Sunday, November 30, 2008

Doctor Who Season Four

For the last few months, friends on Facebook had been dropping hints at how wonderful season four of the new Doctor Who was. With each episode broadcast, they'd update their status: "This is AMAZING!" and "I can't BELIEVE it!" and "Better and BETTER!"

In the meantime I have been totally in the dark, waiting for the DVDs to arrive. Now that I've watched the complete season -- and the commentaries -- I can only say...

...well, yeah. It's pretty incredible.

For some reason these new Doctor Who seasons always fail to grab me for the first five episodes. During the process of introducing the new companion, and "seeding" the story arc, and exposing us to gobs of Russell T. Davies' envelope-pushing wonkiness, the initial stories always seem a bit DESPERATE. And coming on the heels of the previous year's Christmas special -- in which we learned oppressively heavy-handed truths about the Great and Wonderful Goodness of People Who Will Sacrifice Themselves For The Greater Good -- well, I found it hard to swallow the season four setups.

Part of the problem was that I couldn't watch Catherine Tate without thinking of the "Go On, Just GUESS!" woman.

So even though I had a tough time taking Tate seriously as Donna -- not just her, but also the season's somewhat desperate theme that she is the Most Important Person In All The Universe -- and even though the first "two parter" was pretty rotten (as usual), suddenly there was...

..."The Unicorn and the Wasp." The Doctor and companion find themselves in the middle of an elaborate murder mystery which involves Agatha Christie and a giant wasp, and the wasp is actually an illegitimate love-child who tends to "buzz" his esses when he gets very angry...

...and it's just about the funniest thing I've ever seen. Next comes the "Silence of the Library / Forest of the Dead" two-parter, surely one of the SCARIEST Doctor Who episodes ever...until the NEXT episode, "Midnight," which is not just terrifying but also an enormously risky dramatic venture which Davies refers to as "The Goblin in the Corner." I'm amazed that "Midnight" ever got made, and I'm even more amazed that it worked so perfectly.

After that the totally bleak "Turn Left" -- complete with nuclear destruction, refugees, and concentration camps -- and the season finale that brings past companions and spin-off characters together for an amazing punch-out with Davros, and Sarah Jane looking her worst nightmare right in the face...

...and then, to finish it all off, the most tragic and depressing companion farewell in the history of the series, as she is sentenced to forget all of her triumphs and once again become the shallow, pathetic, doomed and blinkered person she started off as...

Wow. Brilliant. Far too often it's wanky and ridiculous and WAAAY too confusing -- the final episode in particular -- but at its best, season four is some of the most amazing television I've ever seen. If you don't feel I've spoiled everything for you, you really should check it out.

PS: Want some great fun? Listen to the commentary for "The Doctor's Daughter." It features Catherine Tate and Georgia Moffett, who have an absolute blast remembering the filming of the episode...but sitting on the same couch with them is the poor guy who conducts the orchestra for the musical score. Tate and Moffett totally exclude him in a way that could be interpreted as deliberately the end he goes completely silent, steamrollered by the overpowering girl-party "no boys allowed" estrogen bond. It makes you want to cry.

Tolkien III: The Lord of the Rings et al

I am finally near the end of "The Lord of the Rings," though I'm realizing that being "near the end" of this book is like being "near the end" of a cross-border flight; you still have to wait for the plane to taxi to the gate, and the people to get off, and you have to wait for your luggage, and Éowyn needs to fall in love with Faramir.

I MUST have read this book once before. I vividly remember most of "The Fellowship of the Ring," and I certainly enjoyed the dead marshes in "The Two Towers." But other than the deep creases in the spines of my twenty-year-old copies I have little other evidence of previous reading, and I REALLY doubt that I would have survived the pacing when I was sixteen years old. Just the fact that the fellowship split into different groups must have driven me crazy; Denethor's low-key insanity in Minas Tirith would have been the last straw.

So based on whatever skimpy, skimming exposure I'd had to the books when I was a teenager, I have for years parroted the conventional wisdom that Tolkien was a terrible writer and that he didn't know how to keep the action going. And though now -- having carefully read the novel with an adult viewpoint -- I am still frustrated by his use of the word "fell" and his obsessive inability to skip any segment of a four-day journey, I have to admit that I was wrong all that time and I was talking out of my butt; "The Lord of the Rings" is VERY well-written, given its difficult task of weaving together so many different plot steams, and that when Frodo and Sam woke up to a laughing Gandalf after having dragged themselves through Mordor...yes, I cried openly into my bacon and eggs. Sob!

Given that we now have an amazing film version courtesy of Peter Jackson Fanboy And Company, the book also serves as a perfect illustration of the differences between book and script. I don't just mean in the sense of needing to cut material to fit a tidy eleven hour running time, I mean the sorts of plotting and emotional revelation that work in one medium but not the other.

To take an obvious example, Tolkien is sometimes berated for a lack of "growth" in his characters, and that's certainly true; any character changes which occur throughout the book -- Mary and Pippin's bravery, Legolas and Gimli's friendship, Aragorn's kingliness -- are due to either third-party intervention or the activation of racial traits that are in no way individualistic.

But that sort of character development is DEATH on screen. A movie adventure must swell and thump and blare, it can't just PLOD. Which is what much of Tolkien's writing does, in a good way.

There's one element in which I think the movie overreached, however, and that's the relationship between Sam and Gollum. In an attempt to turn Gollum into a more tragic figure, the movie made Sam a slightly more cruel and intolerant character, and this turned their clashes into a bit of a farce. But in the book, Sam and Gollum tended more to SIMMER, and this suits the mood beautifully. And so when Gollum sarcastically whispers that he really HAS been "slinking," it's both funny AND reveals so much about their respective characters that has previously been unspoken. In the movie, this scene just makes Gollum look nasty and petulant.

In summary, the book is long and complicated and diverse, but it's totally readable to anybody willing to put in the effort. You have to be able to love ALL the quest elements, whether they be Tom Bombadil's otherworldly aloofness or the "me Tarzan, you Jane" English of a bunch of púkel-men.

Take my advice, though...find better maps than the tiny, ink-blotched ones in the back of the '80s editions. It took me forever to figure out that the Black Gates were, in fact, to the northwest.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Monday Night with the Arts: Food Diva

One reason I decided to do the technical production for "Monday Night with the Arts" was so I could learn a bit more about the local arts community. For the first few weeks I was too busy learning the ropes to actually LISTEN to the interviews, but now I can finally pay attention (when I'm not preparing for the odious "Focus On The Family" which -- yes -- follows our show).

Now that my mind is on track, I'm setting myself a task: to do some quick promotion for the cool people who drop by the show. Tonight I got to meet cook Maribel Linfield AND eat her double chocolate and black pepper cookies. Amazing.

Maribel is the Food Diva. Besides giving actual face-to-face cooking classes, she also offers online videos that describe ALL aspects of the cooking experience. What intrigued me most was her sympathetic understanding that for some people -- like me -- learning to cook is a strangely scary undertaking. And don't even get me started on hostessing. Apparently an important part of her courses is teaching you how not to worry about it all..."You shouldn't be thinking about what people will be saying to each other in the driveway after the meal," she says.

I have yet to take a Food Diva course and I don't know if I ever will -- the few cooking habits I ever had have now sunk to an embarrassing low -- so I can't endorse anything but those amazing cookies. I CAN, however, say that if you ARE intimidated by the prospect of learning to cook or entertain, and you DO want to learn to cook competently, I suspect that Linfield is the teacher you need.

And I'm not just saying that because I'm on a chocolate high.

Happyhuman Report: The Good Mom

During most of my adult years I have had a low-level loathing for children. I understand that they're "little people" and therefore essential, but they're also loud and manipulative and other words, small adults with poor impulse control.

Part of my bias is due to never spending much time with children, so all I'm aware of are their most obnoxious qualities. I still haven't spent enough time with them to grow to ADORE them, but I have found myself paying attention to GOOD children -- not the blatantly spoiled ones that tend to draw the most attention -- and I've got to say that I have fallen totally in love with a few kids. Very few.

But nothing makes me happier than seeing good children whose PARENTS are good as well; the parent-child bond is something sweet and heartening to behold. During lunch today I sat next to a mother and her two sons, and even though they were rambunctious and emitted a constant spray of crumbs and powdered sugar, their mother was possibly one of the most wonderful mothers I've ever eavesdropped on.

The boys were probably aged three and four, and while the mother ordered lunch they came and sat at the table next to me. The older one was tormenting his younger sibling in this ingenious way.
OLDER: You're a baby-stick.

YOUNGER: Stop saying that!

OLDER: You're a baaaaby-stick. You're a baaaaaaby-stick. You're a monnnsssster. You're a draaaaagon.

YOUNGER: Stop it! Stop it!
The mother arrived and gradually calmed the children down using misdirection -- "Look, it's snowing!" and "Did you see your friend Ryan at school today?" They became so quiet that I managed to get back to my book, but just when Gimli was threatening to chop Saruman's head off I heard this:
MOTHER: Did you know that some people are colour blind?

OLDER: What's that?

MOTHER: Hmmm. Let's say they're looking at something that's blue -- like your cup -- they might think it's actually brown!

YOUNGER: But it's blue!

MOTHER: They see it as brown.


MOTHER: Maybe, if a boy with that kind of colour-blindness put on brown pants and blue socks...he'd think that both his pants AND his socks were BROWN!

OLDER: Why does he think that blue is brown?

MOTHER: He just sees it that way.

YOUNGER: How do we see?

MOTHER: Well...your eyes see things, and then they tell your brain what they see.

YOUNGER: How does that work?

MOTHER: I don't really know. When we get home we can look it up in a book.

Wow. Not only is this mother describing colour blindness in a way that her children can somewhat understand, but she's also telling them that they can learn more information about a book!

It's nice to know that those kids will grow up to be curious, smart, and capable. Even if one of them is a baby-stick.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The ZsaZsaBlog V

I'm pleased to report that Zsa Zsa -- currently known as "Zsa Zsa the Tan," or "Pinquevarnimeoi" in the Elvish tongue -- seems to be doing well. She's eating and drinking and has even started "talking" again, narrating her comings and goings with a squawk and a chirp.

I can't point to any one thing that's helped her, because I wasn't willing to do a controlled-study of her health. I just tried half a dozen potential fixes all at once.

To address her dehydration, I lowered the thermostat a bit to prevent the amount of dry air blowing around. More significantly, I stopped running my bedside fan during the night...I normally keep it going so I won't hear her snore (or the squirrels running around in the attic, which they do at all hours). Instead I just wear earplugs and I think both of us wake up with slightly moister throats.

I also did an intensive study of her water-mania. By setting up a collection of home-made contraptions in the tub I was able to figure out what she likes and dislikes about various forms of water. If your cat is obsessed with water, maybe this information will help you:
  1. She must SEE the water arriving in a rivulet; if you just bring it to her in a bowl she doesn't believe it's fresh.
  2. She doesn't, however, want to drink RUNNING water, which explains why her cat-fountain leaves her so unimpressed. No, she only wants to drink it once it's STOPPED moving.
  3. She doesn't like LARGE pools of water; they must be small and shallow.
  4. She doesn't want to actually get wet.
Therefore the BEST way to entice her is to let her see a big splash of water falling from the overhead shower. Then the water must stop running. It quickly forms into small, stationary droplets in the tub -- each about the size of a quarter -- and she'll happily jump in and drink two or three of them.

But after that the process must be repeated, maybe because by then she's forgotten that she saw the water arrive.

Incidentally, she WILL drink out of a deep pot or basin, but ONLY if she sees it arrive and ONLY if it isn't put near her food or directly in front of her. After a short period of time she'll sneak over and drink out of it.

I don't know what all this says about cat psychology, except that cats are mental.

So once I got her drinking it was time to get her EATING again, and as I mentioned before I did this by mixing a bit of cat food gravy and chicken in with her "proper" food and heating it for three seconds. After she ate it for a few days I stopped adding the gravy, which probably annoys her but she has continued eating anyway. She's even started eating her dry food again.

It's probably significant that her antibiotics (for her urine infection) have kicked in; she is no longer doing her "pee scream" and probably feels better in general. Finally, I'm spending lots of time petting her and chatting with her, which might improve her joie de vivre.

So even though she's still alarmingly thin (and she's developed an explosive sneeze), I think she's in the clear for a little while longer. I won't consider her out of the woods until she gains some weight -- and even then I think we're living on borrowed time -- but I hope we'll at least be able to spend one more Christmas together.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

One-Track Zsa Zsa Blog

Most things in my life are being crowded out by Zsa Zsa's health at the moment, so I do apologize for my absenteeism and obsession.

The vet said that Zsa Zsa's urine showed signs of infection, so she gave me antibiotics, but she was most concerned that Zsa Zsa had started losing her appetite and had lost about two pounds; really, she's skinnier than ever, and she's spending more and more time just curled up and sleeping. I didn't want to be alarmist in my last post because I didn't want to sound like a hysterial mom -- and I was trying to be positive about it instead of doing my usual "SHE'S DYING!" drama -- but unless things improve this week I think that her time is coming.

She's always been weird about water -- preferring oil-slicked mud puddles and toilets to any source of fresh water -- but her pickiness seems to have turned into dehydration. I'm watching her like a hawk to find out what I can do to get her to drink more, and I'm breaking all the taboos: repeatedly flushing the toilet, running water in the bathtub, leaving bowls of water around. She's drinking a bit but only if I constantly refresh the source, and even then she'll only drink for a few seconds before turning up her nose. Her kitty water-fountain doesn't seem to interest her much.

Far more frightening is her aversion to her low-protein food. Maybe she decided after thirty cans that she just didn't like it anymore. Last night, in total desperation, I emptied a can of her old forbidden Purina brand onto the plate with her new food, and she gobbled up the Purina...then finished off the new stuff too.

That was last night and I tried it again today, but it didn't seem to work as well; I gave her a few pieces of chicken and she ate them with gusto, then curled up and buried her head in the pillows. So I wonder if she's simply getting sick when she eats, and slowly deciding not to eat anymore, even the stuff she loves. I bought a can of tuna as a last resort, but I haven't decided to try it yet.

She's still bright-eyed and alert, but she mostly just sleeps, usually on top of me. She isn't showing any outward signs of pain but her strange posture awkward way of sitting that first started three months ago when these troubles began.

I've looked online and there are other pet owners who have reported similar things -- urinary infections, loss of appetite, weird posture, no more drinking -- and they always seem to involve kidney problems, potential strokes, and vets with no answers. Some cats seem to recover...I'm hoping that once Zsa Zsa's antibiotics kick in she'll show some improvement.

I'm in that awful spot between hoping she'll recover and not wanting to prolong any potential suffering. How do you know when enough is enough? In the past I'd decided that if she stopped eating I'd take that as "a sign," but we've reached that point and she still seems...well, "happy," in a really sleepy sort of way. She lies in my lap and purrs (like she's doing right now), she wakes me up in the morning to meow for food she never eats, she isn't crying or collapsing.

But I'm constantly wondering: does she hurt? I don't know! I want to spare her unnecessary pain but I don't want to "write her off" either.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Return of the "Pee Scream"

There's something very sad about watching your cat meow, squat, scream, and then stare at you like you should be able to pee FOR her. But this is the second time we've gone through this and I have to admit that I'm a bit more relaxed: there's nothing I can do for Zsa Zsa -- known currently as "Catwise Gamgee" -- until we get her to the vet this morning, and then she'll probably be fine after another bunch of antibiotics.

Apparently, when cats get bladder infections they think their bladders are constantly full, so they wander around trying to pee all the time. When Zsa Zsa does this she never actually MANAGES to pee -- she just squats and flicks her tail around like she's really angry -- and that's fortunate, because she's usually squatting over something like a pair of shoes or a feather headdress.

But when she actually DOES manage to pee it's usually just outside her litterbox, which brings us back to the old "scrub the basement floor" routine. I'd almost forgotten the joy of coming home to the smell of cat urine!

PS: The old receptionist at the vet office pronounced her name "Say-Say." The new receptionist pronounces it "Yah-Yah." Baffling!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Quaint Humour For a Rainy Day

On a cold, rainy day, a little backwards-looking vaudeville-style humour from the '50s is just what you need:
LEFTY: (Entering a prison cell) Well, I've got company. What's your name, punk?

BLACKY: Blacky.

LEFTY: Yeah?


LEFTY: Why do they call you "Blacky?"

BLACKY: I never take a bath.
(From the May 20th, 1953 episode of the Bob Hope Show, with Richard Widmark)

Tolkien II: The Fell Rock Which Lived in Shadow

As part of my "Tolkien-athon" -- hardly an Elvish word but I'm no Eldar -- I just finished reading "The Silmarillion," a task for which I was both encouraged and discouraged by opposing Tolkien fans.

Mr. Old Goat told me it would give me a rich mythic background for my next excursion -- re-reading "The Lord of The Rings" -- and he poo-poo'd conventional wisdom that the book is obscure or difficult to read (though maybe he was taking into account my general love of difficult fiction). He thinks "The Silmarillion" is beautiful and he reads it regularly.

MadKevin apparently has an equal love for the book, but he also had this to say:
...telling somebody to read The Silmarillion before reading The Lord Of The Rings is like telling somebody to read a bunch of Bible commentary before reading the New Testament.
Having finished the book, I agree with both points of view. "The Silmarillion" HAS given me a deep foundation -- and appreciation -- of the LOTR mythology, but it is certainly NOT for the casual reader, and it could have gone through a few more drafts before publication (I know why it didn't get those revisions, and I know that it was never intended to be published in this form, etc.)

Tolkien had wonderful ideas. His foremost strength was his deep passion for his subject matter; it seems like he pretty much lived and breathed Middle-Earth.

He was also extremely creative, though not endlessly so. There's only so many ways to describe the political wrangling of a bunch of flawed, overreaching, and greedy kings, and it's not surprising that many of the stories in "The Silmarillion" follow the same general theme: King Fröeekinthräff, son of Fröeekonthräff and brother of gloomy Fröeekonithräff, desires something because of some mix of nobility and greed. He is misled by the servants of Morgoth or his methods become twisted by an ancient curse or vow. He achieves great things but -- in the process -- brings about the doom of a loved one. He almost dies but is healed by somebody he had wronged. This healing causes him to finally see things clearly, and his guilt causes him to retreat from the world, "and the tales speak of him naught from that point onward."

Some parts of "The Silmarillion" are sketchy, and others are fully-fleshed. Oddly enough it's the sketchiest tales that resonate most for the first-time reader, because they don't burden the narrative with endlessly-branching family trees. Tolkien LOVED complicated kinship tales -- the book is one long meditation about bloodlines which either stick together or betray each other -- but not even the genealogical tables can help you keep the characters straight, especially not when you're also expected to remember about a hundred locations in Beleriand, each with a different name according to the time period and language used, and then the geography is constantly being rearranged by warfare, and THEN you realize that none of these places are in The Lord of The Rings anyway!

For giggles, I present the line of Túrin and Nienor. Having carefully followed the Valar and Elvin names I simply gave up on the men. It didn't help that the men had shorter lifespans and bred like rats.

I think it's really sad that none of Bëor's children were named "Borax."

So yeah, it was wonderful and maddening, but it's not like you can blame Tolkien (except for his overuse of the word "fell," and the way caves were carved out of the "living rock" and shadows behaved like floating mist). I think it's wonderful that we get to read the book at all, and I'm actually glad I decided to read it before going on to the Great Big Trilogy.

But like MadKevin has said, unless you're a "Tolkien nerd" (like him) or an obsessive completest (like me) you should just stick to the summaries posted on Wikipedia.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Nostalgia for Long-Forgotten Canadian Bands

Wherever you live there are bound to be half a dozen regional bands that YOU feel strongly about, but which nobody else remembers. The musicians ended up doing wedding parties and the singers became real estate agents. It happens.

In Canada during the '80s and early '90s, we had a thriving (and very popular) music channel with strict Canadian Content a result, many regional acts gained national status and had their week of fame before fading out again. You won't hear these bands in nightclubs and their CDs are long out of print. But some of them are much beloved.

Here's a sampling of the long-forgotten Canadian bands that have fond memories of. Not all of them were good, necessarily, but they all had at least ONE hit song.

National Velvet

They were Canada's hard-rockin', somewhat gloomy, altogether sexy answer to...well, nobody really, because they had a unique set of strengths and flaws.

All the musicians were top-notch, but they tended to suffer from tinny overproduction. Maria Del Mar's voice was unique and perfect, but her lyrics were sometimes embarrassingly bad. She was the sexiest woman alive, but her persona was a tad TOO aggressive.

The few videos they had on YouTube appear to be gone, but here's a "tribute" with pictures and soundclips:

Unable to find more than fleeting fame and suffering from a REALLY bad final album ("Wildseed"), they disbanded. Maria Del Mar still performs occasionally in Toronto (but never when I can find out in advance). Bassist Mark Storm suffered a truly bizarre and unexplained death.

Strange Advance

Cheesy wanna-be pop stars who just might have made it...but didn't. Their songs were slick and radio friendly. I can't imagine what held them back.

Andrew Cash

One of those guys who was always lurking around the music circles but you rarely ever noticed...but I absolutely LOVED his "Lot of Talk" video which, sadly, is not on YouTube. Sorry

Malcolm Burn

Producer wonderkind with only one album to his name...but what an album! Ditto the lack of YouTube exposure for his great "Walk Don't Run" song and video. Someday I'll have to properly digitize all those videos...

Sons of Freedom

They were alternative radio darlings with a brilliantly sharp, twangy, wall of sound approach. Guitarist Don Harrison later worked with Skinny Puppy and Lee Aaron. Apparently the lead singer was a jerk, but he had an endearing speech defect.


We didn't do gimmick-groups very well this side of the border, but Tu were a definite exception: identical twin sisters with velcro-style hair, so much sugar in their bubblegum pop that it almost made you sick. Almost.

Their wikipedia page still says that their names were Amanda and Cassandra, but my aunt attended their wedding many years ago, so let me give you the inside scoop: their REAL names were Rena and Pena.

Sometimes, changing your name is a GOOD idea.

Perfume Tree

Ethereal vocals, minimalist dub-style loops, beautiful ambiance...their show was one of the best I've ever seen: just three people on stage gently rocking forwards and backwards.

I don't think they ever actually MADE a video.


Long-gone Curve-style gothers. They only ever released two EPs, but we were CONSTANTLY being teased about a full-length album called "The Hanged Man." It never happened. They made at least one video (for "Revenge") but it's obscure and probably long gone.

According to a somewhat reliable source, lead singer "Madame Quattorze" went loopy.


Sort of electronic/psychedelic/goth-rock, they'd pop up as openers or headliners now and then but never struck it big. Their sound was erratic and never seemed to fit very well together, but when they clicked ("Crush") they were sublime.

I still cherish a cassette of instrumentals that I bought from band member Steve Faris...if only they'd kept going in that direction!

Acid Test

Achieved fleeting fame after their music was in Highway 61 (the wonderful "Mr. Skin"), they released only an EP and a quite-good record, neither of which was even remotely promoted. Big on college radio but they just dropped out of sight.

Sara Craig

Her debut "Bike" was an odd hit but she never managed to follow it up. I suspect that she suffered "lack of direction" syndrome, maybe exacerbated by producers who didn't know if she was Tracy Chapman or Jane Siberry.


Three women from Vancouver, only semi-competent at playing their instruments, took the punk DIY attitude and mixed it with tons of cute...creating a genre of music dubbed "cuddlecore," which is apparently now known as "twee-pop."

They were perfectly marketed by their label and it seemed like they were constantly touring. Of all these bands they are perhaps the most affectionately remembered, and here's their video for "My Chinchilla."


They rode the Chili Peppers "funky wave" but made it their own, mixing in live samples and a goofy sense of humour. Despite their silliness, however, they were almost preachy with social consciousness, but that's sort of what you expected in the early '90s.

I saw them live at The Volcano and they were amazingly tight, complete with Devo-esque uniforms and an En Vogue breakdown.

Gogh Van Go

The band members sadly decided that their FAMILY was more important than their MUSIC (silly!), but they still managed to put out two albums of perfect pop/electronic/rock. It wasn't ALL good...but most of it was.

I'm pleased to be able to present a video for my favourite Gogh Van Go song, "Call It Romance." I LOVE these lyrics.

Sucking Chest Wound

Obviously they win the award for "best band name," they were a bizarre collective of Negativland-ish sample mashers...and they're still in action!

Their song "Mary Dear" was a college DJ staple. While you watch them perform live, I'm going to see if their CDs are still on sale...

Kathleen Yearwood

Reclusive, bizarre, wonderful. Her albums were a strange mix of conventional folk and yodel-screaming fury, a style that was personal and all her own. NOT to be confused with TRISHA Yearwood, of course.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Weird Ceremonies of Real Indians

Oh wow!

Unfortunately we're almost eighty years too late to take a Santa Fe-Harvey Company "Xcursion," but I think we can imagine what they were like.

Essential Mac Software

Buying a new computer teaches you a lot about essential software: if you REALLY need it, and you've REALLY enjoyed using it in the past, you'll shell out some money to buy ANOTHER copy.

Two pieces of software that I can't live without -- and that I've been happy to buy a second time -- are Audio Hijack Pro and iDrum.

Audio Hijack Pro does exactly what it says: it hijacks audio from your Mac applications. So when I'm listening to an old time radio program with Quicktime and I decide I want to record one of the program's songs, I simply hijack the Quicktime output and save an MP3 file. If I want to quickly record input through my iMac's line in source, I hijack that instead and save an AIFF.

I have never met an application that Audio Hijack Pro couldn't handle. It has never crashed on me or corrupted a file. It even allows me to insert Audio Unit effects into the recording process if I like, which allows me to clean up cassette input while recording it. Very cool and convenient.

iDrum is a nifty drum machine that can operate as either a plug-in or a stand-alone application. Its drum samples are simply audio files, so if you don't like their drum sounds you can add your own. It's totally stable, computationally inexpensive, and VERY friendly to use.

It may not be "Ultrabeat," but you don't always NEED Ultrabeat. Sometimes you want to make a quick drum pattern, and that's what iDrum does perfectly.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Adventures of M'Lady Muffie Bernardington

A new episode of The Daily Muffy has just started over at Flickr!

Muffie Title

'Tis season six, episode four! Known in full as:

"The Diverse and Most Singular ADVENTURES of M'Lady MUFFIE BERNARDINGTON, Displayed for Future Edification, Her Life Betwixt and Oftimes Bestraddle the Vast Borders of STRATFORD ON AVON, Year 1666."

Photographic Majesty by Jenn Wilson, Duchess of Mystifying Lenses. Muffie's resplendent raiment designed by master craftswoman Lydia Bellini, seamstress to worthie queenes.

Lest ye forget: A new picture every weekday!

As usual y'all get the full scoop. We took these pictures on a chilly Saturday, October 18th, in Stratford Ontario. It wasn't so bad in the sunlight but it was eleven degrees in the shade. And though the wind was perfect for my medieval-type skirt it was very, very cold.

Reading the Samuel Pepys diaries had inspired me, and coupled with the fact that my "Ilsa On Ice" Oktoberfest outfit could double for something from a Renaissance Faire, this "Stratford 1666" theme was a shoe-in. I even dressed Schnapps as a 17th century dandy but you won't be seeing him...he didn't REALLY fit in and I didn't feel like lugging him around.

We took some of the pictures at a crazy, burned-out warehouse that Jenn and I have long been fascinated with. You can walk right up to this catastrophe-waiting-to-happen. We were unable to resist its charms and it was considerate enough not to fall over on us.

All-in-all the Stratford crowd was pleasant -- somebody shouted "HERE COMES THE BRIDE!" when we were hanging around a church -- and we were unmolested by the somewhat skiddy inhabitants around the edges of the downtown. Through sheer shivery perseverance we managed to get scads of good pictures, and I'm quite proud of the fake-o storyline I've written so far.

Check in often!

Sunday, November 09, 2008


A few weeks ago I decided I wanted to watch a spectacular movie, and all I could think of was Peter Jackson's adaptation of "The Lord of the Rings." I'd watched them all a few years ago and was pretty much unimpressed, but I remembered that it was at least colourful and fast-paced. And that's what I cared about.

So after about eleven hours of movie I was left with pretty much the same impression I'd had the first time: Frodo is a schlump, Sean Astin is a surprisingly weak actor (with a surprisingly bad accent), and the movie is REALLY about Aragorn, Theodin, Faramir, and Gollum. And it simply doesn't end. None of this piqued my interest much...

...but my opinion of the movies shot into the stratosphere when I watched the special features. The passion and agony of the filmmakers adds a new dimension of the movie itself, and I find myself wanting to see it all again. Someday. If just to get another glimpse of The Mouth of Saruon.

Watching venerable actors gush about the source material was enough to get me thinking: maybe I should revisit THE BOOKS? Again, I was never impressed by "The Hobbit" or "The Lord of the Rings" when I was a teenager, but at the time I was more into "Xanth" than "Beowulf." Maybe my matured and more finely-tuned aesthetics will find the same joy in Tolkien's world that Ian McKellen does?

The jury's still out. I breezed through "The Hobbit" and found it...well, breezy, though it was nifty to know more about "The Necromancer" this time around.

Mr. Old Goat himself (of Old Goat Books) is a self-confessed Tolkien obsessive, and he insisted that I read "The Silmarillion" before revisiting "The Lord of the Rings." It sure ain't no "Hobbit!" Digging through its antiquated language and almost point-form notation is like reading the books that inspired it -- the Anglo-Saxon and Norse legends -- and about as fun as The Bible. But I'm in awe of the breadth of his creation, and I hope that if I stick with it I will be rewarded.

PS: I vividly remember seeing Ralph Bakshi's adaptation of "The Lord of the Rings" in a movie theatre, and thinking that it was really damn ugly. Having since caught up with Bakshi's other work I can only marvel that his Tolkien riff was so, no pneumatic short-skirted elves being spanked.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Zaza Fournier

Jetsetter (that's "J" to you!) sent me this wonderful clip by Zaza Fournier, a new and relatively obscure French artist. Jetsetter thought Zaza's style was reminiscent of mine, and it is such an outrageously cute song!

Of course I fell instantly in love and I agree that there's a stylistic connection in terms of performance -- a deadpan, sad-sack, deluded, self-depreciating jokiness that I think I got from the French in the first place.

In any case, this video is simply too cute not to share!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A Good Morning

We've gotten so used to instant-gratification that, when following a news story, we often expect a New Explosive Revelation at every click of the mouse. That's how I felt last night while pursuing the American election returns.

I'd click on CNN to see their somewhat unadventurous statistics, then I'd jump to MSNBC and FOX for the "out on a limb" predictions (which turned out to be correct). I'd then immediately go to Daily Kos and see which predictions they'd decided to pick up, and also get results about the house and senate races. Then I'd go to Townhall's blog and derive a certain glee from their glazed incomprehension and prophesies of conspiracy and doom...

...and by then enough time had passed for me to go back to CNN for the latest update. Repeat ad nauseum.

Sadly, after Pennsylvania was called there just weren't any big revelations until a few hours later. So I took a gravol and went to bed, and woke up this morning to a landslide Obama victory (and the defeat of most of the noxious ballot propositions). So nice to see Florida blue. In fact, every state I've ever visited ended up siding with Obama. He can thank me later for my inadvertent campaigning!

I followed this race much closer than I did the Canadian elections. Why? Because none of the leaders had a really good OR bad spark to them. I mistrust Stephen Harper, but I could only judge his opponents in varying degrees of amorphous apathy. You didn't have an Obama out there rallying the troops, and you also didn't have a Sarah Palin making a mockery of the whole situation.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Vote, Vote, Vote That Election!

Hey you American readers. I don't care who you vote for today as long as you DO vote, and you vote with your conscience, and the person you vote for has a last name which starts with "O."

Monday, November 03, 2008

Armstrong Shoes and the Servitor

Every issue of the '20s New Yorker is bound to have a disturbing racial stereotype or two. I don't generally post them because they aren't usually very interesting, and also because I don't want to provide fodder for obnoxious preteen racists ("preteen" in either body OR mind).

More specifically, though...well, I often post New Yorker clips here in order to simultaneously draw attention to interesting finds, and to poke fun at them. The ham-fisted, surreal racist advertisements from the '20s ARE funny in a disturbing, groan-inducing, "I can't believe anybody would have CREATED this" way...but not to everybody.

Well, here's one that isn't particularly funny, but is so sustained that I can't help posting it. Why isn't it funny? Because its roots aren't in some vaudeville strain of ethnic humour. It is, rather, far too serious.

At first I thought I could make fun of the "What're YOU looking at?" aspect of this "Armstrong Shoes" advertisement, but then I read the description.
Sambo, or is it Mose, craves to carry the luggage of the lady of yon descending foot. For Sambo, or Mose, has identified by its shoe a person of quality, generous to her servitors.

"Body may be by Fisher," ruminates our hero, "but dem shoes am suttinly by Armstrong"...

...Sambo's perspicacity did not go unrewarded, you may be sure. That night he went home to Harlem richer by four bits.
See what I mean? This ad isn't about a cheap "black bellhop" gag. It's trying to be realistic. And that's ugly stuff.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Weasel Compilations

You know all those budget-priced "Best of the [Insert Era Here]" compilation CDs you often see in point-of-purchase bins at Chapters? The ones chock-full of classic songs at a price that's simply too good to be true?

Sometimes CDs are cheap because of a low advertising overhead or a high production run, but at other times they're cheap for a very simple reason: because the people who made the CDs found a sneaky way to avoid licensing fees. Hence "weasel compilations," for lack of a better phrase.

When I started DJ'ing retro nights I fell prey to several of these CDs before I finally learned my lesson. They always START OUT with three or four of the classic recordings that you're expecting to hear, but then they slip in the FAKE songs.

How are they fake? They either use a live performance by a few original band members -- always recorded at some highschool dance or small-town festival, with stadium reverb added for odd effect -- or they get the elderly, coke-addled lead singer to come into the studio and record a new version with karaoke session musicians. These ones are the worst, because the instrumentation is terrible Casio keyboard stuff and the production is bottom of the barrel. Even if you don't know the song, you know it's a fake version because no record company would EVER release it as a single.

Hence the cheapness of the CDs. By only including a few of the classic songs -- which cost a bundle to license -- they then find the surviving members who own the music themselves, convince them to do a budget recording session or a live soundboard recording, and then mix those "updated" versions into the bulk of the CD...without ever revealing this in the song titles. If you're lucky they'll include a weasel notice on the back, in tiny letters, somewhere down near the corner:
"To achieve the best sound quality possible, some of these songs have been updated or re-recorded with one or more of the original band members."
YOU JERKS! It's no wonder we're cynical nowadays, and also no wonder that most of us probably have two or three of these compilations in our own collections, in which Marvin Gaye or "(Two-Fifths of) The Temptations" sleepwalk through their hit song in the backroom of some Legion building in Iowa, cheered on by the one man drunk enough to have a good time.

My point? Just a cautionary tale, that's all. Look for that weaselly notification before you buy a box-set of classic songs from a bargain bin...and even so, expect to get ripped off.

PS: Strangely enough, if the CD company is from Eastern Europe or Russia, you'll probably get all the classic songs intact, albeit with humorous spelling-mistakes in the titles. THEY get around licensing laws because nobody can untangle the international copyright issues in order to actually prosecute (that is, if the company's address is real in the first place).