Monday, February 28, 2005

Who came along in a puff of smoke

Speaking of arguing for wrong-headed drug policy and a useless penal system: Marijuana Party founder joins Liberals. MONTREAL - The leader of the Marijuana Party, who ran against Prime Minister Paul Martin in the 2004 general election, has quit and joined the Liberals. Marc-Boris St-Maurice, who won 221 votes in the riding of LaSalle-Émard in last year's election, announced Monday that he had resigned in December to join Martin's party. St-Maurice has led the Marijuana Party since it started in 2000. Marc-Boris St-Maurice, as leader of the Marijuana Party, ran against Paul Martin in the 2004 general election. "I believe that if any party will ever legalize marijuana in Canada, it is the Liberals," St-Maurice, who lives in Montreal, said in a statement. Congratulations, Mr. St-Maurice! You've just given me yet another addition to the interminable list of reasons why I am very, very unlikely to ever vote Liberal, no matter how uninspiring or distasteful any potential local Tory candidate might be.

Your cool, seductive serenade, was a tool of your trade

Dan Gardner, the Ottawa Citizen's premiere contributor unable to utter one unkind word about Americans if he can think of ten or twenty, has an unabashedly ridiculous piece in this week's Sunday Weekly section on "the other side of paradise" in Cuba. Ahah; an admission from a reliably appalling columnist concerning the AIDS concentration camps or the slums that communist dictatorship-abetting Canadian tourists never see? Of course not. It's a one-sided, fiery condemnation of the American presence at Guantanamo. It's a long article, but suffice to say, it's long on sneering suspicion of American motives, and unsurprisingly ambivalent-to-bullish on the goodwill and integrity of Fidel Castro. (He has a nickname! He likes baseball! Why, he must be an okay guy after all, no matter what those Americans say!) The only admission that Cuba itself might not be the paradise it's popularly assumed to be is a brief aside: In 1994, when Castro allowed thousands of rafters to set sail from Cuba, another 33,000 refugees were gathered up and dropped at the base. And that, such as it is, is only mentioned in service of pissily thundering that the terms of the lease on Guantanamo Bay itself don't technically allow the land to be used for refugee camps. The capper, however, is the cover art: ...Yeah. (Yes, I know the author likely had nothing to do with the choice of art. That only means it's an endemic institutional bias, extending as far as the art department and/or the Weekly editor, which is far worse than a random loon.) I've never been a fan of Gardner's work. I found his extended series in an extremist-libertarian vein arguing for laxer drug laws naive, the one condemning any but the most permissive, Scandinavian model of criminal justice and punishment downright foolish, and the occasional one-offs about the GWoT ignorant. But this, well...this lowers my opinion of him yet again, and I hadn't thought it could sink much lower.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Dominoes Falling

There was a Free Lebanon demonstration on Parliament Hill today. I didn't manage to catch as much of it as I'd have liked to, but I think I've got a nice representative sample of photos. A goodly-sized crowd was still around, even though starting to disperse after speakers had come and gone. Interestingly, that's the same pole as here, now considerably less lunatic in its aignage. They know who their friends are... ...Though listing Chirac as an ally might be a bit of wishful thinking. But it's just no fun for the chattering classes to accuse anyone of ordering torture, unless their name rhymes with "Shrumsfeld;" haven't you heard? Given that Assad's Syria is a Baathist police state in the same mould as Iraq was, I think that's perhaps the first even quasi-appropriate use I've ever seen of a swastika in a protest sign. Note the references to UN Resolution 1559. It's a shame that some people still hope that the UN is capable of carrying out such resolutions, or even really willing to. "Christians, Muslims, Druze, unite. One voice alone, the same cry: Out!" You know, some of us believed this sort of thing was, in fact, bound to happen, after the liberation of Iraq. A year ago the fact that Lebanon is a Syrian satrapy wasn't even on the radar of internationalist do-gooders; now a movement for representative government free of Assad's mini-Stalinist tyranny is happening without them. (I didn't see many pasty-faced hippies around. Maybe it takes a bit more effort to march in steadfast resolve for a good cause, than in paranoid hatred?)

Thursday, February 24, 2005

He can get all he ever wanted, if he's prepared to pay

I've always liked Ambassador Celluci. He's a straight-talker, and refuses to get bogged down with concerns for domestic politics, gleefully making official statements that cause official consternation: OTTAWA (CP) - The United States will decide when to fire missiles over Canadian airspace whether Canada likes it or not, says America's ambassador. The blunt warning from Paul Cellucci came minutes after Prime Minister Paul Martin announced Thursday that he will not sign on to the controversial U.S. missile defence program. "We will deploy. We will defend North America," Cellucci said. "We simply cannot understand why Canada would, in effect, give up its sovereignty - its seat at the table - to decide what to do about a missile that might be coming toward Canada." Possibly because of a governing party driven more by inertia than anything else? Maybe - just maybe - because a large segment of the population actually likes the idea of irresponsibility, as evidenced by widespread support for the overweening nanny state, and withdrawal from concern for defense policy is simply another example of that irresponsibility writ large? I'm glad that the United States is such a good friend and ally it can be relied upon to protect Canada, even as our leaders act like little more than spoiled, contrarian children. This country has never more been the geopolitical apotheosis of the basement-dwelling, thirty-year-old boomeranger. On the other hand, this is something of a victory for Paul Martin: he's managed to achieve the best possible option for Canadian security despite himself and his party, likely without having to pay any political price, and certainly without spending a dime. He's got to be giggling to himself behind closed doors over that trick.

And how the cracks begin to show

This is not particularly heartening: PRESIDENT BUSH extracted a pledge from President Putin last night that Russia would never return to totalitarianism. However, Mr Putin’s commitment to democracy was hedged with caveats. He said he would not allow democratic reforms to threaten the collapse of the Russian state. He also cautioned Mr Bush that pressing him further on issues such as press and political freedoms would jeopardise Russian-American relations. “I don’t think this has to be pushed to the foreground. I don’t think we should jeopardise our relationship,” he said. After being made painfully aware, during the Ukrainian elections, that Putin's Russia is as possessive of what's always been called the "Near Abroad" as that of any point since the end of the Muscovite state, I chose to write my term paper for Russia in Transition on a similar circumstance. It's been happening more or less under international radar for the past fifteen years, just as in Georgia and Belarus; the difference is that it's tiny. (And since I've spent all day reviewing the sources for this, let's see if I can recycle part of my rough draft in blog form.) The Republic of Transnistria (AKA the Trans-Dniestr Republic) is a tiny slice of Moldova on the east bank of the Dniestr, bordering Southern Ukraine. During the fall of communism, it was a stronghold of the most repressive sort of Soviet government (going so far as to declare itself wholeheartedly in favour of the August Coup of 1991, where reactionary Politburo types temporarily displaced the moderately-reforming Gorbachev); in the wake of Moldovan trends towards autonomous social policy during the perestroika era, it declared itself a sovereign Soviet Republic. It really says something, in that at the very moment the rest of the USSR was becoming more free and representative, there were still enough dead-enders to keep up the Stalinist dystopia. It's a hellhole of a desperately poor, miserable dictatorship no less than the DPRK or Cuba. What's significant about Transnistria is that it's mostly ethnically Russian, and mostly former CPSU party hacks, imported to build and operate what would become a large segment of Moldovan heavy industry. Sovereignty, such as it is (recognized by almost no one, even amongst the other pariah states of the world) is guaranteed only by the Russian 14th Army, which has been in place since 1956. The commanding general, Aleksandr Lebed (now deceased) unsurprisingly was a part of the Transnistrian government for a time. In a way, the Russian Empire is suffering in the same manner as the late Roman or British Empires; there are still cultural outposts across the sea - be it literal or figurative - separated by increasingly independent former subordinates, with no real way of re-establishing a solid logistical connection, or even undertaking a salvage-and-evacuate strategy. The 14th Army is now largely made up of local recruits; they'd be the de facto army of the region while off-duty, in any event. Russia has promised they'd leave every year since 1991; as might be imagined, it hasn't happened yet. (Where's the howling from Euroweenies and the deluded left about an exit strategy for them, hmm?) Worse, after initially looking to the west, Moldova too elected (likely, it seems, through the same thug tactics as failed in Ukraine) a communist government in 2001. But though slavishly pro-Moscow, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin hasn't given Putin what he wants: weak federal government that effectively makes Transnistria legally as well as practically independent. Watch for Voronin to fall to whoever Putin's new, more easily puppeteered favourite turns out to be, in the Moldovan elections ten days hence. Putin isn't our ally. He shouldn't be treated as such. While Western Europe may be largely hostile to American positions, at least their diplomats have the tact and dignity to express it - paradoxically - merely rudely, rather than with veiled threats. There's a latent Russian Empire - the same empire that was crushed beneath the heels of Catherine the Great no less so than Joseph Stalin - being rebuilt while the west hasn't been watching. Was support for Ukraine a fluke, or the start of a new trend?

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Or is that a pill too bitter to digest?

The Ottawa Citizen has a shamefully, mind-bogglingly obtuse editorial elegy for Hunter S. Thompson: A Gonzo obituary: Hunter, you coward, you killed yourself when the world needed you most. Maybe the light started to die on you at last: at 67, you don't recover as fast from a broken leg and spinal surgery. Maybe the ether and acid and mescaline and liquor caught up to you. Or maybe you just couldn't take the torrent of B.S. anymore. As the 70s have been over for the past twenty-five years, he hasn't really been needed in a long while. Besides, I'd argue irrelevancy is far more cruel to the out-of-touch writer than any temporal pain. You spent your life shredding American hypocrisy, from the moral depravity of the horse-worshippers at the Kentucky Derby to the false puritanism of the district attorneys at their Las Vegas convention. You had Nixon pegged for a crook back in the '60s, long before he met Liddy and Colson and the rest of the creeps who, you would write, help him break the back of the American dream. You were right about Lyndon Johnson's doomed escalation in Vietnam. You were right - in 1965! - that Reagan would one day be in the White House. Because of all that, people forgot all the times you were wrong. You kept predicting the end of America and it never came. Just last November, on election day, you wrote without irony: "Kerry will win big today. I guarantee it. The evil Bush family of central Texas is about to suffer another humiliating failure on another disastrous election day." You know, what comes to mind is the case of always eminently-readable columnist Mark Steyn, who - having predicted a solid Bush victory in last year's election, swore to resign from each of his half-dozen permanent gigs if he was wrong, on principle alone; if a professional political commentator can't manage to pick right on that kind of binary forecast, he's obviously not terribly competent. Steyn is enough of a gentleman that he bet not only his credibility, but his career, on being correct. Thompson, on the other hand, seems to have made a few lucky, drug-addled guesses about the future national marketability of a rising Republican star, and the possibly criminal instability of Richard Nixon after having the 1960 election stolen from him by an improbably small margin. So what? Predicting the believable (and a buck-twenty-seven) gets you a medium coffee nowadays. For that he's the Cassandra of modern journalism? He didn't, and they didn't, and it must have driven you crazy, watching George W. Bush's administration pay journalists to push its agenda, plant a shill in the White House press corps, actually deride its critics for living in the "reality-based community," and march back to power on a road of bones. In order: not unique to Republicans or this administration; if referring to Gannon/Guckert, downright libelous; completely justified, given the ire of that self-selected community towards genuine reality; and so hyperbolically juvenile as to be beneath comment. ("Road of bones?" What is this, a Goth poetry slam?) This reads like something out of a sloppy college newspaper, long on incendiary rhetoric and short on coherent argument. While I know that to some extent that's the point - aping Thompson's style in an angry, joyless tribute - it doesn't belong in a broadsheet daily that aspires to be taken seriously. Dynamiting that road is what we needed you for, Doc. You've left us to face it alone. Somehow, I think we'll manage to cope. I never read Hunter S. Thompson's work "live," as it were, only getting his best work decades after the fact. I knew of him better through the latter-day shades and apparitions of his personality; Doonesbury's Uncle Duke, Johnny Depp's studious insanity of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and the many pretentious, bile-filled rage against the MAN, man imitators he inspired. Neither his real nor reflected incarnations seem worthy of this much adulation.

Yes, he's a real live loon, a freaking Looney Tune

Unveiled at this year's Toy Fair: Celebrity Cabbage Patch Kids dolls. To be fair, just as there should by rights be "Young Elvis" and "Old Elvis" versions of merchandise, shouldn't there also be an "OCD-Stricken Billionaire Madman" doll of Howard Hughes to match the "Dashing Pilot" edition introduced here? (Sure, this one seems to be more a movie tie-in than anything. But, hey, give Leonardo DiCaprio another thirty years, and he can probably play that version too...)

This is no denial, no betrayal, but redemption

George Lucas may yet redeem himself with Revenge of the Sith, if these no-doubt-enraging-to-Lucasfilm leaked publicity photos - assembled into narrative continuity - are any indication. Maybe. Interestingly, I see no Jar Jar, though Ahmed Best does apparently return in the role. Back in 1999, I refused to jump on the Binks-bashing bandwagon; I couldn't believe even a veteran (if known to be both tactless and tasteless) hack like George Lucas would write such an obnoxious character without allowing for even a bit of subtext. I argued then that murdering the nearly pure-stock character witless man-child that was Jar Jar Binks, as introduced in The Phantom Menace, would be part of Anakin Skywalker's fall to the dark side. I appreciated that his minor part in Attack of the Clones involved unwitting facilitation of evil, which also plays to the classic theatrical archetype of the fool; yet despite that, I suspect I'll be denied having successfully predicted anything. While the prequel trilogy has had some fantastic moments - emphasis on the term in the plural, high-single-digit sense - there's just not as much depth there as I'd naively hoped in May 1999. (As for depth and the family Binks, Tony Millionaire of "Maakies" semi-notoriety outclasses anything ever touched by Lucasfilm.)

Just skip the darn thing and sing the refrain

Spiffy: Snarky Broadway-blogging. Check out the delightfully silly, definitely-NSFW faux-porn-title game take on musicals. (To which I'd add: Redlight Express, Greased, and Mary Magdalene Superstar. Nyuk nyuk. Oh, and The Layin' King, for which I can't take credit for in the slightest.) (Via BoingBoing.)

Monday, February 21, 2005

No one's been disappointed yet

I've finally stopped resisting joining the full extent of the modern era, and got myself a cell phone today. Largely I avoided it because it was always one more battery-operated gadget I didn't really need, but also because I've never habitually been a phone user; if I need to talk to someone, I do it in person or online. However, practical business considerations mean I now need to be reachable throughout the day when out and about, to know whether or not I need to get home and send, receive, edit or comment on ongoing design projects right away. (Hey, any Kanatans reading this: notice receiving any oddly-die-cut new local ad flyers over the weekend? Coupons for Gabriel Pizza and whatnot? That's mostly my work. I think they turned out quite well, except for a transparency issue on one side of the Kanata South one.) I do resent being tied down, in a way; I'm no longer free from being hassled about minor details until I actually at least get home to my computer. But in another I'm quite happy to have a chance to indulge my musical geekiness, and use this (warning: MIDI, possibly loud) as my ringtone. (Bless you, SmashTheTones.)

What of the people whose boundaries chafe, who marry so bravely and end up so safe

In what's more a catalogue on the current state of the issue than anything else, the NYT praises last night's relentlessly unfunny episode of The Simpsons: Patty Bouvier, Marge's chain-smoking, "MacGyver"-loving sister, came out of the cartoon closet on last night's episode of "The Simpsons." The episode was preceded by a warning that because the show contained discussion of same-sex marriage, "parental discretion" was advised. Gay characters are not new to television, or to "The Simpsons," for that matter (Montgomery Burns's doting assistant, Waylon Smithers, collects Malibu Stacy dolls and vacations at men's singles resorts.) A few years ago, the coming out of a prime-time character would probably not have caused much of a stir. But in the current climate, with the issue of gay rights spiking in the public discourse, the episode stood out. What could have seemed like a sweeps month gimmick became instead an aptly satirical comment. [...] The episode was not the funniest in "Simpsons" history, but it was a tonic at a moment when television seems increasingly humorless and tame - fearful of advertiser boycotts by the religious right and fines from the Federal Communications Commission. Sigh. No, it wasn't. It was an episode where the characters' existing personalities, such as they've been written for the past fifteen years, were shoved aside yet again for the sake of being puppets in an Important Debate, the writers' proxies in a heavy-handed message show - and a one-sided one, at that. In the most blatant example, Reverend Lovejoy objects to performing same-sex weddings on the basis of biblical ordinance, but when pressed by Marge, can't name which book of the bible forbids homosexuality. Even I know it's Leviticus, and I've never so much as picked up anything more sanctified than a Presbyterian hymnbook, and that not in more than a decade. While an argument against baseline tolerance based specifically on an ancient legal code which also permits selling relatives into slavery and endorses capital punishment for adultery isn't really a very good one, it's one that is out there, and does have some historical basis. To deny its existence in the service of making the show's icon of institutional Christianity seem even more of a straw-man spouting obfuscator is unnecessary, and cowardly. It worries me that the Times is willing to excuse weak writing for the sake of endorsing their editorial opinion. That way lies madness, in the CBC model, where devout adherence to certain policy positions can keep horrendously unwatchable tripe on the air, season after season. Being genuinely funny is and should always be the first goal of a comedy; politics only get in the way of that prime directive. (Another thing: the plot moved too quickly, to set up the much-vaunted Patty angle only by the 21-minute mark or so. If you're only worried about telling the story, there's no need to spend twenty minutes on politicized setup. Patty could have come out without benefit of Springfield legalizing same-sex marriage. In the alternate universe where that was the sole focus of the episode, I suspect it might have seemed less manically, earnestly dull.) (Another another thing: With the exceptions of Lisa and Marge, no characters during the town meeting segment of the story endorsed the issue as anything but a means of personal economic gain. Surely there'll be complaints that the writers don't really believe hard enough in the radical ideal for suggesting anyone might have pecuniary, non-human rights-oriented reasons for supporting same-sex marriage, no?)

Sunday, February 20, 2005

When we left the movie show, the future wasn't bright

I unsurprisingly missed it, being in the east end of the city as rarely as I am, but the old mall-basement Cineplex Odeon St. Laurent theatres, after spending several years as administration offices (and if I remember correctly, at one point, some sort of travel agency) seem to have been leased and reopened by a second-run chain, Rainbow Cinemas. I suppose it's not surprising that the bubble of decreasing-in-number, stadium-seating, premium-priced megaplexes finally burst. Gradual cuts in the last few years from extortionate to only mildly ridiculous prices are one thing, but the fact that it now seems profitable again to operate a small, mall-based multiplex (at discount admission rates, beside) seems indicative of some radical shift in the market. I fondly remember seeing The Empire Strikes Back for the first time there (In 1997, with the special edition, mind you; one of my most prominent failings as a geek growing up in the 80s and 90s is that I didn't really glom on to Star Wars at all until the original trilogy had already been half-butchered. But I digress.), and I look forward to returning, with the new cut-rate ticket prices. Especially since I haven't yet managed to see The Phantom of the Opera.

Denton, Denton, you've got no pretensions

Damian Penny lists Shock Treatment among those films "which aren't necessarily bad movies, just movies nobody except studio executives wanted to see - or were contractually obligated to make." Aha, thinks the man whose pseudonym is partially derived from the fictional setting thereof: a challenge. Shock Treatment is, by any standard, a terrible movie. It's not exactly a sequel to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but more of a thematic companion piece using two of the same characters (Brad and Janet Majors, not exactly the most unique of the dramatis personae in either work) and several more of the same cast members. If TRHPS dealt - however superficially - with changing relationship issues in the context of the hedonistic mess that was the late 60s to early 70s, Shock Treatment is clearly grounded at the high point of the Me Decade. That said, however, while the former actually has a coherent and (if you'll pardon the pun) straightforward plot - "square innocents seduced by groovy pansexual evil genius" - the latter makes quite a hash of "middle-class marriage on the rocks due to loser husband and vain wife, and related small-town Machiavellian machinations." I first saw Shock Treatment very early one Sunday morning, and I found it improbably difficult to follow even for being an overnight filler B-movie, if indeed featuring eminently catchy songs.There's a reason for that screwiness. The original script - then called The Brad and Janet Show - made a lot more sense, largely because the entire plot isn't shoehorned into the conceit of taking place in a single day and night, entirely inside a local television studio. (A 1979 SAG strike forced production into a London soundstage, instead of the intended on-location shoot.) With the psychiatric hospital Janet has Brad committed to an actual hospital (rather than a game show-cum-soap opera), Janet's parents not apparently living in a sitcom set on the main stage, and the studio audience not forced to sleep in their seats (!), the basic Peyton Place-esque setup requires a bit less suspension of disbelief. However, what remained almost unchanged through the rewrite were the songs. With score and lyrics also by Rocky Horror/ST writer-director Richard O'Brien, they're magnificent. Eminently singable, somewhat dark, yet bouncily pop-rockish, in the modern context; they're Broadway through a fisheye lens. The score is more than enough reason for the film to exist, though I'll cheerfully admit it stands better on its own, as an album-only rock opera à la Jesus Christ Superstar or Tommy (originally). It's one of the few musical soundtracks without a single track I usually skip. (A distinction it shares with Little Shop of Horrors and Sweeney Todd.) In fact, I actually prefer the first draft of some of the lyrics. The biggest change, lyrically, is in the song "Look What I Did to My Id," originally "Look What You Did to My Id;" it seems mainly to have been cut for length, which is a shame. It's clear the score wasn't finalized at this point, because some fragments (though recognizable in the final version, mildly changed) can't possibly synch up with the eventual accompaniment. To summarize, Janet's vanity and self-obsession - egged on by mysterious fast-food tycoon Farley Flavors - have encouraged the citizens of Denton to follow suit for the grand opening of his newest project, living out their fantasies in costume. The original has the advantage of being able to offer momentary portraits of a greater number of townspeople at large: Sc. 48 Janet's Parents' Place {Janet's mom has fancy-dressed herself into a gun-toting cowgirl. She fires caps at a mirror.} MOM: Like a chirp in a down town nitery I'll be higher than a flyer has a right to be The art will start when I play my part As the tart with the golden heart Oh look what you did to my id {Dad is in the next room. He's wearing a 1940's Zoot Suit.} DAD: Like Genesis this really is a first for me I'm really glad that Janet laid this curse on me I'm a brute in a cute zoot suit That wants to put in the boot, shoot and loot Oh look what you did to my id Sc. 49 TV Studio {Neely slipping into her 'on-camera' party outfit.} NEELY: Like a good-time girl I couldn't feel much finer Got a deep plum lipstick an' new eye-liner These bitch-heels are so damn vicious I feel weak with pleasure and so delicious Oh look what you did to my id... Sc. 50 Dentonvale {Mac and Nation changing into doctors' coats, stethoscopes and head-mirrors.} MAC AND NATION: When there's heaven in the music Hell is in control The angels got the voices But the devil got the rock and roll... {Scotty changing into jack-boots and lederhosen} SCOTTY: This could be the start of a whole career here This could take me to a town that's nowhere near here Sc. 51 Leisure Center {Ralph ties bow-tie} RALPH: To Betty I'm a chauvinistic ignoramus But I'm gonna find a way to wind up being famous Oh look what you did to my id Sc. 52 Dentonvale {Ansalong finishes alterations to uniform} ANSALONG: Got the hot flush symptoms an' I'm feeling freaky Got my hem so high they'll say I'm being cheeky Sc. 53 Parker's Place {Bathroom of Officer Vance Parker. He's in the bath (bubble). He has his leg stretched out and is soaping it in a languid manner...He sings...} PARKER: Male Caucasian tall and handsome With legs like mine I'm really made for dancin' Oh look what you did to my id... Sc. 54 Bank Vault {Mr. Clark is in his vault opening a security locker revealing bondage magazines and manacles.} CLARK: With my stocks and bonds I will secure completely A sizeable prize even if the whole bunch beat me Sc. 55 Gas Station {Kirk has just poured himself into skin tight light silk or cotton overalls and he now pours himself into his custom car...} KIRK: Feeling tuned and tight now that I've customised me If I win tonight a'well it won't surprise me Woah look what you did to my id Sc. 56 Brenda's Place {Brenda looks great in her party outfit} Brenda: In the best dressed contest There's bound to be some jealousy But the best dressed guest with whom I'm most impressed...Is *ME* ! Sc. 57 Leisure Center {We cut to the road outside the center...We see everyone arriving...They walk. Ride bikes...Motorcycles...Come in cars...There are flashes from cameras, TV mobiles...Anything and everything with a town of this size partying} ALL: You may say that we're being sexist An' we've got egos that are bigger than Texas But look what you did to my id Kid Look what you did to my id Compare it to the final soundtrack's version: MOM: Like a virgin with an urgin in a surgery I'll be swinging, I'll be bringing out the nurse in me DAD: The art will start when I play my part As a healer who will steal your heart MOM AND DAD: Oh, look what I did to my Id Oh, look what I did to my Id COSMO: With neurosis in profusion NATION: And psychosis in your soul COSMO: Eliminate confusion COSMO AND NATION: And hide inside a brand new role MACY: Like a good time girl, I'm gonna try some new tricks RALPH: This could be the start of a whole new career MACY: Got a deep plum lipstick, and some therapeutics RALPH: This could take us to a town that's nowhere near here ANSALONG: Got some heartfelt symptoms and I'm feeling sneaky REST HOME RICKY: Young male intern, tall and handsome ANSALONG: Got my hems so high, they say I'm being cheeky REST HOME RICKY: Legs like mine are really made for dancing CHORUS: Whoa whoa whoa! Hey hey hey! COSMO AND NATION: When heaven's in the music Hell is in control The angels got the voices But the devil got the Rock and Roll! ALL: We may look like we're phony medics But we took our look from a book by Frederick's Oh, look what I did to my Id - Id! Look what I did to my Id Some characters have been switched to facilitate the change of setting, but there seems to have been no need to cut the first three verses. I especially like the evocative lines "These bitch-heels are so damn vicious" and "Egos bigger than Texas." Oh well. All of which is to say: there can a lot more substance to a terrible sequel than might be obvious to the casual viewer, no?

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Grasp the message, staff?

Ain't It Cool has more on that godawful new version of Looney Tunes, including video. It must be seen to be believed. Among other things, "Duck" (No Daffy, just "Duck") is "the weapons expert," and "Lexi" (retread of soulless, already focus-grouped-to-death 90s cast addition Lola Bunny) is "the disguise expert." Interestingly, there's still only one (short) animated sequence in this clip not apparently re-edited from other WB productions, the not-Bugs Bunny (TO THE EXTREME!) character menacingly - yet mechanically - reciting the line "What's Up, Doc." This entire media campaign has, amusingly, so far been sold on the merits of a single model sheet (composited and filtered and whatnot) given the illusion of animation. I'm actually starting to become slightly impressed with the chutzpah of WB Animation regarding Loonatics. Either this is a pre-emptive unveiling to kill the entire mess with bad press before real money is actually sunk into animation, some sort of internal maneuvering to impress upon clueless suits the danger of insulting fans - I don't recall this much detail in so many media outlets about any other projects still at least six months to a year away from airing - or someone at WB's career is seriously riding on this thing, and the mook in question has convinced the marketing department on a full-speed-ahead, damn-the-torpedoes hard sell. Either way, I'm now fairly certain Loonatics is never going to air. At least, not in this form. (I hope.)

Friday, February 18, 2005

Everything today makes yesterday slow

At the HM's office again today. It turns out the job is about twice as big as I thought, and at least ten times as big as he'd assumed, largely due to unnecessary overreach. Via e-mail (since he's back in the riding until next week), I'm trying to convince him to lower his sights a bit, unless he really wants me to take the next two months getting it done. I wouldn't mind that terribly much - I'll be getting scale for it, after all, and that's generous by my standards - but I doubt the results will be very useful, by then. Next week is Reading Week. I desperately need to get one or more of my term papers done, but I have a terrible suspicion I'm going to be spending most of the break dickering over the cost-effectiveness ratio of various options for data entry.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Though scary is exciting, nice is different than good

I liked this "re-imagining" of the Looney Tunes characters better the first time, when it was called Duck Dodgers. (And I don't even care for that, much.) Check out the fairly horrifying (no permalinks; scroll down to February 16) new version of Bugs Bunny. I don't think WB Animation has ever (with the exception of the Dodo shorts) created anything quite so close to good old-fashioned nightmare fuel; he's just menacing. Innovation in character design is never a bad thing. When I was younger, I delighted in spotting the variations in design between the works of the various Looney Tunes directors, as their works were (unbeknownst to me at the time) butchered, on The Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show. Tex Avery and Chuck Jones alike had radically different, yet equally interesting takes on Bugs Bunny - though not as bizarre as this coming one. It'd be sad indeed if classic animated characters were condemned to be forever stuck in their original milieus, firmly in the lingering vaudeville traditions in Hollywood of the 1920s-1940s, true; but to dilute a beloved franchise badly is to both insult the goodwill of the fans, and devalue the product on the general market. (cf. Enterprise.) (Via Jaime Weinman.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Simple phonetics, the science of speech

Desperately procrastinating returning to studying for either of my midterms this week after an extended dinner break, I shall stall for time further, with one of those lovely plug-in-template blog entries: 1. Grab the nearest book. 2. Open the book to page 123. 3. Find the fifth sentence. 4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions. 5. Don’t search around and look for the “coolest” book you can find. Do what’s actually next to you. "Later Coxe saw to it that his speech (An Enquiry into the principles, on which a commercial system for the United States of America should be founded...[and] some political observations connected with the subject) was published and 'inscribed to the members of the convention.'" From Major Problems in the History of American Technology, by Merritt Roe Smith and Gregory Clancey. (One of the textbooks I should be studying from right about now, actually. Alas.) (Via Rempelia Prime.)

Raise up her colours and designs

It's 40 years today since the Red Ensign was unceremoniously dumped in favour of the Liberal Party heraldry. "We can no longer imagine Canada without its flag," said Prime Minister Paul Martin, whose parliamentarian father Paul Martin Sr. played a role in giving the country its distinctive symbol. Canada always had a flag. It just happened to be one that didn't imply that the Liberals are the once and future legitimate governing party of the country, by visual association. Damn you, and damn your father, you lugubrious hack.

I have run out of appropriate lyrics with which to title obligatory Red Ensign Standard posts

Nature seldom ever fails to most obligingly provide an undisclosed opposing side, to one's dismay

A comparison: Reasonable claims of Google News' bias, versus unreasonable claims of Google News' bias. Cory Doctorow certainly is agitated about a single right-leaning source; I wonder if the half-dozen representatives of the rabid left (even lacking Daily Kos) bother him likewise? I don't have a problem with either Kos or LGF (or any other partisan sources) being indexed in Google News, as long as any and all submitted sources are. Without the strictest guidelines for neutral sources, for Google to make any judgments at all is hypocritical. Selectively rejecting some (as is the case for LGF, and not Kos, as its removal was by request) for being partisan, but not others (Powerline on the right; Infoshop,, Democratic Underground et al on the left) is a cowardly sop to a half-hearted vision of nonpartisanship.

Monday, February 14, 2005

It ain't no fun to be a twin

Can someone explain to me why Norman Spector is still posting at The Shotgun after this silliness? He keeps proving time and time again that, for all his enmity with the loathsome Warren Kinsella, the two are so alike in their contempt for polite argument and ethical conduct they may as well be clones, albeit at different ends (technically) of the political spectrum. His frequent pissing matches with other contributors at The Shotgun have turned me off reading the comments therein at all, or I suppose I would have noticed this latest dustup as it happened. I can't believe this man writes for a major newspaper, let alone was once a PM's chief of staff, or ambassador to Israel. Is his presence really so necessary in an otherwise-fine groupblog? Does he have dirt on Ezra Levant, or something?

Not a single document in order

I met with the new honourable member (hereafter HM) today, to discuss the work I'll be doing. He seems nice enough, if indeed a rather demanding PHB-type, wanting to know exactly what my rate of work will be processing the documents in question. My answer: I couldn't say, without going excessively into generalities. Just looking at the setup of the process, I can see it taking either a very short or onerously long length of time for each one, with no way of knowing which until I get to it. (And that's not even considering the other problem involved, in properly filing the results, for which the office isn't prepared. But I digress.) The other thing I learned today - or rather, was irritatingly reminded of - is that the pass control office in the Wellington Building closes at 4, not 5. (And not 4:30, as the guard at the front desk seemed to think.) I've been issued a badge before, so I'm already in the system; it was just a matter of making the formal written request to the Sergeant-at-Arms' office. That, however, still takes at least one full business day, so I couldn't get it done on Thursday or Friday; I'm going to have to go in again, Wednesday; my Tuesday classes preclude making that 4:00 deadline. This seems to be taking an awful lot of time during business hours, for a job that I'm supposed to be able to accomplish nights and weekends. (I'm not ungrateful. I'm just, y'know, saying.)

Oh, we've got trouble; we're in terrible, terrible trouble

Brian Tiemann has an exceptionally detailed take on the slow-mo train wreck that is American Dad. I think MacFarlane's problem, here, is that he's been asked to innovate in some way, to create a workable companion show to Family Guy - and he really has no idea how to do so. The solo short that launched his career featured basically a prototype version of Peter Griffin. The sequel added a proto-Brian. The basic formula of "dumb fat guy and sassy talking dog, plus others" in the form of Larry & Steve then turned into Family Guy, and now it's been tweaked ever-so-slightly again into "dumb brawny guy and sassy alien, plus others." This is a man who hasn't actually had an original idea for his own productions since 1995 or thereabouts. (Whatever he may have contributed to various other series as a writer, he was at least forced to work with others' characters, which may have been a grounding influence.) It's also no help that MacFarlane voices all of these characters himself, and really doesn't have the vocal range he seems to imagine. Is it any wonder that the already-scant comedic returns on that same formula keep diminishing with each new nth-generation copy? I remember, nearly ten years ago now, local cable used to carry CFCF Montreal, a quasi-affiliate of CTV that aired the week's new episode of The Simpsons on Monday night - which was handy, being that our VCR didn't work very well. I would always watch it first new on Fox on Sunday, and again on Monday; there was enough there there, enough content both textual and subtextual, enough depth of characterization, that I'd always look forward to seeing it again. (Now, I can barely stand to watch it the first time. Last night's "Pranksta Rap" was muted for a good third of the episode, in my living room.) American Dad, conversely (and at the same time, similarly, compared to contemporary Simpsons), I recorded, but couldn't bear to watch a second time even to blog on it; it's just that tedious. This is not good. If it goes down, I fear it'll take Arrested Development down with it, in that rough magic of extended hiatii and timeslot-switching that is the work of Fox's always-inept scheduling department. It's been a given since 2003, true, but I miss Futurama.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

I need to see the truth other men cannot see; to be things that others can't be

Wow. I wonder how long before Toronto Sun columnist Michael Coren starts getting death threats from the usual Persons of Tolerance and Diversity after writing something like this in a Canadian newspaper? Especially with a headline like "US is better than Canada?" I love this country. I came here almost 19 years ago and have spent the majority of my adult life here. It pains me to say it, it really does. But the fact is that in so many areas and walks and ways of life, the United States is now a better country than Canada. There, I've said it. Because I'm so very tired of the way, particularly in the last two years, that we Canadians have come to define ourselves not by who we are but by who we are not. At its most innocuous, it is a mere insecurity about our southern neighbours. At its most repugnant, however, it is publicly funded mediocrities screaming abuse at a great and noble nation because their own self-esteem is so fragile. With a malodorous stew of ignorance and malice, they pump Canada at the expense of deflating the United States. They say that we are about peace and they are about war. Nonsense. We haven't been able to keep the peace for years even if we'd wanted to do so. We haven't the aircraft or the equipment. It's the Americans who send most of the aid and keep most of the peace. They say we are informed and intelligent, they are insular and foolish. Harvard, Yale, Princeton and a plethora of world-class universities. Nobel Prize winners by the dozen, internationally renowned scientists, scholars and sages. Goodness me, they even produce better anti-Americans than we do. They say we are sophisticated, they are dumb. Yet they have more symphony orchestras, more theatres, more libraries, more museums per head than we do in Canada. And the list goes on; amen, to all of it. The ideological sloppiness and hypocrisy of the most virulent anti-Americans are among the most important reasons I'm so pro-. (Via Political Staples.)

Appearances altered, but most of the names are the same

Instapundit gets some hate mail regarding thoughts on losing Democratic strategies, from one Mark Gunnion: Fuck you. Your side is the Taliban side. I hope all of you Bush-loving idiots wake up some day to how you have been hoodwinked into empowering 12th century religious fanatics - in OUR country. But I doubt it will happen. You got your $32,000 tax cut, so you'll put up with a little preaching. YOU are the American Taliban. Now, Gunnion seems to be a fairly rare name. "Mark Gunnion," in Google, pulls up only a handful of hits all seemingly the same San Franciscan, matching the anti-Bush profile pretty neatly - which makes what seems to be almost certainly the hate-mailer's personal/business site rather interesting: I am a freelance creative namer with over nine years of experience in all aspects of brand naming and commercial language development. I create long lists of great name ideas for new products, brands, services, and campaigns. I've worked on hundreds of naming projects over the years, and I'm sure I've had some experiences that would apply to any naming challenge you may be working on. Between February of 1996 and February of 2000, I worked on over 200 naming projects for a dozen brand consultants nationwide. My clients have included Landor Associates, Metaphor Name Consultants, Lexicon, Name-It, Brandslinger, WordWorking, Interbrand/Wood, The Design Company, Primo Angeli, The Hayden Group, Addis, and Luxon-Carra Design here in Northern California. [...] I've worked for many years in various capacities in the market research industry, and have done lots of press release and marketing writing for the entertainment, tourism, and retail trades here in San Francisco. I also had a pretty good run as a songwriter/rock star back during the Reagan administration. These days, I'm a full-time namer. Whether it's for a creative name list for a single project, or for an ongoing relationship to deal with all the issues involved in brand development, I am available, and I hope you'll give me a call for your next 'brand-name' project. Yes, Mr. Gunnion is a "full-time namer." No wonder name-calling is the most eloquent form of argument he knows. (He's also an enthusiastic cog in the corporate machine. Isn't the angry left usually all Grrr concerning big business, and branding, and whatnot, these days, or did I miss something?)

Who will be strong, and stand with me

The Meatriarchy proposes a show of solidarity with Wal-Mart, against the overweening arrogance of union organizers in their Quebec stores. I can wholeheartedly agree. Having worked at Wal-Mart in high school (our store cheer: "3134, Kanata offers so much more"), I know first-hand that the pay and conditions are not bad at all for a menial retail job. (Considering the effort and competence actually required to perform acceptably, if not spectacularly, the pay was quite good, in fact.) While it was clear I was never much more than a piece of meat to management, I was well-treated meat. If I'd stayed on part-time - and, really, besides the fact that living and attending university downtown makes working in a distant suburb unfeasible, I very well might have - I'd probably be up to something like $9.25 an hour or so by now, which is well above the minimum wage. Considering that benefits and automatic pay raises were more generous than the only unionized job I've had (and even more so for full-timers), I've never found unions' wild-eyed assaults on Wal-Mart to make much sense. Except, of course, as an ideological victory, in attempting to punish what stalwart socialists see as the most wicked of all capitalist evils. (Why, they make a profit, are widely popular, and have generally good labour relations, without benefit of unionization! Damnable, I say!) And so, I salute the anti-boycott of Wal-Mart. It's just too bad the closest one is an annoying half-hour bus ride away, or I'd actually be able to participate in such patronage on a more regular basis.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Before you file it on the shelf

The things you find with Google: I was looking up the Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov, in the process of writing some comments about his documentary Anna 6-18 for Russia in Transition, and came across this page. In a way, it's comforting to know that an entertainment giant like Sony archives old pages (that's ten years old, now, which is practically from the neolithic era in web terms) forever; I'm guessing they may have severed internal links to the now-amateurish-looking content of this page, concerning their distribution of Mikhalkov's Burnt by the Sun, but it's still there. More importantly, Google still sees it. In another, it's not. A page like that is likely to be scrapped if and when it's noticed by Sony Picture Classics' web design department, rather than being updated to conform to newer standards or a common look and feel with the rest of the site's content. I'd be willing to bet that it'll be gone forever, except in the memory of's Wayback Machine, within another year or two. When that happens, that precise information - just some PR clippings in this case, perhaps, but it's still information - will be lost. All history is on the macro-level. Sometimes it just seems micro.

So you stick to your side, and I'll stick to mine

The Toronto Star takes a side on one particular member of the other side in the GWoT, and as usual it's a foolish one: Omar Khadr has a Toronto public library card. He likes chocolate. Like many Canadian teenagers, he can't spell very well. He is lonely. "Don't forgat me," he wrote his family in one letter. "Don't forget to writ." He is also the only Canadian still held at America's Guantanamo Bay prison camp. The U.S. says he fought in Afghanistan against its invading forces. It says he confessed to laying mines and that, in one fierce firefight, he threw a grenade that killed an American soldier. But he's so cute and childlike! No one who likes chocolate and spells badly could possibly be a terrorist! He also knows how to manipulate sympathetic fellow-travelers, with vague accusations of torture: One day, he says, his jailers tied his hands to a doorframe and made him stand for hours. Another day, he says, they shackled him hand and foot for hours in a so-called stress position, then used him as a human mop after he urinated on the floor. He says they threatened him with rape. I can believe the first point. Maybe the first half of the second. But the rest sounds like elaboration cross-referencing Abu Ghraib, which is too convenient by half. Funny how the assumptions of guilt and innocence are implied here, huh? Both sides are quoted as having equal credibility throughout the article. When one party has significantly more to gain than the other from an untruth, that's a bit suspicious. Eventually, the Canadians explained they were not there to help him. They were there to help the Americans. Later that year, two more Canadian officials came to see him. These ones, he says, yelled at him. They accused him of lying. They said they wanted more information. It seems that Omar did not co-operate sufficiently. The day after the last Canadian left, he was thrown into solitary confinement. The cell, he told his lawyers later, was "like a refrigerator." Please note: He's complaining about air conditioning. In Cuba. I wonder what that costs for the average Cuban? Meanwhile, at home, the Canadian government was picking its way through its own impossible contradictions. On the one hand, it disapproved of a Canadian minor being jailed by a foreign power under conditions that arguably contravene international law. No no no. You don't get to make vague intimations like that. Explain exactly how and why you think detainment at Gitmo, and what are more likely than not to be perfectly sound and non-abusive interrogation techniques, are a contravention of international law. Oh, and if you mention the Geneva Conventions in any way, given the context, you lose. But on the other, it wanted to avoid overly irritating the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush. Really? Could have fooled me. If the Canadian government has been making motions of slavering subservience to Bush in the last few years, I must have missed it. In March 2004, Jim Gould of Foreign Affairs' intelligence division visited him. He later reported, in a memo obtained by Khadr's lawyers, that Omar appeared to be "a thoroughly screwed-up young man. "All those who have been in positions of authority over him have abused him and his trust for their own purposes. In this group can be included his parents and grandparents, his associates in Afghanistan and fellow detainees at Camp Delta. ..." I'm sorry, but he'd have to be a lot more demonstrably incompetent than merely being a poor speller for that argument to be convincing. Throwing grenades at American troops is something a 15-year-old should be able to determine, by himself (and despite pressure from others), is likely to get him killed or imprisoned. That Daddy told him to do it is no excuse. The rest of this paragraph has been blacked out. But we know who else abused the trust of this 18-year-old Canadian. His own government. Ignorant, fatuous and blind is no way to go through life, son. Khadr doesn't consider the Canadian government "his," nor do the rest of his family, if their actions and public attitudes are any indication; all secular western governments are, to al-Qaeda and their loathsome supporters (no matter how adorably childish they may seem on camera) merely temporary obstacles to reviving the Caliphate. Does Omar Khadr (or any of the Khadrs) consider himself Canadian? I somehow doubt it. Despite that, I'll grant that he does warrant some amount of legal support from the Canadian government, by virtue of the accident that he's a citizen. But the precise measure he deserves was reached long ago.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Never let a friend fool you twice

I think Seth Macfarlane just officially became my mortal enemy, if Ain't It Cool's FUD upon the fate of Arrested Development is true. Animation is all very well and good, but Arrested Development is wholly, genuinely funny, something I don't foresee American Dad being more than once or twice per episode. I swear, sometimes it's like Fox is purposely trying to spite me. UPDATE: Fox claims it's not cancelled. But then, they would.

I know that face; you're trying to place the name

This is kind of neat - a Java dynamic graphing program showing the relative popularity of names in the past century, especially compared to close variants. It's a fascinating way of visually dealing with the information, anyhow. More intriguing, however: my name (my real name) and my alias here are less than a dozen places away from each other in rank of use during the 1980s. Even when reinventing myself, it seems, I'm unconsciously a product of my era. (Via Lifehacker.)

All the wolves, all the lies, the false hopes, the goodbyes

The concept of truce - especially of putatively "historic" variety - means different things to different people. Many consider it a diplomatic prelude to more permanent, equitable peace negotiations. Some, on the other hand, consider it a green light to achieve with military forces upon civilian populations what is colloquially known as kicking 'em inna yarbles. Really, would someone waking up today out of a thirty-year coma see anything new or extraordinary about this characteristically Palestinian behaviour?

Better learn to go it alone, recognize you're out on your own

Well, I've had an eventful day. I'm now - again - employed by a member of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. Not the same one as previously, and by no means someone I'd vote for (unless the alternatives were really horrendous), but a job that looks good on a résumé is nothing to scoff at. I don't particularly need the money right now, but I'll do this because the pay is good, regardless, and because the guy who got me the job likes my work. It's not an apolitical position, but I can treat it as one. That's the beauty of the limited nature of the job: it requires so little contact with the rest of the office that I really can separate the personal from the political. (And, privately, I can rejoice that allocated funds aren't going to an actual party supporter. I call all kinds of deliciously ironic shenanigans on that.)

Old friends risen from the grave to haunt me

Huzzah for long-term televisory inter-series continuity, part one: Chi McBride will reprise his role of Steven Harper from "Boston Public" in an upcoming controversial episode of "Boston Legal," it's been announced. McBride will play a school principal who bans certain network news coverage on school grounds. The episode, entitled "Let Sales Ring," will air on SUNDAY, MARCH 13 (10:00-11:00 p.m., ET), on the ABC Television Network. (An aside: Boston Public was on the air right around the time Stephen Harper came to national prominence. Hilarity, it might be imagined, ensued, if not terribly widely.) And part two: LOS ANGELES (AP) — Chris Noth's guest appearance this weekend on Law & Order: Criminal Intent is the start of something big. Noth, who left the original Law & Order 10 years ago, will become a regular on the spinoff beginning next season, series spokeswoman Pam Ruben Golum said Tuesday. In a perfect world, Peter MacNicol or Michael Moriarty would also be involved in one or the other of these stuntcasts, but I'm not complaining. (Especially since Moriarty is as much of a loon as Vincent D'Onofrio, and said instability seems to be most of the reason why he's getting half-bumped from L&O: CI.) (Via TV Tattle.)

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Being close and being clever, ain't like being true

On the topic of ham-handed smugness on the part of the CBC and its personalities, the Toronto Star has an uncannily good takedown of Rick Mercer today: If he rights himself soon we'll all look back on his career, years from now, and forget the awkward phase that is Rick Mercer's Monday Report. If not, we'll have no trouble pinpointing the moment when he jumped the shark: when those "one-tonne challenge" ads touting the Kyoto Accord started to air. In the ads, Mercer urges Canadians to get behind the Liberal environmental plan by cutting a tonne of their own CO2 emissions. Its hand-held, walking-on-the-street style encourages confusion with Mercer's rants, first seen on This Hour Has 22 Minutes. The ads aren't funny, but you could say the same about 80 per cent of Mercer's work in the last two years. For those who haven't seen Monday Report, here's the format: a brief monologue, which generally sticks to material as familiar and safe as a children's aspirin. (George W. Bush is a bad man; Tim Hortons sells soup in a bread bowl. Ain't that crazy!) Then there's a dull taped segment in which Mercer travels the country, apparently on the basis of which CBC personality he feels like killing his time and ours with — Shelagh Rodgers, Mary Walsh and the Mothercorp's talent in P.E.I., just in the last month. We return to the studio, where Mercer makes fun of a few pictures in the newspaper. Then Buzz's once-promising Daryn Jones offers another lame piece of video, or there may be a bit in which we spend time with a non-CBC celebrity. Typical of the latter was the recent piece premised on the notion that if you put Margaret Atwood in hockey equipment, the comedy just writes itself. We spent two long minutes waiting. A confession: I used to like Rick Mercer. I spent most of 2002-2003 adoring Made In Canada - one of the sharpest sitcoms ever to have the misfortune to be made here, rather than elsewhere, about here - until I realized that the production company, Salter Street Films, bankrolled Michael Moore's Bowling For Columbine, and thus is directly responsible for his 2002-2004 rise to inexplicable political relevance. I can't forgive something like that. But I digress. Garnet Fraser's observations are spot-on: Rick Mercer used to be genuinely funny (at least, when not doing the reprehensible Talking to Americans thing) but has since completely sold his soul to the CBC and their agenda. What a waste.

And they clamor to put his remarks on the air

Sour grapes from the CBC over losing Olympic broadcast rights: "In preparing our bid to the IOC, we knew, and we know still, that competing to win the rights to broadcast the Olympic Games at any cost is simply not a reasonable proposition for us," said Rabinovitch in the statement. "CBC/Radio-Canada has an obligation to taxpayers to be fiscally responsible." If the CBC's management actually believed that, why were they bidding on the Olympics at all, knowing the likely cost? For that matter, why would they broadcast anything but the cheapest possible properties? Why would they build a brand new, glamourous headquarters building six blocks away on Sparks Street? I'd believe that the Mother Corporation was fiscally responsible the moment it started looking as low-budget as PBS. I'd believe that its radio networks were being competently managed as soon as they started taking the same ads as every other station. I don't know if the CBC ever has been responsible in their casual extraction and use of taxpayers' money, but they certainly aren't right at the moment. The network's primary obligations have always been to its own survival, its employees' cushy gigs, and the Liberal Party, in that order; tales of serious commitment to Canadians at large are somewhat less that believable, in that context.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Me oh my, there's a lot to buy

Getting merchandise to the shelves before a movie or heavily cross-promoted kid-target animated series is actually released is nothing new, but I think Fox may be jumping the gun a bit with American Dad-branded swag. It's also a bit insulting. Where was this kind of confidence in a series for Futurama? Or Family Guy, the first time around? You, sirs, are utter whores. Normally I appreciate that, but considering the odds of success with this particular property, I find your lack of lack of faith disturbing.

Color, charm and such

If I didn't already have an iPod (stalwart little 3G John Quincy) this is such an adorable ad - beyond anything Apple's ever put out, for that matter, in terms of how much sheer love it has for the product - that it'd make me pretty much have to run out and buy one. It's that good. If there's any justice in the ad business, the hobbyist creator will be snapped up by some marketing firm, pronto. (An aside: one thing that Apple is so supremely good at is designing with real character. The iPod has personality; the iPod mini, more so. Imagine that same ad with a generic WMA-compatible, FM tuner-included, voice recording clunker of an MP3 player. It wouldn't work. It wouldn't be cute. It wouldn't be loveable. Personality, it must never be forgotten, goes a long way.) (Via Brian Tiemann.)

Give me strength as I dip my pen

Sigh. As it turns out, the PM has caved yet again on providing even the tiniest bit of support (40 soldiers! In the veritable sea of the 130,000-strong current American deployment, and 24,000-odd Coalition forces!) to ongoing operations in Iraq. The really sad part is that the current mission is far closer to the supposed Canadian peacekeeping ideal than ever. If ever there was a noble cause to jump on at the last minute, surely defending a nascent democracy from the forces of chaos and incipient fascism fits the "What Canada is Willing To Help With" profile. Yet still the Liberals refuse to do the right thing, no doubt for fear of being flanked on both sides of the aisle. Business as usual.

He's slick as soap, he's King, he's Pope

As previously mentioned, I love my US History class this term largely because of the professor's style; he takes great pains to snarkily point out historical parallels likely to shatter the contemporary preconceptions of the class. Today's class covered immigration and socialism, from 1880-1924. At one point, he discussed the prevalence of anti-Catholicism in 19th century American politics (to the point where anti-Semitism, though also present, was rendered minimal by comparison); it was so great that a virulently anti-Catholic Protestant group, the American Protective Association, numbered some 2.5 million members by 1894 - and even spread into Canada, under the more straightforward name of the Protestant Protective Association. The class had a good laugh at the ridiculous conspiracy theories targeting Catholics during the depression of 1893-97, namely that the Papacy was secretly organizing plans to take over the country. But, Prof. Davis asked: No matter how patently silly it might seem today, why is that at all funny? The notion that Catholic Americans could only, logically, be the invasion force about to install authoritarian theocracy at the order of clergy was believable at the time; if you looked around the world in 1893, most every identifiably-Catholic nation was either a degenerate, decayed remnant of the feudal era, or some variety of tinpot dictatorship. The intelligentsia and elites of the age concluded that Catholics simply weren't capable of democracy. They were only suited to be ruled by the iron grip of strongmen, whether religious or secular. (Is this starting to sound familiar?) A moment of uncomfortable silence followed the obvious punchline, of course. It usually does. He always has a point like that to make, and most always does it well. From number of truly clueless questions about the American polity and society he gets in class, he'd have to, to not go mad.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

A sad little king in a drunken decline, from your weak little chin to your weak little spine

My initial hunches about American Dad - from back in July of last year - seem to have been largely correct; the political humour was what could charitably be termed excruciatingly stupid. Or painfully juvenile, even; these were the kind of one-dimensional jibes a fourteen-year-old might think clever. The one scene that rose above stupid hippie/evil right-winger gags was a CBS News (!) story, showing George Bush talking to God on the phone - presented, of course, by Dan Rather. I wonder if that was that animated before or after Rathergate? (God, as it turns out, answers to Dick Cheney. Derisive, Jack Chick-esque HAW HAW!) One thing I'll grant is that it has a peppy theme song. More than anything, though, the show was just plain lame - and that's not something an auteur like Seth Macfarlane, riding on a reputation of being "edgy," can really afford to be.

And if I'm him and if I'm he, each one of us might not agree on what to do

I think Stephen Harper is making a mistake here: Conservative Leader Stephen Harper is warning the Liberal government will pay a 'severe price' if it sends Canadian troops to Iraq. 'I remembered how the prime minister attacked us during the federal election for wanting to spend more on defence,'' Harper told reporters Saturday in Halifax. 'I sat through an election campaign where the prime minister accused me of having secret plans to send troops to Iraq. If it turns out he has secret plans, this has to be one of the biggest election deceptions in history.'' However, Harper didn't rule out supporting such an initiative if he could be convinced it was safe. I'm all for holding the PM's feet to the fire for his cynical posturing during the election, playing the cheapest (at the time) of all possible cards. And Harper is probably right; if Martin does send any troops at all, even the smallest token contingent, it probably will bite him in the ass come election time. But this would be one of those times to smile, and nod, and be conciliatory. If Liberals can be made to do the right thing, by that strange magic of politics-as-usual around here, it somehow becomes the Canadian thing. (Despite being that which they were vehemently opposed to, yesterday or the day before. Funny, huh?) At that point, when it therefore can't be sold during an election campaign as fundamentally despicable and un-Canadian, the Tories can step in with a rational and reasonable plan to both stop being unhelpful to American policy aims, and return some kind of dignity to the funding of our military forces. It doesn't have to be a good one, as such platforms go, just better than the current Liberal one. After Paul Martin lays the groundwork, both will be a far easier sell in general - and, more importantly, the Liberals won't be able to substantially contest the morality of either. Didn't Sun Tzu say something about not stopping the enemy from marching straight into a trap of their own devising?

My high is low; I'm dressed up, with no place to go

I accidentally just caught the opening of the Super Bowl pregame show. I appreciate that Michael Chiklis and Will Smith are identifiable stars of Fox productions - and thus the best to dragoon into participating in a four-hour-long piece of fluff prior to the main event - but why is Chiklis dressed as if he just stepped off the set of The Shielf? Is the network afraid that he won't be recognized, without Vic Mackey's trademark all-black ensemble?

Those good old-fashioned values, on which we used to rely

As with anything sport-related, I couldn't care less about the Super Bowl itself, but I do appreciate that it's become enough of a media event to tie series premieres to the post-game schedule. That said, tonight's new show, American Dad, seems to promise as much horror as I expected: How vulgar is "American Dad"? Let me enumerate a few of the ways. There's Klaus, the goldfish with an East German skier's brain, that sits in a cereal bowl and scoots around the floor so he can look up the dress of Francine, matriarch of the show's Smith clan. There's Francine assuring prepubescent son Steve that he'll feel better when his "big-boy hair" finally comes in. There's Stan, the title character, a trigger-happy CIA agent, recalling that his nickname in college was "penis." There's the intimation that one of the teachers at Steve's high school has a sexual relationship with a frog. There's Roger, a light-bulb-headed extraterrestrial who lives with the Smiths. He gorges himself on junk food and occasionally, without warning, expels a gooey brown substance from half a dozen orifices. There's more, but Newsday policy precludes even euphemistic descriptions. If "American Dad's" mindset sounds familiar, that's probably because it's a work of self-plagiarism by Seth MacFarlane, creator of "Family Guy," an animated sitcom that premiered on Fox in 1999. Canceled because of low ratings, it has since risen from the dead, thanks to encouraging DVD sales. The two MacFarlane shows, which are set to join Fox's prime-time lineup as a tandem May 1, share an animation style, some voice talent and a crude, heavy-handed notion of humor. Oy. I'll watch. I have to watch; I have that duty to at least know for myself what any particular primetime animated series deserves, be it cancellation or high praise. But I'll be surprised (albeit pleasantly) if the pilot delivers more than one or two genuine laughs. (Via TV Tattle.)

Saturday, February 05, 2005

I'm through accepting limits, 'cause someone says they're so

US Ambassador Paul Cellucci makes some fairly self-evident suggestions for Canadian foreign policy: HARRIMAN, N.Y. (CP) - Outgoing U.S. ambassador Paul Cellucci has a suggestion for Canadian officials grappling with a brand new vision for their foreign policy - independent from America, but complementary. "There are many places where Canada can act where we might not be able to act," Cellucci told the American Assembly, a weekend conference on Canada-U.S. relations. "There's a lot of resentment around the world towards the United States. "Haiti's an example. We've tried there before but maybe Canada could lead an effort to try to help the Haitian people get a government that's as good as (them)." "The United States is tied up in the Middle East, that might be a project for Canada to take the lead on." [...] One top Canadian official attending the conference of politicians, scholars and others debating relations between the two countries said Saturday he found Cellucci's foreign policy suggestion "patronizing" and thought it might raise some hackles in Ottawa. "The words are offensive. The sentiment behind it is not that offensive. It's largely a truism anyway." What a lovely suspicion to have confirmed: Canadian diplomats will, in fact, work themselves into a lather of self-righteous outrage over "offensive" American sentiments, whether or not they're spot-on observations. (Rather, I suspect, especially if that's the case. It simply wouldn't do to admit that 1+1 does in fact equal 2 after the US ambassador says it, after all.)

Your twin brother and your accuser

For the past month, I've been making a living designing ads for a local-market advertising flyer. One recent client gave me only a low-resolution faxed copy of their logo, so I had to recreate it as a vector image to use at the 300dpi required for print resolution. The whole time, I kept thinking it seemed remarkably familiar, but not until six hours later did I realize why: It's the Commodore logo. Sort of. Rather, it's composed of eerily-similar simple geometric elements; the Commodore logo, perhaps, as imitated in cargo-cult or knockoff-brand fashion. I doubt Comfort King is too close to trademark infringement, and I don't think they have much to fear from the current owners of the name. Still, it's a mildly creepy phenomenon, and I'm surprised it took me so long to make the association.

And oh, the shame; thought of changin' my name

The things you learn watching local stations from across the country on digital satellite: There are some really oddball regional chain stores out there. (Also, that MTS, Manitoba's largest telecom operator, is currently running a bizarrely buffalocentric ad campaign.) How has a store with a name like "London Drugs" managed never to rebrand itself upon seriously branching out into consumer electronics, some twenty years ago? That's some kind of amazing, given the Wal-Martesque/Woolworthish corporate history there. At what point does it not make sense to de-emphasize penny-ante drugstore origins?

CSI: Adobe

A fascinating tale of distributed analysis, on a matter of far more immediate import than anything even the blogosphere has managed to accomplish: TORONTO - A Walt Disney hotel in Florida is under investigation as the place where police believe pornographic images of a child were taken and circulated on the internet. Police in Toronto say they tracked down the hotel after releasing photos from a porn site, showing the locations of sex attacks against a girl who was around 12 years old. One of the altered pictures police used to identify the U.S. hotel. Based on tips from the public, police say the investigation is now focused on the Port Orleans Hotel at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. The original Toronto Crimestoppers photos are here, skillfully edited as if for blanks in a Photoshop contest, for the sake of the victim's anonymity. That's brilliant; take the focus off the victim, to harness the far-wider pool of members of the public who might have seen the background. What good it may do, sadly, I'm not sure. Even a single Walt Disney World resort would churn through tens of thousands of guests every year, and identifying the specific location of the abuse will likely still be difficult. Despite that, kudos to Crimestoppers for an innovative new approach; at least it's taken the case this far.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

What at night seems oh so scenic, may be cynic in the light

This is the sort of thing that made me pretty much indifferent to the post-Mike Harris Ontario Tories. TORONTO (CP) - Ontario will spend more than $120 million to replace aging MRI and CT machines in an effort to reduce long waits for the high-tech diagnostic scans, Health Minister George Smitherman announced Thursday. [...] The Opposition questioned the impact of Smitherman's announcement, saying the new MRI and CT machines are "mere replacements," not the additional scanners needed to truly shorten waiting lists. "More galling is that Smitherman knows these machines are months away from delivery," Conservative health critic John Baird said. "The government must provide the funding to increase the number of both MRI and CT scanners, or waiting lists will grow." Excuse me? What is conservative (or Conservative) about that sentiment? Increasing the number of available MRI and CT scanners for use is and should not be the exclusive responsibility of the provincial government. Once upon a time, the Ontario PC Party was at least open to the idea of free-market efficiency; now, they've drunk as deeply of the "privately delivered health care is un-Canadian" Kool-Aid as anyone else, and I'm disappointed. In its halcyon days, I probably never would have imagined ever saying it (young and stupid as I was at the time), but I really miss the dynamic vision of the Common Sense Revolution.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

It's been a long road, getting from there to here

Enterprise is dead. May it burn. I had some hope for Enterprise when it first launched, not despite but because its setup was such a perfect roman à clef in 2001. But I was disappointed time and again. In two or five or ten years, Star Trek might be a viable franchise for new material again; in the current incarnation, it hasn't been much of one since 2003. 2005-2006 will be the first year of my life I'm capable of remembering without a Trek series in production. That's probably for the best, considering the drastically diminishing returns following the half-hearted glory that was the Dominion War arc of DS9. Even then, everything about that period of the show that was clever, imaginative, inspirational or even profound, I later came to realize was much more wholeheartedly embodied in Babylon 5. Low-budget CGI might be distracting, yes, but writing with some depth can overcome technical limitations. It certainly has before.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

You can sail the seven seas

A correspondent alerts me to this amazing story, of peculiarly French tsunami relief efforts: ABOARD JEANNE D'ARC - The naval ship's pantry is stocked with wines, baguettes and pate, and its casual dress code is shorts and sandals. There's even an artist — a painter to keep an illustrated record of the trip. With a panache all its own, France's military is delivering aid to tsunami-battered Indonesia — and showing how a small force can make a difference. I'm sure the Indonesians are happy to know that French seamen are not only few, but pampered and undisciplined as well: But French sailors aboard the Jeanne D'Arc pick from wine, beer and other alcoholic drinks, and their ready-made meals come with pate. On deck, they sunbathe in the muggy heat in shorts and sandals. Tactfully not noted: The Marine Nationale sent one ship to the relief effort. A creaky old training ship, launched some forty years ago. American forces in the region include the USS Abraham Lincoln (a recently-refitted nuclear supercarrier half the Jeanne d'Arc's age) and its entire strike group: The Lincoln Carrier Strike Group deployed [on Oct. 19, 2004] with the following San Diego-based ships: the cruiser USS Shiloh (CG 67), commanded by Capt. Joe Harriss; and the destroyer USS Benfold (DDG 65), commanded by Cmdr. Don Hornbeck. Other ships deploying with the Lincoln Carrier Strike Group include the Everett, Wash.-based destroyer USS Shoup (DDG 86), led by Cmdr. Alexander T. Casimes; the Pearl Harbor-based attack submarine USS Louisville (SSN 724), under the command of Cmdr. David Kirk; and the fast combat support ship USS Rainier. This has of course led to some professional jealousy disguised as holier-than-thou "concern": "The feeling we had in France was that, as usual, the Americans were rushing in force to Indonesia and boasting about it," said flotilla spokeswoman Cmdr. Anne Cullerre. "For some people, it seemed outrageous. "How can you really boast of doing something from this tragedy? People were saying, 'They are doing it again. They are showing off.'" As soon as France contributes an aircraft carrier's massive facilities and capabilities (say, the Charles de Gaulle's - how's having a fully-fledged nuclear navy working out for you, guys?), you're allowed to bitch about the USN taking the credit without it being (by default) a pathetic display of sour grapes, Commander. No sooner. France's help is welcome, and relieves some pressure on American forces. But, as ever, French military aid teeters just on the edge of "more trouble than it's worth." (Via Steven K.)

Wield the sword to teach the pen, sculpt the model citizen

The citizen-soldiers of the National Guard get their own magazine: Mr. Powers and Mr. Brown, two executives of Iostudio, a Nashville media company, came up with GX, a valentine to the National Guard, with articles about men and women who left their jobs and families to fight and rebuild in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. Filled with poems written by children of soldiers who have been activated, photo features of the National Guard offering a helping hand and how-to articles about being a better fighter, GX, which stands for "Guard Experience," might be viewed as quaint at a time when many Americans have complicated opinions about the country's military efforts abroad. But the magazine, which has been coming out every other month since March 2004 and is mailed free to most National Guard members, is seen by many in the Guard as a necessary corrective to media coverage that seems substantially negative. "We feel that the other side, the controversial aspects of serving in the Guard, is being well covered by other outlets," said Mr. Brown, who is the magazine's editor in chief, with Mr. Powers its publisher. "We want to make a magazine that will be appropriate for the 12-year-old son or daughter to find on the coffee table and read through without getting upset. We wanted something that represented and celebrated the real-world Guard experience." Nifty. With their current level of deployment, I have no doubt this is well-deserved.

Eminently practical, and yet appropriate as always

Another member of the class, reading my comments on inappropriate Bush-bashing in a lecture on intellectual movements of the Soviet Union circa 1975, also responds to that fit of pique: Professor! I believe that my reading of comments mentioning the president of Canada's closest neighbour was a great waste of time. I already regret the time spent on writing this, but I feel I should respond. What I read was almost totally irrelevant in the context of this course. Perhaps, but only because the original reflexive cheap shot in class was almost totally irrelevant? The abundance of rhetoric discussing the current crusade of USA against terror (at different times also know as evil, sin, unholy, among others) in general and actions of current administration in particular made me well acquainted with arguments brought forward by advocates of both its supporters and opponents. While reading, I was surprised how persistent some people can be in trying to make their viewpoints known both in and out of place. I'm persistent because I have to be. Mentally assaulted every day with a hundred varying degrees of people telling me I'm wrong, stupid, evil, or mentally ill for my politics, resistance is never out of place. I seized on a badly reasoned, pandering jibe, and got a partial, tenuous mea culpa from the speaker out of it. I call that perfectly appropriate. By the third paragraph of this well-structured and overly-elaborate discourse it struck me that this was no more than another argument in Bush's defense (and/or actions he currently embodies), inspired not with the subject of our last lecture, but merely by one harmless comment. He thinks it's harmless - but, then, I suspect he probably agrees with it. I think it needs to be addressed, because it's indicative of an endemic culture of paranoia and hatemongering directed by leftist academics at any conservative, Conservative, Republican, or even classically liberal bogeyman. I doubt the writer (nor myself) would let an offhanded ethnic or religious slur during a lecture pass by as "harmless." Challenging similarly sloppy thinking from those who ought to know better is no vice. I will not get detailed on answering these arguments, I will simply point out that some of them are rather short-sighted (the talk on "free" elections in Iraq, recent developments in Ukraine, or wishes of German population regarding the political structure in their country), and others are nothing more than rephrased excerpts from speeches pronounced by most distinguished fighters for adoption of their value set by the whole wide multifaceted world. He seems surprised that, having a priori internalized the values and ideals (such as, say, that free, open and democratic societies are in fact best for every people and nation in "the whole wide multifaceted world") embodied in most of Bush's speeches, I argue in favour of them. Go figure. (Do I also detect a whiff of condescension coming my way for daring to oh-so-simplistically believe that not all governments nor societies are equally valid?) I would also want to ask you to forward this to the author of the text in question in an attempt to persuade this person to refrain from such feedback in the future. If the professor is kind enough to refrain from gratuitous political commentary not directly relating to the period or topic, that seems chiefly designed to confirm his expectations of pre-existing biases for a cheap laugh...well, I won't need to, will I?

If you want to die in bed, forget about your karma

Yesterday, I received in the mail a textbook I'd forgotten I ordered used, off Amazon. This happened to be a textbook I also bought from the university bookstore, last week. So, though resolved to return the nicer, new copy, I put off looking for the receipt until done a number of things before the impending printer's-deadline-of-doom for my new quasi-self-employed job. (Details forthcoming, eventually.) I got around to doing that at 8 last night - only to realize, on finding it, that the last day of returns for new textbooks this term was January 31, and the bookstore closes at 5. I had, thus, planned to head over to campus first thing this morning, to be at the bookstore when they opened at 8:30, and plead with the clerks to give me a break on the return deadline. This required getting up early; my earliest class this term is at 11:30, and I've been waking up around 9 or so. I am, accordingly, very, very tired right now. On heading out the door at 7:55, I picked the textbook out of the stack where it had been sitting, and noticed that there was both a large scuff mark on the front cover and some kind of grease stain on the back (I think one or both may have been there when I bought it, but who'd believe that?) - and, ergo, it would seem to be completely unreturnable, even within the deadline. My point (and I do have one, I think) is that this entire narrative is an excellent example of either irony, or karma. I'm just not sure which.

You missed that boat, and found that you'd been left behind

The Gawker blog/"new media" empire has expanded again, with software-themed Lifehacker. I think I'd feel more confident in its content if it weren't sponsored by Sony, plugging their amazing new "Look, it'll play regular old MP3s now too, see? Not just our proprietary and buggy-as-hell ATRAC files?" Network Walkman. Being backed by a company desperately promoting a product now two to three years behind the times, in a market they used to near-completely own, isn't exactly a harbinger of anything good.

Now we awaken, our flag flying high

The 14th Red Ensign Standard is up. I should note - contrary to Nathan's perceptions - I'm not that well connected. (If I was, I'd have managed to find a better job last summer, I'm sure.) I can put "worked for an MP's office" on my résumé, true, but that's not exactly a rarity around here... (And don't even ask about what the political currency that comes from being associated with a former honourable member provides, particularly one of the good-natured, perennial non-entity variety.)