Thursday, July 29, 2004

at last, an explanation

A study has emerged that attempts to correlate a country's economic activity with its fear of hell. Apparently, the greater the fear of hell, the greater peoples' frantic attempts to make hay. Even though Hell is not a place where you could take your riches, this hard-hitting study indicates that blind fear will get you out of bed and into the office every morning.

To back up their findings, here is a graph that indicates a correlation between fear of hell and corruption:



Indisputable.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

guardian angels

A sign at the Shoppers Drug Mart in front of the pharmaceuticals counter reads "To Us, It's Always Allergy Season". Sure, why not? Let histamines build and noses flow, let glands swell up and hives emerge. Let eyeballs sting and water, in the perpetual springtime of Shoppers Drug Mart. And while we're at it, let mosquitoes carry West Nile virus back and forth, host to host. Let joints stiffen and blood pressure rise, let cholesterol scale artery walls. Let synapses fizzle as they wait for serotonin. Hell, let feet itch. The guardians of the global pharmaceutical market will watch out for us.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

peak reporting

Like peak oil, it appears that journalism has also been mined for all its worth, and what we're now witnessing is the long slide into the production of ever more words for ever less information.

In today's Boston globe appears an article just over 900 words detailing Bush's fall off a mountain bike. It's an Associated Press Exclusive. Apparently Bush rides up hills that, in his words, "would choke a mule".

Enough of this purposeless fawning over politicians as if they were movie actors. You could have written that article in only four words: "Bush falls off bike". And think how much information you could add by simply including one more word: "again".

*Thanks to Pterals, who pointed out that I'd underreported the word count of the article by more than 50%.

firefox

My apologies to all those who visit here using Firefox or Netscape or any of those Mozillicious browsers. My site looks like a weak Cubist reinterpretation of a decent weblog.

I was initially disappointed with Firefox, to tell you the truth. It was sluggish to respond and refused to respond to my every thought, as advertised. Then I remembered that I had to think in Russian... think in Russian...

rabbit experiments

Somewhere in elementary school or junior high or something we were all taught the scientific method. We were told that it was the fundamental building block of our industrialized society (as in, Hey kids: Screw democracy! It's those guys in the lab coats and beakers you want to pattern yourselves after). We were told that without the scientific method, any thought processes we attempted would fizzle out in a puff of illogic. I don't remember what grade we were in but I certainly remember the teacher. He had eyes like tiny blue stones set in a broad sweaty face. The shine on his cheeks and forehead radiated a kind of healthy vigour and hinted at joviality and teachers' lounge camaraderie. But the eyes were insane. Have you ever seen pupils that seemed clenched down to their circumference? So it is that I remember the scientific method by the pinholes of my teacher's eyes.

As it turned out, I never really made use of the scientific method, excepting the experiments in Owl Magazine, which were more a matter of following instructions with due care. It seemed that the scientific method, that executive mode of rationalism and independence, was nearly inapplicable to the deeply irrational and intuitive world in which I lived. Science classes and courses certainly never encouraged use of the scientific method, although they praised it unceasingly; whatever experiments we conducted were long since proven, the results recorded and set down in textbooks, and if our class results deviated from the teacher's expectations, we had simply made a mistake somewhere.

I suppose that if I had continued to take science courses in university (beyond all that introductory geology and biology) I suppose that one day I would have been issued my own lab coat and beaker and sent off to a clean well-lit lab to make observations, form hypotheses based on those observations, and then conduct easily reproducable experiments to test my hypothesis and arrive at a theory. Didn't Tom Swift do this kind of crap all the time? It occurs to me that the scientific method has become a lost art, a resource that has receded from mankind's memory. Why this has happened, I can't say. Whether our humours are unbalanced, or we have forgotten our place in the Chain of Being here on the cislunar plane, the fact remains that the scientific method is a precious resource.

Luckily for me, you, and wealthy investors, I've recently decided to chuck my job and apply the scientific method to everything I can think of until one of the applications produces loads of easy cash. I'm starting small here, but I expect promising returns on:

Application #1: Gordon the Rabbit

Context: Gordon is our pet rabbit, a glossy grey mixture of escaped lab rabbit and wild jackrabbit. We found him on the university grounds last September, the only survivor of a litter that had been harvested by the local Humane Society. He is lively but tends toward stoicism. We call him G for short, or Mr. Gordon, or simply The Gordon. But there is so much about him (or her) that we still don't know, which is where the scientific method comes in.

Observation: Gordon's fur is usually an even shiny blue-grey colour. It's fetching. Over the last week and a half, though, he's suddenly developed symmetrical patches of light grey on his back, sides and muzzle.

Hypothesis: Gordon is a Rorschach card.

Supporting evidence: The symmetrical blotches or patches are consistent with the peculiar patterns found in Rorschach sets. Plus, Rorschach tests are often found in the presence of mentally disturbed people, and this apartment building is full of Halidol shufflers, Lithium strollers and Paxil striders.

Contraindications: I don't see any licensed psychotherapists around to administer the tests, but they may be on vacation at the moment. It's possible that I or The Lotus may be psychotherapists with poor memories. It's even possible that Gordon is both psychotherapist and Rorschach test. That's right: like Queequeg, he may have tatooed a test onto his own skin. Unlike Queequeg, he probably did it to cut down on overhead. This would also explain why Gordon isn't flat like your average Rorschach card.

Experiment: Really, there's only one way to confirm my hypothesis, and that is to book an appointment with Gordon at his earliest convenience and see if he administers a Rorschach test with his own body. Note that this experiment rests on the assumption that Gordon is a licensed practicing psychotherapist in our province (I imagine he stores the license under his shavings somewhere). Under normal circumstances I would apply Ockham's razor to cut away unnecessary assumptions, but I don't want to shave the rabbit accidentally and thereby destroy the entire experiment.

Results: My initial appointment with Gordon yielded some promising results. I discovered that my difficulties in life, my tendency towards self-sabotage, my uncanny ability to make decisions that steer me away from fulfillment, stem from a lack of self-actualization. I also discovered that my mother never loved me and that, as i suspected, I spent much of my childhood in a Satanic ritual abuse cult. Thanks to Gordon and his quiet non-judgemental technique, I feel empowered, actualized, refreshed, and I've got a prescription for Effexor in my back pocket. Plus his fees consist of fresh water, rabbit pellets and an occasional scratch behind the ears.

The Rorschach hypothesis, however, was difficult to prove. Depending on the angle of light, the patterns either stand out brilliantly or fade into near-invisibility. Reading the patterns became impossible when he moved into his box and stayed there for the rest of the session.

Theory: Although is not possible to conclude at this point whether Gordon is a Rorschach card, I do know that we are lucky to be living with an animal that can write prescriptions.

More experiments forthcoming.

Monday, July 26, 2004

or get carried away by a twister

This afternoon I saw my first tornado. I'd always expected to spy a tornado swirling down from the angry clouds and tearing along the land at some safe distance, but this one started as a travelling puff of dust and sand that kicked up about twenty feet from where I was walking and started to rotate as it passed by. At its closest to me it was about four feet high and shaped like a fast-moving, sandy shrub, but then the whole thing suddenly whipped into a counterclockwise spin, contracted and climbed up into a twelve-foot column of whirling dirt.

Right now I wish that I'd run over and stuck my foot into it while it was still small, just to say that I'd survived a tornado. As soon as it became a visible funnel, though, I realized that I was absolutely alone on a wide-open plain with no trees, no shelter, and my only friend was a growing gravel-pelting dust devil. I'd spoken to enough meterologists and survivors to know that tornados do bizarre things, gathering in strength or collapsing in a heap of dirt, zigzagging and reversing. I could see why certain cultures would attribute the presence of some spirit in a tornado; the dust gave it a weird shimmering form. I could see a line of trees and a billboard behind the column. Just as I was considering my options, though, it took off in the opposite direction and disappeared into the train yards. If you live in my area and see engineers flying through the air, you'll know why.

Friday, July 23, 2004

today

Today is my birthday. I expect ease and gratification and gift certificates.

office survey

Dear Employee:

In order to help ensure the continuing profitability of our business, it is important that you fill out this anonymous and confidential survey and return it to the CFO's office by next Friday.

  1. Even though this is an anonymous survey, it is crucial to the company's success to ensure full participation. Therefore please print your name as it appears on your paystub and initial every page in the lower-right hand corner to indicate that you have given this questionnare the consideration and respect it deserves.


  2. State your position in the company. Please indicate the distance between your terminal and the nearest CAP (Common Area Photocopier).


  3. Please describe your workspace, indicating whether your screensaver is racially or sexually offensive or of kittens or otherwise disrespectful.


  4. Please express the number of Post-It Notes used in a day (PINDU) versus the number of Post-It Notes you anticipate using at the start of said day (APINDU) as a ratio. The correct answer will be featured in our quarterly report and set apart from the body text with tasteful borders, with head shot of employee optional.


  5. How often do you create report binders and actually use the reinforced index dividers (clear or multicoloured) that we order for you, at no small expense we would like to say, because we keep on ordering them and never see them in any of the report binders?


  6. Does Accounts Receivable use nasty names to refer to your job position in this company?


  7. Because what Accounts Receivable does is very important to the welfare of the company, and it is not polite to call them Bean Counters, they don't count beans and they never did, except in history. How would you like to be called Lazy Buns when you were in Project Development, or Grubby when you are the long-haired guy with the keys to the supply room, and has ignored policy with regard to Proper Appearance in the Workplace but since we are Permissive we don't complain?


  8. Recently there have been rumours that we are moving Head Office and Operations to a more business-friendly environment, eg. Alberta, and that anyone who doesn't want to move with the company can move to another company, and I would like to know who's spreading that definitely untrue story, as it is so false.

  9. But even though that story is completely untrue, we can't rule out the possibility that one day we may have to move to a more business-friendly environment, that takes the needs of businesses into account as well as regular people, and we would like to know if you would be willing to relocate with the company if Head Office went to Calgary, in six months or so. January for sure.

We understand that employee time is valuable, so please fill this survey out during your break or lunch hour (don't forget to recycle aluminum cans and not leave them on the table or countertop, and please leave the Company tea kettle in its place. It is not personal property!). Confirmation of survey completion will be included with your next paystub. Thanks.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

a reminder

How 'bout it, people? Soledad O'Brian? Hoo doggy, that's a silly name.

Is that how you spell hoo doggy? Because I can envision, despite my instincts, all manner of alternate spellings.

what I've wasted

Here is a list of food that I ordered in restaurants in the United States but did or could not consume, owing to the offensively huge heaps of food they serve you down there:

one Jennie-O Turkey Store turkey sandwich
one deliriously oversized packet of Hellman's Light Mayonnaise
one Russell Stover Almond Delight
one half Applebee's Southwest Chipotle Grilled Chicken Salad
one half IHOP Garden Omelette
one and one half IHOP Buttermilk Pancakes with Butter Pecan Syrup
three apple cores from starch-heavy continental breakfasts
five pieces tofu at P.F. Chang's
specially prepared hot sauce mixed at table by perky waitress who couldn't believe that we'd never been to P.F. Chang's before
one half Dennie's Veggie Omelette
another one half Dennie's Veggie Omelette
various overrepresented Dennie's food items
toast, toast, toast
one quarter bowl Benno's jambalaya*
two thirds serving of red beans and rice at same
one third serving black-eyed peas, Cotton Patch restaurant
three IHOP Nut 'n' Grain Whole Harvest or Whatever Pancakes
a pile of mushy IHOP hash browns
limp rice pilaf
one half Wasabi Seared Tuna at the Islamorada Fish Company
dregs of fruity drinks
one or two fried plantains
one half Papa Rudy sandwich
one entire Pomodoro Capellini at an Olive Garden, or Faux-Italian Trougheteria
a theoretically infinite amount of soup, because the waitress at the Olive Garnen/Slopitorium kept offering me refills
a couple of Texas Fries at Riscky's Barbeque at the Fort Worth Stockyards
half and quarter cups of coffee left scattered across the countertops and tables of the southern U.S.

This is a partial list. I honestly can't tell you all that I couldn't eat or finish off in my two and a half weeks there, or all the servers who looked perplexed or concerned or expressed their concern when they spied unfinished food on my plate. I'm not five Teamsters, people. I'm just one guy trying to make his way in the world over heaps of processed and prepared food. I swear, Olive Gardens must have gigantic underground warehouses that pump soup and pasta up to the surface in fearsome pipes.

*I would crawl over razorblades for that remaining quarter cup of jambalays. My God, it was good. Benno's restaurant, corner of 13th and Seawall Boulevard, Galveston, Texas.

home again

Without a doubt, the dumbest name in American news broadcasting belongs to Soledad O'Brian.

Monday, July 19, 2004

scrubs

After we checked in to our hotel (and after we'd interviewed a noted author and occasional celebrity who had forgotten we were coming and was, therefore, drunk at two in the afternoon) I went for a walk on Seawall Boulevard. Down the street a crazy man approached me, wearing old green scrubs and a sunburnt face coated with a week's worth of grime. He held a Slurpee cup upright in his palm and held out in front of him, which I assumed was meant to hold donations from tourists. At a distance of about twelve feet he muttered "Hihowsitgoing". At five feet he said "Bang". As he passed me he explained "I'm a groooown man". I saw him a few minutes later on my way back, following a Latino family into a hotel lobby, saying "Bang" whenever they tried to wave him away. It looked about as lucrative as any profession in Galveston.

because you wanted it for so long, so badly

Fronds.

Friday, July 16, 2004

jet jet lag lag lag time

Last month I travelled to Australia, where I experienced local dialects, tropical latitudes, and the most boring man in the world (have I told you about the most boring man in the world? He was sitting outside a cafe in Kiribili, expounding on the flavour of crocodile,* the size of his brother-in-law's property holdings in the Northern Territories,** the most popular sport in Australia,*** the number of those little jetties you see in the harbours****), after which I was sent to Rapid City for a week, then returned for a couple of weeks to recuperate for my Floridan 'n' Texan extravaganza. Today, as I stood in a graveyard halfway between New London and Henderson, having my feet bitten to welts by red ants, I found out that my next trip will be - Australia! I thought one month ago  that my Australia trip was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Turns out it's... twice. In a lifetime.
 
I've discovered the joys of long conversations with East Texans. Today I interviewed a woman named Millie Guest, a local historian***** in the town of New London. We talked about the history of the town and the story of the high school that blew up there in 1937, the result of a meeting between a belt sander and a natural gas leak. Four hundred people had died in what was one of the greatest disasters in American history. Millie employed a dada grammar which I attempted to transcribe, but it was just too strange, riddled with random prepositions and revolutionary zeugma. She told me that at the moment of the explosion, the school basement was so full of natural gas that it had "the strength of two or three bombs". Usually when people make such statements, I want to ask, "Bombs of what strength?" but in this situation I was afraid of the answer. She also told me that there was an "all-boom" in the 1930s and that as a consequence the town was full of "all-whales".  When I asked her what it was like to find out that she had lost a best friend in the explosion, she told me that it was like finding out that she didn't have that best friend anymore. Then she showed me the telegraph of condolences that Adolph Hitler had sent. I asked her what it said about the explosion that people like Roosevelt and Hitler had sent their sympathies. She said it showed that world leaders had hearts like everybody else. This went on for two hours.
 
*"Rather like a nice fillet with a distinctive maritime flavour, really a good feed, you know".
 
**"Oh, it must be a million acres, really quite large".
 
***"Sport fishing, you see, really quite the most popular sport in Australia".
 
****"Oh, there must be a hundred thousand of those little things, all of them there for the purpose of sport fishing. Really, I must say that crocodile is a good feed".
 
*****Local historians are invariably obsessive retirees who divert their declining energies into the creation of a museum.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

yes, kilgore

Lately, I've been tempted to convert my blog into nothing more than a travel journal, a catalogue of hotel lobby details and exotic place names. What's more interesting is the people I deal with every day on the road. Really, every day on my job is Take-A-Stranger-To-Work-Day. It looks like we travel to people, but the truth is that I am perfectly still, sitting Lotus-style (albeit without The Lotus, regrettably) while strangers from all over are drawn through me. That's really how it is.
 
Kilgore and environs are actually much prettier than I expected. One hour east of Dallas the plains become heavy deciduous forest, full of overgrown creeks and vine-covered telephone poles. Single-lane highways dip in and out of shade.
 
It's a good thing that this part of East Texas is covered in trees, because without them the 105 degree afternoons would reduce me to tears. The sun at three in the afternoon is a brand, an open flame, a propane torch held to the temple, played over the toes, blasted on the back of the neck. It hurts, people. I am baked as brown as Kogepan* and just as given to mood swings.
 
*For those of you who are curious, I have a small Kogepan figure that I travel with. According to The Lotus, it guarantees my safety on the road. There's a long story behind my Kogepan, which I'll tell you someday. Or other.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

kilgore?

Once again I may be out of internet range for a few days. I'm going to be sitting in a hotel room in Kilgore, Texas. Kilgore? I tell you, there is nothing more remote than an obscure place in Texas. Even the cities that glue Dallas and Fort Worth together - Irving, Bedford, Euless, Hurst, etcetera - seem impossibly vacant, content-free, difficult to picture even when you're driving down their main streets. Maybe the town of Kilgore, three hours east of Dallas on the baking plains of East Texas, will prove me wrong.

But probably not.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

the horror

Well. I'd heard about it, I'd been warned about it, I'd been told stay the fuck away from it, but last week I couldn't help myself and ended up watching Dennis Miller on CNBC in friendly cross-promotional conversation with Jay Leno.

Holy Mother of Beelzebub. I couldn't believe that this pathetic TV weasel was the same Dennis Miller who used to produce a stream of obtuse, densely trivial and usually funny wisecracks for Saturday Night Live. Miller was irritating and self-important back in his Weekend Update days - his comedy specials revealed a man who clearly believed that he was far more edgy and vital than he really was - but even at his worst he projected a joky self-confidence, giving you the impression that he was playing not so much to the camera but to the little self-critic in his head. Please, he was saying, please, little demon. I'll show you how smart I am. Even when he was staring into the lens of the camera, which was all the time.

But now. My God. He laughs like a schoolgirl at his own lame jokes and anecdotes. He tells stories about Bush as if Bush were not a stupid bigoted bully, which is plainly the sum of his personality. To someone so versed in ripping up the facades of gravitas that politicians and CEOs and other celebrities employ, it's confusing and dreadful to see Miller putting fresh coats of paint on the GOP outhouse. It gave me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach to see him interrupt Leno's jokes for yet another story of Bush's wit. I remember that Miller was pro-Gulf War back in the early 90s, but nothing prepared me for the look in his eyes whenever he mugged for the camera on his own show. It said: Mr. Bush, are you watching? Do you approve? Am I a better host than Leno? Clearly, the little demon of Miller's superego has hopped off his shoulder and moved to the White House.

Monday, July 12, 2004

countdown

A day off on a freeway-and-franchise hub on the outskirts of Irving, Texas (or maybe it's the centre of Irving - who can tell?) can kill you with loneliness. This is the major occupational risk of my job: paralyzing weathers of psychic dislocation, pure bands of anxiety and boredom. In some situations the presence of a Denny's and a 24 hour Walmart Supercenter provides a bizarre comfort, a promise that, even under the most volatile and stressful conditions, I can still leave my hotel room and wander the clean well-lit aisles, looking at sporting goods, stationery, lawn furniture and oversized mens' shirts. A Grand Slam breakfast or a Moons Over My Hammy ends up as an anchor of sorts. I feel as if I could be anywhere. Why not in the south end of Regina? After a wander through Walmart I can walk over to the Chapters and buy that biography of Philip K. Dick I've been wanting. But, as in the uncanny opening passage of a cascading nightmare, the Chapters is a Barnes & Noble, the surrounding conversations are in Spanish, and outside runs a frantic route 183, pouring vehicle after vehicle into Dallas.*

It's not nearly so bad now as it used to be, when I would hide from the cameraman before the start of each day and let anxiety shoot through me like cramps. Now I mostly miss home and The Lotus. Every evening we talk on the phone and ritually mark the days until I return. That's how I deal with trips now. Seventeen days until I see her again; sixteen; fifteen. Today marks nine, which I can deal with. Two days after I return marks my 33rd birthday, which must have some significance somewhere in the world. Besides the Jesus thing, I mean.

The worst effects of being on the road don't show up and say hello until I get back home. Then the real dislocation sets in: nightmares of endless lost travel, driving down freeways that take me farther and farther away from my destination. Missing luggage, missed appointments, showing up without my cameraman. For a week I wake up not knowing where I am. When I came back from Australia The Lotus had cut her hair from a bob to a pixie cut, and sometime during the night I half-awoke to see her unrecognizable silhouette leaning over me. I shouted, thrashed around, tried to get out from under my blankets, settling instead for uncontrollable shaking when I realized who she was. It reminded me of stories of Vietnam veterans assaulting their wives in their sleep, although in this case it would be more like a Vietnam veteran running in terror from his wife and ending up at the nearest 7-Eleven in his underwear.

This is not to say that compensations do not exist. In some ways I have found that there is no other job for me, that the movement and the constant intersection into strangers' lives is so suited to my personality that I cannot conceive of what I would have done with my life if this job hadn't come along. Nor could I have taken this job without having The Lotus to come home to, because without her I would have no home. What I will do in the future, when I have finally had enough of this kind of life, I have no idea.

*In the Silver Jews' song "Dallas" (not the theme to the TV show) the chorus runs "How'd you turn a billion steers/ Into buildings made of mirrors?" When we wove our way in around multiple freeways and finally ended up driving down Commerce Street I couldn't believe how cleanly and accurately David Berman had conjured up the city in those lines. It's all tall buildings made of glass, some plainly rectangular, others twisted improbably. The streets are bright and wide and empty. Heat bounces up from the asphalt and seals all the people inside.

what do I see when I look out the door?

I see Texas. I see Red Lobster, I see Denny's, I see a 24 hour Walmart Supercenter, I see a 7-Eleven embedded in a Citgo gas station. An abutment, an overpass, a concrete monster of roads. A Best Western. Five hundred Ruben Studdards and a thousand Jeff Foxworthys. Mirrored buildings and a beige haze over the horizon. No steers yet.

Monday, July 05, 2004

fronds of miami

It's hard to tell much about Miami by driving around its freeways in the middle of the night in a vain search for your fucking hotel, except that this city is horribly horribly hot. Even at midnight, it's like New Orleans left its sauna door open. People here must live in the permanent chill of air conditioning. Tomorrow we go to talk to a woman about a plant that almost never blooms and smells like a human corpse. It's a tourist attraction. After that, an interview about a water lily that can support 150 pounds, or one of me, on its fronds. This plant gives rise to conversations like "Where'd you put the remote control?" "I left it on the fronds". I've probably mentioned this before, but any society with jobs like mine is sliding towards a pit of dissolution fast. Dig out a vault and store your cultural artifacts now for the 1000 year terror around the corner.

here and there and yeehah

I'm going to be in Florida and Texas from the 5th to the 21st of July. Posts may be sporadic. I'll be talking to people about hurricanes, explosions, subatandard housing, Glenn Campbell, folly. I believe I'll also be following an alligator wrangler around for a few hours. And I'll be visiting the biggest bar in the world, which, I'm told, has its own indoor rodeo.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

axis of idiocy

On Monday night's election coverage, CTV hauled in a greasy-faced David Frum to pontificate on whatever he's capable of pontificating on. Question #1, from a fully made-up Lloyd Robertson, was What do you think of the results from Atlantic Canada? Question #2 was What do you think of the simultaneous nation-wide election results broadcast? The answer to #1 was: We are seeing a return to competitive democracy, and that's good (never mind that Frum wrote slavering speeches for a man who subverted the American electoral process, even claiming responsibility for the moronic "axis of evil" line). The answer to #2 was: simultaneous broadcast was inevitable, so there's no more point in even thinking about it (even though they're showing results from the East when western polls are still open).

Competition and inevitability: the two harpoons that neoconservatives love to hurl at the great white whale of world affairs. I couldn't believe that this was all Frum had to talk about. Surely there's more in that twit's intellectual toolbelt than those rusty wrenches. Has nobody noticed that these two notions are contradictory? That the notion of inevitability obviates competition? What do neocons tell their children before they go to bed? "Work hard, kids, and one day everything will happen just as it was magically foreordained to happen anyway". This is even worse than the dopiest lacunae of Christian theology, in which arguments over predestination are nothing more than an intellectual passtime (unless you believe that your life is controlled by invisible bearded men in the sky). When neocons crow about the 'free market of ideas/global capital/bubblegum cards' they're playing intellectual games with real pieces. The only effective route around the paradox they've generated is to not take the game seriously at all, and simply use inevitability as a canard to justify horrendous situations after the fact. Economic boom in Southeast Asia? Why, that's the result of healthy competition. Sudden collapse in Southeast Asia? Um, that was inevitable. They, um, didn't understand the new economy properly, so inevitably it somehow kind of went kablooey. So there. Talk to the Invisible Hand.

As for the election, what Frum really meant by "competitive democracy" was "my right-wing pals have a reasonable shot at power". I don't deny that the Liberals have been in office long enough, but I doubt Frum would have hailed a strong NDP showing as "competitive," preferring instead that collection of reptiles and too-late-borns that make up the Conservative Party.

rapid city VI: cornicles of riddick

No matter how crappy a town you've landed yourself in, no matter how much it resembles the developing world, you stand a good chance of being close to a movie theatre. If you're short on luck, the theatre is a whitewashed shack with plastic chairs and a scratchy print of 8 Mile projected on a stained or ripped screen. That kind of bad luck is called "rural Newfoundland". Most places, though, will have two movie houses: an older one with a couple of decently sized screens playing second-run movies at first-run prices, and a multiplex constructed of plyboard and bright plastic, a kind of Rube Goldberg machine designed to dazzle people with coloured lights and explosive sounds as it hoovers up their money. Feed booths spill out sugar and fat, toilets suck it away again, and in between there's a five-story Vin Diesel grunting and beating people up for a couple of hours.

A few years ago I rented Pitch Black, the prequel or prologue to The Chronicles of Riddick. It introduced me to Diesel's shiny eyed thug and helped me squeeze a little bit of sense from the actions of the characters and a few of the more confusing plot elements. I wish now that I had never seen it. I thought it would work to my advantage, but it forced me to invoke powers of memory and reason, both of which were wasted on this grim cartoon of a film. The rest of the audience, who clearly hadn't brought any backstory into the theatre, were free to laugh out loud at every senseless line and lame twist. Pitch Black had a really simple Poseidon Adventure-Towering Inferno-Aliens plot: people get stranded at point A, must get to point B, and on their way some stuff goes very wrong, select people die, and everybody's character is revealed cleanly and simply by the actions they take to survive. And there's all kinds of monsters. And there's Radha Mitchell. The Chronicles of Riddick, on the other hand, doesn't really have a nice framework, doesn't really go anywhere, and the ending they drop in your lap simply means that you're going to have to shell out for the sequel.

The best thing that this movie has going for it is the bad guys. They're called the Necromongers, and their main purpose, aside from waging a religious imperial crusade across galaxies or whatever, is to look really, really silly. Seriously. No villainous army has ever looked this ridiculous. Most of them appear to be wearing sheets of cardboard covered in tinfoil and dabbed with india ink. The really scary ones have diving masks. It's like finding a bunch of Borgs in your parents' garage. And if the invasion sequence is to be taken seriously, the Necromongers' idea of taking over a planet is to kill about two dozen people and then give motivational seminars to groups of fifty at a time. Then they hang them on meathooks, which is apparently crucial but not well-explained.

The Necromongers' main goal, aside from wearing Craft Fair armour, is to travel to their version of Paradise, which they call The Underverse. I call it The Underpants, because the standard Necromonger expression suggests that they're wearing them two sizes too small. According to them, The Underpants is "a place where we can all start over," which makes it sound more like a new subdivision than a transcendent realm. The thing that nagged at me the most during this movie - aside from the bad dialogue, bad acting, bad pacing, bad editing - is that the leader of the Necktiemongers (an unbelievably stupid-looking Colm Feore), has seen the Underpants with his own eyes, but the stated mission of the Necroyaddahyaddahs is to get to The Underpants, with stops along the way to pick up converts and destroy planets. If The Underpants is really so great, why aren't they there yet? It's obviously not tough to find. Why don't they just go straight to their heaven, relax and maybe send out brochures to the rest of the galaxy?

I suspect they're dawdling because The Underpants must have an embargo on hideous homoerotic goth kitsch. Aside from imperial expansion, kitsch appears to be the one Necromonger passion. The interiors of their ships look like playpens from the darkest dreams of J. Edgar Hoover, with muscly Grecian figures stretched erotically along walls and ceilings. Even the nifty little vessels they have for scooting around ruined cities bear gigantic carved portraits of faces resembling Greek gods. Not even the vilest of dimensions will let that shit in.