Thursday, June 28, 2007

It Is A Whistle

When the cattle died, then we were farmers
When the drought came, then we were soldiers
When the soldiers came, then we were slaves

The smells
copper and meat

The sounds
flies and jackals

The sights.

The cyclopean sun stares down
a thousand winking eyes reflected back
and for this boy, my son
a stone, a splash, the flies.

This well is poison, like the last
the bodies of children quartered and dropped
into that blessed, cursed darkness
but they will not be slaves.

everywhere, brass follows death.

This boy, my son
sees, breaks with dirt fingers
a splinter from the sun's reflected eye
and that reflection dies.

It was Death, and now is spent
and when he blows just so
It is a Whistle, and the flies and jackals go.

The Age Of Reason

Son has turned four. Another year has passed, too few pictures taken, too few opportunities seized, etc. The normal maudlin reflections on seeing another year's worth of road devoured on the highway to imminent death is something that seems reserved for the grown-ups. So exclusively, in fact, that I've added it to my list of indicators of adulthood. You know you're an adult when you no longer look forward to birthdays.

But enough about me.

When we compare parenting notes, my Dad occasionally mentions how one thing that amazed and confused him when my brother and I were about Son's age, was the fact that the language skills were there - he knew we could understand the words he was saying - but we just didn't "listen". He couldn't get why we couldn't "be quiet", or "sit still", or "stop doing that". He would grab both my shoulders, look me in the eye and say "Boy, do not climb the bookshelves. If you do that, they could fall and kill you. Do you understand?" I would nod, or say "Yes daddy", and ten seconds later he'd be frantically digging me out from under a pile of furniture and books of my own creation.

The reason, he figured much, much later, was pretty basic, and had to do (obviously) with mental development. Just because Son understands the words I'm saying, I shouldn't assume he's able to reason the way an adult would. It's very easy to fall into this trap, because the gestalts of language and reasoning are very closely linked in our minds. When you think, you don't do it in some sort of color- and shape-based language (unless you're pretty goddamn special). You do it in the same language in which you speak. Go ahead, try it. Think of something right now. Anything. Aren't you thinking in English (or French, or Esperanto, or whatever)?

As son grows and his surprising brain matures, I can see those logical structures erecting themselves. His capacity to reason is growing and improving, catching up to his ability to communicate. Of course I'm proud, but I'm also sad. There is some region of this ever-changing psychic landscape that we'll eventually have to draw a border around, and point to it, and say "There. There was your childhood. Wasn't that nice?"

In the meantime, son shows a healthy and well-developed predilection for all things Spiderman - this, despite never having seen a movie, cartoon, or comic book on the subject - and so, of course, his birthday gifts tend toward a theme. The insidious tide of spider-themed debris that chokes the halls of our home ebbs only in the sleeping hours, thanks to the midnight cleanup crew.

You can't really eliminate it, you can only hope to contain or direct its flow, but if any scrap of arachnorabilia is to be eliminated, t'were well it were done quickly, and while the boy is asleep, or there will be hell to pay. Sometimes though, on special occasions such as birthdays, we are called upon to contribute to, rather than mitigate, this ceaseless flux of Spidey-stuff.

So, this evening we piled into the car and trucked out to Toys R Us, where we surfed the aisles picking and choosing from the vast selection of plastic crap they have there. This retail outlet, like many, is really just a gigantic warehouse-like repository for Movie tie-in merch. The flavor of the week is transformers, a pile of chromed effluvium that pays homage to a movie, based on a cartoon, that spawned it's own line of plastic crap in my youth. Give nostalgia it's due, these new transformers aren't a patch on the transformers we had when we were kids.

But if one has the wherewithal to persist, there are diverse and subtle strata that lie beneath, waiting to be re-discovered. Just as a sedimentary geologist can examine the walls of the Paraná Basin and discover the origins of those glacially striated surfaces, so too can a persistent father, and his obsessed son, pierce the surface layer of transformers detritus, traverse the dreaded Pirates of The Caribbean era, and descend, helmet lights flickering, to the depths of prehistory, and the Spiderman 3 layer.

So we walked out with many, many toys. One of these is a "web" shooting thingy that straps to your wrist and fires spinning streams of sticky caustic gray goop at the touch of a button. Of course the small print on the can of "webbing" specifically warns: "do not spray at walls, floors, furniture or clothing. Do not use near open flame. Do not allow to come into contact with skin or eyes. If product comes into contact with skin or eyes flush immediately, etc, etc."

So of course we let 'er rip. I exaggerate only slightly, when I say that this toy - so called - is the vilest abomination ever wrought upon the world of man. Instantly and permanently staining all it touched, the webbing of course flew from it's dispenser at supersonic speeds to disintegrate into a gray cloud of toxic fumes and oily glue. And so it came to pass that Son's favorite birthday present, the toy he's been pining over for two months, is banned from the house, and is only to be used outdoors, in a well-ventilated area, away from civilization, and only while wearing protective head and eye gear, non-latex gloves, and a breathing mask. This toy is banned by unanimous UN resolution. It is outlawed in places that have no laws. It is the tool of The Devil.

And everything else requires batteries, which we forgot to buy (just like every birthday and Christmas).

In other news, we has us some bikes! Wife made the mistake of musing aloud, along the lines of: "I wonder if it might not be a good idea to buy bikes for the whole family, then we could take day trips, teach Son to ride, maybe do some family trails and picnicking and such". To tell you the truth, I'm pretty much extrapolating everything that was said after the word "bikes", because by that time I was at the bike shop, putting down a deposit.

Since that momentous purchase, three weeks ago, Son rides his bike about once a week around the park, forbidden to ride much faster than Wife or I can walk, since we must protect him from perverts and maniacs by keeping him in sight at all times. Wife hasn't yet gotten on hers. She says she doesn't have time. I say she doesn't have the balls. She rolls her eyes. I ride mine to work and home every weekday. My finely chiseled buttocks can be used to crack walnuts. The ladies swoon at my perfectly turned calves.

Wife says they more likely swoon in comic relief at the sight of a sweaty, pear-shaped man, cursing with every gear change, puffing along at a walking pace and falling off at every red light, but she's just jealous (I mean just look at these calves!).

My earlier post lamenting my total ignorance on the subject of the Darfur civil war and genocide had the desired effect of guilting me into thinking about it. So I picked up this pretty decent book by Dave Eggers. I've read his stuff before, and never been, you know, "wow", but "What is the What" is a very human story told from the point of view of a Sudanese refugee. It bills itself as a "fictionalized autobiography, as narrated to Dave Eggers", which is pretty much in keeping with everything else I've read by him. So far, the voice seems unauthentic. More Eggers than Sudan, but really, what do I know? The story is still poignant, promising, and educational. Definitely check it out, if you don't give a damn, and feel like you should.

Yes, I know I promised Doggerel. I have the picture in my head, but the words just won't come. Ah well, maybe I'll put it up here anyway.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


Gentlemen, there is another solution to our little problem, but it involves...


(Click It. Mmkay?)

Saturday, June 16, 2007


In science, the observer effect refers to changes effected on an observed phenomena, by the mere act of observation.

For example, in order for an audience to listen to a live performance of Verdi's la traviata, they must be present in the auditorium. By virtue of the presence of all these rustling, sighing (and in my case yawning) people, the acoustics of the auditorium are altered, thereby altering the observed phenomena.

Some performers may get stage fright due to the presence of an audience, altering it further.

I may begin to snore. My snoring has a high-pitched, flute-like consonance that, I feel, can only enhance the auditory experience we are describing. Nonetheless, the observed phenomena would likely suffer alteration.

As an aside, do not be misled into thinking that I am a connoisseur (nor even mildly tolerant) of opera. I enjoy all the meats of our cultural stew, but opera is the diamond in the stew. Everyone loves diamonds, but who wants to break a tooth on a rock when you're trying to enjoy some good stew, am I right?

So, back to the Observer Effect. I have a couple of questions, Mr. Wizard (RIP) :

Does observing evidence of the "observer effect" alter the effect?

Okay, but seriously: What about déjà vu?

Of course you know what déjà vu is, but scientists are still sort of puzzling out how it really works. After we got over accusations of witchcraft, precognition and prophecy, one theory used to be that different visual signals might take different neural pathways from your eyes to your visual cortex, one signal arriving picoseconds after the other, causing the sensation of having "seen" this thing before.

This, of course has been thoroughly dismissed as unscientific nincompoopery. Which is unfortunate, since it kind of takes the wind out of the sails of my most interesting question: If I observe a phenomena (thereby changing it, according to the observer effect), and experience déjà vu (thereby observing the same phenomena again), have I un-changed it? Have I reversed this specific instance of the observer effect, or simply compounded it? Have I un-observed?

How many people have "observed" the Mona Lisa? How many infinitesimal changes does that make?

Is someone observing me right now?

You see now, that I can write about pretty much any claptrap that pops into my head. My ninja master informs me I must use this power for good, not evil.

But before I do, let me draw a depressing conclusion from out of left field: According to the observer effect, perfection can not exist. Because in order for something to be perfect -- let's say, the perfect woman -- it must be subjectively judged by an observer to meet the stringent criteria of perfection. In absolute terms, these criteria are non-negotiable. Either you are (subjectively) perfect, or you're not. There's no such thing as more perfect, because perfection is, well, the best you can do, really.

If I observe this hypothetical perfect woman, my act of observation must change some aspect of her perfection, rendering her imperfect. Since perfection must be perceived in order to exist, and cannot be perceived without being altered, and cannot be altered without being diminished, it can not exist. Ergo liquet, QED.

You're thinking, "Hah, smarty pants! The object or person you deem perfect may not meet my high standards." And you are technically correct. This is, unfortunately, irrelevant. Even if you are the only person who ever observes this mythical perfection (from within, say, the confines of your isolated log cabin in the Jersey Pine Barrens, using a closed-circuit camera), this theory still applies.*

So the next time someone tells you that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, tell them to go fuck their hat.

Soon: Doggerel!

*The theory of non-perfection does not apply to imaginary girlfriends. Rest easy, chess-club.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

What It Means I Can't Explain

If you are a parent, and unless you have some magical talent with words (a gift, alas, to which I can not lay claim), you can never explain to anyone what this love, this truest thing, could possibly mean. There is simply nothing to which it can be meaningfully compared. If you're not a parent, you can never understand, and you're probably sick of hearing that. You think you've been in love, you think you get it, that you know that depth, but watch your child grow, and you can look back and realize that it was an empty word, love, comparatively benign. This is the difference between a gentle summer zephyr, and a Perfect Storm.

When Son was very small, Wife and I would take turns and lie with him in his bed at night, after story time, after a drink of water, and the second trip to the bathroom, and wait for him to fall asleep. Without exception, everyone to whom we mentioned this habit - parents, friends, coworkers - would tell us what a terrible idea this was.

"You'll regret it when he's older, and you want some time to yourself," they said. This was the party line, and to a certain extent we bought it. But I would lie next to him while he slept, listen to him breathe, see his eyebrows knit with concern over some dream-hurt, smell his bath-clean hair, feel the radiant heat of his little muscly body. At first we did it for him. So he wouldn't be lonely. But now we do it for ourselves.

How could I not? How could I refuse myself this amazing time and place and feeling? It's all true, of course, as clichés often are. "They Grow Up So Fast", and "Time Flies", and "Before You Know It". Every word. And this unconditional, unreasoning, unreasonable love may not be returned forever.

I can't explain it, but there is nothing - nothing - more important. My one remaining terror in life, lives at the wellspring of this powerful love: that he will be taken from me somehow.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Things You Assume You Know, But Don't Really

Friday, a sad day in Company's history. Guy I Barely Know has left, and so we all went out for a quick beer or three after work, you know, to say good-bye. Of course, during the course of these social club tea parties, I always discover things about my co-workers that makes them seem more like real people, and not hallucinations, and Friday night fit that mold nicely.

It was Grand-Prix weekend in Montreal, so of course all the waitresses were either a) replaced with off-duty strippers, or b) dressed in painted-on Molson Dry outfits that left nothing to the imagination. Our waitress appeared to be of the latter variety, and let me just say: Bravo. I and my dozen-or-so compatriot bargoers (mostly male) spent some time creatively ogling the waitress, but trying not to, you know, make her uncomfortable (or any more uncomfortable than that outfit was already making her).

At some point, Lipstick showed up to mitigate the sausage-fest. We eagerly pointed out to her the object of our collective desire, and she was suitably impressed, quipping "Wow, yes indeedy, that's some nice titty action".

Nice. Titty. Action.

Before I go any further here, let me back up a bit and mention that Lipstick is gay (and gorgeous), and so, we figured, in a unique position to appreciate the feminine charms of our appointed hostess, as well as point out other less obvious charms that we, as knuckle-dragging males, might have overlooked. So it was a bit of a surprise to go from our polite male conversation of "wow, she's really beautiful", "good from any angle", "nice cheekbones", etc. to "Nice titties".

I'm not sure what I was expecting, and maybe it wasn't fair to put her on the spot like that, but what I think happened is that she said what we were all thinking, instead of what we were all saying.

Girls, you think you know what men say when you're not around. But you really don't. And at this point I think it's safe to assume the opposite as well. Hate to break it to you, guys, but when we're not around, the attractive women are probably not having pillow fights in their skivvies.

Opportunities to re-examine the stereotypes we hold so dear (e.g.: knuckle-dragging males, dainty and polite females, baby-eating republicans, etc.) are few and far between (unless you seek them out), and when the occasion presents itself, we are duty-bound to exploit it. What other cliché stereotypes are we wrong about? All of them?


Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Bridge

After you were gone
the days, mocking, crawled.
I wanted it to mean Everything
then Nothing
But in the end, all it meant was Something

The days were long
But the years flew by.
I stopped talking (about you)
then thinking
finally dreaming

The show, they said
"His best ever!"
The critics, my friends
raved at how fucking brilliant I was.
But I hold myself to a higher

And one day, I loved.
Or thought I did.
We took it slow.
Went Places.
Met People.
Did Things.

When I stayed the night, those dreams returned.
Because she used
the same shampoo as you.
That Smell

The water is dark
but I am ready.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

All My Friends Are "Work Friends"

"Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say 'infinitely' when you mean 'very'; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite."
-- C. S. Lewis (1898 - 1963)

You're on my list, Lewis. I don't care if you're dead. I'll find you.

Cognitive Dissonance is that uncomfortable feeling you get when you try to hold two contradictory thoughts or beliefs in your head. I would imagine this is the type of thing that Church-going physicists are good at dealing with.

Have you ever visited a friend or relative at their place of work? It's like they're a completely different person. "This can't possibly be the same guy that was telling fart jokes at last night's poker game", you'll say to yourself, as you observe your drinking buddy, the one who wore the goat's head during Frosh Week, efficiently direct his team in the pursuit of Operational Excellence.

"I need those numbers on my desk by Thursday," he'll say.
"If we can't assess that risk, then we need to reexamine their value proposition," he'll say.
"If the delivery date slides, that revenue goes to next quarter. That's unacceptable," he'll say.

"Pull my finger," he'll say.

Psychologically, there is no immediately apparent way to reconcile these conflicting images of your friend/spouse/parent. In the heat of the moment, cognitive dissonance will force you to consider them as two separate people, one an efficient manager of operational "flow", the other a drunken practical joker / mother of two / yoga instructor / whatever. This is a postponement of analysis. Basically, your brain is saying "I can't process this right now, I'll deal with it later."

The scary thing is that other people think of you this way.

I have previously mentioned that buddy Ironman will be assuming responsibilities that could broadly be considered "boss-like" vis-a-vis myself. This scenario falls nicely into the category of psychological states that Cognitive Dissonance seems purpose-built to handle. This has even been unintentionally illustrated right here in this blog by my constant reference to him under two different names; Ironman and Boss Jr, a handy device that I think I'll continue to make use of.

Conclusion: I will continue to refer to him as Ironman when discussing him as a friend, and Boss Jr. when discussing him as a superior, and continue to think of him as two separate people.

Can you believe I've never undergone therapy of any kind?

Back in the day, during those brief periods of bachelorhood between long-term relationships, on those rare occasions when a woman would tell me I was cute, or (more rarely) "good-looking", I would usually offer one of two canned responses:

1) Well, my mother thinks so. (laughs all around, no one gets hurt).
2) Prove it.

HaikuBoxer, that paragon of wisdom and charm, has recently sent me zero-or-more flattering emails, responding to something or other I wrote herein. Neither of the above responses seems appropriate...

Next: Doggerel!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

This Post, It Could Be Better

Tonight, as I delivered unto the Golden One his nightly bottle of milk (he's too young to appreciate the fact that he's too old for a bottle of milk at bed-time), he yanked it roughly out of my hand, bonking Wife on the chest with it. Quick to instruct Son in proper manners (I can hear you laughing from here), words were spoken:

Wife: ouch!
Self (sternly): Son, say sorry to Mommy!
Son (bottle in mouth): Thorry Mommy.
Self: And say thank-you to Daddy (you know, for the milk).
Son: Thank-oo, Daddy.
Self (getting the hang of this): And say "I love you" to Mommy.
Son: I love you, mommy.
Self (trying not to giggle): And say "I love you, Daddy".
Son: ...
Self: ... Okay. Well, g'night then, sweetie (*kiss*).

The hypocrisy of me attempting to teach Son proper manners and etiquette is, I'm sure, not lost on any who know me. For those who don't, allow me to elucidate by way of an anecdote:

Today at Company marks a momentous occasion (at least for me, and really, who else is there?). Project (an amazing bit of software that I believe will be used to torture heretics during the next Inquisition) has finally gone to QA for testing, freeing me up for further abuse from the project driver and chief stakeholder, Meathead.

Everyone has a Meathead at their work. The upper-middle manager who doesn't return emails, brushes off your concerns about outstanding requirements issues by saying "don't worry about it", then points the finger at you when the project fails. He or she has unrealistic expectations that are not expressed in the project requirements, interrupts or talks over you in meetings, misunderstands most of the project and therefore misrepresents it to upper management, and basically has the attention span of a hummingbird.

Meathead is not actually evil, just difficult to work with sometimes. He considers himself a political animal, and concentrates on what he thinks is important at any one time (like most of us), to the detriment of what is actually important. So this entire project has been an exercise in "Cover Your Ass". Everything is documented, Boss is CC'ed on every email to Meathead, responsibility for delays due to unapproved changes is unambiguously laid at his feet. It's fucking exhausting.

Seriously, any time spent in a room with this guy takes about five layers of enamel off my teeth from the grinding.

Patience is the only thing for which I set myself a limit. This, coupled with the need to express myself within the constraint of Meathead's ten-second attention span, can sometimes result in some hastily-chosen words. Words that could be jeopardizing career-advancement opportunities. Often (okay, not often, but you know) after a meeting, I'll think back and wonder: was I more of a dick than was strictly necessary, given the circumstances?

Viz: I was about three tooth-layers into a meeting yesterday, with Meathead, The Directrix, and Boss Sr, to go over Meathead's requirements documentation for an upcoming project. After much semi-heated debate over the questionable sense of some of his needs, I arrived at a section of my notes where I had given up on intelligent comment, and instead scrawled WTF in orange hi-lighter.

Self: Yeah, I don't think I understood this part correctly.
Meathead (playing with BlackBerry): What do you mean? I think it's pretty clear.
Self: I mean, I don't know what language this was written in, but it isn't English.

Now, taken out of context, that little exchange has me coming off as a bit of a dick. To be fair, this document was a joint effort between Meathead and The Directrix (a capital whip-wielder and efficient task master fully deserving of further commentary, and don't worry, I'll get to her). Directrix and Meathead have both worked with me for a while and know what to expect, so they weren't, you know, insulted or anything. Still, after the fact, I couldn't help but wonder if that could have gone better.

In the near future (as soon as tomorrow, in fact), IronMan, a.k.a. Boss Jr, will be getting involved. Boss Jr, or "BJ" for short (snigger), is a genius at dealing with Meathead, as well as The Directrix (not to mention Boss Sr, Mr Clean, Laurel and Hardy, and The Cossacks), without snapping like a wishbone. Should prove diverting.

"Could that have gone better?" is a question that crosses my mind fairly frequently, usually with it's head down and collar up, trying not to make eye contact. Generally, one already knows the answer before ever posing the question (in case you're wondering, it's yes). And this doesn't just happen at work:

Self: C'mon, Son, time to get ready for bed.
Son: I want my Spider-man shirt!
Self: That shirt's dirty, we'll wash it tonight, and you can wear it tomorrow
Son: I. Want. My. Spider. Man. Shirt.
Self: It's just for one night. Look, you're already wearing your spider-man underwear, spider-man socks, spider-man sandals, spider-man shorts, and spider-man baseball cap, and you're going to sleep on spider-man sheets with a giant stuffed spider-man while listening to the London cast of "Spider-man, The Musical". Can we just wear this other shirt for tonight?

So of course I cave. I mean, really, who has the time? But after fifteen minutes of arguing, tantrums, and hi-pitched screaming, loud enough to break every window in the house, I inevitably find myself swabbing the blood from my ruptured eardrums and asking "Could that have gone better?"

Now, I'm no expert (natch), but the frequency with which I find myself confronted by this type of post hoc second-guessing may speak to Psychological Issues.

Idea!: One of the goals of our Ongoing Game will be to express the nature of said Issues without exacerbating them. Good luck with that.

In other news, HaikuBoxer has found my muddy little hole in the internet. Time to pull up stakes, board up the blog, and move to Panama under an assumed name. Revisionist history has struck. Boxer thought the picture I had of her on the site, all sweaty and sporty looking after running a triathlon, was "icky", so I swapped it out.

This is one thing the electronic medium has over traditional forms. You can go back in time and erase, redact, tweak, and just make like it never happened. In fact, I just erased something off this very blog. Can you tell what it was? Maybe I was talking about you.

Non-Sequitur: About that money I owe you. Do you take sex?

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Man-Eating Haiku / Rampages Through Downtown Core / Film At Eleven

UBC's Science Creative Quarterly is constructing a phylograph -- basically a species tree -- using Haiku as its node-expression syntax, and is looking for submissions. My favorite so far:

Is a bitch for a haiku
Too many sybbles"

Boxer? Are you listening?

Saturday, June 2, 2007

La Sfera Di Confuscione

We are playing a game right now, you and I. Have you figured out the rules yet?

Global Warming. It's An Inconvenient Truth. Right-wing nutjobs aside, pretty much everyone who isn't a Creationist should by now be a believer in this phenomenon. Everyone gets it now. Greenhouse gases, CO2 emissions, carbon credits, Kyoto, recycling, &c. Probably not enough is being done, but everyone is either doing something, or feeling guilty about it.

What really ices my cream, though, what keeps creeping up on me from the back of my head and giving me the heebie-jeebies is this whole bee thing.

In case you've been living under a rock, honey bees are snuffing it at an alarming rate. The consensus appears to be that these little guys are the last canary in the coalmine, that this sudden die-off is a harbinger of global climate collapse.

It seems that certain annual losses in bee population (among the domesticated bees at any rate) are to be expected, but the losses over the last winter are all out of proportion. A significant percentage of the world's bee population is dying or disappearing, and no one knows why. Disease? Mites? Global Warming? Cell phones?

"If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man." -- Albert Einstein
In four years.

Okay, so now that you've got the heebie-jeebies as well, allow me to place myself in opposition to the general stance the media has so far taken on this issue, and actually talk some sense. Now I'm not an expert (big surprise), but here's what the experts have to say (for much more detail, I refer you to the all-knowing Wikipedia):

1) There are some 20,000 species of bees in the world, and many thousands more of pollinating insects. What we're hearing about, called "colony collapse disorder", affects one species of bee – the European honey bee. That species happens to be the one that global agriculture relies upon for about 30% of its pollination requirements. So while we're not talking about losing all the world's pollinators, we are talking about losing a significant fraction of them. That's the worst-case scenario, with the species wiped out completely.

2) The "significant percentage" of failing hives is still a drop in the bucket when viewed against the global population of honey bees, and there are lots of beekeepers (even in the U.S., which appears hardest hit) who have not had, and may never have, significant losses of colonies.

3) It's almost impossible to get hard numbers on how many colonies have died recently, and how much of the current uproar is media hype based on guesses, estimates and anecdotal accounts from the handful of beekeepers who have had the most colony losses. If you talk to other beekeepers, most admit they have colonies die off every winter, but they don't always keep records on how many. A lot of the reports are based on personal recollection rather than careful documentation. In other words, the scary figures you're hearing could be exaggerated.

4) It's never a good idea to trust what the media are telling you (and that goes double for everything in this blog). At least once in the present case the media got something completely wrong and created a huge mess: The story about cell phones was basically a misrepresentation of what one pair of reporters wrote about a study that they misinterpreted. In a nutshell, the original research didn't involve cell phones, and had nothing to do with colony die-offs.

Even details like that alleged Einstein quote are dubious. No one has yet found proof that Einstein said anything of the sort. The earliest documented appearance of the "quote" is 1994 and, yes, Albert was dead at the time.

All of this is very reassuring, and helps me sleep at night, but it bears a striking resemblance to the head-in-the-sand philosophy of the U.S. administration's (until recently) official stance on Global Warming. And we know where that got us.

One interesting thing about bees is that one of the ways in which they defend the hive is to engulf the invader in a living ball of buzzing, whirring defenders and cook it to death using their own body heat.

Bees Disappearing? Global Warming? Do I really need to draw you a frickin' picture?

Friday, June 1, 2007

Say Something Intelligent, for Fuck's Sake

I talk and I talk. But do I really say anything? No, Not really.

When I hear the word "Darfur", I think "Tragedy". They are synonymous. So far so good. Lots of people feel the same. Except I don't really know why that is. I don't know the first thing about Darfur. I mean, supposedly there's a genocide there, right? And it's in Africa some place? Genocide is bad, so therefore Darfur is tragic. End of story. I don't really need to know the details. I mean, who has the time?

Yes, I'm a lazy fuck.

And, if we are to believe the cliché, most of North America is the same. The media here have been relatively silent on the subject of the Darfur genocide (in fairness, there are good reasons for this), and yet word is getting out. It's not just activists, hippies and protesters who've heard of this now. There is a memetic stew of genocide-related imagery bubbling away in our collective unconscious. Once in a while, a carrot or onion must float to the top and call our attention to the situation, and force us to educate ourselves on the ingredients of this potage.


So a funny story (if anything in the context of Darfur can be considered "funny") popped up today somewhere (I think it was, talking about the Sudanese ambassador to the US basically threatening to cut off the world's supply of a vital soft-drink ingredient unless people stopped referring to the Darfur conflict as a "genocide".

Now, regardless of your feelings on the Darfur conflict, I gotta say, this guy needs a press secretary or something. So far, the only people who knew more about Darfur than "Darfur = SAD" were people who genuinely cared about it. Intelligent, Sensitive people. The vocal minority, the activists. Oh, and the Sudanese.

But this guy went and held a press conference, and created a media event weird enough to get over 1400 diggs, from a demographic - geeks - who can't be expected to know anything about the place beyond how to spell it (if that). The absurdity of this story forced people like myself, who didn't know shit about Darfur, to take a second look. "Who is this wack-job? Sudan? Darfur? hmmm. I'm going to look that up on Wikipedia". And that's all it takes.

Way to defuse the situation there, Ambassador-guy. Perfect diplomacy for an imperfect world, huh?

Thus far, I haven't told you anything about Darfur, or the conflict there, or fulfilled the promise implicit in the title of this entry. So here's the nutshell (for more -- much more -- detail, I suggest Wikipedia):

Darfur is a region of western Sudan. Sudan is a country in Africa. Africa is far away, but not so far away that you shouldn't care about what goes on there (Yes. Guilty as charged).

Right now there's a conflict going on in Darfur. One side is calling it a Civil War. And in fact, it has many of the hallmarks. There's rebels, and guerillas, and militias (oh my!). There's also ethnic cleansing and mass graves. This isn't a frickin' geopolitical treatise, so I won't delve into the details of all the players (Sudanese military, Janjaweed militia, Sudanese Liberation Movement, Justice & Equality Movement, and a million other factions), but as with most wars, it's the little people that get caught in the middle.

The Sudanese government is systematically erasing the non-Baggara civilian population, and have suppressed information by murdering and jailing witnesses, disrupting mass graves to eliminate their forensic value, preventing any UN peacekeeping mission or humanitarian efforts, and obstructing and arresting journalists. By most accounts, the conflict has resulted in two to four hundred thousand civilian deaths, and more than 2.5 million displaced since it's beginning, in February 2003.

The United States government describes the Darfur conflict as "genocide". The U.N. declines to do so.

The Darfur genocide (let's not mince words), is truly a tragedy. But the greater tragedy is that it would take a fucking clown, with vague threats on North American Coca-Cola production capabilities, to make someone (ie: me) sit up and take notice.

So I'm going to add this to the list of reasons I should be pissed at myself. It's not exactly a secret that I'm pretty apathetic about world events, but some shit just ain't right.

Update: Keep an eye on what's going on in Darfur, here (Thanks, Delrin!).

Nothing But the Rain

Well, it's official, SciFi channel has announced that next season will be the last for Battlestar Galactica. Adios Starbuck, my feminine ideal...

"The Man"

So the Liberal budget will pass, as we more or less knew it must. the PQ, who cannot be seen to actually agree with the liberals on anything (since they're the opposition), must instead abstain from the vote in sufficient numbers to allow the Liberals to push the budget through. Public gets tax breaks and a bit of education & health spending. Not enough to make any difference, mind you, just enough that neither party needs to accept responsibility for the decline of Quebec health care.

And we may need every penny, if assholes like this continue to mock Darwin. America is so busy locking out the terrorists, they've forgotten to lock in their Typhoid Maries. Here's one case where the almost total lack of air circulation on your average trans-Atlantic passenger jet may have come in handy - slowing the spread of a deadly airborne disease.

There are one or two interesting personal developments at what passes for my place of employment. Boss, having called me into his office this morning and asked me to shut the door, peppered me with a rapid-fire breakdown of several changes that will be coming down the pipe in the days and weeks to come. I won't bore you with all of it, but weighed collectively, the scales seem to tip slightly to the right. Which, if I understand correctly, means six more months of winter.

To the extent any reader of this drivel is capable of giving a shit, let me explain what I do in as vague a manner as possible (to avoid professional and legal repercussions). I work at Company. Company produces digital content for a specific medium. You may already have purchased one or more of our products without even realizing it (unless you're a crotchety old bugger with no interest in this medium, like me).

At Company, I work in the technical department, developing application servers and publishing systems and distribution platforms and revenue-sharing systems and statistical reporting tools, and all manner of Java tchotchkes that appear amazingly, stunningly boring to the uninitiated. Actually, it's not too bad. And I'm moving up in the world, apparently.

Viz.: One of the changes announced to me today was not so much a change as a clarification. It seems "dev team leader" is not a per-project appointment, but an actual job title, and so a person I had previously assumed to be a co-worker actually reports to me. This has supposedly always been the case and I was simply unaware of it until now.

Rest assured, I will make up for lost time. My dictatorial rule will be decisive and merciless.

Let me pause before going further, and introduce Ironman. No less deserving of praise than The Boxer (whom I have described elsewhere as something of an amazement), Ironman's a bud, a co-worker, a prince among men. We often enjoy a café-allongé avec lait (It's not as gay as it sounds) at the local Portuguese pastry shop, where we speak of many things (fools and kings), a lot of which will get us sent straight to hell. His sense of humor dovetails nicely with my own, and when we blather, no shortage of lowbrow bon-mots are born. His employees love him, and are planning a monument in his image, to be cast in bronze and erected in the center of his feifdom (the QA and Porting departments here at Company).

One important change is that Ironman who, while technically much higher than myself on the corporate ladder, was not in my direct chain-of-command (and therefore was fair game vis-a-vis the occasional water cooler, "working hard, or hardly working"-type conversation) now assumes responsibility for activities with which I am more than tangentially involved.

This is not so much a promotion for him as it is a reallocation of responsibilities. No one's getting a raise, no one's getting a title change. And for once I'm okay with that.

Ironman, you will now be known as "Boss Jr". How do I feel about this? TBD, as they say.

It is a recurring theme in my parental neuroses that Wife and I are not "active" enough. This sedentary lifestyle of ours, I intermittently obsess, is affecting Son's development. We are setting a bad example. We are creating a Couch Potato. So an announcement on the radio this morning twiddled my knobs sufficiently that I may actually follow up: This Saturday, at Centennial park in Beaconsfield, some sporting goods store will be sponsoring an educational Kayaking "experience" for the whole family.

Whether said experience involves any actual kayaking, or is more "multimedia" in nature, remains to be seen, but wouldn't that be a cool outing for a four-year-old? Kayaking? I can tell you, it'd be pretty cool for a thirty-three-year old. Maybe Son and I will sneak out of the house and give it a go. Wife will absolutely plotz.

Remember that one whitewater rafting day-trip we did Honey? Where you spent the day in the hot tub while I whooped joyfully down the foaming and turbulent Rivière Rouge? It'll be just like that, only more polluted water, and I'll have our child with us in an easily-capsizable kayak! You'll love it!

Maybe we'll just wash the car or something instead.

Unless it rains.