Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Fotis - a segment (fiction)

I had been out with a few of the hard-drinking members of the press corps - a writer from the UK, two cameramen from Quebec and a surly American photographer - and had gone to bed very drunk. I remember having a nightmare, something about drowning and running for a train which I could never quite catch. Then I was flying, and both sides of my face hurt, then the tops of my feet were burning. I don't remember the door opening, but I remember the cold terrazzo of the landing and a moment of rising horror as I realized that the nightmare had ended and I wasn’t drunk enough to ignore what was happening to me.

The two goons who’d dragged me out of bed threw me down the stairs. This meant that the hospital (if I was lucky enough to reach one) would report that I hadn't been manhandled or beaten, I had simply 'tripped' and given myself injury. If you read the death certificates of agitators in several otherwise respectable countries, you will find a lot of such claims.

Still, there were risks involved for the goons; I might have broken my neck on the way down. They should have taken that into account. Nobody wants a dead journalist. Bad press makes for bad trade relations, and my host country was in desperate need for hard currency.

This fact offered me no comfort as I hit the bottom of the stairs. Before I could get up (or even try to manage it), one of the goons kicked me in the ribs and I both heard and felt the distinct crack as one of them snapped. The other goon stomped on my feet and muttered something which I'm sure translated loosely to "Oh! Goodness! Our friend has hurt himself! We must take him to a doctor at once!"

By then, I knew that they probably weren't going to kill me. There were too many witnesses, mostly hotel staff and a few truly brave tourists who had to use those same stairs (the elevators had stopped running weeks before). The goons jerked me to my feet and I saw the backs of a few heads (pointedly looking the other way) as I was pulled through the lobby and thrown into the back of a car.

The car’s plates were government issue, which let the driver run red lights and steer around the few pedestrians on the streets with impunity. He was silent as goon number one (the intellectual) started to question me. "You are happy?" he said, with heavily accented English and foul tobacco breath.

"Thrilled." I groaned.

The second goon took a fat finger and poked me a few times in my newly broken rib. I grit my teeth as he said something in a language I didn’t recognize. Both goons had a good chuckle for a couple of seconds.

The first one leaned forward and whispered quietly to me, almost tenderly. "Do you know what he said? He wondered if you're ticklish there."

I thought hard about how to reply to that. "Your wife’s ticklish" seemed to sum up my feelings pretty well. I said it and waited for his response.

I didn’t know his wife – I’m sure she’s a lovely woman – but the sentiment seemed to get my feeling across without delay. Even the second one understood what that statement meant, and he clearly didn't speak English. Then there was a flurry of fists onto my torso and I fell unconscious, which was a blessing.

Perhaps that hadn't been the wisest thing to say, but I didn't care. And don't mistake candor for bravado. I wasn't facing my dilemma with anything close to courage. They’d already won. All I could do was manage to flail a bit on the way down. At the very least, I could be unpleasant.


I woke up hours,or days later, freezing. The room felt like it was lurching from side to side, and although the air was hot and humid, my chest felt like ice. As I slowly came to consciousness, I noticed the plastic bag of ice on my chest. It was filled with ice cubes, the small rectangular ones produced by commercial ice-making machines. There was a tight tensor bandage around my chest, and some padding around my broken rib.

This was a good sign. The ice would reduce the swelling, and the bandage would improve the state of my rib. It meant that they didn't want me dead or too badly off. The relief I felt at this was offset by the state of the room I was in. Steel walls and a small, circular window looking out at a grey sky. It took a few seconds for me to realize that I was in a ship's cabin, and that the room actually was lurching from side to side. I didn't feel seasick, which probably meant that I had been at sea for a few days. Evidently, one can get their 'sea legs' while conscious, or not.

I was hungry, and sore. Somebody had left 10 boxes of crackers, 5 large bottles of water, a plastic kettle that I could plug into a rusty outlet, and 20 cups of instant soup and noodles beside the bed. Not a varied diet, but enough to feed me for a few days. There was a flush toilet in the corner (which worked), and a sink with a single tap (which did not). The porthole was too high to reach, but I could see waves crashing over it, which meant I was close to the belly of the ship. A ship with a commercial ice-making machine somewhere onboard. I didn’t know where it was, where it was going, how I got there, or why I was being held.

In the next few days, however, I learned a lot about the cabin. I counted all of the bolts (467) and how many sides there were to each bolt (6 sides apiece, except for 48 smaller, 8 sided bolts around the door). I learned that I couldn't ever get a good enough look at the sun to figure out where we were heading, and that the seas were roughest shortly before dusk. I learned that I could stand on my head on the bed by hooking my legs over an overhead pipe. And the mattress on the cot that I slept on was made in South Korea.

Once these discoveries had been made, I had nothing to do except wait for…what? Interrogation? I didn't know anything. My job had been to cover the alleged ‘free’ election for Reuters. I interviewed members of both the ruling party and of the official opposition. I had spent one evening with one of the so-called 'lunatic fringe', an independent candidate who was running on a xenophobic platform, one which called for breaking off all ties with pretty much every other country in the region.

All in all, I had gotten off light. The toilet worked, the room was a comfortable temperature, I had food and water, and most importantly, nobody was beating me up. I didn't knock on the door or the pipes because I didn't want to be the one to initiate contact. Isolation beats most people down; I was determined to not let it effect me. A strange sense of propriety overcame me. The faceless 'they' had brought me here, that same 'they' should have the common courtesy to tell me what's happening.


It was four days after I regained consciousness that my cabin door opened shortly before dawn, a textbook tactic. Psychologically, you are weakest before the dawn, you've made it through the night and think you can see light at the end of the tunnel. Your guard goes down and they get you.

This backfired with me. I was asleep. I didn't hear the steel door open, or the sound of feet on the floor. It was the leader's cigarette which woke me up. I had gone 96hrs cold turkey without tobacco and I wanted nothing more than a drag. He had a blond beard and conspicuously dyed black hair. His accent sounded like Belfast, filtered through Texas, with an Italian perpensity to add a vowel at the end of words. And his cigarettes were Greek. If this was meant to confuse me, it did.

He had 3 goons with him. But none of them threatened me. They were just there, a fact of the situation, an absolute. Their very presence told me who was in charge.

"Richard? You are well?"

He handed me a lit cigarette and a book of matches. I took a long drag before answering. "My ribs hurt."

He frowned. "You fell. It was not our intention."

His false accent faded at "intention," making it somewhat sinister.

"What is your intention, for me?" I asked.

Big smile. " Canadians are nice. Americans, they’re too…loud. French are too expensive. All we want you to do is write something we tell you to write. One little bit. Then we send it out and then you can go."

My cigarette had vanished before I realized I had smoked it. "What do I have to write?"

He smiled again. "We will let you know. Soon. I promise."

A long pause. A second cigarette appeared in my hand. I was halfway though it before I remembered all the questions I had. I asked "Where are we?"

He frowned. "Shouldn't matter to you."

"I'd like to know."

He just shook his head. "You're well fed?"

3 days of soup had gotten to me. "Maybe there’s something else in your kitchen next to that ice machine."

He gave me a very small smile. "Maybe we'll bring you some bread. You want some cigarettes of your own?"

"Please." I said it sincerely.

One of the goons handed over 3 packages and a book of matches. “You trust me with these?” I asked, lighting another smoke.

The leader got up to leave. “What’s to burn? You don’t want to ruin your bed, I’m sure. And you’d choke to death on the smoke. Be good and be patient and you’ll be out soon.” With that, he muttered some words that I didn’t understand to his goons and the door closed firmly behind him.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Laying Down in 2003

With all due respect intended to those involved, especially the late Shirley Parker Smith. My grandfather would have quietly sung 'You may have been a headache, but you never were a bore,' smiling and with love.

Quoniam eripuisti animam meam de morte, et pedes meos de lapsu, ut placeam coram Deo in lumine viventium.

This won't be elegant. My grandmother died, my father died, my uncle died. In a four year span. And simultaneously, in some respects. These stories have to be told together somehow, if I can manage it. There's a common thread. If you're guessing 'death', you can award yourself some points. There's more to it, but it has to unfold slowly. Be patient or not as you please, I don't set the pace.

So instead of recounting my grandmother's cause of death (briefly, a stroke and a very long battle with other problems), let me leap back to something that might qualify as an ending behind the memory of a cold afternoon five years ago. In short (very short), my grandmother died just as my father's illness took firm hold. Her ashes remained uninterred for what felt like a long time not from lack of love, but from exhaustion and the knowledge she would have insisted that this task not be rushed; she was a practical woman, and what do the dead have but time?

She didn’t want a funeral or memorial, she had only asked to be placed with my grandfather's grave in a small cemetery outside of Port Colborne, Ontario. Preferably someplace high up on the hill because there’s flooding in the Spring and she didn’t want to get her feet wet. Despite the no ceremony edict, I received a phonecall where my mother asked me which part I wanted to read in the Anglican service for Nan’s internment.

Fair enough. Nan's decree notwithstanding, the living get the last word. My mother was briefly concerned that if she officiated over an internment there might be theological consequences, since she’s not actually clergy (she serves as a Sacristan and Server in the Anglican church). I assured her that I’d read Dante's Inferno and didn't remember any Sacristans down there by name. And she wasn't claiming to be clergy, this wasn't simony or any less publicized sin that the kids are into nowadays.

“I have to wear your sister’s graduation robe, instead of my Sacristan cassock,” she told me. “I’ve gained weight and my holy robes are too tight across the bust.”

I said “I heard that several of the apostles had that same problem. All those loaves and fishes.”

It was agreed that I would read from one of the gospels, my aunts and cousin and sister would read from the Anglican prayer book. I agreed to it, but didn't want any part of it. And not out of lack of respect or affection. I was willing to defer to my mother’s sense of grief, but it was hard enough missing my father and painful to think of my grandmother, and I didn't know if I had the strength to say another goodbye or to even be in the same space as a bunch of passive-aggressive WASPs who didn’t need any extra grief.

A few days later, on a Saturday morning, I arrived in Port Colborne in my kilt at the chosen graveyard. My grandmother had given me permission to wear my grandfather’s tartan for my wedding (she had mused “Your grandfather would be very happy dear, but I'll be on the floor") so it was appropriate that I wore it that particular morning. The fact that warm, heavy wool attracts mosquitoes was at the back of my mind, but I tried to ignore it. There was a lime-green piece of AstroTurf that did not resemble real grass in any way, shape or form over my grandfather’s grave. It covered a hole that was around four feet deep. Nan's name and date of birth was carved into the stone, but the date of her death had yet to be carved.

 It was an interesting group- me in my kilt, my wife and cousin in their Sunday best, my mother in robes, my sister in high dudgeon, my aunts in menopause. We were all there willingly and with free and open hearts, but the months before had been heavy and my grandmother had a pitch-black sense of humour, something we were channelling by that point. We all felt ourselves teetering on the edge of either hysterical tears or laughter, depending perhaps on the direction of the wind.

The box with my grandmother's ashes was covered in a deep blue silk pall (a bag, really). My sister took the box out and casually tossed the pall on the back seat of the car, causing minor upset among the gathered throng.

Mom- I think we should keep the pall on.

Sister- I thought the box goes in the ground without it.

Mom- It might be nice to put it in the ground in the bag, to keep clean.

Sister- The bag won’t stay clean, just the box.

Mom- Of course the bag won’t stay clean, it’s a burial dear. What are you going to do with the bag?

Sister- It’s a nice bag, I was going to save it to put my shoes in...

Mom- (horrified) You are not going to put your shoes in your grandmother’s pall!

Brief hysteria followed. Then the service went fairly quickly, one rousing chorus of “The Lord is My Shepherd” with the old tune. Didn’t know there was a new tune, but that’s how it goes.We all took a handful of dirt and placed it on the box to further represent the burial. I thought that it might be a good time for screaming fits and tears, but it didn’t quite feel organic. You’re not supposed to “feel” like its a good time to pitch a fit, you’re supposed to find yourself pitching one. Thus, catharsis. If you ramp yourself up to catharsis, it’s melodrama, no?

Or something like that. Regardless, I mourned my grandmother. She was hell on wheels when she wanted to be, but she loved her family and that was enough. There were tears but no weeping; that had come before and didn't need to be revisited.

It was decided that I had to lower the box into the ground (I had the longest arms), which was a weird sensation. Could my grandmother have picked me up as a baby and thought This is the guy who’s going to lower me into my grave? It put things into a perspective that I felt but didn't quite understand. I leaned over, carefully lowered the box around four feet into the ground. My mother said another prayer, and the grave was consecrated. Or something. I was calling it consecrated. There was, however, brief repartee among the peanut gallery.

Aunt #1- Michael, the box is crooked.

Sister- It’s a hole, Auntie.

Aunt #2- Is it crooked?

Mom- What’s that?

Aunt #1- It’s crooked. The box isn’t angled with the gravestone.

Mom- It doesn’t matter, dear.

Aunt #2- You know, it is a bit crooked…

Aunt #1
- Michael, would you…

Me- I am not moving the box! It's been consecrated!

Aunt #2- I don't think moving it will affect that, Michael...

I wasn't dealing well with this when a cemetery worker in a pickup truck began lingering a few feet away from the grave. My mother was looking deeply aware of the absurdity of negotiating the angle of a box of ashes that was about to be buried, and didn't look like she wanted to deal with anything else. I walked over to see what the worker wanted, and was met with a hearty “Do you have the cheque?”

A lotta love there. But the fee was quite reasonable. I made a note to die in a small town someday.

I found the cheque in somebody's purse. By the time I got back to the grave the throng was breaking up (somebody brave did eventually move the box into an appropriately respectful angle) and were discussing the pros and cons of getting some lunch. And somebody wanted to hit the dollar store in town to buy sponges on sticks before heading back to the house. The aforementioned sponges were secured on the end of the stick to simplify the act of swabbing down a shower stall after one's morning ritual. This is the WASP way of coping with death, I thought. I wasn't up to it and my shower was just fine without outside assistance, so I finally said "Can I have a minute?" through gritted teeth and received a few moments alone by the grave as the family headed to Dollarama and the homestead.

I was wearing a Smith family kilt pin, the motto read “Touch not a cat, but a glove” which I suppose translates to 'The Smiths, in toto, can get pretty snippy sometimes.' Which sums up my grandmother quite well, even affectionately (it is also, apparently, the motto for Macpherson and MacIntosh and a few other Macs, so perhaps these things are best left in the realm of fancy as far as verifiable lineage is concerned).

I left the pin in the flowers. It will tarnish and rust, so be it. It doesn’t belong to me. It belonged to persons gone. In pace requisat, and all that.

The rest of the afternoon involved take-out chicken and touring Port Colborne's other graveyard, finding the other family plot and hearing my aunts and mother declare exactly how they'd like to be planted when the time comes. My mother said “You can rest your father and I here, together, when I go, or wherever you think is best. This plot is paid for. Anywhere is fine. As long as he and I are together.”

The rest of the family wandered. My cousin smiled sweetly at me and said “It’s been a perfectly morbid day” before we left. When Abby and I arrived back in the land of the living in Toronto, I ditched the kilt. Abby made a roux, and we had pasta under a soothing white sauce. Mushrooms. Chicken. Romano. Black pepper. Everything tasting real and of this world. Chased with white wine in a glass until everything sad and lost was at a comfortable distance.

My mother stayed at the house in Port and called me a few days later to say “I found your kilt pin. You didn’t have to do that.”

I said “I’m keeping the kilt. I thought they deserved the name.” I used 'they' because that particular circle is completed. My grandfather died suddenly over 20 years before, dead before he hit the ground from massive heart failure. My grandmother missed him terribly and quietly for decades.

“Well,” she said, “it was sweet. I’ve buried it next to the flowers, it’s better that it be in the ground. It’s buried now, so it’s all over,” she said. “Now we just keep going on.”

There was a long pause. I had the music from Mel Brooks’ Producers musical playing in the background. She offered to take me to see it onstage as a birthday present in December of that year. At the time, it was fall and my father was not in his backyard raking leaves, or walking my sister's fat little Pug around the block, or taking my mother on yet another trip to the farming belt around Ontario.

The loss felt heavier than usual, six months since his death. It was cold in Toronto that afternoon. Cold all over Ontario. Frost on my grandmother's grave. A fine layer of dust on my Dad’s box of ashes on my mother's dresser, removed lovingly once a week.

God’s equivalent of “That’s all, folks.”

Written Sept 2003 and revised May 2008

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Late to the Party - Cloverfield

Consider the last time you heard somebody (possibly yourself) use the expression we kind of made out after a vigorous session of tonsil hockey. 'Kind of' covers a lot of ground: it can be a sheepish smile shaped around a treasured memory, or a horrified what-in-the-name-of-all-things-holy-have-I-done! realization once the haze has lifted and the spit is no longer being swapped.

There comes a point on one’s life where the use of this expression is ill-advised at best. As an excuse (“We weren’t really making out…”), it doesn’t hold much water after you’re old enough for credit card debt and tax shelters. Using it as a toehold (“…but we kind of made out, that means something…”) won't project oodles of dignity at any stage of life. It’s equally pathetic after high-school fumblings or too many shooters at an office party.

But the kinda-sorta sentiment around the kisses and cuddles is, in itself, almost enticing. After all, it’s not downright denial. You were obviously compelled to do it in the first place, so you must have had a good reason at the time. It’s affected you on some level and has to work itself out.

The action in Cloverfield begins with just one of those kind of made out experiences between Rob (mid-20’s and conflicted) and Beth (mid-20’s with heartbreaking eyes). The early-morning rumpled sheets and bare shoulders indicate the previous evening’s activities went a few steps past the kind-of stage as making out goes, but the post-event logic works along the same lines. Our snugglebunnies indulge in a cutesy breakfast before jaunting off to Coney Island for further frolic, Rob documents it all on his camcorder for sentimental reasons (or to add to his homemade Gettin’ Some library for review at a later date).

A few weeks pass. Rob’s buddy Hud (short for Hudson, Heads Up Display, and maybe a nod to Bill Paxton's freaked out Colonial Marine from Aliens) is on camcorder duty, capturing the festivities at Rob’s going away party. Beth arrives with a date (a boy, at that!) which results in a few cranky words between she and Rob before she leaves in high dudgeon. Word leaks out about the Rob & Beth incident, and the beer and the angst are both flowing freely when the power goes off, the building starts shaking, the partygoers head for the exits.

Y’see…there’s this creature that’s crawled out of the harbour. It has little regard for property rights. And it’s really big. In John Carpenter’s version of The Thing, somebody describes an unknown being by saying “… it’s weird and pissed off, whatever it is.” It works here just fine as well. Kudos to the CGI team that put the creature together - you don’t get a good look at it for a long time (a very old trick - your subconscious fills in the unpleasant blanks), and when you do manage to get a peek, it isn’t comforting. It's even brought along a coterie of nasty little parasitic buddies that roam the streets on spidery claws, eating (or at least biting) any person they come into contact with.
The military (rather sensibly, in my opinion) choose to initiate communications through machine gun and bazooka fire. By this point, the partygoers have decided that Manhattan ain't what it used to be and make a run for the Brooklyn Bridge. When they get there (with thousands of eager evacuees), Rob receives a garbled cellphone call from Beth who is sounding like she’s not at all well. The call is terminated before he gets the details, but he decides that she needs help and he’s the man to do it. His opinion of their relationship has segued from it’s complicated, we kind of made out… to I have to rescue her in remarkably short order. Love does that to a boy.

The bridge option soon becomes untenable (the creature takes an active dislike to it), so Rob and his infinitely supportive buddies are further motivated to head back into Manhattan where, frankly, things are getting kind of gross. Hud keeps the camera running through all of this, and the audience watches his footage off of an from SD card found by the military in an area “formerly known as Central Park.” It lets you know the extent of the creature-initiated urban renewal that’s taken place since Rob and Beth first indulged in the Underpants Charleston.

Pity any director compelled to lay waste upon his fellow man on a grand scale. Mass destruction movies exist in a perpetual catch-22 between being exciting or being realistic. Yesterday’s Armageddon frequently dates badly (Damnation Alley, anyone?); if you manage to make catastrophe rousing (the Mad Max movies, Independence Day), it’s bubblegum all the way down. And the most genuinely harrowing films (The War Game, The Time of the Wolf, the Brit post-nuclear flick Threads) depict carnage so effectively that they’re inescapably depressing.

Monster movies fit into this laying waste category, but usually lack the dignity of a good old fashioned man made disaster. You can make the whole beast-with-a-soul-teaching-us-about-ourselves argument as much as you wish, or you can go all highbrow and make a case for monsters representing a Golem of one kind or another, it all boils down to some sort of Uggy crawling out from somewhere or another and stepping on or biting things. This limits the fright factor almost immediately: Most people are far more unnerved by the more probable chances of nuclear accidents, famine or economic collapse. If I am unfortunate enough to wake up one morning to see my city in flames, my first thought isn't going to be that some omnivorous beastie the size of a bus, building or Olympic-sized swimming pool has decided to tear up the town. Literally.

Cloverfield finds a balance between trying for outright terror and establishing isn't-this-COOL excitement through relative economy and restraint (for a monster movie, at least). Its most obvious influence is The Blair Witch Project, but there are nods (perhaps even high-fives) to others who have come before; any number of Godzilla films, Steve De Jarnatt's Miracle Mile with its save-the-girl-dodge-the-reaper narrative (and similar helicopter unpleasantness), you could shoehorn Carpenter's Escape From New York into it if you needed to (glorious NYC turned upside down), and even James Cameron’s fingerprints are left in the ash of the wrecked city- Rob’s sprint through Manhattan is aimed squarely at the smoochy set who melted for Jack saving Rose in Titanic back in the day.

The action in Cloverfield is almost nonstop- the film only rarely pauses to say This Is Important in either narrative or visual terms. There is sort of a carpe diem moment between Rob and his brother milliseconds before things start to go boom, and there's a slightly strained That's All Folks coda to the handycam at the end of the film, but you only notice the conceit a few hours later. You'll grudgingly respect the fact realize that they were pretty much invisible while you were in the moment with the quaking camera.

This prey’s-eye view also avoids the sloppy problems of scale in films like Roland Emmerich’s US Godzilla (where the creature's size varied, presumably, from which special-effects company was animating it on any given workday). If we don’t quite get a handle on the size of the creature or its skittery little friends, we can forgive it – Hud is well motivated to get the hell away from whatever he’s shooting.

There is also a perspective issue - in both the figurative and literal sense of the term - that works in the film's favour. There's a sequence where Hud and Rob have headed into an electronics shop (which is having its inventory taken away for safekeeping by an altruistic group of looters), the shop's TVs are broadcasting the first fuzzy images of the creature in Manhattan. We watch the monitors for a few seconds, then turn around to find a collection of awestruck looters with iPods and Xboxes in hand, unable to look away. Hud heads outside and films down the street, he zooms into the far distance where the actual attack is taking place. We don't see the whole creature, we only see scales tracked by helicopter searchlight against buildings. At a distance, it's already terrifying; this thing is 20 stories tall at the least.

These kinds of shots - bad things going down from a distance - wouldn't have worked in a pre-9/11 world. Only 10 years ago, in the wake of Armageddon, Deep Impact and Godzilla, such a shot would have been seen as cutting corners. In 2008, We don't need additional details to be scared any further.

The rest doesn't bring up too many surprises- a few good people (or at least ones we've been introduced to) die. The army gets its act together and pretty much writes off Manhattan, giving a time constraint to our heroes (who, otherwise, might simply have holed up in some deep basement somewhere). I was waiting for somebody to say 'the area will be sterilized by the use of thermonuclear weapons', but it never came. I'm always in the market for a shout-out to Dan O'Bannon, so I was a bit disappointed.

A few critics have brought up the issue of narcissism in the age of MySpace and Facebook, how the need to document everything is the motivating force behind the film and panders to its young/wired/blogging audience, to which I feel compelled to's a monster movie. Through and through. Even Blair Witch felt more like a Cassavetes film gone really really bad (watch it again), and less about evil incarnate than being the architect of your own destruction given half a chance. The creature in Cloverfield just shows up and messes up your life. You don't understand it, can't avoid it, have to get around it (literally) or face it to get what you want. Life's like that. Monsters too.

The ending’s a bit dour, but, really, what else could we expect? At least it didn’t end in some horribly awkward unpleasantness between Rob and Beth-

Rob: (bloodstreaked and panting) Beth! I’ve just survived disaster and destruction death by weird creatures to come here and rescue you!

Beth: (staring at her shoes) That’s so…nice. You know, Rob, I really like you… as a friend

That would be a fate worse than death. Thankfully, it doesn’t come to pass. Rob acts on his conscience, Beth realizes that while a lot of guys will bring you flowers, Rob has just faced off against a first cousin of Cthulhu to get her out of a condo with a newly-acquired 60 degree tilt. She appears to appreciate his efforts. You can read the rest on Rob’s face: We kind of made out. I was kind of a jerk. I’m sorry and I’ll do anything to be with you.

The first point is adolescent. The second is all too common. The third is a bit tardy and even clich├ęd, but heartfelt in the face of disaster. Love triumphs over omnivorous beasties and crumbling concrete. Hoo & Ray for Rob & Beth. You’ll be glad that they got together. You’re sorry that everything else kind of all went to hell.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Peggy Noonan, Ball Gag, Other Such Tracks...

...means nothing to me, in that order. I'm not a fan of Ms. Noonan, but I'm sure she's not the kind of person to indulge in ball gags. Or if she does, it's done in the presence of a person in a good old fashioned Republican cloth coat. The 'other such tracks' comment is entirely beyond my comprehension.

But somebody out there knows what's what. Those terms were Google searches, people who searched those exact terms before visiting my blog showed up on my page at 8:30pm and 7:00pm. And good for them. Huzzah and all. I mentioned a ball gag here a few months ago, and have quoted Peggy Noonan here and here in the past (in pieces about sin and Mel Gibson, respectively). 'Other such tracks' shows up here and there, exactly why Google found it important to scan I do not know. provides the weirdest search statistics I've ever seen. Thanks to their readings, I now know that Alice read 2 pages at 2:27pm. That somebody in Hamilton (probably my sister-in-law) read something at 7:45pm, and two unidentified people in Ontario popped in at 11:23am and 7:12pm, one with Rogers, one with Bell. Fine. It's not weird. It's just frighteningly detailed.

None of this matters to me (nor to most people reading this). But the free tracking ability is somehow unnerving, although it really shouldn't be surprising. Every connection has to have a start and finish. Proxies can mess with it, and IP numbers can be spoofed easily enough if you have the knack (I don't), but in general everything can be traced. I just really want to know about that person searching for Peggy and the ball gag. They must have been horribly disappointed upon finding my pages.

And Peg - I'm just goofin' on ya. But be aware that somewhere out there, somebody's looking to take liberties in your direction.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

We All Gotta Go Sometime...

Pushing up the daisies. The dirt nap. The obituary mambo. And of course, the sadly overlooked Cemetery Polka. Homemade films to songs off your favourite album rarely achieve greatness (mine sure as hell didn't, in my younger and more vulnerable years), but I'd like to meet the guy behind this one and buy him a shot and a beer. It's not the whole Tom Waits song, alas, but credit where credit is due.

This next guy, not so much finesse. But you've got to admire the zeal.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

A note of great pride...

I installed a counter on this blog. It's possible that in the not too distant future, I might crack the double digit mark. Oh, I know it's a crazy dream, but still...

Five Years On

A few months ago I wrote about the Eight Stage Morphing Apology, referring to a little song and dance that kicks in when somebody's trying to play down the severity of an event and maybe turn things around to work in their favour. It goes a little something like this:

1. I didn't do it.
2. You're oversensitive.
3. I have feelings too, and frankly, I'm a little bit hurt at your response
4. thought I meant that? No. What I meant was...
5. Hey, I had a right to do that...
6. Maybe it's me who deserves an apology.
7. Are you still on about that? I think you're the one with the problem...
8. I messed up. Sorry. But we're cool, right? Everything's fine? Right?

The practitioner can leap from stage to stage in no particular order to see what works on their audience. Most people start with outright denial at stage one. Self-pitying types play with stages three, four and six. People who like to lay blame usually stick to stages two, five and seven.

The truly desperate will use all of them while squirting out a few tears (or they’ll confess to crying for hours, unseen and unverifiable) by the time they get to stage eight, where it becomes tempting to offer absolution simply to shut them up. This is, of course, their ultimate objective. Reinvention, misdirection, & let’s talk about something else. The best part is that you don’t have to be a living and breathing person to use the eight stages. Institutions do just as well with it, and with more momentum. See below.

Bannergate hemmed and hawed its way out of the White House for months after Bush’s precious photo op, each variation less convincing than the previous. By the time the National Review cleared its throat in 2004 to insist that Mission Accomplished only applied to the dump Saddam mission, not the war entire (and maybe we should all be a little more careful about what we print), it was obvious that everyone involved was feeling duped (or was really touchy about being accused of duping the masses). Today, even the Review has suggested a little Duck and Cover.

You don’t even need a punchline anymore. It’s better than ‘I am not a crook’ or ‘I did not have sexual relations with that woman.’ The declaration of Mission Accomplished was sheer bravado, designed to appeal to the Never Apologize, Never Explain crowd. Editor and Publisher has a great piece today about how rosy things looked to some 5 years ago. But by the time you limp away from the comment, the bravado’s roar has crumpled into the paper tiger from which it sprung. The worst thing that a paper tiger can do is cause some collateral damage after accidentally setting itself on fire, which pretty much sums up US involvement in Iraq to date.

Was it worth the effort, or is it a debacle that makes Vietnam look like a backroad party after too much Purple Jesus? Make up your own mind. If you’re looking for validation, Unpartisan is running a tally of the coverage from outlets and left/right bloggers. Watch Dana Perino try to look mature in anticipating the snippy comments. Or just read the names of the dead from the Googled source of your choice. They’re long past spin or apology.


Update: John McCain's saying that Bush shouldn't be blamed "for comments by members of his administration that exaggerated the prospects for success in Iraq in contradiction to the facts on the ground." The fact that Bush profited in political capital from these implied gains doesn't get mentioned. But since McCain also wants it know that Bush should be held responsible for bungling the early months of the Iraq war, he...well, read it for yourself, do your own followup.

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