Wednesday, September 17, 2008

SNL - Newly Relevant or a Shadow of the Past?

The wide cast of web-pinion seems divided on whether the current SNL cast is poised on the verge of renewed greatness, or at the edge of the abyss (Check the comments here). Having not been a regular watcher since the mid-90's, I can't vouch for anything other than this 2008 season-opening clip. It's as if Tina Fey was born to play Sarah Palin. Not so much Amy Poehler's Hillary likeness, her mannerisms actually aren't quite shrill or shrewish enough (Does she also play Martha Stewart?) It works because of Fey's fearlessness.
I can see the value of that trait in comedy as well as in life.

I find life a lot less funny since giving up beer and taking on full-time parenting, financial and social anxiety as a replacement. The early 90s were SNL's golden age to me and represent a time in my life when everything wasn't life and death:

Dennis Miller, Chris Farley, Mike Myers, Adam Sandler before he became obnoxious, David Spade, Julia Sweeney, Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman - a veritable laundry list of hilarity, memorable sketches and characters. One of the criticisms of this period is Lorne Michaels' overuse of recurring characters, and I agree. Maybe Rob Schneider wouldn't have been reduced to doing horrendously unfunny movies (see The Animal) if he'd been allowed to stretch his legs a bit instead of being "Copier Guy" for three years straight. Still, say what you will about the cast's post-SNL careers, they were all at the top of their game on the show, and the recent retrospective "SNL In The 90's" only reaffirms my view. Instant (mostly undeserved) nostalgia is all the rage these days but in this case it's warranted.

With all the doom and gloom coming out of the media since the summer, I still believe it's important to be able to laugh at something before you deconstruct and analyze it into the ground. Tina Fey is doing a great job of it.

(Oct. 9th Update: See YouTube for some amazing clips of CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer relaying a similar message, this Palin thing has become quite the phenomenon. Perhaps Palin would do better in interviews and the polls if she paid Fey to impersonate her at press conferences, and quietly drop the folksy Fargo schtick when asked a serious question, about, say, the US government's $700 billion financial bailout. Katie Couric was obviously baiting her. It doesn't excuse Palin's atrocious ignorance or inability to properly deflect the question, but what was the point - unless you or your employer is distincly partisan. I suppose Couric would say the "truth had to be exposed".)

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Steely Dan Show - 2008-07-10 Bethel Woods NY

Here's the link (sorry, now a dead link as MusicWebtown is becoming a paid service) to this well recorded show, not sure if you can download the mp3's and save 'em to your hard drive. All that comes up for me is Apple's much-despised Quicktime web player. Utterly useless.

This is an audience recording but is very clear, decent stereo separation. For all you drummers or wannabees (like myself) out there check Keith Carlock's small break towards the end of track one, an instrumental medley of "Everyone's Gone To the Movies" and "The Fez". The man is a monster, both of the groove and has stellar chops to boot when required. The great thing is he always manages to keep it interesting, probably more for himself than anyone else. The side benefit is if you're a musician or just a really avid music fan, you'll quite often break out in to a smile at some of his references.

Donald Fagens' voice is as good as I've heard it in 15 years of touring and Walter Becker's guitar sounds like he actually rehearsed as opposed to the noodling I was used to from previous tours.

The rearrangements of classic tunes include a funked-up version of "Show Biz Kids" that improves and expands upon the droning one-dimensionality of the original; it's almost a complete rewrite and if you've never heard it, it a real groovin' treat. "Everything You Did" gets the reggae-lite treatment that characterized both the "Gaucho"-era outtake "The Second Arrangement" and Becker's recent solo album Circus Money. See if you can spot the "new" chord in the verses...

Special props to Jon Herington's amazingly lithe adaptation of all the session players in the 'Dan's "magnificent" history while retaining his own style. He really puts a unique personal stamp on every song. The horns are tasty and more up-front than in most of their recorded output.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Economics Of Stupidity

I live in the suburbs. I like living in the suburbs. I choose to live here, for reasons that will become obvious, and have always aspired to own my own house; not "semi-detached" to someone else's, not a "townhome" which is nothing but a glorified apartment. I grew up in a neighbourhood similar in feel to the one I now reside in, and despite the squalling left's insistence to the contrary, there is still nothing quite like having your own little space, your own trees, your own yard, your own garage. I don't like sharing a common wall with my neighbour. I don't like sharing anything other than idle conversation with them. I realize that my dream is based on an outmoded ideal from the 1950's and am unapologetic about it. On the other hand, I also believe that everyone is entitled to live somewhere decent and most people buy what they can afford. It's unfortunate that our new ideal is cramming as many units per square kilometre as humanly possible. Density breeds discontent, at least in my mind. I've lived in apartments and semi-detached houses, and always feel like I can't quite breathe properly. A quarter of a million dollars doesn't get you much in 2008. So I do apologize if I come across as a gun-toting redneck, when nothing could be further from the truth.

Without getting in to the economics of such a prospect, the tale of which could fill a large book of it's own, suffice to say that I realize that living in Greater Suburbia comes at a cost. It's a lot of work and expense to maintain a small single-family home these days, some would say too much work. It's also a requirement to have at least one, and most often two cars, which contribute to global warming and unnecessarily clog our roads with traffic. I say bosh, flimshaw... Go big or go, uh, to a townhome / birdhouse. Maintenance is part of the deal. Many people I know privately agree with me on this, while publicly applauding the new high-density ideal that is scheduled for this neck of the woods. Yay! More low-income ne'er-do-wells stacked on top of one another!!! I'm literally bursting with anticipation for the density of this area - let's call it "Farrhaven" - to increase to inner-city levels in the faint hopes that the transit system will have more stops here, or that the city might deem it fit to include us in their light-rail plans (currently on indefinite hold). Our fine city counsellor (let's call him or her Jen Hasder) has publicly said so, and is drawing support from a disturbingly large chunk of the brainwashed public. I don't see her, (or him) building a third storey on his (or her) house and letting renters move in. All right, for the sake of clarity, the counsellor in question is a woman.

Sigh. Are people idiots, or is it merely my outsider perspective that sheds some seriously obvious light on the error of this plan? I can hear you saying "both", and you are correct, sir or madam.

Will the roads be appropriately widened to make room for the influx of new citizens driving to work and to shop? Will the newfound tax money be used for anything other than padding City employees' retirement funds and replacing the sodium lights in their private golf courses so they can play at night? Will we get better snowplowing in the winter and road maintenance in the summer? Will anyone explain why there are no f-ing sidewalks in this bloody town? Of course not. Will lip service and studies be paid to determine that none of these things are "within the budget"? Of course they will. In short, I firmly believe that there will be no increase in our services or in the quality of life here. Quite the contrary, in five years this nice little suburb may well already be victim to declining property values, higher crime rates and disintegrating infrastructure. By then, I'll be on my way out of here before the crystal-meth lab next door blows up in the middle of the night.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Here's the real reason Ford is in trouble...

Wow. That's all I can say when I go to the Ford UK site and take a long look around, carefully wiping the drool from the keyboard in hopes it doesn't short out. It is precisely cars like this that are needed in North America, and have been for some time. It has taken $1.40 / litre gasoline and the resulting backlash against large gas guzzling behemoths to make the automotive sector wake the hell up from their self-induced 15 year SUV coma.

Reading the Globe (and also the Mail) today, I realized that Ford in the USA and Canada still don't have a clue as to what the North American market wants or is willing to spend on a small car. They have finally announced a change in direction, but it's probably too little too late for Ford Canada.
There are plans to finally bring the European Focus to our shores, along with the snazzy new Fiesta and some other interesting-sounding vehicles by 2010, but - no wagon, and only a maybe on the 5 door hatchback. I've owned two Focus wagons, a 2001 and a 2004, both were superlative in terms of style, gas mileage, versatility, cargo storage and overall driving satisfaction. The redesign in 2005 made the Focus into just another ordinary car. They sucked all the distinctiveness out of it with the lame chrome grille and Crown Vic-inspired dashboard, as well as the overly cheap interior materials. Ford are completely missing the boat on the small crossover / wagon sector dominated by the likes of the newly-revamped Toyota Matrix / Pontiac Vibe twins, and the utterly horrible Dodge Caliber. Another opportunity lost.

A telling quote from Ford advisor Joseph Phillipi says "the key (to Ford's success) will be making those vehicles less European in terms of the touchy-feely aspects." What a profoundly stupid comment. Less European? Ford has made blunder after blunder in terms of North American model releases, and they hold up the Contour and the Merkur as examples of flops that demonstrate why European cars don't sell well in North America. Unfortunately, those vehicles didn't sell because they were really freaking crappy, not because they were European-designed. The UK model lineup is much better than what we are spoon-fed on this side of the pond.

Here's what Ford and people like Mr. Phillipi think we want:

Yeah, an underpowered engine, chrome bars on the grille, an automatic transmission, a trunk and fake side gills is exactly what I want. Riiiight.

I also love being told what I want instead of being listened to. Last year, Ford discontinued the hatchback and wagon versions of the Focus, against the protestations of the public. Those models were the only reason to buy one in the first place.

Ford Canada, so we're clear, here's what I want: This exact model, with no changes except the steering wheel on the left side.
I, and thousands like me would gladly pay a little more for the Euro Focus as is, not "Americanized". I'm sure Mr. Phillippi has considered a Woody Wagon version of this car for us dumb-ass North Americans.

In short, make this car available here and I'll buy it. Keep telling me what you think I want and be prepared for bankruptcy. It's that simple.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Is it me or is it difficult to concentrate on anything these days?

 It occurs to me as I sit at the computer with 6 different windows open and the television on in the background that I'm having a hard time concentrating on anything for any length of time. Go figure.

Take a drive and you are bombarded by information from signs and cars and the radio plus the incoming text messages and phone calls from the Crackberry device; turn on the television to any of the all-news channels and there is a ton of information on the screen at any given time. I can see the talking head, well, talk while I get weather information, stock tips, health tips, asparagus tips and what have you while my brain keeps up a running game of "Keep Away" with my eyes. The eye sees something that the brain interprets as bizarre and the information is gone as fast as it showed up leaving the brain to wonder what the hell just happened.

Does anybody read books anymore or do you just listen to audio books in the car to and from work? And is it a crime to sit and do nothing? I'd like nothing better than to sit in an easy chair and stare forward a la David Puddy for about a half hour. 

"No, I'm good."

The world is a lot smaller now. Wayyy smaller. I like it when I was a kid growing up and Toronto was a mystical place far, far away filled with wonders. Not like now. I live and work in the GTA and it's not that wonderful anymore. Maybe it's just me.

Friday, July 18, 2008

We Owe It To Ourselves do something about the appalling lack of Canadian-made goods available at the vast majority of retailers in this country. Check your shoes - where are they made? Even if they say Rockport or Clarks on the sole, the little tongue tag gives away the country of origin as China. Same with just about any garment that used to be made, if not in this country, then at least on this continent.

It's a situation that has knocked the manufacturing sector on it's ass over the last few years, and despite popular consensus, free trade is not to blame. Three years ago, the protective tariffs that helped Canadian goods compete in the international marketplace were lifted and it's been going downhill at breakneck speed ever since, according to a feature story on CBC's The National tonight. Jobs have been lost in the thousands to third world cheap labour countries, the usual gang of suspect countries being the beneficiaries of our unwillingness to pay $5 more for a shirt or pair of pants made in this country.

To remedy this, I've placed a request in to contact some of these garment manufacturers to see if there would be any interest in assembling a national web registry of Canadian Manufacturers for goods of all types, under the banner of There, you would be able to search out, say, t-shirts, or winter coats and how to buy them, with links to the manufacturers' sites. It's just an idea in the earliest stages of planning, but I know that I'm not the only one out there who's mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.

I wonder where the masks our Olympic athletes are forced to wear due to the dangerous air quality wearing in Beijing are made? Hoboken? Something tells me not so much...

...and now back to our regularly scheduled lampooning of society.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Jessica Alba gives birth to full grown lady and names her Satania Rae

Congratulations are in order, we suppose, for Jessica Alba and her husband Monington J. Baggs on the birth of their first and only child, a rather large adult. The apparently 46-year old, one hundred twenty pound woman was delivered relatively intact to a shell-shocked Alba, who was expecting twins. (So much for expectations. I've been expecting a lottery win for several years now.)

The name came after the petulant newborn set fire to her hospital bed after borrowing a lighter from a nearby nurse's station. "She jist a-walked on ov'y and grabbed herself, it", said Dottie Holtber, a cleaning woman whom we stopped talking to the minute after this quote was taken. "Twas the strangest ol' thang I ever did see." She snuck that one by us. Damn her.

Just remember, the truth will never make the news, they'll show you some beautiful baby borrowed from a modeling agency with some sickeningly cute name like, oh, I don't know, Honor Marie or some such horseshit. The government will in all likelihood, succeed in covering this one up. If Jessica Alba really wants a baby, she'll buy one. Anyhow, who wants a white baby anymore - they're so last century.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Winter That Just Won't Quit (But Had Better, And Soon)

Looks like Wiarton Willie and Punxsatawney Phil were right this year. It's been six weeks since the famed rodent prognosticators forecast an extended winter, and damned if the mangy vermin weren't spot-on. Like everyone else in Canada, I'm ready for spring anytime it feels like gracing us with its presence. Now would be good, with the exception of the mountains of snow here in Ottawa just waiting to melt and simultaneously destroy both my basement and my roof.

Not only does one have way too much time on their hands when unemployed, add Seasonal Affective Disorder and you've got a recipe for depression that can only be salved by the sweet sounds of music and the imminent arrival of a season that is currently MIA.

So far we're pushing record amounts of snowfall here, and everyone's mood seems to be highly irritable with a supersized side of testy. Residential and secondary roads are essentially down to a single lane, yet no one seems to care enough to realize that you actually have to slow down to pass and avoid sideswiping the other guy on your way to wait in line to get your Roll Up The Rim cup from a listless, apathetic, incoherent, pimply-faced, tattooed and multiply-pierced Tim Hortons teen. (Side note: It's a sure sign of spring when the glaze in their sullen eyes is replaced by jumpy antipathy. You couldn't pay me enough to manage a ragtag group, sorry, "team" of these kids.)

One person here in Ottawa has decided to make the best of winter and build a record-breaking snow fence in his front yard that made it to the front pages of Digg, the smarmy geek-infested social news site. Kudos to this guy's creativity.

My energy level sinks like a stone when I even think about the amount of work involved in the upkeep of this thing. It's quite enough for me to blow, say, 52 cm of il neige out of the driveway like last Saturday; let alone pile and shape it on a daily basis into an imposing monolith that's like the photo negative version of the ones from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

No, better to think of the coming spring and the accompanying burst of energy (and mad cleaning) that will follow.

It'll get here on its own schedule and with any luck, my mind will still be in working order (albeit corroded and in need of a tuneup) when the first warm breeze blows through the narrow, sidewalk-impaired streets of Ottawa. Maybe it's true that you can't rush a good thing. One can only hope. Now off to Hortons for that coffee - oh, right, those saturnine kids... Never mind, I'll brew my own.