mlbright's shared items

M-L's occasional ramblings.

Friday, December 08, 2006


I love Engrish.

I found some notes I took in Greece in 2005. Among other trivia were some Engrish expressions from a menu in an Athens taverna:

"Fresh proposals to escort your drink" (appetizers)
"Spicy Suggestion" (a hint of spice)
"Hot Meet Collection" (spicy meat entrees)

Prayer in the workplace

I happen to work from noon to 20:00. It's an annoying shift because evenings are essentially spent at work. Less importantly, I love the 24h clock and that's why I wrote "20:00" instead of "8:00 p.m.". The whole "p.m." bit is annoying to type all the time. 20:00 is unambiguous and modern. Disorienting? At first, yes. But then you remember a few landmarks and everything falls into place. For me it was that 6 p.m. is 18:00. Or just remember: 3 p.m. is 15:00, 6 p.m. is 18:00 and 9 p.m. is 21:00. After that, add or subtract an hour to get appropriate times. One hour before 18:00, when normal people get out of work, is 17:00. One hour after is when crappy TV gets into full gear: 19:00.

I was at work the other day. It was 18:00 and everything was quiet. Most people except those with retarded shifts had gone home. All of a sudden I hear what I believe to be a heated discussion coming from one of the rooms no one usually uses.
I listen more carefully and it's someone chanting. I get up and stroll by, and I discover that it's someone praying. To Allah.

I'd always wondered if my company had a prayer room. But maybe this was just some dude catching a quick one while he thought no one was looking. Maybe that's part of the thrill...

In any case, I don't know where I stand on the issue of prayer rooms. Part of me rejects the idea outright as an appeasement measure for the religious fundamentalists. But maybe it's just a question of being tolerant: it doesn't hurt anyone to pray, even if it seems completely arbitrary and out of place to me.

Anyway, the picture above is a bit of religious vandalism that I caught on camera at Sheppard station.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

fetus in fetu

There are probably more important things to talk about in the world, and after such a long silence, I feel somewhat guilty to break the ice with sensationalism... But this simply has to come off my chest... Or rather, out of my stomach.

What an absolutely amazing and horrible thing. It's as if Alien and South Park's Conjoined Fetus Lady weren't completely far-fetched after all. (Were they?)

Eerily, I bought a copy of Alien very recently from Vortex, a reliable used media store. I almost never do that anymore, but I really love that movie.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Tres Tacos

Originally uploaded by martyloo.
Commercial signage should always be checked by many people who are preferably literate.
Or have pride in the product they sell. If it's the best, be proud of it. Or lie. Own it, baby.

Sunday, September 17, 2006


I know it's been mentioned in other blogs, but if you're in Toronto in the next couple of weeks, you should check out the Warhol exhibit at the AGO. The exhibit is guest-curated by David Cronenberg. This means that you listen to Cronenberg's commentary from a handheld museum listening device as you walk through the exhibit at your own pace. It is very, very interesting and deserves much props, even if you have no interest in Warhol or Cronenberg. Cronenberg's anecdotes and discussion are well worth the admission price. It sounds corny but I felt like he was giving me a personal tour. It's obvious he is a huge fan and that Warhol has influenced his film making. I'm thinking of the "Disasters" especially. This exhibit is probably the best thing I've seen at the AGO.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


I visited my grandparents in Tennessee last week. Both were well, my grandfather will be 98 on August 28th. He is amazing and still sharp as a tack, despite being very frail.

Aside from good times with my grandfather and grandmother, I mostly caught up with my parents. A week with one's parents can be a long time, but in my case I was happy to be with them. I feel like I've really caught up with them, even though I live only 10 minutes away and I see them almost every weekend. 32 hours of driving, a large part through the most boring landscape on earth, Ohio, tends to bring out subjects rarely discussed otherwise. My mother, in particular, was in good spirits. They had been in France for 5 weeks prior to this trip to the USA. In Tennessee, I managed to do some cool things with their France pictures on my new MacBook, which I had purchased the day before the trip. Je suis un geek.

In Nashville, we saw 2 great exhibits at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, in beautiful downtown. Yes, there's more to Nashville than the Grand Ole Opry and the Nashville Predators... Not much, but still.

The Quest for Immortality was an ancient Egyptian artifact collection, brilliantly narrated by Jeremy Irons. Yes, the gynecologist twins from Dead Ringers explaining how the Sun God's earthly form is a dung beatle is quite a powerful experience. The objects were very beautiful.

The other exhibit was a collection of the top Pulitzer prize winning photographs of the last 100 years. It was very, very good. The picture of the starving Sudanese child crawling towards a refuge camp and away from a lurking vulture was very chilling. It's what awaits us all if we don't smarten up.

I ate fried foods and pork throughout most of the trip. Tennessee peeps need some slimming down. A majority of people are overweight. They need to snap out of it. At some point, if one is already a mastodon, it's a good thing to realise that it's suicide to eat chicken fried steak. Try a salad, some greens, some delicious tomatoes that are produced in your own back yard. (We ate tomatoes all week too.) Not eating quite as much can still be patriotic and "country", all y'all don't worry.

Saturday, July 29, 2006


I'm reading a very interesting book about a dry subject. It includes the following tale:

On a very cold morning, a farmer is walking in his field and hears some very loud chirping. He bends down and it's a bird with a broken wing. Because it's very cold, the farmer picks up the bird and places it gently into a steaming cow dung then moves on to his busy day. The bird keeps chirping. Alerted, a fox arrives and eats the bird.

There are so many ways to interpret these events. For example:

a) Someone who puts you in shit doesn't necessarily mean you any harm
b) Someone who takes you out of shit doesn't necessarily mean you well
c) If you're in shit, the best thing may be to shut up


Sunday, July 16, 2006

Veuve Pourrie?

Veuve Pourrie?
Originally uploaded by martyloo.
What do you think of this? Is it funny, creepy, gross, or cute?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Coupe du monde

I don't want to give excuses for my absense on this blog in the last month, but I'm going to anyway. I’ve been watching the FIFA World Cup rather obsessively, and I’m just barely coming down off the Sunday final’s low. Yes, I was rooting for France. I am a French citizen in addition to being 100% Canadian. I am completely bilingual, although I now find translating to French is more difficult than translating to English.

More relevantly, I love football (the world variety, not the american variety, in case it wasn’t clear). I play every week in a recreational league here in Toronto. I played when I was a kid in a house league and at school. I’ve watched the FIFA World Cup since 1990, when it was held in Italy and Germany won it all. The symmetry of this Cup is amazing: unless you have been living under a rock, you know that Italy won it’s fourth cup in Germany 2 days ago. I watched the English Premiership games and the Serie A Italian games far too frequently this past year. I read Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch and enjoyed it. I saw a bit of myself in it and it was scary. You’ve seen the Adidas commercials with José, the little kid from a non-descript (Spanish speaking?) poor neighbourhood who selects a series of current and past professional players for his game of pick-up… I've dreamed like José. That clip does a great job capturing the joy of the game. There’s a freedom, joy and creative element to playing football that is just unmatched by any other sport I’ve played. That Joga Bonito stuff is true.

I’ve been a French national team fan since the victory against South Africa in 1998, the first match of the world cup that year. (The next World Cup will be hosted
in South Africa in 2010.) I liked what I saw and followed les Bleus through victory and defeat until now. I follow the players, I read l’Equipe online and
off. I was embarassed when they lost in 2002, not even scoring a goal.

However, the World Cup is much more than just the sport, isn’t it? There’s the politics, the business, the giant party that grips the world for a month every four years. The cup generates a lot of emotion, a lot of it wrapped up in nationalism.

There’s the good nationalism. The consciousness of being a part of a larger community, the nuggets of wisdom found in our parents' culture(s). The knowledge of an older country’s social and cultural insitutions and all the good things that brings and/or hopes to bring to the world, but also the warnings about the bad things. The Cup teams are an advertisement, of sorts. I love to see the “good” nationalism. I like it when Mexican families go to the pub and cheer on their country (but not when they call Argentina's goalie a faggot), or the cab driver from Ghana light up when I tell him how I think Appiah is a better player than Essien. I like that a guy from Djibouti or Brazil starts a conversation with me on the Vomit Comet because of my French jersey. And as much as I didn’t like the endless honking of the Italian fans on Sunday, I liked the fact that the victory coincided with the Italian fest here in T.O.

Then there’s the “bad” nationalism. It’s unerving to see fans taking the result so seriously but not caring about the game being played or being in any way realistic and/or modern about what a national soccer team really is. It's frustrating to see people have hopelessly vague and dangerously confused notions of race and culture. In 2002, I went to little Italy to watch a few games, and I thought I’d attended a giant funeral. It was awful. And driving around in a car honking your horn if you are 1/8th Italian or Portugese or Croatian and you haven’t watched the game is not cool. It’s pathetic. The whole “it’s in my blood” argument has pissed me off for a long time now. Is Serie A match fixing in the blood too? (Tomorrow, Italy’s biggest club will be relegated because its administrators were involved in a match fixing scandal.) The worst aspect of the "bad" nationalism is outright racism. For now I'll just say to those who thought the number of blacks on the French team was somehow inauthentic or a dubious outcome of mercenary colonial recruiting: all the black players on the team are 100% French and you're racist for not thinking so.

Aside from whatever Materazzi said to Zidane, I don’t want to take away from a hard fought campaign by the Azzurri. Most of those guys are consummate pros and they deserved to win the world cup 2006. You’ll notice how Buffon gave Zidane a genuinely sympathetic embrace after the game in which Zizou ended his career in shame… Those are some amazing moments in sport. Pirlo was superb throughout the tournament, like Cannavaro and Grosso. Gattuso, the guy who looks like a rabid dog, was
simultaneously a monster and a clown in midfield. Couldn’t care less about Totti, Iaquinta and Materazzi, they were wankers.

On the French side, the games against Spain and Brazil were superb. They attacked and defended as one tough and fast unit. Arguably, the final against Italy was in French hands for the end of the first half, the 2nd half and extra time before the penalty kicks. Henry, Ribéry, Malouda, Vieira, Sagnol and Zidane (before the headbutt) were fantastic. The gargantuan play of Thuram in defense was simply unbelievable for a player who many thought was too old to be selected on the national team. Thuram was a extra goalie for France, more of a goalie than Barthez. If France had won, he would have been man of the match. Both France and Italy moved the ball, attacked and defended as a team and it was great to watch.

Of course, in the end Zidane threw the match away in one of sport’s most bizarre gestures of violence. Italy had the extra confidence it needed in the
penalty kicks. Barthez, who should never have been selected (Gregory Coupet of Olympique Lyon should have been the #1 French goalie) seemed lost while the
Italians hit their penalties flawlessly.

Zidane broke my heart. The headbutt was so unzidanesque I thought it was a bad dream. Whereas Zidane lifting his second world cup on the last day of his illustrious career would have been a peak in the ongoing history of football, the result instead shocked the world and ended his last match and otherwise stellar career in shame. Materazzi is probably a piece of garbage for what he said to provoke Zidane. But Zidane is the one who is suffering most now, I'm convinced of that. And if he’d just kept his cool, like everyone thought he would, like we were accustomed to see him doing, everything would have been OK, even in defeat. Tragic.

For me, Zidane is still up there with Pelé and Maradona. Despite the headbutt incident, he is:

- Classier than the drug addicted melodramatic midget known as Maradona
- Right up there with Pelé
- The best French player there ever was, dethroning Platini
- A great ambassador for the game
- One of the reasons the French got to the final of the 2006 Cup, and possibly the reason they didn't win.
- The FIFA golden boot winner.

Today the (slimy) French president Jacques Chirac had these words for Zidane and the rest of les Bleus (quote translated by me from article in Le Monde):

"You are a virtuoso, a world football genius. You are also a man of heart, commitment and conviction. That's why France admires and loves you" he declared in the gardens of the Elysée. To all the players, the president said: "You have made
us live a sports epic of tremendous proportions that will remain deeply ingrained in the memory of the men and women of France. You have demonstrated to France that it is strong when it is united in its diversity and confident in its own ability.",1-0@2-669420,36-794181@51-793747,0.html

Monday, June 12, 2006

sleeping elephant

Net neutrality: is it worth fighting for? You'd think there would be a bigger buzz around this issue.

No one's given me any argument why we should mess around with the way we send packets flying around the net currently. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

For example, when I make my site for 2010, I want to be competing on equal footing with the big boys. Whatever that means.

Update: I've got other plans in life aside from one esoteric website. Well, I should, anyway.

Monday, May 29, 2006

google ads

I've checked my google adsense account and I've made $0.04 on the advertising on this blog. Yay! Hilarious! I love Google. Those ad pimps.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Creative Tree Pruning

Creative Tree Pruning
Originally uploaded by martyloo.
Why cut down a tree if you don't have to?


This is a test post from flickr, a fancy photo sharing thing.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

world cup diplomacy

My patience for totalitarian, authoritarian or theocratic regimes, while it was never really there, is at an all time low. My patience is in general at an all time low. That's why a dubious report about religious labeling made me nod in agreement as our Prime Minister "blasted" the Iranian government.

The fact remains that the international community is too tolerant to regimes like Ahmadinejad's. Regimes that are simply stupid: those governments continue to deny their citizens anything but a marginal future despite existing in a global community that isn't fooled by antics and childish propaganda. Unfortunately, they tend to ruin things for everyone else. Party-pooper is Ahmadinejad's middle name.

There's one diplomatic card that no one wants to deal in the Iran Nuclear stand-off for reasons that are probably not valid, given that the alternatives are surely worse for all parties if Iran continues to drive down the fascist road at full speed. (I don't care if the clothing labeling report was false, Iran's is still a fascist regime.)

It was suggested that Iran be banned from the FIFA World Cup. I think this is an excellent idea. It's a diplomatic measure, largely without humanitarian or economic costs, but it's embarassing. Embarassment is the least that idiotic governments deserve. And football is just a game ...

Thursday, May 04, 2006

V-Dub in da haus

My blog makes me look like a serious, frustrated person. I am these, but I also like to laugh.

Check out this.

I have to watch these commercials at least once a day to hold down my sanity tip.

Also (indirectly about Deutschland), the FIFA world cup is coming in 36 days. If you like football/soccer, this is not news, and you're getting more excited by the minute. However even for you non-footballers out there, nike soccer has a bunch of videos that are absolutely insane.

The dorky French promoter guy in the clips is Eric Cantona of 1990s Manchester United fame.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

"scream" for Darfur

On Sunday I went to an anti-genocide protest called "Scream for Darfur" held at Queen's Park in downtown T.O. The turnout was rather pathetic contrary to the organisers' insistence on it being fantastic. More importantly, you would think the monumental humanitarian disaster that is occurring in Darfur (400000 people dead and counting, 2 million people displaced) would mobilize more citizens. It's been all over the news and recently George Clooney jumped on the bandwagon and proclaimed his outrage (though he didn't scream into the microphone, like Jack Layton did). There has to be at least as many diehard Clooney fans in Toronto as there were demonstrators.

I don't think the Clooney crowd showed up. The folks assembled were mostly of the "Kumbaya" left: the love-not-war, white-peeps-with-dreads crowd. I was mostly annoyed by them, but in fairness, they did show up (the event was kickstarted by highschoolers) even though it seemed most people didn't really understand the depravity of the issue. Also, at every opportunity, the organisers insisted on asking if we were having a good time, telling us what a good time they were having, what a nice afternoon it was, and urging us to relax and party, which seemed highly inappropriate considering we were there to protest a genocide, and a clearcut failure of the international community. The local Darfuris (Darfurians?) stood by stoically, perplexed by this display of vacuous freedom. A band consisting of a rapper, a guitarist and a congo player, droned on endlessly before the speakers lined up to talk. The lyrics (delivered with an Eminem Detroit accent) were mostly about how we should stop oppressing all organisms of the earth. The guy insisted on using the term "organisms" over and over. It would be nice if we first stopped oppressing homo sapiens.

You can get pictures and an accurate summary here.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


I've always had a problem watching too much TV. Ever since I was little I was always the one to be completely mesmerized by it. I'm not someone whose critical thinking goes into overdrive when sitting in front of the telly. In fact, I can barely maintain my brain's basic state of passive attention. I become extremely lazy and my ass can't move itself. It's now a convenient excuse for explaining why I'm not an accomplished musician or haven't developed the cure for cancer. I probably don't have the talent and I'm not smart enough however I like to think I just watched too much TV as a child.

Actually, for several years, roughly from 1995 to 2005, I rarely watched. I had better things to do and didn't want to spend the monthly. Then I moved into a new apartment. My roomate wanted TV and I wanted an internet connection. We got a digital "bundle" and saved our dollars. The outcome has been that I've watched a lot of TV in the last 6 months. Hours that I will never get back.

The shame of it is also the manner in which I watch TV. I become a zombie. Practically all my friends have more knowledge of what shows are actually playing and worth watching. They seem to be able to filter the good stuff. I can only zap from shitty to shittier. I merely take my friends' advice, rent the good shows on DVD (haven't downloaded them ... yet), then continue to watch regularly scheduled crap on top of that. My blog (and state of mind) suffers tremendously. Have my posts become dumber? I wouldn't be surprised. I can't judge anymore, I'm too stupid. Anyway, if I'm not posting, it's surely because of TV.

Lately, however, I've been cutting down a lot. I've become extremely bored by it. Bored and digusted to the point of discomfort. If only my brain could vomit! It's Spring, and I think that my soul is full of dust and bile. All thanks to TV, I take no responsibility. My hate-on is in full force. The incarnation of my disgust is currently CNN Headline News anchor Nancy Grace who looks demented and has the personality of a hyperkinetic ghoul. I think the satirical show The Wrong Coast derives considerable material from this maniac. Her makeup crew must be doing it on purpose: there's no way they're attempting to make her look saner than she really is. I can't look at her or listen to her for more than 5 seconds.

It's mean, but someone needs to tell her she looks like a witch. OK I'm done.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

I heart Spring

The warm weather in T.O. is arriving. The sun is out and my ankle hurts. Good weather signs.

Friday, April 14, 2006

it's about time...

I'm posting this on martyloo, not nerdyloo, because it ain't nerdy. It's about time, folks, and time is something everyone should care about on some level because life is too short. That's not a complaint, by the way. I'm trying to say that I.T. is about time: faster, smarter, better. Your computer is supposed to make your life more enjoyable, by furiously automating all the mundane and tedious tasks that make you unproductive and grumpy. In many ways, information technology is in a constant struggle to live up to this expectation.

Calendar/scheduling software has been one of the most fruitful application areas in which computers were morphed into useful, ergonomic, effective and productive tools in addition to being specialised and nerdy calculation machines. Just like e-mail, calendar software is a "killer app", the expression used liberally by I.T. folk to refer to applications that economically justify sets of related but independent technology and industry. However, until recently, calendar/scheduling has been almost exclusively the domain of desktop PC applications like Microsoft Outlook, confining the calendar to a particular machine, corporate network or suite of proprietary tech. Face it: as far as ubiquity is concerned, the good old paper agenda book was superior to any silicon tech before Microsoft released Outlook Web Access or the ical standard started to gain market traction.

OK, that was nerdy. Let's just say that I continue to be amazed at how cool Google is, by how they respond to organic technology and market needs. I guess that's a bold statement because I'm not an economist and have only a subjective idea of what general I.T. needs are. Nevertheless, despite not being a typical computer user, some of my needs are run-of-the-mill and Google takes care of those brilliantly.

Philosophy aside, Google has created Google Calendar, yet again scratching my computer itches and proving, in my mind, that they just get I.T. (corny pun intended). Does anyone have to develop anything anymore when Google just cranks out the killer apps for free, and better than you could have imagined? We are truly spoiled.

Here's the google blog announcement.

Friday, April 07, 2006

magic ass

The locks on my building are unlocked by those magnetic cards that you wave in front of a square area mounted on a wall beside the door. These things are great: the satisfaction of unlocking the door, as if by magic, never ceases for me.

My usual habit is to put the card in the front pocket of my bag and I wave the bag in front of the magnetic square and just like that, beep! clink!, I'm in my building a la James Bond checking into MI-5.

Occasionally, I put the card in my back pocket. The magnetic squares beside the doors are at about the level of my buttocks. So I'll casually turn around, point my ass at the magnetic square, and beep! clink! the door is unlocked. Today, an old lady was sitting in the lobby when I did this, and I swear the look on her face was of absolute astonishment. She must have thought that a) my ass had magical door opening properties or that b) I was blowing a fart in the intercom.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Bitter Lemon gets Slated

For those who doubted the Bitter Lemon (you did?), she made it to Slate's "Today's Blogs" yesterday. An accolade well deserved. Keep bloggin'! Power to the blogger!

Friday, March 31, 2006

stabbin' it old school

Hey Peeps!!

I'm proud to report that guns were not used in the violent crime that occurred at my old high school (although gun possession hasn't been ruled out). Yay! It's reassuring when you can go to Miss Sogawa's math class and say "At least I won't get a cap popped in my ass! (I might get stabbed though.)"

Ah yes... This will no doubt fuel another generation of bad rumours about the old VP. Don't get me wrong: this school had issues which it apparently hasn't dealt with since the early 1990s. However, it probably is just an average school. Does that make you feel better?

Genet, PDD, Shnatz (a.k.a. Sausage). You know what I'm talkin' about.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Genet forces me to divulge my musical tastes...

... And to see if I actually have 7 friends who have blogs. Or even if I have 7 friends. (Is a friend a friend if the friend doesn't blog?)

Here's the deal:

"List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they are any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now. Post these instructions in your blog along with your seven songs. Then tag seven other people to see what they’re listening to."

Genet, you couldn't have chosen a better week to get a weird list out of me. I managed to save my friend Dali's hard drive from total destruction, and copied all of his music in the process, about 40 GB worth. So 7 songs is very limiting. But I'll restrict myself to 7 songs that really had an impact on me this week, for whatever reason: maximum effect per unique "impression" of the song. In no particular order:

1. Chopin - 2 Nocturnes, Opus 48

Hauntingly beautiful.

2. Dave Brubeck Quartet - Stardust

Smooth as silk.

3. Hot Hot Heat - Middle Of Nowhere

Pop that's really catchy. This is what The Killers secretly want to be.

4. Zero 7 - Polaris


5. Metric - Dead Disco


6. Wham - Everything She Wants

Best of the eighties.

7. Fantastic Plastic Machine - Black Dada

Weird and funky.

Genet's got Depeche Mode and Miss Kittin on his list: coincidentally, I listened to both this week after not doing so in a long time.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

new member of the martyloo franchise

After bringing you martyloo, and its multimedia incarnation, I'm proud to launch nerdyloo, the technology blog for martyloo. Yes, all that stuff I'm itching to post about but would bore most of my 7 readers, will be thrown into the "wired" (such an outdated term today when wireless is so ubiquitous) offshoot of martyloo.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Boo hoo

Poor Saddam Hussein. He's being "mistreated". Solution: let him starve himself. He'll do us all a favor and the funds for the trial can be used towards rebuilding the country that he, in fact, starved.

Monday, February 13, 2006

The News: now you can laugh AND cry

Is it me or is the "normal" news getting just a tad edgier and ever so slightly more irreverent?

For example, a recent article from msn entertainment suggests Christina Aguilera might be getting "less dirty". That's hilarious. Who do they think they are, the Onion? "Big changes are afoot in the media." You read it here first.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Hitchens does it again

I can't agree more with this article.

Just in case you missed them, the cartoons.

How you gonna act now? Gonna put a fatwa on my ass?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Another slam dunk

Yet another reason google keeps rockin'. Google understood why I don't like instant messaging.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

hot chocolate

I think they put crack in Tim Horton's hot chocolate. I've been having cravings for it for the last week or so. There's a Tim Horton's just about everywhere you turn, including across from my building. Strangely, every time I go to the store in front of my building the music playing is always Peter Gabriel's "Shaking The Tree".

energy and exercise

I had this idea in 1995. I didn't act on it... I could have been an artist.

Monday, February 06, 2006

You knew this was coming

This kind of headline was inevitable.

UPDATE: They've since changed the headline from "Resentment over Shiite justice in Sunni areas" to "Sunnis feel heavy hand of Shiites".

I wonder why.

Friday, February 03, 2006

airport lounge

Since Lemon went on her anti-fundamentalist tour de force, I thought I'd recall a certain situation, because I, too, have been thinking about some of the issues addressed in her post for quite some time. The fires were rekindled around the time of the renewed French secularity laws which forbade any obvious religious symbols from being worn in French public classrooms. This caused all sorts of controversy because the people most inconvenienced by this law were young Muslim women. In practice, I think at least some may have welcomed it. At the time, France was labeled as intolerant, heavy-handed and regressive. The debate is still open about that particular verdict. One thing to note, before you read further, is that in France and other non-theocratic states, there is public debate about religion and belief systems. I've already insulted at least a good number of fundamentalists by suggesting that at least one Muslim woman was genuinely happy to take her Hijab off (no, it isn't the Muslim Barbie doll), so fundamentalists are welcome to stop reading here.

I was forced to think about religion, belief and intolerance, on December 23rd 2005, when I was at the Toronto International Airport on my way to France with my parents. Hence, France and Islam are à propos, though on a microcosmic scale, and circumstantially. I've mentioned many times to a few different people that I would write about the trip, so consider this a start.

We were sitting in the departure lounge. I had the latest issue of Rolling Stone, having picked it up because it contained an article by Chris Rock critiquing his top 25 favorite rap albums. Strangely, my mom didn't want to read it. There was also an interesting article on Jay-Z, confirming his talent as the pre-eminent rap businessman, but not convincing me that I should listen to his music. I distinctly remember reading an piece on the insurgency in Iraq (also in Rolling Stone), the author's interactions with an anonymous insurgent seeming implausible.

At that instant, I looked up to see my parents staring past me with a puzzled look I've seldom, if ever, seen on their faces. I turned to see, behind me, two dozen people, bowing, their heads to the ground and asses in the air, in front of the window, outside of which was parked the Airbus 340 that would take us all to Paris. Consternated, my father noted, not without sarcasm, that it looked like everyone was praying to Air France. (The praying position is called Ruk'u and Airbuses aren't required.) Apparently, my family was sitting in what had effectively become the Muslim area of the airport lounge. Prior to that moment, I had noticed lots of people wearing head scarves, skullcaps, and tunics, but there was nothing really odd about it: after all, we were in multi-cultural Toronto, in an airport, en route to a hub for passengers going the middle east. I hadn't felt awkward in the slightest until I had witnessed the intense praying, the complete concentration. I'm accustomed to the bizarre and I welcome the exotic. But this was different. I remember thinking that this was a kind of self-segregation. That it was incredibly ostentatious, boastful even, as if they were attempting to show off the depth of their faith. Cynically, my mother wondered whether the prayers were for Allah to grant us a safe trip across the Atlantic, or whether we were witnessing the last prayers of suicide bombers. This obviously wasn't reassuring even if I really didn't believe the people in question were Al-Qaeda.

The scene was so impressive that I wanted to take a picture. My mom strongly disapproved: I suspect she, like me, believed that it would somehow be taking advantage of people in a state of submission and would thus be disrespectful. But my voyeuristic tendencies were in full tilt. I argued that I could be very discreet about it due to my spy size digital camera. But I chickened out. This was a shot that I regret not making. I felt I'd been unwillingly thrust into ethnography and hit the ground running. But I couldn't make my mother upset on the eve of a trip to France. And I genuinely felt a tinge of guilt. Taking a picture would have been tantamount to running up along behind them and slapping their ass cheeks in quick linear succession, like a scale progression on a human vibraphone. I've heard some North American natives feel that taking pictures of people takes a bit of their souls away... That isn't what I thought at the time. I didn't feel anything was sacred: I just felt weird.

In France, we explained what had happened to Sausage. He thought that it was too precious a scene to go unremembered and, humorist that he is, made up for my inaction by cooking up this:

If you think this is an anti-muslim post, think again. This is simply a demonstration of how religious ritual is often absurd to those who don't take part in it. The current post happens to be about Muslims at an airport, but I could have talked about Christians, Jews and Bhuddists. If anything, I hope you appreciate the profoundly secular (perhaps even ecumenical?) nature of my point of view.

Please feel free to add comments. Unlike some governments, I won't censor them, or behead people for posting them.

Monday, January 23, 2006

It makes me sad

Never have I been so confident and comfortable with my own political views. Yet I remain incapable of aligning them successfully to any of the major parties' platforms in the upcoming federal Canadian election. But this is not what is most troubling. Most of all, I find it disconcerting that in our “vibrant” democracy, my vote counts less than someone who happens to live in another riding blessed with a smaller population. It's also weird that my riding is regarded as a Liberal fiefdom, just like others are Conservative, its population's views as immovable and static as the concrete of their condos.

Electoral reform was first brought up in the current (thankfully almost over) campaign by Jack Layton, then touched on by Stephen Harper, then brushed aside by Paul Martin. Jack's NDPs, of course, have the most to gain by proportional representation, which is why Stephen Harper talked about Senate reform, and why Paul Martin put his head in the sand. However, not even Jack had the political savvy to underline that proportional representation is more democratic. That's because...

Why I can't vote for the NDP

Jack has an activist mentality. For him, democracy is something you lobby for and siphon off towards your "core constituents”. Layton doesn't even want to be prime minister, he'd rather criticize from the sidelines, which is what he'll end up doing. Listen to his response to Steve Paikin during the second CBC debate: he couldn't say that he wanted to be Prime Minister. If he were to be elected, you'd see an instant “Oh shit!” reaction, though he'd probably actually say “For goodness' sake”. Someone prove to me that Jack Layton is not an obsessive compulsive activist lunatic. Look at him and listen to him. He is self-absorbed by his own rhetoric. He gesticulates in Hitlerian fashion. The sound of his own voice titillates him to near orgasm.

His platform consists of paying lip service to traditional socialist ideas, and transforming our health care into a value instead of admitting that it's a service. Ultimately, Jack is still a demagogue: the kind that narrows in on the people he thinks he can brainwash.

Why I can't vote for the Liberals

The biggest demagogues in this election are the Liberals. They will say absolutely anything to get into power: they are definitely power sluts. I agree with both the Conservatives and the NDP when they say that it's time for change, that the Liberals are the party of entitlement and corruption. The attack ads and anti-American stance is annoying. The Chrétien/Martin Liberal party has attracted the worst kind of politician: the Machiavellians and the demagogues. Paul Martin pisses me off with his scratchy-voice fake passion pleas. He's going to save Canada? My ass. Please, if you could just clarify what you want to do if you get elected, you might have a chance of convincing me.

Actually, probably not. Re-electing the Liberals would mean that Canadians approve of a government that accepts small amounts of corruption as matters of operational cost and a diminishing role in international affairs, although on the latter item Martin has done better than Chrétien.

On a positive note, Canada is now one of 3 countries in the world to recognize gay marriage. It should be proud of this. But is this because of the Liberals? Their arms had to be twisted. Wasn't it the judicial system that upheld homo rights? So let's get real when we talk about “progressive” Canadians uniting under a Liberal banner. Sounds like flattery to me.

Why I can't vote for the Conservatives

Throughout this campaign, Stephen Harper has, in my opinion, been the most convincing of all the leaders. I find myself agreeing with many of his ideas in terms of fighting gun crime, government accountability, addressing the fiscal imbalance etc. But I still don't like him. Unlike many Canadians, I don't think he'll build an Aryan super-soldier camp in Alberta and start a national gay bashing campaign. Having said that, he has not convinced me that he would, in fact, stand up strongly for gay and other minority rights in the way that I think the leader of Canada should. I can't vote for a social conservative. I can't vote for a party that has not squarely addressed the points for which it is criticized most strongly and frequently. Even the Liberals have done some of that.


So, as you can see, I can't vote for any of the big parties. I don't even know if I can vote for the Greens because in the past they've attracted crazies from both left and right. Where's that Natural Law party when you need it?