Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year: 2012

So, here are my resolutions:

1) Continue not drinking for the whole year! This is a no-brainer. Think of the money I'll save!

2) Write at least 500 words, 5 days a week. I feel like this will be the first resolution to fall, but since I succeeded at nanowrimo this year, it's worth a shot.

3) Hit the gym 3-5 days a week except for scheduled recovery breaks (and be active at those times, too). By December 2012 (when the world ends, I guess) I hope to be a fitter version of me.

4) Eat out or order in only once a month. Again, fitter version of me. If I simply MUST be classified as obese on the standard BMI thingy, then let it be because I am a bodybuilder, not a heart-attack waiting to happen. Seriously. By my calculations, I've ordered food in about 50-60 times in 2011, and who knows how often I ate out. Not cool.

Not specifically a resolution, but I would like to continue being interested and engaged with the world, and to increase my involvement with social justice issues a little bit more. We live in interesting times, after all.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Oh, Canada.

This is just not a good news week for me, at least insofar as my feelings about my country's governance is concerned. But then again, I probably should have expected it after the Conservatives won a majority in the last federal election. In brief:

  • The Long Gun registry: is being cut, despite every single reliable voice saying that it reduces crimes and helps law enforcement. What's worse is the government is also destroying all of the information gained during its run, ruining any other governmental body's chances of setting up their own registry. One of the things I hate the most about our current leadership is its dogged devotion to ideology in spite of actual data and facts.
  • Canada's dropped out of Kyoto. Which, I mean, we were failing at it anyway, but again: global warming is real, Canada is a major contributor, and we're all gonna be screwed if we don't smarten up. The justification is jobs and the economy, but really? Really? Ugh. Reality doesn't care about our personal values, and so long as we keep this up, things are gonna get pretty shitty.
  • Face-coverings are now banned during the oath-taking ceremony, ostensibly to prevent terrorists from sneaking into our country during the final, mostly-for-show moments of a lengthy and complex immigration process by putting on a burqa and swearing allegiance to the Queen, possibly disposing of a perfectly legal Muslim woman in the broom closet after he's stolen her clothes. I mean, the issues surrounding face coverings are complex, and definitely need to be addressed, but this change isn't about defeating sexism, it's about making it clear that "Canada is for (our kind of) Canadians only! Act like (a certain portion of) us or go back where you came from!"
I'm kind of feeling a teensy bit powerless right now, and am trying to find ways to scrounge up some optimism. I mean, Canada is a great country still, right? How many years until the next election? Ugh.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


So, in addition to Nanowrimo and getting my butt back into the gym, the other big thing in my life is that I've quit drinking.

I've always been a heavy drinker. I've been told that I have alcoholism in my family history, though both of my parents are responsible drinkers (my dad barely drinks at all, because he gets blinding headaches if he has more than one beer or glass of wine), and I grew up in Nova Scotia, which is a known bastion of the late-night party, and I've got a few other traits here and there that put me squarely in the right demographic to abuse alcohol and potentially other substances.

I quit drinking once before, in my twenties, for just shy of a year, before starting up again. For a while I moderated my drinking, and I don't think I've ever gotten as bad as I was in my early twenties, but realistically, I've been drinking unhealthy amounts of alcohol for years, and sooner or later it will be a factor in my physical health.

Addiction is a very strange thing. Nothing else demonstrates to me just how "biological" the mind actually is. I can write that I'm a heavy drinker, but there's a huge part of me that believes that I wasn't really that much of a drinker at all. Even though I'm off the charts for consumption of alcohol - every source, every table or graph, every questionnaire says that I drink much, much more than average - I still feel like it isn't really that much. If I have to think of it in terms of data and numbers, I tell myself that I'm an outlier. I mean, I'm 6' and 260lbs, so that means I can drink more with less effect, so who cares if I'm way, way beyond the weekly recommended limit after one night? That's just metabolism!

I've lied to my doctor about the amount I drink. I've lied to family, and to strangers. Not huge lies, and my drinking hasn't gotten to the point where other people feel the need to question me about my habits, but still, why the lies?

If I could somehow arrange to live my entire life being plastered or getting plastered and everything else took care of itself, I would seriously consider it. Drinking isn't for being social, or for savouring or for whatever else people use booze for, it's for getting drunk. One drink? What's the point? Right?

But the fact is that alcohol has already hurt my life. When I think about the money alone...I mean, how many thousands of dollars have I spent on booze? The answer: a lot. How many brain cells? My family is long-lived, and I could, theoretically, live until my 90s or 100s, but what if I have a stroke when I'm 50? That's a lot of time to spend, possibly needing care because of something that was preventable. How many relationships have I damaged because I said something stupid, or skipped an important appointment because I was hungover? The costs are too high.

Originally, the plan was to stop drinking for 3 months, but the longer I'm sober, the more I realize that this needs to be a more permanent thing. I have countless experiences to show that I can't trust myself to stop at one beer. I've been sober now for 2 months and 3 days, and some days are easy, some are difficult, but if I'm going to feel like I've achieved something in my life, I've got to do this.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Brain parasites! Neat!

So, in cool news, a brain parasite in mammals can affect dopamine production, which, depending on when and where, has some serious consequences for behaviour. We're not at "eat all humans" level yet, but more evidence that the zombie apocalypse may not be quite out of the question....

System Justification Theory

Okay, so I'm currently stalled around 10,000 words on my nanowrimo project, and in the meantime I'm battling some personal demons of which I may or may not discuss later (how personal do I want to be on this blog? Good question.) but while you're waiting for me to post again, check out Crommunist's series on System Justification Theory, which I would say is one of the 10 most important things you should read on the internet this week, after you've caught up on TV and Entertainment news.

It's got me thinking about some conversations I've had over this past summer, and re-examining my own current prejudices and how they might be reinforcing my own thinking about power and politics. Hmmm.....

Anyway, go on, read it! (the link is to the last part, but all the parts are linked in the opening paragraph).

Friday, October 28, 2011


Once again this year, I will be participating in Nanowrimo, which partially explains my current absence and will explain my absence during the month of November as I and a billion other people attempt to write 50,000 words of fiction in 30 days. If I am here writing words, that can only be taking away words from my finished project.

I'll probably get one or two posts in next month, but expect them to be hurried and mildly insane.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


I planned to write my review on the season 2 opener of Walking Dead (short version: liked it, especially the first 30 minutes, have some reservations about implicit sexism in the show, but we'll see), but today I'm going to write about some conversations regarding the #Occupy movement.

First, though, check out Lousy Canuck's post which is a nice summation and has plenty of handy links for some background. I especially like the graphs (which he knicked from Mother Jones) showing how basically 80% of us are all in the same boat. See how those lines just sort of flatten out and listlessly lie there on the bottom? That's us. Lousy Canuck also quibbles a teensy bit about the 90% to 99% and how they actually have it pretty good and should expect that this fight will directly benefit them. I agree, except to say that I believe this battle will indirectly benefit them - I think that the wealth that can be generated by having a population that is fed, sheltered, educated, and healthy is not insignificant...I mean, we're pretty much at a stage in human history with few limits on energy and wealth (aside from some issues about distribution, and our tendancy to ignore what's best for us and continue using fossil fuels and helping global warming get worse...). How many Einsteins are never going to be discovered because they live day-to-day with no food and less money?

For me, the most powerful thing about the #Occupy movement is the 99% meme. Yesterday, coming home on the subway, I watched the people around me and contemplated on how we are all together on this. We all share a lot of the same struggles, we all just want to live our lives without worrying about the roof over our head, with full bellies, with work that we find fulfulling. It's powerful to realize that we are all together in this.

That said, I've had a couple of convesations with friends about the #Occupy movement here in Toronto. They're interested in it, they know that things are getting worse for us, but they are really reluctant to join in the protests. One of them says that if his face appears on camera, he could lose his job. Another has similar concerns, that if people find out what she is doing she could be fired, and the risk to her and her family is too great.

With both of them, I found myself getting angry. Part of it is that these are the people that need to be out there. One of the weakest aspects of modern activism is that it's easy to dismiss as "the usual suspects". No one listens to the poor, the homeless, the "extreme leftists". This movement needs the faces of the people who work, the people who have mortgages and kids and lines of credit. It's frustrating to me that they feel frightened and stuck, that they can see that the bills get higher, the pay stays low, the interest doesn't get paid, but they fear that if they do something, they could lose everything. It's the prisonner's dilemma, but when there are other people depending on you, most often you need to take what seems to be the safest choice, even when you know that with the safest choice, you still lose.

What's worse is that I know there's a critical mass. If enough of these people, the ones in the middle, came out, there would be change. Big change. The reason why they feel so much pressure, why they're stuck feeling afraid, is because they have real, serious power. Not individually. Individually we all have squat. But if these two friends, and a few more, all came out, the halls of power would tremble. And if my friends came out, maybe that would inspire some of their friends to come out, too. It's like standing in the middle of a pile of kindling, your friend has a match, and complains that it's too cold, but they're afraid to light the pile. Frustrating.

I think another part of my anger or frustration comes from the fact that these people can afford to be silent, and some people can't. It happens in every social movement that it's the outsiders that have to do the heavy lifting. In the gay rights movement, it was the trans and the drag queens and the women and the really, really faggy sort while the middle class, white male gays living in the closet because they could ended up getting the benefit. And today, where a guy like me can live my life relatively free of homophobia, those same people, the trans and queens and fags and women still have the same old shit.

And now, it's the poor who are fighting for everybody. These people have nothing to lose, yeah, but that means that they have nothing. And we're watching and hoping that maybe change happens, but we're afraid to lift a finger to help it. We let Them do the hard work, because we are scared shitless that we could one day become one of Them. This is the underside of humanity, our worst nature that we don't like to admit. We're all in the same boat, but as soon as we have any kind of comfort, we forget about all of those who don't have it. We worry, we agonize, we say things like "I wish I could go, but...." and in the end everything gets a little harder for everyone. The house we're worried about losing isn't worth quite so much, the future for our children isn't quite so bright, the air isn't quite so clean...but we hold on to what we do have instead of risking it on the hope that maybe working together we can all make things better. For a social species, sometimes we aren't so bright.

I have to back off, though, because I don't have kids. I don't have a mortgage. I've been (briefly) homeless, and I know that the world is pretty much chaotic enough that losing everything isn't a disaster. And if I can help to make things a little bit equal, I know it's worth the risk. But if I ever had to look into my son or daughter's eyes and tell them they can't go to college because I lost my job...that would be tough. I can understand why people are scared to act, and while it makes me angry, I can't force them to do it.

But I make sure to tell them that there are other ways to help. They can make donations, they can write letters, they can go and wear a mask, they can convince a friend or two to go in their place, they can make sure they vote, they can spend their money more wisely. We need to do these things, at least, because we've got the poor doing all the hard work fighting for us, the 99%, and we really ought to support them somehow. It's only decent.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Burden of Proof

Over on the AVClub they've reviewed Dawkins' new book and there was actually some interesting discussion in the comments that (at last reading) didn't even mention "CancerAIDS." I've read very little Dawkins, even though I guess he's supposed to be required reading for the atheist set. I've read (and pretty much enjoyed) The Greatest Show On Earth, and I read a bit of The God Delusion at a friend's house when they weren't looking.

At the time I was reading Delusion, I was hard core agnostic, not soft wibbly atheist like I am now, and I remember being put off by his tone (yeah) and thinking that he was making some faulty assumptions about agnosticism and whatnot. I wonder what I would think if I read it now. I still kind of think of him as a bit of a grumpy old man, but whether he is or not, his arguments ought to be weighed by their merit, not by whether or not we like him as a person. I'm shying away from him just now as some of his comments regarding sexism, for example, turn me off, and there are plenty of other atheists online and in print that I can read instead.

Anyway, in the comments of the review a discussion about atheism and faith came up and some of the remarks really helped me to crystalize some of my thoughts about why I shouldn't believe in god. One commenter insisted that if god is outside of reality, then science can't really address this god, and should leave him alone. I mean, if god is outside or "meta" real, then we'll never be able to address the idea in a reliable, discriminating way, so it's certainly possible that anyone's ideas about god, the afterlife, etc are true, so why can't the militant atheists lay off? The nature of the supernatural is outside of science's purview, so hands off!

But, okay, we can't know, we'll never know, so it must therefore be true and possible?

I can't accept that anymore. Because, well, if we can't know anything about God, then everything we say about God is, by definition, made up. Sure, it's possible that God is what we think it is, but without being able to test our claims, this possibility is basically identical to every single other possible idea, from the Flying Spaghetti Monster, to the Orbitting Tea Cup, to the God Who Really Likes The Colour Greyish Green and Wants Us All To Enjoy Tea As Much As Possible. We can say that God is Love, we can dance through a bunch of philosophical hoops, and that's all well and good, but if the argument is that God is outside reality, that we'll never be able to measure in any way what God is, then it might as well be a made up fairy tale for all the good it does us.

Now, if there is a God who affects our universe, then science can, maybe not now, but theoretically test these claims. If that's the case, then the burden of proof rests with the theists, and they have to show their work. Otherwise, they're kind of just playing make-believe, aren't they?


Oops, until just now comments were only open to registered users, which was not my intention. I really doubt anyone was wanting to make comments, but I've now opened them to anyone, including anonymous, so I can't wait to see how big my penis can get or how much cash I can get from an exiled Zimbabwean prince.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


I'm a terrible debater. Not because I'm stupid or get things wrong a lot. Forgive me for my egotism, but I'm pretty smart and in areas where I've done my homework, I'm right more often than not (though I could be wrong....). Over on freethought blogs The Atheist Experience has a post that hit home to me this morning, because it's about the types of debate we have and why we should be having them. And, more often than not, I debate for the wrong reasons. I debate not to find the truth for myself, but to convince other people, and I get so very emotionally invested in what they believe that I tend to get irrational and flame wars ensue.

I've known that there was something I've been missing for a while, and especially over the last few months because of two or three very heated discussions with friends and family, I've seen that my "style of debate" does more to harm my relationships than it does to help understanding, and that's not a good thing.

I have a lot of the tools I'd need to be an excellent debater. I'm clever, I'm fast on my feet, I'm good with words (written, anyway). And I think that debates need to happen, that there is worth in convincing people towards a reality-based understanding of the world (even as I imperfectly work towards my own understanding), and that I shouldn't stop trying.

But what I do need to do is find a way not to be so invested in what other people think. If I can express my opinion, if I can back it up with facts and reason, if my logic and ideas are sound, that's all I should be concerned about. The best way for me to convince people is to work on improving myself. I think. This line of reasoning is a bit of a work in progress.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

"That's a pretty big coincidence, don't you think?"

First off, though: it's National Coming Out Day. I am gay. Are you? Take a minute to send some love or support to the gay youth you know who may be struggling with some serious stuff.

So, the other day I was having a conversation with a friend about skepticism and naturopathy and things. My friend isn't as steeped in the skeptical movement's groupthink as I am (he qualifies more as an "apathetic agnostic", whose philosophy is best summarized as: "Eh, I don't care. What's on TV?") but he had taken some time to call out a mutual acquaintance on some pretty fishy-sounding ideas about Intuitive Medicine (where you give a "Medical Intuitive" your name and she - somehow - tells you exactly what's wrong with you) and I wanted to thank him, since whenever I try to express skepticism, I end up sounding like a douche. I've gotta learn to embrace my douchiness, because it isn't like superstition is going anywhere soon.

Anyway, after I thanked him, he confessed that he doesn't think naturopathy and the like is necessarily all bad, and brought up that he has a condition that "modern science" didn't really help him with, but the pills a naturopath gave him really did the trick.

Doing my best not to be a dick about it, I agreed that "natural" remedies weren't necessarily ineffective, but that the problem was that by and large they are not monitored by any agency and you don't really know how effective they are or even what you are actually getting inside those pills. I suggested that he consider the following: his condition (which he's described to me before) is one that comes and goes and varies in frequency and severity. What if it was naturally going away at the same time as his naturopath gave him the pills? How does he know that the pills actually do anything?

"You mean to say that I would have been cured whether or not I took the pills? The naturopath just happened to have really good timing? That's a pretty big coincidence, don't you think?"

His patience was being tested, so we called a truce and went back to whatever it was we were doing, but here's what I would have said if I weren't more interested in preserving the friendship:

It is a coincidence. Or, at the very least, there is absolutely no way, with the information we have, to show that it isn't other than saying "I just know." Thing is, we're SWAMPED with coincidences. The whole world is filled with coincidences, everywhere. Million upon millions of things all happen at the same time, and without evidence, without using some sort of rational tool (consciously or not) there is nothing to say that A caused B but didn't cause C but may eventually make D fuck up E if F is happening at the same time.

That your condition cleared up shortly after you started those pills doesn't surprise me as odd. What would be odd is if you didn't have any coincidences at all. Maybe the pills work. Maybe the condition went away on its own. Or maybe you changed peanut butter that week, or toilet paper. Maybe your neighbour had his apartment sprayed for cockroaches. Maybe there was a solar flare. Without any sort of way to eliminate these and the billions of other stuff that was happening at the same time, there's no way to say.

The conversation ended with him saying "Well, they're my pills and I like them, so there."

And I can live with that, I guess. There's all kinds of stuff that I do that isn't healthy or smart or rational, even when I know better. But people should at least be aware of this sort of thing.

Anyway, you may have heard of this "Occupy Wall Street" thing. Well, this coming weekend is the Toronto version in support/solidairty. Unless something horrible happens, I plan to attend, and then maybe blog about it. Stay tuned!

Friday, October 7, 2011

My Voice

So, I'm a couple of months into this blog thing and I find I'm still trying to find my blogging voice. My instinct and experience tell me that the best way to do that is to just be myself and try to express myself as openly and honestly as I can, but I find myself hesitating. Part of this is just intimidation. The blogs I read are heavy hitters, written by talented and accredited people. I have strong opinions and think I'm fairly well-educated on certain topics, but without a degree or two, and without anything more than a customer service background, I feel a little bit like a fraud. This has kept me from putting my website out there along with any comments I make, because I'm a little bit terrified that someone will see a comment, come back here and then tear me a new one for being stupid.

Which is just a little bit ridiculous. I mean, yeah I might be wrong with my opinions, and I might have gotten some facts wrong, but isn't that part of the point? Aren't I doing this to help improve myself? If I am wrong, shouldn't I WANT someone to come along and point it out to me so that I can maybe become a little less wrong in the future?

I guess this is unsettling, because I don't just want to be myself here. I want to be my BEST self. I want to be contributing somehow to improving the world, making it a little bit more equal, a little bit more fair, and I think I can do that through my writing. I'm not expecting this blog to see thousands of hits anytime soon, but I want to lay a foundation here, a foundation based on good blogging. I don't think I'm there, yet.

Also, part of the problem is that I'm working my way towards becoming a "militant atheist", in the sense that I really don't believe in god, but I do believe that we share one reality with one set of rules, and that it's best to go through life with as much of an understanding of what is real as possible. I've gotten into at least one argument with a self-professed agnostic, and I have to admit I was very uncomfortable and surprised with how the argument went. It got pretty aggressive pretty fast, and I haven't figured out how much of that was personality driven and how much was ideology.

See, I was an agnostic like this guy was, until pretty recently. The stance was more or less "we can't really know if gods are real or not, so making a statement that they aren't is probably foolish." And...fair enough, I guess, but that's not squaring with some principles that I have now that I've been finding I value more and more.

I mean, what kind of a statement is it to say "we can't really know"? Really? We can't? And I know this because.....?

I suppose there will always be a part of me that acknowledges that there's a possibility of some god who started this whole thing off and now lives outside of or as a part of the universe but otherwise doesn't do much of anything (and I like this kind of god, it's neat to think about, especially if you throw in the part about love) but....well, jeez, if that's the kind of god we have, it's kind of worthless, isn't it? We don't really get a benefit to worshipping this vanishing deity, except to maybe feel better about ourselves...

I guess I'm becoming a bit more utilitiarian in my beliefs. I think there are real, serious problems that we ought to be solving. Starvation, prejudice, injustices around the world and at home, inequality, poverty. I think we should be doing all we can to fix these problems, and I think that we should be doing things that work. I don't know that, long-term and big picture, believing in a nonexistant god actually helps. I'm all for it if someone is motivated to help and reach out because of their faith, so long as the result is a net good. But maybe religion isn't the best way to get there.

Anyway, I'm still working this out, and while I flail about I can't help but struggle with this inferiority complex at the same time. I want to be myself, but my self is pretty messy, and just like I'd hesitate before inviting someone into my messy (seriously) apartment, I feel weird about putting up thoughts before they're really complete. But this is a process, right? It won't ever be complete.

Well, here's hoping that I will settle into this blog, and I mean, hey, I have like 1-3 page views any given day (and they're probably all me), so I can relax for a little while more. But if you ARE reading, I hope you get something out of my musings here. And let me know how I can do this better.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Over at, Ophelia Benson responds to some more comments about the Rebecca Watson situation wherein she was propositioned by a guy in an elevator in the middle of the night and then publicly said that it made her uncomfortable. I'm still absolutely amazed that this is a "thing", because her comments seemed to me perfectly reasonable, but some people think it makes her crazy (among other things).

On Ophelia's blog, she posts the guy saying:

The solution to such ambiguity is simple – as a way forward, women who attend atheist-skeptic conferences that are absolutely certain they don’t want to be hit on should wear a clearly visible “do not proposition me” sign on their backs. If not, maybe a colour-code can be designated for such women by the event organisers – let’s say, red – and then it could be announced that all women wearing red clothes should not be propositioned or approached by strangers. But will they do this? Most probably not. They will, in all likelihood,  protest that it should not be incumbent upon them to make clear to others not to hit on them – yet at the same time they want to be in a public conference where human beings, the highly sexual creatures they are, are freely interacting.

Okay, so first off: really? A highly visible symbol? Like a colour? Or maybe a symbol like a pink triangle or star of david? A red letter, perhaps? But that's clearly a strawman (see what feminism gets you? NAZIS! Be careful how much equality you ask for, ladies, or else it's the holocaust all over again!!).

What really bugs me, really, really, REALLY bugs me is this implication that men are completely helpless when it comes to our penises. How dare women expect to be unharrassed in PUBLIC, where men with our uncontrollable sex urges are forced to try to decypher the complicated, ambiguous concept of not hitting on women when it's not appropriate.

It's ridiculous and offensive and it's everywhere. I mean, look, people make mistakes. We're animals, after all, and our brains are awash in presumably-useful hormones and neurotransmitters and whatnot that fairly often make rational decision making difficult or impossible. I've done stuff I regret, probably some of it because I was horny, or drunk, or skipped breakfast or something. But there's nothing in those regretful incidents where I can say "It's because I'm a MAN!!" and I sure as heck had to face consequences the morning after.

If a guy has trouble behaving himself, it's because the guy has a problem, not because he has testicles. I wish people would stop playing up the differences between men an women as if they were inescapable, natural, and true....because whenever we start to turn a skeptical eye on these differences, the importance of culture and "nurture" and one's environment starts to loom ever bigger. Bad behaviour is because someone fucked up, not because they "couldn't help themselves". Rape isn't a problem because boys will be boys, it's because some boys are assholes, and they ought to be treated as such.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Family and Facebook

I will be away for the rest of the week as I am heading back home to Halifax to witness either my brother's marriage to a lovely awesome lady and/or a disasterous family fight as tensions force us to hate each other. For obvious reasons I am hoping for the former.

I have also bizarrely chosen this moment - filled with urgent family commiques about lodgings, travel arrangements and the like - to quit Facebook. I was getting annoyed at all the changes and my own dependance on that particular social networking site was potentially problematic. Other than the compulsive nature of my brain thinking only in unposted status updates, I'm holding up well.

When I joined Facebook, it was still mostly a curiosity, but now it seems almost essential for modern life. Soon I'm hoping to take a look and see what the science says, especially about any costs associated with avoiding or abandoning such an ubiquitus network. We'll see.

In the meantime, I'm on twitter (as Quietmarc or @quietmarc or whatever the hell the kids call it) and am flirting with google+. I'll keep you informed.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

FEED by Mira Grant, part 2

Well, finished the book last night and I'll say the second half is a lot more solid than the first. The action was tighter, stuff actually happens, and there are lots and lots of zombies. The book stands on its own, but I will be picking up the next one in the series next time I stop by a book store.

Without giving too much away, I do wish less time had been spent in the beginning on the political stuff. I understand wanting to add context and to keep the pacing controlled until everything goes to shit in the final act, but I don't feel like the mystery/political intrigue plot was deep enough to warrant all the time spent on it. Because of the small cast and the paltry number of likely suspects, I had a good idea of who the "villian" was long before his final, "I would have gotten away with it, too," speech. If the characters (other than the narrator and her brother) had been more starkly defined and less, well, shallow, then the earlier parts of the book that dwelt on the campaign trail would have been a bit more interesting.

Even with these minor flaws, though, Grant manages to keep the action-y parts rivetting, and the final third of the book almost sings, moving from critical moment to critical moment, with enough zombie stuff to keep a zombiphile like me happy. I suppose I should have waited until I finished before posting the review, but, hey, it's my blog, right?

And last for today, did you see how I did that picture thing last entry? I am technologically inept, so that was a major high point of my day, even though it was really easy. I'm coast on that high for the rest of the week.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Feed by Mira Grant

So, one thing about me is that I tend to read about 5 billion books at once. Right now I have about 8 or 9 that are in various states of being read. Most of them are non-fiction because I'm sort of researching for a fantasy-setting novel I'm sorta writing.

BUT fiction is my true love and I cannot survive on non-fiction alone! And that is why I picked up FEED, by Mira Grant.

This can't be a full review, as I'm only about halfway through the book, but wanted to write some thoughts about it early on while they're still fresh.

Zombie novels are an interesting creature. The modern zombie as a phenomenon owes its birth to film and (pretty much) the movies of George Romero in particular (who gets a hit tip in Feed), and while there are stand-outs worthy of mention (most of them written by Max Brooks) most of the zombie novels I've read are pretty sub-par. I don't know why this is, except that maybe some of the qualities that make zombie films captivating don't quite translate onto the page?

That said, Feed is actually a decent story. To call it a zombie novel isn't quite accurate as there are elements from several genres: science fiction, mystery, political thriller. It follows the narrator, Georgia (named after George Romero for reasons made clear in the book), in the year 2040, some twenty-odd years after the zombie apocalypse. She's a blogger, of the "newsie" variety, which means that she goes into high-zombie areas, hooked up with cameras in the like, and reports on the news. She and her brother (an "Irwin" who does the same thing but with less of a news focus and more of a "Crike! Ain't this fun?" vibe like the ill-fated Steve Irwin) are selected to follow a presidential candidate as he goes through the Republican primariesZZZzzzzzzzz......

Sorry 'bout that, drifted off.

The book has some good ideas and and is certainly well-written. The reason for the zombie plague is interesting, as well as some of the consequences (no cancer! zombie eyes!), and where sometimes giving a nod to zombie culture can strike me as a little "cute" or "ridiculously annoying", Mira Grant manages to avoid this....barely. She also seems to be straddling the line between a rousing zombie romp and a fairly bland description of the US electoral system....of the future.

Which is really the weakest part of the book. Things come (ahem) alive when the protagonists are interracting with the zombies: the danger feels real, the tension is there, but that tension doesn't follow through when the protagonists are dealing with the other stuff in their lives. I mean, ratings? Polls? Political speeches exactly like every other political speech?

There are a few possible threads right now that I'm hoping will pay off by the end. Right now it appears there are attempts to assassinate a moderate Republican presidential nominee by arranging for zombie outbreaks at his HQ and home ranch, and if the tension can find its sweet spot and this mystery resolve itself in an interesting or unexpected way, then this will be one of the better zombie novels I've read. If not, though, I'll have to say I'll feel disappointed and may not pick up the other books in  the series. I mean, when I'm reading a zombie novel, I shouldn't be feeling bored by US politics, am I right?

The other part is that the characters are maybe too well-versed in their world. They're basically zombie experts, and don't seem to make very many mistakes, which means that they haven't appeared to be in any danger yet. I'm sure a true crisis moment will happen, but I really hope it happens organically...right now, if they make a mistake it might seem out of character, and I won't like that.

So, stay tuned for a final word on this book. Halfway through it's readable and has promise, but I can't endorse it fully...yet.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Zombies versus Vampires, OR the two-party political system

Not enough time to write about this at length, but this article is awesome: do zombie movies proliferate during republican presidencies? And vampires during democrat reigns? And what does it all mean??

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

All of our enemies are Zombies.

Over on Lousy canuck there's a lively discussion about the morality of demonizing or dehumanizing our ideological opponents. The blog post is about a first person shooter zombie game where you go in and shoot right-wing assholes public figures like Sarah Palin and Fox news people who are now zombies. Lousy Canuck doesn't like this idea, thinking that we need to take the high road when dealing with people who have different viewpoints than us.

I see it, too. In my early-activist-ish days, back in university, some of the people I hung out with liked to call anyone who wasn't "revolutionary" "sheep" or "sheeple". I still see this cute nickname on the internets here and there, the implication that the majority are unthinking morons who need to have someone (like "us") tell them what to do, because otherwise they will never get it. An anti-vaccine person I know recently dismissed the entire medical and scientific community as "sheep" in a conversation I was having. Another queer activist that I was speaking with admitted that he doesn't bother communicating with a certain type of right-wing conservative because they never listen.

In a lot of ways, I get this. It's practical (and I think being practical - doing what works - is a good thing). Convincing one person who is dead set against you is nigh on impossible, takes a lot of resources, energy, skill, and is hardly ever successful. If you're dealing with issues that affect the world, it makes a lot more sense to focus on convincing the people who are sympathetic to your cause. You get more bang for your buck, and maybe, one day, you can reach a critical mass and social osmosis or magic or whatever will turn some of those who were dead set against you into people more sympathetic.

There's nothing wrong with that, but I think where we do go wrong is when we stop thinking of our opponents as people and start to see them as one big, unthinking blob. Zombies, sheep, theists, whatever. I think everyone does this to some degree, it's one of those time-saving patterns that our brains use to make walking around in the world something that is actually do-able. But I think that when we -do- do this sort of thing, we need to be aware of it and challenge it a little, at least for a couple of reasons.

The first is that dehumanizing is a great first step towards discrimination. It's effective, for sure. Look at any major pogrom or genocide in our history: a lot of effort goes into portraying the victim group as less-than-human. My pet theory is that doing this helps alleviate some of the cognitive dissonance involved in killing another human social creatures, there's probably something in our make-up that encourages co-operation with one another, and that hurtle needs to be overcome before we go out and start senselessly bashing our fellow hominids without any real reason. I'm not saying "Republicans as zombies" leads to "kill the Republicans!!!!" but I think it's a part of the complex process that's involved in wiping out an other group of people.

The second is that it isn't true. People -aren't- sheep or zombies or whatever. It's impossible. The differences between us are almost inconsequential when you get down to it. There's some evidence that left-wing and right-wing people have brains that are wired differently, that they process information differently and react differently, but those differences are, in my opinion, beside the point. They're guideposts and clues as to HOW we should communicate, but they don't mean that we should stop communicating. When you dismiss someone as a sheep, you're dismissing the entire complexity that led to making them who they are...and when you dismiss them, you lose out on an opportunity.

As tempting as it is to do otherwise, we need to think of our opponents as people, at least once in a while. The reasons why I sit where I do on the political spectrum are many, but one of them is that I appreciate facts. I believe in an actual reality, and I think that if we are to do good, we are best served by acknowledging and acting within the rules we know to be true. If people are not sheep, they aren't zombies, then what do we gain by treating them like they are? At some point the flaws in our model will hurt our cause, especially if we use the model without any sort of reflection or acknowledgement that it is a model. People aren't zombies, they're people, and if we can't get a handle on that, we're just as wrong as "they" are.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Sexism in a zombie game

There's been a derth of zombie-related stuff here, so here's a link to an article about a sexist name in the video game Dead Island. I don't have much to say, except that, yeah, there's tons of sexism and homophobia in the gaming community, so it's not surprising. I guess it's a good thing that we can see this sort of stuff behind the scenes, and hopefully someone will have learned a valuable lesson.

It does remind me, though, that there's also a considerable amount of sexism in the zombie genre as a whole. From what I can tell, the fandom includes a large amount of people who would feel quite at home at one of those southern militia conclaves where they're all waiting for the end of the world so they can put their weapons stockpiles to good use, and historically these survivalist communities don't always have the greatest track-record when it comes to equality, feminism, dealing with race, etc.

I'm not big, necessarily, on the guns and shooting stuff aspect of zombie fiction (I've never touched a gun myself...wouldn't know how to get one in a zombie apocalypse scenario, and if I did would likely end up harming myself or a loved one before I harmed a zombie), but there's a huge swath of guys (I assume mostly guys) who love to talk about types of guns, shooting things, explosives, blowing stuff up, in relation to the zombies. I'm more about the social dynamics, the body horror, and how even with zombies clawing at the door, it is us humans who are the most dangerous, and we bring with us the seeds of our own destruction. To me, the blowing stuff up, gun-worshipping fandom is missing the point.

To them, though, I'm probably just taking all the fun out of it.

Anyway, this is a reminder to myself that I want to write about a podcast/radio drama called "We're Alive" and it's (possible, I'm only on episode 2) heterosexism and its treatment of gender roles. But that will be later....

Friday, August 26, 2011

Sex work and Feminism

Over at Skepchick there's an "Ask Surly Amy" question, "Is Sex-work Anti-Feminist?". The questionner wants to know what the rational/skeptical response is to the question.

I love these kind of questions, because the answers are always more complex the deeper you look. I come down on the pro-sex side. I've worked in pro-sex environments and have had a lot of exposure to how sex can be used to liberate and empower people. As a gay man, the movement that has won me many of the rights I now enjoy was in part fueled by a pro-sex attitude. One of my earliest memories after moving to Toronto 10 years ago is watching my lesbian and trans co-workers talking about a new porn endeavour that was pro-women, pro-body-type, pro-people and just very, very positive. Our bodies and how we use them is a very personal thing, and sex is powerful in all kinds of dimensions, everything from biochemically right up to the largest segments of societies themselves. We're steeped in sex, and even beyond the "over sexualized" (which I'd argue is more of a "over exploited") environment that gets all the media attention, it colours everything we do. I think being anti-sex is damaging.

Of course, what does it mean to be pro-sex or anti-sex? This is where it gets complicated, and I think a huge part of that complexity is because we as a society haven't quite mastered how to communicate about these things. There's also a whole lot of cultural flotsam and jetsam, carryovers from oppressions past, rigid ideas we got from our grandparents, a whole bunch of deeply personal stuff that makes us act weird and crazy when it comes to sex. I was really intrigued by the part where she wrote:

People never tell you that if you’re using your arms to bake a cake, that you’re selling your body when you’re hired to do so. Nobody tells you that working as a driver, where you use your legs, is selling your body. In the act of doing nearly any kind of work, we use our bodies, and we are never seen as selling those body parts or selling our body when we are working. It is only in the world of the sex industry that one is considered “selling themselves” or “selling their body” as a part of work.

I think it's true that this is one of the ways that the sex industry is unique and it shows how much there is a disconnect in the ways that we act versus how we talk about sex and our bodies.

You know, ever since I worked "sex industry adjacent", I've always wondered what it would be like to work in the sex industry. Not as a performer, but on the administrative side of things. Wouldn't it be great to be an HR rep for a porn company or webcam site? I think it'd be kind of awesome.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Jack Layton, RIP

Early this morning, the leader of the Federal NDP, Jack Layton, passed away from a battle with cancer. He left a letter which you can see here, and it's safe to say that he will be missed. I've never been a huge fan of his, but in the past year I've really come to appreciate his strength, courage, and good humour. I think the 2011 Federal elections were the best that he has ever had and I was very, very pleased to see the NDP get the results they did, even though I didn't vote for them.

I hope that his final words to Canadians in his letter go on to inspire all of us to work towards building a better country and a better world.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cottage Country

I'll be hauling my entitled ass toward cottage country today and won't be back until next week. Maybe when I get back I'll fiddle with the formatting here. See ya then!

Monday, August 15, 2011

UK Riots and Povery

The Guardian posted a map that compares the riot locations with the level of poverty which is pretty interesting.

I guess the riots are old news now (they happened last week! Who cares if anything's going on still?? What are the celebrities doing???), but there some interesting conversations going on about what the riots meant. It seemed like most people were happy to dismiss the event as a random kind of thing and dismiss the rioters as hooligans and ne'er-do-wells. People made comments about how these rioters were lacking moral fibre, were greedy, and just wanted to steal a new pair of Nikes. I disagree.

I'm not the only person who sees a connection between these riots and the background levels of poverty, and recent "austerity measures". The same kind of thing is happening across Europe, and will probably go on for a while, at least while the global economy tries to get its feet back under itself. Science suggests that there is a connection between cutbacks and increased violence, but even with all of this there's a disconnect going on between what we say is happening and what is actually happening.

I'm against violence. But as a friend of mine recently said, you can be against violence and still want to know the cause of it and to look for underlying issues. I'd agrue that if you are -really- against violence, looking for the reasons isn't just an option, it's a requirement. How can we fix something if we don't know what's wrong?

I think that this is probably a case of fundamental attribution error writ large. It's easy for us to assume that the rioters are acting like they are because of some flaw in their personality rather than because of factors that have shaped their lives that are outside of their control. I've had lengthy debates with people who genuinely believe that the poor are poor because they are lazy or have the wrong attitude. It seems to be really, really difficult for us to look past these prejudices, and I think that so long as we are stuck thinking like this, we can look forward to more riots and violence in the future.

Living as I do in a place where there's a good chance of right-wing governments on all 3 major levels (municipal, provincial, and federal), I wonder what we might see here in Toronto in the next 2 or 3 years. I don't think it will be pretty.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

My feminism and the internet

Over on the "Wednesday Weigh-In" asks:

What role does staying connected play in your feminism? What could better internet access mean for your political activity and viewpoints?

Since I'm not yet ready to post anything researched or well-thought-out, but I DO like to talk at length about myself, I figured why not?

This is a timely question anyway, what with the role that social media has played and is playing in movements around the world, from "Arab Spring" to the riots in the UK, to helping people mobilize right here at home. I'm not the most tech-savvy person, so my internet activities are pretty much limitted to reading blogs and Facebook (maybe google+ one day? Maybe?). I've not gotten into twitter (in my role as curmudgeon I can grumpily say "I don't understand it and I don't want to."), and my phone may not be old-school, but my use of it really is.

Still, I remember back in the '90s, when I was in high school and university and the internet was nowhere near as all-powerful as it is today. Back then I got my doses of feminism from friends, from the gay youth group I was a part of, and from the alternative free weekly paper in Halifax where I grew up. I can't even imagine how I came to be the person I am with those paltry sources of information and encouragement. Today, I easily am exposed to half a dozen or more articles, blogs, papers, rants, and stories about feminism or social justice or whatnot. When I want to be, I'm far more connected to what's going on around me and in the world at large.

Probably the biggest way that the internet helps me is that it puts me in touch with women. By and large I socialize mostly with men. The few places where I do encounter women regularly are places like at work, where it's considered bad form to spontaniously begin a conversation about sexism or feminism. There are places and times, and I have a few close colleagues that I spend my lunch hours with to talk about the state of the world, but those moments are rare and special. As a gay man, it's very easy to slip into a state where I don't need to interract with women in any meaningful way at all.

I think that we do better at recognising inequality and fighting against it when we're exposed to the victims of inequality. It's not necessary...I'm -never going to know what it's like to be black, or the plight of those starving in the Horn of Africa right now, but that doesn't mean I can't try to help, but it's been shown that the more distanced someone is from an issue, the easier it is to ignore and misunderstand it. To be a feminist, I think I need to have women in my life, so that I can hear their stories and be corrected when I'm off-base. The internet helps me to do this, by giving me access to women that I don't see every day: friends and acquaintances, strangers and colleagues. I think I would be a worse feminist without access to those resources.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Quarantine 2: Terminal

Okay, now that the introduction is out of the way I get to talk about my true love, which is zombies!! I'll probably frequently have a review or something up about a movie, show, book, or comic that is zombie-related. If I stumble onto one, I might link to a science article about real-life zombies, or something cool like that zombie house (which, I'm skeptical about as a long-term dwelling during a zombie apocalypse, but we can talk about that later).

The most recent film I've seen is Quarantine 2: Terminal, directed by John Pogue, and the sequel of the excellent 2008 remake (of the Spanish film [REC]) Quarantine. I've seen both versions of the first film and enjoyed them both. It's been a couple of years, so I can't really distinguish the two in my mind, except that I remember having a slight preference for the Spanish one, probably because I'm a snob who likes subtitles. I know that there's a [REC] sequel, but I haven't seen it yet, and I'm told it's vastly different from Terminal.

On it's own, I think Terminal is an okay genre flick. The action is action-y, the zombies are zombie-y. I appreciate that they tried to capture some of the features of the first film: the first scenes are shot with a slightly shaky, documentary feel, and there's a night-vision goggles gimmick that comes in at the end. The creators of Terminal were at least somewhat familiar with the source material, and there aren't really any giant missteps in the execution.

The plot follows the passengers and crew of an airplane that's leaving LA roughly at the time all hell is breaking loose in the first film. One of the passengers gets infected, the plane has to land, and then they're picked off one by one in the titular quarantined terminal. As a premise, it isn't bad, but even from the start I just didn't feel caught up in it. The film tries to build tension early on: one character has a cold, another sneezes. People talk about how the dogs in their neighbourhood are sick with something. I'm sure one character says that he's one day away from retirement on the force and hopes no one shoots him before he can go home to his family. Okay, not that last one, but there's a period early on where every bit of dialogue is forcing the tension so much that it makes suspending disbelief really difficult. There's a spunky kid, there's a hot-head, there's an old guy with Parkinsons, pretty much the usual round-up of "every day" people you see in these zombie movies.

It reaches moments of truly bad when 2 characters almost get into a fistfight over using a cell phone on a plane. I mean, who does that? Who is so wound up that they go off like that when no one is actually a zombie yet? Turns out there's a good reason, but at the time it just seemed so implausible and clumsy that I can't really credit it as good filmmaking.

The whole film seems like that: there's some good ideas, but the film either over-plays or under-plays its hand. There was some effort to give the characters more than cardboard personalities, but it -feels- like there was effort, you know?

The first Quarantine films got a lot of mileage out of, well, the quarantine. When the feds step in, even before you meet any of the characters, the quarantine feels like an actual force: the plastic falling over the windows, the locked doors, the lights and sirens outside all add to the atmosphere of claustrophobia. Terminal fails to live up to this. There are scenes that echo the scenes in the first: the plastic draping the windows, the authorities entering the building in their space-suits, but they seem tacked on, as if the filmmakers knew they had to hit those points but didn't really have an enthusiasm for it.

The action was decent, and if this is your first zombie film you may be caught off-guard by one or two of the "twists", but the film just didn't rise to the level where I could suspend my disbelief. Every zombie flick has a few scenes where the characters are behaving stupidly, or the "science" or internal logic doesn't add up (eg, in the first films, the initial victims seem to take hours or days before becoming monsters, but by the end you get bitten and are a monster in, like, a few seconds. How?? Why??)...a good film keeps the action and the fun and the general quality high enough that you can forgive any lapses, and Terminal just doesn't do that.

I was expecting to make comparisons to "Flight of the Living Dead", since zombie-airplane movies are still a rarity, but they really aren't even in the same category. "Flight", while maybe not as Hollywood-slick as Terminal, has a really firm grasp of what's best about zombie movies, and it has a sense of humour and a sense of, for lack of a better word, soul, that Terminal just can't capture.

In the end (terminal, get it?), Quarantine 2: Terminal gets a few things right, but a lot of the rest is lackluster. I give it 2 rotting fingers out of five.

Are you a Communist?

No, I'm not, and welcome to my blog!

I'm starting with that question because I live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where we've recently elected a mayor and his sidekicks who are basically opposed to everything I stand for. In the newspaper today I saw that Giorgio Mammoliti has banned "Communists" from his facebook page about "saving the city". I take it to mean "communists" are anyone who disagrees with him. So, look, language changes, and people are free to use words to mean anything they like, but don't be surprised if people look at you like you're a lunatic, Giorgio. I don't think that word means what you think it means.

So, right now, I am a mid-30s gay male, city-dweller, agnostic-bordering-seriously-on-hardcore-atheist, with a strong interest in social justice and equality politics. I'm a feminist. I want to be a better rationalist. I work in customer service and I have no qualifications whatsoever to hold any opinion whatsoever, let alone to shove it in anyone's face, but that's what I intend to do here anyway. There's a billion (or so) blogs like this one out there, and there are millions (probably) that do a better job at what I'm hoping to do, but, well, here I am.

I really like zombies. (Zombunist...see? It's all coming together!)

I've been thinking about doing something like this for a long time. I've had blogs before, but those have been personal things. Sure, I'd sometimes rant about the issues of the day but mostly I'd whine about my daily life. With this blog I want to do something more thoughtful. That means that I will have to do a bit more research than usual. I may even edit my writing instead of just posting it off-the-cuff (this post is off-the-cuff). I hope to be held accountable for what I have to say.

I want to be a voice speaking for good. I want to help make a change. I want to encourage discussion. I want to learn and grow, and I want others to learn and grow with me. I want a world where people are equal, where everyone is treated with dignity and respect, and where we consider each other, where we help each other. I think, ultimately, that that's the only way we're going to come out of this century alive, is by helping each of us to achieve their potential.

I have a temper. I get angry about things, and I've been known to have knee-jerk responses. Sometimes I will post things that are deeply personal in nature. I'm not always consistent. And, I really like zombies. You should expect all of these things.

I'm not sure exactly what shape this endeavour will take, but I hope it's good, and I hope I learn something from it. I hope, whenever this blog gets retired, that I'm a better writer, a better thinker, and a better person. We'll see.