mlbright's shared items

M-L's occasional ramblings.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


My contribution to the Engrish language.

Monday, November 28, 2005


It's amazing what you can find in old backups. In the past I've always been eager to wipe out my hard disk and try the latest linux distributions, so I've got a pile of CDs and DVDs full of old pics, mp3s and miscellaneous stuff that I couldn't be bothered to organise.

The pictures are especially exciting to retrieve. Like this one, a shot of the only piece of art I've ever made in the last 20 years. It was a collaboration with my old roomate. We used to drink a lot of tea, and always bought tea bags because the loose leaf version of English Breakfast wasn't as good. The black Prince of Wales tea bags form the Chinese character for tea on the red background of English Breakfast sachets.

Feel free to criticise.

Who eez zat gigolo on ze street ...

Once in a while I watch a French variety show on TV5 called "Tout le monde en parle". Usually, there's nothing worse than a French variety show, but this one has proven to be excellent most times I've tuned in. I found out there's a Quebecois counterpart too and, not to be un snob, it doesn't do the French one justice because the hosts aren't as funny. Thierry Ardisson and Laurent Baffie don't butter up their guests like Jack Asstor's garlic bread: instead they ask probing and interesting questions. "Why do you generalise and stereotype?", "What's your greatest film?" or "Are those tits real?"

The show easily beats any anglophone talk show I've ever seen. However, I can't say I'm a talk show expert. Beyond being generally humorous, TLMEP also has a novelty factor that anglophone pop culture afficionados can appreciate. The show's musical interludes and segues are selected in a corny and awkward yet interesting manner that only mainland Europeans seem to have mastered. For example, Nene Cherry's "Buffalo Stance" was used throughout the last show to introduce new guests on set.

Also, if you care to test your French and watch, you'll notice what I'll call the French clap. No, it's not an STD, though there could be a French version of that too. Whenever the audience in any French TV show gets fired up they start clapping in unison like the bass beat in Boney M's "Ra Ra Rasputin". It doesn't matter if the music that's playing is actually Destiny Child's "Independent Women" or Beethoven's 5th, the clap is inescapable.

Last week's guests included:

  • Robert Menard, a big shot for Reporters without Borders in France, who discussed the U.N. conference on freedom of information, which was held in... Tunisia. Better than Saudi Arabia, but still a horrible choice for a host nation for that event.
  • Francois Ozon, director of "Swimming Pool", "8 women" and "5 x 2" who will release a new movie called "Le temps qui reste" (The time that remains).
  • Russian pop bimbos, taTu, a topic of one of Genet's posts.
  • French rocker Jean-Louis Aubert, who released a new album called "Ideal Standard" which happens to be an internationally ubiquitous brand of commercial toilets and urinals. What happened to American Standard?
Also, in light of the current riot situation, two authors with strongly differing politics and opinions sat beside each other and ignited the debate:

  • Aziz Senni, with his book "L'ascenseur social est en panne ... j'ai pris l'escalier." (The social elevator is broken... I took the stairs)
  • Charles Pellegrini, "Banlieues en flamme." (Suburbs on fire)
Also in attendance was Antoine De Caunes, a comedian (famous in France), and the king of french advertising, Jacques Seguela.

To round out the roster, there was Francois Mitterand's personal chauffeur, who apparently never had a driver's license and wrote a couple of books. The womanizing of the former president was discussed in significant detail, but not his politics. It's a variety show on state-sponsored TV, I guess you can't expect too much.

Clocking in at 3h, each episode is too long to watch. However, this is also an advantage because the part that you catch will probably have a real discussion instead of the typical 2 minutes of banality followed by a commercial break. Few issues seem to be taboo: music, tv, movies, art, business, politics. Even sports, apparently. Former Manchester United striker turned actor, Eric Cantona, famous for his kung fu moves directed at fans, was a guest on yesterday's episode, which will be re-broadcast on Tuesday and Wednesday. So was Canadian Paul Anka. How weird is that? Throw in figure skater Philippe Candeloro and you've got yourself a party.

I promise not to post about talk shows ever again.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Christopher Hitchens in Toronto

Wednesday I went to Holy Blossom Temple to hear Christopher Hitchens speak. There are many layers of weirdness in that, which I hope to cover later in this post. For those who don't know Hitchens, he is a well known left wing thinker who shocked everyone when he supported America's war on Iraq. I've read, and enjoyed, many of his articles (but I haven't read his books). Hitchens is a contrarian. I think I have penchant for contrarians much like Genet (and the real Genet) has a penchant for the underdog. I think that's in great part why I like Michel Houellebecq too. The two tendencies might be related. I find myself agreeing with almost everything Hitchens says, which is kind of scary, though yesterday I was willing to challenge him on some points.

He didn't seem to think the absence or presence of WMDs should have made a difference in the decision to remove Hussein from power and even characterized the current focus on WMDs as stupid. I don't think it's stupid, even though I agree that it may not really matter in the end: the removal of tyrants should make everyone happy. Nevertheless, it remains true that many people were convinced that WMDs were the big reason for the war. They think this because that's what they were fed by the government and the media, regardless of the overriding humanitarian and political aspects of regime change. The immanent threat was emphasized by the Bush administration, not the eradication of Baathism, that ghastly “marriage of stalinism and fascism”, as described by Hitchens. At best this is confusing. Not everyone is smart and an expert on the Iraq war(s) like Lemon, therefore things need to be explained. If they have merit, your plans will stand up to public scrutiny, Wolfowitz.

Hitchens was introduced to the audience by David Frum, the son of Barbara Frum, famed Canadian journalist and broadcaster. He was also a white house speechwriter, and notoriously, the author of the phrase “Axis of Evil” that everyone loved (to hate). Almost incidentally, because he had to actually remind himself of it, Hitchens touched on Iran, the third member of the axis after Saddam's Iraq and North Korea. He admitted that a few years ago, Iran was to him a glimmer of hope in the region because reformists were gaining power peacefully there. So much for that. If I remember correctly, a large portion of the flak Bush (and Frum by proxy) received was because of the inclusion of Iran as a part of the axis of evil. Today it would seem that Frum is vindicated somewhat.

David Frum was nevertheless annoying, even though he said great things about Hitchens, about his courage to go to hot spots in the world, which he called physical courage, and his moral/intellectual courage to take an unpopular stance, and a seemingly contradictory one. Frum's fake modesty was in full force when the rabbi introduced him as a public intellectual and he tried to distance himself from this, claiming that “public intellectual sounds like public lavatory” and that such things (intellectual discourse? thought?) should best be done in private. I wonder what he was doing speaking to a packed synagogue.

This brings me to the issue of listening to intellectuals ramble on in place of religious worship. I find it really fantastic that intellectuals, even those whose opinions about organised religion aren't positive, are invited to speak by clerics in a religious establishment. I've never heard of this being done in any other religious denomination. I can't picture this event happening in a church, a mosque, or other temple of any kind so props to the Jewish faith here: never have I more wanted to wear a kippah. (The event was funded by the deep pockets of Heather Reisman and Gerry Schwartz. It is not lost on me that I'm jobless partly because of Schwartz's Onex, which controls Cineplex Entertainment, which acquired my former company, leading to my layoff. I don't care: I was able to come to this event without having to get up early the next day to go to work. And I was going to change jobs anyway. This has been a major digression). To add more, the event was open to the public, so goyims like me were allowed in, and we did so in large numbers, even causing a line-up outside the temple.

There were awkward moments. Starting with me, of course. I rarely go into any religious establishment, so this was bizarre. I had a very dark blue jacket of some rough material that could pass off as vaguely military if colored differently (a Gap purchase). If there is ever to be a Canadian middle-class white suicide bomber, I felt as if I looked like one. And I'm French, which makes me that much more likely to be an anti-semite and a bomber in Canada. There was security present at the door, and I was relieved when they asked me to open my bag and show them the contents.

France was, as it always is in anglo discussions of war, the object of discontent, if not ridicule. David Frum tangentially brought up the topic of the riots in France and enthusiastically suggested this was a sign of islamo-facism. David, islamo-facism is so far a negligible cause of the violence in France. (We'll see if this remains the case.) The jobs are scarce enough, the social barriers (racism at the forefront) are high enough, and the media is pervasive enough to explain the violence without the added impetus of radical Islam. This week's Economist is with me on this one. I think he mentioned this only because it was a mostly Jewish audience. Some comments were made about the French government's inability to deal with the problem, which everyone laughed at. Hitchens said something about France lacking an exit strategy. Newsflash: La Courneuve isn't Fallujah. Is that why it's funny? I wonder how many people in the audience were French.
I hope to post something else about the France situation (racism, secularism, anti-semitism, riots, socialism, integration or lack of it) later.

The most awkward moment came when Hitchens, not caring one bit that he was in a synagogue, a contrarian to the core, praised some kind of secular institution in the middle-east and welcomed further secularisation. Part of the audience started clapping. I would have clapped too, except that we were in a synagogue. People really have no tact. Both David Frum and the rabbi clambered to recover from this apparent faux-pas by, respectively, suggesting that truths can be discovered between the lines of the most sanguinary religious texts, and that the “new” old bibles of Holy Blossom were interesting reading. Sorry guys, I don't think you're going to convince him.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


A post from JR reminded me of my very poor observation skills and general naïveté. When I was in high school I'd occasionally get called a BATI MAHN by some Jamaican kids. I thought they were calling me "batty", like I was crazy. Crazy wasn't anything out of the ordinary in my school so I didn't think much of it. Maybe a year or two ago, there was some public outrage at some homophobic dancehall artists and I finally put it together. I was being called a butt man. BATI = BUTT. Who knew?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

More graffiti

More graffiti, this time from Greece in August 2005. I saw some of the most bizarre/funny comments all over Athens. Not the prettiest scribbles, but some were definitely funny and witty. A lot of them were anarchic or proclaimed freedom of expression etc. A lot of English. Some were of the ethereal-bimbo-freedom-kumbaya variety. Here's a representative sample.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Detail oriented graffiti

Graffiti can be an art. It's occasionally really good and/or requires a lot of skill. Unfortunately, the vast majority of it really sucks: these are largely illegible "tags" that gangs, angst ridden teenagers and other assorted nerds scribble on buildings or vehicles.

But even the crappy kind of graffiti is fun sometimes. Like the detail oriented bit of vandalism on the right. This picture was taken at Spadina station in Toronto at some point in the year 2004 (you see the "dina" of Spadina). The black bit of iconography represents a streetcar. And much like streetcars are tagged, this symbol of a streecar is too. Cute.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Yet more evidence that the world is getting smaller...

I went to a "meetup" tonight for MySQL. I figured that it would be a good way to get useful, practical information about who uses this software and maybe see what kinds of employment opportunities existed for people with experience using and programming that software, i.e. me.

The organiser had created a whole bunch of meetups for different web design areas and combined them. About 25 nerds met at the Fiddler's Green in downtown Toronto. It turns out the whole thing was largely about him and his take on "the industry" (something he couldn't really pin down, frustratingly), and in his case it was all about search engine optimisation. So we heard him ramble on for the better part of painful, painful hour. Overall, it was a pretty useless gathering, harmless but not quite as informative or fun as I had hoped.

Most interesing, I did meet a friend I had lost contact with in grade 9. It was quite funny because his physical appearance and mannerisms were unmistakable, even after more than 15 years. In junior high, he was a pretty scrawny, ectomorphic kid, and now he's got a 5 o'clock shadow, a deeper voice and the early signs of a beer gut. Our conversation was brief, but he seemed like a nice guy. He started a web design company and wanted to hire a "web integrator" for a decent amount of cash. I wasn't interested in the job and that was the closest I got to tangible job search results in the evening.

I probably won't be going back to this meetup, but maybe I'll sign up for a random one and see who turns up...

Monday, November 07, 2005


I'm really getting pissed off at the attempts to "negociate" and "dialogue" with the gangs who have been setting cars on fire in Paris and other French cities for the last 10 days. These youth aren't making a sophisticated political statement: they are reenacting their collective MTV fantasy. It's really just a fun night out, a chance to galvanise their ghetto self-identity and absolve themselves from any kind of responsibility. The cars they burn and the property they damage belong to the poor immigrants who are their neighbours, not the rich and racist the media claims they are retaliating against. This is positive feedback for an infernal cycle of bullshit. I bet some of these guys' parents' cars were destroyed in the fray.

French racism definitely exists and the Paris suburbs are definitely poor, dismal places, not the elegant and glamourous boulevards in the old city. But this is also France, not Baghdad. The social subsidies these people have are more than most would even dream of. I bet their schools are better than the ones in poorer neighbourhoods in Toronto.

And for fuck's sake this is not a Muslim thing, so stop "consulting" with leaders in the Muslim community. Way to reinforce the stereotypes. This is about arbitrary violence so is what Mohammad Imam has to say entirely relevant? I guess it doesn't hurt to have voices in favour of peace. But implicitly, it polarises the issue.

Actually, an interesting (and scary) theory was put forward to me today. The government's soft response so far has been carefully planned. The idea is to let the public outcry build until sympathy for the "disadvantaged" is greatly reduced. Then the army, C.R.S. and other cops will fall down on those neighbourhoods with probably too much force, and this will go unchecked. The French government has done this before...

UPDATE: It appears that some of the kids set their friends' cars on fire. Dumbasses.,1-0,36-707261,0.html

Thursday, November 03, 2005

"Locked out and starving"

Apparently, it's difficult to find a local story to report on these days. When NOW Magazine's “Newsfront” article (October 27 – November 2) is a ridiculous piece about the green bins pushing starving racoons to desperate goldfish eating measures, Toronto must not be doing so bad. Gun crime, corrupt municipal politics, job losses to suburbia, rising homelessness, and urban sprawl are clearly under control: stop the press, we're making it just slightly more difficult to feed the city's raccoons! Guess who's desperate? NOW magazine.

To be fair, I think their arts reporting and food reviews are great. But their news is a terrible forum where facile socialist rhetoric is the norm, as if the paper takes an activist stance for the purpose of being cool and different. (I love the word “facile”. It mashes easy and dumb. It's also used the same way in French though more generally, it means “easy”. Easy like NOW.) How else could one publish an article like “Locked out and starving”, talking about raccoons having their food supply reduced due to (cleverly?) designed garbage cans. Would NOW profile “The Pussycat Dolls” as the hot new music act? Incidentally, would someone please make a t-shirt with the words “Don't cha wish yo girlfriend was a bimbo-like-me?” across the chest? Maybe put “(Bimb-oh!!)” on the back as well.

The article in question is a complete disaster. It starts by praising the organic waste diversion program Toronto has started as a way to reduce the overall output it sends to Michigan (the city has not done it as some ecological incentive). And yes, I concede that there is a point to this program. Quickly, however, the article shifts to explaining strategies to protect the fish in the three ponds in the author's back yard, “various species of koi and long-finned sarasa comets” he's been keeping. Because, you see, the raccoons can't eat garbage anymore, they have to decimate the fish population of this guy's back yard. I think it's perfectly natural and kind of cute. So, now dude wants to buy an electric fence to surround the ponds, which already have waterfalls and fountains. And he's apparently not the only one to want to do this, after visiting a Toronto pet store uncovers more concerned backyard fish lovers.

The tragedy of his lost fish is a “devastating loss”, the author's own words. Yet he's become “something of a zeolot in directing his household's organic waste into the two-wheeled receptacle so it can be returned to the earth.” This strikes me as nothing other than good old fashion petit bourgeois. So NOW, cut the crap. And when you're done, I'll leave the choice up to you to put it in your green organic bin, morons.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


Halloween is fun! I was a cult leader this year. A creepy, Mormon, polygamist, Raelian cult leader. Check out my voodoo cobra!

Seriously, cults and cult leaders are creepy. Michel Houellebecq's new novel, the Possibility of an island, is very dark illustration of this. I'd say it's his best novel yet, but includes all of his previous novels' flaws and ego trips.

It's essentially a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel in which most of humanity has been destroyed by war and ecological disaster, the survivors regressing into a cavemanesque existence. However, a small group of "neo-humans" have emerged, completely independent and isolated, the genetic descendants of the members of a very Raelian-like cult.

The novel is very, very dark, very honest and quite funny at times.