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Friday, December 31, 2004

Goodnight, 2004

I've had a good year. I'm surrounded by incredibly generous friends and relatives who help me whenever I need it, and I have a remarkable girlfriend whose love and support have transformed the way I live. I have a rewarding career, and I can honestly say that I've had a positive, if indirect, impact on thousands of lives.

So naturally I feel guilty in the wake of this weeks horrifying news from Asia. I'll give what I can to the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders when my next cheque comes in, and I'm sure it will do some good. But it won't change the fact that billions live in poverty while a small minority gorge themselves on the world's resources. Nor will it change the fact that I treasure my lifestyle; I enjoy creature comforts too much to give them up. I try not to be wasteful, and I give to charity at regular intervals, but I won't give up my car for the sake of the environment, and I won't sell off my books or movies and donate the proceeds to worthy causes. I'm not that selfless.

On the other hand, few are. You don't have to be a saint to make a difference; just indulge yourself a little less. That's going to be my New Year's resolution for our next spin around the sun, and I'm going to do my best to stick to it, to give back to the world more than I take. As far as I can tell, creating a better society isn't accomplished by one or two or even two thousand people each doing a lot; it's accomplished by billions, each doing a little. Let's each of us be one of those billions.

Lives can be washed away as easily as grains of sand on a beach. Enjoy yours while you can, and take advantage of every day in 2005, and all the years to come.

Ah, screw it - no need to wait for my next cheque. Thanks to online donations, I can just put it on my credit card. What the hell, it's not like I was going to pay it off this month anyway.

Friday, December 24, 2004

I'm So Meshuggeneh I Could Plotz

On wednesday, I was taking a little tour of the garden centre at Hole's when Anne, one of my coworkers, asked me if I knew what a dremel was.

"Um, I know it's something Jewish," I said.

"You're thinking of a dreidel," she said, after a brief pause.

"Whoops," I said.

Maybe it's the season - dremels have something to do with carpentry, Jesus was a Jewish carpenter...

Happy KwansChrisHannuSolsticeHumanLight!

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The Drive-By Pundit

On Wednesday or Thursday afternoon, Bruce and I got talking about brand inspectors - guys who inspect cow brands, making sure they're authentic. At first I was amazed that there are actually people who do this, but Bruce explained that brands help authenticate cattle ownership, which makes cattle rustling more difficult.

"Wasn't cattle rustling just a 19th century thing?" I asked, realizing even as I said it that clearly I'd seen too many westerns. And indeed, Bruce explained that even now, stealing cattle can reap pretty impressive rewards - at five hundred bucks a head, nab a hundred cows and you've got 50 grand.

"That's a lot of MOO-la," I said.

Bruce actually cracked a bit of a smile - I think he's finally beginning to understand my comic genius. Would that the lot of YOU would do the same!!!!!!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Lines for Future Scripts

All is still dry on the creative front - I can't seem to write anything that has any meaning or sense, as shown in "The Long Shadows," below. At first I was just going to write something silly based on my photo of Evil Spock and the pop machine, but I couldn't get Hello to work, so I couldn't post said photo, which made my original idea pointless, so I rambled on for the sake of having something to post. Ah well.

Here are some lines I'm thinking of including in future stories/scripts:

"My blood is coming out!"

"Enjoy a knuckle sandwich - with extra ketchup!"

"I'll beat the stuffing out of you!" (Said during a fistfight at a Christmas dinner gone awry; I imagine the prediction comes true in the scene)

"Up your nose with a pair of toes!" (Said after barefooted karate fighter kicks someone in the face, jamming a toe up each of the hapless victim's nostrils)

Hmmm - all of these lines revolve around slapstick violence. I wonder what that says about me. Probably nothing good.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Production Dysfunction

On Friday night, I decided to watch an episode of Star Trek. (Contrary to popular belief, this is not something I do all the time – in fact, I’ve seen many episodes only once, and there are two Star Trek: Voyager episodes I have yet to view!) That simple wish resulted in a brief exchange that demonstrated yet again the gulf between geek and grrl.

I like to watch Star Trek episodes in production order; that way, I can watch the series evolve, both as a fictional universe and as a work of art; character relationships take on new nuances with each story, makeup and special effects improve, cast members come and go, costumes change, and budgets force the writers, directors and everyone else involved in the production to test the limits of their creativity.

Unfortunately, the episodes in the DVD sets are arranged by airdate order. The first episode on the set should really be episode one, the first pilot, “The Cage;” but instead, the first episode on disc one of the eight-DVD set is “The Man Trap,” the first episode aired on NBC way back in 1966.

In practical terms, this means that the first disc in the season one set features “The Man Trap” (episode six), “Charlie X” (episode eight), “Where No Man Has Gone Before (episode two), and “The Naked Time” (episode seven). Episode one, since it didn’t actually air until the late 80s, appears on the last disc of the third season’s box set, despite the fact that is was produced well in advance of even the first season. There are usually four episodes per disc, and seven or eight discs per box set. Therefore, watching the series in production order involves a lot of disc-switching.

I know what you’re thinking: surely I’m not such a geek that I have the production numbers memorized. Well, no; I know a few of them by heart, mostly the first ten or so, the last few of the first season, and the last few of the final season. (Don't ask me why; the numbers just stick, somehow, maybe because they were emblazoned on the spines of the old VHS releases.) And because I don’t have the production numbers memorized, I have to turn to my trusty Star Trek Compendium to look up the numbers before choosing a disc from the DVD set.

That particular book currently resides in Sylvia’s office, since I don’t have enough space in my room to hold all of my books. So I went into Sylvia’s office, flipped through the Compendium to find out which episode comes after the last episode I’d watched, number sixteen, “The Menagerie, Part II.” I discovered that number seventeen was “Shore Leave,” put the book away...and left Sylvia's office light on.

A few minutes later, Sylvia noticed the light and asked, “What were you doing in my room?” She’s not territorial, but she’s hidden my Christmas presents in there and wanted to make sure I wasn’t peeking.

Naturally, I started to explain. But after only a half-dozen words or so (I think it was “Star Trek Compendium” and “production order” that did it), she cut me off by raising her hands and shouting “STOP! Enough!”

If you’ve read this far, you probably know exactly how she feels.

So, “Shore Leave” – good episode!

Sylvia fell asleep.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Is This the End of Zombie Chaucer?

Last night Sylvia and I played three games of Zombies!, the game, zombies. She won two out of three, and all three games were won not via the chopper escape, but the gloomier "collect 25 zombies first" method. And one game resulted in a closed city after only nine tiles; there was just one cul-de-sac and a short dead-end street. Very claustrophobic. At first I was afraid that there weren't going to be enough zombies for either Sylvia or me to gather the requisite 25, but a couple of Zombie Master cards solved that problem.

The game has an additional erotic component when you're playing it with a girl; I imagined Sylvia's character as battling her zombies in a red leather bikini and thigh-high boots, with a dagger strapped to one thigh and a shotgun cradled in her arms, blood spattering her pale skin...

Sylvia just rolled her eyes when I told her this, though.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The Long Shadows

The Long Shadows
By Earl J. Woods

The man in the long brown trenchcoat staggered down the deserted street. There was a sudden gust of wind, and a newspaper somersaulted carelessly towards him, then veered away at the last second, dancing into a back alley, out of sight, its shadow close behind. Sheets of dust blew down the street, and the man winced as the grit abraded his eyes. He coughed and canted to the right, crashing heavily into a boarded-up storefront window.

The wind died, and the man rested. His right hand, wedged between his torso and the storefront, was buried deep in a trenchcoat pocket. His left moved halfway towards his face to shield his eyes, then fell back down as the wind’s absence sunk in.

The man breathed deep. He wasn’t quite panting; the chase had really ended long ago, and he spent most of his time jogging now, rather than running. Nonetheless, there was a painful hitch in his gait, a deep burning in his lungs. Sweat clouded his vision more often than not.

He was twenty-eight. His black goatee was already streaked with grey. His skin, once bronzed and clear, was now pale, greyish. His shoes were worn, the soles thin, ready to give way.

He rested for a moment, then moved on. The stagger was gone, but his pace was slow, measured, right hand still in his pocket, left swinging free. He wished, not for the first time, that his footfalls would echo, just a little; but the deserted city was silent as always, not even acknowledging his presence with echoes. He once spent an entire day screaming into the emptiness, demanding some kind of response: the flurry of a frightened bird’s wings, the snarl of a feral dog, or during that delirious half-hour when he dared dream of it, the answering call of another human being. Male or female, child or adult, friend or foe, he didn’t care; even a shouted curse from some anonymous, cowering soul would have been sweet.

The days were longer now; it was just after midnight, and the sun still loitered above the horizon. The detritus of the streets cast longer and longer shadows, lampposts and mailboxes (many overturned, some still standing, waiting patiently for their long-lost guardians) painting the asphalt and concrete with stark, angular sketches, art that was both ephemeral and timeless, appearing and disappearing with the rise and fall of the sun.

“Hello,” the voice said from behind him, and the man jumped, nearly screamed, his right hand very nearly coming out of his pocket. He spun around, eyes wild, but saw no one.

“Hello,” said the voice, “Quench your thirst with an ice-cold Ozone!”

The man saw the soda machine and relaxed. He nearly smiled as he approached it, the familiar green-on-black logo stirring up old memories.

“Hello,” the machine said, “Insert coins or debit stick, please.”

The man could hardly believe the machine was still running, but even now, some clung stubbornly to life, or at least to the semblance of life that most machines had. He looked through the glass door of the machine, saw a stack of clean, glistening, Ozone-filled bottles primly awaiting his selection.

“Glass bottles,” he said, “Will you look at that.”

Suddenly he wanted one very badly. He wasn’t particularly thirsty, but his left hand slid into his other pocket, searching for change; his debit stick, even if he still had it, was worse than useless now. He pulled out a quarter, a dime, a one-Euro piece, an American penny and – aha! - a single golden Loonie, shiny and smooth as the day it was minted in Winnipeg.

He looked at the coin. 2015; Loon on one side, Mad King William on the other. Two Loons for Sister Sarah, he thought.

“Please insert coins or debit stick,” the machine said, “Ozone breathes life into your personal atmosphere!”

The man stared at King Willy for a while, then jammed the coin into the slot with one quick, stabbing motion. Deep inside the machine, something clicked softly. The man pulled the dispenser door open, kept it open with his right shoulder, and used his left hand to pull the top bottle free.

“Thank you for choosing Ozone,” the machine said, “Thank you!”

The bottle was ice cold, and condensation formed on the bottle immediately. He twisted the cap, but it wouldn’t budge; then he spotted the bottle opener built into the machine. He inserted the bottle, pried off the cap, and drank deeply. The soda was as sweet and good as he remembered.

“You’re welcome!” he said to the machine, smiling for the first time in months.

“Choose Ozone for your next gathering!” the machine said.

The man laughed, turning away, resuming his journey. “That’ll be a long time coming, my friend.”

“Are you certain?” asked the machine.

The man froze. Every muscle went rigid as a shock of cold dread crept along every nerve.

“Ozone will liven up that party atmosphere!” the machine said.

The man relaxed. It was simple voice recognition, combined with rudimentary artificial intelligence, not a possessed soda machine, nor the first sign that he was losing his mind. He’d heard of such robotic hucksters before, but had never actually run into one; as far as he knew, they’d only been rolled out to the largest markets before the calamity struck.

“You almost had me there, champ,” he laughed, turning to face the machine once more.

“Have another Ozone!”

The man shook his head and downed the rest of the drink. He threw the bottle into the street, grimacing in annoyance when it refused to shatter or even provide a satisfying clunk.

“No thanks,” he said, “I think I’ve probably had my last Ozone.”

“In blind taste tests, seven out of ten people agreed that Ozone was more refreshing than the other leading carbonated beverages.”

“Oh, so I shouldn’t be so hasty, eh?”

“Indeed not.”

Smart machine. The man knew he should leave, pick up the pace, increase his lead, but it had been an age since he’d enjoyed even the simplest conversation.

“What makes Ozone so great, huh? I was always a Coke man, myself.”

“Ozone refreshes with a secret combination of flavour factors – factors that create tingling tangles of tempting, terrific taste.”

“Mmm-hmm. Can you talk about anything except Ozone?”

“I can talk about anything you want, Charlie.”

Charlie smiled thinly. So he was losing his mind after all. He clutched the object in his pocket a little more tightly.

“How’s the weather in Addis Ababa right now?”

“Currently, the temperature is minus five degrees Celsius, with light flurries.”

Charlie snorted. If he stayed any longer, he knew he’d spiral down into delirium. He started to turn away again, but the machine understood his intentions.

“You’ve already stayed too long. Your pursuer is now only six kilometres away.”

“It’s the fear manifesting itself,” Charlie said, “You’re saying something else. You’re telling me to buy another Ozone, or you’re spouting an ad line.”

“Perhaps,” the machine said, “You’re the doctor.”

“I’m not an MD.”


Charlie pulled his right hand from his pocket. His fist was wrapped around a blue-white sphere, a sphere bisected at the equator with a streaming row of shifting, luminescent cobalt-blue text.

“What does it say?” the machine asked.

Charlie didn’t look at the sphere. His gaze remained fixed on the soda machine.

“Are you afraid?” the machine asked.

“Yes,” Charlie said.

The text on the sphere ceased its trek across the equator. It went dark, then reappeared, flashing, then freezing solid. The sphere vibrated in Charlie’s hand, demanding attention.

“Your pursuer is four kilometers away and closing.”

“Can you help me?” Charlie said.

“Your imagination can help you.”

The sphere’s vibrations grew stronger. The text started to flash again, brighter, more insistent.

“I’m not responsible for surviving; I didn’t want any of this; I’m not responsible; I’m not.”

“If not you, who?” the machine asked. “Shouldn’t someone be responsible? Shouldn’t some representative answer for humanity? Defend humanity? Pass judgment on humanity? Make reparations to humanity? Make reparations on humanity’s behalf?”

“I’m not that man. I have to be who I am, no one else.”

“You have to be who you are: no one else.”

“We are all prisoners of circumstance. Choice is the great illusion.”

“The Charlottetown Address, 2009.”

“Evil is a social construct. We are only masses of disparate particles, temporarily joined by natural forces, forces that determine our every action.”

“Inaugural address, 2013. Your pursuers are two kilometers distant and closing.”

Charlie was sweating, and cold. The rim of the sun was just beginning to brush against the horizon. The shadows grew longer.

“Charlie, will you resume flight now?” the machine asked.

“Was I really so bad?”

“You are only a mass of disparate particles. Natural forces have determined your every action. You are not responsible. Your pursuers are five hundred meters distant and closing.”

He could hear them now. The sphere in his hand started to wail, a high, warbling shriek that hurt his ears. The text was spinning again, whirring around the sphere faster than anything human could read. There was a button at the sphere’s north pole; his thumb moved to hover over it, but did not descend.

“I’m sorry,” he said. One tear fell, but it was genuine.

“Natural forces have determined your level of sorrow precisely. Your pursuers - ”

“ – are here,” Charlie said. Suddenly, it was dark, except for the lights all around him, the cold, white lights. He dropped the sphere, and it rolled into the gutter, then down a storm drain. He looked up to face his accusers, and their eyes, their eyes - .

Questions for Discussion
1. Who is Charlie?
2. Was Charlie really talking to a soda machine?
3. Who or what was Charlie running from?
4. What was the device in Charlie’s pocket?
5. Why did the author use an imaginary soda?
6. A “shadow” is another name for someone who is following someone else. Does this add significance to the title?
7. Charlie thinks the race “really ended long ago,” and yet by the story’s end, his pursuers capture him. What did Charlie mean?
8. What is the significance of the newspaper?
9. What would have happened if Charlie had pressed the button on the sphere? Why didn’t he press it?
10. Do we live in a deterministic universe, or do individual human beings have the ability to choose?
11. Will you stop to enjoy a refreshing Ozone carbonated beverage?
12. Are you afraid?
13. Were you really so bad?
14. If not you, who?

Monday, December 06, 2004

How you like the mashing, puny humans?

I just can't get enough of that...

Harry's Ribs

...often leads to unfortunate circumstances.

Many years ago - I believe it was 1989 - Philip Cresswell and I returned to the lounge area of Main Kelsey, our floor at the University of Alberta's Lister Hall dormitory. We found a fellow floormate, Harry, lying facefirst on the floor, his shirt hiked up to his armpits. Harry was a small fellow, and his youthful exuberance often led to a certain overindulgence where alcohol was concerned. So Phil and I simply left him where he was, and sat down in front of the TV, flipping channels, chatting away.

But then we heard a grunt, and when we looked over at Harry, we saw his ribs start heaving up and down. We feared the worst, and soon enough, poor Harry regurgitated all over the carpet.

"Can he drown in his own vomit?" we wondered? Better safe than sorry, so we each grabbed an ankle and pulled him across the carpet, leaving a slimy trail of rancid bile. Good deed accomplished, we returned to our seats - only to hear that grunt again, and to again witness that telltale, accordion-like movement of Harry's ribs. This time, the vegetables came up - a perfect salad, it seemed to us, hardly digested at all. We were amazed at Harry's ability to so segregate his puke, and dutifully dragged him another metre or so, out of danger, his face and hair only slightly mussed.

Phil and I debated what we should do next - it seemed cruel to just leave him in the middle of the floor, especialy when drunken louts like Apollo or Darcy might stumble over him - but then Harry awoke, grumbling, and stumbled off to his room. A happy ending!

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Monster Mash

About fifteen minutes ago, I woke up and asked Sylvia what would happen if a giant threw a bunch of people into a giant mixing bowl. She only mumbled in response, so (as often happens), I had to answer my own hypothetical question:

"They wouldn't be able to climb out of the mixing bowl, because the sides would be too slippery. And then the giant would retrieve his giant potato masher, and say 'ME MASH NOW!' And then he'd start mashing the people in the mixing bowl. 'HOW YOU LIKE THE MASHING, PUNY HUMANS?' 'ME MASH YOU GOOD!'"

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Confection Currents

Thanks to reality TV, there's a lot of talk these days about the return of "bread and circuses," i.e., the tendency of the ruling class to distract the plebians with meaningless entertainments so that those plebians don't think too deeply about more important matters.

Of course, the days of bread and circuses never really left, but what today's distractions are beginning to lose is subtlety. On "Rebel Billionaire," contestants face genuinely life-threatening challenges every week, and on tonight's premiere episode of "The Real Gilligan's Island," a faux-Skipper was rushed to hospital after collapsing during the first challenge. He lived, but had to bow out of the contest early.

If this trend continues, I wouldn't be surprised if someone gets killed. If that happens during the taping of a reality show, will the producers or network choose not to air the episode? I wonder. The ratings would skyrocket. But would the reality show genre survive the backlash?

I think they would. Look at car racing - some people watch them only for the crashes, and hundreds of professional drivers have been killed in front of huge audiences. And yet the sport continues. It has become an accepted part of the culture. People are bloodthirsty, and when someone dies on television, it's exciting, it's dramatic. And if we're really wrapped up in the sport, we experience the powerful catharsis of grief. In a rational culture, sports with such high mortality rates would be banned - the loss of life would far outweigh the social and economic benefits.

But the races go on, to no purpose that I can see. And so will reality shows, even if Donald Trump fires the next apprentice from a cannon.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Roleplaying Games Without Frontiers

I finally figured out what Peter Gabriel is singing at the beginning of "Games Without Frontiers." It's "Jeux sans frontiers" - i.e., "Games without frontiers" in French. Duuuhhh. Well, it was news to me.

Every two or three weeks, I get together with friends to roleplay. Most people are at least vaguely aware of the concept, thanks to Dungeons & Dragons or drama classes. My group is playing Forbidden Kingdoms, a pulp-era roleplaying game. I play Cain Hood, a grim, bloody-minded crimefighter. Here's his character description:

Taciturn, ruthless, violent, fiercely loyal to the Commonwealth, dedicated to protecting the innocent…and perhaps just a little insane: that’s Cain Hood, born on Jarvis Island (a usually uninhabited British possession in the south Pacific) to a Welsh father and an Indian mother, both adventurers, both dead, murdered by agents of the Divine Claw (see below).

Cain is a tall man, over six feet, heavily muscled, but agile. He has a short shock of jet-black hair, dark eyes, and pale skin. He is thirty-six.

Cain is a master martial artist, expert torturer, and merciless foe. His chief weapons are his fists (often complemented by brass knuckles), his trusty Tommy gun (nicknamed, for reasons known only to Cain, “Jenny”), liberally thrown sticks of dynamite, and a sap.

Cain is, at heart, a decent man, not without a sense of humour (if a somewhat macabre one). He has a weakness for children, beautiful women, and marine life, particularly dolphins.

Lately Cain and his compatriots have been searching for a scientist, a man who went hunting for Bigfoot (such creatures actually exist in this world) and went mysteriously missing. Travelling from the UK to British Columbia to Yuma, Arizona, Cain and the band found themselves fighting sword-wielding werewolves, cyborg monkeys, suspicious townspeople, aggressive homeless persons (dispatched with a great deal of guilt with a sap to the teeth), and, of course, Nazis.

Below I attempt to dramatize a fraction of last weekend's adventures:

A night of carousing every once in a while keeps a crimefighter'sinstincts sharp. You can learn a lot about people when they drop their guard - and you can learn a lot about yourself when you let your own defences down.

But sometimes, letting those defences down has deadly consequences. One minute I was tossing back a shot glass full of Jim Beam...thenext, I was flat on my back in a six by six prison cell, head pounding. I went through my pockets. All the weapons were gone, of course, but I still had my Zippo. I tried lighting the door on fire, thinking that might draw the attention of the guards I presumed existed beyond the walls of my cell, but the wood stubbornly refused to catch. Not a surprise, really, but I had limited options.

I surveyed the room. Adobe walls, tin roof - rusted. My decidedly non-gilded cage had only a bare wooden bench and a chamberpot to adorn it.

So I did the only thing I could: I filled the pot.

With urine, ofcourse. I knew that someone would come eventually, and I needed to be ready.

So, chamberpot in hand, I waited. And after a while, my patience was rewarded.

'Stand away from the door!' someone barked - a German, from the accent. I stood my ground, and the door swung open. They were German,all right; one was bending over to place a tray on the ground, a tray laden with water and gruel. The other held a submachinegun levelled at my chest.I flung the chamberpot. The heavy tin bucket struck the standing guard in the face, spraying his eyes with urine.

'Was is dist?' he cried, 'Mein coupon!'

I immediately kicked the crouching man in the face. His teeth shattered,and his nose broke into deadly splinters, sundering his brain. He died without a sound. I pivoted forward, snapping my other boot into the first guard's groin. He grunted; I'd missed his privates by bare inches. But another kick found its mark, driving the family jewels up into his throat - I'm sure he was tasting his testicles, and I hoped they tasted bitter indeed. He fell into a foetal position, retching. I took his submachinegun and pistol, found another pistol on the man I'd killed - and a ring of keys. It was time to break my colleagues out of their cages. And then there would be hell to pay.

Gruesome and violent, I know, but the pulp era was...well...pretty pulpy. After getting my buddies out of jail, we went on to kill a few more Nazis, then battled a giant, fang-shooting spider and some zombie Nazis. There was also a film cannister filled with teeth and a purple phosphoresent skull, but those are stories for another day...

The condo is looking better and better. Sylvia had the carpet cleaned, her friend is coming over to re-do our hideous "feature wall," and I got the wireless network working. Wow, I'm a computer geek now. w00t! Fear my l33t skillz!!!!1111!!!!one!!1one!!!!111

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Earl's Bad Jokes of the Day

So Arthur the assassin goes to the grocery store and whacks a trio of targets, garroting them. His employer gives him a shiny new loonie as a reward. The grocer sees all this and asks, "Why do you work so cheap?"

The assassin points to a sign in the produce section: "Artie chokes three for a dollar."


Q: What do prostitutes use to clean their teeth?

A: Heidi Floss.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Goodnight, Superman

Q: Do you believe in the Lord?

A: Even though I don't personally believe in the Lord, I try to behave as though He was watching. -Christopher Reeve, speaking at the Courage Centre in 1996

When I was younger, I didn't understand why people could get so upset over the death of a famous person, someone they'd never met, particularly if they had an occupation that I considered frivolous: athlete, Why shed tears for someone you never met? Aren't there dozens, millions of people who had harder lives, who are more deserving of our grief?

Sometimes I still feel that way, if only to remind myself of all the dead we never hear about. But Reeve's passing is personal, because, though he never knew me, he helped shape my life. I was nine years old when my cousin Cathy took me to a Winnipeg theatre to see the premiere of Superman, and on that day in 1978 I was inspired - inspired to be a better, kinder person, to acknowledge my strengths but always temper that knowledge with fight for truth and justice. Reeve made Superman a real, admirable human being; a fictional character, yes, but also an ideal worth aspiring to.

Years later, while I was attending university, I was sitting in the dorm lounge with my new friend Stephanie Gillis. Superman III was playing on the TV; it was the Smallville scene, where Clark is reunited with his old school sweetheart, Lana Lang. (A wonderful scene in an unfairly maligned film.) We watched for a bit, and then Stephanie turned to me and said, "You know, Earl, you're just like Clark Kent." I had to turn away, because I nearly cried. It was the highest compliment I've ever been paid.

As much as my parents, my teachers, my friends and the books that informed my character, Christopher Reeve helped make me the person I am, and I am grateful to him for that. Maybe he was "just an actor," but he was also an inspiration, and, after all, one of us - a fallible human being, trying to do the right thing. That's reason enough to mourn.

Friday, September 17, 2004

New Digs

We've moved in! Well, we moved in September 4th, but we've been unpacking since then, one box at a time. It's going slooooowly...and to make matters worse, I won't have home Internet access until September 27th. So if you've emailed or ICQed me, be patient - I'll reply when I'm back on the web.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

The Bleak House of Boxes

Haven't even - sob! - started cleaning...damage deposit...imperiled...

Must...summon...determination of Captain Kirk...will of Green Lantern...strength of ne sais quois of that guy I see chewing on the mailbox every now and then...

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Boxed In

My apartment has been reduced to an empty shell filled with cardboard boxes. In three days, Sylvia and I are moving into our new condominium, so I've been packing, packing, packing, stuffing my life into little brown cubes.

I've been watching episodes of Futurama while I pack, listening to the audio commentaries. Today, I found out that one of the show's story editors, Kristin Gore, is the daughter of former Vice President Al Gore. Kristin Gore revealed that her father is a huge fan of the show, and didn't need much arm-twisting at all to make several appearances, both before and after the American election debacle of 2000.

Listening to that commentary made me very sad. I've been reading Gore's post-2000 speeches, and they're remarkable - now that he's got nothing to lose, he's saying what he really thinks, and he sounds a lot like FDR or Tommy Douglas.

And perhaps most revealingly, he enjoys and understands Futurama, a smart, hip show that's not afraid to make jokes about math, quantum mechanics, and electrical engineering. On the commentary of one of the post-election Gore episodes, Kristin notes that her dad was grateful to the producers for providing the employment opportunity.

I have this vision of George W. Bush watching an episode of Futurama. He laughs whenever there's a puke joke (the writers are not above a little toilet humour), but most of the time he scratches his head and says "I don't get it."

I know who I'd rather have in charge of the nukes.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Behold...The Barf Thing!

It was February, 1992, and fifteen members of the University of Alberta Star Trek and Scuba clubs packed into a van and drove from Edmonton to Los Angeles in seventy-two sleepless, sweaty hours. We left behind the snows of Alberta and beheld the beaches of California; Disneyland and Universal Studios beckoned! The men were eager to ogle California Girls; the women were eager to ogle California Boys.

But all that is incidental to the tale of the Barf Thing. Februrary 25, 1992, was my twenty-third birthday, and Ron Briscoe, that loveable rogue, found the Barf Thing in a souvenier shop. I was agog with delight when Ron presented me with the gift, for not only did it sport a ghastly colour scheme, with the word "BARF" emblazoned across its ichor-pink surface - in uppercase, emetic green letters, no less, complete with quotation marks - when you pushed the big button (as you must) the delightful device spoke!

Or, one should say, ejaculated: "UH-uh-HUH-ah-HOOO-AHH!" A wretched song of retching! My glee was unparalled, and I pressed the infernal button over and over, until all and sundry regretted Ron's ill-fated choice.

In an effort to appease my fellow travellers, I secured the Barf Thing in my bag for the return trip. But alas, the road was rocky, and with each and every bump, the Barf Thing would offer its sole comment on the nature of existence.

The Barf Thing is with me still, a dozen years on, and still it croaks out its unholy song (thanks to a much-appreciated repair job, about five years ago, by my friends Allan and Chris).

The Barf Thing! IT BARFS!

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Elvis Haiku and Leaping Over the Garden

My brother Sean and I were goofing around last month at my parents' place; here's my favourite action shot. (Click for a larger version!)

Elvis Haiku

I can't remember if I've posted this before, and I'm too lazy to check. So...enjoy some Earlian Elvis Haiku.

My twin brother croaked
Now we've both left the building
Thank you very much

I made one good movie
They called it King Creole
Too bad the rest sucked

Baby girl married a froot loop
Spinning in my grave
Or I would, if I were in it

Young Elvis or Fat?
That's me on the stamp
The glue's good eatin'

Monday, August 09, 2004

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

#7, No Bullet

I found out today that our latest book, Jim Hole's What Grows Here? Volume One: Locations, has just hit #7 on the Edmonton Journal's non-fiction bestseller list. Woo woo!
Jim's first solo title.

Invincible Earl Has Nothing to Fear

Invincible Earl has nothing to fear.

Superb, Man

Have you ever fantasized about having some kind of superhuman ability? I have. Usually I like to imagine having the power to fly. But sometimes, it's fun to think about what I'd do if I had Superman-level invulnerability.
If I were indestructible, I'd go up to the top of skyscrapers and jump off, leaving a huge crater in the sidewalk. WHAM! I'd have people fire cannonballs at me. I'd launch myself from a catapult and crash through the front window of a grocery store. I'd put a lit stick of dynamite in my mouth. I'd have a friend hit me in the teeth with an axe or a sledgehammer. I'd be the world's highest-paid stuntman! I'd dare the US government to drop an atom bomb on me. I'd become an astronaut and do EVAs without needing a spacesuit. I'd become a stormchaser and hope to get flung into the air by a tornado. I'd be the most extreme rollerblader ever, pulling totally wack moves that will make my skater buddies swoon with envy.

Well, not really. If I were indestructible, I'd try to find some way to use my new power for the common good; more than likely, I'd become a lab rat of some kind. It wouldn't be right for one person to have such a gift...think of what people could do if we were all indestructible and immortal.

Of course, such a world would have its own set of serious social problems...perhaps we're better off fragile, after all.

Saturday, July 17, 2004


W00T! Bought a condo! W00T!!!!11111!!!! :-O
Earl am teh roxxorzz!!!!!1111!!!!
It's in Terra Losa, a couple of blocks north of West Edmonton Mall. Two bedroom/two full baths plus den, insuite laundry, big balcony with a beautiful view of a manmade's pretty much ideal, and we got it for a great price. So come September, Sylvia and I will be moving in together.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Credit Where It's Due

WOO HOO! I paid off my line of credit today. No more debt for me! Yee hah!
Of course, I'm going to make an offer on a condo in a couple of hours...plunging me deeper into debt than I've ever been before...but at least the money is working for me now...right?

Monday, June 28, 2004

Canada Votes

Looks like we're headed for a Liberal minority government with the NDP holding the balance of power. Sweet.

My MP, Anne McLellan, is in yet another tight race - last I checked she was 34 votes ahead. Hope she makes it. Really, really hope she makes it - don't Albertans find it embarrassing to vote faux-Tory en masse? Yeesh. Come on, people.

For all the complaining about vote-splitting on the right, I note with some consternation that in the riding of Edmonton Strathcona, where Conservative Rahim Jaffer has won re-election, the combined Liberal-NDP vote was some 2,0000 votes greater than his winning total. Bah.

Forgot to link to The Earliad last time. The Earliad

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Stupid Carelessness

Sylvia is away at a wedding in Ontario, and she left her rabbit with yesterday I picked up the bunny to put her back in her cage so I could vacuum, and she struggled and I lost my grip and dropped her, right on the corner of her cage.


She started hopping around on three legs, so I rushed her to the vet emergency centre downtown, and the x-rays revealed that I'd fractured her hip. Fortunately, six to eight weeks of "cage rest" (i.e., the bunny has to stay in the cage so she doesn't hop around) and she'll be healed.

You don't really know what "low" feels like until you've broken the hip of a helpless bunny, let me tell you. I really, really feel bad.

I suck. Poor bunny.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Introducing...The Earliad: The Bleak House of Blahgs Photo Annex

Hi, everyone - I'm experimenting a little with another webpage, using the long-neglected webspace that comes with my Shaw account. If all goes according to plan, right now there should be a couple of photos of me cavorting around Commonwealth Stadium; Jim and I were down there this morning for an Epcor/Hole's Wise Watering media event. See the photos here.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Peanut Pranks

I like mischief. I can't remember when I first came up with the notion of inserting peanuts into the unsuspecting ears of my friends, but the idea soon took irresistable hold of me. I believe the first to fall victim was my brother; I snuck up behind him and with one fluid motion, stuck the unshelled peanut into his ear. His reaction was quite satisfying, and later on I tried it out on my friend Ron Briscoe. It was my first visit to California, that long road trip down to LA, fifteen members of the U of A Star Trek and Scuba clubs crammed into one van. We stayed at a hostel near the famous Korean Bell, and when Ron went to bed, I waited patienty for him to fall asleep and crept out of my bunk with a peanut in each hand. I leaned over Ron, and just as I was about to drive the peanuts home, his eyes snapped open.

"Earl," he said dangerously, "Do not...stick...those my EARS!"

Foiled, I retreated. But my greatest peanut victory was yet to come.

A couple of years later, several Star Trek Club alumni attended the Namao International Air Show. Ron was there, and so was Steven Neumann, his sister Susan, and her boyfriend Jeff Shyluk. Naturally peanuts were served, and as we reclined on picnic blankets and watched the ballet of the jets overhead, I couldn't resist casually tossing a peanut in Jeff's direction.

Much to my surprise, the peanut sailed in a graceful arc, closed the two-metre gap between Jeff and I, and landed directly in Jeff's ear. Jeff immediately clapped a hand over his ear and his eyes goggled in disbelief.

"MY EAR!" he wailed, "A PEANUT!"

It was glorious.

More recently, I managed to sneak a peanut into Sylvia's ear, catching her completely by surprise on the couch. Her reaction was almost as satisfying as Jeff's. However, the aftermath has convinced me that perhaps now would be a good time to put away childish things...i.e., silly pranks.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Viva Blahg Vegas, Part II

The next day, Tuesday, Sylvia and I left the Imperial Palace, striking out for the MGM Grand. Once again, she used the scooter and I walked alongside, snapping pictures all the way, looking exactly like the tourist I was. (But then, I have a feeling that most of Las Vegas' two million inhabitants do their best to avoid the Strip.) The heat was unbearable (for me; Sylvia thrived on it), and by the time we made it back to the hotel, I was exhausted. I didn't know it at the time, but a nice case of heat stroke was waiting in the wings.

Still, air conditioning works wonders, and soon enough we were on the move again, this time sans scooter. We headed down to Treasure Island and watched Sirens, an outdoor musical held on full-scale pirate ships in a manmade lagoon. There was singing, dancing, and scantily-clad bootiliciousness (aha, I've coined a new word). Plus cannon fire and explosions. One thing about Las Vegas entertainment: it's not subtle.

After Sirens, we considered heading back to the hotel and calling it a night. But we saw that Treasure Island played host to Cirque de Soleil, and after a bit of debate, we decided to see the show. Great tickets, too - third row centre.

Sylvia and I nestled into our seats and waited for the fun to begin - little knowing that we'd soon be a part of it. To start the act, the lead clown/ringmaster made a game of escorting latecomers to their seats. The clown made a big show of leading the patrons up and down the aisles, booting other patrons from their seats, leading them back, losing the tickets, stealing popcorn, and so on, spotlights capturing the antics all the while.

And then he stopped right in front of Sylvia and I. He looked right at me: "Ah, you're the fellow."

He reached into his bucket of popcorn and flung a kernel at me. And like a well-trained seal, I tried to catch it in my open mouth. I missed. Much laughter from the crowd. Another try; I missed again. "Come on!" I barked. "I'm doing my best!" he replied.

One more try. I missed again, and, disgusted, he threw the entire bucket at me. A huge roar from the audience; I have no idea what my expression must have been. Probably some form of shock.

Sylvia loved it, and I have to admit, it was a huge thrill. Any chance to be a ham, I'll take it - first time I've performed (in the most minor sense, of course) for an audience for a long, long while. It's fun, and I miss it. Times like that, I wonder about the road not taken. The rest of the show was utterly amazing - I could scarce believe the wonders those performers could do with their bodies. It was graceful, erotic, magnificent, and worth every penny. I'm glad we took a chance and decided to see the show. I'm not big on spontaneity, but sometimes it works.

Anyway....that was the end of the second day. Day three wouldn't be quite so much fun...

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Viva Blahg Vegas

And we're back! What a long, strange couple of weeks it's been. The last of my hacking and coughing seems to be winding down, thank goodness.

So how about that excursion to Las Vegas?

Well, let me tell you. For me, the highlight had to have been taking Sylvia through the Star Trek Experience.

We rented a scooter for Sylvia - she was afraid of slowing me down, since I'm normally a pretty fast walker.

I walked alongside her as we journeyed from the Imperial Palace, our hotel, to the Las Vegas Hilton, home of the Experience.

Once there, we went through the Klingon Encounter, which I've seen before, and the new Borg Invasion 4-D, which really was incredible. Live characters all around you, Borg popping out of the walls, people screaming, consoles was wild. Sylvia got quite a kick out of both rides.

But the best part was down at Quark's restaurant, where Sylvia got to give a Ferengi waiter some pretty intense oo-mox. The Ferengi seemed a little surprised by Sylvia's ardour, but he certainly seemed to enjoy it - and I have a picture to prove it.

 Earl versus the Gorn.

Sylvia's scooter got ticketed by the Ferengi, complete with the Ferengi Boot (a styrofoam plate with Ferengi swizzle sticks) and tickets demanding several strips of gold-pressed latinum. Fortunately, a friendly Federation officer got rid of the boot for us.

However, the trip back wasn't quite so much fun. My walking pace had rapidly slowed after about an hour's journey down the Strip - the temperature hovered around 40 degrees C, and there was little shade to be found. By the time we reached the Hilton, I was really dragging my feet, and while our stop at the Experience revived me a little, the journey back was...daunting.

Since the outbound leg of the walk had proven so lengthy (maps in Las Vegas are not to scale), we decided to take another route back to our hotel. We were trundling along pretty well for a while - Sylvia and I doubled up on the scooter to save my feet. At first things went fine - we used a very well-maintained new sidewalk next to one of Las Vegas' busiest avenues.

But then , a couple of kilometers away from the Hilton, the smooth sailing ended and the sidewalk abruptly vanished, replaced by a very narrow strip of bare earth. The cars of Las Vegas continued to rush by, their drivers no doubt amused by our plight.

Here began the real adventure. I had to abandon the scooter so that Sylvia could gingerly navigate the machine along a rubble-strewn dirt pathway, periodically blocked by supports for overpasses and the monorail. Whenever we came across one of these obstacles, Sylvia would dismount and I'd have to lift the scooter into the freeway and haul it around the post - without getting hit by the insane Las Vegas traffic. Keep in mind that I was already exhausted, the scooter was insanely heavy, I was trying not to damage it, and had to duck in and out of traffic like Frogger.

Sylvia, naturally, was getting quite a kick out of all this.

The terrain got rougher as we went along, and more desolate. I knew we were pointed in the right direction, but pedestrian traffic along our route was limited to less than a half-dozen other souls, compared to the thousands we encountered along our original course. Sylvia had to dodge rocks, open pits, broken bottles, fallen road signs, endless flyers for escort services, and some debris I was afraid to identify. This, I thought, was the real Las Vegas.

Finally I saw sidewalks in the near distance, and even more encouraging, the lights of the Strip. Sweat poured down my body in sticky rivers as I staggered alongside Sylvia's happily whirring scooter.

"Almost there," I rasped. "Just...a little...further..."

We reached one more obstacle, another open pit that I'd obviously have to lift the scooter past. Poor Sylvia had to wait while I dodged traffic with the scooter yet again, and when I lifted the mechanical monstrosity to safety once more, I looked back to see that Sylvia had fallen into the pebble-strewn orange dust. I dashed to her side, only to discover that she'd fallen simply because she'd been laughing so hard at my antics.

After dusting off her dress, we returned to the scooter and prepared to make one final break for the sidewalk, just a few lanes of traffic away. There was no designated pedestrian crossing, but we figured that the red lights would serve just as well.

The lights changed, and we made a break for it, neither of us actually using the scooter - we'd been too caught up in watching the traffic to actually hop aboard. There was just barely time to scramble across, but we made it to safety just as the traffic resumed its deadly, inexorable flow.

We returned to the hotel within another half hour or so, with no further incident.

That was the first day.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Gak! Choke

I haven't Blahged in a while, because I'm still sick. Bilateral ear infection, sinus infection, gland infection...I'm on my second set of antibiotics now. And only days remain until Sylvia and I are supposed to head to Las Vegas.

I watched Soylent Green and The Omega Man recently, back to back. Why can't SF films be more like they were in the 70s? Sure, the budgets were low, but they had something to say, unlike most current films in the genre. The Stepford Wives, Colossus: The Forbin Project, Logan's Run...they were all cheesy and clunky as hell at times, but they draw me in every time.

When I'm feeling better, I'll try to explain what I mean.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

The Theft of the Ideal

Being sick doesn't just make me cranky; it fills me with anger. I'm not proud of this anger, and I work very hard to suppress it; it's selfish in the extreme to react that way over such a trifling thing as a cold. But the emotion is there, and so I do my best to control it.

Bad weather also drives me to rage, so yesterday, with the onset of both a cold and a blizzard, I was angry indeed.

So I spent the day in bed, grinding my teeth, coughing up phlegm and going through an entire box of tissue.

Some people like snow, and most people, I think, see the common cold for what it is: a minor inconvenience. So why do I feel so aggrieved by simple whims of nature?

I thought about that question today, and I came to this conclusion: I see life as all too brief. So every moment ruined by inclement weather or illness is, if you think about it, a huge intrusion into our limited time. Not a conscious or malicious intrusion, but an intrusion nonetheless, a theft of the ideal moments that make live worth living.

I recognize that this viewpoint is selfish in the extreme, that the perfect summer days I live for during each miserable winter are not some kind of birthright. Every summer day I waste with a book or other diversion is one that could be spent helping someone less fortunate, and yet I still spend those days recklessly, indulgently, on myself.

In other words, a little sniffling and snow is a small price to pay for a first-world lifestyle.

And yet I know I'll still be gritting my teeth and feeling robbed the next time.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

The Accidental Lexicon: A Brief Response to Orwell's Politics and the English Language

I have a cold. :-( Ergo, I don't really feel like blogging. But just to keep the content flowing, here's an assignment I wrote for a U of A extension course I took a couple of years back. Without the original context, it should be just baffling enough to keep you amused.

The Accidental Lexicon
A Brief Response to George Orwell's Politics and the English Language
By Earl J. Woods

In Politics and the English Language, George Orwell bemoans "…the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes."

While Orwell states this almost offhandedly, he really assumes much. Is language, in fact, deliberately shaped by an elite cadre of academics? Or does the careless invention and creativity of the public have a larger effect upon the English lexicon?

Orwell would probably be horrified by the following modern street phrase: "The teacher was so excited, he spooged his gonch." But modern writers would struggle to find a more visceral means of expression, especially if they are writing to an audience accustomed to graphic language.

"Spooge his gonch" is a perfect phrase, given the proper context, and yet it was certainly not conceived by Oxford professors. This is a phrase that evolved in the shady back alleys of English literature. It is impossible to pin down the exact origins of this colourful metaphor, but we might guess that the combination of "gonch," the crudest term available for male undergarments, with "spooge," a still cruder term for a particularly disgusting mess, proved irresistible to authors raised on toilet humour.

Naturally, Orwell is correct when he states that language is an instrument, and it is certainly true that the opprobrium of the learned classes can prevent some authors from using all their creative muscle. But the common people, too, can shape language, if not always deliberately. Given Orwell's socialist leanings, it is interesting that he dismisses, by implication, their creative power.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

The Tale of the Penetrated Fowl/Dreams of Rustam

Sylvia has an Easter tradition: she invites her parents over to her apartment and cooks dinner for them. So on Sunday, she and I cooked a ham, a chicken, some corn, cheesy mashed potatoes, and buns for her parents, my parents, and my brother and sister-in-law. About ninety minutes after putting the chicken in the oven, Sylvia gave me a temperature guage and asked me to check if the chicken and ham were cooked. The guague (am I even spelling that correctly?) mind. I stuck the fork-shaped temperature thingy into the chicken, and when I removed it, the two rubber caps at the end of the tines were gone, nestled deep within the chicken. I immediately realized that I should have removed the caps prior to insertion.

So there I was, staring dumbfounded at the naked tongs.

"Oh no!" I screamed in dismay. Then I had to explain to Sylvia what had happened. Like a trooper, she took my latest foible in stride, and so we proceeded to rip the chicken apart, fearing that the rubber caps would melt inside the hot fowl and contaminate the meat.

Our guests arrived in pairs, first Sylvia's parents, then mine, then my brother and sister-in-law. Fortunately, Sean and Julia (said brother and sister-in-law) took pity on me and carved the chicken, finding the rubber bits in the process, not a bit melted.

On Friday, the 9th, my friend Colin Dunn held a party to celebrate the completion of his mammoth Traveller d20 game rulebook, and there was much merriment had by all. Good job, Colin - I look forward to seeing the printed book in a few months.

At the party I took the Briggs-Meier (sp again) thing once again - I'm either an INFJ or an INTJ this time around, using the questions in Please Understand Me. (I split 50/50 on the feeling/thinking scale.) Both personality summaries, as described in the book, seem fairly accurate, but I'd love to know how scientifically accurate this whole phenomenon is. Can human beings really be broken down into just sixteen personality types? The individualist in me rebels!

Well, an interesting exercise, anyway.

Had an interesting dream last night. It opened in a luxurious home, somewhere in the southern United States. I was an American-raised Middle Eastern student, a scientist with a doctorate in physics, and yet I was still me - different name, but I kept my own personality. I was being held prisoner by a man named Rustam, a very wealthy but sinister man with a beautiful wife and several beautiful daughters.

"Tell me," he said, as I admired his very flashy stereo system (it had some kind of slot that seemed to read flash memory cards of varying types), "If I wanted to put pressure on a steel surface of one meter's thickness, sufficient to crack the steel, could I use an intervening cascade system of pulleys?"

"I won't tell you anything you could use to hurt people," I said.

He leaned in close, pulled me down to sit next to him on a very soft brown couch.

"Listen to me," he said, "I'm quite willing to hurt you to get what I want. In fact, I think the time for physical persuasion has come."

I held up my hands in protest. "No, no," I said, "Listen, I'm a total physical coward. The threat alone is sufficient to force me to do whatever you ask."

"Nonetheless," he said, and made a fist. Then one of his lieutenants, a bald man with sunglasses and a cigar, walked into the room.

We were suddenly sitting around the wet bar in the rec room.

"You're very generous, Rustam," the lieutenant said. Everyone nodded.

I leapt to my feet and slammed my fists on the bar, outraged.

"He is not a generous man! He's had me kidnapped and threatened physical violence, HE IS NOT A GENEROUS MAN!"

Everyone looked at me. I looked over at one of Rustam's beautiful daughters. She liked me, and smiled, and perhaps may have carried a message to the outside world, but her father warned her off with a glance.

"Look here," Rustam said, and used a remote control to turn on a wall-mounted flatscreen television. A map of Canada appeared.

"You've given me what I needed to make a change," he said, "A change for the better."

As I watched, news reports, superimposed over the map, began to roll in. Disembodied voices told different aspects of the same story: Canada's north was warming up, the islands of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories transforming into lush jungle paradises overnight. Pollution was disappearing all over the country, fish stocks returning, the air turning sweet and clear.

"You should have trusted me," Rustam said, and I was ashamed.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Analyzing Godzilla

Well, Happy April Fool's; I just finished watching Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack. And I don't even feel like a fool for having done that.

Others have already written about what the Godzilla films mean to the Japanese; the line you hear trotted out most often is that the atomic-powered Godzilla represents the deep-seated terror of the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This observation no doubt has merit, but while watching GMKG:GMAOA (even the acronym is awkward!), I considered a new wrinkle: perhaps Godzilla represents guilt as much as fear.

Consider this: whenever Godzilla appears, he rises out of the ocean, a horror of the deeps. Slowly, inexorably, he makes his way to Tokyo, the very heart of Japan, where he destroys everything in his paths, killing scores of innocent people.

Ah...but are they indeed innocent? The first Godzilla film came out in 1954, less than a decade after the end of World War II and the atomic holocaust. Bombed into submission, the Japanese were forced to take responsibility for the war in the pacific. They were then occupied and forced to institute a democracy closely patterened after the American model. And since then, the Japanese have struggled to come to grips with the deaths caused by Imperial ambitions.

Godzilla's wrath, significantly, is atomic: his radioactive breath sears deep gashes into the Japanese cityscape, and the various films of the canon are littered with atomic imagery, specifically the white flash of immolation as victims are vaporized by Godzilla's atomic beams.

In All-Out Attack, this idea is made explicit when one of the characters reveals that "the souls of all the victims of the Pacific War" are somehow trapped within Godzilla. It's a throwaway line, and at first I thought it went nowhere.

But at the end of the film, when a heroic submarine commander puts an end to the threat and Godzilla sinks, defeated, to the bottom of the sea, we're treated to one final shot...a slow pan across the ocean floor that reveals a grotestque, pulsing, beating heart. The heart is Godzilla's, of course.

Many B-films feature one last "shock" shot, meant to show that The Menace Is Not Really Gone (TM). But in this case, whether or not the filmmakers intended it, I think this throwaway shot has a second meaning: guilt is not easily dispensed with. It can't be blown away with a rocket or a hail of bullets. Such brute force can suppress it, or drive it away, but the only way to really free yourself of guilt is to deal with what you've done and resolve to do better next time.

The question of Japanese guilt is a controversial one, with some Westerners still claiming that the Japanese have never reallly taken their full share of the responsibility for World War II atrocities. I'm not one of those Westerners, but I do find it interesting that some Japanese, if we are to take their films as evidence, do harbour some guilt to this day. Maybe one day, they'll make a Godzilla film in which the beast is accepted as an intrinsic facet of Japan, and the islanders and the monsters can coexist in some kind of harmony.

Wait, I guess they already did that with those goofy Godzilla films of the 70s, in which Godzilla is a defender instead of a destroyer.

Well, there's another brilliant theory shot to hell.

On a lighter note, I found it very amusing when a group of Japanese tourists spot Baragon, one of the giant monsters featured in the film (though not in the title), and after screaming a bit, stop to pose for photographs with the approaching horror in the background.

That is all.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Black, White, & Shades of Grey

Time for more useless superhero trivia, I think. Let's look at characters of colour - that is, comic book heroes with "Black" or "White" in their names. How many are truly black, and how many white? And what does it mean? Let's explore...

First, an experiment: think of a black superhero. First one that comes to mind. I'll wait.

...okay. Who did you think of? I'll bet the character was male, and had "Black" in his superhero name. Furthermore, I'll bet you chose the Black Panther or Black Lightning. Maybe the Black Vulcan, if you watched Saturday morning cartoons.

But how many black characters use "Black" in their sobriquet? Let's find out...

"Black" Characters

Black Canary: Heroine. Wears a black (well, maybe dark blue, depending on the colourist) costume; white as Karen Carpenter.

Black Cat: Heroine. Wears a black costume; white skin, red hair.

Black Cat (II): Another heroine. Also wears a black costume; white skin, white hair.

Blackhawk: Hero. (Collectively: Blackhawks.) A whole bunch of white guys, except for a token Asian. Wore black costumes, flew black airplanes.

Black Goliath: Hero. Grew big. An actual black guy. If he were white, would he be called "White Goliath?"

The Black Hood: Hero. White guy in...a black hood.

Black Jack: Hero. Was not black. Wore black hood.

The Black Knight: Hero. White guy in black suit of armour.

The Black Knight (II): Hero. Ditto. Descendant of the first guy; joined the Avengers.

Black Lightning: Hero. Wears a black costume, and is in fact black. Angry, dedicated schoolteacher by day, ass-busting crimefighter by night. If he were white, would he be called "White Lightning?" Hmmm...that would give a different impression.

Black Manta: Villain. Wears a black deep-sea diving suit, and is in fact black, though this wasn't revealed for many years. (I remember being surprised myself when I read the revelation in the 70s.)

The Black Musketeers: Heroes/Heroines. No, I'm not kidding. They're black, and they're musketeers. They help out the Black Panther.

The Black Panther: Hero. Wears a black costume, and is in fact black. Leader of a fierce, technologically-advanced warrior tribe in Africa.

The Black Pirate: Hero. Wears a black costume, has a black beard. (No relation to Blackbeard the pirate.) White guy.

Black Racer: Force of nature. One of the New Gods; wears a goofy skiiing outfit, acts as the angel of death for the DC universe. Has black skin.

The Black Talon: Villain. An actual black guy, formerly known as The Black Rooster. Again, I'm not kidding.

The Black Terror: Hero. Wears a black costume with a skull and bones motif. Not a pirate. White guy.

Black Vulcan: Hero. One of the Super Friends. Actually black. Cheap Black Lightning knockoff for the cartoon series; the creators didn't want to spend the money to actually purchase the rights to the Black Lightning character.

The Black Widow: Heroine. Wears a black costume. Redheaded spy; white.

Black Bolt: Hero. Black costume, white guy.

Vykin the Black: Hero. One of the New Gods. Yeah, he was black, literally. The token black.

"White" Characters

White Witch. Heroine. A white witch in a white costume. Member of the Legion of Super-Heroes.

Black Characters who don't have the word "black" in their codename:

Amazing Man (II): Hero. As far as I can remember, the only black member of the Justice Society of America. And only retroactively, at that.

Blade: Hero. Maybe you've seen the movies, where he's played by Wesley Snipes. Black guy who hunts vampires.

Brother Voodoo: Hero. May as well be called the black something-or-other, since this name doesn't afford much more dignity.

Cottonmouth: Villain. Has "bionically enhanced jaws." A black character named "Cottonmouth?" This just isn't right.

The Falcon: Hero. Sidekick to Captain America. Has a falcon.

The Human Top: Hero. Spins around. Maybe "The Black Tornado" would have been a better name, at that.

Icon: Hero. Superman analogue; a shapeshifting alien who took the form of a black man, since this was the first example of a human he'd seen.

Moses Magnum: Villain. Holy cow, what a cool name. Too bad his costume is so lame.

Power Fist: Hero. Jive-talkin' hero, in fact. Costume has a disturbing chain motif, though perhaps this is a subtle statement of taking back the chains...or something.

Rocket: Heroine. Sidekick of Icon.

Static: Hero. Has a pretty good cartoon at the moment.

Steel: Hero. Wears a suit of armour. Played by Shaq in a terrible film that really did an injustice to a great character.

The Super Harlem Globetrotters: Heroes. Remember the cartoon? The Harlem Globetrotters received super-powers and fought crime around the world, living up to their name, I guess.

Tyroc: Hero. Sonic scream powers. Wears a white costume; member of the Legion of Super-Heroes.

Whitewash: Hero. Well, more like a comic sidekick. Terribly stereotypical; thankfully hasn't been seen much since his creation in the 40s.

Green Lantern (III): Hero. John Stewart was once the "emergency backup" for Earth's Green Lantern, Hal Jordan. Later on, he became a fully-fledged, full-time Green Lantern in his own right, and in fact it is the John Stewart Green Lantern who is currently being used in the popular Justice League cartoon.

XS: Heroine. Super-speedster. Member of the Legion of Super-Heroes.


Okay, there are lots of characters who use the word "black" in their codename, most of them white. But there are very few characters who use "white" as an adjective - only one that I could even remember.

What if writers felt the need to apply the "white" descriptor to white characters? How do these names grab you?

White Superman (YEESH! Don't even go there)
White Batman (Doesn't make sense)
White Wonder Woman ( it sounds like a porn star name)
White Flash (Hmm. Sounds kind of cool, I guess...)
White Spider-Man (uh-huh)
White Canary (Might actually work, I suppose; makes as much sense as Black Canary)
White Dr. Doom ("White Doom" might be cool, not to mention politically astute)
White Shadow (Hey, wasn't that a TV series?)

Well, no surprises here: comics, at least in their early years, were clearly as racist (if mostly unconsciously) as any other medium of the day. Fortunately, there are many more black comics heroes these days - great examples like Icon and Steel, positive role models with non-stereotypical day jobs. (Publisher and architect, respectively.)

Still, as one minority gains footing, others lag behind; there are still relatively few Asian or (openly) gay superheroes, and even fewer Native Americans. But, one by one, they do appear. Whether they will take hold of the public consciousness like Superman, Batman, or Spider-Man...time will tell.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Dance of the Pants

A couple of blahgs back, I related the tale of our attempt to see Bubba Ho-Tep. My charming, beautiful and intelligent girlfriend thought that the poems were brilliant, but a little fact, from her perspective, the facts of the matter were

"I look like a shrew in those emails!" she said.

"Er..." I replied.

Okay, full disclosure time. While I genuinely wanted to see the movie, the truth is I'd had a long, stressful week, and by the time Friday rolled around, Sylvia's reluctance to go (though she would have gone had I really wanted to) presented the perfect opportunity to weasel out and just stay home, while assigning the blame to my innocent girlfriend. Mea culpa! I am shamed.

Furthermore, Sylvia wishes to make it clear that Paul's "Lose pants to make show" line clearly implies that she wears the pants in our relationship. The truth is, we both wear the pants.

Well, not the same pair of pants. Not at the same time. And she wears designer pants, while I wear sweats.

Amusingly, Sylvia rattled off a poem about the event:

Don't know what to say
Can't make a haiku
But you're totally off base
So screw you!

P.S. I am too punctual!

(And as a matter of fact, she is quite punctual.)

For the record, my Squishy McMonkey is very good about letting me do whatever I want to do, and I do feel bad that I gave anyone the impression that she wouldn't have happily indulged my geeky film fetish. For crying out loud, she watches Deep Space Nine with me now and enjoys it as much as I do! That's relationship gold, my friends.

So now you know the sordid truth, dear readers. And I know that I'm going to suffer merciless ribbing for jamming out on the movie. I'm wincing already.

Hey, I think I've posted for three or four straight days now..! That's gotta be some kind of record.

Until tomorrow...

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Space Cases

Several of my friends and colleagues - people I admire and respect - have opined that space travel is a waste of money, that the resources we devote to putting a man on the moon or space probes on Mars could be better used on Earth, presumably to shelter the homeless, feed the hungry, and so on. In other words, we should solve our problems at home before we start doing extraneous things like investigating outer space.

I've always been a space buff, so naturally I find this attitude somewhat shortsighted. But as a person who believes in social justice, I'm willing to ask myself if exploring space is worth the costs.

President Bush has asked Congress to increase NASA's budget from 15.4 to 16.2 billion dollars. That's a lot of cash, and sadly, thanks to Shrub's complete ignorance of rational space policy, much of that cash will probably be wasted on flashy projects designed not to advance science, but to score propaganda points and enrich aerospace firms (which donate millions of dollars to the Republican party).

That aside, let's pretend that 16.2 billion could be used only for experiments and programs that promise to deliver real results that will expand our knowledge of the universe. What kind of return are we getting on our investment? (And yes, even though I'm a Canadian, I do mean "we," even though my taxes aren't being touched by NASA. If we take a global perspective, we have to realize that resources diverted in one nation - and benefits accrued by that nation - affect all of us.)

Well, over the years NASA and other space agencies have given us reams of data about the composition of stars and planets, a much greater understanding of weather patterns on our own planet (including crucial environmental data), communications satellites, and various spinoff technologies that we use in everyday life. (Though some argue that such spinoffs could have been developed more efficiently with R&D programs devoted specifically to the invention of the spinoffs.) Space missions have also given us thousands of remarkable photographs, from the Earth/Moon shots of the Apollo missions to the Hubble Space Telescope's awe-inspiring vistas of deep space.

Could we make do without all this? I suppose we could. It's possible that understanding the nature of the universe is something we could learn in a thousand or ten thousand years, long after we've sorted out our problems. Perhaps it's not fair for us to delight in this new knowledge or to vicariously launch ourselves into space along with those daring astronauts - not when our neighbours are wondering where their next meal is coming from. I have to admit that I've had these doubts myself.

But let's see what else we're spending our money on.

Let's the last three months of 2001, Coca-Cola enjoyed sales of $941 million. In just three months, human beings spent nearly a billion dollars on a soft drink that isn't even good for them. In fact, we're spending $60 billion a year on soft drinks.

One useless product that we can easily do without dwarfs NASA's budget. If we must eliminate space travel so that all that money can be devoted to solving Earth's problems, so too should that $60 billion we spend on soft drinks. There's just no excuse.

We spent over a billion dollars to see one movie: Titanic. Nearly that much to see three, the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

While we're at it, we should eliminate:

video games ($9.4 billion annually - nearly the size of the NASA budget)
NHL hockey ($2 billion)
Hallmark greeting cards ($4.3 billion annually - a quarter of the NASA budget - ONE greeting card company, producing one of the most wasteful and useless products on the market! And since Hallmark claims it has 50% of the greeting card market, I assume we're actually spending $8.6 billion a year on cards.)*

...and on and on it goes, including the US military, with an annual budget of $400 billion, more than every other government on Earth combined. The sheer waste and futility boggles the mind. How much are wealthy collectors willing to pay for rare works of art? Millions? Tens of millions? Why aren't we outraged that that money isn't being funnelled to worthy causes?

I think the lesson here is this: human beings spend a disproportionate amount of their intelligence and talent, not to mention the Earth's resources, on frivolity. Just as I defend NASA spending, I'm sure others can find reasons to support professional hockey and greeting cards.

But let's not kid ourselves. Even if every government on earth suddenly decided to cancel their space programs, the money saved wouldn't be diverted to feeding the hungry, healing the sick, or housing the homeless. More than likely, we'd all demand tax cuts so that we could buy more DVDs or books or Silly Putty.

I'm not alone in that. I'm just as hypocritical as everyone else.

But please, guys. Let's not single out the space program. At least our adventures in space have given us some genuinely worthwhile scientific insight. And perhaps more importantly, they've helped raised the consciousness of thousands of people, helping us see our Earth as one world without borders, a world that needs to be protected from our own shortsightedness. And we really can't predict the other benefits that may come from our exploration. Perhaps the answers to our problems can't be found on Earth; perhaps we need to look beyond our own horizons.

*Figures compiled from the New York Times, Advertising Age, Hallmark, and my own memories of box office figures. Come on, it's a Blahg, not a scholarly journal.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

When commenting on a friend's romantic relationship, Constable Odo once said, rather cynically, "You want to attend the baseball game, she wants to listen to Klingon opera. So you compromise...and listen to Klingon opera."

Odo was right in one sense; relationships are all about compromise. But that's not always a bad thing.

I like to wear sweats. They're comfy. Sylvia hates them and threatened to burn my only pair. So I offered to compromise: I'd only wear my sweats around the house or while going out on my own, never when we're in public together. She accepted the deal, and now she's happy, I'm happy, and my sweats are happy. And, at least when I'm with her, I look like less of a slob in public, which may have unforeseen positive consequences, though I can't imagine what those may be. (I can think of one downside: it seems to be that slobs are less likely to get mugged, since the muggers figure you can't possibly own anything worth stealing.)

Sylvia always looks great when we go out, and it doesn't really cost me anything to compromise, aside from a little comfort. And Sylvia assures me that if she takes me shopping, she'll find decent slacks that provide both style and comfort. I'm sceptical, but we'll see.

I guess you could say that Sylvia wears the pants in our relationship. But that's okay - I don't sweat it.

Unless, of course, I'm in private. ;-)

Sunday, March 21, 2004

The Ballad of Bubba Ho-Tep

A bunch of the guys went out to see Bruce Campbell's latest masterpiece, Bubba Ho-Tep, on Friday night. Sylvia and I were going to go, and so were my brother and sister-in-law, but one thing led to another and, sadly, none of us made it. However, the fiasco inspired some poetry from my friends Pete, Mike, and Paul.

Mike suggested that we should all arrive at the Metro Cinema 5:30 to get our tickets. However, I knew there was no way I could get from St. Albert to Edmonton, pick up Sylvia, and then get to the theatre by that time; I suggested the earliest I could be there was 6:30.

Paul responded thus:

Earl and girl are lait,
What's milk got to do with it?
Worst haiku ever.

I then emailed this message:

Update! Sylvia's not coming. Too geeky, apparently. On the other hand, this means I don't have to pick her up, so I should be able to reach the theatre by 6.

Prompting Paul to reply:

Earl loses the girl,
This hastens his arrival --
Lose pants to make show.

And Pete added his own haiku:

Earl arrives dateless.
More speed is now possible,
Chicks can't be timely.

Along with a bawdy limmerick:

There once was a man we called Earl,
who had recently found a nice girl,
while she swallowed the geek,
thought his movies were weak:
Solo Earl gets to see Elvis hurl.

And finally, a sonnet:

Shall I compare thee to the Evil Dead?
Thou art more Kingly, man of rock and roll;
Ash never had a J.F.K. with soul,
and Bubba Ho-Tep's gore is much less red
than those who've lost their chainsaw-taken head.
This movie's sidekick passed the grassy knoll,
did Oswald's bullet make him black as coal?
Who cares? We are by Campbell's Elvis led.
The Mummy might in fact a Deadite be,
Bruce Campbell once more fights for liberty --
And so the two have more in common than
they did when this discussion first began
Yet I'll miss the shotgun tagline "Groovy!"

And then, sadly, I had to send this:

Ack! My whole house of cards has come crashing down. Sylvia's out, my brother is out, my sister-in-law is out, and I am out. :-P

Looking forward to the haiku for THAT...

To which Mike responded:

I can't remember the exact form, but here's my attempt:

EARL SUX0R5! D000000D!

And Paul wrote:

Earl causes four outs,
That's a good baseball pitcher --
But a bad army.

I'll have to ask the guys how the show was...

Thursday, March 04, 2004

The End is the Beginning

Jim Hole once asked me if I ever skipped to the last page of a book to read the ending.

"I might as well read the whole thing backwards," I said, "you'd spoil the whole book, knowing the ending right at the start."

"Maybe," he said, "But the beginning would sure be a surprise!"

I thought about that conversation tonight as I was doing laundry and watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I came to Buffylate; I started watching it in season five, kept watching through the series' end, while at the same time catching up on the old episodes by watching the earlier seasons on DVD. Tonight, having just finished the final episode of season four, I realized that I have come back to the beginning of my Buffy experience - smack dab in the middle of the series.

Watching the first four seasons while knowing the ultimate fate of the characters adds a certain resonance to the proceedings; every line, every action, every revelation is coloured by my prescient knowledge of what's to come. This is especially rewarding with a show like Buffy, where story arcs were planned so far in advance. Emotions are more poignant, and the story's texture becomes deeper, more rich.

I guess this is why I keep my books and comics; the stories are always new, even if I've read them many times before. Reading A Princess of Mars at twelve is very different than reading it at thirty; you could even argue that the book was read by two entirely different people, two individuals merely perceived as a single entity because we share a few common memories and some physical characteristics. Whether Earl at twelve and Earl at thirty were the same person or not, the experience of absorbing that book was different each time, and each experience had its own rewards. We start out younger than major characters, seeing men and women in their twenties as impossibly wise and ancient; and then we suddenly discover, years later, that we have become a year or two older than those same characters. Our heroes and villains become our contemporaries, even our peers.

Stephen Hawking once theorized that at the end of the universe, time would start running backwards, and it would seem quite normal for us to assemble from ashes, grow younger and more vital, then smaller, smaller, more and more helpless, until at last we retreat into the womb and shrink to nonexistence, finally dividing into sperm and egg. If time really does work this way, if our experience of life is an illusion forced upon us by our physical limitations, then maybe reading books or watching television shows out of sequence isn't such a crazy idea. Perhaps we'll get to see it in the "right" order, eventually...even if we have to wait a few billion years.

I guess when you read a book for the first time, the book informs your life and alters your perception of the world. But when you read it again, your experiences suddenly alter your perception of the book, and the expected suddenly defies all expectations. We see what was once invisible, and perhaps lose sight of what once was clear. The same must be true when we examine any work of art.

I have a pretty large collection of books and movies, and sometimes people ask me if I've read them all, and why I don't just sell them off after I've seen them once. I think I have my answer now. My books, my comics, my movies - they are a part of me. They've helped me grow. They connect me to my past and hint at my future, and I hope that when at last I die, I'll have just finished a wonderful story, perhaps a tale that takes me back to the very beginning of it all.

I'll read The End, and then...

The End.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Thought for the Day

As men and women are wont to do, Sylvia and I were discussing male/female stereotypes today, one of them being the supposed unwillingness of men to display their emotions. I tossed off a line I quite like:

"Just because you feel love for someone doesn't mean you have to express it!"

I got a pretty good dirty look for that one. Hee hee.

Sunday, February 29, 2004

Happy Birthday Superman!

Yes, it's February 29th, Leap Day, and according to tradition, Superman's birthday. Ever wonder why Superman still looks so young, even though he was created in 1938? Because he only ages on Leap Day.

In other birthday news, my 35th was on the 25th, and my incredibly generous girlfriend decided that my present will be a trip to Cuba...or Mexico, she hasn't decided yet.

All I can say is, Great Krypton!

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Icing the Angel Cake

Well, my favourite show, Angel, is being cancelled. But at least I can enjoy quality episodes like "Smile Time" until that bitter day in May...

"I do not have puppet cancer!"

"See, my nose comes off."

"I'm gonna send your puppet ass back to Hell!"

Hee hee hee. (giggle)

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Revising a Pseudo-Classic: The New Battlestar Galactica

The original Battlestar Galactica was a show with many faults, including uneven acting, gaping plot holes, and laughable science.

But the show had its merits, too, chiefly its premise, a science-fiction take on the old story of the Jewish Exodus, with a liberal dose of Erich Von Daniken's screwy "Ancient Astronauts" pop-mythology of the seventies. A thriving civilization is betrayed and ambushed by a terrifying enemy, and the devastated survivors are left with no choice but to flee, led by a visionary prophet (Adama) to some far-off promised land (Earth).

Having just re-watched the entire original series on DVD, I am more aware than ever of the grand potential of the show, a potential that never came close to being realized. There certainly were a number of good episodes, notably the original three-part pilot (much better than the whittled-down movie version most of us probably remember), "The Living Legend," in which the Galactica encounters another Battlestar, "The Gun on Ice Planet Zero," "War of the Gods," and the final episode, "The Hand of God."

The friendship between pilots Apollo (Richard Hatch), Starbuck (Dirk Benedict), and Boomer (Herb Jefferson, Jr.) is nicely developed, and I've been forced to reevaluate Dirk Benedict's skills; he clearly has a lot of charisma, great comic timing, and a better emotional range than I once gave him credit for. Herb Jefferson deserves a lot of credit, too; his Boomer is eminently likeable, and believable as a no-nonsense, if somewhat resigned, Viper pilot. Richard Hatch is a little wooden at times, but he certainly portrays Apollo's love for Serena and Boxey convincingly, and the depth of his grief (after the loss of his younger brother, and later Serena) is well-acted.

But while the show's creators were working hard to develop a larger mythology for Battlestar Galactica, their efforts were undercut by far too many "planet of the week" episodes, in which either Apollo or Starbuck crashed on some lost colony or other, which usually had a Wild West or medieval theme, almost certainly to make use of existing Universal sets and props. Episodes such as "The Young Lords," "The Magnificent Warriors," "Fire in Space," and "Greetings from Earth" are either ridiculous or mind-numbingly dull, and have done much to diminish this series' reputation. Maren Jensen's overwrought turn as Athena doesn't help, nor does the obnoxious robot dog, Muffit II. And the short-lived but disastrous follow-up series, Galactica 1980, with its flying motorcycles and tired "fish out of water" jokes, seemed certain to completely destroy any hope of redemption for the series.

The new version of Battlestar Galactica, then, comes as a pleasant surprise. While by no means perfect, it is certainly intriguing, and well worth a look for anyone who enjoyed Space: Above and Beyond, whose storytelling ethos it seems to most closely resemble.

In this retelling of the myth, the Cylons were not created by lizard-like aliens, but humans themselves, and some forty years before the events of the series, the Cylons turned on their human creators. (Obviously the Colonials hadn't been exposed to Earth fiction that could have warned them of this possibility, such as Demon Seed, Colossus, or the aforementioned Space: Above and Beyond.) The humans won the war, the Cylons retreated, and an uneasy peace was born. But as the series opens, the Cylons launch a sneak attack, using electronic counter-measures to disable almost all of the Colonial defences and lay waste to the twelve worlds of humanity. Even worse, there's a new model of Cylon, indistinguishable from human beings, and possessing incredible depths of passion and righteous anger. One of these Cylons, played by Edmontonian beauty Tricia Helfer, dupes one of the Colonies' leading scientists, Dr. Gaius Baltar, into handing over access to vital defence facilities. This time, Baltar isn't a diabolical traitor, but a selfish and arrogant fool, one so wrapped up in his own genius that he forgets his obligations to his fellow humans. Whether he'll grow up at some point in the series is an open question.

Of course, there's one ship that survives the initial assault: the Galactica, an old, worn-out hulk that's immune to the ECM weapons because her ancient technology isn't sophisticated enough to be vulnerable to such attacks. While the ship is full of computers, they aren't networked, and information is relayed from deck to deck by old-style telephone headsets and computer printouts. Very retro, and quite cool.

As the colonies burn - an event that is chillingly portrayed, and quite believable - the Galactica retreats to a human weapons depot, having no ammunition because of her imminent decommission. Meanwhile, human survivors are fleeing in whatever ships they can find, some with FTL drive, some without, which leads to a heartbreaking - and shocking - decision by the new Colonial President, formerly the Minister of Education, a woman so far down the line of succession she could never have dreamed of wielding such power.

In the original series, military authority was infallible, and the civilian Council of the Twelve was filled with buffoons. Thankfully, this time around there's a bit more balance; the civilian President and Commander Adama each have very difficult decisions to make, and they make them pragmatically. By the show's end, it's clear that while these two characters may butt heads, they share mutual respect, something quite lacking in the original show.

The new Apollo is pretty dry, but the new Starbuck - this time a woman - is delightful. Boomer, too, is a woman this time around, one with a shocking secret that promises to provide plenty of dramatic tension if the miniseries is turned into an ongoing series.

I also liked the focus on "lower decks" characters, the maintenance crews who make the hotshot antics of the pilots possible.

The special effects are as excellent as one expects these days, and the re-imagined starships are quite ingenious, particularly the living Cylon raiders. The FTL effect is pretty nifty, and the landing bays need to retract before the ship jumps, giving the Viper pilots plenty of incentive to get aboard before the train leaves the station, as it were.

In the final analysis, this new incarnation of Battlestar Galactica has as much or more potential as the original, and thus far much more of that potential has been realized. I hope that the show is picked up - it promises to be more entertaining, at least, than the current Star Trek series, Enterprise.

Much more.