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January 1, 2011

Book Review: The Year Of The Hare By Arto Paasilinna

How many of you out there have wanted to just say," Oh fuck it" at some point in your life? Slough off all your responsibilities and head for the hills; a partner who makes you so miserable you can't remember why you married them or a once inspiring job has become a cynical task you only keep doing because you need the money. Everywhere you look you see the walls closing in and you're starting to be able to identify with the animals you see pacing from side to side in a zoo's cages. Of course, if you were to take that giant step off the edge you would become a social pariah. The creep who left the loving partner or rejected the well paying job to wander aimlessly picking up piece work like some sort of hobo or bum. Someone who is, in fact, a danger to himself and others because he, or she, are obviously mentally unhinged.

Society can be a harsh judge when you don't play by the rules, but sometimes a body is pushed too far and something happens to trigger snapping the bonds holding them in check. Such is the case in Finnish author Arto Paasilinna's book The Year Of The Hare, published by Penguin Canada. In an almost clinical fashion Paasilinna records one man's odyssey into exile from society and follows him as he gradually travels further and further away from civilization until he crosses over into neighbouring Russia somewhere near the Arctic Circle. However, this is no glib peon to the rights of the individual and the author leaves it to the reader to make his own decisions about his 'hero's' behaviour by assigning us the role of observer.

Vatanen is a journalist made cynical from too many years of reporting scandals and writing about people and issues that don't matter. He can't remember why he married his wife, nor is he quite sure why she married him as she apparently despises him. Returning from assignment with his photographer, their car side swipes a young hare who hadn't been able to get out of the way. Seized by a sudden impulse Vatanen leaves the car to search for the wounded animal in the woods where it hobbled after they hit it. When he doesn't return, and after repeatedly calling him, the photographer takes off and leaves Vatanen. When later guilt over abandoning him, he might have fallen and injured himself, forces the photographer to return to search for his associate, he can't find any sign of either him or the hare.
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Vatanen had found the hare and after carefully tending to it for the night and establishing a bond had taken it to the nearest village to arrange medical care. The more he thought about his life - wife and job - the gloomier he would become, while the more he allowed himself to enjoy his surroundings - the peaceful woods, the friendly villagers and the quiet companionship of the hare - the happier he became. Seemingly without thinking about it he makes arrangements to separate himself from civilization. He sells his boat to a friend to obtain some much needed cash and then proceeds to vanish into the wilderness. However, unlike Thoreau, who retreated to Walden Pond to contemplate society and nature, our friend is not so much interested in philosophy as he is in escape.

In fact, Paasilinna paints an almost negative picture of Vatanen at times. Hired on to help fight the biggest forest fire in Finnish history he comes across a man who has been forced to flee from the flames with his still. He then proceed to enjoy the results of his new acquaintance's labours. When the fire threatens to consume the two men they swim out into a lake and wait for it to burn out around them. While I suppose one could make the case for this being an analogy for selfishness - self-gratification while the world literally burns around you - in the context of the story its merely just another adventure among the many he experiences in his wandering. Anyway, his willingness to go to almost any lengths to protect the hare belie charges that he's only interested in himself. It's more when an opportunity presents itself he's seizing it with both hands no matter how strange it might seem to observers.

He's at his most content though when it's just him and the hare. He takes jobs which allow him to retreat further and further from society. Yet no matter how remote a location he manages to find, intrusions are inevitable. Hired to renovate a shelter for the herdsmen who look after reindeer in the north he and the hare find some moments of respite until a government official decides it is an ideal location to bring foreign dignitaries to observe the Finnish army perform winter manoeuvres. When the intruders insist upon trying to hunt a bear hibernating in the vicinity it sets off a series of absurd events which results in the cabin being burnt to the ground and the entire party being evacuated, nearly naked, by helicopter. When Vatanen is finally able to return to finish the job he started, he and the hare are forced to contend with the irate bear and are lucky to escape unscathed. Unable to lash out at those responsible, he and the hare decide to hunt down the bear who leads them on a merry chase across the Finnish Russian border where he is held on suspicion of spying.
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It's here that Paasilinna is at his most satirical. For the Finns send a extradition request to the Russians detailing the list of crimes Vatanen is wanted for in his native country which is almost as farcical as it is lengthy. Reading between the lines of the list of meaningless crimes what he's really being accused of is shirking his responsibilities as a member of a well ordered society and generally not behaving in a acceptable manner. It's one thing if life's circumstances force you to live on the margins, it's another all together if you decide to do so voluntarily. Anybody who rejects the holy trinity of family, work and societal obligations is obviously a threat and needs to be separated from the general public - you wouldn't want anybody getting ideas now would you.

What makes The Year Of The Hare so compelling is how Paasilinna makes no effort to glorify any of Vatanen's actions or offer any justifications for what he does. Yet even his seemingly irrational decisions couldn't be construed by anyone but the most anal as dangerous or even mean spirited. At times he's forced into situations by the idiocy of those around him, but because he's considered "abnormal", even those who threaten him with violence are considered to be acting within the bounds of normalcy. While our society claims to cherish the rights of the individual, this book makes it obvious how narrow our definition of that word really is. If you stray too far outside the boundaries of acceptable behaviour you will be either shunned as a pariah, treated as a criminal or be considered mentally unstable, if not all three at once.

With his almost casual writing style Paasilinna is able to make his point without ever preaching or being obvious about what he is doing. As the book progresses he gradually builds his case and we slowly become aware of the weight of societal disapproval lurking in the background like some malevolent presence waiting to pounce. By not setting Vatanen up as some heroic figure in search of inner meaning or on a quest for the truth, Paasilinna has created a character readers can identify with at least some of the time. Sure he's flawed, but who isn't? All he wants is to be left alone to live a peaceful co-existence with his new friend, is that such a bad thing? Read the book and see what you think, you might just find yourself wishing for a hare to enter your life in the near future.

(Article first published as Book Review: The Year Of The Hare by Arto Paasilinna on Blogcritics.)

June 10, 2010

Book review: Osama Van Halen by Michael Muhammad Knight

When your first novel turns out to be a controversial and somewhat well received effort that centres around your own confusions about a choice you made in the past, what's an author to do for an encore? Although he hadn't been a character in The Taqwacores, the story had expressed Michael Muhammad Knight's confusion over, and dissatisfaction with Islam, the religion he had adopted as a teenager. While on one level the characters represented the confusion typical of many second generation immigrants who are being pulled between the traditions of their parent's culture and the freedoms enjoyed by their contemporaries, they also reflected the many sides of an argument Knight was having with himself.

Was he or wasn't he a Muslim? Were his motivations for converting legitimate and how could he call himself Muslim now considering the lifestyle he had been and was currently leading? Could you be a Muslim even if you didn't follow all the rules and blindly obey everything that was written in the Qur'an? All of these questions had come up in one form or another, plus many more, over the course of that first novel. Therefore, since he was intellectually such an integral part of the first book, it only makes sense that he write himself into Osama Van Halen. Although written in 2005 controversy over its predecessor prevented it from being published until 2009 when Soft Skull Press released it along with a new edition of The Taqwacores so they could be read in sequence as intended by the author.
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Knight isn't the only "real" person who makes an appearance in the book as he's dotted it with fictional representations of friends of his from the Taqwacores movement that developed from the first book. The lines between fact and fiction start to blur in places as Knight the author and Knight the character in the book turn out to be two different people and both make their presence felt during the story. At times you do wonder which one it is you're reading about, but usually there's not that much confusion as he's quite clear in his own mind who's real and who's fictional. Although things do get a bit weird when he meets up with a couple of friends in "real life" and tells them about their fates as characters in the book.

Thankfully he's not made himself the only main character as his fictional self plays the role of side kick to the main character, Amazing Ayyub. When he steps out from behind the character of "the author Michael Knight" to become Michael Knight he acts as sort of a spelt out sub-text explaining the whys and what the fucks of the story. For, while Knight is out looking for some inner truth about himself through conversations with young Muslim women he's had contact with in the past, Ayyub is busy with his own tasks. Amazing might have been a minor character in The Taqwacores, representing the extreme end of the Islamic punk movement with his rampant alcohol consumption and blatant crazed and anti-social behaviour, he now finds himself cast in a starring role which requires him to rise up and become a defender of the faith - Taqwacore.

For as punk rock before it was co-opted by an industry bent on making money out of rebellion, Islamic punk has been discovered and is about to have its rebellious soul ripped out of it in the name of marketing. The Amazing Ayyub has seen the enemy and its name is Shah 79 and it must be eradicated before the heresy can take root. Much to his horror he discovers that they have set up shop in his home town of Buffalo while he is on the other side of the continent. He had been in Los Angeles with Rabeya, the burqa-wearing radical punk woman from the first book, kidnapping Matt Damon in an attempt to force Hollywood to depict Muslims in a more positive light. At a pit stop in a gas station he not only discovers the new heresy threatening his core belief system, he loses Rabeya and Damon when he discovers the van they were in has left without him.
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What follows are a series of adventures designed to both test him and hone him for his final confrontation. Part biblical, part science fiction and all punk his quest begins behind the wheel of a van transporting a thrash metal punk band across America. Fuelled by speed and his own manic energy he drives his motley collection of passengers into the desert where they are set upon by zombies who have taken over a mosque. Saved by Basim, the lead singer of the Kominas (The real life lead singer of an actual Taqwacore band), from the undead, Ayyub is then outfitted with a really big gun and a prayer of invisibility that will allow him to carry out his mission.

Blending fact and fiction is a difficult stunt to pull off, especially when you include yourself as one of the characters in the book. However in Osama Van Halen Knight carries it off with skill and dexterity. It would have been easy for this to turn into an exercise in self-indulgence, however the author's sense of the absurd and ability for self-satire never allow it to descend to that level. Instead what you have is a quite brilliant piece of writing which not only deconstructs the relationship between an author and his characters and their role as his mouthpiece, but also ensures the reader understands the depth of the author's sincerity. We not only see the confusion he feels as represented by his fictional self and his fellow characters in the book, we see him struggling with the questions that lie at its root.

While sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction, the blending of the two will sometimes reveal truths neither on their own are capable of dealing with. Osama Van Halen is an example of how it is possible to construct a book that straddles both worlds without sacrificing the integrity of either. Thought provoking and thoughtful, it raises more questions than it answers about the nature of religion and our relationship to it, but they are questions that need to be asked if we have any hope of ever finding our way out of the mess we've made of the world. Bravo to Michael Knight for being brave enough to ask them, and being equally brave for not claiming to have the answers. It's just too bad people are too busy condemning him to follow his lead.

(Article first published as Book Review: Osama Van Halen by Michael Muhammad Knight on Blogcritics.)

February 5, 2010

DVD Review: The Evelyn Waugh Collection

The works of the late British author Evelyn Waugh, focused mainly on the life and mores of the upper class in his country from the period leading up to WW II to the years immediately following the war. While some of his later works were primarily concerned with defending the place of Catholics in British society, (it is still part of the British constitution that no British monarch can be married to a Catholic) he is probably best known for his ability as a satirist. He was equally comfortable writing subtle, dark pieces which left one decidedly unsettled after reading them, to composing nearly farcical send-ups of everything from the military to journalists that were close to side-splitting funny. Either way his acid tipped pen could invariably be counted on to cut his subject matter down a peg or two, and hold any number of sacred cows up for ridicule.

Yet no matter how scathing he might be towards certain elements within society or the behaviour of a certain class of people, there would be always one or two characters in each book whom we the reader could relate to on some level or another. Often times this character would either serve as our guide into the world Waugh had created and we would see events unfold from his or her vantage point. Most of the time this character was usually an outsider being introduced to what on the surface is something new and splendid. However, as we and they observe more closely it turns out to be suffering some sort of malaise and we first see the wear and tear around its edges, until gradually the depth of its corruption is revealed.

In 1981, Public Broadcasting Services (PBS) telecast an adaptation of Waugh's Brideshead Revisited starring Jeremy Irons that went on to become one of the most successful imported mini-series. Of course it only stands to reason that having seen the success of one Waugh story from the page to the screen that others would be soon to follow. Now Acorn Media has released a package featuring two of those follow up releases, A Handful Of Dust and Scoop, under the title of The Evelyn Waugh Collection. The former being a dark look at the bored and idle rich, while the latter is a somewhat more farcical look at the press.
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A Handful Of Dust tells the story of the disintegration of the marriage between Brenda and Tony Last. For while Tony is quite content living in the country keeping up the old family home, Brenda is bored with country life and wants the fun of playing in London. It's because she's so bored that Brenda begins an affair with a selfish social climber nicknamed "Beaver". As usual the husband is the last to know in these instances and he quickly becomes rather an object of ridicule for Brenda and her new city friends as she and her paramour lead the high life paid for with Tony's money. Eventually Brenda convinces Tony she needs a flat in London so she can take "classes", and she and her lover are able to set up house together.

It's only when their young son dies in a hunting accident that Brenda decides to make the break with Tony. Being a gentleman, Tony agrees to grant Brenda a divorce and even goes so far as to pretend to be the guilty party by hiring a woman to spend the weekend with him in a hotel so he can be accused of adultery. However when Brenda starts to make unreasonable demands in terms of alimony - she has a young man to support in a style that he's accustomed to after all - he refuses to go along with the deal. Instead, when a chance meeting throws him together with an explorer setting off to chart unexplored regions of the Amazon river in South America, he agrees to fund an expedition and sets off into the wilds leaving Brenda high and dry.

While the acting of the leads is universally excellent, with Kristen Scott Thomas playing Brenda, Rupert Graves her young lover, and James Wilby the cuckold husband Tony, Anjelica Huston, Judi Dench, and Alec Guiness steal the spotlight with their cameo appearances at various points throughout the film. Unfortunately the script doesn't quite match up to the quality of the acting, for while we do feel some genuine sympathy for Tony, and loathing for Brenda and Beaver, we're never quite sure what has really motivated Brenda to take up with this young man who has almost no redeeming qualities and who treats her quite badly. He's so obviously only interested in her money, that one can't quite fathom how she could want to stay involved with him for any length of time let alone be the person she'd leave her husband for.
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Scoop on the other hand is not only well acted, it is a much better script. It does a great job in skewering all aspects of the British press from the reporters in the field to the owners of the papers and their editorial staff. Through a case of mistaken identity young William Boot, a nature writer for "The Beast", is sent off to the African republic of Ishmaelia to cover the civil war supposedly in progress. When he arrives he discovers the press core are all camped out in the capital city's one hotel and there's no sign of any fighting going on anywhere. Under orders to report back on a "Patriots" victory by Tuesday from the megalomanic owner of The Beast (Donald Pleasence), Boot is in serious danger of being fired until he uncovers an actual plot to overthrow the president by the minister of information.

Michael Maloney does a wonderful job playing William Boot, who although innocent to the ways of the world turns out not to be exactly stupid, as he does his best to report on a non-existent war. He is ably supported by Denholm Elliot as his editor at The Beast and Herbert Lom as a mysterious businessman who shows up in Ishmaelia just in time to help stage a counter revolution. Scoop is a rollicking ride which, although set in the 1930's, is every bit as topical in its treatment of the press as if were set today. This script captures Waugh's biting wit and acid tongue perfectly in both its depiction of the press's incompetence and the cynical manipulation of events by the unscrupulous businessman so he can secure Ishmaelia's mineral rights.

As both Scoop and A Handful Of Dust were originally shot in the 1980's neither are up to the standards were used to form modern productions when it comes to technical matters like sound and image quality. However these factors don't detract from the quality of the productions so they shouldn't be a deterrent to purchasing the package. Good acting, and, especially in the case of Scoop, quality script writing, overcome any technical deficiencies that you might experience.

Satire has become something of a lost art these days, so The Evelyn Waugh Collection from Acorn Media, is a very timely reminder of what that genre actually entails. Unlike today's writers who seem to lack the subtlety necessary to bring it off, Waugh never descended to the level of cheap laughs in order to win his audience over, and both productions in this package live up to that standard. This is an ideal opportunity to see two works by one of the masters of satire brought to life and shouldn't be passed up by anyone who still appreciates the genuine article.

January 14, 2009

Book Review: Milk, Sulphate, And Alby Starvation By Martin Millar

The phrase, are you paranoid if they're really out to get you?, might have been invented for Alby Starvation. Alby, the title character in Martin Millar's 1987 debut novel Milk, Sulphate, and Alby Starvation being re-issued by Soft Skull Press, and distributed in Canada by Publishers Group Canada, on February 9th/09, worries constantly about his health, the hit man that the Milk Marketing Board has set on him, the Chinese gang leader trying to find him, and which of his friends and acquaintances are after his comic collection.

While those friends of Alby's who he's still talking to, well not really friends but some folk who buy drugs from him, tend to think that it's all in his head, the reality is that the Milk Marketing Board really have set a hit man on him and a mysterious Chinese gentleman is trying to get in touch with him. So he stays huddled in his apartment with only his hamster and his comics to keep him company watching as his reflection in the mirror looks gradually sicker and sicker. His doctor won't believe that there's anything wrong with Alby - but than again he's only waiting for Alby to die so he can scoop up his complete set of Silver Surfer comics.

It was Alby's health, and that bastard doctor, that was the cause of all his trouble to begin with. Certain he was dying, he wasn't able to keep food in and was gradually wasting away, he went to his doctor only to be told that it was nerves. It was only his buddy Stacey's suggestion that he might have food allergies that saved his life as far as Alby is concerned, unfortunately it also signed his death warrant with the Milk Marketing Board. You see Alby turned out to be allergic to milk and once he stopped drinking milk he got instantly better.
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That would have been fine and dandy, but he had to go and tell somebody else suffering from similar ailments and she got better instantly too. Which might have been okay as well except she had a friend who was also very sick and asked Alby to talk to him, and he turned out to be a reporter for the local community newspaper and wrote a little article about being allergic to milk. That's when things began to snowball, and Alby eventually found himself the head of an anti-milk campaign that galvanized all of Britain because it turned out there were millions of people across the country allergic to milk suffering horribly.

When the sale figures for milk go south, the Milk Marketing Board turns the matter over to their dirty tricks department - modelled after the CIA - to sort it out. With no time to lose they decide the best course of action is to nip things in the bud and take out the person at the top of the anti-milk campaign - Alby. By sheer luck the first person sent out on the job is "Born Again" on the way to kill Alby, and in a fit of remorse for past killings tips him off that he's a target for assassination. You'd think that nothing could make a paranoid happier than finding out somebody is really out to get him, instead it makes Alby all the more miserable.

Now Alby isn't the only odd soul living London's Brixton district during the waning days of punk in the mid-eighties. They're are the speed freaks he supplies; the archaeology professor posing as a city employee so he can dig up the street in his search for a lost crown said to be buried in Brixton; the mysterious Chinese gentleman who used to be in charge of Heroin quality control in the Golden Triangle; the psychic nurse who doesn't know she's psychic; and of course the second hit man hired by the Milk Marketing Board, who turns out to be a woman named June.

With the story bouncing around like a pinball game on acid, (or is it like you being on acid watching a pin ball game) what with the plot bouncing off one character or story line after another and back again, and with no clue as to whether somethings happening in the past or the present, it's initially hard to quite follow what's going on in Alby's life. In some ways its akin to reading a cubist painting by Picasso where instead of merely seeing a single view of the subject the artist shows you all sides simultaneously in what looks like a an insane jigsaw puzzle of body parts.
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The past and the present appear in adjacent paragraphs offering no clue as to which is which; we see the world through the eyes of characters who are on the periphery of the story; and intermingled with all of that we have Alby's disjointed narrative of events. Yet out of this seemingly random scattered collection of information a picture gradually forms of Alby's life, the lives of those around him, and the general air of desperation to find meaning to existence that grips so many of us.

Milk, Sulphate, And Alby Starvation is the flip side of the popular image of punk as a revitalizing movement for social change as we meet the ones who came for the party that never realized it wasn't just about loud music, getting drunk, and doing speed so they could dance all night. Like the dregs of the hippies on heroin after the days of flower power and peace and love had passed, the characters of Alby and his friends are pathetic lost souls with no direction who wanted something for nothing and ended up going nowhere fast. Whiles there's a dark humour to Ably's neuroses, in the end it's just sort of sad and pathetic.

What saves the book from being ultimately depressing though is Millar's sense of the absurd, for the story line is right out of Monty Python's school of taking an illogical situation to its most logical conclusion. That Alby is not crazy and the Milk Marketing Board has really hired an assassin to kill him because he has adversely affected milk sales across Britain, is merely the tip of the very peculiar iceberg contained within the pages of the book. While it might not be to everyone's cup of tea, if you're willing to put up with the slightly bitter taste and the twist and turns of the style,Milk, Sulphate, And Alby Starvation will never bore you and will continually surprise you. That alone makes it worth reading.

December 23, 2008

Book Review: A Snowball In Hell By Christopher Brookmyre

It used to be in order to be famous you had to have done something important or have an ability that distinguished you from other people. Artists, scientists, thinkers, explorers, inventors, and military leaders were all likely candidates for fame as they were all in careers that provided opportunities for renown. Any celebrity or fame that came their way was earned because of their talents or skill. Now, things have changed, and celebrity has become a goal on to itself with people willing to do almost anything to get their moment in spotlight.

These are the people so many of us love to hate, especially those who appreciate the work that goes into actually creating something of intrinsic value. It's enough to make you pretty hot under the collar seeing talentless wasters with column space in newspapers and having their faces splashed all over the popular magazine. Wouldn't the world be a better place without these air-heads, or the people who created the opportunities for their creation in the first place?

Well, in Christopher Brookmyre's most recent book, A Snowball In Hell, available through Penguin Canada, former terrorist for hire Simon Darcourt has decided enough is enough and its time to give the public what they really want, reality television with celebrity guests competing against each other for the public's approval just like they do on Big Brother and Survivor. However, getting voted off Simon's show doesn't just mean you won't come back next week, you won't be coming back at all, except for in a box.
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You can't help but be struck by how intelligent his arguments, and compelling his justifications, are for the things he's doing. Sure he's a bit extreme but you do have some sympathy for what he's doing, don't you? However, after abducting a prominent producer, one Nick Foster, boy band producer from the 1980's and 90's, and a reality show creator in the present day, and broadcasting his execution live to those attending an industry tribute to the same Nick Foster, the police don't quite agree with this assessment. They even agree less when it's become apparent that he has created a new reality show for the public to watch by kidnapping the winners of Nick's last venture.

Of course he's not going to kill them off one by one - he's going to have the audience vote on how much oxygen each girl gets in a day based on her performance until one runs out of air time - so to speak. Oh, and to make sure everybody broadcasts his little extravaganza he lets it be known that he will kill all three of the girls immediately if the broadcast is shut down or any attempt is made to trace the server it's being beamed from. So the cops call in the one person who handed Darcourt his ass before, Detective Inspector Angelique de Xavia, who thwarted Simon's plan to blow up a hydroelectric installation in Scotland back in 2001. The biggest problem they face this time though is figuring out what the former mercenary wants.

As if things aren't complicated enough, it turns out the police aren't the only ones not amused by Simon's telecasts, as Angelique finds out when she receives a text message from an interested party wanting Darcourt delivered to them instead of being hauled off to prison. As incentive they send a photo along with the message - her parents handcuffed to chairs.

If she ever wants to see her parents alive again she's going to not only have to track down Darcourt, but make him disappear in plain view of her superiors and the public. It's a good thing she knows a magician, Zal Innez, who five years ago not only made off with a whole lot of money from a Glasgow bank, screwed over two mob families, but had stolen her heart. Although the feelings are mutual, he's as equally besotted with her, they both believe they are doing the other a favour by not being in each other's lives - what kind of future can a thief and a cop have together? Yet without Innez Angelique knows she's not a hope in hell of saving her parents, let along snaring Darcourt.

Christopher Brookmyre's skill resides in not only writing plots which have more switch-backs than a road twisting up the side of a mountain, but in making those same plots believable. With parts of the book being written in Darcourt's voice, we see him assembling all the pieces for what we think is the penultimate game and are chilled by the delight he takes in revelling in other people's weaknesses. He is, unfortunately, as brilliant as he thinks he is, and we can only sit back helplessly as he lets us in on his secrets or as he invites us to laugh along with him at his perverse form of social critique.
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What's even more amazing is that Brookmyre is able to use this highly amoral character to brilliantly satirize our obsession with celebrity and fame. Day after day the press publish tallies on which of the three original contestants are attracting the most attention in the press, and thus earning the right to breath. Night after night the public gather around their computers and televisions to watch the performances as the three girls compete for the approval they so desperately need to stay alive. It's reality television taken to its most nightmarishly logical conclusion with the only real winner being the one behind the scenes pulling all of our strings.

A Snowball In Hell is a brilliant and devastating book that proves once again that Christopher Brookmyre is one of the best social critics going as well as being one of the most original crime fiction writers you'll ever read. There are no cows sacred enough not to be slaughtered by his pen, over inflated egos safe from the prick of his words, or moralistic hypocrites who can escape his wrath. Yet at the same time he ensures that we never forget, in contrast to Simon Darcourt's opinion, that even the "contestants" in the reality show from hell are living and breathing people who are just looking for something to fill the void in their lives.

It's a sad and confused world that we live in if people feel they have to prove their worth by becoming famous. Who are we to begrudge them their moment of glory, no matter how contrived or silly it might appear in our eyes? While aiming a slap at the industry that creates these opportunities, Brookmyre hits those who sit in judgement on the participants with a shot between the eyes: How are you any different from Simon Darcourt except for perhaps how you express your opinion of these people?

A Snowball In Hell can be purchased directly from Penguin Canada or an online retailer like Amazon.ca.

July 25, 2008

Graphic Novel Review: The Book Of Leviathan Peter Blevgad

I've always thought comics never get the recognition they deserve. They are either looked down on as being less than the plain written word, as if the inclusion of pictures somehow reduces their value, or they are elevated beyond their worth by those too embarrassed to admit that they enjoy them just for the pleasure they bring. The next time I have to listen to someone talking about the deep psychological and social significance of The X-Men or whichever comic they obsess over, I'll probably gag. Why is it so difficult to admit that you can enjoy comics just for the sake of enjoying a comic?

The majority of comics that you buy either in book form or read in your daily newspaper are simple escapist fun. Whether it's the gentle humour of Charles Schutz's Peanuts gang or the fantasy world of some superhero, the pleasure derived from most comics is immediate and transitory. This is especially true of the daily strips in the paper. You start in the first panel and two or three panels later you're left with a smile on your face or some other similar feeling of contentment. Even the political strips, like Doonesbury or Minimum Security, work along the same basic premise, although they do have more to do with reality than most.

Of course that doesn't mean that all comic strips are created equal or that there aren't some cartoonists whose work takes the medium into places where very few others dare to go. Unfortunately you're not likely to find their work nestled in among the daily funnies offered by your local newspaper as it isn't what most people would want to quickly scan during their morning commute to work. Occasionally one or two of them will make there way into the pages of some speciality magazines, but most of the time you need to wait for a compilation of their work to appear as a book in order to experience them.
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At least that was the case for me when it came to Peter Blegved and his creation Leviathan as I was unfamiliar with it until reading it between the covers of The Book Of Leviathan. Mr. Blegved is a man of many talents, as can be seen by a visit to Amateur Enterprises where some of his other work has been collected. A musician in bands such as Henry Cow and Slapp Happy in the seventies and eighties, he started drawing Leviathan in 1992 and it appeared in the British newspaper Independent on Sundays through to 1998. Now The Overlook Press has gathered together those Sunday oddities into the above book, and will be unleashing it unto an unsuspecting public on July 29th/08.

Like all good comics Leviathan concerns the adventures of a boy, Levi, and his pet. Although in this case the boy is a faceless baby and the pet is a rather insightful and cynical cat, and the adventures tend towards the metaphysical rather than the physical. Although there are occasional references made to Levi's lack of features - meeting a race of people whose head's are noses, Levi's inquiry as to how he smells is answered with "Not very well without a nose" - for the most part it doesn't seem to hinder his ability to experience the world around him. From the trauma of that first separation from the parents - being left at home with the baby sitter for the first time - a trip into hell courtesy of B.L.Z. Bub, Lord of the Fleas, to Levi's valiant attempts to break out of the last panel of the strip to connect directly with his readers, he is able to negotiate most of the obstacles that the world places in his path.

Of course Levi's also slightly better prepared than most of us, as if nature has gifted him with certain abilities in lieu of those he's lost. First there's his inquisitive and inventive mind that allows him to device such things as the atomic formula for the transmutation of base matter into milk, or to imagine the mirror opposite of himself and his stuffed bunny. Of course the anti-bunny might not be to everyone's liking. For according to the strip's guest host for the day, Hegel, the father of dialectical logic, instead of being soft, cuddly, safe, stuffed and inanimate, it would be alive, hard, lethal, and hungry. Sometimes you don't want to open the door when your imagination comes knocking.

Like so many comics a lot of the humour and a great deal of the impact in Leviathan is a result of the illustrations. Blegvad is not only able to do wonderful things with a bare minimum of lines, he can also draw beautifully ornate pieces that are eloquently humorous without ever taking themselves too seriously. Even when he introduces a figure like Hegel, or an iconic image from the art world like Edvard Munch's The Scream, it's with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek. Sometimes it feels like that by introducing these elements in ridiculous circumstances, he is reminding the reader that they are reading a comic and not to take it too seriously.

Although, I think a man who manages to make some of the worse puns in the world out of eels and cheesy song lyrics - "What's that?" -"When the Moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie that's a Moray" - probably doesn't have to worry too much about being taken too seriously. That's not to say there aren't moments in some of the strips which won't make you stop and think. You can't deal in the absurd as much as Peter Blegvad does without opening up one or two cans of worms about human behaviour. However, most of your wondering when it comes to the adventures of Levi and Cat will be about what type of brain could have come up with such absurdities, and not about the state of the world.

While some might wonder at the value of escapism that a comic like Leviathan offers, as it says in the preface to the book, only a jailer would consider the term "escapist" pejorative. Anyway, The Book Of Leviathan isn't what anyone would consider your typical mindless escapism. Absurd, strange, and even a little twisted certainly, but always thoughtful and never simple, one thing is for sure; the adventures of Levi and Cat are never boring.

In Canada The Book Of Leviathan is available either directly from it's distributor Penguin Canada or an online retailer like Amazon.ca

July 12, 2008

Book Review: boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring Zach Plague

In Anton Chekhov's play Uncle Vanya the characters are in the grip of a enui so all pervasive that they can barely lift themselves from their chaise lounges to deal with their own failures and bankruptcy. Chekhov called the play a comedy and meant the dissolution of the aristocrats depicted in the play to be the objects of our laughter and derision. During the time he was writing, around the end of the nineteenth century, Tsarist Russia was on its last legs, and the land owning aristocracy was seeing the gradual erosion of their power base by a new breed of creature - the monied middle class.

As earning money was beneath them, even talking about working for a living was just too tedious, they were unable to cope with the changes of society and their inherited wealth was gradually being whittled away. Even if the revolution hadn't come along in 1917, judging by Chekhov's depiction, the whole society would have probably collapsed under the weight of its own stupor sooner or later anyway. Empires don't collapse because of armed rebellion, but because of the jaded appetites of its ruling class. Having had their own way for too long they either sink or seek to sate their desire for something new through experimentation in drugs and other dissolute behaviours.

In Zach Plague's new novel, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, being released on July 28th/08, from Featherproof Books, we are dropped into the world of the students and the hangers on of The University of Fine Arts and Academia. The University has institutionalized the visual arts and turned training artists into a cynical process that has sucked the life out of creativity and made art just another commodity. Instead of the urge to paint springing from the desire to create, its become just another means of filling the void of boredom.
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With art being merely another distraction from the "boring, boring", the term they use to describe the emptiness of their lives, the characters are in constant search of anything else to alleviate the tedium. For the majority that means endless rounds of parties, drinking, experimenting with weirder and weirder drugs, and, of course, sex. Adelaide and Allister have both done their best to buck the system and subvert the process by actually doing something with their art and questioning the status quo. Unlike most of their peers their motivation wasn't merely seeking distraction from the "boring, boring", but were attacks upon the system that had sucked the life out of art.

Adelaide created a show based on her applications to the top twenty-five Graduate School fine art programs in the United States. Each piece consisted of her application letter, her letter of acceptance, and the portfolio of art that she had used as proof of her talent. The pieces she had submitted included obvious forgeries of other people's work, stuff she had drawn when she was six, and other similar garbage. Unfortunately the Dean of her university wasn't amused by the show and was suing her because of it.

The art establishment was afraid of Allister because he refused to play the game at all. They feared he had some grand master plan at work that would expose them all to ruin and infamy, and were desperate to get their hands on a journal he had created referred to as the "grey pages". The White Sodality, headed by the mysterious figure of The Platypus, would stop at nothing, including kidnapping, to get their hands on these infamous pages

Yet for all his so called anarchy Allister isn't much more than a conventional, confused young adult when it comes to his feelings for Adelaide. At one time they were a couple, but at the beginning of the book they are no longer together. As the book progresses we begin to wonder if everything that Allister is doing is in order to avoid having to think about Adelaide and how much she really means to him. He has a reputation to consider and he can't blow his attitude of cool aloofness by showing how much it would devastate him to be rejected by Adelaide.

She, on the other hand is descending deeper into a pool of depression, as she keeps telling herself that she won't think of Allister, of course all the while thinking of him. She turns to booze and drugs for solace. Adelaide is also in possession of the infamous "grey papers", and is well aware of how much they are coveted by The Platypus. In those moments she can bring herself to care about things she realizes she must do something about them.

Forty odd years ago Richard Farina wrote a book called Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me in which he re-created the insular world of a collage town, and captured the restlessness of a generation. It was only while writing this review that I realized how much Zach Plague had managed to do something similar for a different generation in boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring. There's the same sense of quiet desperation gripping the characters in this book that was present in Farina's novel. The slow dawning on them that the promise of a life full of meaning, the motivation for going to school and attempting a career in the arts, was a lie, is not depicted in so many words, but the character's actions speak volumes.

On top of that Plague has also managed to stick a few well placed pins into the insular world of contemporary commercial art, and the pretensions of those involved with it. In his depiction creativity is something to be feared because of its potential for rocking the boat and the independence of spirit that's required for it to exist. Gallery owners can't make money if they're unable to control the art that's on their walls, and the best way to do that is work with the schools to ensure the students graduated give them what they want.

boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring is in of itself a piece of art as Plague has experimented with various means of publishing the work. It can be purchased as a more or less conventional book, a series of posters made up of the pages, or as a CD. The book is put together in what appears a haphazard manner. Excerpts of hand written pages scattered among the typeset, text meanders across the page continuing down margins, pages are formatted so the book needs to be held sideways on occasion, the fancy calligraphy spelling out the name of the character involved in a particular chapter is sometimes almost illegible but never quite, and the final part of the book is presented as a photo copy of a separate book.

Judging by a sample of the posters that I received, you would get the same text, but as a series of relatively unconnected pages pieced together on large poster paper. Small sections of the book are kept together so that ideas and thoughts aren't completely dislocated, and at the end of each section is included directions to assist you in finding the appropriate location on the appropriate poster where it continues. I'm not sure if the author is taking the piss here with academics and there habit of deconstruction - or if he's making a comment on content and form, but it comes across as being just a little too much like the art world he is so critical of in the pages of the book. To be fair though, it's impossible to judge the impact of these posters without having access to all of them.

Whatever else boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring by Zach Plague is, it's an intelligent, sometimes witty, and sometimes sad book that offers sharp criticism of the art world, and our society in general. Boredom has brought many an empire to its knees in the past, and Zach Plague has done a fine job of depicting the enui that sucks the life out of us.

June 16, 2008

Book Review: Tigerheart Peter David

When J. M. Barrie wrote his famous children's book Peter Pan it was an era when British children of the middle and upper classes were relegated to the nursery - as far removed from the company of their parents as possible. The majority of fathers were distant figures who rarely ever figured in their children's lives and mothers ran their households with the assistance of a bevy of household staff. It was the nanny who featured most in the lives of Victorian children.

Children were expected to be proper little ladies and gentlemen, ideally this meant miniature representations of their parents. Not seen and not heard, boys of school age were sent off to boarding schools, while girls were tutored on how to be ladies and wives. In such an environment, the figure of a boy who vows never to grow up, and lives a life of endless adventures touched by magic, would be a figure of irresistible appeal to children and more then a few adults as well.

Yet, while there is no doubt that the repressive Victorian age needed a figure like Peter Pan as an antidote for the constraints placed upon children, his character's refusal to grow up represents a denial of the change needed for the emotional growth required to outgrow the selfishness of childhood. For as children the majority of us believe that the world revolves around us, and everything has been put upon it for the express purpose of supplying us with amusement. Any of us who have run into adults who still cling to those beliefs know full well how annoying these people can be.
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In his new book, Tigerheart, author Peter David has taken J. M. Barrie's classic tale of the boy who wouldn't grow up and has passed it through the prism of his imagination to present a slightly different vision from the original. Instead of the central figure being the boy who doesn't want to grow up, our hero is Paul Dear, a boy who wants more than anything to make his mother happy again.

Paul was enthralled by the tales his father told him about The Boy. and the magical land of Anyplace where he fought pirates and caroused with Indians. At night when Paul looked in the mirror he was certain that the figure who appeared opposite him in the glass was none other than The Boy himself. In his travels through the Kensington section of London Paul would chat with the squirrels and pixies who inhabited the various shrubs and trees he passed, and in his dreams at night he would hunt the lands of Anyplace in the copy of a fearsome white tiger.

Paul's life is proceeding along just fine until a tragedy strikes his family that results in his father telling him that he has to be the man of the house, and his mother telling him that it's time to grow up. As growing up means no longer talking to pixies or seeing The Boy in the mirror, his mother takes him to a doctor who gives him pills that will ensure he grows up. Yet Paul knows that the only way he can make his mother happy again, and pull the family out of its tragedy, is by going to Anyplace, and for that he has to believe.

A chance meeting with an ex-pirate in the park sends him on a quest to a curio shop where he finds the mummified remains of Flickerbell the pixie. Through the standard practice of clapping his hands and saying "I Believe" he is able to revive what turns out to be a very pissed off pixie. She promises to take Paul to Anyplace if he will exact revenge upon the person responsible for "killing" her; The Boy. Obviously there's something rotten in the state of Anyplace, and The Boy's denial of Flickerbell's existence - pixies can only die if people stop believing in them - is only the tip of the iceberg.

Welcome to the dark side of Peter Pan - The Boy is selfish, egocentric, lies to ensure that he is the centre of attention, and is firm in the belief that nothing can happen in Anyplace that he doesn't want to happen. Like all spoiled children who are used to getting there own way, he is blind to anything but his own needs, and sulks when he's not the centre of attention. In fact even when Paul, more by fluke than anything else, saves The Boy's life, The Boy convinces himself that he wasn't really in any danger and that Paul's intervention hadn't really been necessary.

For The Boy not growing up means not accepting responsibility for his actions and not caring about the feelings of others. For Paul growing up doesn't mean giving up all he loves in the world, his ability to talk to animals and pixies, it means opening up your world to include others in it. The Boy only thinks of others in terms of what's in it for him. He doesn't rescue Flickerbell from pirates because he particularly cares what happens to her one way or another, but because it give him an opportunity to be the centre of attention by being brave.

While the theme sounds serious, author Peter David has done a wonderful job of making Tigerheart slyly humorous. While Paul and his family speak and act like people from our time period, other characters talk and think like they came out of Victorian literature. Gwenie - a girl who The Boy has been bringing to Anyplace as a den mother for his followers for quite a while, acts, thinks, and talks like she just stepped out of the pages of the original Peter Pan. The depiction of the Pica Tribe, the local "Red Indians" in Anyplace, is so Victorian, politically incorrect that it's funny, and an obvious dig at the whole "Boys Own" Adventure/White Man's Burden attitude that characterized children's literature of that period.

Tigerheart is that a rarest of creatures, the gentle satire, where instead of twisting a dagger into your side to make a point, the author pokes you in the ribs with his finger. From start to finish this book is a delight to read and is sure to raise more than a few smiles, and offer readers any number of surprises. Most of all though it reminds us that just because we're adult doesn't mean we have to be boring and that change is a nothing to be afraid of.

Tigerheart by Peter David will be released on June 17th/08 and can be purchased directly from Random House Canada or from an on line retailer like Amazon.ca.

May 27, 2008

Book Review: A Case Of Exploding Mangoes Mohammed Hanif

While recent years have seen an explosion of fiction from Indian authors being published in the West, the same can't be said for the other country that was born out of Partition; Pakistan. Pakistan remains something of a mystery for most people in North America, occasionally gaining notoriety for acts of violence against women, political assassinations, and insinuations about its ties with the Taliban and the insurgency in Afghanistan.

Ironically it was its ties to the very same Taliban in the 1980s that gave it favoured nation status with Ronald Regan's administration in Washington. Pakistan was the conduit for American money and military aid to those resisting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In those days Pakistan was ruled by General Zia, who had led the military in the coup that had ousted the elected government of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, (father of recently assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto), and was responsible for his execution. Zia was America's "tame" Muslim, and they turned a blind eye to his introduction of laws that allowed for women to be stoned to death for adultery.

General Zia's career and life came to an abrupt end when his presidential plane crashed on take off killing all on board. There has never been an official explanation as to what caused the crash that ended Zia's eleven year reign, but now, some twenty odd years later, an unofficial explanation has been put forward. Mohammed Hanif's new novel, A Case Of Exploding Mangos, published by Random House Canada, plunks us down in Pakistan for the last month of President Zia's life, and takes us behind the scenes everywhere from the American Embassy in Islamabad, the First Lady of Pakistan's private chambers, to a military prison.
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The war in Afghanistan is winding down, the Taliban are closing in on Kabul, and the Russians are pulling out. For their role in allowing the American's to use Pakistan as their staging ground for funding the insurrection President Zia and his chief of staff have gone to the top of the charts as the top ten bulwarks against Communist expansion in the free world. The fact that they run a despotic military dictatorship where the prisons are full of those who might not agree with them is conveniently ignored.

Junior Under Officer Ali Shigri is in trouble. He somehow managed to miss the fact that one of the men in his squadron at the Pakistan Airforce Academy was not present during roll call that morning, and had not only gone AWOL but stolen a small plane. His seniors aren't buying his story of the series of coincidences that prevented him from first of all noticing Cadet Obaid-ul-llah was missing and then not reporting the same. The fact that the two young men were known to be close friends probably has a lot to do with that, and they can't believe that Ali knew nothing about his buddy's plans in advance.

Ali knows he's in trouble when the ISI are called in and a Major in the intelligence service shows up in car without licence plates to take him for a drive into the mountains. He doesn't realize quite how much trouble though until he's locked up in the prison where they keep the rest of the political prisoners. Yet if he thinks he's having a bad time of it, it's nothing compared to what President Zia is going through.

The First Lady found a picture of him ogling a Western journalist's breasts and has declared him dead to her and for three days running he's opened his Koran to the story of Jonah trapped in the belly of the whale and is begging to think there's a message there he's missing. On top of that he's suffering from worms, his general staff are spying on each other, and he's so sure that someone wants to kill him that he's locked himself in his armed force's residence and refuses to move into the new Presidential Palace. Sometimes paranoia is justified, and in this case the president is right, there is a plot in motion to have him assassinated.
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In point of fact there is more than one plot underway to bring Zia's life and rule to an end. When his personal head of security has an unfortunate accident - his parachute inexplicably fails to open during a ceremonial jump for the Nation Day parade and he splatters on the pavement in front of the President - Zia is obviously distraught. He would probably be even more distraught if he knew that during the parade the head of his intelligence service was standing behind the president rehearsing his spontaneous words of regret about the death of the aforementioned bodyguard. Although probably not nearly as distraught if he knew the same man was also rehearsing his first address to the nation after the bitter blow of losing our beloved President Zia.

A Case Of Exploding Mangoes takes no prisoners when it comes to selecting targets for its satire. From its depiction of Saudi Princes with private doctors dedicated to the care of their privates, the marriage of convenience between the US and Pakistan, how to adjudicate rape cases under supposed Muslim law (the woman must be a virgin, there has to be at least four men involved for it to be rape, the woman must be able to identify all four men involved, and she must supply four male witnesses attesting to her status as a virtuous woman), to the petty jealousies and infighting among the men surrounding Zia in the upper echelons of power, nobody and nothing escapes unscathed.

While Mohammed Hanif has written a novel that is mainly light in tone and is at times quite funny, the humour at times is more than a little dark and bitter. Through the character of Ali Shigri we learn how to survive in this political climate through his ability to play dumb when needed, kiss ass when appropriate, and how to avoid the knife in the back while twisting your own blade in deeper. While we don't see everything through his eyes, his narrative is the one that leads us into the dark heart beating beneath the surface of this seemingly light story.

Hanif is playing on dangerous ground with this novel, as there is much in here that could be interpreted by people without senses of humour as offensive. The real trouble is that people don't like having their hypocrisy displayed quite as publicly as A Case Of Exploding Mangoes makes a point of doing. Nobody is safe, not even OBL of Laden and co. Construction from Saudi Arabia, who just wants people to pay attention to him at the American Ambassador's Fourth of July party celebrating victory in Afghanistan in 1988.

While A Case Of Exploding Mangoes won't give you any real insights into what life in Pakistan is like, it does lift the veil on a period of history that neither the folks in Washington, Pakistan, or the Taliban would like anyone to remember. Its dark humour and merciless depiction of the politics of convenience make it a refreshing antidote to today's omnipresent "War On Terror" rhetoric.

A Case Of Exploding Mangoes can be purchased directly from Random House Canada or an on line retailer like Amazon.ca

May 19, 2008

The Case Of The Missing Kyoto Accord Chapter Seven

People have a lot of misconceptions about detective work. You hear private investigator and you normally think of tough talking guys, beautiful dames etc. Well the first might be true in my case – I tend to talk tough – some would say to make up for the deep-seated insecurities I have about myself, but since I don't tend to hang out with people who talk like that it doesn't matter what they say.

Besides if you can't have the pleasure of talking out the side of your mouth now and then what's the point of doing this type of work? Nine times out of ten you're doing just what that asshole flatfoot said: gathering evidence of infidelity for one or other parties in a marriage. People say we cause divorces, but what a client chooses to do with pictures of her husband playing spank the monkey with a young woman in maid's outfit is up to her not me: P.I.'s don't cause divorces, people do.

On occasion we do run across some genuinely beautiful women but in most cases I only get to see them through the telephoto lens on my camera or in the developing tray in my darkroom. I don't even keep copies of the prints. Once you start and word gets around, and don't kid yourself it will, you'll find yourself one day with more trouble then you can handle as certain parties might be tempted to try to get rid of incriminating evidence.

Oh I've been tempted on occasion, but a few seconds contemplating my body with extra holes in it, or foreign objects sticking out of it laid out on a slab cures me of the thought. I don't like contemplating mortality at the best of times, and my own just isn't something I'm prepared to mess around with no matter how tempting. Dying for an 8"X10" photograph just seems like such a waste.

The one that really gets me, and I blame the Goddamn Brits for this with their drawing room murder investigations is the great public revelation of the killer. It's really that crazy old bigoted bat Hagatha whose to blame for it you know. Even her pansy Belgium hero is treated like dirt and made out to be an object of ridicule in spite of being the one to always put "the cads" in jail.

Anyway all her books end with the whole cast of characters gathered together in the drawing room where the detective reveals who did, where, and with what motive. I've had people come to me for divorce case investigation and they look almost devastated when I hand them the envelope with the photos, videotape, and nicely written report. They want some of that drama that they see in the b- movies, like I'm going to pull aside a curtain revealing their soon to be ex busy humping away with their paramour or something.

If only, my life would be a lot more fun if I had opportunities for a little bit of that action – I mean the drawing room mystery revelation action not the soon to be ex humping her paramour in my office. Although I'm not saying a live sex show wouldn't liven the place up now and then – I've never been really one for taking my work home with me.

But as I was thinking about all that had gone in the previous weeks with Dr. Magneson being killed, right behind my eyes so to speak, my conversations with various interested and interesting parties, and knowing that I had solved both the problem of who murdered the good Doctor and the disappearance of the Kyoto Accord, I saw this could be the perfect opportunity for me to act out my own drawing room revelation. I had the requisite parties: a mysterious femme fatale, a couple of rough customers, and a pretty ingénue. With the four of them and my two buddies from the cop shop it would be a tight fit in here, I wasn't even sure I had enough chairs or coffee cups to go around, but it could still work.

It would also be a good way of ensuring the murderous one didn't get the opportunity to have me alone and perform open-heart surgery through my spine like what had happened to the good Doc. The two cops were my security against being folded, mutilated and spindled after I'd confronted the killer. I've never understood the idiots in the B movies who go alone to the killer's house and expect him to surrender meekly when confronted with the truth of his perfidy. They always seem so surprised when he or she pulls a gun on them or puts the knife through their heart. What did they expect anyway, that confronted with the truth a cold-blooded murderer would give themselves up out of remorse? Sheesh, what idiots.

Nope I was going to make damn sure that I had heavily armed and dangerous people in the same room who were on my side. If things started to get ugly I wanted to make sure that the ugliest people in the room were with me, and I couldn't think of two uglier guys then McIntosh and Gates. Anyway they seem to enjoy their work and I'm sure the opportunity to arrest someone in such public circumstances would tickle their fancies – if a cop has a fancy to be tickled.

They were my first call and although I can't say that they were happy to hear from me, at least they didn't ask me to come over and play with their rubber hoses and phone books. Taking that as a sign that our relationship was improving I ran my idea by them and in spite of a lot of grumbling and swearing on their part they said they'd be there.

I think part of it was that under those gruff exteriors beat the heart of sadists who got their jollies out of arresting people in as public and humiliating a manner as possible. Since this had the potential of it being me, at least in their eyes, being the one publicly humiliated and arrested – if I fell on my face they guaranteed I'd get something in return for wasting their time – that was enough incentive for them to assure me of their cooperation on the day.

Then it was a matter of me persuading four out of five of the other interested parties to show up. I knew the fifth, being Dr. Magneson, had a previous engagement with a six foot hole if he wasn't still spending time in a one size fits all bag slotted away in the oversized filing cabinets they stowed the bodies in down at the city morgue. That left my three friends from the Health Food emporium and Dr. Magneson jr.

It was my pretty friend who answered the phone on three rings and I have to say her voice brightened considerably when she heard my dulcet tones on the other end of the line. When I mentioned that I also wanted her too bring along the two others her voice registered disappointment, but I convinced her of the necessity of their presence by saying I needed to go over out conversations together again because I think that I'd managed to figure out who our culprit was.

She sounded a bit cheerier after that, and I felt even cheerier when she suggested she and I could maybe have a more private discussion afterwards. She said something about making it up to me for having been the cause of my headache that day. Maybe, she said she could work the kinks out of my shoulders. I could almost hear her blush down the phone line when I said I had several kinks that I bet she didn't even know existed, but I'd love for her to help me work them out.

That's the type of conversation that always warms the cockles of my heart, not to mention certain unmentionable, in polite conversation, body parts. Anyway I'd have to quell thoughts like those if I wanted to prevent the blood rushing from my head leaving me incapable of thinking along any lines but one. I was dealing with a cold-blooded murderer and needed to have whatever limited resources I possessed at my disposal.

The final call I had to make was going to be the toughest – it wasn't that I didn't think la Morgenstern wanted to find out who killed her papa, but I just wasn't too sure how well she'd react when I told her the threesome from her dad's clandestine meetings would be showing up. Surprisingly enough that didn't turn out to be much of a problem, what did was her trying to convince me to tell her in advance who the killer was.

After all, she pointed out very reasonably, it was her dad someone had tried to open with a single bladed can-opener. The only way I could forestall her was to ask if she thought she'd be able to sit in the same room as the person she knew to be her father's murderer without giving the game away. She had the good grace to realize the sense in that and promised she would see me at the appointed time: High Noon on that coming Monday.

That had been McIntosh's idea, and I could hear Gates cackling in the room behind him. I didn't mind the image, me facing down the lone murderer, but I was kinda of hoping to avoid the fireworks of the original. I'm not really cut out for the Gary Cooper type rolls – Groucho Marx maybe – by not Gary Cooper. Still the fate was acomplis as the French liked to say, and in just two days the clock would strike and somebody would be going home in a pumpkin for murder.

When the day of the great revelation dawned, it seemed only fitting that the weather in Ottawa was positively apocalyptical, with intermittent showers being relieved by sleet and hail. As I stood at the window staring, and trying to figure out if any of the bizarreness in weather had to do with climate changes, someone tried the handle to the office door.

When whoever it was realized they weren't going to get any satisfaction that way, a gentle knock on the door followed.

"Were not open! If you're having troubles with reading the sign it says office hours 11:00 am until 5:00 pm. Go away until a clock reads somewhere between those two numbers."

"It's me" said a very familiar and sultry voice of the Nordic persuasion.

"You"? I replied

"Me"! She said.

Sure enough when I opened the door it was her; The beautiful, ash blonde, Scandinavian who started me on this search when she showed up in the office all those months ago; Morgenstern. Although she was just as stunningly beautiful now as she had been the first time she crossed my threshold, something was going on inside that perfectly shaped head that was causing her enough distraction that she was marring the smoothness of her temples with unsightly creases.

She brushed by in a waft of fancy shower gels and other exotic feminine scents guaranteed to beguile and bewitch the male olfactory glands, and proceeded into the office. She didn't stop until she was perched on the edge of my desk looking back at me still standing there with the door waiting to be closed behind her. She held my gaze for a second before letting her eyes break the contact to look down at the floor. From another person I would have taken that as an apology, but in her case...Let's just say I'd never figured her for the humble type.

I'd never be able to prove it, but I'd swear during the moment of breaking contact she was able to do a quick scan of the room, ascertaining if she was truly the first arrival. She visibly relaxed when she released that nobody else was here – whatever it was she wanted to say obviously was meant for my ears only.

I'd say it didn't take me longer then a second to close the door, which meant my head must have been turned away from her for a little less then that, so I can only figure her purse had been open and she had this all planed out in advance - the only other explanation for the gun appearing in her hand as quickly as it did implied magic that I don't believe in - so I'll settle for the pre-planned approach.

I guess I'd find out soon enough what she was gonna settle for.

April 30, 2008

The Case Of The Missing Kyoto Accord Chapter Six

Whether or not I fell like the proverbial ton of bricks, it sure felt like I had been hit over the head with them. When I came to it was with feelings I'd normally associate with the morning after the night before washing over me. The pain cutting through my head made it feel like I was ready to be outfitted for a Frankenstein stitch job, or at the least some sort of zipper assembly that would keep the top part of my head from separating from the bottom.

But there were some noticeable differences, most obviously being the fact that it seemed my legs were bound to the chair I was plopped into and my hands in lap were first tied to themselves than connected to my feet's bonds via yet another cord. For vegetarians they certainly knew their way around trussing the main course for roasting and basting at 375 degrees for a couple of hours until done.

Whoever was responsible was either brilliant or blind lucky and it didn't matter which as the result was still the same. Any time I tried to fidget with my feet in the hopes of loosing their bounds the ropes around my hands seemed to tighten and vice versa. I figured by the time I had loosened anything significantly either my hands or feet would have fallen off due to lack of circulation..

What with my head still feeling like the axe was still sticking out of the back at a jaunty angle, and my limbs trussed like a pork roast, I was quite content to sit quietly and await what was ever coming. It could explain why the next thing I knew was that I heard the sound of voices whispering in front of me. Dozing off had the unexpected payoff of reducing my head pain substantially, as well as allowing some free eavesdropping time as the voices were obviously under the impression I was still out.

"I thought you said you didn't hit him that hard? He looks like he's got brain damage," said the first voice. It sounded like a woman's, deeper than most but still a woman and I suspected it was the one who I had followed into the dead end.

"Hey you were the one who was all panicky about being followed. Anyway what does it matter, he's just another Fed. We'll give him a shot, find out what he knows then let him go. If he shows up back at headquarters sounding like he's a few bricks short of a load whose going to notice over there? Most of them talk like they've seen recent contact with the flat edge of a 2 X 4 anyway."

They thought I was a fed, while it was slightly insulting; it was also understandable given their circumstances. It also made life both a little easier and a little more precarious at the same time. If I was able to convince them of the fact that I was working the same side of the street as they were and not a fed they might not look on me with such suspicion. Of course if I wasn't able to do that I could end up being injected with some sort of truth drug that also seemed to remove a good chunk of a person's reasoning skills.

"Well the horsemen are going be happy if you keep making their job easier by knocking out everyone whose sneaking around behind their backs trying to figure who offed the professor, and who is trying to stuff the Kyoto accord so far up a chimney at the same time, that it will just be so many more toxic emissions if it can't be found soon." I had decided to try and brazen it out with the truth, cause sometimes you never know people might believe you.

It was kind of hard for me to decipher their reactions as I was seated in the centre of the pool of light cast by a naked bulb hanging over my head like that Greek dude's sword, and they were lurking in the shadows. I could tell that I had startled them, but that could just as easily be put down to them not knowing I was among the conscious more than anything else.

Whatever other effects my little speech might have had on them, at least it got them to come into my circle of light. I was right about the woman's voice, it belonged to the one who I'd followed from the store. She was your typical granola number down to her lack of make up, thick socks and expensive German made sandals. It didn't stop her from being attractive, but in an earnest political sort of way that I knew from experience could fast become tedious.

The guy was cut from the same cloth; only he had a slightly harder edge to him. He was that new breed of political activist who the cops hadn't figured out yet, computer and tech savvy, with no worries about employing violence if attacked. Cops hadn't managed to upgrade their thinking from the days of passive resistance and when they ran into people who picked up their tear gas canisters and calmly lobbed them back at them it still confused them.

The demonstrators had their own version of shock troops now who would stand up to the first wave of a baton flailing riot cop charge to give their more passive brethren and sisters a chance to escape. The guy in front of me was a prime example of the type, tall, leanly muscled and tough as whip cord. I had no trouble believing that he'd been the one to administer the love tap that left me counting teeth with the tip of my tongue.

After, I don't know maybe thirty seconds – maybe an hour – of them staring at me and me trying to stare back at them without staring because it seemed to hurt just a little too much to use my eyes that much, and without anybody saying anything. I was just about to try again when she spoke up.

"What do you know about Professor Magnesen?" she asked

"Now that's an interesting first question to ask, not why were your following me, or what do you want, but about a person who I haven't said I even know. What I do know is that you know him, which I didn't know before; thanks" I said brightly.

She certainly turned a very pretty shade of red when she flushed, whether it was with anger or embarrassment didn't make much of a difference in my book. He on the other hand didn't have the same redeeming qualities when he flushed. If he was pissed at her for giving something away, or pissed at me for being a wiseass was irrelevant as he was bound to take his displeasure out on me not her.

"Okay smart ass we you've proved that you aren't just another pretty face, but why should we believe that you're not a cop and you still didn't answer her question about what you know about the professor. So why don't you be a good guy and answer the lady's questions and maybe I'll forget what a rude bastard you were to her." He reached behind him and pulled one of the largest hunting knives I've ever seen out of belt sheath and began cleaning his nails with it. He saw me staring at it, and nodded his head once as encouragement that I shouldn't be shy about speaking my piece for much longer.

"Well first of all I know he was working on a project for the government that would have reduced green house gasses substantially while actually improving the economy instead of harming it, until the government changed and his program funding was yanked. I know that he started meeting with some environmentalists about something or other and that some government department was starting to get very interested in his files at home."

I paused for breath here and tried to gauge their reactions, but neither of them was giving anything away. They both were just staring at me waiting to hear what I had to say next. So far anything I had told them didn't tell them what they really wanted to know; who I was. The feds would have known all that I had said up till now so they still didn't have any reason to believe me when I said I wasn't working for the government. I was going to have to lay as many cards as possible on the table.

"A short while I was contacted by a client to investigate the disappearance of the Kyoto accord. I got a call at the office one night and I was supposed to meet someone over at a strip club in Hull. He showed up alright, but he arrived to see me with one of the biggest hunting knives I've ever seen sticking out of his back." I said this last bit being very careful not to look at the blade whose point the guy was now digging into the wooden tabletop in front of me.

"Since then I've been trying to trace backward through his life in an attempt to figure out who killed him and what he'd been working on that has people so scared that even after he's dead they're still trying to shut him up." I followed you", pointing with my chin at the woman" because I hoped you'd be able to help me find some answers. Given my reception I can only hope that we might be of some assistance to each other."

The guy and the woman exchanged glances, she raised an eyebrow and he nodded his head in return. He kept the knife in his hand and came at me with point pointed directly at my chest. He flipped it over in his hand so that the cutting edge was pointing up and swung the knife up and through the ropes binding my wrists. He then bent down and sliced through the cords around my feet.

He stepped back and took up his position beside the table again as I shook my hands and feet in an attempt to restore some of the circulation that I'd lost while I'd been strapped in. More and more I'm convinced that I would never be cut out for bondage. I just don't like mixing work with pleasure that much.

I was still busy rubbing at my wrists and ankles when the woman spoke up. "Look", she said, "we're really sorry about all this", waving her hand as if taking in the basement, my skull and being tied to a chair, "but ever since the professor was killed we've been really scared about what's going on. Why would they want to kill him just because he had good ideas about how we could reach our commitment to the Kyoto accord and be able to help other countries do the same."

"Yeah", said the guy," I hope I didn't do too much damage, but our nerves are stretched pretty raw right about now. Not only can't we figure out why anyone would have wanted the professor dead, we don't have much idea as to who could have done it. When you showed up nosing around…well we though we might be able to crack you open about who you were working for and get some answers."

He sighed, and shook his head. "But we're still no further ahead and there aren't even any clues to go on. It doesn't sound like you know that much more than we do." He sucked in a big breath of air." Damn this is frustrating. He was so close to answers, in fact we believe he might have even had them already, but was playing it close to the vest as he could see the departments he had built for research and development slowly being dismantled due to budget cut backs and funding not being renewed. He had contacted us late in the summer before the Election, knowing that even a potential Stephen Harper victory would destroy his life's work"

"When they couldn't do that, they destroyed him instead" her voice was choked as if close to tears, and I looked at her closely. "The reason he approached us was that I had been a student to his at the University. One day, accidentally he said, by coincidence he said he came in here and we got to chatting. He wanted to know what I was up to, If I had kept up being active in environmental groups after leaving school. He also wanted to know if I had been following the discussions about global warming in the papers and was as worried as he was by what he called the irresponsible science issuing from some world capitals"

She paused as if to gather her thoughts, or to just take the deep breath that would see her through the rest of her story. "After a while he asked me if I knew a couple of other people who were active in environmental groups who might like to learn some information that they could put to good use. So we began to go over to his house at odd hours to try and shake off any potential tails. Judging by the outcome to date we haven't succeeded in doing much except getting our patron killed"

The silence that followed her little speech was exceptionally empty as we all sat with our own thoughts for a minute or two. Finally she broke it and in a rather choked voice looked at me, then over at her erstwhile companion, and asked the question whose answer I had come looking for. "What do we do now?"

April 24, 2008

An Earth Day Interview With Mother Earth

Well another Earth Day has come and gone presenting us with an ideal time to check in with Mother Earth and see how she's doing these days as compared to last year at this time. (Does anybody know when Earth Day was this year - I thought it was supposed to be every April 23rd, but it looks like people were getting all Green on the 22nd this year) It's harder and harder to get in touch with Mother Earth these days as she has so much on her plate, but I was finally able to track her down and ask her a few questions.

When you think about it, we really don't know that much about the Mother do we, heck I bet none of us even know when she was born! Of course everybody has their own theory as to a date, but from the religious to the scientific we're all just guessing. One thing I do know for sure, whatever her age may be, she's really starting to show it. There are deep lines on her face which weren't even there a year ago, she's become even more stooped over then ever, and she's developed a really nasty cough.

When I finally caught up to her she didn't seem to be in the best of moods considering it was Earth Day, with people all over the world celebrating how much they cared about her. I thought she was being somewhat ungracious and decided to call her on it.

I'm surprised that you're so put out, given the fact that people all over the world have been making a big fuss about you. Don't you think you could be acting a little more grateful

Mother Earth: Oh, and I've got so much to be grateful for. Three hundred and sixty four day a year they don't think twice about spitting on me, and I'm supposed to feel grateful for them for taking one day to pick up some garbage? I'm still going to have to figure out what to do with all the crap they pick up today aren't I? No don't answer, it was a rhetorical question idiot.

What do you think is going to happen with all the garbage that gets picked up today? It's going to go where garbage always goes; into landfill, onto a garbage scow in New Jersey, or burnt in an incinerator. It means that I'm still going to have to figure out how to bio-degrade shit, pray to whoever that the damned scow doesn't sink dumping its load in the river, and trying to absorb another load of CO2 from it being burned. Not much different from any other day of the year as far as I'm concerned.

But doesn't it make you feel like people at least care about what's happening to you?

Mother Earth: Care? Care! If they god damned cared they wouldn't have dumped the garbage they're picking up in the first place. Don't talk to me about caring asshole. For the last, I don't know how many billions of years, I've worked at creating this really incredibly, delicate, balance called the natural order of things where all of life is beautifully interconnected. It's a god damned work of art if you ask me, but what do you philistines do?

Ever since you climbed out of the trees there's been somebody among you who thinks that they can do this creation thing better than I can and proceeds to rip great big holes in the web that ties everything together. I'm left scurrying to try and patch it up somehow and mitigate the damage.

Of all the animals on this planet humans were the only ones given the ability to reason, but you couldn't tell that by your actions. You people should know better. But you still shit and piss in the water you plan on drinking the next day, dump poison into the air that you need to breath in order to survive, and cut down the trees, that if given half a chance might be able to clean the air for you, to build another strip mall. Those aren't the actions of a caring and responsible people, let along rationale or reasonable.

If you were dumb like pigs or cows, while it would be understandable, but humans are supposedly intelligent and rational. Therefore, the only explanation I'm left with for your behaviour is you don't care. What else I'm supposed to think?

Well, but that was in the past. Don't you think we're getting better - look at all the things we're doing to try and fix what we've done wrong

Mother Earth: Recycling, car-pooling, florescent light bulbs, and composting your kitchen wastes are known where I come from as both, too little to late and useless as tits on a bull. Oh don't look so shocked you little putz, it's the truth. Look, those are all really nice things, and I do appreciate that the people doing them are genuine in their desire to make changes in their lives to help me. That only makes it doubly sad that it's not really doing any good.

The reality is that no matter what the government and the corporations who own them say, it's not the fault of individuals that the world is in the trouble its in. For the last couple of hundred years a small minority of humans have been making huge amounts of money off the the labour of the majority and at the expense of the planet's health. Mass production of anything leads to massive generation of waste directly and indirectly.

Not only does a manufacturer have the potential to create waste products through the direct operation of his business, but there's also the demands he makes upon other sectors of the system. First of all he needs power in order for his equipment to work so that means electricity has to be generated for his use. Then there are the raw materials he is going to be making use of in his manufacturing process. If he uses metal, that means a steel mill is involved, and there's all the waste and pollution they generate, and all the electricity they're going to need to make their equipment work.

Sooner or later you'll figure out that I don't have an endless supply of anything and I'm going to start running out of the stuff you need to feed the beast you've created. As the supply decreases and the demand increases what do you see being the end result? One day you're going to go to the cupboard and it's going to bare and then what's going to happen? Oh the corporations and their pet politicians will reassure you that it can never happen, that there's always new sources of oil laying untapped beneath the sea or under the perma-frost just waiting to feed us all. Even if you do find a way to get at that oil, it's only a stop-gap. It will run dry eventually.

You can already hear the wheels grinding to a stop. In their desperation to find more fuel for the beast's insatiable appetite they're causing famine by using land that once grew food for humans to try and find a way to sustain the unsustainable by growing plants they can turn into fuel. They're also stealing the water that we all need to drink to stay alive by diverting rivers with dams to create hydroelectric power. The world is experiencing food shortages to such an extent already that riots have started to break out because people are starving.

The more water they steal, and the more land they take, the less food there will be and people will starve. A starving population is a desperate population and they will make the food riots of today look like a day at the beach. The question is not whether the system will fail or not, it's how will the system fail? Will it grind to a stop because you've run out of fuel or will it explode into a million pieces as you run out of food for all the mouths in the world.

Now go away - you bother me.

Well you can see Mother Earth was in quite the mood. Can you believe some of the stuff she was coming up with? Talk about not understanding the big picture - what does she expect us to do? Shut down all the factories? As if that's going to ever happen. Mother Earth might know all about growing things but she's really out of touch with what it means to be human.

March 28, 2008

Book Review: Tank Girl: Armadillo! Alan C. Martin

I remember an interview with John Cleese of Monty Python fame where he described how they came up with the skits they performed on their old television series. They would, he said, simply take the most illogical premise to its logical conclusion. That was all very well and good, but half the time I don't think I could even get my head around what the premise was on half the old skits on Monty Python's Flying Circus let alone working them out to their logical conclusion.

In fact the thing I used to like best about that show and a few others of similar ilk was that they didn't have anything for the logical brain to hold onto. All you could do was sit back, enjoy the ride, and don't be too bothered about not understanding the whys and what-for of the action. It was a blissful descent into pure and utter chaotic anarchy that seems to be something uniquely English. Maybe it has something to do with living in a society which has been so rigidly class bound for so long that invites such out and out anarchy as a response.

Whatever the reason, the Brits have a long history of being right over the edge when it comes to comedy. Predating Monty Python with The Goon Show and Beyond The Fringe, and continuing on with stuff like The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy and Red Dwarf. It's not only television and radio that's been host to their comic insanity (Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy first saw life as a Radio show) but comics as well. Of these, the reigning queen of over the top is without a doubt Tank Girl
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The Tank Girl comic, and the indomitable character herself, first saw the light of day in 1988 thanks to the talents of writer Alan C. Martin and illustrator Jamie Hewlett. Together the two men created three graphic novels featuring the outrageous adventures of the girl and her tank. She and her friends fight a never ending war against injustice, anybody that pisses them off, and perform feats of daring that usually involve high powered ammunition and lots of things that go boom. Cutting a tank wide swath through the Australian Outback, they eat well, drink lots, and knock over the occasional bank when in need of cash.

While it might appear on the surface that Tank Girl and her friends are random acts of violence simply waiting to happen, there's far to them than meets the eye. To gain a deeper understanding of the maelstrom that is Tank Girl, you really need to read Tank Girl: Armadillo!, her first completely prose adventure written by Alan C. Martin and published by Titan Books.

Tank Girl: Armadillo! features a novella of the same name, plus some bonus features including a couple of comic scripts awaiting illustrations, poems, and other short writings where our heroine is in full action mode. It's the novella though where most of the action takes place and also where we get a whole bunch more information about Tank Girl herself, and a little bit of insight into the philosophy behind Alan C. Martin's creation.

In his introduction to Tank Girl: Armadillo! he talks about how we are continually bombarded with sensual stimulation until we are literally drowning in information overload. To combat this we raise shells to defend ourselves and learn how to shut off our sensory receptors. Unfortunately by doing this we also block our flow of creative energy. In this way, Martin says, the modern world refuses us our right to be who we are.

Like armadillos we're naked under our armour, and if we didn't create this armour we would be swamped and overwhelmed. According to Martin we need to take control of our armour and not let it form as a reaction to the greed and manipulation of advertisers, politicians, and the rest of the information merchants in order to survive. That's where Tank Girl comes in; her armour is in plain view and she makes damn sure that nobody is going to sell her snake oil of any shape or form.
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So that's the context for reading Tank Girl: Armadillo and it's all very well and good, but I defy anybody to remember that while reading the story. Well maybe it's percolating somewhere in the back of your skull, but the truth of the matter is that it's far too easy to get caught up in the sheer crazy, insanity of the story. I think the secret to enjoying this story is that you make sure your seat belt is securely fastened, your dis-belief checked at the door, and you hang on tight because your in for the ride of my life.

You see the self righteous folk of the town of Chankers, (rhymes with wankers), have been abusing the love of Tank Girls' life, Booga the kangaroo, since he was just young. Now they have finally crossed the line by kidnapping him, tying him up in the basement of the town church and punishing him for being a sinner. There's only one thing to do in a case like this; bring down death and destruction with all the armament the tank can bring to bear.

Of course it's not just death and destruction, there's also some random acts of stupidity and other completely nonsensical incidents which don't bear repeating, but are all good clean fun. Well not really - more like heavy duty anarchic chaos that's good for the soul and bad for the establishment. That's the thing about Tank Girl, she's got a fine sense of justice and a good notion of right and wrong. Sure she might over react just a teensy bit now and then, but sometimes the only way people are going to listen to you is if you drop a small nuclear device on their town.

I think what I appreciated most about Tank Girl: Armadillo! is Alan C. Martin's writing. I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this book when it came to how the story was going to be told, but not only can he write some mean chaotic prose, he also give us pauses in the action which are not only poetic, but actual poetry. It might sound corny, but these poetic interludes show us the Tank Girl who would exist if she didn't have to be concerned about wearing armour to protect herself from the havoc of everyday existence.

Tank Girl: Armadillo! is the natural heir to the British comedy shows of the 1960's and 1970's like Monty Python's Flying Circus in that it also takes an illogical situation to its most logical conclusion. The only difference is that Tank Girl: Armadillo! has far more basis in reality than those other shows did. On the surface this is a hoot and a holler, but underneath it all is a call to arms.

We could all use a little more Tank Girl in our lives and Tank Girl: Armadillo! is just the answer. It goes on sale in mid April at book dealers of class and style everywhere.

March 20, 2008

Book Review: Callisto Torsten Krol

I have no idea where the misconception came from that satire has to be funny. Satire can be funny on occasion, but as it is a means of criticizing society there are going to be times that it won't be funny in the slightest. Anyway, the things that one person finds problematic in life, another person is going to believe in devoutly, meaning that there's always going to be someone who doesn't get the joke no matter how funny you make satire.

Classic satires like George Orwell's Animal Farm, where he equated Stalinist Russia with a barn yard revolution and showed the leaders of the revolution becoming as corrupt as the usurped masters, isn't funny at all once you understand what's being depicted. Yet for far too many people it's become a silly cartoon to be taken at its surface value where you laugh at the antics of the funny animals. For the modern satirist to be successful, which in my mind means getting his or her audience to question the status quo, he or she has to find a way to bring their audience to the point where they see how ridiculous things are, without their attention being diverted by the humour.

The other major difficulty facing a satirist is ensuring that the object of the satire doesn't become the object of the audiences' affection. If you start identifying with Homer Simpson or Archie Bunker, how are you going to see them as the objects of ridicule that they are supposed to be? If a character is to represent an area of malaise in society what does that say if the audience feels sympathy for him? While it could mean that society is a lot worse off then the author thought, it usually means that the character's creator hasn't been as honest in his depiction as necessary.
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In his latest novel, Callisto, Australian author Torsten Krol has created a character, who while not necessarily un-likeable, isn't going to be someone that most of his readership are going to want to admit identifying with. Odell Deefus is what most people would call a few bricks short of a load, or any of the other euphemisms people might have for the genuinely stupid. If his IQ were any lower he could be considered developmentally challenged, and somewhere else he might have been, but not in the heartland of America, Yoder Wyoming, where Odell was brought up.

Of course as Odell is our source of all information for his little adventure in twenty-first century real-politic, he's not about to admit to the fact that he's what a generous person would call slow. In fact he goes out of his way to draw our attention to his great intellect by informing us that he's read The Yearling sixteen times. (It won the Pulitzer Prize so it can't be a book for dumb people) Anyway, Odell is intent on reassuring us about his intelligence because he wants us to take the story he's about to recount seriously.

Once he starts telling us the story you begin to understand why he's so desperate to assure us of his grip on sanity, and his ability to think straight. Through an amazing series of coincidences, misadventures, misunderstandings, (there are a lot of those when Odell is involved), and straight out stupidity, Odell ends up involved with a scheme to run drugs into a local prison, a murder investigation, and the attention of the good folk at Homeland Security on suspicion of terrorist activity. To think it was all because he was making his way to the enlistment centre in Callisto Kansas so he could do his patriotic duty and go over and kill some of them Islamic extremists.

He figures he stands a good chance of being signed up, even though he doesn't have a high school diploma, because they now have a test you can take instead. Besides they're so desperate for recruits they're offering a bonus for signing up, so they're not going to be too bothered about whether a fellow's graduated or not. Anyway what else kind of work is available these days for a guy without a high school diploma. Nope the army is just thing for a guy like Odell, and the millions of others like him across America.

Odell is not the only character in the book of course, but he is the centre of everyone's attention from the moment his car breaks down on the outskirts of Callisto when he's on his way to the recruiting centre. (Which had been closed for about a year by the time Odell gets there due to lack of interest) Most people on meeting Odell for the first time realize what a golden opportunity he is for whatever plans they might want carried out. A born again Christian preacher, drug running prison guards, a right wing politician, the FBI, and the boys from Homeland Security all see him as the answer to their prayers. What none of them count on is Odell's own unique way of seeing the world and how it will enable him to thwart them at every turn.

Torsten Krol, (whose a bit of a mystery as he does no publicity and only communicates to his agent by the internet leading to intense speculation as to his true identity), has created in Odell Deefus a character who is almost to naive to believe. Yet, once we learn to accept Odell's vision of the world and allow ourselves to see it through his eyes, everything he does makes perfect sense. Torsten has imbued him with an emotional depth, and honesty, that is humbling. For we, like all the other characters in the book, have the tendency to stop treating him like a human being and only see the surface fool.

Krol exposes our own callousness through Odell, and we can laugh all we want at how he's being deceived by the other characters in the book until a couple of things strike us. What happened to our compassion that this person who is being treated like dirt by everyone around him elicits our scorn instead of our sympathy? The second thing is that we slowly realize if we're laughing at him for still buying the line about duty and patriotism being more important then civil rights; that if we're laughing at him for any of the things he's honest enough to admit being taken in by, aren't we laughing at ourselves just as much because we've been taken in as well.

For the world that Odell Deefus lives in is the same world we live in. While some of the characters, are slightly cartoonish, they are very real representations of the types they represent in our world. Beneath the buffoonery reality is there in all its stark ugliness, and in the end not even Odell's delusions can protect him from it. To me this is satire at it's finest, as Krol creates characters and situations that are nearly cartoon, but have enough reality in them for us to recognize them as our own world, while ensuring all the while we are laughing at ourselves without knowing it.

Not everyone is going to like Torsten Krol's depiction of life in America, or enjoy the book that much for that reason. Unfortunately it's not always a pleasant thing to look in a mirror and see yourself on a particularly bad day, and that's what Torsten Krol has done - caught America in the midst of a very bad day.

March 10, 2008

The Case Of Missing Kyoto Accord: Chapter Four

Well it looked like I had run into a dead end. I should have known better than to think any of the bar's phones or their accoutrements, which is a fancy way of saying the shit that goes with something, would have survived the types of drunks, junkies, and liars that habituate a strip bar. Probably the first drunk husband whose wife had told him not to come home from wherever he was had performed the Charles Atlas trick on the "Let My Fingers Do the Walking" tome at the first booth.

The second looked like it had been used to mop up something that I didn't want to have a better acquaintance with and the third, like someone had used it as practice before they perforated the late, lamented Doctor Magneson. Sighing a curse or two at the perfidy of my fellow men I headed for the office where I was certain I could find a phone book in somewhat better shape than any of these relics.

After two hours of questioning my sanity and a half bottle of whiskey later I came across the phone book for the National Capital Region (Ottawa, Hull, and anywhere else in the vicinity that uncivil servants might hang their coats and hats) propping up a window. It had sustained a little damage from water and the neighbouring pigeons, and the mice had absconded with the zeds (poor as synagogue mice as they were making they're way through the book backwards) for comfort, but at least the section where gorgeous Scandinavian blondes kept their phone numbers looked to be intact.

That is if they kept their phone number in phone books at all. Two hours of scouring the phone book only confirmed the fact that there was no Magnesons to be found with a listed phone number anywhere within the confines of this sorry excuse for a city. There are 600 Martins, and four different ways that people seem to spell MacDonald, Mcdonald, MaCdonald, and Macdonald, but no damn Magnesons.

Some items when they cause you frustration don't have the decency to give you any means of release. A phone book on the other hand has a nice bit of heft to it so when you decide to chuck it across the room it will make a resounding thud. Indeed if you throw it hard enough not only will it make a satisfying noise, it will rip through cheap drywall like an elephant's fart through tissue paper.

It took my a few seconds to realize that the ringing sound I was hearing in my ears was unrelated to the minor bit of renovation I had begun seconds ago, and had more to do with the phone sitting on my desk than anything else. I was using less then the usual requisite number of brain cells required to carry on a phone conversation when I picked up the receiver; half of them being awash in the best part of a fifth of Canadian Club, another chunk trying to visualize how the filing cabinet would look on the other side of the door, and the remainder trying to figure out how long it would take the mice to work there way backwards through the whole alphabet now that they had ready access to the source.

So it took me a second or two to remember what I was supposed to do with the piece of cheap plastic in my hand out of which a sultry voice was calling hello with increasing amounts of urgency. I tried to shake off thoughts of mice in knit yarmulkes and me wearing a truss, the way a dog shakes off water, and was rewarded with the office attempting to spin me into orbit. It was only by catching the desk with my chin that I was able to prevent myself from hitting the floor.

Pain has the remarkable ability to clear your brain and let you focus on the events at hand. After the sparks that had appeared out of nowhere in front of my eyes had vanished I noticed that I was holding on to the phone. I was just about to hang it up when I heard a vaguely familiar sounding voice saying, "Oh my God what's going on, is there anybody there? Hello, hello?"

"Lady could you keep your voice down I've got quite the headache all of a sudden and you're not helping any by yelling away like this" There was now a much appreciated silence at the other end of the line which allowed me to regain a little bit of my composure so that I could go about this the right way. After all she had just lost the man who I assumed to be her father in a rather grisly fashion and that called for a certain amount of delicacy. (Who else did you think it was going to be on the phone at this time of night in this kind of story – sheesh)

"Why did you do it? Why did you kill your father tonight Ms. Magnesen? I saw you running away from the bar just as he keeled over at my feet so don't deny you were there and that you fled. Any normal girl would have stayed, you see your father drop to the floor like a ton of bricks and you're heading for the proverbial hills – something ain't right with that picture Ms. Magnesen and your gonna have to help me bring it into focus."

There was a pause from the other end of the phone line, followed by the unmistakeable sounds of someone taking a large drag off a cigarette followed by a long slow exhale. Visualizing in my head just how those actions would affect her lips and the thoughts that sprang to mind with those images left me a little light headed again. I barely recovered in time to hear what she had to say next.

"I guess I'm not what you'd call a normal girl Mr?" her voicing trailing away in a suggestive question mark led me to quickly interject in a still somewhat shaky voice "just call me Steve, Ms. Magnesen" to which she replied "there's no need for you to be formal either, Steve; call me Gertrude" Immediately destroying any of the earlier mental images that I had envisioned. Gertrude is just one of those names where even knowing the person in question would look good in a potato sack makes me think of particularly hairy great aunts.

Another cigarette inhalation pause followed this exchange of names, this time bereft of any accompanying imagery, until she continued with, " But then again my dad and I hadn't been having what you would call a normal existence for the past while"

I made appreciative, and what I hoped were encouraging noises, and made myself comfortable on the floor, noticing with contentment that the remainder of the fifth was within easy reach having rolled onto the floor in the confusion. I hooked the bottle over to me with my foot and was carefully unscrewing the cap as she began her story.

"My dad and I had moved up to Ottawa a few years ago, my mother had died from cancer and neither of us could bear to be around places that reminded us of her. He felt especially guilty because his work had kept him from home during a great deal of her last months with us and he knew that he wished that he could have spent more time with her.

I had ended up being her primary care giver, having to bathe her, change her diapers when she could no longer get up to go to the bathroom on her own, and eventually feed her. While he was off at conferences on climate change and global warming I'd be at home making broth and rolling her over in bed to prevent bed sores. He told me later that he was sorry that he had left so much of the burden on my shoulders but he couldn't stand to see her like what she was becoming.

That broken collection of bones and skin with no intellect or brain wasn't the person he had married. No matter how hard he tried he couldn't feel anything but revulsion for her when he was around her, and that ate at him like termites in a clapboard house. He had worshiped the ground she had walked on until the moment she had gotten sick, treating her like she was royalty, and then all of a sudden he found he couldn't go near her."

I was fighting back tears by this time, although that could have been residual pain and medicinal whiskey, so I wasn't all that surprised that she made a slight choking sound as if overcome with emotion and had to pause for a second. As there was nothing really that could be said, I said nothing and let her take all the time she needed to compose herself before she continued.

"Anyway when the previous government was working out ways to try and ensure that Canada was going to meet its Kyoto accord commitments a position became available requiring someone of dad's expertise and skills. I decided to go back to school and finish the thesis work I had begun when Mom had gotten sick and we began the process of putting our live back together.

Those couple of years were great; everyone dad was working with were excited about coming up with solutions that would not only see Canada meet its obligations, but actually exceed them. It was so great to see dad taking an interest in life again. There had been a time just after mom died that I was worried for him, and that I thought he might be going off the deep end into depression, but this new project had revitalized him.

Of course it was too good to be true, and all those other damn clichés about good stuff coming to an end, and last fall when it began to look like the Conservative Party Of Canada had a good chance of forming the next government, dad started asking questions about the accord's future if the change were to happen and it didn't look good.

The word he got was that even if they were able to cut emissions by fifty per cent and improve the economy at the same time by an equal amount, the Conservatives were going to pull the plug on the deal no matter what. When words like 'setting a dangerous precedent for government regulatory powers and interference in the market place' start being bandied about, you could have discovered the cure for cancer and AIDS and you knew your funding would be killed and your program shut down.

Dad became like a figure obsessed; he began working all hours of the day and night in an effort to come up with a devise that could be used to convert carbon dioxide and other dangerous emissions into harmless substances when released into the atmosphere. He knew that even if the government had no intention of ever making use of this technology that there were others who would and could.

It was just before Christmas and after the election had been called that he let me in on a little of what he was planning, albeit it indirectly. He told me that I shouldn't be surprised if he started to receive visitors at home at all hours of the day and night, and that I shouldn't make a big deal out of it. He also said it would be a good idea if I didn't tell anybody about them either."

She stopped to light another cigarette and gather her thoughts for what I assumed was the crux of the matter. I had a good idea where this was going and beginning to see how it ended as badly as it did. I had long since abandoned the bottle of whiskey and was sitting propped up against the desk with my legs splayed out in front of me. Looking out the office window I could see the sky was beginning to change colour; the clouds of the previous night had dispersed and there was a faint blush appearing along the eastern horizon line. It looked like it was going to be a nice day for somebody, somebody who probably wasn't named Gertrude Magneson.

"Maybe I should have said something to him, asked him more about what he was doing, but he looked like he had hope for the first time since the beginning of the fall when we started to hear the rumours of our demise. After all we'd been through there was no way I was going to be the one to pull the rug out from under him.

Over the course of the next couple of weeks, up to Christmas and then twice more before New Years, the visits took place. They would usually happen between midnight and four in the morning and the person would arrive on bicycle or foot. Most of the time they'd only come one at a time, but on the last couple of occasions all three of them came together and these visits were also in daytime. It was as if they either believed they were completely safe or they no longer cared whether they were being observed.

The two men and a woman all dressed and looked pretty much the same. Long hair, bulky sweaters, fancy sandals with thick socks on no matter what the weather, and the same zealous fire in their eyes at all times. They were all sort of pale, like they didn't eat enough and never had anything to drink except water and herbal tea. The woman looked at me like I was some sort of evil monster and the two men would sneak looks at me when they didn't think I could see and they knew she wasn't looking.

Obviously they weren’t supposed to approve of me, the way I dressed or looked or something, but that didn't stop them from drooling just like any other straight male does the first time he sees me. I thought they were judgemental little hypocrites for judging me by my appearance, they were probably the types who protested against just that sort of thing, but I didn't say anything because my dad assured me their visits were temporary and they were helping him out in some way or another. Sure enough after those last couple of meetings before New Year's Eve we never saw them again.

After Christmas vacation my dad went back to work and waited for the inevitable to happen. After the elections rumours were flying fast and furious, but dad remained calm and when I asked him about it he just smiled and shrugged. But everything changed again a week after the oily bastards announced they were reneging on the Kyoto accord in order to 'seek a Canadian solution'.

I was at home working on my thesis and two men came to the door. They should have been wearing badges that said undercover R.C.M.P. officer or at least kept their stupid hats on they were so obvious. They said they were colleagues of dad's from work and that he had sent them by the house for some files he needed that he kept at home, and would I mind letting them come in to get them. I told them I would have to check with him first, and pretended to walk back into the house to use the phone, but in reality just slipped around the corner and observed them in the reflection from the hall mirror.

Not much of a surprise that they didn't wait for me to come back from making my 'phone call'. They left the door open when they left, so I did a full production for them of coming out on the step and looking puzzled as to what had just happened. I also used the time to spot where they had parked their Crown Victoria and watched as they pretended to be gay lovers necking in the front seat.

When I told dad about it he asked if I were okay and when I assured him I was, he laughed a little. But it wasn't as if it were at anything funny. He said they had searched the lab as well but they weren't going to find anything because, and he pointed to his head, it's all up here.

It was a week ago that he started to get worried about things again, but he didn't want to say anything to me about it. I had been seeing the same two cops who had come to the door around town, just happening to be where I was every so often. They made no effort to hide themselves, like they wanted to let me know they were keeping an eye on me for whatever reason.

I think it was the fact that they were bothering me that finally convinced him that we needed to find somebody to help us. Somebody we could trust in a situation that looked like it was getting further out of hand then he had expected. I think he had hoped that when they didn't find any files they could use they would leave him alone, but that didn't look like it was happening.

I was to follow him to the bar where the two of you were meeting last night to try and see if anybody had followed him, but it was so crowded that I couldn't even see either of you for a while. The next thing I knew was that he was dead. I was so scared that his killer was standing somewhere near me that all I could think of was getting out of there as quickly as possible. My father's dead Steve, and all I know is that it has something to do with the Kyoto accord and the Canadian government. Can you help me?"

February 29, 2008

Book Review: Fangland John Marks

I have to admit that after the first time I read Bram Stoker's Dracula it took me years to work up the nerve to re-read it. It had to be one of the most singly terrifying books I had read up until that time. In spite of its archaic language, and the almost absurd melodrama of the story, there was something about the way in which Stoker wrote the story that made my skin crawl and my mind ache like no other book had done before or has done since.

Perhaps it took a 19th century author's perceptions of good and evil, or it might have been the style, a mix of the old naturalism and the new realism, that allowed the evil incarnate of Dracula to come to life. I don't think it could have been the actual story, because I've read and seen variations on the story in a number of different guises, and only the silent movie version, Nosferattu came close to capturing what Stoker managed, so it had to have been in the telling.

In the 21st century vampires, and other legions of the undead, have taken to popping up all over the place. Zombies have shuffled their way across this mortal coil as either attempts at social commentary/horror with it being a disease or virus run amok in our plague ridden society, or as outrageous comedy/satire where the characters don't notice anything wrong until the undead try to use them for appetizers. But it's the old standby, the vampire, who has made his mark on popular culture thanks to the long running television show Buffy The Vampire Slayer based loosely on the movie of the same name, and of course Anne Rice's Interview With A Vampire books and movie.
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No matter what we think of any of the present incarnations of Bram Stoker's famous blood sucker, there can be no denying that the fiend from the pits of hell is here to stay in all his glory. While I must admit to having a rather jaundiced view of most of the modern versions - save Christopher Moore's Blood Sucking Fiends and its sequel You Suck - there was something about the new book by John Marks, Fangland, published by Penguin Canada that caught my attention and piqued my interest.

Perhaps the fact that it was set in the world of television news, a bastion of evil and the undead if I've ever seen one, or its promise of "biting satire", that had me hoping the author would be able to breath some fresh life into the story and make the undead alive again in a way they have not been for over a century. That John Marks had worked behind the scenes for the original television news magazine, 60 Minutes, made it seem all the more likely that he would be able to deliver on the promise of opening a vein or two when it came to writing about the world of television news, in the process of telling his story.

Associate Producer at the venerable TV news show The Hour, Evangeline Harker is much like her predecessor in Stoker's Dracula, Jonathan Harker, young, wide eyed, newly engaged, and anxious to succeed in her chosen profession. So when she is sent off to Romania to in an effort to meet with the mysterious Ion Torgu, reputed to be the head of all of Eastern Europe's underworld activity from drugs to prostitution, to asses his potential as the subject for an interview, she disregards her colleagues' premonitions of danger.

Evangeline is given even an extra warning in the form of a mysterious woman, Clementine Spence, whom she meets in the hotel coffee shop in Bucharest. As they are both headed for the same ultimate destination - the small town in Transylvania (an odd coincidence that Evangeline fails to understand the significance of as she fails to understand the significance of most things until it's too late) where Evangeline is supposed to meet her contact - the offer of a ride seems like the most natural of suggestions on Evangeline's part.

It turns out that Clementine is her last chance at turning back from a road to...well we're in Transylvania and Evangeline is meeting with a man who will insist that she leave with him immediately and then attempts to cut her off from the rest of the world by making her sign a series of letters telling everyone that she's secreted in negotiations of a delicate nature and can't be reached. Does any of this sound familiar? Well it's straight from Stoker's Dracula of course.
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In fact, despite a few variations, Fangland follows Stoker's plot faithfully. Torgu is not a blood sucking fiend, instead he is a blood drinking fiend who worships the sites of the worst atrocities of the twentieth century and brings the dead from those places to life. He is akin to our collective awareness of the subject and wants to bring all of humanity the gift of that knowledge and the ability to hear the stories of the dead. Is it any wonder that he wants to be interviewed on television, or at the least to have entry into the world Evangeline Harker comes from.

When the scene shifts from Transylvania back to the twentieth floor offices of The Hour we find mysterious events and behaviour are the order of the day. Torgu has found a minion among the lowly to prepare his way, and in television there ain't nothing lowlier than the production assistant. Promises of power and exclusive interviews carve him his entre into a world that's ideally suited to his needs.

Paranoid and secretive, the employees of The Hour need little manipulation on Torgu's part to be played off against each other. Those within his power are easily separated from other staff either because of the divisions between the technical and on air personnel or due to their own ambitions. This is where author John Marks is able to put his knowledge of the behind the scenes machinations of a television news show to good use, as the horror of the circumstances is leavened with his cutting descriptions of how a Network News show is an ideal spot for horror to develop and flourish.

I have to wonder what his former colleagues at Sixty Minutes make of his descriptions of the on air talent as prima donnas, producers as despots ruling their fiefdoms with iron fists, and associate producers as bright eyed and blinded by ambition to the realities of anything but -"how will it play in Peoria?" There's nothing innocent about the wide-eyed Evangeline Harker, or anyone else for that matter on the staff of The Hour, more a blinkered, wide-eyed stupid that blinds them so much they are easy prey for Torgu and his plans.

There is so much back biting and discord among those who compete for coveted time slots in each week's show, and to make their story "The Story" of the week, that the work place is referred to as "Fangland". They are past masters of manipulating reality so that it becomes good TV, and in the end the story is secondary. Torgu's offer of the most sensational stories ever told; the individual story of every person who died in any of the twentieth centuries horrors, is like raw meat to a shark, but also shows us how far removed the world of television news is from the realities of the world.

Torgu isn't the vampire in this book, even thought he drinks blood by the bucketful. The vampires are those who are waiting and wanting to feed upon the stories of the dead that he can offer them. Fangland is a biting satire of the world of Network News shows, that makes use of Bram Stoker's Dracula story to emphasis how removed the stories that appear on our television screens are from the real horrors that exist in our world.

John Marks' has created a world full of people who can't see beyond the artificial sets their interviews take place on and even when the real world intrudes in the shape of incalculable horrors they can only see it in terms of their own reality. Vampires steal the life blood of other creatures to continue their own existence - television news presents stories that have had their life blood drained from them, and both create a form of life that is neither living or dead.

February 25, 2008

The Case Of The Missing Kyoto Accord Chapter Three

It took what seemed forever and a day for the boys in blue to get finished with me that night. I guess I was lucky it was only the local boys and the R.C.M.P. didn't think it worth getting down off their high horses for a simple bar knifing. Probably if they had known what was behind it all they would have pried their saddles loose from their butts, but I'd been playing it close to the vest so far. As far as anybody could tell I was only another witness to a senseless act of random violence.

Well that's what I thought it looked like, but Ottawa's finest must have had other thoughts. The obligatory uniform had shown up twenty minutes after the first screams and in the meantime the bar had emptied quicker then a tourist's bowel in Mexico. By the time the boys from Homicide made it to the scene it was only me, the peelers, the girls who served the drinks and the bartender.

The bartender hadn't looked at all happy when I suggested we call the cops, but even he couldn't think of a way of disposing of this problem. While I had been phoning 911, he had been on the other line to his boss. The type of guy who owns these bars likes to know when the police are going to be visiting his premises just as a matter of principle. Usually it's to check whether the paperwork for the Eastern European girls' will be needed or not.

Sometimes the owners will give these girls an incentive for working by "holding" on to their documents for them – to keep both the girls and the documents from getting lost. Those girls usually have had someone do them the great favour of buying them a ticket out of their shit hole village in the Balkans and offering them a job in the "Entertainment and Hospitality" business. If they were lucky it only meant stripping.

But they didn't have to worry, the homicide dicks took one look at the seven inches of steel (it only looked like three to me, but the guys who write up the reports think the bigger the better, although I've always thought it's not the size that matters; dead after all is dead) sticking out of the guy's back and are immediately on to bigger fish to fry. Me.

McIntosh and Gates might have been nice people off the job, hell they probably were kind to widows and orphans and all that other good stuff too, but being homicide cops for twenty years can make you pretty jaded when it comes to the job. Thankfully they didn't dislike me personally, only on principle. Detective work should be left to the cops and private dicks should stick to ruining people's marriages was how Gates had summed it up the first time he met me. (I don't think he ever found out about the manila envelope full of prints of him and the little Russian stripper that his ex – wife had paid me two thousand dollars for)

"Look who it is Mac, the big time private detective holding up a bar with a corpse leaning on his size elevens. That's a sight to warm the cockles of a person's heart, providing of course they have one." He was a skinny little guy who looked like he should have a cigarette dangling out his mouth as he was always talking out of the other side.

"One what? A heart or a cockles?" was McIntosh's humorous reply. He was a regular laugh riot that guy. He was an average build sort of type; the kind whose clothes hang around them to see if anything interesting was going to happen to the body and gradually lose what ever shape they might have had as they give into the inevitability of gravity.

They were both eyeing me in that appreciative manner that lions have for fresh meat, and Mac mimed flipping a coin. Nodding in an unspoken agreement Gates moved off to talk to the girls and the bartender while Mac figured he'd keep me company in case the body started to scare me.

It was one of those awkward moments between two men in a bar ever since they had banned smoking in public places. When you don't have the action of lighting a cigarette to use as cover for starting a conversation you can feel mighty exposed. To cover he fished in his jacket pocket and brought out his little flip-top note book and cheap chewed pen and began scanning the notes he had taken down from the preliminary results given him by the scene of the crime boys and the uniforms who had got here first.

After that little show he looked over at me, nodding his head imperceptibly to give me permission to talk. He knew that it as a matter of course I would be telling him as little as possible about any case I was working on and the only information he was going to get from me was stuff he already had. This was just their way of letting me know what was what.

So I told him I'd come to the bar to meet a contact who had called me over the phone, and that while waiting for him to show up this guy had fallen down dead at my feet after trying to swallow a sword with his sternum. McIntosh obviously had something up his sleeve that he was waiting to drop on me like an Acme anvil taking out the Coyote. He was just letting me play out some line so that he could see if I'd let slip with anything he was going to be able to use to string me up with.

When he played his trump card it wasn't anything that I wasn't prepared for, it was all just part of the game we played. The corpse was my contact it turns out, or the fact that he had my business card, with the time of our meeting and the bar's address scribbled on the back of it would have to rank up there with one of the largest coincidences on record.

Mac stood there waving the familiar card with the unfamiliar writing on the back in it's little evidence bag, as if dangling it in front of my face would make me all of a sudden break down to confessing the killing of all my clients. But I was made of harder stuff than that and came right back with my own question.

"Since you seem to think this guy must have been a client, why not give me his name. I hate it when they die on you before they've introduced themselves. It really puts a damper on future relationship possibilities and collecting from their next of kin"

I could see him mulling it over, wondering how much it damage it would cause his reputation if he were just to give me the name. At the same time I could let something slip that might just tie me a little bit tighter to the corpse. Finally he cleared his throat and recited what little information they did have. "His name was Dr. Samuel Magnesun, but he's not the sort of doctor you go to when you have a sore throat. He works, well worked for I guess you'd say now, the National Research Council here in Ottawa. We haven't been able to find out what he'd been working on yet; we're still waiting to hear back from his section head at the Council. I hadn't said more then dead in a bar, when the words National Security came whistling down the line, which than went deader than a dodo."

He eyed me even more expectedly now, to see if I could add to anything to the sketch of information that he had gathered. Even if I could give him something more, I think we both had the feeling of inevitability that strikes you when something is going to be swept under the carpet. National Security could explain away everything from not accepting tenders for military equipment so you could award the contracts to your buddies or those whose support you, to explaining the paperclip shortage at the Revenue Canada offices.

Truth be told I was thinking of a particular Nordic looking blonde and wondering what her relationship was with this middle aged chap laid out on the floor with a rib separator jammed into the area of his heart from the back and whether or not she'd require some consoling, when a loud throat clearing brought me back to reality.

Reality in the shape of Gates glowering at me from McIntosh's shoulder and saying, "Dick head are you listening to me? Unless you got something important to say, you've got to clear out. I've just got the word that the men in the grey suits are on their way to check out the body before we can take it down to the morgue. I only hope they hurry it up as this guy is starting to stiffen in that shape. Families hate it when they have to bury the corpse in pieces cause we had to break it to fit it into the bags."

I don't need to be told twice to vamoose when the feds are going to be making an appearance, but their appearance started to change the whole completion of this little exercise. What did my friend the corpse, the late Mr. Magnesun have to do with the Kyoto accord? Had he made some sort of breakthrough that certain bodies wanted silenced? Or was it just he had knowledge that ran contrary to what the government and its supporters wanted the public to believe about the accord's necessity?

Stopping on my way out of the bar, I checked the least vandalised pay phone for a directory and as I suspected there was only one listing for a Magnesun in the phone book. It wasn't that late yet, so I figured I'd swing by the address listed on my way home and see if a certain ash blond head was around to talk to.

I could offer my condolences, maybe some comfort, and hopefully pick up a few answers about the good Doctor's work and how or if it related to the Kyoto accord and what it was she was doing in the bar earlier that evening. With the feds swooping down on Magnesun's corpse like so many vultures, it would only be a matter of time before they had everything about him and the Kyoto accord under lock and key where they would never see the light again.

I still had far more questions then answers, but at least I was beginning to know which questions to ask. Like why were the feds so keen to keep the information about the Kyoto accord quiet? One way or another I was going to find me some answers, and I didn't care who I had to walk over or sleep with to get them. Although as far as the latter is concerned my preference would be for a certain ash blond.

October 7, 2007

Care? Who Cares?

Do you ever wonder how much longer we're gong to be able to pretend that there's nothing wrong with the world? Let me be clear here, I'm not just pointing my finger at the West or American here; I'm talking all of us. From the politburo in China, to Whitehall in England, from The Hague, to the Black Sea, from The Amazon Basin to The Outback, and everywhere in between and all around.

We've got business interests making as much money as they possibly can this very minute every, and anywhere. They don't care if they use ten your old girls in their factories or if they're selling those same girls as whores to wealthy clients, it's all money. People like stone washed jeans so we will strip mine pumice from mountains, use sulphuric acid to separate out the impurities, and make lots of money from the jeans for the year they are fashionable.

The factory fishing boats pulled up to the Grand Banks off Newfoundland and filled up their holds with fish, canned them and started all over again. Who needs a catch limit – the fish won't run out. In Japan and Northern Ontario paper companies used the nice clean water of the rivers rushing by their factories to help clean out the giant presses and they did a great job of washing the mercury out of the equipment and into the water system. It's okay though because the water is moving so it will clean itself.

The International Monetary Fund decides to give one of the deserving countries in Africa a helping hand instead of a handout. All they have to do is be a little financially responsible and they will get their loan. Cutting all social spending is a good start – people who never had education or health care aren't going to miss it anyway are they? Oh and you can't block foreign companies from owning your national resources either - it's a global economy now don't you know?

Oh and not to worry if you think you're going to having problems making your interest payments on time – you'd be surprised how few things really are essential services. Who needs roads to all these isolated areas – no body goes there do they? With so few people, having indoor washroom facilities why do you need to build sewers anyway? It's just wasting the money you could be using to pay the interest on the loan. See it's easy if you just use common sense.

There're people dying by the thousands if not millions in Africa from the spread of HIV/AIDS but we can't corrupt their morals by offering them condoms to help stop the spread of disease. Giving prostitutes condoms to hand out to their clients for protection will encourage them to have sex out of wedlock instead of waiting for Mr. Right to come along like they should.

Anyway, it's Africa, and people are always dying of something there; this country has a civil war, that country has a famine, and despots rule the rest anyway. It's not as if they have contributed anything to the world except refugees and starving mouths to feed so it's no big loss. Between Europe and North America most of the oil, gold, and other valuable natural resources have been locked up for the next few decades already – without the slave trade there's not much else of value left.

The increases in severe weather systems don't need to be a cause for alarm, instead they should be thought of as opportunities for change. Look what happened after the tsunami in South East Asia; all those messy fishing shacks and villages were washed away and new fancy hotel and condominium complexes have come up in their place.

Instead of having to perform the back breaking labour of fishing and living without electricity and running water, the former fishermen and their families now have nice clean service industry jobs and live in apartment blocks with all the amenities in one room. Some of them had never even seen a television or lived above ground level before if you can believe that...?

There's only so long I can even write like that without feeling sick to my stomach. I hope to God that there aren't people out there who still think like that. I have a sick feeling that there are more of them then I want to know about, and that far too many have positions of power.

There aren't many days that something doesn't strike me about our outrageous hubris in thinking that just because we as human's do something it's the right thing to do. There're the idiots who call themselves environmentalists because they move into a desert environment and proceed to plant trees. The fact that they are messing with one of the most delicate ecosystems in the world by introducing something with the deep thirsty root system of a maple or other deciduous tree that disrupts the water table escapes them completely.

That sort of behaviour may not appear like much to some of you, but it's an indication of just how thoughtless we've become. If we care that little about where we live, how are we going to be able to care about someone else's life and where they live? If we can't get it together soon and stop pretending that everything's okay everything could start falling apart at the seams. Another couple of Katrina's or another tsunami or two and not only will the cracks start showing, but the walls will start coming down.

Then we're all going to have to get used to living without electricity or running water

October 2, 2007

Book Review: The Late Hectore Kipling David Thewlis

Have you ever stopped to consider where your thoughts come from, or at least how one thought leads to another until you have an unbroken chain that's taken you from an A to a Zed that have nothing in common with each other? That thing called a brain that's stuck up between our ears can do the most amazing things without us even noticing. One minute you could be talking about what you'd like for lunch, the next planning your own funeral.

In the early part of the twentieth century, James Joyce and Virginia Wolfe began experimenting with a style of writing called stream of consciences in attempts to chart the workings of the thought process. Since then, quite a few writers have followed in their footprints with varying degrees of success. Trying to recreate the continual flood of information that most of process from second to second without it becoming an exercise in tedium is a difficult and painstaking process.

Ideally, the author will utilize stream of conscience at points throughout a novel as a means of letting a character justify his or her behaviour, and to give the reader deeper insight into him or her. Of course, if as the reader we don't give a damn about the character it was all just wasted ink and paper.
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Stepping into someone else's thoughts can generate a slew of feelings in a reader. But I must say that David Thewlis' novel The Late Hector Kipling is the first that's made me feel like I was rubber necking at a car accident, trying to spot the corpse as I drove by slowly. Published in Canada by Penguin Canada this brilliant piece of satire, written in the first person, on the world of contemporary visual art and artists, charts the collapse of Hector Kipling's life from successful artist with loving girlfriend to nut-job.

Along the way, we are introduced to one of the most wonderful collections of misfits and dysfunctional characters I've had the pleasure of meeting between the pages of a book in the longest time. There's Kirk who paints pictures of cutlery, Hector's oldest friend Lenny Snook who does billboard campaigns for bottled water in his underwear when he's not doing award winning conceptual art that involves filling a Cadillac with blood and digging a hole in a gallery floor.

But it's the world of contemporary art that is the true eccentric in this book. Hector has made his name by selling huge portraits of people's heads and is able to make a good living from the proceeds. But, he's not the one being nominated for an award. He's plagued with self-doubts about whether giant heads are what the world needs more of, and when a motorcycle accidentally drives through the centre of his first self-portrait, it's like a sign from the Gods.

It hadn't been a good week up then for him anyway, earlier he had broken into tears in the Tate gallery in London England while looking at the "The Scream" by Edvard Munch (a pretty healthy reaction I would have thought). Then he finds out that Kirk has a brain tumour. What's especially disquieting about this is that he finds that he's actually jealous of Kirk.
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It's not that he wants to die; but he'd give anything to get the kind of attention that Kirk is getting now. Of course if Kirk were to actually die then that would be different, because he, Hector, would then get some of that pity because he would be the fiend of a person who died of a brain tumour. One can only hope.

David Thewlis is best known for his portrayal of Remus Lupin in the Harry Potter movies, but with The Late Hector Kipling, his first novel, he proves that he is just as adept at writing as he is as acting. He has a wonderful ear for the ridiculous and a keen sense of the absurd that he puts to use with great effect. What's especially gratifying is the way everything comes to its illogical, logical conclusion in the end.

Perhaps being an actor he's used to balancing several thoughts in his head at once, but whatever the reason, the internal stream of conscience monologues he creates for Hector are wonderful examples of a mind that is always thinking. The only trouble is the thoughts the mind are thinking have started to veer away from rational and creative, into the realm of the bizarre and dangerous.

The transition from the eccentric and creative mind of a painter, to the state that Hector is in at the end of the novel is handled so deftly and subtlety that we barely notice it happening. The fact is that for many people who are artists the line between creative genius and mental instability is very thin and Hector is no exception.

If you like your comedy black, your satire pointed, and have a keen sense of the absurd than David Thewlis' The Late Hector Kipling will be your cup of tea. Biting, sharp, and wickedly funny, it exposes and explodes the conceits and pretensions of modern art with an intelligence and skill that is a pleasure to read.

Canadians can purchase The Late Hector Kipling by David Thewlis through Penguin Canada or an online retailer like Amazon.ca

September 29, 2007

Confessions Of A Review-A-Holic

Somehow or other, without noticing, I've become something that I never even considered possible: a reviewer. When I first started out writing for Blogcritics.org back in July of 2005 it was for the opportunity it provided for my writing to be seen by a wider audience, and to hopefully generate some interest in my own site.

It took a while for me to get comfortable with doing things the way someone else wanted. I eventually clued in that there was probably a good reason for keeping spelling mistakes and typos to a minimum, and that you could have a distinctive voice without run on sentences. There might still be a sizable gap on occasion between understanding and implementation, but at least I started heading in the right direction.

When I began realizing there were only so many articles that you could write trying to change the world before the sound of your own voice starts to grate in your own ear –heaven only knows what it was doing to other ears – is when I knew it was time for a change. Due to a gag reflex problem I knew writing about celebrities or heart warming human-interest stories was out of the question, so I'd have to find something else.

As the universe does revolve around me, I knew that people would be only too fascinated to read about my efforts as a novelist. Who wouldn't be thrilled to read about what a first-time author had to say about the process of writing? Once I had got that piece of conceit out of my system – and it went on for an embarrassing long period of time, culminating in me even having the nerve to publish the collected articles at Lulu.com. I was back to square one again, looking for things to write about aside from my life and me.

I had been lucky enough to have some health issues able to provide decent fodder for a few articles without sounding overly self-serving or pitying, but unless I kept developing new and interesting symptoms that was a finite topic of conversation. Up until then I had taken only sporadic notice of the material companies sent into Blogcritics for review on its pages, so I decided to start checking those listings out on a regular basis to see if that offered what I was looking for.

I thought I had known what cutthroat was, but that was before I started competing with my fellow Blogcritic contributors for review material. I also quickly realized that being on dial-up and having an old slow computer meant that I was at a disadvantage. Unless I got blind lucky I would never be able to get my hands on any material that was in high demand.

I took to waiting until after the initial feeding frenzy was over when new material was put on offer and come in after to pick up any juicy looking leftovers. That ended up working out well for me as my tastes have never been inclined towards the popular and others' discards were my meat and potatoes.

I started out doing one or two reviews a week initially, but that soon began to prove insufficiently gratifying. I began exploring the possibilities of obtaining review material on my own from various publishers and music producers. My timing seemed to be awesome, as many book publishers were just starting to use the Internet as a means of publicity on a full time basis. Using the credibility of Blogcritics I was able to start establishing connections with book publishers all across North America, and specifically the Canadian versions of Random House and Penguin.

At the same time, I was also building a network of contacts among music distributors and publicists. From those innocent beginnings have grown a monster that I no longer control: CDs, books, and DVDs show up at my door on an almost daily basis. Some of them from people I've never heard of who have grabbed my name and contact information from somebody else, but the majority is stuff I've requested.

It is highly possible that I can have five or six books, seven or eight CDs, and a few DVDs in piles around my bed waiting for me to read, listen, or watch, and then write about. Unless something is abjectly horrible I will read, listen, or watch the whole thing because I can't conceive of being able to give it a half way decent critique otherwise. You just never know what someone might be saving for the last act anyway that might serve as redemption for the soul destroying shit they had served up until that point.

I love reading, listening to great music, and watching interesting movies and concert footage, and I never want to get to the point where I'm even tempted to start skimming material for the sake of posting a review. Maybe before it even gets to the point where I even consider doing that, I should start cutting back – not offering to review so many items from the Blogcritic list, or not going to publisher's web sites and selecting five or six titles from each of their upcoming releases list.

Except every time I say I'm going to do that everybody gangs up on me from my favourite authors to the most interesting musicians and exciting filmmakers. They all decide to release items simultaneously and I find my resolve weakening. I've tried limiting how many I take from each list, but one is never enough. There's always something I know I will regret not reading, listening to, or watching.

I have to face facts, I'm not the type of person who can review just one item and leave it at that, it's as many as possible or nothing at all. Nothing can match the thrill of a new book showing up at my door, or ripping the wrapping off a new DVD or CD that very few people have heard. (Now there're even personalized review copies from some record companies – I know it's to prevent you from uploading them and selling the tracks online but I still think it's cool to get a CD with my name on it)

They always say that the first step in dealing with a problem is admitting that you have one publicly, and I can't think of a better place to come clean than this. My name is Richard Marcus, I'm a review –a –holic, and it's been twelve hours since I last reviewed.

If you'll excuse me, I have a book that came in the mail today that I have to read...

June 8, 2007

And The Winner Is...

The audience that's assembled in the plush auditorium are all a buzz. Who will be this year's is the question on everyone's mind and even some people's lips. Throughout the build-up to this evening, in the weeks proceeding, press agents and media representatives have been hard at work promoting those who they represent, resulting in one of those glorious atmospheres of artificially created anticipation.

But even the most cynical of observers admits to being hard pressed to finding an event within the past week which has generated this much excitement. It's obvious that it has struck a chord with people; people who care and people who matter. Not just the normal star gazing hoi-polloi who turn out in the hopes of catching site of anybody who they think they recognise, but the stars themselves.

Why if the rumours were true humanitarians like Celine, Leonardo, Bono, and maybe even Mel, were tuning in their televisions right now wherever they were in the world to watch the proceedings unfold. Even the politically mighty were said to be interested and would be viewing the results with anticipation. Hadn't George Bush said that he thought events like these were the future for fostering understanding and communication between nations?

Well since the event was sponsored by the State Department it was natural for the American President to throw his weight behind it, but Canadian Prime Minister Harper has also gone on record as being eagerly awaiting this "unique and innovative development in the field of international co-operation and bridge building". "Events like these", he said, "are the future for building foundations of understanding and fostering awareness between nations."

Of course those negative thinkers at Amnesty International and The United Nations have come out with the usual hand wringing. But their mutterings about trivialization and lack of sensitivity were dismissed as sour grapes for not being able to hang out with the celebrities and be in the limelight.

But none of that matters now; as the lights in the auditorium begin to dim the babble of voices from the excited crowd recedes like ebb tide and the music composed specifically for the event by Hollywood's greatest composer swells up underneath the last quiet murmurings. At this moment across the nation and around the world televisions are being turned on and a global community is formed.

The night's host swans to centre stage and his smile catches the spotlights as he approaches the microphone that rises like a cobra to a snake charmer's flute from the stage to greet him. Music and applause intermingle for just long enough for him to wave with studied casualness as he searches out the teleprompter and brings it into focus so he can read his welcoming speech.

"Thank-you, (pause for applause) Thank-you. I'd like to welcome all of you who are here in person, and also extend a welcome to the many I know who have tuned in around the world in anticipation of taking part in what can only be described as an historic undertaking" (pause for applause – smile in appreciation) Knowing that so many eyes from so many places are watching makes you really believe in the words of the song "It's A Small World After All". It also reminds us that we are not alone on this planet; no matter where we live we are only the touch of a button on a remote control away from the rest of humanity. Television is truly the great unifying bond that brings humanity together like the big family we are." (Pause for more applause and beam at audience and into the cameras)

"It's because of our human family of course that we have been brought together tonight. Like all families we sometimes have our disagreements and don't get along as well as we should. The unfortunate result of these fallings out can be seen today in many countries not blessed with the grace of democracy like we in this room. In those countries people are deprived of a voice in how their government works and some are even persecuted by the powers that are supposed to looking out for their best interests."

"Our purpose for gathering here tonight is to show them, those who are right now suffering persecution, that we in care; that we he have a HEART. (Turn to accept statuette from model who is crossing from stage left slightly behind, turn to face audience with statuette held up in both hands to left hand side at shoulder height)

"Ladies and gentlemen and citizens of the world I give you the HEART Award. (Pause for sustained applause and begin to speak before it ends) to be presented annually as a symbol of our compassion to the people who have suffered the most in the year just gone by. Each year countless people suffer the agonies of starvation, dispossession, and even watching loved ones being killed without any recognition given to their pain"

"Now no longer will you go unnoticed, no longer will you suffer and think nobody cares about what happens to you. Each year our select panel of judges will establish just who has suffered the most and they will be commemorated and immortalized forever in our minds and HEARTS by the recognition offered by this beautiful heart shaped statuette. It is our way of saying you're not alone" (pause for what should be sustained applause – use time to pull envelope out of inside jacket pocket)

"For this, the inaugural presentation of the HEART award there have been many deserving people's through out the world making our judges job especially difficult (joke) You'd think people knew there was going to be an award this year there was so much suffering, ha, ha. But our judges sifted through all the available materials and they believe they've come up with a winner who is most deserving of our pity; and the answer is right here in this envelope (hold up envelope so all can see the seal on the back)

" I never thought I'd ever get to say these words, probably four of the most famous in television history: and the winner is…

May 31, 2007

Three Little Words

There's always been heated debate over what is the most dishonest expression in the English language. A lot of people opt for "The cheque is in the mail" and others favour "I'll respect you in the morning". Of course there's a third, but less polite phrase that's not for this public a medium that no woman will believe after she's heard it once.

But to my mind they all pale next to three words, " How are you?" Usually delivered in a chipper tone of voice by the questioner with a heavy perky upswing on the "you" and a complete lack of sincerity. Anywhere you go from the "Gap" to an Emergency Room Triage someone is asking you some variation of "How are you?" with equal amounts of concern.

It can even be made patronising with the simple addition of a pronoun. Why anyone has to ask about your state of health by referring to you as "We" is beyond me. The next person that asks me "How are we doing today"? will probably find out what I'd like them to be feeling, never mind how I'm holding out.

I wonder if it ever had any meaning; did the ancient civilizations have their version of this platitude? Did Neanderthal man have to put up with some perky idiot at the watering hole chirping a cheerful "How are you?" as they waited to see if any game was going to show up?

Is that what pushed Moses over the edge finally? He showed up at the Pharaoh's palace one day to be greeted with a cheerful "How's it going Moses?' only to finally lose it? He then proceeded to tell Pharaoh in no uncertain terms how he and his people were doing. When he was finally done itemizing his list of grievances he went back among his people and told them to get packing.

Maybe if they had waited for the bread to leaven and rise he might have regained his temper and calmed down enough to rethink his position. But everyone just made matzo and they were ready to roll. Hey I can't blame the guy for getting pissed, I'd have indulged in some pretty heavy pharaoh bashing if I had been in his shoes.

I think it's time to call for a moratorium on using the expression "How are you" or any of its variants, until such time that it regains meaning. The trouble is of course figuring out a way of riding our conversation of the beast. Well after much consideration and some trial runs I believe that I may have found an answer to at least limit if not eliminate the scourge.

Answer with the truth. The next time someone, anyone or anywhere, asks the dreaded question don't just answer with fine, tell them what they asked for. Don't worry about the glazed expression that will soon appear on their faces; it's just their natural reaction to something beyond their control and to anything approximating a genuine conversation.

Of course this will not be a simple or quick process; who knows how many times it will take to overcome one automation's programming, let alone the thousands if not million who use the phrase around the world on daily basis. But with a concentrated effort we can make a difference. By each of us taking responsibility for our own neighbourhoods and cleansing them we can make a difference. Think of it as the ultimate in thinking globally and acting locally.

With careful dedication and application we shall have people cringing with embarrassment in no time as we tell them with all honesty and sincerity how we are doing at that moment in time. Sooner or later they won't want to risk hearing about someone's haemorrhoids or bowl problems and they will stop asking everybody "How are you?" unless they truly mean it.

The world will be a much better place for it.

March 8, 2007

Satire: New Attempt At Peace: United Nations Resolution 929

In what has to be the closest vote on record at the United Nations, resolution 929 was finally passed. In another, among the many, unique qualities of this vote was the fact that when the final tally was recorded, there were no abstentions. Long time observers of the U. N. were left scrambling to find out if on any other occasion opinions had run so high that no one abstained.

One grey haired gentleman was so visibly moved by the show of actual opinions on the floor of the august chamber that he wept. Friends could be seen gathering around him to lead him out of the press gallery later, and it was said that all he was capable of saying over and over again was "incredible".

He wasn't the only one affected by the sudden show of decidedness from a membership so known for its refusal to commit that ordering take out has been known to take days. Ambassadors sat around in small groups or singularly talking in subdued voices, almost as if they were taken aback at their own temerity.

Most of them had been selected by their respective countries for their abilities to procrastinate and prevaricate and had never dreamed the day would come when they would actually see themselves saying either yea or nay. There were members whose country's leadership and name changed with greater frequency than a drag queens' wardrobe, who had kept their position by exercising the right to abstain like an art form.

But even they had been caught up in the emotion of the moment and deviated from their entrenched position of fence sitting to cast a vote in favour or against the motion. It was of course these wild card votes that had left the outcome up in the air. Not only did nobody know how these individuals would vote, they had been non-entities for so long nobody even knew what bribes or blackmail they might be susceptible to.

Of all the unique attributes that history may ascribe to this vote in the future, the one that most observers are still stunned by was the inability of anyone to be able to predict the vote's outcome. Not only did the issue cut across cultural and political lines, it threw old alliances out the window. It was every man and woman for themselves out on the floor and you could almost believe in the idea of sovereign states voting for the interests of their people not out of political necessity.

At the press conference where the official announcement of the result was released to the world's population, United Nations Special Envoy Kiska White of The Extra Special Team Examining Elections (or TESTEES as they are now known) alluded to that fact in her opening comments before preceding on with a detailed explanation as to the significance of the resolution's passage. What follows is an expurgated version of that announcement. (For full details check out the TESTEES web site at a location other than the link provided here) It should also be made clear at this time, that like all members of TESTEES Ms White's nationality has not been made public and all efforts were made to make the members as anonymous to each other as possible to prevent any country from having an undue influence on the proceedings.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the press and my fellow citizens of planet earth, it is with great pleasure that I'm here with you today to announce officially the results of what I consider the most important vote ever taken in humanity's existence. I don't think I would be far off the mark in saying that from today onward the world will be a vastly different place, and hopefully a better one for it.

Judging by the response of the membership of the General Assembly to Resolution 929, they obviously agreed with me on the import of its impact on the shape of things to come. Whether or not they supported the resolution is another matter, but it managed to get them all to actually vote for a change, so right there we accomplished something that nobody else has done in the history of the U. N

This resolution was a long time in the making and to see it brought to fruition today is culmination of the dreams of many people, some unfortunately are no longer with us as it has passed to us second generation TESTEEs to ensure its passage. You are all aware of the history behind this resolution; of earlier version requiring all male politicians to be sterilized before seeking office in the hopes of curtailing testosterone in positions of power and thus eliminating belligerent behaviour.

What first started as a voluntary program; who can forget the "Get Fixed" buttons that became popular for a while, later became mandatory when it became obvious that some men were too attached to the notion that the ability to breed affected their leadership abilities. Unfortunately the "Spay" your politician campaign did not meet our expectations.

Although all male politicians were eventually in compliance the world over, it did not seem to have the desired effect upon their bellicosity. Unlike their brethren among canines and felines "fixing" humans did not seem to cause a reduction in the production of testosterone and a resulting calming of behaviour.

I must admit to you that at this point quite a number of us were ready to give up. We had been so sure we had found the means through which war would eventually be made obsolete. It was at this nadir in the proceedings that our Turkish representative made an almost casual reference to his country's former habit of creating eunuchs for positions requiring calmness and zero production of hormones.

Thus was the first step taken on the long road whose end we have finally reached today: with the successful passage of United Nations resolution 929: All men from this point onward will be castrated prior to seeking political office, and all men currently holding such office will be castrated forthwith.

March 5, 2007

Art For Sale

"Psst, hey buddy. Yeah you…do you see me looking at anyone else…hey don't get pissed, it's just my way, don't take it personal or nothin'. Well get over here already…you want me yelling this across the street so just any yahoo can hear what I got to say. If I wanted the world to hear I'd have take out an ad or hired a blimp.

Hey, I warned you, I'm a bit rough around the edges, but you know what they say about whores with hearts of gold, well I may not spread my legs that way, literally as it were, but on occasion I've been known to sell bits and pieces of myself.

Hey don't look like that, you'd think I just threatened you ending up in a cheap motel in a tub full of ice and finding out that you've donated your liver. That's not what I mean by bits and pieces of myself – do I look like that type – heck you wouldn't recognize them anyways. You're thinking I'm the type of scruffy guy you' expect to be taking part in the illegal traffic of body parts.

Which is a joke and a half because those folk walk around in the latest designer togs that cost more then I make lurking in this alley for a month. You need a lot of money to be involved in that racket to begin with, and then you're also going have to dress well enough to look like you've got a real business behind you.

Not me boss, I'm at the lower end of the scale, nothing quite that glamorous for folk like me. Nope the bits and pieces of myself I dispose of are far less exciting, but to me are as precious as any bits and piece of the physical form. I sell bits and pieces of the soul.

Oh grow up, I'm not a Satanist or something silly like that, I'm an Art Dealer. I represent some of the finest creative minds in the country, maybe even the continent. They pour out their heart and soul and turn it into paintings, sculptures, photographs, and video. Then I try and turn that into money for them.
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Of course I don't just represent artists, a person has to eat after all and the chances of making any money off living artists is pretty thin. You can't even kill them either to increase the value of their work, because you need them alive so they can continue to produce product that you can sell after they die when it's actually worth something…If there was someway around that problem, believe you me Charlie I would have figured it out ages ago…

Anyway that's neither here nor there, idle dreams and such for days when you laze around thinking of the ideal world…. Where the money for me is at the other end of the equation; working for those types who want Art to hang on the walls (hey that reminds me of an old joke: What do you call a guy with no arms and no legs who hangs on walls? Art…kills me every time) of their corporate offices that goes with the décor, but doesn't look like it's been chosen to go with the décor.

Now that's a trick, son, because you've got to make sure it blends nicely with their carpets, the window treatments, and the paint job, but at the same time be distinctive enough to show that they have taste. The higher up the corporate ladder the trickier it gets I tell you.

Your junior executive just wants something to cover the blank spaces on his walls; he or she can't afford to be too ostentatious or adventurous either financially or in terms of style. They don’t' want to stand out as being daring or anything like that, cause they need to blend in and give the appearance at least of being just like everyone else.

With those types you usually do a brisk trade in the standard, safe abstractions from the past century or so. Nothing too outrageous like a Warhol or a Pollack for them – maybe a Chagall or Matisse reproduction. The more daring might go for something a little more modern like a Harold Town print from the fifties, but that's going to be it.

By the time you've reached up to the top of the corporate world and instead of blending in they feel the need to distinguish themselves – show that they have character and individuality, you might be able to sell something new. They love to be able to say things like, "Oh this is a painter I discovered – quite unusual I agree, but I like the challenge of the piece."

Or some equally meaningless self-satisfying words that show off how perceptive and artistic they are. My job is really sort of like a pimp. Instead of finding them a whore to flatter their egos, I find them paintings that do the equivalent to their intellect. I give them the appearance of having a sense of the aesthetic, even if they have the soul made out of stocks and bonds.

You'd think after all that; the effort I put in for the artists in finding people who might actually be interested in their pieces of post-modern modern abstractions – or what ever they feel like calling their feeble attempts these days – and the energy I expand on my corporate clients to make sure that paintings I obtain for them fits into their niche properly that some sort of gratitude would be forthcoming. But no; at best I'm looked on as a necessary evil by the artists, and some sort of minor functionary who doesn't rank much higher than an interior designer by my clients.

So I'm forced to skulk around in alleyways searching out commissions because nobody wants to be seen in my company or pay me what I'm worth. But I'm good at what I do, and enjoy it too. I'm just wanting my ten percent like every one else in the world – heck I don't even ask for the fifteen or twenty that actor's management and agents get. Does that make me a bad person?

You look like a decent soul, with a kind heart. You wouldn't deny a many an honest living would you? I didn't think so. Look sorry to have bothered you like this, I didn't mean to unload on you, but one thing about being a sales person and an agent like I am is that you soon learn how to judge character. I didn't think you'd mind lending an ear for a few moments, not with sensitive eyes like those.

Forgive me for being so bold, we've just met and all, but you wouldn't by any chance be a poet or something of that type. It's just that something about you says sensitive and feeling in a way that I only get from people who have poetry in their soul. If you don't mind me saying you look like the type of person who would appreciate art on a scale far more advanced then the cretins I usually have to deal with.

Can I interest you in a piece of art…?

The author has just come into possession of an original, one of a kind Harold Town lithograph from 1957 that he has just put on the market, marking his first foray into the world of art sales and deals.

January 12, 2007

Book Review: Christopher Moore You Suck

In all relationships there comes a time when you have to figure out matters of etiquette. It's no different for Tommy and Jody with only some slight deviations from what most couples have to work out. For instance who gets to feed first off the thirty-five pound shaved cat isn't something most couples have to worry about

No not the eat the cat you sicko, that would be gross, just suck enough blood from his veins to keep them alive, and satiate their blood lust. Their only vampires for goodness sake not some cheap thrill Satanists who get their jollies out of mutilating pets. I mean if they had meant the cat any harm would they have gone to all the trouble of shaving him? (And you don't know trouble until you've tried to shave a thirty-five pound cat who doesn't want to be shaved. Let's just say that a lot of duct tape was used in the end and it's a good thing that vampires have great healing powers)

The problem is that neither of them are that keen on finding human prey, Tommy doesn't even know that Jody has taken humans before (see the novel Bloodsucking Fiends for details of Jody's "kills" ) and even though she only took the terminally ill it still doesn't sit right with her either. But Chet, the naked or hairless cat, is only a temporary solution to their problem and they are really going to need a consistent supply of blood in order to keep, er… umm… alive?

Little do they know that very soon they are going to look back on having to chase a huge pissed off cat covered in shaving cream around their loft apartment with fondness as one of the good times. Of course they have more immediate problems they have to deal with, but there are also some doozies on the horizon they can't know about.

One of the first things they have to do is replace Tommy. No not literally of course, but get someone to fill his original job description of – do everything I can't during the daylight hours for me will you – better known in their circles as a minion. (Not to be confused with a minyen the number of people needed, or if your conservative about it number of men, to do anything official in a synagogue)

Who better then a servant of the dark, even though she's sixteen and her mascara tends to run more than it should (and has this perky thing happening which she does her best to suppress) named Abby Normal to fill the job. Once she gets over wanting to be converted and brought , like, you know officially into the dark side of life, and stops exposing her neck every time she sees Tommy and bowing to Jody, she turns out to be a better find than they could have thought possible.

Which is a good thing because trouble is about to find them in all sorts of weird shapes, sizes, and colours. First there's the fact that Elijah, the eight hundred year old vampire that started the whole party by turning Jody isn't quite so securely encased in a brass statue as they thought (again see Bloodsucking Fiends for details) and he's a wee bit pissed.

And why not; he had his luxury yacht trashed by Tommy and his former workmates – collectively known as the Animals, the night stocking crew from the Marina Safeway- who also stole all his priceless objects to art. The other trouble comes in the shape of the Animals, who took their share of the ten cents on the dollar the fence gave them for the art to Las Vegas for a week.

Not only were they stunningly unsuccessful at the tables, but they got addicted to a blue hooker named Blue ("We talked about and realized that ever since we were kids we wondered what it would be like to bone a Smurf) Using sex as a means of control over the boys she gets them to deliver Tommy to her and he accidentally turns her into a vampire.

That's when things start to get a little over the top for Tommy and Jody. Abby stands by them through it all, and thanks to her they manage to keep from frying in the sun when they lose their apartment. But even with Abby at their side will they be able to withstand seven Animal vampires led by a former Blue hooker vampire, and Elijah all out for their blood in the truest meaning of that phrase?

Well the only way you're going to find out is if you're willing to enter into Christopher Moore's alternate universe where all of this not only can take place, but does with regularity. Those of you who've read other books of Christopher's will recognise familiar faces from other books set in the streets of his San Francisco.

Once again not only does Moore show he is the master of creating comic sequences and turns of phrase that will have you close to peeing yourself, but also shows he can take what could easily have been a stereotype and make a real character. Little Abby Normal could have been hidden behind bad dress habits, mascara, and Valley Speak. But Moore pulls us under her skin and we get a real picture.

There are also the little things that he inserts into the story as sort of sideways social commentary without getting bent out of shape. Jody has taken to dressing provocatively and walking the streets of San Francisco at night by herself. Why, because for the first time in her life she doesn't feel afraid at all. She knows that she can handle anything that the street can throw at her.

Up until she was a vampire being a woman made her always a potential target for assault and violence. She had never been able to walk outside without a little of that fear guiding her steps and attitude. It's a sad world we live in if the only way a woman can feel completely safe is if she's one of the un-dead –and Moore gives us that thought to mull over without beating us over the head, just laying it out there for us to see.

That's the thing about Moore you have to be careful about. It would be easy to dismiss him as just a wiseass frat boy with a thing for tits and a gift for humour. In reality he is a subtle and manipulative bastard who is breeding awareness of the inequities in the world in such a way that you don't even notice you could be developing a social conscience.

He is the master of the sleight of hand, where while he is distracting you with scenes of turkey bowling and the results of hot monkey sex with one hand, the other is making you think. That's not an easy thing to accomplish, but Christopher Moore is a true satirist and comic, not just some guy out for laughs.

Read his books and be prepared to laugh yourself silly, but expect to have to pay a price as well – thinking and reflecting on occasion.

Christopher Moore's latest book You Suck will be available for public consumption on January 17th in the United States. Check your local book seller for it's release date near you.

November 21, 2006

Getting In Touch With Your Inner Goldfish

Welcome everybody to the latest round of getting in touch with your inner qualities. I have to assume since you're in attendance you have successfully touched base with your inner child, opposite gender, guardian angel, spirit guide, plant, rock, star being, musical instrument, surgical instrument, and of course your inner outer over soul?

Good because those are the basic prerequisites for the next stage on the journey to complete self-awareness and personal fulfilment. Each step you have taken has only been in preparation for these two final elements that will bring you the abundance you believe you so richly deserve.

I know, I know – I can feel your frustration, incurred from countless days and nights of fruitless meditation and supplication to various ascendant masters and archangels in the hopes of personal advancement. Yet here you sit tonight still the same old you, no different from the you, you have always been and the you, you now feel fated to remain.

I know that you aren't satisfied with the state of your life. Otherwise you wouldn't be here hoping to find the secret that will be your release from your life as you know it. Desperation and hope have guided your footsteps here tonight. Desperation to break free of the final constraints holding you back from achieving your full potential, and the hope that the key to unlocking your chains will be amongst the words you hear this evening.

Some of you come laden down with the burden of scepticism, who am I to blame you for that. I too have felt the burden of doubt as it has lain across my shoulders before I found release. Proof is what you require and proof is what you shall receive.

There is no need to look far to find the evidence that will set your minds at ease. In fact it is straight in front of you. The fact that you are here listening to me should be all the proof you require. I never dreamed that one day I would be standing in front of a roomful of supplicants, but here I am doing just that. I have gone beyond my own wildest hopes for success and anyone of you can do the same.

I see the realization dawning in your eyes now. If this is what he has succeeded in doing there is nothing I can't achieve. All I can say to you is you're right and don't be limited by your dreams because you are about to learn how to succeed beyond your wildest expectations.

Tonight you will learn the secrets of getting in touch with your inner goldfish and communing with your higher sheep self in order to achieve that final breakthrough you have craved. You will find within yourself the characteristics that will enable you to replicate their behaviours and achieve success beyond your wildest dreams.

What is there about the goldfish and the sheep that make them so unique amongst all the creatures of the animal kingdom? What separates these seemingly lowly animals from their brethren that will provide you with the key to unlock fortune's strongbox so you might abscond with the treasure within?

Two simple characteristics, one from each, will guide your steps and set you free. The goldfish's lack of attention span, and the sheep's state of perpetual surprise properly incorporated into your life will serve to bring you the success you cherish and crave. Of course once you have properly integrated them into your awareness they will naturally augment each other.

But before you can reach that stage of enlightenment you will need to practice the sensations and the reactions until they become second nature. Are you able to forget you are eating between forkfuls of your meal? Can you see the same blade of grass repeatedly and be surprised by it each time?

Once you have mastered that phase can you then combine the two and so that not only do you forget you are eating between forkfuls but your are surprised by the existence of each forkful. Then you will have achieved the enlightened state you need to ensure your success.

When you have the attention span of a goldfish and are able to lose track of what it was you were saying or doing a mere second ago; and when you are as surprised as the sheep is each day by the rising of the sun you will have achieved a state of being ideal to succeed in modern society.

Think of the possibilities for a career in politics when you can honestly not remember a word of what you said thirty seconds ago and you are genuinely delighted to see the people you see every day. Or as a television producer; where an attention span is a deficit and the ability to believe something old is brand new is an asset; think of the success you'll make.

Yes my friends, once you learn how to tap into your inner goldfish and your inner sheep; to never have an original thought again and always be able to say with complete honesty "I don't remember", you will have paved a smooth path to abundance.

October 23, 2006

Might As Well Face It I'm Addicted To Words.

I have a problem and the only thing for it is to confess to it and get on with my life. I don't know if they hold meetings for this or not, sort of like Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) does for Alcoholics, but I will stand up in this public venue and say to you: My name is Richard Marcus and I'm addicted to words.

It's true; I have no control over this compulsion to use as many words as possible when writing something. If I can use two, even three words, instead of one, I will. Why else would there be such a creature called an adjectival phrase if we're not meant to use it?

I know that's a heretical way of thinking in these days of less equals more, where people communicate via text messages that have turned language into a series of coded short forms that rob it of any passion. But I can't help myself, in fact just thinking about txt. msg. makes my need to be verbose become so strong that it will take wing like a flock of starlings in full fall flight, twisting and spiralling across the skyscape, in an amazing display of natural synchronicity; and the words will dance across the screen of my laptop with no regard for propriety or fashion.

See I did it again, right there in front of you, on a public site. I dared to use adjectival phrasing to create imagery that may or may not have been pertinent to what I was writing about, but were an expression of what I was feeling at that precise moment in time. Were they tangential, excessive, self-indulgent flights of fancy so to speak? I'm sure many of you would answer in the affirmative to that question and wonder what was my point in doing so.

There never is a point I just do it. I can't just have one word, or write socially, I have to take it seriously all the time, and write as if my life depends on it or I start to feel sick. Have you ever seen anybody go through word withdrawal, believe me it's a nasty. The worst are the poets, wandering around slack jawed and drooling, occasionally stopping their endless pacing and literally grasping at the air with their hands in an attempt to grab hold of a thought or stanza that might be floating through their heads.

It's not like I guzzle or spew them out all at once you know, I usually utilize them over a few pages so as not to nauseate or sicken by too quick an intake, but the result is still the same; an overabundance of words. In fact it seems that by stretching it out and prolonging the experience, that I somehow exasperate the situation instead of achieving my intended purpose of trying to provide some relief from the excesses of my affliction.

For affliction this is, and like any other illness verbosity has its symptoms and causes, of which the former are obvious and the latter myriad and tedious in their detail. Sufficient to know that like any other addiction the reasons lie buried within the psyche of the afflicted and need to be revealed through the careful pulling back of layers of memory, in much the same way as the dance of the seven veils exposes mystery after mystery as each piece of coloured silk wafts to the ground, until the final core stands naked and exposed.

What childhood trauma or early life experience could cause a person to contract an undying love of the English language? What horrible experience makes it necessary for them to fortify their sentences with bulwarks of indomitable predicates, nouns, pronouns, similes, allegories, analogies, and metaphors? Were they made to memorize pages of the dictionary or simply forced to suffer through one too many classes on post-modernist theory?

Or has it just been, as in my case, a reaction to what they see as the simplification of the English language down to the level of simpletons? As the world strives to cater to an ever lower and lower common denominator, there are going to be those who sicken at the sight. Their illness will manifest itself within the context of their creative field; thus for musicians it will happen in how they choose to perform and what, painters in what they choose as subjects and their methods of depiction, and writers of course in their use of the tools at their disposal.

I wouldn't worry about it spreading out into the world at large, addictions aren't usually contagious, and treatments seem readily available in the form of corrective medications designed to allow people to function at a reduced capacity of intellect and emotion. Of course that doesn't mean there aren't going to be those who are unrepentant and unwilling to undergo treatment for their affliction, but they can continue to be marginalized with the concentrated efforts of everybody.

Unfortunately I don't think there is any hope for me any more, so you might as well give me up as a lost cause. I'm hopelessly addicted to the plague of excessive word use and love of the English language. I guess I'll just have to learn to live with it. Can you?

September 25, 2006

Canadian Politics: The Case Of The Missing Kyoto Accord #8

No news is good news only if you're not desperate to hear something that will ensure that you stay out of jail for the rest of your unnatural life or waiting for a stay of execution. I was pretty firm in my belief that for me they were one and the same right now, and unless circumstances changed quickly…

Well some things just aren't any fun to think about and are guaranteed to take the fun out of a day so I tried to do something constructive about my circumstances, like figuring out who had a vested interest in the Kyoto accord going the way of the Dodo. There were the obvious answers of the guys who owned all the big smokestacks pumping shit into the air on a routing basis that wouldn't want to have their profit margin cut, or their value reduced on the open market.

Inco, and Falconbridge the two big mining companies were selling themselves off to the highest bidders – While Stelco and Dofasco the big two of Canadian steel have recently being sold to a variety of foreign investors.

But that's petty ante stuff once you head West of Ontario where Alberta is having a fire sale on anything to do with oil and natural gas production. With the newly independent countries of the old Soviet Bloc discovering they have economies, and China and India flexing their muscles as economic powers, they all want to have a semblance of self-sufficiency down the road when it comes to cheap fuel.

When you're on a selling spree like Alberta is, and to a lesser extent the rest of natural resource economy the last thing you want to be hindered with is some silly environmental regulations dictating smoke stack emissions. Especially when dealing with countries whose environmental regulations are slightly laxer than the ones needed to ensure compliance with the Kyoto accord.

Hell if the entire population of China were to exhale simultaneously the amount of Co2 released in the atmosphere could be enough to expand the hole in the Ozone layer another inch. Combine that with an economy based on slave labour mass-producing cheap manufactured goods with little or no care for anything but the present and compliance with the Kyoto accord is going to well down on the Politburo's list of things to do first thing of a morning.

Not going to be able to fit that in a day already full of convincing the West to ignore human rights atrocities in the name of business and potential markets, figuring out ways to keep over a billion people from spontaneously combusting under a horribly totalitarian regime, pretending that Tiananmen square is just a nice open space in Beijing, and getting ready for the Olympic games.

Well the rest of us didn't worry about the future either when we were starting our industrial revolutions – we thought there was an unlimited supply of everything (people to work for dirt included) and that the world could take anything we dished out. Hell there are still those among us who believe that, refusing to see what's in front of their eyes or claiming that it's God's will that they squeeze everything they can out of the planet until its an empty husk.

They'll have their gated communities guarded from the rest of the masses, so what does it matter what ends up happening. Anyway, they've done the work of God so they will receive their final reward in Heaven and sit on the right hand side of Jesus after the Last Judgement.

Now I 'm sure there is only a minority among them who are doing this so they can sit below the salt at dinner with Jesus – (wasn't he the guy who said something about the only way of entering the Kingdom of Heaven was to give up your worldly possessions? How does that jibe with strip mining so you can squeeze that extra little penny into your pocket?) But even those with less holy aspirations could still wreck havoc among the natural world if allowed to.

Being a detective you come in contact with all sorts of people who never believe that they are going to get caught, and who never consider anything but today. The future is for somebody else to worry about and the past was where others made mistakes because of stupidity and has nothing to tell them.

These have been the voices most loudly raised against the Kyoto accord since the day it was signed by all the participating countries. "We won't be able to compete against those countries that haven't signed the accord," bleated the captains of industry and their hand picked toadies in houses of parliaments around the world.

In Canada we followed much that scenario; they sounded so genuine in their concerns about Canadian jobs and the economy one was almost tempted to believe them. That is until the first of those captains put his business up for sale to the first person with big enough pockets to come along and relieve him of the tedium of actually having to pretend he worked for a living.

Some of them had the chutzpah to keep that up as they were already entering into negotiations to sell up to foreign nationals who weren't going to give two shits about Canada's economy or Canadian jobs. Now as all those deals are being finalised they don't want anything queering the pitch.

The previous Liberal governments of Jean Chretian and Paul Martin were not what one would call anti business by any stretch of the imagination. That didn't stop them from seeing Kyoto as a step in a direction the world needed to take if it was going to survive as a reasonable facsimile of what it looks like today.

Whether Steven Harper's Conservative Party of Canada was against it just because the Liberals were for it originally is irrelevant now. They made themselves out as the champions of business and the protector of the rights of CEOs everywhere while in opposition and continue to do so now that they have obtained power. So as Dr. Magensen found out they were bound to cut the heart out of any projects that were working on emission control no matter what they had achieved.

The words emission control can't be said in the same sentence, save with curses attached, as corporate political donation, to Mr. Harper's supporters if you're expecting any of the latter to make it into your pockets. So now instead of standing up in the Oppositions benches on Parliament Hill condemning the Kyoto accord, they stand up on the government side of the house and talk about finding "a Canadian alternative for emissions control"

Like Canada's scientific community has all of a sudden developed into something that can come up with a plan that works better than Kyoto could have, while not putting any pressure on corporations to comply with any new regulations. Then again they had, but the one man who had accomplished the matter was now still very dead, and after almost two pages of reviewing the facts, I'm no further ahead then I was before.

Everyone knows that the government and big business are against the accord. If they had wanted to, corporate Canada could have just arranged for Dr Magnesen to fall of the edge of the earth with no one being the wiser. Even the Canadian government's security forces aren't so incompetent that they'd leave his corpse lying around a bar frequented by government employees

Maybe I had been looking in all the wrong places for the answers? Something had been nagging at the back of my brain since I had taken a cudgel to the head. I had just assumed it was part of concussion syndrome, but now began to wonder more. It was something Officer McIntosh had said about what a dick's job should be, and something else.

It only took a couple of quick phone calls, one to Ottawa City Hall, and one other. When I got off the phone for the second time, I had a pretty good idea of who had killed Dr. Magnesen and why. But now I needed another nights sleep, even if it was only Noon. You take your nights where you can get them in my line of business, whether it's midnight or noon. Any way tomorrow would be my own version of high noon

September 10, 2006

Canadian Politics: The Case Of The Missing Kyoto Accord Part Six

Whether or not I fell like the proverbial ton of bricks, it sure felt like I had been hit over the head with them. When I came to it was with feelings I'd normally associate with the morning after the night before washing over me. The pain cutting through my head made it feel like I was ready to be outfitted for a Frankenstein stitch job, or at the least some sort of zipper assembly that would keep the top part of my head from separating from the bottom.

But there were some noticeable differences, most obviously being the fact that it seemed my legs were bound to the chair I was plopped into and my hands in lap were first tied to themselves than connected to my feet's bonds via yet another cord. For vegetarians they certainly knew their way around trussing the main course for roasting and basting at 375 degrees for a couple of hours until done.

Whoever was responsible was either brilliant or blind lucky and it didn't matter which as the result was still the same. Any time I tried to fidget with my feet in the hopes of loosing their bounds the ropes around my hands seemed to tighten and vice versa. I figured by the time I had loosened anything significantly either my hands or feet would have fallen off due to lack of circulation..

What with my head still feeling like the axe was still sticking out of the back at a jaunty angle, and my limbs trussed like a pork roast, I was quite content to sit quietly and await what was ever coming. It could explain why the next thing I knew was that I heard the sound of voices whispering in front of me. Dozing off had the unexpected payoff of reducing my head pain substantially, as well as allowing some free eavesdropping time as the voices were obviously under the impression I was still out.

"I thought you said you didn't hit him that hard? He looks like he's got brain damage," said the first voice. It sounded like a woman's, deeper than most but still a woman and I suspected it was the one who I had followed into the dead end.

"Hey you were the one who was all panicky about being followed. Anyway what does it matter, he's just another Fed. We'll give him a shot, find out what he knows then let him go. If he shows up back at headquarters sounding like he's a few bricks short of a load whose going to notice over there? Most of them talk like they've seen recent contact with the flat edge of a 2 X 4 anyway."

They thought I was a fed, while it was slightly insulting; it was also understandable given their circumstances. It also made life both a little easier and a little more precarious at the same time. If I was able to convince them of the fact that I was working the same side of the street as they were and not a fed they might not look on me with such suspicion. Of course if I wasn't able to do that I could end up being injected with some sort of truth drug that also seemed to remove a good chunk of a person's reasoning skills.

"Well the horsemen are going be happy if you keep making their job easier by knocking out everyone whose sneaking around behind their backs trying to figure who offed the professor, and who is trying to stuff the Kyoto accord so far up a chimney at the same time, that it will just be so many more toxic emissions if it can't be found soon." I had decided to try and brazen it out with the truth, cause sometimes you never know people might believe you.

It was kind of hard for me to decipher their reactions as I was seated in the centre of the pool of light cast by a naked bulb hanging over my head like that Greek dude's sword, and they were lurking in the shadows. I could tell that I had startled them, but that could just as easily be put down to them not knowing I was among the conscious more than anything else.

Whatever other effects my little speech might have had on them, at least it got them to come into my circle of light. I was right about the woman's voice, it belonged to the one who I'd followed from the store. She was your typical granola number down to her lack of make up, thick socks and expensive German made sandals. It didn't stop her from being attractive, but in an earnest political sort of way that I knew from experience could fast become tedious.

The guy was cut from the same cloth; only he had a slightly harder edge to him. He was that new breed of political activist who the cops hadn't figured out yet, computer and tech savvy, with no worries about employing violence if attacked. Cops hadn't managed to upgrade their thinking from the days of passive resistance and when they ran into people who picked up their tear gas canisters and calmly lobbed them back at them it still confused them.

The demonstrators had their own version of shock troops now who would stand up to the first wave of a baton flailing riot cop charge to give their more passive brethren and sisters a chance to escape. The guy in front of me was a prime example of the type, tall, leanly muscled and tough as whip cord. I had no trouble believing that he'd been the one to administer the love tap that left me counting teeth with the tip of my tongue.

After, I don't know maybe thirty seconds – maybe an hour – of them staring at me and me trying to stare back at them without staring because it seemed to hurt just a little too much to use my eyes that much, and without anybody saying anything. I was just about to try again when she spoke up.

"What do you know about Professor Magnesen?" she asked

"Now that's an interesting first question to ask, not why were your following me, or what do you want, but about a person who I haven't said I even know. What I do know is that you know him, which I didn't know before; thanks" I said brightly.

She certainly turned a very pretty shade of red when she flushed, whether it was with anger or embarrassment didn't make much of a difference in my book. He on the other hand didn't have the same redeeming qualities when he flushed. If he was pissed at her for giving something away, or pissed at me for being a wiseass was irrelevant as he was bound to take his displeasure out on me not her.

"Okay smart ass we you've proved that you aren't just another pretty face, but why should we believe that you're not a cop and you still didn't answer her question about what you know about the professor. So why don't you be a good guy and answer the lady's questions and maybe I'll forget what a rude bastard you were to her." He reached behind him and pulled one of the largest hunting knives I've ever seen out of belt sheath and began cleaning his nails with it. He saw me staring at it, and nodded his head once as encouragement that I shouldn't be shy about speaking my piece for much longer.

"Well first of all I know he was working on a project for the government that would have reduced green house gasses substantially while actually improving the economy instead of harming it, until the government changed and his program funding was yanked. I know that he started meeting with some environmentalists about something or other and that some government department was starting to get very interested in his files at home."

I paused for breath here and tried to gauge their reactions, but neither of them was giving anything away. They both were just staring at me waiting to hear what I had to say next. So far anything I had told them didn't tell them what they really wanted to know; who I was. The feds would have known all that I had said up till now so they still didn't have any reason to believe me when I said I wasn't working for the government. I was going to have to lay as many cards as possible on the table.

"A short while I was contacted by a client to investigate the disappearance of the Kyoto accord. I got a call at the office one night and I was supposed to meet someone over at a strip club in Hull. He showed up alright, but he arrived to see me with one of the biggest hunting knives I've ever seen sticking out of his back." I said this last bit being very careful not to look at the blade whose point the guy was now digging into the wooden tabletop in front of me.

"Since then I've been trying to trace backward through his life in an attempt to figure out who killed him and what he'd been working on that has people so scared that even after he's dead they're still trying to shut him up." I followed you", pointing with my chin at the woman" because I hoped you'd be able to help me find some answers. Given my reception I can only hope that we might be of some assistance to each other."

The guy and the woman exchanged glances, she raised an eyebrow and he nodded his head in return. He kept the knife in his hand and came at me with point pointed directly at my chest. He flipped it over in his hand so that the cutting edge was pointing up and swung the knife up and through the ropes binding my wrists. He then bent down and sliced through the cords around my feet.

He stepped back and took up his position beside the table again as I shook my hands and feet in an attempt to restore some of the circulation that I'd lost while I'd been strapped in. More and more I'm convinced that I would never be cut out for bondage. I just don't like mixing work with pleasure that much.

I was still busy rubbing at my wrists and ankles when the woman spoke up. "Look", she said, "we're really sorry about all this", waving her hand as if taking in the basement, my skull and being tied to a chair, "but ever since the professor was killed we've been really scared about what's going on. Why would they want to kill him just because he had good ideas about how we could reach our commitment to the Kyoto accord and be able to help other countries do the same."

"Yeah", said the guy," I hope I didn't do too much damage, but our nerves are stretched pretty raw right about now. Not only can't we figure out why anyone would have wanted the professor dead, we don't have much idea as to who could have done it. When you showed up nosing around…well we though we might be able to crack you open about who you were working for and get some answers."

He sighed, and shook his head. "But we're still no further ahead and there aren't even any clues to go on. It doesn't sound like you know that much more than we do." He sucked in a big breath of air." Damn this is frustrating. He was so close to answers, in fact we believe he might have even had them already, but was playing it close to the vest as he could see the departments he had built for research and development slowly being dismantled due to budget cut backs and funding not being renewed. He had contacted us late in the summer before the Election, knowing that even a potential Stephen Harper victory would destroy his life's work"

"When they couldn't do that, they destroyed him instead" her voice was choked as if close to tears, and I looked at her closely. "The reason he approached us was that I had been a student to his at the University. One day, accidentally he said, by coincidence he said he came in here and we got to chatting. He wanted to know what I was up to, If I had kept up being active in environmental groups after leaving school. He also wanted to know if I had been following the discussions about global warming in the papers and was as worried as he was by what he called the irresponsible science issuing from some world capitals"

She paused as if to gather her thoughts, or to just take the deep breath that would see her through the rest of her story. "After a while he asked me if I knew a couple of other people who were active in environmental groups who might like to learn some information that they could put to good use. So we began to go over to his house at odd hours to try and shake off any potential tails. Judging by the outcome to date we haven't succeeded in doing much except getting our patron killed"

The silence that followed her little speech was exceptionally empty as we all sat with our own thoughts for a minute or two. Finally she broke it and in a rather choked voice looked at me, then over at her erstwhile companion, and asked the question whose answer I had come looking for. "What do we do now?"

September 3, 2006

Canadian Politics: The Case Of The Missing Kyoto Accord Part 5

So I admit it, I'm a sucker for a woman in distress. It doesn't hurt that when she says my name it sound like a caress or that four foot nine of her five feet seven are legs. Those are just what we call fringe benefits in this line of work. Sort of like free drinks at a bar, or a discount on a sandwich for work done in the past.

So it was pretty much a no-brainer that when that husky voice, made even huskier by tears, washed over my ear I'd be saying yes to doing anything Ms. Magnesen wanted. If it means ferreting around in the muck of the quagmire that we call politics in Canada then that's what I'll be doing.

Lucy's voice sounded a bit calmer, less full of tears when she called me as agreed the next morning. If we were going to get to the bottom of this whole mess there was no time like the present to begin. I was hopping that she would be able to give me some clues, names of any of the Greenpeace and granola types that had been hanging out with her dad in those last days, would be a good place to start.

Unfortunately she couldn't remember any more details about them that morning then in our previous conversation. It looked I'd be getting on a lot closer terms with soy burgers, herbal teas and hemp shirts than what I'd consider good for a man's soul. But those are the sacrifices you have to be prepared to make for the job.

I'm sure you've noticed how groups tend to congregate into a geographical centre of activities, and the granola rollers are no different. In Ottawa they have taken over a couple of square blocks of what used to be the red light district until the girls got wise and moved out to where all the Embassies are and can now get work as escorts and blackmail material. (usually one and the same thing in the Embassy district)

In the end it meant another nice seedy neighbourhood falling victim to the let's improve the downtown core so people from the suburbs want to come here mentality. It's that type of thinking that has ruined more areas in this city then you can shake a by-law exemption on zoning laws at. The first signs of trouble are when the adventurous ones in their S.U.V.'s and Dockers start showing up in your favourite greasy spoon.

Then it's only a matter of time before they're telling their friends about this "place". The next thing you know there's a Starbucks on one corner, a health food store on another, a new age book store on the third and one of those shops that don't really sell anything in particular but whatever it is they do sell it's for quite a bit of money.

The people I wanted to talk to weren't going to be among that crowd; none of them would be caught dead driving anything powered by anything other than their own leg muscles, eating in a greasy spoon, or, if they drank coffee at all, sitting in a Starbucks. They'd be the ones you see working in the health food stores, or the whole earth type eateries that spring up like boils in these new neighbourhoods

You know the type; never smiling, with a pasty grey complexion from not eating enough protein who drift around filling the bulk bins at the health food stores. Or being your surly wait staff at the new eatery that displaced the greasy spoon within weeks of gentrification. They seem to take some sort of grim satisfaction in watching people pretending to enjoy their tasteless lentil and ground nut burgers or making bulk purchases of certified organic brown basmati rice.

The only time they're known to smile is when some pathetic soul tries to order something that gives them an excuse to for the "lecture". It comes in four standard forms; the evils of globalization, the evils of eating meat, the evils of trans fats and other unhealthy by-products of processed foods, and the evils found in tap water and the air we breath.

The latter they seem to take special delight in listing while people are trying to eat lunch. Nothing like a graphic description of the effects of P.C.B.'s on a person's liver to turn you off your lentil and beetroot tofu omelette. Lucy had wanted to come with me on the grounds that she might be able to recognise one of the people who was visiting her father, but I told her that it wasn't necessary for the two of us to suffer, and besides Ididn't know what danger we could be walking into.

So far all that I had risked was doing some sort of permanent damage to both my intestinal tract and any goodwill I might have towards my fellow humans. I remember reading about the Puritans back in history class somewhere and how they were dour folk who didn't believe in frivolity or fun of any kind. But compared to these environmental martyrs those guys would have been a laugh riot.

For all that I still was no further ahead before I walked into this ring of hell that Dante seems to have forgotten to describe. There was only one store that I hadn't been in yet and I didn't hold out much hope of finding anything there. Factual information and New Age bookstores aren't normally to be found within the same orbit, but as the saying goes no turn un-stoned. I've learned never to discard anything as a potential source of information.

Compared to the rest of the places I'd been in my tour through the pits of despair this was a fountain joy. Bright light, and no smell of rotting vegetation made an immediate improvement in my mood, which was only augmented by the smile and plunging neckline behind the counter. As they were accompanied by a pretty face and a cheery voice asking me if there was anything she could do for me, it almost made the day's efforts worthwhile.

Leaning casually on the counter, trying not to be distracted by what happened whenever she inhaled, I quickly spun the tale I had come up with to cover my real intent. My daughter was doing a school project on global warming and needed to find out more information about the Kyoto Accord. Did she happen to know anyone or could she recommend any good books that a single dad could get for his pride and joy to help her fulfill her dream of becoming an environmental scientist?

As soon as I mentioned the words Kyoto Accord I couldn't help notice an increased agitation in her breathing, how her smile had become a little more fixed, and a look had entered into her eyes that could only be fear. Pressing home what seemed to be an advantage I said surely amongst some of these books there must be something about global warming and the Kyoto Accord.

She was a lousy liar, that pretty little New Ager, and she knew it. But she bite her lip and said no, that wasn’t the type of book they sold here. She then made a show of catching site of the time, and making her excuses about needing to see a doctor she hustled me from the store so she could close up for her appointment.

I quickly took up station in the doorway of a store a half block down; there was no way I was going to let my little bird fly without following her. If my guess was right she was the lead I had suffered lentil burgers for and all I would have to do was follow her to where I needed to be led.

Sure enough she came out of the store a minute later. After locking the door she gave the street the quick once over and began to walk briskly away from the store and me. I let her get a half block away from the store before I began to follow her. She was wearing a very distinctly coloured poncho with some sort of bird on it's back that made her easy to follow so I wasn't worried about losing contact with her.

At one point she dashed into a store for a couple of moments and when she came back out she had added a headscarf to her ensemble. If that were meant to fool anyone who was possibly trailing her she was in for a surprise. Not even the R.C.M.P. would be thrown by such a simple deception. I was being careful to keep well back from her so there was no chance of her catching a glimpse of my face or recognising me by some other means, so I almost missed it when she turned off the main road.

When I got to where she exited stage right it turned out to be a dead-end alleyway with nobody in sight. As my eyes adjusted to the gloom I noticed a couple of doors in each wall. They were made of identical plain materials, banded with metal; obviously fire doors from the old days when the buildings were first constructed.

It was probably that momentary feeling of being nonplussed that distracted me enough that I didn't notice anyone behind me until I felt the first touch on the back of my head of whatever it was they used to knock me out. I can only assume that I fell like a ton of bricks because that's what you normally do under the circumstances.


August 23, 2006

Canadian Politics: The Case Of The Missing Kyoto Accord #4

Well it looked like I had run into a dead end. I should have known better than to think any of the bar's phones or their accoutrements, which is a fancy way of saying the shit that goes with something, would have survived the types of drunks, junkies, and liars that habituate a strip bar. Probably the first drunk husband whose wife had told him not to come home from wherever he was had performed the Charles Atlas trick on the "Let My Fingers Do the Walking" tome at the first booth.

The second looked like it had been used to mop up something that I didn't want to have a better acquaintance with and the third, like someone had used it as practice before they perforated the late, lamented Doctor Magneson. Sighing a curse or two at the perfidy of my fellow men I headed for the office where I was certain I could find a phone book in somewhat better shape than any of these relics.

After two hours of questioning my sanity and a half bottle of whiskey later I came across the phone book for the National Capital Region (Ottawa, Hull, and anywhere else in the vicinity that uncivil servants might hang their coats and hats) propping up a window. It had sustained a little damage from water and the neighbouring pigeons, and the mice had absconded with the zeds (poor as synagogue mice as they were making they're way through the book backwards) for comfort, but at least the section where gorgeous Scandinavian blondes kept their phone numbers looked to be intact.

That is if they kept their phone number in phone books at all. Two hours of scouring the phone book only confirmed the fact that there was no Magnesons to be found with a listed phone number anywhere within the confines of this sorry excuse for a city. There are 600 Martins, and four different ways that people seem to spell MacDonald, Mcdonald, MaCdonald, and Macdonald, but no damn Magnesons.

Some items when they cause you frustration don't have the decency to give you any means of release. A phone book on the other hand has a nice bit of heft to it so when you decide to chuck it across the room it will make a resounding thud. Indeed if you throw it hard enough not only will it make a satisfying noise, it will rip through cheap drywall like an elephant's fart through tissue paper.

It took my a few seconds to realize that the ringing sound I was hearing in my ears was unrelated to the minor bit of renovation I had begun seconds ago, and had more to do with the phone sitting on my desk than anything else. I was using less then the usual requisite number of brain cells required to carry on a phone conversation when I picked up the receiver; half of them being awash in the best part of a fifth of Canadian Club, another chunk trying to visualize how the filing cabinet would look on the other side of the door, and the remainder trying to figure out how long it would take the mice to work there way backwards through the whole alphabet now that they had ready access to the source.

So it took me a second or two to remember what I was supposed to do with the piece of cheap plastic in my hand out of which a sultry voice was calling hello with increasing amounts of urgency. I tried to shake off thoughts of mice in knit yarmulkes and me wearing a truss, the way a dog shakes off water, and was rewarded with the office attempting to spin me into orbit. It was only by catching the desk with my chin that I was able to prevent myself from hitting the floor.

Pain has the remarkable ability to clear your brain and let you focus on the events at hand. After the sparks that had appeared out of nowhere in front of my eyes had vanished I noticed that I was holding on to the phone. I was just about to hang it up when I heard a vaguely familiar sounding voice saying, "Oh my God what's going on, is there anybody there? Hello, hello?"

"Lady could you keep your voice down I've got quite the headache all of a sudden and you're not helping any by yelling away like this" There was now a much appreciated silence at the other end of the line which allowed me to regain a little bit of my composure so that I could go about this the right way. After all she had just lost the man who I assumed to be her father in a rather grisly fashion and that called for a certain amount of delicacy. (Who else did you think it was going to be on the phone at this time of night in this kind of story – sheesh)

"Why did you do it? Why did you kill your father tonight Ms. Magnesen? I saw you running away from the bar just as he keeled over at my feet so don't deny you were there and that you fled. Any normal girl would have stayed, you see your father drop to the floor like a ton of bricks and you're heading for the proverbial hills – something ain't right with that picture Ms. Magnesen and your gonna have to help me bring it into focus."

There was a pause from the other end of the phone line, followed by the unmistakeable sounds of someone taking a large drag off a cigarette followed by a long slow exhale. Visualizing in my head just how those actions would affect her lips and the thoughts that sprang to mind with those images left me a little light headed again. I barely recovered in time to hear what she had to say next.

"I guess I'm not what you'd call a normal girl Mr?" her voicing trailing away in a suggestive question mark led me to quickly interject in a still somewhat shaky voice "just call me Steve, Ms. Magnesen" to which she replied "there's no need for you to be formal either, Steve; call me Gertrude" Immediately destroying any of the earlier mental images that I had envisioned. Gertrude is just one of those names where even knowing the person in question would look good in a potato sack makes me think of particularly hairy great aunts.

Another cigarette inhalation pause followed this exchange of names, this time bereft of any accompanying imagery, until she continued with, " But then again my dad and I hadn't been having what you would call a normal existence for the past while"

I made appreciative, and what I hoped were encouraging noises, and made myself comfortable on the floor, noticing with contentment that the remainder of the fifth was within easy reach having rolled onto the floor in the confusion. I hooked the bottle over to me with my foot and was carefully unscrewing the cap as she began her story.

"My dad and I had moved up to Ottawa a few years ago, my mother had died from cancer and neither of us could bear to be around places that reminded us of her. He felt especially guilty because his work had kept him from home during a great deal of her last months with us and he knew that he wished that he could have spent more time with her.

I had ended up being her primary care giver, having to bathe her, change her diapers when she could no longer get up to go to the bathroom on her own, and eventually feed her. While he was off at conferences on climate change and global warming I'd be at home making broth and rolling her over in bed to prevent bed sores. He told me later that he was sorry that he had left so much of the burden on my shoulders but he couldn't stand to see her like what she was becoming.

That broken collection of bones and skin with no intellect or brain wasn't the person he had married. No matter how hard he tried he couldn't feel anything but revulsion for her when he was around her, and that ate at him like termites in a clapboard house. He had worshiped the ground she had walked on until the moment she had gotten sick, treating her like she was royalty, and then all of a sudden he found he couldn't go near her."

I was fighting back tears by this time, although that could have been residual pain and medicinal whiskey, so I wasn't all that surprised that she made a slight choking sound as if overcome with emotion and had to pause for a second. As there was nothing really that could be said, I said nothing and let her take all the time she needed to compose herself before she continued.

"Anyway when the previous government was working out ways to try and ensure that Canada was going to meet its Kyoto accord commitments a position became available requiring someone of dad's expertise and skills. I decided to go back to school and finish the thesis work I had begun when Mom had gotten sick and we began the process of putting our live back together.

Those couple of years were great; everyone dad was working with were excited about coming up with solutions that would not only see Canada meet its obligations, but actually exceed them. It was so great to see dad taking an interest in life again. There had been a time just after mom died that I was worried for him, and that I thought he might be going off the deep end into depression, but this new project had revitalized him.

Of course it was too good to be true, and all those other damn clichés about good stuff coming to an end, and last fall when it began to look like the Conservative Party Of Canada had a good chance of forming the next government, dad started asking questions about the accord's future if the change were to happen and it didn't look good.

The word he got was that even if they were able to cut emissions by fifty per cent and improve the economy at the same time by an equal amount, the Conservatives were going to pull the plug on the deal no matter what. When words like 'setting a dangerous precedent for government regulatory powers and interference in the market place' start being bandied about, you could have discovered the cure for cancer and AIDS and you knew your funding would be killed and your program shut down.

Dad became like a figure obsessed; he began working all hours of the day and night in an effort to come up with a devise that could be used to convert carbon dioxide and other dangerous emissions into harmless substances when released into the atmosphere. He knew that even if the government had no intention of ever making use of this technology that there were others who would and could.

It was just before Christmas and after the election had been called that he let me in on a little of what he was planning, albeit it indirectly. He told me that I shouldn't be surprised if he started to receive visitors at home at all hours of the day and night, and that I shouldn't make a big deal out of it. He also said it would be a good idea if I didn't tell anybody about them either."

She stopped to light another cigarette and gather her thoughts for what I assumed was the crux of the matter. I had a good idea where this was going and beginning to see how it ended as badly as it did. I had long since abandoned the bottle of whiskey and was sitting propped up against the desk with my legs splayed out in front of me. Looking out the office window I could see the sky was beginning to change colour; the clouds of the previous night had dispersed and there was a faint blush appearing along the eastern horizon line. It looked like it was going to be a nice day for somebody, somebody who probably wasn't named Gertrude Magneson.

"Maybe I should have said something to him, asked him more about what he was doing, but he looked like he had hope for the first time since the beginning of the fall when we started to hear the rumours of our demise. After all we'd been through there was no way I was going to be the one to pull the rug out from under him.

Over the course of the next couple of weeks, up to Christmas and then twice more before New Years, the visits took place. They would usually happen between midnight and four in the morning and the person would arrive on bicycle or foot. Most of the time they'd only come one at a time, but on the last couple of occasions all three of them came together and these visits were also in daytime. It was as if they either believed they were completely safe or they no longer cared whether they were being observed.

The two men and a woman all dressed and looked pretty much the same. Long hair, bulky sweaters, fancy sandals with thick socks on no matter what the weather, and the same zealous fire in their eyes at all times. They were all sort of pale, like they didn't eat enough and never had anything to drink except water and herbal tea. The woman looked at me like I was some sort of evil monster and the two men would sneak looks at me when they didn't think I could see and they knew she wasn't looking.

Obviously they weren’t supposed to approve of me, the way I dressed or looked or something, but that didn't stop them from drooling just like any other straight male does the first time he sees me. I thought they were judgemental little hypocrites for judging me by my appearance, they were probably the types who protested against just that sort of thing, but I didn't say anything because my dad assured me their visits were temporary and they were helping him out in some way or another. Sure enough after those last couple of meetings before New Year's Eve we never saw them again.

After Christmas vacation my dad went back to work and waited for the inevitable to happen. After the elections rumours were flying fast and furious, but dad remained calm and when I asked him about it he just smiled and shrugged. But everything changed again a week after the oily bastards announced they were reneging on the Kyoto accord in order to 'seek a Canadian solution'.

I was at home working on my thesis and two men came to the door. They should have been wearing badges that said undercover R.C.M.P. officer or at least kept their stupid hats on they were so obvious. They said they were colleagues of dad's from work and that he had sent them by the house for some files he needed that he kept at home, and would I mind letting them come in to get them. I told them I would have to check with him first, and pretended to walk back into the house to use the phone, but in reality just slipped around the corner and observed them in the reflection from the hall mirror.

Not much of a surprise that they didn't wait for me to come back from making my 'phone call'. They left the door open when they left, so I did a full production for them of coming out on the step and looking puzzled as to what had just happened. I also used the time to spot where they had parked their Crown Victoria and watched as they pretended to be gay lovers necking in the front seat.

When I told dad about it he asked if I were okay and when I assured him I was, he laughed a little. But it wasn't as if it were at anything funny. He said they had searched the lab as well but they weren't going to find anything because, and he pointed to his head, it's all up here.

It was a week ago that he started to get worried about things again, but he didn't want to say anything to me about it. I had been seeing the same two cops who had come to the door around town, just happening to be where I was every so often. They made no effort to hide themselves, like they wanted to let me know they were keeping an eye on me for whatever reason.

I think it was the fact that they were bothering me that finally convinced him that we needed to find somebody to help us. Somebody we could trust in a situation that looked like it was getting further out of hand then he had expected. I think he had hoped that when they didn't find any files they could use they would leave him alone, but that didn't look like it was happening.

I was to follow him to the bar where the two of you were meeting last night to try and see if anybody had followed him, but it was so crowded that I couldn't even see either of you for a while. The next thing I knew was that he was dead. I was so scared that his killer was standing somewhere near me that all I could think of was getting out of there as quickly as possible. My father's dead Steve, and all I know is that it has something to do with the Kyoto accord and the Canadian government. Can you help me?"

August 13, 2006

Canadian Politics: The Case Of The Missing Kyoto Accord part 3

It took what seemed forever and a day for the boys in blue to get finished with me that night. I guess I was lucky it was only the local boys and the R.C.M.P. didn't think it worth getting down off their high horses for a simple bar knifing. Probably if they had known what was behind it all they would have pried their saddles loose from their butts, but I'd been playing it close to the vest so far. As far as anybody could tell I was only another witness to a senseless act of random violence.

Well that's what I thought it looked like, but Ottawa's finest must have had other thoughts. The obligatory uniform had shown up twenty minutes after the first screams and in the meantime the bar had emptied quicker then a tourist's bowel in Mexico. By the time the boys from Homicide made it to the scene it was only me, the peelers, the girls who served the drinks and the bartender.

The bartender hadn't looked at all happy when I suggested we call the cops, but even he couldn't think of a way of disposing of this problem. While I had been phoning 911, he had been on the other line to his boss. The type of guy who owns these bars likes to know when the police are going to be visiting his premises just as a matter of principle. Usually it's to check whether the paperwork for the Eastern European girls' will be needed or not.

Sometimes the owners will give these girls an incentive for working by "holding" on to their documents for them – to keep both the girls and the documents from getting lost. Those girls usually have had someone do them the great favour of buying them a ticket out of their shit hole village in the Balkans and offering them a job in the "Entertainment and Hospitality" business. If they were lucky it only meant stripping.

But they didn't have to worry, the homicide dicks took one look at the seven inches of steel (it only looked like three to me, but the guys who write up the reports think the bigger the better, although I've always thought it's not the size that matters; dead after all is dead) sticking out of the guy's back and are immediately on to bigger fish to fry. Me.

McIntosh and Gates might have been nice people off the job, hell they probably were kind to widows and orphans and all that other good stuff too, but being homicide cops for twenty years can make you pretty jaded when it comes to the job. Thankfully they didn't dislike me personally, only on principle. Detective work should be left to the cops and private dicks should stick to ruining people's marriages was how Gates had summed it up the first time he met me. (I don't think he ever found out about the manila envelope full of prints of him and the little Russian stripper that his ex – wife had paid me two thousand dollars for)

"Look who it is Mac, the big time private detective holding up a bar with a corpse leaning on his size elevens. That's a sight to warm the cockles of a person's heart, providing of course they have one." He was a skinny little guy who looked like he should have a cigarette dangling out his mouth as he was always talking out of the other side.

"One what? A heart or a cockles?" was McIntosh's humorous reply. He was a regular laugh riot that guy. He was an average build sort of type; the kind whose clothes hang around them to see if anything interesting was going to happen to the body and gradually lose what ever shape they might have had as they give into the inevitability of gravity.

They were both eyeing me in that appreciative manner that lions have for fresh meat, and Mac mimed flipping a coin. Nodding in an unspoken agreement Gates moved off to talk to the girls and the bartender while Mac figured he'd keep me company in case the body started to scare me.

It was one of those awkward moments between two men in a bar ever since they had banned smoking in public places. When you don't have the action of lighting a cigarette to use as cover for starting a conversation you can feel mighty exposed. To cover he fished in his jacket pocket and brought out his little flip-top note book and cheap chewed pen and began scanning the notes he had taken down from the preliminary results given him by the scene of the crime boys and the uniforms who had got here first.

After that little show he looked over at me, nodding his head imperceptibly to give me permission to talk. He knew that it as a matter of course I would be telling him as little as possible about any case I was working on and the only information he was going to get from me was stuff he already had. This was just their way of letting me know what was what.

So I told him I'd come to the bar to meet a contact who had called me over the phone, and that while waiting for him to show up this guy had fallen down dead at my feet after trying to swallow a sword with his sternum. McIntosh obviously had something up his sleeve that he was waiting to drop on me like an Acme anvil taking out the Coyote. He was just letting me play out some line so that he could see if I'd let slip with anything he was going to be able to use to string me up with.

When he played his trump card it wasn't anything that I wasn't prepared for, it was all just part of the game we played. The corpse was my contact it turns out, or the fact that he had my business card, with the time of our meeting and the bar's address scribbled on the back of it would have to rank up there with one of the largest coincidences on record.

Mac stood there waving the familiar card with the unfamiliar writing on the back in it's little evidence bag, as if dangling it in front of my face would make me all of a sudden break down to confessing the killing of all my clients. But I was made of harder stuff then that and came right back with my own question.

"Since you seem to think this guy must have been a client, why not give me his name. I hate it when they die on you before they've introduced themselves. It really puts a damper on future relationship possibilities and collecting from their next of kin"

I could see him mulling it over, wondering how much it damage it would cause his reputation if he were just to give me the name. At the same time I could let something slip that might just tie me a little bit tighter to the corpse. Finally he cleared his throat and recited what little information they did have. "His name was Dr. Samuel Magnesun, but he's not the sort of doctor you go to when you have a sore throat. He works, well worked for I guess you'd say now, the National Research Council here in Ottawa. We haven't been able to find out what he'd been working on yet; we're still waiting to hear back from his section head at the Council. I hadn't said more then dead in a bar, when the words National Security came whistling down the line, which than went deader than a dodo."

He eyed me even more expectedly now, to see if I could add to anything to the sketch of information that he had gathered. Even if I could give him something more, I think we both had the feeling of inevitability that strikes you when something is going to be swept under the carpet. National Security could explain away everything from not accepting tenders for military equipment so you could award the contracts to your buddies or those whose support you, to explaining the paperclip shortage at the Revenue Canada offices.

Truth be told I was thinking of a particular Nordic looking blonde and wondering what her relationship was with this middle aged chap laid out on the floor with a rib separator jammed into the area of his heart from the back and whether or not she'd require some consoling, when a loud throat clearing brought me back to reality.

Reality in the shape of Gates glowering at me from McIntosh's shoulder and saying, "Dick head are you listening to me? Unless you got something important to say, you've got to clear out. I've just got the word that the men in the grey suits are on their way to check out the body before we can take it down to the morgue. I only hope they hurry it up as this guy is starting to stiffen in that shape. Families hate it when they have to bury the corpse in pieces cause we had to break it to fit it into the bags."

I don't need to be told twice to vamoose when the feds are going to be making an appearance, but their appearance started to change the whole completion of this little exercise. What did my friend the corpse, the late Mr. Magnesun have to do with the Kyoto accord? Had he made some sort of breakthrough that certain bodies wanted silenced? Or was it just he had knowledge that ran contrary to what the government and its supporters wanted the public to believe about the accord's necessity?

Stopping on my way out of the bar, I checked the least vandalised pay phone for a directory and as I suspected there was only one listing for a Magnesun in the phone book. It wasn't that late yet, so I figured I'd swing by the address listed on my way home and see if a certain ash blond head was around to talk to.

I could offer my condolences, maybe some comfort, and hopefully pick up a few answers about the good Doctor's work and how or if it related to the Kyoto accord and what it was she was doing in the bar earlier that evening. With the feds swooping down on Magnesun's corpse like so many vultures, it would only be a matter of time before they had everything about him and the Kyoto accord under lock and key where they would never see the light again.

I still had far more questions then answers, but at least I was beginning to know which questions to ask. Like why were the feds so keen to keep the information about the Kyoto accord quiet? One way or another I was going to find me some answers, and I didn't care who I had to walk over or sleep with to get them. Although as far as the latter is concerned my preference would be for a certain ash blond.


August 8, 2006

Canadian Politics: The Case Of The Dissapearing Accord Part 2

Saying yes to something is a whole lot different from actually doing anything about it. Even with my rather specialized knowledge of the ins and outs of the backrooms of Ottawa I was at a loss as to where to go on this one. All of my usual contacts, sources, snitches, and blackmail victims had shut up tighter than someone holding back a fart in church.

At the word Kyoto some hadn't even the decency to say anything just left me listening to the click of their receiver echoing in the dial tone. They'd either all been gotten too early and hard or were just scared by what they knew. It's difficult to believe that something as seemingly benign as an accord governing reductions in CO2 would cause everyone I know to pucker shut, but that was seemingly the case.

The only clue, if you could call it that was the mysterious voice that phoned just as tall, intimidating and gorgeous was knocking at my door. But someone who uses call blocking and hangs up after muttering out "Where has all the water gone?" can't be considered much of any assistance.

So I was wrapping up my day by letting the imagination play around with having to console a certain Mrs. marine biologist, which involved quite a bit of page leafing on my part, when my reverie was rudely ruptured by the phones pneumatic clatter. When I had collected my thoughts sufficiently to finally collar the receiver under my chin and against my ear a voice scratched at my eardrums.

"Have you figured it out yet?" At least this time it seemed inclined to wait around for an answer instead of the rhetorical shit from earlier. So I decided to see if could draw it out by holding some cards back. This was my only source and I needed to play it right or it would end up being just another August fishing story.

"The question shouldn't have been, where has all the water gone?" I said stalling for time, "It would have been better to ask why is the water not coming?" I wasn't quite sure what made me say that, but after it came out of my mouth it was just like toothpaste in that it couldn't be shoved back in the tube. On the other hand since it seemed to impress the voice at the other end enough to keep him on the line, it couldn't have been all bad.

"Very good, shamus, very good. At least you listen when the information comes in the right package. We were afraid it might be a little too distracting given your initial reaction, but now we see that it was the right decision." There was a pause during which I took all this in, including the fact my mystery woman may not have been all she claimed to be, perhaps not even married.

I missed the first part of what the voice at the other end of the phone said next as I let my mind drift along lines that had nothing to do with water, but was wet enough in its own right, so had to try and catch up as it went along. The first words that I caught was a mention of a favourite drinking spot and with a bit of the quick thinking I was known for cut in with, "Yeah I know the spot"

The pause at the other end of the line was long enough that I thought maybe I'd blown it. But the voice came back on the line and said "eight o'clock" before leaving me with my old friend the dial tone. I figured that was as good an indication as any that I could hang up the phone.

So three hours latter I was sitting at my seat by the pole with a cold one sweating in my hand and a hottie working the poll causing those around me to sweat waiting to see who would show up. Part of me was hoping it would be her, I've always wanted to use that line about what's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this. Even better would be the one from that Bogie movie: "of all the Gin joints in all the world she had to walk into…"

Damn the heat must be getting to me worse then I thought if I'm starting to go on about some dame like this who I couldn't even say hello to without my larynx swallowing my tongue. I leaned forward to rest my forehead on my hand and brought the cold beer bottle up in an attempt to cool off my head, when somebody bumped into my back moving me forward in my seat.

That's not too unusual in a crowded bar like this, you get drunks staggering around a lot, and everybody takes it for granted and doesn't get their noses out of joint too often. So I was kind of surprised that the reaction of those around me was so extreme. First the guys on either side of me backed away and turned an even paler shade of civil service never see the light of day pasty, then the girl twirling on the pole stopped, pointed, opened her mouth to scream but didn't make it that far as she collapsed in a heap on the counter.

It was only when I turned around and saw the knife, if something the size of a machete could be called a knife, sticking out of the guy's back. If I was to hazard a guess this was to have been my contact for the evening, if only because of the fact he had a picture of me in the hand that wasn't trying to remove what didn't belong from between his shoulder blades. It looked like this missing Kyoto accord was really starting to heat up, and somebody didn't want me or anybody else to know too much about it.

Well I'm like your stupidest cat that way; curiosity has its claws in deep. Bodies starting to fall and people clamming up is just one sure way to keep me interested and make me even more curious. I wouldn't say nothing to the cops about nothing; it's always better not to let them draw conclusions because it usually ends up with you in the frame, so to speak.

It looked like I was going to be on my own for this Kyoto accord deal, which was fine by me, as that's just the way I liked it. I happened to look up at that moment to see what looked like a familiar head of ash blonde hair leaving through the bar's main entrance. Well, maybe I wouldn't be so alone as I thought.

July 16, 2006

Canadian Politics: The Case Of The Missing Opposition: Part Two

I was at my usual ringside seat watching one of the girls have her way with a brass pole, drinking my beer and trying to figure things out. It just didn't make sense; where could the opposition parties have vanished to since that day in January when Steven Harper and his boys took power?

Maybe the Liberals have the excuse of trying to keep a low profile, they've just lost power for the first time in thirteen years, their leader resigned, and they need time to regroup. But what about Jack Layton and the New Democratic Party (N.D.P.) He's no shrinking violet to back down from a fight or to go turtle when the times get tough. Anyway he'd just led his party to their best result in over twenty years so he's got to be feeling good; but there's barely been a peep out of him.

I know people think that Harper has worked out some sort of deal with the Bloc Quebecois, but I can't see them under normal circumstances letting any Federal Leader jump on a provincial jurisdiction like Harper did with Day Care and let them get away with it. Normally Gilles Duceppe would be all over that like a guy's hands on a lap dancer's assets, but now he's acting like a Puritan; pursing his lips and keeping his eyes closed.

It's one of those cases you sometimes wish you'd never taken on. Where do you go looking for opposition parties that seem to have vanished? None of them have been heard from up on Parliament Hill in months so checking the House of Commons is out of the question. The last time I can remember everybody being up there was when the Liberals agreed with the Tories implementing their policy of extending the and expanding the tour of duty of Canadian forces in Afghanistan.

The Voice of Concerned Canada has mentioned that's when the first questions started to come up about the opposition's whereabouts. Public opinion polls were showing that a solid majority of Canadians were opposed to any such arrangement; nobody wanted to start seeing young Canadians coming home in boxes from a country halfway around the world.

You'd have thought the opposition would have made some noise about remarks that oozed out of Harper's people saying Canadians "didn't understand" the importance of what was being done over there in Afghanistan. Nothing, not even a tiny little squeak like a mouse would make when trod on by an elephant.

I let my eye trail around the room, watching the girls going up and down the posts like pistons in a steam engine can be pretty relaxing in a mesmerizing sort of way. Civil servants trying to look nonchalant fondled their mobile phones and pagers as they watched the amazing muscle control required to climb a brass poll using only the inner thighs.

It used to be everybody would be smoking a cigarette or something, but ever since the day of infamy when smoking was banned in bars both sides of the border, mobile phones have replaced packs of smokes on bars as the toy of choice. Even I had one of the damn things in front of me on the bar. You felt naked without at least something square to put beside your keys on the bar. (There's a mystery for you, why do men always put their car keys on the bar in front of them? Half of them aren't going to be driving home from there that night anyway)

Half of the phones were in use right now, but who they were phoning at this time of night on a Friday in Ottawa is anyone's guess, unless of course it was to make excuses to their wives about work keeping them late. There was no one else they could be phoning without getting one of them damn voice mails with their insistent instructions on how to get in touch with whoever it is you're trying to get in touch with.

A fleeting though chased its tail in my head for a second then turned around and came back for a second look. Well why not, I had nothing else to go on and I might just get some lead or another. I opened the cell's top with a flip of the wrist and punched in the first series of numbers.

"Hello, bonjour. You have reached Liberal Party Headquarters" I immediately pressed one to get service in English and the voice continued "There's nobody here to answer your call right now, our normal office hours are Monday to Friday 9:00 – 5:00, but currently I wouldn't count on finding anyone in the office at they are all busy with sharpening knives in preparation for the leadership convention.

If this is an emergency situation and you need to talk to a liberal party member the janitor will be occasionally checking messages. Speak slowly and clearly and spell any words of more than one syllable if you desire any accuracy, as his English isn't the best.

Hopefully somebody will back in the office after the leadership convention next December and will attempt to get back to you at that time. Until then thank you for calling the National Headquarters of the Liberal Party of Canada, your thoughts and opinion are important to us."

I disengaged that call and took another kick at the can. "Bonjour, Vous avez atteint le bureau du Bloc Quebecois, pour le service en anglais, partez" Well that was as nice a "piss off" as I've received in a long time. Well I guess if you don't expect anyone from outside Quebec to vote for you, you're not going to provide service in English.

I was getting nowhere fast with this, but I figured I might as well give it one more shot and call the N.D.P. "Hi there you have reached national party headquarters for the New Democratic Party of Canada, the home of Social Democracy in Canada. We're the folk you never vote for but whom the Liberals steal all their ideas from and take the credit. We try not to get bitter about that but it really hurts our feelings you know that you never vote for us. Don't you like us? We gave you Medicare you ungrateful bastards yet you never give us more then a few measly seats.

We are not a tool of the unions or other special interest groups. Most union members have a higher annual income than us now for God's sake and vote for the damn Conservatives. What's with you guys anyway, you keep voting in these right wing bastards who promise to cut social spending and when they do you all whine about it. We warned you, but you wouldn't listen to us, oh no we're just fear mongers out of touch with the new economic reality of globalization. Well you voted for them so stop bitching at us about it.

Have a nice day and thank you for phoning N.D.P. national headquarters"

I closed the phone and laid it back on the bar in front of me, it might as well have been a pack of smokes for all the good it did me making those calls. The only call that went as I expected was the Bloc Quebecois, telling people to go away if they want service in English is about right for them, but even so they used to at least do it in English.

The other two sounded like petty little children who weren’t getting their way. The N.D.P.'s "nobody like's me everybody hates me" line, and the Liberals not giving a shit attitude ranked right up there in maturity with teenagers and …politicians. It hit me like the sidewalk hitting the face of anyone stupid enough to grab a boob in a place like this without paying extra, our politicians were actually becoming politicians.

It used to be in Canada people had a career, like doctors, lawyers, loan sharks, whatever, and they became a member of parliament on the side, or did it for a bit and then went back to being what they had been before they had decided to run in an election. Unlike other countries we didn’t' have people who wanted to be a politician when they grew up, or it wasn't a career goal in school.

If they wanted to serve the people they became social workers if the were liberals, or cops if the were conservative, but you didn't become a politician. You either did corporate law or worked as a defence attorney handling Legal Aid cases only and that's how you expressed your philosophy, through work not by becoming a politician.

If you really want to see the difference look at the leaders of the parties. In the past the N.D.P. have had civil rights lawyers, ministers and academics as leaders, but now in Jack Layton, they have a guy who's been a politician for most of his adult life. Starting off as an alderman in Toronto and working his way up the ladder until he's leader of the federal N.D.P. In fact both he and his wife are professional politicians, having both been at City Council together in Toronto before moving on up the social scale.

I was getting excited; this had to be the answer. Paul Martin, the last Liberal leader and former Prime Minister, may have owned a steam ship company, but he was the son of a politician. Paul Martin Sr. had been a minister in the cabinets of both Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau, and his kid had been grooming himself for Prime Minister since the day he reached adulthood I'm willing to bet.

Bob Rae, the guy who appears to be the front-runner in the Liberal campaign went to work in the government straight from completing his schooling, as a member of Pierre Trudeau's Privy Council. He then became a federal member of parliament for the N.D.P. and went on to become the first socialist premier of Ontario. After that he served on various advisory boards and wrote studies for governments on things like the cost of post secondary education. He's enough of a politician that he's been able to switch parties three times now and not realize how strange that might look to other people.

Gilles Duceppe and all the others over at the Bloc have been political animals all their lives, breathing and bleeding sovereignty for Quebec since they were in University. None of them are high-school teachers or former football players who decided to run for public office.

Everything fit together as snug and tight as that g-string in front of me. The opposition parties had turned into politicians, and as politicians the only thing they cared about was getting re-elected in the next election. Who cared about what the country expected from them, they needed to be able guarantee they would be around after the next election was called.

They know if they push the Conservative government too hard they could end up having an election on their hands, and the voters could end up blaming their party for the fall of the government. In spite of Bob Rae's brave words about changing the date of the leadership convention if an election was necessary, there's no way in hell they'd want one called before the New Year.

The N.D.P. know that without the Liberal party they can't do anything to affect the vote in the House of Commons, even if they wanted to risk an election being called they're stuck, and they're royally pissed about it. They also have learnt from bitter experience that they are the ones most likely to be blamed if an election is called for something that the majority of Canadians don't care about – like softwood lumber.

The opposition parties of Canada haven’t been kidnapped or gone missing; something far worse has happened. They've become parties of politicians that may give lip service to the idea of speaking for Canadians, but were really only interested in one thing – their own political hides.

It seemed I did have one more phone call to make. The voice of Concerned Canada wasn't going to be too happy with my report, but there wasn't anything I could do about that. Flipping open my phone with one hand, I caught the eye of the girl on the post opposite me and she gave me a big smile. It looked like it might be a pretty good evening after all.


July 11, 2006

Canadian Poltics: The Case Of The Missing Opposition Parties

It was typical Friday night in the nation's capital, Ottawa was getting ready for the weekend which meant that the civil servants were loosening their ties and packing their red tape away. The options for entertainment in Ottawa had improved since the days of Government funded strip clubs in Hull Quebec being the only show in town, but not by much.

The line up of cars heading to Hull from Ottawa on a Friday night, as those who serve by stamping avoided home and family for the warm embrace of the fleshy delights, could be seen snaking across the bridge in the early evening rain from my office window. I wouldn't call it dark and stormy, maybe grey and damp; pretty much an accurate description of Ottawa even when the sun is shining.

What is it about nation's capitals that stifle all other forms of life except for those who are willing to be sucked dry by their strict adherence to the rule that unless it's in triplicate and countersigned it doesn't exist? Perhaps that's why the strip clubs in Hull are the favoured destination for either male or female staff.

All of them had been vetted and funded through loans and grants via the Business Development Bank of Canada. This meant they had all to submit to the rigours of meeting with the approval of the Civil Service. Anywhere that had to file receipts for everything from toilet paper to "servicing fees" warmed the cockles of a paper pusher's heart. They could feel at home in a place where they knew that the government signed the checks that paid that girl to lap dance and climb a pole using her thigh muscles.

Watching the rows upon rows of sensible cars obeying the speed limit and all traffic rules made me pine for wilder more exotic locales – Prince Albert Saskatchewan where you could at least watch the wheat growing sprang to mind – when the ringing of the red phone on my desk demanding my attention shattered my reverie. Not only did the sound startle me like waking up and finding myself in the middle of the gay women's caucus of the Conservative Party of Canada (I'd be startled if they existed let alone finding myself at one of their meetings), the fact that it was ringing at all set off alarm bells in my head that made a sound eerily similar to the balls on the brass monkeys outside of parliament hill clanging together on a mid February night freeze.

The last time that phone had rung had precipitated a national crises on a scale that hadn't been seen since Wayne Gretzky had been traded to Los Angeles. I didn't know if I could handle another situation like that again. We had all been feeling a little stretched thin since the men's hockey team had failed to even place in the medals at the last Olympics; another blow to the national psyche might just end up crushing what last shreds of identity we had as a people.

I picked up the phone with all the trepidation of a man picking up a box of feminine napkins for his wife, and even before I placed it to my ear I could hear the panic stricken voice, calling hello.

"Hello, Hello – are you there? Is there anybody there?" Rose faintly from the receiver as I stood there staring at it, holding it halfway to my ear still undecided about did I really want to take this call. It would be just as easy to softly lay the phone back down in its cradle and walk away, and I have to say that the thought fleetingly passed through my mind.

But with a deep sigh, and against my better instincts I completed the journey and replied with toughness that I didn't feel. "Yeah, I'm here. Who is this and what do you want calling on this line? Talk and talk fast. I'm a busy man who can't waste his time on trivial matters," I said thinking longingly of wheat growing in Prince Albert.

"This is the voice of Concerned Canada"

I sat down with a thud that rattled every bone in my body. It was worse than I thought; something was badly amiss when the voice of Concerned Canada calls on a Friday night. Instead of being out drinking beer with the boys here it was on the phone with me sounding like somebody had just told them their hockey team had moved to some American city in the deep south where the only ice they'd seen before now was in their drinks.

I was able to swallow my own panic and put on what passed for my calming voice in an attempt to ease their fears. "So what's the matter, Tim Horton's run out of Canadian Maple donuts?"
"Bite your tongue. Heaven forbid that we face a crisis of such a magnitude."
"Well if it's not that what is it, you sound like your world is about to end?"
"You promise not to laugh?"
"Why would I laugh at the voice of Concerned Canada? Unless you guys have been at the medical pot again you usually make some sort of sense."
"Well it’s funny you should mention that, pot anyway, because it's got to do with what's going on in up in your city. In fact we almost went to the police, but we know you specialize in this sort of sensitive work, so we decided to approach you."

"Lucky me" I whispered to myself before urging the voice to go on. That's the problem with taking on conceptualizations as clients; they tend to wander around never getting to the point as they figure out how to say something that best represents all of them. I was all prepared to listen to some vague generalities about unease and qualms, so was taken aback when:

"It's a missing persons case"
"What"
"A missing persons case. We want you to track down and find out what happened to the opposition parties in the House of Parliament. They appear to have vanished without a trace, placing the country in a dangerous position. When we gave Harper and his folk a minority government we had counted on the opposition to keep an eye on him. That way we could take him for a test drive, see if we liked him or not, but not to let him do that much or whatever he wanted.

As it stands now he seems to be doing whatever he wants and nobody's doing anything about it. What's happened to the opposition? Where have they vanished too? Why is someone with a minority government getting away with acting like he has a majority?"

Voice kept talking, but I stopped listening to the litany of complaints as they washed over me, and started thinking about what had been said. There was something odd happening in Ottawa these days. Where had the opposition been when Harper's gang pushed through their day care plan instead of the one the country and the provinces preferred? Where were they when he let the Kelowna accord lapse? Where were they when he refused to consider lessening the penalties for simple marijuana possession like the previous government had planned?

Who was speaking for Canada when the majority of people were against extending and expanding the armed forces role in Afghanistan or asking why he couldn't find money for health care, housing and job creation programs? Why wasn't anybody asking how the money was found to buy the military all sorts of toys, but couldn't be found to increase the armed forces annual budget to allow soldiers to be paid a decent wage?

No the voice of Concerned Canada was right. The opposition parties had gone missing and that was no laughing matter. When the shoe had been on the other foot and the Conservative Party of Canada had been in opposition they had done their job as leaders to question the policies of the Liberal minority. You might not have agreed with their ideas and opinions, but they, along with the New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois had done their best to keep the Liberal honest.

I turned my attention back to Concerned Canada who was still holding forth in the earpiece and spoke over the voice, "I'm on the case". There was a pause at the other end of the line as those three words and a contraction were absorbed, and then I heard a collective sigh of relief. Canada was going to sleep easier knowing I was taking the case of the missing opposition parties.

It's till too early to rule out foul play; perhaps they've been kidnapped and replaced with life like replicas. The only way to know for sure is to start checking into it. I'll probably end up stepping on some toes, sticking my nose in where it doesn't belong, and just generally being a pain in the ass to people who won't appreciate it.

I'll have to watch my back carefully, Ottawa is a small town and word travels fast. I expect to be up to my knees in trouble soon but that just goes with the territory. Politics is a tough and dirty business to get involved in at the best of times, but when political parties are trying to consolidate power, well things can get out of hand real fast.

I've got to go now; there's a warm woman, a cold beer, and a seat by the pole waiting for me in a bar in Hull. One thing I have learned from living in Ottawa is to take your enjoyment whenever the opportunity presents self. You never know when you just might go missing.

June 21, 2006

Satire: Small Arms Sales: A Reasoned Response

The problem with the gun control debate is that people react emotionally instead of dealing with facts and reason. Instead of careful, calm, and realistic consideration of the bigger picture they latch on to cheap sentimental arguments that are meant to appeal to their audience's sense of outrage and decency.

Whether it's a municipal politician trying to score points after an inner city shooting talking about policy that's either beyond his or her comprehension and ability to effect, or their equivalent at the federal level, they don't bother looking beyond the weekend's body count. They can certainly wax poetic and play people's heartstrings like a banjo, when frail, white girls are hit in the cross fire, although their silence when it's black people shooting black people is also telling.

But fortunately most politicians know which side of their bread is buttered, and who spreads it the thickest for them, and can be usually counted on to make the "Tough On Crime" speech at such moments. They use these incidents as opportunities to help foster their tough, I'll keep our streets safe image, which is what people want to hear.

There is always somebody who might try to make a stink about the fact the person was killed by a gun, but not too many people pay that much attention to them. I always wonder what they would have preferred killed them – a steak knife? At least a gun can be quick and painless and they won't have suffered like they would have after being stabbed to death.

Where people really hit their stride and manage to garner attention for themselves is when they take on the international trade in anti-personnel weaponry and small arms. Look at Princess Di, wasn't even married to the Prince Charles anymore, and got herself into the public eye by setting up a campaign against land mines.

Did she once pose in front of a factory where the workers are busy assembling the mines that are being sold around the world? Did she once check out the unemployment lines that exist in those countries and see what a boon to their economies it is to have these positions in the local community?

No she traveled around the world posing with peasant farmers, women, and children (probably even a dog for all I know) who have had various limbs blown off because they ran their tractor, or team of oxen over a land mine. This of course created a wave of sympathy for these people, who normally, the rest of the world doesn't give a rat's ass for. But because they looked so pathetic, standing next to pristine Lady Di., the guilt button was pressed big time.

All of a sudden it became the fault of the land mines that these people were getting injured. The next thing you know some international treaty is created that's banning land mines and putting huge numbers of people out of work. All of this because people weren't with it enough to check former war zones for anti-personnel devices and were losing body bits. It seems only common sense before ploughing your field where fighting has taken place that you should do a quick scan for mines. But instead of teaching people that, they pass a treaty trying to ban landmines and do a lot of damage to the economy.

That whole mess is a perfect example of not looking at the big picture and public opinion being influenced by a manipulative appeal to their sentiments. Just ask the famine folk, nothing works better to guilt people into ignoring their better instincts, than some pathetic, large eyed, dark skinned face wearing a tattered undershirt. Lop off a body part or two and you've got a spin-doctor's dream.

That whole land mine debacle has proven that the threat to small arms manufacturers is real and the industry is in danger. The nest big threat on the horizon is the Control Arms Campaign being run by Oxfam International, Amnesty International, and the International Network on Small Arms. Oxfam and Amnesty International are experienced professionals when it comes to giving the guilt complexes of Western liberals a working over and can't be taken lightly.

Five years ago the United Nations held its first conference on the small arms and light weapons trade, and the second one is this week. Movements like the Control Arms Campaign use these meetings as flashpoints to pump up the volume on their attempts to paint the trade of weaponry in as bad as light as possible.

Expect over the course of the next week to be reading about how small arms kill more people each year then the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, how they contribute to violence against children around the world (25,000 children kidnapped and used as soldiers in Uganda, children being raped at gunpoint, and watching their parents killed or raped), and that there are a minimum of 640 million small arms in existence today.

You won't be hearing anything of course on the direct and indirect effects on the world's economy that the anti-personnel and small arms industry has. Nothing will be said about the countless jobs it creates in countries all over the world, the amount of money made by the shipping industry in transporting the goods, or the numbers of people employed by those responsible for the movement of the weaponry.

Even the numbers are deceiving; 640 million small arms may sound like a lot, until you take into consideration the number of wars that are ongoing at any one time, plus all the standing armies, reservists, police forces, and paramilitary outfits around the world. The industry is just barely managing to keep up with the demand

You can't hold the industry responsible for how their products are put to use; that would be like holding car manufacturers responsible for traffic fatalities. How is a company supposed to know when they are given a contract to supply ten thousand semi-automatic rifles what the purchaser is going to use them for? Of course they have a general idea, they are weapons after all, but they are not in a position of being able to say are you gong to use these to form a child army, burn women and children, and chew veins in your teeth?

What other industries have such restrictions placed on them? None. Like all other industries the armament business strives to provide a product that works, and is as safe as possible for the people utilizing it. It's a highly competitive and cutthroat industry, where you are only as good as your latest innovation.

If the people at the Control Arms Campaign have their way countries will be forced to regulate arms shipments crossing their borders. Any type of control or restrictions placed on this industry will place many firms in jeopardy. Reputations are made based on the ability to deliver quantity as well as quality with the least amount of fuss possible.

What would happen if a company receives an order but is not able to fill it right away because they have already shipped their quota for that month? They lose a contract, and probably a client. Seeing how this is such a reputation based business, word will get around that the company can no longer meet expectations, and their order books will dry up and they'll go under.

This scenario will repeat itself over and over again until a once thriving business will be on its knees, just barely scraping by. Think what a devastating effect this could have on local economies and international trade. But nobody will be mentioning anything about these facts at the United Nations conference on the small arms and light weapons trade this week.

No they'll just talk about fifteen year old girls who have been kidnapped and help captive for nine months, and the children being conscripted to fight wars in the jungles in far off lands. What any of that has to do with the actual business of the arms trade is beyond me.

Logic and reason don't seem to have any place in the arguments marshalled against this long-standing and essential service. Make sure you think with your brain not your heart before you decide which side of the argument you favour.

.


June 7, 2006

Traditional Families Under Attack Says The Vatican

(The Vatican issued a statement on Tuesday declaring that the Traditional family has never been so threatened. The document was issued by The Pontifical Council for the Family whose head, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, is one of the strongest opponents of the use of condoms)

Raise the drawbridges, lower the gates and deploy the anti personnel mines. This is an immediate call to arms for all men, women and children. You are in danger of attack by forces that are threatening your very existence. Mom and Dad, Dick and Jane, and even Spot, it’s time to stand up and be counted.

The traditional family is under siege. Everywhere you look the forces of evil are approaching. They'll threaten you with condoms; preach equal rights, and horrors of horrors family planning. If we are not careful they will continue the degradation of our society that began with the abolition of slavery and giving women the vote.

Look at all the problems that abolishing slavery caused. Civil rights marches, riots in the streets, desegregation, and the demand to paid a fair wage. Why it practically ruined the economy. Affirmative action drove the final nails into the coffin of huge profits and equal payment for equal work was the first shovel full of dirt on the lid.

If it wasn't for the developing world and the opportunities to exploit workers there, industry wouldn't be able to afford to pay their ten percent of all profits to us. Think of the horrible consequences if we hadn't been able to quash those radical priests in South America. Now at least the peasants know their lot is to suffer here on earth and receive pie in the sky when they die.

We'll probably never be able to recover from giving woman the right to vote. All of our problems can be traced back to that moment of infamy. If they had never been allowed to vote they would have never started to think for themselves, which means they would have never become desirous of an education.

Oh to live in the Muslim world where they know how to deal with their women. That little trollop in Iran who dared deny a man access to her is only getting what's coming to her, what so many of them deserve right here. Can you imagine that a woman can now charge her God appointed lord and master, her husband, with rape if he tries to do his duty and procreate and she does want to.

A woman's purpose is to breed new souls for God, nothing else. She puts herself above her station in life, the foul temptress, if she thinks she's good for anything else. Remember husbands the serpent is a wily and devious master, and the apple can come in many forms. Who knows what words are being whispered in her ear right now!

Oh the perfidy of a world that would deny a man his rightful place as king in his own castle. First it was allowing women to vote, then to enter the work place, only to see them demand to be educated en mass at the same schools as you. The end result has been to fill their heads with dangerous ideas about equality and freedom.

Didn't they know how good they had it, only having to be the loving wife, staying at home producing a child a year, keeping your clothes and house clean, and preparing all your meals. It was that forked tongue demon breathing foul words of temptation into her ear that's caused all this. How else can you explain the elimination of Obey from the marriage vows? What is the point of marrying them if they are not forced to obey our every whim and fancy?

We’ve all seen the result of this: birth control. Is there nothing more evil in the world than a woman deciding she does not want to do the only thing she is truly good for? Why would God have given us the means to have sexual intercourse if not to attempt to produce children at each congress? Do they think that sex is supposed to be for pleasure?

Utilizing birth control means you are debasing your body by allowing it to be used for purposes other than procreation. Whether a condom or a pill its all the same thing, stealing potential souls from God. Do you collude with your wife in being a soul thief? Because if you do, you are contributing to the undermining of traditional family values by ignoring the true reasons for family: Going forth and multiplying.

The Holy Father did not say go out and spread your seed in wombs made fallow by chemicals, catch it in a rubber sheath, or kill it with a foam. He has not sanctified your union so that you can enjoy each other's bodies. No, Holy Matrimony is so you can have children sanctified by Him so they may be baptized, allowing their souls to go to heaven and His blessed company.

But what about disease you ask, shouldn't people use condoms when they are having sex with someone they do not know well? The answer is they shouldn't be having sex with anyone but their marital partner so why should they have to worry about disease. Those who do, get what they deserve, it is their punishment for breaking the rules of God.

But, no matter how vile any of those transgressions may seem, there is worse yet. The final death knell of the traditional family has been rung by those misguided secular rulers who think that people of different sexual orientation have rights like the rest of us. To legalize homosexuality in all its perversion was bad enough. Granting them equality of status and protection under the law from discrimination was the next step on the road to Hell.

But now they openly mock our sacred institution by allowing these abominations to call themselves married. How can they marry when they can't breed? What purpose could be served by sanctifying a union of those whose sperm is as wasted as if it were spent through the sin of masturbation. There is no function to their sexual act; it does nothing to fulfill their obligation to provide God with souls.

What further abuse will they heap upon our beleaguered institutions and sanctity of Mom, Dad, Dick, Jane, Spot and two cars in the drive way in suburbia? Will they be allowing men and women to be wedding goats next? Isn't it bad enough that your neighbours could turn out to be a same sex couple without having to worry about whether the goat next door that's grazing is actually your new neighbour's spouse?

It is time for all families in the tradition of Ward and June Cleaver to stand up and be counted. Defend your sacred ground against those forces that are already set on destroying our sit-com reality and ensure that no new dilutions of your marriage vows can occur.

Can you picture a neighbourhood barbecue and having to try and make sure that no one wants to cook your neighbour's wife? If for no other reason, this madness must be stopped now. Let's turn back the clock as far as we can. If faux Islamic countries like Iran can pretend the freedoms of the twentieth century never happened, why can't we?


May 31, 2006

Mailed Mary Full Of Grace

Deliverance comes in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes from the least expected places. Yesterday it snuck in my house via Canada Post. Concealed among the mundane missives motivated by material matters; credit card bills, a phone bill, and a utility bill; lurked my salvation.

The gold envelope was slippery between my fingers as I turned it over. Overwhelmed, stunned; disbelief warring with incredibility, my eyes traveled from the return address emblazoned in the top left hand corner to the luridly coloured picture on the right hand side.

Quickly I checked the address label, had I picked up someone else's mail? After ascertaining it was indeed addressed to my wife and I, I was still puzzled. Why were we receiving mail from Save Me O Holy Queen by The Grace Of Jesus p.o. box 698 Nobleton Ontario? I had a good idea who the garish picture on the envelope was supposed to be, but what did she want from me?

Bewilderment, revulsion, and hilarity were at war in my spirit as I laid aside the bills for the moment. At times like these earthly matters pale into insignificance; when a vision of Mary appears in your mail it's only courtesy to give it priority. Besides which, my curiosity was afire with questions that demanded answers.

Why does this woman look she's been sedated? What's with box of Valentine Chocolates around her neck surrounded by thorns? Was this some new weight loss program that worked through a combination of Christian guilt and prayer?

Trembling fingers ripped open the envelope at one end, as I did not want to imperil any of its precious contents. Nestled within, wrapped inside four double sided typed pages, awaited Mary2-72 the full size image of the face on the envelope.

Stunned, I could only stare in mingled horror and disbelief as I struggled to recover from the impact. It was if my aesthetic senses had been hit with a Mack truck. Slowly my eye traveled down from her Imperial margarine crown, past her mannequin realist face, to the candy box heart from which, what looks to be, golden flames are sprouting upward, and the circle of thorns that surround it.

One word, and one word only leapt to mind as a result of my initial contemplation: Kitsch. So rarely seen outside of its natural environment of die cast replicas and attractive dinner plate reproductions, and usually only obtainable through special offers in Reader's Digest and mass coupon mailings, I knew that I had chosen for a select honour. With that in mind I turned to the enclosed paper work in order to discover what had made me so deserving as to merit being on the receiving end of this assault.

Look closely at the picture and see how she seems to be alive. It is almost as if she is about to say something to you…She is waiting for you. it is as if she is saying: ask me for everything you need, because I am here, ready to answer you…Let yourself be drawn to her…Take the time to converse with her. Mary is your heavenly mother. Let her speak to the depths of your heart…My great desire is that this joy, this hope Mary gives to her children will reign in every Canadian home…this great distribution is only possible with the help of those who would like to be benefactors so that others can also share this great gift…

Well isn't that special. Not only can I rid myself of all my troubles simply by staring slack jawed at a painting of a mannequin but I can also inflict it upon others by sending money to the Virgin of Fatima Association. Can't you just picture the looks of surprise from all those people who receive this unsolicited picture in the mail: the Singh's, the Howorwitz's, and the Hussein's, all those households just waiting with baited breath for their picture of Mary, Mother of Jesus.

What does it matter that some of them may have had family killed in Her son's name only a few hundred years ago? I'm sure that's not going to stop them erecting a shrine right next to where they have one for Krishna, or next to where they keep their copy of the Koran or the Torah. They'll be so excited, just like kids on Christmas day.

Such a noble sentiment to want to inflict this image on everybody in Canada, no matter their faith or creed. What a typical gesture of Christian charity to want to impose themselves and their beliefs on those unfortunate enough to not have had their noses rubbed it in yet. You can even get a tax receipt from Revenue Canada so you can write your contribution off from your taxes next year.

Here I was thinking that charities licensed by the government were supposed to do meaningless things like raise money for research into disease, or help eradicate poverty, or enrich the culture of our land. How wonderful that charity also includes the opportunity to show others how misguided they are in their own devotions. I never knew that proselytising was considered charitable, that's such a relief.

I know for a fact that I was overwhelmed by the excitement of it all, so much so that I just had to tell everybody about it. But if you're counting on my shelling out any money so that you may have a chance on receiving your copy of the Virgin and the Heart of Thorns in the mail, don't hold your breath. You know how tight we Jews are with money.

.

May 9, 2006

Canadian Politics: What's The U.N. Know Anyway

Can you believe those socialist weenies at the United Nations? Do they have some nerve or what? Imagine them criticizing us for our record on the way we treat the poor, the homeless, natives and the disabled. Sure we are signatories to some stupid covenant that deals with the Social, Economic, and Cultural rights, but wasn't that just for judging other guys, not people like us?

Who do they think we are, some despotic dictatorship that ignores the plight of its people where only a small minority control most of the wealth? That we live in the type of country where the poor keep getting poorer and the rich keep getting richer? We're Canada for goodness sakes, we're the good guys.

We don't round up people and put them in jail without giving them reasons or letting them stand trial, too often. We get other people to do our torturing for us, and we've been out of the cultural genocide business for at least a few decades now. So where do they get off telling us that we have the same problems we had the last time they checked in 1998, and in fact some of them have gotten worse.

Oh what, so we've got more homeless people nowadays than we did before, and income support programs for people in need has not only decreased in real spending power due to inflation, but been cut by as much as 20%, tenants in rental units have little security, and any benefits for children are continually clawed back (means they are counted as income by social programs and deducted from assistance checks, instead of being the extra money for necessities for children that it was designed to be).

Well at least they get something. There's a lot of countries in the world where people would be grateful for the kind of benefits we give our citizens, yet all these guys at the U.N. can do is find fault.

They have the nerve to say that our governments aren't doing anything for people with disabilities. In Ontario they just increased disability support payments by three per cent after only a 13 year freeze and they increased the fine for illegally parking in a handicapped zone up to $5,000.

The government spokesperson at these hearings, Allan Kessel a legal advisor to the Foreign Affairs Ministry, pointed out to those do–gooders on this committee that most Canadians "have access to housing of acceptable size and quality at affordable prices.” I mean goodness; it's only $800.00 a month for a one-room apartment in Toronto. Only a malcontent would make a fuss over the fact that a single person only receives $540.00 a month on welfare.

Look at all the geared to income housing units we have in the province of Ontario alone for these people on welfare and disability support payments. It's only on average a five-year wait for one of those apartments and after that you're set for life. A couple gets a 750 square foot one bedroom apartment in a low rise complex filled with other couples and families just like them. It's a regular community.

Mr. Kessel said Canada was “proud of its record of achievement in the promotion of economic, social and cultural rights.” and has been at the forefront of promoting human rights both internationally and domestically. Just look at our new policy for day care as an example of economic and social rights. A couple with only one person working and whose income is over $175,000 a year can claim a $1200.00 tax credit at the end of the year. Of course the less money you make the less of a credit you get because you don't need to deduct as much from your taxable income now do you?

Of course we are proud of our record regarding human rights domestically. Just look at the wonderful work we are doing with our native populations. Twice in the last two months we have successfully airlifted whole communities off their reserves when the water systems have failed and they were threatened with e-coli infestations. They all got to have a nice trip out of town at government expense and nobody got sick.

Oh sure there has been some belly aching because the new government hasn't honoured the Kelowna Accord's commitments for funding housing, education, and employment, but they still got $1.5 million dollars this year. They didn't really think they would get the $8 million that all the provinces and the previous government agreed to, now did they?

What does the United Nations expect us to do; give them opportunities we don't give others to get back on their feet? If we give the Natives proper housing, medical attention, and education, the first thing you know is that everybody in the country is going to expect it. It would set a dangerous precedent.

I used to have respect for the United Nations, back in the days when they were ranking Canada as one of the top ten countries in the world to live in. Now though, they've become a bunch of interfering old so-and-sos sticking their noses in where they don't belong.

It sounds to me that we signed that treaty under false pretences. We probably assumed it was for us to sit in judgement on some tin pot countries in the third world. There is no way we could have expected some self-righteous prig of a United Nations bureaucrat having the nerve to tell us that we have problems. I'm beginning to think the Americans have the right attitude towards the world authority, ignore them unless they agree with you.

April 18, 2006

Partition: A New Solution For Iraq

(The following information was found in Washington D.C. by unknown people and distributed to various other unknown people on the Internet. Given the location where it was found its provenance is obviously good even if it has no basis in fact or bearing on reality.

It appears to be the transcription of a secret meeting of the National Security Council, with people obviously aware they were being recorded because of their use of code names. We can only guess at the identities of some of those involved, but it seems fair to assume that "Sure Shot"(S.S) refers to Vice President Chenny, Red Hot Momma, (R.H.M.) to Secretary Rice, and Top Hat (T.H.) to President Bush. We have no clue as to the others involved, but since their contributions are usually ignored and largely insignificant they don't really matter.

Below is a faithful reproduction of the transcription, just as I received it. I'm telling the truth, so you can believe me)

S.S. "Gentlemen, we need to (sound of a throat being cleared) oh sorry, and lady… geez I just can't help thinking of you as one of the boys… (Sound of general laughter gradually tails off into embarrassed silence)…Well, ahem, anyway, as I was starting to say we need to take a serious look at the situation in Iraq and the whole government issue. The stalemate over their parliament is just not ending …"

T.H "Geez Dick…what…Oh yeah, sorry. Sure Shot, I thought you said your people we're handling this. You and Rumsfield…what, oh crap he ain't here what does it matter if I call him by name, were supposed to have calmed the rag heads down by now. How I'm I going to be able to invade Iran if we can't get these dummies to behave? You told me to say the war was over, so that I could start a new one. I want a new war to wage Dick. This one's boring…What? oh damn Sure Shot."

S.S. "Well, Top Hat, we all admire your enthusiasm, and your eagerness to continue the agenda (murmurs of agreement) but sometimes you can't expect the unexpected…"

T.H. "Well thanks for stating the fucking obvious, Sure Shot, you can't expect the unexpected…I'm not the press, can you please talk something close to English when you talk to me. Goddamn it I need some bourbon, is this going to take a while, the Rangers are playing and I'd like to catch a couple of innings. Hey Connie, can we get the Secret Service boys to tune in the Ranger's game on their earpieces? One of you boys can give me the score as we go okay… thanks. Oh all right Dick just keep your shirt on, (sound of bottle and glass being placed on table) oh hey thanks, I guess I can cope with what you got to say now. (Sound of liquid being poured) Go on now, you look you might hurt yourself if you keep frowning like that. Don't know if I can round up yet another heart for you so soon."

S.S. " Well as I was saying, we all admire your eagerness to get on with our agenda in the Mid East, but we really can't afford to leave Iraq and go after Iran until things settle down a lot more. We need the government there to be in place. The problem is that the three major groups can't agree on anything important. We also need to keep all three of them happy too or we end up with even worse problems than we have now. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be any obvious or easy solution to the situation. We can't take over governing the country again, that will tie up far too many troops and lose us what allies we have there already."

T.H. " Well, so what is their problem anyway. We got rid of Saddam; we gave them the vote, what more do they want. Some people just aren't very grateful are they? They should just be happy with the fact that we're letting them have their own country, it's not like they 're civilized or anything, good God half of them don't even drink."

R.H.M. "If I may T.H., Sure Shot, thank you. The problem is sir, I don't think they're ungrateful it's just that we're talking about two separate sects, and one group who are a different race altogether. While the Sunni's and the Shites are both Muslim, they practice different types and follow different leaders…

T.H. "Like Catholics and Protestants you mean…"

R.H.M. "Very astute sir, quite similar. Plus the Kurds are a different people completely and have wanted independence from Iraq for ages. Even though there is one group in the majority, there are enough of the other two to create problems. On top of that, each group has experienced discrimination at the hands of the other."

"Saddam was a Sunni, so even though they are a minority they got all the favourable jobs and treatment. Now they are frightened that the Shites will want revenge. The Kurds, on the other hand, have been hunted and killed by the other two groups, and really don't trust either of them…"

T.H. "You could say they are like a Muslim Jew, than couldn't you. Catholics and Protestants may not get along, but we all hate Jews, ha, ha, ha, ha."

R.H.M. "Yes sir, very similar again. So you can understand the depth of the mistrust between the three main political parties, and why Sure Shot and I are having such a hard time solving this situation. It's generations of mistrust that can't be overcome overnight, and might even take years if not a generation or two passing before they begin to trust each other again. The best we can hope for is to find some compromise candidate for Prime Minister that will be acceptable to all parties. Which means we will have to ensure that the current Prime Minister "agrees" to step down."

T.H. "Damn right he'll agree, or he might just get to visit Cuba for a few months, and not with Fidel. (Sound of liquid being poured into a glass) What I don't understand is why with all our damned intelligence are we so surprised by these turn of events. How come no one saw this coming? That's why I gave you this job Sure Shot; you said you knew all about how we could best handle it."

"I didn't think that meant so your boys could line their pockets. By the way you better warn them to start covering their tracks a little better, the auditor general is cracking down. They're not just stealing form the Iraqis now but they're skimming off the top of U.S. money too. Nah don't worry about it too much, we got worse problems than a few hundred million vanishing."

" I think we need to be rethinking the way we're going about this. Trying to make one country outta three people just ain't looking like it's working. Why can't we partition up the country into three parts, and give each of them a chunk for their own, which they can rule autonomously."

"That way they won't be arguing over who gets to be in charge, cause they all get to be in charge of their own little piece of the pie. Each of them can get a chunk of the oil fields, so they don't squabble about that, and than they can govern their own people. Give everybody a couple of months to move into their new neighbourhoods and bingo bango three new countries and everyone's happy"

"We can set a deadline of the fourth of July, so they know who they have to thank for it every year. Our troops pull out, my approval rating goes through the roof, just in time to invade Iran, and quash those mullah jerks once and for all. I don't know why you guys didn't think of that? It sure seems like the easy answer to me. I bet you no one's ever even thought of it before."

"But that's all these situations need is common sense, which I gotta say seems like it sure is short supply around here on some days. I wish you guys would come to me sooner with your little problems; it would sure save us all a lot of trouble."

"I want you guys to get to work with this with Rumsfield right away, and I want to see a logistics report about it on my desk in a week or so. If there's nothing else, me and my buddy Jack here are going to catch the last of the Rangers game. All right class dismissed."

That's where the transcript ended, with T.H. leaving the room. There was no date on the paper, so there's no indication as to what stage these plans are at. But I'd think we should all be prepared for some sort of startling announcement from the White House about Iraq in the near future

March 29, 2006

Book Review: A Dirty Job By Christopher Moore

Not very many of us think about death on a daily basis. Not only is it depressing, but it could end up being self defeating in a, what's the point of this we're all going to die in the end anyway, sort of way. Letting your mind go down that avenue is to invite anxiety and all his buddies over for a long-term visit.

But in Christopher Moore's latest novel, A Dirty Job, Charlie Asher really doesn't have much choice in the matter. First of all his beloved wife Rachel dies just after giving birth to their first child, and secondly his new job of retrieving the soul's of the newly dead in order to keep them safe for their next host, has made death part of his daily routine.

Get up in the morning, check the daybook for any names that have mysteriously appeared there, go to their homes, retrieve the soul of the recently departed, and take it back to his second hand store where he will sell it to its next body.

It's not as tricky as it sounds; first the soul is usually contained in some object that would be sold in a second hand store; a clock radio, used suit, or even a blender. It doesn't hurt that they also glow bright red and that when he's about the business of soul retrieval most people just don't happen to notice Charlie. He just slips into the house, picks up the object and takes it back to the store where it waits for it's next possessor to come along and buy it.

Of course, as with all cases of death, Charlie's initial reaction to finding out that he was an agent of death was denial. It wasn't untilThe Great Big Book of Death showed up that he truly got a grip on the subject at hand. The twenty-eight glossy illustrated pages boiled it down in a nutshell to; he was to retrieve souls, pass them on to their new recipients, and never let them end up in the hands of the Forces of Darkness that are continually waiting to take over the world.

The problem is, according to The Great Big Book of Death that some time ago Luminatus, or the Great Death, who kept the balance between light and darkness, ceased to be. Ever since the Forces of Darkness have been trying to rise from below to gobble up all the souls. Charlie, and a few others who do the same task, have been tapped as substitute guardians of the collective souls of humanity until another Luminatus can be born and restore the balance.

In San Francisco, where Charlie lives, the Forces of Darkness have shown up as the Morrigan, three personifications of death in the form of beautiful women who can take the shape of Ravens. Very nasty pieces of work, they lurk in the sewer systems and yell threats up at Charlie as he passes by. The more souls they are able to get their claws on, the stronger and more of a threat they become to the world.

Can you see where all this is going? Sure you can, the ultimate show down between the forces of good and evil miles under the streets of San Francisco, and you just know neither Karl Malden or Michael Douglas are going to show up to the rescue.

But it's the trip along the way that always makes a Christopher Moore book a pleasure, even if you can take a stab at guessing how it will end. A Dirty Job has to have some of the funniest moments of any book I've read in ages. I can't remember reading another book that has left me laughing so hard that I was gasping for air and crying.

But it's not just the humour that makes this book special. Through Charlie's eyes we gain a new perspective on death and dying. At the beginning of the book when his wife dies, Charlie's confusion and sense of lose is palatable. He clings to his newborn daughter as both a reason for living and a memorial to his wife.

But Moore also uses Charlie to bring us into more direct contact with death than most of will experience in any other fiction we will read or watch on screen. I don't mean people being gunned down in a hail of bullets or ripped apart by some psycho ghost from hell, but real death where every last moment is a moment to be cherished and experienced, where hospice workers sit with the patient and make them and the families as comfortable as possible with the letting go of life.

Charlie soon becomes an old hand at death and learns about how people in their last days will seemingly stage a miraculous recovery and get up out of their beds one last time before passing away. Death doesn't have to be ugly and horrible. Sometimes it's even a relief for those who have suffered in their last days.

Dotted throughout this book of wild and chaotic humour and bizarre twisted events, are moments of absolute beauty that ring even more true because of their context. By contrasting the sublime with the ridiculous Moore makes the former more potent and the later slightly less inane.

Somehow Moore has managed to write a book about death that can make us laugh at our biggest fears while not making fun of them. Death is serious business, but doesn't necessarily have to be taken seriously all the time.

Christopher Moore's A Dirty Job is a hysterical examination of life, death, and all the other stages in between that nobody likes to talk about. But be forewarned, don't be surprised if you walk away after reading it feeling a lot kinder towards death.

March 26, 2006

Hostage Crises

On March 23rd/ 2006, three western kidnap victims were rescued from their captors by a joint British, American, and Canadian special operations task force. Unlike the majority of people kidnapped in Iraq, these men were active in work protesting the American occupation of Iraq.

The organization the three gentleman (originally four, but an American, Tom Fox had been found murdered a month ago) work with, Christian Peacemaker Team, primary focus since 2003 has been working to protect and guarantee the human rights of the detainees of what they call the illegal occupation of Iraq.

The three released gentlemen were accused of giving aid and comfort to those opposed to the occupation forces by the new President of Iraq, although his seems to be a minority opinion among Iraqi as religious groups on either side of the Sunni/Shite conflict had pressed for the release and led prayers for the safety of the hostages. They have also been criticized in the Western press for not expressing gratitude to the soldiers who rescued them. Their reply was that they wouldn't have been taken hostage if the soldiers hadn't been there in the first place.

Closely involved with this rescue operation were members of Canada's JTF2, Canada's Secretive anti-Terrorist squad, and officers of The Royal Canadian Mounted Police. No details are being released about raid itself, or the Canadian squads participation, except to say that it was a British led action. When asked to comment on the raid Department of National Defence spokespeople merely said that giving out any information would be too dangerous.

There is a nondescript building in downtown Ottawa that people walk by everyday without giving it a second glance. Why should they, it looks just like any other boring government office building. But behind that boring façade lurks the home of the notorious JTF2 squad whose identity is so well guarded that squad members don't even know they are members.

They are Canada's elite anti-terrorist squad; the beadiest eyed Canadians you'll find from sea to shining sea. As a counter terrorist organization its job is to keep track of all those who pose a direct threat to the citizen of our country. Those guards on parliament hill are not just for decoration purposes. They're in place to make sure that the members of parliament stay locked up in the House of Commons and don't escape to threaten and bother innocent Canadians.

Of course Canadian face other threats to the internal security of their country and the JTF2 must be ever vigilant in making sure that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (R.C.M.P.) and the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (C.S.I.S.) do something else aside from spying on each other, or resorting to old pastimes. There's nothing like a barn burning on a winter's night to keep you warm, and it does look pretty against the a cold night sky. (In the late 1970's it was revealed that the R.C.M.P. had set a series of fires, including a barn, and blamed the Front de Liberation de Quebec (F.L.Q.) for them.)

But today there is a more serious task at hand, Captain "X" (real names are presumably never used because it's doubtful that's the gentleman's genuine appellant) has been called to his superior's office to be debriefed from his last mission: the rescue of two Canadian and one British hostages from their kidnappers in Iraq.

Captain "X" entered the office of his superior officer where he was immediately blindfolded so as not to be able see the face of the man across the desk from him. He wasn't worried about the two men who had blindfolded him revealing his identity; they would have their eyes and tongues removed by the end of the day. Such prices had to be paid for the security of the country.

He was guided to a seat and the microphone/vocal disguiser was placed in front of him to talk into. When he spoke he would sound like Minne Mouse crossed with Elmer Fudd and no one would understand a word he was saying. Which was as it should be; these debriefings were so top secret that it had been decided that no one should be able to understand them, including the officer conducting the review.

Initially it had been debated as to what purpose a debriefing had if no one listening. It was decided that it would be good for the one being debriefed for the opportunity they had to go over the operation again in the cold light of day to analyse it for mistakes before he or she had their brains wiped of the information.

Captain "X" described how he and his squad members had met up with members of the British elite Special Armed Services (S.A.S.) squad who were in charge of the mission. They had already been able to secure one member of the kidnap team for questioning and had found out the location where the victims were being held

"We planned to go in at night, taking advantage of their night vision goggles, which would allow us to travel without light. As the one American hostage taken with the two Canadian and single British hostage had already been killed, we had no idea how long we had before they just killed the rest of them.

The raid and the release went off without a hitch, except for the disappointment expressed by some members of the unit at not being able to make us of any of their new toys. They had all wanted to see what the effect of a plague bullet would be on a human. Chimps had succumbed within a minute of being shot.

The hostages had not seemed particularly thrilled to see their rescuers, and there was quite a bit of muttering from the squad members that maybe their duty still needed to be carried out, and how the plague bullets needed to be tested. It didn't go much beyond that level of idle threats at that point.

But then the former hostages started to espouse their unchristian ideas of pacifism and became almost indignant about being rescued. Unfortunately we were not able to take any action against them at the time as medical personnel and press almost always accompanied them.

If worse comes to worst action can always be taken against them on their return to Canada. Accidents have been known to happen to people before, especially people who have just been through a very extended period of trauma. Stumbles down stairs, walking out into traffic are all common enough occurrences for someone whose mind will be having trouble focusing. We are currently evaluating the feasibilities of such activities.

Our assessment of the organization, Christian Peacemakers Team, is that they are a highly dangerous and subversive group that has been continually giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Their attitude towards war is dangerous, and if it spreads among the general population, could lead to severe outbreaks of peace.

Many of my men are good Christians and are highly affronted at seeing their religion being taken in vain in the name of peace. To say that Christ would have supported them over us is proof enough that they are a threat to order and good government in Canada, and must not be allowed to communicate these subversive tendencies to the rest of their citizens.

I recommend that this threat be eliminated in as discreet and expedient means as possible."

March 12, 2006

Coffee Shop Artists

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"It's a conspiracy. Well maybe not a conspiracy, but definitely an agreement. They're all in cahoots together so that people like me" here he paused and looked round the table, and nodded as if making some great concession, before continuing. "People like us, can't get published" He leaned back in his chair now, and picked up his coffee with a flourish, would have light a cigarette if you could still smoke in these places, leaving the floor open for anybody else who wished speak.

The young woman next to him leaned forward, carefully holding one of the many scarves wrapped around her body parts away from the pools of spilt coffee that were rapidly making an archipelago of their table top, as if to comment, then shrugged her shoulders and obviously decided against it.

She sighed the deep world-weary sigh that can only be managed by those in coffee shops of a certain age and temperament, and let a delicate frown line crease her forehead. She knew that it gave her the appearance of being pensive without marring her delicate features, as she had noticed the result in the mirror only just last week as she was rehearsing.

She had tried it out in public for only the first time last week to great success, at least judging by the reactions of the males at the table. They had given that hairbreadth's of a marring, the attention and normally accorded to the relics of a saint; if not actually physically prostrating themselves before it, at least genuflecting in spirit before her altar.

This time, there was something about the look that made one think there might actually be something going on behind those eyes for a change. Not that very many of them cared what was happening in her brain if they were being truthful about he situation.

She had shown up three weeks ago on Tom's arm, and it had to be admitted they made a striking pair. His permanently affixed look of brooding rage offset by her delicate Dickensonian match girl/waif appearance contrasted wonderfully. They looked the perfect pair of young artistic types.

Tom had confided to Sam that they had met a party thrown by some mutual acquaintances, and had immediately gravitated towards each other. Tom was sure she was going to be the one: his muse. Sam had nodded wisely, knowing better than to say anything about her being the sixth of seventh muse in the past year.

Far be it for him to tell Tom his business, Sam was still just grateful to be welcomed at the table. The Table: he remembered the first time he came into the café and seen Tom holding court. His muse of the moment to the left, and Jeff, Andy, Sue, and Eileen sitting semi circled in front of him.

Sam had picked up his coffee at the bar and made his way to a back corner table that allowed him the full view of the shop. Tom was in full flight that day talking about art, politics, law, and art. He always came back to art and more specifically writing. It was all very intimidating to Sam., because he knew he wasn't at all like that.

What kind of writer was he? Quiet and introspective he liked to sit in the corner and watch the world go by. Sure, he had a couple of short stories published in magazines, but that didn't mean anything, not compared to what that guy has published he mused


Wanting to get out of the house after being chained to the computer for months, he had printed out a draft copy of the novel he had just finished so he could at least get a change of scenery while doing his edits. Feeling rather self-conscious, he had carefully pulled out his manuscript from the case that first day and begun editing.

At one point, he had looked up and noticed Tom staring over at him in his corner. He had quickly looked down, but not before, he saw Tom lean forward to the others, whisper something, and seen all their heads swivel in his direction, and back again.

He had been slightly intimidated and had made a mental note to just deal with working at home, but life had other plans. After years of neglect, his landlord decided to grow a conscience and renovate his apartment. Since this meant everything from redoing floors to painting walls, Sam had to vacate the apartment for most of the daylight hours.

As his landlord had only deemed it fit to tell him the morning that work was supposed to begin he had had no chance to make any alternative arrangements for writing. He had grabbed his laptop, the printout of the manuscript and stuffed them both in his case, and walked out of the apartment not knowing what to do.

When he saw the café just as his arm was going numb from the carrying case's strap cutting his blood flow off at the shoulder, he took it as a sign. He made arrangements with the owner for use of an electrical outlet, and promised to buy at least a coffee every hour, and one meal a day while he was there.

Rent dealt with he was able to concentrate on working. It was just a little after he had eaten lunch when he felt like he was being watched; he looked up to see Tom staring over in the direction of his table again. Perhaps because there was no woman on his left hand side that day, or some other territorial reason, his face looked a lot stormier this time when he called his disciples down into a huddle.

Deciding that his place was a lot more secure now that he had made an arrangement with the owner, Sam choose to simply return to his work. It wasn't long before he felt the, not unexpected, arrival of somebody, to stand besides his table.

"So, are you a writer, or something?" Tom's voice was coolly arrogant, as if he wasn't really interested in the answer, but had only dropped by out of sympathy for a stranger and was making conversation out of the goodness of his heart.

Sam looked up at the turned up nose, and the eyes staring down it towards him from under a wide brimmed Fedora: "Of some sort? Yes, I suppose I am a writer of some sort." Sam replied with perfect honesty.

"I'm a poet" the other's voice took on a resonance that had been missing earlier, as he proclaimed these words. As Sam got to know Tom, he began to recognise the voice he used when talking about the craft. Some witches of course, will object to the use of the word craft in these circumstances, thinking they have sole proprietorship of self-righteously fuelled pretensions pronouncements utilizing that word. But they weren't the only ones capable of diminishing a word's meaning through appropriation.

After that announcement, he had sat down with Sam and proceeded to regale him with tales of the trials and tribulations of being a writer. This had been the first time he heard about he great conspiracy to deprive Tom of the opportunity to even have has work looked over by a publisher and agent. It would not be the last.

In spite of his writing, Sam must have seemed safe enough for Tom to invite to the table, because the next day as he entered the café, a chair was proffered and room was made for him on Tom's right hand side. Sam had been sitting here, long after his apartment had been finished, day after day, week after week, and month after month in the hopes that what was about to happen might just be possible.

He'd stopped bringing his laptop months ago, much to Tom's approval, but today he had not come empty handed. He had a business-sized envelope made out in his handwriting, addressed to himself, in his pocket, which he hadn't mailed. It contained an offer to publish the novel he'd been writing.

He'd been carrying it for a week now, in the hopes of Tom making his speech. As the new muse had yet to hear of the foul plot to deprive the world of Tom's poetic musings, Sam knew that the moment would not be delayed much longer. Although three weeks was a long time for Tom not to make it, Sam had faith that he would not be able to resist his new audience for much longer. What other excuse could he offer for never bothering to actually set pen to paper.

Casually, Sam reached into his pocket, placed the slim envelope on the table, and slid it over to lie in front of Tom. It sat there, a bright white rectangle marred only by the blocks of Sam's neat black writing in its centre. For a second, as it became the focal point for all eyes on the table, it seemed to glow with an internal light, instead of just catching the spill from the overhead track lights.

Tom dropped his glance down at it, and looked up quizzically. Sam just shook his head and indicated that he should open it and read it aloud to the table. Picking it up and removing the letter from the envelope, Tom made a presentation of snapping open the letter with a flick of the wrist.

As his eyes quickly scanned the text of the letter, Sam saw them get bigger and bigger, until they almost seemed to be bulging out of his head. Finally, he threw the letter down in disgust, into a puddle of coffee. He looked at Sam and drew himself up to his full height in his chair, stretched out a trembling hand, and hissed:

"Do you know what this traitor has gone and done? He's gone and got himself published." Tom was livid, he was shaking so bad Sam feared he might start crying. Instead, he simply looked at Sam one last time and said. "This table is for artists only, not for published authors. Please leave, you are no longer welcome here." He then fell back in his chair in a dramatic gesture speaking volumes of the perfidy of friends and the cruelness of the fates.

With that Sam stood up, leaned over and picked up the letter from the table, carefully placed it into the envelope, pushed his chair back into the table, and walked out, not looking back and never to return.

March 5, 2006

Looking For Enlightenment: A Coyote Story

At first, it had only been colours, veering in and out of unformed shapes behind his closed eyelids. More like the formless blobs left behind when your eyes have been momentarily blinded by a camera's flash attachment than anything else, he thought. But those were just the opening salvos to main event.

He had climbed up to this cave in the hills two days ago, and started the fast yesterday morning. He wasn't sure what he was expecting to happen, all he knew was that he was hoping to find some sort of enlightenment; a revelation that could help him make a new beginning.

Over twenty-four hours without food and water had left him dry mouthed and light headed. Perhaps he shouldn't have had MacDonald's as his last meal before going on a spiritual quest, but this had been a spur of the moment decision which had found him pointing his car our of the city towards the wilderness on the day his world fell apart.

He had gone to work as usual in the morning, only to find padlocks on the front doors of his employer's building. It turned out all their assets had been seized during the night pending an investigation into their bookkeeping practices. After a few phone calls on his cell phone assured him that the situation was completely unredeemable, he decided to head for home.

He probably would have found out soon enough, one way or another, but walking in on her with someone else between her legs wasn't the best way to find out she wasn't happy with their situation anymore. Not wanting to disturb them, he left the apartment without doing more than ensuring the windows were sealed, the gas stove was on, and a candle was burning in the kitchen.

He was rewarded by hearing a very satisfyingly loud boom from two blocks away as he drove off in her Hummer. She couldn't complain about him not making the earth move for her anymore, now could she?

All in all, though, things hadn't boded well for the future at that moment. He was out of work, single, and homeless all in less then half a day's time. If things didn't change soon, this downward spiral could continue and who knows where he'd end up.

He needed to make some changes in his life, that much was obvious. The first thing to do was to change his perspective of his situation. That's what the self – help guru they had gone to see a few months back had said: "Look on every loss as a new beginning, and it becomes a positive instead of a negative" In fact he'd used a scenario similar to Steven's own that very night.

Steven allowed himself a slight smirk at the thought of wondering what Mr. Self-Help would make of starting over from a couple of pounds of ground round. It had only taken a moment to recognise whose jacket had been tossed carelessly on the floor of what had been their bedroom. Look on that as a new beginning asshole.

But the fresh start thing was good thinking. The thing was how to go about it. You could always go out and get a new job and a new woman; they were all a dime a dozen these days. But that didn't sound like it would be enough this time.

This was the not the first time his embezzling had caused problems for his employers, or that he'd lost a woman to another man. However, the situations were getting out of hand in the ways in which they were resolved this time. He needed more of a solution than just moving on to a variation of the same old thing.

There had been this book she had been trying to get him to read, just after they had been to see the self-himself to my woman guy. It was all about shaman and dusty old guys like that who had gone into different states of consciousness to help them gain insight into themselves and understanding.

He had picked up the book, if only to keep her happy, and skimmed it quickly. It was all about how most of humanity's religions and belief systems were born out of people entering trance like states either through drugs or fasting. Some shit about obtaining a higher state of awareness allowing them to travel to different spiritual planes of existence and making discoveries.

Well, he knew some guys who had obtained higher states of "awareness" some years back, and they weren't about to see the outside of the psych ward for the rest of their lives. Anyways, he had said, there are enough religions in the world now screwing things up, as it is, why would we want anymore of them.

She had given him a look, like he was being an especially large asshole or something, and said that wasn't the point. The point was that people weren't willing to look in side themselves anymore and discover their own personal truths. The ones that could free them from the ruts they were in and allow them to discover what they were meant to be doing.

Well there was no denying he was in a rut right now. Seeing as the only copy of the book he knew of was probably in no condition to be read again, and he wasn't quite sure what was recommended to help induce a trance like state except fasting and drugs, (Stupid book hadn't even mentioned anything some tea you could only get in Brazil of all places) he figured he shouldn't take any chances.

He stopped by a local spot he had been able to score at before, and picked up a bag of weed, a gram of coke, some M.D.A., and a couple of grams of magic mushrooms. After smoking a fat one with the dealer and getting incurable munchies, hence, the stop at Macdonald's on the way out of town.

He figured he'd hold off on the coke until he needed the extra spurt of energy to get back into town after the fasting, keep the M.D.A. in reserve (he had no idea how clean it was after all) and just focus on chewing up some mushrooms after a day of fasting. He had remembered the cave from a previous trip to the mountains when he had been younger and he and a couple of buddies had sheltered there from a nasty rainstorm that had surprised them.

It had actually been kind of cool sitting there in the cave mouth, watching the lighting, and listening to the muffled sound of thunder from inside the mountain. It had been pitch black in the cave, and the dim light of the storm hadn't offered much illumination. He could still see how odd their faces had looked when light by the occasional flashes of lightning. Disembodied pale balloons floating in darkness was how he had thought of them at the time.

So now here he was, sitting in pretty much the same space, and bored out of his mind. He had taken the mushrooms over an hour ago and all he was getting still were the colours. Damn if things didn't pick up soon he'd snort half the coke, which should be enough to get him back to a hotel where he could order room service and sleep this off.

"What were you expecting, visions or something", said a voice in his head. "You've only been out here a day that doesn't count for anything in these matters. You've usually got to give it three, maybe four days before anything happens, and then its usually so obscure that it won't make any sense for years anyway"

Steven snapped his eyes wide open and looked around the cave. His pupils were dilated enough that even in the dim light he was able to make out shapes that he hadn't on his last trip here, but that didn't help him locate the source of the voice. He shook his head and was about to close his eyes again when the voice said:

"Oh I'm for real alright shithead, but I don’t feel like letting you see me just yet. I've been watching you for the last day, and wondering what you've been doing in my cave. Most people only stop in for a few hours at most, a quick shag, or for shelter from rain, and that's about it."

"But you've been here more than a day already and so naturally my curiosity is sparked. What you doing in my cave asshole? If you're meeting someone you can probably assume they've stood you up by now" There was a slight pause in which Steven had the distinct impression the voice was taking a closer look at him.

"Holly crap, what are you on? Look at the size of your eyeballs; they're like black boulders. You look like someone who's never seen the light of day." There was another pause. "Oh crap, you really are here on some sort of quest for eternal meaning, or some such shit aren't you?"

The voice sounded really pissed off now, as if that compounded some crime that Steven was unaware of even committing in the first place. For some reason Steven felt a little embarrassed, it could have been the scepticism that underlay the anger, but that didn't stop him form admitting that's what he was doing.

"Well I hope you don't think you're going to come up with some new religion or something stupid like that. Everybody seems to think that wandering around in the dessert or climbing a mountain to sit in a cave gives them the right to be a spiritual leader of some sort or another."

"I've got a cousin in the Middle East and he said a few years back, oh a couple a thousand or so, you couldn't go for a walk in the dessert without running into some fool idiot wandering around babbling to himself. Heat crazed and dehydrated. After a while he got so sick of them he began to mess with them."

"There was this one guy, it makes me laugh every time I think about it, really emaciated, must have been out there for close to thirty days, judging by how skinny and flat out bug-eyed crazy he was. Anyway, this guy was muttering about some Satan dude under his breath. Was getting himself into quite a state over how he was the root of all evil and had to be resisted at all costs."

"Now, my cousin had never heard of any Satan character before, but decided it would be a hoot to pretend he was him. So keeping himself invisible he sidles up to this guy and says howdy. Did he jump, must have been almost ten feet straight up in the air."

"The next thing you know he's flailing all about him with this staff he's carrying, damned near brained my cousin with it, and frothing at the mouth. Than he's standing there, rocking back and forth, praying is what my cousin figured he was doing, with his eyes closed. Every so often he open his eyes a crack and peaks around to see if anybody's there, and he'll shout out things like "Get thee behind me Satan" or some such shit."

"Now my cousin is genuinely worried about the guy, thinks he might be going off the deep end from no water and lack of food. So he figures the least he can do is offer him something cold to drink, and maybe a bite to eat; make up for the fright he gave him and all. But he figures the guy must have been really toasted by the sun, because he kept screaming out about temptation and evil, flailing about with that damned staff of his all over the place. Invisibility doesn't prevent you from getting your skull split open by a deranged loony if he manages to connect."

Than there was also another guy who thought, he was talking to his god because of a brush fire that my niece caused one day on a mountaintop. She always was a little careless with fire, bit of a pyromaniac if you ask me, but she's my sisters daughter, so what are you going to do? She ended up covering by telling the guy to chill, made up some nice things for him to believe in, and he went away happy."

"So I've got to wonder about anybody who parks themselves out in the middle of nowhere, are they in it for fame, fortune and fanaticism, or are they just plain nuts. That of course brings us back to you again, and the question of why you are here. If I remember correctly, the answer was "enlightenment". Is that right?

Steven could only nod his head yes in agreement. He wasn't sure if an invisible voice could see nods, but he was also pretty sure he couldn't talk right now even if he wanted to. He hadn't really known what to expect, but he was sure this sort of experience wasn't what everybody had in mind when they when they talked about finding a new level of personal awareness. All he had wanted was a few hints about how to get his life back on track and to figure out a way of things not always ending up always starting over.

"Well you could start by not being such a self-centred, selfish prick. Ditch the paranoia as well; if you didn't think everybody is out to get you than maybe you wouldn't be out to get them first. I'd also not get addicted to bumping off people you have personal issues with, it ends up getting messy, and you might get caught. You'll probably get away with it this time, but next time you might not be so lucky."

"Oh what are you acting so surprised about? If I'm a hallucination of some sort or another than I'm coming from your brain and sub conscience, and deep down you know what a piece of shit you are, even if you're not willing to admit it out loud. If I'm really the voice of some otherworldly presence than I'm going to be able to read your thoughts anyway. So, actually, it's immaterial whether I'm real or not, because either way it's all true."

"Quite frankly if I were you I'd just take a running jump out of this cave and hope to splatter myself all over the mountain side, but since I'm not, that decision is up to you. In fact, here's my big piece of advice for you asshole; you might want to write this down it's important. No, all right than."

" Everything is your decision and you always have a choice no matter what the circumstances. Take responsibility for your choices and you will live a good and happy life. Blame everybody else for your problems and you become the messed up dipstick that you are today."

Steven had been staring open mouthed into space the whole time the voice was speaking. When it got to the point of jumping off the cliff he started to get himself ready to leave. He'd snort some lines off the dashboard of the Hummer, and find that hotel room. Than he'd hunt down the jerk that sold him the mushrooms, and give him shit for this bum trip they had caused.

He was so busy thinking about that, he barely noticed the voice was done. He had completely missed the last few words said to him, but he figured they made as little sense as everything else that had happened since he got here. Saying goodbye loudly to the voice, he bolted for the cave entrance where he tripped over a bump in the floor he hadn't noticed before.

His balance was off from not eating and drugs and that probably explained why he couldn't regain his footing before he tumbled over the side of the cliff that the cave faced out onto. The lump in the floor stood up on its four legs and padded to the cave entrance and to the edge. A familiar voice, at least to Steven's ears if he was still listening, came out of the very canine shaped muzzle.

"Stupid humans never listen, haven't in thousands of year, and aren't about to start now I guess. Oh well not my problem"
(Anthropologists now believe that most major human belief systems came about when people have been in a trance like state, most likely induced by the hallucinogenic psilocybin.)

February 19, 2006

The Great Cull

It is obvious that something has to be done. Things have been going from bad to worse, Loss of habitat and increasing over population has been putting a strain on the species' ability to maintain sustainable healthy levels.

Behaviour patterns that could initially be overlooked have now become so predominant that the tranquility and harmony necessary for continued existence has been threatened. Overcrowding, inbreeding, and pockets of isolationist behaviour, have combined to cause all sorts of anti-social tendencies to manifest themselves.

Incest, violence between mates, offspring being abused, abandoned and left to fend for themselves, show that breeding patterns have been adversely affected by these trends. But it doesn't stop there. Interrelationships outside of that dynamic have become untenable as well.

Simple interactions between male of the species, and even females, have become fraught with tension. Foraging behaviours have become more aggressive as more are competing for less. Instead of the previously seen willingness towards compassion, the elderly, lame, and others unable to fend for themselves, are being left to the mercy of predators and the elements.

Worse yet, is an increase of clashes that are not based on survival. There appears to be a continual struggle to assert dominance over each other at a personal and species level. Dominant males have become far more belligerent, utilizing their strength not just to secure better forage and favour among females, but to impose their will on lesser elements within the species.

This in turn has given rise to resentment among those less developed, and has caused an increase in bellicose behaviour. Respect for standards of social norms, regarding the resolution of disagreements, have fallen by the wayside. Instead of direct confrontations between individuals to solve disputes, there has been a steady increase in attacks on secondary individuals.

Another disturbing trend that has been noticed due to the alarming increase in population, is the continual degradation of the species' natural habitat. Not only have normal sources of food become depleted from the effects of over foraging, but also their supply of fresh water has rapidly diminished.

The major culprit for this is that with increased numbers comes an increased amount of refuse. Not only does that foul surface water supplies, but it also contaminates the water table. As fresh water becomes scarcer, the chance of disease spreading increases, and the overall hopes of species survival diminishes.

As they are forced to co-habit less and less territory, the incidence of disease increases dramatically. Aside from the fear of water borne, waste generated, bacterial illnesses that can debilitate thousands, (and increase the waste disposal situation substantially) a sizeable increase in viral type infections and ailments has been noted.

Given the chance of continual incubation due to overcrowding, these viruses mutate too rapidly for immune systems to develop defences. Individuals may be able to resist an initial strain, but a second or even third generation mutation could easily overcome their defences.

Obviously, the situation is fast approaching a critical stage for the species. Unless some type of drastic action is taken in the near future, there is the very real possibility that they could face extinction. While on the one hand this may be seen as a desirable result by some, that takes a rather shortsighted view of the situation.

All species, even ones like this that seem to have no redeeming qualities in terms of what they give back to the planet, have a roll to play. They would not have developed and evolved otherwise. No matter how tempting it might be to let Humanity die out because of their own stupidity, we owe it to the world to attempt to keep them alive.

It's obvious that the normal means of keeping their population in check, mortality and susceptibility to death from injury and illness, have not been sufficient. It has become necessary for us to intervene before it becomes too late. The obvious solution is to begin a cull.

But this cannot be just a cull of the sick and the lame, because that won't solve any of the problems. No, we must have a systematic cull that eliminates individuals from all strata of what they call society. Only then will be there a chance of them finding a balance in the future.

Leaving just the avaricious and powerful alive would only allow similar conditions, that caused the problem in the first place, to be reproduced. We will also have to reduce their numbers significantly enough to allow their habitat to recover, and disease to die out.

Therefore it is this council's recommendation that seventy-five per cent of the existing human population be eliminated post haste. We see it as their best chance of survival.


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April 25, 2005

Defending Disney

He's going too far this time, this long haired iconoclast (whatever that means, sounds like anarchist and antichrist tho' so you know it can't be good) Besmirching the good name of that great American institution Walt Disney. I mean how could you not find anything more wholesome and family oriented then that. The wife and I took the kids down a couple years ago and we had a great time. The kids really liked the animal safari thing; we heard people who had been on a real trip to Africa say it was really better then going, what with not having to put up with the poor hotels and roads over there and all the beggars; the animals looked so real.

Disney, no matter which one you go to, is a great place and I think only a real negative person could get all up in arms about the things this guy goes on about. First he say it's ironic (have you ever noticed how all these cynical types call everything ironic, it makes them sound intelligent or something) that Disney has built a safari ride preaching conservation when they've built the whole complex in the delicate eco-system of the Florida Everglades, destroying valuable habitat and upsetting the water table. Goodness it's just swamp land, what could live there aside from some alligators and such that no one is going to miss, and Disney has its own water supply and disposal anyway, so I don't see how they're doing anything to the water table, whatever he means by that.

Then he has the nerve to say that the Epoct centre is a symbol of increased American isolationism because, get this, he says"it prepackges culture into bite size pieces of stereotypical servings" I don't know what the hell that is supposed to mean, maybe he's talking about the food. But like I said before it was a good education for the kids, and us I might add, to see all those people dressed in their natural clothing doing their normal day to day stuff. It shows you just how different everyone in the world really is, but after seeing some of the things other guys were forced to wear(I didn't know all Arab men wore some sort of dress)I'm not about to change in my jeans, no matter how quaint the wife thinks it.(I almost slapped the youngest upside the head for making comments about my legs and those skirts the Scottish guys had on, the kids got quite the lip on him)

But he's not satisfied with just attacking Disney World, now he's going after their movies too. Now I didn't think much of that Hidalgo thing, what with having that foreign guy Viggo something staring in it and all the nasty things he's had to say about our government, and I didn't think that subject matter was exactly family oriented(showing our army in a bad light for doing something that had to be done to preserve our country)but to here him ridiculing it as nothing but the"made up fantasies of a wannabe western hero" is just downright degrading to the memory of Tom Hopkins, one of the last real living cowboys upon whose autobiography they based the movie. The nerve of him implying that the race in the movie never even took place. He bases that on the testimony of a few Arabs who claim to be from families who have bred horses for generations and have never heard of The Ocean of Fire, and the fact that he says in order to travel that amount of distance in Africa you'd have to go down as far as the country of South Africa. He doesn't have to get all literal minded, I'm sure the course had a few twists and turns in it to make up any differences he thinks there were.

But it gets worse. Now's he's turned his sights on the Pirate movies. You remember the first one a couple of years ago: The Curse of The Black Pearl(a great ride at the park too, my youngest lost his lunch on it though: never give a kid a hot dog, fires, and shake before going on a ride) That Johnny Depp is a little suspect, living in France and all, and I thought they should have done something about making him a little less fruity(the wife wondered how long it took him to put on his face every morning, I said it couldn't be anywhere near as long a time as it took her) But aside from that it was great fun for all of us. How many live movies are there for the whole family to see these days?

Anyhow, Mr. Iconoclast has got himself all hot under the collar about the way in which some locals are begin portrayed in the upcoming parts two and three being shot in the Dominican Republic. It seems over the years they got the reputation as being cannibals(I say where there's smoke there's fire) which they deny(would you admit that your grandfather ate someone)and they are objecting to the fact that Disney is going to have them trying to eat the main characters. Well geez what does it matter anyway, its just a movie, can't you folk lighten up. Haven't they heard the saying: Any publicity is good publicity.

He goes on and on; infringing upon freedom of speech by refusing to distribute that unpatriotic garbage by Michael Moore(you couldn't pay me to see that), that the truly heartwarming Polar Express invalidates other beliefs by preaching only by believing in Santa Claus can you be happy, and perpetrating stereotypes with movies like Aladdin.

Mr. Iconoclast is so typical of these doom sayers today, raining on everyone's parade and trying to ruin things for the rest of us. I think a lot of the worlds troubles could be eased if people like him just stopped mouthing off and stopped trying to upset people. All that it does is make people have doubts about those things they should just accept as facts of life. I'm sure the situation in Iraq would be over by now if more people just supported our troops and our government and stopped asking questions, it sure would make things a lot easier anyway.


cheers
gypsyman


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