kerry-saluteThis whole “My name is John Kerry and I am reporting for duty” thing is embarrassing. It is such a bald-faced photo-op/sound bite that it makes him and his campaign look even more cheesy and contrived than the other guy’s. How about inspiring us with a thoughtful and truthful speech instead? How about being honest and forthright instead of just playing the game like every other corrupt and bloated politician in Washington?

And what’s with all this commotion about bloggers at the Democratic National Convention? Sure, bloggers can provide something of an antidote to the shortcomings of the corrupt and bloated corporate media, but to find any real information you need to slog through an awful lot of badly edited and bloated blogs before you find anything original. In the meantime, you’ve got all these expectations of finding some kind of insight and all you get are a bunch of nerds playing with the medium. Let it happen, but don’t make such a big deal of it!

And U.S.ers wonder why people don’t like to have their countries occupied by the U.S. military. Here’s a test: see if you can see the difference between these two statements:

(1) The rules of engagement during the Iraq War stated that it was legitimate to commandeer a civilian’s vehicle if (a) it was needed for military purposes, and (b) it was either paid for, or a receipt was left with the owner.

(2) It is OK for American soldiers to chase a civilian vehicle, then steal it at gunpoint without leaving any money or receipts.

Sgt. 1st Class James Williams, a 17-year veteran with previous combat experience, apparently did not understand the difference before he and his crew shook down an Iraqi for his SUV. He claims he really thought he was “allowed to do that.” Inspiring, isn’t it?

In an whole other vein, things tend to spawn their opposites, so perhaps the prevalence of badly-edited blogging and other Web writing (I include my own in that category) will cause a resurgence in understanding of the importance of editing. I don’t mean proofreading, I mean editing.

Friday morning this ‘n that…

Eating Flowers

On Wednesday night of this week, Martine and I had the great pleasure of dining at the table of Martine (la banlieusarde). It was a meal of many spectacular elements, including crab bisque, stuffed grilled calamari, salad plucked from her garden, wild salmon and scallop ceviché, and other tasty delights. The meal was outstanding, and one of its attractions was the use of edible flowers throughout.

The crab bisque was garnished with fresh pansy-like flowers, and the leaves from the same plant found its way into the salad, along with petals from another flower. Vital to flower-eating is freshness, as the experience is as much about texture in the mouth as flavor. We were not disappointed, as these flowers were fresh from her garden.

The floral pièce de résistance, however, arrived with the cheese plate. Day lilies stuffed with gorgonzola cheese that had soaked in Muscat wine for 24 hours. I’m still quivering!

Holiday nightmares?

The BBC has a fluff piece on bad travel experiences. Or, to be precise; bad holiday experiences. Reading through them, the problem is obvious: stupidity on the part of the holidaymakers. There’s something to be said for doing a bit of research, double-checking, and having realistic expectation. Check it out, then come back and see if you agree with my assessment. (Clicking the link will open it in a new window.)

To wit:
[Franni, UK: sewage on the beach] In this case there was not much one could have done to avoid the situation, but one can always refuse to pay, or move to a different hotel!

[Elisa, Italy: Wrong San Jose] While it was the agent’s mistake that sent you to Mexico instead of California, you could have checked the itinerary on the ticket! And between the boarding announcement, the customs forms on the plane, the customs agents on the ground, and the proliferation of Spanish around the airport, you should have clued in that you weren’t in the United States!

[Gill Wain, UK] You go to Barcelona, get drunk on the beach, and leave your bag lying around unattended at 4:00 in the morning and you don’t expect it to get stolen?

[Nick Harper] Dude, if you’re using a flash to photograph an electrical storm, then you clearly have no idea what you’re doing. One never takes pictures in a foreign country unless one is informed of what is and is not allowed to be photographed. Virtually every country on earth forbids photography of military areas without permission. Did you even know where you were?

[Geoff Gwillym] You’re on a “typical” English bus tour holiday and you want good service? And good lasagna on the Isles of Scilly? What were you thinking?

[Steph, Canada] It’s too bad that a bit of real life got in the way of your fairy-tale holiday. Perhaps you should have gone to Disney World.

Sex and the… what?

You know you used to watch Sex and the City. Sure you did. Don’t even try to deny it. Here’s an interesting — and very perceptive — new spin on the characters.

More of same, but different

Speaking of urban ribaldry, we’ve been watching a bit of The Mind of the Married Man, which seems to be a kind of Sex and the City for boys. Except it isn’t — mostly because the characters are so unlikable. The dames of Sex and the City could be excruciating at times, but at least they were generally likeable. You could imagine having friends like that (minus the wardrobes). But the guys in “Married Man” are just lame. The main character is rumpled and disillusioned beyond hope (just jump off the Sears Tower and put us out of this misery fer Chrissakes) and his horn-dog friend is simply too over the top with (a) his horn-dogness, and (b) his level of deceit towards his doting wife.

In particular, I simply cannot believe that such a pathological philanderer would be able to maintain his friendships with the other guys — whose wives are friends with the philanderer’s wife. Speaking for myself, and most of the guys I know, if someone in our group of friends was behaving that badly towards his spouse we simply wouldn’t put up with it. I’m not talking about the odd fling or indiscretion here — this guy’s behaviour is way beyond anything that could be considered humorous for a TV character.

That’s my problem with this show — nothing subtle.

Tuck you, Charlie!

Speaking of ham-fisted scripting, we’ve also been watching Nip/Tuck, that drama series that revolves around a couple of plastic surgeons. The show is quite well done, with good acting and compelling characters. Unfortunately, they tend you smash you over the head with the theme every week, which gets tiresome. Also, the medical stuff tends to be a bit off.

For example, in last night’s show a woman came in for a lip reconstruction because her lips had been burned off when her stove exploded. It was interesting that her lips were completely gone (great makeup job), as in, she couldn’t even bring the remnants together to make MMM sounds. Yet her nose, cheeks, chin, and the rest of her face were completely untouched. That doesn’t make sense.

So they reconstructed her lips using her “other lips.” As in, the labia from her vulva. That would work just fine if it were just the lips that needed replacing, but the way she appeared before the surgery implied that all of the tissue in the area was gone, including skin, muscle, etc.

OK, so they exaggerated the makeup. The twist was that she didn’t want her Sicilian husband to know that her new lips were from “down there,” so she told him the skin came from behind her knees. But this is her husband. Don’t you think he might notice that her nether regions are all stitched up and bandaged, and that there is no scar tissue or bandages behind her knees?

Careful scripting could have kept the story line without introducing these incongruities. But am I expecting too much? Are even the so-called “good” shows dumbing-down and making up for it with outrageous situations, plentiful swearing, and obligatory nude scenes?

Protoblogging: Bumpy flight to Quito*

(From a post in an online travel forum, 2000))

Our plane was sitting on the tarmac in Houston, waiting out the wind, when the lightening struck. Torrential rain and sharp bolts of lightning striking the runway were not what I wanted to see while crammed into that hot metal tube. Finally, after about thirty minutes, the weather cleared and we rolled to the runway and off we went, at the front of a pack of at least 20 planes all waiting in line.

Some four hours later, airborne over the Andes, it was dark, but there was just enough light in the sky to see the huge billowing cumulous clouds below us. Then I saw more lightning, illuminating the clouds from within. Flashes of lightning bursting at a frequency of every six or seven seconds blasting through the clouds. It was a remarkable show which reminded me of old black-and-white aerial footage of the blitz. It was certainly more entertaining than the movie.

Entertaining, that is, until I realized we were flying into those clouds. For the next thirty minutes we bounced and bumped through some of the worst turbulence I've ever felt, accompanied by constant flashes of lightning. The worst part is that since we were flying through clouds, the plane even sounded different--the damp air howling over the fuselage reminding me of the way planes sound in movies just before they crash into the side of a mountain.

Eventually, we flew out of the storm and then landed almost immediately in Quito. The man next to me, a native Ecuadorian, had advised me that Quito's runway was the bumpiest he's ever landed on, and he wasn't wrong. It felt like the plane was touching down on on a logging road, but at least, finally, we were on the ground!


July Monkey

Here’s the 12 Monkeys theme for July: Describe your first impression of Montreal.

If you’ve never been to Montreal or have no idea about the city, or if you were born in Montreal and have no sense of a “first impression,” then describe your first impression of another city — preferably one you went to live in.

Here’s my monkey:

Montreal: Three First Impressions

(1) When I was a kid I passed through Montreal a couple of times while on train trips with my parents. My only recollection of these brief visits is the awe I felt at the cavernous inside of the train station. In particular, I remember repeatedly running up and down the escalators, to the chagrin of my mother who wanted me to behave. But what can you expect? My hometown of Sydney, Nova Scotia was utterly devoid of those hulking and rattling contraptions. Montreal was like a futuristic science exhibition, except we were allowed to touch the displays.

(2) Years later, when I was about 17, my brother and I took a road trip to Ontario. He lived there at the time but had come home for the summer. One day he announced that he had something to do back in Kingston so he tossed me in the car, deputized me as co-pilot, and off we went.

The car was a Ford Pinto, 1974 I think, so it didn’t go very fast. Sydney to Kingston was about a 20-hour run and we were determined to make it without stopping to sleep. By the time we got to Quebec City we were exhausted and needed a break, so we did the most irrational thing imaginable — we drove into Old Quebec and went into a bar for a beer. It was a hip place called Le Balzac — all dark and foreign and every table had a telephone and an illuminated ball with a number.

Then we grabbed some coffee and hit the road again. We passed through Montreal at about 3:00 AM, and because we arrived on the island via the Lafontaine Tunnel I didn’t get to see the city’s skyline. We traversed the city via the Trans-Canada (aka, the “40”) and I was shocked at the amount of road traffic on the highway at that time of night. I was also baffled at the signage; signs over the service roads said “40” with an arrow pointing straight ahead — but to my naïve eye that meant Hey, the 40 is over there, on the other side of that guard rail! My impression of Montreal that night was of a city of cars and confusing road signs.

(3) When I was about 20 years old, I took a train from Sydney to Ottawa to visit my brother. There was a problem with the tracks near Trois-Rivieres so everyone had to get off the train and wait while busses were rounded up to take us to the train station in Montreal. Finally, I got to see a view of the city, as it was still daytime when the bus crossed the Jacques Cartier Bridge. It wove through downtown and deposited me at Place Bonaventure, where I walked through to the train station.

I had missed my connecting train to Ottawa and had to wait several hours for the next one. I decided to use the time to look around the city a bit. I was still very much a small town boy, and was well aware of it. Although I had a burning desire to explore, I was intimidated by the huge scale of everything, the lack of English being spoken, and the awareness of my own naïveté. Regardless, I exited the station and walked up the hill towards the biggest thing I could see — Place Ville Marie.

By the time I got there — some two blocks away — I was already worried that I would not be able to find my way back. Clearly, my current uncanny sense of direction had not yet matured. As such, all I did was walk around the outside of Place Ville Marie a few times, making a vow to come back some day to really explore this place. Then I made my way back to the train station and hunted unsuccessfully for the escalators that had provided so much amusement some ten years previous. That day, my impression of Montreal was of a place that I needed to come back to, to explore.