Thursday, December 31, 2009

The origin of "idiot"

"We consider the man who avoids politics not as minding his own business, but as having no business"- Pericles,(c. 495 – 429 BC) Athenian leader qouted(broadly) from Thucydides The Histories.

The classical Greeks referred to such people as idiots. I was listening to streeters about the Harper government's proroguing parliament. This means that the issue of Canada abandoning its responsibility regarding Afghan detainees, explaining the mismanagement of the climate change and environmental portfolios and ongoing issues with nuclear plants, mis-allocation of stimulus funds and so on, wil not be discussed. Many people didn't care, and said they didn't care about politics.

And they wonder why "their lunches get eaten" by politicians. Of course, creating apathy works well for hyper-partisan political parties. Their core votes, everyone else becomes discouraged and stays home. Idiots.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

James Cameron's Avatar

Go see it.

The critical response that I have read tend to say it is a good, perhaps great film, with a rather pedestrian story. Comparisons have been made to Dances With Wolves, among other films.

I think most people writing in the mainstream press have missed two direct literary influences; Ursula K. Le Guin's novel The Word For World Is Forest and those of Frank Herbert's WorShip(Destination:Void) series. The more complex cultural treatment of colonialisation by Le Guin disappears in Avatar. For one, Le Guin's natives are not the statuesque Nav'i from Cameron's film. In The Word For World Is Forest the Astheans are small and green and spend long periods in a dream state, which angers the humans enslaving them. They are appealing like Ewoks from the Star Wars series- not the "noble savage" archetype that it seems Cameron and his audience more easily embrace. A more recent example of a post-colonial archetype of alien are the "prawns" from District 9. These aliens are generally not attractive or easily understood by the humans in the film. I hope Cameron can insert a more equivocal and nuanced treatment of an alien culture and it's response to colonialisation into the sequels to Avatar.

Frank Herbert's imaginary world of Pandora is far more strange and frightening than the jungle world presented in Cameron's film. That is not to say that Cameron's Pandora is not a fully conceived, plausible planet. It is truly strange and beautiful, and worth paying extra to see in Imax 3-D. Cameron's imagination has conceived a planet that a person might well want to live in, despite it's dangers. However, Herbert's world is truly strange because it is imagined as a place humans would not want to live in. His characters, after all, are hijacked there. Herbert's Pandora is inimical to human life and disturbing to human senses.

Therein lies the difficulty of translating these works to the cinema. An audience must face an unpleasant visual experience to realise Herbert's Pandora and faces the even more difficult challenge of facing a very different psychology on the part of Le Guin's Athsheans, her humanoid natives from The Word For World Is Forest.

Monday, December 28, 2009

irony and humour; Why do we get it(and why doesn't everyone?)

I read this article on the success of the BIXI bicycle system in Montreal. Rene Bruemmer sardonically bemoaned that the streets were now crowded with other cyclists, not just him.

Some of the comments indicate that people didn't get the irony. How is it that we can decode that? Is it something in our psyche?

Trying a new comment system

So I am trying the comment system. If it works out, I will be able to add comments to other blogs that I currently lurk. I am still moderating comments.

Happy new year!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Duck, '09

A duck is a different beast from a turkey. It is smaller, and much fattier. My internet research indicates that you need to render the fat from the bird in order to get a crispy skin. As usual, I ordered my bird fresh from Boucherie Notre-Dame, and picked it up mid-afternoon Christmas eve. I hope it will be as succesful as my turkeys were this year.

So I am going to steam the bird for about 75 minutes in the roasting pan on the stove top. I placed a round baking pan in the roasting pan then put the roasting grill on top of that. I added about 5 cm of water in the pan, then put it on a burner to boil. When the water reached a boil, I placed the duck on the roasting grill, with the bird just suspended over the boiling water. That should melt the fat off of the bird, and ready it for roasting. I cross-hatched the breasts with a knife to help the fat escape.

The giblets were removed from the bird, boiled, and thrown out, and the broth saved for gravy.

Stuffing was as per my thanksgiving 2009 recipe, but with Toulouse sausage. I prepared it in the morning, so it is already at room temperature. The sausages were cooked at lunch time, with some used for brunch.This way the meat hasn't been hanging around for long at room temperature.

The bird went into the steaming pot at 14:17...

it exited around 15:30... It was stuffed loosely then put in the oven at 35oF for about an hour. 9 mins per pound with a 6-7 pound bird.
I basted in a little, but most of the fat was rendered, so there was little in the way of pan drippings.

At the 30 minute mark, I added potatos and carrots.In retrospect, I should have added them at the beginning.
Final result was moist, rich without being greasy and the skin was crispy. I served it with asparagus lightly poached in the microwave, the root vegetables and stuffing.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Experience is a hard teacher...

...because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Freedom of speech? No thanks, we're Tories!

So Dimitri Soudas, chief public relations officer for Prime Minister Stephen Harper lambasts Steven Guilbeault, cofounder of Quebec-based Equiterre, for critiquing the government's very limited policies for dealing with climate change. He also blamed Guibeault for the prank of disseminating fake news releases suggesting the government will actually propose bold and useful changes to fuel consumption and support of developing nations to lower their carbon emissions. Cost about $1.25 a day per Canadian. And could have broken the deadlock between the developed and developing nations. It could have shown leadership.

Soudas said that the criticism of government environmental policy was anti-Canadian. I think that line deserves Soudas' firing.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Lexicographer's Dilemma

"Many of us are irritable most of the time (unless we're in love or just bought a motorcycle)" and English gives us reasons to irritable says Carolyn See in her book review.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

If they lie about Afghan detainees...

which they don't care about, what else will the government lie about?

Politically, Stephen Harper's government doesn't care much about the abuse of Afghan detainees, captured by Canadian Forces in Afghanistan. Since the abuse occurred after the Canadians turned the prisoners over to Afghan government forces, there is not much connection to be made between the fate of the Conservative's government and that of a few people far, far away. Realistically, the government is also aware that the segment of the population that votes for them has little sympathy for the insurgents shooting at, wounding and killing our troops, our people serving in Afghanistan.

There are three reasons why those folks who generally support the Conservatives should care:

1. Many of those picked up were accused of being insurgents- and the NDS, the Afghan security agency that has been accused of abuse, says themselves that some of the people sent to them were not insurgents. Of course, this is after the prisoners were beaten, just to be certain. How would you like to be stopped for a broken headlight, then thrown in jail as a suspected terrorist, then tortured, then released because it was all a mistake? If that is OK, then what are we doing in Afghanistan? Why are our people risking their lives if our government condones this behavior on the part of Afghanistan?

2. The second reason is that many legal experts say that knowingly handing over prisoners to the possibility of torture contravenes the Geneva Convention. This would place the senior staff officers as well as the government ministers in charge in a sticky legal predicament. Again, if we really don't care about the Geneva Convention, an important legal precedent, then why are we in Afghanistan to bring about rule of law? Will the government try to blame more junior personnel for this problem- a classic approach that reveals just who really supports the troops?

3. The final reason that we should care about this issue, is the government will not reveal the truth. That has to be peeled away, bit by bit, all the while the government denying, blaming the messenger and impugning the critics. Yet this issue would not have really affected their voting public. If the government feels it has to lie about this issue, what else will they lie about?

The government's approach has been to blame civil servants for bad news- they fired the head of the Nuclear regulatory commission for closing down the Chalk River nuclear reactor. A few months later, it had to be closed down again. They pilloried the Federal Elections commissioner, their own appointee, for refusing to break the federal elections law.

Oconnor, Bernier and now Mackay all have proven incompetent in the foreign affairs or defense portfolios. But this seems irrelevant to the government, as foreigners do not vote in Canadian elections. It seems ridiculous that the current government wants to bring rule of law and good government to another country, when they seem indifferent to either here in Canada. That is why their supporters should be looking at the Afghan prisoner issue, if torture isn't a good enough reason.

"If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country."
-E.M. Forster