choose to love anyone unconditionally. It tends to occur when you spend a lot of your life with someone or if you happened to see them as a baby emerging from your vagina. It's important for children to have someone who loves them unconditionally so that they grow up with the feeling that all of their ideas are good and it is the world that is wrong.

Sluts are people who are physically intimate with many people. Usually without the culturally acceptable waiting period. It's a tragedy that we only have one word for our sluts because they come in very differnent varieties. Some sluts use physical intimacy because it gives them attention and a sense of worth; they risk being seen as a sexual tool for others. Other sluts simply like how it feels to "get it on" and enjoy multiple partners in equal and pleasant sexual relations. These sluts spread goodwill like Mother Teresa. But unlike Mother Teresa their names are not used as compliments. In fact, slut is often used as an insult to control young women by suggesting that they don't know what to do with their own bodies.

"Getting it on" or "Doing it"
For some these expessions mean having sexual intercourse with someone. For others it suggests, intensive lip-to-lip and hand-to-body rubbing or possibly oral-on-genital dancing. If someone asks you to specify what you meant when you said "doing it" then they have committed a grave error in etiquette. But if they watch an online video of you perform sexual activities then it is you who have committed the error because it is science that every recorded session of "getting it on" is destined for the internet. This certainty can be expressed in a formula pioneered by mathmatician Paris Hilton.

This is the belief that people have a proper match. Soulmate theory is not very advanced. For instance, if you are heterosexual and your soulmate is homosexual there's no way to tell who made the mistake.

Love at First Sight
This is a device used to save time in movies. Most movies are about love but, with only two hours to tell a story, they have to establish a full, mutual, trusting relationship in a glance. This saves directors time that can then be used to show sex, explosions, or boat chases where the characters are having sex as boats explode. In reality, most people have to meet and learn about someone before loving them. But love-at-first-sight can happen between two people who have written documents describing their personality tatooed on their face.

This is a legal agreement that the state encourages couples to enter in order to record the legitimate heirs of their property. There are some tax benefits.

Human beings are social animals we know this because we are amusing to watch from above, like ants.
Love is the struggle to see this with someone else.
A moment outside of it all where we can help each other build the prison that we want to live in.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

My Insults

"Way to be,
A perfect insult. Crass (tit), diminutive (mouse) all wrapped into the name of a North American songbird. So any extra offense is your victim's fault for having a crude mind. You were simply calling them a bird. Sophisticated.

"Hey, smallballs, get over here."
Since our culture trains many of its men to worry about their penis size -it is a key target area for ridicule. For men, it is desirable to have a large shaft but is it equally desirable to have a large scrotum? These are details that bold academia has yet to tackle. Smallballs is the perfect rhyming zinger. It sug
gests "I am insulting your manhood without a clear understanding of how that should be done."

"Well maybe if you'd stop being a peenhat."

My brother stunned me with this gem one day. I immediately knew "peen" referred to penis because it's the next castle up from asshat. But exactly what does the peenhat look like? Is it horizontal with an obvious peak? Or is it worn erect -vertical-style like a party hat? The peenhat is as much a dynamic art gallery of images as it is an insult.

"This is bonetown."

This is a term to insult a situation. Legend has it that this phrase first surfaced when my brothers and I were watching the mediocre film The Ghost and the Darkness (screenplay writer William Goldman lost his soul on this one. I think it was part of the deal with the devil that allows him to write the gems: Princess Bride and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). Val Kilmer stars as a hunter trying to kill some people-eating lions. At the end, he finds their scary cave and discovers piles and piles and piles of bones. Summing up the scene my brother stated "whoa, bonetown'. It now means any undesirable situation.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

I Win Most of My Arguments With Comparisons to Nazi Germany

It's true. Nazi Germany is an often abused tool of rhetoric. There are wonderfully wild accusations that politicians act like Hitler. Pretty much all authority runs the risk of being compared to the totalitarian regime. Also, they make great villains because they deserve to have their faces melt -proven by Indiana Jones. But Nazi Germany is a great twist in everyday conversation. Watch here as I skillfully taint the movie Tampopo by drawing a devastating parallel.


Tampopo was terrible.

You didn't get it.

That soup scene was long and not funny. The one with the chicken in the pot -not funny.

You don't come from a culture that allows you to appreciate it. Food is important in Japan. Especially the Ramen industry, people are very particular-

So I should change who I am to appreciate it?

You should be open to the fact that some people appreciate it. You shouldn't say that the movie was terrible because you can't relate. Some people liked it.

So I should find a way to appreciate it?


Why don't I become a Nazi and then appreciate Nazi Germany? Is that what you want? To support the Nazis? Some people liked Nazi Germany. People like Adolf Hitler.

Victory. Now, to like Tampopo would be akin to showing support for the Nazi regime. It hurts that I proved that because there were parts of the film that I liked. The style was was quite good. It runs the main story of the comical rise of the Tampopo Ramen (noodle) restaurant while branching out into other short sketches sharing the "food" theme. Including a surprisingly erotic use of egg yolk.