and I quote

august 2013

click for permalink August 30, 2013

The day after her 35-year sentence was announced last week I noticed this headline on the front page of Wikipedia: "U.S. soldier Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning) is sentenced to 35 years in prison for releasing classified information to WikiLeaks."

The entire entry had already been rewritten (I assume there was an article before the sentencing and gender change) using the feminine pronoun throughout, and the page carried a disclaimer I'd never seen before: "This page is currently protected from editing until August 25, 2013, or until disputes have been resolved."

Here's an excerpt:

Manning said the incident that had affected her the most was when 15 detainees had been arrested by the Iraqi Federal Police for printing anti-Iraqi literature. She was asked by the army to find out who the "bad guys" were, and discovered that the detainees had followed what Manning said was a corruption trail within the Iraqi cabinet. She reported this to her commanding officer, but said "he didn't want to hear any of it." She said the officer told her to help the Iraqi police find more detainees... It made her realize, "i was actively involved in something that i was completely against..."

She explained that "i cant separate myself from others ... i feel connected to everybody... like they were distant family," and cited Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman and Elie Wiesel. She said she hoped the material would lead to "hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms. If not... we're doomed as a species."

The entire article was characteristically even-handed — just the facts and all that — written in the same encyclopedic tone as the rest of their current events stories, but the fact of that headline within 24 hours of the announcement and the very existence of that disclaimer spoke volumes about its source. Her name is Chelsea Manning and if you want to be a troll, for the time being anyway, you'll have to go somewhere else (god knows, there's no shortage of places you can go on the Internet if that's your thing).

I've never had more respect, even affection, for Wikipedia as an organization than I did at that moment. Which was nice, considering I had just made a donation to their annual fund-raising drive and wrote some nice things about them in their little "tell us why you chose to donate today" questionnaire. I might have invoked the late great HG Wells (World Brain and all that), but I mostly just thanked them for their commitment to doing something that actually benefits humanity (okay, I may have even thrown in a comparison or two, e.g."unlike _________"). And that was before I saw the Chelsea Manning headline.

Anyway, since last week I guess the various news outlets have all been forced to take a side (a stroke of sheer brilliance on Chelsea's part, I think, because if they want to dish and debate her case, selling papers or subscriptions or page views or whatever the fuck keeps the media solvent these days, they can bloody well pay the price of admission by calling her whatever she damn well wants them to).

Democracy Now (obviously), The New Yorker, NBC and all the outlets you'd expect (The Nation, Huffington Post, TruthOut and -Dig, etc.) have made the hasty transition with little to no fuss or fanfare, while others (USA Today, CNN, Politico) went to the extra effort of stating the rationale behind their refusal. The Foxes of the world have predictably refused, acting like a teenage boy whose sister comes home from college and announces at the dinner table that she's a vegan now because "meat is murder" and by the way, she'd appreciate if everyone would call her "Zoe" from now on.

Astrology news sites like Planet Waves and The Political Astrology Blog have been covering this story since 2011, but several others have joined in over the past week. One called The Oxford Astrologer posted Manning's chart on August 22, describing her thusly:

Chart of Private Manning, courtesy of The Oxford Astrologer"A Promethean character — a thief of information brought down by the American eagle. He stole millions of documents which spread out across the world like fire... It's no surprise [Manning's] chart is dominated by Uranus. There is the awakener, the alien, the rebel, right next to his Sun in Sagittarius, the sign of the broadcaster."

The Sun, Uranus, Saturn and Mercury are all conjunct in Sagittarius within four degrees of each other, and the entire cluster opposes Chiron in Gemini and squares the North and South Nodes in Pisces and Virgo. There's another tight conjunction, also within four degrees, between the Moon, Mars and Pluto in Scorpio.

We don't have an exact birth time, unfortunately, so we'll have to ignore the house placements in this chart, which would normally clue us in to the areas of life in which the planetary energies play out. Any time you see such a dramatic concentration of planets in one or two signs — especially when those signs are Sagittarius (the idealistic, fearless crusader) and Scorpio (a hardy little creature as legendary for its disregard for self-preservation as it is for its deadly sting), the obvious question is where will the person choose to focus all that intensity. Then again, in this case we don't really have to wonder.

I can't stand the thought that this poor brave kid might be 60 before she's released from prison. But if that's the case, I hope she goes on to become a white, transgendered Mumia Abu Jamal, inspiring a legion of copycat whistleblowers to reveal military transgressions in every outpost where the US still has bases.

Here's how you can sign the petition to grant clemency to Private Manning:

  1. Register at It's easy and they ask for surprisingly little info.
  2. You'll receive an email within a few minutes with a link to verify your email address.
  3. Once you have verified your email address, go back to the petition to sign:


click for permalink August 19, 2013

This might be one of those things that's only of interest to me, but then again I could easily preface all my posts with that disclaimer, so I'll just forge on ahead as though I think you're paying attention. (After all, as the late, great Last Psychiatrist used to say, "if you're reading, it's for you." No, he's not dead but the once-prolific blogger with the curiously cult-like following has gone from reliably posting once or twice a week almost without interruption since mid-2005, to posting nothing for two months, then dropping an epic screed out of the clear blue sky before disappearing back into the mists for another two months, to this last time, posting a long-awaited FAQ as to his whereabouts.)

(Huh. I didn't set out to launch into a wounded rant about TLP's increasingly extended absences and the sad, ongoing vigil still being kept in the comments by his bereft and broken minions, but two more months have passed since his enigmatic, all-too-abbreviated explanation about devoting all his writing time of late to a book "of, and about, porn." The news was met with predictably mixed reactions from his followers, whose comments ran the gamut from taunting wise-cracks ("When/where can we get your shitty erotica?") to sincere yet skeptical inquiries ("Your blog has taught me how to think. Will your porn do the same?"). Despite the earliest posters' attempts to put on a brave face, to ask earnest follow-up questions and suggest topics for TLP to weigh in on ("oh man.. i would love to know your thoughts on snowden or trayvon"), their hopes of drawing a response quickly faded and neediness crept in to expose the naked desperation hiding just beneath the surface. It wasn't long before all-out begging permeated the comments ("Aw babe where you been I missed you so much!" "Can we at least bribe you with sweet, sweet rum?").

(Something about this abandonment by our absentee blogger/father/mentor/idol struck a nerve deep within the part of our psyches we thought we'd militated against harm when we agreed to move all our social ties to the Cloud. Now that we never again had to fall out of touch through sheer lack of effort or expend precious time and attention on peripheral friendships and outgrown interests, wasn't social media supposed to save us from all the awkwardness and angst of impossible attachments? For the small price of our "personal data" (and the personal data of everyone we've ever known), weren't we supposed to be able to relegate the maintenance of our relationships to the role of curator or collector — connoisseur, even? So, whence the fuck came these unbidden emotions which seem to have afflicted TLP's entire jilted flock? And whither this unrequited, unrequitable attachment — this profoundly personal (though narcissistic, never doubt it) wound, once the pseudonym has gone? (In the Profession, it's called "transference.") One of the jilted had this advice for his brethren: "If your favorite writer is a blogger you've really got to do better for yourself."

(In the early days, they used to say "on the internet, no one knows you're a dog," but now we're all search engine-optimized and geo-located, tagged and tracked just like Wild Kingdom. When the FBI came knocking, not even Anonymous could hide behind the cloak of anonymity — and yet, despite his increasing popularity, TLP has maintained one of the Internet's last, best-kept secret identities. But a girl gets restless when she doesn't hear from you...

(Some evening about a month ago, I'd had my fill of the other minions' endless bickering in the comments and the attempts of a nameless few to hijack the conversation and divert it to their own private islands in the sky (although I'd never, ever say this to their pseudonyms, god knows it's certainly possible that some came across the site whilst searching for answers about a genuine mental illness). So I went out to have a look around, to see if I could find any others who were talking about TLP. About 25 pages into the results, I found more than I'd ever even thought about trying to search for. It was, first and foremost, a huge relief to be proven right in my unwavering assessment that he is a "he," and to an only slightly lesser degree, that he's a practicing psychiatrist — although not retired, like I'd predicted — in fact, not even close.

(The most disturbing part of my discovery that night was the fact that our Good Doctor is only about seven or eight years older than me, when all along I'd pictured him as a Robert A. Heinlein type — 60-ish, cranky and opinionated, intolerant of fools but brimming with worldly wisdom and compassion (more to the libertarian end of the Heinlein spectrum than the polyamorous end). Did my mental image of the grizzled old veteran in a Hawaiian shirt jibe with the empirical evidence, that TLP was someone who went to see movies like Sucker Punch and Hunger Games on opening weekends? Whose default military references were from Gulf War One as opposed to Vietnam or Korea? That a man in his 60s, presumably a father, would refer to people the age of his hypothetical children as the Dumbest Generation of Narcissists in the History of the World? Well... maybe.

(But anyway, now that I know who he is, I'm still in the same boat as all the other minions, checking the RSS feed every day, going to the site once a month in case the RSS feed "broke" somehow (whatever, don't ask me) and hoping he didn't decide that his career as an actual psychiatrist is more important than his anonymous online identity and a sizeable cult following the ranks of which, in all likelihood, are probably dwindling ever more rapidly, attention spans being what they are (oh, the irony; if he was your real psychiatrist, he could prescribe you something for that). It doesn't help with the nagging and truly, pathologically narcissistic thought that maybe he just grew tired of us (was his leaving somehow our fault?). I don't regret knowing, either, but of course it doesn't really make any difference who he is — it never did (and I'm sure as hell not going to tell anyone besides Mr. Pink, who had an unwitting front row seat to my triumphant discovery).)

Now then... what the hell was I talking about?

Ah yes, this house. According to the Vancouver Heritage Society, the "Allan" house was built in 1909 at 1460 Bute Street in the West End, where houses of it's ilk and era once proliferated. For the last two decades, though, it was the only one left standing on Bute Street, while all around it highrise apartment buildings towered and mid-rise condominiums sprouted up as lots were vacated, expanding the footprint of the old structure to take advantage of the maximum density allowable. Our old apartment looked out over this house and the backyard which was always piled with scrap wood, lumber and tools. (You can see our balcony underneath the red arrow on the left.)

The sole inhabitant was an old man, whose solitary but relentlessly productive activities sparked our curiosity and prompted much speculation over the five years we lived there. Who was he? How long had he lived there? How often had he been approached by developers over the years and how much had he turned down in favor of his self-contained life on one of Vancouver's most coveted corners? After all, this was the view from his front window looking out across Beach Avenue.

We could only imagine what lengths the more unscrupulous might have gone to, in the days before the low-rise next door was erected, when his little house must have seemed a puny impediment to their plans for the entire west half of the block. What confrontations must have taken place? What shady machinations were conducted behind closed doors, only to be foiled by the stubborn refusal of one old man to just take the goddamn money already and allow progress to march ahead? We would see him returning home from brief outings; he'd park his pickup truck and unload building materials, the distinctive sound of the heavy, rusted door clanging shut. We could hear him sawing away on various projects late on summer evenings, bent over a table topped with raw plywood until the sun went down. His shutters were always drawn and the windows meticulously barricaded, so we never could figure out if the house was connected to the electrical grid or not.

I'm not an indiscriminate preservationist by any means; in fact, I'm one of the rare Vancouverites who can look at an ambitious densification project like the Georgia Hotel Residences and prefer the After to the Before (although at 48 stories, it still strikes me as a lost opportunity to push Vancouver's height ceiling). But you just had to love the sheer "fuck you" the old guy represented, and to root for him and his iconoclastic Grizzly Adams pioneer life in the middle of our glass-and-concrete city with its skyrocketing costs and plummeting values. We always said we hoped he would hold out until his dying breath, maybe even torch the place as his parting gesture just because he could.

I've always found the almost organic evolution of cities fascinating (besides, at 127 years old, Vancouver's history is remarkably easy-to-digest). So I've been reading this incredibly engrossing book called Vanishing Vancouver (by Michael Kluckner), and as I was reading, I kept expecting to see that old house on Bute Street. We moved in 2004 and haven't been by that corner in years, so I finally got impatient and searched online to see if the house was still there. I didn't know the exact address, but the Street View of Beach & Bute clearly showed a vacant lot complete with signage promising a new mid-rise condominium soon to come (Street View being a couple of years out of date, I expect there's probably a modest vertical sprouting up in its place by now).

Vancouver Stained Glass circa 1908The intermediate steps on the timeline were filled in by The Vancouver Sun and Vancouver Heritage Society, but although I now know when and by whom it was built, I still have no leads on the man who occupied the house from 1963 until 2009, when he sold it for 2.8 million dollars. I can't help but wonder, did he sell it in the end, or was it sold out from under him as a result of his advancing age, dementia or other health problems? Maybe he passed away and ownership fell to a distant relative who sold it through an intermediary... Apparently it sat empty for over a year after that, and after a few months the city put up a blue fence to deter squatters. At some point someone removed the leaded stained glass windows we could see from our old balcony; they ended up at a local auction house.

After - Allan residence (1909); 1460 ButeThen, just after 6 am on May 2, 2011 the house went up in an blazing inferno like nothing I've ever seen in a residential neighborhood. Onlookers in the building across the street filmed for over two hours as the fire department controlled the spread of the blaze but put forth only the barest of efforts to extinguish the house itself until it appeared that flames had thoroughly consumed the structure. Only then did they turn the full force of nearly a dozen hoses through the open windows and onto the collapsed roof, but at that point the fire seemed to draw strength from some hidden, ephemeral source — or maybe it was just igniting unseen stores of hazardous materials the old man had hoarded for decades, invisible strata buried and layered and packed down and compressed like one big Presto Log.

There's this remarkable 15-minute video, edited down from the 2+ hours it took to put the fire out completely. When the neighbors began recording, the house was already entirely engulfed and not a single window was left unbroken. In the end, the structure remained unimaginably intact, but watching it, you can't conceive of any solid material surviving such an ordeal between the incredible violence of the conflagration and the pummelling of multiple pressurized water hoses. Still, something about the intensity of the fire and how quickly the entire building was utterly consumed suggest to my (admittedly, laughably uninformed and untrained) eyes something more than a timely accident.

A few years ago I spotted smoke coming from the roof of an old house across the street. I called 911 and was told there had already been more than 25 calls to report it. Fire trucks arrived less than five minutes later, and within 40 minutes the fire was out and they were wrapping up their hoses and walking around taking notes for their report. I can't say if there was any similarity besides the neighborhood and type of structure, though — supposedly no one knew what started this fire and no further evidence has since emerged, not that anyone cared to publish anyway. It just seems incredibly unlikely to me that a fire could grow so far out of control so quickly, surrounded on all sides by people with cameras and phones and all very invested in their own properties not catching a stray spark. So to my mind, it's still half a mystery.


click for permalink August 17, 2013

Situated on the West Coast, just three hours north of Seattle and about as far away from North America's fashion capital as is geographically possible, Vancouver is not a city known for dressing up. In fact, we've been called out by at least one national publication for our penchant for wearing a certain brand of yoga gear just about everywhere. One of our biggest employers is the video gaming industry, which takes "corporate casual" to a whole new level, and then there's the predominance of stoner culture and several enclaves of hippie society that have been entrenched in various neighborhoods since the 1960s. Add to these the proximity of a dizzying array of outdoor activities that tend to transform their practitioners into walking billboards for the sport-as-lifestyle. All year-round you can spot the devotees of off-road biking, mountain-climbing, snowboarding, rollerblading, kayaking and countless other endeavors that I lack the vocabulary to properly identify. All this is to say that in addition to being naturally disinclined, we are neither intrinsically nor situationally motivated to dress up for much of anything here in Vancouver...

Or so I thought.

It seems we just need the right "theme" to inspire us to Comic-Con levels of committed "cosplay."

Today was the Zombie Walk, an apparently annual event for which nearly Olympics-sized crowds — herds, hoards, mobs, what-have-you — of the living, walking, bleeding, biting undead throng the plaza of the Vancouver Art Gallery. My friend and I joined an impressive number of onlookers gathered to stare and snap pictures for an hour or so until the Caro Syrup-encrusted masses shuffled off down Robson Street with their bike-mounted police escort, the surrounding sidewalks crowded with spectators taking pictures and heckling from the sidelines.

I took lots of pictures, which you can see all of here.


click for permalink August 8, 2013

Mike Daisey, who you may remember from his sublime Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs (which is now available as a pdf for your reading, text-to-speeching or re-imagining pleasure), is back with a new monologue from NYU's recent Love & Let Die symposium. It's funny, insightful and profound — all that you'd expect from a presentation at a conference on death and dying — and more importantly, his performance is as riveting as ever.

Last weekend we watched the Season 3 finale of The Killing, along with the rest of its real-time audience, and even the Onion AV Club had to admit it kicked ass (although they also had to add, "compared to the first two seasons," which I mostly disagree with). Yes, it's a gritty police drama with a serial killer storyline; yes, the two main characters are apparent opposites, just partners but could they or couldn't they be more? There's an is-he-or-isn't-he wrongfully condemned man whose directionless rage and restlessness could just as easily be the pathological aggression/ self-destruction of a guilty man unable to control his impulses or an innocent man's refusal to submit to the cruel injustices of death row.

While his guilt or innocence seems to be the key question, not just deciding his fate but many others in a possibly related case, time ticks away towards the inevitable and yes, we've seen this play out a thousand times before (and it was summed up with satirical brilliance in the final scene of The Player's film-within-a-film; Julia Roberts has seconds left to live when the gas chamber door flies open: What took you so long? Bruce Willis, swooping her up in his arms, replies: Traffic was a bitch). But The Killing pulled off some greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts witchcraftery this season, leaving us with two of the genre's most original and believable protagonists, a handful of hauntingly powerful scenes and a couple of philosophical questions a bit deeper than we bargained for and destined to remain unanswered.

On the non-fiction front, we watched what will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the best documentaries of the year; Chasing Ice. If this thing doesn't get an Oscar nomination, I'll... well, I'll probably say "it figures" or something like that because Best Documentary is one of those categories that seems to grow more irrelevant and inadequate with each passing year, in perversely reverse proportion to the growing number, popularity and relevance of documentaries being released. Anyway, it was produced by the people who made The Cove, so it stands a good chance. From their website:

Chasing Ice is the story of one man's mission to change the tide of history by gathering undeniable evidence of our changing planet. Within months of that first trip to Iceland, the photographer conceived the boldest expedition of his life: The Extreme Ice Survey. With a band of young adventurers in tow, [James] Balog began deploying revolutionary time-lapse cameras across the brutal Arctic to capture a multi-year record of the world's changing glaciers... His hauntingly beautiful videos compress years into seconds and capture ancient mountains of ice in motion as they disappear at a breathtaking rate.

In the clip below (warning: contains spoilers), the team captures the largest glacier calving ever caught on film ("calving" is an inappropriately adorable term for when a giant iceberg breaks off from a major ice sheet like Greenland and floats away on its own to melt and contribute to rising sea levels). Towards the end of this climactic (not to mention climatic, heh) scene, which is oddly reminiscent of the Superman movie when the fortress of solitude springs up out of the sea, but on a massive scale, they cut to James Balog at a conference explaining just how massive a scale we're talking. Calling upon the only comparable object whose dimensions we all share in common consciousness, he lays a transparency of Manhattan over the calving face of the glacier. He explains that it's like seeing the whole of Manhattan island break off and roll over on itself before drifting out to sea, only you have to imagine the landmass is nothing but skyscrapers 2-3 times the height of World Trade Center One, from the tip of the Battery all the way past Central Park 100 or so blocks to the north. (At which point the conferees all in unison utter an incredulous, "Daaaamn. That shit's for real.")

If you're on Netflix (and who isn't, right?) then you're probably already watching(/watched) Orange is the New Black so I'll dispense with the gushing about how much we enjoyed that... We will now join the rest of the civilized world in counting down and reveling in the last eight episodes ever of Breaking Bad. Oh my god, I just realized... eight episodes is (give or take) eight weeks. As much as I hate to telescope a perfectly good August day into autumn (wait — good? Who am I kidding, it's been heaven here in Vancouver, with nearly 40 days of uninterrupted sun all through July, then a single day of refreshing, replenishing rain that washed away all the haze, pollen and pollution that had, if we're being completely honest, begun to accumulate rather alarmingly, and then back to hot, sunny days every day ever since)...

Anyway, telescoping August into autumn... The point is, once Breaking Bad is over we'll be into October and season four of The Walking Dead (!!!)... and it won't be a moment too soon because by then I will have read every last published issue of the graphic novel. (If you watch the show and read the comics, you get to experience the shocking deaths of all your favorite characters all over again in completely different situations in a parallel universe with a purposely unpredictably different timeline. It's actually rather traumatic.)