Monthly Archives: February 2013

AMC, Rogers and the strangeness of Canadian cable

Before I start, I have to apologize again for all the negativity that poured out of me and into yesterday’s blog post. I’ll try not to do that too often, but I guess sometimes everyone needs a release.

Today (as is the case every Thursday) I have the day off from school. While I was making some lunch, I flicked on the TV and looked to see if anything interesting was on. There wasn’t, but I was quite interested when I scrolled by AMC. Before each and every program description, there was a single line from Rogers: “Rogers has no intention of cancelling AMC.”

This is clearly something Rogers doesn’t do very often, which is use TV program descriptions to comment on real-world happenings. Over the last few days, Canadians watching shows on AMC have been warned that they may, in fact, lose access to award-winning shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead if contract negotiations don’t work out with Rogers.

The deadline, as it so happens, is 11:59 p..m. tonight, Personally for me, losing my ability to watch Mad Men as it happens would be a bit upsetting; after all, I spent last summer and this fall catching up on the series right from the beginning.

Although according to Rogers, we have nothing to worry about, and Rogers has publicly said that they will still show AMC should a contract not be negotiated in time.

AMC is apparently a network that is very intent on being shown in as many places as possible. They apparently also fought with the US-based Dish Network over the same issue.

It made me think about how utterly strange Canadian digital cable is. My family has the Rogers VIP package, with gives us the basic cable channels plus a bunch of extra channels like Bite TV, G4, DIY and numerous others.

It’s a landscape that is constantly, constantly changing. From one week to the next things seem to change, with some channels either dropping from the radar completely or changing its name. More recently, Showcase Diva has become Lifetime, and god knows what else has happened. At some point in time Bite TV was a premium channel, but then it fell in the VIP package. Rogers increasingly seems to imply that Teletoon is a VIP channel now, which is confusing as I grew up watching that station on basic cable.

Rogers’ adding of FX has actually been pretty good for me. It got me into American Horror Story, which is not the greatest show in the world per se but it’s certainly watchable. I also tried to start watching The Americans but physically couldn’t due to a) the late hour I was watching it and b) the physical condition of the episode on Rogers on Demand as the picture and/or sound kept freezing.

My interest has also waned in certain channels, namely G4, which has changed radically from what is used to be. When I first started watching, it had an interesting mix of video game shows, interesting info-clips about various gadgets, even some anime from time to time. It has since lost the majority of its original technology programming (namely X Play and Attack of the Show, both of which went really downhill in quality toward the end of their lifespans) and replaced it with a bunch of really uninteresting content in its place.

And thus ends my TV rambles.

I look forward to tomorrow, where I’ll be going to a sushi place with some friends from my program. We may even start to employ the #JRNsushi hashtag again.

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The Unbearable Heaviness of Being

I apologize in advance for this post; normally my blog posts are a mixture of personal anecdotes to go along with topics of the day. This is just going to be a lot more personal than anything. So again, I apologize.

To quote from a song that’s been in my head recently: “Some days I’m like Romeo/Climbing up buildings, high-fiving the sun/Other days I’m like Kierkegaard/Drying the tears is what I do for fun.”

Today, and for the past few days, I’ve been feeling like Kierkegaard. I haven’t been crying, but it has been pretty bad.

I think I’ve always been someone who looks sad no matter what the circumstances are. When people make a joke, even if I know it’s a joke, people still feel the need to reassure me that they’re just joking.

I think that no matter how hard of a shell I try to build over myself I’ll never be impervious to feeling really, really down. No matter how much I try to convince myself that letting one thing get me down is a dumb way to operate, still and still I feel the effects.

I haven’t slept all that well for probably about a week. I’m not looking forward to anything. I’m overcome with the feeling to curl up in my bed and just sleep away the hours. Yesterday, despite the fact that I needed to study more for a midterm I have today, I slept for an hour in an attempt to wash away the negativity.

And then, because I am no longer looking with a semi-positive outlook to the future, everything starts to go wrong in some way or another. I have no doubt that when I’m walking to the bus stop or to school I’ll be splashed by a car as i goes through a puddle. These things tend to multiply.

In short, I take things that upset me way too hard. And I have no release for all of this except in my words, which is stupid because I have to talk about my troubles in as vague terms as possible to not betray what, exactly, is happening to me right now.

This has been short and vague and again I apologize. I don’t know how soon I’ll come out of this, but perhaps a few more rounds of reasoning with myself might work.

Happy Wednesday, I guess. Or not.

Opinion polls are NOT headlines

Yesterday morning I noticed that the front page of the Toronto Sun had an Oscars theme, which made sense, considering the Academy Awards had happened the night before. (As a side note, I won’t comment on the Oscars in too much detail because, quite frankly, film isn’t much my area of expertise. That aside, it has made me love Jennifer Lawrence. Also, I thought Seth Macfarlane was alright as a host, despite a large swath of critics saying the opposite. People need to lighten up a little. Especially you, Peter Howell.)

But anyways, the Sun Oscar-themed front page wasn’t talking about the Oscars. No, it was talking about how, according to a poll that Forum Research recently did, apparently Torontonians love mayor Rob Ford or something. When I saw the headline, I became immediately suspicious, and with good reason. My journalist training has given me the impulse to look up a specific paragraph every time I read a story about an opinion poll. And anyone who reads these stories should look for this paragraph too.

What you should be looking for is the paragraph where it tells you how many people were surveyed, what the margin of error is and how many times out of 20 the poll is accurate to. When I searched out the paragraph in the accompanying Sun article, I found what I feared I might find. The poll randomly surveyed about 800 Torontonians. Therein lies the problem.

In my first year of journalism school, we were taught about the perils of polls. First of all, polls are conducted via random digit dialing (RDD). If they aren’t, the survey isn’t legitimate (on this factor, the Sun poll does alright). Secondly, though, the sample size needs to be at least 1,500 people. I don’t remember the exact reason why this is so, but it has something to do with improving the margin of error, if I recall.

So the Sun failed the second part of the test.

And I don’t mean to say that the Sun is the only paper that does this. While I admit I’m not a fan of that paper, a newspaper I do read, the Toronto Star, is equally guilty of making polls they conduct front-page news (most of the time, these days, the front-page poll news is usually how Torontonians wouldn’t vote for Ford, or something along those lines).

There are several reasons why newspapers should really, really stop using polls as top items. First and foremost, think about the segment of the population that these polls represent. Toronto is home to over two million people, and most surveys talk to no more than a few thousand. And who are these people pollsters reach by RDD, anyway? The always wonderful Rick Mercer has a brilliant rant on polls that echoes my sentiments almost to the letter.

And then think about the value of these things as news items. Quite frankly, who gives a shit what a thousand-and-someodd people think about pertinent issues of the day? Shouldn’t we be caring a little more about items that will actually affect our lives, like transit funding or government scandals? This is by no means an exhaustive list of issues, but it’s something that I think people should be a tad bit more interested in.

And the worst part is that, increasingly, the golden paragraph that tells you how it was done seems to be disappearing more and more often. The last few times I’ve looked at Star poll stories I’ve failed to find the information-bearing paragraph. For god’s sake, if you’re going to make a poll about Canadians hating Stephen Harper a front-page item, at least tell us how legitimate your data is! I end this rant with another person who echoes my sentiments, Arianna Huffington. She also brings up another pertinent point about the failure of polls.

That time of the year

What time, some of you may ask? But likely a lot of you won’t, because you’ll be experiencing the crushing pressure that is midterms.

But before I get to that: I want to thank all of the people who have been commenting on recent posts and following the blog. It’s nice to know that there’s at least a few people who are somewhat enjoying my scattered ramblings about all kinds of things. I really appreciate everyone who takes the time to put in a few words on what they thought.

So anyways, yes, back to midterms. It’s the time of the year where I reflect on how insanely lucky I am to be in the program that I’m in. For the most part, journalism courses have neither midterms nor exams, and so any midterms I have are for my electives.

This semester I’m taking one elective and have a midterm coming up on Wednesday, but that’s it. Most of my friends in other programs are dealing with four or five midterms this week or have already dealt with some, and while I can’t understand exactly what dealing with that much work feels like, I do sympathize and know that it must be one of the few things that are thought about right now.

And so I offer some words to all those suffering with studying and writing this week.

Make sure to take a few breaks in between studying. Try not to pull all-nighters if you can help it; sleep will feel infinitely rewarding. Remember that once you get through this at the end of the week, the reward will be huge. Free time!

My thoughts are with you, midterm writers.

I hope this doesn’t come off as condescending, because on the internet it’s a lot harder to detect irony or sarcasm. I am genuinely hoping that all goes well for everybody.

Sorry this post has been so short today. I am again really stuck for things to write. Here’s hoping for more inspiration tomorrow.

The uses and abuses of language

When I was younger (about middle school age) I was one of those kids who corrected other people’s grammar. I know in hindsight that it was probably the aspect of my personality that people liked the least, and it’s something people don’t appreciate, even if it could be beneficial. I had made such a reputation for myself that I made a t-shirt that read “GRAMMATICATOR,” which was a nickname that one of my friends gave to me.

Usually the worst offence to me was when people didn’t use the proper past tense of “bring” and would say either “I brang this” or “I brung this” and I would continually chip in and say “Don’t you mean brought?”

In high school I toned this down, but I know occasionally I still did remind people of what they should say instead of what they said. The GRAMMATICATOR part of my personality has always existed in me to some degree, though it’s a lot smaller than it used to be. I still take great pleasure in copy editing work. I like making people’s work flow a little better (or at least in my opinion).

Shortly after entering into university I stumbled across a video that, while not revolutionary, did completely change the way I think about the use of language. It was an excerpt of a talk by Stephen Fry, who is a ridiculously intelligent man who can also act pretty well too. His video. which I’ll include below, essentially has him talking about how much “grammarians” make him a little angry. He argues that we should all maybe have a little more fun with language than grammarians allow us to have.

This definitely got me reconsidering my mode of operation, but as I said, this wasn’t exactly life-changing, just important to hear and consider.

Nowadays I rarely do correct people’s grammar as they talk, but there are a few bits of language that particularly irk me, the first of which I’m unable to escape from myself.

  • like: The usage of the word I’m referring to is that of the space filler. “He must have been, like, 40 years old,” one might say. The like doesn’t need to be in that sentence; we use it to fill space while we think of something to say. Many times have I tried to rid this particular piece of language from my speech, but it’s near-impossible. It’s become so engrained in cultural speech that there’s no possible way the word could be eliminated unless massive numbers of people tried to do so. And I found that during the times I tried to eliminate “like” all I ended up doing was substituting it for another “placeholder” phrase, usually “You know.” So in summary, this word is awful, but it’s unavoidable, so there’s nothing that can be done to remedy it.
  • literally: I don’t know when this word took on its “modern” usage, but it has almost completely lost its meaning. The distinction is simple; if I am literally jumping for joy, I’m jumping up and down. If I’m figuratively jumping for joy, I’m really, really happy. Somehow, people have started using “literally” as an intensifier, so they’ll say something like “That’s literally me!” on places like Tumblr. Except usually they’re referring to a quotation or picture from a fictional character, and so they are not literally those characters. My friend Robin also takes part in the “literally” crusade with me but neither of us will ever be able to stem the tide. But then again (thanks xkcd!):

  • they: this doesn’t usually annoy me too much, but I am often asking myself “who are they?” when something says “they need to do something about this” or something like that. I remember some time ago, when I used to read Eerie Indiana books, there was one book where the characters met the Council of They, who were responsible for all of the “they say” phrases currently in existence. I can’t believe it was one of the only books to address that (if there are any more books that address the vague “they” let me know).

That’s all for my grammar ramblings today. Just remember the difference between it’s/its, your/you’re and there/their/they’re and we’ll be cool.

This Post is About Oscar Pistorius

A few days ago I got an email from one of the guys of JANITORS, a Toronto punk duo. He was telling me about the latest JANITORS track called “This Song is Not About Oscar Pistorius.” They apparently wrote this song shortly before the Oscar Pistorius drama became one of the most, if not the most sensational news item of this year so far. I’ll embed the song here should you be interested in hearing the song.

Despite being written before the news exploded, there are some eerie coincidences in the song, namely the noise that sounds like blades hitting the ground, much like the blades Pistorius used as a paralympic athlete.

Which reminded me that I haven’t really spoken at all about such a huge story. And while I’m sure I won’t be the first person to be contributing what I have to say, I do feel like I need to say it.

When I first heard the news, I was shocked. Somehow, hearing that a world-famous celebrity athlete allegedly committed such an awful crime is hard to process. I understand that in court Pistorius admitted that he did kill his girlfriend, but claimed that it was completely by accident.

There was an article in the Stara couple of days ago that had me start to think about this case in a whole new way. The sports columnist Cathal Kelly talked about how much he learned about South African culture while there to cover the FIFA World Cup. The first line of the article is immediately arresting. as Kelly writes:

On my first night in Johannesburg, I accidentally shut the rape door behind me, trapping myself in the bedroom.

“What’s a rape door?” You might find yourself asking. It’s a barricade, essentially, that can protect the home’s resident(s) should they experience a break-in. They will be safe within the confines of this space. There are also panic buttons, which, when pressed, will summon groups of people all heavily armed.

This sounds nightmarish to imagine here, but in South Africa it’s a different story. Interestingly, some people from South Africa commented on the article and said that it wasn’t at all representative of the country they know- at least two of the commenters have never heard of a “rape door.”

But what the article does show is that South Africa might be a place a little more plagued by fear.

In criminal law, the accused must be proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. And this culture of fear that permeates at least some of South Africa might very well be the reason why Pistorius gets off.

Another country’s culture is something that cannot, I don’t think, be well understood unless experienced. For all I know, South Africa is a much safer place than Cathal Kelly has made it out to be. But I won’t know unless I actually set foot in the country. And when one spends so long in one country, it can be hard to imagine how different other countries are.

For example, here in North America, finishing every last bit of a meal at a guest’s house or restaurant translates to “This was a wonderful meal!” In China, however, customs dictate that guests should always leave a bit of food left on their plate. It goes back to times when China was going through famines, and so by leaving a bit of food you’re saying “This was delicious. and it was also more than enough food for me.”

So who knows what’s going on in South Africa. I don’t think it’s up for North American or European pundits to decide how everything is going to go down. Let’s leave it to South Africa and see what happens.

Life stories: Kariya Park

What a way-too-fast Reading Week this has been. Can’t believe it’s already Friday. At some point I should probably be opening up the notes for one of my courses, as I have a midterm coming up on Wednesday, but I can’t be bothered just yet. It has already been a fairly busy day for me; I hung out with a friend at a record store and then headed over to school to quickly return the voice recorder I borrowed for the week.

On the bus home today I was wondering what I could possibly write about, and I realized I haven’t done a life story for quite some time, so today I’ll be talking about a place that’s very near and dear to my heart.

I’ve mentioned in a previous post how much I dislike the city I live in right now, and how much I would love to be in Toronto. But there is one place in Mississauga that I’ll likely never forget, and that is Kariya Park. Mississauga happens to be sister cities with Kariya, which is located in the Aichi Prefecture of Japan.

As a commemoration of this sisterhood (though I don’t really know what being a sister city means, exactly), the city of Mississauga opened up Kariya Park, a rather beautiful place to visit in the spring (assuming spring arrives when it should, and not early or late). It has a large bell (which can no longer be struck, unfortunately), a pond that has been home to koi, ducks, turtles and more, and most importantly some absolutely beautiful trees that house cherry blossoms in the spring.

As a bit of background, I have been fascinated with Japan for many years, though now slightly less so than before. In my early high school years I was deeply into anime and manga, and it inspired me for a time to try and learn Japanese. That didn’t work out so well, but at the very least I know how to pronounce Japanese words.

Before high school I had only visited Kariya Park a few times in my life, and so at some point I came up with an idea of a Kariya Park picnic. Surprisingly, this idea took off. The plan was simple; my friends and I would meet at the nearby community centre on Victoria Day and then walk to the park. We all pitched in for food and such, so it made for a pretty good picnic every year. The weather in our first year of the picnic, I recall, was really terrible at first, but eventually became sunny enough to permit a good picnic. The years after that the weather was variable, but we never had to deal with pouring rain- at the worst we had a few drizzles, but nothing picnic-ruining.

Most years, our picnics would coincide well with the blooming of the cherry blossoms. One year I think I brought a digital camera and it produced some really great photos of my friends and I surrounded by the brilliant pink cherry blossoms. One year the cherry blossoms had already fallen; spring came a little too early.

I wish the picnics could have gone on every year annually. The last picnic happened in 2011. In 2012, after having initiated the organization of the picnic for something like five years, I decided I wasn’t going to do anything unless someone asked about the picnic. No one did, and so Victoria Day of 2012 passed unceremoniously, and perhaps a little bitterly on my end.

But what’s done is done. It was a nice tradition to have, and it brought a lot of my friends together for a time. But as the nature of my friendship with them changed, so too did our rituals.