Total Pageviews

Saturday, December 31, 2011


About a year and a half ago, my friend Amanda mentioned a study she'd heard about claiming that resolutions stood a better chance of being completed if they weren't talked about. So a year ago today, I silently resolved to blog once a day during 2011. With this post, I have completed that goal, despite the interruptions of three long-distance trips.

Not every post was a heartbreaking work of staggering genius, but I think a few entries were worthwhile. When I have access to a computer again, I'll post a list of my favorites.

Since I started posting daily, traffic to this blog has increased dramatically, and I'm grateful to every reader who has stopped by. Thank you for spending some time here, and thanks especially to those who have left comments - many of which are funnier or more insightful than anything I've written here.

Happy New Year, and may you and yours enjoy peace, prosperity, health and happiness in 2012.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Work of Vacations

Astounding how time off work can often be just as exhausting as time on the job. Thank goodness we have some time at home to recuperate.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Carrot Top

When Sylvia suggested we see Carrot Top while in Las Vegas, I groaned a little. My impressions of the famously red-headed comic were mostly negative, gleaned from, I must admit, only a tiny helping of cultural osmosis. I pushed for Zumanity, but when we earned tickets to Carrot Top (and $50 in meals) at the Luxor, I knew the fix was in.

Before the show, we enjoyed some pretty good Mexican food at T&T (Tacos & Tequila, not "Tits & Tequila" as Sylvia lewdly assumed). Sylvia downed a pair of pomegranite margaritas in quick succession and was feeling a little under the weather by the time we were escorted to our excellent third-row centre seats. We wound up sitting next to Vinnie Paul and his band, which would become significant later.

Carrot Top is a prop comic. His stage is a simple affair, just a bare backdrop and several large chests containing his self-constructed props. To my surprise, I found Carrot Top's act not only hilarious, but also warm, honest and self-effacing; he really seems to genuinely appreciate his audience.

Near the end of the show, Carrot Top noted Paul's presence and came over to hand out whiskey shots. Because of our proximity, the comic offered Sylvia and I libations. I passed, but Sylvia took the offered booze with great enthusiasm, the act washing away her nausea: "I love you, Carrot Top!" "Aw, I love you too, sweetheart!" Very kind.

As much as I enjoyed myself, my greatest pleasure came from Sylvia's delight at the comic's clever antics. And no wonder she loved it; it was a legitimately great show. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Hoover Dam

Constructed in the 1930s, the Hoover Dam is an engineering marvel that must be seen with the naked eye to be fully appreciated. The dam has earned a prominent place in popular culture, tripling the thrill of seeing it close up; I watched Superman save it on film in 1978, built it as a virtual dictator in the Civilization games, and most recently visited it in Fallout: New Vegas. (The Fallout Hoover Dam is more accurate than I would have imagined!)

Here are some photos (pending):

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Time Shared, Time Stolen

Today Sylvia and I found ourselves trapped in a time share presentation. What seemed at first an invitation to brunch turned into a pretty intense sales pitch - one that lasted four hours, mainly because we're too darn polite.

Now, that being said, the folks making the pitch were very professional and we never felt unduly pressured. They were, however, extremely persistent and even convincing; the time-share option seems, on the surface, a reasonable way to save money on vacations...if you take a lot of vacations, that is.

Once we made it clear we weren't interested, the time-share folks gave us tickets to Carrot Top and a $50 meal voucher. We shall soon discover if the price of admission was worth the time...

Monday, December 26, 2011

Rime of the Addled Consumer

They call it Boxing Day, but in these conservative times perhaps the annual festival of consumerism should be renamed Ultimate Fighting Day. Oh, we're all polite enough, crammed together in malls air-conditioned to the freezing point, bumping and jostling with strained smiles that don't touch the eyes, but how we all wish we had the stores to ourselves.

Hours later we escape, bags laden with half-price treasures that we'll cherish for a year or two or five if we've made a particularly good choice. We collapse exhausted by the binge, bloated with luxury, sated for another year. But the cravings will return, dooming us all.
Sent from my iPhone

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Desert Xmas

The streets are quiet, but inside the gilt towers of marble and glass the hopeful ones feed their hungry masters-of-the-moment. Others queue for festive buffets, bemoaning the wasted hours in line. The tourist cameras flash futilely in the neon gloom, capturing only bright formless blurs. We glide among them, unnoticed, carefree, with no agenda.

Outside, the air is crisp, the skies clear, the sands quiet. Santa has come and gone, and the desert sleeps.
Sent from my iPhone

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Script Fragment

While on the road yesterday, Sylvia and I felt the call of nature. I sped up a little in search of relief. It occurred to me that if a police officer pulled us over for speeding, the conversation might go like this:

"Sir, you're 15 kph over the limit."

"I know, I'm so sorry. My wife and I really need to pee..."

"Sir, what's worse; peeing your pants or killing yourselves in a car crash?"

"You're right, of course. You'd be dead and you'd probably pee and poo yourself anyway."
Sent from my iPhone

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas from Raj Sherman

While I make my living as a writer, I must say I've enjoyed producing videos such as the one above for the Official Opposition over the years. My main contributions have been writing and directing; I leave the editing, acting and cinematography to more competent folks. Still, I was playing with iMovie yesterday while working on another project for the Official Opposition, and I must say I think I'm starting to get the hang of it. One day I may even attain the status of "amateurish, but workable."

Oh, and Happy Holidays.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Review: Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Famed Iron Giant director Brad Bird has crafted the best action film of the year, Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol, a fast-paced thriller featuring impressively staged stunts, self-aware but never self-parodying humour, excellent performances and a surprising emotional core.

Impossible Missions Force (IMF) agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is languishing in a Russian prison when a team of IMF agents bust him out to lead a crucial new mission: stop a maniac from stealing the materials necessary to precipitate a nuclear holocaust. The team's initial job goes awry and the IMF is blamed for the partial destruction of the Kremlin, leading the Secretary to initiate "Ghost Protocol," the disavowal of the entire IMF. With meagre resources and a small team of three additional agents, Ethan Hunt is on the run from the Russians while pursuing a madman with his finger on the nuclear trigger.

The film's setpieces are divided geographically: Budapest, Moscow, Dubai, Mumbai. Each sub-mission puts IMF agents through their paces; there's exciting derring-do with all the requisite gunfire, leaps, car chases and explosions one could ever ask for. All the action is staged with clarity, suspense and surprising verisimilitude. At the film's midpoint, Cruise's Ethan Hunt is forced to free-climb the glass-walled outside of the towering Burj Dubai hotel. The entire sequence is bone-chilling in its effectiveness, and my palms were covered in sweat before the scene was even halfway over. If viewed in IMAX, this scene alone is worth the price of admission.

The film's true strenghth, however, lies in its characters - not just Ethan Hunt, but his team. Each member - William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Jane Carter (Paula Patton) - has their own character arc, enabling the audience to invest in each of them. In the best action films, we're given reason to care about what happens to the protagonists; otherwise, all we have is a series of empty explosions without emotional resonance. Ghost Protocol gives us reason to care.

I appreciated Ghost Protocol all the more because this is not a cynical film. Characters muse out loud about the unrealistic situations they're thrust into, but there's not a hint of self-mockery; the fourth wall is peered through with some curiosity, but never shattered. Rather, the characters seem bemusedly delighted to inhabit their hyperkinetic world. And they look after each other, working as a team, forming genuine bonds of friendship under trying circumstances. The heroes here are well worth emulating: they're empathetic, intelligent, decisive but never rash. And while the film has its share of high-tech gadgets, in the end it is the qualities of the agents themselves that lead to their ultimate success; indeed, this is an important sub-theme of the film.

Unlike many modern films, Ghost Protocol features a real denoument, a chance for the audience to catch their breath after the climax, wrap up a couple of character subplots and summarize the film's themes. It's a welcome respite, one that promises more adventures with this group of agents. I certainly hope Bird, Cruise and their team will return for more missions, since this was the best M:I film by far. Light the fuse!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Quantum of Songstress

This year I've been reading Ian Fleming's original James Bond novels, and a couple of weeks ago I finished For Your Eyes Only, one of two Bond anthologies. This one features "Quantum of Solace," a short story about love, betrayal and cold revenge. Atypically, this isn't an espionage story; Bond, desperately bored during an obligatory diplomatic function, winds up conversing with a man who explains his theory of human relations by way of telling a story about a broken marriage. Bond is fascinated, and by the tale's end he realizes that everyday human drama is far more compelling than his own empty life of intrigue. I've been pleasantly surprised by the literary Bond, and "Quantum of Solace" may be my favourite Bond adventure so far.

Reading "Quantum of Solace" reminded me of the last Bond film, Quantum of Solace, which has only a tangential, metaphorical connection to the short story the film is named for. As a fan of the film (and all Bond films), I watched the opening sequence again, seen below:

While I believe Alicia Keys is a talented artist, her Bond song leaves me a little cold, especially compared to the note-perfect "You Know My Name" from the previous Bond film, Casino Royale. But thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I discovered a rejected theme for Quantum of Solace, one I feel would have served the film better. I can't embed this one, but I urge Bond fans to view the video here.

The producers rejected this latter theme, but I think Eva Almer's powerful, operatic ballad far more Bond-esque than Keys' effort, with the soaring, bombastic, exciting yet somehow mournful sound of the best Bond tunes. And for extra bonus points, "quantum of solace" is used as a lyric without sounding forced - an impressive feat all on its own. I wish the filmmakers had chosen it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Pipes, the Pipes!

For several weeks now our pipes have groaned in protest whenever flushing a toilet or turning on a tap. My research indicates that we may be suffering from the dreaded "noisy pipes" problem, and rather than call in an expert, I'm currently attempting that most foolhardy of tasks: attempting to fix the problem myself. A hasty Internet search suggests that I turn on every tap in the house, including the washing machine and outside spigot, and flush every toilet to clear air out of the pipes. Will this work? I have no idea, but it can't be helping my water bill...

Oh, early boy...the pipes, the pipes are honking...

Monday, December 19, 2011

Replicator Dreams

A mournful text conversation from a couple of weeks back. On the Enterprise-D, this conversation would make no sense at all.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


The Legislature Annex is full of these clocks. Have they faithfully kept track of time since the 1970s? The design would seem to imply thus.

11:20:36 is one in a long but finite string of hectic seconds when the Alberta Legislature is in session. This is when MLAs, researchers and communications staff prepare questions, private member's statements, ministerial statements, responses to ministerial statements, scripts for introductions, press releases, media statements and more. MLAs head into the house at 1:30, and only then can staff take a moment to inhale a sandwich or a cup of coffee. Those of us who have the time turn on our televisions and watch the MLAs perform. And then we carry on with the afternoon's business and prepare to do it all again the next day.

The Alberta Legislature won't convene again until sometime in February. Time will flow a little more slowly until then.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Death to Frosty

Tonight the Woods and Boucher families gathered for an early festive meal. Unfortunately whenever the Woods brothers get together, there's bound to be some juvenile mischief.
Sean brought a delightfully appropriate chocolate cake, which he purchased at the farmer's market.
Sean gave Frosty a special spot at the table.
But then...!
Don't get between Sean and dessert.

Friday, December 16, 2011


Every year, the Alberta Legislature press gallery and each caucus creates an amusing, self-depcrecating video for the press gallery Christmas party. Here's the Official Opposition's 2011 video, a Rocky parody that tells the story of Raj Sherman's unlikely trajectory from Tory backbencer to Leader of the Official Opposition.

All the videos were fun this year, and daveberta has posted the Godzilla-themed Alberta NDP video here.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Progress Quest Progress

After two days, Earl the Demicanadian Hunter Strangler has slain enough foes to reach Level 11. His stats have increased, he knows more spells, has acquired better armour, and yet still he must perform menial tasks such as "fetch me a twig."

At this point I suppose Earl has killed hundreds of sentient beings. Oh sure, in his world they're doubtless labelled "evil," but surely all this spilled blood must weigh on his conscience. What does he have to show for this wholesale slaughter? A few spells? Some gold? A fancier weapon, useful only for killing more creatures?

It's almost as though the game is trying to make a point about futility or something. I'll be back tomorrow, after I fetch a twig...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rodin Considers Rodan

Sometimes wonderful ideas arise in dreams. Last night, I dreamed of Auguste Rodin's "The Thinker" sculpture on a hilltop overlooking a ravaged Tokyo, under assault from Rodan, the famous mutant winged dinosaur. I smiled to myself in my sleep as I contemplated what a wonderful blog post I would write today - or rather, paint; I envisioned presenting a fresh new painterly masterpiece to the world melding two of the twentieth century's touchstones of popular culture. And it would have been a combination of Japanese and European approaches! Magnificent!

Alas, I cannot paint. I can only ask you to imagine what The Thinker may have been thinking as Rodan swept across Tokyo, shattering buildings and sending citizens fleeing in panic. His stony contemplation would have served as ironic counterpoint to the chaos below...or so I hope.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Progress Quest

Regular readers will know that I enjoy role-playing games of all kinds, from improv to pen-and-paper RPGs to computer games such as Fallout. If these kinds of games (except, perhaps, improv) have one weakness, it's the level grind. Even the best role-playing games often feature repetitive quests: go to this place, kill this monster, retrieve this object.

Tonight I stumbled upon Progress Quest, a browser-playable "game" that takes RPGs to the next logical step: it does all the work for you. Here, I'll demonstrate:

Progress Quest offers a generous selection of species and classes. I chose to start my quest as a Demicanadian Hunter Strangler, though I was also tempted to play as an Enchanted Motorcycle Fighter/Organist. On the right are your character's six primary characteristics: Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma. Naturally I pressed the "Roll" button until I achieved the highest stats possible, though strictly speaking this is rather unsportsmanlike. Still, with a new game I wasn't going to take any chances.
Here's my character sheet. At the top left, my name, race, class and level; below that, my stats; below that, my experience earned and my (currently empty) spellbook. At right, my inventory: a sharp rock, a -3 burlap hauberk, and nothing more, not even a solitary gold coin. Naked came the stranger...
Note the green bar on the lower edge of the character sheet. It's a progress bar, scrolling to the right as things happen to your character. This is the genius of Progress Quest; it takes all the work out of role-playing, telling you everything that happens as you watch the progress bar crawl from left to right.
As the progress bar moves inexorably forward, Earl the Hunter Strangler uses his sharp rock to kill a shadow, a cub scout and Mrs. Opprog the half-orc, collecting treasure from each foe slain. Note that this begins my first quest: Placate the Unicorns.
The slaughter continues. Note that my experience progress bar, at middle left, is slowly growing.
As you gather treasure (and body parts), your encumbrance grows.
Fortunately, once you can carry no more, the game escorts you back to the market, where you can exchange your blood-soaked goods for gold.
The game has also informed me that I've placated the unicorns and now I must exterminate the berzerkers. And along the way I seem to have added the "Good Move" spell - whatever that may do - to my spell book.
 At last I've earned enough gold to buy better gear.
Now I'm better armoured, with -1 Torn Corroded Leathers and a Lace Helm. How very fetching that must look.

Of course Progress Quest is more of a barbed joke than a game, but it's amusing enough. I think I'll leave the game running for a while to see what happens when Earl the Demicanadian earns enough experience to level up...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Geek's Metaphor

Last night I joined some friends at Stephen and Audrey's place for our semi-regular Dungeons & Dragons night. Today, while cleaning house, I considered how the game mechanics of D&D could be applied to real life. For example, after ten years of practise writing professionally, I suppose one could say I've wound up as a Level 10 Writer, or maybe a Level 8 Communicator, with specialized skills in Writing, Graphic Design, Photography etc. at different skill levels. Today, I changed a couple of light bulbs and helped Sylvia scrub away some stray glue on the floor with turpentine, possibly earning ten or twenty experience points (XP) in my Handyman skill.

Unfortunately, I slipped and fell to my hands and knees pretty hard after stepping in a wet spot, earning bruises on my knees and wrenching the muscles in my arms, possibly taking between 1-4 Hit Points (HP) of damage. Fortunately, that small amount of Hit Points will heal fully with a night's rest, and I'll be back at full strength for tomorrow's battles. It's easier than fighting a Bronze Warder and two Renegade Tieflings, believe me.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Diamond Head

Sylvia and I travelled to Honolulu in 2008, and while out on a boat I photographed Diamond Head, the famous volcanic cone. Before this trip, I'd always been a little skeptical about Hawaii; judging only by advertising and popular culture, it had always seemed like an over hyped tourist trap to me. But once we landed, I realized immediately how beautiful the place really is. Our hotel featured an open-air restaurant overlooking the beach, and I loved sipping virgin strawberry daquiris while alternating between reading a book and watching the waves and the people, shore birds skittering around my feet and across my table.

Next time, I think we'll try Maui.

Friday, December 09, 2011

A Khan-ing Plan

Ever since the release of 2009's Star Trek, fans have speculated that the sequel will feature genetically engineered supervillain Khan. Personally, I hope these speculations come to nothing, because we've seen Khan's story before, done to perfection; why retread old ground? Besides, future-Spock's presence in the new alternate timeline should mean that there's no excuse for the Enterprise to stumble upon the Botany Bay as it did before and unknowingly awaken Khan. Surely future-Spock has given alternate-Kirk a "dos and dont's" list:

1. Don't take Gary Mitchell and Elizabeth Dehner to the edge of the galaxy
2. There's a planet-killer at these coordinates. Destroy it by putting an unmanned starship on autopilot and set it to self-destruct in the machine's maw.
3. Don't beat yourself up over hesitating for a second before shooting at the cloud monster.

...etc. But surely the top of the list would feature one overriding command: when you run into the USS Botany Bay, don't awaken its passengers! Leave it alone.

Of course, that wouldn't make a very exciting story. So if the producers of the new film insist on using Khan, the best way to create drama would be to have future-Spock attempt to guide the young Enterprise crew to a better course of action. He might, for example, advise young Kirk to tow the Botany Bay to the nearest Starbase and, under heavy guard, put Khan and his followers on trial for their crimes against humanity. That would be the logical and ethical thing to do.

But what if, in attempting to avoid the mistakes of the past, Spock's interference leads to even greater catastrophe? Perhaps Kirk thinks that only a trial on Earth will suffice for one of humanity's greatest monsters. Perhaps, complacent in their knowledge of the (alternate) future, Kirk and company forget the first film's most important lesson: that everything has changed. Perhaps Khan and company escape custody and execute some kind of horrific terrorist plot - perhaps one that kills Kirk's mother and brother? The film could be called "The Wrath of Kirk," as Kirk seeks vengeance and future-Spock realizes, too late, that attempting to change the past has only made things worse. He might even tear up his "dos and dont's" list, swearing not to say another word about his knowledge of the future.

I suppose this might make an entertaining movie, especially if it inverts expectations about what a Khan-based film should be. But truly, I'd rather see a film that harkens back to the show's original concept: seeking out strange new worlds and new civilizations. It would be unfortunate if the new creative team started rehashing old material one sequel into the reboot...

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Press Gallery Christmas Party

I'm up late blogging tonight because I just returned from the annual Alberta Legislature Press Gallery Christmas Party. As noted a couple of posts ago, each caucus in the legislature, along with the press gallery, prepares a self-mocking video for the crowd's amusement, and I must say this year's batch of videos was uniformly entertaining, at least for this particular crowd: people who actually pay attention to provincial politics.

Here are some of images of my colleagues, past and present, who attended the event:
Alex and Raj
Kyle and Rick
Marcella, Stephanie, Jonathan and Melissa
Brian and John
Teddy and Carmen
Karin, Kyle and John
John's signature gesture
Earl, Brian and John
A good time was had by all! Or so I assume. People laughed at the videos, anyway!

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Unsafe in Any Direction

Back in the days when I was young, my friends used to gently mock me for following the rules of the road so carefully. Unless by accident or emergency, I always obeyed the speed limit, waited a full three seconds at stop signs even if the roads were deserted, used my signal lights and drove defensively. I was a goody-two-shoes, and those habits remain to this day - though of course like any driver I've had my embarrassing moments of inattention and bad judgement.

But I've never done anything really crazy such as driving the wrong way on a one-way street, or driving down the wrong side of the road. But I have seen such reckless souls speeding right toward me.

On the first occasion, driving my Mom's borrowed 1982 Corolla, I was heading eastbound on Edmonton's Saskatchewan Drive on the north end of Old Strathcona. I took the hard U-turn that leads down Queen Elizabeth Park Drive, a winding, downhill, two-lane one-way street leading downtown. Shortly after making the turn, near the top of the hill, I encountered another vehicle. Its driver was grim-faced, his eyes fixed doggedly forward as if daring anyone to take issue with his driving. I didn't even wave to warn him of his error, for his expression made it clear that he just didn't care; he was heading up that hill the wrong way no matter what. Fortunately the road wasn't busy, and clearly cars had avoided him simply by switching to the other lane, but I still found it amazing that he'd driven the wrong way nearly for the entire length of the road. As he passed I glanced back over my shoulder to watch him round the corner I'd just navigated in the proper direction, and he disappeared from view. 

I still wonder why that driver remained so committed to his course. If I read his expression correctly, he knew exactly what he was doing, and yet he persisted in endangering life and property. Was he suicidally despondent? Embarrassed but too proud to turn back? An uncaring psychopath? I'll never know.

On the second occasion, while driving a parts truck for Norwest Automotive, I was heading east on 61st avenue between 104th and 103rd streets. This time, an ancient woman in a weather-beaten sedan sped down the wrong side of the road, heading west in my lane. There was a pedestrian on the sidewalk to my right, but the opposite lane was clear so I veered into it to avoid a head-on collision. The woman drove blithely on, blissfully unaware that anything untoward had happened. She slowed down not a fraction.

On the first occasion, I was alarmed but bemused by my near-miss. The second time, I was enraged. But what could I do? In retrospect, I should have called the police and reported a dangerous driver, but I was young and relatively inexperienced and the notion never crossed my mind. I hope neither of those drivers hurt anyone, or themselves.

Both of those incidents showed me how dangerous it is to get behind the wheel at any time. Vehicles aren't toys, and they should be handled with the utmost caution. Lives can be forever changed in the blink of an eye thanks to a single person's poor judgement or inattention.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The Chump

Once a year, it's my job to lead the creation of an Official Opposition video to entertain guests at the Alberta Legislature's annual press gallery Christmas party. Each caucus - as well as the press gallery itself - brings a short, ideally funny, self-deprecating video that summarizes the year in provincial politics. It's a task I anticipate with a mix of delight and aversion; it's a fun job, but also a stressful one simply because it's a busy time of year.

I cannot, of course, divulge the plot of this year's Alberta Liberal video, but the picture above provides a clue to its general theme. It's certainly the most ambitious of the videos I've worked on for caucus. On Thursday night, I'll find out if people think it's funny.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Gorilla Grind

Several years ago, my friend Pete was trying to rid his house of some clutter. He was about to throw away this magnificent ape-head pencil sharpener, but asked me first if I wanted it. Of course I leapt at the chance to own a marvellous example of monkey kisch. When you push a pencil into the ape's mouth, its eyes flash and the sharpener emits a horrifying grinding noise. It's one of the most obnoxious office appliances I've ever seen, and I love it.

I shot this photo on my iPhone with the Instagram app. Interested parties can follow me at username EarlJWoods.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Earl in V-egg-reville

Earl and the world's largest pysanka. Photo by Sean Woods.
Almost four years ago, I realized a lifelong dream by participating directly in the democratic process, serving as the Alberta Liberal candidate for Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville. I placed a distant second, but the experience was well worth it: I met hundreds of very nice people, I lost about fifteen pounds door-knocking, and I learned about the people, geography, industries and issues of east-central Alberta. And I finally laid eyes upon the famous Vegreville pysanka, the world's largest.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Uncle Arnold

Today I learned from my Uncle Gordon that my Uncle Arnold Jones died last night. Uncle Arnold, seen here speaking at my wedding to Sylvia, had a great sense of humour; he was always cracking dirty jokes. Uncle Arnold and Aunt Marjorie lived in Devon, Alberta, for most of the years that my family lived in Leduc, and during the 80s we visited regularly; Arnold and Marjorie's youngest son, my cousin Darwin, is my age, and we spent many weekends playing video games on the Atari 800 or playing with Uncle Arnold's elaborate train set:
Uncle Arnold worked in Alberta's oil and gas industry for many years until he and Aunt Marjorie moved down to Mesa, Arizona as snowbirds. My cousins are heading down there now to support Aunt Marjorie.

It's been a couple of years since I last saw Uncle Arnold, and I'm sorry that I didn't see him one more time before his passing. But I'm grateful that he and my other uncles and aunts made it to our wedding, and I hope Uncle Arnold enjoyed it as much as we enjoyed having him there.

My condolences to Aunt Marjorie and their sons and daughter: Evan, Bruce, Darwin and Diane. Such a loss, but many happy memories.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Revolt of the Super-Chicks

In late 1965, Supergirl and Wonder Woman starred in The Brave & the Bold #63 - "The Revolt of the Super-Chicks!", a love letter to conformity and traditional gender roles. The premise: lacking romance because she's seen as too intimidating for men, Supergirl abandons her role as a superheroine so she can focus on being what men want: something feminine, i.e., weak and frail. That's not subtext in this story, it's flat out text:
It seems laughable on the face of it that men wouldn't be attracted to an adorable blonde co-ed in a skintight leotard and miniskirt, but in the world of sixties comics, apparently Supergirl can't catch a break in the dating game. So she takes drastic measures...
Superman, playing the voice of masculine authoritarianism, tries to convince his cousin that she's making a bad decision. But she's a little too clever for Supes, with hilarious results:
"Why...uh...ulp...I - I'm very FOND of girls...I...uh.." Methinks thou dost protest too much, Superman.
Supergirl figures that Paris is the home of romance and the best place to get some action, and she's right - no sooner does she set foot in the City of Lights that she becomes a "glamorpuss playgirl," at least according to Wonder Woman, dispatched by Superman to talk sense into his cousin. But Supergirl is a bad influence, and soon enough Wonder Woman finds herself a suave French playmate as well...
...a chauvinist dimwit who thinks fighting crime is unfeminine. Tell that to the world's female police officers! And yet, Wonder Woman buys into her lover's point of view without question.
Meanwhile, some boulders conveniently fall out of nowhere to reinforce the sexist point. "If I stop them with my super-powers, I'll no longer seem feminine to him!" You know, if Sylvia could throw boulders, I'd still be attracted to her. Were men really this insecure in the sixties?

The rest of the story is cheerfully mundane; Supergirl and Wonder Woman team up to fight the forgettable Multi-Face and realize that they must continue to serve as superheroines, foregoing romance. It's as if the two endeavors are completely incompatible, yet super-heroes have no trouble fighting crime and having girlfriends. No double standard there!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Model on Bench

Sylvia on a park bench, summer 2007. Aside from chopping her right arm off, I quite like this photo. Feels fashion-like.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Preview of Hell

Sometime back in the summer of 1973, I bought The Brave and the Bold #108, Batman's long-running team-up comic. Sgt. Rock was this issue's guest star, in which writer Bob Haney and artist Jim Aparo spin an atmospheric, creepy tale of deals with the devil and an enduring, ultimate evil.

Always favouring dramatic impact over subtlety, Haney's story - "The Night Batman Sold His Soul!" - finds Batman and Sgt. Rock crossing paths chasing a cloaked figure whom Rock believes is none other than Hitler himself, having faked his own death at war's end, gathering his forces to begin another campaign of terror. Batman, meanwhile, is plagued by the same figure, who has laid claim to Batman's soul. (In an act of desperation that opens the story, Batman in a fit of outraged frustration carelessly says he'd give his soul to escape a trap to save a young boy.)

Eventually Batman, Rock and Easy Company track their quarry to an underground lair, shown above. The last panel left an enduring impression upon my young mind. What could be more chilling than a cave full of Nazis, with their leader - perhaps a still-living Hitler, perhaps Satan himself - lurking in the shadows, ready to wreak terror upon the world once more?

The story ends on an ambiguous note, with the Nazi lair destroyed by the villain - whether Hitler or devil - escaping in the mayhem, leaving Rock and Batman wondering who or what they were chasing. Spooky.

It's interesting to note that Batman and Sgt. Rock teamed up several times in the late sixties and early seventies, several times explicitly showing that Bruce Wayne fought alongside Rock during World War II. And yet while Rock appears to be in his sixties or seventies in the "present-day" portions of these comics, Wayne hasn't aged at all - he looks about 29 in the forties, and about 29 in the sixties/seventies. And yet Rock doesn't note that Wayne hasn't grown a day older despite the passage of decades...hmm. Maybe Wayne made a deal with the devil after all...

Monday, November 28, 2011

Crossing the Floor: Postscript

Last week I shared my thoughts on Bridget Pastoor's floor-crossing from the Official Opposition to the government benches. Since then I've considered the issue a little more, and it occurs to me that there's another aspect of the whole affair that bothers me even more than the issues I outlined before: the question of playing fair.

After the last election, the collective opposition was reduced to just eleven MLAs: nine Alberta Liberals and two New Democrats. Since then resignations, by-elections and floor-crossings have changed the balance of power slightly; there are now eight Liberals, two New Democrats, four Wildrose Alliance members and one Alberta Party member. That still leaves the government with a huge numerical advantage; they could lose twenty seats and still hold on to their majority.

And yet despite this huge advantage (earned, in our first-past-the-post system, by securing barely more than fifty percent of the vote in the last election), the government still feels it necessary to woo opposition MLAs to their side.

This strikes me as dirty pool. The government doesn't need Bridget Pastoor to carry out its business, yet they cajoled her into crossing the floor anyway, for no other purpose than political gain and to hurt the opposition. It makes you wonder how far they'd go to destroy their political enemies.

Each MLA a caucus loses costs that caucus tens of thousands of dollars in funding - funding that's used to represent Albertans, to hold the ruling party accountable. A tiny opposition can do little to challenge the government if they don't have enough money to do their job.

The Progressive Conservative government clearly considers the Liberals enough of a threat that they feel like they have to use every trick in the book to keep the Official Opposition down. It's like they can't stand the idea of losing, that they'll do anything it takes to stay in power.

From one point of view, I suppose that's understandable. No one likes to lose. Losing means you and your friends lose your job and you have to go and find something else to do. It also means that maybe the province won't be run exactly the way you wanted for a few years.

But is that really the worst thing in the world? Are the Tories so afraid of losing that they don't see the benefits of changing governments every once in a while? Are they that selfish? Do they really find other political points of view so repellent that they recoil in horror at the thought of someone else taking power for a measly four years? Heck, I can't stand Stephen Harper but I don't think the federal Liberals were entitled to stay in power forever, either. If we're lucky, change will bring renewal eventually.

No one likes to lose, but if I were working for government I think I'd have enough humility and enough of a sense of fairness to say, "Hey. Let's play fair. We're strong enough to win without resorting to petty tricks. We have the best ideas, we're the best managers. We're not afraid of the opposition. And if the voters kick us out, well, we'll be back in four years stronger than ever."

Wouldn't the province - the country - be healthier if we acknowledged that winning all the time doesn't exactly build character? Sometimes we need to lose. Sometimes losing leads to greater wisdom and compassion. Losing builds empathy and helps us identify our weaknesses.

When a party becomes so afraid of losing that they're willing to play dirty, maybe it's time to get out of the game - so that the game itself can continue to prosper.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Popcorn Waterfall

I've always been fascinated by the photographic effects made possible by long exposure times. While this image I shot in 2007 is no masterpiece, I think it turned out pretty well for having been shot with a cheap point-and-shoot Pentax.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Daft in the Rafters

Many years ago Mom and Dad renovated our house's basement, but they never got around to finishing the ceiling. As a result, the rafters were exposed, as seen above in a dramatic recreation of Sean's unfortunate experimentation with those rafters.

One day, Sean decided that rather than descending the stairs normally, he would swing dramatically from the rafters, Errol Flynn style, landing catlike upon his feet. Unfortunately the rafter snapped under his weight, sending him plummeting spine-first on the rock-hard edge of the stairs, his feet landing squarely in the kitty litter*. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth and suppressed laughter from his slapstick-loving older brother.

*Sean's feet did not actually land in the kitty litter; he just missed. But it makes a better story if his feet land in the kitty litter, so that's the way it happened in the deluded corners of my mind.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Edith and James in the Rain

Over at JSVB, my friend Jeff has a tradition he calls "Ungood Art Day." Here is some ungood photography I shot back in 2006. I wanted to evoke the tragedy of the doomed love between James Kirk and Edith Keeler by placing their action figures in the rain. But my mini-studio consisted of the kitchen sink, and so instead of the sublime we get the ridiculous. It almost looks as though a prankster has dropped a water balloon on Edith's head, which might have injected a brief comic touch to an otherwise gloomy episode. I suppose Harlan wouldn't have approved, though.