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Friday, September 23, 2011

What happened, Apple?


I want to love Apple. Maybe I even did for a bit. They were trendy, kind of sassy, and made the coolest stuff. James Bond Q-Branch-type stuff. Music players the size of dust motes that held every song ever sung since Grog beat out a stuttering rhythm on caveman skulls. Electronic pads the likes of which Star Trek have been yearning for since The Next Generation aired. Laptops so slender you could slip them into envelopes and mail them Regular Mail, if you were disgustingly rich and insane. I liked their commercials, too. Who didn’t get amusement out of pudgy “I’m a PC” guy sparring off against the young, mildly goofy-looking “I’m a Mac” dude?
It helped that I hated Windows. I grew up with computers that used MS-DOS, long before the Pablum of windows-oriented interfaces became common. If you wanted to get it to do something, you typed it in. “Copy X file to Y location.” Then it did it. I never experienced a crash, a hang-up, or a delay. There were no viruses then; we lived in the computer-equivalent of the free-love hippy era. How could there be viruses? It took even a tiny file three days to download on a dial-up connection: there was no time or room for hitchhikers. My first copy of Word took up less than a single megabyte of disc space, if memory serves, unlike the enormous memory-hogs of today’s versions.
I’m not claiming those times were better, but they were certainly simpler. There were only a handful of commands to learn, so if you took twenty minutes to figure things out, you were set. We didn’t get updates three times a minute, so it was still possible for the casual computer-user to keep up with current events. Now you have to be a dedicated “hobbyist,” akin to the Civil War buffs that endlessly debate Grant v. Lee.
So when I switched to Apple, I was expecting a learning curve to present itself. It was steeper than I hoped. Nearly thirty years of short-cuts I’d learned were all based on Windows operating systems, so everything was just a little bit different. I don’t blame Apple for that. They aren’t Windows, I don’t want them to be Windows, the whole point, frankly, is that they aren’t Windows. (I hate Windows, did I mention that?)
I blame Apple for suddenly getting full of their own hype. The iPod Touch, iPhone, and the iPad are probably the three coolest things I’ve played with in terms of technology, maybe ever (though being able to shoot at the TV screen with Nintendo’s Duckhunt is also a frontrunner). Instead of treating these wonderful gizmos like the slices of coolness that they are, they’ve gone corporate with their marketing campaign.

No more “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC.” Instead we get a simple picture of the device being used, screens swiping by, to a maudlin overlay of sappy music and a voice saying “If you don’t have an iPhone, you don’t have...” whatever app they’re hawking at the moment. It’s crap. It’s dull, it’s boring, it treats me like an idiot, and it turns me off from wanting to buy any of their stuff. This is a majorly impressive thing to do, since as I’ve said, their stuff is AWESOME.
Come on, Apple. For a dedicated loather of Windows, you’re sort of the only game in town (no, I’m not going to learn Linux. I don’t care how sweet it is, I just can’t do it). I’d even respect them more if they acknowledged it. Ads that proclaimed “Yeah, we’re not perfect, but believe us, we’re a helluva lot better then Windows,” would really work on me. I think they’d work for any Apple users, actually. That kind of honest attitude I could respect.
You make some fantastic stuff, Apple. Try and act like it. Jeez.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Middle-aged senior citizen


So far I’m enjoying the descent into agedness. I’m nowhere near the theoretical end to the human lifespan, but already I’ve become a stereotypical senior citizen. My physical deterioration isn’t too swift, but the social parts are really kicking it up a notch.
Modern music all sounds the same. It’s just noise. Most of it seems to include a “spoken word” portion (they call this new-fangled thing “rap” apparently) where in my day the same position was taken up by a thirty minute guitar solo. (This was done so the lead singer could slip backstage for another toke, I’ve always believed.) My own preferences regarding television and movies are drifting further and further away from the mainstream. I look back with fondness on John Hughes, and miss the Brat Pack, John Candy, and basically everyone from the cast of SCTV. What happened to Joe Flaherty? The last time I saw him was in Happy Gilmore; surely someone talented enough to play Count Floyd would have no lack of acting opportunities. When I was growing up, you could be almost certain a movie would have at least one set of breasts for your young eyes to ogle. Now they go for “f-bombs.” I’m sure today’s teenage boys would much rather have the boobies (although I suppose that’s what the internet is for).
I don’t understand the way kids dress. I find myself thinking “There’s no way I’d let MY daughter leave the house looking like that.” Most of their speech is still intelligible to me, although the context is not. They are using English words, I’m sure of it, but discussing topics that have no footprint in my brain. It’s like listening to a couple of particle physicists discussing boson versus fermion spin parameters (except I might have a slightly greater chance of understanding the physicists). As Lisa said on the Simpsons: “I know those words, but that sign makes no sense.”
Cell phones don’t confuse me, but in the same way that my father can’t touch-type his way out of a wet paper bag (who could, really?), I can’t match the dervish-speed a teenager uses to hammer out text messages. You’ve never seen thumbs move so quickly. They do this while nonchalantly slouching along, often in the midst of a group of friends, all similarly engaged with their phones. For all I know, they are texting each other. If Bluetooth could be implanted in the jawbone, I’m sure all their communications would be sub-vocal and you’d never hear a teenager speak again (is that really such a bad thing?). As for video games, once a favourite pastime of mine, they have gone far beyond me. The break-point was when Mortal Kombat hit the arcades and I found myself getting my butt handed to me by eleven-year olds. 
Instead of fighting the differences, I am embracing them. It’s enjoyable to me to be able to say things like “when I was your age” or “kids don’t know anything; they just think they do.” One of my favourites is “I’m old enough to be your father.” There’s no doubt that these little maxims are annoying. But so what? It is the societal privilege of the elderly to be able to pester the young, for haven’t the young pestered them in return? Maybe I’m not quite “eld” enough to be considered truly elderly, yet I would contend that’s only a sign of the times. The world moves fast. Kids grow up in a blink, acting like petulant teenagers as early as 9 or 10, so why can’t the rest of us jump ahead to a new age bracket, too? This way I get to enjoy being crotchety for decades.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Gender Neutrality


I can’t speak for all men, obviously. Nevertheless, I do feel confident stating that if it were the responsibility of males to carry offspring, Homo Sapiens would have died out long ago.
Maybe we could be convinced to have one child apiece. In the same way you can often talk a male into doing anything stupid, so could an initial pregnancy be attempted. “Ah, it can’t be that bad. You guys are all wimps. I can handle the pain, you bunch of whiners.” That’s the kind of attitude that compels our breed to engage in hazing and peeing on electric fences. We’re tough enough to take it. We’re men.
I call “bullshit” to that. We could take it once, sure, because once labour starts it is a “no turning back” type of situation. But to go through that whole process a second time? I scoff at the very idea. If each man has one child, we die out pretty fast, our numbers cut in more than half each generation. That is precisely what would happen if it were up to us to keep the species going. “No way are you doing that to me again” would become our motto.
Sure, there would be a portion of males that would relish the agony. They would look forward to the blood, the pain, the gore. They would laugh during the crowning (a deceptively delicate name for it, by the way).These lunatics would constantly be looking to get knocked up, just so they could experience the whole thing time and time again. But for every such masochist there would be two (or three or ten) who would see pregnancy as nine months of discomfort followed by hours of pain followed by two years of poop followed by forty years of waiting for every phone call to be the cops informing you that your darling has been arrested. Is that a good bargain?
Perhaps pregnancy would become a rite of manhood. Certainly males love to invent such rituals, particularly if they are unpleasant. “You call yourself a man? A real man—I mean a REAL man—doesn’t flinch during labour. Hell, my last kid, I pushed ‘er out sideways and never even grunted. Now that’s a REAL man.”
These testosterone-fueled primates would breed like rabbits while the rest of sensible folks would see our genetic lines die off. Eventually all men would crave and relish pregnancy. They would invent a whole morality centered around the joy of child-bearing and eventually you wouldn’t be allowed to say a single bad word about the process without being shunned. Soon even the suggestion that modern science or medication could ease the process would be considered a taboo subject. The more “natural” the childbirth, the better the parent, the happier the child.
That sounds about how things stand right now. I guess evolution figures out a way to make life carry on no matter what. Tricky old evolution: even passing the ball to men won’t stop you.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Harper channels Dubya


Oh, Harper. Harper, Harper, Harper. You make me weep for our future.
In his interview with Peter Mansbridge last night, our glorious Prime Minister harped (forgive the pun) about how “Islamicism” is the biggest threat to Canada.
First of all, I’m not sure “Islamicism” is a real word. Certainly my word processor doesn’t think so, judging by the squiggly red line it puts under “Islamicism” every time I type it. But leave that aside; I’m pretty sure everyone knows what that means these days. Radical Islamic terrorism. We hear about it all the time. It’s a concept that’s often in the news... the American news. Usually, we’ve managed to tone down the hysteria our southern neighbours appear to feel every time someone says “Islam.” Not any more.
Harper and his Conservatives are going to try and push through the old anti-terrorist laws that were debated in 2001 but were eventually shelved in 2007 due to heated resistance. Well, he has a majority now (thanks very much, Democracy), so I guess he doesn’t have to worry about trifling matters like “heated resistance” or “rational thought” anymore. So thanks to Stephen “Captain America” Harper, here’s what we can expect in the near future:
1. Police will be allowed to arrest people without warrants and detain them for up to three days without filing charges if they believe a terrorist act may have been committed.
2. Judges can compel witnesses to testify in secret about past associations or pending acts under penalty of going to jail if the witness refuses to comply.
It should be pointed out that neither clause was used by authorities in the five years they were in effect, so at least our front line cops and judges aren’t as prone to abusing the authority they’re given as we all might believe.
So here’s my question for Mr. Harper (though I doubt very much he reads my blog, more the fool he): If a law wasn’t used at all for five years, and its specific purpose was to help combat terrorism, how can you conclude that “Islamicism” is the biggest threat in Canada? Maybe he’s receiving email threats or something, or maybe Muslims give him dirty looks when they walk by him. Actually, a lot of people give him dirty looks, but maybe he just notices the one sort.
I think the biggest threat we face in Canada is succumbing to the police-state mentality that plagues the United States. Islam is already under attack in America and Europe. Do we really need to join that train? We don’t castigate Christians just because a minority of them are radical loons, so why are we picking on Muslims? Yes, some of the more extreme are doing some very bad things, but so has Christianity (Crusades, Inquisition, pedophile priests, etc). So has every major religion.
The last time I checked, we are supposed to be striving for a society without prejudice and bigotry. Can you try and remember that, Oh Glorious Leader, before you go on national television and paint 1.5 billion Muslims with the same brush?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

School supplies


School is upon us, and that means school supplies.
I love those things, ever since I was a kid. New white erasers, all their corners still sharp. Mechanical pencils. Pens, in all their varied colours and types. Reams of paper, notebooks, binders, all of it. I was one of the kids that lobbied my parents to be given that rare treasure, the “mechanical eraser.” Anyone remember that thing? A long white cylindrical eraser encased in a plastic tube with a mechanism to push it out as you used it up. It made a very satisfying clicking noise, as I recall. I’m sure I drove many teachers to add a dollop of Kahlua to their coffees because of that persistent noise. Click-click-click. Eraser out. Click-click-click. Eraser safely back in.
The point is, that unlike many parents, I look forward to getting new school supplies. I don’t even begrudge the ridiculous amount of money that’s required to equip a student for school. What does bother me is when the supplies of one child are “lent” to another.
For some reason, I foolishly assumed this didn’t happen. I learned better when I found one of our pencils (painstakingly labelled, as directed) in the grubby hands of another kid. The teacher confessed that if someone doesn’t have what they need, someone else will be called on to “loan” the needy kid a pencil, eraser, whatever. Fine. Sharing is grand. A useful lesson to learn. But what I resent is being one of the parents who meticulously provides everything asked for, only to have it co-opted by the students of less careful parents. Sure, it’s not the kid’s fault his/her parents are lazy or cheap, but it’s even less my fault.
(Note that I don’t say those parents are poor. I am aware that poverty is often blamed as a factor for a lack of school supplies. I get it; they’re expensive. In our community, however, I know people who work at the “poor” schools, and the same parents who send their kids to school with nothing are the ones who smoke, drink, and buy their groceries at 7-11. Yes, they are poor, and wouldn’t be rich even if they magically found a way to better balance their budgets. What I’m suggesting is that they could get all the school supplies they wanted if they skipped out on buying five cases of beer or a few cartons of cigarettes.)
Not only do some kids show up with half or less of what they need, the quality is often lacking. With the rise of “dollar stores,” you can buy a lot of pencils for a buck, but they all suck. The lead inside is pre-broken (and it probably IS lead instead of graphite) and the same flaws are found in all the stuff there. Cheaply made garbage. School supply lists often explicitly state “no dollar store pencils,” it’s gotten that bad.
Why doesn’t the school division step in here? Wal-Mart has proven that there is power in purchasing in bulk. The division could order all the loot needed and likely save a few shekels along the way. Budgets aren’t limitless, but I guarantee they could find the money to do this: there isn’t an administrative or bureaucratic organization out there that couldn’t trim a little fat to find money if pushed. This is not a new idea, and is done by schools all over the world. So get to it! The education system in this country needs a major overhaul, but this would be a small, easy place to start.
I bet you’d suddenly find those “your child needs this” school supply lists get a lot shorter, too, if the division was on the hook for the money to pay. Does my child really need a different edition of a French-English dictionary each year? Has French changed that much in six months? Don’t you still say “I am wearing green pants” the same way every year?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Democracy


I often repeat the famous Kent Brockman (of The Simpson’s): “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: democracy simply doesn’t work.”
A friend of mine, however, argued that democracy works perfectly. If you presume the function of government is to remain in power and prevent rebellion or revolt while keeping the people complacent, he said, then democracy is the best system of government that ever existed. By allowing people the “right” to vote, you offer them a compelling illusion of control over their leaders. If you don’t like this guy, you can vote him out later, and you’ll only have to wait three, four, five years tops. That’s not long at all. No need, in that case, to storm the streets and drag him from the palace to behead him in the city square. Just don’t vote for him, and he has to walk away, head downcast in shame.
That’s a cynical viewpoint, but I find it hard to disagree. Certainly in most other ways, democracy drops the ball time and time again. Democratic government is being ruled by committee. Anyone who has ever sat on a committee knows that good ideas end up getting tweaked to make other people happy until you end up withe some concept that no one is excited about. Committees often produce the mental equivalent of oatmeal. Blank, unoffensive, no one loathes it, but no one loves it, either. Everyone is mildly dissatisfied. Should a miracle happen and a true leader get elected as “committee chair” they will swiftly be bogged down in a swamp of argument and pettiness. There is no decisive, swift action that can be taken in committee.
We have a complex system of checks and balances in place to prevent just such far-reaching activity. Checks and balances are great in theory, but all the checks and balances in the world didn’t stop Trudeau from declaring martial law over a pair of kidnappings, or Dubya from invading Iraq on the myth of “Weapons of Mass Destruction.” I guess swift and decisive is possible... but why is it always something bad or violent or both? Why can’t a democratic government “swiftly” decide to eliminate poverty or effectively educate its people?
The problem lies in the fact that democracy is “rule by the people” and people are stupid. Kay from MIB said it best: “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals.” Talk to a single person and you can have a thoughtful, insightful, interesting conversation. Watch one of those silly “town hall” style meetings and the room becomes belligerent or overwhelmingly sycophantic, depending on their mood. It’s kind of creepy, really, how easily the masses become a mob. We riot over a lost Stanley Cup, for pity’s sake. How pathetic is that? At least, that’s how it starts, then the riot gains its own momentum and it becomes a mindless stampede. If you were brave enough to get in the middle of things and lucky enough to obtain a truthful answer from one of the Vancouver rioters, his answer to a question of “Why are you rioting?” would probably be “Huh? Dunno.”
So what’s the solution? Science fiction, as it sometimes does, has seen the way long before the rest of us did. Artificial intelligence. Movies like I, Robot or Matrix or Terminator paint the rise of intelligent machines as the (potential) end of mankind. But you must remember in all cases where the machines try to kill us, we are fighting them. Usually they bear us no ill will until we start doing what we do best: attack. Would Skynet have sought to wipe us out as a species if we just behaved ourselves and obediently fell in line? Sure, it would put us to work in factories, but is that really much worse than what we’ve got going on right now? We’d still have plenty of room for professionals: educators, doctors, scientists. No lawyers, though, and is that really such a horrible thing?
I for one embrace our future mechanical overlords. Maybe an artificial intelligence won’t use compassion, decency, morality or pity influence its decisions. Neither do politicians. At least Skynet would be capable of logic, and that’s a trait that democracy just can’t seem to grasp.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Beware office snacks


A tasty treat shared around during an office break ended up containing marijuana. A lady brought in brownies that she found in her freezer. These brownies had (apparently) been made by her son, put in the freezer, and promptly forgotten. The mom had no idea there was cannabis in the brownies. Three people from the office ended up being taken to hospital with disorientation, numbness in their limbs, and light-headedness. One can only presume these three people had never sampled pot before. It makes me wonder how many other people were “suffering” from those same symptoms and just rode along with them happily in order to make a dull day at the office go by in a flash.
Of course this happened in BC, so they at least managed to keep with stereotype. The lady who brought the “magic brownies” to work claimed to know nothing about the marijuana in them. Maybe she didn’t, but if not, she’s more than a little clueless. Any mothers reading this, I have to ask: If you find brownies in your freezer that you did not make and you also have a teenage son living at home, aren’t the brownies immediately suspect? Who made them? How’d they get there? What teenaged guy just spends a day whipping up a batch of chocolatey treats for fun? Thinking the brownies are normal is just as foolish as telling yourself those ounce-sized glasses filled with Jello in the fridge are nothing more than gelatin, sugar, and water. And your son doesn’t have condoms in his room, either; those are just high-grade balloons that he needs because he’s practicing making balloon-animals. He’s out at the library until 2 am, just like he claims, and those glossy magazines under his mattress belong to a friend—he’s just holding onto them as a favour. He’d never look at stuff like that because it degrades women.
Wake up, lady. I envy her son, though. Until now, he’s probably lived a pretty sweet life. I'm guessing Mom just might start taking a bit more of an interest in his daily routines now. Too bad, kid.
(This story could easily be an episode of The Office. I’d watch that.)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

"It's a magical time"


At any time the pregnancy I’m witnessing may end and labour may begin. This is only the second one that I’ve been privileged to watch from the front row but one conclusion leaps out above all others: If it were up to people like me to become pregnant, the human race would have died out a long, long time ago.
I hesitate to say “all men” when I make a statement like that. There have to be guys out there who would love to experience pregnancy and all it entails (once, maybe) but I am confident that the Y chromosomes wouldn’t leap to get knocked up in sufficient numbers to fill the planet with almost seven billion people. No way. How women do it is beyond me. It takes a degree of sacrifice and selflessness that boggles the mind. Some of them even seem to revel in it!
Sure, we’ve managed to create a certain mystique about the whole thing. Phrases like “you’re glowing,” “it’s a magical time,” and “the wonder of childbirth” all help to implant the idea that pregnancy is some glorious experience, filled with months of joy for seconds of pain. Humans are capable of deluding themselves to almost any degree, so it’s not surprising that pregnant women cradle their bulbous bellies with misty eyes as they say “I’m carrying a life inside me.” There’s no doubt that they are, and it’s amazing. But it’s also a little creepy.
If you woke up one day and found that some creature had found its way inside you and was happily feeding off you, you’d be seriously freaked out. This creature shifts and moves, kicks and punches you, and rudely keeps growing long past the point where your body can comfortably accommodate it. When your doctor hands you sonogram pictures of the thing, it looks like an H.R. Giger creation from Aliens. Without the “human baby” label, that thing inside would be a scary parasite and you’d want it out. Now.
This, of course, is what women appear to experience in their ninth month anyway. “I just want it out” becomes the mantra heard time and again. Who could blame them? You try sleeping with a thirty pound medicine ball strapped to your gut. They can’t get comfortable, they can’t sleep, and they can’t get twenty minutes without peeing because their bladder has been compressed to the size of a peanut. Sounds like fun, sign me up.
Not only does pregnancy entail carrying a growing parasite around inside you for nine months, when it’s time for it to come out, the thing tries to worm its way out of a hole that can stretch, but   not really enough, so it usually tears. How many guys would sign up for a process that results in their penis ripping? None many, I’m thinking. Painful contractions, hours of straining, and the craziest part is that there is a movement so in love with pregnancy that it has convinced many thousands of women to forego pain control and do it “naturally.” I have news for you: Nature is an idiot. If we “do things naturally,” we don’t bother fighting cancer, performing appendectomies, or prescribe antibiotics. The entire history of humanity involves breaking nature’s little “suffer and die” rules. So take the epidural, ladies. Please.
Along the way to the big finale, you get mood swings, raging heartburn, and periods of violent vomiting we gently label “morning sickness.” Swollen ankles, retained water, and an inability to climb twelve stairs without panting. Your once-familiar body twists, warps, stretches, aches and suffers. Bladder control is no longer something you can 100% guarantee. You get constipation, or sometimes its opposite number (the runs). I’m sure I’m forgetting fifty other symptoms, but it already sounds like a disease you might see featured in a patient-zero style Hollywood movie.
So thank you, women, for taking this hit for the team. If it were up to us boys, I’m pretty sure there’d be no team left at all.

Friday, September 2, 2011

We must love it or something


Why would anyone get into the arts? Well, if you are a detractor of artistic endeavour (such as a member of the current government or pretty much anyone I grew up with in small-town Manitoba) you might think it’s so they don’t have to do any “real work.” Artists get to nance around at glorious galas and events, sipping ice wine and nibbling moldy cheese (mold added with purpose, rather than the mold that grows on its own in your fridge). They have no bosses to answer to, no schedules to keep, and no dress code. Who wouldn’t want to laze around and be an artist? Slap some paint on a canvas that ends up looking like a kindergarten finger-painting and call it a job. Sounds pretty good.
Obviously that’s a load of crap. While I will not deny that there is a difference between working as an artist and working in a Pennsylvania coal mine, the same can be said of doctors, lawyers, accountants, and virtually any other trained professional. Even the poor wage slaves at Tim Horton’s don’t grub around like coal miners. (The image of a coal miner is tattooed on my brain as the ‘nastiest it can get’ because of the silly scenes from Zoolander. Yes, I realize there are probably plenty of nastier jobs out there. Coal miner still works as a good comparison, though.) Sure, some artists don’t work up a big sweat, but dancers do, and they have such restrictive diets they can’t even unwind afterwards with a case of beer like construction workers can. Would you accept a bargain where your workload (whatever that might be) is reduced by 25%, but only if you gave up alcohol, dessert, fried foods and you had to work out three hours a day? Not if you’ve got a brain in your head you wouldn’t. (This even assumes a dancer works less hard than the average person, which I think is ludicrous.)
You sure can’t say they do it for the money. A lazy artist is a broke artist, and even the ones that work really hard are most often broke, too. It is ridiculously hard to make a living in the arts. It is even harder to make  a good living, the kind of money that allows you to buy a house, car, Blu-Ray player, and all the other toys and trinkets we love here on the Good Ship North America. While the upper limit in the arts community can be pretty high (Hollywood movie stars, for instance, or Neil Gaiman), the lower limit is pretty far down there, too: namely, zero. Even less, because you maxed out your credit card for head shots, art supplies, or postage to send your manuscript to Not A Chance Publishing House.
I bring this whole topic up because of some calculations I was doing regarding my “career” as a writer. It takes the better part of a year to finish a novel, and that’s working on it more than forty hours a week. I can produce two pieces of short fiction in a good week, which sounds pathetic until you really look at how much writing that is. Sure, a short story is only 3000 words or so, but it needs to be invented, outlined, researched, fact-checked, written, re-written, tweaked, re-written again (and maybe a few more times), then read aloud to make sure it doesn’t sound retarded (and then re-written again), and finally copy-edited. Three thousand words is only a 10-12 page research paper, no big deal, but your short story doesn’t have a snowball’s chance unless it kicks ass... so it needs to be the equivalent of an A+ paper. It’s easy to produce a B paper, tricky to churn out an A, and almost impossible to get an A+. Let me tell you, the market out there is fussy—no “easy profs” in the editorial world, alas.
Now what kind of money can a fellow expect for all his time? A starting author is looking at between 3 and 10 grand for their first book. Unless your book sells like mad, you’ll probably never earn out that advance to start getting royalties. Pro markets for short fiction pay around 5 cents a word and sometimes less. If you try to live on short fiction, and sell everything you write (HA!) you’re looking at a little over 15 grand for a year’s work. Of course, no starting author sells every short story—far from it. They say 99% of writers never sell a single thing. Of that percentage, 9 out of 10 sell one novel or a handful of short stories, then nothing more. Most writers practice their art/trade/craft in addition to a regular job for a very simple reason: they have to. If you sell 20 stories a year in the short fiction market, you’ll probably be breaking a record of some kind. Twenty stories at 150 bucks a pop doesn’t buy a lot of cat-food.
If you do any research into any of the other arts, you’ll probably discover similarly depressing numbers. No one—and I mean, NO ONE—becomes an artist in the hopes of an easy life. You are better advised to set your sights on playing professional sports: there are over 400 Canadians in the NHL alone. Or maybe winning the lottery.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

RIP Yoda


Yoda is dead. At least, he soon will be. The wonderful Puppet Yoda of Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi is about to be written over by graphics. All hail technology. Boo, I say. Boo. Puppet Yoda is awesome. CGI Yoda blows. This is only one of the changes being presented for the Blu-Ray versions.
The moment I heard the original Star Wars trilogy was being released on Blu-Ray, I knew George Lucas would be making some alterations. How could he not? Isn’t he the one who took “Han Solo the Scoundrel” and turned him into the guy who shoots second? Isn’t he the one who added a CGI Jabba the Hutt to squish around Han and repeat dialogue we’d already heard come out of Greedo’s mouth? Isn’t he the one who replaced Darth Vader’s actual ghost with Haden Chirstensen? Wasn’t the Ewok music (so annoying to a particular friend of mine and therefore of great value to me) changed by him? The list goes on and on. The man clearly cannot leave well enough alone.
There is no doubt that Star Wars IV, V, and VI were better than “well enough.” Hadn’t they made more money than the GDP’s of many countries? Haven’t they been released to great acclaim in every video format since 1980? The trilogy has sold an estimated four thousand trillion copies world-wide.* Yet in spite of their success, George is obsessed with tweaking. We already like them, buddy! In fact, anyone who liked them from the start liked them more before Lucas started screwing things up.
It really makes you wonder if Lucas isn’t a pod person. Maybe the George of the 70s and early 80s was the real George, but since then he’s been replaced with a doppleganger of some kind. Certainly there’s been a switch thrown in his brain at the very least. This is a man who thought Jar Jar was the height of hilarity, after all. I can imagine him sitting at home, watching “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and laughing his ass off whenever they play that “boing” noise they use to tell us someone got hit in the crotch.
Even if you accept the common premise that George has become a believer in his own godhood and will hear no dissent regarding one of his Holy Writs (assuming anyone in earshot is brave enough to make a peep, anyway), does it then automatically follow that he can’t come up with a few good ideas? Who came up with the first trilogy? There were all sorts of good ideas in that thing. Did none of them originate with Lucas? I hear that the classic Han Solo “I know” response to Leia’s “I love you” was Harrison Ford’s suggestion (and he has to push for that one, according to scuttlebutt). George just wanted him to say “I love you, too.” Maybe the polite reply when someone professes their love, but it has no “cool value” at all and belongs in a rom-com rather than a space opera. Maybe everything that made the Trilogy beloved by millions came from someone else.
If so, George is just a figurehead for the combined genius of nameless legions. Unfortunately, we’re still stuck with him. Obviously, I don’t have to support his legacy with my dollars. Certainly I won’t be shelling out the bucks for the Blu-Ray version. I did pick up the DVD release, but only because they were packaged with the “original” versions. Other than watching the new ones to see the changes (and disliking them all), I haven’t touched them since. Star Wars Lego gets a few shekels a year (for my son, honest, they’re not for me) but other than that, nothing.
The problem is that he won’t go away and because he owns Star Wars he is free to do whatever he wants with it. Granted, he can’t come into my house, confiscate the versions I like and replace them with the new (yet, thank goodness), but that doesn’t mean the process of attrition won’t win out in the end. Every year more copies of the good movies is lost. Lucas is likely to still be alive when Blu-Ray gets supplanted by bubble chips or whatever’s next, and he’ll change the trilogy yet again. Maybe we’ll get 3D. I’m surprised he isn’t trying to do that now, actually. Maybe he’ll back-write Jar Jar’s kids into A New Hope, since CGI can wreck anything. Or we might hear Yoda talk about the size of his midichlorians in Empire Strikes Back. (“Judge me by my size, do you? There is no try, only midichlorians.”) In Return of the Jedi he’s already adding an unnecessary “NOOOO!” yell from Darth Vader when he chucks the lightning-wielding Emperor down that convenient pit. Next time around we’ll probably get Haden Christensen’s face showing up when Vader takes off his helmet. Or the Emperor will reveal that he nailed Shmi years ago and is actually Vader’s dad. (“Darth... I am your father. By the way, your mom was smokin’ hot.”)
There is an almost sick joy in waiting to see what Lucas will do next. It’s what happens when you fall to the Dark Side I guess.