Archive for February, 2006

Momma’s Coattail-Riding Hack or, Teachers and Blobbers fight back: you have nothing to lose but your dignity

Sunday, February 26th, 2006

, the Globe and Mail’s “Generation Why” columnist, wrote about the “blogosphere” Saturday.

Now, the ALLDERBLOB knows better than to write about things it knows not of. We are always careful to keep our mouths shut. Discretion is our watchword. But you can’t say that of McLaren.

The blogosphere indeed.

In Saturday’s column, McLaren came up with this zinger: “Much like teachers who teach because they can’t do, the blogger blogs because he can’t publish.”


Teachers and bloggers must stand united against this slur. We must demand a retraction.

It is difficult to know who should be more insulted, of course: bloggers for being likened to teachers, or vice-versa.

Maybe some of McLaren’s former teachers, the ones at McGill and Trent Universities, would have their own opinions on this.

Not that McLaren cares.

But maybe some of those teachers could tell McLaren where the real insult lies.

The real insult is the cliche McLaren utilized. What does it say about her education? Where was her editor? [Dull copy is never an excuse for sleeping on the job –ed.] The fact is, we expect better from Canada’s Car Advertiser of Record. We are sure McLaren has dingleberries with more zest than that sad excuse for a coinage.

Is it a cliche to say teachers are “those who can’t do?” Well, duh. The phrase gets 70,000 google hits. Of course, just cuz it’s a cliche doesn’t mean it isn’t true, or at least partly. But it’s not exactly an original insult. Not like saying someone’s a “momma’s coattail-riding hack” (zero hits, last we checked)–even though it, too, is at least partly true.

We aren’t bitter, although in fact we are teachers. See, what teachers “do” is teach (three hits on google). Teaching is really a kind of thing itself, with its own thingness. The thingness of teaching is probably closest to that of the performer. What do performers do? They don’t do anything, really. They present–that is, they “make present” something from somewhere else. In other words, they slow down time, and bring a new present into the midst of the current one. Sometimes this is as boring as hell, other times it’s scary, or exciting, or freaky, or merely entertaining. Occasionally it’s educational. But it’s always a performance.

There are people out there who “do” that which the teacher presents, and often they are called upon to teach as well. We’ve all had teachers like that. David Mamet once pretended to teach a university class in playwrighting that we found ourselves in. We learned he couldn’t teach–which isn’t to say he’s not a reasonably good playwright. But we suspect one of his actors could have taught his material with a great deal more success.

But enough about teachers. Consider bloggers instead. McLaren throws around the word “blogosphere” like she really knows what it means. She even quotes some bloggers on the subject.

Wikipedia (that deliciously rich, yet fact-free news source) [shurely you mean fat-free? –ed.] tells us the word blobosphere [please –ed.] was coined in 1999. That makes it so, I don’t know, last century.

Sigh. Another cliche falls from those plodding fingers.

McLaren, are you listening? You can do better.

Actually, according to typist McLaren herself, she’s not listening. “I’m swearing off the blogosphere for good,” she wrote yesterday. This means, alas, the next time she googles herself on technorati she won’t.

But if she did, she’d wonder about why it is that someone whose mom never was an editor at the Globe and Mail (where as if by coincidence McLaren got her “first real job”) could come up with such great sentences as that last one [you know who deserves the credit, of course –ed.].

You may be wondering what this has to do with car advertising. Here it is: Leah McLaren, writing in the Globe and Mail (a.k.a. the nation’s car advertiser of record) may once have been a good writer. She has a good education: we respect the teachers at Trent and McGill, even if she doesn’t. She interned at This magazine, one of Canada’s finest publications.

But Leah McLaren has been corrupted. Corrupted automobiliously (just one hit, but it’s a damn fine one).

Another Cartoon Scandal in the Making?

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2006

No one can say we at the ALLDERBLOB don’t read the newspapers.

In fact, every Saturday we unfurl the weekly WHEELS [shurely you mean the Saturday Star –ed.] and search through the car pornography to find the colour comics.

We like the strip “Get Fuzzy,” with Rob, the nebbish pet owner and his neo-conservative siamese cat and pot-bellied Canadian-born hound dog. We’re intrigued by the fact that Rob works for an ad agency. We wonder if he ever thinks about Jonathan Dee’s claim (from “But Is It Advertising,” in Harper’s Magazine, January 1999) that advertisers are just “artists with nothing to say.”

Despite ourselves, we also read Dilbert. Strangely enough, he’s another pet-owning loser with a cat and a dog.

The similarity ends there however.

You know about Dilbert. You giggle at the pointy-haired boss/devil and the colleagues who can do nothing right but manage never to get fired. You get it when the intern is loaded with the most unpleasant tasks and you get it when folks are promoted beyond the level of their competence.

Dilbert’s creator, Scott Adams, comes across as the enemy of corporate culture, and we can see how you might think he’s got an anarchist streak. Or is that libertarian?

No matter: both are wrong.

If anything, Adams (and the philosophy behind his strip) is corporate culture’s greatest defender.

Adams milks corporate culture the way agribusiness milks cows. He’s got a machine or something. Adams needs corporate culture [the way the ALLDERBLOB needs car advertisements? –ed.]: for the raw material of his daily maw.

A 1997 book out there called The Trouble with Dilbert focuses on just this sort of contradiction.

The book’s author, Norman Solomon writes:

Parallel to the fictional content of Dilbert is the real-life conduct of its creator. Like Michael Jordan endorsing Nike footwear and insisting that the workers making the shoes in sweatshops overseas are irrelevant to him, Scott Adams hasn’t hesitated to align himself with immense corporations if they’re willing to move large sums of money in his direction.

The most immense corporations out there are the ones making automobiles.

So the strip we mulled over this past weekend holds no surprises. In it, Dilbert is speaking to his pet dog, explaining why he refuses to buy a gas-guzzling car. You’d go along with Dilbert, perhaps. He seems to be making sense. He says that by supporting petroleum industries he is sending his money to countries that support terrorism. By conserving gasoline, he suggests he can reduce the income of the terrorist-supporting countries.

His dog, meanwhile, is delivering Scott Adams’s real thoughts on the matter. His dog tells Dilbert that if Dilbert doesn’t buy the gas, someone else will. The terrorist-support network will survive. He even denies that a choice to consume less gasoline has any meaning at all, insofar as gasoline is a fungible commodity: “The capitalist system virtually guarantees that you’ll end up buying the lowest cost oil from sources unknown to you.” A decision to buy a small, non-gas-guzzling car only sends the message, according to Scott Adams, that “you don’t know what fungible means.”

Scott Adams’s argument is a little like the one that says “it doesn’t matter that the World Trade Centre was brought down by force; it would eventually have decayed and fallen down anyway. And the people would have died eventually too.”

We wonder if to Scott Adams, people and buildings are also fungible commodities.

Solomon writes:

All we ever have is daily life. When so much of it is taken up with doing things we don’t particularly want to do, going through motions of being who we don’t particularly want to be, our lives are slipping away. As one uneasy hectic day follows another, many workers yearn for a substantive remedy. Dilbert is a cynical placebo.


Thursday, February 9th, 2006

It must be stated at the outset that we have a system of beliefs: we call it Cyclism. It’s a religion rooted in the notion that the Bicycle is the optimum form of transportation, and those who Cycle are truly the blessed of the earth. To Cycle, we say, is to serve god, society, and oneself all at once: for if to get where one is going is a reward, the trip, if by Bike, will be too.

We Cyclists have a nemesis, of course: the Motorist. The Motorist distrusts the power within, and insists on fossilized fuels, as well as fossilized ideas, for motivation. The Motorist worships at the altar of its idol: the Automobile. The image of the Automobile is plastered everywhere, and Cyclists have no choice but to see it wherever we turn.

Cyclists don’t think much of this. Many of us wish Motorists could be prohibited from making drawings, images, and advertisements of their idol. Some Cyclsts are reformed Motorists who have come to see the truth about Motorism. They object to the helter-skelter images of Automobiles because they find them offensive in their pie-in-the-sky lies about the Car-ful future. They know what truly awaits the faithful Motorist, and it isn’t a long and winding road that leads to your door [Do you feel a pong coming on? –ed.].

Other Cyclists somehow shrugged off and never caught the Motorist virus. Whether it be due to childhood exposure to anti-Motorist sentiment [that’s anti-american! –ed.], or some latent tendency toward frugality, ecological stewardship, urban beauty, rural splendour, or simply nostalgia [them’s fighting words! –ed.], a scientific study on these hardy souls may be in order.

What would likely turn up, should such a study be performed, is that the Cyclist has a store of energy upon which to draw. That inner source exists in all people, we believe, but the Motorist has unfortunately quelled its source through an over-reliance on keyed transmissions and the poorly named “internal” combustion engine.

But what is it, this “drawing” that takes place when the Cyclist mounts her or his steed? What is it, to draw?

In an early incarnation of the ALLDERBLOB, we toiled in the bleak house of the Technical University of Nova Scotia, writing our soiled satire, scratching our dark daydreams into velum, making provocative proposals for the future of architecture and urban design. We recall one sordid affair where we wandered the limits of Halifax and Dartmouth, gathering detritus from the rail bed and roadway. These pieces of litter, we suggested, constituted “found evidence” toward the creation of unanticipated programs, architectural wonders that we thrust on barges and set adrift in the sewage-laced seas of the Halifax Narrows. An image from this project comes to mind: the “House for Parents and a Full-Grown Child:”

which side is mine?

It’s well-known that this project, among the many deeply thought-out trials of this, de Allderdice-Smith’s blue period [Huh? –ed.], turned a corner for us: we became an urban designer in our own right. To this day, the image of rusted barges 80 feet by 40 feet in size, nestled among the turds, used sanitary pads, and other flushed floaters of the Halifax harbour, and carrying programs like the “Dormitory for a Monastic Order” (they sell fish from the lower deck), the “Playground for Children of Worried Parents” (well fenced, believe us), or the “Barge of Wind-induced Noises” (filled with water to varying levels, the many organ pipes of this barge send sonorous hauntings to the very edge of the city), and so on (twelve in all fluttered to the ground around us as we stood in that famous final review) continues to inflict our reveries.

But what were they, these drawings that we drew onto paper? Why speak of them now, lo, so many years later? What is it to draw, anyway?

Teachers of ours at that august academy included the Dean, Essy Baniassad, and the architect Brian MacKay-Lyons. We remember they were fond in those days of speaking about the idea that in drawing, we draw out: that is, just as the draught of beer or of water draws from some deeper source (a keg, or, if one must be poetic, a well) the drawer of sketches too must draw from within: even when drawing that which is outside, we draw from within to place its semblence onto paper. What we draw on isn’t paper. What we draw on is ourselves.

Some of you may have heard tell of the controversy over sketches of the prophet Mohammed, commissioned by and published in a Danish newspaper. The argument goes, say the zealots on both sides, that there are some people who must not be drawn. To draw them is to draw fire. Knowing this, the newspaper, and those who republished its sketches, took a risk and exposed a rift: your freedom to draw crosses a line when its lines aren’t crosses. “My holy book says your cartoons ain’t funny.”

It doesn’t say torching and killing the blasphemers is funny either, but no one ever accused the Koran of having a sense of irony.

We are reminded of a story from another ancient holy book, before the motorcar, before the wheel [and what of the duchess-faced horse? Show-off! –ed. ] In it, some youngster is left in charge of the clay idols his father has constructed and set up for sale in the marketplace. Dad goes away for the afternoon, and the young buck gets up to mischief. He smashes all the idols save one, the largest, leaving a stick in its hand.

Dad comes home and demands to know what’s happened.

“The big one smashed all the others, dad, it were orful,” cries out junior.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” says dad, “and mind your grammar. The big one couldn’t have smashed all the others–it’s just a piece of clay.”

“Exactly my point,” says smarty-pants. “Why do we worship them if they have no power.”

At this, poppa strokes his beard thoughtfully and proclaims, “You’re right, by jove! There is only one god, after all! You are forgiven, my son. Thank you for helping me see the light.”

Some versions, we understand, end differently: the kid is beheaded.

Cyclists don’t want to behead Motorists. We just want them to quit making drawings of their false gods everywhere, and try drawing instead on themselves: on the power within.

State of the Union: What’s next? A “War on Petroleum?”

Wednesday, February 1st, 2006

You can’t say we don’t keep abreast of the news around here. Last night we watched with mouth agape as G.W. Bush, the erstwhile president of our southern neighbour, received standing ovation upon standing ovation in response to his furtive looks, his sly winks, and his trailer park coloquialisms. The event? His annual “State of the Union” address.

What is with those people? Those senators and congress-types. What did they find worthy of ovation? Were they trying to deliver a message or just a massage? [or were they just trying to stay awake by practicing random calisthenics? —ed.].

The subtext of Bush’s speech and the jingoistic response from the goons in congress was perfectly cu-lar however [sorry–you’ve gone too far. Are you making fun of the way Bush pronounces “nuclear?” —ed.]: “We’re behind you mister president, you’re as low as Nixon in the polls but to us you’ll always be number one!”

The thing that was uncu-lar however was what Bush was really proposing for the United States. A state of constant war? He’ll let the generals decide on the pullout date from Viet-Iraq. A problem with petroleum dependency? Nothing a little technology can’t fix.

This last comment made the front pages of the major Toronto newspapers this morning.

Bush will have us all breathing the sweet gases coming from the smokestacks of super-scrubbed coal-fired electrical generation plants by the year 2025 (sustained applause). He’s got a future laid out featuring internal combustion engines burning ethanol (standing ovation), and hybrid cars floating on hydrogen (another standing ovation).

Someone on the president’s staff has been whispering sweet nothings about peak oil into Bush’s back-pack receiver, that much is cu-lar.

Kurt Vonnegut was on cbc radio today, telling the interviewer the ‘war on terrorism’ has been so successful, it’s time for Bush to call for an all-out war on petroleum.

He was being a cynic, you might say. Fact is however, there is a war out there–not on petroleum, but by petroleum. What does that look like, you wonder?

If you want a picture, think of the daily violence and antagonism that cyclists and pedestrians suffer under the wheel of car drivers.

For example, the news has been larded with stories about a certain cyclist/motorist confrontation that took place here in Toronto last week. Fact is, cyclists and pedestrians face assault at the hands of motorists on a daily basis. Until the Toronto Coroner’s Rule in implemented, we can be sure it will only escalate. Motorist anger will out, as Schopenhauer put it.

What was newsworthy about this recent assault were the remarkable photographs that appeared on the website They demonstrate the aftermath of an incident where a person with a bicycle saw a person in a car drop something into the street. The cyclist returned the litter by opening the car door. The driver of the car then left the car and attacked the cyclist. The photos take up the story from there. Three of these photos were on the front page of the Toronto Star on Tuesday, and the Globe and Mail published one of them today. The CBC writes about it here

The driver of the car left the scene of the assault after bystanders intervened and called police. Not a lot more needs to be said on this particular example of the war by petroleum, except to note that no charges are to be pressed. In a curious bit of circlear logic [now you’ve definitely gone too far —ed.], the police imply the cyclist asked for it: and if charges are to be pressed against the driver, they would need to be pressed against her too.

What’s really cu-lar about this logic is that motorists who attack cyclists, or people walking their bicycles, or just people walking, is perfectly okay with the powers that be around here.