Wednesday, August 7, 2013

"...it could have been perfect."

There is no excuse for this. Everybody who was involved should be shot. And drawn & quartered, whatever that is. And made to watch it over and over until their heads explode.

For the almost 30 years since I first read it, it has been one of my favourite books. Ever. When I first heard talk of a movie, I waited anxiously for further news. And waited. And waited.

While I was waiting, I came up with a fantasy cast - Nicole Kidman, Michael Douglas (because I don't like him, so he would have been perfect for the role), Patrick Swayze (he was alive then), Antonio Banderas, Courtney Love (as the train wreck), William Shatner, John Cryer, and more (I had the whole cast lined up) and yeah, Brad Pitt, because everybody knows who he is.

Then, while I was waiting some more. I used the characters in my greatest (and as yet unpublished) scambait ever, replacing my fantasy cast with pictures of the cast of one of the best t.v. shows ever. (I still cry at the final scene of the series finale, but that's another story, which I just told.)

While I was still waiting, I googled a bit and discovered that it had been in development hell pretty much since the book was published, various attempts to bring it to the big screen (and the small one) having failed for one spurious reason or another, such as Fred Silverman or the Time-Warner merger. But the dream lived on, and now there was talk of Angelina Jolie and, yeah, Brad Pitt. And then there was no more talk, again.

Then I got busy with brown-eyed girls and such, and forgot all about it for a while, until sometime last winter, I heard or read or imagined that the first part had been released, largely unnoticed by anyone, by which I mean me. Eventually, I got around to googling, and found out that not only was it true, but the second part had also been released. Then I forgot about it again.

Until a couple of weeks ago, when I was looking for something to pick up at the local video store, and thought to enquire about it, which they didn't have, nor ever heard of. Then, earlier this evening, after finally getting around to watching Black Snake Moan (because Kim Richards was in it) online, I thought to look for it.

I found it. I wish I hadn't. I could have lived the rest of my life imagining what a great movie it would have been with my fantasy cast, or even my substitute cast. To paraphrase Art Garfunkel in Bad Timing, "It they don't make it, there's always the possibility it could have been perfect."

But they did make it. Well, two-thirds of it, anyways. And I found it. And I started watching it. And I decided that it was the worst casting ever. The actors weren't all that bad, but they were playing the wrong roles, as if they were matched by picking names out of a hat. And then I stopped watching it, because the script was almost as bad as the casting.

While I was waiting to eventually decide if I would watch it or not, I IMDBed it and discovered something truly bizarre, even for Hollywood. Parts one and two have entirely different casts. And by "entirely" I mean "entirely". And then I discovered that the cast for part three, which is slated for release next year, has yet to be announced, which seems to imply that its cast will be entirely different again.

Seriously? Really? WTF? Are you f-ing kidding me? [Your favourite internet cliche signifying incredulity]? But really, and seriously, they made seven Harry Potter movies (including one in two parts) and managed to keep all the same people playing all the same characters throughout (except for Dumbledore, but that's understandable under the circumstances).

But this, it's like they watched a few episodes of 'Til Death and said, "That's cool what they did with the daughter, let's do that with all the characters." Because, of course, what works for an irreverent sitcom should work for a movie based on a book that didn't have a single funny line. And much like everything else in the universe, I doubt that the author, god rest her soul, would find anything funny about this.

At least I now understand why every previous attempt to make this movie (and/or miniseries) failed, and why they failed for relatively unrelated reasons like a new network whiz kid, a corporate merger, or an actress getting pregnant. It was the universe saying "Don't. Just don't." Now the universe is saying "I told you so."

At least I have one-up on all of the professional critics who unanimously panned this travesty - I didn't have to suffer through the whole thing to know how bad it is. I might yet watch it someday, if I get drunk enough to not remember any of it the next day so as not to ruin the book for me, More likely, I'll just pretend it never happened and go with what Art said.

Monday, January 14, 2013

An open letter to Carmen Ortiz

An open letter to Carmen Ortiz, US Attorney for the District of Massachusetts. (A hard copy has been mailed to her office.)

Carmen Ortiz
US Attorney for the District of Massachusetts

January 14, 2013

Ms.Ortiz:

I do not know what kind of person you are in your private life, nor whether you have had any trouble sleeping at night lately.

I only know what I have read about your professional life and actions, the most predominant of which is now your prosecution of a young man and his subsequent death; a prosecution to which the alleged victim of the supposed crime was opposed. I am sure you are aware of the relevant ruling of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals. What I am not sure of is why you chose not only to ignore that ruling, but also to neglect to ask for a review of that ruling by the Supreme Court.

The only reason I can think of is that the ruling was inconvenient to your purposes, and a potential confirmation of it that would have been binding in your state would have been even more inconvenient. It seems clear from all that I have read about this case that your purpose was gaining a conviction, not administering justice.

You are not directly responsible for the death of that young man; suicide is a tragedy that has its roots in the psyche of the victim and his or her incapacity to cope with the challenges that life sometimes poses. But I would not sleep well knowing that I had imposed some of those challenges on another human being unjustly, for the sake of my own ambition.

I do not know what kind of person you are in your private life, nor whether you have had any trouble sleeping at night lately. I do know that from what I have read about your professional life and actions, you are the most despicable kind of lawyer - the one that seeks to make a name for herself whatever the cost, justice be damned.

Congratulations Ms. Ortiz, you have succeeded in making a name for yourself. Too bad it will forever be linked to that of Aaron Swartz.

Legacy

Monday, October 15, 2012

Amanda Todd

But one thing is certain, and it’s that I’m a jerk for making this site. Oh well. Someone had to do it eventually...

Mark Zuckerberg was referring to Facebook's predecessor, Facemash, but he might as well have been talking about the multi-billion dollar corporation that has become the largest stalking mechanism in human history. And both components of his statement are probably true - that he is a jerk, and that someone would have done it anyways.

The rest, as they say, is history (and if you don't know it, google it or watch the damn movie), so let's fast-forward to last Wednesday, October 10, 2012, the day a British Columbia teen named Amanda Todd committed suicide, a month and a few days after she posted a video on YouTube to tell her story, along with a comment that ended, ironically, with "...you just gotta pull through. I'm still here aren't I ?"

So what does Amanda's death have to do with Mark's creation? According to the wiki article, "Amanda Michelle Todd... was a 15-year-old Canadian teenager who committed suicide attributed to cyber-bullying through the social networking website Facebook." Yes, teens made innocent mistakes before the internet. Yes, bullying existed before the internet. Yes, teens committed suicide before the internet. But this particular tragedy had its roots on the internet, and the bottom line is that Amanda Todd is dead because of something that started and grew on the internet.

The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn't understand...

Eric Schmidt's words might be the understatement of the century. When the social side of the internet first became a significant part of my life as I knew it a few years ago, I marvelled at its potential. The free exchange of information, the unifying effect on the global village, the ability to bare my soul behind the shield of anonymity, all of these showed me that the internet could be, and indeed was, so much more than a convenient way to conduct financial transactions, communicate with clients, and buy stuff.

Now it's starting to scare the hell out of me.

Exactly one week before Amanda Todd ended her life over the fallout from a picture of her breasts on Facebook, someone very close to me woke up to find that his ex-wife had posted topless pictures of their 16-year-old daughter on, yep, Facebook. The girl had taken the pictures of herself in private and saved them on her mother's computer with a reasonable expectation of privacy. Eventually, her mother came across the pictures. Suffice it to say that the mother is not well, and there you have it.

The police were called and an officer was dispatched to take the complaint and collect the evidence in the form of screenshots and page downloads, but father and daughter were informed that local police had no way to contact Facebook directly to have the photos removed, and were advised to flag the images to Facebook themselves. They did so, along with a few close friends who had already seen the page, and prayed that the photos wouldn't spread too far during the 48 hours within which Facebook would do its best to review them.

Fortunately, the photos were removed by the end of the school day (and so far there is no evidence to suggest that they went anywhere further, but you can never be completely sure on the internet), but not by Facebook. According to the information on the Support Dashboards of those who flagged the images, the photos were removed by the mother (or someone with access to her account) before being reviewed.

Had this not been the case, it's anybody's guess how long it might have taken for Facebook to remove them (or even if they would have done so), how far they might have spread in the interim, and consequently, how much harm this might have caused to the young lady in question. Kinda makes you wonder not if, but when, we will hear about the next Amanda Todd.

It could also make you wonder how many more Amanda Todds we will hear about before Facebook takes steps to protect a huge segment of its users - children. Google+ (which appeals to a more mature market) has a Child Safety section in its content policy that stipulates: Do not distribute content that exploits children, such as child pornography (including cartoon child porn) or content that presents children in a sexual manner (which, presumably, would include topless photos). Facebook has nothing of the sort.

In fact, Facebook took several weeks to remove a page titled "Pedophiles are people too," having first simply tagged it with a "controversial humour" flag, citing freedom of expression, and finally taking it down (coincidentally) the day after Amanda Todd's suicide. (The page had prompted several pages critical of Facebook's initial decision, some of which where themselves taken down first, and at least one parody aimed at Zuckerberg.)

It is important to note that Facebook is not responsible for what bullies did to Amanda Todd, nor is it their fault a sick individual posted semi-nude photos of her daughter on Facebook. That said, it is incomprehensible that this multi-billion dollar corporation refuses to commit any but the most minimal of resources to dealing with these situations when they fester on its platform, and Facebook has come under increasing criticism for its head-in-the-sand approach to the online safety of its young users.

Can Facebook afford to hire more people in order to process abuse reports more quickly? Yes. Can Facebook afford to set up hotlines available to local law enforcement 24/7? Yes. Can Facebook afford to work with school systems to promote internet safety awareness among children? Yes. Is Facebook legally obligated to do any of these things? No, nor should they be. Should that stop the world's largest social network from assuming these social responsibilities?

Mark Zuckerberg did not kill Amanda Todd  He did nothing to hurt the young lady with the sick mother. But he also did nothing to help either one of them, as CEO of a corporation whose current policies can and do contribute to tragedies like Amanda's, and to the nightmares of a father who may have been spared such a tragedy by a stroke of good luck, no thanks to Facebook.

Is Mark Zuckeberg a good man? I have no idea, but if he is, he might start paying attention to what's happening on his creation, as well as to the words of Edmund Burke:

All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing.

Monday, August 22, 2011

So long, Jack

I campaigned for Canada's New Democratic Party (NDP) as a teenager, in the riding then held by Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Our big breakthrough was getting slightly more than 2% of the vote.

Over the years, my political orientation shifted to the right, but I always had a special place in my heart for the party whose members once sported buttons that said "My heart is on the left." Earlier this year, I even voted for them for the first time in 27 years, and I did so primarily because of the party's charismatic leader, Jack Layton. Hell, I didn't even know the name of the local candidate until I saw it on the ballot, and promptly forgot it until she was declared elected.

Jack Layton accomplished two things in that election that nobody expected. The party that had been struggling for a breakthrough in Quebec for decades took 59 of 75 parliamentary seats in the province, sending the separatist Bloc Quebecois, which had dominated federal politics in Quebec for two decades, to oblivion.

Largely because of that accomplishment, the NDP became the Official Opposition for the first time in its history. The future was brighter than it had ever been for the NDP and the man who had become the most popular politician in Canada.

Then, earlier this summer, he confidently told Canadians that he would be back when he stepped down from the party's leadership to battle cancer (which he had beaten once before), and few doubted that he would be.

Jack Layton died this morning.

As far as I can see, Jack may have been the last of his kind in Canadian politics; that is, leaders who are in it not for the money or the prestige or the favours they can hand out, but for what they believe in and the hope of achieving a brighter future. In my lifetime, I can think of only three others who merit membership in this club: Pierre Trudeau, Rene Levesque, and the NDP's own Ed Broadbent.

Today, my condolences go out not only to Jack's family and friends, but to all Canadians - regardless of our political leanings, we have all lost a national treasure today.

So long, Jack. We will miss you.

Two days before his death, Jack Layton wrote this letter to Canadians.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Going Postal - Canadian Style

For those who haven't noticed, there is no mail in Canada. It is not a strike, but a lockout. That's right, the post office closed itself down. For those who wonder how this could happen, I should point out that Canada Post does not use the slogan "Neither rain nor sleet..." or whatever it is. In fact, if Canada Post had a slogan, it would be, "What do you expect for 59 cents?" But I digress.

They are fighting over the usual suspects - wages, working conditions, benefits, and history. History, because the company wants to roll all of those back to the days of the early industrial revolution. I should point out here that I am not generally pro-union; I applauded WalMart when they closed their first ever store to have been unionized. However, these are exceptional times that call for exceptional opinions.

The union, in a rare stroke of brilliant strategy, started with rotating strikes, wherein various urban centres would lose mail delivery for one day at a time. This had the double benefit of not terribly inconveniencing the mail-receiving public at the same time as causing Canada Post major administrative headaches.

This (a public service union going after its employer without holding the public hostage) would not do, of course. So Canada Post did the only thing it could (other than actually taking steps to reach a negotiated settlement) - it attempted to provoke a full strike by announcing that mail would only be delivered three days a week.

When the union didn't bite, the company complained that its reduced service was costing it too much in lost revenue, so it did the logical thing and shut down altogether, because no revenue is better than some revenue, apparently.

In any case, the point of all of this has become clear to me. The current government has hinted at its desire to privatize the post office, an idea that has generally been met with a mix of raised eyebrows and instinctive disdain. By running itself into the ground, Canada Post will become a drain on the public purse, and thus a fair target to be a sacrificial lamb in some future round of budget cuts - the public will be less likely to oppose the sale of a money-losing crown corporation.

As a side-effect, this situation may turn out to be the best thing that little Stevie Harper has ever done for the environment - the vast majority of folks who will now use the internet to get around the lockout (for example, switching to online billing and payments) will not come back to snail mail, and this permanent drop in Canada Post's market will save countless forests.

My favourite part of the whole mess, though, has been the laughs, like the one I had when the company's CEO announced the lockout/shutdown at the same time as telling employees that he hopes they will come back to work soon. You can't pay for that kind of slapstick.

Oh wait, I guess we are paying for it.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Elections, eh?

I'm sure that to most Americans, the only thing more boring than Canada is Canadian elections, and that's quite understandable. While Americans took the great step forward of electing their first black president in the last presidential election, we Canucks now have the opportunity of taking the great step sideways of re-electing a man with all the charisma of a piece of wood, or replacing him with another man with all the charisma of a piece of wood.

This differs from the last election in that we had a different another man with all the charisma of a piece of wood, and the previous one in that we had yet another different another man with all the charisma of a piece of wood. Of course we do have two major parties with radically different platforms - one, if re-elected, will take our money to benefit their friends in big oil, while the other, if elected, will take our money to benefit their friends in, well, just their friends.

Where Americans had to decide based upon the great issues of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, public health care, and saving millions of people's homes from foreclosure, we have to decide based upon the great issues of whether we will pay more taxes or pay more taxes, whether a major urban bridge should fall down sooner or later, and saving some members of Parliament (what we call Congress) from receiving a lifetime pension after only two years in office.

Americans get to see their politicians caught (literally) with their pants down in things like the blue dress scandal; the most exciting thing that has happened in the personal life of Canadian politicians in the last ten years was when a poor little rich girl dumped both her boyfriend and her party to accept a cabinet post from the other party, in what can only be termed the pinstripe slumber. Ironically, she lost her seat (if not her pants) in the next election when her new party went down to defeat, which is the only kind of going down that happens in Canadian politics.

Our good neighbours have presidential elections every four years that last for two years; we have federal elections every two years that last for about a month, which most of us find way too long. The longest-serving party leader is still known primarily for how silly he once looked in a hairnet while visiting a cheese factory, some 14 years after it happened.

American presidential candidates have included war heroes, movie stars, activists, lawyers, peanut farmers, and more; our Prime Ministerial candidates have included lawyers, lawyers, lawyers, lawyers, lawyers, and more lawyers. No wonder we keep getting screwed. And overbilled.

I guess these contrasts are what you get when you compare a country based on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness with one based on peace, order, and good government. Oh well, two out of three ain't bad.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Cardboard Jesus


The ladies with Cardboard Jesus
I don't know if you've read Leon's, My Holy Land Experience Redux, or not, but I'd recommend it. For a Christian pastor, he has a certain sardonic flare that makes the heathenish contrarian in me stand up and shout, “Hell yeah, brother, preach on!”

And please forgive the ironic flippancy in my use of the phrase, “Hell yeah!” It's a Southern thang.

His pictorial exposé of the Orlando, Florida amusement park, I dare say, is potentially more enjoyable than an actual visit to the park itself. I haven't personally been, but my wife and daughter visited recently, on a school field trip, and they led me to believe it's not necessarily amusing. I came to that conclusion when my daughter told me, “It was alright, but I was glad when we left.” Not a glowing endorsement.

Leon and his son with a real life Jesus impersonator.

Like Leon, they took pictures, and like Leon, got a picture with Jesus, the only difference being Leon's Jesus was three-dimensional, while the ladies was only two-dimensional.  Egads!  Leon does a great job of pointing out the over commercialization that's rampant in Christianity today, and the obvious hypocrisy of making Jesus a marketable commodity on his blog, but at least he got a full bodied Jesus impersonator while the ladies only got a cardboard cut out!  What gives!

I did see a certain irony in their pictures of Jesus, one I could relate to personally. The contrast of Leon's Jesus to my wife and daughter's cardboard Jesus made me think about my own perception of him, and how it's changed over the years.

Like many Southern children, I attended Sunday School. We were taught Bible stories, like; Jonah and the whale, Moses parting the Red Sea, Jesus' resurrection. We sang songs, recited Bible verses, ate cookies and candy. We also got the hell scared out of us, leading us to repent of our plethora of sins and hoping to get our Get out of Hell cards, because Hell seemed really bad to us. I have to admit, I never really got much more out of church beyond that back then. It seemed Christianity was only about avoiding hell in those days.

It wasn't until I was an apostate adult that Jesus started to make more sense to me. When I actually read the Bible – and not just listened to someone else's rendering of it - and read the words ascribed to be Jesus', I became interested. The Jesus of the Gospels was a freakin' revolutionary radical that turned the religious establishment on its ear! He challenged the predominantly Pharisaical Judaism of the day, even going so far as to suggest he was the fulfillment of their religious laws! The idea that one was to love sacrificially appealed to me, as did the concept that that all people were equally loved by God. The more I read, the more I studied, the more I liked this Jesus. He was so different from the Jesus I'd heard about in Sunday School. Back then, I was taught to fear Jesus, but I realized I didn't need to fear him after all. I actually came to love him.

My family and I started to attend church in order to worship and follow Jesus. It seemed the natural thing to do. My wife and I both had conservative Christian backgrounds, so we gravitated towards that type of church. In hindsight, I know that was a mistake. It's amazing what happened to the Jesus I'd come to love once he was put through the grinder of conservative, fundamentalist Christianity. Once again, he became a Jesus to fear, as doctrine and dogma sucked the life right out of him. Unfortunately, I'd fallen into a world where evolution is considered pseudo-science, despite the fact that seven day creationism can't be supported scientifically, that the Bible is inerrant, even though that notion can be dispelled with a cursory reading, and that today's evangelical brand of Christianity is the only way to heaven, regardless of the fact that it's a relatively new religion that ignored history and it's own two thousand year evolution. I'd fallen into a world of myopic ritual and self-inflicted ignorance.

I have to tell you, fear is a great motivator, and it took me several years to completely reject that belief system, but I'm glad I was finally able to. Sadly, my religious life relegated Jesus to resemble the cardboard cutout in my wife and daughter's picture; flat and without depth, and utterly lifeless. Gone was the Jesus I read about in my Bible; he'd become the Pharisee to me. He was condemnation and conviction, not love; he was the establishment, not the revolutionary. I have to tell you, that realization sucked for me. Still does.

I'd like to get back to the Jesus I admired some twenty years ago, the one I read about, the one before religion took him away. He wasn't some supernatural entity that was beyond my ability to comprehend, like the one I'd come to learned about as a child, the one my church espoused. I like the revolutionary Jesus, the Jesus that loved everybody. I don't like Cardboard Jesus.

Well, that seems a lot to get from a couple of pictures, but there you go.  Christopher Hitchens says religion poisons everything, and while I might not necessarily accept that fully, I anecdotally understand it.  Religion certainly poisoned my perception of Jesus.  Still, I have hope I'll see him as I did once, unencumbered by religion.  And maybe I'll even admire him again.