Tag: Conservative

Day 995: Little Rivalry On The Prairie

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Newcomers to the city of Edmonton inevitably have questions regarding our perpetual rivals to the south, or what has come to be known as the Battle of Alberta. They don’t ask me – I purposely sport a fanny-pack and 20 pounds of camera gear when I wander about the city so that tourists don’t talk to me – but they’ll ask somebody. The answer they’ll probably get is “hockey”, which is blatantly misleading and 100% wrong.

Edmonton and Calgary have held a semi-snarly relationship for much longer than the history of professional hockey in either city. Far from a rivalry of mere convenience (we are the only two major cities in the province), the Battle of Alberta extends to fundamental belief systems, to political preferential treatment, to bigotry, inclusion, and of course… money.

Which is truly the greater city? As a lifelong resident of Edmonton, my honest answer is that I don’t care. Both cities are gorgeous: they have the Stampede, we have the continent’s most impressive Fringe Theatre Festival. They have proximity to the magnificent mountains, we have an exquisite river valley. They are the economic home-base of the province, we have a gigantic mall.

But enough of the niceness. Let’s see how this got ugly.

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The Battle of Alberta extends for centuries before there was even an Alberta over which to battle. The Blackfoot Confederacy was the political union among the Blackfoot tribes who moseyed about southern Alberta and Montana, killing buffalo and living a northern version of the indigenous lifestyle of the American Indian. Up in the boreal forest that covered the northern half of the as-yet-undesignated province, the Cree and their allies (known as the Iron Confederacy, making the history of this region sound like a bad-ass Native version of Game of Thrones) lived a subarctic lifestyle, which involved trapping and fur-trading. 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 957: All About Fucking

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When I rolled this project over and booted it out of bed more than two and a half years ago, I had to decide where to place that bar of ethics beneath which my words would never limbo. I have never sold out to become a corporate shill (yes, my bubbly praise over Big Rock Brewery did set into motion a timeline that would have me trading prose for pay, though given how much I love the product I don’t consider that selling out).

I have never cheated in my writing duties, despite having a stash of practice articles tucked into a corner of my hard drive. I have never scribbled my daily kilograph after midnight because “it’s technically tomorrow.” Screw that – I have lived my life by the scrolls of TV Guide, which begins each new day promptly at 5:00am.

Also, apart from a few dalliances into more blue subject matter (the kids love that stuff), I have maintained a relatively smooth PG-13 flow (my article about ‘Fuck’ notwithstanding). Today will be no exception, despite the fact that my topic of choice today is Fucking.

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With a population of 104 at last count, the village of Fucking, Austria probably sees more tourists per capita than any other place in Europe. The town was named after a 6th-century Bavarian nobleman named Focko. As the language of the region evolved, the spelling of the town varied: it was Vucchingen in 1070, Fukching in 1303, Fugkhing in 1532, and by the 1700’s it acquired its current spelling. The –ing suffix is an old Germanic denotation, meaning “belonging to” the root-word. So Fucking is “the place of Focko’s people.” Read more…

Day 956: ‘Scuse Me While I Bust This Guy

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“Show them as scurrilous and depraved. Call attention to their habits and living conditions; explore every possible embarrassment. Send in women and sex; break up marriages. Have them arrested on marijuana charges. Investigate personal conflicts or animosities between them. Send articles to newspapers showing their depravity. Use narcotics and free sex to entrap.”

So said a leaked memo written by the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, with the aim of fracturing the influence of those hippy-weirdo rock stars on the youth of the late 1960’s. Perhaps they were taking a cue from London Drug Squad detective Norman Pilcher, who had arrested Donovan in mid-1966, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in 1967, John Lennon and Yoko Ono in late 1968, and George Harrison in March of 1969 – all for drug possession. Of course, Pilcher would later be disgraced for perjury, and was strongly suspected of having planted his evidence. I believe it was Harrison who remarked that there had been drugs in his home, but not the ones that Pilcher found.

It was in the misguided fog of this backwards policy that Jimi Hendrix was busted at Toronto International Airport after a small quantity of hashish and heroin was found in his bag. A conspiracy to undermine his influence? Perhaps – but that so-called conspiracy threatened to steal twenty years of Hendrix’s future.

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After a May 2, 1969 concert at Detroit’s Cobo Hall (check out the INSAAAANE stage design!), the Jimi Hendrix Experience was warned of a possible drug bust the next day. Tour managers Gerry Stickells and Tony Ruffino took this seriously; not only was a gruesome amount of money at stake, but this was a time when no one was really sure if a serious drug bust might ruin a musician’s career (as opposed to now, when we all know it can only help). Read more…

Day 941: Welcoming Our Alien Friends. Or Perhaps Overlords.

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Presently, our only tangible research into the cultural and societal impacts of extra-terrestrial life arriving on Earth seems limited to the fanciful concoctions from the Hollywood daydream machine. Will aliens greet us with a peaceful hand-gesture like they did to that pig-owner guy in the Star Trek movie? Will they fire up the blasters and devastate our cities like that movie where the Fresh Prince teams up with that jazz singer?

Actually, people – and I’m talking about educated people who probably wear business attire to work – have put time and effort into calculating precisely how our society would react to a party of interstellar visitors. Given the unlikelihood of this ever occurring, one could make the argument that the dude who stacks salad plates at your local Sizzler is contributing more to the smooth functioning of society than these educated folks, but I’m not here to make that argument. I’m just the messenger.

When it comes to the purported existence of our little green friends, I find it unfathomably selfish to believe we’re the only slabs of meat who have put together a society in this vast universe. I also believe it likely that someone else has fashioned some sort of tin can (or whatever they have in place of tin) and blasted into space. But to believe they’ll stumble upon us, or even care to say hi if they do? That’s where my credulity glides off the track. Still, it’s fun to daydream.

And always smart to keep some just-in-case signage lying around.

And always smart to keep some just-in-case signage lying around.

For thirty years, the SETI Institute (that’s Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence for you acronym-lovers) has been using science, research and speculation to look into the likelihood and nature of possible ETs who might drop by unannounced. The first part of the discussion centers around how they contact us. Do they send us a coded message like the ones we’ve launched into deep space? Do they take over our computer systems and implant a digital hello on Google’s front page? Or will they do a pop-in, no prior call, completely oblivious to the fact that we already made plans to watch the game with some old friends from college? Read more…

Day 905: Slapping Those Words In Their Smarmy Little Faces

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There is a scene in the Kevin Smith film Clerks 2 in which a character (a very white character) decides he wants to “take back” the term ‘porch-monkey’ so that it can shed its racist connotation and act as a slur against lazy people of all tints and hues. The joke, of course, is that he is far too pink to spearhead any reappropriation effort. That sort of collective shift in perspective has to take place within the group who had been thwacked and battered by the word to begin with.

This is why I get physically jolted by a mighty douche-chill whenever I hear two white guys refer to one another as “nigga”. That not only betrays the linguistic rules, it comes across as patronizing and – as much as the intent may not be there – at least mildly racist. Oh, and put your damn hat on straight. The brim has a functional purpose, squank-bag.

The unholy n-word is probably the most famous case of a word being reclaimed by its one-time victims and re-introduced into their lexicon – albeit only into theirs. But all across the cultural spectrum there are reappropriation missions underway, consciously or unconsciously shaping the way our language will taste and smell for the next few decades.

Sorry, white people. Even if we're quoting Chris Rock bits, it's still not cool.

Sorry, white people. Even if we’re quoting Chris Rock bits, it’s still not cool.

For a minority to capture a word that had once been used as a pejorative slur against them, to tame it, then to re-release it into the wild as a neutral or even a positive thing, that’s an act of true empowerment. A perfect example is the word ‘gay’ – once fired as a derisive snip toward homosexuals, the word was forcefully taken back with the advent of the Gay Pride parade in 1970. So much so that the word is now commonplace among gays and non-gays alike. Unlike the n-word, those outside the box are allowed to use it. Read more…

Day 729: When The Screen Runs Red With Virtual Blood

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Yesterday morning I was confronted with one of those pivotal moments in the parental experience, one in which a father finds himself perched upon the precipice of coolness, wavering like a basketball on a hoop’s rim. Do I tilt toward the two points and lock in my status as the awesome dad? Or reject the score in the interest of conservative reason and cautious prevention?

My daughter, who had recently acquired an impressive amount of Christmas cash from relatives who didn’t want to gamble with clothes sizes or outdated notions of what her fleeting interests might be at this moment, told us she wanted to purchase Grand Theft Auto V. The family became immediately polarized: “It’s violent.” “It’s fun.” “It’s misogynistic.” “The city is magnificently rendered.” “Did I tell you about the doctor that performed my hip replacement?” (Grandma has a way of bumping a conversation onto a wholly different track.)

It came down to me. Of course I don’t want my daughter exposed to a negative influence; it’s bad enough that she watches crappy TLC shows for hours on end. But she’s sixteen years old, not at all violent in nature, and apart from a handful of truly flummoxing quirks, she’s an astoundingly well-adjusted kid. So what do I do?

Let the controversy begin.

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In 1976, a game called Death Race hit local arcades, stirring up the first controversy on the shelf of violent video games. Players control a car and try to steer over ‘gremlins’ (which look a lot like little stick-people), turning them into little tombstones when they do. The National Safety Council called it sick and morbid. 60 Minutes ran a story about the psychological impact of video games. The technology was still four years shy of Pac-Man, and already parents were alarmed. Read more…

Day 655: The Trademark Battles Of The Ages ™

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Yesterday’s voyage into the beechwood-aged fluids of Budweiser’s actual history vs. its American corporate identity merely tickled my fingers with its potential. Trademark law is a quivering glob of gelatinous weirdness, where the good guys and bad guys are seldom as opaque and forthright as they might have you believe.

Fortunately when my fingers tickle they tend to dance, and I’m more than happy to splay out one more thousandth of this wicked word project as a parquet stage for the trademark two-step, the pas-de-deux of passing off, and the ultra-groovy sport of tort. These are the battles-royale that have helped shape such bizarre legalities as NBA coach Pat Riley owning the word ‘Three-peat’ or a jewelry store owning a certain hue of blue.

Am I an expert? Of course not. Can my wikipedian sage be wholly trusted with something as precious and precarious as the truth? Not a chance. Am I nonetheless gifted in the art of asking myself softball questions and then answering them? Obviously. Let’s head to the sacred ring of justice and see what unspeakable goofballery we can poke with our thinking sticks:

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The Broil With Big Oil

In one corner we have the mighty Exxon Corporation, not yet sullied by its embarrassing Alaskan spill, yet already among that pantheon of untrustworthy corporate titans. In the other corner, a tiny British insurance company, just trying to make their way through the forest of yet another completely untrustworthy industry. They called themselves Exxon Insurance Consultants International Limited. Big Exxon claimed that they owned the trademark of their name, and that Little Exxon needed to smarten up and call themselves something else. Read more…

Day 589: Electapalooza 2003!!!

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Even though it costs the taxpayers a crap-ton of money, I still like the idea behind the recall election. When a person gets elected to office, the people who put him or her there really have no idea how well or how poorly they’ll do in the position. Sometimes our collective best guess turns out to be garbage; it’s like picking a new staff member from a pool of applicants – sure, your pick may seem the most qualified, but what if they turn out to be a vapid dimwit whose primary news source is TMZ? When it comes to choosing between the lesser of two evils, you’ll still end up with some degree of evil winning the race and governing the region.

So you recall them. You get enough fist-waving, pitchfork toting angry mobbers to raise their voice and a new election is held. I’ve wished we could do that with our provincial premier many times in my adult life, except that I live in Alberta and I think there’s a law somewhere that states that the Conservative party has to win every damn election. Besides, in Canada we don’t have fixed election dates, and leaders can choose to time an election when their poll numbers aren’t in the toilet.

Not so in the US. And ten years ago, California made history when a recall election actually booted a governor from office – only the second time that had ever happened.

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Lynn J. Frazier, the governor of North Dakota, was yanked from office in a 1921 recall election because his government insisted on owning chunks of what many felt should be private industry, including the state’s largest bank and the massive flour mill. California had introduced the idea of recall elections into state law back in 1911 – 19 states around the country wound up writing the clause into the books as a safeguard against poor leadership Any elected official was subject to a recall election if the people were sufficiently pissed off at their performance. Read more…