Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Epistemic Closure and Me

In his article, "Revenge of the Reality-Based Community", conservative Bruce Bartlett describes his fall from favour with America's Republican Party.  In it, he uses the term "epistemic closure".  In his context, he uses the term to describe a state of affairs where forms of cognitive dissonance can be comfortably ignored within a bubble of like-minded friends and Fox News.  Basically, he argues that conservatives have created a system where they can ignore not just contradictory viewpoints, but evidence, science and yea, reality itself.  This is not just an issue for Bruce Bartlett and conservatives.  It's everywhere. 

One of the things I try not to take for granted is the stunning rise, during the youth of my generation, of the internet.  As a shy high school student, I called the internet for the first time in a computer lab in my high school.  The computer went shhhhh boing eeeboing-boing.  It was all text-based.  Now the internet is an essential service.  It's the flagship invention of our Information Age.  As a writer I can research any topic without leaving my home.  As a consumer, I could watch movies on Netflix all day and never see them all.  And as a Man I can... do other stuff.

The Truth, as based on evidence and scientific findings, has never been more available.  Yet people seem more confused than ever.  For my lifetime has also seen the rise of something sinister: extremist politics.  Since that day in the early 90's when the school's computer went boing-boing, the world seems to have filled with evangelical Christians, fundamentalist Muslims, radical free-marketeers, paranoid left-wingers and conspiracy theorists.  These groups were around when I was a kid.  However, what makes them more powerful today is that they can pick up a keyboard and find hundreds of people to agree with them.  They can live their lives avoiding cognitive dissonance and differing viewpoints, digging themselves deeper in layer-upon-layer of justifications, gradually believing stranger and more incorrect things.  I know how easy it is to get caught in this world, because ten years ago I was One Of Them.

It all starts with not wanting to be wrong.  In 2001, the world's political landscape changed suddenly when The World Trade Center in New York was destroyed.  Sitting American President George W. Bush experienced a huge upswing in popularity.  I hated that.  His presidency was already infamous for its stupidity and dishonesty, so when he said that a cell of fanatic Muslims was responsible for the attacks, I doubted him.  I wondered if, because he benefited from the attacks, he might be responsible.  I turned to the internet to satisfy my doubt and found thousands of viewpoints that reinforced what I already wanted to believe: "I am not wrong in doubting".

This was my gateway into the world of epistemic closure that is far-left conspiracy theory.  Every conspiracy theory needs three things: an antagonist, followers who feel victimized, and a will to believe.  For small-c right-wingers, the antagonist is a vast organization that includes corrupt politicians, communists, media outlets and hordes of deluded thralls.  Small-c left-wingers blame different organizations.  Fanatic Christians and Muslims believe the Devil is at the centre of the conspiracy.  Others think it's freemasons, extra-terrestrial intelligences, or a race of reptile men.

I was in the small-c left wing camp.   I felt I was the victim of a group of shadowy rich men who continuously tread on my rights as a human, elect and bribe politicians, control dishonest media outlets and make a mockery of democracy.  As I write this, this theory doesn't sound so crazy.  That's how a conspiracy gets you: it starts somewhere real.  William Randolph Hearst was a rich man who influenced politics with money, owned yellow media outlets and drove America to war.  Rupert Murdoch, with his ownership of Fox News, is Hearst's modern counterpart.  The world is full of rich men who love to wield their power.  

I lived in this world for several years.  Every day I would log on to and check out the array of news sources which spanned mainstream outlets, to hazy sites like and, to sketchy publications like Pravda and the official media outlet of Saddam Hussein's government, to the lowest level of left-wing newsmaking: angry bloggers sitting in their basements making stuff up.  I was angry, too.  Who wouldn't be angry in a world where 9-11 was an inside-job by the American government?  Or Al-qaeda is an invention of Israel's Mossad?  Or hundreds of American soldiers die daily in Iraq and are not reported? 

I wanted this world to be true.  It wasn't just about being right or not being wrong.  Believing in a story like this added meaning to my life: I felt like I was doing something important in opposing the conspiracy.  And believing in the conspiracy made me feel smarter than everybody else. 

Then, suddenly, I stopped.  I was tired of being angry and powerless.  I was reading something claiming that yet another group was responsible for 9-11.  At this point, I had heard that 9-11 had been engineered by Al-qaeda, the CIA, the NSA, NORAD, the Bush White House, the Mossad, the Israeli Army, Cubans or the Rothschilds.  "So which group is it?!" I exclaimed.  And I had no answer.  For you see, I didn't know.  I wasn't there and I didn't see.  I would never really know, it was beyond my power to know, and it was not my responsibility to know.

That was step one of my recovery and it felt great.  My anger dropped away so suddenly that I sighed.  I stepped out of my house into the sunlight, breathed warm autumn air and felt great. 

Step two of my recovery was a little more difficult.  At this stage I looked at my past beliefs and realized that not only did I not know what happened, but my past claims were most likely wrong.  It hurt to admit.  In trying to add significance and importance to my life, I engaged in insignificant and unimportant activity.  In trying to be smarter than everybody else, I became ignorant.  In trying so hard to be right, I was wrong.  

Step three was a little easier.  I realized that there are people in the world who knew what happened.  These are people who are trained to know.  There are intelligence experts all over the world who agreed Al-qaeda is responsible.  There was also Al-qaeda itself, that claimed responsibility for orchestrating the attacks and training the pilots.  The simplest explanation was that these people were right. 

It's easy to fall into the trap of epistemic closure.  I feel embarrassed about the things I thought and said, but I have to remind myself how easy it is to believe incorrect information in the age of the internet.  It's even easier now.  On Facebook, an article with a crazy title goes viral quickly and people will share it without checking sources. 

Let's take a look at this shitty internet situation.  I just Googled the word "reptoid".  Here are the first ten results.

Result 1: Wikipedia.  Anybody can edit Wikipedia.  Because of this, it has a reputation for inaccuracy.  Unfortunately, it's the only search result that is critical of the idea that reptoids control the world.

Results 2, 3, 5 and 6: Conspiracy websites Reptoid Research Center, the Reptoid Wiki and the Alien Research Wiki.  These sites will tell you that a conspiracy of anthropomorphic, maneating reptiles are masquerading as humans and ruling the world.

Results 7 and 8: YouTube videos of reptoids Johnny Depp and Alex Jones supposedly shapeshifting.  (The Alex Jones shapeshifting video is especially silly: yet another example of conspiracy theorists claiming other conspiracy theorists are part of the conspiracy)

Results 4 and 9: results unrelated to the reptoid conspiracy.  A guy nicknamed reptoid has weird photos and a Swedish magazine is named "Reptoid". 

Result 10: Urban Dictionary.  Absolutely useless for anything.  It's uninformative, not funny and fuck fuck fuck I hate Urban Dictionary. 

Here is the point I'm trying to illustrate.  If somebody tells you that Queen Elizabeth II is a shapeshifting flesh-eating reptile, it's difficult to find proof on Google that she's not.  The only sane site on the first page is the perpetually-scorned Wikipedia.  To search further, you will have to wade through scores of unsourced frightmongering conspiracy sites, irrelevant links, broken links, advertisements, mirror sites and porn to find something useful.

It's the Information Age, people.  Why is it so hard to find sourced evidence that reptoids don't exist?  It should be front-row, centre.  Instead, Google has provided me with a series of results that will support an unhealthy belief-system, hedged by random crap.  The Information Age was supposed to disseminate knowledge.  Instead we have a multimedia minefield where banner ads decorate the desperate squeals of mentally-ill persons trying to be correct. 

There has to be a better way.  How about this, Google?  How about letting media outlets, universities and research companies register as "scientific" or "sourced", and if you search with a specific Google setting, these results will come up first?  If Google can SafeSearch porn, it can help the world filter its bullshit, ads and inane yammering.  

In honour of this occasion, I am going back over my posts on this blog and deleting one that was poorly-sourced and spreading misinformation.  I won't tell you which one, though.  It's still hard to admit that I've been wrong.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Book Review of "Sacred Origins of Profound Things" by Charles Panati

Charles Panati is a renaissance man.  He's published books on history, the supernatural, science, word origins, and my favourite: his tome about endings, which covers sundry topics ranging from death to disease to extinction.  This book, Sacred Origins of Profound Things: The Stories Behind the Rites and Rituals of the World's Religions, is about the divine. 

Though this book is about world religions, Panati's interest seems to be attracted by the Roman Catholic Church and Judaism.  By comparison, Islam, Buddhism, Hindu and the Protestant and Orthodox Christians are given only passing mention.  Even so, the scope of this book is massive, covering how humans understood the gods, The God, Satan, the afterlife, religious garments and dogma for thousands of years. 

Panati's tone attempts to be impartial, but it's difficult.  Some of the rationalizations, bizarre interpretations, circular thinking, and blunders made by religions in the past are simply difficult for a modern reader to take seriously.  Also, Panati cannot resist a good digression and will often interrupt his narrative to tell a funny story.

I started reading this book in January of 2012.  Eleven months later, I'm finally finished.  At 500+ big pages, this book is a massive commitment.  It wasn't always an interesting journey, particularly the chapter about Catholic vestments, but I have returned much wiser.  I was unaware, for instance, of the amount of non-biblical story that generations of Catholic thinkers have heaped upon the Biblical Mary, mother of God.

The Bible says a teenager named Mary was betrothed to a man named Joseph, though she did not "know him".  An angel named Michael appears and tells her she is/will be with God's child.  She then gives birth to Jesus.  Jesus is raised by his mother, amongst brothers and sisters, until he gets killed by Romans.  Mary sees him briefly after he returns to life, and then she vanishes from the pages of the Bible.  Let's assume that "not knowing" Joseph is a correct linguistic interpretation.  She is the Virgin Mary, after all, and it would be cruel to dissect her greatest miracle, carrying the Son of God without having sex

At some point in the early Christian church's history, it started to get more prudish than its Jewish fathers.  Then it got a little more prudish, then ridiculously prudish.  Sex, female anatomy, burst hymen, and birth became abhorrent to Christian thinkers.  They blamed femalekind for original sin, which bore as its wicked fruit, sex.  From this viewpoint, 2000 years-worth of story was interpreted or invented onto the Bible's original text.  Some of this tale is dogma, some of it merely widely believed by those in the know:

Mary's parents didn't enjoy having sex, so therefore Mary was born into the world without original sin.  Jesus didn't have a vaginal birth, rather, he was magically C-sectioned in a ray of light out of her womb, keeping her hymen intact.  Her maidenhead remained intact after Jesus' birth as well, as it turns out all those brothers and sisters were Joseph's from a previous marriage.  When she died, her body laid in the ground for a couple days without decomposing, because bacteria and graveworms don't eat virtuous people.  Then she crawled out of her tomb and ascended.  These days, she ventures out of heaven to tell children to build shrines and convert Russia to Catholicism.

That's interesting.  I did not know that.  If this sort of thing appeals to you, you'll love this book.  Without a doubt, many readers may experience cognitive dissonance, particularly Catholics who may be surprised at the things they are REQUIRED to believe.  As I mentioned before, the book is very long and has boring bits.  Luckily, it's written to easily choose which chapters to read, and you can put it down for long periods if you so wish.  Therefore I rate this book, speaking Infallibly of course:
4 self-inflicted stigmata out of 5

In other news, I put the finishing touches on my fourth screenplay, "The Rising".  Also, Rosie's Knife was finally published in the final issue of Dark Recesses Magazine.  Read it here:  It's been a good month!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Knocking the Windowpane

If pride cometh before the fall, you can expect my next drop to shatter my skull (again).  The Residuals will soon celebrate our album, Knocking the Windowpane, at our CD release party.  The event is at the Woods Ale House, October 6th, (2012), at 9:00 PM.  There will be a concert, CD signing, and a free Paddockwood beverage for your $5 entrance free. 

So how am I feeling?  A year ago this album was just a frightening concept for my ego and pocketbook.  Now I don't care if we ever sell another copy.  Listening to the culmination of all that effort in my car, seeing Kara tap her feet in the back seat is reward enough. 

And what an experience!  When we entered PulsWorks studio in December of last year, we were worried.  Some of us were terrified.  We were rehearsed and prepared, but as we sat before the microphones in the centre of the room, we were tense.  Were we making the right decision in our choice of studio?  The standard amount one can expect to pay to record an album is $10,000, but we were budgeted for half that amount.  Would our miserliness ruin our work?  Would we mess up and cause a fiasco?  Were we good enough to record an album?   

Indeed, nothing seemed to go right those first hours.  As we struggled through Patsy Geary's Jig and Miss McLeod's Reel, fingers fumbled, trembling hands strummed uncertain chords and tempers rose.  Ted's pipes squawked in the dropping humidity.  (We preserved a relic of our frustration at the beginning of the Patsy Geary Set track: Ted's drones fail to deploy and he growls, "Oh, you son of a gun.")
At the end of that day, we decided to try one last track.  It was Rick's song, The Blue Diamond Mines, a Jean Ritchie ballad about working coal mines.  For four brief minutes, everything went right.  We had a near-perfect one-take wonder instrumental track.  "It's a good thing we did that," said Rob, "Because if we hadn't, there wouldn't be a second day of recording." 

Over the next months, we got better at recording.  We relaxed.  We started to have fun.  And we also ripped through tracks with confidence and the good musicianship I've come to expect from my band. 

Soon, our instrumental tracks were recorded.  We left the big room we chose for its acoustics and entered a tiny padded room.  That was a fun day!  It's cliche, but we all experienced shock at hearing our voices in high fidelity (do I really sound like that?)  We recovered quickly and completed all of our songs in record time!  (notice the hilarious double-meaning there?) 

Next came editing.  Rob and I joined our engineer, Brady, in the studio to turn our work from kinda good into perfect.  It's amazing what a good sound engineer can do.  It's not just adding echoes.  The three of us surfed all of our music for not just the best takes, but the best sections of each take.  Seemlessly, Brady cut the rotten bits out, substituted good bits, and subtly blended the result so it didn't sound dumb.  His wonderful gadgets and gizmos were also able to easily change the duration of sung lyrics so that we sounded way tighter than we actually are. 

Perhaps some ultra-traditionalists are pumping their shillelaghs in the air in fury exclaiming, "Editing?  Why would ye want ta do dat terrible t'ing?"  It's worth noting that all the editing we did used pure "us", just the best of us.  No pitch correction tools were used.  Each track was recorded with all instruments in the same room, playing at the same time.  Also, no animals were harmed.  Also, go to hell you stereotypical conservative Irish straw-men! 

Rob recorded his tracks from prison
Then, one summer day, the recording and editing was finished.  I remember it because it was the day before my birthday.  Also, I fell down my front steps at home from exhaustion as the tension left my body.  As I was lying on cement at the bottom of my deck unable to move from fatigue, relief, and also pain from my twisted ankle, it became apparent that I was carrying a burden of stress from this project. 

At the time, I thought the stress was over, but there was more fun in my future.  There was the manufacture to arrange and make sure it would be in Saskatoon by FolkFest.  There was the booklet to design.  And also licensing.  Ohhh, the licensing.  Take it from me, if you're going to record an album, make sure you either write your own songs or borrow from the public domain.  8 cents per song per album may not seem like a lot of money to pay in licensing fees, but you pay tenfold in time-wasting as you fill out forms and hunt for composers on the internet.
Regardless of troubles, our baby is here.  I can be critical and severe, particularly regarding music, PARTICULARLY my own music, but I actually like our album!  My peeps tried their damndest and they succeeded in producing one hour of pleasing music.  What's it like?  Think Great Big Sea minus the drum kit and minus the cheesy songs designed to get them laid.  Or maybe imagine what the Dubliners could have done if they drank less. 

Knocking the Windowpane truly redefines Irish traditional music.  Nay!  Music itself!  Junk your other CDs, dismantle the recording industry, disband the Metropolitan Opera, send Bob Dylan to the gibbet, throw the Black Eyed Peas to the wall, dig up the corpses of the great composers and burn them.  You won't need 'em after you buy Knocking the Windowpane.  Am I over-selling this? Perhaps.  But I still think the Black Eyed Peas should be executed.
As the result of our hard rehearsing, our act is better.  We've doubled and trebled the number of gigs we've been playing.  However, for the Residuals, our big project is over and now we have time for some rest.  Rest, in this instance, means learning new material, enjoying alcoholic beverages in moderation and generally not worrying about stuff.  It feels good.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Book Review of 'Tis by Frank McCourt

Frank McCourt is a writer and teacher.  In Ireland, he spent his childhood in poverty.  In the dark lanes of Limerick, he and his family suffered through starvation and disease.  He watched several siblings die.  Then, as a teenager, the woman he was working for died and he stole money from her purse.  The money paid his fare across the Atlantic to New York on a freighter.

This was the subject of McCourt's earlier memoir, Angela's Ashes.  The next chapter of his life, 'Tis, picks up where Angela's Ashes left off: the freighter crossing the Atlantic, and spans the next forty years of his life.  It follows his life as he cleans ashtrays at the Biltmore hotel, joins the army, unloads ships and struggles to become a teacher despite his poor education.  His amusing descriptions of his trials and the odd characters he meets form the basis of his memoir. 

The book truly allows you to live inside Frank McCourt's insecure skin and experience the life of an Irish immigrant in New York.  It has laughs and groans of embarrassment.  That he has bettered himself and lived a remarkable life I cannot deny.  My life is undeniably better for having read his story.  Yet I have to say that when I think of this book, I feel a little cold. 

Maybe it's just the ordering of events that bothers me.  I'm not sure what 'Tis is about.  Is it about the triumph of an immigrant in America?  Is it about a son who cannot remove himself from the shadow of his alcoholic father?  Is it about learning how to teach?  Is it about all of them and I'm an idiot for trying to force a moral or theme on this remarkable life?

Also, the book suffers from a lack of quotation marks.  I hate that.  I like knowing for sure when somebody is talking. 

If you've read Angela's Ashes or watched the movie, this book will have appeal as you get to explore Frank McCourt's life further.  Teachers and historians will also get a kick out of it.  For me, it had great parts.  Many great parts.  The sum of its parts is multiplied by a figure I don't understand.
3 1/2 cringing face-palms out of 5

Monday, July 23, 2012

Movie Review of Nashville

The 59th movie on AFI's list is the Robert Altman film Nashville.  It's a typical Altman film with a giant ensemble cast, realistic dialogue and a rambling plot.  It follows a few days in Nashville's country and gospel music industry in the 1970's. 
I wasn't a huge Robert Altman fan before I saw this film, and I'm still not.  You would think that with realistic characters and authentic-sounding dialogue, a film would be interesting.  But Nashville is not.  I would even say that it is unspeakably dull.  Because the camera's attention wanders in and out of characters' conversations and doesn't cut during the boring parts, my attention span did the editing for Robert Altman by drifting in and out of the movie.  Things my wife was doing, the antics of household cats, the weather, and lint between my toes at various times were more interesting to me than the action on-screen. 

The movie's music is meant to be a snapshot of the real Nashville's music in the 1970's.  And boy-howdy, country music was in a bad place back then.  On the scaffolding of cowboy ballads, folk music and songs about unfaithful wives was built a teetering Babylon of maddening pretention where untrained singers screeched above full orchestras, when early synthesizers beeped and booped next to the howl of slide guitar, when nauseating, nasal male voices told you in no uncertain lyrics exactly what to think.  The lumbering adult-contemporary beast opened wide its maw, gobbled Hank Williams Jr. and took a shit on 70's culture.  That rhinestone-encrusted piece-a'-shit was country music from this era. 

Nashville is many things bad.  It's a black comedy that isn't very funny.  It's a snapshot of a musical genre that deserves infamy and scorn.  It's another reason I have to curse Robert Altman's name and progeny, and yet another selection from the supposed 70's golden age of cinema that just bores not just the hell, snot and shit out of me, but the lymph, earwax and spinal fluid. 

In conclusion: Fuck.  Nashville. 
1/2 a repetative refrain of "It Don't Worry Me" out of 100

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Stripper, Censor, Gamer, Guy

I'm a man.  I intend to remain so.  Therefore, when it comes to women's issues, I can sympathize, but not empathize.  I do know what it is like to be prejudged.  It is with great care that I approach this next subject.  I really don't want to embarrass myself.  Here goes. 

Awhile ago I read "Video Games and The Male Gaze" on Gamesutra.  It echoes a growing theme: today's video game industry is misogynistic.  Video game creators are 90% male and games are targeted to a huge male audience.  Furthermore, fanatic sexists inside and outside the industry are making life difficult for female gamers and creators.  I suggest you read the article before you proceed with this post.

I agree that male chauvinism ought not to be tolerated as a witness or victim.  I agree that sexist themes are common in video games.  I also become enraged when I read some of things that men have written on message boards and forums that humiliate both their female targets and themselves.  Yet something about this article really bothers me. 

What bothers me is that it seems to broaden the definition of sexism to a level at which I become uncomfortable.  It is a level that promotes shame in men.  It is a level that seems to suggest censorship and self-censorship in art and expression.  It is a definition of sexism that does not come from prejudging, degrading or hating women, but rather is the result of societal hangups about sex.  It applies not just to "The Male Gaze" and video games, but other media and indeed real-life. 

When a story is told, whether fiction or non-fiction, the good ones tend to involve remarkable things.  We love to see, hear and read about a remarkable personality, a remarkably courageous act, weird happenings, an unspeakable evil, a huge explosion.  We enjoy escaping our everyday lives to vicariously live an interesting life different from our own.  Most people, for instance, would be very interested to vicariously experience the events of the picture embedded in this text block, even if they would intensely dislike actually experiencing it. 

Many people enjoy seeing uncommonly gorgeous women in their media for this reason.  Another thing that doesn't happen very often in real life is seeing gorgeous women taking their clothes off, completely naked, or wearing sexy outfits.  For instance, my life has a distinct lack of chainmail bikinis and I enjoy seeing women wear them as a result. 

Visual media allow also the viewer to stare.  Our society has a huge stigma associated with staring at women's bodies.  Enlightened types (like me) allow ourselves a glance at an appealing bit of exposed flesh but try not to be conspicuous and are mortified if caught.  Women on the television, however, can be ogled until the frame changes and are never offended by a male gaze. 

Basically, our society has a huge pool of people who like to freely ogle scantily clad, beautiful women.  (Have you noticed how I've been writing "people" instead of men?  Am I not sexual-orientation-conscious?)  Not just see them, but be them.  I assume some female gamers enjoy the experience of roleplaying extremely sexy woman, but more importantly, many men seem to like pretending to be a sexy woman even if acknowledging it makes them uncomfortable.  Millions of male Tomb Raider players can't be wrong.  With so many people wanting to see and be sexy, of course game developers and film producers want to cash in.  So, is it a bad thing?  Brandon Sheffield, the author of "Video Games and the Male Gaze" and many like him say "yes".  They say such images are sexist. 

Is that true?  Not necessarily.  Wikipedia suggests that sexism is prejudging a person based on their gender, believing in gender supremacy, or holding people to gender stereotypes.  Going by this definition, seeing a picture of Red Sonja and assuming she's a stupid whore is sexism.  Showing her body, seeing her body and admiring her body are not sexist actions because doing so makes no judgment on her competencies or the content of her character. 

What I believe these people are actually objecting to is the fact that she IS sexy.  They worry about how much skin is showing.  They focus on how long cameras linger on certain shots.  This is a deep-seated hangup that society has about sex.  Our culture has taught us that sex is dirty, naughty and wrong.  It has taught us to be ashamed of our bodies.  It has taught us that female nudity equals sex.  It teaches people that they are bad for looking.  The solutions of the prudes  inevitably force people to cover up and self-censor, stunt creativity and hide emotions rather than dealing with them. 

It is not sexism that is driving the demand for lovely naked women, nor the shame at seeing them.  It is Victorianism.  If our society was cool with casual nudity, as in naturist communities and some tribal settings, seeing a naked woman wouldn't be a huge deal, nor would filming a naked woman be an issue, nor rendering one from pixels.  Remove the social stigma on nudity and you remove all the bullshit that comes with it.  Yeah, it's not going to happen in my lifetime, but one can hope for the future.  For now, we're stuck with the stigma. 
Seeking to titillate is not wrong, nor misogynist.  It fulfills a societal desire, even if the taboo on nudity exaggerates it.  However, returning to the example of Red Sonja, one can still criticize the thought process that went into the creation of her image on a non-sexist level.  Most obviously, you might point out that her armour is going to get her killed.  If she doesn't freeze to death immanently, that scale mail is going to guide a sword blow directly toward her heart.  The urge to titillate has overridden logic.  However, comic readers are willing to suspend their disbelief because they like looking at her.  Once again, that is not wrong or misogynist.  It's worth pointing out that Red Sonja is an accomplished swordswoman, is powerful, forces her will upon the world and has a rich and developed backstory.  As tempting as it is to target her as a symbol of sexism, on her own, she is a fully-developed character with a preference for sexy, non-functional armour. 

The problem is that there are just too many characters who look like her.  Just about every female video game character is designed to be sexy.  This is where the misogyny comes in, as many of these characters are poorly-defined, with bust-lines deeper than their backstories.  It falls neatly into the definition of sexism by pandering to established gender stereotypes.  It seems odd that busty warrior-women in sexy costumes are a gender stereotype considering that I have never met one in person, but there it is. 

There are hundreds of butt-ugly, scarred, old, mud-spattered, hulking, weedy, or unappealing male characters to choose from.  Women video game characters are confined to a single young, athletic figure with varying boob/ass size and hair colour.  There's a world of different, real female body shapes and faces out there.  That's why this article excites me.  The author/creator has carefully made female avatars/protagonists who blow the traditional only-sexy character out of the water.  I would love to see more of what this mindset has to offer. 

I like seeing sexy women in my video games.  I never want to see them go, and I suspect they never will.  What I would like to do, as a consumer, is reward game developers, by giving them my money, who create awesome female characters.  Sure, let them include many realistically-bouncy boobs.  But I would like them to expand the definition of "sexy" to include several other body-types.  I would like some female characters not to be sexy, or at least not have "sexy" be their chief descriptor.  But most of all, I yearn for real characters that I can identify with, care for or hate, and maybe fall in love with as the story unfolds.

The best defense against chauvinism is understanding, and the best way to understand somebody is to identify with them.  If women in video games have true character with backstory, hopes, fears, and difficult decisions, people will identify with them.  When understanding is achieved, distinctions of lingering camera frames and sexy armour vanish.  

Here's an aside. 

A few years ago, when video game nudity was less common, Electronic Arts released a video game called "The Godfather II".  It's basically a Grand Theft Auto clone about walking around frightening people, murdering them and taking their money.  The combat system includes many bare-handed fighting and wrestling elements.  It has rudimentary strategy elements as well.  All-in-all, it was a real piece-a-shit, continuing the tradition started with the first Godfather game of horrifying Francis Ford Coppola.

Included in the game are strip clubs in which the protagonist can view and interact with topless strippers.  You can sweet-talk them and slap their asses.  You can also shoot them.  But if you try to grab them, something interesting happens: they slap you and you are forced to let go.  See it here:  Oh yeah, it's not safe for work. 

No other characters in the game cause this automatic grab-rejection.  Is it because the designers took to heart the phrase, "You should never hit a woman?"  No, because you can grab fully-clothed women.  Is it following the time-honoured tradition of "Never touch a stripper?"  No, because you can still punch them to death.

So why did they do it?  Probably, and this is a guess here, the creators knew that if you could grab strippers, social media would be flooded with embarrassing videos of topless women being manhandled.  They knew some concerned parent would see junior's video of himself pretending to hump a topless stripper and then murdering her, then come the outraged religious groups and censors and blah blah blah.  They didn't want to deal with that.  

So... that's sexist, right?  I mean, their paper-thin personalities and acceptance of ass-slaps makes the strippers a sexist presence to begin with.  But the game singles out a group of women to protect for societal reasons, so it's more sexist?  Or is it not sexist because it empowers the strippers with martial arts?  Should EA be applauded for not allowing strippers to be grabbed or are they a bunch of cowardly hypocrites for making a murder-fantasy game and backing out because of nudity?  Shouldn't the random murdering be the issue EA backs away from, not the presence of strippers?  

I dunno.  I'm just a boy.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Movie Review of Duck Soup

Number 60 on AFI's list is Duck Soup, a 1933 Marx Brothers political satire.  The action takes place in the fictional country Freedonia, where wealthy plutocrat Ms. Teasdale orders that Rufus T. Firefly, become leader of the country.  Firefly, played by Groucho, proceeds to act like an asshole.  Meanwhile, the leader of neighboring Sylvania hires a couple other Marx Brothers to spy on Firefly.  They too proceed to act like assholes. 

Frankly, I have difficulty seeing how this movie is a political satire.  To me, it seems more of a series of set pieces engineered to feature the brothers Marx acting like assholes.  This isn't to say the movie is bad, I just think it's a little weak in the satire department.  That's also not to say the assholic antics of the Marx Brothers aren't funny, either.  When they act like assholes, they do so not because they're mean or angry.  Their characters have no motivation other than to cause chaos for its own sake. 

What this film has going for it is a series of quick-firing gags and physical comedy.  Amongst these is the oft-imitated mirror gag in which Harpo seemlessly pretends to be Groucho's reflection in a mirror.  What it lacks is a strong plot and, well, political satire.  All in all, I've seen way funnier comedies and many more political satires that are funny because they're true. 
2 1/2 leg-lifts out of 5

Friday, April 20, 2012

Book Review of "Neverwhere" by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is one of the most highly-acclaimed authors writing in the fantasy genre today. He is lucky enough to have several film and television adaptations of his work. In at least one case, he wrote a novel based on his own television miniseries. That novel is "Neverwhere".

The plot follows Richard Mayhew, a timid businessman living in London. He's going nowhere at his job. He's engaged to a controlling woman but doesn't seem to mind.

One evening, on the way to an important dinner with his financee and her boss, he stops to help an exhausted street girl he finds bleeding on the sidewalk.  He assists the harried girl into his apartment.  Unfortunately for him, the girl is a dweller of London Below, a strange faerie realm that exists in the old tunnels, sewers and subway systems beneath the city.  London Below is populated by street people, sewer dwellers, people who speak to rats, ragged courts of nobles and monsters. 

Simply by interacting with the girl, Door, he phases out of the reality of London Above and is forgotten by everybody he knew.  Like the other residents of London Below, he is ignored by average people, and when noticed, dismissed quickly and forgetten.  He loses his identity, machines stop working for him, and he becomes a nobody.

Convinced that Door can help him return to his old life, he follows her into London Below, attaching himself to her quest to discover why her father was murdered.  Accompanied by the bodyguard Hunter and a swashbuckling Marquis, they wander London Below for clues, all the while stalked by the ageless assassins Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar.

"Neverwhere" is the second novel of Gaiman's I have read, the other being "American Gods".  I am sorry to say that I am not very impressed.  I say "sorry" because I very much want to love these books.  "Neverwhere" treads literary territory that I love, steeped in history, fantasy, and the supernatural.   Croup and Vandemar are villains straight from Dickens, inspiring fear and laughter at the same time.  London Below is richly imagined.  There are many, many things about this book to admire. 

What drags down Gaiman's book, for me, is his writing style.  I found the narrative to be overly-cutesy.  It is full of turns-of-phrase that sound wonderful when spoken aloud in conversational speech, but, on the page, need to be re-read to fully understand the meaning.  This happens often enough that it becomes distracting and winking, as if to say, "Look at how funny I'm being." 

I also have issues with the plot.  Richard is thrown into events which he, at first, does not understand, nor does the reader.  As Door and her entourage travel the underworld, their wanderings at first seem aimless.  Once the reader has gained an accurate idea of the quest, it seems a bit shallow.  Typically, when characters go on a literary quest, there are consequences for their failure, such as a nation being overrun or the world ending.  Not here, and it made me care less about the outcome.  It is only until the climax of the book that we discover something awful could happen if they fail.  And even then, it's still kind of unclear why or how the forces of evil will triumph and why it's so bad if they succeed in their plan.  I won't say more for fear of spoilers. 

I am very interested to read a more-recent Neil Gaiman book to see if his narration has matured.  As it stands, I am underwhelmed with his 90's novels and their weak narration, but love his work in more visual media such as movies and comics.  Once again, I need to repeat that there are so many things about Neverwhere that are great.  It therefore rends my heart to give it:
3 lame-duck protagonists out of 5

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Movie Review of Sullivan's Travels

...And another giant break between AFI movies.  Anyway, we just watched #61 on AFI's list, a comedy called Sullivan's Travels.  It was released in 1941, directed by Preston Sturges and stars Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake.

The story is about a film director named Sullivan who has grown weary of making schlocky comedies and shallow musicals.  He wants to direct a movie called O Brother, Where Art Thou?, an epic that captures the struggles and plight of the common man.  His collegues chide him for knowing nothing about the struggles of the poor.  Undeterred, he dons hobo clothes and runs away to sample life as a migrant worker.  As he travels, he prompts people to talk about their troubles, but discovers nobody is in a big hurry to bemoan the plight of the common man.  He meets "the Girl", many misadventures occur, many silent-movie comedies are referenced and many lines of dialogue are delivered snappily. 

As an aside, despite bizarre claims by old movie posters for this film which proclaim that "Veronica Lake is on the Take", Veronica Lake at no point appears to be on the take.  I can only assume that this genre-defying movie left studio publicists mystified as to how to market it.  Scratching their heads in confusion, somebody suggested, "We need somethin' that rhymes, see!  Who cares if it don't make sense?"


What makes this movie different is that it has a fourth act in its story structure.  After Sullivan and the Girl spend an appropriate amount of time learning hardship and having zany adventures, they return to the studio in triumph.  Normally, a movie might end here.  However, Sullivan decides to don his hobo clothing and repay the poor he lived with a stack of $5 bills.  He is promptly robbed at a trainyard and tossed unconscious onto a departing freight.  His robber is mangled by a train and his corpse mistaken for him.  Meanwhile, the groggy Sullivan lashes out at a railyard guard and is sentenced to six years hard labour.

It is here that the film abruptly changes tone to a drama.  Miserable, overworked and persecuted, he learns real suffering.  He spends a day in the hotbox for reading a newspaper.  At his lowest point, a revival congregation allows the chain gang to watch a Mickey Mouse cartoon in their church.  All his troubles melt away as he howls with laughter at Pluto's antics.  He realizes then that he doesn't want to direct O Brother, Where Art Thou?  He sees that if he wants to help the common man, more good can be accomplished through laughter.


And that's the message of this movie, recalling the film's dedication at the beginning:
To the memory of those who made us laugh: the motley mountebanks, the clowns, the buffoons, in all times and in all nations, whose efforts have lightened our burden a little, this picture is affectionately dedicated. 

It's a message that could have gone terribly wrong.  For in order to tell the message that "laughter is the best medicine", the film loses all its laughs during the fourth act.  It's risky business and some might accuse it of hypocrisy.  However, in my opinion, the film pulls it off.  Perhaps its hand is heavy, but it is moving in its own way.

It's a pretty good film.  The laughs vary from slapstick to wordplay to high-concept comedy.
4 1/2 unscheduled returns to Hollywood out of 5

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Eyeball Soup for the Soul

For years, horror has been regarded as the lowest form of entertainment. Cultural elites believe horror is a playground for mankind's basest nature, where pubescent boys indulge their appetite for bloodletting and jiggling boobs. Church fathers regard it as a refuge of corruption where the innocent can be lured to sin by Satanism. Other people just think it's gross.

Well, I'm here to tell you today that horror can make you a better person. For lurking within horror's black heart are ethics, humanity, hope, intellect and wisdom. You have to know where to look. Every genre has its own tropes, and it is in these ideas and cliches that horror's morality can be perceived. Here are the most common and what we can learn from them. They are simple moral lessons that we often forget.  

1. Characters Questing for Forbidden Knowledge bring Doom
This is usually how all the trouble starts. It can be somebody delving into evil tomes that should not be read by human eyes, a common theme in H.P. Lovecraft. It can be scientists experimenting in realms of knowledge without considering the consequences, a theme commonly seen in Atomic Age horror. However, it's not just in the concept that characters investigate things they should just leave alone. How many times have you stared at a movie screen and willed a character not to go into that house, not to go outside to see where the dog went, or just DON'T OPEN THAT DOOR!?

The reckless attitude of horror characters can best be shown in the 1999 piece a' shit, Bats. When asked why he created a race of malevolent, super-powered bats, their creator answers, “Because I'm a scientist! That's what we do! We make things better!”  

The Lesson: Curiosity Eviscerated the Human
The 21st century promises any number of humanity-threatening disasters, thanks to mankind's own ingenuity, inventiveness and curiosity. Millions of us could die as the result of global warming. Or self-aware robots. Or self-replicating nanobots. Or, of course, the old favourite nuclear annihilation.

Horror asks us to consider why we're researching creepy stuff like crowd-control microwave cannons. It asks us to consider the implications of programming artificial intelligence that can learn. It asks us to think about the far-reaching consequences of building a nuclear reactor in, say, a place with lots of earthquakes and accompanying tsunamis.

Are some forms of progress worth the danger and loss in human life and dignity. At the very least, horror asks us to proceed with caution. So, to the scientist who is currently working on the project to invent the big red button that destroys the universe (and I know you're out there somewhere), please give some sober thought to inventing something actually helpful, like cars with sewage engines or a cure for pop music.  

2. The Skeptic

"Mulder, there's no such thing as stuff."

A stock character in the horror genre is the skeptic. Oftentimes, the protagonist begins the story as a skeptic. From a story perspective, the skeptic is an agent of the world that audiences find familiar, a world that is unpopulated by horrible, incomprehensible things. The skeptic sympathetically latches to old beliefs about reality even if something overtly supernatural kills somebody. They constantly try to convince other characters that they are safe. Their single most common line of dialogue is some permutation of, “There has to be a rational explanation for all this.”

Or, as Dr. Roger Fleming from The Lost Skeleton of Cadavera says, “Ranger Brad, I'm a scientist, I don't believe in anything.”

 As appealing as the Skeptic's arguments can be, unfortunately they are wrong wrong wrong. The monsters are real and they are dangerous. In order for Horror protagonists to deal with their new reality, they must stop listening to the skeptics and confront the problem. As for the skeptics themselves, they frequently discover the hard way that vampires are real.  

The Lesson: Don't Cling to Old Ideas if they are Proven Incorrect

I would like you to think about your least-favourite politician. How many times have you cursed this politician as being evil? Stupid? Corrupt? A liar? Have you ever been watching them speak and turned them off because their words make you furious? Have you ever shared an article about what a bad person this politician is with friends on Facebook and felt better as likes and sympathetic comments pour in?

Yes, you have. Everybody does it. Your least-favourite politician represents a threat to your belief system. The anger you feel is the result of cognitive dissonance, the tiny voice in your head that whispers that you are wrong. We all hate this feeling and when we are presented with information that contradicts us, we spurn the messenger, downplay the information, or seek comfort with like-minded people.

We may be right to do so, because sometimes other people really are deceitful or incorrect. However, somewhere in your life, right this instant, a there is something in your life that is making you unhappy. This issue may be difficult to see at first, but if you need hints, you need only think about stuff that makes you angry or tearful. Work from there. What is your unhappy truth that you won't admit? It can be causing depression. It might even be killing you, such as if you are a smoker, alcoholic, or over-eater. Ignoring it isn't helping. Identify it. Your proverbial vampires can still hurt you, but to slay them, you have to know that they exist.  

3. Isolation
More than any other genre, horror isolates its protagonists. This isolation can be physical, such as the uncharted wilderness cave of The Descent. It can be social, such as when characters seek help from indifferent or hostile authorities, or worse yet, authorities who are in league with the baddies, such as Body-Snatchers!

The characters must know that no help is coming, not God, not the cavalry. If help is on the way, you can bet that it will be thwarted. Even when the protagonists ARE the cavalry, such as in Aliens, they will soon find themselves beyond help and hope. In that movie, the Colonial Marines, the universe's ultimate badasses, find themselves reduced to whiny, helpless children when their dropship crashes. Game over, man!

The Lesson: Only You can Solve Your Problems
Life is our horror flick. When it comes to our personal issues, we are as alone as any horror character. Remember that hidden, wicked truth about yourself that is lurking within your personality? Nobody can confront that issue but you. A therapist, counsellor or priest might assist you, but only you can actually take the steps to solve your problem.

Self help-types agree:  
The most important aspect of taking responsibility for your life is to acknowledge that your life is your responsibility. No one can live your life for you. You are in charge. No matter how hard you try to blame others for the events of your life, each event is the result of choices you made and are making. “Gatekeeper”, By S Miriam Clifford

Once you have seen your truth, deal with it. You will take steps closer to the person you want to be.  And when your life fades to black and humanity's ultimate monster, death, creeps upon your soul, you will not be the cringing idiot who claws at his deathbed and screams, "I'm not ready!"  You'll be able to grunt something awesome like, "Take me, ya sonofabitch.  I had a fuckin' good run!"   

4. The Crazy Plan that Might Just Work
Horror monsters are usually immune to conventional problem solving. If dealing with them were as simple as negotiation or shooting them, they wouldn't be scary. Luckily, they usually come with disastrous heels Achilles'. While common in other genres, a Crazy Plan that Might Just Work is almost required in any horror story.

This exploitable weakness might be as simple as a vulnerability to silver. Or perhaps the portal to the other dimension can be sealed if the streams of the proton accelerator packs are crossed. Or maybe a virus can be downloaded into the invader's navigation system. Whatever the solution, it possesses the power to completely neutralize the baddy and its minions.  

The Lesson: Every Problem Has a Solution
The message here is one of hope.  The characters of horror movies often best the vilest, most violent and supernatural opponents the human imagination can dream.  Their problems are so much worse than yours, yet they succeed.  Every problem you face also has a solution for somebody clever enough to see it and brave enough to use it.

To quote Stan Rogers, singing from beyond the grave:  
Rise again, rise again—
though your heart it be broken Or life about to end. 
No matter what you've lost, be it a home, a love, a friend, 
Like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.

 5. The Misunderstood Monster
The last few years have seen a parade of movies involving dead little girls annoying protagonists with their antics, only to have the hero help them solve their murders. The Sixth Sense, Stir of Echoes and What Lies Beneath come to mind. They are a common manifestation of another stock character, the Misunderstood Monster.

For me, the most memorable Misunderstood Monster of my childhood was the Pale Green Pants with Nobody Inside them, the antagonist of Dr. Seuss' story, “What was I Scared Of?” It's silly now, of course, but I know there are more than a few kids out there who found those pants terrifying. In the story, a hero of indeterminate species constantly meets the spooky pants in frightening locales, becoming progressively unnerved. Finally, he shouts for deliverance, only to discover that the Pants are terrified of him:  

 I never heard such whimpering 
And I began to see 
That I was just as strange to them 
As they were strange to me 

  In the case of the Pants, they become friends. Other monsters offer assistance or information to heroes after they discover the nature of the story's real enemy.  

The Lesson: Losers Make Loyal Friends
Professor Steven Reiss lists 16 basic desires that motivate all people.  Amongst them is Acceptance, the human need to be liked and understood by other people.

Different people rank their desires in different order of importance, but chances are you know a socially inept person who needs Acceptance in a bad way.  If you can practice tolerance and patience when dealing with these misunderstood freaks, you can win loyal allies.

If you are a misunderstood freak yourself, you can always hope that somebody reading this post reaches out to you.  In the meantime, there's always porn.

6. An Asshole Screws Everybody Over, Inviting Unfavourable Comparison to the Monsters
Seen many zombie apocalypse movies? The best ones go like this: in the first act, the heroes run from the zombies. In the second act, they have found a sanctuary from the undead hordes that allows them to talk, love and argue in safety. While the zombies remain a threat, the heroes can deal with them.

Then what happens at the beginning of the third act? An Asshole or Assholes screw everybody over. Mister Cooper refuses to open the door, then tries to take the gun away (Night of the Living Dead). Or Assholes on motorcycles let zombies into the mall (Dawn of the Dead). Or an Asshole-scientist is feeding soldiers to a zombie to make it tame, and when his faux-pas is discovered, Asshole-soldiers initiate a bloodbath (Day of the Dead).

In short, while the zombies are dangerous, it is the conflicts between humans that destroy the community of survivors.  When considering the horror genre in general, Perhaps Ellen Ripley says it best after company-man Burke locks her in a room with some Aliens in an unsuccessful attempt to cover his own ass:   

"I don't know which species is worse.  You don't see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage."   

The Lesson: Play Nice and Share
Last summer the world experienced the Occupy Protests.  Large groups of people camped in public spaces everywhere to protest wealth inequality, amongst other things.  One of their slogans was the phrase, “We are the 99%”, referring to figures that the top 1% of income earners are hogging all the wealth while everybody else is left with nothing. If you are unemployed, broke, or suffering from a disease you can't afford to treat, perhaps you know what they're talking about.
They have a point.  Economic inequality would seem to be a bad thing.  Places with low economic inequality include Europe and Canada.  Compare that to places where inequality reigns, places like Botswana, Bolivia and the Central African Republic.  Would you rather live in a place that has peace and prosperity, or a place that has old trucks careening through the streets, packed to the brim like a clown car full of AK-47-wielding child soldiers?

Most people are not serial killers.  However, we can still be monsters.  Like that Asshole in the zombie movie, we become monsters when we follow selfish ends that harm other people, even indirectly.  When our community is harmed, we are harmed.  And someday, like a zombie horde, our selfish actions may bite us in the ass.  The Romanovs were probably kicking themselves over that whole greed thing as they were being murdered by communists.

Right now, people all over the world are suffering, not just in the first world.  It's easy to dismiss these people as “lazy” or “drunks” or “criminals” or “terrorists”.  And you would be right to do so, because amongst the ranks of the poor, there are many layabouts, drunks, criminals, and a smattering of anarchists.  But a lot of them are not pretending.  Those people, right now, are hungry, homeless, in pain and dying.

Personally, I advocate progressive taxation. But that's just me and those of you who are a little more libertarian at heart may find that distasteful. So here's another idea: charity.

Are you a millionaire? Or maybe even a just a half-millionaire? Somewhere in your life, you are considering a purchase you really don't need.  Instead of a second summer-home, maybe a church charity beckons.  Instead of a new yacht, some starving students out there would really appreciate you setting up a scholarship fund.  Instead of buying that Hummer, rush down to the soup kitchen passing out $100 bills and giggling like an idiot.  Spare that brother a dime.

You might actually find it spiritually rewarding. You'll get pats on the back from your contemporaries and you may help avert a communist revolution.  Also, God will give you a personal thumbs up upon entry into heaven.  Everybody wins.

 7. The Horror is Not Over
Any lover of Horror cinema knows well the tiresome scene that happens at the end of hundreds of movies.  It's the one where we see the monster's corpse and it opens its eyes.  Or we see a bunch of baby crocodiles and O noes, what happens when those crocs grow up to be as big as the last one (Lake Placid). Or, surprise-surprise, Freddy returns for one more fatality.

You're supposed to be scared, see, because the scary stuff is still out there, man.  This horror-standard has, no doubt, caused many a viewer to lie awake in bed with the light on, fretting and jumping at night noises.   

The Lesson: Evil Can Never Truly be Destroyed
We got that sonofabitch, Adolf Hitler, the most evil man ever.  Huzzah for us, we sent a murderous madman to hell.

Now we just have to forget that the evil Joseph Stalin never paid for his crimes.  We also have to forget about how Mao Zedong ravaged China.  Now forget that hundreds of bloodthirsty dictators have emerged since 1945 in countries all over the world, bathing the earth in blood.

But we cannot forget.  For evil still lurks in the heart of our species.  Evil dwells in the sneer of a miserly employer, the cackle of a snobby country-club madam and the baton of a racist cop.  Evil will exist as long as there are humans.

What does that mean for you? That's a complicated question, and it's up to you to answer. I will ask you these questions to help you ponder. What is evil? And, does somebody you know view you as evil? Are you okay with that?

That's enough observation for now. Every horror story has a moral, even if it's drowning under gallons of blood. Next time you pop in a crappy horror flick, ask yourself what it's trying to tell you.

Or don't. Hey, look at the naked woman getting killed!

Friday, March 23, 2012

My Letter to Premier Brad Wall in support of the Film Employment Tax Credit

Recently, the Government of Saskatchewan announced its intention to axe the Film Employment Tax Credit. Here's how I feel about it. A copy has been sent to Brad Wall. If you agree, if you have worked in the business, if you have felt the positive effect of Saskatchewan's film industry, or even if you enjoyed watching Corner Gas, you really ought to contact the Premier yourself and ask him to continue the incentive.

Dear Premier Wall,

My name is J. Adrian Cook, writer and musician from Harris, Saskatchewan.

I dread the end of the Film Employment Tax Credit. This is not because I am planning to film in Saskatchewan. My dread is also not for my writing career, though it may limit my options as a screenwriter. My dread is also not for my future on set, though I have been sustained in the past by roles as an extra and production assistant. My finances will not be directly stung.

The reason for my dread is that I will say goodbye to so many friends. These are people who work in the film industry and whose livelihoods will be devastated. For years, they have made their living from foreign production companies enriching in our province. Now, these companies have little reason to film here. Their money will evaporate. If my friends wish to follow their dreams or even sustain themselves, they will have to move to Vancouver or Toronto.

I am no economist. I cannot speculate on the monetary result of the cancellation of the incentive. However, I can accurately speculate what will happen to my friends.

I am friends with screenwriters. For them, the end of the program will affect them slowly. Writers can write anywhere, but it helps to be near filming. Making film connections is important for them and if they cannot make them in Saskatchewan they will have to leave.

I am friends with actors and grips. These people can find work in local professional theatre if they are lucky. However, this is a limited job market and it will not provide for them. They will leave sooner.
My unluckiest friends are the directors, cameramen, and production assistants. For them, there is no substitute: they need film or they starve. They will leave soonest.

I seem to recall the Saskatchewan Party criticizing previous NDP governments because of a brain drain. Ending the Film Employment Tax Credit will send hundreds of our brightest citizens packing. Me and my province will be poorer, lonelier and sadder.

Please reconsider cutting this program.

-J. Adrian Cook

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

My Wonderful Band is Making me Crazy

The St. Patrick's Day season has ended. Traditionally, this is the busiest season for The Residuals. In fact, it's the reason The Residuals were originally formed: to satisfy the glut of demand for Irish music around March 17. After it's over, the band always enters a state of hibernation, emerging a month or two later to prepare for some isolated summer gig.

Always? Apparently not this time. This year we have a one-week hiatus and then we're back to work. We're hitting the studio again soon to continue recording our CD and we already have several gigs lined up for the rest of the year.

I love it. I am so proud of my band right now. While the Residuals have been around for over ten years, our current lineup of players - myself, Ted Leighton, Rick Kroener, Rob McInnis and Meaghan Haughian - has only been together for three. Those three years have been a series of incredible leaps in musicianship for we five. As their skills improved, I've listened and smiled. I've seen layers of stage fright shed from them like onion skin. I've watched as each of them gained the confidence and talent to experiment and "play" when they're playing.

Since December, we've been recording our as-yet unnamed CD and been busy with many gigs. As happy as I am to play with the Residuals, there is a pretty massive downside. As I discussed in this post, music inspires feelings in me that prayer inspires in others. Between the few hours I spend playing, I'm waiting to play.

The CD especially has me excited and I just can't wait to get into the studio. Yet I must wait. And I can't do anything about it. When I should be concentrating on the present, I'm instead anticipating the future. It sometimes makes me depressed.

I just can't get enough of playing with my band. I want more gigs, more CDs, more victories! Touring would be awesome! And yet there lies the other problem. Everybody but me has jobs. There's no way they could ever go pro without quitting them. Or I could frame them and get them fired for misconduct, but that's a series of devious plots for later.

For now, it seems the only answer is to just be less enthusiastic. I'm not sure that's possible. Many high-fives, fist-smashes, and hugs (where applicable) to my excellent Residuals for a best-ever St. Paddy's Day season!

ps. during band introductions, Ted called me "The Always-Distracting Jeremy Cook". I've never thought about it, but I guess I am kind of distracting. Is that good or bad?

pps. If you haven't already done so, Like our fanpage on Facebook.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Nemesis Returns

Once again, Nemesis has returned to punish my hubris. As a teenager, she haunted me. Again in University she dogged me. She is back and she will not rest until my career lies in ruins and my friends and family hate me.

Her bargain is simple. I get to play a really fun strategy game. I get to be the leader of a tribe and raise them to a world-spanning empire. I develop their technologies and tinker with their government. But in exchange for playing with the lives of millions, Nemesis destroys my free time for daring to play the role of god. The bargain is unequal yet still I slaver for the game of the bitch-goddess. And as my talents go to waste and my social life collapses, she laughs.

Her game is Sid Meier's Civilization. I first became hooked when the game was ported to the Super Nintendo. If I close my eyes I can still hear every note of the endlessly cycling modern-era music, inspiring nausea.

In 1997 I aquired Civilization II for my Mac. How many hours vanished into that void? I could not say. But when I returned to University I was playing it when I should have been studying. I must have been playing it in 1998 as well because I remember thinking to myself that I should be learning about Hinduism or practicing for the Saskatoon Symphony. Historical footnote: I got kicked out of the Symphony. Coincidence?

I managed to dodge Civilization III in 2005 on virtue of it being a stanky retread of Civ II.

But some of you may have noticed that I didn't write any blog posts this January. Eris protect me, Nemesis is back. And I'm not even playing the recently-released Civilization V. It's the old Civ IV and I'm helpless again. I am so powerless that I would rather be playing it that the latest addicto-thon for the PS3, Skyrim.

I told my wife I wouldn't be playing Civ IV single-player anymore the other day. But today I came down to my office to write. "I'll just check out the Carthagenians." An hour later, I said to myself, "You're playing this game. You should stop." Two hours later, I finally managed to regain control. Thank Eris I managed to halt myself before the sun set. If I had let myself, I would have played deep into the night and woken exhausted.

Help. Me.