Tag: Economy

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 974: Punishing The Politicos – Worst Politicians Part 2

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Every few years – or sometimes sooner than that – those of us in democratic countries who feel compelled to do so will cast our vote in hopes that it might help to steer our nation from the cesspool in which it is presently mired toward a newer, less feces-laden cesspool. Sometimes we succeed. Also, there are times when we watch the news and wonder how anyone with an IQ greater than a puddle of artificial creamer might have voted for the current putz.

A few months ago I compiled a list of what experts have deemed to be the most egregious smudges upon the office of the Presidency of the United States. I met with no dissent in the comments section, perhaps because everyone agreed with the options presented, or maybe because those crappy presidents have also often evolved to become the most obscure and forgotten presidents.

Despite the fact that much of my reading audience is in America, I’m nevertheless going to present a deeper exploration of the obscure today. There have been garbage leaders all over the western world. Just for fun, let’s see who splatters the bottom of the list in some of the Commonwealth nations.

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Sir William “Squinty” McMahon took over the top seat in Australia in 1971, an ugly win which oozed from a period of party infighting and disgruntled squabbling. Right away, McMahon’s opponent on the Labor Side was a well-spoken war hero named Gough Whitlam. Every time the two of them traded barbs it was McMahon who skulked away, shamefully coming up short on wit and rhetoric. Read more…

Day 970: How One Woman’s Bad Advice Helped To Crumble An Empire

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A modicum of historical investigation, along with a smidge of fact-manipulation in order to build a semi-credible opening sentence has revealed a morsel of data heretofore unknown to me: the Roman Empire – the most mighty and triumphant political juggernaut of the early A.D.’s – was tipped over to a partial crumble, all because some guy listened to his mother.

That may seem like an exaggeration. A slight inflation of documented truth or the set-up for a bit of shtick. But history will back me up on this. By 476, the Roman Empire in the west had been sneezed into debris. It kept up appearances out east for another millennium, but the west had shuffled on to the Middle Ages, where the nightlife was more vibrant, despite the clothes being far less stylish.

History recalls the events of 235 AD as the start of the Crisis of the Third Century. Rome became a land with no leader, and with no one able to pick up a phone and coordinate their collective shit, the Europe-spanning Empire fell into troubled confusion. And the wheels were all set into motion by one guy’s mother, who passed on what could be viewed as some of the crappiest historic advice ever given.

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The story begins with Mark Antony, that kook from all those wacky Shakespeare movies. When he was smited by Octavian in 31 BC, the table was set for what’s known as the Pax Romana – a 200 year period of unprecedented peace. The Roman Empire inflated to the Atlantic, deep into the Middle East, and south into Africa, all with relatively little military flexing. Then along came Emperor Alexander Severus. Read more…

Day 955: Conquering The Energy Problem, Wang-Style

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What if I told you that I’d recently unlocked a treasure of scientific magic so potent and transformative it would affect the way everyone on the planet conducted their everyday lives. “But wait,” you might say, “haven’t you been spending the past 955 days writing a bunch of hastily-researched yet irrepressibly delightful articles?” “Okay,” I’d probably admit, “you have a point.”

But if the year was 1983, and “you” were the Chinese government and “I” was Wang Hongcheng, an uneducated bus driver from Harbin, you might actually listen. This was supposed to be the game-changer that would propel China from a communist non-player into the driver’s seat of the global economic Hummer. China would win the energy game; the Middle East would need to find something besides bubblin’ crude to keep their gazillions rolling in; the entirety of everything would be flipped.

All because of Wang’s magic liquid. The stuff that dreams are made of – the stuff that could build an empire whilst crumbling several others.

Also, if someone ends up making a movie out of this story, I hope they call it Wang’s Magic Liquid. But they probably won’t.

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Wang Hongcheng made it through ninth grade, served some time as a soldier, then became a bus driver – just another faceless cog among the Harbin masses, toiling at a day job and doing his obligatory service for the collective, in accordance with Maoist principles. But clearly Wang wanted more. Wang wanted to be known for something extraordinary. Despite his complete lack of scientific training, Wang claimed he had invented a liquid that could transform a bland liter of water into a spectacular fuel, simply by adding a few precious drops of his secret serum. Read more…

Day 921: The Luddites Rage Against The Machines

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You don’t often hear the term ‘Luddite’ in conversation anymore. The word has come to represent one who is resistant to new technologies or despises them altogether. There simply aren’t as many of those people around anymore. While I was spending my youth hunched in front of a luminously green screen, fighting off orcs in Ultima IV or inputting some three-page BASIC program from a magazine, it made sense for my parents’ generation to scoff at such frivolity. Now we’re all getting soaked on the technological flume ride.

Being a Luddite today takes a lot of work. One would have to give up most modern means of communication, sacrifice access to history’s greatest research tool (this website, of course) and deny oneself the most extensive collection of free pornography ever known to humankind. Also, one may need to look up what the hell a Luddite actually is.

Fortunately, due to my commitment to making this site the nexus of all human knowledge (at least on 1000 various topics… well, 999 if you don’t count my final column, in which I’ll be ranting at length about all the people I know who piss me off), I’m here to help. The story of the Luddites combines my two favorite morsels of history: angry, violent people and a grotesque over-reaction by the government.

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The Luddites showed up in England in the early 19th century, right around the time Napoleon was collecting the chunks of Europe that his army hadn’t yet destroyed. But their origin story (which may or may not be a piece of fiction) dates back to 1779 when a weaver from Anstey (near Leicester) named Ned Ludd unleashed his rage on a pair of stocking frames, used for industrial knitting. The story goes that he was either being whipped for idleness – a common motivational technique prior to the advent of posters involving group parachuting formations – or else he was being taunted by local youths. Read more…

Day 902: The Guy Who Made Movies Sound So Damn Good

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If I were to venture west (okay, mostly south and just a little west) to stake my claim on a Hollywood career, I might end up as Channing Tatum’s body-double (or, more likely, Danny DeVito’s), or if I’m lucky, as Steven Spielberg’s on-set beard-groomer. Either way, I’d be looking at professions that have existed for decades – hardly anything original.

But when Jack Foley moved west to Los Angeles, he couldn’t have possibly foreseen the mark he’d have on the industry, especially since the industry as we know it didn’t technically exist yet. There were movies being made, but none containing the element for which Jack would come to be known: sound.

I think most people are aware by now of the existence of Foley artists – those inventive folks who stomp in gravel pits and slap cuts of steak in real-time in order to sprinkle our movies with legit-sounding effects. This sounds like a job that should be streaked with sepia, a faded relic from a time when Mothra destroyed model cities and spaceships still sported a thin line of fishing wire as they cruised through the stars. But despite the omnipresence of meddling computers, these guys still exist. And they still function behind the scenes as some of the most inventive and unheralded geniuses in the movie game.

And it’s all because of this guy:

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Jack grew up in Yorkville, New York, attending public school with James Cagney and Arthur Murray. He moved to California with his wife for the same reason most people did – the weather. He hooked up with the movie business for the same reason so many Californians did – it was the most exciting thing going at the time. Well, that and necessity. When the farmers of Bishop, California sold their farms to the City of Los Angeles for water rights, Jack helped to save his local economy by promoting the area as a sweet location for shooting westerns. Jack had his first film career: a location scout. Read more…

Day 863: The Online Chinese Limbo

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You may not have noticed, but while the Chinese economy is poised to plant its conquering flag upon the global marketplace, the country’s government is astoundingly fucked up. Fucked up and frightened, gauging by the unfathomable swath of censorship that it clings to. What other explanation can there be for the most populated nation on the planet blocking out such a hearty heap of online material?

I suppose when you’ve got a population of over 1.35 billion you probably want to do what you can to keep them from getting any fishy ideas that might propel them into revolt. I don’t care how disciplined your army might be, a billion pissed-off citizens is going to be tough to quiet down. We saw that twenty-five years ago when students rolled the dice and staged a massive public protest for democracy in Tiananmen Square. The government shut them down and since then it has spent a quarter-century trying to convince its citizens that the whole thing never happened.

This is the golden age of knowledge, when a strategic click of a mouse can teach us anything, from alternative political structures to who played the night-watchman on that season 4 episode of Simon & Simon (it was Bucklind Beery – there, I saved you the trouble). But knowledge is power, and clearly the Chinese government doesn’t want its citizenry getting all power-happy.

Let’s have a look at what won’t squeak through the Chinese knowledge-net.

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My site, for starters. I’ve been told the blockade on WordPress has been lifted somewhat over the last year or so, but blogs contain ideas, and ideas are even more dangerous than facts because ideas can procreate. They can seduce one another and spurt out little notion-babies. Evidently the current regime isn’t wanting that to happen. You’ll also find Blogspot, FC2 (a Japanese blog site) and wretch.cc, which is based out of Taiwan, on the blocked list. Read more…

Day 846: I Hereby Yield The Floor To The Member Of Parliament From Crazytown

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As much as I try to avoid writing about politics (mostly because I’m far more informed about other topics, like bacon and juggling), I am nevertheless somewhat boggled, baffled and befuddled at the fact that Rob Ford could very possibly win his bid for re-election this fall as Toronto’s mayor. Look, I can understand the appeal of a crack-smoking drunk – we all know the bad-boys got all the chicks in high school. I myself once wore a mullet and owned a ratty old jean jacket.

But I think there has to be a line of responsibility drawn here. Someone like Rob Ford should not be tasked with running Canada’s largest city. There needs to be a cap on how high a slovenly misogynist with a penchant for substance abuse can climb in society – I’m thinking an assistant manager at a Denny’s. Anything more important than that and we’re just asking for trouble.

Mayor Ford is hardly the world’s only example of a poorly-chosen leader, and I’m not even including the numerous corrupt dictators and store-bought US Congressmen. We North American types have been mostly oblivious to the antics of Godfrey Bloom, an independent Member of the European Parliament for the Yorkshire And The Humber section of England. This guy is classic Rob Ford material, minus the crack use.

Also, he sort of looks like the star of stage and screen, John Houseman.

Also, he sort of looks like the star of stage and screen, John Houseman.

Godfrey Bloom was elected to the European Parliament in 2004 as a member of the United Kingdom Independence Party, a right-wing libertarian group that supports the monarchy and frowns on same-sex marriage and climate change. Godfrey served as the party whip until September of last year when he (and the party) decided their fundamental differences in opinion were a little too wide for that relationship to continue. Read more…

Day 836: When Wars Simply Won’t End

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I don’t like to get overtly political on this site, but I’m going to roll the dice and potentially alienate some of my audience by taking a firm stand: war, for the most part, is not good. What’s worse is a war that doesn’t end when it’s supposed to. You know the deal – people sign papers, citizens throw parades, social studies textbooks get updated and B.J. spells out “GOODBYE” in rocks for Hawkeye to see as he’s flying away. Wars end.

Except when they don’t. Every so often there’s a logistical glitch, a “diplomatic irregularity” that causes two sides of a conflict to skip out on writing the war’s final chapter. Sometimes the paperwork just doesn’t seem necessary – the fighting ends, the troops go home and have little troop-babies, and the historical record simply reflects the moment when hostilities ceased as the end of the war. But paperwork does need to happen. A declaration of war gets filed, and a declaration of peace should follow suit.

This is how World War I and World War II are still – technically speaking – underway. This is how our official records tell us that one war lasted for over 2000 years before finally being settled. This is the weird side of peace.

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The Punic Wars were a trio of individual wars fought between Rome and Carthage – currently a suburb of Tunis in Tunisia. These were the two big muscle-flexers of the ancient world and they were well matched. Carthage had a kick-ass navy that Rome couldn’t possibly fend off, but Rome had the most powerful army on the planet. The two empires started fighting in 264 BC, and it was fierce. The third Punic War wrapped up when Carthage was burned to the ground in 146 BC.

So… Rome won? Read more…

Day 831: France’s West Wing – Saint Pierre & Miquelon

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If I were to ask you how far away France was located from Canada, the well-travelled among you might answer 3000 miles. The hopelessly cheesy among you might answer “only as far away as my lover’s eyes.” And those among you who value accuracy and specificity would come up with twelve.

Twelve miles. In a peppy little motorboat it would take you about twenty minutes. That won’t get you to the street-crepes of Paris of course, but it will take you to the shores of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, a small archipelago just off the coast of the Burin Peninsula of Newfoundland. These eight little islands are the last vestige of pre-Canada and pre-America, when England and France (and to a lesser extent the Dutch and the Portuguese – anyone else who wanted a slice of New World pie) were jostling for control over the continent.

Because of their tasty position on the front porch of North America, these little islands were significant slabs of valuable real estate. They also played a tiny but significant part in the history of our continent, despite never officially belonging to either Canada or the United States. Let’s pull up a historical lawn chair and see if these little water-logged land-specks are worth fighting over.

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By the time the Europeans dropped by Saint Pierre and Miquelon, no one was calling the place home. Native artifacts were eventually scraped from under the soil, but when Jacques Cartier and his French buddies swung by in 1536, the islands were empty. Even when the white folk showed up, the islands became little more than an overnight campground for cod fishers who were pillaging the sea creatures off the coast of what is now Canada. It took until around 1670 for the first year-round settlers to call the place home. Read more…