Monthly Archives: September 2009

Prince of Pot Purloined to Prison

Mark Emery, self-named the Prince of Pot, is on his way to a US prison. For years he ran a mail order seed business. Cannabis seeds that is. He is also a highly publicized advocate for the legalizing of marijuana, having spent thousands giving money to various advocacy groups. He has run for office before but never won a seat.

Emery ran his business for years Vancouver, BC, since 1995. In 2005, on request from the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, the Vancouver police raided the BC Marijuana Party Bookstore and Headquarters. Emery was arrested but not charged for several years.

This happened because of one thing: George Bush. That the US stuck its nose into Canadian business and asked for a raid was not constitutional, nor should Canada be bending over to US demands, but Harper is George’s strange bedfellow. Every Canadian should be wary and upset over this, whether it was for pot seeds or stealing shoes. The US didn’t go through the proper channels and Bush’s war on terror seemed to extend to pot seed sellers.

Yet again, we have many dollars being wasted on something pretty innocuous. As I’ve said before, legalizing marijuana would put police resources to better tests than going after every person with a joint, or seeds, or pot plants. And in fact, organized crime would not bother to continue growing it once it was legalized. Already, the drug wars and shootings that go on are over the harder drugs on average.

You also never see people who smoke marijuana breaking into homes or cars, or robbing people on the street. It is the hard drugs that cause an addiction and a strong need to have another fix “right now.” But where would our right ring politicians be without some “cause” to fight. Too bad they and municipal police forces actually aren’t spending time on the real causes. Why? Because it would take real work and it’s easier to hit up a singular pot growing business. Which likens the strikes of police against organized crime to gnats buzzing around one’s head.

Mark Emery goes to take a martyr’s place in the long ludicrous history of the battle against marijuana. Alcohol causes more deaths through too much drinking and car accidents than pot does but it’s legal. Right wing governments seem to want to control people but why? What difference does it make when morphine is legal, when booze is legal? How is marijuana so bad it shouldn’t be legalized?

I haven’t seen any convincing arguments. Mark Emery will serve time and as much as many murderers, more in some ways. There are people who kill people and get a manslaughter sentence, often out of jail in less than five years. Like the Sasan Ansari who stabbed his friend to death thirty-three times. He only got five years because he couldn’t remember what he did and he was an ex-law student. And Mark Emery will get at least five years for selling seeds. Hardly the same scale. Perhaps he should just say years of smoking pot have faded his memory to black and he’ll get off in no time.

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What Do Ovaries and Popcorn Have in Common?

A friend of long ago once said she’d been raised in a Catholic school where the nuns shied from sex education and talking much about those parts of our bodies that have to do with sex and reproduction. However, for whatever reason, they did try, probably to prepare girls for the day that they would start to bleed and therefore be able to bring about more humans. The friend said the nuns explained ovaries as being like a popcorn popper, popping ripe kernels into full blossomed eggs.

An odd image to be sure, but corn like ovaries does have many seeds within it. It’s probably closer to liken an ovary to a pomegranate or a fig, though both are far too large in relation to the size of an ovary. A gynecologist told me that research has shown that women don’t ovulate on one side, and then the opposite the next month. It goes more like this: right, right, left, right, right, left, with one side producing more. Maybe it ties into whether we’re left or right-handed but I don’t know.

The world of gynecology and women’s reproductive systems is complex and as a woman I have had my fair share of issues. Over the years I have used three types of birth control: birth control pills, diaphragms and condoms (worn by my partner as I have not tried a woman’s condom). They all have their issues. Condoms can be uncomfortable and need lube. Diaphragms have to be left in for many hours after sex and can increase yeast infections. Birth control pills can cause cysts, heart conditions and various other denied problems

I was on the birth control pill for about twelve years and it gave me hard and lumpy breasts. Cysts. These cysts can range from smaller than pea sized to as large as a pear. And yes, when they change from the normal size I have to get them checked out. They can be very painful and tender and during ovulation by breasts can swell up to two inches. Inflatable breasts are not as much fun as they sound.

These cysts can also be in the ovaries. So if they are like corn, imagine the cysts as a type of ergot. What that means in how they look, I don’t know. What it means for fertility probably depends on the number, size and severity of cysts. They can rupture and do other fun things that can cause a lot of pain. Ovulation can be very painful to the point where I can’t stand up straight. Sitting can hurt and pain can range from a general bruising feel to a sharp stabbing.

Anytime something seems out of the norm it is best to get it checked by a doctor. So one particular year when my popper was on the blink I went to a gynecologist. I was sent for exploratory surgery, a laparoscopy that leaves three small incisions and which they use to look around inside. The gynecologist said after the surgery, well you may have cystic ovaries and maybe not. We can put you back on the pill. I said, I’m not going back on as there are side effects after thirty. He said, what effects? Even if he didn’t believe the evidence out there, as specialist he should have known about the studies.

And one side effect? Cystic breasts and ovaries. I left, never to see that particular doctor again. A friend recommended a naturopath. At the time I didn’t quite know what they were or maybe even believe in them. But the naturopath gave me a  liver cleanser, a capsule, to take for three months and it did in fact fix the problem until three years later when I had a cyst in the uterus and that had to be removed.

The medical profession doesn’t always have all the answers nor do individual doctors always have the experience, knowledge and wherewithal to diagnose properly. It was only years later that I found out I had endometriosis as well. What’s that? The butter on the popcorn? I think not.

So as analogies go, ovaries are not much like popcorn or popcorn poppers. They pop on average one egg a month. That would be pretty slim pickings in the movie theater. No butter, no salty topping. Just eggs and cysts.

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Skateboarders are Buttheads

This should get me a bit of hate mail but it’s true. Okay, not ALL skateboarders are buttheads but the vast majority that I run into on the streets are. The ones that go to the skateboard parks and other safe areas to do their acrobatic feats of derring-do are no problem at all.

The ones that careen through traffic trying to race Death out of Darwin’s gene pool: now those are the giant buttheads. They care for little, not themselves, nor anyone else and have the arrogance that equates to a short life.

We have many forms of locomotion; cars, buses, bicycles, feet, motorcycles, roller blades and skateboards. Skateboards are the least suited to sidewalk and road. Bicyclists and motorcyclists ride small wheeled vehicles with their flesh exposed to the elements and the hard metal of other machines. They wear reflective and protective clothing, and helmets. Of course there would probably be a few death-wish hopefuls who would try to ride without helmets if it weren’t law, like it’s cool to have your brains splat on pavement or something. Cool to be stupid: that’s attractive.

Bicyclists, if they want to remain alive, pedal along beside cars as they can’t go as fast. Drivers and bicyclists should always respect each other’s space and cut out any ego issues. Unfortunately there are attitudes on both sides, but we can always dream of better tolerance. But back to skateboarders; they don’t wear protective or reflective clothing, they don’t wear helmets. Two fails right there.

Pedestrians have the right of way of sidewalks. They walk on them, not on the road where they would soon be road pizza. Of course there are butthead pedestrians who jaywalk in front of cars as if they own the road. But most stick to the sidewalks where they belong. Skateboarders get another fail for having a wheeled object on the sidewalk. Bikes aren’t allowed there; neither are skateboards.

Skateboarders don’t fit the rules of the road because they can’t go fast enough, not even as fast as a bike unless it’s downhill. They don’t wear the proper gear and on top of that they’re kicking a leg out and veering, long undulations in and out of traffic. Skateboarders don’t fit the rules of the sidewalk, because they’re on wheels. They’re hazardous to the pedestrians and often swerve all over the place.

On top of all this, they, who are least protected on the road, take the biggest risks, rolling down the middle of the street, nonchalantly getting out of the way–eventually, when a driver has had to break or slow down for them. It always amazes me that the less protection a person has from vehicles, it’s almost as if the arrogance goes up exponentially.

There is nothing more irritating or dangerous then guys flying down the road, or chugging along weaving in and out of cars and people, flipping up on curbs, doing near nose-dives onto pavement. Skateboards should be like ATVs, banned completely from roads and sidewalks and only given to certain terrain. The skateboard parks and abandoned underpasses are the ideal terrain for the skateboarder but not as a way through the streets.

A view of an extreme skateboarder’s world is revealed in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash where pizza drivers wield swords and couriers skateboard along freeways tossing their magnetized discs onto speeding vehicles to hitch a ride. (A review of this book is in a previous blog entry.) So I will stick with my thoughts that skateboarders on the streets today are buttheads, pursuing a delicate dance with death while endangering others.

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Cougars and Other Wildcats of the City

In this wacky new age of changing everything into acronyms, such as WTF, OMG and KFC, there is also the penchant of labelling and categorizing things. I’ve talked already about the whole genre categorization of fiction. But it goes farther than that.

These days, everyone from your friends to the government want to catalogue and categorize you by demographics, whether it’s age, gender, religion, financial affluence, education, gender preference, geographic region, favorite vegetable or any of a number of esoteric specifics. Labelling serves the purpose of saying we need this much of these resources for this many people. But it can also be used to ostracize and cage a group.

The gay community has long lived with tags, many of them from those who were outside of the lifestyle. However, I have several gay friends and they are just as likely to call themselves rice queens (men who like Asian men), potatoes (men who like white guys) and other variations on the theme more than others. I’ve known Asian people as well who call or label themselves as “banana.” White on the inside but yellow on the outside.

So perhaps it’s only natural that women had to get another name besides wife, mother and ho; that of cougar. Although there have been strong and independent women throughout history, more started appearing during the second world war when they took on the jobs of men who were in the war or in some cases, jobs such as mechanics in the army. Every able-bodied man was required on the front so women were trained for all the jobs traditionally worked by men. My mother worked in a hat making factory, running the machines. When an inspector came by he found she was being paid women’s wages for a man’s job and they had to adjust her wage.

So yes, independent women; not a surprise. Once we moved out of the 60s people started to re-examine the traditional roles. Men had been breadwinners, women, homemakers and mothers who often didn’t work. But women started to work more and more. Economy and inflation of home prices added to this, as well as many women decided they didn’t want children or wanted to keep their careers. Although some women took what were seen as traditional roles (nurses, teachers, librarians, seamstresses, etc.) others started to go into men’s fields: engineers, lawyers, doctors, mechanics, etc.

This movement into the workforce was seen as a threat by some men, that the status quo was being upset. Men have been the strong ones, the breadwinners, the head of the house. With some men, wives and children were status symbols like cars and TVs, showing their wealth and virility and their power. So when women started working men’s jobs they were made fun of, ridiculed and generally paid less for the same jobs. A female politician might be described or noted for the clothes she wore (not her work) whereas a male politician’s clothes were never mentioned. Gender bias has happened in many places and many jobs. Media people are trained these days in ways to avoid gender stereotyping but it is very insidious.

Even with a more broadened awareness there is the need to label women over fortyas cougars. This often stands for a woman who is independent, strong and confident but may also date younger men. Its negative aspects depict a woman grabbing at youth and hunting younger men for sex toys. Our society, in certain areas, felt the need to single these women out, to stereotype them, to ridicule them. What better way to try and lessen a woman’s power but to laugh at her and not take her seriously. Make a caricature to keep women in their place.

You might think I’m going over the top but if in fact women were treated equally in all circumstances, then we would not have the subjugation of women in Afghanistan where the only good woman is one in a burka. Well, that’s different; that’s a different country. Okay, what about the fact that most domestic violence occurs against women and that more women die than men, and are usually killed by men in such situations? What about all the women who are raped?  Until those crimes are eliminated women won’t get a truly fair shake.

But back to cougars, or pumas or tigers (which I have no clue whether they’re real terminology for further categorizing women’s taste in men)…why does our society take such glee in these names? Because it’s all right for a man twenty years a woman’s senior to chase her down and maybe marry her. Hello, Hugh Hefner. It’s all right for a men twenty-thirty years older to play the love interest to a twenty-something in the movies but the other way around and Hollywood wants a much shorter age range, if they’ll do it at all. Though there have been movies such as Harold and Maude and one that I don’t know the name of that had Susan Sarandon as an older love interest.

Yes, the attitude is changing…slowly. However women are made laughed at for what men have always done. In the end, who cares who is sexually attracted to who? As long as everyone is of legal age, it’s up to those people to work out their relationship. Maturity and compatibility should matter more than chronological years.

But as terms go at least a cougar is a sleek, beautiful, powerful animal. Much better to be compared to a feline than to a worm or a snake or a cow. And if you want to look at one term for older men that has a pretty negative connotation, well I’d take cougar over “old goat” any day.

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Movie Review: The Triplets of Belleville

The other night I watched a DVD with a friend. We just had a few to choose from and between The Triplets of Belleville and some war film we decided to go with the Triplets, not knowing at all what it was. Les triplettes de Bellevilleis the true title as it’s French and made by a Canadian, Sylvain Chomet. It begins with a two-dimensional black and white cartoony animation of three women singing and various characters coming on stage like Fred Astaire and Josephine Baker. Josephine’s famous banana costume is attacked by male patrons from the audience who turn into monkeys.

I was a bit surprised when the movie started to see it was a cartoon. I wasn’t ready to watch a long one but the camera pulls back on the triplets, vaudeville singers to show it is on TV and that we’re in the room of a very short old woman, with mustache hairs, one foot shorter and a lift on her shoe, plus an eye that rolls which she must push up. Her grandson is a melancholy child and she tries to find ways to make him happy. His parents are dead and nothing seems to cheer him.

Although this is French with English subtitles, the main characters never really talk. It is only the background announcers for TV and the Tour de France who talk. The actions and images tell all. The style of the animation changes with the grandmother and her grandson, Champion. It is a painted set, with subtle colors, indicating and idyllic life, and shifts again when in Belleville. Grandma buys Champion a puppy, and he is momentarily elated but saddens again, until she discovers he has an interest in bikes and buys him a tricycle.

Bruno, the young puppy, has a traumatic experience with a toy train, and trains continue to plague him throughout his life, for real, and in black and white dog dreams. If a cartoon character could steal the show, Bruno comes close. This cartoon character displays dogness so well that you can’t help but laugh at his antics and his fat body and spindly legs. In fact, the attention to individual detail in this film is what makes it stand out.

Bruno would have won in the endearing category if it wasn’t for Grandma Souza. She loves her grandson dearly and clearly continues to innovate ways to do numerous things. Years span by in a lovely painted style of animation, where they live in a tall brick house, that is eventually encroached upon by building and expansion, until it’s not so lovely. But that doesn’t stop Grandma from helping her grandson train for the Tour de France. Nor Bruno from barking at every train.

Champion is really a two-dimensional character compared to Bruno and Madame Souza, but then all he lives for is bicycling and he is a passive character. Grandma on the other hand peddles along on Champion’s outgrown tricycle (still the right size for her tinyness) using a whistle to encourage Champion on his training. He is skinny except for massive thigh and calf muscles which she massages with electric beater, hand lawn mower and vacuum cleaners.  She fixes bicycle rims with a tuning fork and the use of a miniature Eiffel Tower. She carries her overgrown grandson up stairs, puts him to bed and sees to his every need. For every problem she finds a way to fix it. But she is a terrible singer.

Eventually Champion goes into the Tour de France only be to be kidnapped along with other exhausted bicyclists by the French wine mafia and stolen away to Belleville. However Madame Souza and Bruno don’t give up and through beautiful scenes find themselves trying to trace Champion’s captors in the big city. Belleville looks like it could be in France but there is a chubby statue of liberty and every person on the street is huge and round, probably a tongue in cheek comment about Americans.

Grandma has no money and as she sits under a bridge she finds an old bent rim and begins to play a tune on it when three elderly ladies, the triplets, appear and hum a tune. They take her in but they seem a bit crazy, not letting her use the vacuum cleaner or read a paper. But they too have a way of surviving. They hunt frogs with dynamite and there is frog soup, skewered frogs, cooked tadpoles and frog popsicles, much to Grandma’s dire dismay.

All of these truly funny antics are for a reason. Every nuance or little quirk ties back into the plot as Grandma discovers the mafia’s nefarious plan. She and the triplets, with the help of Bruno and some ingenuity, rescue Champion.

I can’t say when I saw an animated film that was as charming and truly funny as this. The imagery and design are beautiful and quirky. The mystery of the kidnapping is played out well and without words. The actions truly speak stronger than the words. The storyline is intriguing and complex in its way, and the characters are just so much fun to see. It is endearign to a point that I would see it a second time.

I started out thinking I didn’t want to watch a cartoon and was completely charmed by it. This film came out in 2003 and won numerous awards, including a Genie for best motion picture, and was nominated for many more. If you get a chance to rent this film, it’s highly recommended. I’d give it nine stars (or more) out of ten.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Triplets_of_Belleville

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Japanese Gropers: Molestation Hits a New Low

Molesters have never had a good name. They sneakily prey on others, mostly women, to get their clandestine pleasures. Some molesters go for underage children, even more despicable. So one must truly wonder what is happening to Japanese culture where gangs of gropers (known as chikan, the term meaning groping, touching, rubbing and illicit photo taking) stalk trains to inappropriately touch women.

Estimates are that two-thirds of women commuters have been touched on the trains. Japan has long had overpacked commuter trains where employees cram people into each door until they’re packed tighter than sardines, unable to move at all. A claustrophobic or asthmatic person would not survive long on these trains and I wonder how well short people endure, squeezed amongst the muffling coats.

So one must presume that these gropers pick lines with a bit less restriction as no one would be able to even move their hands on the crushing commuter lines. In fact, there are websites dedicated to this pervasive perverseness. They indicate the best lines to hit for a grope and where the best escape routes are. Most of the women attacked have been in their teens and twenties, the majority underage schoolgirls in uniform. What it is with the pedophilic fancy for women in schoolgirl outfits runs the edge of creepy and I suspect most women who even dress up in these outfits veer away from thinking about what it means when a grown man is attracted to a schoolgirl.

Some of the chikanhave organized into gangs that separate out a woman, surround her and block other people from seeing what is being done to her. Not much different from gang rape. Yet it is such a problem in Japan that they have women-only trains (as they have had in India for years, because of cultural moires more than groping issues), but the problem is still prevalent. Japan also has a secluded nightclub set up to look like a commuter train, where women stand like commuters and men wander through, groping at will. They can touch any way they desire as long as they don’t ejaculate on the trains. At least that is done by consensual people on both sides.

This behavior is disgusting and offensive on a lot of levels and yet another example of where women are sexualized and treated as nothing more than toys for the perversions and pleasures of men. It would be interesting if roving gangs of women started applying pliers and vice grips to mens’ genitals, or goosing them with giant silicone phalluses. However, the only problem with a reciprocating gang is that two wrongs don’t make a right and innocent men would be targeted. Still, you don’t hear of women running around and groping.

The biggest concern that I see in all this is what is there in this specific culture that encourages and entices people to fall into public groping, where other cities and countries don’t suffer the same problem? Is it the Japanese work ethic, which keeps people working too much (and where some will kill themselves to save face) that has them implode into irrational, law-breaking behavior? Is there a restrictive sexual attitude in this society that causes men to push outside the restrictive boundaries? What factors play in making many men sway to the pedophile and sexual aggressor mode?

It’s well known that in Thailand’s sexual economy, the biggest purveyors of pedophile trysts are Germans and Japanese. Why? Japan even has an underground trade where men will pay for a pair of underwear that has been worn by women. And yes there are women in other countries who mail their underwear to such purchases. But what is it about these cultures that raises the number?

The Victorian era was known of a time of prim properness, where ladies were ladies and men acted like gentlemen. Yet it also had the Hellfire Club, a place frequented by nobles and politicians to carry out rakish and immoral acts. Again, is it the very repression of a society that pops perversion to the surface? It makes one wonder at what must be going on in Afghanistan. And yet, in all these sexually unacceptable acts, it seems to be men perpetrating their base desires on unwilling women. It really makes me wonder when we took the civilized out of civilization, if it was ever there.

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Defining Science Fiction

There has long been a battle, an attitude, a snobbery in the writing world where literary or mainstream fiction is real writing, and all that “genre” fiction is done by hacks and of little merit in the tales of the world. Anyone who writes in a genre knows this and has felt it. But what is a genre? It is the categorizing of a novel or story by some of its strongest elements.

No longer in favor but once very popular were westerns. They obviously took place in a time of the Wild West where cowboys and indians ran amok and pioneers struggled to survive while men maddened by gold-rush fever lived little better than animals. Romances are tales about love and obstacles to happiness, and almost always have the predictable ending of the man and woman (or man and man, woman and woman) finding each other. But the tales of how they get there are varied. Harlequin books has one of the most steady sell-throughs of any publisher. Publishing romances is a good business.

Erotica is obviously taking content into a more sensual or erotic tone. Science fiction, fantasy, horror, have elements integral to the story and were those elements removed the story wouldn’t hold up. Horror also fell into disfavor and is better known as dark fantasy these days. Still, there are blends of tales that aren’t all one thing. There are stories that are erotic and science fiction, western romances, literary fantasy, magic realism and politics (actually that one is a typical mix), and then there are literary, erotic, science fiction tales.

I wrote one story, “Hold Back the Night,” which I called my literary, lesbian, erotic vampire story. Vampire was never mentioned in the tale and it dealt with the wife burnings that happen in India. But labeling fiction is what we do; we the readers, we the writers and we the publishers. Publishers choose genres so that they can market to a specific demographic mindset. We’ll sell more of these books if we make it look like a cookbook or a romance and market to those people specifically interested in this. Publishers hate books that don’t fit in the neat categories.

Most of all they want to market books in mainstream, literary fiction because it is the largest readership and therefore the biggest sales. Writers of course would love the same. Readers can be a bit like sheept and think that if they only like a mystery book, they’ll never look in the romance section, but then there are thousands of books to look through so it can be difficult to find them. So, in mainstream, the more sales the more money, and the more awards available than in a specified category. A book that can’t fit into a category, or a story, may not be bought for a long time. I have a story that is not quite fantasy, and not quite mainstream and will circulate for a long time because it falls into the cracks.

But genres cause their own problems and as we see, narrow the readership. Many stories are not all of one shade. So Margaret Atwood, multi-award winner, always says she doesn’t write science fiction, yet some of her books extrapolate into a near future and ask what if. Seems pretty science fiction to me, many other writers, and readers. Yet she denies. Ursula Le Guin, multi-award winner writer of SF disagrees with Atwood’s view.

Le Guin gives an intriguing review of The Year of the Flood, which takes place after the events in Oryx and Crake. Both of these books are nearish future, with a crumbling of society, dystopian novels, because that’s what Atwood does best. But yet, she, like many of the literati, those who hold themselves above mere genre writers, says it’s not science fiction. And I must ask, what’s she afraid of, or is her viewpoint so narrow that in fact she only sees science fiction as squids in space?

Le Guin and Atwood are giants in their own rights, both award-winning authors whose stories span boundaries in some ways. Speculative fiction (an all-encompassing term for horror, fantasy, science fiction and really, literary fiction as well) doesn’t have to be shallow and it often looks at worlds and attitudes and how people change in regards to the pressures of life, species, invasion, change and technology–very valid commentary into our humanity, or inhumanity. So perhaps Atwood needs to accept that she has a narrow viewpoint of SF, get down from the pedestal and just accept that she writes it, sometimes. It’s not like it will hurt her rep, but the adamant head in the sand denial still doesn’t change that she writes science fiction, no matter what she calls it. Maybe she just hates the labels and codifying of writing.

I have not read The Year of the Flood, though I did read Oryx and Crake and where I felt it was a long setup for the story that wasn’t in the book, maybe Year is that story. And maybe not. For a very thought-provoking review by Ursula Le Guin of Atwood’s book, click on the link and be your own judge. And read the book, or read Le Guin’s books and see if the literary writer outweighs the SF writer. In the end, do you think Atwood writes science fiction, no matter what she calls it?

 http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/aug/29/margaret-atwood-year-of-flood

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The Worst Word of Malfunctioning Microsoft

I have used Word for years and years, through many version. Before that I had Word Perfect and WordStar, so I know my word processing. I’m fairly advance with word. I’ve used it for editing as well as writing. I can put in borders, graphics, tables (and create them), tables of contents, and do labels and envelopes. I can do a lot and figure out the bits I can’t do.

I tend to use shortcuts. Ctrl C for copying and Ctrl P for printing. I can go to a dropdown menu and I know what is in each section. Some has been annoying, such as when Microsoft decided to change the “Track Changes” feature, something that editors use a lot. Instead of just inserting text into the document and when you ran your cursor over it, it gave you the deleted text in a box, they changed it to balloons off to the side. Once you get too many of these on a page it pops open a window at the bottom of your screen. And if you’re editing a multi page document like a novel, it starts to slow down and then won’t always show the changes. It takes opening and closing the document or changing the view options from Final to Final With Changes and back and forth in hopes to see the changes. Add comments on top of this and it’s a hopeless mire.

That change was highly annoying and a function I used a lot. So then Microsoft’s brain children decided they needed to figure out ways to keep themselves employed longer. Let’s redesign Word and make it bigger, better, bolder, brighter. Oh and all those three letter extensions like .doc, .rtf, .xls, why don’t we make them better and add a letter so people will have .docx and .xlsx, because then they can’t open files unless they have the new software and we can all get raises. And they’ll need more memory to run a program with extra graphics. Yay, more jobs.

Yes, Word 2007 and up has this hyper aggravating extension, which means asking people to save their files into a .doc file if you have an earlier version. A great way to perpetuate continual sales and irritation. So at work and at home I updated in the attempt to be able to open all files. Word 2007. To name this the scourge of civilization would not be an exaggeration. To call it a bloated behemoth would be absolutely accurate.

I’ve been trying it for a month now and I’m ready to kill. Microsoft Outlook has several exasperating features and one disastrous one. Now if you want to attach a file to your email, you click on the paperclip as before, but oh no, it doesn’t go to your files right away. Instead you get to click a second time for the most popular option of attach a file. “Attach an item” is there as it always was but not common and just an extra step to go through now. Should you want to adjust your distribution lists, be very careful. There is a button that says delete item. If you highlight one name in your list and click delete item, it deletes your entire distribution list. I’ve done this twice now. Thanks, Microsoft.

But that’s all minor to the catastrophe that is Word 2007. This program is so bloated that we had to add more memory to my computer at work because it was taking forever to do anything. But Word is now a new, modified version of all the Words before. One menu bar at the top was not enough so there are two. screen

Notice the double menu, where the top menu is not quite the same as the second menu but there are some tabs like Insert and View which are but in different spots.You just get to decide which Insert menu you need and if you’re used to knowing where everything was, well you won’t anymore. It’s less intuitive. And then there is the Table Tools menu, which shows up if you press buttons in the right order. It seems that it is most likely activated in Excel or with any tables but don’t count on it. And if you go to Microsoft Help it will be less useful than usual, where it just tells you to go to the Table Tools menu but doesn’t tell you how to get there.

Fun? You betcha, if you want to waste hours of time looking for what you used to find in seconds. There are some cool features such as if you highlight text and then scroll through fonts or styles it will show you what they look like, but that coolness does not outweigh the aggravation. And instead of a dropdown menu where you can choose, now if you click on something as simple as the new document button, it opens up to a host of options. Of course most of the time all you want is another blank Word document, but instead you get a variety of options every time. More ways to waste your day.

The final straw for me has been trying to print landscape, four pages to a sheet. No matter how many settings I change or if I tried it as labels (index card size) or as separate pages, there is no way it will print landscape on the paper. I’m sure I could go on with the lumbering zombie that is Word 2007 but I don’t see why. I’ve gone through the usual learning curve period (a week or less) and I’m still getting pissed off so it’s being booted back to the primordial code it once was. Microsoft might do better to leave some things well enough alone and not create increasingly ungainly leviathans that use more memory and take longer to get to the same place. If I had to rate this out of ten I’d give it a three.

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Galiano Island

Galiano Island ferry dock

Galiano Island ferry dock

 Last weekend I had the chance to go over to Galiano Island. It’s one of  many Gulf Islands in the San Juan Islands and is a long finger of land. Galiano can be reached by a ferry that takes a little less than an hour. We walked on and paid about $20 for a round trip (prices vary going and coming and depending on the season). And for some reason on the ferry rides in both directions the people who left their car alarms on were always driving BMWs and Audis. Folks, if you’re on a ferry, no one is going to steal your car. There is nowhere to go and if they’re breaking in and you don’t hear the alarm, what’s the point? At least the workers made humorous announcements about the alarms.

Rain was the forecast but Saturday turned into a lovely day, warm and fairly clear. This allowed the deer to come into my friends’ yard and have their lunch of windfall apples. There was the mother and a fawn with a few spots still visible on the coat, as well as a yearling that sometimes got chased away. But they were too happy to chomp away and the mother couldn’t be bothered most of the time.

The fawn still has its spots.

The fawn still has its spots.

We also went off to this property where various pieces of rusting metal, old chairs, metal drums, tanks, motors, etc. were ensnared in abundant blackberry bushes. If we ever needed an impenetrable barrier during a war, this guy could do it. The blackberries were plump and juicy so that over the weekend we had blackberry martinis, ice, strudel and just plain ole berries with peaches.

There are quite a few galleries on the island and we made rounds to three openings over two days. One is a little wood style building, nicely laid out, bright and airy called Insight Art Gallery. I can’t remember its name but it had a display of hand painted glass, some jewellery and the opening show of Ingrid Fawcett’s paintings, which were of Chinese lanterns and flowers. The next gallery was I believe the Island’s Edge Gallery, which had a store and a little courtyard (and really awful wine for the opening) plus the gallery. This gallery had paintings, sculpture, ceramic, etchings and a few other items by different artists. There were some great carved pieces including a unicorn head that would have looked better without the horn and a mermaid. The etchings were my favorite but I can’t remember the artist’s name.

Oceanfront Hotel

Oceanfront Hotel

The Oceanfront Hotel (actually condo suites that open on the water) and Spa also has a gallery and we went to that on Sunday. It had some art outside like homemade bird condos (birdhouses but fanciers), a few sculptures and then an gazebo shaped builP1010079ding with more sculpture and art in it. The grounds were very lovely with a small manmade pond and waterfall, a herb garden with some awesome artichoke plants, and a small tranquil Japanese style pond with a big goldfish.

I’ve only been to Galiano once before and we drove up the length of the island. It’s is a wooded island with fir and cedar trees, and some sequoia, and various cabins right up to fancy houses. The population is around 3000 in the summer. The beaches are often sandstone and rocky, which makes for interesting rock formations but there seems to be limited sandy beach. There are many gulf islands and small rock outcroppings that can be seen from different vantage points. I found it peaceful and a nice pastoral getaway. At some point I’ll probably go over again to hang out and do some writing.

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Solo Travels in Mexico

Many years ago, on a whim I decided to go to Mexico because it was cheap. So up I went and flew to Mexico City for a week. This was the first time I had travelled on my own and I figured it would be a safer country to try my solo travel in than farther away in Asia.

I knew pretty much no Spanish and had a little phrase book at the time with your essentials. I arrived in Mexico City, finding a hotel to stay at that was also a residence for some people. I don’t even remember if I had a guidebook but somehow I got around. Mexico City was huge, at something like 25 million people, and the pollution was so bad I could taste it. Still I went to the Zocalo (the city center or public square) to see some of the buildings. And of course to a few churches as well.

The first night I went down to a local restaurant to order something to eat. I wanted to avoid the Zona Rosa, the tourist zone, as much as possible. After all, tourist areas tend to be pricy and don’t give you a real slice of the local haunts. As I sat in the restaurant with my tiny phrase book, I looked at the menu in bewilderment. Another customer must have seen my consternation. He came over and talked to me and told me what the food was so I could order something.

I was only in Mexico a week and even before I tasted the water my stomach started to suffer from Montezuma’s revenge. The airport had actually had people giving out pamphlets saying you could be affected from the altitude and so it was with me. I also had tummy troubles in India and Nepal (from dysentery) curtailing some of my gastronomic adventures. So I don’t remember much about Mexican food but there were a few highlights.

One day I asked a street vendor for naranja–orange juice. He asked, con huevos? And I said si, not knowing what it was. I received an orange juice with a raw egg floating in it. Gah! I drank around it and left the huevo behind. I also wandered into one market in the city that had various vegetables and tortillas and cactus. I never did try cactus. But at one booth there was a basket of white nuts. When I looked closer I realized it was grubs. Thankfully I never ordered those by mistake. I did get to try pulque (pullkay) which is a fermented cactus juice, very thick but tasty. It was considered to be a drink of the gods and I guess the old kings used to imbibe.

At that time my hair was nearly to my waist, blonde and brunette. As I walked through the city of brown-skinned Mexicans I stood out with my white skin and lighter hair. The men would hiss at me and call out, “Muy buenita.” I didn’t know what this meant and I found it disconcerting. It turns out that in certain countries they don’t whistle, or wolf whistle as we call it when men whistle at women. Instead they hiss their appreciation.  And muy buenita meant very beautiful. I began to realize how latin lovers got their names.

In fact, every day some man hit on me. There was the guy living at the hotel who tried to tell me he had met me at a party in Vancouver. It didn’t work but what he had done was ask the desk manager what my name was and where I was from. There was the hotel owner in Taxco who wanted me to accompany him on his holiday to a town that had a church for every day of the year, and another young guy looking for someone to buy him dinner. There were the guys at the restaurant in Cuernavaca, and a guy at a cantina who wanted me to go to Puerta Vallarta with him, but I wasn’t about to embark on trips with strangers.

My second last night, no one hit on me except to rob me on the train as I returned from Chapultepec Park which houses the world-class anthropology museum. It was the least invasive robbery, my bag being slit with a knife and my wallet taken. Lucky for me, my passport was tucked behind my camera lenses and the wallet held only about ten dollars and my Visa card. Even my traveller’s cheques were back at the hotel. No Mexican would look like an Anderson but I cancelled the card. I ended up not eating that night as it was a Sunday and I had no cash left for dinner. Most of the places wouldn’t take the traveller’s cheques.

Then on my last night I did go for drinks at a cantina with a Mexican man, named Fernando. He tried to get me into bed, pretty much like all the other guys, except the thieves. I wouldn’t give in and he proclaimed I wasn’t like all the other American women, many of them teachers who came down for a good time with the Mexican lads. But he did give me a ride back to my hotel. Before we got there though, the cops stopped him though he wasn’t speeding.

It seems they wanted a little bribe. So Fernando came back to the car, passed me money below the view of the window and then had me hand it to him visibly in view so the cops would think we had given all our money. Then we were free to go.

Fernando and I did exchange addresses and continued to write each other for years. Now we both have email and Fernando and I still keep contact. Some day one of us might actually travel to the other’s country again. There’s a lot of Mexico I never saw.

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