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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

If I Had a Billion Dollars

While commuting the other day, Sylvia and I heard a news story about Alberta's latest lotto winners. As many people do, I started to think about what I'd do were I presented with a huge windfall.

For the record, I'm not a big fan of lotteries. While they're a useful source of government revenue, I think the false dreams and dashed hopes they propagate are pretty damaging in the long run - not to mention the countless stories of winning players whose lives are made worse by their "lucky" day! Far better to balance a reasonable, progressive tax burden with prudent government spending, rather than levying what amounts to another tax on the poor and desperate. Why should essential services like public health care and community infrastructure have to depend upon lotteries? Madness.

Anyway, the larger political issues don't prevent a little harmless fantasizing. Let's pretend that Sylvia and I find a two-ton meteorite made of pure platinum and that we're sufficiently wise enough to stake a legal claim and sell the wealth bits at a time to prevent a platinum glut. (All pretty crazy assumptions with about as much likelihood of success as...winning the lottery.)

So we wind up with a billion dollars. What would I do with my half?

Naturally I'd take care of the essentials first - some money for mom and dad and my brother, some generous donations to UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, and so on.

But on to the fun stuff. In all honesty, if I had more money than I knew what to do with and I gave millions to every charity on my list...I'd spend the rest of the cash being as eccentric as possible - but, I hope, in a fun and progressive way.

So. First order of business: Earl Acres, i.e., our new home. I'd have an architect build a haunting Gothic mansion, something out of Frankenstein. There would be a pipe organ in the main hallway, so that when guests arrive I would be ready, hunched over the keys, wearing a black cloak, playing that scary "DAH NA NA...DA NA NA NA NA NAAAAAAAAA..." music.

There would be a USS Enterprise bridge simulator room, built to scale, with all the stations intact and functional - well, functional in a simulator sense - this room would be used to play a custom-designed Star Trek combat/exploration game of epic scope. Naturally, this would double as a home theatre, with the stations folding out comfy home theatre seats, for those reluctant to sit for hours on those tiny retro chairs the crew had to endure.

Of course we'd need a staff to handle our estate and business affairs. I would hire each staff member based not only on their qualifications, but how well they fit Hollywood stereotypes for their roles. To wit, I would require:

One British butler, tall and gaunt and perpetually 60-ish, with a rapier deadpan wit.

One irritable French chef, a master of his art, but completely intolerant of his employers' lack of culinary refinement.

One beefy, handsome, macho, silent German chauffeur for Sylvia. He'd also be a crack bodyguard.

One gorgeous Brazilian housekeeper with an affinity for fishnets.

One inscrutable Japanese gardener, replete with Asian wisdom.

One officious, perpetually worried Canadian financial advisor, preferably balding with glasses.

One Indian secret agent woman, or at least an actress pretending to be an Indian secret agent, reporting all kinds of international intruigue and (fake) threats against Woods Foundation interests.

One African American martial arts instructor of the sweet sweetback badassss school.

One Ukrainian "mad"/absent-minded scientist - preferably a theoretical physicist. Must wear a lab coat constantly and play the Frankenstein role with glee.

I would pay all these folks extremely well, and provide them with state-of-the-art facilities for their daily routines. I think we could have a lot of fun running my little lunatic asylum, and in the process we might collectively make a point about cultural and sexual stereotypes. And perhaps make some scientific breakthroughs!

I wonder what Sylvia would do with her $500 million?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Finger Puppet Star Trek

Way back in the early 90s, some members of the University of Alberta Star Trek Club got together to film their own version of Star Trek: The Motion Picture...with painted fingers and cardboard sets. This is the result.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Superhero Speeches #1: The End of My Double Life, by Clark Kent

A few posts back, I promised to present a fictional speech, one delivered by a superhero. For this speech, I pretended that Clark Kent came to me with a very special request. Here's how I would have written Mr. Kent's speech.

The End of My Double Life
Speaking notes for Clark Kent
Daily Planet, Metropolis, Delaware
June 19, 2015

Good afternoon, and thank you all for coming today. Before I begin, I'd like to thank Perry White, Managing Editor of the Daily Planet, and Galaxy Broadcasting, owner of the Planet building, for hosting this news conference.

I have a brief statement to read, and I'll take questions afterward.

For ten years, I have served as a reporter for the Daily Planet. I am very grateful for that privilege. I have done my best to serve the public with honesty and diligence; to uncover corruption, to reveal heroism, and to shine the light of truth in the dark corners of this city.

In fact, it's truth that I want to discuss today. And I'll begin by admitting that I have bent the truth over the years - bent it, I hope, for a higher purpose. That will be up to you to judge.

Truth is a reporter's most cherished value, and I hope you'll believe me when I say that I did not bend the truth lightly.

As you know, the Bartlett administration has scheduled a news conference with the President, to occur later this afternoon.

At that time, President Bartlett will announce that I, Clark Kent, am in fact also Superman.

[pause for laughter]

The President is correct.


I understand your scepticism, especially in light of past events that seem to have proved that Superman and I cannot be the same person. Today, I am telling you that those events were orchestrated by me or my circle of associates to hide the truth. If you saw Clark Kent and Superman in the same place, one of them was a robot, a shapeshifter, or one of my friends, typically the Batman, in disguise.

Please watch me closely for a moment.

[pause to stand up straight, remove glasses, fix hair, remove tie and unbutton shirt]

As you can see, for years I've been using a few simple tricks to hide my double identity. Different clothes, hairstyle, voice, posture and demeanour - it's nothing more than any actor would do during the course of a role.

So, why? And which role is the real person - Clark, or Superman?

I'll answer the second question first.

I was raised as a human being by my parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent, who you'll see are with us today. Hi, Ma. Hi, Pa. They raised me with human values: the importance of truth, compassion, of fighting for what's right, of helping others.

I think of myself as a human being, and an American. My biology may differ from yours, but I consider myself a part of this society, this culture. I am Clark Kent, Kansas farmboy, Metropolitan newspaper reporter.

Why, then, the disguise? Why didn't I simply become a policeman and use my abilities in the open, as myself?

Ma, Pa and I had to invent Superman when we realized that although I may be invulnerable, the people I love are not. We realized that any criminal I brought to justice, any politician or corporate giant I troubled, could retaliate through my friends and family.

I couldn't let that happen. So we invented the costume, a distracting blend of primary colours, designed to attract attention. I've always felt a little silly in it, but it helped establish a profound difference between my natural look and the public figure we invented.

There's a more selfish reason, too. Once I realized that I was different from all the other people around me, I started to worry that others might not judge me for who I am, but for the things I can do. I wondered if I could ever land a job on my own merits, or publish a novel, or find a girlfriend. I wanted to be loved and respected for my character, not my abilities.

I suppose a lot of wealthy folks and celebrities have experienced the same feelings.


With my secret revealed, many people will feel angry, and with good reason. Any deception hurts. I regret hiding the truth from my good friends Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, and my other friends and colleagues at the Daily Planet and WGBS television. I especially regret deceiving Lois Lane, who always suspected the truth.

Perhaps most of all, I regret hiding the truth from every citizen I've interviewed. You opened up your hearts and minds to me for the sake of truth, because you hoped that telling your stories would help make the world a better place.

You did. I like to think that together, by revealing truth, we've done as much good as Superman ever has.

And yes, I have used my abilities while performing my duties as a reporter. I have used my x-ray vision, super-hearing, infrared vision, super-speed and other powers to uncover facts that would have been closed to other reporters. Some of you will claim that gives me an unfair advantage as a reporter, and I cannot disagree. But I hope you'll understand that I never used my powers for personal gain or to invade the privacy rights of citizens - except in cases where lives were immediately threatened. In those cases, I knowingly committed a small evil in the hopes of preventing a greater one.

I hope no one will blame the President for choosing to reveal the truth to the world. Once his administration uncovered it, they felt that they had no choice but to reveal it. I am confident that they chose to take this step not for political reasons, but because they felt the people had a right to know.

What the administration's attitude says about privacy rights, I leave to others wiser than I to discuss.

I was born as Clark Kent, and that is how I intend to lead my life. I won't wear glasses or stoop any longer; nor will I wear Superman's primary colours. I'll still watch over the world as best I can, but don't look for the bright red cape anymore; it'll just be an ordinary man with a few extraordinary gifts, doing his best to help the community, like any other citizen.

If Perry and Lois and Jimmy and all the others will have me, I would like to remain a reporter for the Daily Planet. I understand the special challenges this would entail, and it's quite possible that those challenges will prevent me from remaining an effective journalist. I understand that it might be hard for sources to trust a reporter who can detect lies, even the innocent ones.

Sharing the truth with you today has been hard for me - hard to admit that I have lied by omission and commission nearly every day, even if I considered each lie an altruistic one.

So I stand before you today with sadness and relief; guilt and hope; embarrassment and confidence. It's quite possible that I never trusted you enough, my fellow citizens: trusted you to understand and embrace the truth, trusted you to judge me fairly, trusted you to look after my loved ones those times when I cannot.

I would like to trust you today, and I hope that in time your trust in me will be restored.

Truth, like justice, is our way - the American way, the human way. I know your judgement of the truths I have revealed today will be fair, and I will accept that judgement.

Thank you.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Alberta Government Will Cover Cancer Drug Avastin Starting April 1

Every so often, you win one...this will provide massive relief to Albertans suffering from colorectal cancer. Kudos to the government for doing the right thing.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

I Watched the Watchmen

Thanks to Michael and his studio connections, I was fortunate enough to attend a sneak preview of Watchmen tonight. I went in with low expectations, but I was pleasantly surprised - this is a reasonably faithful adaptation that does little violence to the source material, even though the


ending has been updated to suit the times. Haunting, beautiful imagery, good performances from little-known actors - there's a lot to like here. It's even a little sexy in parts, never a bad thing. There is some brutality, however, so if you're squeamish, you may want to close your eyes during the fight scenes and one very disturbing rape scene midway through the film.

Rorsach definitely steals the show, but my favourite character remains Night Owl, who does his best to hang on to a sense of decency even in the face of armageddon.

Four bloody smiley faces out of five.

Trail of the Skulker

Yesterday I startled two coworkers out of their seats.

First, I innocently walked into Amanda's office to ask her a question. The words "Amanda, would you mind..." left my lips and prompted her to shriek and leap out of her chair.

Barely a couple of hours later, I walked into Michael's office to ask him a question. This time, my inadvertent victim coughed up some food, did a spit take and yelped, "Earl! Gah!"

A few years back, while working at the Western Board of Music, I scared Gloria coming up out of the basement and Leslie coming around a corner - or perhaps it was the other way around.

I routinely scare Sylvia at home.

None of this is deliberate. I would have thought that someone of my girth would make more noise while stumbling around the office, but apparently not. In any event, my apologies to all I have startled.