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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008: The Year in Review (Or: Why Earl Hasn't Been Blogging)

Yes, this is how old I was the last time I blogged...

2008 has been a weird, wacky year. In late January, the Alberta Liberals asked me to run in the provincial election - in Premier Stelmach's constituency of Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville, no less.

The Premier chose not to show up for our debate.

With little preparation and only a few thousand dollars to spend, I was realistic about my chances. But my family and friends really came through for me, Sylvia most of all, and I treasure the experience. In the end, I lost by a mere (cough) 10,000 votes or so.

And of course, the Alberta Liberals lost the March 3rd election by an even wider margin. (This photo of us watching the results come in ran in the Edmonton Sun. They really captured the moment...) For the last few months, we've been dusting ourselves off, figuring out what went wrong, and doing our best to serve as responsible opposition. That's what public service is all about.

One good thing happened on March 3rd - Sylvia started her new job. And she's performed superbly thus far. Sylvia is a very dedicated public servant doing important work for the Alberta Pensions Administration Corporation, and I couldn't be prouder of her.

Losing the election also meant I had the freedom to attend Gaming & Guiness III over at Steve Fitzpatrick's place...unfortunately, I wound up with a horrifying headache just a few hours into the fun. The rest of the gang had a good time, though, geeking it up with tiny armies of orcs, trolls, and space beasties.

Norma and Claire, who served as Sylvia's bridesmaids at our wedding, presented us with an evening at the Fantasyland Hotel as a wedding present, and we finally took advantage of the opportunity in April. Huge hot tub!

Later in April, I was seized by a bout of temporary madness and attempted to combine two of my favourite board games - Bruce Lee Game! and Zombies!!! - into one mighty epic, Bruce Lee vs. Zombies.

"What the hell? I can't possibly win, even if I roll all tens!"

With typical eloquence, Mike expresses his opinion of my creation.

Playtesting did not go well. There's a reason that professional game designers exist. Oh well - it was nice to see Colin again, anyway - he made several trips back to Edmonton this year.

In June, the University of Alberta Press launched a collection of Lois Hole's speeches, edited by political writer Mark Lisac. I couldn't be happier with how the book turned out - Mark did a superb job. Bruce Keith, my old colleague at Hole's, was kind enough to send me a couple of shots of the event.

A couple of times a year, Sean and I visit our parents to annoy them with shenanigans, and Sylvia tags along to watch with stunned bemusement.

And then there was Pete, and his sinister list.

Sylvia's dad celebrated his 65th birthday this year, so we went over and jammed. I cannot actually play guitar, which is why I'm not posting the video. Mr. Boucher is very good, though.

Yolande came back from her studies in Ottawa to visit, and Sylvia and I enjoyed a delightful lunch with her. She's such a sweetheart, and she's going to be a great journalist.

Along with the election, the biggest event for Sylvia and I was our first anniversary, which we celebrated with a trip to Honolulu. By bizarre coincidence, presidential candidate Barack Obama arrived for a vacation of his own just a few hours after we did. So, acting on impulse, Sylvia and I braved the heat and the crowds and wound up just a couple of metres away from Obama at the one and only rally he'd give during that visit. It was quite an experience. The man's an incredible orator, and it was fun picking out Secret Service agents.

Of course, there was a price to pay. It wouldn't be a real Earl vacation without an agonizing case of sunstroke.

We also took a submarine voyage. Here's Sylvia on the sub deck, preparing to board. We only went 100 feet or so below the surface, but it was still pretty cool - especially when the sub made that "ah--OOOOO-ga" sound and the pilot shouted "Dive, dive dive!" It had all the makings of a James Cameron epic. I got a kick out of the very excitable Japanese tourist, who shouted in rapid-fire wonder, waving his arms over his head at the sight of the artificial reefs, tropical fish and giant turtles.

Sylvia enjoyed playing on the beach most of all. She's so tiny that the waves tossed her around like flotsam (or is it jetsam?). I had to rescue her a few times, and she wound up with so much sand in her ears that a post-vacation trip to the doctor's office was necessary. "I've never seen anything like this in my entire practice," the doctor said, laughing as she flushed the pebbles out of Sylvia's ears. "Oh my God, Sylvia. Oh my God. What were you doing?"

On August 11th - the actual date of our first anniversary - we attended a luau. The food was merely okay, but the entertainment was great. Those fire dancers are pretty awe-inspiring.

Like good tourists, we also splurged on a helicopter tour. The views were beautiful, but I was most interested in the history - it was quite something to see Pearl Harbour from the air, and to follow the route the Japanese Zeroes took during their 1941 sneak attack. And of course, I was thrilled to witness pop-culture touchstones such as the dock the SS Minnow departed from (seen above) as well as Gilligan's Island itself, and the forests of Lost and Jurassic Park.

Our hotel had a great little restaurant - I loved the virgin strawberry daquiries, and drank them up like liquid candy. Delicious.

On our last day, I took a quick solo tour of Pearl Harbour and downtown Honolulu. The USS Arizona memorial was a quiet, sombre place, as you might expect, so it was a good thing that I ended the trip with some Hawaii Five-O shooting locations.

Our parents and my brother came over for Thanksgiving for food and Wii bowling. Mom turned out to be pretty good, which isn't surprising given her real-world bowling experience. According to family legend, she once cast a strike in the wrong lane.

We celebrated Sylvia's 40th birthday in October, and this unidentified young woman joined in the revelry. Sylvia's blue hair was clearly a big hit.

On Halloween, Sean was attacked by a miniature skeleton. Oooo, scary!

In December, Albertans (at least those who were paying any attention) learned that Dr. David Swann would take over from Dr. Kevin Taft as leader of the Alberta Liberals. David Swann is a wonderful man, a terrific human being, and I have high hopes for his leadership. A warm, gentle, and overwhelmingly compassionate man, David is the kind of person that makes you proud to be an Albertan.

Kevin Taft made me proud, too, and Albertans owe him a great debt. Kevin took on the toughest job in Canadian politics, rebuilt a party that had been on life support, and led the official opposition with integrity and honour. He would have been a great premier, and I feel deeply privileged to have worked for him. Thankfully he's staying on as MLA for Edmonton-Riverview for at least this term, so Albertans will still benefit from his insight and dedication.

And of course, there was Christmas. A new tradition is developing: Sylvia's parents visit for Christmas Eve, then we head to my parents' place for Christmas day. Always a pleasant way to end another spin around the sun.

Santa Sean

May 2009 be a year of peace and fulfillment for you and yours and all the citizens of Earth.

Friday, December 05, 2008

The Annex

I co-wrote and directed this video, prepared for last night's Legislature Press Gallery Christmas party. After a couple of weeks of hard work and stress, I wasn't at all sure whether or not the crowd of MLAs and reporters would like it, so I was very relieved when people laughed at all the right spots - and quite enthusiastically. My coworkers told me that Premier Stelmach, Health Minister Ron Liepert, and a number of reporters and broadcasters all had very nice things to say.

Whew. I was worried, because the video I prepared in 2006 was, frankly, terrible.

There are a few inside jokes here, since the video was directed at MLAs and members of the media, but there are still some chuckles for the wider Alberta audience.

I'm very grateful to Amanda Krumins, who came up with the idea of parodying The Office, to Kim Dewar, who acted as cinematographer, to Derek Volker, who handled the props and music, and to the Alberta Liberal MLAs and Alberta Liberal leadership candidate Mo Elsalhy, who were such good sports about the whole thing.

I'm most grateful to Kevin Taft, who provided the hobbyhorses and indeed the idea for the hobbyhorse scene. Kevin's self-effacing sense of humour really shines here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Chicken Surprise

We ordered a chicken and wing meal last night. Tonight I opened up the box again, anticipating leftovers...and discovered that one of the chicken wings had a bonus: a breaded, lemon-spiced chicken foot attached and ready to eat.

Suddenly vegetarianism doesn't look so bad.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ridley Scott's Board Runner

Ridley Scott will direct a feature film adaptation of Monopoly, the board game.

I suppose there's a chance that the famed director of Blade Runner and Alien could pull this off, but frankly, it sounds idiotic.

I envision a Cannonball Run-style chase movie, with the lead characters (dog, iron, thimble, top hat, Mountie, etc.) in pursuit of Mr. Moneybags.

I suppose Johnny Depp will relish the challenge of playing the thimble, or perhaps the top hat. Is Benji still alive? He/she can play the dog. Jeremy Irons would play the iron, of course. Benton Fraser would play the Mountie, who would at some point quip, "Go to jail. Go directly to jail. Do not pass go, do not collect $200." Delivered with wry irony and a wink.

Characters will bankrupt themselves in an attempt to buy up all the property in the city, searching for Mr. Moneybags' buried treasure, which will, of course, wind up buried under Boardwalk. Or perhaps Baltic Ave. for irony.

In the end, the characters will realize that they're all playing pieces in some twisted game of fate, and will eschew their capitalistic fever.

Admiral Adama will cameo at the end with a cryptic, "It's a shame she won't pass go and collect $200. But then again...who does?"

Tagline: On Park Place, no one can hear you scream.

Kevin Taft's Farewell Tribute

I'm a little late posting this, but several weeks ago I had the honour of assembling a tribute video for Kevin Taft, outgoing Leader of the Official Opposition, and his wife, Jeanette Boman. You can see the video here. It's at the centre bottom of the front page.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Emotional Fallout

Preppie 2 was the first computer game to evoke an emotional response from me. I played it at my cousin Darwin's place, on his Atari 800. The game was a variation of Pac-Man, only instead of eating dots in a maze and avoiding ghosts, you painted the floors of a sorority house and avoided giant frogs.

The game's music, graphics and sense of humour gave it a whimsical, innocent charm that I adored. At the time I thought to myself, "This is what's wonderful about human culture."

That was more than twenty years ago. Today, I'm about halfway through Fallout 3, the much-ballyhooed post-nuclear roleplaying game, the third, as you may have guessed, in a series.

Fallout 3 is a bleak game, played out on the ruined, atomic-scarred landscape of an apocalyptic Washington DC. Ruined junk and debris are scattered across the landscape, and feral dogs and mutated insects hunger for your flesh. People are uniformly impoverished; bottlecaps serve as cash, and old vacuum cleaners, tools and even tin cans are valuable. Everyone is armed, frightened, and pessimistic.

And yet there's a melancholy beauty to be had in this game. The 50s aesthetic, however rusted-out and radiation-soaked, has an irresistable appeal. Rocketship-themed gas stations and Nuka-Cola vending machines dot the landscape. Faded propaganda posters brighten up crumbling walls. Old computer records, books and notes paint a picture of a happier time. Surviving radio broadcasts play popular hits of the 40s and 50s - particularly "I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire," by the Inkspots, an ironic counterpoint to this world's fate.

It's a violent game. In my search for my father, I've had to kill over 60 people so far, and hundreds of mutated monsters (the game keeps track). And even though my victims are pixels, not people, I feel deeply saddened. For in a world like this, every life is precious.

More than anything else, Fallout 3 reminds me exactly how much we have to lose. The Washington of our world is home to incredible architecture, priceless archives, great works of art - and of course, millions of human beings. Now multiply that by all the thousands of cities across the globe, each with equal value.

I grew up living with the fear that a nuclear holocaust would destroy all that. In the 1990s, that fear faded away. We seem to be facing a more gradual catastrophe these days.

But Fallout 3 reminds me that all manner of self-inflicted horrors could yet be unleashed on humanity. I hope we're wise enough to play out our violent impulses in the virtual world, rather than the real one. The world of Fallout is a fun place to visit - and every second I play, it shows me how lucky I am to live in a world still brimming with life.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Super Troopers

Michael Spears came to work as a stormtrooper this morning, and I came in my Superman t-shirt. Put them together and you have...Super Trooper.

Sylvia's costume was far cooler.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Full Fathom Forty

Sylvia turned 40 today!

Welcome to her mid-life crisis. Actually, I love blue hair. I can pretend she's an exotic Star Trek alien!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

With a Twinkle in My I

Earl's last experience on the stage, circa December 1984.

Kevin had an extra ticket to see Ronnie Burkett's Billy Twinkle, Requiem for a Golden Boy and graciously invited me along. It's been too long since I headed out to the Citadel to see a play, and I'm very glad I did.

Believe it or not, I remember Ronnie Burkett from Harriet's Magic Hats, an educational show that used to play on Access Network in the 80s. He's come a long way since then. Twinkle is a funny, sad, pathetic, brilliant, subversive, multilayered one-man/many-marionettes show that isn't afraid to make its audience uncomfortable in the pursuit of emotional truth. Well worth seeing.

I'm very glad Kevin invited me, because it's been way too long since I set work and home life aside to take just a small slice of time to appreciate art. Driving home at night on a warm fall evening with the window rolled down, I reflected on my old adolescent dreams of becoming an actor, shot down at that one audition at CBC, where it was decided I'd make a far better host than dramatic player.

And so it goes. Since tonight's show drew heavily on Shakespeare, I feel no irony whatsoever in recalling that life's but a stage, and we are merely poor players...

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Looking Back, Moving Forward

Tonight, hundreds of Alberta Liberal Leader Kevin Taft's friends and supporters gathered to say thanks to him and Jeanette for their years of tireless work for democracy. A terrific program of skits, improv, storytelling and video honoured the couple and everything they did to fight for a better Alberta.

Whether or not you agree with the policies and perspective of the Alberta Liberals, I can personally testify that Kevin and Jeanette fought the good fight; they got involved for the right reasons.

A few months back, Kevin announced that he would step down as leader. Now three other men are vying for the job: Mo Elsalhy, David Swann and Dave Taylor. As a staff member of the Official Opposition, I'm not really supposed to take sides, but I will say that having worked with all three men for nearly three years, I know that they, too, are running for the right reasons.

Since this race is a bid for the leadership of the party, only Alberta Liberal party members can vote. I encourage anyone who's interested in grassroots politics to visit and purchase a membership; it's only ten bucks, a bargain for a chance to influence the course of Alberta politics.

For that matter, I encourage anyone to take out a membership in the party of their choice. Party members have a huge influence on who runs for office, and therefore who runs the province or the nation. If you're disenchanted or cynical about politics, getting involved is the only cure.

Below the silly picture, you'll find links to the campaign websites of all three leadership candidates.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Great Vote Swap

A couple of days ago, my friend Andrea directed my attention to Anti-Harper Vote Swap Canada. It's a Facebook group that allows Canadians living in different federal ridings to trade votes, in an effort to prevent Conservative candidates from benefiting from vote-splitting.

In other words, hey, Liberal supporter in Toronto - the NDP has the best chance of keeping that seat out of the hands of the Tories. I'm an NDP supporter in BC, but in my riding the Liberal has the best chance of defeating the Tory candidate. Tell you what - I'll hold my nose and vote Liberal in my riding, if you'll hold your nose and vote NDP in your riding. We may not be happy with the MPs we get in our particular ridings, but hey, we'll be helping ensure that Harper doesn't get a majority.

If this kind of thing catches on, it could really subvert the first-past-the-post electoral system we have now - the one that enables parties with less than half the popular vote to form huge majority governments. Since we're not getting proportional representation anytime soon, it seems to me that this just might put some real power in the hands of the people and help stem the rising tide of voter apathy.

Unfortunately, I do not live in either of the two Alberta ridings in which this system could make any difference. But if you live in Edmonton Centre or Edmonton Strathcona, where the Tories have historically earned fewer votes than the left-of-centre parties combined...well, you might want to check it out.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Who Listens to the Listeners?

Whether you're ordering a pizza, fending off a telemarketer, or talking to your bank, odds are you've heard some variation of the following:

"This call may be recorded for training purposes or customer service."

My bank called last week - twice in one day, actually. I told the first caller that I wasn't interested in any product offered over the phone, and asked him to mail me the details. A different representative called a few hours later about the very same product, so I was already annoyed when she said the call was being recorded.

"I'm sorry, but I have a bit of a problem with that," I said. "Aside from concerns about my own privacy, I don't want to live in a world where my fellow citizens are monitored every minute of their working day. I don't think you should have to put up with that."

"Fine, sir, thank you very much," she said, and hung up.

I suppose I sounded like a bit of a crackpot, but my words were sincere. I can easily imagine corporate motives for recording calls; they want to have records in case of some kind of dispute, they want to have a record of employee misbehaviour, perhaps they really do use the recordings for training purposes.

As far as I know, the only reason companies even inform you that they're recording the call is because the law requires it. And so they dutifully follow the law, but if you indicate that you don't want to be recorded - poof! - the call's over.

So the citizen is trapped. You can order your pizza, and accept the invasion of your privacy, and accept the dehumanization of the employee whose every moment at work is being monitored. Or you can refuse on ethical and humanitarian grounds and go hungry, because apparently there's no option to use the service without being recorded.


Monitoring workers in call centres is just the tip of the iceberg. Many jobs require drug testing, even when your use or non-use of drugs has no impact on your ability to do the work. Others require invasive personality profiling. Other workplaces use monitoring software to log every keystroke and mouse movement. Forget about checking your bank balance on your coffee break, or taking a few minutes to compose a personal email. Forget the very human, very natural impulse to goof off from time to time.

We are building a world of diminishing trust.

The next time you're told that your call is being recorded, try asking this question:

"Will you still serve me if I refuse to be recorded?"

I'd like to know what they tell you.

Anybody listening?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The High Cost of Victory

I'll bet Ed Stelmach didn't have to pick up his own signs

Spending numbers for the recent Alberta election have been released, and I had to laugh when I saw the results for Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville: I was outspent by a factor of over 23 to 1. My campaign cost $5,500; Premier Stelmach spent $129,500 to defend his incumbency.

I honestly had to laugh when I saw this. Over $129,000 for a safe seat? I had no idea that the Premier felt so threatened.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

An Occurence at Earl Creek Bridge

Picture if you will a portrait of a woman in shock...faced with a vision too terrible for the human mind to comprehend.

A few feet of rope, a struggling victim, a crime captured only by moonlight, perpetrated by a cross-eyed madman.

Now that victim's caretaker must confront that madman's insanity, at a place called Earl Creek Bridge - a destination nestled somewhere between the Outer Limits - and the Twilight Zone.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Andi Arrives

My old friend Andrea MacLeod was in town last week to visit friends and relatives. It's always great to see Andi - I can hardly believe we met back in 1990, almost 20 years ago. Andrea's sharp wit and brash nature always kept those of us in the U of A Star Trek Club entertained. (Andrea was a Scuba Club member; we managed to partially assimilate her.) My favourite Andrea line is probably "Was Grant up here to talk about himself some more?"

Shortly after we met, Andrea moved to Germany for what was supposed to be an adventure of just a few months; she wound up staying for years, only recently moving to the UK after marrying her (scandalously younger) beau Greg. They're parents now, enjoying what seems to be an idyllic life in the English countryside.

Have a safe trip back, Andi, and thanks for brightening up our day!