online world of car and truck rentals

December 22nd, 2003 § 0

today i needed to find some moving boxes and a car to rent. first i tried to find uhaul for the boxes. impossible to find a company website.

the top thirty google listings for uhaul toronto have almost all been spammed by a single company. what’s worse that company has a talking doll as its spokesperson. i have written google to let them know about the spammer.

next i decided to rent a car, preferably from national as i had some good experience with them in the past and they were not expensive.

no luck there either. no company website turned up in the listings. do they have one?

the closest i came was a very funny epinions review of a negative experience in toronto with national car rental.

but what i needed right now was not to laugh but a car. so i pressed on.

lots of different companies offered to help me book a car. cheaper, faster, easier.

i tried to or three of them including one called hotwire. none of them actually came up with cars (do i believe toronto is sold out of rental cars right now, i guess i’ll find out tomorrow).

lessons drawn from the exercise. online commerce still has a long way to go. google is not as good as i thought it was. the optimization scams of cloaking and mirroring work a lot better than i would have liked to believe.

none of it matters as i and probably most people won’t do any business with the hardcore spammers who are easy to spot almost right away. you search for one thing and get another.

it’s really hey buddy you want to buy a watch, taken to ridiculous extremes.

so much better for bell. at least the telephone will usually get you what you want.

toronto newspapers | news aggregration

December 8th, 2003 § 0

since i’ve been back in toronto, i’ve received two newspapers each day. the globe & mail which is known as a national paper (although it is based in toronto) and the toronto star which is proudly a city paper. the star has its role on the national stage as well as it is sole major liberal voice in canadian newspapers. all the other major canadian papers are part of canwest or southham.

canwest’s major contribution to canadian culture has been the rebroadcast of american hit tv shows with canadian ads. they no longer allow independent editorial in their dozens of papers. criticism of israel, implicit or explicit, is a fireable offence. the american neo-conservative propaganda that they print in the national post is a colossal failure to capture the canadian national mood and disqualifies the post for this survey.

even my recently deceased grandfather who spent his entire life in business and regularly vacationed south of the border had no use for the hate-mongering and intolerance of the national post.

globe publisher southam is a simply conservative sort of organisation, in the business of newspapers.

the toronto star is a genuinely independent corporation. its other major holding is harlequin, the extremely profitable romance publisher. the roses and kisses division contributes to the bottom line but does not mess with politics.

sadly, while i usually agree with star politics, due to their simplistic and dull writing and the ensuing verbal boredom, it is difficult to push one’s way through the paper.

in any case, i’ve had four days with two sets of toronto papers. it has been a depressing read. out of the six inch high pile of newsprint (and ads), there have been only two articles well enough written not to regret the time spent reading them.

leah mclaren’s saturday style column in the globe managed to make a rather dull tv reality show sound interesting. her paragraphs about her own and her friends’ girl talk livened the otherwise moribund topic.

My girlfriends and I have the same conversations over and over again and never get bored….Particularly with old friends, their stories come up like familiar melodies blended with new rhythms. The story of one girlfriend’s recent breakup serves as the impetus for another girlfriend to tell the story of the abortion she had when she was 20. We’ve all heard the abortion story before, but somehow we never get bored with it. Like a familiar musical passage it opens up this way and that way with each hearing. This, in a nutshell, is the nature of girl talk.

today the op-ed comment at the back of section was a surprisingly fresh riff on how cellphones have changed society.

Yes, tragedies there have been, in past cellphoneless ages, and I suppose it’s real fear that drives us to suckle so hungrily on this particular techno-teat…More than any cellphone or Internet communication device, there is something we can all turn to, as our best hope for getting through this life with a semblance of dignity and grace. It’s invisible to the outside world, marvellously protean and portable. It provides hours upon hours of silent entertainment and, so far, is free of monthly charges.

It’s called an inner life. Don’t leave home without it. I put it in the “use it or lose it” category.

And a society that loses it, en masse, is the most frightening thought of all.

in any case, two articles in four days is not good enough. long enough to understand why i have not been missing canadian media. it is so flatly written with commentary banal enough to send one back to sleep in the morning.

i’ve started to realise why i so much enjoy my aggregated newsfeeds. after a week or two of following a feed i can determine if the writer’s taste is good enough or thought rich enough for me. much better to have them read whole sites and newspapers and glean the finest articles for me. it is like so many refracted versions of yourself taking in all the (english speaking) media of the world and distilling into fifteen or twenty articles a day.

the local newspaper’s day is done. it is just too boring.

female beauty myths: anorexia | who’s at fault

December 8th, 2003 § 1

russell smith talks about virtual beauty – a new beauty contest of virtual models. more interesting is the point he makes about the body image of women. it certainly is no longer men who are at fault for women’s compulsion towards self-starvation.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not men, on the whole, who determine the beauty ideal in fashion magazines. The readership of fashion magazines, like the editorship of fashion magazines, like the audience for fashion shows themselves, is female. Fashion models tend to be much skinnier in women’s magazines than they are in men’s magazines. Compare the curviness of female models in, say, Maxim with the bony, ethereal elegance of those in Vogue. Any fashion editor will tell you that if you start shooting normally healthy women in fashion spreads, it is female readers, not male readers, who will complain about “overweight models.”

the alexander library in cyberspace

December 5th, 2003 § 0

riding through the vine fields on the way up to kahlenburg today i was just thinking what preposterous prices newspapers like the nytimes charge for archived articles. i mean if you’re preparing a client presentation in an advertising agency sure maybe you’d spend the company money at $3/pop (for a newspaper article?).

but nobody is going to spend their own money at those rates. thus an enormous amount of knowledge is effectively lost to humanity. or at least buried.

if we are to rebuild the alexander library in cyberspace, it must be possible to access copyright materials for minimal cost. fortunately there are a good few working at it in their spare time. or using their institutional platform to advance the cause as far away as australia. and not all of these cultural samaritans are rummaging in dusty archives. some are doing amazing work with contemporary authors.

if i knew that i would be charged from 10¢ to 25¢ per article, i would spend a lot more time in the newspaper archives. i’d spend a good ten dollars per month on archived materials. sure and certain. i don’t think i’m alone. this would be a huge revenue source for the publications.

as soon as they get off of their punishing corporate rates. subscribe you say? i travel all over the world. i’d be lucky to see two months of a year’s subscription. and there’s too much to subscribe to it all.

the trick is micropayments of course. happily advances are being made.

like an eBay for the written word, RedPaper launched in July and has 26,000 members who buy and sell prose, poetry and essays that each cost less than $1.

sweden leads the way out of the american morass

December 5th, 2003 § 0

the americans are in need of democracy aid from the rest of the world, say two young swedes.

i’m not certain whether charity towards the americans is in order, but if a little bit of money might bring about regime change in washington… better than bombs.

soviet history writes itself into the american present

December 5th, 2003 § 0

when i was in moscow, i knew many people who had lived through the stalin period. mainly the parents and grandparents of my friends. it was a fearful time and people did what they could not to be fingered. they never knew who might report them, what the consequences might be of a loose word here, an incautious observation there.

as >one of the writers from the nation boldly notes, this seems to be the direction that the united states is taking now.

As a legal concept, can someone explain the difference between George W. Bush’s “enemy combatant” and Josef Stalin’s “enemy of the people”? I don’t think there is one: In each case, a national leader on his own, without courts, without laws, without clear laws.

i’m not sure even i would put it quite so strongly. one of the worst parts of the stalin period is that those who came out the other side, especially those in the structures of power, were inevitably moral criminals.

they had failed to act. or worse, to save themselves had damned others. hopefully the stalinian period of modern american history will not last long enough or leave deep enough scars to cripple generations.

romans and us | publilius servus

December 5th, 2003 § 0

If you refuse where you have always granted you invite to theft.

some days you just look up from your book and find that the world is rich in reflection and sense. for me such a day was when i discovered one of the maxims of publilius servus, the first great author of mimes (circa 80 BC).

very little of his writing survives apart from his maxims. but they are as applicable today as when he wrote them. the roman world was perhaps the most similar of all the ancient ones to our own. what makes us so similar? good highways and the almost uninhibited traffic of commerce.

i do not praise these similarities, i only note them. the romans were also among the vilest and most cruel of men.

enough politics, ancient and modern.

here is a list of some of servus’s maxims which i found most interesting. i have divided them into two categories, most pithy and most profound. the epigraph belongs to the latter.

most pithy

Admonish thy friends in secret, praise them openly.

Ready tears are a sign of treachery, not of grief.

A good reputation is more valuable than money.

Better be ignorant of a matter than half know it.

I have often regretted my speech, never my silence.

Prosperity makes friends, adversity tries them.

To do two things at once is to do neither.

There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.

Familiarity breeds contempt.

Money alone sets all the world in motion.

most profound

Depend not on fortune, but on conduct.

Look to be treated by others as you have treated others.

Never promise more than you can perform.

It is no profit to have learned well, if you neglect to do well.

Treat your friend as if he might become an enemy.

The gods never let us love and be wise at the same time.

not enough? more can be found at michael moran’s quotation page.

in praise of george bush | canadians are waking up finally…

December 5th, 2003 § 1

on my flight back to canada for a family funeral, i have at last come across something to give me a sense of pride in my nation. a happy change from the regular despair at the consumer morass and wretched architecture of modern day north america in its canadian iteration which makes up every trip back across the atlantic.

the international herald tribune, as imperialist a rag as pravda, saw fit to take notice of canada in its lead story. canadians had almost become americans before 9/11, they note. but american jingoism, intolerance, christian bigotry and aggressive military action has cost them enormous canadian goodwill and reawakened canadian national pride:

a chasm has opened up on social issues that go to the heart of fundamental values. A more distinctive Canadian identity – one far more in line with European sensibilities – is emerging and generating new frictions with the United States.

the ill-conceived war on terrorism and unprovoked military occupation of iraq have cost the US more than just more terrorist attacks. together with george bush’s bible thumping moral absolutism, the US has managed alienate the majority of canadian.

the geopolitical loss here is much greater than the GOP imperialists realise. they have forgeited the impending and absolute colonisation of their immediate neighbour to the north. another ten years of amicable clintonian statesmanship and we might have been lost absolutely.

of course, the americans could always come at us with guns and tanks again. but belligerence towards the canadian population would be unlikely to bear any fruit that americans would like to harvest.

as a diplomatic stance, it hasn’t done much for the quality of life in israel.

and if the americans are unlucky, we might burn the white house again.

if the fbi and cia have so much trouble keeping tabs on bearded muslims who love to fly, imagine the fun they will have with canadian rebel groups. there are about fifteen million canadians who could pass for americans if they wanted to. indistinguishable.

so thank you, george bush et al, for giving my country life again. i might even have to wish you a second term, if that’s the medicine it will take to make canada independent and whole again.

on second thought, i care too much for the rest of the world to dwell long on that thought.