Saturday, December 8, 2012

Life is Short

Today I learned that a friend of mine, Molly, was killed in a head on collision a few weeks ago. I had noticed that she wasn't on Facebook but I thought that with five kids and the holidays she just didn't have time. I can't express how sad knowing she will never be back makes me.

We didn't have much in common. Molly lived in California. I live in Canada. She was a stay at home mom of five. I've never had kids. She had a strong Christian faith. I'm pagan. I suspect she was a Republican while I'm decidedly on the left of the political spectrum.

We met online. We both loved a show called Endgame which was canceled after the first season.  We got to know each other hanging out in a chat room, sharing virtual strawberry margaritas and a lot of laughs. She had a quirky, sometimes naughty, sense of humor. She was kind and thoughtful. The kind of person you wanted to be friends with.

Molly died because someone else was in a hurry. He tried to pass another car and moved into Molly's lane. He struck her car head on at 100 mph. Molly died instantly. The miracle is that her two young daughters survived.

Life is short people. Try not to hurry through it.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Flashpoint Rant

I love a show called Flashpoint. It is currently in its last season. I've been strangely reluctant to watch the episodes. I don't want to think that there are only X number of shows left then I'll have to buy the complete series box set of DVDs. I finally watched this week's episode ("Sons of the Father") last night. Since I'm writing this, I guess something about it pissed me off.


If you haven't watched the first episode of season 5 ("Broken Peace") my main point won't make any sense.

Early in of "Sons of the Father", Greg Parker (Enrico Colantoni) tells Ed Lane (Hugh Dillon) that he has to meet with the mother of the young woman he had to kill in "Broken Peace". I spent the rest of the episode worrying about that meeting - yes, I'm oddly protective of Eddie. The idea that he is being forced to meet this woman bugs me. You cannot make someone deal with their emotions. You can help them through the process but you can't force them. Nothing about this meeting was for Ed even though Greg was playing it that way. My fixation of the upcoming meeting distracted me from being too engaged with the rest of the action. To be honest, I wasn't interested in this week's episode. If I want serial killers I'll watch Criminal Minds.

A man named Colin Hunter abducts a nurse from a hospital staff parking lot. He jumps her outside her car and forces her to open the door and get in. Personally, I would have thrown the car keys over the railing to the street below. I must have shaken my head about that for 10 minutes. If he managed to get me in the car I would have driven his side of the car into a lamppost or something, especially when I saw he was making me drive out of town.

Here's the first plot thing that had be saying, "What?" Colin makes the nurse drive out to the middle of nowhere, throws her keys away (which made me laugh way too much) after that he torches her car. Then he puts her in his car and drives back into town to his hideout in an abandoned theater. Talk about a convoluted plan.

While Ed, Greg and the rest of the team try to find Colin and the nurse, they find out he has a brother and that they are the sons of a serial killer. The brother has not seen Colin in a long time. Someone shows him a picture and he recognizes him instantly and without a doubt. I haven't seen my brother in years. Someone showed me a picture of him a couple of weeks ago and I did not recognize him at all. Whatever.

The brother, whose name I do not remember and I'm too lazy to look up, might not have been keeping track of Colin but Colin was obviously keeping track him despite his having changed his name. Even though he's a drifter without a known address, Colin managed to find out that his brother was the real estate agent handling the sale of an abandoned theater. He also managed to find out where his brother lived and then to break into his house and steal only the key to the theater even though it wasn't marked in any way. I guess I'll just have to suspend my belief over that one.

Another suspension of belief happens when the team triggers a booby trap in Colin's home. A giant burst of fire comes out the window of a small room filled with flammable objects but a few seconds later the fire is mysteriously gone. I guess reality would have taken too long.

Needless to say, the heroes save the nurse and then it's time for Ed's meeting. The woman tells Ed she forgives him. My reaction was that he doesn't need her forgiveness because he did nothing wrong. That just proved to me that the meeting was not for Ed but to make the mother feel better. She should have just written a letter. Just because the woman "forgives" him, Ed is not going to forgive himself. He's not ready to yet. He doesn't really need forgiveness but he might feel he can never be forgiven for what he had to do. I fear where Eddie's emotional ride will end. I hope the series doesn't end up with him quitting or retiring.

Monday, October 8, 2012


I think I've stumbled upon the first example of geekwashing. You've probably heard about pinkwashing or greenwashing. Think about KFC selling "pink" buckets during October (breast cancer awareness month) or any number of products that suddenly have the words "natural" or "eco-friendly" on them. In reality the labels mean nothing and very little money goes to support any cause.

Being geeky or nerdy is trendy right now. Who'da thunk it? A lot of people are jumping on the bandwagon. Some really shouldn't be there. Check out this episode of "Domestic Geek".

I've watched a few of the episodes and they're pretty much the same. Great tips but not geeky. I left a comment asking what makes this "geek" and she replied that it was the "science" that made it geeky. I was really insulted. Geek is not about putting on glasses and spouting some factoids. I timed the "science" in this episode. It lasts for 19 seconds. That's longer than what's in most of the other episodes.

I'm not one of those geeks who likes to point fingers at others and say, "You're not a real geek." I guess i just expect "geeky" things to have more substance. This just feels like jumping on a bandwagon.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

State of the Blog

Boy, you know things are bad when even Picard is on your case. It's true. I have been spending too much time on Facebook. And Pinterest.

2012 has been kicking my ass financially, health wise and mentally. I had such big plans for my blogs but it's almost more than I can handle to keep my book blog (Genre Wench) going.

I don't know if I'm going to be back here regularly before the year (or the world) ends. I have a few things in mind but as they say life is what happens while you are making other plans.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Repost: Flushed Away

Kate Winslet and Hugh Jackman at the New York Premiere 
Last night after puppy class, I decided to chill with a movie. I have been waiting for months to see Flushed Away. By now, you know I am a big fan of animation. I am also a big fan of Hunkaroo Hugh Jackman Flushed Away has both. It also has Ian McKellen as master villain “The Toad” and Kate Winslet. Supporting cast include Bill NighyAndy Serkis and Jean Reno. How can you go wrong with a cast like that?

According to IMDb Flushed Away is the first all CGI film by Aardman Animations. They are the people responsible for the Wallace and Gromit movies. They decided to go CGI because the film had a lot of water and that is almost impossible to do convincingly by claymation.

I really liked this film. Is it a masterpiece of modern cinema? No. Nevertheless, it made me laugh out loud. I might watch it again tonight. I am putting it on my list of DVDs to buy. McKellen is so over the top as an evil Toad that it is a joy just to listen to him. The animation, as always with Aardman, is first rate.

Hugh is perfect as pampered pet Roddy St. James. The in jokes are funny. I almost snorted coke out my noise at the scene where Roddy tires to decide what to wear. He pulls some very recognizable outfits out the closet and in the end, he is stuck between Elvis’ white rhinestone jumpsuit and Wolverine’s yellow and blue spandex. He eventually goes with the Elvis jumpsuit.

So there you go. A post about a good film for a change.

Reposts are posts written for previous journals or other places online that no longer exist.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Repost: Paris Is Burning

Last night I watched a documentary called Paris Is Burning. I originally saw this in the theatre in 1990. I think it was part of the Vancouver International Film Festival. At that point, I’d only been in Vancouver a year. I’d seen my first full-flight drag queen. I was totally in love with the West End but it would be another two years before I moved down there.

The movie is about drag queens and transsexuals in New York. It’s a very depressing film, even more depressing when you do some research and find out that most of the people in the film are dead. Mostly AIDS related deaths.

One of the people in the film died before the filming was complete. There is very little comment in the film about it. She was my favourite of all the people in the film and she was strangled to death in a sleazy motel (where no one noticed her dead body for four days.

Venus Xtravaganza

I want to believe that we have come a long way since this movie was made. I want to believe that the world is all cool and groovy about the alternative sexualities. After all, Eddie Izzard is a multimillionaire. Ellen has her own talk show. Gay characters appear on prime time telly with regularity. I want to believe that gay or transgendered people do not have to feel marginalized any more. Then I read comments on the message board for Alexis Arquette where people are arguing about which pronoun she’s entitled to use.

Reposts are posts written for previous journals or other places online that no longer exist.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Repost: Over The Hedge

Last night's video was Over The Hedge. What a cute movie! I have not laughed like that for a while. I had no idea that it was based on a comic strip. I think I'll have to add it to my list of funnies to read regularly.

By now, you have probably figured out that I love animation. I would never have the patience to do animation work but I love to watch the results. OTH took 3 years to complete. There’s a little bit of trivia on the IMDb listing that says that some of the animators got kicked out of Safeway because they’d spent too much time there sketching chip bags. You mean to tell me that a warehouse full of animation geeks did not have enough personal experience with junk food to render it properly?

If you rent the DVD, be sure to watch all the extras that take you though the animation process. During the demonstration of how to draw Hammy, I was very tempted to get out my sketchpad a draw along. Even if animation is not your thing there other interesting things to watch in the extras. At the very least, you should watch “Hammy’s Boomerang Adventure.”

With some animated films, the animations might be fine but the voices are wrong. OTH does not have that problem. The voice casting was inspired. William Shatner as a melodramatic, Shakespeare loving possum who likes to die? Brilliant! Even casting Avril Lavigne as his mortified teenaged daughter worked well. Steve Carrell’s voice was unrecognizable as my favourite character Hammy (above).

What does it say about me that my favourite characters are always the wackadoodles?


I even liked the music in this movie. The lyrics are funny and the music is bouncy. So bouncy that I found myself doing the “Neutron Dance” during one song. For those of you who were not around when Beverly Hills Cop came out I give to you the video:

Reposts are posts written for previous journals or other places online that no longer exist.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Repost: The Aristocrats

Eddie Izzard in The Aristocrats

Last night I watched The Aristocrats. The only reason I was interested in watching it was because I’d heard that Eddie Izzard was in it. Which was true. He was in it for less than a minute. A bunch of other comedians, including Robin Williams and George Carlin were also in it. I’d known about this movie since well before it came out two years ago. I put off seeing it because I knew it was not going to be my cup of tea.

“The Aristocrats” is a joke that comedians tell each other. It is never performed in public. The joke isn’t funny. The idea is to put as many shocking/disgusting things in the telling of the joke as possible. So you get incest, bestiality, scatology and vomit. Among other things. The idea of the film is that every comedian puts their own spin on the joke and that’s what makes it funny.

I’m not sure I agree. Each comedian makes the joke different. I’m not sure it makes it funny. I did laugh out loud a couple of times. In a 90 minute film that’s not enough. George Carlin’s version actually hit my gag reflex and I had to work at not tossing my cookies. I adore Eddie for not actually telling the joke (which is why he’s in the film for less than a minute) I was amused by his rambling confusion. And I bet it’s the first time the Pope was brought into the story. I don’t think Billy Connolly actual told the joke either but I love his accent so…

What amused me most was the comedians breaking up on film. For some strange reason I really find comedians laughing to be amusing. Robin Williams has a loony laugh. The funniest thing I ever heard was Robin and Eric Idle cracking each other up for an hour or so at the Aspen Comedy Festival. I bought it on when Robin Williams was doing a series there. For some strange reason I only have the second part otherwise I’d post it. If I ever find the first part, I’ll post it for all to hear. It’s glorious.

Anyway. I won’t recommend The Aristocrats but if you’re curious you might want to rent it on two for Tuesdays or something. You can also find some clips at YouTube.

Reposts are posts written for previous journals or other places online that no longer exist.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Repost: Madison & Moneypenny @ the Movies

Brad and Angelina

While Miss Moneypenny’s been recovering from her surgery we’ve been watching a lot of DVDs. Okay, I’ve been watching and she’s been sleeping on the couch. I thought that since I’ve got a couple of hours to kill I’d give a rundown on what I’ve seen :

Crash: Brutal but good. I’m not usually one for multiple storylines but I think Paul Haggis pulled it all off. It’s sad to think that such a large portion of our society has some kind of racism in them. I didn’t even recognize Marina Sirtis. Does this mean I have to hand in my Star Trek Geek card?

Ice Age: An okay movie. Not as funny as I expected it to be. For some strange reason this movie came with rating of PG. I don’t think younger kids would be at all interested. I think the themes were a bit mature if not dark for kids.

Law & Order: Criminal Intent (the first season): I’ll say straight out that I’m in love with Det. Robert Goren. I think he’s fascinating. I had no idea the show’s producers wanted Goren to be like Shirlock Holmes but I can see it. I started watching the show during the third season so it’s really nice to see how these characters began. There’s one scene where Eames says something like, “promise me you’ll buy me a margarita” to Bobby and he looks up from the papers he’s reading and smiles shyly. A smile like that can melt my cold, cold heart. ::sigh::

Mr. & Mrs. Smith: For what it was it wasn’t bad. Brad Pitt has never done it for me. Not even when he was hunk of the week in Thelma & Louise. Good thing Angelina does do it for me. :-P There were a couple of points where I laughed out loud. Though it could be argued that those scenes weren’t meant to be funny. The last shoot out scene is pure ballet, very nicely shot.

One Hour Photo: In a word: smarmy. I had avoided seeing this movie for a long time because I didn’t think I was ready to see Robin Williams in a really creepy role. I just wanted to take a bath after this one was over. The movie isn’t scary it just has a very high “ick” factor. The extras are very informative.

Robots: A sweet little movie that the critics hated. I thought the movie was fun. The crosstown express is the coolest thing ever. Ewan McGregor was earnest, Robin Williams was wacky. What else could a cartoon need?

The Ladykillers: A heist movie with a difference. Tom Hanks is wonderful as an eccentric thief who puts together and elite team of crooks for a casino job all under the roof of a little old lady. It was a bit weird and a bit slow but still kinda cool.

The Ruttles 2: Can’t Buy Me Lunch: I never saw the first movie but since I’ve read that this one is just a rehash I guess I didn’t miss anything. Watch the bloopers. David Bowie laughing is so cute. Tom Hanks cracking up after pretending to cry is hilarious.

We Know Where You Live: I was totally disappointed in this. Even Eddie Izzard and U2 couldn’t make me feel better. I don’t know but I really didn’t think a lot of the stuff was very funny. Phil Jupitus’ impression of Eddie was bang on though.

On deck for this weekend are Pillow TalkMarch of the Penguins and Monster House.

Reposts are posts written for previous journals or other places online that no longer exist.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Repost: Van Helsing

Hugh Jackman as Van Helsing

Due to the unreliability of Canada Post I’m stuck with no DVDs to watch this weekend. Not much good having a Zip account if the mail doesn’t arrive. So I’m stuck watching movies from my personal, and vary sparse collection. Last night I choose Van Helsing. I’ve now seen the film three times. I can honestly say that it doesn’t get any better with repeated viewing.

I saw Van Helsing in the theatres because it starred Hugh Jackman as the main character. I thought that while the film looked good it didn’t have much of a plot. The CGI annoyed me. That’s no big deal. CGI always annoys me. If I notice it, it’s annoying.

Other things that bugged me:

Richard Roxburgh’s accent. Of course no one knows what kind of accent Dracula had. None of the movies has ever gotten it right (Bela Lugosi was Hungarian) but for some strange reason I found this accent really annoying.

Kate Beckinsale’s lack of an accent (most of the time). At least she didn’t try to sound as overblown as Roxburgh. Wavering in and out is worse than no accent at all. Barely.

Beckinsale’s costume She spent the whole movie in a corset. She looked close to suffocating when she was horizontal. What 13-year-old male decided that all four of the main women in this film had to have their breasts front and center?

I’m not even going to go into the religious aspects of the film (Van Helsing is the Left Hand of God and can sense evil.) If you ignore the religion there isn’t much left of the plot.

If you liked Underworld and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen you might like this film.

I think those two films were better than Van Helsing Oh well, at least Hunkaroo Hugh looked great. I enjoyed the blooper reel. I still can’t decide if Hugh is really a klutz or if he was just fooling around. 

Reposts are posts written for previous journals or other places online that no longer exist.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Repost: Kate & Leopold

The real Leopold, Duke of Albany
The other night I did something I don’t usually do. I watched a “Romantic Comedy.” Worse than that I watched a Meg Ryan RomCom. The only reason I decided to watch Kate & Leopold was because Hunkaroo Hugh Jackman is in it. I will watch untold numbers of crap movies because I like some guy in it. Sad but true. K&L was not the worst movie. Not even the worst Meg Ryan movie I’ve ever seen. I actually laughed aloud a couple of times. Hugh is just so cute. I’m highly amused by the fact that Hugh had to take etiquette lessons in order to prepare for this role.

Plot summary: Modern girl meets boy from 1876. Hilarity ensues.
The movie version of Leopold


A few things kept popping into my head as I watched. There’s a cute scene where Leopold his having a problem with a toaster burning his toast. As I watched I wondered how he ever figured out how to operate the toaster in the first place. They certainly didn’t have toasters back in 1876.

In the film, Leopold is supposed to have invented the elevator. When he arrives in modern day New York all the elevators stop working. At least for a time. I kept thinking that if all the elevators all over the world suddenly stopped working there would be a clamor heard on Mars. Of course, if Leopold left the 19th century without ever inventing the elevator there would never have been elevators in the 21st century.

Then there's the idea that Leopold is Kate's ex-boyfriend, Stewart's, great-great-grandfather. If Kate goes back in time to marry Leopold then that means that she is Stewart's great-great-grandmother and they'd been having sex for four years. The filmmakers took this whole line out of the theatrical release and then put it back in for the "director's cut."

Lets just say that the logic of this “fairy tale” is quite fuzzy and relativity gives me a headache.

Another thing I got hung up about was Leopold’s ability to shop and cook. I highly doubt a 19th century English Duke would have either of those skills. I also wondered how he paid for all the stuff.

There are anachronisms galore in this film but there is one that kind of makes sense because Hugh is in the film. Leopold entertains a neighbourhood boy by acting out scenes from Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance." The problem is that the first performance of this musical was in 1879. One could argue that the filmmakers decided to use this musical because Peter Alan made his acting debut as the Pirate King on a London stage in 1982. Hugh Jackman played Peter Alan in The Boy From Oz. Of course I could just be reading too much into this.

After watching the movie, I did a little research. To my surprise there actually was a Leopold, Duke of Albany. He was a son of Queen Victoria. In the film, Leopold’s full name is stated as Leopold Alexis Elijah Walker Thomas Gareth Mountbatten. There was a Lord Leopold Mountbatten who was Queen Victoria’s grandson (by her youngest daughter) but he was never Duke of Albany.

There are a lot of other goofs in the film and if you’re interested you can read about them here

Surfing around the internet I stopped in on a few messageboards and was quite disturbed at how many women were head over heals in love with Leopold. They seemed to think that the existence of this movie proves that somewhere out there is a man just like that for them.

I may be a cynical, bitter, dangerous wench but I don’t believe men like Leopold ever really existed. Certainly not outside the rarefied world of the aristocracy. I’m not completely sure I’d want one if he did.

Reposts are posts written for previous journals or other places online that no longer exist.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Getting Creative - Week 40

Photo of a lagoon at Stanley Park.
Image via Wikipedia
Years ago I used to live in Vancouver's West End. A couple of times a week, first thing in the morning, I'd go to this excellent French bakery on Denman and get a croissant. Then I'd go across the street to the green grocer to pick some fruit. Once I had my food I'd stop at a local coffee shop to get a hot chocolate to go. I'd take my breakfast to a bench at Lost Lagoon and watch the birds.

After a leisurely breakfast, I'd feed peanuts to the squirrels as I walked through Stanley Park to Second Beach. From there I'd walk along the Seawall until I got home. It was a great way to start the day. I always felt totally jazzed and ready to go when I got back from my breakfast jaunt. More and more I'm beginning to wish I still lived there. 

I had a real hard time figuring out what inspires me. Some times I see an image and I think I could do that. There isn't one artist or writer who's work inspires me. The closest thing I can think of is a little weird. 

If  you've reading this blog for awhile you know that I adore Eddie Izzard. What you might not know is that every time I get near him I start to get more "girly". I've talked to him a few times and been in the same room as him a few more times. After every encounter I start looking at makeup and heels and dresses. The day after the last show I saw, I went out and bought two pairs of heels and about a hundred dollars worth of makeup. I guess you could say he inspires me to be a little more creative than my usual no makeup, jeans and t-shirts routine. Too bad it doesn't last. Being "girly" is just too much work. 

This week's card:
A Blank Wall 
Sinking into a creative trance can be challenging when we spend much of our days on sensory overload, our head full of beeping pagers and ringing cell phones. When the best stimulation is no stimulation, try staring into space. Think of a wall in your house, office, garden, or neighborhood as a blank screen and yourself as the projectionist. Let your wildest imaginings, most mundane thoughts, and out-there daydreams fly, captured for the moment on the "screen." Take a look at what you see there; retain what's worth keeping for future use and let the rest fade to black.
I do this a lot. Maybe even too much. I often do it when I'm in bed trying to fall asleep. I stare at the ceiling and let my imagination wander wherever it wants. I rarely remember any of it the next morning. I have no idea what I'm going to write about next week.

Creativity Resources:

Imagination - use this interactive mouse cursor toy and explore.

Imagination: The Power of Inner Vision - learn to use your imagination.

Getting Creative is a 52 week project where I will try to work my way through 52 Ways to Nurture Your Creativity by Lynn Gordon. You're welcome to come along as I do a card a week for a year.

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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Repost: Don't Say A Word and Other Things

Brittany Murphy

I’m beginning to think I expect too much from my entertainment. On Friday night I wasted two hours watching Don’t Say a Word. I can’t say that it was the stupidest film I’ve ever seen but it’s right up there. I had a suspicion that I wouldn’t like it. There’s something about Michael Douglas that really turns my stomach. And no, it’s not jealousy. It started way before he started sleeping with Catherine Zeta-Jones. I only took the DVD out of the library because there was nothing else. So I didn’t expect to enjoy it much but I didn’t expect it to be so stupid that it annoyed me.


The film starts in 1991 with five guys robbing a bank. Do they go to all the trouble to steal money or cashable bonds? No they’re after one thing, a rare red diamond. As they come out of the bank they split up. Three in one car, two in the other. The leader, Patrick (Sean Bean), is with two others. He opens the pouch that is supposed to have the red diamond. A huge piece of jewelry, probably worth much more than I make in a year, falls out. Patrick’s been had.

Flash forward to 2001. Dr. Conrad (Douglas) gets a 911 from a fellow psychiatrist. A young girl needs help and only he can do it. He agrees to take the case and that night his young daughter is kidnapped.

Not a bad story you’re probably thinking. Unfortunately, there are so many plot problems.

  • Patrick tells Conrad that the girl has a number in her head and he has until 5 pm to get it out. Later we find out that for the past 10 years Patrick has been in jail and the girl, Elizabeth, has been in various psychiatric facilities. How does he know she has a number he needs?
  • We’re eventually shown Patrick and the other thugs killing Elizabeth’s father (one of the double crossers). We see the three being arrested on the spot right after the deed. Previously the female cop, who is only in this film for the purpose of exposition, has shown us five rap sheets saying that three of them, including Patrick just got out of jail after doing 10 years for bank robbery. What? They couldn’t make the murder stick? We also find out that the cops know that all five guys were a bank robbing crew. One of them was recently found dead, three others were in jail for 10 years. Didn’t anyone wonder where the other guy was?
  • Elizabeth’s father was buried as a John Doe even though the cop has his rap sheet 10 years later. The whole story doesn’t work if her father is identified but there’s no way a person with a rap sheet in New York wouldn’t have been identified in New York.
  • Elizabeth has spent 10 years being analyzed and drugged but she seems completely normal and well adjusted by the end of the film.

There are a whole lot of other plot problems that you can read about here if you’re interested. Besides all the plot stupidity, a few other things bother me.

  • I hope that Famke Janssen got a lot of money for this pathetic role. She has nothing to do in this film and not just because her leg is broken. Douglas could have been a widow raising his daughter alone and the film would have worked. Mrs. Conrad had no purpose. Everybody knows that an actress pushing 40 in Hollywood is only good enough for these nothing roles where they’re married to men 21 years their senior.
  • The token black guy dies first.
  • Oliver Platt is completely wasted as the “best friend” who fucks up. Another role that could have been done away with completely. But every man movie has to have a best friend to be rescued/redeemed.

Am I being too meticulous? After all it is just a movie. I want to be entertained but I don’t want the entertainment to be mindless. I think everyone has little things that bug them. When a blunder is pushed in my face I have to take notice don’t I? I’ve been watching the trailers for 300:

I’ve also been reading a few stories about the movie and every one of them claims that the line “Tonight we dine in Hell!” is accurate. Herodotus said so. Two points here. 

  • The Battle of Thermopylae took place in 480 BC when Herodotus was around four years old. I doubt very much he was there.
  • I also doubt very much that Herodotus or King Leonidas used the word “Hell.” Neither men were Christian and “Hell” is a very Christian concept. Leonidas might have said, “Tonight we dine in Hades!” But there’s no way in Hades he used the word Hell. Not that the Greek Underworld and the Christian Hell are the same… anyway that’s another essay.

Picky? Maybe. But I hate it when people go around justifying things by saying their “factual” when they aren’t. I don’t think our culture needs to be “dumbed down” any more than it already has been. I could get into a whole essay about the first Harry Potter film (HP & The Philosopher’s Stone) being changed to Harry Potter and the Socerer’s Stone because it was thought that Americans were to dumb to understand what the word “philosopher” refered to. I guess they’d be turned off by the thought of some orphaned kid and Aristotle. Maybe they changed Hades to Hell because more people would understand the Christian word. Fine. Do what you got to do but don’t do it and say it’s factual.

Okay. End of rant for today. 

Reposts are posts written for previous journals or other places online that no longer exist.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Getting Creative - Week 39

Koala sleeping on a tree top
Image via Wikipedia
I know that every week has exactly the same amount of hours and days. I know I just experience them differently. This week just flew by and suddenly we're half way through February. I've come to the realization that I work best after the sun goes down. This does not bode well. I really need to get my life back in order. I have to get back to being a "day" person.

To this end my doctor suggested that I start a sleep diary. For the past six months or so, I've been sleeping in four hour bursts. The only way I get a solid night's sleep is if I'm drugged. Occasionally I sleep through the whole day. I slept through last Thursday and it threw everything off.

For the next few weeks I'll be concentrating on what they call sleep hygiene. I'm hoping that once I get on a normal sleep schedule I will have the energy to write more often. Fingers crossed.

This week's card:
Support Yourself 
No one knows better that you do what inspires you and gives you confidence. You make the most of that knowledge by making the most of people, places, and things that have a positive effect on you and your creativity. Especially when you're feeling vulnerable, choose what you do carefully and wisely. Go out of your way to spend time with people who mirror your best beliefs about yourself. Make time to hang out at your favorite beach, park, shop or neighborhood. Surround yourself with trinkets and treasures that remind you of your strongest, most confident times. Before you know it, you'll be in the middle of another one.

Huh. It's been so long since about what inspires me I'm not sure I know what does. Unfortunately my favorite place to "hang out" is my place. I've become a total homebody. I'm going to have to do some thinking and then force myself to go out just to go out. Not sure where that will lead.

Creativity Resources:

Get Inspired! Magazine -  blog for Graphic Designers, Illustrators, etc.

31 Ways to Find Inspiration for Your Writing -  an interesting list of things to try.

Getting Creative is a 52 week project where I will try to work my way through 52 Ways to Nurture Your Creativity by Lynn Gordon. You're welcome to come along as I do a card a week for a year.

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Repost: I Just Get More Confused

I’ve been reading again. I’ve just finished Race Against Time by Stephen Lewis. Lewis “is the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, a commissioner on the World Health Organization’s Commission on Social Determinants of Health, and the director of the Stephen Lewis Foundation.” (From the back cover.) 

He’s also Canadian. This book contains the transcripts for a bunch of lectures given in Canada in 2005. Idealistically he fits somewhere between Jeffrey Sachs and William Easterly. He thinks the Millennium Goals are a good idea but he doesn’t believe any of them will be reached. Like Easterly, Lewis thinks that aid agencies have to start doing things differently and that grassroots solutions are the only ones that will work. He also agrees that there needs to be more accountability in the aid industry.

There are many interesting stories and ideas in these lectures. From Lewis I learned that our 14th Prime Minister, Lester B. Pearson who was in office from 1963 until 1968 was the first one to say that foreign aid should be .7%. This makes me very sad. Not only because the idea has been around for so long but also that it was a Canadian idea. Our current PM does not intend to fulfill his predecessor’s promises. That in my opinion makes us look doubly stupid.

Like Sachs and Easterly, Lewis lays a large part of the blame for Africa being in the situation it is in on the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. He even goes so far as to state that the WB and the IMF aught to cough up the money for every African child to go to school until university. It seems that the WB’s “conditionality” forced various governments to take money away from education, health and other social services and to insert “user fees” to repay the loans. What really makes Lewis mad is the fact that both the WB and the IMF were told about the mistakes they were making and refused to listen (p. 16).

Lewis has a lot to say about that great photo op that was Gleneagles: “an orgy of self-congratulation” (p. 22). He has a special hate on for Bob Geldof:

To hear it from crusader Bob Geldof, the summit was a spectacular success, the greatest single gathering on behalf of Africa in the history of humankind. I’m not sure that I’ve captured his full addiction to hyperbole, but at least it’s a nice approximation. The problem for Geldof lay in his incestuous proximity to government; as a result of his membership on the Blair Commission, and his remarkable success with the Live 8 concerts, he became and inescapable member of the Blair team, a cheerleader for the G8. It’s not an unusual process, this exercise in self-hypnosis; you get caught up in the sense of power and excitement and influence, and lose perspective. But in this instance, there’s too much at stake to submit to the blandishments of rock stars, whatever their celebrity status. (p. 26)

Lewis spends a lot of time exploring alterior motives for what happened at Gleneagles. For example, according to Lewis, Japan pledged to double their contributions at Gleneagles because they wanted a seat on the UN Security Council They were elected for 2005-2006. Lewis points out that Japan gives the least of all the developed countries to foreign aid. Even doubling that aid repeatedly will not be anywhere near the .7% agreed to. Lewis says that they should have lost their seat if they didn’t follow through on their pledge (which they didn’t) but that was not going to happen. The whole G8 Traveling show disgusts him:

Something occurred at the July 2005 summit at Gleneagles in Scotland that was deeply regrettable. Because of all the hype, because of the Live 8 spectacle, because of the Madison Avenue role of Geldof (Bono was much more measured), and above all, because of the brilliant co-option of the NGO community by Tony Blair, civil society was effectively muzzled in its response. Its normally tough, analytic appraisals were replaced by adoring complicity; the principled NGO community suddenly found itself basking in the incestuous aura of power. It was as if everyone was in the same tent, while Tony Blair did his laying on of hands. Most of the major NGO players knew that they’d been had, but there was a willful contagion of laryngitis. To read their press releases was almost comical: the words lay leaden on the page. They could barely summon a twitch of indignation, let alone a spasm of outrage. (p146)

While Lewis presents yet another viewpoint on the “Africa Problem” I would recommend this book. It’s a lot easier to read than Easterly’s book and funnier than Sach’s.

Reposts are posts written for previous journals or other places online that no longer exist.
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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Getting Creative - Week 38

Overview of biological circadian clock in huma...
Image via Wikipedia
As expected, I did not work on last week's card. Too busy trying to put my life back in some kind of livable order to work on my issues. 

This week's card:
Know Your Rhythm 
In the same way that individuals have different circadian rhythms (the physiological schedules that make some individuals morning people and others night owls), they also have optimum times for creativity. For some, picking up a paintbrush at the end of the day when their minds are relaxed results in colors flowing, while for others a midday break may be their creative high point. Identifying when you have felt the most creative and what elements contributed to that feeling will make you aware of your won rhythms. This self-awareness will aid you in creating the most favorable setting for inspiration and productivity.

I tend to get ideas while I sleep. I sometimes have to get out of bed in the middle of the night to get to the computer to write what's peculating in my head. Keeping a pen and paper by my bed doesn't work for me. By the time I'm awake enough to hold a pen and move it in a way that produces readable script I might as well get up and turn on the computer.

On the other hand I tend to write my blog posts at night. That might be a hold over from when I worked in an office all day and wrote for a few online magazines at night. I will say that spending 16 hours a day at a computer is not a very good idea. 

Creativity Resources

Respecting Your Weird-Ass Rhythms - Be sure to read the comments too.

Creative Rhythms & Their Cyclic Nature - Creative cycles are natural.

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Saturday, February 4, 2012

Repost: I Really Have to Talk to Bono, Fin

Here’s and idea most Americans understand: “no taxation without representation.” What would happen if that sentiment changed to read “not intervention without representation?” (p.381) I found it really amazing that for all the years aid agencies have been working with the world’s poor no one has every done a survey to ask the poor if they were any better off after the intervention of the aid agency. Lack of feedback and accountability are the main problems Easterly sees in the current aid system. Things would improve greatly with the addition of those two things.

Throughout White Man’s Burden Easterly provides examples of “Searchers” who have done little things to make people’s lives better. He thinks aid agency should work with more “Searchers” to find solutions that work on the ground instead of in the boardroom. He knows that changing the way aid agencies work is not going to be easy.

There are good reasons why these solutions are not happening already. It is partly because of the social complexity of making even simple interventions work…. It is partly because the rich countries don’t care enough about making aid work for the poor and are willing to settle for grand utopian Plans that don’t work. It is partly because nobody is actually held accountable for making this intervention work inthis place at this time. My suggestion here could be ludicrously misguided; they should be subject to skeptical examination and ex post facto evaluation just like anything else. (p. 369 emphasis his)

Accountability is Easterly’s number one gripe. Currently there’s no one outside the aid agencies making sure that the aid agencies get results. He does have a couple of ideas for how to fix the problem:

Fix the incentive system of collective responsibility for multiple goals. Have individual accountability for individual tasks. Let aid agencies specialize in the sectors and countries they are best at helping. Then hold the agencies accountable for their results by having truly independent evaluations of their efforts.
Perhaps the aid agencies should set aside a portion of their budgets (such as the part now wasted on self-evaluation) to contribute to an international independent evaluation group made up of staff trained in the scientific method from the rich and poor countries, who will evaluate radon samples of each aid agency’s efforts. Evaluation will involve randomized controlled trials where feasible, less pure statistical analysis if not, and will at least be truly independent, even when randomized trials and statistical analysis are not feasible. Experiment with different methods of simply asking the poor if they are better off. Mobilize the altruistic people in rich countries to put heat on the agencies to make their money actually reach the poor, and get angry when the aid does not reach the poor. (p. 370 emphasis his)

One of the ideas I like is the “Development Voucher”

Suppose we issue development vouchers to target groups of the extreme poor, which the poor could redeem at any NGO or aid agency for any development good they wanted – for example, vaccinations, life-saving drugs, a health worker’s visit, an improved cookstove, textbooks, seeds, fertilizer, or food supplements. The official aid agencies would set aside some of their money for an independent “voucher fund” separate from the agencies. The poor would choose both the goods they wanted and the agency they wanted to deliver the goods and would give their vouchers to that agency. The agency could then turn in the vouchers to the voucher fund for real money to cover the costs of providing the development services. (p.378-379)

The explanation goes on for a few more paragraphs. The idea also includes “village vouchers” for things like roads, schools, health clinics etc. Easterly admits that the voucher idea might be the stupidest idea ever but so many ideas have already failed. A crazy plan might just be the way to go. With a voucher, system aid agencies would be forced to actually meet the needs of the poor and they would have to provide good service or the people would take their vouchers elsewhere. Just like in any other market place. The idea needs testing to see whether it would really work.

Here’s Easterly’s basic plan for aid reform:

Agents of assistance have to have incentive to search for what works to help the poor. If you want to aid the poor then:
1) Have aid agents individually accountable for individual, feasible areas of action that help poor people lift themselves up.
2) Let those agents search for what works, based on past experience in their area.
3) Experiment, based on the results of the search.
4) Evaluate, based on feedback from the intended beneficiaries and scientific testing.
5) Reward success and penalize failure. Get more money to interventions that are working, and take money away from interventions that are not working. Each aid agent should explore and specialize further in the direction of what they prove good at doing.
6) Make sure the incentives in 5) are strong enough to do more of what works, then repeat step 4). If action fails, make sure the incentive in 5) are strong enough to send the agent back to step 1). If the agent keeps failing, get a new one.

Easterly has one piece of advice for the activist: “you can change your issue from raising more aid money to making sure that the aid money reaches the poor.” (p.384)

As you can probably tell, Easterly has convinced me that things cannot go on the way they have been. Bono has made much of pointing out that what he’s advocating is a different kind of aid then the aid that has come before. My recent communication from the Global Fund has proved to me that nothing has changed.

Easterly has a “compare and contrast” chart early in his book that looks at something written in 1857 by socialist Robert Owen. Easterly compares various passages from his work to various passages in Jeffery Sachs’ The End of Poverty. The similarities are spooky. Owen’s big plan didn’t work then so why should we believe that Sachs’ similar plans will work now?

Alright. I’m done. If you want to know more you’ll just have to read the damn book.

Reposts are posts written for previous journals or other places online that no longer exist.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Getting Creative - Week 37

mental health week
Image by meerar via Flickr
Last week I took a mental health week and did absolutely nothing. The saga of the Great Flood of 2012 continues. No work has been done for two weeks. Not that the landlord let us know that no work would be done. What has happened is multiple groups of strange men have demanded access to my apartment so they can look at the damage, take pictures and make notes.

Having people come into my apartment is stressful. I like to be comfortable when I'm lounging around at home. That means I wear my PJs. Having to get dressed and sit around my apartment all day so people can come and look at the damage for five minutes is a pain in the neck. Being left to wonder how long this is going to go on is also stressful.

So last week I just shut down. Needless to say I did not make it to the pool.

This week's card:
Emotional Hotspots 
Although you probably avoid emotional hotspots, recalling and experiencing them can provide fuel for creative expression. Coming face-to-face with the most real and raw issues and feelings and then channeling that energy through a creative medium may produce not only intense work but also emotional catharsis. Instead of reburying a recurring memory, put on your spelunking garb and start exploring. Hard had suggested.

I'm going to be honest. I doubt I'll do this one. I read to escape. I writer for the same reason. To say that I have issues would be an understatement. Years of therapy haven't gotten me to a point where I can even think about my "hotspots" without having a meltdown. I am currently stressed out enough. I'm not going to go poking around without a boatload of antidepressants.

Creativity Resources:

Find Your Emotional Triggers - An interesting list of potential triggers.

Therapy Worksheets - A blog with links to all kinds of worksheets for psychological issues.

Getting Creative is a 52 week project where I will try to work my way through 52 Ways to Nurture Your Creativity by Lynn Gordon. You're welcome to come along as I do a card a week for a year.

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Repost: I Really Have to Talk to Bono, Part Deux

This is the second part to my "review" of White Man’s Burden by William Easterly. According to this book, everything Jeffery Sachs and Bono have told you is wrong. Well maybe not everything. Dropping the debt is a very good idea.

There is no poverty trap. In most cases, bad governance or internal strife (ethnic cleansing, civil wars, racism etc) causes poverty. Poverty cannot be “made history” with a “big push.” Top down solutions created by “planners” have never worked in the Third World. People who understand the culture and social relationships of a community are in a better position to help than bureaucrats are. Easterly calls these people “searchers.” He thinks we need more searchers and fewer planners.

Easterly’s book is filled with anecdotes and stories that illustrate the points he’s trying to make. For example, planners decided that everyone needed a bed net. Good idea but they didn’t ask if the people actually wanted, or would use, bed nets. Many bed nets got used as fishing nets or veils. When searchers gave the bed nets to a nurse in a clinic to sell, they told the nurse she could keep a portion of every net she sold. She made sure the nets were in stock. She made sure that the people knew what they were for and how to use them. Patients were more likely to use them for their intended purpose because they paid for them. Deaths from Malaria declined in the area the nurse was working in.

The other problem with foreign aid is that there is very little accountability. If the bed nets didn’t work the nurse would hear about it right away. The patients would want a new net or their money back. Aid agencies are not accountable to anyone when their programs do not produce results. The only time aid agencies have to justify their existence is when they are trying to get more money from donor countries. Aid agencies must appear to be at least trying to do something in order to keep the aid money flowing in. This leads to an abundance of what Orwell might recognize as DoubleSpeak.

Since Donors understandably don’t want to admit they are dealing with bad governments, diplomatic language in aid agencies becomes an art form. A war is a “conflict-related reallocation of resources.” Aid efforts to deal with homicidal warlords are “difficult partnerships.” Countries whose presidents loot the treasury experience “governance issues.” Miserable performance is “progress [that] has not been as fast and comprehensive as envisioned….” When government officials want to steal while the aid agency wants development, there are “differences in priorities and approaches [that]… need to be reconciled.” If debt-relief dollars disappear before reaching the poor, then “continued progress on the Expenditure Management and Control Program will be needed…”

Diplomatic donors also put a positive spin on awful recipient governments by asserting that while things are bad, they are getting better. The use of gerunds indicating progress is ubiquitous in aid documents such as “developing,” “emerging,” and “improving.” – p. 137-138

The aid agencies are beginning to believe the DoubleSpeak. The Millennium Project 2005 report was a very positive document but…

The report lists sixty-three poor countries that are “potentially well governed,” and thus potentially eligible for a massive increase in foreign aid. The list includes five out of seven countries singled out by Transparency International in October 2004 as the most corrupt in the world: Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Chad, Nigeria, and Paraguay. The list of “potentially well-governed” countries also includes fifteen governments that Freedom House classifies as “not free.” – p. 154

Reading this book was hard. It was often very depressing. What’s the point of getting AIDS drugs to people if they’re only going to die of malnutrition/starvation? What’s the point of trying to help people rise above poverty if the society they live in does not consider them to be worthwhile people (of the wrong class or race or religion)?

Easterly makes a point of saying that the things the aid agencies want are not always what the governments have an interest in providing. Some governments have no interest in raising the country’s population out of poverty. In some cases it might be politically expedient to keep a part of the population in abject poverty. People who have to spend all their time scraping out a living have no time to join political parties. They have no interest in maintaining the infrastructure needed to help those living in poverty improve their lives (roads, hospitals, schools etc.)

The tragedy of poverty is that the poorest people in the world have no money or political power to motivate Searchers to address their desperate needs, while the rich can use their money and power through well-developed markets and accountable bureaucracies to address theirs. The foreign aid bureaucracy has never quite gotten it – its central problem is that the poor are orphans: they have no money or political voice to communicate their needs or motivates others to meet those needs. (p. 167)

Easterly thinks aid agencies would just stop trying to work with governments and resign themselves to not only providing aid but maintaining the infrastructure needed to put the aid to good use. He talks about one country where an aid agency built a road but then government did not maintain it so in a few years the road was unusable and the people it was meant to help were no better off.

…aid bureaucrats have incentives to satisfy the rich countries doing the funding as well as (or instead of) the poor. One oversight in the quest to help the poor was the failure to study the incentives of its appointed helpers. The bureaucratic managers have the incentive to satisfy rich-country vanity with promises of transforming the Rest rather than simply helping poor individuals. International bureaucratic incentives also favour grand global schemes over getting the little guy what he wants. (p. 167)

Easterly tells the story of a village where the smoke from cook stoves was causing a lot of respiratory disease. An aid agency spent a lot of money to replace all the stoves with safer models. What they did not stop to do is ask if anyone wanted the new stoves, what kind of stoves they needed or if they would use new stoves. Turns out no one wanted the stoves and nobody used them. They went back to the old stoves the moment the aid agency left. Meanwhile the aid agency listed the replacement of “deadly” stoves in its “win” column.

I take getting my needs met for granted. If someone came into my house and said “we’re going to do this and this and give you this,” without asking me what I wanted and needed you know I would have something to say about it. I can write letters and emails and make phone calls until I get my needs met. If all that fails, I can call my local television station and get the media involved. The poor don’t have that ability. They have to take what the aid agencies want give them. The solution is easy: the aid agencies ask the people what they need and then they give it to them. Simple.

I had always thought that aid agencies asked the poor what they wanted and then provided that. Easterly showed me any examples of how that is not so. This has gotten quite long and I didn’t even get around to the IMF or the World Bank.