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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

How to Make Progress in the Next Decade

Jeff left a very reasonable comment about my last post, in which he asks the question "How would a progressive make any progress in the next decade?"

I hope this answer doesn't seem trite, but for what it's worth it's the best I can do: we make progress the same way we made progress at any other time. By that I mean stay informed, stay involved or get involved in grassroots decision making, treat others with dignity and respect, keep educating yourself, and provide regular feedback to your elected representatives. Create art. Support movements and charities that do good work. Consider the choices you make every day: who do they help, and who do they harm?

Unfortunately, I'm no strategist, and I feel whatever wisdom I used to have fled long ago. I know I'm in a position of great privilege, that I've never known true deprivation, and that my hand-wringing is unseemly in the face of the real suffering being borne by billions all over the world today. I'm aware of the hypocrisy of my own choices, and yet I keep making those choices because I am weak.

But I do the best I can. And the best I can do right now is to write about the things I care about, to try to share some joy via the blog, to care for my loved ones and support my friends. If I gather enough strength over the next few months, maybe I can do more.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016


Like many progressives, I've been down in the dumps for much of the year, with my gloomy funk accelerating after the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump in the USA. Given those events, the continuing catastrophic decline of journalism, rising nationalist fervor in Europe and closer to home, plus the seeming willingness of a growing segment of the population to ignore evidence based decision making, coupled with an outright rejection of science and rising acceptance of racism and xenophobia...

...well, it's made for some sleepless nights, and I mean that almost literally. I've had nightmares about the end of civilization with a frequency I haven't endured since I was a teenager during the Cold War. It's been a long time since I've been plagued by such persistent feelings of hopeless despair.

But over the last couple of days, even in the wake of a never-ending tide of bad news, I've somehow managed to find some perspective. While I don't seek to minimize the current tide of existential threats, it soothes me a little to recall that human beings have persevered and even triumphed over circumstances almost as dire. You only have to look back less than a century, to the generation that lived through the Great Depression, through the rise of fascism in Europe and totalitarian governments in Asia, ultimately climaxing in a war that killed millions upon millions of people and practically destroyed an entire continent's infrastructure.

I wish I weren't seeing so many parallels between the world situation now and that of the 1930s. It's not much solace, except in that there was a light at the end of that long, dark tunnel. The generations before us found the light because they fought for it, literally and figuratively, at staggering cost.

Those of us who believe in human rights, science, and generally working to end human misery, have some fighting ahead of us. We have to show that progressive solutions bring the greatest happiness to the largest number of people, and we have to use arguments that the disenfranchised and the fearful will understand and embrace.

We also have to recognize, much as it pains us, that there are people of ill will who fight dirty and without remorse for their own selfish interests. I don't advocate stooping to their level. But we do have to be ready to refute their lies and bad ideas with the facts and better ideas. And we have to do it with a passion that matches - exceeds - theirs.

2016 has proven that the march of progress can be halted and even reversed. It's happened before, and maybe it's happening now. Those of us who dream of a better world for everyone can't take its arrival for granted. We have to build it, even if others want to tear it all down. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Robby's Return

Robby the Robot used to get around. Since his first appearance in Forbidden Planet, still one of the best SF films ever made, he's turned up in his own starring vehicle (the flawed, weird, but somehow arresting The Invisible Boy), and he's guest-starred on Lost in Space, The Thin Man, The Addams Family and Mork and Mindy, among other television series. It's been some time since Robby was a pop culture icon, and as a fan I'd love to see him turn up again. Dr. Who seems an ideal vehicle for a return, considering the Doctor visits all of time and space; perhaps he could encounter the intrepid crew of United Planets cruiser C57-D after the destruction of Altair IV. On the other hand, the creators of the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery show will feature robots; why not Robby?

Or maybe he could show up in the background of an episode of would seem a fitting tribute.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

PhotoScan Test

Mom and Dad found some old photos at Grandma's house after she passed away, and I've been meaning to scan them for some time, but I'm missing the scanner component that allows me to scan prints. So tonight I decided to try Google's new PhotoScan app. The results aren't bad, even given my shaky hands. I don't think the scan is as sharp as it might have been had I used my Canon flatbed scanner, but it's much faster than a conventional scan, and easier to use.

I'm not sure if that's my Dad in the high chair, or if he's standing next to it. Either way, this photo would have been shot sometime during the 1940s. Note the Rice Krispies posters in the background. 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Road Sheep

Here's a photo of a road sheep of some kind that I shot while on my ill-fated trip down the Alaska Highway. While I lost a car in the Yukon, I gained quite a few half-decent photos. I encountered a lot of wildlife on that trip; the buffalo were the most imposing. I didn't really understand how large they were until a few lumbered across the road in front of my car. They probably weighed as much as my vehicle. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

Dad and the UFO

On a summer day back in 2007, Dad somehow completely missed spotting the mysterious UFO hovering in the distance. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

J'Accuse My Husband!

Here's a still from the neo-noir avant-garde faux-French film from Paranoid Productions, J'Accuse My Husband. Coming soon to Netflix! (In a parallel universe.) 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Grounded LEM

It's a bit smashed up in this photo from 2007, but this lunar lander model represents the pinnacle of my achievements in model kit assembly and painting. By carefully following the instructions and patiently applying exactly the paints dictated by the instructions, I made a passably good miniature replica of the Apollo Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) and Command/Service Module (C/SM, not pictured). I think I made the models when I was 11 or 12; they lasted many years, though each suffered some breakage - an inevitability with such fragile plastic toys.

Monday, November 21, 2016


I shot this back in 2008 near Leduc, Alberta, on Mom's birthday. The pun didn't occur to me until tonight. Some jokes have a long gestation period.

Edited to add: ...or did Sean shoot this from the car window as we were heading back to Edmonton from Leduc? If so, nice job, Sean. 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Bloody Melancholy of Death Wish 3

In Michael Winner's Death Wish 3 (1985), architect/vigilante Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) returns to New York to meet with an old friend. But from the moment Kersey steps off the bus, he's returned to the surreal, apocalyptic New York of Death Wish (1974), in which muggers, rapists, murderers or thieves - collectively referred to as "creeps" - roam the streets with inescapable inevitability. Indeed, even as Kersey steps off the bus, he witnesses crimes taking place right in the bust terminal. Meanwhile, the friend he's visiting falls victim to a home invasion; Kersey shows up just in time to be falsely busted for the murder by the police.

However, New York's police chief is sympathetic and makes a deal with Kersey: shoot all the criminals you want, but report on gang activity from time to time.

With his vigilantism endorsed by the state, Kersey wastes no time taking over his friend's apartment and installing booby traps for the neighbours. It's a community under siege, with decaying, bombed-out buildings literally surrounded by roaming gang members wielding chains, crowbars, knives and guns. The creeps routinely rob and harass people on the street in broad daylight and break into apartments to beat up tenants and steal their stuff.

Kersey orders a gigantic handgun and loads it with bullets meant for elephants. He then proceeds to blow away gang members willy nilly. In one scene, he shoots a fleeing purse snatcher in the back, and witnesses cheer him on: "Great shot!" "Yeah!" "All right!"

The violence escalates. One of Kersey's neighbours, played by a slumming Martin Balsam, happens to have a couple of surplus World War II machine guns in his closet. Kersey orders grenades and a rocket launcher through the mail, which seems ludicrous, but I wouldn't be surprised if this is perfectly normal in the United States.

Meanwhile, Kersey enjoys a budding romance with a young lawyer, who is of course murdered, just as all Kersey's loved ones are murdered in this series of movies. Oddly, her death comes at the midpoint of the film, rather than kicking off the action as in the first two films; Kersey's killing spree is well underway by this point, and when he witnesses his new girlfriend's fiery death, he merely sighs, shrugs and turns away, as if he knew it was inevitable all along.

At the film's conclusion, Kersey arms himself with all his weapons and goes on his final killing spree, gunning down dozens of gang members. Eventually the neighbours, driven into a frenzy by the violent display, join in, attacking their tormentors en masse with whatever weapons they can lay their hands on. Even the police show up at last, making no effort whatsoever to arrest anyone; they simply join Kersey in gunning down creeps. Even the police chief himself personally murders a number of thugs.

In the film's final act of violence, Kersey vaporizes the gang leader with his rocket launcher. The neighbourhood is saved...until the next sequel, presumably. Kersey himself seems to derive little satisfaction from his actions; he looks tired, even a little sad, and walks away without fanfare as police sirens wail.

The most amazing thing about these Death Wish films is the way in which they see crime: it's everywhere. In each film, Kersey doesn't have to go looking for criminals; he simply walks down any street and inevitably finds a crook, which he efficiently dispatches, often to fawning news coverage.

It's hard to say whether a fear of crime creates movies like this, or movies like this create a fear of crime. Either way, this is a film dripping in paranoiac dread, and its fascistic text (it is hardly subtext!) makes it a bit difficult to laugh at the over-the-top action (though laugh I did).

Apparently Bruce Willis is working on a Death Wish remake. How very timely. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

All There in Black and White

In 2009, I shot this photo of a bible in the Breadalbane church near Virden, Manitoba. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Pitch # 843

Deforestation, climate change, refugee movements and guerrilla warfare have thrown the Amazon basin into chaos. But profiteers sense opportunity amidst the danger, and mount an expedition down to the source of the Amazon River, where they believe undiscovered plant life could serve as the source of lucrative new pharmaceuticals. Little do they know an ancient being awaits, a monster from green he'll known only as...


In colour! With all the gory spectacle of the 21st century!

Really, I'm surprised this hasn't happened yet.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Punchline Badge

Here's something I created for a Halloween costume a couple of years ago. I wasn't sure if my costume was good enough to sell the joke, so to make it foolproof I added a badge featuring this bit of art. As we all know, a joke is funnier when you have to explain it. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Strange Days Indeed

A rich, arrogant genius with intimacy issues suffers a life-altering medical trauma and emerges as a better man by applying his innate skills to open up amazing new possibilities, step past his own selfishness and change the world for the better. Along the way he faces a forgettable villain who betrayed his own people and joins a wider community of fellow heroes. Yes, it's Iron Man all over again, except this time the hero is a doctor instead of an arms dealer and he solves problems with magic instead of technology.

There's a reason why the Marvel movies are accused of relying too heavily on formula, and Doctor Strange exemplifies the reasons why doing so can significantly hamper the meaning and impact of each successive film in the series. Yes, Doctor Strange offers amazing visuals, witty tongue-in-cheek humour and fine performances; it's a perfectly well-crafted film. But we've seen all this before. How difficult would it have been to join Strange in medias rez, facing a truly mind-bending magical problem? Why not tell the story through the eyes of Wong, presenting Strange as a truly strange and dangerous force of nature, a man ruthless enough to pursue a truly utilitarian worldview, sacrificing what he must for the greater good?

That's just one suggestion out of endless storytelling avenues. Surely with a canvas as rich as the entire Marvel universe, the various creators behind these films can do better.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Waterton Lens Flare

The green, blue and red hexagons in the trees weren't created by Photoshop; I shot this photograph on film on Mom and Dad's T70 back in 2002. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised, but I think it's neat how cleanly the light bouncing around in the lens split perfectly into red, green and blue...although now I wonder why there aren't also a yellow, indigo, violet and orange flares as well. Hmmm, well, that's the wonder of science! I'm sure someone smarter than me will explain in the comments. The Earliad depends on its readers for exactly this purpose! 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Suds from Above

One day in 2003, I hopped up on the counter to take a photo of Sylvia washing dishes at my Baywood Park apartment. She thought it was a strange thing to do, but I like the dramatic angle. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Three Views of Caged Fury

Positive scan...
...negative scan...
...alternate negative scan.

I find it interesting that the print colours are so much warmer than the negative scans. It shows how much control the lab had over the look of your photos when you took them in to be processed. With digital photography, those choices are all in our hands now, for better or for worse. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

Casualties of Perception

Many years ago, either Paul or Vern or Jeff told me I should go see Brian De Palma's Casualties of War.

"You have to see this," one of them said, "The guy Michael J. Fox plays is just like you."

Well, I finally got around to seeing the movie; just finished, in fact. And while I don't believe I could possibly display the courage Fox's character shows in the film, I'm nonetheless deeply moved by the comparison. I wish I really were that guy.

All that aside, it's a heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, but ultimately moral film. I needed it this week.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

The Second Last Coming

Burning and burning in the widening fire
The elite turn deaf ears on the proles;
Coalitions fall apart; the centre-left cannot hold
Mere xenophobia is loosed upon the world,
The froth-dimmed tide of invective is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of reconciliation is drowned;
The best have left Hope behind, while the deplorables
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Last Coming is at hand.
The Second Last Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of The Apprentice
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the static of the unreal
A shape in a business suit with the head of a toupee,
Finger extended to fire, pitiless as a persona
Is moving its slow guise, while all about it
Reel shadows of the chattering hangers-on.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That ten decades of stony sleep
Were vexed to waken by opportunities squandered,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Washington to be borne? 

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Election Fright

Too tense to blog tonight. Will a reality show star become the American President, riding a wave of uninformed rage? It sure looks that way.

Monday, November 07, 2016

The Narrative Engine

The HBO television series Westworld features a giant machine that seems to be in the process of excavating and terraforming vast swaths of the titular theme park to serve the needs of a mysterious new narrative. The machine is the centrepiece of the creepiest moment in the show to date, and I'm sure it will turn up again as this season proceeds.

Back in 1986, I shot this photo of a similar machine. It's not nearly as large as the one in the show, but it does have the same techno-horror flavour, at least in my eyes. 

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Old Worlds

Martin and Dozois are both amazing writer/editors, so I'm really looking forward to seeing how the stories in these books reinterpret the hundred year old visions that informed the early days of science fiction with regard to Earth's two closest planetary neighbours. The covers are fantastic. 

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Green Confectionery

My colleague Diane brought me a present on her return from a vacation to East Asia: this Green Tea Kit Kat bar. I brought it home to share with Sylvia, but we haven't been bold enough to try it yet. The package is certainly interesting. What script is that, I wonder? 

Friday, November 04, 2016

Never Stop Shopping

I thought Sylvia looked particularly beautiful today when I came home from work, and captured this photo over her protests. I like this costume, but she refers to it as "rags." I seem to love her best in rags...

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Dolt Man Soars

Today Sean asked me to use Microsoft Paint to draw Dolt Man (Paladin of O.R.D.E.R.) flying over some transmission lines. Here is my attempt do obey Sean's wishes. 

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Life is a Highway in Northern Manitoba

Canadian rock musician Tom Cochrane and Lynn Lake native is being honoured by the Manitoba government; Manitoba Highway 391 is being named after him.

I'm familiar with Lynn Lake, of course, having visited a few times during our family's time in Leaf Rapids, the closet community to Lynn Lake. I didn't realize that Cochrane hailed from there. As the CBC story notes, he'll actually be playing Lynn Lake next year. I'm trying to imagine what venue will be available for the show...northern Manitoba is not exactly overflowing with decent infrastructure.

Here's Highway 391:

For the record, I'm not really a fan of "Life is a Highway," but I still think the honour is pretty cool, and I do really love "Boy Inside the Man" and "Lunatic Fringe."

Here's an image of Sean and me on Highway 391. Perhaps we're dancing to "Life is a Highway."