Monday, September 26, 2005

As supernice (nice) a person like you

Classy. Apple's actually going about refunding the unjustly-collected copyright levy revenues iPods sold in Canada were subjected to, prior to this year - which means I could pocket a surprise $25 for the cost of a stamp; not a bad deal. On the other hand, unclaimed funds will be donated to the Red Cross - and I don't have a problem with that at all. (Come on, you guys; stop being so lovably benevolent. I'm trying not to buy a nano until, at the very least, John Quincy iPod won't hold even a two-hour charge, and things like this could really wear down my resistance. Even taking into account plausible horror stories regarding the former.) (Via TUAW.)

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Keep your castles in the air; by building them down there, you'll never learn to fly

While enjoyable, the animation festival hasn't served up enough this year so fantastically impressive that I feel like doing item-by-item reviews. The one exception to that is The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello (inadequate official site here), which I saw last night in one of the short competitions - and it more than makes up for the godawful abstract shorts (if it looks like it could be a 3D screensaver set to randomly render crystalline objects for six and a half minutes, I'm not interested) or the unsubtle skew of all political subjects (I swear, it's just too easy to pander to a Canadian audience) and then some. No, Jasper Morello is absolutely exquisite, a high-Victorian steampunk tale of gothic horror, animated in a haunting CG-assisted cutout style. The official site above, while sorely lacking in content, offers a brief taste of that style: lanky silhouettes on a background of elaborately-detailed, sepia-toned ironworks. That there's an actual story, and quite a compellingly human one, at that, is no less appreciated; the art of the narrative is often ignored in short animated subjects. Add that to a new and gorgeous way of rendering the increasingly-tired clockwork-computers-and-cast-iron-airships milieu, and the result is a joy to behold. My only complaint is that I wish it had been last in the program, instead of Don Hertzfeld's sometimes-amusing but ultimately overambitious and tedious The Meaning of Life. The former was twenty-six minutes long, but felt like ten; the latter ran only twelve minutes, but seemed to stretch on for an eternity. (There's a lesson there, I think.)

Friday, September 23, 2005

All are tales of human failing

It's that time again - late September - which means that the Ottawa International Animation Festival is on; and, as usual, I've done the volunteer thing in order to get a free screening pass. I've tried in recent years to pick volunteer positions that get me places otherwise not accessible to the public, and the addition of the Television Animation Conference to the program is perfect, in that regard; yesterday, I managed to catch part of a new format of pitch session while manning a sticky door in the Château Laurier. The pitch I saw - Gumnutz - encapsulates, more or less, everything that could possibly be wrong with television animation. First, it was derivative. The concept of anthropomorphic animals operating a secret magical juice factory in the woods seemed a bit less strained twenty years ago with The Gummi Bears, but, hey, this pitch set the whole thing in Australia, and that could potentially overcome the copycat vibe. More problematic, however - and I was happy to see the entire panel of programming directors from Cartoon Network, Teletoon, Kids WB and Nickelodeon call them on this - was the substitution of multiethnicity (or, to be less kind, what used to be called "comic accents") for genuine characterization, in some sort of bizarre affirmative-action 'casting' policy. Yes, Australia has large Greek and Lebanese populations. So? What does it add to the character of the goofy lizard mechanic to say that he's Lebanese, or to make the mad-scientist henchman of the chief villain a turban-wearing Indian snake? I don't think the characterizations quite veered into genuinely offensive territory, though the Yiddish and aggressively fey bodybuilder characters (as Nickelodeon's Peter Gal pointed out) came awfully close. I don't blame the producers for falling so far into the trap of writing for a PC audience. After all, it's just being Tolerant and Inclusive, right? Even if it ends up being a series set in the Australian Outback with exactly four characters out of a large ensemble cast who aren't defined in terms of what kind of hyphenated-Australian they are? That, while annoying, may be a necessary evil; I know Australia has a domestic film and TV-subsidizing bureaucracy much like Canada's, and pandering to those bureaucrats for grant money may entail some degree of kowtowing to Goodthink. That's only the most significant problem, however, among an unfocused and overambitious plot arc, some surprisingly dark subject matter, and a blandly traditional design style. I'd be surprised if Gumnutz is ever produced - at least, in any form resembling the current pitch.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The rats on the street all dance 'round my feet

Curse you, Lileks. I'll never again be able to think of the Stratford Festival without mentally transposing the phrase "St. Ratfood" into a Southern Ontarian theatrical context.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Time is getting on, there's still so much to do

So, here's the thing: I'm still busy. Really busy. That's not necessarily a problem in itself, but it's caused me to realize I have to more or less give up resisting something I'd hoped to avoid: the prospect of more often buying prepared foods or (shudder) eating out. Yes, I'm still a student, but I've always taken a certain degree of pride in not having the stereotypically wasteful, ignorant, and economically unsound eating habits of one. I buy in bulk and cook from scratch; I always have some kind of soup or stew made and on hand for quick meals; I roast, sauté, double-boil, steam, and bake. I keep a regular stock of all-purpose garnishes like balsamic vinegar, fresh limes, and cilantro, for pity's sake. In short, I take it as a personal failing to not eat well, reasonably nutritiously, and cheaply. That's why it hurts so much, between classes and work, to not have the time to do little things like bake bread or make a brown stock: I feel guilty about it. I'm now making enough (well, to be fair, an amount I'd have called 'crazy stupid improbable' for my age and experience, not too long ago) money from my various jobs that I can certainly afford to eat out daily, or have frozen dinners morning, noon and night, but, crikey, the guilt. It just gnaws away at me. I can't stop myself from analyzing every dish, and calculating exactly how much the restaurant or manufacturer's markup is. Obviously I can't argue with that markup involved in labour and capital expenditures, but it's painful nonetheless, to know that (barring exceptionally complex recipes) if I had a little time and the ingredients on hand, I could cook something just as good for half to a quarter of the price. Curséd be the man who knows the worth of every onion and olive! I know it's silly, and that my time is right now often worth considerably more than potential savings on staples. Yet, somehow, that's not really a comfort. At least I can take the necessity as an opportunity to explore restaurants near campus...

Monday, September 12, 2005

Fortune favors the free

The hell? Toronto — Seeking to end months of debate, Premier Dalton McGuinty now says "there will be no sharia law in Ontario" -- an announcement that should quell a growing public-relations crisis concerning the use of Islamic law, but which also exposes Queen's Park to attacks from other religions. Following widespread condemnation of a plan that would formally allow the tenets of sharia to be used in resolving family disputes, the Premier said he'll make the boundaries between church and state clearer by banning faith-based arbitrations. [...] "I'm so happy today. It's a victory for the women's rights movement," said Homa Arjomand, an Iranian immigrant who has launched a campaign to stop sharia in Ontario. "Women's rights are not protected by any religion," she said. But fundamentalist Islam, in particular, can be harsh, she said. "Divorces are happening behind closed doors and the woman is banned from having custody of her children," Ms. Arjomand said. "She is being sent back to her home country to live with her relatives." She went so far as to say that proposed new laws ought to allow for the prosecution of religious leaders involved in faith-based arbitrations. While it's unlikely that amendments to the Arbitration Act will go that far, Mr. McGuinty told The Canadian Press yesterday that "I've come to the conclusion that the debate has gone on long enough. There will be no sharia law in Ontario." "There will be no religious arbitration in Ontario," he said. "There will be one law for all Ontarians." Make no mistake, this is fantastic news - the very idea of enacting a right to misogynistic, homophobic, and xenophobic private law (or even, in passing, allowing it in lieu of promoting the exercise of genuine and completely secular legal rights) in Ontario was abominable. It's unfortunate that others will pay the price for having to disallow sharia-based arbitration: Ontario explicitly gave the green light to such practices in its 1991 Arbitration Act. But as early as this fall, new Ontario laws may put a stop to religion-based settlements in matters such as child-custody disputes or inheritances. This means that orthodox Jews and some Christian leaders may soon make a common cause with fundamentalist Muslims in seeking to limit the scope of the new proposals. "Our reaction is we're disappointed, we're very disappointed," said Joel Richler, chairman of the Ontario wing of the Canadian Jewish Congress. "It's what we consider to be a knee-jerk reaction against the sharia issue." He said orthodox Jews have used tribunals to settle family disputes for centuries, but the future of these tribunals is no longer clear in Ontario. As I say, unfortunate. But it's surely better to enact strict equality before the law than to let a minority of well-meaning exceptions turn into nightmarish abrogations of justice. That said, isn't this a 180-degree turnaround? I could have sworn that up until very recently - last week, even - the premier was singing quite a different tune on the threat sharia poses: TORONTO -- The rights of women "will not be compromised" if Ontario becomes the first Western jurisdiction to allow Muslims to use a set of religious rules known as Shariah law to settle civil and marital disputes, Premier Dalton McGuinty said yesterday. At least he came to the right conclusion in the end, which is something, for a constantly-triangulating Liberal leader. Finally, I'm happy that the provincial Tories aren't seizing this as a socially conservative wedge issue: "By letting it go on, and suddenly ending it mysteriously on a Sunday afternoon, is not probably the best kind of leadership that one could show," Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory told The Canadian Press. I think, anyway - Tory's comment seems to be one of disparaging McGuinty's timing, trying to bury it on the weekend to soften the blow in the national media, which is fair. Just so long as the Ontario PC Party doesn't come up with the bright idea to court the sharia-supporting vote, next election, I'm satisfied...

Don't you know, everyone wants to laugh

Interesting discovery of the day, found while Googling the phrase "Faulknerian idiot man-child": The Onion has reopened their archives - for the past several years, behind a subscription wall, in a not particularly well-thought-out business model - and they now go all the way back to 1996. Thus, it's kind of interesting to see again those headlines from the fabled End of History - especially prescient ones like this, or a pitch-perfect imitation of, say, natural disaster-related blame-and-ignorance panic here. Sure, The Onion isn't very amusing now - but it certainly had the potential to be, and that's a shame.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Four

This isn't what I'd expected, four years on. I don't really know what I did expect, for that matter, at any point since. Terrorism thoroughly suppressed by a combination of well-meaning strategic interventionism and intimidating shows of overwhelming force? Of course not. This is a long game that won't end for decades, if ever. But I expected, just maybe, a little bit more maintenance of general concern. Acknowledgment that, no matter what political games are played at home or in the capitals of Europe, or even between the two, that there's still a vitally important war going on out there. It may not seem as urgent right at the moment - but it didn't seem very urgent before, either. Lileks made a brief aside last week that I've been thinking about ever since: The cluttered office is one of those things that always plagued me in the past – the reams of clips and handouts, the kitsch atop the monitor, bales of letters and sheaves of curling faxes, the grotesque amount of stuff generated simply by sitting a cubicle in a substantial corporation. What I like and need and want to keep goes home. At work from now on it’s just Gnat picts and plastic Pixar statuary. I was putting up the WW2 propaganda posters, the stuff I put up after 9/11, but I thought better of it. That was back when I thought we were all in this together. Back before 9/11 was supplanted by 9/12. But that’s another essay. Failing that general sense of community - the idea that left or right, we're all targets for a certain kind of barbaric medieval mind - I'd settle for the admission that it would be a Good Thing not to lose, or even be seen to back down. That seems to be harder to find nowadays, and understandably so; the rapid pace of events (and the unfortunate necessity of politics throughout, having to wage a rhetorical battle royale over every little thing, just to keep from losing ground to the unknown and potentially unreliable domestic opposition) is definitely fatiguing. Something like this, for instance, fills me with dread and disgust; if intentional, the choice of imagery is despicable. If accidental - which I'd be quite willing to believe, but for unconvincing invocations of pure chance on the part of the architects - it's still inappropriate. But I don't know that I have the will to be upset about it for very long. Is it too minor? Or is ignoring symbolism, provoking domestic adversaries or foreign enemies with visible weakness, a day-by-day path of slow surrender? Normality is pervasive. It's sometimes hard to keep up the willpower to remember what's actually going on, let alone be steadfast and resolute and uncompromising, when real life continues apace. There's still bills to pay and classes to attend and a job to do, and losing the drive to keep all those plates spinning while staring into the abyss is no less concession than head-in-the-sand isolationism. But I do remember, and I do act, and my response, my contribution, remains the same: I want to be a prosecuting attorney. I remember, and I owe - as we all do - a debt to the bulwark of civilization. I want to combat even the smallest threats, because doing so is just as necessary and important in the larger sense. Never forget. Never forgive.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

If it mattered less, I'd treat them with derision

Snopes, regrettably, has had to deliver on debunking one of the sillier criticisms of the past weeks. Did I call it, or what?

The pious, hateful and devout

Well, this isn't an obnoxious harassment campaign bound to cause even more animosity over the issue, at all: BOSTON --Two gay activists are promising to post on the Internet the names and addresses of anyone who signs a petition that could lead to a statewide ban on gay marriage. The move by Thomas Lang and Alexander Westerhoff, one of the first gay couples married in the state, came after state Attorney General Thomas Reilly on Wednesday certified a ballot question that bans gay marriage and civil unions. Now, the question's supporters must collect 65,825 signatures from registered voters, and approval from 25 percent of state lawmakers to get the question on the 2008 ballot. Lang, 42, said the name, street address, hometown and ZIP code of everyone who signs the petition will be posted on the Web site KnowThyNeighbor.org. "Everyone's scrambling to know who in their town would sign this," Lang told the Boston Herald. "And this Web site will give gay people the tools to know, to defend themselves and their families, to let them go neighbor-to-neighbor and say, 'I don't appreciate your signing this.'" "I'm going to be aggressive personally," he said. "I want to know that the people I do business with are not against (gay marriage). This is going to be won by economics." Sometimes I really hate having to be on either side, viz gay marriage. Between hidebound express-a-mildly-disagreeable-opinion-and-we'll-persecute-you activists on the left, and fire-and-brimstone moralists on the right, there seems to be an appallingly absolutist jackass available to cause a degree of regret and embarrassment for anyone. Ideologically-based crusades to vilify wholesale anyone on the other side of an issue like this are no less awful coming from the self-righteous on the pro side. (Via BoingBoing.)

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Hunt me down, smear my name

On the ongoing Katrina blame game: How long, I wonder, until this oh-so-clever photoshoppery starts to circulate as a perceptually-true meme of its own accord? How long, that is, until Snopes has to go to the trouble of debunking it? It's a technically proficient piece of work, all right, and the subject matter certainly has the ring of truth for inveterate Bush-haters. "Fake but accurate," and all that...

Friday, September 02, 2005

We moved into uncharted lands

Today was probably a bit too early to broach the subject, but it's not as if Denny Hastert and others questioning the wisdom of rebuilding New Orleans exactly as before are essentially wrong: WASHINGTON - House Speaker Dennis Hastert dropped a bombshell on flood-ravaged New Orleans on Thursday by suggesting that it isn’t sensible to rebuild the city. "It doesn't make sense to me," Hastert told the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago in editions published today. "And it's a question that certainly we should ask." Hastert's comments came as Congress cut short its summer recess and raced back to Washington to take up an emergency aid package expected to be $10 billion or more. Details of the legislation are still emerging, but it is expected to target critical items such as buses to evacuate the city, reinforcing existing flood protection and providing food and shelter for a growing population of refugees. The Illinois Republican’s comments drew an immediate rebuke from Louisiana officials. “That’s like saying we should shut down Los Angeles because it’s built in an earthquake zone,” former Sen. John Breaux, D-La., said. “Or like saying that after the Great Chicago fire of 1871, the U.S. government should have just abandoned the city.” If - God Forbid - Southern California ever suffers an earthquake causing comparable devastation, and is left by changing faultlines even more prone to subsequent seismic activitiy, then yes, it might make sense to hold back on full-scale rebuilding in the most-affected areas. If Chicago was, for some reason, exceptionally and inherently flammable - say, if it was atop a large natural gas deposit or coal seam - then, yes, it might make sense not to rebuild. There's defying the vagaries of nature with the wondrous works of man, and then there's just plain tempting fate. Considering its location and geography, reports would seem to indicate New Orleans has been fairly lucky for the nearly 300 years it's existed as a city, and spectacularly fortunate for the century or so that's seen drainage-pump-facilitated expansion into lower-lying areas of town. Is it worth throwing the dice, and betting that future hurricanes won't cause as much damage? By the time the city can be fully drained, cleared, disinfected, etc., how many of the now-refugee citizens of New Orleans will have moved on, re-establishing their lives as best they can in Houston, or Baton Rouge, or Pensacola? Will residential construction to replace all homes destroyed or made unliveable by the storm even be necessary? Ten or fifteen years from now, will New Orleans' population numbers recover? It's too soon to tell right now, but might it not make more sense to rebuild the city as a theme park-cum-industrial port - a Reedy Creek Improvement District with better shipping facilities and refinery infrastructure - than to insist, for no reason better than sheer (admirable, if a bit thick) defiance, that more than a million people ought to return to living on one particularly vulnerable plot of land below sea level? (Via Drudge.)