"Our culture's secular version of being born again."

Here are a couple of excerpts from the book I’m reading right now, Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges (amazon | indigo | kobo). I’m about 60 pages in and I’m wavering between “He’s overreacting, it’s not that bad.” and “He’s right, we’re fucked.”

Those captivated by the cult of celebrity do not examine voting records or compare verbal claims with written and published facts and reports. The reality of their world is whatever the latest cable news show, political leader, advertiser, or loan officer says is reality. The illiterate, the semiliterate, and those who live as though they are illiterate are effectively cut off from the past. They live in an eternal present. They do not understand the predatory loan deals that drive them into foreclosure and bankruptcy. They cannot decipher the fine print on the credit card agreements that plunge them into unmanageable debt. They repeat thought-terminating clichés and slogans. They are hostage to the constant jingle and manipulation of a consumer culture. They seek refuge in familiar brands and labels. They eat at fast-food restaurants not only because it is cheap, but also because they can order from pictures rather than from a menu.

This struck me as itself ignoring history, as surely the population has grown, by and large, more literate over the past few centuries. However, Hedges also makes the point that the medium has changed from the days when education and debate was written, and therefore targeted at the literate. Now, with television being the primary news delivery/debate medium, the content is being targeted at the illiterate:

In an age of images and entertainment, in an age of instant emotional gratification, we neither seek nor want honesty or reality. Reality is complicated. Reality is boring. We are incapable or unwilling to handle its confusion. We asked to be indulged and comforted by clichés, stereotypes, and inspirational messages that tell us we can be whoever we seek to be, that we live in the greatest country on earth, that we are endowed with superior moral and physical qualities, and that our future will always be glorious and prosperous, either because of our own attributes or our national character or because we are blessed by God. In this world, all that matters is the consistency of our belief systems. The ability to amplify lies, to repeat them and have surrogates repeat them in endless loops of news cycles, gives lies and mythical narratives the aura of uncontested truth. We become trapped in the linguistic prison of incessant repetition. We are fed words and phrases like war on terror or pro-life or change, and within these narrow parameters, all complex thought, ambiguity, and self-criticism vanish.

Anyway, like I said I’m still on the fence about whether this book is full of histrionics or insight. I’ll let you know when I get to the end. Or you can just wait for the movie to come out.

"How can a guy who can't speak English lie?"

A few days ago I finished the new Michael Lewis book The Big Short (amazon). In typical Lewis fashion it’s a somehow-entertaining story about markets, their bizarre circumstances and the equally bizarre personalities who dwell there.

While it does get a bit dense when it delves into the intricacies of credit default swaps and tranches of debt and so on (it reminded me of the middle portion of Moby Dick where Melville just goes on and on about whales) it’s still a very entertaining and unbelievable story. Few people actually saw the subprime mortgage crisis coming (which in itself is remarkable) and those who did were on the very fringes of the market, and it’s their stories Lewis follows.

You should read it, if only to see how a one-eyed recluse with Asperger’s (seriously) outsmarted the whole system.

The riveting adventures of sicky and worky

So far this weekend I’ve barely left the office. Meanwhile Nellie’s allergies are so bad she’s been laid low by all the Benadryl she’s been taking. We did manage to watch Brothers (imdb | rotten tomatoes) late last night, which was okay. Now all I want to do is lie on the couch, turn off my brain, watch The Pacific and Treme and try to fight off this cold I can feel coming on.

In other news it turns out I like the caffe mocha. Who knew?

An evening of summer dreams

On Thursday Nellie and I stepped into a bit of a different world. Through a work connection we somehow ended up at the ROM as guests for a charity event supporting Camp Oochigeas, a getaway camp in Muskoka for kids with cancer. It was our first time at a shindig like this and, while a little weird for us, it was a ton of fun.

The evening started with cocktails, the most delicious Kobe beef sliders I’ve ever tasted and a silent auction on dozens, maybe hundreds of items ranging from individual bottles of wine to trips, TVs, celebrity-designed paddles and many more. The one item that caught our eye was a painting, provided by Canvas Jam. The Pollock-esque painting had been done by Ooch kids, and it had the extremely rare quality of appealing to both Nellie and I. Seriously, we never like the same art, and that it had a backstory this special made it pretty appealing to us. We made an initial bid, and agreed on a limit for later when the bidding really heated up.

The crowd was moved into the main hall for dinner, introductory remarks and a virtually never-ending supply of wine. The emcee for the evening was Q107’s John Derringer, and he pointed out Beverly Thomson and Mike Komisarek (to whom, as a Habs fan, I am obliged to say: “boooo!”) in the crowd, but the real star of the night was a young lady named Heidi Hayes.

Heidi is an energetic, athletic, ridiculously charming girl who’s done some acting (including a part in The History Of Violence) and who happens to be recovering from some form of cancer that I can’t remember and couldn’t pronounce if I did. She was, of course, a former Ooch camper and was there to tell her story. Needless to say, by the end of her story the crowd was standing, clapping and shedding a few tears, utterly charmed by miss Hayes and unlikely to ever forget her. As Mr. Derringer pointed out after returning to the microphone, so long as Heidi is willing to tell her story for Ooch they’ll never have trouble raising the funds they need.

Those funds, in this particular case, were for their Summer Dreams program. Since so many kids are unable to get away from the hospital or their families for two weeks, Ooch is coming to them, building a location near the Toronto hospital district. To that end, the evening features a live auction for some premium items to go along with the silent auction and general donations throughout the evening. And this is where it got fun.

Somewhere between the $15,000 it took to win a Muskoka getaway and round of golf with Bobby Orr, and the $13,000 bid on a 52-bottle fridge filled with some unbelievable wines (1990 Lafite anybody?), we realized that we simple folk from farm and military base were faaaaaar from home. But damn, it was fun. One table spent $40,000 on 3 lots. I don’t know where those guys work but I hope they’re hiring.

Anyway, with that excitement done, we were in for a little of our own. We got back to the silent action. Somebody had bid very aggressively on our painting, but we matched. Then he threw up another big bid. We snuck one more bid in at the last minute, and he came back, ready to bid again. Nellie shrewdly engaged him in conversation as they compared notes about who wanted it more. While they discussed it the staff came around and collected the books with the winning bids…so I guess we wanted it more!

We were now the proud owners of some Ooch art (sorry for the shaky iPhone pic). I immediately began to worry that this wouldn’t seem like such a great idea the next (sober) morning, but there’s been no buyer’s remorse as yet. We’ll pick it up next week but we already have a few walls in mind. Oh, and T-Bone won dinner at Nota Bene, so we all made out well.

Overall a really fun, interesting night with good friends for a fantastic cause. And art! Hard to beat that.

It could be much, much worse. Right, Leafs fans?

Jeez, could my teams look any more awkward stumbling toward the playoffs? My Habs slumped at the end of the year, barely locking down the #8 spot and staring at the President’s Cup-winning Washington Capitals in the first round. The Raptors, meanwhile, have lost too many good players to injury and, following today’s loss to the Bulls, have slipped out of the playoffs.

Methinks I’ll get to enjoy the spring weather outdoors this year, rather than spending very many evenings in front of the TV. Too bad I didn’t care about baseball a little more; the Jays are off to a pretty good start.

"Someone's ear is in danger of having hair brushed over it…"

I learned something this weekend: that there are three indispensable ingredients of a great weekend. These are, in no particular order: beautiful weather, ample time and people with which to share it.

On Friday I did have to go to the office, but it was nice enough outside that I could walk there, and I didn’t stay long. By noon I was home, fed and ready to enjoy the unseasonably warm day. Nellie and I strolled down to the Bier Markt patio for sunshine and beer (me: Erdinger weiss, Weihenstephan weiss, Spaten lager and Delirium Tremens; she: KLB Raspberry Wheat, Big Rock Grasshopper, Okanagan Spring pale and Koningshoeven Tripel) on a lazy Friday afternoon. Nellie had an urge for an Urthel Hop-It so we wandered up to the Beerbistro in search of one; alas, they had none. So we availed ourselves of the rest of their collection (me: Maudite and Trois Pistoles; she: Durham Hop Addict and Koningshoeven Quadrupel) while making dinner reservations at nearby Harlem. We’d been there once last year and liked it and it felt like the right fit on a lazy Good Friday. One ill-advised cocktail later and were into the starter (catfish Lafayette…yum!) and then our mains. My pork hocks were okay, but Nellie wisely got the fried chicken. I didn’t mind that I missed on some of the flavour. The relaxation was tasting delicious enough.

Saturday was the first day in about two months that I haven’t had to go to work, so I celebrated by sleeping in. Despite it being another beautiful day we didn’t really get out and about that much as we were prepping for dinner with T-Bone and The Sof. Well…Nellie did the prepping, I just cleaned up and provided moral support. Anyway, after a great meal (baguette w/ honey, balsamic and goat cheese; sausage-stuffed pasta with pancetta and sage; steak from Cumbrae’s and three kinds of cheese) this is what our table looked like:

Just for the record, that’s:

  • Marie Stuart champagne (which we brought back from France last fall)
  • Nino Franco prosecco
  • Stratus Icewine
  • Z52 Zinfandel
  • Hidden Bench Fume Blanc
  • L’Acadie Alchemy
  • Noval 2001 Port
  • Blanche de Chambly
  • Christofel Nobel
  • Doppel-Hirsch Doppelbock

And yes, in case you’re wondering, Nellie does like to drink her beer from a wine glass toward the end of the evening.

Sunday was, blessedly, another lazy day. A good lie-in, brunch at the Jason George, a nice long talk with my mom who turned 60 (!) today and Zombieland (imdb | rotten tomatoes), which was excellent. Tomorrow it’s back to work, in spite of my best efforts to take a day off, but for the first time this year I feel like I really got my money’s worth out of a weekend.

Oh, and the other ingredient for a perfect weekend? Consecutive shutouts.