Monthly Archives: August 2009

Movie Review: District 9

District 9, movies, film, movie review, aliens, Africa, racism

In a nice twist, the aliens haven’t invaded and just want to go home.

And this is your spoiler alert. I’m going to dissect the movie so move on if you don’t want to know what happens in some of it.

There’s been a lot of hype about District 9. It was discussed some on my writers group list and people have seen all the bus ads and trailers. My neighbor said, “Oh that’s supposed to be one of the best movies of the year.” It’s produced by Peter Jackson of  LOTR fame and director Neill Blomkamp. And while I found the movie good, it wasn’t great.

What works for it are quite a few things. This movie would not have worked with name brand actors like Pitt or Depp. It supposed to take on a realistic feel of our world today, with a mockumentary beginning, film clips of news reels, interviews with various academics and psychologists. These people are warty and blemished, tired and unkempt, everything that says it’s not all smoothed over Hollywood makeup.

If we saw Will Smith pop onto the screen, we’d know it’s another action packed movie where the US saves the day again and again and again. This movie begins with film clips (which I actually thought there were too many of and somewhat boring but does set the time and place) where we find that the alien ship came to rest somewhere over Johannesburg. The narrator quips that it wasn’t New York or Chicago or London. And when they looked inside the ship there were malnourished and starving aliens.

Aliens that are buggy or insectoid in appearance. At least they’re not Star Trek aliens, which tend to be humanoid with odd noses.

District 9, apartheid, segregation, movies, film, aliens

District 9 is a thinly veiled commentary about segregation and xenophobia.

But how do you make an insectile creature sympathetic? With the alien in Alien, the antagonist, it was black and large, with no eyes and a very scary double set of very sharp teeth (interestingly enough this is the type of maw that eels have). The prawns, as they’re called in District 9, have antenna and instead of teeth, mouths that have tendrils like a carp’s. They can eat cans and tires and have a penchant for cat food. And the best way to get the audience to relate to the prawns is to give them big humanoid eyes.

That and to give them cute children, little miniatures. The main alien has a son, really the only child we see in the alien ghetto. Now it’s interesting that there is this attachment to offspring when it’s shown that they’re raised as eggs in a central feeding incubator. But then the aliens are intelligent so perhaps they know which egg is theirs. The only other alien creature shown is some creature used in illegal (equivalent of) cockfighting rings. The creatures are like giant shrimp, maybe a couple of feet long, with very sharp stingers, like long needles. They’re pitted against each other to death. So are they some sort of alien vermin, or prepubescent aliens (that have no faces) though stingers are not evident on the adults?

Eventually we get to some amateur filming of middle management and somewhat dweeby Wikus (pronounced Vikus) van der Merwe who is in charge of relocating 1.8 million aliens. The aliens are segregated in a slum, for 20 years, but protests have grown against them. Here we’re introduced to a host of smaller characters and your basic fodder for the carnage to come, as well as the guy in charge of the military end of the relocation, Kobus Venter. He’s brusque, aggressive and physically pushes Wikus in the beginning, setting up for further confrontation. So here we have the antagonist, the army.

This is in no way new to many films. What’s nice about this movie is that the aliens aren’t invading and really are downtrodden to begin with. But it’s cliche to have the bad army dudes who are shoot-first-ask-questions-later kind of mentalities. The main guy is of course crafty and wily and vicious. And then there’s Wikus’s father-in-law who puts Wikus in charge and is all too happy to sacrifice his son-in-law without so much as a moment’s remorse when it turns out they can harvest him for alien biotech once he was infected by an alien device.

And here is the biggest cliche of all. The scientists/doctors who want to harvest him will of course want the heart first but don’t even anesthitize him. (Well, Jame Bond, let me tell you about my evil plan to take over the world while you dangle over a pit of sharks/fire/blades.) He can’t get away, you see, if he’s knocked out which any scientist would do, even to a lab experiment. Even if you don’t have a humane bone in your body, you don’t want your specimen jerking about and ruining the harvest (and they want DNA so why the hell do they need the heart?)

That alien device that caused Wikus’s predicament is the pivotal part of the movie. The aliens need it to get off of the Earth and it’s taken 20 years to gather enough fluid to make it work. Why is there enough alien junk on the ground for them explore is a mystery. Why no one really seems to be able to communicate with the prawns or try to understand them (where are the xenobiologists and xenobotanists, etc. in all of this?) is never explained. Only Wikus as he’s metamorphosing, from a squirt of the device’s fluids, understands the prawn and the prawns of course understand the humans easily. Earth doesn’t want them but won’t let them go. I didn’t quite understand this.

Nor did I understand that all of the aliens except for three (the dad, the son and the faithful friend who sacrifices him/herself) seem to be brawling and base, little better than animals, and no one remembers how the ship worked it seems. But then they were probably all just passengers and the crew was small. I guess I could accept that there is only one commander who knows how to run the ship. Doesn’t seem like a great failsafe though to have no other crew.

Except for their carapaces these aliens are pretty human in their emotions and lives. It’s a hard thing to do, to make an alien and make it sympathetic to humans, hence the big eyes, the kid and the emotions. They eat differently but they fight back, or they make bargains with the Nigerians who are known for their scams (yes, this is a little tongue in cheek joke). Why it’s Nigerians in South Africa is not clear and the major crimelord is in a wheelchair, therefore wants to eat parts of the aliens to give him power. A little convoluted since these aliens are living in the slums and have no power.

What really doesn’t make sense is that the aliens  do have power but don’t seem to ever use it. They are stronger than humans and can rip them apart with their bare claws. They also have loads of weapons that they sell to the Nigerians for cat food. How they got these items off of the mothership is unclear since all of the prawns were ferried 20 years ago by humans and they have no transport of their own to the ship. Yet these weapons are mondo in all sense of the word. They’re bigger (because it’s better) than our weapons and their power is decimating, yet the aliens never use them but live as subjugated second citizens.

So are there flaws in this movie? Yes, plenty. Are there cliches? Unfortunately enough to keep it from being a great movie. It’s obviously a movie about segregation and subjugation, about insensitivity to otherness and racism. Wikus is the reluctant hero who is almost brought down by the nearly invincible Venter. The actor Sharlto Copley does a good job and the effects are well done. But the problems with the plot and the cliches worked against the story and the great effects. Overall, I’d give it 3.5 stars out of five. Maybe four for the effects but there’s room to grow.

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Salmon Fishery: Another Ecosystem on its Last Gasp

In the 80s the Atlantic cod fishery faced a moratorium because the cod stocks had all but disappeared. Some fishermen say that they were telling the Department of Fisheries and Oceans that the fish were getting smaller and fewer. They say the department didn’t listen. Others say that the fishermen were as complicit as the fisheries department because they continued to fish the stocks to near extinction. It’s obvious, if nothing else, that there were several guilty parties and that the fish disappeared.

BC is yet again facing the same thing with the salmon stocks. A predicted high number of returning salmon failed to appear this year. The Fisheries estimated that there would be 11,000,000 but less than 2,000,000 have appeared. They are being accused of having bad science yet again and really, that’s part of it. The other part is setting perhaps too high of quotas and not factoring in possible problems.

Where have the salmon gone? No one is sure but we’re looking at ocean temperatures being alarmingly high from a degree to five degrees warmer and as the scientists have said, this isn’t a percentage of a degree and it is significant. A two-degree difference in ocean temperatures can devastate not only sealife but affect everything from rainfall, snow-melt, tornadoes, hurricanes and lightning storms. Anyone notice the increase in ferocity of these things this year?

Only the most adamant head-in-the-sand attitude would try to say this is cyclical. Yes weather changes are normal to a degree but not to this level of extreme weather and not with the ocean warming this much. And no matter what someone argues, the fact is that the ocean has warmed and it’s devastating sealife. Perhaps there’s been overfishing in the US but I haven’t heard of that fight yet this year though it’s going to come up. And then there are the salmon farms and the danger of sea lice. We don’t know if the lice decimated the populations because they’re not here to see.

And the Native fisheries still have a right to fish when sport and other fishermen don’t. The fish for some sustenance though in this world almost all bands have members with jobs, near shopping centers where other food supplies are available. They fish for ritualistic means. They fish as part of their jobs, like other fishermen.

What’s at stake? The livelihoods of fishermen. The rituals of First Nations people. The salmon. If the salmon go, there will be no more fishermen. There will be no more rituals or traditions involving salmon. That is the bottom line and when less than two million salmon have returned and the future of their viability is uncertain, no one, and I mean no one should be fishing them.

We will run into again, the “appease me today, and we’ll worry about tomorrow tomorrow” sentiment. Yes, people will be angry, people will lose their jobs but is it better to keep a job for a few months and never have one again nor taste a salmon ever again? And of course if salmon disappear, it could affect other aspects of the ecosystem and the feeding cycle of other animals in the ocean and on land, such as bears.

There is a shortsightedness that is not only affecting our fisheries but still prevalent in other issues of the environment. It is as if a slumbering behemoth was prodded for thirty years and finally awoke and roared. The rampage or movement is about to begin but it will be at such a slow pace. The more I hear about our environment going crazy, the more I realize our time is running out faster than we can implement change, because that change is so small and incremental.

I fill with despair that in no other time in history, nor in such a short time, have humans destroyed so many things. We lost touch with our place on the land and have upset a balance that took millennia to set in place. It is ever changing and ever balancing and if anyone wonders at the fact that there are more scary flu epidemics (SARS, H1N1, etc.) and other diseases (HIV, Ebola) that are hitting larger populations, it’s not just because we travel more and the virii and bacteria travel farther. It’s also Mother Nature trying to reassert a measure of balance and she  will take drastic measures to do so.

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Love, Sex and Inanimate Objects

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, up pops another twist on the skein of life. I’m used to reading about, and hearing about different fetishes. I write erotica as well as other subjects so most of it I’ve heard of. Some of it is downright weird and some even revolting but I’ve heard of it.

What I have not heard of, or didn’t until yesterday, was objectum sexuals. It doesn’t exactly roll of the tongue and seems a blend of Latin and English but perhaps that’s to be expected from a self-proclaimed, very limited group of people who classify themselves as in love with or having intimate relations with inanimate objects.

love, inanimate objects, objectum sexualis, crazy people, marriage

Erika married the Eiffel Toweer (from http://blkandred.blogspot.com/2009_04_01_archive.html)

The article listed here from The Globe and Mail mentions a woman, Erika, who had a special feeling when she was at the Eiffel tower. She continued to visit it, again and again, touching it, spending all day with it. Eventually she performed a commitment ceremony with the tower, and friends as witnesses and changed her name to Erika Eiffel. The picture shows she wears an Eiffel tower necklace and has the tower tattooed between her breasts.

swordHer past relationships have been with an archery bow, a bridge and a sword (is that another euphemism for rough play?). I wonder if she’s ever had a relationship with a person and if she did so at the same time as dating the bridge. Was she then cheating on both partners, the animate and inanimate? And if she’s with a female object, is she then a lesbian? Ms Eiffel began a group called Objectum Sexuality Internationale (Latin, English and French in that name?) for people who love inanimate objects.

The article goes on to mention the man who is dating two soundboards and keeps them in his pocket, and fondles and kisses them. Is he cheating or just polyamorous? There’s a woman who is going to marry a roller coaster. Which denomination will perform that marriage or will it be a justice of the peace? But almost all religions require that both people give consent. These are not two people but woman and thing, however the thing cannot give its consent. I doubt that that marriage will be legal in the eyes of the law.

So okay, these people get a warm fuzzy glow about some thing but to marry or have a commitment ceremony with it? If I take these people seriously in their choice of partners, then I have to ask, how do they know that that bridge or tower or roller coaster wants to marry them or have a commitment ceremony with them? Aren’t they forcing their affections on something that can’t object? If they also are married or date people, then aren’t they cheating? What if the bridge wants a monogamous relationship? How do they know?

And what if the Eiffel tower already had a ceremony with someone else? Is it cheating? Do they know if the tower is monogamous or polyamorous? Maybe it’s saying in its quiet metallic voice, “Don’t touch me there. Get away from me. I’m sick of all you people spitting on me, pissing on me, dropping your gum and garbage all over my surface. Just leave me alone.”

Although a third of these self-identified objectum sexuals are supposedly diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome or autism (where it is sometimes hard for people to form relationships, but not always) there are only 100 people in this group, or at least those who have “come out.” That’s not even one percent of any population. Still, how can a person form a relationship with something that doesn’t feel, though Erika claims they are animists, therefore believing in a spirit in everything. There are animist religions but they don’t marry the objects in their religion (usually). What does it say when a person dates an object so that there are no discussions, no arguments, no objections to any behavior? Is it a sign that that person wants to control all aspects of a relationship?

Should I just turn a blind eye if I see a guy screwing a Volkswagen Beetle in a parking lot? After all, he can’t have it in to his place and he needs to maintain the relationship. In fact, in the US, men (or women I suppose) can buy neon colored, silicon testicles to hang from the back of their cars. Is this a form of penis extension or pumping up the image of masculine virility, or is it more objectum sexual? I’m not sure I want to know.

If I see a woman semi-naked and rubbing herself against a building, should I just presume it’s a normal relationship with her lover? So what’s next? Hmmm, dead people are inanimate. Should the deceased’s partner be able to maintain intimate relationships with the newly dead? Should there be a business in renting out preserved dead folks for loving relationships? We usually call this necrophilia.

I love chocolate but I suppose I’m a murderer as I tend to eat it. I love the color turquoise but I’m not about to get all intimate with every turquoise item I see. Maybe I should just lick and fondle it. That might be enough for both of us. I love my bed. I sleep with it every night. Maybe we should get married.

Still, for all this weird little piece of life makes me shake my head, I guess it doesn’t harm anyone, unless you consider the feelings of the objects.

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Why Canada is Racist

It’s a shameful fact that I’d like to see less of, that Canada is racist. I’m lucky enough to have been raised without racism. I don’t understand it. But then some of it is subtle. It’s not always about the color of a person’s skin but a person being other, not one of us. Outsiders need not apply.

Canada’s own interior racism (or should I say racial profiling) includes the interment camps for people of Japanese ancestry during WWII. Those people were uprooted for fear that because of their original nationality, even if they were born here, that they would betray Canada to Japan. Guilty by association, and in fact guilty even if innocent. These people lost homes and livelihoods and many of them never regained their properties. Vancouver’s Japantown is nonexistent these days.

Even older than that was of course the treatment of various First Nations bands (once called Indians and called Native Americans in the US). Many people were corralled onto reservations. While BC’s west coast fared better and many bands had fur and trade deals with early settlers and the Hudson’s Bay there were still many infringements on the culture including the nefarious residential schools. In some cases, First Nations people were punished if they used their own language, did their own rituals or anything else that represented their culture. They were also physically, emotionally and sexually abused. As well, many people were uprooted from where they lived and in the case of some Inuit, promised all sorts of things to move farther North to protect Canada’s sovereignty, where life was extremely hard and isolating.

We could say that these are issues of the past but the truth is no country is completely free of racism and bigotry. Canada still has many issues with First Nations where they are treated as second class citizens and live in appalling conditions. People of color (whether Native or black or…) are still arrested or harassed more frequently by some police departments. Prostitutes are still treated as if their lives don’t matter. After Willie Picton’s rampage and disturbing murders of so many street workers over the years and the lackadaisical attitude of the police in searching for these missing women (some who were First Nations on top of that), at least some police departments pay more attention now.

So you could say we’re trying to improve. And I would like to think on an individual level that most people are decent and treat people equally. It’s how I was raised. I never called someone a name because of the color of their skin or their race. I’ve dated men of all colors. I have what I call a soft racist friend. She works with and gets along with people of color and other races but she would never think of dating one.

It is something that everyone as an individual must be constantly aware of and try to curb. We can all fall into an “us and them” mentality and it’s insidious and dangerous. But we could say that our country at least has a human rights policy and upholds international standards of protecting the rights of the individual and helping those who are subjugated whether children, women, racial minorities, religious groups or any persecuted group. You could say that about a country but Canada is sliding a slippery slope toward a dictatorial regime.

I can’t yet draw comparisons to Hitler’s Germany and his persecution and murder of millions of Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals. (Yes, those three groups were targeted.) But if Steven Harper’s nearly totalitarian clutch on his ministers continues and his blatant disregard for the rights of Canadians continues, I won’t be far off.

Canada is hiding its face in shame over the issues of the following people and their problems. Suaad Mohamad was stuck in Kenya for three months when she went to visit her mother and was accused of being an impostor by Canadian consular officials.  Anab Issa took her autistic son Abdihakim Mohamed to Kenya to see if it would help him. He was not allowed to return and Issa was told that he wasn’t her son. Sound familiar? Then there was Abousfian Abdelrazik stuck in Sudan after being accused of being an Al Qaeda confidante of some sort. Cleared of charges by CSIS and the government, still Harper’s Conservatives would not let the man back in the country. Abdelrazik jumped numerous hoops but lived at the Canadian embassy and was in limbo for years, denied time and again his passport.

Debra Martin was jailed in Mexico, accidentally embroiled in her boss’s dealings. She was the cook I believe. When media finally got involved Canada sent a private jet for her release. Omar Khadr, the only person of a western nation and the only Canadian, still resides in Guantanamo and Harper and his henchmen are challenging yet another court ruling that they are infringing on Khadr’s rights.

Worse than that, they’re taking on the nightmarish doublespeak of 1984 and censoring such words as “child soldier,” “gender equality” and “international humanitarian law.” What’s next? Women are just incubation machines? Our elected members of parliament will not be allowed to say Khadr was a child soldier. What happens if they say this? Are they shipped of to a gulag or Guantanamo and never heard from again. Sure, governments change laws but it seems the Canadian government is changing the law to get their way. They’re doing it on the sly and they’re doing it against those they consider “other.” And they are setting a dangerous precedent toward bigotry and racism.

And what do all of these people have in common? They were Canadian citizens who went abroad and were abandoned by their government. What do all of these people except Deb Martin have in common? They’re brown skinned, with foreign sounding names and probably most of them are Muslim. Why do we even know about many of them? Because the media had to start pointing out what the government wasn’t doing. What does this say about the Canadian government? They’re willing to abandon you if you go abroad and you’re not white with a last name like Smith or White. I could be okay should I fall afoul in another country but I’m a woman and the government could be changing wording so that instead of saying “woman” we will soon say “second class citizen.” I certainly have faith in their racism and bigotry but not in them protecting humanitarian rights.

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Terror of the Air: Cold War Memories

When I was a child growing up in Calgary, there was an air raid siren in our neighborhood, at the corner where the Chinese store was. Yes, we did call the little corner store the Chinese store, as it was run by Chinese, yet this was never a derogatory term. I believe the air raid siren was across the street by the gas station. It was very tall, with a thick pole about the width of two light standards. It had to be about 25-30 feet high, with a big megaphone shaped horn at the top and all of it painted bright silver (or maybe that was the metal).

The top of ours was something like this, though the pole was round.

Ours was similar in style though the pole was round.

This Cold War artifact was very present in our memories and daily life. For one they would test it yearly and it sounded just like those WWII sirens you hear in the movies. I think. I was a kid so it’s hard to remember exactly. But the testing didn’t continue through every year.

Yet I remember that we were told to hunker down should a bomb drop and hide under our desks. There was a film they showed us, grainy black and white. I think it was sometime before grade 4 and I remember it being about bombings, maybe about Hiroshima because people were running from bombs dropping and the only image that seared into my brain was that of someone being vaporized by the bomb and leaving a skeletal imprint on the building behind them.
 
We were a generation growing up with fear of a world war, reminded by our parents and grandparents who may have lived through the horrors. We were after the generation of love and peace, the anti-war movement but were influenced by it nonetheless. Love and peace and hippy power had invaded and surely we were protected from the terrors of war. Yet we had those ever present reminders like the air raid siren.
 
My mother also had a gas mask, one of those old style ones with a corrugated rubber tube and
Almost exactly like my mother's except it was a black hose and mask.

Almost exactly like my mother's except it was a black hose and mask.

then a red tin at the end. What that tin was for, I’m not sure. It couldn’t hold air and I had no faith that it had ever filtered anything. Maybe it was just to convince people they were safe. The mask could have been hers from the war but I it might also have been a second hand one she bought when she was spraying insecticides on her plants. We would play in it and pretend we were monsters but not that often, because it was hot and steamy in there.I think for awhile there was an old army jacket hanging around, either my mother’s or my father’s. Most of these items disappeared by the time I was twelve except for the gas mask that no one used, and the air raid siren, now silent and ominous of a former era.

One day, when I was a teenager the siren went off. I don’t know if it was a test or some valve or button failing after all the years. But that terrible wail filled the air. Most of us ignored it, after a glance to the clear blue sky, but I remember these two little kids, about seven, who crying in sheer terror ran helter skelter for home, sure that the bombs were about to drop. I don’t know what they’d been told about wars, what mind curdling films they had been shown, but obviously the horror of war was a real thing for them.

When I was sixteen and in school, we heard the siren go one day. We were at least ten blocks diagonal away from it, yet it was pretty clear. No one bothered paying attention. After all, where do you go if the bombs are dropping? There were no bomb shelters that had ever existed in our area, bombs were more lethal from what we knew, and radiation would get us no matter what. Shortly after that, the air raid siren disappeared.

I would have off and on through the years, nightmares that were end of the world scenarios. Sometimes the bombs had dropped, sometimes it was just deadly radiation and sometimes the Nazis were chasing and persecuting me. They obviously were a form of stress  dream but one that would wake me in the middle of the night.

We are a generation that has seen war mostly from afar (except those in the military) yet that terror is a reality for some people every day. War is still not the thing of the past and it is more deadly than ever before. Perhaps that’s why my dreams are still spattered with war scenarios and movie realities. It would be nice some day that war is just a make believe thing but I think it will be a long time until humanity evolves to that next level.

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Waterpod and Floating Villages

Awhile back I posted an article on the Freedom Ship, basically a floating condominium that would tour the world. Ritzy, high end, super expensive and still a pipe dream ten years after the first idea hit the blueprints. 

And interestingly enough I finished writing a story this year that took fifteen years to finish. It takes place around New York, where people live on and farm barges in a very near future where pollution and toxic waste have poisoned a lot of the land. Impossible? Maybe but the idea came to me because of the prison barge that is docked on one of Manhattan’s shores, as well as the stories in the past of the boat people, immigrants not allowed to dock anywhere and having to live on the boats in which they escaped their native countries.

The movie Waterworld was pretty much a dystopian, road warrior style movie where people lived on ships because there was so little land. These ships seemed to be filled with crazy people and pirates and when we get down to it in a world where resources are limited, will only our bestial natures surface?

So is my idea and the Freedom Ship too farfetched to be true? Maybe. But I certainly don’t want my vision to be true. However, there are other visionaries today who are looking at old barges and ships and rethinking their uses. These people are looking to a future 50 to 100 years from now.

The Waterpod, is a barge that’s been refitted and made as a floating artists’ colony. This barge is waterpod2being towed from spot to spot on the Hudson and to each of New York’s boroughs. But it’s not just a bunch of artists floating on the river. It’s been made to be sustainable, to recycle and to provide a living space. Water is purified from the Hudson River, as well as utilizing grey water recycling. Hydroponics are set up to grown edible plants. A composting toilet is being used but must be able to compost waste from six people. Waterpod relies on its own power sources such as a vertical wind turbine, solar PV panels, bicycle power, and a picohydro system. The hybrid solar/wind system will be their main source of power, along with some marine batteries.

The floating habitat has chickens for eggs (and maybe protein but I’m not sure if they’re butchering). A “rocket” wood-burning stove will be used for cooking. It’s supposed to be super efficient but I’m unclear as to where they would get the wood if self-sustainable. This pod was only launched in June so some of these issues will be worked out as the barge continues its journey.

As well the Waterpod will have lectures, discussions, workshops, performances, shows, and other exhibitions. It is meant to entertain, educate and provoke discussions on sustainable living as the world becomes more overpopulated and renewable resources become limited. Science fiction or science in spite of fiction? The pod people, those involved in making this idea a workable and interactive system are many. Mary Mattingly a visual artist and photographer first conceived of the Waterpod in 2007. Her photographs are ethereal, beautiful and intriguing. http://www.marymattingly.com/ But to realize this idea took many people.

The website for the Waterpod project is extensive, with pages of information, a blog, a calendar of events and shows (and links to the artist websites), a progress report and schedule and the vision waterpod1of this project. My story was a what-if, that also took place around New York. Freedom Ship is a what-if that may never work. The Waterpod is a reality. It floats, there are people living on it, raising chickens and plants, purifying their water and composting, and holding interactive shows and performances on something made of recycled materials. Even the barge was an old piece of junk that was refitted.

 If nothing else the pod people of Waterpod are looking at various ways to work with and adapt to our changing environment. They have a lot of supporters and donors right now and the pod was only launched in June. In the future we could see more of these pods as people look for affordable living spaces.

http://www.thewaterpod.org/about.html  (Images are borrowed from Waterpod’s site.)

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Bog People and Mummies

I’ve been fascinated with mummies since I was about nine. These husks of a former life, reamed, cleaned and packed were then embalmed, smeared with unguents, wrapped in yards of cotton and placed in several sarcophagi. They were sent well prepared into the next life with canopic jars for all the important organs, gold and jewels and food. What a amazing world. And some of those mummies, richer in death than you or I could be in life, continued to grow nails or hair.

Is it any wonder that these bodies, preserved for millennia, fostered a whole host of reanimated mummy movies? Disturb the grave, steal from the dead and they will come back to exact their curse upon your person. And they, like zombies, will be powerful, single-minded and unstoppable. There was a more romantic mummy in Anne Rice’s The Mummy but on whole they are unnatural forces of death or evil that try to destroy the powers of life.

It is that sense of disturbing the dead that spawned so many mummy movies, which is also the heart and soul of many belief systems. Most spiritual paths indicate that there is a transmigration of the soul at the time of death, that in fact we leave the corporeal vessel that can serve us no longer and that our ethereal, quintessential selves move on to another state of being. Whether that is heaven, reincarnation, or a great unknown depends on the belief.

So it is interesting that in all these belief systems, which of course have funerary customs for the dead, that there is sometimes more concern placed on the decaying corporeal remains than on the soul’s departing. Many people agree that the soul is what matters, that that person no longer inhabits the fleshy shell, so then why do we place so much emotion into something that no longer resembles the person we knew?

We see this over and over again, where someone was cremated but the family received the wrong ashes. That a nation’s people died maybe a century ago and for whatever reason the remains are in another country (or museum) and great efforts are made to get those people back. But it’s not a person any longer; what defines “person” is gone. It’s as if we all live a two-faced belief, one where we agree the soul is what matters and the other in which we cannot let the material aspects go, no matter whether they’re rotted, embalmed, ashes or missing.

Does the respect and superstition for the remnants of the dead extend only as long as there is someone who cares? Most likely, yes. It may be family or friends, or in some cases a nation asking for a great hero, artist or politician’s body to be returned. It might be an ancestral thing or something to do with spirituality. But how far back should such a re-appropriation of remains go? Should the primitive man found in an iceflow before there were nations be claimed by one? Should he be buried with dignity? Should he be used in research? Which religion presides over his burial (or cremation) when none existed when he was alive?

Sometimes such requests for very ancient remains have little to do with sentiment and emotion. Sometimes they are levers for politics whether to further a nation’s claim or to purport ongoing indiginities. (No one has said a thing about the two dried out husks that reside in the curio shop on the wharves of Seattle.) It’s hard to say what is right when you think of the millions (maybe billions) of dead over millions of years (yes, humans have been roaming the earth for a very long time). Not everyone is claimed or cared about and really, we’re talking about a husk of old flesh here. Don’t get me wrong. I live this conundrum too, believing that which made the person human and real dissipates at death.Yet I have a reliquary necklace with some ashes of a dead friend in it, even though I know that his soul does not reside there.

Which brings me from mummies to bog people. Bogs have a unique chemical balance that preserves organic materials far better than anything else. People who have died in bogs turn leathery, whereas most bodies will decay to just the bones. Even their fingerprints are noticeable, as well as the foods in their stomachs and intestines still being discernible. Clothing decays fast under most conditions but the bogs preserve fabrics indicating that these early peoples wore leather and woven wool. All of these things can tell us how people lived, what level their culture was at, what techniques they had and how they died.

Denmark has some of the most interesting historical bogs where clothing and bodies have been found. As well, the Netherlands, England and other places in northern Europe have bogs that hold snippets of history. A few years ago (2004) the Glenbow Museum in Calgary exhibited “The Mysterious Bog People.” I had a chance to see it where the lighting was low, but bright enough on the bodies. There were displays of jewellery and tools and reconstructed fabric from the original finds. Also, there were reconstructions of the heads of some of the bodies. The exhibit talked about where they’d been found, when they had lived, how old they were and what had probably happened to each person.

As with most bog finds, many people died violent deaths, stabbed or strangled or possibly drowned. It may be that they were robbed or that they were sacrificed in various rituals. In most cases their lives were cut short in a brutal and sudden way. After I saw the exhibit and mentioned it to someone she asked if it was right because it didn’t show respect for the dead. I found this odd as I knew her belief was the same as many people’s, that the soul leaves the body and the body nourishes the earth in an endless cycle. So I said, in fact they had gained more respect than they had in death, lying in a bog. They died a brutal death and were forgotten. Here they were remembered and we learned something of who they might have been. And that the exhibit as a whole wasn’t a spectacle so much as educational and even reverent in treating the people of long ago.

It is an interesting conundrum we have in many aspects of our lives. We know that it is love and relationships that matter most. Yet we continually grab and procure more goods. Many of us believe the soul leaves the body and that part is the person, yet we hang on to the rotting remains. I’m not sure why we do this, if perhaps we need something tangible to trigger our memories and sentiments, but it is an intriguing aspect of human customs. And it is through funerary customs that anthropologists can chart when civilization began.

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There is No Harmonization to Campbell’s New Tax

Gordon Campbell’s two-faced Liberals want to bring in a tax that they say they had no idea about three months ago. If this is in fact true I’d have to say this party is pretty poor in long-term planning. Long-term planning that raised and then took off a half percent on our PST (2004). Poor planning in giving everyone a pre-election bribe of $100. Poor planning in the Olympics, embroiling our tax dollars into it, and then going, oh gosh it’s overbudget. I could have told them this three years ago.

Was ever a word so misused as to take two taxes and call it harmonization? GST, the government tax, covers many things but not food (unless you’re buying a bag of nachos or cookies because the government decided that was unnecessary. Oh and you can buy two cookies and pay GST but not if you buy six, unless it’s a bag, like a bulk thing. If you figure this out, let me know, but the feds have been taxing our food choices for a long time.) So GST hits many things.

And then there’s PST, the provinicial sales tax. It also hits some things but not always the same things as the GST. Some of the items usually exempt are books, children’s clothing and footwear, vitamins, dietary supplements and food for human consumption. But if you’re at a restaurant that food is charged GST because it’s a service, I think. It’s never made a lot of sense.  Here is a list of what is currently PST exempt (not a full list) but will possibly have the HST on them: PSTexemptions

One glib quote by the Tourism Minister was: “The HST is going to be good for all concerned, but there are going to be exceptions,” intoned B.C. Tourism Minister Kevin Krueger. (seattlepi.com) Hmm, good for all but there are exceptions, like every consumer out there. Basically you and me, unless you’re big business. And one minister said something like, all the provinces have done this HST, except that Alberta, NWT, Yukon and Nunavut have no provincial tax. Only New Brunswick, Newfoundland & Labrador and Nova Scotia have an HST. That is hardly all of the other provinces by far. And remember, we pay these taxes as we buy things and then when we do income tax we pay federal and provincial tax at that time as well.

Facebook already has over 100,000 members protesting the NO BC HST. A recent poll puts people opposing the HST at 87%. How does the government think this is fair when it’s not even an extra percent we’ll be paying on many items (which include such things as condo fees). It’s not even 5% more, the rate of the GST, which would be exorbitant. It’s 7%, which is more than double. Imagine going out for dinner and you know how a bill for $60 often has an extra $10 of tax on it? Well, that will be now an extra $20 in tax. Will I be going out as much? No. And the same will happen to many people. Or they’ll go out an pay less in tips because of the extra cost. This will of course impact the restaurant and entertainment industry, where people will then be laid off because business has slowed.

Those exempt school books and kids’s clothes? No more. It’s already a shame that we have tax on books and food in any form but you’ll probably not be buying a bag of chips when you’re paying 12% on the price of the bag. Because the government has given warning but not bothered to discuss this first, there is huge backlash. And really what is the reasoning for increasing our taxes by 7% on things? Deficit. Campbell screwed up.

I can’t even get into the fiasco of the Olympics and how so many things weren’t reported on and budgets were not revealed. How many aspects are costing waaay more than anticipated (because they didn’t want to shock the taxpayers)? The City of Vancouver raised the price of their city parking as a way to gather more revenue for their part of the Olympics. Campbell, well he’s not admitting he screwed up, but he’ll just charge us extra so he can pay off the Olympic deficit.

If you want to pay more, sit back and be harmonized. If not, then do everything you can. Complain, contact your MLA and MP. Writer letters. But if you think the protests and petitions will change the tune that Campbell is singing, think again. When he made massive cuts in his first reign, there were 40,000+ people who protested in person, and Campbell just continued scything through jobs. And lest people forget, he tore up union contracts of hospital workers, subsequently causing the cleanliness of hospitals to deteriorate more, and was found by the courts to be in the wrong, but that was years later, even if those people had to be compensated. He probably saved himself a few bucks doing that.

So, I’m just saying, Campbell is very close to all those dictators, who do what they want, trumping it up as “good for the people who don’t know what’s good for them”. And even if the people protest vehemently, it will make no difference. Just watch and see.

Oh and if you didn’t vote in the last election, no matter what you voted, then it’s your fault. With 50% voter turnout it could have changed things, or maybe not. But if you don’t vote you don’t have the right to complain because you didn’t try and do anything about it.

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Fashion: A Bygone Era of Hats

I like hats. Hats are fun. The mad hatter loved his hat but then he was quite mad, from felting those hats. Mad as a hatter was once a popular saying. Though there is dispute as to whether it actually came from hat making, once hatters used mercury to felt the hats and that drove them quite mad as it was absorbed into their skin.

In a later era, World War II, my mother worked for a hatter in Calgary. Because so many men were on the front lines, women’s emancipation happened. Women had to work the jobs that were once held almost exclusively by men, which had left nursing, secretarial and teaching as traditional women’s jobs. My mother worked one of the machines that made or felted the hats. At one point an inspector came in and noticed she was not being paid adequately. Women were to be paid a man’s wage if they were doing a man’s job, not less because they were women. So my mother was paid more and the world changed, with women never going back  completely to the way it had been before the war.

And hats changed too. In the earlier decades of the 20th century hats were a required form of dress. This style had come up through the ages, where hats were used before central heating to keep the person warm. Headwear had, at points, indicated the marital status of a woman, with unmarried women sometimes allowed to go hatless or with hair down. And sometimes hats indicated a religious status or belief (this is still the case today).

But any well-dressed man or woman in the 40s and 50s always wore a hat. A woman’s was not as necessary but a man was rarely seen without one. And men doffed their hats to the ladies and were required to remove them when inside, or for ceremonies, to show respect. Ladies hats became small fripperies worn in various ways, as adornment to their hair. They had veils, feathers and odd decorations of flowers and birds (sometimes stuffed). In fact not much had changed in the decorations of hats since the 17th century when women went so far as to wear galleons in their hair. (The Baroque and Rococo periods saw some amazingly ornate hats of towering proportions, not to mention the hair.)

Men’s hats settled into the fedora as the most popular form in North America. A man would probably only have one hat most of his life, unless he was well-to-do. But that hat would fit well. Hats were made in sizes going up in increments so one could find a hat for any head. Women’s were too, unless they were the ornaments that sat atop the head where size mattered little.

However as time progressed through the 60s and 70s, hats were worn less and less. They were also now being made of materialsother  than straw and felt. The process of felting with mercury, for felt hats, actually involved the use of animal furs (beaver, rabbit) that were felted and blocked to make hats. They’re more durable and softer than wool. And they were expensive. I actually have one vintage pillbox hat that says it’s made of velour which is in fact felted fur, the softest type.

So hats are now mostly novelty items, at least those super duper, fancy cocktail hats that few of us wear. But people still wear them; models and stars who show up for elaborate or public functions. Royalty still wear hats. Others also wear hats but the headwear has changed in style and size. Women’s hats rarely come in sizes anymore, which is hugely annoying. I have a large head, or a small man’s size. But women, hatmakers now believe, have one size of head. I can’t buy many hats unless I go for the custom hats and although I have a couple (a tricorn and a high pillbox), they are very expensive.

The most banal or common hat in this era is the baseball cap, synonymous with every guy in jeans and T-shirt or track pants. Of course, not every guy wears these caps, which I classify as the MacDonald’s of hats. They are rarely classy (though there are designer ones) and often denote the good ole party boy from the hicks. Still there was most likely the equivalent in all eras. And hats are often functional items to keep the weather at bay, whether sun, snow or rain.

Hats do evolve and the wearing of them waxes and wanes with styles and fashion. They are fun to wear for more than just a costume. They can be functional and fancy all at once. Dressing up with a hat can make you feel like a star. I actually haven’t worn most of my hats for a while. Perhaps I’ll start again.

And for people wanting to look at hats and different styles, some reminiscent of earlier eras, here are a few sites:

http://www.berkeleyhat.com/index.html

http://ediehats.com/store-theatre

http://www.ilovehats.ca/home.html

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Movie Fallacies: Eyeglasses

The movies are notorious for giving us views of the world that don’t actually reflect reality. Granted, movies are make-believe, there are those “realistic” ones that still skew the truth. Early operatic Valkyries colored people’s views of Vikings and it is still popular to see hulking Norse berserkers with giant horns (or wings) on their helmets, when in fact, archeological evidence indicates this was never the case. There was one helm with straight conical horns and deemed ceremonial due to the decorations, rather than functional.

Now, if we look at Hollywood’s view of intelligence, it almost always involves glasses, especially for women. If a woman isn’t portrayed as a vixen or a housewife, then inevitably she wears glasses so that we know she couldn’t possibly be sexy and therefore must be intelligent (because no way can Hollywood fathom sexy and intelligent–sexy and devious yes, but not straight-on I’m-going-to-solve-this-crisis smart).

Sometimes synonymous with eyeglass intelligence is that of nerdiness. Your nerd, more often guys than not, in any movie is often connected to a computer and wears glasses; big glasses, nerdy glasses. Once in a while you may have an exception, the guy that works a computer all the time but doesn’t wear glasses but it’s rare. Tom Cruise or some other star might, in the role of his Mission Impossible character, need to use a computer but he doesn’t have to wear glasses. Even Tosh in Torchwood, when she’s at the computer puts glasses on.

And that’s what happens to most “intelligent” women, no matter their age in a movie or TV show. As soon as they’re at a computer they wear glasses. Because Hollywood thinks we won’t believe a person’s intelligence without that very noticeable symbol. Although most people don’t need reading glasses until they’re in their 40s or 50s you would think, by Hollywood standards, that everyone is going farsighted early. When I worked on Level 9  for its brief life, the show (about cybercops) was full of computer users but one young woman had to toss glasses on each time at the computer, because that’s just what computer users do. I’m sitting here right now typing without glasses and I do need reading  glasses in low light.

Hollywood’s second name is stereotype. All those old westerns had the good guys in white (or light colors for B&W) and the bad guys in black. Then The Avengers came along and sexy, competent Emma Peel wore black. Gotta give that show credit for mixing it up a bit at an early age.

Next time you’re watching a show that has an intelligent woman in it, check to see if she’s ever sexy in her glasses (also a rarity) or if she is only ever dressed to kill minus the eyewear. And look for that sign of her intelligence when she puts her glasses on, no matter how young she is. And check those nerdy scientist guys. Even if they’re good looking hunks, chances are, if they’re scientists or tied to computers, they’re going to have the eyeglasses (and maybe even the ubiquitous white lab coat).

Hollywood is certainly not into leading in the forefront and often into perpetuating stereotypes. I’m betting some of the HBO shows break those stereotypical taboos more than other stations. Maybe PBS too. It would be interesting to do a survey and see who the worst offenders are, or if it’s the formulaic movies. Signing off, without glasses, and with intelligence.

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