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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Report on 1994: The Savage Report

1974...1984...and now the year 1994! Live your own future today...and discover the romance and fury of The Savage Report!

The hyperbolic tagline and arresting cover art stopped me in my tracks when I spotted 1994: The Savage Report nearly 20 years ago at a used bookstore in Calgary. Or at least I believe it was Calgary - the details are somewhat murky. I remember my friend Jeff Shyluk was there with me, and possibly his wife-to-be Susan Neumann, her brother Steven, and perhaps Tony Longworth and Ron Briscoe.

In any event, Jeff was there, and his jealousy was palpable: had I not spotted it first, he surely would have snapped up the tome, for we were both avowed lovers of bad books, and based on the cover copy this novel promised to be very bad indeed, perhaps even as bad as Michael Butterworth's Space:1999 tie-in book Space Brain. ("It hurt - it hurt like nothing had ever hurt her before!")

Jeff Shyluk and Earl J. Woods do some reading in the University of Alberta Star Trek Club office at 620 SUB.

As it turned out, Jeff and I shared custody of 1994 over time, perhaps in unspoken agreement that a novel of this diabolical nature should not fester on one shelf for long. This August, Jeff returned the book to my possession when Sylvia and I visited the Shyluks in Port Coquitlam, at last giving me the opportunity to re-experience a one-of-a-kind book.

The covers themselves are enticing enough to satisfy any lover of kitsch. 1974...1984...and now the year 1994! Ah yes, that far-future year of 1994. (I shouldn't laugh; if my memory serves, 1994 was still one or two years in the future when we found the book.) 1994, the title lovingly rendered in that oh-so-futuristic Checkbook font so popular at the time. 1994, ten years after 1984, a (much better) book the publishers obviously hoped people had heard of, and twenty years after 1974, the date of publication. 74, 84, 94 - that's one way to settle on a title.

Respected cover artist Kelly Freas doesn't seem to know how to depict "the crackling epicenter of the mile-a-second world that is the planet Earth, 1994," so he settles for a collage of violence, cheesecake and confused retro-futurism. My favourite is the man in sunglasses who seems about to punch an explosion.

Speaking of explosions, you get one on the very first page. Rheingold kicks off the action with sabotage at the Los Angeles Shuttleport:

Behind the bar, the blonde lesbian bartender let out a guttural shout of horror and dropped a shaker. It took hardly more than three seconds to react - two more than usual - and when he did, it was to leap across the room, dash through the door, and sprint across the concrete toward the explosion with maniacal vigor, chewing the bitter emergency capsule of neurostimulants which was stored in the third molar on the right side of his lower jaw.

In such emergencies, Jack became a well-oiled reaction mechanism, programmed into motion by his own instinctive computer system. He did not have to think in order to react correctly; his first movement always happened to be the right one, a talent that had saved his life more times than he liked to remember.

As promised, the book delivers fury in the opening pages, though so far its idea of romance is to describe one character as a "blonde lesbian," certainly a valid enough description, but rather clumsy. How do we know the character is a lesbian? The author simply states it as fact, before the reader needs to know or should even care.

As for Jack Anderson, our hero, he's already too smug to like even as the victim of cloying third-person narration. His first movement always happened to be the right one, eh? So much for any sense of suspense with regard to this character's fate.

Jack grabs a MacGuffin from the wreckage and returns to the bar to ruminate on what he's just seen:

"Its (sic) not energy I need now...its (sic) an angle. Have to grasp what's happening, and fast," flashed through his mind. Rafe Bartlett and his anonymous female companion...her wet-look bag...and the destruction of several hundred people. The elements of disaster were adding up.

He then pauses for a flashback, and several paragraphs of prose that I find difficult to categorize. I can't decide if this passage is progressive or reactionary:

Although it seemed like a long time ago it was less than a half hour since Jack first sat down on that same barstool and ordered a drink from the sultry viking goodess (sic) who was glaring at him across the slab of polished mahogony (sic). She was quite a specimen: well over six feet tall, long butter-yellow braids falling to either side of her breasts, gold slave bracelets encircling her bronzed biceps. A tapestry of mirrors and bottles formed a motley backdrop for her beauty, and Jack had duly registered her look of well as the erotic potential of that incredible body. There was a time, he mused, when bartenders were nice cynical fellows with paunches and racing tips...what was the world coming to?

Jonathan Emeric Anderson had a well-controlled and selective obsession for women, and in that sense he considered himself to be old-fashioned and un-liberated. He cultivated his heterosexual decadence with patrician detachment, but he loved his state of dependence and treasured his archaic emotions. In a world that had long since travelled beyond bisexuality, he was proud to be old-fashioned, sexy, open to any and all feminine seductions: a happy dinosaur, a man who rerely (sic) slept with more than two women at the same time and never ever felt the need for a boy.
Women in the nineties were quite different from what they were in his college days. Super-smart, ultra-educated, ruthlessly competitive in and out of the sack...modern women were taking a royal revenge against the male race for centuries of what they called oppression. Terrific teasers, with a hangman's instincts; modern woman had largely succeeded in reducing the male population to virtual eunuchdom. There were still quite a few women one would be able to talk with, and do other things with too, thank God. But it took the training of a super-voyeur to avoid ugly surprises. Fortunately, Jack was confident that he had it under control. He knew that even that butch barkeep in front of him could still be turned him. And she knew it, that's why she was sending him those furious vibes! He looked up and their eyes met; she winced visibly as he flashed his most insulting macho grin at her.

Okay, definitely reactionary. Super-voyeur? That would make quite a comic book character...

Throughout the course of the novel, Jack fills the hero's role in pedestrian fashion: he's fast, tough, smart and sexy in the manner of Bond, Buck Rogers, and Batman before him.

Jack had several extra molars in his of the hazards of the profession. He could get himself into a lot of trouble if he panicked and bit the wrong tooth...

...It just turned out mighty convenient that Jack, as a reporter, knew a dozen ways to kill and could pick locks with his fingernails.

And yet there is another dimension to the character, or at least to the world he inhabits: Rheingold clearly wants to portray a global society on the verge of change for the better. So while some passages might seem reactionary, the setting shows hints of progressivism, with titular heroine Eve Savage, Jack's boss, at the forefront of the movement for a better tomorrow:

"Good morning, world. Today is the 17th of January, 1994. This is the Savage Report." That sentence, and the way she said it, was Eve's trademark in the eyes of nearly 4 billion people. Eve's weekly news report had been the first globally syndicated holo program when the medium of three-dimensional transmission was perfected in the early eighties....

...Eve managed to inject her own rare brand of humor into the grim business of the news...not an easy job to do in 1994! Ecological catastrophe was the catch-phrase of the day. Political conflict had palled (sic) in comparison to the planetary disasters which were piling up at an alarming rate. Multinational corporations and ideological cults maneuvered (sic) for battle stations in an approaching Armageddon that the old prophets would have never imagined. Astounding breakthroughs in the uses of technology for the survival and expansion of humanity were occurring as rapidly as breakthroughs in the continuing science of mass destruction. Hundreds of millions had banded together to form co-ops, attempting to replace the old pirate economy with a new ethic to spread the planet's wealth fairly. The excitement, the hope, the vitality that Eve gave to the events of the day were a reflection of her conviction that she...and every one of the 7 billion inhabitants of Earth...were engaged in determining the ultimate future of our planet.

With its endorsement of collective action and vision of common humanity, this passage seems remarkably jarring when contrasted with Jack's thoughts on women just a few pages earlier. But then, who among us does not contain multitudes?

Smoky Kennedy, Jack's assistant, is the book's chief femme fatale, beautiful and deadly:

Smoky weighed a feather over a hundred pounds...but she was an expert in the "white crane" school of kung-fu. The "burning hand" was her favorite technique. Outwardly, it resembles a light slap. According to the amount of chi applied to the blow, it could inflict momentary unconsciousness, third-degree burns, or instant death...

When it's dark, and you don't know how many there are, you can't afford the luxury of disabling blows. Within a matter of seconds, Smoky and Jack found themselves surrounded physically by the inert body of five husky assassins, and mentally by a pall of suppressed and meditative sadness.

Despite the sadness, Smoky and Jack pick up their fevered lovemaking where they left off, "with five bodies growing cold around their bed."

That's a form of compassion for your fallen foes, I guess. And how hard would you have to slap someone to give them a third-degree burn? Could you deliver a blow of such force without also killing the victim? It's all in the chi, I guess. Remo Williams has nothing on Smoky Kennedy; later on, she even performs brain surgery on
Jack and hacks into the Pentagon database:

"I didn't even move from my lab bench," she said with professional pride and a touch of womanly drama. "I used a little device of my own design to sneak through the public televid lines into the Pentagon intracomputer communications trunk."

This just after Jack and his mouthful of molars take down another half-dozen armed men and shoot down a helicopter with a pistol. Rheingold actually alliterates "abashed assassin," and, ack, additional a-words abound anon.

Sorry, when reading Rheingold, you start to think like him, too, a disturbing, heady feeling. Suffice it to say that by the time a man shows up at Eve's office only to say a few cryptic words before his head implodes, most readers will feel the same sense of dislocation.

There's plenty of erotic horseplay, too; Jack alludes to past sexual liaisons with Eve, there's inappropriate employer/employee fondling, Smoky has casual sex with a Mexican - "Mad" Marcus Murillo - and a mysterious redhead is introduced thusly:

She threw back her head when she laughed, actually threw her mane of copper hair over her shoulders...exposing a fine sinuous neck with a throbbing carotid. Jack had the urge to take her between his teeth.

Hot, throbbing carotid action! There's more:

There no doubt existed computer dossiers in half a dozen capitals on the sexual tastes and proclivities of Jonathan Emeric Anderson. Whoever had selected Charla Boyd knew exactly what they were doing; she looked as if she had been literally materialized out of Jack's own sexual fantasies. The best strategy (he realized with a familiar warmth below his belt), was to let nature take her course. If this one was out to kill him or 'plant' him or interrogate him...she'd better plan to love him first.

Anais Nin really has nothing on Rheingold. Eventually this femme fatale "enclose[s] him anemone-style," on the beach, and Jack muses silently to himself as to whether or not he's going to have to "snap her beautiful neck" before the night is through.
And then there's this sentence:

A piercing poised ocular interlock occurred.

Wha-huh? I know what the individual words mean, but I still don't understand what Rheingold is trying to say. "Jack was stunned," I suppose, but yeesh.

More great lines:

"Oh shit," said Jack, as was his wont in situations like this.

"This fellow doesn't like me," thought Jack at some level of consciousness when Black suddenly slapped him in the face with the back of his hand.

The mixture of mysticism, megalomania, military might, and cybernetic fascism taxed the processing capacity of Jack's cranial computer.

"How charmingly stated," replied Eve dryly. Smoky had her by the balls...a discomfiting position to be put in by another woman.

"WOW!" exclaimed Smoky, "That flash sequence nearly tunnelled my skull! My nerve tracts are still ringing."

Oscillating wavemess of nauseating voltage combined with the foul-tasting asphyxiation of polymerized air: they awoke vomiting plastic on the floors of separate cells.

The book climaxes with an on-air debate between Eve Savage and the renegade General Burns, who is engineering a rise to the American Presidency. Eve represents the forces of progress; Burns is the reactionary, lamenting the co-ops and rising social consciousness Eve champions. Unfortunately, he's also a straw man, a simple right-wing caricature, and while I find myself sympathizing with Rheingold's none-too-subtle point of view, it's not exactly satisfying to have the villain reduced to incoherent babbling with hardly any provocation from heroine Eve, destroying himself on air. Meanwhile, Smoky and Jack battle the bad guys in an honest-to-goodness underground lair, complete with henchmen, torture chambers and a cyborg mad scientist named Dr. Tek, the man pulling the strings on this whole affair. Picture a cross between post-accident Captain Pike, a Conehead and Dracula; that's Dr. Tek, complete with maniacal laughter. Smoky and Jack manage to transmit video (or "holo," I suppose) of the cabal's meeting to Savage during the debate, and the conspiracy is exposed that totally unprecedented manner in the history of human communications, every man and woman in the entire world will be able to see, understand and judge the high drama which is being brought to a conclusion during the course of this present declaration, and during the course of the Burns-Savage debate which is to terminate in a few minutes - and although we have not seen the last segment of that debate, we are confident that it can only have served to consolidate General Burns' image in the eye of the American public.

Shortly thereafter, Dr. Tek causes the heads of all his co-conspirators to implode on live TV - sorry, live holovision - and escapes to menace the world once more. The epilogue features a chilling final message from the antagonist:


Rheingold's 1994 is far more technologically advanced than our own, with roboservants, working holography, a form of antigravity (there's a "heliflivver" made of "hydrovinyl" for crying out loud), commonplace laser weapons, exotic textiles and a universal credit cube of some kind that seems to give the bearer unlimited wealth. (Eve gives one to Jack, but he never uses it; the plot point just disappears.) The Savage Squad (actually referred to that way in the book) relies on high-tech weapons and heavy doses of "neurostimulants," chemicals that accelerate reflexes, speed and agility for brief periods. In other words, Rheingold's world doesn't bear much resemblance to our own world in 1994, or 2009, for that matter. This isn't unusual for science fiction, and I certainly don't blame Rheingold for his overly optimistic predictions of technological advancement. It's just another artifact of a time when anything was possible; after Apollo, science was ascendant, and seemed capable of radically transforming life and politics on every level. Instead of holovision, we have the Internet; instead of heliflivvers, we have hybrid cars and Segways. On the other hand, we're not menaced by insane cyborgs, at least so far as we know...

1994: The Savage Report is replete with purple prose, a disjointed plot, very bad copyediting, macho clich├ęs, cartoonish characters, abusive alliteration, and a too-obvious narrative bias. That being said, I can't help but smile while reading this crazy book. Rheingold's heart seems to be in the right place, and he's clearly attempting to explore a pretty big idea: that of a world undergoing a revolution in consciousness, with the free press as defender of a more equitable new society. Unfortunately, the cardboard heroes and heroines defending this brave new world don't do his argument any favours.

Nonetheless, I don't intend to mock Rheingold or the novel. I have enormous respect for anyone who actually finishes a novel and gets someone to publish it, a task requiring phenomenal perseverance and at least a modicum of talent. I wish I had Rheingold's discipline. And speaking of the author...

When I searched the Internet for information on 1994 and its writer, I was surprised to find only a few meagre links, all of them connecting to online bookstores offering old copies. No one, it seems, has written anything about the book. Wikipedia includes an article on Howard Rheingold, a writer born in 1947 with an interest in virtual reality and, ahem, teledildonics. The science-fictional subject matter of the work and its preoccupation with human sexuality could indicate that Wiki-Rheingold did indeed write 1994. If so, he would have been in his mid-twenties when the book was published in 1974. But his webpage makes no mention of the novels, listing only his non-fiction works.

A cursory search reveals only one connection between Wiki-Rheingold and the one credited as the author of 1994: a listing of books by Howard Rheingold on LibraryThing includes 1994, its sequel War of the Gurus, and several of Wiki-Rheingold's more famous works.

(Yes...there is a sequel. When I discovered the existence of War of the Gurus, I immediately ordered a copy. The book arrived in my mailbox yesterday, in excellent condition - far better shape than my tattered, coffee-stained, dog-eared copy of 1994.)

As far as I can surmise, if Rheingold did indeed write the two Savage Report novels, he soon turned away from science-fiction to focus on essays and non-fiction works. The titles certainly sound interesting, and any mind that can produce a wacky, dizzying, over-the-top novel like 1994 deserves further exploration.

If any readers have read 1994, its sequel War of the Gurus, or any of Rheingold's non-fiction, I welcome your thoughts in the comments section. I'd love to learn more about these crazy books, and to figure out once and for all if the famous Howard Rheingold did indeed write the Savage Report series.

And now, if I may close in the manner of Eve Savage...

My Name is Earl (J. Woods) is now over for today, but we of My Name is Earl (J. Woods) are with you, we are your eyes and your ears, we are your security, your protection against the unknown.
Good night, world.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Up the Long Memory Ladder

Click to embiggen!

I've long been preoccupied with the problem of memory as it relates to identity. In this photo, I can be seen perched on a ladder, helping raise a painted backdrop for the Leduc Junior High Grade 9 Farewell ceremony of 1984.

I remember the backdrop; I remember the ceremony. (As Student Council President and MC, I delivered a pretty good speech - or at least, a speech that was well-received - I'm a little afraid to read it now.) But I have no memory of climbing that ladder. It may as well have happened to someone else.

Earl's speech. Note backdrop.

I realize that this is pretty sophomoric observation, but I find it quite chilling that everyone I know would claim that I am or was the person pictured on that ladder, but if I have no recollection of the event, how can I really claim to have experienced it? Can I really lay claim to that young man's identity? Is his experience of that day equally my own?

I feel bad for that kid. Maybe that was an important day for him. Maybe he thought to himself, "I want to remember this forever." Who knows what else happened on that day?

If he wanted me - his future self - to be the guardian of some special moment, some important learning experience, then I've failed him.

On the other hand, maybe it was just another day. I was a bit of a geek during my grade school years (shocking, I know), participating in a lot of activities - scenes like this were actually pretty common. Maybe it would only have been memorable if I'd fallen off the ladder. Or maybe I did fall off, and that's why I don't remember - concussion!

"The cells I am at the moment will soon die, but I will be here...yes I'll still be here..."

Sunday, September 27, 2009

There's a New Blog in Town

Note: This image does not appear on Sean's new blog (yet).

My brother Sean has returned to blogging with The Warehouse District. Sean's a gifted writer with a unique perspective, and I encourage you to give his work a try.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Right vs. Wrong

Remember those tough teachers who only begrudgingly offered multiple choice exams and used the right minus wrong formula to discourage guessing? Every incorrect answer was subtracted from the total of correct answers, so if you weren’t sure of your response, it was better to leave the question blank than to guess. This led to some pretty agonizing moments at test time, especially when you were only 95% sure of your answer.

The best teachers were the ones who encouraged us students to work through our math and science problems step by step, showing our work as we went. When our tests came back, those good teachers would often point out where we went wrong, and lo and behold, we learned something. You could almost feel the light bulb going off in your mind. And as a bonus, you usually received some credit for your work. This sort of positive reinforcement helps students grow in both confidence and competence.

The Alberta government is taking the easy way out by moving to a multiple choice only format for diploma exams in math and science. Apparently this will save the public about $1.7 million a year in marking fees, costs of preparing the exam, extra paper and so on. But what price will be paid by young Albertans? No longer will they receive partial credit for the problems they come close to solving, a daunting reality when diploma exams count for half of the year’s grade.

How long before multiple choice only diploma exams are the standard for social studies and language arts, too?

a) When the provincial deficit hits $15 billion
b) When a flashier scandal distracts the media
c) When moderate Tories in the government caucus lose yet another battle to their right-wing colleagues
d) Any and all of the above

Multiple choice exams have their place. But when I was a student, I always felt like I was learning more when I had to show my work, whether analyzing a novel or play with an essay or solving a problem in chemistry or trigonometry step by step. Removing long-form questions from science and math diploma exams is a step backward for education in Alberta, and it’s unfair to students.

It feels like the government is taking its own multiple-choice test when it comes to solving their financial problems. But when Alberta’s social, economic and cultural progress is on the line – and it is – they need to remember that wrong guesses, like those old right minus wrong exams, have dire consequences.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Earl and Sean vs. the Flying Saucers, Part II

Click here to read part one!

As the sleek sedan containing EARL, SEAN and SYLVIA approaches the X-74 installation, smoke rises from the ruins of the ravaged base. Aliens brandishing weapons can be seen mercilessly gunning down the hapless survivors. Inside the car, our heroes debate their options:

SEAN: The butchers are ray gunning down those men!

SYLVIA guns the engine and the car lurches forward, bearing down on the alien invaders.

EARL: Are you crazy? You're heading right into their line of fire!

SYLVIA: Welcome to Earth, space bastards!

The sedan crashes into a group of surprised aliens, sending them flying like tenpins. But crafty MOONTOR, taking cover behind some rubble, blasts a ray-beam into the car's rear tire, making it spin out of control and roll onto its top!

Inside the sedan, EARL, SEAN and SYLVIA hang upside-down, stunned but alive.

EARL: That was some maneuver, lady. Now we're sitting ducks!

SEAN: Upside-down sitting ducks at that!

SYLVIA: Unfasten your seat belts, boys - it's going to be a bumpy night!

The three heroes unfasten their seat belts and tumble to the roof of the car. They scramble out just in time to stand face-to-face with MOONTOR, VOLUPTUA and the other aliens, ray pistols, ray rifles and ray bazookas steadily trained upon them.

EARL: Uh-oh.

VOLUPTUA: Uh-oh indeed, foolish Earthling! Now you'll pay the price for using your primitive Earth conveyance to kill my valiant soldiers!

MOONTOR: Blast them to atoms, my faithful Moon men!

VOLUPTUA slaps MOONTOR across the face.

VOLUPTUA: Fool! Do not presume to anticipate my orders! Take them into custody and place them in the restraining room!

MOONTOR, face burning, begins to say something, but instead nods to his men, who use glowing handcuffs to ensnare the earth people. EARL, SEAN and SYLVIA are marched up the loading ramp of the nearest flying saucer, the ruins of the base still smoking.

EARL (sotto voce): They can't have found the X-74. Otherwise, they'd just vaporize us. They must think that we can lead them to it.

SEAN (sotto voce): How? It has to be back there in that smouldering wreck somewhere. They'd be better off asking a Venusian bloodhound or whatever beast passes for a good hunting dog on their crazy world.

SYLVIA: He's right. It doesn't make sense.

A moon guard jabs SYLVIA in the back with her rifle.

MOON GUARD: Silence! No talking!

EARL (sotto voce): Shh. I have a feeling that Queen Personality back there might know who I work for. She must figure that since she can't find the X-74, it must be in a different location. Unfortunately, I'm afraid it's simply been destroyed in the wreckage - she just can't bring herself to admit failure.

The heroes are led into the depths of the ship and placed in a spartan cell - seemingly without bars. But then, one of the moon guards flips a switch on the wall and beams of light, much like prison bars, crisscross the front of the cell.

SEAN: Holy space prison!

The moon guards walk away, leaving the Earth people alone.

EARL: As I was saying, it's almost certain that the X-74 went up in smoke with that base and all the people in it.

SEAN: Looks like it's down to plain old fisticuffs and cunning. But first, we've gotta get out of this cell.

SYLVIA: I have an idea about that. Look, they didn't confiscate my purse...or my compact.

EARL: Your makeup looks fine.

SYLVIA shoots EARL a withering look.

SYLVIA: The mirror, dummy. Watch.

Carefully, Sylvia opens her compact and slides it into the path of one of the ghostly force-beams. The mirror reflects the beam and sparks erupt from the walls, the light-gate system shorting out. Our heroes cough, sputter and wave the smoke out of their faces as they leap from the cell.

SEAN: It worked! And now it's time to bust out the NAES.

SEAN puts four large, heavy rings on his left fist, each ring emblazoned with a backwards letter of his name: N-A-E-S. He holds them right up to the camera so that they fill the movie screen.

SYLVIA: What the...?

EARL: Don't ask. But he could be right - as much as I hate violence, this situation seems to call for it.

Suddenly, a gaggle of MOON GUARDS appear from around the corner of the curving corridor.

MOON GUARD: The prisoners! They've escaped! Seize them!


SEAN punches the lead guard in the forehead with his ringed fist, leaving the word "SEAN" in all caps imprinted on the moon man's bloodied forehead. The moon man collapses, eyelids fluttering closed as he loses consciousness.

SECOND MOON GUARD: He's branded Bluthwap! Use your ray beams!

SYLVIA karate-chops the ray pistol from the second moon guard, while EARL three-stooges the eyes of a third. SEAN belts the remaining guard in the mouth with his NAES fist.

SEAN: Looks like it's lunchtime for you, pal! A knuckle sandwich - with extra ketchup!

EARL points to the hatch of the flying saucer - a hatch that is quickly closing, as if the ship is preparing for liftoff.

EARL: The hatch! It's closing!

SYLVIA: We'll be in for an out-of-this world vacation if we don't get out of here!

They run for the hatch, but it closes just as they reach it, trapping them inside.

EARL: Trapped!

A low-pitched hum begins and quickly transforms into a high-pitched whine as the deck starts to vibrate.

SEAN: We're lifting off!

An exterior special effects shot shows the flying saucer rapidly lifting away from the demolished base. Several alien foot soldiers wave goodbye, including VOLUPTUA and MOONTOR.

MOONTOR: Do you think they took the bait?

VOLUPTUA: Of course. By now, they'll have escaped their cell and are probably planning to take over the saucer. A couple of carefully arranged obstacles will convince them that they've seized a highly advanced space weapon for their military. But once they fly it to their capital...

MOONTOR and VOLUPTUA look at each other knowingly.


Click here to read part one!

Sunday, September 06, 2009

My Kingdom for Some Potato Skins

A couple of weeks ago, I ordered potato skins from Boston Pizza. That is, I attempted to order potato skins from Boston Pizza.

"Sorry, we only serve the Southwest Skins now," said the BP representative.

"All right," I answered reluctantly.

The Southwest Skins arrived some time later - potato skins laden not with delicious cheese, chives and bacon bits, but with BBQ sauce, chicken and some kind of white stuff. I ate them with little relish, wondering why Boston Pizza would choose to eliminate such a staple appetizer in favour of this weird-tasting mess. But I consoled myself with the thought that many restaurants carry potato skins, and I could simply order them from somewhere else.

Tonight, I felt like potato skins. I thought I'd try Tony Roma's - they have excellent skins.

Or they used to. They're no longer on the menu.

All right, maybe Red Robin...


Royal Pizza?


I was getting desperate. Denny's?


Swiss Chalet? No. Montana's? No. Outback Steakhouse? No.

What happened? Have potato skins suddenly fallen off the map as an appetizer of choice? Am I going to be forced to (choke) MAKE MY OWN POTATO SKINS????

If anyone knows where I can acquire some potato skins in Edmonton, preferably on the west end, please leave a comment below. I really need a fix.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Whopping Woods Windfall

I checked my account balances yesterday and saw something that surprised me: a credit to my Visa account for $8.66, listed as "TD - CLASS ACTION."

A little research indicated that I'm part of a class of citizens who were charged "undisclosed or unauthorized fees to its cardholders who incurred credits or debits in foreign currency transactions on their TD VISA (or Chargex) Cards." (See here.)

Before this, I've never been the beneficiary of any sort of lawsuit. $8.66 may not be much, but hey, every dollar hacked off your Visa bill is N dollars in interest that doesn't need to be paid down the line.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Poles Apart at the Polls

On Monday night, my old friend Joanne came over for a visit. It was great to reconnect with someone I haven't seen in probably fifteen years.

Joanne and I attended the University of Alberta together, and even lived on the same floor (Main Kelsey) of Lister Hall for a couple of years. And of course, we were in the U of A Star Trek club together.

Joanne had some great stories to tell about her journeys, and one of them is even available on the web. Read The Alberta-France Divide in See magazine to learn Joanne's thoughts on French democracy, and how it differs from our own democratic life here in Alberta.

Joanne didn't plan to be in France during their elections, and that reminded me of my own accidental exposure to another sort of election, years ago, in Singapore. During the Christmas/New Year season of 1996/97, I went to Singapore to visit my friend Parvesh, another Main Kelsey resident and U of A graduate. And like Joanne, I arrived while the campaign was at its height.

I was somewhat troubled by what I experienced. The governing party blatantly threatened people who were thinking of voting for the opposition; government announcements clearly stated that public housing developments and other perks would be withheld from districts that elected opposition candidates. Public figures like media representatives were quietly but strongly discouraged from being seen with opposition candidates. The opposition leader himself was frequently hounded by the police.

I watched election night with Parvesh and some of her family friends, good people who were disappointed but not surprised to see that the ruling party had captured all but two (or it may have been four) seats. (Incidentally, that night I enjoyed one of the best meals I've ever eaten.)

Comparing Joanne's experience with my own, I can't help but compare Alberta's political landscape to both. As a progressive liberal in Canada's most conservative province, you can probably guess which political climate I feel most resembles our own.

When Earl's optimism about democracy was THIS BIG!