Saturday, October 30, 2010

Menage à trois; iPad, iPhone and i

When the other woman is your iPad. Something really disturbing here.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Canada Reads 2011

Vote for one or more of your favourite novels of the past ten years. Just like Warren Litwin did. The Rent Collector is sprinting to the October 25th deadline!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

2010 Booker

A deserving winner - Mazel Tov!

And Adam Gopnick has this season's last word on literary prizes.

Book review of interest

Most people, however they respond to polls, do not want to live in a truly just or fair society. They don't believe in the mythical level playing-field. What they want is a playing-field that can be tilted in their favour. Yes, the master graph shows the U.S. climbing off the chart as one of the most unequal countries in the world and the one with the greatest health and social problems. And Cuba is a good model for what can be done in terms of combining acceptable living standards with a sustainable economy. But people are willing to risk their lives to escape Cuba for a chance to live in the U.S., and not the other way around.

Social and economic equality may be better for everybody, we just don't want it. Read the rest.

Friday, October 8, 2010

A final gesture of goodbye to Facebook

I mention in my post below that leaving Facebook felt a little bit like a suicide. It then occurred to me that, a final gesture was appropriate, but how and where? The answer: On Facebook of course. So I created a group called "Farewell Facebook" where people leaving Facebook can put farewell notes. Turns out I'm not the only one with the idea. Search 'farewell facebook' or variations thereof, and you will find a half dozen or more such groups. Yeah, I know, it's somewhat ironic to create a group that effectively can not have members. On the other hand, it may be the truest facebook group of them all, in a digital world where everything is ironic, where we have 'friends' that are not really friends, 'poke' without really poking, 'support causes' without really supporting causes, 'join groups' without really joining groups, and 'send gifts' without really sending anything at all.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Deactivated and free

Last night a little voice inside me said, "Deactivate your Facebook account." The voice sounded like he meant it. A voice like the one that commanded father Abraham, "lech lecha me'artsecha umimoladetecha umibeyt avicha - Go leave your land, your kin and your father's house!" So I did. And today I'm feeling strangely relieved. I was never a Facebook fanatic. Not one of those for whom Facebook is a controlling force in my life. I might have checked my page a few times a week on average over the last three years, and hardly ever updated my 'status'. In truth, the impulse to deactivate may have been topped off by an article I'd just read in Newsweek about The Social Network, the new Aaron Sorkin movie about Mark Zuckerberg and the creation of Facebook. The piece talks about Facebook as an electronic document of our collective loneliness. And suddenly I was feeling soiled: At worst, an accomplice to a massive fraud, unwitting participant in a Ponzi scheme that has sucked in half a billion other suckers, and at best, a very sad, lonely and unproductive person. The obvious suddenly occurred to me: Facebook is a complete waste of my precious time. The process of deactivation was oddly complicated, well, not really complicated, just bothersome. There were moments of trepidation, as if by deactivation, I was contemplating a type of suicide. How will my 'friends' and loved ones feel? Will they know that I have left this digital world, or will I just not be there when they seek me out? Should I be writing a farewell note? Who will miss me, and worse, who won't even notice? Facebook does not let you go easily. Enlarged pictures of your 'friends' appear at the top of your screen, smiling faces and underneath "So and So will miss you". I was almost choked up. And then, to test your resolve further you must provide a reason for your departure with a drop-down menu to help you out. When I tried to deactivate without a reason a red flag appeared. We will not let you leave without an explanation. I thought, hell, who the f*ck do you think you are to require a reason? I'm a free man. I can go whenever I want. I got angry. Then I felt kind of sorry for Facebook. Like she was a pathetic girlfriend pleading with me not to break-up with her, and demanding desperately an explanation, so we could part company with peace of mind. Afterward, there are the "are you sure" windows which you have to okay, in case you are feeling remorseful for 'breaking up'. Finally, you get messages from Facebook in your email inbox telling you that you can always log back in at any time using your old password and restart exactly where you left off. There's something creepy and stalker-ish about this. In order to permanently erase your presence a request must be made to an unseen higher authority. Permission must be granted. Possibly related, after doing the deed last night, I had a nightmare. In my dream I was out having a blissful dinner with my wife. The next moment I am walking on Chabanel, the place is deserted and the huge industrial buildings that we administrate are skeletal frames, as if a nuclear wind had blown through the neighbourhood leaving rubble, bent metal, and mounds of shattered glass. It is a scene of apocalyptic horror. Utter destruction, devastation and waste. I am lost, calling out, wondering what happened, looking for an explanation, fearing for my livelihood. And then a disembodied voice behind me says, "Didn't you feel the earthquake?" I am dumbfounded. I wake up.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Mighty Walzer by Howard Jacobson

Howard Jacobson said that his 2006 novel Kalooki Nights was his most Jewish novel. It was possibly the most Jewish novel ever written, the author claimed. Well I'm here to tell you that he was wrong. Possibly the most Jewish novel ever written was Jacobson's 1999 autobiographical bildungsroman The Mighty Walzer. A book he calls his "history of embarrassments," it's also possibly one of the funniest, most insightful and touching Jewish novels ever written. Jacobson showed with Kalooki Nights that he, and Jews, have a thing for games (kalooki is a card game akin to gin rummy). As a tribe, we have shown a talent for other games too, like chess for instance - according to one source, almost half of the all-time greatest chess players have been Jewish or of Jewish decent (think Garry Kasparov, Bobby Fisher). In the early decades of the 20th century, it could be argued that ping-pong was the Jewish game. If you don't believe me look up the name Viktor Barna. Given the cultural and religious emphasis we place on education, Jews excelling at thinking games is not hard to understand. But a game in which players use rubber-coated paddles to slap a small white ball back and forth across a table? Although I can't explain it myself, I can remember the ping-pong table we had in our basement. And we were by no means the only family in our predominantly Jewish neighbourhood to have one. We had a large basement that was divided into two rooms. One side was for ping-pong and hockey slapshots. The other side held a full-sized snooker table. It was an unspoken understanding among my friends and me that the billiard side was reserved for the grown-ups. We spent hours on the other side playing impromptu ping-pong tournaments. And once, I recall that I spent an entire afternoon at my best friend's house around the corner batting the ball back and forth on his ping-pong table in an attempt to establish a new world record for the longest unbroken ralleye (a world record had to exist.) Ping-pong was still a fixture of a 1970s boyhood, and it's a measure of the game's importance, not merely recreationally but also culturally, that the disappearance of those tables from home basements coincides with the advent of revolutionary technology; the pock-pock of wooden paddle and plastic ball replaced by the bleep-bleep of dials and luminescent dashes on a black screen, and the era of home computing was upon us. I may have been born a generation after Howard Jacobson, but I 'get' his visceral connection to the game. In his brilliantly layered exposition of its various facets, ping-pong, which he says "suffered from too modest a conception of itself," becomes the perfect metaphor for a withdrawn, sexually repressed, working-class Jewish kid's struggle for both social and self-acceptance in 1950s Manchester, England. Oliver Walzer discovers early on that he doesn't possess many talents, but one that he does have involves batting a ball against a wall using a copy of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. His other talent, if one can call it a talent, is to make paper dolls out of pictures of his female family members and jack-off to them in the bathroom. As disturbing as this sounds, Jacobson succeeds in making it seem borderline charming. And that's his game as an author, his (Jewish) talent, the ability to perform unlikely literary feats with grace on a tightrope strung fifty feet in the air between two poles; anxiety and hilarity. Oliver's first non self-inflicted sexual encounter is with the always-eager-to-please Sabine Weinberger, and even that plays out like a ping-pong match, with Oliver lying on one side of her and his buddy Sheeny Waxman on the other. But it's ping-pong playing Lorna Peachley and her 'moving parts' that Oliver genuinely fancies. His love is true, so much so that he must continually lose to her in matches. Outside the game, Oliver helps his father make a living selling 'swag' to 'punters', but bemoans that everything is becoming 'tsatskes' and worse, 'machareikes', "that moral infection of triviality to which both sides of my family had always been susceptible." (If you're unfamiliar with Yiddish terms a copy Leo Rosten's The Joys of Yiddish will come in handy). At one point Oliver complains that in spite of winning trophies and being named to represent Britain at international table tennis tournaments, his anti-Semitic headmaster neglects to announce his accomplishments publicly at school assemblies. Echoing this situation is Jacobson, who, in spite of his literary accomplishments, has failed to gain the international recognition he so richly deserves as a major novelist. Hopefully this will all change with a Booker Prize this year. His latest novel The Finkler Question is a finalist. I still can not fathom how The Mighty Walzer was ever missed. It is quite simply a coming-of-age masterpiece.