All your abs are belong to us

A few weeks ago we bought the Wii Fit. Nellie really wanted one; I was curious but not very hopeful. I imagined a bunch of step exercises and yoga poses, and wasn’t all that interested.

Now, having used it every day except for one, I can say I was wrong. I kinda like this thing. For someone like me who’s never set foot in a gym to do gym-y things, it’s not a bad option. It provides enough strength and balance training to make me feel like I’m doing something. I’m sure I look like a drunk grizzly bear when doing the yoga poses, but it’s definitely helping my flexibility. The balance games, like skiing and snowboarding, are actually kind of fun and have sparked some competition between Nellie and I.

One of the criticisms people seem to have had about the Wii Fit was the tone of voice it uses with you, and that it seems scolding. I hope those people never get a personal trainer; if they can’t handle some passive-aggressive suggestions from a mumbling balance-board cartoon on their TV, a real live muscular type-A human barking orders will probably have them in tears. Anyway, I don’t mind it; I figure it’s just encouragement that gets a tiny bit lost in translation.

I won’t pretend this is real fitness training, but it’s certainly better than nothing, and nothing is what I was getting before. It’s also timely: being that it’s January, the month when resolution-makers still have some momentum, our gym downstairs is full every time I walk by on my way to or from work. When that fad wears off I’ll try to insert some proper running back into what exercise time I have.

For now, I’ll just keep getting scolded by the little white box under my TV.

Also good bait: Us magazine

There are people who need some training on how to buy things. Here’s how to spot them:

When waiting in line to pay they will take up as much space on the counter (or belt, if it’s a grocery store) and not think to look behind them at anyone who might want to set their items down. They are oblivious to all that’s going on around them.

Upon reaching the cashier, dutifully watching all their items being rung through and put into bags, they will be surprised at being asked to produce some form of remuneration. Not that they’d argue about having to pay…it simply didn’t occur to them that, as with every other time they’ve contributed to their local economy, they would have to exchange money for goods. They spend the next minute or so digging through their purse or pocket for a cartoonishly overstuffed wallet.

Next comes the exquisite precision of ridding themselves of their pocket change. An elaborate dance between cashier and customer, it cannot — nay, must not — be rushed. Only a painstakingly long process of selecting the maximum possible number of coins needed to round off the change to a neat dollar can save the customer from the crushing weight of those two quarters and three pennies.

The final act in their ineptitude is to stay rooted to their spot in front of the cashier while they put away…everything. Cash (bills only, mind you) into wallet, wallet into purse, purse into larger bag. Then receipt into different part of bag, bag into bigger bag, and so on. Meanwhile the next person in line struggles to input their PIN or sign their name whilst reaching around the shopper-pylon.

If you encounter such an animal in the wild, it’s best to avoid them. Switch lineups, or if you must, leave the store altogether. You can try luring them away with an instant bingo ticket if you have one; their type savours the sweet mindlessness of scratch-n-win tickets. Beware, though: they may need to borrow a coin.

"Insidious" might be a stretch…slightly devious, perhaps.

I’ve been meaning to write about an Economist blog post from December about MBAs which points to a debate between three professors from MIT and Harvard about whether MBAs are the cause or the cure (or something in between) of the current economic troubles:

The reaction of many budding financiers and consultants when faced with an economic downturn is to pack it in and go to business school. Business school applications soar in number during recessions. A lively debate between Andy Lo and Jay Lorsch and Rakesh Khurana questions if business schools are actually to blame for our current turmoil.

Messrs Lorsch and Khurana, professors of human relations and leadership at Harvard, think so. They believe business school can encourage the “culture of me”, or individuals solely out for their own self-interest.

An interesting debate, but I was more interested in a subsequent point made by the Economist blogger. Emphasis is mine.

This reminds me of a discussion I once had with one of my professors, the dean of a prestigious business school. Shortly after the Enron debacle he asked me how business schools could better teach ethics to help reduce such behaviour in the future. I told him you cannot teach ethics to MBAs. By the time you’re an MBA student (typically mid to late 20s) you’re either an ethical person or you’re not. No business school class can make you realise embezzling money is wrong if that’s your inclination. Most MBA students are ethical; they learned from their parents long ago.

I know where he’s going with that, but I don’t think I entirely agree. I don’t think there’s an on/off switch marked ‘ethical’ in the brain that’s either a 1 or a 0; I think it’s a scale, like all other traits and characteristics defined by a single word or concept. I think that trying to teach ethics gives students tangible examples that may later prevent them from doing something overtly unethical…so while it’s not making students think more ethically per se, it might make them act more ethically, and that’s just as important.

When I was in the software industry I worked with enough sales people to know that some individuals:

  1. are so far down the ethical scale that they wouldn’t recognize normal business ethics anymore;
  2. have jobs where incentives structures reward unethical behaviour;
  3. have received no ethical teachings which may have staved off unethical behaviour, as described above.

In all three cases I can see ethical training helping, or at the very least doing no harm. In my undergraduate business degree we were compelled to take a business ethics class (which I actually quite enjoyed, but then, I am a socialist) but had no such requirement in my MBA courses. We could have used some, certainly; I heard some truly astounding moral rationalizations during discussions on child labour, advertising and the like.

What do you think? Can ethics be taught?

Turns out I own clothes that I've never even worn

Each weekend starts with the intention of seeing The Wrestler. Each weekend ends with us having failed.

Friday night would have been an ideal candidate but, well, being tired and wanting to watch BSG won out. Put another way: we are old. Yesterday Nellie and I were both busy, and we went to Mercatto for dinner on a lark…very tasty. I can see that becoming our regular Italian place. Anyway, long story short: it was cold as balls outside so we didn’t stray far from home. Plus, we don’t relish the idea of the Scotiabank theatre on a Saturday night, chock full of middling teenagers ambling into screenings of Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

Today the timing just didn’t work, especially after Nellie undertook her ideal Sunday pastime of sleeping until noon. I used this alone time to destroy her best time in Wii Fit Advanced Snowboard and other similar accomplishments. Then we had breakfast, got groceries and went on a badass cleaning binge. I’m talking an almighty purge, people…stuff getting thrown out, recycled, put on Craigslist*…there’s a Goodwill pile here the size of a Shetland pony.

Time for the weekend summary. Pluses: relaxing, tasty, productive. Minuses: boring, lame. 3-2, w00t!!

* speaking of: anybody want a slightly used Roomba? Two wooden Ikea folding chairs? A crystal punch bowl?

You know that scene in A Clockwork Orange where they pry his eyelids open? Does that work? 'Cause I might give it a whirl.

Now that the Oscar nominations are out, and I feel like I should watch most, if not all, of the films up for major awards, it dawns on me how much watchin’ I have to do. I have to see The Visitor, Frost/Nixon, The Wrestler, Doubt, Revolutionary Road, Rachel Getting Married, The Reader, Encounters at the End of the World and Man on Wire. Not to mention The Changeling, Frozen River, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Kung Fu Panda, Happy-Go-Lucky, In Bruges, The Betrayal, The Garden and Trouble the Water. Gak!

That doesn’t even include the best foreign film nominees. I’ve only see one — Waltz With Bashir — but since it kicked ass, I’m just gonna go ahead and assume it’ll win so I don’t feel so bad.

"I'd say I'm a pretty darn good father. My father tried to eat me, I don't remember trying to eat Timmy."

I forgot to blog about some movies we cleared off the PVR lately. Here they are, from worst to best:

The Notorious Bettie Page (imdb | rotten tomatoes) was a pretty by-the-numbers biopic. Traumatic childhood? Check. Rapid-fire sequence of life events? Check. Great performance by a single actor who’s on the screen for every second of the film? Check. The cinematography was pretty slick, and Gretchen Mol was undeniably hot, but yeah…the same thing we’ve seen many times, if done a little better perhaps.

Fido (imdb | rotten tomatoes) was silly, grisly fun. Here’s the gist: Billy Connolly plays a zombie living with an uptight family in the 50s. The mother of the family is Trinity from The Matrix. The Zombies are always a hair’s breadth away from murdering the humans. Hilarity ensues.

Into The Wild (imdb | rotten tomatoes) was spectacular to look at and, while I thought I would hate the main character (from what I read about Christopher McCandless he seemed annoying, and for some reason I strongly dislike Emile Hirsch, the actor who played him) but I actually got to like the character as he was portrayed, and the supporting actors were all good. But the film just looks incredible in HD…that was reason enough to watch it.

Risen, like a turkey from the ashes

A final thought on yesterday’s topic, Bush’s legacy: as the clarity of distance seeps into the memory of the Bush43 years, it will be curious to observe the phases through which his reputation will pass. My prediction is as follows:

He’ll fade from the limelight by the spring, and generally avoid interviews from all but the most sympathetic questioners. After about a year information will begin appearing in books and magazine articles about how one or two high-ranking members of Bush’s administration — my money’s on Rumsfeld or Ashcroft, unless Cheney dies, making him the prime candidate — were pure evil, bent on starting wars, desecrating the constitution, etc. After these stories have had time to make the talk show and book trip rounds, opinions will begin to appear portraying Bush as a well-intentioned everyman fighting valiantly to keep the country intact in the face of these unreasonable forces, but powerless to stop them and, thus, to prevent the various disasters we today attribute to him and his administration…Iraq, the economy, the Katrina debacle, and so on.

The American public will be asked to forgive him, to label him some sort of put-upon Johnny Lunchpail hero who fought the good fight, a Willy Loman of the White House, truly a guy you’d want to have a beer with. The Republican party will need their everyman hero back in time to help campaign in 2012, so after a year of laying low while his reputation is healed through gentle reverse-swiftboating, he’ll make a triumphant appearance on the 2012 campaign trail and his resurrection will be complete.

That, or he’ll clear brush in Texas for the next twenty-five years like a good little cowpoke. Whichever.

"Both the country and, ultimately, the Republican Party are left the worse for it."

With America’s eyes (and the eyes of others here in Canada and around the world) focused squarely on Washington for Barack Obama’s inauguration, some have taken a break to wonder about outgoing President Bush’s legacy. By the way, I hereby declare “outgoing President Bush” to be the finest three-word combination in the English language.

Ahem.

Anyway, The Economist‘s take on the Bush years — entitled The Frat Boy Ships Out — is probably the best and most comprehensive yet.

Other facets of Mr Bush’s personality mixed with his vaulting ambition to undermine his presidency. Mr Bush is what the British call an inverted snob. A scion of one of America’s most powerful families, he is a devotee of sunbelt populism; a product of Yale and Harvard Business School, he is a scourge of eggheads. Mr Bush is a convert to an evangelical Christianity that emphasises emotion—particularly the intensely emotional experience of being born again—over ratiocination. He also styled himself, much like Reagan, as a decider rather than a details man; many people who met him were astonished by what they described as his “lack of inquisitiveness” and his general “passivity”.

This take in the Globe and Mail is hard to take seriously, as it asks the question ‘Has Bush been judged too soon?’ and turns for an answer to David Frum, Bush’s former speech writer, who may be just the tiniest bit biased — though no more so than the two quoted counterpoints: an historian at the James Baker Institute for Public Policy, and Jimmy Carter.

A failed presidency, two unfinished wars, an economic mess unmatched in decades, America’s reputation sullied and most of his party, the nation and the world glad to see the back of him. When George W. Bush boards the big blue-and-white Boeing 747 that will fly him back to Texas tomorrow, the conventional wisdom will deem him among the worst of presidents.

Yet history tends to soften the harshest of early judgments. Even Richard Nixon, who after the Watergate scandal became the only president ever to resign in disgrace, has been partially rehabilitated by the passage of time and sober second thought.

Could it happen to Mr. Bush?

His admirers think so. Former Bush speechwriter David Frum expects the “assessment of history will be surprisingly positive.”

It all turns on Iraq, which far more than the economy, hurricane Katrina or anything else defines the Bush presidency.

I think that to hang Bush’s legacy solely on Iraq is wishful thinking, a hope I’ve heard repeated elsewhere among Republicans and conservative commentators. This seems less about logic than it does about pinning all hope for Bush’s reputation on his one endeavour that may have a fighting chance at turning out well. I actually think that, over time, Bush’s handling of Katrina will become even more damaging to his legacy…that he ineptly presided over the worst natural disaster in his country’s history will haunt him for decades.

However, what Bush may eventually be best known for bungling is the economy, and the infallible reputation of capitalism he inherited from past presidents like his father and, most especially, his hero Ronald Reagan. As The Economist puts it:

Finally, Mr Bush also demonstrated the limits of capitalist triumphalism. The Bush administration was as business-friendly as any in American history: Mr Bush was the first president with an MBA (from Harvard) and he appointed four CEOs to his cabinet, more than any previous president. The administration was also wedded to the fundamental tenets of Reaganomics: cut taxes and free the supply side and everything else will take care of itself. Mr Cheney even argued explicitly that “Reagan taught us that deficits don’t matter.”

Mr Bush now leaves behind a tax system in some ways less efficient than the one he inherited, in need of annual patches, and unable to fund the government even in good times. He also leaves behind a broken budget process. Any economic triumphalism is long gone. Many of the CEOs, most notably Donald Rumsfeld and Paul O’Neill, proved to be dismal administrators. Reaganomics helped to produce a giant deficit. The financial crisis has made re-regulation rather than deregulation the mantra in Washington, while government has acquired a much bigger role in the economy through its backing of banks and car companies.

“I inherited a recession, I’m ending on a recession,” he noted at his press conference on January 12th. He wasn’t asking for pity, only to be judged on what happened in between. Unfortunately, that economic legacy is littered with wasted opportunity, bad judgments and politicised policy. The budget surplus he inherited is now a deficit, the fiscal hole in America’s retiree programmes is bigger than ever, the tax system is an unstable, patched-up mess.

All that to say, he was a rubbish president. Good riddance. To put a soundtrack on this trip down memory lane, here’s my favourite story so far about Bush’s legacy: Eight Years Gone, in which blogger (and rock god) Carrie Brownstein lists

the music that arose during the last eight years — the bands and songs that wrestled with the fear, uncertainty, disenchantment and frustration that for many people defined the Bush era and the events that unfolded during his tenure.

My favourite song from her list was Bright Eyes‘ performance of “When The President Talks To God” on the Tonight Show, a sharp and caustic swing at the man Conor Oberst could scarely believe was leading his country, in the Dylan-est moment of his somewhat Dylan-ish career. If you haven’t heard it, you can hear it over at YouTube. Listen to it. Listen, and heave a sigh of relief.