I confess: I am but one week away from commemorating my 40th year on this planet, and I have yet to ever play The Game of Life. This is not due to some ethical or existential objection to simulating the course of one’s existence upon a square slab of cardboard, but rather due to my friends and I having spent our youthful recreation time with Star Wars toys and kindly ol’ Super Mario. I never got around to playing Candyland either.
As beloved as this board game may be, with its plastic minivans, its cruel cash-drains and generous paydays, buried deep within its roots is a transformative story. The original version of the game, concocted by Mr. Milton Bradley himself, elevated the concept of gaming from prescriptive quests for moral elevation to a more practical and modernized measure of success. More importantly, it came packaged with choice.
The Game of Life as we know it (well, as you probably know it, since I’ve never played the thing) features one early decision: go to school or get a job. After that, each soul is subjected to the whim of the spiteful spinner, suggesting that life is but a cavalcade of random collisions, and that we are always at the mercy of the fickle flick of fate. Mr. Bradley’s outlook on destiny was far more empowering.
Tracing the Bradley lineage would suggest that a rather dreary definition of “life” could have taken center-stage in his outlook. The family tree was planted in America in 1635, and since then its bark shows the hatchet-marks of murder, Indian attack, kidnapping, and at one point hot embers being poured into an infant’s mouth. When Milton finally squeezed his way onto the planet in 1836, the Bradleys were a little less prone to being butchered, but far from being economic titans. Read more…
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:
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…
As an aspiring young (using the most broad and generous definition of “young”) film studies major, I was fascinated by the pre-Edison attempts at capturing moving pictures for subsequent viewing. Eadweard Muybridge used a long row of still cameras to capture a galloping horse’s stride, only to spurt the images in semi-full-motion through his zoopraxiscope. Coleman Sellers invented the kinematoscope, using a hand-cranked paddle machine to bring pictures to life. Then there’s Henry Renno Heyl’s phasmotrope, which demonstrated that every early cinematic invention had a cool name.
But we can’t forget ol’ Louis Le Prince, the Frenchman who patented his own camera that created a sequence of photos on treated paper. Like Muybridge, Sellers and Heyl, Le Prince’s work is seen as part of the multi-textured groundwork that gave birth to Thomas Edison’s magical moving-picture camera – the real genesis of the movie biz. Or so they say.
Except that Louis Le Prince’s story goes a little deeper than that. His is a tale, not only of innovation and genius, but of a curious – some might say suspicious – disappearance, and a very smarmy lawsuit against the man who would eventually get the credit for being the brains behind movie technology.
Louis was a brilliant photographic technician, which was the 19th-century way of saying he was a brilliant photographer. There wasn’t much one could artistically accomplish with cameras back then, but Louis was renowned for his skills at fixing color photographs onto metal and pottery surfaces, which earned him the privilege of creating portraits of Queen Victoria and Prime Minister William Gladstone. He moved from Leeds (where he had been situated since his mid-20’s) to New York in 1881, a pioneer in his field. Read more…
During the aftermath of the English Civil War, while a spanking-new parliamentary monarchy was struggling to gain its balance and move forward, a number of questions popped up like bulbous weeds all over the field of law and order. Land claims, the reach of justice, the decision of whether or not to punish the folks who had chopped off the head of King Charles I a few years back… these were just a few of the issues that were plaguing the machinery of justice. No wonder the judges started wearing powdered wigs – with the system in this much disarray, you might as well look a little goofy and have some fun at work.
Nestled within the salad of regicide and war-crimes was the pesky little crouton of murder. The precedents for the legalities of that most heinous crime had yet to be plunked down in cement. When the bizarre case later dubbed the Campden Wonder landed in the court system, the wonky sequence of events that would follow would alter how murder trials were handled for centuries.
Also, I’m thinking The Crouton of Murder would be a riveting piece of detective fiction. I’m not claiming dibs on this one – I release it unto the world. I just want to read it.
It was August 16, 1660. 70-year-old William Harrison left his sprawling estate in Chipping Campden for a two-mile walk to collect some rent money in Charingworth. It was what he’d always done; rents were collected by hand, and even in his advanced years, William didn’t mind the walk. To be clear, there is some debate about whether he was actually 70 years old – searching historical records for a name as generic as ‘William Harrison’ makes it hard to get accurate results. Anyway, it’s not important – he was an older guy walking two miles with a good chunk of change in his purse. Read more…
No matter what you’ll be doing today, there will be no escaping that subtle shift in the light, the quirky zigzag of distorted collective energy – it’s Christmas, and the world always looks, sounds and smells a little different on Christmas. For some it’s a holy day, for others a welcome day off, and for many it’s simply a day to eat and drink to excess in an effort to counterbalance the unspeakable chore of having to spend the day with one’s extended family.
I don’t get sentimental around Christmas, a trait (some might say a flaw) that has caused my wife no end of irk. It would be foolish, however, to deny the power of the day.
Ninety-nine years ago, Christmas may have executed its most formidable coup, bringing an oasis of calm and reason to the most grotesquely bloody conflict in the history of the world to date, and providing a common ground – indeed the only common ground – among men who had literally devoted their lives to destroying one another. As cynical as many will be for the next few hours, there is nary a heart on this planet that couldn’t be softened somewhat by the tale of the Great Christmas Truce of 1914.
World War I was topping the hit parade in December of 1914, with German, British, French, Russian… well, mostly every European soldier trying to shoot some other European soldier. The war had been raging for five months, and the Germans had blasted through Belgium into France, only scantly repelled from entering Paris. They dropped back to the Aisne valley, where both sides dug their trenches and subsequently fell into a stalemate. No one could advance, and no one was willing to retreat. Read more…
As one who has followed the somewhat boring and traditional path in raising a family, I admire those who carve their own onramp to the domestic highway, so long as they do so with the passion and commitment of quality parentage. Single mom? Single dad? Two moms? Two dads? Seven moms and three dads in some crazy pan-sexual feather-and-lace-wearing love-bond? Whatever suits you, as long as you don’t raise the kid to be an asshole.
I know very little about sperm banks, apart from what I’ve seen in movies and on sitcoms (notably unreliable sources for factual information), but I think I get the premise. People – usually men – show up and deposit their little swimmers. Some of those are acquired by women seeking the joys of motherhood, while others are sent underground to be incorporated into bizarre and morbid experiments, thus producing goons and henchmen for future evil villains who aim to take over the earth.
Again, I’m really not clear on the intricacies of these operations. But from what I understand, a woman acquiring sperm from such a source is rolling the genetic dice. Recessive diseases and hereditary horror stories are part of the gamble, though I imagine reputable joints do a fairly thorough job of background-checking their donors. But in the 80’s and 90’s, the truly discriminating mother-to-hope-to-be might take a trip down to Escondido, California, and snag an emission from the Repository for Germinal Choice.
No one wants to find out that the biological father of their child was in fact some hobo named ‘Spoot’ who dropped off a donation in exchange for $30 in malt liquor money. At the Repository for Germinal Choice, the sperm that would battle it out for claimer’s rights in your nether regions would originate from the balls of a Nobel Prize winner, guaranteed. Well, not ‘guaranteed’. In fact, almost not at all. Read more…
Those of us in the comedy writing game are always looking for a new medium through which we can impart our twisted view to the world, in hopes someone will laugh, maybe give us some kind of response, and perhaps even validate what we have gathered to be an otherwise directionless and futile existence. Tweak your Twitter feed to follow nothing but comedy writers and the site is a joy to visit. Some have channeled their talents into writing amazon.com reviews or witty Youtube comments.
But what about legal documents? Not a lot of opportunity to impart chuckles there. Not unless you’re a prank-loving lawyer like Toronto’s Charles Vance Millar.
Charlie was a well-known practical joker. When a fatal heart attack came a-knockin’ in 1926, Charlie also went to his grave a life-long bachelor with no children and no close relatives. He knew things would wrap up this way, so Charlie took special care to ensure his will would keep his name in the press for a while after his death.
First, there was the matter of the Ontario Jockey Club. Charlie left the club to three men – two upstanding members of the community who were vehemently opposed to horse racing, and one who was a ‘colorful’ character whose reputation would have barred him from being a member of the club. Then there was the Kenilworth Jockey Club. Charlie bequeathed one share of the club to every practicing minister in three towns in the greater Toronto area. These ministers agonized over the moral conundrum of accepting these shares. No doubt hushed debates over the implications of this ownership in a gambling facility circulated from pew to pew in each congregation. Read more…
A tale I’d never heard before
I am to you impartin’
The story of an unsung dude
Whose name was Richard Martin.
He spoke for beasts who couldn’t speak,
Gave animals a voice.
In eighteenth-cent’ry Ireland that
Was not an oft-heard noise.
For animal rights was not a trend,
A fad, a common thang.
But Dick was not a common dude;
He swung by his own swang.
He came upon this Earth one morn’
In Ballynahinch Castle.
In Sev’teen-Fifty-Four (to write
That year out was a hassle).