Monday, March 28, 2011

Yep, That's About Right

Fiction writers tend to the dramatic (of course), and as a result we tend to forget that there are other kinds of writers out there. These other writers are prey to the same maladies as those of us who, let's face it, just make stuff up.

The proof is here.

Once More With Feeling!

Current Reading: Scientific American and Shakespeare... draw your own conclusions.

Inspirational Quote: "Hell, I never vote for anybody, I always vote against." -- W.C. Fields

Yes, last Friday my beloved homeland, the True North, dissolved its parliament and called for a federal election.


Fourth time in seven years.

Democracy is getting a workout.

The newspapers and stations are going on and on about the waste of taxpayer's money, time and effort. I disagree. $2,500 for a working lunch is a waste of taxpayer's money. $1.5M in air travel a year is a waste of taxpayer's money. I can't ever consider shelling out for an election a waste. We live in a democracy, a system of government that is supposed to guarantee people the right to throw out their rulers just like they've done in Tunisia and Egypt, only without all the shooting, looting and property damage.

The current government was found in contempt of parliament because of some fiscal shenanigans they declined to explain adequately. As a result, a vote of non-confidence was called and the minority government of prime minister Stephen Harper was defeated.

That's good. Mess with parliament and you should be sorry.

What's bad is that now we're in an election with some of the least appealing party leaders I've ever seen.

First is the ex-prime minister whose iron-fisted rule of his party and autocratic approach to governing have led directly to this disruption in the business of the legislature. I fear that if he is given a majority this time out, we'll see behavior that borders on the dictatorial.

Next is a man who was an expatriate until someone mentioned that he had a shot at leading the Liberal party. He insists that he's a committed Canadian, but leaving the country is a funny way to show it.

Third is the current head of the National Democratic Party, a man with a touch of charisma and maybe even a Plan, but he's leading a party with a reputation for overly socialist tendencies and reckless fiscal policies.

Last is the leader of a party founded on Quebec Nationalism. Given the opportunity, he'd take his home province right out of the country, so it's hard to believe he has the best interests of the nation at heart.

What Canada needs is a real leader, a man with charisma and vision and yet lacking in the monomania that so often accompanies those traits.

I'd run myself, but the country would melt from my awesome.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Well, This Is Awesome

Most readers are familiar with my fondness for Terry Pratchett's work. The man combines outrageous humor with tight plotting and a humanistic outlook to create some of the most entertaining and thought-provoking work I've ever read. Video adaptations of his work have been, in my opinion, inferior affairs mostly because you cannot take everything that makes the books amazing and transfer it to a screen (what's the video equivalent of a footnote?). However, they've been pretty darned enjoyable.

And now, this! Terry Pratchett's world and characters in a series scripted by a Monty Python alumnus. It is possible to get better than that, but only by coating the whole thing in Belgian chocolate.

I am pretty excited, although I guess I'd better get working on earning my British citizenship if I want to see it. I can only hope that at some point it makes its way across the pond.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

In Which I Ponder a Mystery

Current Reading: Love's Labour's Lost, by Bill S.

Inspirational Quote: "I don't have a photograph, but you can have my footprints. They're upstairs in my socks." -- Julius Marx (Groucho)

For a man who overthinks things, the world often throws up inscrutable puzzles.

About a week ago, I bought some new clothes. This is something I do when forced to the extremity either by natural decay or by an aversion to laundry machines.


What is material is that I happened to pick up a bag of socks. I won't comment on the oddity of putting socks in a bag. In this modern consumer society, you can't find anything in a store that isn't wrapped in plastic, surrounded by boxboard or secured by wire. Sometimes all three, with a security tag attached to kick it up to 11. So, really, the oddity of bagging what are essentially cloth bags to hold your feet hardly bears comment.

On an unrelated note, the diversity of human nature is such that someone out there enjoys putting ketchup on tomatoes. The world doesn't have to make sense.

So I exit the store with a bag of socks and get home to discover that it's no ordinary bag. No. It is a RESEALABLE bag. It's not just closed off with the usual hermetic heat seal, but adjacent to that is a zip-lock assembly. Apparently, I can take socks out and seal the bag up to keep the others... fresh? Yes, there's nothing like that fresh-sock scent (!?!). Or perhaps, I can put socks back in and seal them up to keep them from... escaping? Unlikely. I'm a fairly conservative dresser and not even my socks are wild enough to require any form of corral, even a flimsy polyethylene one.

It's a mystery. Why is my sock bag zip-locked? Admittedly, zip-lock bags are handy for all sorts of things. I often use them for keeping food fresh in the refrigerator or my lunch bag (which has a real zipper, not one of the plastic-rail zip-lock constructions), but the very thought of appropriating my sock bag for wrapping sandwiches leaves me in fear of accidentally contracting athlete's mouth. I suppose I could use it for jigsaw puzzle pieces, or beads, or game tokens but I honestly don't use those things enough for resealable bags to be in high demand.

Sad, I know, but let's stay on topic.

I spent a few minutes opening the bag and taking out socks, then sealing it again. Then I spent a few minutes opening the bag and putting socks back in before sealing it again. I felt I had to. The sock manufacturers must have gone through a great deal of trouble to include this feature, and I'd feel terrible just recycling the bag without trying to take some sort of advantage of it.

I suspect that all this is actually due to a very clever and effective bag salesman.

"Look, for an extra five cents a thousand, we'll throw in a reseal option."
"Oooh, I've heard about that. Very popular with sandwich bags."
"Right, and a hundred other household uses like..." [Here my imagination fails me. Just throw in four or five clever and effective examples for yourself. I've got nothing.] "So it's a great deal."
"Yes! I'm sold! Where's that contract?"
"Right here in my resealable briefcase." ...unzip...

I doubt very much that any but the most OCD-afflicted among us would find the notion of purchasing socks in a resealable bag at all appealing, and those who do would probably balk at the thought of using bags that had been just hanging around in a store where people could --shudder-- touch them.

Why sell socks in a resealable bag? They're not cereal, or potato chips or cookies that need to be kept fresh. This is a puzzle that is, frankly, beyond me and I know it would be better for me to just let it go and move on with my life.

Unfortunately, I've just taken a close look at the bag my underwear came in...

Monday, March 21, 2011

Book Report: At The Mountains of Madness, by H.P. Lovecraft

At The Mountains of Madness, by H.P. Lovecraft

Ah, Lovecraft. I can't imagine what I could say about him that hasn't already been said. I don't think there's ever been a more admired, reviled and imitated fantasy/science-fiction/horror writer. He's a verbose, paranoid, racist, sexist mama's boy with an English culture obsession whose work nonetheless fascinates for its spin on nightmarish weirdness.

This is one of his longest works, a novella about a university trip to Antarctica which discovers a city and preserved denizens from before the evolution of man. It's hard to read now because its language, full of adverbs and adjectives and words that will send a modern reader scurrying for a dictionary, is almost a century behind the current fashion. Even so, it stirs the occasional chill and is a leading example of the stories written in Lovecraft's famous Cthulhu Mythos cycle.

It's not a fast read. It's not an easy read. It is, however, a milestone in the evolution of modern speculative fiction and should be read as much for its impact as for its entertainment value.

Ulysses Rating: 3 - I enjoyed this. I've read it before and will probably read it again.

Friday, March 11, 2011


Visual evidence that I am not the only one on the planet who is spending way too many processor cycles on trivia:

... and of course, one cannot discuss a weighty subject like Rock, Paper, Scissors without giving serious consideration to its expansion set:

Monday, March 7, 2011

Bedtime Song

Cassandra has inherited her father's love of Muppets (yay!).

On an unrelated note, her bedtime routine includes some reading time (by both she and I) and about 15 minutes of made up story-telling (by me) featuring whatever characters she wants to hear about, and then... if she hasn't had enough one-on-one time, a song.

My singing voice is a cross between a plugged vacuum cleaner and a bagpipe in a trash compactor. No matter. She likes it just fine.

Anyway, she gets stuck on different songs, wanting to hear them over and over again until something knocks her out of her orbit... like Dad just getting tired of the same song. One night about a week ago, in a fit of ennui, I broke out into a rousing chorus of "Grandma's Feather Bed." Well, it's become her favorite. So I can't wait to show her this...

Accepting Rejection

Current Reading: Love's Labour's Lost, by Bill S.

Inspirational Quote: "I could write an entertaining novel about rejection slips, but I fear it would be overly long." -- Louise Brown

Whether we know it or not, whether we acknowledge it or not, we artists (writers, actors, painters, sculptors... whatever) hate rejection.

Art is a fundamental attempt to communicate with others and to be told, implicitly or explicitly, that we have not done that well enough to reach our intended audience is a blow to the ego. Compassionate human beings attempt to soften rejection where they can: "Not right for us." "It's good, but it's not as good as the other 400 submissions we received this month." But you can't really soften rejection. It's like softening granite.

Like granite, and feldspar, limestone and all that other bedrock, rejection is a part of life. Not every door is going to open at the first knock.

So, what can you do?

Develop a thick skin. Read your rejections as "not yet," instead of "never." Hope. Believe. Learn. Practice. Work.

And content yourself with the realization that sometimes rejection is editorial policy.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Hey, Look! Stuff is Happening in the Middle East!

Current Reading: Love's Labour's Lost, by William Shakespeare

Inspirational Quote: "I am on a drug. It's called Charlie Sheen. It's not available because if you try it, you will die. Your face will melt off and your children will weep over your exploded body." -- Carlos Erwin Estevez (Charlie Sheen).

Say what you will about Charlie Sheen (and everyone is), he gives great quote.

Meanwhile in real news, people in the middle-east have been inspired by the revolt in Tunisia to demand political change in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Oman. It's also caused some unrest in Iran and, strangely enough, China.

It underscores the unwritten rule of human existence: No assembly can govern without the implicit consent of its people.

That simplifies things dramatically, I know. Dictators have held power for years on the backs of armies and secret police devoid of consciences and armed with machine guns. Defying them is usually an act of fatal courage, and few people are willing to give their lives without knowing if their deaths will change anything.

Governments, armies and police officers keep their positions because the people of their countries are unaware of one crucial fact: those in power are always a minority. The police know that they cannot arrest every single citizen. The army knows it cannot shoot every civilian. The government knows that it cannot rule every individual at every moment. They rely on acceptance. Here in Canada, the unspoken acceptance is "I will follow your rules because I believe doing so will help me and those around me live, prosper and seek happiness, eh?"

That's the covenant that ought to exist between governed and governor. In Canada, it's a shaky thing because each of us has a different (occasionally conflicting) definition of prosperity and happiness and a different opinion on how best we can obtain these things. I imagine it's that way in the majority of the world that doesn't make the six-o'clock news (when was the last time you heard from Finland? Belgium? Trinidad?).

In these middle-east headline places, the governments have broken that covenant (notice that one of the biggest griefs to tip the scales is not "they came in the night and took/killed my brother," but "there are no jobs." People can prosper without their brother, but not if they can't afford to eat). As a result, the people have looked out into the world (largely through the web) and realized that their rulers are a minority, and that the people who want change and are willing to make change happen outnumber that minority by a significant margin.

Enough people making enough noise can force a government out regardless of what tanks or terror tactics are used.

This is a good thing.

I recognize that many people are going to die before regimes change. It's a terrible loss, but unavoidable when people who don't want to give up power are forced to do so. My heart goes out to the survivors.

And what happens after? Many are shouting for democracy, and that's fine because democracy makes explicit that implicit consent I mentioned earlier. In a democracy, you can rule so long as you convince people you're doing a good job promoting their interests, or at least not angering too many of them at any one time. But honestly, anything is fine, provided those in government recognize that their mandate is to promote a good life for their people, and not to ignore that in favor of personal advantage.

Oil is one thing that could cause all this upheaval to end badly. If Tunisia (ranked 54th in world oil production) gets a little unstable, well that's okay. Egypt (29)? Well, some people are going to start to pay attention. Libya (18)? Suddenly unrest is dangerously close to threatening oil supplies. Turmoil in Iran (4) is something no industrial nation can afford to ignore, and the urge to meddle to ensure a political outcome favorable to "domestic" interests is irresistible. The moment things start to destabilize there, every country in the world will be in there like bums in a soup kitchen, trying to fill their bowls with as much oil as they can get.

For comparison and general interest, Iraq is now #12 in the world rankings. Its pre-war output would have ranked it #7 today.

2011 is shaping up to be one of the most politically interesting years in my life.

And, for the record: like Charlie Sheen, I too am a "total bitchin' rock star from Mars."