Showing posts from 2012


It's the end of the year as we know it, and a fine time for looking back, peering ahead and, most importantly, making lists. By my count, there are at least five good reasons for making year-end lists:

5. "Five" suggests but doesn't guarantee the movement to "four" which, in turn, delivers that same sense of hanging on the way to "three" and so on. There is an inherent suspense in list-making. Year's end also contains that mix of excitement and anxious uncertainty. Like a rocket's liftoff.

4. Lists impose a kind of precious order on the chaos of events and information we at turns swim and flail in. Compose a list and you get a feeling of the power of putting that note in the melody, and, just as importantly, keeping that note out. Facing a new year, we have yet to have that sense of control pummelled out of us by the passage of time. That happens around the second week of January.

3. It's a thrill to get to the end of a countdown list…

Game Theory

It's not quite "Hark, the herald angels sing," but "Mrs. Peacock with a knife in the study" sounds like Christmastime just the same.

In the basement of the north-end house I grew up in was a rumpus room done up in homage to John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. There were wagon wheel chandeliers, log panels, swinging bar doors, gun holsters, and I think there was, as a nod to the emerging multiculturalism, a couple of sombreros on the wall. At the far end of the room, in front of the fake brick wall, stood a long bar stocked not with rum and whiskey, but with board games.

There were chase games, like Ludo, Sorry, and Trouble. And the classics, including Monopoly and Clue, checkers and chess. We had goofy games, like Barrel of Monkeys and Buckaroo. There was Stratego and Rummoli. Ker Plunk. Twister. Operation. Mousetrap. Let's Make A Deal. Emergency. Mastermind. Waterworks. Battling Tops. Hungry Hungry Hippos. Snakes and Ladders. We had a CN Rail board game. Yahtz…


I'm gonna call it cyblorging, and we'll see where it takes me. Cyblorging: the act of blogging about cycling as captured on video.

And this is shaky, and attempt #1 didn't survive a UMG music license challenge, but you get the picture. I got the video by thinking like a cyborg and putting an iPhone 4 into my ski goggles that were attached to the top of my bike helmet. (It's minus too cold C here today, but you gotta move through it!) It's a primitive mounting system, and the video isn't great, but it does capture the sense of cycling in a wooded ravine and emptying out on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River on a stunningly vivid Christmas Eve day in Edmonton.

For me, it's always been thrilling to move through a corridor and out into an open area. I suppose I first experienced it as a minor hockey player walking down the rubbered ramp hallway of Grand Trunk Arena and then out into the brilliant lights and the diamond ice.

Walk through the low, dark, c…

Strummer, USA

Not all conversation bridges are built.
Joe Strummer died 10 years ago today.
He would have had something to say about Newtown.
Maybe he already did.


Somewhere in the mists of my undergraduate learning is a remnant of a memory of a teaching about laughter being no laughing matter. Seriously, that's all I've got.
Maybe it's Rousseau in his letter on the theatre or somewhere in Hobbes or maybe it was from Bloom's book or in a lecture from Craig or Carmichael. I can't recall it. And we know what we can recall, said Ong. 
Whatever it is that is left floats in and out as I get ready to form an actual research question for my final essay project toward a master's degree in communications and technology. That essay will have something to do with laughter. 
You will recall :) that I have spent the last few years circling around the Duckett Cookie Video artifact, trying to gain theoretical perspectives on its meaning, its impact, its lessons. Not yet in the form of a research question, my interest in that video text, which has attracted nearly 350,000 views, will, I feel, reflect my newfound perspectives but be informed…


We were in Vancouver last month for the Springsteen concert, and, with a couple of extra hours to kill before show time, I showed our youngest son, Mike, the place where I used to live:  1516 Burnaby St. I brought a couple of black-and-white photos from that time and tried to better use the photographedmonton technique I discovered here.

This time it worked better, so I was happy about that. But I should have experimented with the now shot in colour for a different effect of the passage of time.

Then, Mike gave it a shot with a different photo from back in the day:

What I didn't realize until looking at the two now-and-then pics was the passage-of-time effect achieved by having my left hand turn into his. That will always be a thrill of my low level of photography: seeing what you didn't see at the time, even if it was right at your fingertips.

Piers v. Pratt

Wow, things got ugly, and fast, when Piers Morgan interviewed Larry Pratt, the Gun Owners of America executive director, on CNN tonight.

The general topic was where Newtown should point American society on the question of gun control. It turned into a yelling match, with Morgan calling Pratt a stupid man, a dangerous man, an idiot, and Pratt openly suggesting that Morgan shared responsibility for the Newtown murders.

Those viewers who had clung to the belief that discussion in the electronic public square should be fuelled by opinion intelligently rendered, and respectfully clashed with, came loose and hit the ground during the segment.

But, on a few fronts, it was, nonetheless, interesting and insightful.

There is an anti-European animus, barely disguised, in Pratt's attack. In his first answer, he cites mass murders in Europe, where the violent crime rate is allegedly higher. Soon after, he mentions murder rates in Europe. Pratt then refers to Morgan's interruptions as char…

Images Of Newtown

Charlton Heston knew the power of the image. He made his name and his fortune off that knowledge. Long after his marquee days were over, he was still trading on the power of the image. As top gunman in the NRA, he would famously punctuate speeches with the five words – from my cold, dead hands – that became his calling card.

But calling card isn't the right term. It comes from the printed word world. Here, Heston is dealing at the more primitive level of the picture. At the end of his infamous 2000 speech to an NRA convention in South Carolina, he stepped back from the podium and was handed a replica Sharps rifle. We know the image. Heston named presidential candidate Al Gore as the enemy of freedom, delivered those five words and held the weapon up to spirited applause.

As images go, it was crazy good.

Of course, the image was nicely constructed. The weapon, an icon of the American Old West, smelled of nostalgia and freedom. We can ask how much different the image would be if th…

Newtown Thoughts

Let's start on a tight shot of a tweet posted today by CTV National producer Rosa Hwang, who is responding in words to the anger of those offended by some of the pictures and sound they see and hear in coverage of the Newtown murders. Here it is: 
For those slamming media coverage of , most reporters are doing their best to be responsible and measured. Many are parents too.
I don't know Rosa, but I enjoy her tweets and know where she is coming from. For years I worked in the conventional news media, most of that time in television, much of it helping decide if not exactly what to shoot, then what to air and what would be seen. And I have heard the anger and disbelief and sorrow of viewers who slam the media's coverage of disasters the core of which is human heartbreak. Over the years, I have been yelled at, sworn at, likened to a vulture, a ghoul, a piece of scum, and threatened with physical violence. And it never really got any easier, e…

One More Question From Newtown

Tonight on television are images from Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman killed 26 people at an elementary school before killing himself. Most of the murdered are children.

They are the unusually usual images. Police officers with leashed dogs. Parents running. Aerial shots of a school surrounded by police tape.

The brush is being cleared down the path of familiar questions. Why did this happen? How did it happen? How did the killer get his hands on the guns? Who are the victims? Who are the heroes? Were there warning signs? What will be the damage to the little people who survived? Was the school locked? Is this our reality? Is this due to lack of empathy or a brain disorder? Can these disasters be prevented? What does the Second Amendment say? Will there be copycat crimes? And on and on into tangled arguments that admit of different perspectives.

And our hearts are broken. And we are tired. And there are no words. But there have to be words, or else it's the grammar of the bul…

Losing My Edge

There is a shot in the Shut Up And Play The Hits documentary where James Murphy, performing Losing My Edge, arrives at the lyrics I'm losing my edge/To the Internet seekers/Who can tell me every member/Of every good group/From 1964 to 1978.

He recites those lines holding a mic with his left hand while, with his right, mimes the touch gestures -- taps, pinches, swipes -- that are so well known to, are the calling cards of the wired kids from Tokyo to Berlin to Brooklyn, the relevant, really nice kids who hold in their own hands their tableted nervous systems and memories.

You know what you can recall, says Walter Ong over the recorded evanescent sound of LCD Soundsystem. You know what you can recall.

The song is certainly a lot of things, many of which are inaccessible to me, but it seems one thing the song is is an invitation to consider the different kinds of recall and, thus, the different kinds of knowing.

Every member of every group from 1964 to 1978. Murphy's wording seem…


A Springsteen concert is about a lot of things, some of which will be revealed only in the fullness of 4/4 time. Trying to make stand still the essence of seeing him perform live is beyond me. Besides, seeing him is not really about standing still at all. And double besides because another great chronicler of America, John Steinbeck, famously reminded would-be reporters that what is there to be seen depends as much on the seer and the light and the time and the inner music as what is supposedly there.

"I discovered long ago...that...what I found was closely intermeshed with how I felt at the moment. External reality has a way of being not so external after all," he cautions.

Caution heeded. The best I can do is record that in the screen shot above, not seen but standing beside and slightly down from me, are Mikey and Shelagh. And that we sang our lungs out to Hungry Heart, punctuating Baltimore with a raucous Jack! And we were happy. Everyone except one security guard there…

I Still Carry You Around

Every now and then I like to enter writing contests to win stuff. On Twitter, I follow @Momentum Mag, a cycling advocacy group and publication. Spokespeople, in one sense of the word. 
Anyway, they are giving away a cool pannier to someone in the North American cycling community who tells them what they would carry in it. 

Among my many fascinations: panniers. I routinely stop to photograph them,  and then start cycling again before I draw too much attention to myself. As in this still life from earlier this fall: 

So, this is what I wrote as my contest entry. I would definitely use it for groceries. 
A few steaks for the grill, some corn cobs, a bag of potatoes for roasting, fixings for a salad, maybe a few cold beers if there's room -- which it appears there is. 
In other words, I would use it to carry what's important to me: the food that frames the conversation around my family's dinner table. 
I would carry a bit of yesterday in the pannier, too. It looks like there'…

A Short Word On Books

Here is Steinbeck:
It occurs to me that, just as the Carthaginians hired mercenaries to do their fighting for them, we Americans bring in mercenaries to do our hard and humble work. I hope we may not be overwhelmed one day by peoples not too proud or too lazy or too soft to bend to the earth and pick up the things we eat. These words are sown 50 pages into Travels withCharley in Search of America, the author's account of his drive across the United States in 1960 in his GMC camper truck, Rocinante, and with his poodle, Charley.

It remains a thrill to have a good book on the go. And by book I mean a physical, in-your-hand text that can be bent, its pages dog-eared, written on, marked up, lived with. The confident print just stands there, letter upon letter, word after word, unmoving, brought to life by the scanning eye that sees that it is good.

We are a family of booked words. Here is the column of Alex's classics books on the dining room table tonight:

Okay, we're also …

I've Just Seen A Face

It stands the test of time is a lovely cliche. Six one syllable words, some alliteration with all the t's. Behind its rhythm of short/long, short/long, short/long is a cruel truth, or the truth of cruelty. Entropy, it's called by the scientists, the gradual decline into disorder that befalls all that stands, underlining, in the process, the radical accomplishment of actually standing, even for a time. To keep standing is somehow to best time itself. If I remember right, it's part of the reason the Romans disdained to lie down.

Paul McCartney was in town last night. He plays a second sold-out show tonight at the old Northlands Coliseum. (Actually, he's on stage right now.) Among the many cliches ushered onto the stage of watercooler talk today in day-after reviews was that the former Beatle, former Wing, the poet who gave us Hey, Jude has stood the test of time.

And it's hard to argue as we listened to him sing Got To Get You Into My Life or Eleanor Rigby or Get  Ba…

Running Commentary

I've thought for a few days now about how best to capture the deep experience of running my first half marathon. It was in Monterey last weekend and it took us along Cannery Row, into Pacific Grove, along the rocky coastline where waves crashed. It was beautiful. And much more.  And I've started and stopped and not been happy with my words and re-started and tried again.

And, so, why not try the truth?!

The truth is I censored the inner voice that told me to maybe walk up that first hill, the expenditure of energy for the distance covered seeming way out of proportion. But pride pushed me up and then my groins were sore for the next nine miles. Good call.

The truth is I was passed by two pregnant women at around the six-mile mark. They were talking to each other and laughing. And I couldn't catch them. I tried. I just couldn't.

The truth is I tried to concentrate on my form, not striking my heels. But that made things worse.

The truth is at about seven miles that hard…

In My Mind

Tonight on satellite radio James Taylor's Carolina In My Mind flowed into our living room. And pictures came to mind.

In one, I see myself in the basement at 6704 (that's the address-inspired nickname of the northeast Edmonton house I grew up in) listening again and again to that magnetic song. In those days, that meant lifting the needle and dropping the arm on the LP's groove, second song on side one. That line about maybe hearing the highway calling, wow. I would sit down there, lights off like in a theatre, and let that homesickness carve me.

In another picture, I am in Calgary. High school days. Jaime and I are there for a debate, I think. In a bar there's a singer with a guitar on a stool and he's singing Fire And Rain. 

Those pictures in my mind are nothing special in themselves, I suppose. But it's more and more interesting to me that the first notes of that song somehow illuminate the images in my memory. It's kinda like looking at a Youtube page.

On The Road, 1

We have been on the road for a few days now, and, this evening, after three nights in a rented North Beach apartment in San Francisco, we are at the Cardinal Hotel in Palo Alto. Shelagh and I just played checkers in the lobby after walking back from watching a movie at the Aquarius Theater on Emerson Street. Tomorrow we will walk around the main quad at Stanford, drop into the bookstore to look for some Christmas presents, and then head south for Monterey and Carmel.

We've been to Alcatraz. And Caffe Trieste. We shopped at Al's Attire. We had breakfast at Mo's, lunch at Fisherman's Wharf, dinner at Frances. We've moved by foot, cable car, boat, and Mustang convertible. We sat in Washington Square. We walked by Jack Kerouac Lane and down Haight toward Ashbury. We took pictures of the Joe DiMaggio playground.

The sound of unseen cables running beneath the streets, the hot smell of the hydraulics, the thrill of cresting a hill while standing on the running board and …