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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.