"I smell a sitcom!"

I've grown over tired of hearing people rave about the film 'Bon Cop, Bad Cop' lately. For one thing, I'm sick of people calling it an original and proper treatment of cultural differences between the Ontario and Quebec side of the country. The premise of the film is not found in cultural differences between the two but the age old conservative vs liberal buddy-it-up film. This formula has been applied for decades.

What annoys me even more is the promotion of the stereotypes. The interesting thing is that people believe its an accurate portrayal of the relations that are taking place in our political system today. This reminds me more of more ancient days when the first rangers would travel to other villages and when they would come back they would tell tall tales of the inhabitants of other villages. If one ever takes an anthropology course, the subject of mythology will often times come up because of the wonderful, frightening or downright funny stories these traveling rangers would come back with. The idea that Ontarians are conservatives up-tights and Quebekers are liberal party-animals is something only an uneducated prick from middle of nowhere ville would believe to be a true portrayal.

Nonetheless, I find 'Bon cop, Bad cop' to be a milestone and a red-flag nowadays. I can simply sit back and have my "this guy's an idiot" red-flag go up with I hear somebody having appreciated the film because of the wonderful translation it has for both of our 'completely different cultures' and then go on to give me a Quebec bias joke they thought was amazing.



Middle Initials

There is something so needlessly and incredibly pompous about middle initials. I have no real explanation for it, but the use of a middle initial seems to be some kind of weird cultural thing that has aristocratic roots. One could argue, with considerable merit, that if you are famous or are trying to distinguish yourself from someone who is famous and shares the same name, that the use of a middle initial is appropriate. A worthy example of this are the film directors Paul Thomas Anderson (who usually goes by P. T. Anderson), and Paul W. S. Anderson, have great reason to distinguish themselves from each other. Both are prolific in their fields, and yet one is a great director, and the latter is a worthless hack who should be shot.

In most cases, however, the use of a middle initial seems to be little more than a completely arrogant act. I compare this to professors who I have had or heard of who insist on being called "doctor", or referred to as Dr. Dipshit (replace here with random name). Much as how these are artificial status symbols, I think that middle initials are self-awarded status symbols of douchebaggery (thanks to Jon Stewart for that one). Using your middle initial is little more than an applied status symbol in order to so pompously distinguish yourself from the masses. I can't figure out any logical reason for it.

Even more repulsive are people who decide one day that they want to use their middle initial. It raises the question of what kind of a person wakes up one morning and randomly decides that they no longer want to simply be called Chad Roberts, but rather Chad T. Roberts. What type of arrogant prick has nothing better to do than to think of such trivial things like how an extra letter might increase ones societal prestige?

Warm regards,

Eric Y. Portelance


Last Minute Christmas Gift

Don't know what to get your loved ones this holiday season? Trying to finish off your list at the last possible minute? Here's a great idea -- get your loved ones the gift that celebrates Christmas! Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion or Sam Harris' Letter To A Christian Nation make fantastic stocking stuffers. What better way to celebrate Christmas than by damning religion?


Methods Courses

The Quebec system of education differs from the rest of North America. It has one extra step that a student must undertake between high school and University not found anywhere else. The step is called Cegep. The idea is to cut down high school time by at least a year, where students graduating from high school in Quebec will generally be 17 years of age, the age is at least a year older in most of Canada. This instituation, Cegep, is used as an introduction to University life and studies. It also helps students who wish to obtain a technique.

One of the pre-university programs offered is social studies. It mostly consists of psychology and history courses, and, especially, research method courses. Three of them are required for the attainement of a diploma: Quantitative methods, research methods and Integrated Activity.

Quantitative methods covers ways to quantitate your research and how to present such data. Research methods covers the research and referal parts of research. Finally, Integrated Activity puts all the skills together and lets you perform your own research based on the skills and know-how's you'd aquire. The classes present problems though, given their limited nature but do present a student with great and usefull skills.

The problems with the classes are mainly the topics covered. Each class averages about 3hrs of class a weak but offer little in material to cover such a length. The homeworks and labs often time feel over the top with teachings that aren't technologically up-to-date. What's worst is if a student is in fact up-to-date then the classes become painful, long and feel useless. Often times, the quantifying methods have already been achieved through mathematics and other classes that required research projects.

On the other hand, these classes, whose purpose is to point out the obvious, can be extremely useful when specifics about researches are overlooked. After observing a good portion of young adults who are on their way to becoming fully fledged adults, I feel as if these classes should be imposed on such a group. Finding, researching and asking the right questions when it comes to career interviews, house and vehicle purchases and making decision when no one is there to make them for you can be a terrifying experience if one doesn't have a proper training in researching which I realize a lot of young adults lack. My sample maybe biased given the area from which it came from compared to the income parents of these yound adults have and the mentality that follows, but a lot of it falls far from being prepared for the pitfalls of finances and researched, mature decisions. Then again, this probably explains the "-for dummies" books' popularity in our society.

Cegep does have it's advantages. This includes the fact that it helps get rid of people who don't wish to carry on in school from University campus' . Some of it, however, feels like filler for the intellectual who use their brains outside of school. Such is the case with the methods courses mentionned above. It rewards the ones who aren't as capable, while boring those aware.


"...but I'm busy!"

I'm pretty sure most people have self-esteem problems of some kind. Some people have it really bad, though. People in this situation tend to try and show that they're superior to others in some way by denigrating or badgering others. This can be subtle or it can be very overt -- ie. a person with low self-esteem with others might be a complete bitch to others in order to feel a (false) sense of self-importance and worth. One might call this the "bully syndrome", which tends to result in an arrogant prick of a person who has absolutely no reason to be arrogant. The person enters a Catch-22 in which they feel bad about themselves because they have low self-esteem, so they bring others down, so they feel bad about themselves, etc...

A very interesting case study of this phenomena, and a rather recent occurrence I've noticed, is status messages in instant messaging. Many people seem to be using this as a form of unconscious projection of worth. For example, I'm surprised to find people using tactics such as using the "busy" status when the person is, in reality, just sitting on their ass doing nothing productive. We have this sort of perpetual-busy mode in which the person is so important, so preoccupied, that they simply cannot be bothered by any other lowly worm.

IM is a great vehicle for this type of behavior because of the quasi-anonymous nature of the medium. Of course, whenever mentioning the importance of structure or medium, one is hard-pressed to not make a reference to McLuhan. The medium is the message. In face-to-face conversation, a person cannot camouflage or lie about what they are doing. In IM-land, people use conversational tactics such as status messages in order to not only display a false sense of status, but also to gauge others' reactions based on this. Another trend of note is the "sign-off/sign-in". Since most people have their IM programs configured to (annoyingly!) alert them anytime a person's status changes, this is a clever way to announce to the world that you "have arrived"! It's then possible to gauge who is sitting around on their ass just waiting to talk to you, as a social benchmarking tool. Never before has this been available in social situations. Of course... you have arrived, but you're so incredibly busy that everyone else is just a fruit fly-like annoyance. It projects the false sense that you -- the person with low self-esteem -- are in control, not the other way around. This type of behavior is why so many people get caught and eventually crumble under their own arrogance.

In the "real world", one greets a person who he knows out of courtesy, and standard conversational rules apply. Online, rules are irrelevant, and the whole concept of conversation is almost completely eradicated. You can be a dick because -- who cares -- the other person isn't really there. One faces fewer direct consequences from this. There's no need to say hello in response to a person's greeting because you can fake a facade which you cannot do in face-to-face meetings. There's no need to say goodbye when you're leaving.

We live in a society of declining social interactions and mostly because of growing social ineptitude. People get depressed because they cannot deal with this, try and make themselves feel good by using the "bully syndrome", and eventually receive a type of temporary contentment. The fallacy here is that when something crumbles, your cockiness has left you up shit creek without a paddle.


Coffee Shop Characters

Maybe I'm a little too inspired by Jarmusch's interesting Coffee and Cigarettes vignettes of quirky characters in coffee shops, but I'm wondering what it would be like to work in a coffee shop for a few days. There is no other job in society which caters to a clientèle that suffers from a dire physical craving for an addictive drug. I assume that the types of people one encounters when working in such an environment are quite wide-ranging and fascinating. You'll have the half-asleep zombies who drag themselves in looking for a boost, the over-caffed hyperactives who wrongly assume that another cup might cure the shakes that the previous 7 caused, or even the quiet artist who simply enjoys the atmosphere of coffee shops (maybe for the same reason that I would enjoy studying its customers). The only parallel work environment to this might be working in a liquor store, although from what I know, it's quite rare to get complete drunks walking in (or, if so, it's a rare occurrance, and grounds for not selling alcohol to the person). In a coffee shop, a large portion of the customers will be under the effects of a drug, and those who are not are seeking a quick fix for a variety of reasons. The relationships between these people would be interesting to study from a sociological perspective -- though not in the way that Jarmusch did it -- in order to look at the broader effects of drug consumption and purchasing.


Short Take

Have you ever had to plug something in an outlet in the dark?

I always am too lazy to fully turn on the lights, especially if I'm tired. So I end up feeling around for the outlet, once I find it, I try to plug in whatever it is that needs to be plugged. I can never seem to get it on the first, or fifth try for that matter. I can't align the damn prongs with the holes in the outlet. So I do what every idiot would do, I start to feel the holes with my fingers. Once I believe I have an idea as to how the prongs should fit, I try it once more, and it STILL doesn't work. So now I really become stupid, and I try putting in the prongs while feeling the holes with my fingers.

In the end, it always turns out the safer, smarter and quiker solution would be to turn on the lights. Once the lesson is learnt and I do. Just a few days later, the same dilemma comes back and in my arrogance, the process beings anew.


Einstein's God

In the past, a lot of Christians have pegged Einstein as a religious man. The rationale is that clearly, if a scientist of Einstein's stature believes in God, then it brings a certain credibility to the religion that the typical "have faith" argument cannot. If Einstein understands the laws of the universe in mathematical terms, then clearly his "belief" in God would be based on similar rational grounds. Wrong.

Richard Dawkins discusses this at the start of his latest book, The God Delusion, because he believes it's important to debunk this "myth" (amongst a few others) of Einsteinian religion right from the onset. Dawkins discusses Einstein's use of the term "God" not in the supernatural religious sense, but rather a sort of archetype to explain his "admiration for the structure of the so far as our science can reveal it." Dawkins quotes Einstein:

I am a deeply religious nonbeliever. This is a somewhat new kind of religion.

I have never imputed to Nature a purpose or a goal, or anything that could be understood as anthropomorphic. What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism.

The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naive.
This is interesting to me because it sort of vocalizes a feeling which I've had in the past. This is the same feeling that I get -- and I'm sure others can identify with -- when I hike or spend time in the wilderness. When you are completely isolated from technology, society, and everything else that blinds us from Nature's reality, it's almost a shock to go back to the pure essential roots of it all. After spending so much effort climbing a mountain, I am typically left speechless at the sheer beauty, vastness, and complexity of the nature which surrounds me. There is a feeling of having conquered the world, being on top and looking all around you at this incredible view, and yet you feel completely powerless and perplexed in front of it all. This is, for me, a deeply religious experience which has nothing to do with belief or religious institutions. It is religion in the Einsteinian sense described here -- as a metaphysical connection to the great unknown.


Conditioning through addiction

A famous phrase immortalized since the film Casablanca is still in use to this day. As a matter of fact, that exact line became the title of a popular thriller in the mid-90s. The phrase is “Round up the usual suspects!” This is an interesting comment to make and one that I find fascinating in terms of psychology. It signifies the idea that people fall into categories, and although they do not become straight stereotypes, they do tend to fall really close to it.

An issue that touches this subject are the issue of smokers. Overlooking the obvious weakness and ease at falling into addiction patterns, one has to ask how a smoker does fall into those patterns. The answer is simple: Self-conditioning through physical addiction.

A stereotype, in this case, goes as follows:
Mark is a smoker. He also makes a habit of gambling and usually prefers to ‘ride the odds’ instead of making a logical deduction. He also works a dead end job and has put himself in debts. He hasn’t finished high school, and isn’t interested in the least bit in doing so.

How can one link cigarette smoking to most, if not all, of the problems mentioned above? Simple, the key is in the action of smoking itself.

Undertaking important tasks such as homework assignments, big projects and studying requires a few things. It requires that i) you dedicate time ii) you dedicate mental awareness to the task and iii) you organize yourself by keeping track of your work. An important word is awareness which will be defined in this short writing as “having knowledge; conscious, cognizant and being informed; alert; knowledgeable; sophisticated.”

Cigarette smoking is known to have physical and psychological effects on a person. Parts of these effects include a physical addiction that makes a smoker crave for a cigarette in a given amount of time. Such a physical addiction can make a person nervous and distracted when a craving hits in the middle of an important tasks which requires the smoker’s physical presence. The addiction, unfulfilled, can make the smoker aggressive and neurotic and unable to complete a task. Over a period of time, a smoker realizes undertaking long and difficult tasks will sooner or later be cut by a craving, so the idea of a cigarette and certainly the idea of not satisfying that crave can become a mental blockage.

This begins to slowly condition someone into forming a schedule around their craving. Undertaking enormous tasks that require i) time and ii) mental awareness becomes very limited. Slowly, an addict becomes less and less interested in making the effort, certainly when cigarettes end up taking priority over many of every day tasks. So why bother making logical deductions that could take minutes, if not close to hours to make? Why bother sitting down and completing a major assignment if before one starts, it’ll have to finish for a cigarette? And most importantly, why bother keeping track of anything that will need to be cut because of a much desired and needed break? Why not go for the fast and easy way of making money instead of the tedious and long process?

Obviously, it becomes difficult and not first nature to give mental awareness a try. It doesn’t become first nature to believe in a school system that makes one sit down and concentrate for hours on one specific subject. And it most definitely doesn’t become important to calculate long divisions. “When am I ever going to use that?”


"And you have all the new releases?"

An interesting observation came to mind today as a client walked in and asked me about the system. He didn't want to sound like a total moron at first so he made it sound like he knew what he was talking about: "This is the same concept as the one on St-Charles?" To which I answered with a "yes", I started to list the small differences between the two systems after that. His face didn't alter, or even looked surprised or confused. After the comment about a universal dispenser, he asked me to repeat myself, to which he answered "Oh yes, of course." I explained to him a slight difference in cost and he then swollowed his own foot by saying "Why a 6 hours charge when you guys aren't open 24/7?"

A client's approach to me signifies a lot and tells a lot about who they are. It's somewhat proportionate to the population: 90% of people have the exact same approach "How does this work?", 5% look like they know what they're doing and 5% are listening to words never spoken before. It's somewhat the same distribution as the bell curve for IQs.

The one question that always makes me laugh are how defensive people are about the database. A lot of people aren't concerned about how the system works as much as they are about the system having the list of movies they would want! The interesting part is when they ask me about movies that aren't on DVD. The client mentionned above asked me if I had television series, I answered I had very few. So the client got specific "Do you have Boston Public?". With a quick tap of the keyboard, I found out Boston Public wasn't out of DVD. The choice was hard to make; inform these slobs about the avalaibility of this series or simply tell them I don't have it. The latter was less confusing for them so I answered that way.

The whole question about our database always interests me because very few people rent out independent films or international films we own. They rent out the latest American big budget film along with the latest straight to DVD Van Dam or Wesley Snipes film. Very few people rent a variety of movies, especially movies that haven't been released in the past 3 years. We do hold some classics, but you sure bet they won't be rented. Unless, of course, they involve Schwarzenegger as the star ready to kill unnamed henchmen.

I guess it's people's way of defending their investement. "Will this be profitable later on? Will I always be able to watch what I want? Even movies I'm unaware of that will soon exist?" What I wonder if how they believe ANY video store decides on database. Surely they don't believe that a video store will open to exclusively rent out Nicolas Cage films do they? Then I wonder if, when I answer that we have the latest American films, they actually believe me or simply tell themselves: "This guy's out for my money!" What I do want to say is "Actually, this is a very underground hip video store that only distributes films in a language not afficiated by any known country just yet, but we're hoping for a 2035 regognition as the first fully anarchist state where we can have sex with family members and eat dead babies freshly delivered by the next door abortion clinic. Thank you, have a good day. And all pray Joe Pesci!"