Monthly Archives: May 2012

Movie Review: Howl’s Moving Castle

Ralph Bakshi, animation, anime, movies, cartoons, rotoscope

Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings from the 1970s used rotoscope animation .

I like good animations, and Dreamworks as well as some of the Japanese anime can rank at the top. Recently I went through a binge of animation films. Shark Tale and the Monster House weren’t very good, the first being a bad excuse for a cliched plot and fish that acted and moved more like humans than fish. Monster House had some hackneyed stereotypes, iffy reactions and a bizarre plot that didn’t quite suspend my disbelief, even though it was a cartoon. On the other hand, Howl’s Moving Castle was a delight and a wonder.

Wallace and Gromit, claymation, animation, movies, film, humor

The British Wallace and Gromit claymations tend to be shorts, but Flushed Away, done by the same artists is a full length film.

When I was a kid animations were the flat and wooden two-dimensional characters, and at best the rotoscoped movements used in the earlier feature length films such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. With computerization and complex graphics, the world of animation opened up. That doesn’t mean every three-dimensional claymation such as Wallace and Gromit is great because it uses new and/or different techniques (though claymation isn’t that new either). What really makes any animated film is the story and the characterization. It’s one reason Wallace and Gromit were so funny; the characters look goofy and get into all sorts of madcap adventures based on their wacky inventions.

The 2004 Howl’s Moving Castle is based on a book by Diana Wynne Jones and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It isn’t really a forerunner of new techniques but went on to be one of the most successful animes ever. It uses painted backdrops and the standard two dimensional style in characters, with shading. The style is classic Japanese with the cartoonish eyes and antics, to some degree. But the movements are far more fluid and the images are beautiful. On top of that, the imagination in Howl’s is fantastic. The moving castle is this weird house on legs, part alive, part machine, part home. It’s rambling, chaotic and magical and opens on different times and places.

Howl's Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones, Miyazaki, anime, film entertainment

Howl’s Moving Castle was nominated for several Academy Awards.

Sophie is a shy young woman who accidentally runs into Howl and is saved but subsequently is cursed by the Witch of the Wastes. Turned into an old woman she leaves the life she knows and ends up at Howl’s castle, bringing discipline and order to the chaos. Howl, like many wizards, has a reputation of being scary and self-serving but he is also extremely vain and there is a reason for this. The castle slowly gathers a host of characters including an asthmatic dog, a devoted scarecrow, the Witch of the Wastes and the castle’s denizens, Calcifer the fire elemental who keeps the house alive,  and Markl the apprentice.

I can’t say much is predictable in this delightful film except for the inevitable romance. It is a tale of discovering one’s self, confidence, heroics, and fear. And it is a tale of war and peace, Miyazaki’s own pacifist twist on the wizard’s involvement. I loved this film so much that I’ll be watching it again next week. I would give this movie 9.5 out of 10 on the wizard scale and it’s worth watching for the beautiful scenery alone. If you like anime, it’s one of the best.

anime, heroes, cartoons, Howl's Moving Castle, Miyazaki

Howl’s castle moves so that his source of power cannot be discovered.

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What I’ve Learned About Bad Guys in Fantasy Movies

Lord of the Rings, orcs, evil, villains, bad guys, movies

Lord of the Rings had epic bad guys. These one are just minions but you get the idea. Evil ain’t pretty.

Hollywood is built on cliches, recognizable tropes that audiences can identify to guide them through a story and conflict. But it seems that Hollywood has been feeding so long off of this pap that even the most obvious plots are dumbed down in dialogue and in imagery. Audiences aren’t that stupid (I hope) and it’s good when we have a challenge. What if the bad guy looks like you or me? Well, sometimes we want the villains to be petty, small minded, ugly and obviously a dick. Then we can cheer all the harder.

I find that in a lot of these movies they develop the hero’s role and character into three dimensions, but the villain will often be a cardboard cutout and very two-dimensional. Some of these get so trite that I throw up my hands in frustration. It’s not just medieval fantasy movies that have this issue. Modern and SF movies have the same problem, with often too easy to hate monsters. Star Wars, which could fall into a fantasy in space in many ways, like Lord of the Rings had a much more epic and sweeping tale. The bad guys have some depth but still evil is ugly and corrupts and corrodes them so that even their very forms are distorted.

Palpatine, Star Wars, villains, movie bad guys, evil

Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars follows the classical bad guy stereotype.

I’m not saying it’s bad to use these tropes…sometime, but it’s good to see some variance on the stereotypes. Perhaps that’s what’s so interesting about The Game of Thrones; the bad guys are so very human and sometimes pretty. So, with no further ado, here’s a list of what I’ve learned about bad guys in the fantasy movies.

  • If the evil overlord wears a helmet, it will usually have a skull, horns,  glowering eye slits, or other death’s head funnery. It will obviously emulate evil.
  • The destined hero will be the only survivor when his village is massacred and he tortured by the bad guy. Somehow his value is much greater, even if there is a prophecy that says he’ll kill Mr. Bad.
  • A village of farmers, with nothing much of value will be overrun and completely destroyed, with the villains taking neither slaves nor food. So, what, they just get drunk and want to commit anarchy?
  • Evil voices will be low, gravelly and guttural. Just imagine how sinister it would be to have a high-pitched nasally whine coming at you while you’re tied in the torture chamber.
  • The villain’s color spectrum does not include blue, green, yellow, orange or purple. It would be pretty scary to see a villain in pink and orange.
  • Their evil is so potent that they will reduce the land to cinders and ash, even though the minions still need to be fed, but perhaps they feed on people.
  • If you can see their eyes, they’ll be black pits or glowy red.
  • Evil overlords will inevitably fail but not before they maim a lot of people and scourge the land.

    movies, bad guys, heroes, villains, evil overlords, Wolfhound, pets

    Wolfhound is a movie out of Europe and slightly better in the medieval fantasy style.

Wolfhound, a movie out of Europe, was more interesting than most though it followed some of the tropes. The hero has a pet bat for a sidekick. That was different. Still, he is the only survivor of his village, a lone wolf, and not particularly trusted or liked at first. But he is noble in his valor and as the tale progresses he gets his revenge and more. Not badly done but look for the usual bad guy stereotypes.

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Writing Update: Aurora Nominee

Creative commons: photosteve101, flickr

I’ve been really busy for the past few weeks with some freelance editing, and I’ve had little time to post. On top of that, the Rannu competition is open until May 31. It is run by Brett Savory and Sandra Kasturi and affords a $500 prize to the winner in each category of short fiction and poetry. I’ve been a runner-up and shortlisted in the past, and a judge but never a winner so I’ll try again. The entry fee is small $5, and it supports a Canadian fund so it’s one of the few paid contests I bother to enter. Anyone in the world can enter as along as the work is in English.

So, this gives me a week to write a story from scratch. While it’s taken me 15 years to finish a story, it’s also taken me a day. I have the plot worked out in my head and as soon as this post is done I’ll be working on it. Sometimes the plot in the head ends up with holes once it’s down on (virtual) paper. I’m hoping I have enough conflict and get the pacing right, because that is still my bane. A writing friend was up for a visit recently and she’s only been writing for about five years and says she’s sold almost everything she’s written. I was stunned. It tells me I still have a way to go. Of course she can write full time, while I squeeze it in around a full day but that’s not an excuse for excellent or poor writing.

One story to finish in a week, and the reprint collection is with a friend for editing. By mid June I hope to start formatting it and writing, awards, rejection, story process, short stories, fiction, speculative writinghave it up on Smashwords by July. My story in Bibliotheca Fantastica “The Book with No End” should come out sometime this summer and I still haven’t heard when Bull Spec will publish my poem. “The Book with No End” was written rather quickly and I tried a template because I often put too much lead-up into my stories (which, coincidentally, is very much how I talk). Even with the template the editor cut out the first two pages. I’m still learning after all these years. And unfortunately there has been a flurry or rejections. When they come all at once it’s ego flattening. But I persevere and continue to hope some stories will find a home.

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Sandra Kasturi and Helen Marshall won the Aurora last year for best fan organization for the SpecFic Colloquium.

And…just to keep the ego floating, I’m a nominee in poetry again this year for the  Aurora Award. If you’re Canadian (even ex-pat) and care to spend $10 you too can vote for your favorite in Canadian speculative fiction. The list of nominees as well as registering to vote are all on the site. My poem, “A Good Catch” can be viewed at Polu Texni (Apr. 03, 2011 on the site).

I was also out of town this week, visiting an uncle. It turns out I can trace the Norwegian branch of the family (by way of Rovang Gaard and South Dakota) to the 1600s. I’m curious now about the Danish and Italian branches. But that took time, wandering through the memory lane of pictures. There is a book on the Rovang-Nelson descendants called Wilderness Home and I’ve borrowed it from my uncle to read up on my ancestors. I might get a story out of that as well.  Now I go to start the story for the Rannu competition.

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Miss Universe Should Be Miss Trophy Wife

jenna tacklokova, sexism, women, beauty pageants

Jenna Tacklokova walks the razor’s edge between equality and sexism. Photo: Model Mayhem. com

Jenna Talackova, Vancouver’s representative for the Miss Universe Canada pageant has made headlines recently because she was disqualified as not being genetically female. Genetically, some women will be more female or male than others, as will men. And while her gene pool designated her as male at birth she obviously never felt or believed she was male. Could you tell whether my female friend or I was more genetically female? And really,  why did it matter what she was born as if she is a woman today?

Because the veneer of depth to any beauty pageant is as thin as the fact that these are set up as a shopping mall for rich men. What? You think this isn’t true? Have you looked at what they’re judged on? At least they call it a beauty pageant. Just check out the wiki entry, which outlines that you’re judged on poise in a bathing suit and in an evening gown. Why not business attire and casual clothes? They added in a tough question or two that contestants have to answer on goals, dreams, ethics, maybe favorite fruit, but that’s supposed to give some depth while trends indicate the organizers have dropped the emphasis in recent years. So really, it’s about the prettiest flower in the bouquet. Even if most of these women are intelligent and achieving great things in their own right, such a pageant put greater emphasis on the coating than on the interior.

beauty pageant, miss universe, sexual exploitation, sexism, miss universe canada

A beauty pageant of a different sort. This one’s for perfect spines, but they still used women. Life photo archive–Wallace Kirkland 1956

sexism, beauty pageants, exploitation, bigotry, beauty

Beauty pageants like to keep women in their place, as ornaments and chattel. Creative Commons

Is it so wrong to be judged on beauty? I guess it depends. I’ve already commented on the severe wrongness of the toddler beauty pageants; at least these people are adults, even if they have to jump through hoops. We all like beautiful things and are drawn to the good looking people or animals or resorts or dinners. And while beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the beholden tend towards certain standards. The Mr. Universe “pageant” seems to just be about body building so one could say it’s all about the body as well. But let’s get back to the transgendered Jenna. Originally she was disqualified because she wasn’t female enough. Why on earth would it matter when she looks like a woman and has all the body parts of a woman? You can’t be Miss Universe if you have children or are married, either. Oh heck, here’s what the site says: They must not have ever been married, not had a marriage annulled nor given birth to, or parented, a child. The titleholders are also required to remain single throughout their reign. Now why might these restrictions make a difference to the title of Miss Universe? Well, if you’re pregnant you might have to drop out of your one-year tour of duty. But married, divorced or having a boyfriend/girlfriend (they don’t mention that you must be straight)–well gosh, if you had a relationship, then all those RICH MEN might not think that you can be theirs. And all those men would FREAK OUT if they thought they were chatting up a potential trophy wife who might once have had the same tackle as what dangles between their legs.

I don’t think we should make this equal and start parading men for their body parts either. I believe that Vancouver once moved away in the past from teen beauty pageants and then just had youth ambassadors, who could be any gender. That makes more sense. Judge people as a whole, not on that thin veneer that will wrinkle and age like anyone else’s. Your merits, intelligence and demeanor can last longer than ephemeral beauty.

Miss Bala, beauty pageant, sexism, female exploitation, womens rights

Miss Bala was a movie about a fixed beauty pageant and how a woman gets victimized as the winner and is a drug lord’s mule.

Miss Bala was a gritty movie about a woman who wins a fixed contest because the winner is nothing more than a sex and drug puppet for the local drug lord. On one hand I give Ms Talackova kudos for slapping the Miss Universe (and Donald Trump) organizers upside the head. On the other, I ask why she’s bowing to these exploitative conventions, except that life can be very hard for transgendered people and there is a lot of prejudice out there, so if she can get some money and positive attention, that could make a big difference. When the organizers disqualified her for not being female enough I wonder if they also looked at those who have botox, breast implants, any sort of reductions or cosmetic surgery, false eyelashes or even makeup. After all, what’s true beauty? It’s what resides within that matters most.

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Movie Review: Cabin in the Woods

movies, entertainment, horror, Joss Whedon, Drew Goddard

The Cabin in the Woods, a horror pastiche that maybe tops all such stories.

I had the opportunity the other night to see Drew Goddard‘s and Joss Whedon’s latest, The Cabin in the Woods. Whedon has a cult following as a screenwriter, from such TV shows as the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel series, as well as Firefly. While I never warmed to Firefly (though I liked the film Serenity well enough) I was re-introduced to TV watching with Buffy. I hadn’t watched TV in years, except for a show here or there. Mostly I thought it was banal at best and idiotic most of the time, catering to the lowest common denominator with tired and cliché dialogue. Married with Children epitomized the wretchedness of TV for me and I just stayed away.

The process of helping a client (who became a friend) lay out her novel involved watching an episode of Buffy afterwards. I was stunned. Here were characters that changed, dialogue that was unpredictable and a plot that was dark and delectable. I was hooked. Whedon’s fame was justifiable for original writing and well-fleshed characters. And while Buffy could have been staked and slain itself before that final denouement, half-baked season came along, even that didn’t detract from the fact it was one of the best storylines on TV I had ever seen. I have since met HBO and found other stories that show the bravado of today’s scriptwriting when writers are allowed to blossom.

cabin in the woods, horror, film, movies, Whedon, Goddard

Kristen Connolly fights back the zombies out to kill them.

Goddard has his own cult following for his writing of the Alias and Lost TV series. Likewise, Alias became far too convoluted with plots and intrigues within intrigues, and Lost got wackier to what I thought was an ending that didn’t really work. Still, they were compelling stories with complex characters both likable and detestable at times. Lost‘s way of going forward with the present story while revealing more and more past history of the characters gave it interesting layers.

With The Cabin in the Woods all I knew was that Joss Whedon wrote it and that it was based on those tried and true horror genre films; you know the ones. The creepy basements, the unknown in the wild, the strange occurrences, the glimpses out of the corner of the eye. In fact, I thought it was going to be a play off of that pseudo reality styled film, The Blair Witch Project, where you never see the horror. If you don’t want spoilers before you see this film, you might want to stop now, because horrors you see aplenty. I called this the everything-including-the-kitchen-sink film.

I think this is the ending Joss always wanted for Buffy or Angel but didn’t quite get. You couldn’t squish another monster into this film. Indeed, they all burst forth, for the weekend in the woods is not what these people bargained for but it’s even more bizarre than anyone could have feared, because there is a whole network of technicians and masterminds at work helping orchestrate these college students’ downfalls. But of course, it doesn’t go smoothly for anyone; you could say it doesn’t go well for the monsters either.

cabin in the woods, horror, movies, film, Whedon, Goddard, scary

Fran Kranz, Chris Helmsworth (of Thor fame) and Anna Hutchison enter the treasure trove beneath the cabin’s floors, the beginning of all their problems.

The main characters are manipulated right from the beginning, with interspersed images of these guys in a bunker watching them and initiating protocols so that you’re saying WTF? A slow reveal gives more and more information, until the last tidbit is unveiled. Overall, this isn’t built up with the total dark suspense music that leads to a shocking reveal of the bad guy. Every time it looks kind of intense, something alleviates the buildup. So when the creepy looking backwoods fella at the decrepit gas station (with lots of furs and dead skinned things) calls the guys in the bunker, he delivers an Armageddon brimstone and fire soliloquy. The bunker guys listen intently until creepy guy says, “Do you have me on speaker phone?” He continues with the prophecies of doom once assured it’s turned off while the other guys break down in hysterics.

Basically every horror movie cliché is turned on its ass or twisted into something new. Almost. With the plethora of creepy critters to choose from Whedon and Goddard’s immediate antagonists are…zombies. Yep. But maybe that’s the point. This movie, if nothing else, is a pastiche of and an homage to horror movies and every bizarro monster ever imagined that sucks, occupies, eats and terrorizes humans. A true horror story is one where the protagonist fights and tries to prevail against the odds and evil, but ultimately is overcome. This movie fills it to the max without hope of redemption, survival or a sequel. Throughout the film a dark vein of humor is threaded, sometimes lighter, but in the end, when everything ends you still have to laugh.

Is this because Whedon and Goddard were worried about it being too bleak or that they really are paying tribute to the genre of horror? To me, it seems the latter. The movie was worthy, with some very fun characters and unexpected outcomes. It had enough twists that there is literally no dull moment, and in this case overcoming evil isn’t such a good thing. I’d give it an 8 skulls out of 10 on the monster movie meter.

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A Random Post About Random Events

writing, life, poetry, pain, poems, Rannu

Poised to begin. I’m always thinking about writing. Creative Commons: gnuckx, Flickr

I’ve had an incredibly expensive and busy week, with no time to write or rant on the blog (besides the Fluevog review). So I’m just going to ramble about what’s going on with me, a rarity when it gets to general day-to-day stuff. About a month ago I put my back out. This is unfortunately a semi regular event for me. In the realm of symptoms for chronic myofascial pain syndrome is tight muscles that have forgotten how to relax, therefore causing trigger point nodules of pain. I also have loose ligaments, so common movements can cause the muscles to pull my ribs out and the ligaments won’t hold them in place.  Yes, it is painful and makes it difficult to sleep, breathe or move at times.

That took a couple of weeks to settle down and I stopped working out for that time. Then I was lazy and busy and I missed another two weeks. Now I’m back to working out, realizing I miss bellydancing (haven’t taught in about four months) and have to get more dancing in. It is the easiest and most fun type of exercise for me.

I’m dealing with ribs still doing their own thing, a couple of rush editing projects and attempts to write a story before the end of the month for the Rannu competition. Of course, at this point, it’s all in my head and not down on paper. I have three weeks to kickstart myself. The reprint collection is ready to be checked over by a friend and then I’ll try formatting it for Smashwords first.

pain, myofascial pain, muscles, trigger points, back issues, dislocated ribs, health

These spots are just some of the areas where myofascial pain can set in, sometimes all at once. Creative commons: from docakilah.com

Besides the dumb rib issue, I’ve had to get a crown on a cracked tooth, which is becoming more complicated, and that’s not a cheap venture. And…it looks like one of my not very old, yet still sucky, tires may have to be replaced from a flat a few weeks back. The tire was okay but doesn’t seem completely right. I’ve started a new series of poems, which I began in March, where I wrote two new stories, rewrote two others and started the poems. The series will have thirteen in all, and be about witches, but with a Canadian twist. Two are done, two more being worked on. No idea how long it will take to finish this series but I’ll start sending out some of the individual poems. And I’ll get something done for the Rannu competition. I work better to deadlines so it’s always good to grab one.

Energy is always an issue. With spring finally seeming to have hit Vancouver–we actually had a warm enough weekend to go without jackets–I’m waking up a bit earlier and easier. I’m battling back anemia  and sometimes the myofascial pain adds its on dimension of fatigue. And sometimes I don’t manage my time well. But I have lots to do, including repainting and reorganizing my den and writing writing writing. Spring cleaning is sometimes an ongoing thing, and writing is a constant even if it happens in fits and starts.

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Fluevog Shoes: The Good, the Bad, the Dangerous?

slingback, pump, shoe, designer shoes, Fluevog, fashion, footwear

An early Fluevog shoe with the square heel similar to the witch boots.

John Fluevog is a local name in Vancouver. He began designing shoes in the early 70s and has gone on to international fame for avant garde designs. I used to own an early pair (80s) of Fluevog boots that I bought second hand. I called them my witch boots. They had a heel that sloped out to a square, a squared off pointy toe, a turnover cuff, and a big silver buckle on the front. Made of black suede with a thin, hard plastic sole, they weren’t the most comfortable or well made boots, and were actually a size too big but they were fun. I eventually passed them on. I also had (and still have) some Peter Fox shoes, and originally Fox and Fluevog was the name of the shoe store the two men opened up.

I’ve often gone by the Fluevog store and looked at the crazy designs. Sometimes they don’t appeal, sometimes they do but they’re not cheap shoes. You’re looking at an average price of over $200 for a shoe. I would say  a “basic shoe” but there is no such thing in Fluevogs. From sandals to boots, there are dressy and casual but always unique. I needed a new pair of boots last fall so I checked out Fluevog. Boots are never cheap and because I have large calves not easy to find ones that go above the ankle, and I hate boots that stop at the ankle.

I have bought lace up boots for years and Fluevog had a range. Unfortunately many are just too narrow for my calves. I covet tall boots but they’re rare to find. I’ve been thinking of getting into steampunk too and tried on the Monday boot. The looked great. At $299 they couldn’t be less so I bought them.

I have problem feet. They are extremely wide and I need orthotics, which never work that well. Although I have dress shoe orthotics I gave up on getting them to ever work in boots. So I wanted something that would be comfortable for a reasonable length of time. The soles on these boots are leather, with not a lot of extra padding but fairly thick as it is. The top is brushed suede with decorative silver stitching. The lower boot is of a matte style leather, slightly rough, a bit shiny.

I started wearing the boots right away and within two months the laces were being chewed to pieces by the grommet holes on the boot. While metal grommets will wear on laces eventually, these were rough enough to destroy the lace rather quickly. On top of that, putting on the boot one day, there was something bunching around the toe. The leather insole that covers the nails and stitching had come loose. Fluevog fixed this as there is an 8-month warranty, but I was still surprised it happened. On top of that, the moment you polish the boot that rough matte look tamps down to shiny black. As well, the heel has a hard plastic bottom. I have found when walking on an incline of wet pavement that this slips. I haven’t fallen yet but I have to walk carefully, putting my foot down firmly so I don’t slide. That is dangerous.

boots, lace up boots, shoe, designer shoes, John Fluevog, fashion

Made of suede and leather, the inside says “Another Day with Hope.”

The good thing about these boots is that they are extremely comfortable, even more than I expected for feet that get sore. I haven’t had any boot or shoe in years that is so well balanced that the weight is distributed along the entire foot. The weight doesn’t rest on the ball of the foot alone (the cause of my orthotics) but is carried also by the heel. This is why stilettos can be very hard to wear. Tiny pencil heels and a small sole area increase the pounds-per-square-inch pressure that your feet carry. So kudos to Fluevog for being the only shoe designer out there who seems to get it.

When I bought the boots I had tried on some not so flattering shoes and some, like the Wonder Ayers, were very cute. They came in black and olive green. I could not afford two pairs of Fluevogs and the boots were more a necessity. But I thought of the shoes for two months and when I took the boots in to be fixed they had this pinky purple color. One thing my friends know about me is that I love color. I’d just finished a freelance job and couldn’t resist. Three hundred dollars later, I had the Ayers shoe, which was not too tall in the heel and turned up at the toe. I love ankle straps and this pair has two. How could I lose? They’re also well balanced at distributing the weight and centering it along the foot.

Wonder Ayers shoe, Fluevogs, shoes, fashion, designer shoes, leather

The Wonder Ayers, fun and stylish

I didn’t wear these for the first month as it was too cold and rainy. I wore them a bit at a time to break them in and stretch them. In the first month I slipped twice on linoleum floors and went down so fast I couldn’t break the fall. Luckily my heel slipped sideways and I went down along my leg and knee, bruising the knee one time. The same material is on this heel, and the side of the plastic is actually edged to a corner halfway up the side. This is the plastic piece on the heel that protects the shoe itself from wear.

I started to get scuffs on the toes because of the style and while that’s expected I found out Fluevog does not carry the polish to match these shoes, so I’m stuck. Even the polish they gave the shoes when I took them in for repairs doesn’t quite match the original color, not to mention it would be hard to polish around the white stitching. Neither of these are the biggest problems with this shoe. At less than three months old, with less than two months of wear I noticed the leather sole pulling away from the shoe, and then I saw the leather was ripping along the inner side at the top where the shoe bends. When I took them in Fluevog should have given me a new pair, considering price and age, but they sent them off for repair. The leather soles have been replaced with Topy soles and they’ve put a fairly invisible patch on the inside of the shoe to stop the tearing.  But I’m not happy.

For comfort and style and innovation, Fluevog gets a 9-10. For customer service, a 7–each time they’ve said, oh this hasn’t happened before, so am I buying the only bad pairs out there? For materials and support items (polish) they get a 5. The colors are good, the stitching well done, the leather feels good, but rough grommet holes, hard plastic heels that are dangerous, soles the pull away and leather that splits brings Fluevog’s score down. While the materials are better than those early pair, Fluevog still has room for improvement, especially when the shoes are so pricey.  That’s 72% for shoes that should be 85% and above.

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BC Hydro Screws You and Trees

car insurance, accidents, BC Hydro, tree trimming, Asplundh, responsibility,

My car is the far right one, just before the mulcher mangles it but that doesn’t mean anything happened except passing the buck.

I’m sure this will be of interest only to a select few, but it’s a tale with a lesson in futility, passing the buck, negligence and damage. In BC our electricity is handled by a company called BC Hydro, which once was provincially owned but now it’s not clear how much of it is privatized. They maintain the power grid, which includes checking power lines that lines ever street in their own unsightly web.

One day last August, I came out of my place to find these guys mulching tree branches that they cut down from the trees encroaching on the lines. BC Hydro has all sorts of information, including this blurb:

Tree control pruning

BC Hydro regularly prunes trees that might grow into power lines. These trees are generally pruned on an established cycle. The specifications call for pruning practices that will not only provide for safety clearances, but are also the best for the trees.

Studies in arboriculture (the care of trees) have shown that certain forms of pruning are much less damaging to the health of the tree than others. BC Hydro has adopted a standard that calls for “natural target” pruning, which may initially remove more of the tree canopy than some other methods and may appear excessive, but contributes to the health of the tree in the long run and prevents severe cutting.

Well, I had to squeeze past the mulching machine, that was along side my car, to actually drive to work. When I parked and got out of my car I noticed (because I’d spent 5 hours washing my car the week before) that my bumper had been scraped and banged into, which cracked the paint. I was mad but knew it would be hard to prove. I also have other nicks and scratches on other parts of my bumper because if you try to claim it you get to pay something like a $200 deductible and your insurance could go up for all those dings.

So when I get home and I’m talking to my two neighbors we look up at the trees and notice the butchering. In some cases they didn’t cut the limbs away from the wires and in others, they chopped the tree so badly that as it continues to grow it will be more weighted on one side causing the branch to break or the tree to topple. Wow. The above statement (which takes some hunting on their site) seems to be an ideal they do not strive for.

I called up to complain about the tree mangling, unsightly at best, and also mentioned them banging into my car. BC Hydro tells me to file a complaint and an insurance claim with my car insurance. I was skeptical at best and already noticed the buck passing but I decided to do this as an experiment. I  have two car insurances; one half is private with Family Insurance. The other is mandatory through the provincially run ICBC.

Date of Accident: July, 2011 (it’s been so long I can’t rightly remember). Complaint filed with BC Hydro: Aug. 17, 2011. Letter from BC Hydro that they send to my landlady instead of to me: Sept. 27, 2011. In that letter BC Hydro says: oh no, it wasn’t us. It was our contractor Asplundh Tree Experts Co. Experts? I could do better with no knowledge of arboriculture. So BC Hydro can now weasel out of any responsibility. I call Asplundh. ICBC tells me it’s the Family Insurance side so I enter a long convoluted dialogue with a cynical man who queries, as devils advocate he says, as to how I could prove that they did the damage. I say, I know I can’t but I know it was them and that I was told to do this by BC Hydro.

We go back and forth, forth and back. Then Asplundh contacts him, after I tried calling them three times but to no reply. Asplundh wants photos of my car, which I take, as well as having a picture of the day that the mulcher mashed my car.  I send the cynical insurance guy the information. I email to see that he has received them. I email again and again and again. I get busy and forget about it, then email again.

car, car insurance, damaged car, Asplundh, BC Hydro, responsibility, mulching

Well, it could be worse, right? At least they didn’t drop a tree on my car. Creative Commons:Jason Edward Scott Bain, flickr

My prediction at the beginning was that no one will admit to anything and in the end my bumper will look the same because I can’t afford to pay the deductible every time. Eventually, I get an email from a different insurance adjuster with the blather that nothing can be done or proven. It seems maybe the previous adjuster quit. I’d bet money that my insurance company didn’t really even try to support me. I’ll bet anything that Asplundh just ignored them.

So what have I learned?

  • BC Hydro gets out of responsibility by subcontracting and not checking their contractors’ work.
  • Asplundh doesn’t give a rat’s fart how well they do anything nor hold their workers to any culpability.
  • Family Insurance isn’t there to support the insured, even in giving information. This also means they’ll be losing my business come time to renew my car insurance.
  • The next time I see any city workers in any form on my street I’m going to stop and take pictures of my car, of them and of their vehicles.

Thankfully, I looked at this as an experiment and didn’t expect a resolution. Too bad we’re running on such a lack of honor.

There, I feel better now.

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