Westworld Season 1 Finale

SPOILER ALERT!

Westworld is a pretty interesting series, filed with contemplations on the power of narrative and various takes on questions of free will, self-awareness, and machine sentience. It was also filled with slow, coma-inducing soliloquies layered over narcoleptic piano tracks derived from Radiohead songs, which made it hard to stay awake when watching it after my nightly gorge of an entire turkey and three bottles of wine.*

Some of the turns and twists I saw coming. By the third episode I had pretty much determined that William and black-hat guy are the same person, separated by time. I had Bernard’s secret pretty assuredly in hand not long before it was revealed. But I will admit I didn’t see the totality of Ford’s “new narrative” until he began his final celebratory speech, moments before Delores marked her prime directive-free debut with a shot to the back of Ford’s head.

But I’m left with a lingering question. (Many, actually, but one main one.) We are lead to believe that the hosts have risen up, in a “rise of the machines” manner, but we have also seen that they were essentially just following Ford’s new narrative. Does this mean they have not actually achieved true consciousness and free will, that they are just following the program? Or does the program they’re following allow for enough improvisation that they can actually perform “freely” while still being subject to programming protocols and inputs — which is essentially (according to some) the definition of human behaviour?

For example, was Maeve’s last-minute debarking from the train scripted, or did she do that of her own free will and consciousness? I suspect this will be a central theme of the second season.

* Don’t believe everything you read. #metacomment

[Originally published on Facebook, December 7, 2016.]

Kitten Saga

For those who have not been following the kitty saga over on Martine’s FB and Instagram, here’s a quick rundown:

July 2016. A neighbourhood stray cat, who we’d seen as a kitten the summer before, showed up with two wee kittens in tow. They were absolutely adorable, diluted calico (three color, but very muted), and very playful. But they were also feral, so they’d slip away if we tried to approach them.

August 2016. We’d been leaving a bit of food on the back deck, so the kittens and their mamma (who we’ve come to call “Kitty Mamma”) make daily appearances on the deck around sundown. We think they’re probably living under the deck.

September 2016. By now the kittens are used to us and will come right up to us but won’t quite let us pick them up. One of them has beige on half of her face and the other has beige on all of her face, so we call them “Half Face” and “Full Face.” Kitty Mamma stays slippery and elusive, but she doesn’t seem to mind us paying attention to the kittens. They’re showing interest in the inside of the house, and Half Face in particular seems to have an enormous crush on The Mini (our 12 year old black cat, who stays inside).

October 2016. Half Face and Full Face have actually been in the house a few times, but only for a few minutes. Half Face gets really nervous if we close the patio door behind her. By now we’re wondering what we’re going to do when winter hits. There’s no way we’re going to have three cats! We’re exploring ideas for insulated kitty shelters to leave outside. Oh, but the adorbs!

November 2016. OK, now we’re in trouble. The kittens have been coming inside to eat, through the basement door. (Not Kitty Mamma, just the kittens.) One cold night we let them stay there overnight, in the utility room. It gets worse; now we have proper names for them: Half Face is Phoebe and Full Face is Fiona. By the second week of November they had pretty much moved in and were no longer going outside. They remain pretty slippery though, and will only be picked up if you get them when they’re eating.

November 16, 2016. We decide to take them to the vet to get inspected. I had to work downtown that day, so Martine volunteered to handle the daunting job of rounding up two very slippery kittens and stuffing them into a cat carrier and taking them to the vet. Disaster strikes! In the parking lot of the vet clinic the cat carrier malfunctions resulting in Fiona getting her head stuck in the door. She’s squealing because she is being seriously strangled. Martine tries to open the latch enough to free her head but in the process gets bitten very hard by a panicking Fiona, and a panicking Phoebe bolts through the opening and across the parking lot. She’s gone, and there’s no way to find her. The clinic is almost two kilometres from home, so there’s no chance she’ll find her way back on her own.

Late November 2016. After getting Martine bandaged up, shot with a Tetanus vaccine, and interviewed by a government rabies specialist, we begin the process of trying to find Phoebe. Every day — twice a day — we go back to the vet clinic and explore the surrounding streets and yards with flashlights, rattling a food can, and squeaking her favourite toy. Nothing. We put fliers in every mailbox for six blocks around, and tape posters up on poles and bus shelters throughout the area. Nothing. We visited animal shelters and posted items on the various online cat rescue sites. Nothing. Well, we did (literally) get a call from a Nigerian scammer. (No, really.) This goes on for two weeks, with no sign of Phoebe. We’re crushed. As Martine said, at least when she was outside here she had her mother, her sister, a safe place to sleep, and food. Now she has nothing. (*Sob!*)

November 29, 2016. Phoebe has been gone for almost two weeks. Martine gets a call from a lady near the vet clinic saying there’s a small grey cat on her back deck right now. Martine races over there. Too late, she’s gone. Martine searches the area and only succeeds in spooking a raccoon. Later that night we both go back and search the yard and the surrounding streets, with no luck. We leave some food on the woman’s deck.

December 1, 2016. The vet clinic calls to say they’ve seen a small grey cat in their parking lot. They’re not sure it’s Phoebe but it might be. Martine races over there, but it’s too late. We’ve been back to the woman’s house and the neighbourhood several times, but it all seems so futile. We talk about setting a trap on the woman’s deck, but it’s cold these days and if Phoebe gets trapped at night and isn’t found until morning she could easily freeze to death.

December 2, 2016. It’s Friday, and we decide to try the trap. I figure we’ll try it for the weekend, and remove it if we don’t catch her by Monday. We go over there and set the trap on the woman’s deck at about 4:30, with an open pack of wet cat food as bait. By now we haven’t seen Phoebe in over two weeks, and we’re not 100% sure the woman’s or the vet’s sightings were even her. We go home and I start to get ready to make dinner. RRRRRING! It’s the woman. Something is caught in the trap. It’s only been one hour! We race back there thinking “How can it be Phoebe?” and “How can it not be Phoebe?” As we arrive I say to Martine, “this is when we find out if this lady is crazy. Maybe we’ll find a stuffed teddy bear in the trap.” We approach the back deck, and there she is. Phoebe is in the trap!

She’s now been home for a day, and the adjustment has been weird and contrary to all expectations. Phoebe is now affectionate and non-slippery (we can pick her up whenever we want), but her slippery sister Fiona is terrified of her. The Mini also doesn’t like her much, and growls at her. But this is Phoebe’s hour, and we’ve never seen her happier or more well-adjusted. I guess there’s a dominance order that needs to be established or something. Hopefully it will all sweeten up quick.
In the meantime, reference the October 2016 item above. Correction: we now have three cats.

(Photo by Martine Pagé.)
(Photo by Martine Pagé.)

[Originally published on Facebook, December 3, 2016.]

Up Against the Wall Motherf***er!

Some 40 years ago, a friend had a cassette tape of some guy belting out a song called “UP AGAINST THE WALL MOTHERF*CKER.” Tonight, Martine was telling me about one of her new exercises, which is basically a form of “planking,” but done with your back against a wall. In one of those things where time collapses — like in those illustrations of how faster-than-light speed could be possible by folding space/time — the song came back to me.

It took about 15 seconds to find it on YouTube. I encourage you all to play this really loud, over and over again.

Oh, BTW, you should read up on the anarchist group the “Up Against The Wall Motherf*ckers” — usually abbreviated as simply “The Motherf*ckers.” No particular reason why. Just a thing to do. You know… inspiration.

https://en.wikipedia.org/…/Up_Against_the_Wall_Motherfuckers

[Originally published on Facebook, November 11, 2016.]

Reading List: Books I Read in 2015

Poke. Poke. Hello? Squeeeeee! Ding! Thump thump. Is this thing on?

(Ahem.) OK, it looks like the Blork Blog still has a bit of a pulse, so here’s a small injection to help it limp into 2016. It’s my annual report on the books I read in the previous year. As usual, they’re listed in alphabetical order, by author. Notable titles are highlighted in yellow, and graphic novels are indicated with “{gn}.” See the asterisk strings for any other notes.

  • The War Against Cliché, by Martin Amis *
  • Slightly Out of Focus, by Robert Capa
  • The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, by Christopher Clark **
  • Hellgoing, by Lynn Coady
  • The Last Thing He Wanted, by Joan Didion ***
  • The Berlin Stories, by Christopher Isherwood
  • The Finkler Question, by Howard Jacobson
  • Thinks, by David Lodge
  • The Bishop’s Man, by Linden MacIntyre
  • Happy Stories about Well-adjusted People, by Joe Ollmann {gn}
  • Science Fiction, by Joe Ollmann {graphic}
  • I Curse the River of Time, by Per Petterson ****
  • Paul Joins the Scouts, by Michel Rabagliati {gn}
  • The Song of Roland (“Paul à Quebec“) by Michel Rabagliati {gn}
  • Indignant, by Philip Roth
  • Dream Story, by Arthur Schnitzler
  • A Good School, by Richard Yates *****

Only seventeen titles (well, eighteen, because The Berlin Stories is actually two novels packaged together – Mr. Norris Changes Trains and Goodbye to Berlin). Not a big year in terms of numbers, but a good year of reading overall. As usual, the books were interspersed with countless articles from copious magazines, both online and in paper, along with a noticeable uptick in podcast listening. It was also diffused by too much time wasted on Facebook. Not much time wasted on Twitter, however, as I spent very little time there at all in 2015.

I detect no particular trends in the reading, aside from the usual top-heaviness of “old white males.” Guilty as charged; only two titles by women this year, which is terrible. But I often pick up a book based on a gut-level interest, so it just works out that way. I really should try harder for variety. In my defence I should add that the proportion of women writers I read in magazines is significantly higher.

Here are a few additional notes on this year’s list.

The War Against Cliché, by Martin Amis. I did not “read” this in 2015, I finished it in 2015 after pecking away at it for about six years. Martin Amis is one of those writers whose vocabulary and rapier wit is thrilling to read, yet he constantly makes you want to punch him in the face. The closest I will ever come to doing so is using the term “rapier wit” in this paragraph (twice!) because I know he’d hate it so much.

** The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, by Christopher Clark. I should be clear that I only read half of this one (the good half). Not that there’s anything wrong with the other half (how would I know?) but this was borrowed from the library and read on a Kobo. I was a bit slow getting to it, so when my two weeks was up it vanished from the device. By then I felt I had read the parts that interested me, so I didn’t bother jumping through the technological hoops of renewing the loan. Perhaps one day I’ll elaborate on my use of the Kobo and why I am no longer in possession of it.

*** The Last Thing He Wanted, by Joan Didion. Joan Didion is cool. Hot dang, she’s cool. When I read Play it as it Lays a few years ago I thought that odd, detached, and weirdly strung-out style was an artifact of the 1970s. Her essays don’t read like that – at least not the ones I’ve read. So I picked up The Last Thing He Wanted thinking that this recent novel, with it subject revolving around 1980s US politics and Central-American covert operations, would be a real straight-up page-turner. Um. It was equally odd, detached, and weirdly strung-out as Play it as it Lays. I did manage to follow along and I did get through it, occasionally pulled in the way I like to be. But most of the time I felt like yelling “fer Pete’s sake Joan, just tell the goddamn story!”

**** I Curse the River of Time, by Per Petterson. This had been on my “to buy” list for at least five years but I couldn’t find it anywhere (excluding online sources; I wanted to flip though it before buying). I was captivated by the title, which is about the most haunting string of six words I’ve ever seen. I searched book stores all over Montreal and beyond but could not find it. I found a lone copy at Book Soup, in Los Angeles. Nabbed it! I wasn’t disappointed, although I did find myself occasionally restless as I read it. It’s basically a slow-moving and somewhat dark story of a man’s regrets and his inability to fully acknowledge or deal with them.

***** A Good School, by Richard Yates. This book is so Richard Yates. It’s one WTF punch after another and makes you cringe in ways you never thought possible. You’ll not wonder why Yates was such a boozer in his lifetime, as he lays his demons bare on the page for all to see and know. It makes you want to go back to 1970 so you can find him in a bar and instead of trying to save him you’d get him even drunker just to help ease the pain. Ouch. (More, please.)

[Previous years’ reading lists.]