Thursday, November 14, 2019

Superman vs. Apollo

Many years ago, Jeff and Susan and Ron and Tony came over to make some silly stop-action movies with me. Here's a screenshot from one of them, "Superman Gets Drunk:" Superman assaults an innocent Command/Service Module (CSM) from the Apollo program. I really need to digitize the video and post it on YouTube. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

A Message from Keith

Keith Gylander was one of the first, if not the very first, friends I made when we moved from Manitoba to Alberta, by virtue of living next door to us in Leduc. (The photo above captures him in Grade 9.) Today I received an unexpected email from Keith, which read, in part:

I am sorry to have just learned of your father’s passing, a year and 10 days ago today.

I remember touring Leduc and riding down 46 Ave the summer before last on my motorbike, lamenting the status of what is now left of my parents' once-proud home (gulp). Your mom and dad were out front and I pulled up to the curb, unrecognizable with my loud bike and full-face and shield-tinted helmet. Still, your father came happily walking up to me to say hello. Even after I took off my helmet I still needed to tell him who I was - ha ha.

He was the same jolly, friendly and outgoing man I knew him to be from the day I first met him 40 years ago (gulp - the sequel). As I rode away from our brief chat, it felt good to know that at least some willowy tapestries still connect us to the whimsical days of youth. He is a good man.

Keith and I exchanged some news, but this part of his message (published here with his permission) really moved me. It was nice to know that people still remember Dad fondly, and nice to hear that Keith and his family are doing well. Over the last few years many people in my life have endured struggles of all kinds, but the ties of friendship and family help us all pull through. Thanks so much for the note, Keith. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Earl's Hat

Behold baby Earl
In a hat of stylish cut
Captured as the photons whirl
Head inside a cotton hut

Baby Earl, heedless of fate
Not yet fat from dinner plate
Some 50 years will ebb and flow
Until this photo on Earl's blog goes

Monday, November 11, 2019

Ye Old EBN

Wow, it's been over 20 years since I was publishing my own little newsletter, Blazing Earl News. I sent it out to about two dozen friends. I think Andrea designed this particular logo. Or was it Sean?

Blogging made EBN redundant, though I do miss the little frills of desktop publishing - mostly the freedom of creating your own layouts.

Best of all, though, were the contributions from my friends. Now, that was fun; in a sense, I was the smallest-time editor ever. But I had a great time doing it. 

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Great Moments in Bad Photography: Talk to the Hand

This might have been a nice shot of Pete had Colin not thrust his hand into the fray. However, it the resulting photo still has some kitschy charm.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Beside the Rock

Hidden in plain sight
She stalks her prey
In the forest deep
(Pay no attention to the logging road)

Thursday, November 07, 2019

The Face of Alberta Health Services

"Sean Woods is putting my health information into my hands! Thanks, Alberta Health Services!"

Photo by Scott Friel. Modelling by Sean Woods. 

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Build Your Own Dungeon

This is pretty neat: a randomly-generated dungeon layout for your favourite medieval fantasy roleplaying games. Thanks to Pete for the link. 

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Mini Golf Monologue

Mini golf. A child's game. A sad parody of the real thing.

Putters only. Mine is clutched tightly in my fist. No silly chicanes or cartoonish windmill arms will stop me from shooting nine straight holes-in-one.

It's hot. Teeth clenched. Sun beats down, mocking me. Grip sweaty. Hole out of focus. One simple bounce off the east boundary and I'm in. Just the right angle. Just the right amount of force.

I swing. Gently. But firmly. "Clack" goes the ball as it leaps forward, off my club. "Click" goes the ball as it caroms off the wooden boundary.

It's heading right for the hole. Simple. A child's game.

The ball hops over the hole, petulantly. Comes to rest against the back wall. My face turns red. I hurl the putter, screaming. It bends in half against a tree.

I fall to my knees.

It's beaten me.


Monday, November 04, 2019

Flower Child

I haven't yet touched up this photo. The negative was in pretty rough shape. It's me in Flin Flon, presumably sometime in the early 1970s. We had that kitchen table for decades. 

Sunday, November 03, 2019

One Year Ago...

Dad left us a year ago today, and we still miss him. I'm still angry because Dad wanted to live, he fought, and he still had things he wanted to do. I'm trying not to be angry because I know Dad would want me to just enjoy life, so I'm trying. But it's hard. Miss you, Dad. Love you. Hope you're flying. 

Friday, November 01, 2019

Blade Runner 2019

November, 2019

When I watched Blade Runner 2049 in the theatre two years ago, I was profoundly moved by Denis Villeneuve's vision of Las Vegas, a sandblasted, orange-hued, radiation-scarred wasteland littered with the gigantic fallen idols of exploitative, runaway capitalist excess. Just as in Ridley Scott's original Blade Runner film, Villeneuve presents us with what some science fiction critics call a "crapsack world," one ruined by some kind of catastrophe, usually caused by humanity's shortsighted folly. In the case of the world of Blade Runner, the wildly overpopulated and perpetually rain-slicked dystopia of November 2019 (we know the date from the film's title card) is an environment so oppressive that the abused androids have more humanity than the actual humans in the film. If anything, the world of Decker and the Nexus androids has grown even more bleak by 2049, still a world divided between the rich elite and the exploited masses, human and manmade, kept in line by bread, circuses, and to perhaps a lesser extent the implied threat of quasi-fascist police violence. Both movies are gorgeous, thought-provoking, and ultimately heartbreaking. The films, together with the book, are a warning: this is the way the world is headed, if not in fine detail, then in general outcomes. 

Now our timeline has caught up with that of the first Blade Runner film. It's November 2019, and while our world can't quite yet be called a dystopian crapsack, I wonder how it will look in 2049, or 2099. If we are very fortunate, the visions of Scott and Villeneuve and, of course, the visionary Philip K. Dick, will have scared just enough of us just enough to steer the ship of history on a better course. 

Thursday, October 31, 2019

An Epitaph Written in Bones and Skin

WARNINGThe following is a gruesome Halloween story with elements that may disturb some readers. 

Stretching forward and back and up, down, and sidewise through eternity is the infinitude of final moments, each one a surprise in the terminal instant.

Ben Nguyen's final moment came while he was returning a box of Corn Flakes to the pantry. When box met shelf, Ben lost control of his hands, which came up to his face and dug into his forehead with terrible strength, ripping the skin open to reveal the white skull beneath.

Ben staggered, blood pouring down his face, into his bulging eyes. His traitor hands forced themselves into the tiny space between skull and skin, pulling, tearing. The pressure increased, and the skin of Ben's head split down the middle, until the halves were resting gruesomely on Ben's shoulders. His naked skull wailed, bloodstained eyes rolling in exposed sockets, his tongue lolling through his awful skeletal grin.

And still his hands persisted, tearing now at the skin of his chest until glistening ribs were born, kissing air for the first time, organs spilling free like garbage pouring from a torn trash bag, splattering on the linoleum floor.

Ben's skeleton pushed down the skin over his hips as though taking off a pair of trousers, stepping free of the legs, kicking the floppy remains aside. It pulled the skin of his arms and shoulders free and hung it over a kitchen chair, then walked to the sink, leaned over it, and rejected eyes, tongue, brain, expelling them into the garburator through its eye sockets.

Ben's skeleton walked to the master bedroom, trailing bloody, bony footprints. It slid into the ensuite shower and cranked the tap all the way to its hottest setting, luxuriating in the steam, blood washing away, leaving only pristine white death.

Ben's skeleton walked downstairs and out the front door. It paused on the veranda, watching a trio of trick-or-treaters stroll by through the night, plastic buckets in hand: a devil, a princess, a skeleton. Ben's skeleton clacked its teeth together once and followed, dark chaperone. It reached out a bony hand for the devil's shoulder, and then--

--Ben's skin leapt from behind, ragged blanket of ruined flesh, tangling in the spaces between the bones, insinuating itself, flexing. Ben's skeleton danced uncontrollably, teeth clacking as Ben's skin wormed its way through the gaps, bones bending and snapping, flying through the chill night air like projectiles. The children turned and wailed as one, retreating into the safety of the darkness beyond, while skin and skeleton grappled.

In the end, Ben's skeleton shattered at the same moment Ben's skin was rent to uselessness, their terminal instants arriving with elegant simultaneity. The remains sprawled across the sidewalk, the lawn, and the lane, an epitaph written in bones and skin until the street sweeper, arriving placidly with the dawn, gathered up the remains, leaving only dark dreams behind. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Great Moments in Bad Photography

Here is a  photo of Dad's lower legs, the horrible old back deck that the family ripped out and replaced a few years later, and an old spool for cable that we used as a table.

I'll never forget Dad's reaction when we ripped out that deck only to discover that there was a set of cement stairs sunken into the ground underneath. There was an almost elegant, outraged cacophony of "colourful metaphors," as Spock would call swearing. He immediately rented a jackhammer and smashed the old stairs to bits. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Val on Guitar (actually Walter)

I believe this is Val Head (or a close relative) playing guitar sometime in the 1960s, presumably somewhere in Manitoba. Quite a speaker setup he has there. Actually, I don't remember Val ever playing guitar, so perhaps this isn't him after all...

EDIT: Mom believes this is actually Walter Head, one of Val's brothers. 

Monday, October 28, 2019

Bad Admiral Woods Photoshop

A very unconvincing attempt to paste my twentysomething head on Captain Picard's body. Many years old, thankfully. 

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Twin Peaks Explained?

Can Twin Peaks be explained? Do we want it to be explained? Will having things explained destroy the charm and mystery of Twin Peaks?

Will I watch this four-and-a-half-hour video to find out?

Friday, October 25, 2019

Rescue at Stantec Tower

Just after the lunch hour today, my colleagues and I at Stantec heard some light banging from the window washer platform on the side of Stantec Tower. I told my colleagues about a video I'd seen some years ago that showed a similar platform being blown all over the sky by high winds, banging into a skyscraper repeatedly. 

Not more than mere seconds after I finished my tale, we heard a tremendous crash. We rushed to the side windows and saw, just two stories below us, the window washer platform sailing through the air, with one of the workers dangling by a rope underneath. There was a collective gasp, and for a long moment I thought for certain I was about to see someone die right in front of me. After that moment passed, I saw that the worker was restrained by his safety harness, but even that knowledge didn't slow down my racing heart. It seemed like forever before emergency services arrived, but in truth it could only have been minutes. Edmonton fire rescue retrieved both men safely. 

I haven't seen it myself, but colleagues reported that at least one window on our fifth floor was smashed through, which I imagine means some of our people had to be moved to other floors. 

Today I feel very grateful for safety equipment and training and first responders. I mean, I always do, but today...especially so. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

A New Twist on an Old Theme

While my expectations are low for the last (?) Star Wars film, I must say I really love this particular arrangement of John Williams' iconic theme. I wonder if he did this himself? It's majestic. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Not Quite the Darkest Timeline Yet

The 2019 federal election is over, after the least inspiring campaign I can remember. But the end result isn't so bad; at least there's a chance that the centrist Liberals might have to support some of the NDP's better ideas in exchange for support on the House of Commons. Perhaps more importantly, the alt-right People's Party of Canada took less than 2% of the popular vote and zero seats. Wouldn't it be nice to imagine that the populist tide washing over the world has already crested, and is now receding?

I can dream. 

Monday, October 21, 2019

We Voted

And we hope you have, too. Polling stations are still open across much of Canada; it's not too late to exercise your franchise. Never take these rights for granted, my friends, not in these troubling times.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Who's Watching Watchmen?

Well, Sylvia and I are watching Watchmen, and we both found the new HBO series suspenseful, compelling, and even, as Sylvia put it, "dangerous." Dangerous because the show, at least based on the first episode, is about a long-simmering race war that's ready to boil over. In an alternate Oklahoma where black people seem to be finally getting ahead, a white supremacist backlash looms. Masked vigilantes work alongside the police, who are majority black and also masked to protect their identities from racist retaliation. But that protection seems to be ending, as violence suddenly and brutally strikes a police force that has seen peace for several years...

If this sounds nothing like Watchmen--the comic book--it's because the show is using the Moore/Gibbons story as backdrop rather than having it drive the narrative. Watchmen (the TV show) is set in the same alternate history as the original work, but the foci--geographic, character, and thematic--are all new and different. Veidt, Rorschach, the Silk Spectre, Nite Owl, Dr. Manhattan and other characters from the comic are barely hinted at, seen in newspaper headlines or on televisions in the background. This storytelling choice delivers a fascinating look into a world that could have been, and how the people of that world are trying to come to grips with the challenges of racism, violence, and, judging by previews, human extinction--that last the plot driver of the comic. 

I was skeptical that Damon Lindelhof and his team could craft an adaptation that respects the original while seeming anything other than exploitative. So far, they've succeeded brilliantly. 

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Quick Take: Young Guns

Turns out mixing the 1880s with the 1980s is a bit like combining spaghetti and ice cream; they're great on their own, but not terribly palatable together. 

Friday, October 18, 2019

John Santos on Political Polarization

My friend and Alberta Legislature colleague John Santos had an article about political polarization published on the CBC website yesterday. John uses polling data to come to some interesting conclusions about how Canadians feel about other Canadians who support different political parties. Check it out, and don't forget to vote on Monday!

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Quick Takes: Escape from New York

As much as I love the performances, the action, the music, and the simple but perfectly effective plot, it's the worldbuilding in Escape from New York (John Carpenter, 1981) that I find most compelling. Through production design, costuming, and dialogue, Carpenter has created a compelling alternate America, a fascist police state made mean by a cold war turned hot and a never ending battle against its own citizens. Carpenter makes it so easy to imagine this plausible alternate destiny for the United States, one that could so very easily still come to be.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Spy Deterrent

Last week I had to have radioactivity injected into my veins for some medical testing. When I returned to work, I mentioned that the nurses had had to inject extra radiation, because there wasn't enough for imaging purposes the first time around. I joked that perhaps I would get super-powers, and that if I could choose, I would choose stretching abilities, since those have the most potential to annoy.

I elaborated: "For example, I could stretch my eyeballs over the barrier to Stephanie's cubicle, here, to spy on her."

"I'd spray them with Windex," she replied dryly.

A good countermeasure, I thought. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Quick Takes: Hercules in New York

Hercules in New York (Arthur Allan Seidelman, 1970) is a painfully unfunny fish-out-of-water tale, cheaply told, embarrassing in almost all respects. Even poor "Arnold Strong" (that is, Arnold Schwarzenegger) gets dubbed, robbing audiences of the pleasures of the man's outrageous accent.

This gives me an idea. I should write a film called Hercules Inn: New York. Hercules comes down from Mount Olympus to start a charming hotel in Athens. His goal is to reinvigorate the Greek economy through demigodlike hospitality, boosting tourism. The inn is a mild success, and Hercules is disappointed until an American tourist and venture capitalists suggests Hercules open a second inn in New York to promote Greek culture and serve as a "live commercial" for the authentic inn in Athens. The gods, displeased by Hercules' mercantile ways, rain down all kinds of hijinks, and to make matters worse, Hercules runs afoul of the Russian mafia. Can Hercules clean up New York, appease the gods, and save the Greek economy? Find out in Hercules Inn: New York

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Thanksgiving Gourds

What gourds are these?
That lie in wait
For this Thanksgiving dinner plate
An autumn breeze
That westward tacks
These gourds are coated in thick wax
A tough repast
For hungry souls
Feasting on fine dinner rolls

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Earl 'o the Wisps

It was raining when Sean shot this photo of me at the site of the former 8 Churchill Place, our home in Leaf Rapids in the 1970s. Several raindrops landed on the lens and marred this photo, and now I've marred it further with my attempt to turn the water spots into wills-'o-the-wisp. 

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

The Accidental Panorama

When Sean and I visited Leaf Rapids in 2009, I shot three black and white photos of the hydro station, an old CO-OP building, and the abandoned Midi Mart. I don't remember if I was consciously trying to shoot something I could later stitch into a panorama, but I just noticed the other day that the photos match up pretty well, so I gave it a quick and dirty try. It's far, far from perfect, but not bad, I think, for images shot on film without the benefit of any kind of in-camera stitching aids. All I did in Photoshop was try to equalize the light levels of each image (as you can see, I failed, but it's better than it was) and use the clone tools to try and erase the edges of the photos (again, a failure).

All told, this took me about ten minutes to pull together. I'm sure with a bit more time and practice I could create a more convincing panorama. 

Monday, October 07, 2019

A Hawaiian Shirt in Manitoba

Behold the tent that Sean put up
That Earl showcases here
A tent one size bigger than pup
2009 the year

Mere hours hence poor Sean will face
A mattress leaking out its air
Sean sinking to the hard Earth where
Stone rocks appeared in painful place

Grumbling Sean rose up 'fore dawn
And pancakes cooked upon the lawn
Earl tried to help in his own way
By snapping photos through the day

In later days stone-injured Sean
Would seize chance for revenge
Stuffing mattress in the trash
For giving him the bends

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Two Empty Lawn Chairs

There's something very relaxing about this image of the Etsell farm shot in 1973. Those lawn chairs look like they're just waiting for someone to sit with a book and a lemonade. And see how vibrant the flowerbed was...

Saturday, October 05, 2019

The Theme of Tomorrow

While I wasn't fully sold on Man of Steel (as a science fiction movie; not bad! as a Superman movie; not good!) I did really love Hans Zimmer's music. YouTuber Joseph Bennie has mashed Zimmer's Superman theme with John Williams' legendary Superman theme, and the results are pretty thrilling, at least to my untrained ear. 

Friday, October 04, 2019

Saw My Own Heart Beating Today

As part of a series of tests to see why I have a persistent cough, I went in for an electrocardiogram today. But I think they also gave me an ultrasound, because the technician put a bunch of gel on my chest and jammed a wand into my ribs. I could see my heart beating and lungs working on his screen. Trippy.

The tech gave me quite a bruising with the wand, too. Ouch. On the other hand, cost to me=zero dollars, so hooray for public health care.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Beyond Meat?

I just sampled a Beyond Meat burger from A&W. while I don't think it beats a Teen Burger, it's better than I expected. I certainly support efforts to provide meatless alternatives, especially if they can match the taste of meat and meet or improve the nutritional value.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Fall 1975

Some power lines, a muddy creek, the quiet death of trees that comes undone by spring. Autumn. Somewhere. 1975. 

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

In Memory Yet Greenwoods'

For over a decade, I made two stops every Wednesday: I went to Warp One on 81st avenue to pick up my comics, and then walked through the back alley and went through the back door of Greenwoods' to shop for books. Both stores are gone or relocated now, but the memories of browsing through those strangely dark aisles remain. 

Monday, September 30, 2019

Dick Miller Tribute

Dick Miller Monsterpalooza Highlight Reel from Elijah Drenner on Vimeo.
I've long had a special fondness for character actor Dick Miller. He had a career spanning decades, usually in small supporting parts. He also appeared in Star Trek: The Next Generation on the holodeck in "The Big Goodbye" and as a Sanctuary District guard in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's "Past Tense" two-parter. He died this year, age 90, but as you'll see in the tribute video, he has one last film coming out in 2020.

I've seen only 29 films with Miller, just a fraction of his output. I look forward to seeing many more. 

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Charge of the Mammoth

The last couple of times I went to the badlands, I don't remember seeing the life-size dinosaur (and mammoth) statues placed throughout, Dinosaur Provincial Park. At least I think that's where they were. But modern images of the region are bereft of dinosaur statues, and I can't even find any references to these statues ever existing. Were they real? The photos still exist in my album...I went there with other kids in grade happened...didn't it?
Didn't it?

Saturday, September 28, 2019


I just finished an epic game of Civilization, in which I finally accomplished a feat I'd been pursuing for decades, but never had the patience, until now, to finish: build the Cape to Cairo railroad on a huge map. I did just that a couple of turns ago, but at the same time, far away in eastern Asia, my Giant Death Robots were mauling cities. I accidentally won a domination victory, and I was so stunned I forgot to take a screenshot of my lovely railroad (which actually encircled the entire continent!) and my almost fully-coloured-in African continent.


Friday, September 27, 2019

Here She Comes

I first became aware of Bonnie Tyler's "Here She Comes" when I watched the Giorgio Moroder musical version of Fritz Lang's Metropolis on Superchannel in the Main Kelsey lounge of Lister Hall at the University of Alberta sometime in the late 1980s. At the time, the Moroder version was the best cut of the film available; since then, miraculously, virtually all of the film has been restored to something very close to its original form, and that newly restored version will probably stand as definitive for a long time to come, if not from now on. However, the Moroder version still has its charms, and "Here She Comes" is certainly one of the highlights. 

Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Parallax View Forty-some Years On

Last night I watched The Parallax View, a 1974 conspiracy thriller directed by Alan J. Pakula, probably best known for All the President's Men. In one scene, Warren Beatty's character catches a 707 by running out onto the tarmac like the plane has paused at a bus stop. Then he simply climbs the stairs and grabs a seat.

A few minutes later, a waitress with a clipboard comes by and asks him for his name. "Is Denver your last stop?" she asks. "Yes," Beatty answers. "That'll be $68.75."

Beatty's character pays, right there in the aisle(!) with cash. And he's good to go.

I knew airport security used to be far looser than today, but I find it hard to believe it was ever this easy to take a plane. If it was ever this easy, how sad that we've lost that freedom...also, pretty amazing that a domestic cross-country flight cost as little as 70 bucks.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Once in a Wonderful and Strange Lifetime

Huge kudos to YouTube creator Charterstone for editing this masterful mashup of Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime" with scenes from the masterpiece that is season three of Twin Peaks. 

Monday, September 23, 2019

The Devil in the Detail

Here is a photograph of Pete, Mike, and Jeff from my bachelor party back in 2007. Today, this photo scrolled up as one of my desktop wallpaper images, and for the first time I noticed something unusual about it. Here follows some text to create space between this mysterious image, and the strange thing I noticed about it:

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?

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?

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?

Observe Pete and the goateed, bespectacled, red-garbed race car driver on the television behind him...even their expressions are the same! 

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Eyes Pried Shut

Ah, the golden age of photography, when everyone shot on film and you wouldn't know for days or weeks if your photos turned out. Here I am at the Golden Gate Bridge in 1998, where a kind person stopped to take my picture, sensing somehow I was a tourist. Sadly, I closed my eyes and ruined what would otherwise have been a perfectly decent vacation snap.
Fortunately, the fellow had me pose for another, better image. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

X-Men Black

In the last few days, an interesting rumor has started to circulate: that Marvel Studios, in an effort to differentiate their forthcoming X-Men films from the recently ended Fox X-Men films, might recast key roles with an eye on diversity: for example, Professor X, portrayed in the comics and so far on film as a white man, might be black, or Asian, or, presumably, a woman.

This is an interesting idea on its own, but imagine if Marvel Studios went one subversive step further: imagine if there were no white mutants at all in the Marvel cinematic universe. What if, in this new iteration, the X-gene was only expressed in peoples of colour?

I think this could be a potentially fascinating exercise in subversive filmmaking if handled correctly - handled correctly both in the world of the film and in the real world of marketing and publicity.

Imagine if Marvel Studios announced the cast with their usual fanfare, but without remarking on the skin colour of any of the actors. Just a normal studio blitz where they roll out, say, Idris Elba as Professor X, Mike Colter as Colossus, Celina Jade as Storm, John Cho as Wolverine, Adam Beach as Cyclops, Aishwarya Rai as Jean Grey, Aisha Tyler as Psylocke, etc. No white actors at all, just solid men and women who happen not to be white.

Much as I hate to admit it, the first question at the press conference would probably be "Hey...I couldn't help but notice there are no white actors. What's up with that?"

If I were Marvel, I'd probably say "I knew we'd get that question, but you know what? We just picked the best fit for each role, and these are the people we came up with."

If pressed, they could explain that once upon a time in Hollywood, it was not only common, but standard practice to have films and television shows with all-white casts. We still have the occasional film that features strictly men, or maybe one or two women of significance. Statistically speaking, a major film with a cast of no white people was inevitable...right?

As for the world of the film, imagine if the first two or three or four Marvel movies with these new X-Men contained no references at all to the colour of the characters. In universe, no one would notice that there were no white mutants.

Until, let's say, the fifth or sixth Marvel X-Men film, in which it is revealed that the X-gene only ever expresses itself in people of colour. In the comics, X-Men are already vilified for being strange and different; across comics history, in fact, the X-Men have been metaphors for the black experience, the gay experience, the trans experience. What if the films made that metaphor explicit? Imagine if the white characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe hated mutants even more, out of a combination of fear and envy? What if white politicians put pressure on white superheroes like (most of) the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, etc., to enforce anti-mutant laws? How would non-mutant peoples of colour be impacted by a world where whites feared and hated non-whites even more?

On the one hand, I'm kind of horrified by my own idea, because the Marvel films are very powerful cultural touchstones, and such a storyline could deepen rifts that already exist. And the films themselves would be pretty darn serious fare, and probably quite disturbing and unpleasant. Not exactly the generally lighthearted Marvel fare audiences have become used to.

On the other hand, in the hands of a sensitive, intelligent team of writers and other creators, such a storyline could be used to show the horrible error of our ridiculous prejudices.

It's completely possible that this is the worst idea in the world. I'm a white guy, with all the blinders of privilege that entails. But the notion of seeing such a strategy play out is pretty interesting, no? "Interesting," perhaps, in the Chinese curse sense of the word...

Monday, September 16, 2019

The Looping Nightmare

I awoke at 3 am this morning with my heart pounding. I was enjoying a run-of-the-mill nightmare about fending off a horde of vampires when I realized I was re-entering a recurring death trap. 

Imagine a series of long hallways, dimly lit, each ending in a dead end that requires puzzle-solving to open a trap door to access the next hallway. In this particular iteration of the dream, Pete, Totty and I, along with Brad Pitt, my former colleague Lorinda from ATCO, and a young woman I've never met before, were gathered in hallway one. 

"Oh man, this again," I say to Pete. "Do you remember anything from last time?" 

As we speak, I realize that I, in fact, remember how to unlock the first two traps. Bond-like, I use some fishing line to release a catch on the first secret door, which slides aside to reveal a bookcase. I tug on one book on the second-highest shelf, and the bookshelf slides aside. We all cram, single file, down a narrow, pitch-black corridor, the bookshelf slamming shut behind us. I feel a metal pole jutting out of the wall, and I realize I don't remember how we bypassed this trap last time. 

"Does anyone remember how to do the pole..?" 

Mike steps up to handle it, everyone shuffling back and forth to make room, while Pete and I continue our conversation. 

"How many times have we done this?" I ask. 

"I'm not sure," Pete says. "You look around 50 now, and this all started back in university." 

"What's the farthest we've gotten?" 

"My memory isn't perfect, but I feel like Ticheler made it through nine or ten traps before he was dissolved in acid." 

I wince. "I'm sure he's looking forward to giving that one a try again." 

"Maybe we'll get that far this time," Pete shrugs. Mike has successfully managed the pole trick, and a door slides open to reveal a casual gaming lounge furnished with low couches and short tables, each with a board game on it - but no game matches any seen in the real world. 

The young woman I don't know approaches me. She's terrified. "I don't remember which games are harmless distractions and which can kill you if you make the wrong move." 

"I'm sorry...I don't remember either. At least none of these are mandatory." 

She nods, but she slides into one of the low couches anyway and starts playing a game that uses straws and coloured marbles. I suddenly remember that some of the marbles are coated in deadly contact poison, but my throat seizes up and I can't warn her. 

"This is the lowest-rated game on board game geek," Pete notes, and when I awaken I have a strong urge to look it up. 

She stays behind while Pete, Totty, and I join the large crowd gathering at the lounge's exit. As we push through the doors, we leave behind the near-blackness of the lounge and plunge into a brightly-lit series of institutional staircases. Hundreds of people are lined up, and we shuffle along. We know that once we make it down the staircases, we enter the deadliest part of the death maze. 

"Over and over again until we escape," I mutter. "It's the afterlife. Is it hell? Maybe Steve can tell us." 

"I don't think Steve's actually been through this yet," Mike says. 

"Lucky Steve." 

"Rob was compiling a video with all our clearest memories of how to get through the first few traps," Pete notes. 

"That's stuck in the real world, though," I reply. "Doesn't help us here." 

Mike takes a left turn down a staircase no one else is using, and Pete and I follow. We go down two flights, and to our surprise, we reach a large parking garage on the ground floor. The exit is open. 

"Are you fucking kidding me?" Mike says, arms outstretched. We dash into the open air. I pump my fists in delight. 

"YES! Has anything ever been this REAL?" I shout. "FUCK YOU, YOU BASTARDS!" I scream at the sky, jumping up and down. 

My joy is short-lived, though, because I wake up, and I realize the escape was not, in fact, real. It's 3 am and I wish I could just stay up. Because going back means another iteration, another opportunity to die horribly. I made it out this time, but it's the first time in hundreds of tries that doesn't end in blistering agony of one form or another. 

NOTE: I shared this dream with some friends, and Colin sent a chill down my spine by writing back: "The lowest-ranked game on board game geek is something called 'Passages and Purgatory.'" He really got me, then admitted he made it up. That prompted Mike to do the math...but that's Mike's story to tell. 

Sunday, September 15, 2019

The 3D Stooges

On Saturday night I screened The Mad Magician, a fun 1954 horror tragedy starring Vincent Price as a nice guy magician who gets wronged one too many times and, well, goes mad, turning to murder. The Blu-Ray is another fine disc with work from the 3D Archive; they do a really superb job of restoring vintage 3D films for current 3D television systems, and for my money the results on my home TV are more satisfying than the 3D theatre experience. (Sadly, though, 3D TVs aren't being manufactured anymore, or at least the number of models is disappearing fast, so I have to rush through my 3D collection before this TV goes bust.)

As a nice little bonus, the disc includes two remastered Three Stooges shorts, also in high definition 3D: "Spooks" and "Pardon My Backfire." Let me tell you, you haven't lived until you've seen Moe, Larry, and Shemp do their patented eyeball-stooging right at YOUR EYES in 3D. And of course other implements of pain (along with some pies) get thrown at the audience throughout each short. I'm not sure what possessed the disc producers to include two Stooges shorts in this package, but bless them! 

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Allan's Car

For some reason, I took this photo of Allan's car parked in front of his house on a summer day in 1999, the year before he moved to California. Maybe it was the rainbow. The car went to California with Allan. 

Friday, September 13, 2019

Friday the 13th

What a powerful, hideous Moon waxes over Edmonton tonight, its eerie glow casting malevolent shadows.

Some of my favourite horror films, in no particular order:

Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931 and 1935)
Even after nearly a century, these Gothic tragedies remain as creepy and chilling as ever:

"For the love of God, for the love of God, now I know what it is to BE God!"

"We belong dead."

Dawn of the Dead (George Romero, 1978)
Civilization dies, and its decaying corpse is a shopping mall offering false hope of luxuriant survival. If the living were more deserving, they might yet survive the dawn of the dead--but this is not that kind of world, and this is not that kind of film.

Freaks (Tod Browning, 1932)
More than any other film, Freaks forces us to confront our own deep-seated prejudices against souls who inhabit forms that repulse. The horror comes when we realize that any of us could one day become..."One of of of us..."

Prince of Darkness (John Carpenter, 1987)
What if science could prove that the devil is real? We laugh at the raw panic induced in the frantic victims battling to survive, but does that laughter carry just a touch of hysteria..?

The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard, 2011)
Brilliantly deconstructs the genre while still terrifying you, delivering some genuine laughs, and having the dramatic integrity to follow through on its premise in a way that promises nightmares for years to come.

Five Million Years to Earth (Roy Ward Baker, 1967)
AKA Quatermass and the Pit, it's horror in science fiction drag, with telekinetic Martians playing the role of our ancient devils. Skin-crawling in its deliberate, daylit horrors, insidious and cold; the film that sent me running from the theatre in Leaf Rapids, unable to bear the demonic conclusion. I didn't see the film in its entirety for another two decades.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

An Out of the Running Joke

We all know the definition of a running joke; it's a gag that becomes funnier through repetition, or at least one that people continue to enjoy over time.

But what would an "out of the running joke" be? Perhaps a joke or reference that's finally worn out its welcome, and is now despised? Or a gag that a person or persons tries to turn into a running joke, but audiences resisted, finding it forced?

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Primitive As Can Be

Last Friday, Mike, Pete, and I sat down for their first (my second) game of Robinson Crusoe, a cooperative game in which castaways struggle to survive on an island after a shipwreck. 

This game is incredibly challenging - it's a matter of choosing the right actions at the right time in the hopes of having enough food and shelter to survive - and it takes some investment of time to set up. But the theme is fantastic, and I really enjoy the dynamic gameplay. We survived eight of twelve rounds before succumbing to the weather, having focused too much on gathering wood for a woodpile and not enough time building a sturdy shelter to protect us from the weather, the main antagonist. 

Will play again. Smarter next time, I hope. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Strange Selfie

I sent this to Sylvia via text last week to show her I was working on the Stantec patio, and it turned out...weird. I wasn't playing with any of the editing functions of the phone, but maybe I hit one by accident without noticing? Or maybe the reflections just gave everything that strange sheen? 

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Mom’s Flowers

We went to see Mom today, and I was amazed that the seeds she sowed in her raised bed have blossomed into this amazingly tall and lush flower garden. It's really something. 

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Youth Juice

There are a lot of caveats in this Nature article - as there should be - but apparently a recent experiment seems to suggest some degree of de-aging the human body, or at least the human body's genomes, may--just may--be possible. I want to believe..!

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Slow Death Overtime

Sean and I had a brief text conversation today about, of all things, hockey, or more specifically, the amount of points needed for a team to make the playoffs. I wondered, idly, the minimum possible number of points a team would need to get into the playoffs, assuming that many many teams had a terrible year so the threshold would be lower. I had thought that a lot of tie games might help lower the point threshold, but Sean informed me that there are never ties in NHL games now, no matter how long they have to play.

That put an exciting notion in my head: theoretically, assuming that the goalies play exceptionally well or the...puck-shooters play exceptionally poorly, a game could go on forever. You could end up with a situations where the players, after, say, two or three days of constant playing, drop from exhaustion, one by one. Ideally, the two goalies would be the last to drop, preferably at the same time, so that no victor could be counted. Would the NHL declare a tie in that case? Would they change the rules mid-play out of mercy for the players?

According to Sean, the longest game recorded went six extra periods, back in 1933. "People likely barfed," he remarks. 

Monday, September 02, 2019

The Mad Genius of Don't Hug Me I'm Scared

This is merely the first installment of an increasingly loopy vignettes about the bizarre existential torments suffered by three puppets, or perhaps two puppets and a man in a felt costume. Each segment is only a few minutes long, and the stories eventually start to twist back on themselves in a delightfully demented fashion. 

Sunday, September 01, 2019

The Retirement Dream and the Waking Nightmare

Assuming I remain employed for the next 15 years and climate change hasn't quite destroyed civilization yet, I plan to retire at 65. Having now seen most of Canada, here's my short list of retirement possibilities:

Vancouver Island
Prince Edward Island
St. John's (or somewhere on the Avalon peninsula)
Some little hamlet in New Brunswick or Nova Scotia

All of these places offer natural beauty, lovely people, plentiful entertainment and relaxation opportunities, better weather than the Prairies, and proximity to larger cities should the desire for metropolitan experiences ever hit.

In all honesty, though, these feel like fantasies. For some time now I've felt a sense of impending economic doom on a personal level, perhaps because I feel like I've used up all the luck I have to get to where I am now. I've often told people how incredibly fortunate I feel to have enjoyed a comfortable living for the last couple of decades, but during that time I've survived several layoffs and I can't help but feel that eventually my number will come up. Sylvia and I have planned carefully enough that we should be able to avoid homelessness, but the pace of technological change, climate change impacts, and potentially catastrophic political upheaval over the next couple of decades make the future extremely uncertain.

I'm very aware that I live a life of incredible privilege compared to 95 percent of the world, and it feels incredibly selfish to worry about our personal destiny when the fate of billions is at stake.

I wish I had more of Sylvia's confidence that everything will be okay.  But I find it hard to be consistently optimistic.

On the other hand, there's always a chance that the forces of good will triumph over the sociopaths, or that the singularity will come and solve all our problems by means unimagined. Here's hoping...

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Stop Battering Fish

I know it's traditional to batter fish, especially for the fish & chips staple, but honestly, fish is so much better without the batter. Earl has spoken! 

Friday, August 30, 2019

Down with the Sickness

Jeb Bush is all up in my disease, as the slogan goes
A disease of the throat, lungs, and nose
Seven nights without repose
When will this sickness see its close?
Pretty darn soon I hope

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Zombie Panorama

Here are some zombies I painted ages ago. Unfortunately, they're useless, as I haven't finished the rest of the zombies needed for Last Night on Earth. But I'll get to it one day! 

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Unfinished Viral Poem

Virus, virus, up my nose
Perhaps transmitted through my clothes
Lungs infested with corruption
Leads to nostril yuck eruption

Virus, virus, go away
It's already been three days
And I don't have enough energy left to even finish th

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Something New Every Day

Tonight I watched Hatari!, the Howard Hawks safari comedy starring John Wayne. During the opening credits, I noted that Henry Mancini scored the film, and yet I was still surprised when his "Baby Elephant Walk" accompanied a scene of Elsa Martinelli's character walking a trio of baby elephants to a watering hole. I hadn't realized that Mancini's hit had been composed for a soundtrack, nor that the instrumental's title was so literal. As a fan of Mancini and Hawks, this was a real treat. And it even helped me feel a bit better - I've been fighting a bad head cold over the last couple of days. Thanks, Howard and Henry! 

Monday, August 26, 2019

Mom and the Wagon

Here is what I believe is quite a nice image of my mom at a relative's wedding near Devon, Alberta. I imagine my Aunt Jean shot this.