• Okay, I admit this one is mostly a pet peeve, and I feel bad even bringing it up, as some of my favourite people indulge, but it’s time I took a side: I believe it is silly to write without capital letters.


    Personally, whenever I read an email message expunged of capital letters, unless the communication came via a phone that lacks easy capitalization, the message seems to me to be encumbered by laziness. The writer does not seem to feel that I, as a reader, deserve the expense of effort they would have needed to utilize their SHIFT key.

    But who am I to judge? If my fellow email corresponders choose to type without grammar, spell check, or capital letters, that is their right. Perhaps they enjoy letting the letters fall where they may without the confines of “correctness.” And maybe in particular social communication circles, going uncapitalized is simply the preference of the group because it is perceived as easygoing.

    Nevertheless, I think it is worth noting that, in certain cases, following some rules of language can be a way of showing our correspondents that we respect them—kind of like not accentuating a burp during a dinner party. And so the more formal, and the less we know someone, the more I think such belches of grammar and spelling can stand out.

    I have recently witnessed job applications in which candidates omitted capital letters from their cover letters. Baffle me! Can they really expect a professional agency to take them seriously if they don’t take themselves seriously enough to apply the occasional SHIFT key to our initial interaction? Should the employer also expect a high five instead of a handshake during the interview?


    Now—just for fun—I’m going to try to make the case against a capital-free existence even in personal correspondence. In my humble suspicion, capital letters have a useful function in our language: I think they help to alert the reader to natural punctuation breaks in our paragraphs, and so make our writing easier to digest on the first pass.

    I’m in favour of using original styles to communicate material, and so I wouldn’t make this argument if I could see a single benefit to excluding capital letters.

    As far as I can tell, there are four possible arguments for a expunging the SHIFT key from one’s typing vocabulary:

    (2.1) EASE

    Perhaps non-capitalizers think that the SHIFT key is far too labour-intensive given its modest gains. As you wish: if the shift-free genuinely believe that pressing an extra button once or twice a sentence is a significant waste of time and calories, then I support their decision. However, I do request that they check their data. When I’m at my keyboard, one finger hits the SHIFT key while the others keep on typing, so I don’t actually find shifting takes any extra time, nor in fact, many extra calories (indeed, my shifting finger does not seem any more buff than my non-shifting fingers).

    (2.2) TREND/HABIT

    It seems some have cut capitals from their emails because of the text-messaging boom. When one is typing on one’s small phone, capital letters are often more difficult to employ, and so, I think, much more acceptable to exclude. As a result, given the popularity of non-CAPS-texting, capital letters may seem passé to some even when they’re easy to apply. Moreover, because people are used to going capital-free in text messages, they may argue that it’s simpler to maintain that habit in emailing as well.

    My argument here would be that text messaging is a form of communication shorthand. Since each letter costs a lot more energy to type on a phone, it’s all about finding the simplest message to get your point across. “c u b4 the show,” for instance, gets “See you before the show” done on a smaller budget. That makes sense to me. Similarly, in the past, Morse Code left many words out to send the most pertinent information; this does not mean, though, that when famous sea captains wrote tell-all books about their experiences, they wrote in simplified beeps of language. No, it was merely the Morse medium that gave them that exemption. The definitive convenience within one does not have to undermine quality of the other.


    Probably the most common explanation for removing capitals from one’s writing is that of personality. Anti-capital snobs believe that they have a unique flavour of being that is illustrated by their lack of oversized letters. I do not intend such a shiftless existence any harm, but I must ask the practitioners of this theory if they are aware that many people have used the very same “unique” same small-lettered technique before them.

    (Indeed, I understand that the now expired poet, e.e. cummings, was one of the first to go capital-free. Most commonly, he de-capitalized his poetry and sometimes signed his name sans capitals. Some speculate, however, that he offered the latter as a gesture of humility as opposed to a recommendation for others to do the same.)

    Not that things worth doing have to be unique or original (good manners, for instance), but, if one’s reason for excommunicating the capital letter is because they think it illuminates an originality of personality, I must suggest that it does not.

    (2.4) AESTHETICS

    A friend of mine has explained that she uses the no-capital system because she likes the look of it. Fair enough. The only thing I can say to her is that most of the time one’s written words are meant for other people to read, so might it not be worth considering whether they enjoy such diminutive lettering, too? Moreover, given that written language is generally meant for communication, does she not worry at all that she might be giving up clarity for the sake of looks? Or is going capital-free the ultimate victory of fashion over substance?


    For those who would like to take me down via an appeal to hypocrisy, I freely acknowledge that I have probably made at least one grammatical error somewhere in this message. However, please note that I have specifically tried to avoid such mistakes. In contrast when one goes capital-free, one is choosing to resist.

  • On CBC radio’s Q with Jian Ghomeshi, I find that the host’s brand of cheerful, introspective inquisition usually succeeds in bringing out the non-pretentious side of his guests; however, in a recent Q leading up to the London Olympics, Jian interviewed the billboard brandal, Scottish poet, Robert Montgomery, who fought through the host’s friendliness and managed an impressive level of condescension.

    Montgomery’s “brandalism” project, that of superimposing his poetry, along with other art, over billboards (including recent Olympic advertising) is interesting; as he says, cities decorated on all sides by commercial imagery could be exhausting to the psyches of the inhabitants, and so many city dwellers may prefer a quiet poetry break. Nevertheless, I was intrigued to hear how the poet would tackle the notion that the places on which he places his wares have already been paid for by law-abiding citizens. Montgomery’s personal preference for his ideas over corporate products sounds lovely in theory, but what gives him the right to overrule the message of the legal tenants of the space?

    I mean the question sincerely. As anyone who’s ever taken a philosophy of law course knows, Martin Luther King argued, while in jail, that some laws are in such violation of human dignity that they should not be considered valid. That’s compelling to me, so I was ready to be persuaded that Montgomery’s brandalism is confronting an oppression that the corporations have no right to inflict upon us.

    Yet, instead of making any attempt to suggest the intrinsic immorality of the original billboards, Ghomeshi’s guest simply explained that most people seem to enjoy the respite from the noise of commercialism. Is that really all the argument that is required to overrule the law? That people would prefer it? I’m sure most people would also rather go without parking tickets, so should we tear them up if we get them?

    Presumably the proceeds from billboards go the city (or at least the economy), which can then pay for infrastructure for the citizens. I’m happy to hear an argument that the billboards are nevertheless immoral and so must be fought, but Montgomery’s follow-up defence that he is providing his fellow humans with a kind of therapy is wholly insufficient, and incredibly paternalistic. Despite his poetic pedigree, I’m not convinced that he’s necessarily equipped to provide such collective psychological treatment.

    All of this I would have forgiven were it not for his hubris-riddled anecdote in which he described being caught in the act of brandalism by a police officer, who, happily enough, enjoyed the poetry and told our hero to carry on. “Not all police officers are stupid,” the poet concluded. So, along with providing therapy, Montgomery’s poetry has the ability to test the intelligence of its readers? If you “get it”, you’re smart; if not, sorry, you’re not too bright. (Moreover, whether or not the officer was smart, since when are individual members of the police supposed to ignore the law because they happen to like the sentiments expressed by the criminal?)

    I am more than happy to be persuaded that brandalism is a worthwhile enterprise, but I think Q should consider bringing on a defender who can see far enough past their own ego to be capable of taking on the genuine question at stake here: when is it okay to forsake the law for what you perceive to be the greater good?

  • It has come to my attention that Lebron James, star of the NBA and my blog some months ago, has, on his second try, won the championship he coveted when he left Cleveland to start an all-star team in Miami. Many people, including SethBlogs, disliked Lebron’s communication style during the defection. Please note, however, that most of his critics nevertheless acknowledged that Mr. James was still probably the best player in the league, and that his new team—-however he found his way to it—-was likely going to dominate the sport.

    I was thus surprised, on viewing the telecast leading up to James clinching his glory, that the legendary basketball star, Magic Johnson, merrily anticipated that if James won the title, everyone would forget about his controversial behaviours in the past. “Everyone will love him,” Magic said with a grin.

    “But,” I yelled at my TV, “we never doubted that he would win! Our issue with Lebron was never with his basketball skills!”

    Nevertheless, upon winning the championship, Mr. James was brought onto the talk show, The View, whereupon one of the hosts asked him what he had to say to his accusers now.

    “Well,” he beamed, “I think I’ll let [my NBA championship trophy] do my talking for me.”

    And the audience laughed with delight as though no one could ever criticize the star again.

    So let me see if I understand this. If it’s true that Mr. James behaved badly, then it was only contemptible so long as he wasn’t a champion. But, upon achieving victory, his behaviour off the court is no longer contestable?

    PROSECUTOR: Mr. Cheatem, is it true that you falsely represented your company’s holdings?

    CHEATEM: Yes, I did, but in my defence, that made my company millions of dollars, and I was named Broker of the Year in my office.

    PROSECUTOR: Why didn’t you say before that your scheme was so successful?! I would never knowingly insult the behaviour of someone who won! Congratulations. I move for a dismissal of all charges.

    I’m not saying that James is as bad as a fraud artist. In fact, the star was uncharacteristically gracious when he received the big trophy. I don’t even blame him for his silly answer to the soft question he received from the View people; it was too easy a slam dunk answer for him to pass up. But I do hope there is resistance among his critics to the notion that winning absolves someone of wrongdoings related to their character. (Unless James wins again next year: in that case, what more do we want from him, people?! ;))

  • On the radio stations I listen to (CKNW and CBC), there have been several interviews recently featuring pundits decrying the anti-social nature of my home metro city of Vancouver. Apparently, we metro Vancouverites aren’t very friendly, or at least it’s difficult to make friends here, and many people are feeling disconnected. In each such discussion, callers to the radio shows have boasted of their methods of increasing interactions with their neighbours.

    In one case, a man was so fed up with his friends’ anti-social tendencies that he was now standing up to them. “They want me to text them instead of at least talking to me on the phone,” he complained to the soothing verbal nods of the radio pundits. So he’s started a program in which he bakes cookies, and then takes himself on a mission to visit with his friends at their homes. “About 50% of them didn’t like that I’d arrived unannounced,” he said, “so no cookies for them.” From there, he explained that his goal was to give his friends a break from whatever project they were working on: who didn’t have 15 minutes to talk face to face and maybe share a cup of tea?

    This cookie ferry was lauded by the radio pundits as someone who was showing merry creativity in his efforts to truly reconnect with his world.

    On a rival radio station, meanwhile, a man called in to say that he too is an advocate of increased social interaction and so he tries to talk to people on the bus even though, he acknowledged sadly, in 9 times out of ten he is rebuffed. In this case, the radio pundits were upset that the social hero had been so mistreated by snobby bus travelers, and they hoped he would maintain his good spirits in pursuit of his good fight.

    Such negative results proved, it seemed, that Vancouver was indeed an unfriendly city where making friends is a daunting pursuit. And apparently it’s getting worse! The highest percentage of people who find friendship-making a challenge are in the young demographic of 25-34 year-olds. This was especially sad to the pundits since, after all, within such youth there should be the greatest promise and opportunity.

    But, just a for moment, might we consider the possibility that 25-34 year olds perceive difficulty in making friends because they no longer have the free-friendship-making services of school, and they haven’t yet learned how to acquire friends in other places? Or maybe this particular crop of 25-34 year-olds, compared with previous generations, has been nurtured into assuming that they deserve a lot of friends at all times.

    “And this,” one pundit remarked, “in spite of social networking.” Their implication of course being that social networking is a false form of human connection; indeed, the pundit now had proof that social networkers were ultimately dissatisfied in spite of their lofty technical connections. The pundit did not consider any other alternative such as, say, perhaps social networkers in that age group are spoiled by the ease of virtual interactions and so they mistakenly assume that it will be equally easy out in the face-to-face world, too.

    Perhaps our city would benefit from greater social engagement than we have, and maybe social networking is hindering more than it’s helping. But if we’re not willing to scientifically interpret the evidence beyond simply taking as gospel a particular group’s self-assessment that they’re lonely, then we really have no way of knowing.

    There seems to be an unassailable agreement amongst social interaction pundits that face-to-face meeting with human beings is always better than any other form of communication. Why? Have they never been to a gathering where the conversation is stilted, boring, or overpowered by a narcissist? Do they never wish they were home reading a book, or even watching TV? Moreover, some people are introverts, which I understand means that, unlike extroverts, they are not energized by socializing, so maybe they require less in-person visiting than those who love to be around people. Perhaps, for some people, social media allows them to engage while still possessing an immediate escape route.

    And what about the benefits of engagement provided by digital communication? Each of these unholy media, from phoning, to texting, to e-mail, to Tweeting, has the power to set up plans to meet more efficiently than traditional communication. Imagine how cumbersome it would be to set up a friendly flash mob without the internet.

    Ultimately, I think new forms of communication give us more choice. Maybe today, as the pundits complained, we don’t know our next-door neighbours as well as we used to, but at the same time, instead of acquiring friendships merely based on proximity, we can now interact with people with whom we have something particularly in common, even if they live on another continent. Yes, perhaps these options are too many and are costing us interactions that would be good for us. I too find it often rude and disruptive, for instance, when people are habitually on their texter while officially visiting with someone in person. And maybe some people are addicted to their iBerry to the point that they are harming themselves without being aware of it.

    But we need more evidence for the inferiority of modern communication as a whole beyond simply that it is not face to face. Not everyone wants to interact directly with other people all the time. That doesn’t necessarily mean we’re unfriendly. When I’m on the bus, I like to read or listen to my radio. I’ve met many strangers who have decided that I would be better off talking to them. And rarely in such cases have I found the conversations to be fulfilling. Perhaps that’s because I was enjoying my book or radio program, but it may also be because getting to know someone for the first time is stilted business, and so, if we’re not destined to be great friends, we’re doing the hardest part of socializing without the payoff.

    I find that people on the bus are generally pretty friendly if someone is lost or falls down. We look out for each other if there is a need, but beyond that maybe we’ve decided as a group that we’ll focus our socializing on people with whom we have a relationship, while using our solo bus trips as free time to catch up on the book we’ve been wanting to read or cell phone game we never get to play.

    The truth is it’s not hard to make friends if you’re willing to go to places where stranger-interactions are an assumed part of the activity. Sports, clubs, conferences, volunteer endeavours, and weddings are all fertile contexts for friendship-making. So, instead of imposing oneself on the nearest stranger who already had plans for their transit time, why not go to places where people have chosen to engage with new people?

    And, once people are friends, I applaud those who make the effort to create opportunities to interact, but the the idea that one’s friends should always be ready for a fifteen-minute cup of tea is the most fascist notion in the history of friendship. Dearest cookie-socializer, are there no times when you don’t want to socialize? Maybe you were just getting ready to take a shower after a long bike ride, or were planning to watch a movie with your spouse after a hard day at work; how would you like it if your friends arrived on your door step just then, informing you that it was time to socialize? And let’s be honest: it’s not going to be a “fifteen minute” morsel of time: it’ll be at least an hour before you’ll be allowed to get back to what you had planned for yourself. Perhaps YOU, cookie man, would love such an imposition of impromptu interaction, but can you comprehend the possibility that some people may have chosen their own solitude or company just then? What gives you the right to overrule your friends’ plans with your personal preference to be in their presence at that moment? Next time, just phone (or Tweet) ahead to see if they’re up for a visit, and nobody has to get hurt.

    Perhaps, as the pundits argue, the world would be a better place if we were to visit with each other more often, but those who hold that position would, I submit, have more success in achieving this goal if they were to persuade those of us less inclined by making the socializing inviting instead of obligatory. If we choose it, we will stay.

    P.S. Since typing the above, I forwarded it to the Simi Sara Show on CKNW (whereon some of the SethBlog villains of this piece were originally given their day on radio). As a result, to my delight and nervousness, I was invited onto the Simi Sara show to defend my “anti-social position” (see the below video, “The Simi Sara Show Part 1”). And below that (“The Simi Sara Show Part 2”) is the audience’s reaction to my radical views. Apparently, according to the popular consensus, there is no middle ground between always being social, and being an unfriendly jerk.

  • One of the things that drives me to roll my eyes at politicians in general, and my British Columbian representatives in particular, is that most of them (or at least the most successful of them) seem to live in perpetual spin. When a legitimate criticism finds its way to them, their duty to their brand seems to be to misinterpret, misdirect, and/or simply confuse the issue until the previously straightforward matter is going in circles. Or, if their mistake is too damning to spin, then they simply hold up a mirror in the direction of their opposition and point out that, when the rival brand was in power, they did something similar.

    The latter is a brilliant technique for escaping the most daunting scrutiny because, for almost every level of blunder that you make, one of your enemy political brand members will undoubtably have at some point committed a similar faux pas. Indeed, when eventually the enemy retakes power, and provide their own scandals, they in turn will recall your mistakes back to the stage – and so the circle of politics continues.

    As much as my eyes roll with this spin, I can understand its origins. Much like a product on the market, it is difficult for our democratically elected leaders (and the media that covers them) to focus too much on nuance in the 30 second soundbites that define them. Nevertheless, I often wonder if there is room for a mild case of humility amongst politicians. Perhaps if former BC Premier, Gordon Campbell had been more humble in his imposition of the HST, the populace wouldn’t have developed such an unreasonable hatred for it.

    Maybe I’m wrong: maybe we the voters see humility as a sign of weakness. Perhaps, if a politician admits imperfection too often, we will think they lack confidence. Indeed, the strange modesty-free behaviours of politicians seems to back up this notion. Whereas the rest of are expected to speak of our own achievements with a modicum of self-deprecation, politicians must continually cheer themselves on and associate themselves with any successful enterprise whether they spawned it or not.

    In a few-party system like British Columbia’s, this strategy apparently will get you elected, but it will eventually get you hated. Most political leaders, no matter how popular they are in their arrival, will leave office under a hale of contempt. Campbell was one of the most successful politicians in BC history, but by the end, he was amongst the least popular leaders we’ve ever run out of office. The decapitated political party, though, can still survive by renouncing their own former head and admitting they need a fresh start. Which brings me (finally) to my point. I think I see why the Occupy movement in BC (Vancouver, specifically) seemed to lose so much of their fan base so quickly. Because they are a consensus movement, they have no one but themselves to blame for their mistakes. And so, when the criticism was stronger than standard spin could handle, instead of serving up a fall guy for us to swarm, they simply denied their flaws and claimed the press was not fairly covering them. (It’s never a good idea to attack the media that you rely on to promote your rhetoric.)

    Using my talk radio listening experience as my blunt measuring tool, it seems to me that most Vancouverites are significantly sympathetic to the Occupy movement in the US as we perceive that their financial system has betrayed them. Given, however, that Canada, whatever its flaws, has been—-my pundits tell me—-a beacon of financial security during the current world economic crisis, many wondered, when Canadian Occupiers first arrived, what our self-proclaimed 99% representatives were going to be ranting against.

    At first, the Vancouver version wouldn’t really say. They were a consensus movement, which meant, as one Vancouver representative admitted to my radio host (Bill Good), creating a coherent thesis was going to take a while. Nevertheless, the general “down with the Man; up with the rest of us” seemed to resonate with many in the populace who have never heard a pander they didn’t like.

    To their credit, some of the Vancouver occupiers were capable of discussing with the press the things they wanted changed about the world, but understandably no two occupiers seemed to think alike, and so the general notion that they didn’t know what they wanted persisted. In the meantime, many observers were becoming increasingly impatient with the Occupation of previously shared public space. The Occupiers seemed to feel that they were above the bylaw: not only were they ignoring the rules against tent structures, they renounced the authority of the fire department who had claimed that the impressive tent village was contrary to fire code. The movement did eventually conform to the fire department’s “recommendations,” but not without antagonizing their bylaw-abiding audience.

    By the time the Vancouver Occupy Movement put forth a list of 60 demands, which itemized a coherent selection of idealistic goals, for many of us, it was too much, too late. In general, my radio friends (at least those who called in to the radio talk shows) agreed with a large percentage of the ideas within the Occupy platform, but they were tired of their anti-social methodology. (And when Vancouver had to re-route its Santa Claus parade around the Occupation, that was the last straw that broke the camel’s back!)

    The trouble, I think, with the Occupy movement—-in contrast with standard political parties—-is that while, yes, most politicians will attempt to spin their way out of criticism, the Occupy party appears to feel that they are above it. After two drug overdoses (one leading to a death) in the Vancouver encampment, they were quick to absolve themselves of any responsibility as they blamed the government for not having better programs for the drug-afflicted—-their lost comrade, they implied, would have died anyway. Perhaps they were right, but their unwillingness to express a morsel of remorse or acknowledgment that they could have done anything differently themselves once again alienated their audience.

    All of that, I supposed, could be described as standard political rhetoric, but the Occupiers stepped off script forever when a few of them tried to intimidate the press away from covering these potentially damaging stories. Some Occupiers tried to talk down the “don’t broadcast our problems” wing of the movement, but they did not renounce them. In standard politics, if you provoke a scandal (or tax) too big to spin, the party has to leave you under the bus. By the nature of their consensus design, though, Occupiers can never disown their own and so are left to feebly spin the egregious behaviour of their brethren as free speech to which “they have a right.”

    Strangely, then, this is one case where critics can legitimately paint the whole organization with the same brush. The consensus movement is beholden to the actions of its least reasonable members. One caller to my radio noted that the dreadful behaviours of those aggressive Occupiers were not unlike the beasts in George Orwell’s Animal Farm whose originally righteous resistance to oppressive farmers eventually mutated into a facsimile of the very enemy they had overthrown. As intriguing as this criticism is, I don’t think it’s yet fair to this particular movement. If they continue to treat themselves as infallible, however, they may be on their way.

    The 60 demands of the Vancouver Occupy movement may be wonderful goals for our society. But Utopia is not easy to create. As flawed as Canada may be in terms of social justice, it is still, as compared to all of the societies in history, probably in the top 99th percentile. Democracy, with all of its problem areas, has so far proven to be the most effective way to achieve the best in humanity.

    However, it is certainly not perfect. For instance, one thing democracy didn’t seem to account for in its birth is that we the people may actually destroy our earth. Unfortunately, we seem unwilling to vote for politicians who will change our habitat-destroying habits. So maybe the only way to save ourselves is by overthrowing democracy with a less selfish and “now”-obsessed political system.

    At this point, though, I don’t believe the Occupy Movement in BC is the one to achieve this goal. When Occupy Vancouver received (and, to their credit, obeyed) legal injunctions to remove themselves from public sites not long ago, they promised to get their message across via flash occupations of public places such as the Skytrain. But the Skytrain is something our society has gotten right, hasn’t it?! Isn’t such public transit good for the environment as it promotes people out of their gas-sipping cars into much more energy efficient trains? And more importantly, from the 99% perspective, Skytrain service helps the majority of us to get around cost-effectively.

    But our self-proclaimed 99% reps apparently are so certain of their righteousness that they’re willing to disrupt the travels of often non-rich, green-abiding constituents. As with all politicians, I’m sure they’ll spin this contradiction brilliantly, but, if that doesn’t work—-and the 99% is as outraged as it should be by their un-green threat—-the Occupiers, sadly, don’t have the option to simply fire their leader. Consensus has no scapegoat.

    P.S. So far, thankfully, Occupy Vancouver have not lived down to their Occupy Skytrain threat. This gives me hope for their future; however, the fact that the idea was even suggested by their representatives is a discredit to their movement.

  • A Twitter version of myself recently commented, “Plenty of room for temporary Canuck fans on the bandwagon. You’re not obligated to watch the whole marathon to cheer on the final sprint!”

    I couldn’t agree with me more! As the Canucks attempt to exorcise their Chicago Blackhawk demons tonight, some longtime Van Can fans will bristle and even insult those short term cheerleaders who only come out for big games. I do not understand this resentment. Hockey is entertainment, and so, as far as I’m concerned, you’re welcome to take part in as much or as little of it as you like.

    (Admittedly, I can be caught teasing those newbies who try to sound like hockey pundits and make hockey proclamations that are beyond their comprehension level, but that’s a whole other snobbery.)

    Similarly, I don’t resent those of us who only watch Olympic sports every four years. It may be tough on those athletes that they don’t get daily cheering, but, sorry: this is entertainment. I’ll watch when I find it entertaining, and I happen to only find cross country skiing to be intriguing when Olympic medals are on the line.

    I may also watch a movie sequel without “supporting” the original, or view “Harry Potter” without reading the book. I don’t have a problem with me doing that, and neither should Canuck loyalists resent occasional supporters. Not only are they not hurting anybody in the process, but their fresh enthusiasm adds excitement to the hockey battle for the rest of us. In fact, it seems to me if they were there all year long, the playoffs wouldn’t be nearly as fun.

    However! If the Canucks lose tonight, I will have to aim my disappointment somewhere and so I’ll have no choice but to join in the mocking of those clamouring for the bandwagon exit.

  • Many years ago, I decided to try online dating. I assumed that it would be a place that one could get to know another person through electronic conversation better than they could in, say, a bar or a club where music tends to overpower the human voice.

    As it turned out, I was quite right that one could communicate with words instead of gestures online, but I was startled to discover that many women were shy about saying anything unique about themselves, and instead would simply state that they “loved to laugh” or “live life to the fullest”. In spite of the popularity of these claims, I found them to be surprisingly empty. How many people, after all, don’t enjoy a good laugh now and then, and who among us isn’t hoping for a life that’s full to the brim with fun stuff? Thus, rather nobly, I decided to sacrifice my own profile by turning it into a profile-makeover column wherein I ever-so-helpfully offered suggestions to people for how they might describe themselves beyond cliches so that prospective suitors could get a distinguishing sense of them.

    Predictably, few people responded to my efforts, but I nevertheless felt that I was doing my part for the greater good of the online dating community.

    Finally, one day, I received a reply from a woman who said she liked my profile a lot. After brief e-mail correspondence, she asked me to call her. I did so and soon after found myself on a date, which was so unusual in its results that it provoked the cultivation of my dating motto: “Don’t worry too much about a date in advance – it’ll either be a good date or a good story”.

    I don’t want to give away which of those two categories this particular date fell into, but I will say that, nearly a decade later, I’ve entered it into CBC’s Bad Date Story Contest.

    If you’re interested to learn the details, my story, which begins from the above-mentioned phone call, can be found here.

    Note: given the CBC contest is now closed, you are invited to share, via comments here, any bad date tales that you think could have topped mine on the CBC charts.

  • In sports, when underdogs win unexpectedly, there seems to be an almost unanimous tendency amongst such winners to suddenly deride those who predicted they wouldn’t win.

    INTERVIEWER: How does it feel to win?!

    UNDERDOG CHAMPION: Yeah, everyone was counting us out. They were all bashing us. Nobody believed in us, but ourselves, and we proved them all wrong!

    I find the indignant tone of such remarks to be a wee bit confusing. It’s as though the vindicated athletes think the pundits were maliciously targeting them in a manner akin to someone telling a child they would never amount to anything…

    PUNDIT: I predict the Rangers will beat the Blazers 4-2.

    BLAZERS’ PLAYER: Oh, great, so you’re saying I’m not good enough to win?! You don’t believe in me just like my parents never believed in me! Thanks a lot.

    Surely the players understand that, if predictions are to be made, someone has to be estimated to lose, so their designation as underdog was not necessarily mean-spirited. But maybe I’m missing the point. Perhaps the players simply don’t like being predicted upon at all…

    INTERVIEWER: So how does it feel to be go into this tournament ranked number one?

    HIGH RANKED PLAYER: Actually, I find the whole notion of rankings to be disrespectful: I’m tired of being treated like a piece of meat whose results can be anticipated by non-players. Instead of typecasting us based on past performances, why don’t you just wait and see what happens? Whatever will be, will be!

    Strangely, though, such railing against complimentary predictions doesn’t seem to happen. Instead the players only seem resentful when they’re not picked to win. Actually, that’s not completely true. More accurately: they only object when they’re not picked to win, but end up winning after all. However, I’ve yet to hear an assault on predictions of losing when they prove accurate…

    INTERVIEWER: So, how do you feel about your 5th place finish?

    5TH PLACER: Well, let me first point out that everyone predicted I would come in 5th. And I just want to say ‘Screw you!’ to all those people that didn’t believe in me.

    INTERVIEWER: So you feel you should have been predicted to fare better?

    5TH PLACER: Yeah! It would have been nice if someone would have believed in me. I see that all sorts of people believed in Mr. World Record Holder over there. Isn’t that nice for him? So not only does he get the glory of winning, he also gets the pre-event accolades, too. Couldn’t those predictions have been shared out evenly? Or better yet, here’s an idea: why not treat us all like we have an equal chance of winning and not predict at all!?

    So, given that the athletes only object when they are inaccurately predicted to perform worse than they do, maybe their objection is not that their results were estimated, but instead that that the alleged experts got it wrong. Hmm, but the problem there is that if inaccuracy of prediction is the only issue, wouldn’t the “overdog” players predicted to win complain when they lose?

    INTERVIEWER: So how does it feel to lose after being the favourite in this tournament?

    OVERDOG LOSER: Well, the truth is I was a little irritated in the first place when we were ranked so highly. Clearly, the so-called experts don’t know what they’re talking about. They said we’d come in first, and did we? No. I just feel really bad for the fans who were given false estimates by the pundits.

    So I’m not sure what the solution is to this apparent paradox. When I coached kids’ rollerblade hockey, a four-team tournament was divided into “Gold Medal Winner”, “Gold Medal Runner-up”, “Silver Medal Winner” and “Silver Medal Runner-up”. Admittedly, one of my ten year old players approached me afterwards and said, “Why are we being called ‘Silver Medal Runner-Up’? Didn’t we come in last?” Nevertheless, perhaps sports prognosticators can learn from such efforts to protect people from ever thinking they’ve lost…

    PUNDIT: I believe equally in all four teams in this tournament. They’re all ranked number one in my books! If I had to choose – and it’s basically a coin flip – I would rank the Bears ‘1A’, the Tornados ‘1B’, the Lions ‘1C’ and the Ravens ‘1D’.

    RAVENS’ PLAYER: Awesome! We’re ranked number 1!

    P.S. Similarly, consider Jim Carrey’s (academy award worthy) Lloyd Christmas in one of the great (and most underrated) comedies all all time, Dumb & Dumber…

    (SPOILER ALERT: Don’t view you if you haven’t yet seen this brilliant movie!)

  • So a personal irritation of mine arises when comedy talk show hosts ask what I call joke-ended questions of their guests, thus leaving their conversation partners looking silly as there’s not much for them to say. If they answer the question seriously, they look dense as they seem to be missing the joke. But, if they try to add to the comedy of the question, they often look like they’re milking a line of humour that was complete at the question mark.

    Consider, for instance, Jon Stewart’s recent interview with Harrison Ford (which was on my television last night). After spending his pre-interview comedy time pleading mockingly with his favourite whipping President, George W. Bush, to be a guest on his show (promising him a free McRib burger as a reward), Stewart asked Han Solo if he thought the entreatment would work.

    What was Indiana Jones supposed to say to that? If he responded “No” he’s stating the McObvious, but if he went with “Yes” he would seem like he was trying to add to a joke that appeared to me to be pretty much done. Thus, it seemed that Jon Stewart was not really asking Harrison Ford a question, but instead was simply offering another punchline with a question-impersonating lilt on the end of it.

    But, wait, let’s hear Harrison’s response…

    “No,” he said with an assertive chuckle at the possibility of George Bush guest appearing on Jon’s show, “not a chance.”

    Not bad. Somehow he delivered the straight line without sounding humourless.

    “Do you think,” apparently delighted Stewart painfully followed up, “I need to throw in a McHappy Meal toy?”

    Again, we were spending Bladerunner’s time on the pre-interview monologue, and I didn’t see where Harrison could go with it, and yet, amazingly, Dr. Jack Ryan didn’t look as phased as I would be…

    “You have to just be a much nicer guy,” Harrison said with another chuckle (which left his host in hysterics). “So it’s not going to happen: no, it’s not in you.”

    Both Jon Stewart and I loved this reply! Somehow, Harrison Ford had found a way out of the question-joke by not taking it on directly, and instead mocking the question right back for its ridiculousness. Mr. Stewart, are you really going to laugh at George Bush for not coming on a show that has made its career on mocking him and then ask Harrison Ford if he thinks the failed president will come on the show for a burger and toy? Fine, then the wily actor will join the joke by telling you why George Bush isn’t coming on your show.

    But perhaps this was a fluke. Surely, Jon Stewart would get him with the next question-joke.

    The McDonalds-based interview continued and Harrison Ford admitted that his 9-year-old son thinks the McHappy meal toys are dreadful.

    Jon Stewart was intrigued because his 4 and 6 year-olds still love the toys. “Between the age of 6 and 9,” he asked everyone’s favourite action hero, “when does that toy go from being the greatest thing that has occurred in life, that we must go through monsoons, over mountains by foot to get to, to ‘Ahh, it’s a piece of bleep: I’m not interested’?”

    Perhaps this one wasn’t a pure question-joke, as it contained a reasonable inquiry for another parent, I supposed, but still it felt to me that there wasn’t too much room left for The Fugitive…

    But, hold on…

    “Well, I don’t know about your parenting skills,” Harrison said to another explosive laugh from J.S., “but I would suggest that somebody should have got to this maybe a little earlier. Have you ever bought ‘em a toy? Then they would see the difference…”

    Wow! Don’t get these quotes wrong, Harrison seemed to like and appreciate Jon Stewart, but nevertheless, he brilliantly sidestepped the host’s standard attempts to make his guest the straight man to his continuing monologue. Instead, Harrison Ford absorbed the punchline-questions and punched them right back.

    You go, Solo!

  • As you likely know, Lebron “King” James (or “LBJ”) is one of the top two or three basketball players in the NBA. He’s been a superstar in his profession since, seven years ago, he transitioned from high school to play for his home state Cleveland Cavaliers in the world’s best basketball league. From the start, he was not just a great individual scorer, but also possessed incredible vision and passing ability for someone who had skills enough that he could have ignored his teammates. And, just to add flavour to his abundance of greatness, he’s a rather handsome fellow, who contains a high level of charisma.

    Strangely, though, somehow this year he has become, in the eyes of many observers, an NBA villain. You see, at the end of last season, his contractual obligation to the team that drafted him had expired and he could sign with any new team that could afford him; unfortunately for Lebron, his decision, and the way he presented it, kind of a irked a few people.

    Going in, it was estimated that several major factors would weigh in Lebron’s choice – (A) his loyalty to his original team and fans, whom he had nearly (but not yet) brought a championship; (B) his loyalty to his bank account – perhaps he would offer himself up to the highest bidder; and/or (C) his pursuit of a championship – perhaps he would sell his services to the team he felt would give him the best chance of acquiring trophies.

    Two years before making his decision, the King was already contemplating out loud his future options, which drew criticism from NBA legend, “Sir” Charles Barkley, who claimed that, until his contract with Cleveland was complete, the team deserved his full attention.

    LBJ’s response was slightly less charming that his usual: instead of taking on Barkley’s point, James instead simply critiqued the man himself: “He is stupid,” said the then 23 year-old. In Lebron’s defence of this slightly useless response, he had probably never before in his career encountered criticism and so he had little idea of the proper way to deal with it.

    This tendency to believe that he could do no wrong may have also influenced the royal star as he approached his decision before this season as to where he would play. The finalists, he assured us, still included Cleveland, but also, amazingly, the Miami Heat where another of the league’s top three players, Dwayne Wade, had already set up camp along with recently acquired free agent superstar, Chris Bosh. So, if LBJ signed there too, the team would be stacked with talent not usually seen outside of an all-star game.

    Some of us thought the idea of three superstars colluding to form one superpower team for the sake of winning a championship was somehow missing the point of the accomplishment. Winning the league’s top honour seems meaningful to me because great players are pitted against great players in a grand struggle for supremacy, but if you get there by putting all the best players on one team, that’s seems like a less difficult matter, and so therefore makes winning “a championship” a less valuable prize.

    Indeed, the afore-insulted “stupid” Charles Barkley noted that he Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson would not have signed up for the same team in their era: they preferred to play against each other.

    Nevertheless, most accepted Lebron’s right to choose his team. However, they still resented how he did it. Instead of making his choice and then – for curtesy’s sake – letting the runners up know, he staged a one-hour primetime television “reveal” interview in which he would announce his “decision” to the world that he would be… inspirational music, please… defecting to the Miami Heat.

    He explained proudly, you see, that he was taking less money to give himself the best possible chance of winning (although, don’t worry too much for poor James: the endorsements acquired in his new situation should make up the difference pretty quickly). It’s funny to me how in the sports world the selfish pursuit of winning (i.e. pursuing winning for oneself at the expense of one’s former teammates and fans) is somehow considered noble. I don’t really get why greed for glory is any more beautiful than greed for money. They’re both just about providing Lebron James with a happier life.

    Regardless, as the now dubbed “Big Three”, Lebron James, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade showed themselves off in a lavish welcome to winning party at Miami’s home rink, Charles Barkley was once again shaking his head. He argued that James’ television announcement again showed disrespect for the King’s ex team, who Barkley felt deserved to be told of his decision privately before James started dating his new city.

    The snubbed city agreed with Barkley’s assessment and burned various Lebron products in effigy, while their majority owner, Dan Gilbert, wrote to the fans: “You simply don’t deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal. … I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER ‘KING’ WINS ONE. You can take it to the bank.” He added: “This shocking act of disloyalty from our home grown ‘chosen one’ sends the exact opposite lesson of what we would want our children to learn. And ‘who’ we would want them to grow-up to become.”

    Wow! That might have been a bit much, but why shouldn’t the guy who’s losing the most by Lebron’s decision not say everything he could to inflame his fans to stay loyal? Mr. James had a right to leave, and Mr. Gilbert, I suggest, had a right to try to mitigate the disaster by using his only remaining weapon in retaliation.

    But wait! Lebron James actually felt bad about leaving Cleveland. “I never wanted to leave Cleveland,” he explained. “My heart will always be around that area. But I also felt like this is the greatest challenge for me, is to move on.”

    Sorry, to be a nag, Lebron, but, um didn’t you say that you were going to Miami because it gave you the best chance at victory? Yeah, I think that was you who said: “I feel like this is going to give me the best opportunity to win. And to win for multiple years. Not only just to win in the regular season, or just to win five games in a row or three games in a row. I want to be able to win championships and I feel like I can compete down there.”

    So, wouldn’t the bigger “challenge” (that you seem so interested in) have been to stay with the team who wouldn’t given you the biggest chance at perpetual league dominance?

    Anyhoo. All of this is to set up, for those who weren’t previously in the Lebron loop, Mr. James’ new Nike commercial, which responds eloquently to all this hurtful criticism. Let’s watch, and then we’ll come back to me for comments. (Note: “Chuck” refers to the above-mentioned Lebron-critic, Charles Barkley.)

    Wow, I must say: that was very good work, Nike writing staff. Your answer to the damage we thought Lebron had down to his image is akin to a great piece of incomprehensible art that asks the viewer to fill in the substance. (Whatever they come up with is right!) Lebron’s not going to tell us why he left Cleveland – maybe it was for the money (and if we’re big fans of money, we’ll settle on that answer and be satisfied); maybe it was because he’s a “championship chaser” (wow, that’s very poetic and again implies some honour in his departure). Regardless, what exactly did we expect of Lebron James? He never claimed to be our role model. He’s just a man made of flesh and ego like of the rest of us. Indeed, as he repeats this question throughout the soliloquy, the fact that there is no obvious answer seems to imply that there is no obvious flaw in his behaviours.

    Most brilliant, ghostwritten-James seems to be indicating that, in the end, he doesn’t really care what we think of him. He’s gotta be him. If winning championships for his family and friends is wrong, then he doesn’t wanna be right.

    We can dress him up in the villain costume, if we want, but he’s still gotta be himself. (I especially like that, in spite of his ghostwritten insistence that he doesn’t care what we think of him, when he asks, “Should I not have listened to my friends?” he can’t help make an argumentative answer, “They’re my friends”. But, other than that one point, he doesn’t care what we think!)

    It’s a wonderful script that we can all learn a lot from: there’s really no point in continuing to dislike him – it’s not going to bother him in the slightest. In fact, his rogue lack of interest in our opinions should make us kinda like him.

    Oh, but wait! Wasn’t the whole thing a shoe commercial? Which means it’s meant to sell shoes. So… Nike of Lebron does, in fact, care what we think of Lebron James. They were using reverse shoe psychology on us! Those clever Just Doers.

Subscribe to Sethblogs

Enter your favourite email address here and sethblogs will alert you whenever Seth blogs.