Tag: Montana

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 870: The Cruel Capture & Cunning Calculation Of Fanny Kelly

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Classic tales of the old west are filled with men who are forced by circumstance to be MEN. By the code of the west, a guy’s holster must be overflowing with the gooey, musky froth of machismo. Whether it’s Marshal Will Kane awaiting a fleet of vengeful gunmen at high noon or Ethan Edwards roaming the desert for years in search of a niece, a man’s got to do what societal norms dictate that a man’s got to do.

But what about the women? Sure, there were a few gun-toting types like Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane, but for the most part women were relegated to the supporting roles, both in history and in cinema. They were the wives, the mothers, the schoolmarms and the whores. When placed out of context, in a position of survival, their best course of action is to stay put and await the manly arms of rescue.

This is where the movies diverge from reality. Apart from a few notable exceptions, cinematic women of the old west might have had some spunk and chutzpah, but they were rarely enabled with the gifts to get stuff done. In reality, the women who hoofed it across the frontier had the potential for every bit the badassery of their male counterparts. As an example I present the typical 1850’s housewife – a lady by the name of Fanny Kelly.

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Fanny married Josiah S. Kelly, a guy whose health problems were not well suited to the arid Kansas climate. It was 1864 and the bulk of Americans on the move were headed north and west, far away from the meat-splatter of the Civil War and into the last untamed swath of the continent. They set their sights toward the area we now call Idaho and/or Montana, bringing along Mary Hurley, Fanny’s seven-year-old niece whom the couple had adopted. The trio were joined by Franklin and Andy, two “colored servants”, and a Methodist clergyman named Mr. Sharp.

Shortly afterwards, William and Sarah Larimer hooked up with the convoy, towing their eight-year-old son Frank. Two more men, Gardner Wakefield and Noah Taylor rode with them. They were a party of nine adults and two kids. Enough bodies to ward off lone bandits, with enough provisions to get across the country in relative comfort. Of course the real threat along the trail wasn’t so much pesky robbers or indulgent eating binges. Read more…

Day 777: 7

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What is your favorite number?

It’s an odd question, if you really stop to think about it. Why have a favorite number? Okay, maybe it’s the number that was splashed across your jersey when you played high school basketball. Perhaps you hit it big with a fortuitous spin of the roulette wheel once. Maybe you met the love of your life on a bus with that number, on the street with that number, at precisely that number o’clock, on that number’s day of the month. If so, please tell me about it; that’s a great story.

Mathematician Alex Bellos is conducting a survey to figure out what’s the most common favorite (or, I suppose, lucky) number. I entered my pick, but found myself torn. While I am a firm believer in the notion of luck, inasmuch as the universe seems to unfold in a fortuitous manner some days, I don’t cling to a specific digit. What would I pick? My daughter was born on the 26th, I met my wife in ’95, my favorite childhood football player wore 33… it all seems so arbitrary and unnecessary.

The current front-runner in Bellos’s survey is seven. This comes as no surprise; with its omnipresent visage in all forms of gambling, from seven-digit lotto games to the most dreaded and praised roll in a game of craps, seven is the smoke-choked caterpillar on life’s giant toadstool. Seven sees all, man.

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Any integer housed in that exclusive neighborhood of Single-Digitsville is going to find itself wrought with significance throughout religious and secular history. But there’s a special pedestal reserved for seven. Not only has this digit turned more fortunes than any other in the hallowed halls of Vegas casinos, but it has found itself firmly entrenched within the spirit of humanity. Why do we love seven so? Maybe because it’s a prime number, mighty and indivisible. Yet seven fits into logic’s keyhole with a crooked and devilish squeak. Read more…

Day 537: In Praising The IKEA Effect

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In my unending quest to figure out why the human mind dances the steps it does, I occasionally like to dip my curiosity into a warm bowl of psychology, just to see what color it turns. Often it transforms into the murky grey of incomprehension, but sometimes it emerges cloaked in the rosy red hue of alarm. Does my brain really do that? Am I powerless to self-reprogram, hopefully toward a more logical end?

Well, probably. I still get Pavlovian when I smell bacon or coffee in mid-brew. I still respond with the same knee-jerk spike in blood pressure and neurotic angst when faced with a particularly poor driver who happens to be soiling my day with their unpleasant existence. And I have no doubt that I’m as much a slave to the cognitive biases that pepper all our brains with an empirically observable weirdness.

Like the IKEA Effect.

...which is not about wanting to stab this guy with a hex-key.

…which is not about wanting to stab this guy with a hex-key.

Let’s say you’re in the market for a new bookcase. You have three options. First, you can build one from scratch, but let’s rule that out straight away. Hand me a stack wooden boards and the most I’ll be able to build for you is a fire. Second, you can go out and buy a pre-made bookcase – a joyously convenient solution. But if you head to your local IKEA, you can end up with something in the middle. Everything is pre-cut, pre-shaped and supplied, but you still have to follow the instructions given by the amorphous little blob-man in the directions booklet to build your final product. Read more…

Day 500: “The Chains Of Defeat” – A Piece Of Wikipedian Noir Fiction

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As a one-day deviation from the normal, I’m going to cast off down the waters of fiction for Day #500. Having always been a fan of Raymond Chandler / Mickey Spillaine style hard-boiled detective fiction, that’s the direction I’ll be pointing my shadow-blanketed fingers. Imagine the chiaroscuro lighting, the weather-beaten fedoras and the foreboding shadows of classic film noir against the grey wall as you read this.

Oh, and since I don’t want to leave out my constant companion, I’ll be making liberal use of Wikipedia’s ‘Random Article’ button to move the story forward. Very liberal use.

That way, if this experiment is a disaster, you can blame Wikipedia.

———Office

It was half-past far too late when I finally tucked the Kratochwill case into its dusty file folder and dropped it in the cabinet under ‘N’ for ‘Never gonna need this again.’ The Kratochwill case had gotten to me. Mrs. Kratochwill had been murdered while exploring the Sandhohallet Glacier. With my years of experience, I was able to crack the case without leaving the city. Never trust a woman’s “best friend” who can freely quote  Eleanor Cameron. Explicit knowledge of Canadian children’s authors is always a tip-off that someone is up to no good. Read more…