VANCOUVER—The 77th Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences kicks off today on the beautiful UBC campus. Up to 10,000 academics from across the country, as well as many from the wider world, are expected to invade this lush garden, armed with 100 percent recycled-material tote bags and a strong sense of purpose. After more than a year of planning it’s finally coming together—the directional signs, the registration desk, the book fare stalls, and arguably the most important symbol of this scholarly happening: the beer tent. I’ve been here a little less than twenty-four hours and the whole experience reminds me of those moments in the Molson Stadium or the Air Canada Centre before the first face off. It’s minutes before the game and the stands are half empty, but by the time someone starts belting out the national anthem the whole place is miraculously blocked to the rafters. (more…)
PARIS—If you play your sport of choice on grass, or on turf, or indoors, or on asphalt, you can usually handle a little precipitation. If it rains, you soldier on and finish what you started. (Usually, yes, but certainly not always.)
But tennis on wet clay? Not so much. (more…)
KEMBLE, ONTARIO—We all go home. It is a return that can be couched in obligation, satiation, relaxation and a myriad of divergent emotions. But it is also done because of familiarity. We go back because it is a physical and emotional gesture that has worn a groove into our minds so vast it is impossible not to fall into it. It is impossible to erase the groove but with motivation and years of effort it can be flattened out and made more avoidable. It’s like sucking your thumb. Even though I quit twenty years ago to avoid social castigation, when I try it now it feels normal. Like home.
Historically, our home on the Internet has been a homepage. From 1996 until 2005 my homepage was a site called lynx mindex. I used it because it was an aggregation of categorized search boxes giving me instant access to every form of search. From dictionary to versiontracker and travelocity to boingboing. Eventually Google supplanted the entire directory because it outperformed niche searches. But I kept using my old homepage until it went offline—because of the groove in my mind it had worn. (more…)
The Luddites were early nineteenth-century people who feared that mechanization would rob them of their jobs. They were right insofar as those who clung to their anti-mechanization stance were screwed.
In 1848, Barthelemy Thimonnier, inventor of the first true sewing machine, had his working machines burned up by an angry mob of tailors who claimed that women could never do the job the tailors did at home, nor could machines ever produce clothes as they had. According to their narrative, the machines signaled the downfall of civilization as we spiraled downwards into ill-fitting clothes with weakly sewn seems. Tailors here in Canada shared this view, and their protests delayed the introduction of sewing machines into factories by two years. (more…)
It’s great that Canada’s biggest names came out to support a policy discussion at last night’s Munk Debate. And it’s great that Canada’s biggest newspaper believes a policy debate merits twenty-eight photos on its website. In a country whose annual output of serious political essays can barely fill half a shelf at Chapters, intellectuals need all the help they can get. But does anybody find it odd that when Canada’s best and brightest get together, in Canada, to fête public thinkers and talk about their ideas, both the thinkers and their topic are American? (more…)
I’ve been meaning for some time to write some posts about short stories. Not so much the idea of the short story, but reviews of individual stories themselves, considered as stand-alone works of art instead of as a part of a collection or larger body of work. With tomorrow’s tonight’s launch of Pasha Malla’s first collection, The Withdrawal Method, now seemed like the right time to start. I didn’t know which story to choose, so I emailed Malla, and he suggested “Big City Girls,” which is the piece that he says has been most on his mind since completing the book.
“Big City Girls” is the story of Alex, age seven, who stays home from school on a snow day with his fifth-grader sister and a few of her friends. They’re bored kids, and without much to do after building a snow fort, they retire to the living room to play Clue and have a conversation that eventually turns to sex. Or at least sex in the unknowing way that kids of that age talk about it—“Maybe Miss Scarlet and Professor Plum were having fun with the candlestick, said Shayna…In the Secret Passageway! screamed Heather”—which is to say with imprecision and anxiety. (more…)
RIFT VALLEY—Rift Valley: an apt name, it turns out, for a region that’s become a metaphor not just for Kenya, but for much of this self-conflicted continent. Originally named for the parting of two vast tectonic plates whose divergence left a deep chasm in Africa’s eastern flank, it is now the scene of an equally striking tear in the nation’s social fabric.
The picture above shows the scenery when I went there in early January. Thankfully, when I returned last week, such spectacles were nowhere in sight. The quarter-million or so targets of neighborly hate, most of them Kikuyu, had long been safely herded into refugee camps, their terror supplanted by boredom for the past four months. (more…)
JEJU-DO—History usually gives Gutenberg the credit, but some sources say Korea invented movable metal type. Good old Johannes didn’t start pouring his molds until about 1450, but in 1234, during Korea’s Goryeo period (from which the country’s present name derives), a guy named Choe Yun-ui is said to have used movable metal type to print the Sangjeong Gogeum Yemun, a collection of ritual books. The earliest extant book printed with metal type is a Buddhist text called the Jikji Simcheyojeol, from 1377, also a Goryeo document. Clearly, it’s not just kimchi we have Korea to thank for.
This little bit of history is consistent with Korean’s incredible respect for language. On the various occasions when I’ve asked my students who they consider to be a great Korean hero, an overwhelming majority of them cite Sejong the Great, the Joseon-era leader who invented hangeul (or hangul), the Korean alphabet system that’s still in use today, and which linguists generally recognize as one of the best writing systems ever created. Imagine asking a seven-year-old from Kamloops whom they admire and having them answer Tommy Douglas, because of the way he revolutionized health care in Canada, and you get a picture of just how revered Sejong and his invention are in Korean culture. (more…)