good advice

>> Friday, February 26, 2010

I love Torontoist's Vandalist feature

happy Friday!


please kill me

>> Monday, February 22, 2010

I am rarely asked for book recommendations (I’m not going to reflect too long on why that might be), but I feel like I have a few good ones to offer. I try to keep my current books list up to date and have posted my book club’s picks, but no one needs me to recommend the type of current / popular books that Amazon would recommend anyway. So here's something a little different.
On a tip from one Jess Mariano (whom I still miss) I picked up Please Kill Me, an oral history of punk music. It was rare for me to voluntarily read non-fiction but this book helped convince me that the real world can be just as fascinating and engaging as imaginary ones.

I was was totally engrossed by the history of the Detroit, New York, and London scenes and their roots in the social and political failures of 1960s ideals. The oral history format is perfect for punk's ethos - who better to tell this story than the outrageous, real-life cast who created it?

To me, the greatest thing about punk is the energy and spirit of it: that anyone can do anything they want to do, and that they should. This gets taken to negative extremes, obviously, and ends tragically for a lot of the main players. I remember thinking that someone who did as much heroin and made as many poor life choices as Iggy Pop did probably doesn't deserve to still be alive. Some characters are pitiable, and some (like Debbie Harry) are totally awesome. It's a book that provokes strong feelings. It's funny, disgusting, sad, appalling, and sobering. If you're at all interested in the more palatable musical trends that came before and after punk, and especially in the various post-punk genres inspired by the DIY ethic, then I highly recommend this book. Also, it has pictures!


stop being so serious, it's Friday!

>> Friday, February 19, 2010

new playlists this week!

This one's mostly new stuff

and this one is all love songs! (aw)


in which I become irrationally angry over things no one else cares about.

Look, I don't have time for this your/you're business people are always on about. If you have a poor grasp of basic spelling or grammar, then use an automatic checker. If you can't be bothered, then forget you. I don't have time for that. Because the same people who are so proud of themselves for knowing the difference between a possessive noun and a conjunction (woohoo! congratulations on acing the third grade!) make all sorts of other sloppy errors. I have seen the word "definitely" misspelled so often ("definately" - so ugly) that I have actually wondered if I'M the one spelling it incorrectly. Can you believe that? People make me crazy.

The mistakes that make me craziest are substitutions of homonyms (or almost-homonyms), most likely the result of hearing, rather than reading, expressions and then repeating them without thinking about their meaning. A common one is "pre-fixe" (for "prix-fixe") - I even see this printed on menus. I often hear or read people say "in one foul swoop" (it's 'fell'). Another type of mistake is using smart-sounding words that sound like they have a certain meaning but don't. An example is 'fulsome', which sounds like it means the same thing as 'full'. It doesn't. If you want to say 'full' then say that. Or say 'complete'. Why would you use a word you only half-understand? These mistakes won't necessarily make you unintelligible. But the point is that you're not thinking about what you're saying, you're just repeating a pre-fabricated thought. Maybe it's not the worst thing in the world - it's not like we live in Nineteen Eighty-Four. But it is lazy. Sometimes it's both lazy and pretentious. And often it's wrong. And none of these things make anyone sound smart.

If you haven't read George Orwell's essay on Politics and the English Language, then you need to do so immediately. Here is something I did not write outlining Orwell's six rules for effective writing:

1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
This sounds easy, but in practice is incredibly difficult. Phrases such as 'toe the line', 'ride roughshod over', 'stand shoulder to shoulder with', 'play into the hands of', 'an axe to grind', 'Achilles’ heel', 'swan song', and 'hotbed' come to mind quickly and feel comforting and melodic.
For this exact reason they must be avoided. Common phrases have become so comfortable that they create no emotional response. Take the time to invent fresh, powerful images.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
Long words don’t make you sound intelligent unless used skillfully. In the wrong situation they’ll have the opposite effect, making you sound pretentious and arrogant. They’re also less likely to be understood and more awkward to read.
When Hemingway was criticized by Faulkner for his limited word choice he replied:
Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree (Ezra Pound). Accordingly, any words that don’t contribute meaning to a passage dilute its power. Less is always better. Always.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
This one is frequently broken, probably because many people don’t know the difference between active and passive verbs. I didn’t myself until a few months ago. Here is an example that makes it easy to understand:
The man was bitten by the dog. (passive)
The dog bit the man. (active). 
The active is better because it’s shorter and more forceful.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
This is tricky because much of the writing published on the internet is highly technical. If possible, remain accessible to the average reader. If your audience is highly specialized this is a judgment call. You don’t want to drag on with unnecessary explanation, but try to help people understand what you’re writing about. You want your ideas to spread, right?
6. Break any of these rules sooner than saying anything outright barbarous.
The point of communication is to clearly convey your meaning to others. But it's also important to think about and fully understand what you're saying. Repeating phrases heard elsewhere to convey a meaning that someone else created eliminates the need for you to think. Misusing those phrases just proves to others that you don't even know what you're talking about. 

I won't get into the argument that those who control language control thought (too Orwellian, and I won't really know what I'm talking about) but you can kind of see where that leads. We end up talking in buzzwords and phrases whose meanings are unclear and say very little while using a lot of words. Politicians do this deliberately. We do it by accident, or out of laziness. I think that actually makes us worse - at least politicians do it for a reason. I'm most irritated when journalists do it. Their trade is in words and they have a wider reach than most, which gives them power to influence language.

These are a few sources listing commonly-used redundancies and irritating phrases (the list of redundancies is extremely long but thorough). Some of my favourites:
  • "At this point in time"
  • "At the end of the day"
  • "Going forward" - don't even get me started.
  • "For all intents and purposes"
  • "Not so much" - this sounds so unprofessional, I have no idea how it gets past editors
  • "A perfect storm"
  • "should / shouldn't of" for "should / shouldn't have"- really???
  • "For all intensive purposes" - doubly irritating.
  • "Begging the question": I'm not sure it's worth correcting this one, as doing so makes you seem like a jerk. But here I go. This expression does NOT mean that a particular statement provokes an obvious question. To beg the question is to use faulty, circular logic in a proof. It means that someone has tried to prove a point (e.g. "God exists") by using arguments that depend on the original statement being true ("because the Bible says so, and the Bible is God's word"). It helps to think of it as being like a tautology (defining a word by using that word in the definition). Unless you're engaged in a philosophical discussion it's probably better to just avoid this phrase.
  • "Ironically": From Reality Bites - (rhetorically) "Can you define 'irony'?" "It's when the actual meaning is the complete opposite from the literal meaning." Simple!
      The point isn't to write perfectly or according to all the rules all the time (thank goodness, because I sure don't). It's to think about what you're saying. Simple, clear language is more powerful and flows better than fancy phrases. And, most importantly, it actually makes you sound smarter.


      Courting controversy: Issue #1

      >> Tuesday, February 16, 2010

      Just saw an article in the G&M today on a proposal from the Vancouver Board of Education to ban aboriginal-themed mascots.

      I have been thinking about this one for a while. To me, the issue seems pretty clear: these team names do tend to trivialize, oversimplify, and exoticize a culture (or actually, many cultures) that are not very well understood but should be, given that they are cultures of the land we live in.

      It reminds me a little of a Joseph Boyden short story (highly recommended) about pro wrestlers visiting an Ontario reserve. One of the wrestlers, who is actually Puerto Rican, plays a character who is a warrior / chief type. All the kids on-reserve, from their perspective of who and where they are, consider him a hero. One day he visits their class, causing a great deal of excitement among the kids. He walks in and says, "How". The kids are confused. Do you remember, as a kid, seeing Indians in cartoons or comic books speaking like this? Well, they sure don't in Northern Ontario. Sure, aboriginal-themed sports teams and other heroes could be considered a tribute to the strength and character of various aboriginal people, but it is a caricature that incorrectly essentializes diverse cultures and peoples. The fact that this character literally doesn't speak to aboriginal children should be reason enough for us to make this small change.

      I was recently looking over the list of pro-sports teams that have these names and wondering how this still goes on in some of the world's most important cities. A city that houses America's first black president has a national football team called the Redskins. Is it even otherwise appropriate to use that word? And his home state is where the Blackhawks play professional hockey. In 2010, how is this still okay?


      next to the last true romantic

      >> Monday, February 8, 2010

      OK, I have decided to be done with punk rock and neon lights and attitude and black and leather and studs (I don’t own anything with studs, I don’t think) and all those moods and completely switch things over. Why? Because Josh Ritter has a new album coming out, and everything is about to become lovely again.
      Who now? I won’t be able to communicate this properly but I’ll try. He’s a singer-songwriter. I know, that makes him sound like some guy who could be on the Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack (he isn’t). 
      He’s really popular in Ireland (it's true!). I think they dig his storytelling, myth-referencing folk-pop Americana which makes him sound like Dylan but he sounds much nicer. And he is actually nice. I have met him twice because both times I saw him live he came out after the show and stayed until every person who wanted to meet him and take a photo had done so. I hear he does this every time. And when he plays he is smiling constantly and tells stories, sometimes about the songs he sings but sometimes about nothing in particular.
      always smiling 
      We have love songs, war songs, and silly songs (sometimes all three at once); epic folk-length ballads you could write a thesis on; and at least one or two barn stompers. 
      You just have to meet this guy.


      only our age between us

      >> Sunday, February 7, 2010

      For those of you who enjoy my ongoing hackery, here are some things I've been noticing and thinking about lately. My latest copy of Vogue is lying on the coffee table, unopened, while I read style and other useless but interesting blogs voraciously. So maybe Vogue says something different about the state of things, I can't really say right now.

      Garance Doré had a typically funny/silly/sweet post this week about spring's great big horrifying trend in footwear...are you ready for this? Clogs. Oh god. Like so many other ridiculous trends, we almost uniformly recoil in disgust at first, but the question is: will we come around to them? Are clogs the new gladiator sandals? The problem is that I just don't think we have the kind of willpower necessary to stand up for ourselves. We are so easily suggestible - a few early-adopters pick them up, stores stock them, and suddenly it's something you must have before you're one of those pathetic late-adopters (don't you just hate them). We don't have any choice in the matter. Go buy some clogs. You have been warned.

      No pictures. I refuse.

      At least it's not completely out of nowhere. Clogs fit with the 70s theme that involves more colour (muted ones, though, it's still a recession! I can't think of a way to describe it other than 'dark pastels'. Maybe I had better go read that Vogue after all), soft textures and feminine tailoring - a very different silhouette than the big on top, skinny on bottom look of the last several years that has culminated in a leather-studded celebration of the 80s. Like Charlie's Angels or something I would picture Carly Simon or Joni Mitchell wearing back then.

      I love the blue. Maybe I will get a felt hat.
      It's all very good to think about wearing more colour but I am just now realizing that everything I bought over the last two years is black. What happened?! I don't even like black. My nails are even painted black as I type this. See what I mean about being helpless in the face of trends? Luckily I never throw anything out, so I will be digging back to things from 5-6 years ago to help me out.

      Does anyone else think the Canadiana trend is slightly ridiculous? Perhaps it's due to my conflicted relationship with things that are perceived as being typically "Canadian". I don't know about you, but there aren't any lumberjacks in my family and none of us ever played hockey. There's a reason there are more cricket pitches in the GTA than hockey rinks. Not that Toronto is the centre of the universe or anything (hehe), but exactly whom does buffalo plaid speak to? That said, I love this radio by Science&Sons:

      ummmm my birthday is coming up soon...
      Gentlemen - I'll deal with you later. In the meantime, here are some words thrown together that should suggest a few things to you: sports-inspired wear (i.e. regular clothing inspired by sports like skiing and polo and other rich people sports, not like basketball shorts), American classics, laid back, Nate Archibald (not Chuck Bass), stop wearing skinny pants. OK, that last one was more of an outright imperative.

      I love this picture and everything it suggests:

      Moncler Gamme Bleu by Thom Browne, FW 2010
      Happy Sunday everyone! I'm going to spend the day cleaning in anticipation of my sister's arrival and trying to avoid thinking about what a 12-game winning streak might have felt like.


      you used to be so pretty, but now you're just tragic

      >> Wednesday, February 3, 2010

      It's a new year! Time for some new music. Congratulations on having kept or not kept your resolutions for one whole month! Personally, I am failing miserably on most fronts. Which is embarrassing because I wrote them down publicly! I SHOULD have written that I resolve to read music and style blogs all day and then wonder where the time went. Because then I would be a huge success.

      OK, to the task at hand: introducing you to some new music. I'm not as enamoured as others of the whole beachy dreamy washed-out indie rock trend. If you feel the same way but still crave a summery pick-me-up during this dreary, wretched time of year then you should give a listen to the Drums. Their 2009 release, Summertime! is beachy like the Beach Boys and fun like 80s new wave without being too much of either. Start with "Let's Go Surfing", go from there.

      No need to be glum - listen to the Drums!
      Another new-ish* band I’m digging: Fanfarlo. When, oh when, will this band come to Toronto? They’ve cancelled numerous scheduled appearances here and I’m beginning to believe they don’t actually exist. They sound a little like Beirut, minus the accordion (that’s an accordion, right?). This is another band that should be more popular because they’re Arcade Fire-level palatable and sound both pretty and interesting. Their 2009 album Reservoir is solid all-around. I like "Luna", "Finish Line", "Ghosts"...etc.

      An album cover. 
      Also worth checking: Where publicly-funded Brits think music is going

      *General rule: if Spinner or Rolling Stone has declared them ‘ones to watch’, then you are already way behind the curve. Staying hip is a full-time job. Too bad it pays for shit.


      half-assed restaurant review

      >> Tuesday, February 2, 2010

      Since I generally like to give my opinion on things (i.e. talk a lot and be right), I have decided to try to be useful while I’m at it. The following are some half-assed restaurant reviews. I call them that because, for the most part, I tend to leave out the critical piece of reviewing the actual food. Plus, I am not one of those people who takes pictures of food at restaurants (a.k.a. a douche) or someone who can be bothered to pull out a notebook and write down immediate reactions to each course (a.k.a. someone who gets paid for this). I tend to have better things to do at the dinner table. Food reviews can be found elsewhere, but my opinion? Only available here, my friend.
      So here’s one to start with:
      This place has been getting well-deserved good reviews so far, but most of the original hype about Toronto’s first ‘real’ izakaya restaurant (something I admit I’d never heard of before) has been overwhelmed with talk about the no-reservations policy and extremely long wait-times. Usually there is some kind of tie-in to other restaurants with similar policies (Pizzeria Libretto, Black Hoof) and a broader commentary on restaurant hype and trends in Toronto. Oh god, find something else to talk about. Here's what I think the place:
      I had dinner at Guu twice last month. I like it. It’s fun. The staff yell greetings to you when you arrive (and farewells when you leave), they yell the names of dishes (I think) as they make them, the servers and chefs are all very friendly, the atmosphere is lively. The slate stone walls and dark wood décor feel like an updated inn or tavern. Diners sit at long wooden communal tables with a few tables off to the side for couples and smaller groups and the kitchen is open so you can watch all the chefs at work. It’s modern and comfortable. I also really dig the bare light bulb ‘chandeliers’. Maybe I could put one in over my dining table? Oh, and the food is really tasty. It comes in small dishes made for sharing, a bit like tapas or dim sum but Japanese and meant for dinner. I find it’s best to go with a group (4-6 is ideal) so everyone can order multiple plates and try everything. I highly recommend the tuna sashimi and the beef tongue (it's not gross, I swear).
      They also have really cute vintage Japanese beer ads on the walls. 
      I did not take this photo and have never seen the place this empty.
      Personally, I'm just glad they didn't decide to open up in midtown as originally rumoured and instead opened up on Church, south of Carlton. This is great because a) it's close to me; b) that area could really use some sprucing up; and c) I hate midtown. I see Guu as the kind of place to stop by for a delicious, relaxed dinner with friends on a Friday night; a regular place to go to once the hype dies down…a Friday night is not really an option at this point. I recommend hitting it up early in the week around 6pm. It’s true what they say about the lines.
      Bottom line: Highly recommend; plan in advance.


      About This Blog

      this here ma blog.

      I like to talk about things I have no particular expertise in. Especially music.

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