October 2012

In lieu of trick-or-treating

October 31, 2012, OTTAWA — Click here for the details if you missed the link below. And happy Hallowe'en for real.


Magazine, found at a newstand

October 31, 2012, OTTAWA — Click here for the details if you missed the link below. And happy Hallowe'en for real.


Happy Hallowe'en, bitches!

October 27, 2012, OTTAWA — It's nearly two o'clock on a Saturday morning. I'm tired and cranky and feeling a tad contrarian.



Nalo Hopkinson's nightmare of Blackness

October 7, 2012, OTTAWA — Drawing on myths from Jamaica to Russia, on folk tales of Coyote and Brer Rabbit, and maybe from sources as disparate as Chuck Jones, J.R.R. Tolkien and Mervyn Peake (not to mention Lewis Carroll), Nalo Hopkinson's "Young Adult" debut is as singular a creation as it has been my pleasure to read in a very long time.

All at once a surreal adventure, a subtle exploration of privilege in caste-ridden society and a daring push against the walls of narrative fiction itself, The Chaos has no villain and its (black, Canadian) heroine never wields a blade nor fires a gun.

Though questions of race and identify form organic parts of how the novel's characters view and interact with the world (none of the book's major characters is white), race is not what the book is about. Hopkinson is telling a story, she is not preaching.

Narrated by probably the most fully-realized teenager I have come across in fiction, The Chaos is always surprising, a thoroughly unconventional page-turner you owe it to yourself to read — to pass on to any literate young person you know.

For my full review, click, "When I cried, the tears were black."


Meet Geoffrey Dow: Art Director

October 5, 2012, OTTAWA — It might only be a one-shot title (mine, that is; Humanist Perspectives itself has been around since 1967), but "Art Director: Geoffrey Dow" has a very nice ring to it.

I've always enjoyed layout and design, going as far back as the halcyon days of Letraset, and getting the chance to produce a 40-page, slick magazine was the fulfillment of a dream I had almost forgotten I had.

Though the work is now done on computer, not paper, the sensation of doing tactile work remains.

At this point, I don't know whether I will get the chance to repeat the process, but I hope so!

Click here for details.


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September 2012 (B)

Linguistic relativism or, Losing my obsession

College and Bathurst
Does anybody have a photo of the facade of the old KOS (just around the corner from this streetcar)? I'd be most gratified to use it here.

September 14, 2012, OTTAWA — As one of maternally Finnish origin, I for many years insisted that the word, sauna, is properly (Correctly! I would insist) pronounced SOW-A-NA, not "SAWN-A" as is the flat and nasal fashion among Anglo-Canadians.

I knew it was a losing battle, yet I kept up the fight; in life, as it would be on the internet, I could not easily let anyone just get away with Being Wrong.

I must have been in my late 20s or early 30s when, having a drink at the restaurant, KOS, in Toronto, I had a similar argument with my friend John.

John, who is of paternally Greek background, corrected me when I uttered the restaurant's name as COSS. The word, he insisted, is pronounced KHOCSH, not COSS. "It's a Greek word," he said, "and I know."

"Oh come on," said I, "we're in Toronto and it's become an English word now. So let it go."

We argued about it for a while, until the parallel with John's obsessive need for me to pronounce Kos "correctly" and my own to correct others in their pronunciation of sauna finally dawned upon me, a slow-motion intellectual sunrise.

And so, upon reflection, did I give up my fight. Languages evolve, and there is little to be gained in raging against the tides of pronunciation, or even (usually) of definition.

Let's let XKDC plays us out ..., since Randall Munroe's latest cartoon inspired this in the first place.

Cautionary Ghost
Cartoon is reproduced under the Creative Commons Licence 2.5. The original lives at http://xkcd.com/1108/.

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September 2012 (A)

No escaping the Tedium of the Daleks

September 6, 2012, OTTAWA — It's not too far off a year since Doctor Who last graced our screens, the 2011 Christmas special. Which I know I watched, but about which I did not blog and of which now I remember precisely nothing at all — save that I found it dull but not outrageously offensive.

(Oh. Wait. As I typed the preceding, I began to recall that episode's companion of the hour. A woman, naturally, and one whose identify (correct me if I'm wrong) and whose heroism was entirely bound up in the fact of her motherhood. Hot mother or hot model, that's our Mr. Moffat. Ah well, onwards.)

Between that ostensible special then and the program's resumption now, I made the mistake of paying good money to see Moffat (et al)'s Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (which was only the second worst movie I have seen this year). So it comes as no surprise that "Asylum of the Daleks" shows no sign that Moffat has taken a remedial course in story-telling. Indeed, the new outing only provides further proof that Steven Moffat has forgotten everything there is to know about the basics of narrative fiction.

What Moffat does have is a strong command of the idea of story-telling, the parts that make up a story. But of story itself? Fuggedaboutit.

Does it sound as if I repeat myself? No doubt: I repeat myself. If that bothers you, please just pass on by. Otherwise, please click the link to (re)discover the moral vacuum at the heart of Steven Moffat's Doctor Who. Spoilers within, of course.

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July 2012



Serendipity detail

(So long, and thanks for all the bagels)

July 31, 2012, OTTAWA — As July comes to a close, so too does my tenure in Ottawa's storied Glebe. Tomorrow, I meet with our new landlord to pick up the keys. Saturday, we pack up our things and move uptown, into the very heart of our nation's capital.

Sometime last week, I decided to test out the new bus route to the airport (hint: it doesn't require a transfer and the bus comes to within a few blocks of our home-to-be). The bus to work was running late but the trip was otherwise uneventful. The ride back, on the other hand, made my heart go boop-oop-a-doop.

As the 97 crosses over the Rideau Canal one looks out upon a skyline that actually looks like that of a city, not of a town with a thyroid problem.

Who knew? In Ottawa there are towers of glass and concrete canyons. It's true, the towers are not that high and there aren't that many of them; nor are the canyons all that deep. But they exist, and it thrilled me to know I would be once again living in an area I can honestly call urban.

* * *

Which is not to say I won't miss the Glebe. I will. I'll miss the fearless cats. I'll miss the quiet streets and their stately arboreal honour guards. I'll miss Kettleman's Bagel Co. and — maybe more in theory than in practice — I'll miss having a sidewalk and driveway to clear of snow.

And so, just because it happened and I like the accidental results, I will say a cyber farewell to the old neighbourhood with a photo I've entitled Serendipity. I took it last week, the day I gave up on playing soccer in the rain and have (finally) decided that I like it quite a lot.

It might seem strange to commemorate a time of drought with a photo of a downpour, but since I am in fact commemorating a time of change — of giving up and taking on, of shedding and growing, of joys to come and regrets past — perhaps the apparent contradiction is a good thing. If there is anything at all consistent about life, it lies in its inconsistency.


Click the picture to embiggen, if you're of a mind to.


Awards among the shallows:


Vernor Vinge and why the golden age of science fiction is still twelve

July 31, 2012, OTTAWA — I really ought to know better by now. It doesn't matter whether an award is given out by fans or by peers, critics or the general public, whether the criteria is ostensibly "best" this or "favourite" that.

Awards are a crap shoot, influenced by fashions, by lobbying and by plain old bad taste.

That's right, I said it. Sometimes an award is given out to a book (or a movie, or a play, or a poem — the list is as endless as variations in the arts) that simply doesn't deserve it. That doesn't even merit being on the short-list in the first place.

Let me tell you about Vernor Vinge and why the golden age of science fiction is still 12.


So Breaking Bad it's good

July 16, 2012, OTTAWA — I can't remember the last time I wrote a preview of some popular entertainment. I'm tempted to say "never", but that's a hell of a long time.

That said, I guess I'm kind of offering a preview of the 5th season of Breaking Bad, by way of a very (for me: circa 800 words) brief review of its first four.

I feel kind of dirty for so looking forward to last night's episode (no, I've not yet watched it), but looking forward to it I am. Breaking Bad is an awesome guilty pleasure.

The Wire meets Wile E. Coyote (not much in the way of spoilers).

Post-script, July 27, 2012: I have now seen the first two episodes and have not been disappointed. That said, the tone seems to have shifted, with the emphasis on Walter White's moral degradation, even as his tangible powers grow. For him, at least, this can't end well. For us? Well, we can but wait and see.


Girls gone funny

July 9, 2012, OTTAWA — The older I get, the less patience I have for ideologues of any description, whether of the right or of the left.

No matter what their intentions — whether it is to combat racism or to combat other races — anyone who believes there is but One True Way to do things, or think about things, has the soul of a fascist.

And so, rather than just recommending you rent or otherwise get a-hold of the now-completed first season of Lena Dunham's Girls, I found myself struggling with people who seem to seriously believe that cliquish exclusion and nepotism is worse than the Holocaust.

My essay is a long one, so I'll put it plainly here. I enjoyed Girls an awful lot and eagerly await its second season. Dunham is an excellent young writer and her show is an excellent professional debut — even if its principals are all privileged white people.

Am I blind to my own privilege as a white guy? As I said, my review is a long one, but I welcome your comments. Also, please note: it is not safe for work! You've been warned. Click here for Privilege and prejudice: The unbearable whiteness of being Lena Dunham.


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June 2012

Prometheus: Ridley Scott's Titanic failure

Look ma! No helmet! (What could possibly go wrong?)

June 22, 2012, OTTAWA — I know it's not very post-modern of me, but I like to suspend my disbelief when a book or film takes me to another world. I like to pretend that Middle Earth is real, that the Doctor's phonebox might really materialize with a voorp-voorp-voorp right in front of me or that I really could thumb a ride to Bellona.

Put it another way. Fiction ought not set off too many of my shit-detectors. A surgeon should know the kidneys are, a cop shouldn't ride a unicorn in present-day Toronto and Richard Nixon shouldn't spout socialist philosophy on the campaign trail.

(For the record, I can also enjoy in-jokes, the breaking down of fourth walls and even direct auctorial interruption of a narrative — when it is done well.)

The worst thing a creator can do to his or her audience's suspension of disbelief is not to ask it to accept the fantastically impossible, but to accept the mundanely improbable. A Doctor who travels through time and space in a magic phone-box is wonderful, but a doctor who doesn't know basic anatomy is ridiculous.

Which brings me to my second foray into a movie theatre in the year of our Lord two thousand and twelve. Once again I was hyped into slapping down my hard-earned money on a block-busting 3D fantasy. Once again, I walked out well, dissatisfied, to put it mildly.

In fact, Ridley Scott's prequel to his 1979 classic, Alien, is one of the dumbest movies I've ever seen. Failing basic archaeology, biology, astronomy and psychology (to name only a few areas of Epic Failure), Prometheus makes no sense and isn't even scary.

Holy von Daniken, Batman! My review is behind the cut. With spoilers? Sure, but who cares!


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