Tag: Community

Day 999: Buh-Bye, So Long and Hallelujah

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It’s a completely valid question.

For the past 50 or so days I have been fielding one question more often than most: what am I going to do for Day 1000? Will the final kilograph reflect upon the 999 that came before, like some extended clip show of my greatest guffaws and most aww-rending moments? Will I spend my final entry in closing-credits mode, thanking those who have made this all possible and put up with my considerable dearth of free time over the last 2 years and almost 9 months?

In short… no. While my original intent was to meander down that self-serving footpath for my final article, I decided that I would only do so if I could cite the Wikipedia page that had been created about me – as it turns out, that doesn’t exist yet.

In order to figure out my final missive, I felt I should turn to the moulder of my wisdom, the sage oracle who has helped to shape my morality, my perception, and even my understanding of the world: television. I have experienced the highs and lows of series finales – certainly at least one of them could illuminate the road to a poignant, entertaining, and (most of all) worthy coda to this monstrous undertaking.

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My first option is the beloved trope of bringing back a classic character for the finale. In my case I could introduce a surprise cameo by Yoko Ono, Craig David, Mary Nissenson, or if I really want to stretch to my roots, Phineas Gage. I could style the entire piece in a blend of haiku, musical theatre and secret code (did anyone ever figure that one out?). It sounds trite and cliché, but that’s always a place to start, isn’t it? Read more…

Day 977: The Last American Witch

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In the throes of one of America’s most delightfully absurd episodes of mass hysteria, twenty people were executed in 1692-93 for the crime of probably being witches. Maybe. The Salem Witch Trials – which were merely the American performance of a fad that had been lighting it up in Europe for decades – have leaked into all formats of American high art: poems, novels, movies, and a segment of The Simpsons’ “Treehouse of Horror VIII” episode.

But while we, the sophisticated and wise citizenry of the modern age, can look back upon our ancestral paranoia with a wry titter, our bubbly sense of smug urbanity goes flat upon learning that witch trials are still happening in 2014. So-called witch-children were slaughtered in the Congo in 1999. An angry Kenyan mob burned eleven suspected sorcerers in 2008. In India, it’s estimated that between 150 and 200 women are lynched each year for being witches – some are accused of such simply because they turned down a sexual advance.

This is an era in which a car can pilot you to your destination while you restructure your fantasy football league in the back seat, and people still freak out over witchcraft? Fortunately, the good ol’ U.S. of A. has evolved significantly in the last 321 years. In fact, there hasn’t been an actual case of witchcraft accusation since… wait, 1970?

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Welcome to Flowing Wells High School in Tucson, Arizona; a solid 6/10 on the national GreatSchools rating system, and home of the Mustangs. It’s also the kind of place where a rumor can be as dangerous as a drunk holding a lit match in a tumbleweed factory. This fact became evident in the aftermath of a late 1969 visit by Dr. Byrd Granger from the University of Arizona. Yes, this story about witchcraft features a woman named Granger – Harry Potter fans, feel free to rejoice. This prof happened to be an expert on witchcraft and folklore, and was happy to pass on her knowledge to the local juniors and seniors. Read more…

Day 958: Day One Of Peace & Music

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“I have come to lose the smog

And I feel to be a cog in something turning.”

I have been trying to reconcile my relationship with the Woodstock festival for more than 20 years. “These are your grandparents,” I told my daughter as the movie played in our living room this week. But Woodstock reached further than its generation, even beyond the magnificence of its music. It was the temporary realization of pure Utopia – or at least that’s how its legend trickled down to me, some schmuck born 2400 miles away, five years after the last gnarly raindrop had voiced its opinion that the festival ground should be mud.

Perhaps the images of a groovy, grubby, smoky paradise are merely the false concoctions of media (in this case, the documentary film Woodstock) and reputation, but this is the image that tickles my imagination and tilts my longing toward that sensation of community, of parity, and of that shared experience of being billion-year-old carbon in the same cosmic stew with a few hundred thousand friends.

2014 not only boasts the 45th anniversary of the decade-defining event, it also features an aligned calendar, allowing for the three days of the original festival (August 15, 16 and 17) to land once again on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Today I’ll be exploring what built Woodstock from the sloppy ground up; tomorrow I’ll delve into the music and on Sunday the potent culture – real or imagined.

To begin among the festival’s roots, one simply must start with the sitcom.

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In 1967, lawyer Joel Rosenman (pictured above) and his friend John Roberts decided they wanted to write a sitcom about two entrepreneurs who fall into wacky weekly hijinks as they try to bring their business plans to fruition. For research they plopped an ad into The Wall Street Journal, claiming to be “young men with unlimited capital” looking for investment opportunities. Two of the men who responded, concert promoter Michael Lang and “Dead Man’s Curve” co-author Artie Kornfeld, intrigued the would-be comedy writers so much they abandoned their plans for television stardom and became the very entrepreneurs they’d planned to depict. Read more…

Day 954: Edmonton Summers Exist For The Folk Fest

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As my fingers bluntly stab my keyboard, weighted down by a hangover from sun and loud music, I wonder how I’ll get through today’s chosen topic on Chinese science education without passing out. It wouldn’t be my first afternoon spent with the lopsided grid of a keyboard’s footprint etched into my forehead.

This morning has found me in the blissful yet listless afterglow of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, an annual celebration of everything that brings light into the universe: music, family, friends, sunshine, beer, and deep-fried foodstuffs. It has also found me ready to scrap my topic in favor of a drowsy reflection on what I feel is Edmonton’s most profound and spiritually elevating annual event.

For those who have never attended this magical collective, I hope you have found a similar event – an yearly renewal of your inner chi and a simultaneous escape from the humdrummery of life. Here’s how the dusty reset button of my inner balance was pushed this weekend, and why I recommend a hearty dose of Folk Fest to everyone I know:

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One can make it through Folk Fest with very little actual folk music. I hardly ever listen to “hardcore” folk. From Joan Baez’s warbly vibrato to the up-tempo thump of modern Celtic music, I’d just as soon hide under my blanket with an old Muddy Waters record. But more often than not, that lyrical fruit-filling that gives folk its flavor can be found within the pastry shell of a myriad of styles. We watched Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite give folk music the blues; Cody Chesnutt threw folk into funk; the Blind Boys of Alabama raised folk into that holy and delicious confection of gospel. Read more…

Day 901: Yapping With The Dead – The Fabulous Fraud Of The Fox Sisters

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The perpetual gullibility of the human race provides an unending cavalcade of hilarity. We believe – sometimes because we want to, sometimes because the hoaxsters and peddlers of smarm know how to take advantage of our weak moments. For the born-again skeptics, no phenomenon travels in this world without an accompanying explanation stuffed into its baggage. Most folks believe there might be something to the unseen – that’s where the scammers step in.

When Kate and Margaret Fox discovered at a young age (12 and 15 respectively) that with tremendous ease they could convince their family and community that they could communicate with the deceased, it must have been a revelation. The world is ripe and ready for free-form plucking once you convince it that your fingertips hold a quiver of magic. The Fox sisters learned this when they were young enough to be gobsmacked by their success, yet old enough to work it into a career.

Or maybe it’s all true. Maybe they did possess the gift of gab with the dearly departed. After all, the spiritualism movement that ensued in their wake included a number of intellectual heavyweights and revered luminaries. Though when push comes to push-overs, I think I’ll side with the skeptics on this one.

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Kate and Margaret lived in an allegedly haunted house in a place called Hydesville in northwestern New York. In 1848, when the girls were the ages I mentioned above, strange noises began oozing through the floorboards. The girls began communicating with this mysterious spirit: Kate would snap her fingers and the ghost would repeat the sequence. The spirit would tap out the girls’ ages. Eventually, a system developed by which the ethereal stranger could answer yes-no questions through its otherworldly tapping. Read more…

Day 874: Browsing The Naughty Bits Of Reddit

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I’m going to let you, my loyal readers, in on a secret. My weapon of choice with which I take aim at any number of strange stories, from murderous ice cream vendors to toilet gods, is Reddit. If you’re unfamiliar with the social news site, let me fill you in on how it works.

Reddit is split into roughly a gazillion communities, known as subreddits. When you join (which is free), you subscribe to the ones that interest you. For example, r/funny is where you’ll find everything from church sign typos to pugs dressed like the Blues Brothers. r/foodporn features exquisite shots of steaks and BBQ shrimp skewers and whatever else will make you regret eating Hellman’s mayonnaise with a spoon for supper. There are also subreddits for all types of fandom, from the Beatles to classic films to the TV show Community (not the happiest subreddit right now, trust me).

And naturally there are boobies. While I restrict my redditing to perusing my front page, which I have customized to my own wonky obsessions, and the r/Wikipedia subreddit, which is filled with a bevy of interesting and obscure topics like the ones I cited above, there are communities for all sorts of fetishes and quirks. And like any landscape in which freedom of speech is the guiding tenet, sometimes things go too far.

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I’m offering this photo of an elephant driving a car because searching for images to represent r/jailbait will get me fired from my day job.

Reddit is comprised of a notoriously small staff. Volunteer moderators police a number of the forums, ensuring that posts in r/Modern_Family don’t feature online Ponzi schemes or links to bestiality. Also, the general public can upvote the best or most interesting posts, while downvoting the stuff they don’t like, resulting in a democratic front page of generally high-quality posts. The site’s administrators originally had no intention of hosting pornographic material. They didn’t want the hassle. Read more…

Day 830: Welcome To Liberal, Missouri – Leave Your God At The Door

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For those who dance the steps of atheism, agnosticism, Jediism and so on, this world has always been a precarious place. It seems odd that one person’s lack of belief in an established monotheistic principle – even if that person is an otherwise caring, giving, deep-down good dude – can lead to such harsh hatred and judgment by the alleged “moral” majority.

It’s not a big deal these days to forsake the Biblical tenets held dear by so many of this country’s founders. We have lived through the 60’s, through new-age mysticism, through wacky spiritual hoodoo and comet-worshipping cults. To most everyone, a stranger’s religion is not a big deal anymore. But leap back in time to just over a century ago and you’ll find that the best a non-Christian could hope for in this part of the world was tolerance. Not acceptance, not a back-slapping welcome into the community, just tolerance.

One man decided to fight back. He created his own community, a land where atheism was to be the norm and where people could pontificate amid boundless intellectualism. John Lennon said, “Imagine no religion.” 91 years earlier, George Walser made it happen, cranking up the volume on atheism until it achieved the same intolerant, finger-pointing cacophony he had spent his entire life rallying against.

Welcome to Liberal, Missouri.

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George Walser was a successful lawyer, a devoted agnostic, and by 1880 he had developed into a staunch anti-religionist. To George, it was offensive for those who do not follow the Christian faith to be branded as amoral, societally detrimental and the cause of all the world’s ills. He yearned for a utopian escape, a place where like-minded folk could go on about their lives without being persecuted by Christians. His solution? Persecute the Christians. Read more…

Day 814: Little Boxes Made Of Ticky-Tacky

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I was perusing through the November 1952 issue of Popular Science magazine yesterday (yes, I’m a little behind in my reading), when I came across an interesting article. It boasted the proud promise of a fresh residential concept: cozy in its cohesive uniformity, a respite from the urban blues, and built for the future. This cookie-cutter community would come to be known as Levittown, Pennsylvania, the inevitable sequel to Levittown, New York, which had opened up five years earlier.

This was the dawn of the modern suburb, the great-grandpappy of today’s seemingly endless sprawl. Originally proposed as a fully inclusive solution to the post-war housing shortage, complete with parks, schools, pools and shopping districts, Levittown came to be a civic archetype. Its bones have since been copied onto the fringes of pretty much every major city on the continent. It boasts consistency, predictability… and no black people.

But we’ll get to that later. I’m going to do my best not to be too hard on William J. Levitt and his vision, in spite its initial dollop of explicit racism, and in spite of how I feel the overused splatter of pre-planned communities has ravaged the heart of my own city. He did solve a significant societal problem, even if that solution may have been somewhat crusty around the edges.

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Abraham Levitt founded Levitt & Sons in 1929. Their specialty was in building upper-middle-class homes on Long Island, but while serving overseas in WWII, William Levitt (one of the sons) learned all about how to slap together some quickie military structures. He also saw the impending need for new properties once all the GIs returned home. William persuaded his architect brother and his father to put together a plan to mass-produce a swath of utilitarian one-floor homes on the cheap so that troops could move in with their families right away. Read more…

Day 759: The Scar Tissue Of The Elite

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They tell me that chicks dig scars.

I’ve got one permanent battle etching upon my exterior, and when I was single it did nothing to improve my social life. Sure, it’s just a 1½-inch tic across two of my left knuckles from when I was dissecting a large clam in the seventh grade, but a scar is a scar, right? Perhaps if I’d tweaked the story a bit, maybe told the ladies I got the scar punching out a robotic dinosaur Nazi along the rim of a volcano.

The hard part was luring him to the volcano.

The hard part was luring him to the volcano.

From what I can tell, my problem may not have rested in the relatively tame (and stupid) nature of my wound, but in its arbitrary nature. Scarring these days is often a matter of intent, perhaps as a personal statement or as a form of social acceptance. I’m not one to get judgy about one’s epidermal ornamentation – tattoo art has come a long way from the requisite bicep anchor, and even the most absurdly inked typos on the face or neck can provide a hearty laugh.

Voluntary scarring? It seems a bit over-the-top for my tastes. But as much as the concept appears separated between its modern trendy incarnation and its use among tribal rites and customs in civilizations far removed from our own, there is a bridge: the high-society scar.

That’s right – someone’s wound-shadow upon their skin might have nothing to do with a meat cleaver juggling accident, a Nanumban initiation ceremony nor the desire to express “YOLO” to one’s peers. A facial cicatrix might denote one’s aristocratic roots. It could serve as a cheek-slung banner, boasting of the blue blood that had once oozed through those pores.

They’re called dueling scars. Read more…

Day 756: The Little Town That Probably Wasn’t

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Apart from a couple of quick overnighters in nearby Calgary and a 4-day excursion to my in-laws’ place in Kamloops last summer, I have not left the confines of my city since beginning this project.  But while the burden of fiscal asphyxiation may have formed a tether around my proverbial ankle, I nevertheless spiral into the occasional exploratory fantasy, weaving through the streets of Paris on Google’s Street-View or drooling at the contoured geometry of New York skyscrapers.

I also find myself drawn to the world’s lesser-boasted attractions, from the world’s first UFO landing pad in the nearby bustling burg of St. Paul, Alberta to the largest ball of twine in Cawker City, Kansas. I want to see more of what the world has to offer – hell, our city’s most exquisite attraction is a large shopping mall. There have to be adventures out there more deserving of my exploring eye.

Then I stumbled onto Midgetville.

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Don’t be offended – that’s what Wikipedia calls it, though the more appropriate term might be ‘Tiny Town’. And yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a metropolis of little people. And there are several to be found on the map, although most of them probably never existed. Historically, people have cruelly infused some strange mythos with the plight of little people. I can’t imagine their targets enjoyed the bizarre legends, but since when has the fear of offending others been the affliction of the majority? Read more…