Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Constant, certain, calm; a world of ordered bliss

On narrative consistency, and the dreaded continuity errors of the science fiction and fantasy genres, an essay of nearly academic standards: For you see, any story must have a certain amount of internal coherence if we are to achieve suspension of disbelief. And we must achieve suspension of disbelief. For most people, that just means that a given fictional universe must hold together for the space of two hours: if the main character in a conventional romantic comedy, possibly some movie for girls featuring Meg Ryan or someone like that, says at the beginning that she is an only child, she should not have a sister present at her wedding at the end of the movie. [...] Yet sometimes the editors and writers responsible for such series barely care about maintaining continuity, so busy are they with more mundane tasks such as writing entertaining dialogue and coming up with interesting new characters. That is why such universes desperately need the obsessive, crank-like fan, the fan willing to concoct rationalizations that make sense of the apparent continuity errors. Indeed, without such fans, I question whether the continuity of these universes could be maintained at all. The fate of entire fictional worlds, the very cohesion of the space-time continuum, hinges on the selfless efforts of fans like myself to keep track of what the hell is going on and explain the slip-ups by the so-called “professionals”! Yeah, that's the ticket; the writers and producers need us obsessive types. It's almost a symbiotic relationship, see. Or it would be, except for the tendency - even when die-hard fans alone become the entire audience - to spurn them in favour of "real" viewers. Sometimes it's tough being a genre fan. (Via BoingBoing.)

Monday, May 30, 2005

A childish, selfish greed

I don't quite see how this is "blinking" on the part of the Blue Man Group, having taken out a full-page ad in the Globe & Mail this past Saturday, defending the use of non-union labour in their Toronto production. I've never found the Blue Man Group particularly compelling - their presence in the running gags of Arrested Development aside - but if I was in Toronto and had the opportunity, I'd buy a ticket purely because they're showing some backbone in standing up against union goons, concerned only with their own sinecures and claims of entitlement. If the fact that the cost of union dues isn't necessarily being passed on to the end consumer means tickets might be a few dollars cheaper, that's a bonus. Suzy Conn of Blogway Baby notes - pretty glibly, I think - "Methinks they've left out a few important details, which is the answer to the question: 'Why they can't use Equity members?'" I would suggest there's a fairly straightforward reason for the BMG's actions spelled out in the third paragraph of their open letter: For our Toronto production, we have hired Canadian actors and musicians, a Canadian crew, as well as Canadian management and support staff. Some of these individuals are members of unions, and some are not. We respect their decisions either way. We are an equal opportunity employer and have always been open to all qualified personnel. It is an employee's choice to join a union -- not an employer's place to require it. If union members are individually best qualified for a job, great; if not, they'll hire non-union technicians and support staff. Union labour is not sacred; membership is often not to an individual's benefit, nor is the lack of union membership a guarantee of poor treatment. The one union job I've had, I was paid (and treated) worse than when working for Wal-Mart. I can understand precisely where the Blue Man Group is coming from: they're railing against the supposition that there's something inherently immoral or shameful about refusing to submit to the demands of those soak-the-rich socialists who tend to rise to union leadership positions, no matter the trade. Good on 'em.

Aim for what you want, a lot; everybody gets a shot

Who cares about that silly due process or democracy? We've got piles of federal pork to push through, parliamentary tradition be damned. OTTAWA (CP) - As the Conservatives prepare for a long battle over the Martin government's budget, the NDP is urging the Liberal minority to order an end to hearings on two budget bills - if that's what it takes to speed passage. The Conservatives indicate they'll carry the fight beyond the scheduled June 23 end of the Commons spring sitting. That could force MPs to remain in Ottawa into July, but likely wouldn't end in the early downfall of the Liberals. Debate on Bill C-43, the budget implementation legislation, and Bill C-48 - the $4.6-billion NDP budget deal - is scheduled to begin at the Commons finance committee Tuesday. The Conservatives want to introduce amendments to both pieces of legislation, and call witnesses before the committee, a process that could take more than a month, suggested Conservative finance critic Monte Solberg. "I can't see two bills, dealing with $200 billion in spending, one of which was made up on the fly, passing through before the 23rd of June." If it's delayed that long, the government should have the House order the committee to report back to Parliament, said New Democrat Judy Wasylycia-Leis. "It's a rather last-resort option. "(But) if we're dealing with a whole lot of witnesses and a whole lot of motions, that's clearly a sign of obstruction. If the Conservatives are true to their word, then we're in for quite a battle." Such an order would be unusual, as Parliamentary committees are normally left alone to set their own work schedules. The CP stringer goes on to report the NDP's response, in demanding that the Liberals force the budget through regardless. It's a bit sad how, given a taste of real power, a self-decribed party of social democrats proves itself more attached to the spending of socialism than the mechanics of democracy, no? What can be done, then? Two words: Nuclear option. Conservatives need to be painting disruption of the normal order of House business as reckless and power-mad, in addition to being obviously self-serving. Say it with me, people: Nuclear option. Nuclear option. Nuclear option. Hey, it seemed to work for the Dem minority in the US Senate...

Watching over everything we see

Here's something I've found exceptionally neat, if not overly practical: An Ottawa Traffic Info Widget for Dashboard. (OSX Tiger required, of course. Windows users and those still stuck at Panther can get something similar out of the Konfabulator widget that seems to have inspired this port.) Thanks to Dashboard's ability to use multiple copies of the same widget - and options, in that widget, to restrict the cycle of City traffic cameras to particular intersections - I can have multiple simultaneous views on Centretown, at places in the cycles synchronized to show multiple locations on the same block at once. (And the rest of the city, too, but who cares?) I feel so Big Brother-voyeuristic. (Less so, though, with the Parliament Hill webcam, updated only every five minutes, and too high up to see anything interesting, with the address merely plugged into similar widget SlothCam.) It's not wholly impractical, though. Thanks to my apartment's position in the building, the direction my windows face, and my fear of opening them (don't ask, don't ask), I've never been able to actually tell if it's raining outside, or just cloudy. Dashboard finally lets me quickly determine that in near-real-time, before I head out the front door. Thanks, Tiger, for enabling both laziness and irrational phobias! (Also: Panic Transmit + Accompanying Dashboard Widget = So Very Nifty. Dashboard is growing on me...)

Time to regroup, before you lose the bout

This is welcome news: OTTAWA (CP) - The House of Commons is heading back to work after a week off, with the Conservatives holding what they say is a "loaded gun" to the head of the governing Liberals and threatening another non-confidence vote as soon as Tuesday. Jay Hill, the Tory House leader, said Sunday his party hasn't settled yet on its final strategy. But he pointedly refused to rule out a new confidence test, despite the fact that Prime Minister Paul Martin survived one just 10 days ago. "As long as we have this loaded gun sitting there, they're going to have to take it seriously," Hill said in an interview. "The minute I say to you, or to anybody, 'We're definitely not going to even try a non-confidence motion,' then they're not going to take Parliament seriously at all." The problem with that statement is that Harper more or less did just that, after the budget vote debacle. I have no problem with reversing course, when the correction made will lead to pointing in the right direction; these are the talking points that should have been issued on the morning of May 20th, not this past weekend. But haven't we learned that flip-flopping kills? Opposing the budget, supporting the budget; opposing reckless Liberal spending promises, promising to fulfill them; and now this. If I was granted one wish to improve the Conservative Party, I think it'd be improving the ability to stay on message. Changing direction every few days is just handing ammunition to the Liberals. They, after all, can claim more or less complete consistency: they'll do anything to remain in power. That kind of stability of message - even if it is the stability of stagnancy - seems to be valued by Canadians; why disappoint, if at all possible?

And when they come to see the sights

A quick Monday morning link roundup, of things on which I have few comments: - Jaime Weinman examines the fall of semi-famous Ontarian kidlit author Gordon Korman. I also fondly remember reading his oeuvre when much younger, and never gave him or his works a second thought until noticing reissues a few years ago, with updated "hip" cover art for today's tweens. That seems wrong, somehow; Bruno and Boots are firmly planted at the height of early-80s Trudeaupian malaise, and to even reflect changing fashions and hairstyles would tend to betray that setting. Still, young readers could do much worse than Who is Bugs Potter or No Coins, Please. - Oh, David E. Kelley. Every time I start to get bored with one of your shows - be it The Practice, Boston Public, Ally McBeal, or even the short-lived Girls Club or Snoops - you reliably find a way to cause its manic implosion, so as to clear it from the prime-time schedule all the quicker. (Caveat: Google News finds mention of this story from some few and questionable sources. I note it only because it's exactly as chock-full of The Crazy as typical Kelley, and thus not as ludicrous as if concerning the works of nearly any other writer-producer.) - Angry in the Great White North notes habitual NDP, socialist and further-left-lunatic hangout Rabble.ca planning a Quixotic campaign to bombard the American media with anti-Bush e-mails. I have to ask, so what? The list of addresses they plan to spam with form e-mails (and that's a tip-off right there that this'll never come to anything) includes many at Fox News, conservative talk radio stations, and other likely-unsympathetic media outlets. We saw the Guardian's "Operation Clark County" plan to condescendingly "educate" American voters during last year's election spectacularly backfire; Americans don't like being lectured by smug European leftists. Is it likely smug Canadian leftists will see much better a response, should unfriendly media types similarly pick up on the story? - Finally, while attempting to determine if there actually is an optometrist in L'Esplanade Laurier, as I thought I'd remembered (but the Yellow Pages and Googling would seem to deny), I stumbled across this, comparative diagrams showing the scale of every tower (I hesitate to use the word "skyscraper") in Ottawa, and around the world too. I have no idea for what I'd ever need to know that DND's Major-General Pearkes Building is roughly as tall as Minto Place, but hey, it's neat regardless.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Evil effectively eliminated

Granted, I'm not exactly up on theology... "New Testament": It's a mighty name for a 70-ton battle tank. The biblical words are neatly printed on the main gun of an M1A1 Abrams tank rolling along somewhere near Haditha, Iraq. To the Marines of the 4th Tank Battalion, "New Testament" is a fierce beacon and impervious to insurgent mortar fire. ...But I'm confused; isn't it the Old Testament that's the one full of the smiting and vengeance and righteous wrath, and whatnot?

Friday, May 27, 2005

If the bunch of us all stick together, and we all go down as one

I'm not sure why the Globe & Mail finds it at all surprising that Conservative riding associations are more likely than other parties' to select socon candidates. Ottawa — Christian activists have secured Conservative nominations in clusters of ridings from Vancouver to Halifax -- a political penetration that has occurred even as the party tries to distance itself from hard-line social conservatism. At least three riding associations in Nova Scotia, four in British Columbia, and one in suburban Toronto have nominated candidates with ties to groups like Focus on the Family, a Christian organization that opposes same-sex marriage. But organizers say many more will be on the ballot during the next federal election, a feat achieved by persuading parishioners, particularly new Canadians, to join the party and vote for recommended candidates. Some Conservatives argue that the selection of a large number of candidates from the religious right is an unfortunate turn for a party that was accused in last year's election campaign of harbouring a socially conservative "hidden agenda." I'm not that socially conservative, and I have to admit occasional frustration at those who assume I am, merely because of party affiliation. However, I'd never begrudge anyone from holding whatever beliefs they want. Unlike the Canadian media, I don't automatically take the implicit position that the religiously conservative ought to be shunned from public life entirely. The overtly religious are entirely marginalized and ignored in the other major parties; where else are they going to go? The Bloc and NDP, for all their platitudes of equality and social justice, are pretty uniformly secularist. The Liberals actively suppress their socially conservative members, except when it's convenient to encourage them for the sake of winning the votes of particular ethnic communities. I'd rather see conservative Christians have a stake in a big-tent opposition party - albeit, for preference, a minor one; on most social policies, the status quo is certainly good enough for me - than have them feel so disenfranchised by all viable parties as to turn to fringe groups like the CHP; that way lies simmering resentment, and an creepily unhealthy sort, at that. In the matter of CPC policy, I'm willing to be open-minded towards religion, if the religious are willing to be open-minded towards live-and-let-live, moderately-libertarian secularism. Unlike this particular instance of religious conservatism, say: QUEBEC CITY – Members of the national assembly have given unanimous support across party lines to a motion blocking the use of Islamic courts in Quebec. Liberal MNA Fatima Houda-Pépin says the pro-Shariah lobby has a hidden agenda, and implementing the parallel justice system would infringe on Muslim women's rights. "Shariah law is not only a question of family mediation. It is a whole judicial system," Houda-Pépin said Thursday. There is a limit to how far I'm willing to extend that open-mindedness. If ever Christian Tory candidates start espousing the virtues of all-encompassing, theocratic, misogynist, homophobic and generally intolerant private law (and I have no reason to believe they would), you can count me out. (Via NealeNews.)

Every morning, just the same

Ho-hum. Another day, another tantrum-throwing leftist claiming OMG TEH POPE IS A NAZI LOL WTF!!! A Catholic media monitoring group is furious over an animated cartoon that depicts Pope Benedict XVI giving a statue of the Virgin Mary a Nazi salute and muttering "Heil Mary!" in a slight German accent. The cartoon, a shot at the Pope's past as a member of the Hitler Youth, appears on the left-of-centre website rabble.ca, published by prominent Canadian feminist writer Judy Rebick. "We don't think any group should be ridiculed in this way," said Joanne McGarry, executive director of the 5,000-member Catholic Civil Rights League. The cartoon, by Toronto artist Mike Constable, is anti-Catholic and insulting, she said. "It's a slam to Catholicism and the Pope." But social crusader Rebick argues that the cartoon, titled A Creature of Habits, is funny. This kind of thing wouldn't happen quite so often if the institutional left wasn't so uniformly quick to assume latent fascism on the part of anyone to their right, I think.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Slip smoothly into gear, then hit the road and go

While it's often an inconvenience to not drive, there are times I'm glad I've exempted myself from some of the obsessive madness associated with car ownership. Canadians are "obsessed" with pump prices, with two-thirds monitoring them daily, 85 per cent remembering exactly what they paid when they last filled up, and more than 90 per cent willing to go out of their way for a decent discount, survey results suggest. The survey results released yesterday found that 92 per cent of Canadians said they would drive out of their way for a 20-cents-a-litre discount, with one in 10 willing to drive as long as an extra 30 minutes. Half would also be willing to line up for at least 10 minutes for such a saving, and 10 per cent would willingly wait more than half an hour. I think I can put up with having to walk a few blocks, and waiting as long as ten minutes for the bus, to be free of that kind of worry.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Ordinary, unimportant; and undeserving of such attention, unless we all are (I think we all are)

Okay, I'm not sure how to feel about this. YELLOWKNIFE – The city of Yellowknife will be celebrating Gay Pride Day on June 10 – and Heterosexual Day the day before. A notice at Tuesday night's council meeting that the mayor was proclaiming Gay Pride Day was followed by news that Coun. Alan Woytuik had asked for an official Heterosexual Day on June 9. It has also been proclaimed. Coun. Kevin O'Reilly called the move an embarrassment to the city, and a mockery of a legitimate request. "When it comes forward from one individual councillor in direct reaction to another proclamation in such a frivilous and vexatious way I don't think it's appropriate to give it any sort of serious consideration," he told council. Woytuik defended the proclamation. "I feel that recognizing the contributions of heterosexuals is just as legitimate as recognizing the contributions of gay and lesbian communities, so I don't feel there's any reason for anyone to object to this particular proclamation. Oy. This is the kind of thing that - while it may be just done out of pique and resentment at handed-down-from-on-high multiculti-enforced-tolerance evangelism, and thus I can understand Woytuik's (and his constituents') motivation - really does reflect poorly on him. Gay Pride Day is harmless; stay inside, if you don't want to see the parade. (Does Yellowknife even have a parade?) On the other hand, I think the response from the local gay community accidentally makes the exact opposite point as was intended, and it's probably more logically valid: "We thought every day was heterosexual day," said Don Babey of OutNorth, a group that represents Yellowknife gays and lesbians and that made the initial request for Gay Pride Day. "Will the city partner Black History month in February with White Heritage month later in the year?" Babey asked. "Will the days and weeks marking physical ailments, such as heart disease and strokes, be paired with an equal number of days that will celebrate good health? Ah, there's the rub: the contrast makes it painfully aware how silly the concept of a single day (or week or month) is, to acknowledge that a certain percentage of the population is gay, or black, or suffering from heart disease. Does the fact of having a Gay Pride Day actually matter? Can one not still be gay, and happily and openly live and work in Yellowknife, regardless? Just be whatever, and don't worry about whether or not official recognition and endorsement of government exists. It doesn't diminish any group to not have a meaningless charade of an officially noted holiday enacted in their name, nor does it conversely enhance any to, in fact, have such official backing. Can't everyone involved here just be citizens of Yellowknife? Residents of the Northwest Territories? Canadian? Is it really necessary to artificially draw up artificial social borders with these kind of shenanigans, from either side?

Out of those chains, those chains that bind you

Ooooh... Wireless Bluetooth headphones, specifically made for the iPod, that actually aren't incredibly ugly or clunky. I think I'll have to sign up for the manufacturer's mailing list, because those look just spiffy. (Plus, as Gizmodo points out, they have a badly-chosen and mildly-amusing name. How can you lose?)

There is shopping I must do

Finally, a little bit of common sense on Ottawa's commercial zoning: Developers would be allowed to build stand-alone big-box stores in urban areas, but banned from putting them in industrial parks under a negotiated deal between city staff and area developers. The deal, which would see amendments made to the city's official plan, is intended to incorporate big-box stores into the city's urban landscape instead of confining them to the "never-neverland" of the city's outskirts, Ned Lathrop, the deputy city manager of planning, said yesterday in outlining the proposed amendments at a meeting of the city's planning committee. He emphasized that developers wanting to build big-box stores in urban areas would be subject to a variety of conditions. [....] Under the plan, big-box stores have to be attached to a major shopping centre if they're built in the general urban area. The proposed amendments, which include lifting some restrictions on where big-box stores can be built, are the result of these negotiations. It's not a dream come true, but it's something. There are lots of opportunities to restore some level of higher-density commerce to Rideau Street in particular, currently a low-density wasteland of tattoo parlours, used record stores, and head shops east of Dalhousie. I'd love to not have to go all the way down to the south end of the city any time I need something from Wal-Mart/Future Shop/Home Depot/et al. The downside, though, is that any kind of retailer opening a big-box location in Centretown or Lowertown would, under this compromise, pretty much have to be attached to the Rideau Centre (or, quite improbably, an office tower with enough stores on the ground floor to be deemed a "major shopping centre," like the C.D. Howe Building), and that seems unlikely considering their recently-announced expansion plans involving 90-odd smaller stores. That's not so great for solving my complaint, or cleaning up the scummier parts of commercial Lowertown.

And my job is doing good, I'll never stop doing good

In the San Francisco Chronicle, yet another conscientious liberal realizes the institutional left doesn't deserve his support any more: "Leaving the left." I'm leaving the left -- more precisely, the American cultural left and what it has become during our time together. I choose this day for my departure because I can no longer abide the simpering voices of self-styled progressives -- people who once championed solidarity with oppressed populations everywhere -- reciting all the ways Iraq's democratic experiment might yet implode. My estrangement hasn't happened overnight. Out of the corner of my eye I watched what was coming for more than three decades, yet refused to truly see. Now it's all too obvious. Leading voices in America's "peace" movement are actually cheering against self-determination for a long-suffering Third World country because they hate George W. Bush more than they love freedom. [...] At the heart of authentic liberalism lies the recognition, in the words of John Gardner, "that the ever renewing society will be a free society (whose] capacity for renewal depends on the individuals who make it up." A continuously renewing society, Gardner believed, is one that seeks to "foster innovative, versatile, and self-renewing men and women and give them room to breathe." One aspect of my politics hasn't changed a bit. I became a liberal in the first place to break from the repressive group orthodoxies of my reactionary hometown. This past January, my liberalism was in full throttle when I bid the cultural left goodbye to escape a new version of that oppressiveness. I departed with new clarity about the brilliance of liberal democracy and the value system it entails; the quest for freedom as an intrinsically human affair; and the dangers of demands for conformity and adherence to any point of view through silence, fear, or coercion. Would that more of the honest and well-meaning like Mr. Thompson were able to see the harm leftist orthodoxies do to society, and civil discourse in general. (Via Right Thinking.)

I see my present partner in the imperfect tense

I enjoy seeing even the reliably left-leaning NYT getting critical of all-encompassing Canadian corruption: "Was Canada Just Too Good to Be True?" They even give Harper the last word: At a recent Liberal party convention, Mr. Martin pledged that "our most important commitment to the Canadian people was our pledge to protect and defend the values that define us: Liberal values, Canadian values." To which Stephen Harper, the Conservative leader, shot back at a rally of his own: "Corruption is not a Canadian value." Hey, I wonder if all those "United States of Canada/Jesusland" maps produced after the 2004 US elections seem quite as funny to Times-readers now? (Via NealeNews.)

So be wary of who you accuse

The Globe & Mail's Jeffrey Simpson is more than a touch condescending today (Subscription wall workaround link here): Thank goodness that the House of Commons does not sit this week, because otherwise some of the right-wing punditocracy might not survive. A few of the pundits hyperventilated so severely last week that they came dangerously close to cardiac arrest over the Liberals' parliamentary survival. Another week of fulmination like the last one might just do in a couple of them. Yes, many of us were upset last week. I wonder if that might have had anything to do with the increasingly craven and shameless tactics Liberals used to maintain their fragile grip on power? But that doesn't matter, to equivocating hacks like Simpsons; it's all about how the right is too angry and excitable. (Discuss: is being painted as angry and excitable better, or worse, than being painted as dull policy wonks?) So desperate was their condition that they made a political hero of Gurmant Grewal. Who, you might reasonably ask? Mr. Grewal is, shall we say, nailed to the Conservatives' backbench. An MP from Surrey, B.C., he would have no more chance of ever being in a future Conservative cabinet than, say, the ghost of Lester Pearson. Oh, I get it! It's all about self-promotion. Grewal was just seeking attention, because, as we all know, he could never amount to anything, right? What with how he's, y'know, not white, and all Tories are (according to unimpeachable sources Joe Volpe and Hedy Fry) unapologetic fire-breathing Klan members? And yet from obscurity Mr. Grewal rose to heroic status for the right-wing pundits, because he did something profoundly unethical and deceitful in what they believe a noble cause -- the unearthing of further Liberal treachery and deceit. I have yet to understand how recording conversations that make criminal offers is in any way unethical. Is it unethical for police to gather evidence of criminal activity by use of wiretaps? Except that on its face, this case of Liberal treachery and deceit is at best unproven and, at worse, a crock. Instead, it would appear that Mr. Grewal has more than a little explaining to do. You breathtakingly obtuse little man. Given the events of the past few weeks on which the facts are completely known and agreed upon - the sudden decision to invade Sudan after David Kilgour made it one of his demands for voting with the budget, the Stronach debacle - the burden of evidence is not on the Conservatives to prove that what seems to have been an offer (if a circumspect and vaguely worded one), in fact, was. Now let's be clear: Liberal political deceit -- one arrow in a quiver of strategies for power -- has a long and dishonourable history than ran right up and through last week's parliamentary survival. The Liberals have always done whatever it takes to survive, including raids on the federal treasury that, were spending a jailing offence, would land a bunch of them behind bars with life sentences. Did you know that just before the vote the governing party was issuing press releases hailing more money for wharves and harbours on both coasts -- and even in Saskatchewan? This is practically a rubber-stamp version of every pretended-centrist columnist's recent apologiae: Sure, Liberals bad, but Conservatives are just so, like, y'know, scary. But this time, the Liberals stand accused of literally offering Mr. Grewal some slice of political patronage in exchange for his vote during last week's drama. And for his wife's vote, too, she being another Conservative MP. The evidence for this sensational charge comes from eight minutes of somewhat unintelligible tape from a recording of a conversation Mr. Grewal had with Tim Murphy, the prime minister's chief of staff. In that conversation, Mr. Murphy rules out a Senate seat or some other plum before the vote, but leaves open the possibility of future considerations should the Grewals abstain. If this is a smoking gun against Mr. Murphy, somebody forgot the trigger. Sweet Merciful Crap. How much clearer does it have to be? Do we have to wait until the surprise press conference where a defector is given a cabinet seat on live TV, the metaphorical smoking gun in the form of a mushroom cloud? Is that the only allowable standard of proof for suggesting that Liberals are willing to consider offering bribes of offices or appointments? Much stranger and rather chilling is what a member of Parliament was doing surreptitiously taping conversations with anybody. It's been reported that Mr. Grewal taped four hours of conversations with people, including senior Liberals, ostensibly as some kind of a personal sting operation to embarrass the Liberals. I've yet to hear acknowledgment from any Liberal defender of what their reaction would have been if no recordings had been made. I imagine Grewal's claims would have been dismissed as attention-seeking fantasies, like those of Inky Mark. That's what he was doing "surreptitiously taping conversations with anybody" - protecting himself and his credibility with that little thing called "evidence." He's only released eight minutes of these tapes -- minutes he and the Conservatives insist cast senior Liberals in a bad light. But what about the rest of the tapes? And what about the bizarre motives of an MP who walks around taping conversations, presumably including ones with ministers he had asked to see? If there's anything fishy about this business, the smell comes from the one with the tape recorder. "Bizarre?" How is it bizarre to attempt to expose the more-shameless-than-usual horse-trading that would otherwise go on behind closed doors? Grewal's motives are crystal-clear, unless you happen to be a Toronto-based pundit more concerned with optics than what seem to be the reasonably well-established facts: Liberals were offering bribes to any opposition member showing the slightest interest, even as a strategic feint. Yes, manners deteriorated rather sharply around Parliament in this minority situation. Things were said that went beyond the pale and the generally raucous behaviour undoubtedly turned off plenty of Canadians. But secret taping of conversations by an MP in order to damage the other side? Are there no limits? Mr. Grewal, and the Conservative leadership, should release all the tapes if they wish to use eight minutes of them for partisan purposes. Then everybody could judge whether indeed Mr. Grewal was on some kind of bizarre sting operation, organized either by himself, or with the encouragement of senior party members, or, as it equally plausible to an outsider, that he was indeed sniffing around, visiting cabinet ministers, opening up lines of communication for a switch, hoping to secure something then or later for himself and/or his wife. Sometimes the accuser has more questions to answer than the accused, and this looks like one of those times. Small-l liberal pundit trope #2: Always - always, always - blame the victim. It serves them right for making accusations of our Natural Governing Party. Mr. Grewal wasn't going anywhere in the Conservative Party. The Liberals are going to make a big push to do better in the Surrey ridings, with the mayor of Surrey having signed up to co-ordinate that effort. These two sentences would seem to contradict each other. If it's the case that Grewal is doomed never to occupy a cabinet post (short of crossing the floor to a Liberal government), why do the Liberals have to make a "big push" to do better? If he's that uninspiring an MP, surely the job wouldn't be quite so hard? I'm also not sure what municipal government political cooperation with the Liberals suggests in this case, other than a typical case of municipal government inappropriately taking sides at the federal level. Ottawa Mayor Bob Chiarelli is a Liberal booster, but that doesn't mean our local Conservative MPs have done something in particular to offend him, other than belonging to the wrong party. The circumstantial evidence suggests Mr. Grewal has a few questions to answer. Maybe some of the answers are on those tapes. Failure to release them perhaps suggests someone with something to hide. How opportune that Simpson wrote such wild-eyed speculation on Conservative conspiracies and dirty tricks just as the tapes were released, then. For shame, Mr. Simpson.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Your mysteries are deep and wide

I have a couple of problems with this: GLENELG, Md. - A black Huck Finn and a white Jim might be OK for a high school production of Mark Twain's classic tale — but those performances had to be edited out of a C-Span talent show after the copyright holder objected to the cross-casting. [...] Bert Fink, a spokesman for R&H Theatricals — the Rodgers & Hammerstein organization, which holds the license to the play — said his organization is not against cross-casting in general. "But when you're dealing with a theatrical work and race or ethnicity is a key factor, many authors or playwrights feel strongly that ethnicity has to be reflected in the actors who portray the characters," he said. "In the books, Jim is a runaway slave. He is clearly in the novel an African-American man. And Huck is a free white man — that is central to the story. To ignore that component or to comment on it by switching is not faithful to the story." I have to agree with R&H's position here; cross-casting makes the entire concept of the story incomprehensible, except as an instance of stunt-casting. Are Jim and Huck supposed to still be the same ethnicities as written, just not played as such, as a blandly clever spectacle? Are the basic premises of 19th-century American racial demographics and society supposed to be reversed? Unless it's explicitly answered either way, given the particular story, it just doesn't seem appropriate. There are lots of titles in their catalogue where race is a complete irrelevancy for every single character; why didn't the school go with one of those? Also, the title of the musical is Big River, which AP seems to have overlooked. (Warning: page contains embedded audio, including an enjoyable couple of verses of the song whose performance is central to the story here, "Muddy Water.") Frisby's father, Washington attorney Russell Frisby, said he was appalled by the decision. "The only rationale for it is that someone in New York believes Huck Finn can't be played by an African-American. I thought we were past the days of 'whites only' clauses," the elder Frisby said. Erg. Institutional racism isn't the case here, and I think the actor's father does himself a disservice by making the accusation. If a role is very specifically written as black or white, due to the central importance of the particular setting (and it's hard to argue that a story set in the antebellum American South doesn't meet that criterion), does reversing roles make any statement other than of disrespect for the source material? It's not that Huck Finn can't be played by an African-American (and I'm sure very ably, at that), but about the necessity of maintaining some kind of coherent facsimile of the work as written, which is likely part of the school's licensing agreement to use Big River's book and score. I'm sure R&H wouldn't be very happy about the high school's drama teacher rewriting the play to be set in a Martian mining colony, either. Moreover, they only objected to the national broadcast of the school's production. That seems understandable, at least from the perspective of protecting the 'brand' of the particular show; there was a Broadway revival just last year (scroll down), and one that utilized stuntcasting in a way that didn't interfere with the essential story, in having an largely-deaf cast. Besides...take a listen to the original cast recording. This isn't just about the roster of whose name is next to which role in the program - but a newswire would have a hard time criticizing from the artistic point-of-view. Jim gets better, deeper, less comic-relief-ish numbers than Huck. The song "Free at Last," in particular, is magnificent - but I don't think would have quite the same impact coming from a white actor; is that really racist, to consider that sort of cultural appropriation tactless at best? (Via Hit & Run.)

It's surely not his brain that makes me thrill

There's a variation of the reductio ad absurdum argument called the reductio ad Hitlerum, which generally attempts to decry anything on the grounds of being implicitly visibly alike to the behaviour or beliefs of Hitler, and thus incontrovertibly evil. From a newish blogger, Craig Cantin (who really, given the experience he claims, ought to be capable of a better argument), meet its lesser cousin, the reductio ad Nixonum: Now, onto the second article. It's becoming more apparent that the Tories were attempting to entrap the Liberals prior to the budget vote on Thursday. We now know that while 8 minutes of conversation were made public, over 3 1/2 hours were not (yet) released. What's on the rest of the tapes that the Tories don't want us to hear? A few more questions for you to ponder: 1. Do you see any comparison between this and, say, late President Richard Nixon taping his conversations? 2. Doesn't it seem unethical to resort to entrapment to try and bring down a corrupt regime? 3. If they will go to this length, what else have they done, or are willing to do, to achieve their ambitions? 4. What might have the Tories done during the last leadership race to ensure Stephen Harper won? 5. What might they be willing to do to hold onto power if they are ever given it? 6. Will they be ANY different from the present corrupt regime after one term in office? Ow. My head. See what I mean? Nixon = Evil; Nixon taped conversations; Tories taped conversations; ergo Tories are like Nixon; ergo Tories = Evil, QED. That little gem of tinfoil-hattery aside, It's delightful to get such easily-refuted logical fallacies as arguments for the status quo. In order: 1. Do you see any comparison between this and, say, police investigations engaging in wiretapping to gather evidence of criminal activity? Do you see a difference between evidence of wrongdoing, and mere ammunition for the politics of personal destruction in which Nixon engaged? There's just a bit of contrast between paranoid control-freak shenanigans from the executive, and an opposition legislator corroborating allegations of having been propositioned, no? 2. Not in the slightest. The Liberal Party seems, from the available evidence, to be criminally unethical behind closed doors; exposing such dirty deeds to the public is no vice. Moreover, it's not entrapment, if opportunities to commit a crime are offered to one predisposed to commit such an act. That Tim Murphy didn't immediately shut Gurmant Grewel down - that he spent at least four hours in carefully-worded conversation over implying such an illegal offer of offices, appointments or other benefits existed - doesn't recommend much in the way of an entrapment defense, were the matter ever to come to trial. 3. How about winning an election, based on making known the premise that the Conservative Party isn't the one currently implicated to have been offering bribes of federally-granted perks in exchange for voting with it? That's what they're willing to do. Their ambitions are to replace the current government, in a free and fair election. If you can't at least argue otherwise with some modicum of relevant factual evidence - and, again, this is coming from someone who really ought to know better - don't engage in cowardly innuendoes. 4. Perhaps - just maybe - a plurality of the party membership supported him. Not everything has to be part of a conspiracy. 5. Gee, I don't know. Would they entice defections from the opposition with cabinet posts? Intimidate opposition MPs with conveniently-timed RCMP investigations? Freely spend billions of dollars in order to maintain a tenuous grasp of public opinion? Ignore non-confidence votes in the House? Postpone opposition days, to attempt to prevent such votes from even occurring? Scream accusations of racism, sexism, homophobia et al to shut down public debate? I seem to recall some other party having done all those things recently. Do you sincerely think the CPC would even reach established lows of behaviour pioneered by our current government, let alone whatever insinuation they might "be willing to do to hold onto power" encompasses? I pity you if that's the case, to have been so disillusioned by the Liberal lust for power and lack of ethics as to believe that anyone else must be just as bad, if not worse. 6. See #5. Why ought the writer know better? Cantin is a former mid-to-high-level staffer - a correspondence writer promoted up to an IT manager - for the Leader of the Opposition's office, and a former executive of the Nepean-Carleton Canadian Alliance riding association. (That wouldn't exactly seem to compute, if this is the same Craig Cantin to accuse Peter Rempel of being "a maniacal right-wing fruitcake.") I'd love to know what turned him into a boutique-soap-making Green Party supporter, darkly whispering vague charges of Nixonian behaviour and desire for coups d'etat, in any case. (Via Political Staples.)

The trouble with school is, they always try to teach the wrong lesson

My, it's refreshing to have to have the ire of local teachers' and allied unions directed, for once, at someone other than the provincial PC Party: IT'S OFFICIAL---there will be no school tomorrow for 78,000 Ottawa public school students. After meeting for more than four hours yesterday, Ottawa-Carleton District School Board officials decided they could not keep their 145 schools running safely without the 2,600 support workers who could hit the picket line at 6 a.m. tomorrow. "We did receive notice early Friday morning that employees of our administration and support groups will not be reporting to work on Wednesday and we cannot ensure the health and safety of our students under those circumstances," board chairwoman Lynn Graham said after the meeting. "We will be giving daily information updates and we're certainly hopeful that we will be reaching a fair and reasonable settlement with these employee groups in a short period of time." Negotiations are expected to resume today. While it's possible that a settlement will be reached -- thus staving off a full-blown strike -- the board requires at least 24 hours to prepare. Granted, this particular dispute is only between the board and unions; still, if the provincial government wasn't Liberal right now, I'm sure someone would have found a way to blame the province as well. Rage at the Mike Harris government was practically an article of faith for teachers during my high school years, and it predictably rubbed off on many students. (I shouldn't complain; rational re-examination of PC policies on education did end up taking me further rightward than I realized at the time.) At least the worst kind of poisonous environment this could generate would be disdain for bureaucrats of the regional school board. That's probable a healthy attitude to have, regardless.

With no one stopping us, believe you me, there's no topping us

I wonder if public "demand" for an election would have been greater last week if this had been known? OTTAWA - The Liberal government has set up a war room -- at a cost of about $1-million to taxpayers -- to handle the fallout from the Gomery commission. Documents obtained by CanWest News Service through the Access to Information Act reveal the rapid-response war room, which is in almost daily contact with the Prime Minister's Office and the government's top bureaucrat, Alex Himelfarb, is operating out of the Privy Council Office. The cost of the strategic office, which does everything from prepare answers for Question Period in the House of Commons to keeping the PMO abreast of testimony at the inquiry, covers the salaries of staff and expenses. Is this even worth getting upset about at this point? I'm sure Martin's cronies could easily spin the need for defensive talking points as essential to the dignity of the PMO. Still, it's not terribly surprising, which is a shame; it'll be taken in stride, and cause exactly no outrage. After all, $1m is small potatoes, comparatively, right?

Monday, May 23, 2005

The minute you walked in the joint, I could see you were a man of distinction, a real big spender

Product placement, long a shameless part of feature films, hit Broadway: NEW YORK (Adage.com) -- As part of a product placement campaign in Broadway's Sweet Charity, playwright Neil Simon approved a script change to promote Gran Centenario tequila, according to the deal makers. Jose Cuervo's tequila has been woven into the script, the stage sets and the advertising and promotion for 'Sweet Charity.' [...] To Mr. Weissler, having products placed or mentioned in his shows is not a new concept. “There’s nothing different here than in sports or movies where marketers co-promote a film,” he said. But he sets limits on what he’ll do to marry art and commerce. “We never, ever distress a script." With this Gran Centenario example, the producers and playwright replaced a line, “I’ll have a double scotch on the rocks” with a mention of the premium tequila. "We didn’t bastardize the script, and [playwright Neil Simon] OKed the change," Mr. Weissler said. “We always pass sponsors by authors.” In addition to having the Gran Centenario mention written into the script, the tequila’s logos are integrated into the show’s set in one scene, and the product has been the drink of choice at Gran Centenario-sponsored parties thrown during the pre-Broadway shows as well as its New York opening, all attended by the cast, their friends and a select group of invitees. Specialty cocktails featuring Gran Centenario created by well-known bartender Dale deGroff are featured at those fests as well as in the Al Hirschfeld Theatre where Sweet Charity plays and at nearby bars. I don't think I have a problem with that. Even if Simon had amended the script to include "Because Bacardi makes the night come alive - with freshness!"-style authentic corporate whorishness, I'm sure it would be taken as self-deprecating irony. That's no less effective at profile-raising, I'm sure; ironic po-mo hipsters drink too. But, to be fair, Sweet Charity still comes second, even during this theatrical season. After all, it's not the show with a registered trademark product placement in the very title... (Via Blogway Baby.)

For you're no cowboy; you're soft, and how, boy

Matt Welch has expanded for Salon his theory of "Deadwood Democrats" as a countervailing meme to "South Park Conservatives." (Warning: NSFW dialogue transcripts ahead.) "Deadwood's" realism, wrapped in Milch's signature brooding on human complexity (he created the character Andy Sipowitz on "NYPD Blue"), are used to probe a fascinating question: What happens when there are no laws? Rampant murder is one obvious by-product, but so is the fascinating development of spontaneous and beneficial order, where traditions (such as sharing peaches at town meetings) are created by accident and clung to out of touching necessity, and where the federal and state governments are understood to be land-grabbing enemies to be opposed or at least swindled. "I am a sinner who does not expect forgiveness," Hearst Corp. representative (and big-time sinner) Francis Wolcott confesses in a recent episode. "But I am not a government official." At a time when Washington is passing laws to intervene in individual medical cases, and self-described federalists want to amend the Constitution itself to prevent individual states from experimenting with marriage laws, "Deadwood's" skepticism of government and celebration of individuality couldn't be timelier. And its viciously profane yet pragmatic demonstrations of tolerance feel more stiff-spined and American than an anti-defamation industry that has been enthusiastically adopted by the same conservatives who once mocked it. I think that's the problem with this entire concept, right there: Live-and-let-live pragmatic libertarianism of the frontier mould is predicated on a willingness to trust in the individual. True, Republicans may no longer credibly claim to be the party of small government (to my disappointment), but Democrats are even more addicted to the bureaucratic apparatus of the nanny state; viz, in only the most recent example, attempting to reform Social Security. You've got to have faith in individuals to make personal choices you disagree with. Deadwood develops the scenario of civil society building itself from the ground up. It's an appealing time and place for libertarians to fantasize about as a utopian past, but the setting (and thereby the theoretical inspiration for Democratic strategy) is thoroughly grounded about twenty years before the rise of the intrusive administrative state, and thus not exactly something that can be replicated easily today. There is a lesson to take from the story, though: that individuals are capable of rationally making their own choices, and for the most part don't necessarily need holier-than-thou elites (religious or secular) instructing them in 'correct' behaviour and thought. That leads, not coincidentally, into the second problem: Offensiveness. Welch quotes the show aptly: Episode 22, for example, has this delightful live-and-let-live exchange: Silas: You talk like you take it up the ass. Hugo: I do not, my friend Adams, take it up the ass. Silas: Don't call me your fuckin' friend! Hugo: But I suspect those that do consider that they advance their own interests. Like them, shall we not pursue that which gratifies us mutually? In Episode 2, after Bullock objects to Swearengen's anti-Semitic insults of Bullock's partner Sol, Sol refuses to let words get in the way of business: "I been called worse by better." A party of victimhood will never be able to see past what they deem offensive. In the case of liberal Democrats, that's refusal to wholeheartedly buy into certain articles of faith on race, sexuality, language, et al; affirmative action, hate speech laws, and the like. I find it magnificently improbable that a majority of Democrats could be persuaded to abstain from loudly taking offense at that which with they disagree. Sure, they're largely going to be fine 'working blue,' as it were - language being the most obvious possible source of offense in Deadwood - but that's not the issue. Can they control the urge to uniformly paint those more credibly attached to their church and faith than Howard Dean - who left the Episcopalian Church over the matter of the local parish's opposition to a bike path, of all things - as reactionary fundamentalists? Can they resist assuming that reluctance to uniformly enact same-sex marriage Right Now might be due to anything but virulent homophobia? Can they conceive of a world where opposition to racially-based school admission or hiring quotas isn't a symptom of underlying racism? Can they realize that normal people may have perfectly sound reasons for shopping at Wal-Mart, driving SUVs, and watching Fox News? In short, are they willing to be offended by the behaviour of others, and instead of raging in victimhood, shrug it off and continue arguing civilly for the sake of mutual benefit? Shaking the habit of fragile whininess would go a long way towards being seen as a rational alternative to the GOP with the crucial middle. There is an excellent pragmatic political reason to embrace "Deadwood's" frontier ethos as well -- the West, and especially the Mountain West, may be the key to the Democrats' electoral future. The "Western strategy," chewed on daily at Web sites like New West and WesternDemocrat, aims to extrapolate from the interesting trend of popular Democratic governors like Brian Schweitzer, Bill Richardson and Janet Napolitano running pro-Bush states such as Montana, New Mexico and Arizona, as the region as a whole grows sharply in electoral votes. This new Western breed of Democrat tends to be pro-gun, anti-tax and shruggingly tolerant of their constituents' various political beliefs and religious affiliations. "When you've got more cattle than people and you've got blue sky that goes on almost forever," Montana Gov. Schweitzer told Salon recently, "people have got room to roam without bothering each other. Live and let live." As "Deadwood" and the success of these politicians illustrates, that gruff tolerance and natural skepticism toward authority is written into the very DNA of the West. It's no accident that Barry Goldwater's libertarian take on Republicanism originated from Arizona, and it becomes clearer with each day that the modern GOP has little in common with the man whose idea of limited government meant real separation of church and state, and the "constitutional right to be gay," among other heresies. Under Bush, and too often with the Democrats' acquiescence or even support, the federal government has butted into our bedrooms, our locker rooms, and our living rooms. Right now there is wide open space on the political spectrum for someone to treat government as a grudging necessity to meet specific and limited goals, whether those are policing Deadwood's murderous streets, or guaranteeing healthcare for children while balancing a budget. There's electoral gold in them thar hills! How about policing the murderous sinkhole of the Middle East, rather than guaranteeing healthcare for anyone? Could Deadwood Democrats get behind that? The government which governs least isn't that which enacts even faintly socialist domestic policies with its limited means. I think Welch has missed the point, somewhat. Such a strategy shouldn't be a mere ploy to get wish-list domestic legislation in place; at least, not if the philosophy of rugged individualism is embraced honestly. And there's fun, too. Above all else, "Deadwood" is a pleasure to the senses. Prospectors and frontiersmen were "counterculture" a century before anyone had invented the term, inspiring the very people whose 1960s transgressions created the movement that "South Park" conservatives have been itching to roll back -- Bob Dylan, San Francisco heads who decamped to Virginia City, Ramparts editor Warren Hinckle. There is a natural connection between the Wild West and anti-authoritarianism, and real cowboys never go out of style. If the Democrats embrace this and adjust their outlook accordingly, there might finally be a major party worth voting for. Now, that, that's kind of a stretch. I doubt many American frontiersmen of the 1870s, given the counterfactual opportunity, would see much of themselves in the smug, self-indulgent burnouts of the 1960s. Modern Democratic voters in Montana, though? Probably a bit moreso. I appreciate the expansion of the "South Park Conservative" metaphor in search of parallels, but I don't think Deadwood offers realistic options for modern behaviour, notwithstanding some pretty massive philosophical changes on the part of the American left.

You'll find we journalists are hard to scare

Newsflash: Steve Jobs is occasionally a bit of a hypocritical control freak. (Wow, really?) Granted, this is from Wonkette, whose attention to reality where snark can be easily substituted is somewhat spotty, but it certainly has the ring of truth: leaked trade secrets and development news reported to the public would be only mildly objectionable coming from a big name like the Wall Street Journal, but how dare a blogger publish such things? (Really, though - at this point, does there even need to be confirmation that Apple's disproportionate and slightly thuggish behaviour in this ongoing story was on orders straight from the top?) (Via Gizmodo.)

Not in this land alone

In honour of Victoria Day, I'd like to call attention to one of my favourite long-gone Ottawa landmarks, the Victoria Tower. The centrepiece of Parliament Hill's original Centre Block (before it burned down in 1916), I think it shows a far more reasonable sense of scale. The Peace Tower could be built to the height it was only by aid of a 20th-century steel girder superstructure; the Victoria Tower, conversely, was supported only by the same stone Gothic arch vaults as the rest of the building. The result is something that seems less showy, and more in tune with the other parts of the Hill from the same era, especially the ornate High Victorian Gothic Revival wrought-iron and inlaid mosaic work of the East Block. The Peace Tower is a modern, in places edging towards Modernist, re-interpretation of the Gothic Revival style, and I think it only serves to highlight the later rebuilding of the Centre Block, rather than blending in. Maybe, though, I just appreciate the whimsical, non-linear shape of the tower itself, so less aggressive than the perfect angles of the Peace Tower. In any event, here's to Victoria Regina et Imperatrix today, hey?

Sunday, May 22, 2005

If you strip away the myth from the man

Star Wars and I aren't exactly on what could be called intimate terms. I never really cared for the series until the original trilogy was given the 1997 theatrical re-release in Special Editions, which I did enjoy. I was entirely caught up in the hype of Episode I, only to be incredibly disappointed, though I didn't acknowledge it until 2001 or so. I even defended the existence of Jar Jar Binks, for a time. Thus, I come to the final prequel with fairly low expectations. Star Wars hasn't defined my life, as it has for so many geeks, and in that regard I have to admit I fail spectacularly to fulfill the stereotype. I'll grand it's good space opera - at times exceeding its limitations, becoming something truly mythic - but I look askance at the hard-core fanboys in much the same way as non-genre fans. It was with a healthy dose of skepticism I went to see Revenge of the Sith last night. That's not to say I don't fully understand what's going on, or have nitpicky issues with it. The fall of Anakin Skywalker isn't so much about the corruption of a good man - as we were promised, way back when - as the manipulation of an utter tool. Anakin is never a likable character, and always seems more a shallow and selfish egotist than a loving husband wracked with fear and self-doubt. The neat: Minor cameos galore. Jar Jar, Captain Panaka, Owen and Beru Lars, Nute Gunray, and what I have to assume was a young, pre-Grand Moff-status Tarkin. (I have to say, I'm disappointed by the way Palpatine ultimately seized power, in that regard. The Moffs were clearly modeled, as political/military gubernatorial appointees loyal only to the Emperor, after the gauleiters of Nazi Germany; I'd expected a similar pattern of gradual encroachment by Palpatine's appointees on the civic offices of the Republic, not a sudden, high-speed coup largely orchestrated directly from the Senate floor.) I enjoy minor cameos from minor characters in the respect that they are minor; they're not heroes or villains whose ultimate fates are important, or even known. Thus, I'm a bit confused why Chewbacca had to be worked into the story, exactly; it's in aid of nothing for Yoda to have known him prior to the original trilogy. Still, Owen Lars pitching one foot up on an embankment to gaze at the binary sunset of Tatooine makes up for an awful lot. The unexplained: Why does General Grievous, a droid, need a flowing grogram cloak, or to apparently be in possession of organic parts, in the form of reptilian eyes and a mammalian heart? If Anakin is living with Padme in her Senatorial penthouse, how does it take a dim Obi-Wan (and only he) two-thirds of the movie to notice, what with that being forbidden, and all? The less-endearing-than-Lucas-thinks: Sassy Droid Comments, mostly in the inappropriate comic relief scenes on Dooku's ship. There are very few sassy robots written well enough to be allowed to perform sitcom-quality burlesque: R2-D2, C-3PO, Bender, Crow, Tom Servo, K-9, Twiki, Rosie, and Hymie. The "Roger Roger"-droning droidtroopers don't get to have such moments. At least, they shouldn't. What I kept being distracted by, interestingly, were the meta-implications. I couldn't help but think, while Palpatine was fighting Mace Windu, about how the game mechanics of force lightning in the various LucasArts titles-to-be (anything future in the Jedi Knight or Knights of the Old Republic series, anyway) will have to be changed, to reflect the retconning that now establishes its use (even momentary) to visibly age the user. More than anything, it seems like an unnecessary cheat, to immediately rush Palpatine to the pancaked-zombie-look of later on. On that same note, was there a jump cut I missed somewhere at the end, covering several years' gap? The proto-Star Destroyers seemed to shed their Republic maroon-and-gunmetal livery for Imperial white awfully quickly; ditto the officers onboard, immediately seeming to be in the same uniforms as first seen in A New Hope. We never saw Republic Starfleet officers in the prequel era, I think, so I guess it's not a stretch for them to have gone through the imperial transition without change (unlike the Clonetroopers, whose armour and behaviour has visibly become closer to that of original trilogy Stormtroopers over the courses of Episodes II and III). Still; it seems awfully rushed, for Vader and the Emperor (already aged to the appearance he'll have by ROTJ) to stand on the bridge of their flagship and see the Death Star already under construction. I appreciate that construction of a space station the size of a small moon would logically take a while - 18 years or so, say, even in an exceptionally high-tech universe - but to show that in the penultimate scene is too obvious by half. We already know what comes next. Finally, on the matter of the supposed Powerful Anti-Bush Message of the film: Who are the Jedi, anyway, to be spouting platitudes about good government? They're poor spokesmen for the defense of democracy. They're elitist genetic supremacists, choosing their members (and ruling class thereof) by what was depressingly revealed in Episode I to be a mere biological trait, the presence of "midichlorians" in the bloodstream. Skill in the Force is latent and inherited, like eye colour; it can't be otherwise learned. The Jedi aren't the meritocratic ideal of a classical republic. They're an oligarchical and unaccountable priesthood, demanding what seems to be a central (constitutional?) role in the Republic's governing, without any kind of accompanying check on their power, or even mere oversight. George Lucas' inane politicization rings truer than he'd like in that respect, I think; you couldn't ask for a better analogue (they even come with their own ivory towers, in the heart of downtown Coruscant) for our real full-time political (slash-academic-slash-literary-slash-journalistic) class, so possessed of their vital importance to democracy, and so at the same time willing to excuse their own brand of self-righteous, well-meaning authoritarianism for the sake of supplanting less subtle tyrants. Beyond that, I just tuned out Padme's embarrassing faux-profundities. (Which led me to take more notice of her silly costuming. Wouldn't a nightgown with multiple strings of pearls for straps be kind of uncomfortable to sleep in? Wouldn't most of her costumes be reasonably uncomfortable, for that matter? They certainly seem to clash with the plush - if dehumanizing - ultramodernism of Coruscant architecture.) It's not as though I'm not already in the habit of tuning out idiotic and unsubtle allegory; The West Wing, say, would be unwatchable otherwise. I'd really hoped I wouldn't have to start doing it for Star Wars, though. All in all, Revenge of the Sith is much better than Episodes I and II. Loose ends are tied up not too glibly, and it's a joy to have the entire story complete. So, yes, it exceeded my expectations - but I wasn't expecting much.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Living in a material world

Snrrrrk. Okay, now I really expect no one to ever again castigate me on the impolitically criticizing Belinda Stronach count. One could hardly imply any more sexist stereotypes with crude language than she does with her very own actions: OTTAWA—Partying Liberals were treated Thursday night to the incredible sight of Belinda Stronach, Canada's new human resources minister, and Tim Murphy, the Prime Minister's chief of staff, dancing atop a speaker at an Ottawa bar. The tune? "Material Girl," by Madonna. The lyrics to that song include these memorable, and some would say fitting, words: "Some boys kiss me, some boys hug me, I think they're OK, If they don't give me proper credit, I just walk away. They can beg and they can plead, But they can't see the light. That's right, 'Cause the boy with the cold hard cash is always Mr. Right." Stronach, of course, was not promised cash in exchange for her spectacular defection from the Conservative benches this week. And it could be argued that she had to move left, politically, to find Mr. Right. But as an image, the scene of Murphy and Stronach dancing — only hours after the Liberals survived a squeaker of a confidence vote in the Commons — fed into the perception that Prime Minister Paul Martin and his team somehow pulled off a momentous victory this week. BlackBerries were buzzing all over Ottawa bars on Thursday night with descriptions of the dancing scene. Some Liberals, especially the younger ones, were dazzled. Others, more seasoned, fretted that the display was just more proof that Martin's Liberal government thrives solely on adrenalin, celebrity and power for its own sake. This from the Toronto Star (!), of all papers. I think watching the new Minister for Go-Go Dancing embarass the Liberals is going to be a not-infrequent source of amusement in the coming weeks and months, no? (Via Rempelia Prime.)

I did not shirk their dirty work, but things are different now

I'm over it. Like every key Canadian political event I can remember, the result of the budget vote has left me disappointed. But it's only back to a baseline level of disappointment, I suppose; certainly, this was only losing one chance to bring down a minority government, not losing an election. That loss was also due only to monstrously unethical Liberal behaviour in every possible circumstance is also comforting, because it implies that preventing any or all such caudillismo-style power plays would considerably improve the chances for democratically electing genuinely responsible government. We're only in the new Gilded Age; it can't last forever. Someone will blink, and realize the shame our Natural Governing Party brings upon us, eventually. It might even be a Liberal. (Or, more likely, conscientious small-l liberals.) Who knows? That's not why I've been post-free for the past two days, though. Rather, I suddenly had quite a bit of work dumped on me to be proofed, confirmed, and sent to the printers by Tuesday morning. I got into this graphic design job entirely by accident, and have faked my way through it reasonably well. I'd pretty much put any kind of artistic career behind me during high school, for one simple reason: I have no visual creativity. I can mimic a style, but for the most part, I'd be hard pressed to call anything I've created unique. Despite that, technical skill, artistry, and professionalism seem to be in such short supply that even as a completely self-taught, degree-lacking imitator, I frequently receive high praise for my ad work, to say nothing of how far a policy of quick response to e-mail or voice messages seems to go. I used to be terrified that at some point, someone would call me on some terminology or technical detail, and my non-professionalism would be exposed. Oddly, it's never come up, even when dealing with other (putatively professional) designers submitting work on behalf of our clients. Either I'm an exceptionally quick study, or nearly everyone in this business is faking it just as much. I'm inclined to believe the latter, especially when cleaning up the mess of one such self-proclaimed professional (given, I understand, to charge three times my usual rate), as I have been since early Friday morning. Our associate in the Niagara region contracted out to this designer, who recently suffered some sort of catastrophic hard drive failure. He's also not one for maintaining a discipline of data backup, so an entire flyer's worth of ads (already overdue - meant to be paired at the printer with a job I submitted Wednesday night) are lost or unavailable. His only response was to demand additional fees, in order to fix his computer. I may be new to this freelance designing thing, but as professional behaviour goes, that's just abhorrent. Unfortunately, though, that was his only response, so - given my (incredibly undeserved) reputation as some kind of wunderkind - the job of fixing the problem was thrown at me. (For bonus pay, of course. I'm not complaining about that part.) As it turns out, his work is just as awful as his professional habits, so even where I have partial files to work from, it's slow going. Overly complex clipping mask shenanigans, crowded layouts, frequent spelling errors, low resolutions, and a complete lack of the required bleeds: these are case studies in What Not To Do for our precise design specifications, or even general benchmarks of legibility and (I think this demands a silly compound word) not-godawfulness. Are standards so low that even basic competence is treated as rare and special? Then, of course, there's the consequences of such treatment. Being a miracle worker is having to live up to that reputation. I know, I know, would that everyone had such problems...

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Dreams are not enough to win a war

Whoever Chuck Cadman's most competitive opponent is next election, I am so donating to his campaign. As for right now? I need a drink.

Going through the motions, losing all my drive

I have nothing to say. Nor do I imagine there's anything else I could, before we actually get down to the wire at 5:45. Mostly, it's because I'm just plain exhausted. I spent late last night/this morning getting an overdue job to the printers. I didn't sleep well, worried as I was about getting the proofs returned and confirmed on a tighter deadline than usual. Then, this morning, I had to sprint to the HM's office and back to fix another issue with the ongoing mailing list database upgrade; the office's panicky admin assistant was unable and unwilling to understand over the phone how to go about the relatively simple process of restoring local MS Access files to the remote server, in order that the federal office might deal with the actual mail merge. Add that to ongoing stress over the alternating utter futility and unknowability of today's budget vote, and it means I'm pretty much running entirely on caffeine at this point. Being so emotionally invested (even when, as I still believe it is, it is so necessary to be; today's The End of something, and I fear exactly the wrong thing) is draining. If nothing else, I'll be happy when today's over - regardless of the outcome - because I'll be able to relax, a bit.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

What's going on around me is barely making sense

Not that I'm not prepared to believe that PMO cronies and other Liberal power-brokers were offering cabinet posts left and right to entice more Tory defections; that's a given. (Do I smell just a bit of anxiety over over the potential to lose the vote via loose cannon backbenchers?) But, if it's on tape, as Grewal claimed in his impromptu press conference, why haven't we heard the audio yet? If this isn't a evidence-free feint to psych the Liberals into backing off on that, it's a pretty good impression thereof. UPDATE 11:55: Okay, I see it's available now, including transcripts. That'll teach me to accidentally leave something unposted for three hours while otherwise busy, then posting without checking to see if anything new has developed in the interim.

You're running up and down that hill, you turn it on and off at will

Why I can't be very upset over the self-righteous whining of those who would suggest it beyond the pale to call Belinda Stronach a political whore: Belinda Stronach had barely made her debut as a Liberal yesterday when like-minded callers were pre-emptively phoning Toronto radio stations to bemoan the sexist nature of anyone who might in the ensuing days dare to label the woman a political whore. Oh, how very cute, and how very familiar: It is never enough for the Liberal Party of Canada, its henchmen or supporters, to let the people decide what they will make of a given situation. The good Liberal always attempts to dictate the very language of what will, and what won't, constitute the parameters of fair comment and reasonable discussion thereafter. Read the rest (with the usual workaround). Blatchford (who, it must be noted, is ever-so-slightly difficult to paint as a misogynist old white guy) is spot-on. Yes, I (and others) may have been slightly intemperate, and rightly so. But that's how I felt then, that's how I feel now, and I won't bow to the cult of political correctness; not when wild accusations will be made in the absence of any such purportedly offensive sentiment, anyway. (Via Damian Penny.) UPDATE: Of course, it would seem Andrew Coyne makes the point much better.

So it's very shrewd to be, very very popular, like me

The New York Times plans to start charging for all but basic newswire content. In what terms do they plan on justifying this wrongheaded decision? NEW YORK (AdAge.com )-- Martin Nisenholtz, senior vice president of digital operations at The New York Times Co., defended his Web site's decision to place its columnists behind a "paid only" barrier at a conference yesterday and said the Times may also offer columns to bloggers in a revenue-sharing arrangement. The Times' digital chief was barraged with criticism, questions and snarky remarks from the audience in a lively question-and-answer session following his talk. He said it was necessary to create TimesSelect to have a second revenue stream that didn't interfere with the advertising model. "We wanted to create an offer powerful enough to attract people and get them to subscribe, but keep that big front door [to the rest of the daily content] open so we can continue to grow our advertising business." He said the archives have earned about $1 million a year in revenue at $2.95 per article. "We expect to earn a lot more." Mr. Nisenholtz emphatically defended the $49.95 price tag for TimesSelect. "People think nothing of ordering a $25 martini at the hotel bar -- but pay 50 bucks for archived material at the Times? Oh my God!" I wonder if it's occurred to Mr. Nisenholtz that the result of this subscription model will be a conscious self-selection of only the type of reader who thinks nothing of spending $25 on a martini? It's surely no way to increase circulation, or the paper's relative influence in the media at large. Way to scuttle the flagship of the liberal media, guys! (Via The Huffingblog.)

Don't nobody bring me no bad news

Now here's a misleading headline, courtesy of AP: "Jane Fonda Film Banned From Ky. Theaters." Pity it isn't true. (The Newsweek-ization of American media continues! Zing.) ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. (AP) - The owner of two Kentucky theaters has refused to show the new Jane Fonda film "Monster-in-Law" because of the activist role the actress took during the Vietnam War. Ike Boutwell, who trained pilots during the Vietnam War, displayed pictures of Fonda clapping with a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft crew in 1972 outside the Elizabethtown Movie Palace to show his disapproval. The marquee outside Showtime Cinemas in nearby Radcliff reads: "No Jane Fonda movie in this theater." Both theaters are just a few miles from the Army post of Fort Knox, south of Louisville. [...] Boutwell also banned previous Jane Fonda films, as well as Michael Moore's film, "Fahrenheit 9/11." So it might be more accurate, perhaps, to say that a private business owner has chosen not to show a film that - given his clientele - wouldn't likely be particularly popular in any event, his personal feelings about Fonda's aid and comfort of an enemy during wartime aside. But it lets a wire service imply Those redneck hicks, they're so reactionary that an entire state will ban Jane Fonda movies, thus letting smug liberal Fonda fans feel superior; that's more important than reporting facts, right? (Via NealeNews.)

How can someone in your state be so cool about your fate?

I've never read The Great Gatsby. Considering the perfect tone Andrew Coyne strikes with the opening of his column today - to say nothing of the other guesses for the F. Scott Fitzgerald quotation he hinted at - I think I need to. It might be a nice distraction from the very, very long campaign to come.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Then, I was inspired; now, I'm sad and tired

This about wraps up today's implosion, I think: OTTAWA - The Conservatives will vote in support of the federal budget, Tory Leader Stephen Harper announced hours after high-profile MP Belinda Stronach defected to the Liberals. Stephen Harper said of Belinda Stronach's defection: 'There's no grand principle involved in this decision, just ambition.' Harper said his party will still try to topple the Liberals on a second vote on Thursday – a budget amendment that directs $4.6 billion to housing and the environment. "It's our intention to support Bill C-43, the original budget," Harper said on Tuesday night. "We'll oppose Bill C-48, which was the deal with the NDP, which is complete irresponsible fiscal policy." Even if the second vote could be won - and that's a pretty big if, now - what does it mean, after all? Given the tendency of our Natural Governing Party to interpret matters of confidence loosely, to say the least, I think a plausible (well, CBC-plausible) case could be made that passing the larger part of the budget shows more confidence than defeating the lesser would, thus negating it as a government-toppling measure. The former, as it were, could "outweigh" the value of the latter, in another episode of playground riddle logic. Nonsensical? Sure. Contemptuous of both parliamentary tradition and the ideals of representative democracy? You bet. But it's no less absurd than the farce that's been Liberal behaviour since last Wednesday.

Hurry, you fool, hurry, and go; save me your speeches, I don't want to know

Well. Today certainly got our attention, didn't it. I'd like to say I saw this coming, for a given value of "saw this coming," but I honestly didn't. (I imagined an internal party coup on Stronach's part.) The drama also made 11:00 this morning an exceptionally bad time to quickly meet with the HM, and believe me, those parts of Parliament Hill not near the action are no more interesting a vantage point for sudden bombshells than at home with the TV turned to Newsnet. I'd also like to say I have faith in the continued likelihood of toppling the government - which, in the name of all that is good and holy, self-evidently needs to happen now - but I don't. Maybe this is the end, and Thursday the Doom of Men - or, at least, Canada as we now know it. Certainly, it's getting harder to argue that we have a system of government other than oligarchic kleptocracy. Even the press guffawed as the PM attempted to claim that his new HRDC Minister wouldn't necessarily make a difference for the vote. At least it's something to be vindicated for assuming that pushing the budget vote back was obviously part of an even more grandiose scheme to escape the noose. That's something, right?

You liar, You Judas

It's official. Stronach's jumped ship. You power-mad, utter whore. UPDATE: Hey, you there! Feigning outrage that I would dare to describe the new Minister for Shameless PR Coups with unflattering Anglo-Saxon epithets? More explanation here.

This isn't blood money, it's a fee, nothing more

Surprise PMO press conference is going on right now. CTV's talking heads are saying the rumour going around the room is that Belinda Stronach is defecting to the Liberals. I will be so angry, if that's the case.

I love those city lights, the colour of city sights

Ah, here we go. I knew I must have slightly mangled that line from the most confrontational of speakers at yesterday's protest: "People who ride buses should not be governing people who ride tractors," said Bob McKinley of the Rural Council of Ottawa-Carleton. "They're completely unwilling to listen or pay attention to the fact that we have rights. The longer they fail to listen, the more militant the response will be." I don't think it changes the thrust of the message much. Look, I grew up in the Ottawa Valley. I am familiar - albeit on a second-hand basis - with the operations of the family farm. It's hard to live in a largely rural county and not be, on some level. But fiery rhetoric denigrating urbanites - and veiled threats of "militant response" - are no less hurtful and unnecessary than the casual snobbery of the hipper-than-thou which paints all ruralites as hicks and rednecks, or the calls to "direct action" of the angry left. The bottom line is that I'm inclined to be sympathetic to abuses suffered under Liberal governments, federal and provincial, but please try not to give me reasons to change my mind, huh?

Monday, May 16, 2005

You talk so loud you draw a crowd

The problem with public demonstrations, of course, as a means of protest, is that they require two things to be credible: a) more than a single constituency with complaints, and b) critical mass. A third, coherent vision, is also nice, though not necessarily essential. Sadly, today's rally on Parliament Hill was none of those things, mostly because it's hard to piggyback specific discontent with the federal Liberals onto largely rural, unfocused discontent with (as signage in the fourth photo below notes, in the close-up) all levels of government. Wellington was blocked off with tractors for all of Centretown, but I saw precious few signs thereon that seemed to display grievances not particular to farmers. The sum total of the anti-Martin content: one couple with posters, and a later speaker (who took the stage only after the majority of farmers began to leave) who actually did seem to be with FreeDominion. As you can see, not much of a turnout. I have no idea which document's Article 28 that's in reference to. Googling suggests the WTO or GATT charters, though. I can't say I'm happy about whatever this was. There's no need to burn anything on Parliament Hill; if nothing else, it makes an ugly mess. Jeebus. Nooses? An effigy coffin? Between these, and the tone of some of the speakers' rhetoric, I was reminded how uncomfortable it sometimes is to be on the side of farmers, or vice versa. Fiery speeches about how "people in cities who ride buses shouldn't get to tell people in the country who ride tractors what to do" don't exactly endear me to legitimate grievances, both as an urbanite and a user of public transit. Nor am I impressed with digressions into bashing Mayor Chiarelli, or the premier, or with shutting down two of Centretown's main arteries (Wellington, as well as Bank down to Albert) for several hours. That forced the re-routing of STO (Gatineau) buses from their normal route on Wellington, which further plugged up the core. There's a time and a place for certain battles, and right now was an excellent time to pick one with the federal Liberals, not municipal or provincial politicians, culpable in the enabling of Liberal corruption though they may be. Generic city-bashing and clear displays of contempt for those of us who actually do have to live and work in Ottawa only gives urban residents (and especially urban Ontarians) another excuse to write off all Conservatives as obstructionist and insufferably rural. I don't think that's particularly helpful.

Dignity, integrity and so on; we haven't much to go on, still we go on

The PM has some gall, calling for a "return to dignity" in the House: Prime Minister Paul Martin called on the Conservatives to join the Liberals in a return to basic dignity and civility in the House of Commons during an appearance Monday. Mr. Martin said he believes the parliamentary upheaval in the country is turning Canadians away from politics. "Clearly there's a lack of basic civility and respect," he said, saying people's reputations are being smeared in an environment of anger and hostility as both parties battle for the top of the polls using revelations from the sponsorship inquiry as fuel for the fire. How about some basic civility and respect for our parliamentary tradition, under the commonly accepted terms of which, this morning marks the fifth day of Liberal rule by fiat? How about respecting the power of the opposition's clear lack of confidence in such a way as to admit defeat? There's no dignity in what Martin is doing now, and when the Queen arrives, I can't imagine our government's behaviour becoming anything but more disgraceful. Mr. Martin said he was angry that Opposition Leader Stephen Harper over the weekend called the Liberals monsters. "Monsters" can at least be meant abstractly (if hyperbolically), as part of an argument - as in, "You, sir, are an unprincipled monster who cares little for the democratic process or the legitimacy of your government." Allusions to Nietzsche are even less objectionable, in that regard, because they're clearly literary and metaphorical, not to mention spot-on. "Racists," though...there's not so much wiggle room, there.

See, there, the innocent blood you have spilt

What power! A magazine can kill with nothing more than an anonymously sourced story. They need not arm their reporters, sell explosives to terrorists, or even directly encourage rioters and looters; all it takes is a single allegation dressed up as fact. Is there anything that can be done? The best remedy for harmful speech is more speech, but the irrational actors in this story - both ours and theirs - are utterly convinced only of American perfidy, and will accept no other version of events; like the Koran itself, once written, Newsweek's story has been deemed to be the irrefutable truth, and to question its sacrosanct perfection is harmful to one's health. That's partly due to magical thinking on the part of the true believers, attaching a kind of talismanic importance to anything which validates their twisted idea of reality, but no less the fault of those credulous, self-important professional journalists who - as Glenn Reynolds notes - were all too eager to get out a Gotcha story validating their own views. I can't in good conscience endorse the heavy-handed regulation of free speech, but I wonder sometimes how to impress upon the media the responsiblity they must face in having such power; without some self-control, it's no less reckless than - well, I'm having a hard time thinking of anything that's as reckless. Lobbing grenades off the roof of a midtown Manhattan office tower, maybe, and even that might not kill or injure as many. Newsweek and their ilk have become murderously irresponsible. They have blood on their hands...and seem not to be very bothered by it. I will remember that. (Via Damian Penny and LGF. Lots more at Instapundit.)