Thursday, October 30, 2008

Not a Good Start

It hasn't been a good morning. I was just about to leave for the university when I remembered that I hadn't downloaded the latest file of my students' marks onto my memory stick. So I unlock my apartment and do that. Then I bike the 25 minute trip to the university. It's when I get there that I realise that I locked my keys in my apartment. Which also means that I can't lock up my bike either, since the key is... you know.

(I do have a spare key to the apartment, but my father was the one who collected the set of keys and he forgot to give me the second one, so it's about 600 km west. And that also means that none of this is my fault, since it's clearly genetic.)

So I bike back to the apartment. I'm dressed for the -1 degree weather in everything but my shoes, which means by this point, my upper body is drenched with sweat, and my feet are numb. I verify that my door is, in fact, locked, stash my bike in the laundry room, and get the phone number for the landlord from the person across the hall (whom I have never spoken to prior, BTW. Great first impression.). Then I walk BACK to the university, because I can't catch a bus, since, guess what, I forgot my wallet too. Then once I reach the university, I realise that I need access to my office, because my students' test papers are in there. I get the department secretary to let me in--for the second time, because TWO DAYS AGO I locked the same set of keys in the office.
So yeah, not good start to the day.
I talked to my landlord, and I've arranged to be let in later (which was good; my landlord can be notoriously hard to get a hold of sometimes). And the whole thing was made a lot easier because my landlord and the grad secretary were both very understanding. But it still bugs me.

And this is where the life writing comes in.

This sort of thing happens to me a lot. A lot a lot. In fact, when I once described a similar occurrence to a group of friends, one commented, "yeah, that sounds like a Person sort thing to happen," and everyone else nodded sagely. (They used my real name, not Person, but you get the idea.) Events like this happen so often, people can use my name as an adjective to describe them. That's a problem.

People who know me know that I like stories, and I like telling stories. The latter is so much the case that sometimes, I'll even do things that I know are bad ideas, just for the story that will result. Things like ordering a bad drink (the oatmeal cookie martini) or taking a camera into a men's room. It's little stuff. But sometimes, I worry that I take it a step too far. I know people who seem to thrive on drama in their personal life, to the point where they'll make the same mistakes over and over again, and there's not much you can do besides lending an occasional ear and staying out of the way. And I'm concerned that I'm the same way, that the reason these ridiculous, convoluted scenarios keep happening to me is because, on some level, I want them to happen. And to deliberately cause such tension in my life--it just seems like such a waste, you know?

Still, I'm glad that this particular tension-causer looks like it's going to land topside up. Now all I have to worry about is that none of my fellow tenants steal my bike before I get home.
....crap, now I'm not going to be able to think of anything else, am I?

Later Days.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Comic Book Wednesday: We're going to get an eye-rolling poem for every colour of the rainbow, aren't we?

Quick review, then big spotlight. Let's do this thing.

Final Crisis--Rage of the Red Lanterns. Like most of the Final Crisis tie-ins, this issue has relatively little to do with Final Crisis. It is, however, a crucial next step in Geoff Johns' ongoing Green Lantern saga. Plot: the Green Lanterns begin transporting the former green lantern Sinestro to his place of execution, when his Yellow Lantern Sinestro Corps arrive for an impromptu stay of execution. Then, in the middle of the fight, the Red Lanterns of Rage show up. Chaos ensues. As a chapter in Johns' ongoing story, this issue is a significant milestone that signals the next step in Rainbow Wars (there's probably going to be a better name for it than that. It's hard to take an event with the word "Rainbow" in it seriously.). And on that level, it succeeds. As a tie-in, it's tangentially involved at best, and as a one-shot, it kind of fails as well. I expect a one-shot to be a story to stand on its own, and this doesn't even attempt any sort of closure--in ends in the middle of the fight, with a note that the rest of the story can be found in the regular Green Lantern series. Please don't tell me I'm reading a final crisis one-shot when I'm really reading a Green Lantern double-sized issue. It's very good on the latter criteria, but on the former, it leaves something to be desired.
Cerebus, vols. 1-3. Looking back over the other three "in-depth" focuses, they've all been sort of gushes. Which is fine, and if any three comic series deserve it, it's those three, in my opinion. But today, I thought I'd like to look at something I feel a lot more ambiguous about. Cerebus and its writer, Dave Sim, are pretty notorious in the comic book world. But let's not start there. Let's start at the beginning, or at least, my beginning with this series.
Cerebus was something that always seemed to be in the library; a volume of it could be found in basically any public library that kept a graphic novel stock--and, if that library had an adult graphic novel section and a kids section, Cerebus volumes were invariably in the adults. (For good reason.) I put off reading it until I could find a copy of the first volume. Since it originally came out in issue form in the late 70s, I knew I was late to this party, but one tries to start at the beginning when one can. So I finally got my hands on a copy of the first volume, titled Cerebus, and found out what it was.

It was Conan the Barbarian, with an aardvark instead of a barbarian.
Meet Cerebus, people. He's kind of cute, isn't he?
And that's basically what the first stories were: typical Conan adventures with the added humour of juxtaposing an aardvark where the muscles should be. But even by the end of the first volume, things seem to have changed. It's more than just a parody; the characters have become more than one note jokes and the story itself has become more complex. The second volume, High Society, has Cerebus running for office. It's a deft satire on politics, the political process, and the nature of society. (And it's all beautifully drawn. Say what you want about Sim--and trust me, some say a lot-- the guy can draw.)
So we've got a well-written, informative book with plenty of purty pictures. Where's the problem? Well, there's a few. First, the whole thing is drawn out, quite a bit. Up to volume 4 is over 1000 pages, and while the other volumes slim down a bit, we're still talking another 8 books to go, and over 2000 pages more. That's asking for a big time investment. And by the end of book 4, the philosophical meanderings that started in the background are now at the forefront, and they get a bit tedious, to be blunt.
The big problem, though, was that after I read a little, I started to look for fan reaction to Sim on the net. And boy, did I find it. Most of the outright controversy revolves around Sim's anti-feminist stance. There are traces of this in the early stuff--there's a rape in volume 4, for example, that is just heinous. But misogynist characters don't mean a misogynist writer, right? (I would like to clarify that this a rhetorical question, and I am not calling Sim specifically a misogynist. Not at the moment, anyway.) Well... in Cerebus #186, there's this essay. And in #286, there's this. For those that don't feel like clicking, the #186 essay starts off:
  • "Journalism had been an early casualty in the war between the Female Void and the Male Light. "How do you feel?" had virtually replaced "who, what, where, when and why" as the journalistic cornerstone."
Well, I for one can say I feel considerably disturbed. I mean, female void and male light? Call me a feminist if you want, a male rather than a man, as Sims puts it, but I believe thinking that way would take the world in a direction I'm not interested in.
So, on the one hand, I believe that there is a distinction between the author and the work. But from what I understand about where the series goes, the author's viewpoint and the book's are not going to be straying very far apart. There's a lot to admire about Sims; he's literally written the book on self-publishing. An exploration of his philosophical, religious, and gender beliefs can and probably are taking up more than few dissertations. But I don't know if I can keep reading, I don't know if I want to keep reading, knowing what I know about where the story goes. Would it have been different if I didn't know? Well, obviously it would be different. But would it be better to have devoted all that time and energy to a work I'd ultimately find repulsive? I don't know. Will I eventually read the series anyway, out of morbid curiosity? Again, I don't know.

So like I said... ambiguous.

Later Days.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Down to a Fine Tea

Because you all need to know:
My God, Bengal Spice Tea is even good after it's been left cold on the counter for four hours. In fact, it might even be BETTER. Oh, tea:
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deep or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?
And what shoulder and what art
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand and what dread feet?

... I have GOT to stop posting just before bed.

Later Days.

Person of Consequence is .

I was just a few websites down, playing with my Facebook account, when my attention was drawn to the plethora of Facebook ads available at the click of a mouse. Now, even prior to this, I knew on some level that, as nice as Facebook is, it isn't connecting me with family and friends out of the goodness of its own heart. But it's still kind of disturbing to how specific these ads are. 13 of the ads tell me that I could easily meet single women, which means they're mining my gender and relationship status. (At least, I'm assuming that they're using my relationship status. I could change the status and find out, but that would result in a lot of unnecessary 'xplain' to do within my Friendlist.)
There's an ad for Arrested Development t-shirts. Does that imply reading my Favorite TV shows list, or does it appear for everyone?
Many of the personals ads are Canadian-centric and another asks whether I am smarter than Steven Harper. (He's at 131, btw. Which is respectable, and certainly more than the "beat George Bush" ads you see everywhere.) So they're using my nationality.
Most disturbing are the ads targetted directly to residents of the city of ____________. It's a level of such specialization that I half-expect someone to come knocking on my door at any moment and offer my facebook account car insurance. (And that's where your wrong, faceless Facebook ad company! I don't even own a car!)
To further investigate this issue, I tried to make my own Facebook ad, which is ridiculously easy, as it turns out. All you need is a pre-existing account and a website and you pay a fee each time someone clicks on your ad. Facebook also includes a lot of helpful hints to writing a successful ad (and what it will accept); you can't use misleading images, you can't put WORDS IN CAPITALS or use Words That Aren't meant to be capitalized, for example. And you can't be derogatory towards your customers--no "you're fat, lose weight." It seems Facebook's looking at the big picture; no alienating the audience base.
Then there were the targetting choices. According to facebook, location is determined by IP address. And it does indeed choose ads based on profile keywords like "TV Shows." Other factors include gender, gender preference, relationship status, universities, jobs, even university majors. You use a "bid" to determine how much you're willing to pay per click or per view (in US currency), and the maximum amount per day.
Incidentally, according to Facebook, an ad that appears on every Facebook profile of Canadians 13+ will hit over 10 million people. According to the CIA (because who knows better than the public access portion of the CIA website?), Canada has about 33 million people (and covers an area "somewhat larger than the US" in a "strategic location between Russia and US". Try not to spend too much time thinking about what the CIA means by "strategic," there.), so that's a very sizable amount of our population using Facebook. And opening themselves up as key demographics.
(ASIDE: I was going to put CIA on my labels for this entry, but I really don't want to end up any scary lists. You heard it here first people: even after spending the last hour investigating their ad policies, Facebook is still more trustworthy than the US government.)
According to one of the papers the blog class has read recently, Facebook is trusted highly by its users, more so than, say, MySpace. But how much trust does it really deserve, when it was willing to let me and my fake ad utilize its profiles? Sure, it didn't provide access to any specific individuals, but if it's willing to let Joe Blow and his website take advantage of its system, how much would it take to divulge more info?
And if that's what Facebook is willing to do, who knows who is getting your Blogger data?
And with that thought, be sure to post those comments, people!

Providing that no one arrives in the next 24 hours to take me away in their discreet, unmarked van,
Later Days.

Friday, October 24, 2008


A week or two ago, when the blog reached its metaphorical halflife, I sent my professors an email asking for some feedback. I wanted to know how the blog was doing, whether my audience was sufficiently cultivated (do you feel cultivated? Are you growing strong and free? I'm pretty sure I've applied sufficient manure.), and, in a nutshell, what I should be writing about. The essential answer I got back was (only much, much nicer) "write about yourself, durr."
Which, I think, is pretty much what I was doing, and hence there haven't been any earth-shattering changes. But the real question, in my mind, is why I felt motivated to ask in the first place. Let's try some spitballing:
  • Uncertainty in the quality of my writing. Yeah, I thought we'd get this one out of the way quick-like. A lot of up and coming blog writers talk at length about how uninteresting their lives are, and they don't really have anything to blog about. Note that you don't see that here. I know this is colossally arrogant, but I happen to think I'm a pretty good writer. Anything I write would be interesting by virtue of the fact that I'm the one writing it. "Person of Consequence" is not a title I chose with an entirely ironic intent. So... if there's a problem there, it's not on the side of uncertainty.
  • Grade grubbing. This, sadly, may be more my style. Through high school, I was the top of my class academic-wise (which admittedly is not so difficult in a class of 25 kids, although I still faced some stiff competition. You know who you are.), and that's the sort of thing that can be very addictive, in terms of how you identify yourself. I think it definitely carried through to my undergraduate career--some of my motivation for doing a double major in mathematics and english sprung from the notion that while I may not be the best in either subject, no one could beat me in both. (Of course, there's also the joy in discovering the fundamental patterns that lie at the heart of both disciplines and the realization that even two disparate fields spring from the same source of human creativity and build the foundation of reasoning and insight. But we're accentuating the negative at the moment.) And a recent bad mark in my other graduate course suggests that I'm still feeling a connection between grades and self-esteem. On the other hand, this isn't entirely a bad thing; at its core, even my gormless grade grubbing (Off topic: apparently, according to wikipedia, gorm is a substance constructed from a mix of partially dried glue, milk, and food-colouring. So I'm not sure why being gormless is a big deal.) comes from a desire to excel.
  • Working without a net. Digital media and the autobiography are both pretty new fields to me, and I can't say I'm 100% comfortable with either of them. So when you lump them together and try to make a blog out of it, the uncomfortability increases exponentially. And since this is a class project as much as it's a blog (or is it? Is it 60% a class project, 40% a blog? 70/30? 90/10?) it makes some of the questions that much more uncomfortable. For example, the only audience I can really guarantee for this blog is my two professors, and I certainly have never addressed them directly, and I'll bet dollars to donuts that none or few of my fellow students have done the same.
(I'll fix that one right now: Hello professors. How are you? I am fine. I'm sorry my cellphone went off in class that time. And I'm more sorry that it happened again two seconds later because I didn't actually know how to turn off my phone at the time. One day we will look back on it and laugh. Ha ha. The weather's been rather bad recently, hasn't it? That's unfortunate, but what can you do? See you in class next week. Yours, Person of Consequence.)

So I guess what I was looking for was a guiding principle, some reinforcement that I was going in the right direction. But the real problem is that I keep assuming there's "a" right direction to begin with. Yes, there's a goal in the end, but there's more than one way there, and the best way to press onward isn't to go looking for the pat on the head, but to make that jump, net or no net. So I guess it's kind of like life.
(Very special music plays in the background to ensure everyone realizes that Person of Consequence has learned an Important Lesson. He bows, and the stage curtain closes slowly. The applause light flickers on.)

Later Days.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Comic Book Wednesdays: "Anti-Life Equation" is a good description of Grad School.

Before we get to the main event:
  • My yet-unseen office mate left me a news clipping stating that Michael Cera will play Scott Pilgrim in the Scott Pilgrim movie. I approve of this, and not just because I have a man-crush on Michael Cera. All right, mostly because of that.
  • I've had kind of a rough week, and worse, it's been pretty much my own fault. But today I got to drink a big pot of Bengal Spice Tea, so now it's all good.
Right. Rather than do the usual one short review, one long, this week, we're trying three short. Comment on the change if you feel the need to do so.
Secret Invasion 7. The penultimate chapter in Marvel's latest massive blockbuster. It's still not firing on all cylinders, though. I think my problem with the series is twofold: First, by the time the invasion started, the "secret" part was largely over, which meant that it's basically one big fight scene. And, second and more important, it's a fight where I'm really only invested in one side of the equation; the skrulls are little more than faceless monsters at this point, and that's not particularly compelling for me--not for six straight months, anyway. Speaking more to this issue, I appreciate their attempts to label various figures, but honestly, if you need an explanatory label to tell who Wolverine is, you probably aren't going to be picking this up anyway. If you've enjoyed the ride so far, you'll probably enjoy this; if not, hold off till the pay-off next issue.
Final Crisis 4. Over on the other side of the pond, DC's big blockbuster seems to be heading on track. Issue 4 of 7 is a little late in the show to let the reader in on what the hell's happening, but better late than never, I guess. Most of humanity has come under the influence of the anti-life equation, and if you don't know what that means, you're standing in the wrong line. In essence, the remaining heroes gather for a final stand, and a totally-expected villain takes the stage. Morrison's script is popping, and Jones, Pacheco, and Merino present a twisted and intriguing view of the ravaged Earth. Tattooed Man fans (both of you) have something to cheer for, and there's a kick-ass scene with Green Arrow that shows why Oliver plays with the big boys. A must-buy for DC fans, even if it doesn't excuse the previous issues.
X-Factor 36. It may not be blockbuster, but it's good story. Well, it used to be. For those not in the know, X-Factor is a team of mutant private investigators, lead by Jamie Madrox, the Multiple Man, whose mutant power is to create duplicates, each of which manifests a different aspect of his personality. And the book has sort of lost its way since Layla Miller, the team's twelve year old clairvoyant, got lost in the future. (This happens in comics a lot.) In this issue, the team gears up to rescue new member, Darwin, whose mutant power is to adapt a power to any given situation. Writer Peter David has done interesting things with Darwin ( ex) he's revealed Darwin was noncaucasan, but turned white growing up in a predominantly white neighbourhood as a defensive mechanism), but it's turned the focus away from the rest of the team, which is the book's real draw. And the art... I just can't get used to Larry Stroman. It's amusing how he manages to work a truly impressive number of obese Americans into each and every issue, but his disproportioned characters are often very oftputting, and don't jive well with a comic that used to define itself through a noir-shaded realism. I'll recommend the early issues to anyone who can get their hands on them as a fascinating investigation of a shattered identity, but this... not so much.

That last one kind of turned into a long review anyway, huh? Ah well.

Later Days.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Bathroom Humour

It's the little things that really get to you when you're trying to adjust to a new city. Accepting that certain streets don't run parallel, and you're just going to have to deal with it. Coming to terms with the surprising relative dearth of 7-11s. And, the subject of today's epic installment, becoming acquainted with the differences in washroom facilities on campus.

The first time I responded to nature's urgency on campus, after the task was finished, I came face-to-face with the following apparatus:

This, evidently, was a sink. And I had absolutely no idea how to use it. So I stood around for a bit in utter confusion and waited, hands outstretched, for someone else to finish up and show me how the friggin' sink worked. As you'd imagine, this constitutes odd behaviour for a public men's washroom. Since no one seemed to be close to finishing present business, I darted my hands under the sink. While it didn't look high-tech enough, there was a chance, however small, that it had a motion sensor. Nope. And if I looked odd before, imagine how I appeared at this point, hands outstretched like I was waiting for the water to come to me. (Which, in all fairness, I was.)
So I stood there, feeling like a complete dolt, and certainly not like someone who deserved to be in a graduate program. (I study English, dammit! Not alternative sink design!) Then the epiphany moment came. Like the blind men and the elephant, I had failed to consider the whole picture. The sink actually looked more like this:
See the foot rail along the bottom? Step on that, and water comes out the top. It's an admirable design, really, and a low-tech solution to the age-old irony of how you wash your hands after you go to washroom to make things clean by turning on the faucet with your germ-ridden hands. It's also an example of how moving to a new city is about learning new ideas, and accepting new concepts. New concepts concerning sinks.
FYI: if you think you get weird looks in a men's room standing around trying to work the sink, that's nothing compared to the looks you get when you bring out the digital camera.
And, because no discussion of public washrooms is complete without it, here's a link to the top ten most fascinating urinals.
You're welcome.
The number # 1 is, frankly, not that impressive in and of itself, but I think numbers 6, 5, and 10 make up for it.

Later Days.

Friday, October 17, 2008

I used to think Halo was a cooking game series. Why else would the main character be named Master Chef?

I did something probably unwise today. So unwise that it can be justifiably called Unwise. I bought a new X-Box 360. I had one of these devices back in Someplace Else, but lost it to my brother in the moving settlement. So I had a half-dozen games, and no game player. This made me sad. Additionally, since I can't get colour on my PS2 (long story), I don't really have anything to watch my DVDs on. And fallout 3 and fable 2 are coming out in a few weeks. And if I'm planning to do a dissertation on video games, I should probably have a system capable of playing them.
All good reasons. But there were three compelling reasons not to do it:
  • Time. I sunk a LOT of time into my X-box, especially during the first year of my MA. I clocked in over 200 hours on Oblivion alone. Little things--school work, my job, a social life--tend to quietly get up and leave when the X-box is in the room.
  • Distance. I tend to get all my video junk from EB games, on account of their one-year warranty on games and systems. The nearest EB games from my apartment is 7 k away, which meant a 14 k trip all around. And when you're carrying a heavy X-box back with you on your bicycle, that's reason to pause for thought.
  • Money. The other two reasons don't really count; I've gone great distances for stupider reasons, my work gets done one way or the other, and... well, a social life has to exist in the first place in order to be neglected. The main factor for me was justifying the $400 (with warranty) price tag. As a near desolate grad student, I'm on a budget. I've got a bit of a nest egg, but no way it's going to last all four years. I've been looking for ways to supplement the income (I should mention that for the benefit of my professors and any others who will eventually read this that I am entirely appreciative of the money the fine University of __________ supplies its students and would not in any way want to appear ungrateful. Please continue sending me money.). Actually, it's one of the reasons I finally went through with an application to SSHRC; while it wouldn't increase my total university earnings, it would free up some time to get a part time job. But for that, I'd have to get a SSHRC in the first place, which is all kinds of unlikely. Worst case scenario, I guess I can just get a roommate; there's a lot of problems that an extra $350 a month can solve.
Wow, that third one just sort of took over there, huh? I guess I'm more concerned about finances than I thought. I guess it's because this is the furthest I've ever been from my parental safety net; there's no one here to save me from the consequences of stupid financial decisions.
Like, say, buying an X-box 360.

...Of course, all that's pretty easy to ignore when you've spent the last five straight hours guiding Lego Indiana Jones through the Temple of Constructable Doom. "Red and black blocks arranged in such a manner as to look like snakes! Why did it have to be red and black blocks arranged in such a manner as to look like snakes!"

Later days.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Comic Book Wednesdays: Once Upon A Time...

I discovered over the weekend that my parents read my blog. I have spent the days since trying to pretend that I didn't discover that. More on this exciting news as it develops. But for now what you've all (well, some) have been waiting for.

Fables 77. Well, that's more like it. My major complaint with the Fables series over the last year or so was the pacing: the Frog Prince story dragged too long, and the Big War felt rushed. Now we're back on even-footing, examining what happens after the war. There's major uprisings in the Homelands, Little Boy Blue seems even further from his happily ever after than before the war, and Mowgli and Bagheera start an expedition back to the Jungle Book world. All that, and a mild cliffhanger ending promising a new big character next issue. At this point, Willingham and Buckingham are at the top of their game. Willingham is deftly juggling dozens of plot points, while still maintaining the distinct voice of his huge cast, and Buckingham's framing continues to make it feel like you're immersed not just in a comic book world, but a lengendary Fable one. A great starting point for new readers and a great issue for old ones.

Fables. Given the minor review, the choice for the major review seemed obvious. The original impetus of Fables is simple: Characters from various fables and fairy tales fled their homelands to avoid submitting to the rule of the Adversary, and settled in New York. Half the fun of the series is seeing the juxtaposition of the fairy tale creatures; how the Fly Prince gets along with Pinnochio, how Old King Cole deals with his rival Prince Charming, and, the key relationship for much of the series, how Bigby Wolf won the heart of Snow White. The other half is in Willingham's writing. These characters aren't just static retreads of the originals, but 3 dimensional figures that grow and change. While Bigby and Snow were the central characters for the early passages, Fly Prince, Prince Charming, and Little Boy Blue have all had their starring roles, and all grown from them.
The best place to start the series is from the beginning. The first story arc recalls the origin of the Fables, and introduces Bigby as the lead detective in a murder mystery. Next, the animal fables that can't pass for humans revolt, in a story arc called (what else?) Animal Farm. By the the fourth arc, when things really get interesting, Fabletown is attacked by the Adversary's private army of Wooden Soldiers--they don't need food, they don't get hurt, and they're armed with machine guns. It's honestly one of the best comic book battles I've ever seen.
For me, the appeal of Fables, and its spinoff title, Jack of Fables (wherein Jack stars as literature's greatest trickster), comes from the fresh perspective of all the characters I read about growing up. I mean, look at this cover:

This is the Adversary's war council. Among others, we see Hansel the Witch Hunter in the background, the Snow Queen holding the severed head, and, on the right, we see the little creature that was a super villain before super villainry was cool, the Nome King.
That's right. When you're going for awesome yet ridiculously obscure literary villains, you can't do much better than the Nome King. Hell, even he forgets who he is half the time.
Anyway, the early Fables issues are chocked full of literary goodness, and after a disappointing war to end all war, the new issues seem to be back on track. So if you want to see Frau Totenkinder (the gingerbread house witch) battle Baba Yaga, read Fables. If you want to know what Babe the Blue Ox does on his off time, read Fables. If you want to get to know the real Goldilocks, the gun-toting anarchist, read Fables. If you want amazing art on the inside (via Mark Buckingham) and the outside (cover artist James Jean wins awards for the Fables covers just about every year), read Fables.

If you want good story and good characters, read Fables.

Later Days.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Person of Consequence's Infinite Playlist

Does this title still count as timely? Frankly, I meant to get around to writing a post on this subject long before now, but... with various other issues arising (Go vote!), I'm just getting around to it.

Anyway, as a going-away gift, my parents awesomely gave me an I-pod, making me officially the last person in my immediate family to get one. And about a month or so later, I finally cracked its case open and figured out how to get my tunes on it. Prior to this 'pod, I've never really been into music. There's a few songs and artists I like, but no band I really follow. Consequently, my own playlist was cobbled together from my personal preferences regarding the mp3s my brothers had left on my computer. I took a good, long look at this list, and the lyrics in said songs, and became... concerned.

First song that comes up: "Hurt", by Johnny Cash: "I hurt myself today/ to see if I still feel." Then Tom Petty, "Around the Roses": "Got a feeling I'm wrong/ Got a feeling the joke's on me."
Well, alright. Both well-established singers doing what they do; a little dark, perhaps, but good songs, all the same.

What else do we have... Gary Jules, "Mad World":
"And I find it kind of funny
I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I'm dying
Are the best I've ever had."

Beck, "Going Nowhere Fast."

Well, maybe my happy friends the Barenaked Ladies would solve this gloomy gus problem. First up, "Everything had Changed": "On the path of life, I wish you well--" Well, that's a good start, I think we're over the rough-- "Divergent journeys, but we will meet again in Hell." NO! Bad song!

Hmm. So there was a trend. I investigated further.

There's the extensive failed love song category: Foofighers, "Best of You"; Barenaked Ladies (again) "Intermittently";Jimmy Eat World, "Get it faster"; Alexisonfire, "You Burn First."

There's also the entire soundtrack to Sweeney Todd, which is reflective of perhaps both depression and bad taste.

Look, I told myself. This doesn't mean anything. So there's some depresssing songs on your list. That doesn't mean YOU'RE depressed. A song's just a song. Don't worry about--
Next up: Alanis Morissette. "Eight Easy Steps." Dammit.
At this point, I had to start to panic. My playlist clearly showed I was in the grips of depression and didn't even know it. Something had to be done, immediately. This downward spiral into despair and oblivion needed to be stopped, here and forever.

So I added the soundtrack from Juno to my playlist and called it a day.

Well, not quite. Nothing says quite so plaintively "I'm looking for internet friends" like a call for music. So... here's a call for music. If anyone's got any happy tunes (or any tunes in general) they'd like to recommend, please leave your name and songs after the post.

As for me, I will return to the happy-go-lucky lyrics of City and Colour's "The Death of Me":
Finally I could hope for a better day
No longer holding on to all the things that cloud my mind
Maybe then the weight of the world wouldn’t seem so heavy
But then again I’ll probably always feel this way.

Sing it, brother.

Later Days.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Turkey Day

I noticed a lot of families out and about today while I was on my run. Granted, much of this presence can be chalked up to ________ finally being in the middle of the warm stretch, and people are out enjoying a nice, warm Sunday afternoon at the park. But I'd also attribute the family frequency to it being Thanksgiving weekend--and more to the point, I was in the mood to notice family more because it was Thanksgiving weekend.
Holidays in general aren't a huge thing in my family, especially Thanksgiving. A big part of Thanksgiving is the big meal: turkey and cranberries and pumpkin pie and such. Given that in my immediate family of five, we have one vegetarian (me) and one who abstains from a lot more than just meat (don't ask), the traditional meal is often waived in favor of ordering pizza, especially if my folks aren't around. I can even remember more than one Thanksgiving where I opted to do a solo option. But there was always the CHOICE of being able to participate in a big family thing, and I kind of miss that. A little. Just a little. Shut up.
Anyway, that was why I so glad for the chance to participate in a fairly impromptu pot-luck supper with other grad students this weekend. While I haven't been a complete recluse, my grad student interaction has not been breaking any records, so the chance to get to know some of them a little better was nice. Also nice was just being with a group of people on Thanksgiving--or close enough to it for spitting (I can't imagine why this phrase isn't more popular).
The food was great; with the exception of my own contribution, which consisted of dinner buns and a tossed salad (very well tossed; your view on cooking changes considerably when you realise that whatever you make must be able to withstand the rigour of a 6 k bike ride). Sadly, my contributions were largely ignored. Isn't it funny that that's what one notices on these occasions? I mean, I got a chance to speak to my contemporaries without making an ass out of myself (or so I surmise), and yet what really sticks with me the next day is how many dinner buns I've got left. (And I want to make it clear that I don't mean to make any attendees of the event uncomfortable; the issue here is probing into my reaction, not a hard-hitting expose on why tossed salad is on the decline.) I'm going to chalk this one up to perverse human nature. Or maybe just my perverse nature.
Anyway, it was an evening of good conversation, good company, and the consumption of more food than was really good for me. And really, isn't that all anyone can ask of a holiday?

Later Days.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Life is Weird

I was out on my afternoon run today, taking my usual route down a local walking trail. It was, like I said, the afternoon, so I was surprised to see a man in broad daylight turn just off the trail and face away, his hands and legs in the universal male pose that indicates an intention to urinate. He stopped in this procedure long enough to gesture at the path ahead of me, pointing out a stray dog turd. I nodded in gratitude and made the appropriate adjustment to my direction. He returned to the business at hand.
That was nice of him, I guess.

It bears repeating: life is weird.

Later Days.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Totally Worth It.

And the number one reason to read Scott Pilgrim is....

The witty repartee.

Thank you and good night!

Later Days.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Comic Book Wednesday: The Other Pilgrim's Way

I was really debating whether to keep this "theme" post going or not. On the one hand, there's the argument that there's about as much exploration of self in a comic book review as there is in this semicolon; on the other hand, the last entry was popular enough to constitute about 90% of the traffic to my blog in the last week. And since doing whatever it takes to pander to my own incipient narcissism IS an exploration of self, I guess that means it stays, for now.
Marvel Zombie 3: #1. I think the cover is a good indicator of whether someone would be interested in this or not.
If you can name the movie this cover is paying homage to AND the two Marvel characters on the cover and still feel enthusiastic for the project, then you should not only buy this comic, you probably already have. Plot: Zombie Deadpool spearheads an invasion into the Marvel Universe Proper. He is repelled, and a counterforce, consisting of Machine Man and Jocasta, are sent to put an end to the zombie menace. There's also the Nexus of All Realities and a Man-Thing appearance, if that's what floats your boat. There's some cute ideas and action scenes present in this comic, but it's not a great jump-on point if you haven't read the previous Zombie series and maybe not worth getting into if you're not fond of the post-Ellis Machine Man. The art is gritty, which works well for the swamp zombie scenes, but less well for the ultra-high-tech ARMOR base. Bottom line: if you like Zombies and some of the more obscure Marvel characters, read on. Otherwise, it's probably not worth it.
The Scott Pilgrim series. This, on the other hand, is entirely worth it. The Scott Pilgrim series, written and drawn by Canadian born Bryan Lee O'Malley. And I want it to be clear from the start I've only read the first three volumes (Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life, Scott Pilgrim vs the World, and Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness), so nobody say anything about Volume 4, 'kay? Anyway, the main plot of the series is that in order to go out with literally the girl of his dreams (they met when she traveled through them as part of an interdimensional shortcut for her courier job) Ramona Flowers, he must defeat in battle all seven members of her League of Evil Ex-Boyfriends. And if that sounds surreal, it really, really is. The best thing about O'Malley's story is how perfectly he blends these surreal elements (like the Vegan Police in volume 3, or the drawn-out Street-Fighteresque knife fight in volume 2 between Ramona and Scott's ex-girlfriend) with Scott's huge supporting cast of down-to-earth and entirely likeable friends and family.
And it's good they're likeable, because Scott? He's kind of a dick.
He mooches off his friends, he leads on said ex-girlfriend (who's all of sixteen when the series starts, to his 22), and he's entirely unemployed except for his three member band. Hopefully, he'll go through some bildungromans as the series go on, but for now... kind of a dick. It's a testement to O'Malley that the series is so good and fun when the lead isn't really that likeable.
The art, as you can see below, is the sort of wide-eyed non-realistic type that often leads O'Malley to be classified for manga. Normally, I hate this style, but here... it totally works.
My attachment to this series stems basically from two things: my geeky love for the sheer random inventedness and my admiration for O'Malley's ability to create complete, three-dimensional characters with a handful of lines and snippets of dialogue.
But Person, you say, I'm still not convinced. What makes you think I will like this book? What does it have to offer me? Well, Volume 1's got advice on how to break up with a girl (don't do what Scott do), in volume 2, all the characters stop what they're doing to give a detailed recipe of a vegan pot pie that I'm sure will be of interest, and in volume 3....
*UPDATE: yeah, this picture ain't coming without a scanner. So... look for that tomorrow, 'cause it'll be... super cool. I'm sure.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Prisoner's Dialectic

This link was brought to my attention today. Essentially, it's the strategic wing of an apparently much broader than I thought movement to galvanize the "Anyone but Harper" vote. I'm... very ambiguous about this. First of all, it shines a big ol' beacon on everything I hate about our electoral system. The idea that you have to choose between voting for the person you think is best for the job and voting against the person you don't want the most in the job seems contrary to the whole "democracy" and freedom of choice thing, and it's argument number 1 in favour of adopting some form of a proportional reprsentation system. (The typical argument against proportional representation, btw, is that it creates minority governments. What is it we have now, again?) If it came right down to it, I don't know if I could follow voting in such a pragmatic fashion; it seems contrary to the idealism that voting is supposed to represent.
On the other hand, the part of me that is really suited to academia admires the movement in an abstract sense. As a social experiment, I'd love to see the result. People are basically counting on a common desire to keep Harper out of office to overwhelm individual partisan loyalties. If you follow this process and vote against your own party in your riding, you are counting on the voters in another riding to keep the pact and balance things out. The process also calls for a surrendering of autonomy and authority; if you're fully buying into this "anyone but Harper", you are surrending your vote and relying on their word (whoever 'they' are) that voting in the manner they direct is the superior method. Of course, arguably, that's what you're already doing by voting for anyone. And so we go in circles.
Finally, the pragmatic aspect of this movement overshadows the obvious truth that it is still an ideology. I respect that people feel this strongly about Harper and the potential future of Canada, and I largely agree with them. I've got a lot of respect for anyone who honestly feels passionate about their beliefs, and for someone to go to the lengths to provide such an exhaustive amount of information, there's got to be a lot of passion there.
Extra-finally, 'cause I thought of a new point, the whole situation strikes me as fundamentally Canadian. This just isn't a problem the two-party American system would face. (Unless you're supporting an independent candidate, in which case you're already part of the crazy fringe,and should thus move to Canada anyway.) Is it weird that this observation makes me feel strangely patriotic?
The whole argument is moot for me anyway. In my riding, I wouldn't even have to make the choice between the two types of votes, because the NDP candidate is the suggested recipient. And, as y'all know, I already voted. But if there's anyone out there who's still undecided, check out the site and post your opinion back here.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Birthday Wish

If there's anyone who happens to be a fan of Elizabeth Gaskell and happens to be reading this blog today, and today happens to be their birthday, then...

Happy Birthday!

Later Days.

Friday, October 3, 2008

I wanted to come up with a pun that worked "Ballet" against "Ballot"

So I voted today. I decided to vote in my riding out west rather than _________, because I felt I was better versed in the issues there and the people involved.
And what a complex, ridiculous affair that voting turned into...
First, when you go to the Canada Elections website and look up the info for voting by special ballot, at the end of describing the procedure, it posts the location of the advanced polls nearest you rather than where need to actually go, which is the nearest elections Canada office. So first, I assumed I had to wait to vote until the advanced polling station opened, and then once I figured out the difference, I had to look up where the elections Canada office was. In terms of distance, I now had to travel another 8 km, which is considerable when your main method of transportation is a bicycle. Added to this, the website says you need to bring a form with you (as it turns out, you don't; they had many, many copies of the form at the office). I had the foresight to print off the form the last time I was at the university, but not the memory to bring the damned thing with me, so before I started the 8 km trek to elections canada, I needed to go on the 8 km there-and-back trip to the university to get the form. The general level of frustration was significantly increased by numerous errors on the elections canada website, and more than a few breaks to conduct a monologue on the subject of how I could be so stupid and why isn't this easier and I wished I lived in communist russia anyway.
At least it wasn't raining.
Once I was at the university, I had my first good thought of the day, and found the elections canada office closest to the university rather than to my apartment, and this sped things up considerably. And once I reached the office, (with only a minimal amount of getting lost) there were five people in front of me in line, but I got to move straight to the head, because I was the only one who had filled out the right form. The woman who processed my application was impressed that I knew my riding and my candidates ahead of time, but frankly, I think if I hadn't, I had no business voting to begin with.
I got my envelope and my ballot instructions on how to send it. Thus came the next moment of embaressment: I had no idea where to buy the stamp I needed. Apparently, right up until that moment of my life, my mother had bought every single stamp I ever used. I wondered around one of those super-size grocery stores, and finally asked the woman who ran the information/cigarettes/lottery ticket counter where I could get stamps. Answer: from her. So that worked out.
The mail-in ballot, in case anyone is wondering, consists of 4 parts: the ballot, the inner envelope, the outer envelope, and the other envelope. You write your candidate's name on the ballot, seal it in the inner envelope, seal the inner envelope in the outer envelope, sign and date the outer envelope, and place the outer envelope in the mailing envelope (thus making a mockery of the outer envelope designation, but never mind.). Then you fill in the address (I still have no idea whether this should have been the resident address, or the voting address), place the stamp you just bought from the nice woman on the front, and spend the next friggin' hour looking for a mailbox.
I'd like to say that all that effort makes you appreciate the significance of your vote that much more. It really doesn't. It does, however, drive home the importance of registering for a new voting location when you move so you get a regular voting card and you don't have to put up with all this... enjoyment. Although I'd do it all again if I had to; voting's part of the patriotic duty, folks. If you don't like it, go live in Communist Russia (you might need a time machine for that, but... eh.).
Everyone remember to go vote on the 14th, and if you want to follow in my adventurous footsteps, remember that the deadline to register to vote by special ballot is the 7th (you can mail it at any time, but the later you do, the less likely that it'll reach Ottawa in time to be counted.).

Later Days.

Politics Talk. Worse, Canadian Politics Talk

I've noticed that my blogs have a tendency to creep towards "blessay" status (thank you, Stephen Fry; the chief difference between the blog and the blessay seems to be that the blessay assumes a great length, and is presumably more erudite. I can live with that.). Now, for readibility issues, I was considering moving towards shorter entries. That's not going to happen today. In fact, today's topic is so extensive that I'm splitting it up into two posts, so as to best keep my thoughts straight, or at least less crooked.

Have I mentioned that I'm Canadian? Well, consider this the mention then. I am Canadian, and our election is quietly gearing up for the 14th. I honestly hadn't done a lot of thinking about this election; it seems overshadowed by the one down south. Then I realised that this was exactly what was wanted; that by calling an election at this time, the Conservatives manage to slip under the radar and under public notice. (it's an uncharitable assumption on my part, but you don't want your name dragged through the mud, don't call an election before the date you promised to.) I don't like being manipulated, and I want better from my leaders. So today, I sat down and thought about the political parties.
I've already tipped my hand on what I think about the Conservatives. But accusations of shennanagins aside, take a look at their platform. The word that pops up again and again is "individual." (also notice that despite ferverent promises a few years back, the phrase "ban gay marriage" has mysteriously disappeared.) You can see their free market roots here. The basic Conservative stance is that it's the role of the government to allow the individual as much freedom as possible to do his or her own thing. And that's a good starting principle. It's a nice foundation. But it's not everything, or even the important thing.
Stripped of its niceties, this policy boils down to a sentiment that's not nice at all: look out for number one. Stop anything and everything that might intefere with the pursuit of me. I think we're better than that. I think that as a people, as Canadians, as members of the human race, we're better than that. And if we're not, we should be. And the only way we're going to get there is if we pursue not what's best for the individual but what's best for everyone. And I don't mean a blind pursuit where the one is sacrificed for the good of the many. I mean a constant discussion, even argument, from everyone involved, a never-ending state of definition and re-definition that keeps in mind the ultimate goal: help each other. That means more government, not less, more social programs, not more tax cuts. The Conservative stance is to provide (and strip down) just enough so a person can help his or herself; my stance is that greatest, most noble action is to do whatever we can to help each other.
So not voting for the Conservatives, then.
Next up: the Liberals. Here's their platform. (Really? You want to lead with your tradition of fiscal responsibility? Really?) The liberals are probably the most middle-of-the-road party Canada's got in terms of ideology. And that's what bugs me about them. I've always felt that if you had some sort of hypothetical knife that could slice open the liberal party and expose their core belief, all you'd find is a note that says "I'll believe whatever you want me to believe to get elected. And aren't the Conservatives scary?". "We're not them" may be a message that caters to their main strength, and they certainly don't bother me as much as the Conservatives and their actually existing ideology, but... it's not enough, not for me.
Finally, where the crux of my choice lies: the Green Party and the NDP. And I probably shouldn't be lumping them together, but, well, that's what the problem is. I checked up on a few forums that were discussing my home riding, and the general consensus is that the Conservatives would probably win, because the left vote was too divided. (Remember the good old days when it was the right vote that was divided? The REFOOOOOOOOORM party?) That seems to be the case nation-wide, and certainly the case in my own noggin. In terms of fundamental ideology, the big difference between the two seems to be the Green Party's rhetoric is intimately more bound up in environmental concerns, whereas the NDP's is more focused on anti-big business, which probably says more about their original roots than actual differences. So what are the differences? Well, there's this thing by former Green Party leader Joan Russow
which comes out in the NDP favour; she's against basically what she sees as a shift to the right in the party in terms of the military, GMFs, and other in what she sees as an attempt to make the party more mainstream by abandoning its original beliefs. And there's this page which seems to be arguing a different thing entirely, that the Green Party is working to transcend the notion of political spectrum, which is the sort of dichotomy-breaking thinking that I certainly approve of. (Although I wouldn't put too much faith in either of them; the creator of the latter page seems a bit sketchy and Russow certainly has an axe to grind.)

Usually, the tie-breaker for me in such cases is the individuals in the riding, but they stack up pretty evenly as well. So I went with the party I have more history with--maybe not the best rationale, I'll admit, but not an entirely unjustified one either. The NDP have deep roots with me; my parents have been heavily involved in the party for as long as I can remember, and while I respect the Green philosophy, I don't see anything they're offering that's so different as to warrant jumping ship.

So that's that off my chest. See you at the Conservative Majority in two weeks!

Later Days.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Comic Book Wednesday: Y Not?

Short Review
No Hero #1. by Warren Ellis and Juan Jose Ryp. Plot: Joshua Carver becomes a vigilante. In a sense, this isn't anything new; Ellis has been doing the super-powered nonsuperhero for quite some time. The difference here is the clarity towards what's at stake. From the title, to the pseudo-new clipping beginning, to the first scene of gratuitious (and at the same time, not gratutitious at all) violence, Ellis sets up this series as an examination of the contradiction inherent in comic books: that 'hero' and 'vigiliante' aren't really words that go together. Ryp's work is impressive in its outline; the comic begins with short, orderly squares that lengthen and grow as Carver prepares to do battle. The frames then begin to break down until Carter makes his first kill; very nice effect.
A good first issue; we'll see where things go.


Y the Last Man, written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated (mostly) by Pia Guerra, was a 60 issue series that ran from September 2002 to January 2008. The plot, in a nutshell: a plague kills every male on earth except for Yorick Brown, an escape artist with an English degree, and his monkey Ampersand. The entire series is about how Yorick Brown and the rest of the world cope with the loss of the men. It's a post-apocalyptic bildungromans, with a generous dollop of gender study. It's a serious examination of what the world would be like without the y-chromosoned, and how people cope after the end of everything. Through the course of the series, Yorick goes from reclusive shut-in to, well, someone worthy of the title last man, with all the masculine, testosterone-ridden baggage that entails. It's beautifully written, nearly always beautifully drawn, and it's possibly the best ending I've ever read in graphic form--hell, in any form. I have to admit my own judgement is biased; part of the appeal of the series for me is that when I started reading, I was basically the same age Yorick was when he started out, and we both grew at the same rate. If the novel is a journey that the characters, reader, and writer all go on together, then this was... a really... good... journey. Ok, the metaphor got away on me. But read the book. Read it for Yorick's quest to find the missing Beth. Read it for the mystery of 355. Read it for the monkey.
Or read it to see Yorick's johnson. (It took me an hour to get that picture working. And it's still terrible.)
One last thing: There are far, far better reasons to like Y: the Last Man beyond "Yorick and I are both over-educated, underachieving white guys". Y Fans, I'm calling on you to come on down and supply them.

Later Days.