Over the past few months, I have been posting with abnormal frequency about my dogs. I suspect this is – spoiler alert – because I will have to give them away once I leave the Philippines. You might say I’m practicing missing them now so that I’ll be really darn good at it by the time they’re actually gone. At this rate, however, my blog will soon be completely overrun with dog-related content. OK, listen – I’ve heard of a dog with a blog, but a blog with a dogs?! Now I’ve seen everything! Or, more accurately, now I’ve seen two things (a dog with a blog and a blog with a dogs, if you’re keeping score back home).
Ometepe turned out to be stunning – and of course it was, because my good buddy Joe said it would be! (I’m only surprised I didn’t skip it after he recommended it.) The island is formed from two volcanic cones, joined together with a narrow land bridge to form a figure-8. The waters along the island’s long sandy beaches, while murky brown, have the comfortable warmth of a tepid bath – even in the middle of the night – and offer stellar views of both volcanoes, albeit only in the daytime. Staying in a comfortable guest house at the edge of the barely-a-town of Sta. Cruz, with the beach just across the road, I got to soak in the warm waters of the lake while watching horses walk along the shore. I felt like I had found a tasty little morsel of paradise.
In the venerable spirit of using this blog as my notepad, I thought I should follow up my introspective, beret-wearing New Year’s post with a bloodlessly practical list of resolutions. Or if not practical, then at least bloodless!
This year, I half-heartedly resolve to:
Learn Mandarin: Mandarin is the language of the future, or so they say. I’ve never been one to focus too much on the “usefulness” of languages, having already poured significant energy into study such burgeoning international languages as Tagalog, Vietnamese, and Bahasa Indonesia. (The fact that they were pretty useful when I was living in their respective countries only slightly mitigates my sarcasm.) That said, falling in love with Taipei last year provided a powerful inspiration, and I’m excited to escape the tyranny of phonetic writing and delve into a whole other approach to the representation of verbal ideas. The whole language-of-the-future thing might be more compelling if I wasn’t planning to confuse the bejeesus out of myself by taking mainland-oriented online courses that use simplified characters before spending a month in traditional character-using Taiwan. If all else fails, at least I’ll get to eat a lot of stinky tofu.
Prognosis: Proper Chinese writing technique is out of the question when I can bypass all the niceties of stroke order using the massive cheat of Pinyin keyboarding software – What a time to be alive! I doubt I’ll learn to read too many characters, either, beyond the ones that regularly appear on restaurant menus. That said, I think I’ll at least be able to speak coherently enough for the locals to reply with suitable condescension. (Just kidding – Taiwanese people are lovely!)
Back in my rebellious teenage days, a rotund, sweat pants-wearing Bloggerbels spent the vast expanses of free time afforded by his status as a social pariah on pondering the deepest questions of human existence. Taking Homer Simpson’s classic utterance of “Everyone is stupid except for me” as my non-ironic life’s motto, I furiously scribbled my undercooked “insights” into beaten-up notebooks, presumably so that posterity would not be robbed of my precious gift.
One of the many imagined “epiphanies” that sprung from just below my mussed brown hair was related to the connection between consciousness and the afterlife. How, I asked myself, could I simply cease to exist at death, given that I was quite obviously conscious and aware at that precise moment? If there was clearly some conscious agent present to pose the question, how could that same asker simply seem to exist? How could this seemingly unbroken stream of consciousness simply stop? It would feel like a negation of every undeniably real moment of consciousness that had become before.
I recently returned to my beloved pooches in Manila after over five months of travel. Apparently I belong to the “out of sight, out of mind” school of attachment, as opposed to espousing the opposing “absence makes the heart grow fonder” theory – That is, I have to confess I didn’t miss them very much at all while I was off devouring stinky tofu in Taipei night markets and gawking at the opulent marble pedestrian underpasses of Baku.
But upon returning to Manila and settling back into my old life, I quickly realized what a balm it was to be welcomed home each time by hyperactively sweet balls of loving fur. And as I reflected upon how aggressively loving they are, I remembered a term (not original) that a former friend had used to describe dogs: loving machines. And as I turned the term over in my head, it slowly stopped being adorable and gradually became a bit creepy. (more…)
Over the last few weeks, two parallel sets of misfortunes have been unfolding: one on a global scale, and of tremendous significance; and one on a personal level, and not important to anyone but me.
The more important narrative has, of course, been that of a short-fingered orange sex criminal being appointed to the office of the most powerful man (and yes, it’s still an office apparently reserved solely for men) in the world. The much less important one involves me leaving a trail of lost and damaged property through Europe, along with a few stray fragments of my heart – let’s start with that one.
For someone who talks about travel a lot, I sure hate talking about travel. I suppose it’s inevitable that the topic should come up – when I’m traveling for half a year at a stretch, as I am now, the subject tends to dominate my life. It’s a good topic for breaking the ice with locals and fellow travelers, and epic tales of my seat-of-the-pants backpacking adventures can certainly impress timid two-week package tourists.
And yet, I can’t escape the dirty feeling that comes with talking about travel. (And yep – I’m feeling it right now!) Why is that, though?
First of all, I feel like I’m just not as excited about it as I’m supposed to be. I’ve lived the past decade of my life overseas, and have spent a significant chunk of that time traveling. At this point, I can muster about the same amount of enthusiasm for a trip to a new country as I would for a really good cup of coffee – it’s not nothing, because I do love a good cup of coffee, but there’s still something perfunctory about constantly feeding one’s addictions, whether they be to caffeine or to travel.
I write this on a train from Bucharest to Transylvania, on an evening which also happens to be the morning of the 2016 US presidential election. I want to write about the United States, but my topic is not political – although, depending on the outcome of the election, my opinion of America may have shifted significantly by the Transylvanian morning.
I’ve been thinking differently about America since two years ago – which, in spite of all of my traveling, happened to be my first actual visit to the United States. One reason I delayed visiting for so long was because we Canadians – and yes, I now admit to the secret shame of being a Canadian – have been inundated with absurdly negative ideas about our neighbours to the south. “Oh, those Americans are so dumb,” a Canadian might say inbetween slapshots or hacks at the base of an uncommonly thick pine tree. “They’re all religious nutjobs who run around shooting at each other! Not like us – we’re so polite and peaceful, and we have universal health care!”
After writing about my initial encounters with the apocryphal Michael Jackson Cascio tracks and my subsequent, even more damning reassessment, I thought I should close out my epic trilogy by trying to explain exactly what I find so interesting about these songs, above and beyond the sordid theories surrounding their genesis. The twelve tracks run the gamut from desperate imitations of past Michael Jackson hits to bland early-2000s pop songs that don’t really fit anywhere into Jackson’s oeuvre. And in spite of the fact that they were clearly intended to sound plausibly like real Michael Jackson songs – whether to encourage Jackson to record them or to encourage us to accept their legitimacy – the number of jarring details and out-of-place touches must serve as either a sign of unabashed creativity or, much more likely, sheer incompetence.
Here now, in brief, are capsule reviews of a few of the more interesting Cascio tracks of the nine that were, we can only assume, deemed too obviously fake to receive any sort of commercial release. (And again, I can’t find these in any form other than the clunky Jungle Vibe links, so you’ll have to navigate through and select each one from a longer list of songs in order to bask in the warm glow of its implausibility.)
Black Widow (Listen)
This track was intended to fit into Jackson’s vast catalogue of songs within the “Misogynistic screed about opportunistic women who attempt to take advantage of our hero, serving as a distraction from much deeper issues with the artist’s sexuality” subgenre. And to be fair, although it’s pretty on the nose, it’s actually not a bad hommage to Jackson. The guitar has some punch, and faux-MJ proves that he can do a better Jackson imitation when yelling and grunting than when he attempts to duplicate Jackson’s inimitable dulcet tones. (Of course, it still doesn’t sound like Jackson, but you knew that.) But in spite of the songwriters’ efforts to make the song sound like a circa-1991 Michael Jackson B-side, they can’t resist throwing in a bizarre operatic interlude, helping to pad the song to its unjustifiable 4 minute and 50 second running time. The slowdown really brings out the jarring fakeness of the singer’s voice, too!
Ready 2 Win (Listen)
It’s tempting for me to focus solely on the Cascio tracks that are good or at least interesting, and it’s a weary obligation to ensure that I not neglect the most anodyne and useless of the set. “Ready 2 Win” definitely fits that description – the problem starts with the orthography of the title, and it doesn’t get any better from there. It’s so uninteresting that I can’t find much to say about it except for singling out the opening “Doo doo doo”s for special scorn. The song tries to build to a rousing Gospel choir-infused climax, as heard in authentic Michael Jackson songs like “Man in the Mirror” and “Keep the Faith”. But unfortunately, the choir in this case seems to be composed entirely of Jason Malachis, somewhat reducing the impact. Truly, a song that is not Ready 4 Primetime. (Heh, heh.)
Four months ago, I wrote a typically discursive post about my Aspergian Michael Jackson obsession. I was supposed to follow up on it by talking about how my MJ Hoax-induced angst had segued effortlessly into more philosophical forms of despair. But fittingly enough, I got too busy living my life, such as it is, to occupy myself with either the provenance of “Keep Your Head Up” or even meatier questions.
Here’s the capsule version, though: At the same time that I was trying to figure out whether the real Michael Jackson was ever known to overdo it with the vibrato, I ran afoul of an article at The Atlantic entitled “There’s No Such Thing As Free Will“. I couldn’t think of any rational refutation to this article, and felt a bit silly that I had clung so tenaciously to the indefensible notion that we possess some sort of free will that exists completely outside the normal laws of causality. If we can’t speak of a dog or a horse having freedom to choose, why should we assume that we do just because the forces that interact to determine our actions seem a bit more complex on the surface? The unnecessary answer to this rhetorical question is that not clinging to this delusion will make a person go absolutely batty. Although I managed to stop somewhere short of madness, it did put me into a funk. The funny thing is, though, that I had crept right up to this idea in an earlier post without ever taking it to its utterly damning logical conclusions.
The funny thing about us humans (or at least us Bloggerbelses), though, is that we can allow ourselves to be shaken by new developments or realizations – like a diagnosis of illness or the realization that the whole concept of moral agency is a ridiculous sham – and then gradually move on from them in spite of the fact that absolutely nothing has changed. And that’s what I did, until I managed to free up the more philosophical corners of my brain for the more urgent task of listening to more spurious Michael Jackson tracks.