Perfect purpose

July 29, 2012 at 2:12 pm | In yulelogStories | 1 Comment

Seems I’ve been too buried in my house project to get a weekly links post together this Sunday. Instead, I’ll just point to an article on my old hometown’s newspaper site: B.C. teens, twenty-somethings turn to Botox for forever 21 look. It made me wonder about a bunch of things.

According to the article, more and more very young British Columbia women are getting Botox treatments. They have no wrinkles, and their use of the procedure is mostly prophylactic – to ward off the wrinkles that may appear decades from now. (Botox’s use as an aid in the fight against acne is mentioned, although I’m not sure how that’s supposed to work, exactly, unless facial mobility contributes to zits. Maybe someone can enlighten me here? Edit: the google to the rescue, first result for “can botox prevent acne” is “may also prevent breakouts by decreasing skin’s oil production.” Note: “may” – and besides, does oil production cause acne? Didn’t think so…)

Anyway, I was really struck by this:

For some, plunging a Botox-filled syringe into a young woman’s skin poses more emotional risk than physical, and speaks to an insidious undercurrent of superficiality coursing through west coast culture [emphasis added].

“At age 13, what is it preventive of?” asked Dr. Gayle Way, a Vancouver-based psychologist. “The big fear is that, ‘oh my gosh, I’m going to turn 30.’ Is it happening more in B.C. because we’re kind of the California of Canada? Could be.”

The part about an insidious undercurrent of superficiality coursing through west coast culture struck me.

Some things I noticed in my ten years here:

My former Victoria dentist has a thriving business administering Botox and fillers. Booming industry.

If you have misaligned teeth in BC, chances are you’re not just going to get braces. You’ll instead get your jaw broken (and reset) to produce an ideal, perfect result. (Your dentist or orthodontist might suggest it even if your teeth aren’t misaligned at all. You may have a “shy” chin, prompting him or her to suggest a radical intervention.)

Victoria friends told me of their daughters or their daughter’s friends who were getting their breasts augmented, apparently a fairly common procedure among the BC teenage set.

I find this fascinating, if totally creepy: imagine the weeks of anticipation leading up the operations, the shock to the nervous system of full anesthesia, the potential of risks, the inevitable pain, the healing, the possible complications…

All this, done for perfecting beauty…

I live in New England now, and can’t help but think that people here don’t hold with that kind of folderol. Maybe it really is more of a West Coast thing?

But is the pursuit of perfection all bad? Perhaps not (although surgeries and Botox are pretty far out there, imo – and, sure, ymmv). For another angle, consider other aspects of life where West Coasters excel at pursuing perfection, …while New Englanders lag behind, it seems mostly because they couldn’t care less.

Take food. Sometime in 2007, Tourism Victoria (motto: “Victoria – full of life”) came up with an ad campaign that touted the city’s “orgasmic” culinary delights. (The links have all but disappeared; however, see this post on Vibrant Victoria to read part of Shannon Moneo’s article in Toronto’s Globe and Mail about the branding campaign.)

I challenge New England cities to promote themselves as having an orgasmic food scene. Not gonna happen. In a land where Dunkin’ Donuts (in Canada, think Tim Horton’s) still dominates coffee culture and where Starbucks is considered by (too) many to be “fancy” coffee, the artisan, hand-made approach to what you put in your mouth is mostly alien. “Handmade” – or rather: homegrown – might come up as a traditional staple in the summer months, when going to a farm or downtown farmer’s market to buy either berries, corn, cider, or – rarely – baked goods, amounts to contact with artisanal food production. But it doesn’t seem to survive past the harvest. Once the cold weather returns, you get in your car and drive to the supermarket.

Not so in orgasmic Victoria, or in Vancouver – or in Portland Oregon, another city I know reasonably well. Perfection is sought around food – whether it’s the best damn pie in the universe, or amazing coffee, or quirky, fabulous restaurants, or “how I wish we had them here because they’re not your average soulless chain and have great stuff and super-friendly staff” supermarkets.

The people who work in these stores and restaurants seem ok with their jobs – most of them will tell you that they’re really artists or creatives who are just doing “this” to pay the rent. But they’re happy to be doing this, because they know that they’re part of something with a purpose. I can’t say I’ve seen too much of that back in New England, where there doesn’t seem to be a purpose to creating the perfect cup of coffee or the perfect fresh handmade pie or the perfectly stocked market with drool-worthy delis and well-informed, helpful staff.

I guess the article raised at least two questions for me. What are you going to perfect? (Yourself? The local economy? An aspect of the culture?) And what’s the relationship between perfection and superficiality? (That taunting sentence, about the “insidious undercurrent of superficiality coursing through west coast culture”…)

It’s true that (for the most part) New Englanders don’t seem to know from foodie culture – and don’t bloody care, either. I won’t go into detail about the drabness of the small local supermarkets, which don’t seem to bother keeping up, or the blandness of the large chain supermarkets, which don’t seem to care and where staff is mostly indifferent. A culture where Kielbasa is considered ethnic and a jar of Mama Mia tomato sauce is considered home cooking. But New Englanders are genuinely much nicer than West Coasters (who are surface-nice). The West Coast does seem superficial, compared to New England.

Maybe a search for perfection is a race, and a bit of a hallmark of people who can be indifferent to other, less-worthy seekers. But injecting a bit of purpose-driven perfection-seeking (especially around foodie culture and artisan entrepreneurship) might not be a bad thing. As long as the injection isn’t delivered via a needle…

Image from Random Order’s website of their perfect pie.


Turmoil = No Links This Week

June 24, 2012 at 8:06 pm | In yulelogStories | 1 Comment

Well, the title says it all – I moved into a new place this past week, and it’s all still quite chaotic. Hope to settle into routine of sorts sometime soon… 😉

First Day of the Cross-Country Roadtrip

May 1, 2012 at 9:08 pm | In yulelogStories | 5 Comments

Packing the car was at times a panic-filled struggle.

No, wait. Thinking about packing the car was a panic-filled struggle. Once we actually started, we just plain freaked out for a while because it looked like so. very. much.

We made a couple of purchases (both necessities and one or two “nice-to-haves”) during our five-months-long stay in Portland. And, because up until about the middle of March it wasn’t clear to us that we wouldn’t actually settle there, buying a few bulky things seemed harmless.

Of course each additional cubic inch turned into a potential assassin when it came time to load the vehicle. But we did it.

Finally, just after noon we set out.

Can I just say that Oregon is beautiful?

Our route took us slightly south and around Mount Hood, along US-26. We passed through the Mt. Hood National Forest, we glimpsed amazing valleys and shuddered at the close-up view of snow-capped mountains just behind pine forest armies. We stopped at view points with drops of several hundred feet, drove curvy highways up to elevations of 4,000+ feet, and drove curvy highways about half-way down again till we were in the Oregon high desert. We marveled at buttes barely held together by titanic geological pressure and stray grasses.

Self-Realization Tycoons and Railway Workers

We didn’t drive far, only to Madras, where it’s as spring-warm as one might imagine Chennai’s to be. Madras isn’t too far from the ranch where Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh set up his commune Rajneeshpuram in the early 1980s. Bhagwan must have made serious money in the self-realization business, for out in that Oregon desert, he personally owned a fleet of forty Rolls-Royces (and a couple of airplanes, too). Sadly, we didn’t discover any orange traces of his legacy on our drive to the motel, which, it turns out, we were sharing with a small army of hardened railway workers.

At around 5:30pm, they started arriving at the motel, brought there by the trucks that would take them away again the next morning: sun-burnt, grimy, squinting, and clearly worn out from their long day’s work. It was a mixed crew: a few of European descent, a number of Hispanics, a couple of African Americans, and several Native Americans. They’re replacing the steel on the railway, and I guess they travel as they work – hence the motel stay.

I talked to one worker, who looked Native American. He told me that some of the gangs work on replacing the ties, but that his crew does the steel.

“Tough job,” I said. “I guess you don’t need to go to a gym to work out, do you?”

“No,” he laughed. Then he added, “And I guess I’m not going to get diabetes, either,” which I took to mean that diabetes is a serious problem for his community.

Score one for a car-centric “culture” built around junk food (even if you are a railway worker), and zero for Bhagwan’s vision of super enlightened self-realization.

Maybe, when (or if) I get around to posting about Day Two, I’ll have a few more choice words about the often miserable culture we’ve built in contrast to the endlessly astonishing beauty of the land.

Close to quitting (or noticeably downsizing) Facebook

December 23, 2011 at 11:55 am | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Close to quitting (or noticeably downsizing) Facebook

I knew there were good reasons to dislike Facebook’s new redesign known as Timeline – nor does it appear that I’m alone in thinking it’s a visual mess, too. Or that it’s a bunch of new work for digital hamsters.

Lately, in my current vagabonding stage, I’ve been thinking hard about work. Working in someone else’s hamster wheel by running around to provide streams of content that makes corporate advertising wheels go ’round and ’round is looking less and less appealing. In fact, it’s looking more and more like something I was doing because I didn’t have better work to do, …or maybe I was unable to reach better work. Now that Timeline wants to prompt Facebook users into some kind of scrapbooking exercise of self-presentation, this feeling is becoming even more salient, …while at the same time my vagabondage has rekindled a sense of being able to reach better work.

(^ This dialectic perhaps helps explain why, in this relatively shitty economy where so many are stuck, people are spending a lot of time working on corporate-owned social media hamster wheels… Just sayin’… Dave Winer‘s repeated critiques of the hamster wheel economy are sinking in, I guess.)

With Timeline, the hamsters (we) are “incentivized” to work harder (provide more interesting self-branding content – which of course is sold as data, or rather, to use Johanna Drucker‘s term, capta), because who wants to have a pathetic “Brand ‘Me’!” timeline profile when much more energetic hamsters are pimping out “their” hamster wheels with bling?

This is looking less and less appealing.

A link to how to delete your Facebook account

Imagine: Why Steve Jobs’s death made me think of John Lennon’s

October 5, 2011 at 8:28 pm | In yulelogStories | 1 Comment

“Just imagine what else he could have done, had he lived another ten, twenty years.”

Imagine is of course the name of a famous John Lennon song. That’s who came to mind when Steve Jobs died.

On December 8, 1980 (in the midst of young Apple’s “turbulent” years), John Lennon was gunned down in front of the Dakota Apartments in Manhattan, NY. By a deranged assassin.

…Perhaps cancer is a type of deranged assassin? Just wondering.

At the time, the spouse and I had recently arrived in Vancouver, and I was pumped full of every academic Marxist theory that Europe of the late-70s could inject into an impressionable and highly critical young mind. I had spent several months looking for work when we first got to Vancouver, but no one wanted me (the story of my life in Canada, it seems), and so I ended up at the University of British Columbia – because, if you can’t find employment/ paying gigs, why not go back to school? [#mistakealert]

Now, bear with me: I was well-versed in theory, and in Vancouver that meant I accrued like-minded critical friends.

…There is a HUGE subtext and underlying story here, but let’s not get into that at present.

On December 8, 1980, when I heard that John Lennon had been (excuse the trite word) senselessly gunned down, I was as sad as the bazillions who informed the public sphere (aka mainstream network TV news) of the day. I mean, it took an effort not to cry.

Learning of – and reading about – Steve Jobs’s death triggered similar emotions, which reminded me of Lennon’s death.

When John Lennon died, one of my Canadian NDP (and seriously communist sympathizing) friends blithely dismissed the huge global outpouring of grief as manufactured grief: as something that the culture industry and its stirrup-holding lackeys to capitalism need, because that emotion (an expression, presumably of false consciousness) validates the system’s “humanity.” In other words, any expression of emotion is simply fodder for the system. Emotion (in the dogmatic perspective, all of it “manufactured” emotion, for hardly any of us have actually met the luminous star whose death has saddened us, therefore how can it be personal or genuine, in which case it is manufactured by evil ideological forces) is merely an instrument to “humanize” an inherently inhuman system. Emotion is something “they” use to manipulate “us.”

To this day, I can recall the sense of being slapped across the face for a kind of soft-headedness (i.e., emotionalism) about the death of an icon.

What, I can’t be sad about the death of someone I don’t know? Someone I’ve never met?

Let’s chuck out the old broadcast model of grief for a sec – the one that does enmesh uncomprehending populations in illusory identification with culturally flattened (aka 1-dimensional) icons. Sure, there are “star” deaths that sadden millions for all the wrong reasons. I don’t think that was the case with John Lennon, though (which is probably why my dogmatist friend’s dogmatism rankles me to this day), and it’s not the case with Steve Jobs, either: there are simply too many people whose lives were UN-one-dimensionalized by the products he brought to market. And if you don’t get that, I apologize to your inner Stalinist for feeling sorry for you!

It’s a tricky problem to tease out, though, this business of mourning icons who’ve “touched” us, but whom we’ve never met. What about Princess Diana’s death? Did you cry about that? How about Susan Sontag’s? …Oh, you weren’t emotionally affected by Sontag’s death? Well, I was.

Maybe it’s relative. Or not.

Here’s what I think: Steve Jobs’s death is affective (duh, no shit Sherlock), and the affect is real (phew, ditto Sherlock, thanks for figuring that out for us), but the emotion will be manipulated (even if it’s not “manufactured” – although, maybe it will get a manufacturing boost here and there – I’m sure the networks are on it as I type).

Mediated emotion is affected by the change from broadcast (one-to-many) to interactive (peer-to-peer).  Even my die-hard communist friend from the Vancouver 80s should have second thoughts (I hope) about how to apply a Marxist analysis of grief, c. 2010 in the age of peer-to-peer media.

Meanwhile, we mourn also for with Apple, which has lost its guiding genius. There is no replacement for what Apple under Jobs’s leadership delivered to date – here’s hoping that spirit abides. RIP Steve Jobs.

Slight update:

For a juxtaposition of what else is going on today, see Keith Olbermann’s commentary on #occupyWallStreet


Update Friday.

August 21, 2009 at 12:10 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Update Friday.

I’ve really been slacking off on the blog posts – lots of turmoil and indecision happening on the personal front at present. I’m also consumed by what my city council is plotting to pull over Victoria taxpayers, and have been working with our little group to raise awareness.  We have a website, JohnsonStreetBridge.ORG, which I’ve written about before. Yesterday I posted Space is scarce: self-explaining roads needed to the site – check it out.

For those of us who live and pay taxes here in Victoria BC, I really recommend Ross Crockford‘s blog post to our Johnson Street Bridge site, also posted yesterday: City of Victoria updates timeline on Johnson Street Bridge. The opening paragraph should get your attention:

At its next Council meeting, on Thursday, August 27th, the City of Victoria will introduce a bylaw to borrow $63-million to finance the replacement of the Johnson Street Bridge.

The Council meetings, incidentally, are the evening ones that start at 7:30 (be there by 7:00pm though to grab a good seat) and where the public can speak.

In completely unrelated matters, I’ve felt lackluster about blogging here because I feel adrift on several non-public matters, and then on top of it all, I injured my right shoulder this week. Just woke up on Tuesday with this awful pain – a classic sleep injury, I supposed, but it’s not going away. And it’s the second time in about 10 days that this happened – the first time it went away after a day (or so I thought, but it seems to have lurked instead). It hurts a lot to inhale – what a drag. Went to acupuncture yesterday, which helped; saw the doctor today (she had no specific diagnosis); got three  x-rays, too (they look fine); and am going to try a chiropractor this afternoon. Meh.

Yay and not-so-yay

December 27, 2006 at 7:12 pm | In scenes_victoria, yulelogStories | 1 Comment

Unexpectedly, an Amazon shipment of books arrived today, in time for birthday stuff, including the very weighty New York 2000: Architecture and Urbanism from the Bicentennial to the Millennium, by Robert A.M. Stern, David Fishman, and Jacob Tilove. It’s a tremendous resource and will go some way toward making up for not travelling to NYC in the flesh.

That’s the “yay” part — but I also just got an email telling me that my January article (which has been set to go since Dec.1) got bumped to the February issue because of space constraints. That’s the “not-so-yay” part.

On birthdays, one hopes that one gets old enough to trample augury underfoot, or at least turn it into a direction. It seems it’s never a straight line.

Who do you know? On “expert” systems vs P2Ps…

February 12, 2006 at 10:39 am | In yulelogStories | 1 Comment

I’ve had this weird suspicion creep up on me in the past few days. Ever since February 3rd, when I read the LA Times article, That song sounds familiar about Pandora, a six-year old internet radio website which I blogged about on Wednesday, I have been turning over in my head several related problems: of stress, of my sense of time (that it’s always running out), and of what looks like a collective crumbling of the ability to focus. The LA Times article brought up the fascinating issue of whether Pandora is really internet worthy in that whizz-bang peer-to-peer, wisdom-of-crowds sense, for Pandora relies not on peer recommendation, but on …expertise. Instead of using peers who “recommend” that if you like A, then you might like B, Pandora’s experts analyse music, isolate aspects of it, and offer the listener a number of choices based on those isolated aspects. When I tried it, I was offered several duds (to my ears), and I had to “guide” the program toward the tunes I liked better. Once the guiding process was on its way, the program did come up with songs I liked. I started with The The’s “This is the day” (old stuff, over 20 years) and (after some mis-starts) got Gay Dad (more recent), along with other, more recent new-to-me material I liked.

The Times on the other hand quoted an assistant professor of communications at BU, who worries that Pandora

“runs counter to the democratizing trend of the Internet.” Instead of using “collaborative filtering” software pioneered by and Apple’s iTunes (“customers who bought this album also bought these albums”), Pandora “puts the power of the recommendation in the hands of an expert system,” McQuivey says. “Pandora will succeed only if its centralized system proves superior to the wisdom of the crowd.” [More…]

Aside from the notion that peer-to-peer systems or the wisdom-of-the-crowds is truly — or shall we say: inevitably — democratic, I find the implied idea that expert systems are somehow inherently undemocratic absolutely baffling, if not troubling.

I happened to like the sense of engagement I got from “guiding” Pandora, and it helped focus my attention. When its “experts” offered me song, I could inquire, “why did you suggest this,” particularly when I was offered a song I didn’t like. I could then gather my own attention as I was asked to give the thumbs up or down to the song I was offered. Although I was guided by the “expert suggestions,” I in turn was guiding Pandora through my choices.

In a peer-to-peer or wisdom-of-the-crowds universe, my attention is scattered, sometimes pleasurably, but often to the point of pain: there’s so much to keep up with, so many choices to confront and evaluate, and thanks, but no thanks, I really don’t want to be carried away by the supposed wisdom of the crowd. It takes me a long time to decide — to choose — that someone, anyone at all, is my peer, and having all those alleged, if friendly, peers telling me at every turn that I might like this or that, and that I really should try this and go with that ends up making me crazy stressed and nuts.

My suspicion, then, to get back to my point of departure, is that (1) the digitally distributed peer-to-peer universe is the perfect expression of our attention-deficit plagued age, and (2) the digitially distributed peer-to-peer universe contributes to further exacerbations of attention deficit, stress, to the continued sense of never having enough time. Further to that, my suspicion leads to a conclusion that some may call anti-social, but that to my (dialectical) mind is an epitome of social commitment: it’s fine to hang with the crowd for a while, but to get anything meaningful done, you better be prepared to leave your peers behind and become your own expert.

“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”

February 10, 2006 at 10:19 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”

We average Canadians might bravely sing that “we stand on guard for thee,” O Canada, but it seems our (unarmed) border guards have contractual leave to flee for thee in case of approaching Americans:

SURREY, B.C. (CP) — Officers at the busy Peace Arch and Pacific Highway Canada-U.S. border crossings south of Vancouver walked off the job Friday over reports of an armed U.S. fugitive headed their way.
Paula Shore said the unarmed officers exercised their contractual right to refuse to work after their U.S. colleagues issued a warning to be on the lookout for an armed and dangerous person.

Under the border agents’ collective agreement, they have the right to walk away if they believe their safety was jeopardized.
It’s the third incident in a month when a Canadian border point closed as unarmed officers fled over the threat of armed Americans approaching. [emph.added]
Those incidents renewed demands from the officers’ union that they be given guns.

New Conservative Justice Minister Vic Toews said the party will stand behind its promise to give them guns.

The current policy calls for the unarmed border guards to allow anyone suspected of being armed and dangerous into Canada and then call police. [The Toronto Star, Feb.10/06 (register to view)]

See also the Seattle Post Intelligencer.

I’m no fan of guns, and Canada doesn’t need a Swiss- or US-style Second Amendment or anything, but aren’t these people our border guards? What might be their chief weapons against unwelcome intruders?

NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapon is surprise…surprise and fear…fear and surprise…. Our two weapons are fear and surprise…and ruthless efficiency…. Our *three* weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency…and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope…. Our *four*…no… *Amongst* our weapons…. Amongst our weaponry…are such elements as fear, surprise…. I’ll come in again.

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