It apparently started because someone was trying to defrost a water pipe in the underground parkade with an acetylene torch. This is not as weird as it may sound to some people from warmer climates; it's usually an effective process and not that dangerous...except when the water pipe is in a ceiling full of cardboard insulation, from fire codes forty years or so out of date.
Then, last night, there was a fire right in the middle of the Arts District on Whyte Avenue. They haven't figured out what caused that one yet, but since the first one doesn't seem to be arson, we hopefully don't have a firebug on our hands. Otherwise I'd be very suspicious. The casualties there were limited to a pet store on the upper story, thankfully.
Both places are in the oldest sections of town, though. Old materials and old fire codes make them more fire risks. I expect that after this a lot of places will be brought up to the current code.
Weirdly enough, searching for these articles brought up links to another story involving a fire in the same area of the river valley, back in September. This one was just a single apartment, not the whole building, and practically more of the coverage came from the fact that several football players from the Edmonton Eskimos, the local CFL team, helped catch a woman who jumped. It took me a few minutes to realize that it wasn't the same fire as the above, though.
There are a lot of people out there with strong opinions about the whole U.S. vs. Iraq thing. Most of the entertainment community, for instance, seems to be strongly against the war. This is not that surprising to me. From what I've seen in the blogosphere, though, opinions there are a little more divided. This may be because of the "left-wing media bias" I've heard so much about.
It makes me think about Billy Joel's song "Shades of Grey", about how one can't always see issues in black and white any more. But even the song would probably be read as being opposed to war, because, of course, you can't say that the U.S. is right and Iraq is wrong, right?
But I take it one step further. Maybe Iraq is not evil and the U.S. is not good; maybe Saddam is not evil and George W. Bush is not good. But maybe George W. Bush is not evil either. (Or Dick Cheney, or whoever you think is really running the U.S. right now.) Can war be justified even if one side is not evil and the other side is not good?
Well, is war about good vs. evil, or is it about other things? Even though every single analogy ever made is imperfect, because analogy is not the same as identity, let's try some analogies on for size.
Let's say that you have a policeman who knows that a former criminal has firearms in his house. Are the police justified in going into the house and tearing it apart, or arresting the resident? Maybe they are, especially if the firearms are illegal. But what if they send some people in to search the house, and nobody can find the firearms? But the police say that it's still there, because they have secret information(not admissible in court).
Let's reduce it more simply. If the police think that a person is a threat, that they may commit a crime in the future, because they have in the past, then they are not justified in arresting that person, outside of "Minority Report".
And now let's break the analogy. If the criminal attacks or kills a person, then they can be arrested. So, therefore, should we only make war on a country that attacks another country first? Or even then?
Countries are bigger than people, of course. They take much longer to kill, for instance--or at least they did, before the advent of nuclear weapons. And that's the thing. In the days of land wars, or even land, air and sea wars, then if country A attacks country B, then country US could probably intervene before country B was too damaged.
There is, of course, the question of why Iraq, instead of North Korea, or Pakistan, or something. That, I don't know. I didn't say I was for the war, but that I could see the pro-war point of view. It always seems a bit more complex than the anti-war point of view, which seems to reduce to "Killing is always bad". I confess that I don't hold that as an axiom, which is why I can't always make myself agree with people who do. Killing is usually bad, but always? One can always come up with cases. And the opposite of "Killing is always bad" is not "Killing is always good", but "Killing is not always bad".
And that's about enough for me to say on the topic right now. Let me just say that I'm still on the fence.
From Billy Joel and fire, my mind immediately leaps to the song "We Didn't Start The Fire", of course. Which I happened to be listening to on the way to work today, and wanted to write about, but I didn't expect such a classy segue...
I like the song, but sometimes it bothers me a little bit, in a Gen-X vs. Baby Boomer sort of way. It covers elements of the news from, what, 1946 to 1965 or so, over several verses. And then it spends a single verse on 1966-1988(when the song came out), as if it were implying that things had started spiraling out of control once he reached adulthood.
Now, as someone who personally remembers very little news from before 1971*, I find this a little bit annoying. Sometimes I think I should try to come up with my own list of events from my own lifespan, to cover the first twenty years of my life or something. Of course, this would involve some research on my part. I know that there were a lot of significant things that never made it into Billy Joel's song--the Iran hostage crisis(though he does mention the Ayatollah, I suppose), the death of John Lennon, the Challenger explosion--and certainly a few things since, like the Gulf War, Monica Lewinsky, and September 11th.
Maybe someone's already done this. But it's still something I will probably think about from time to time. I'm not a big news follower--I'm pretty sure that I didn't hear about the Challenger explosion at the time, for instance, or cold fusion--so hey, if I heard about it, it must have been important.
Like many people, I imagine, sometimes I like to play the "what if I were omnipotent?" game. Oddly, I wouldn't really want to mess too much with the world as it is. I'd be the master of Holodecks, running simulations of the world if things were different. Experiencing it all vicariously, in a sense.
But then I keep thinking of John Brunner's book The Stone That Never Came Down, still one of my favourites of his. It's been a while since I read it, but here's how I remember it, more or less. At the beginning, they come up with some substance by accident--I think it's a drug or chemical, rather than a virus. A man gets injected with it, or ingests it, or whatever.
And after that he becomes a completely rational person. Not logical and emotionless--rational. Able to take everything into account before he does anything, not just working off of emotion, but taking it into account like everything else. The rest of the book follows him and those he recruit as they attempt to spread this substance throughout the rest of the world.
This, to me, would be something close to utopia.
Of course, the biggest problem with it would be that it might negatively impact the arts. If everyone was rational, what would happen to music, and books, and even TV and movies? Kim Stanley Robinson's The Pacific Edge was an attempt, fairly successful, to write a novel taking place in utopia, but still containing interpersonal conflict.
The way I've come to think about human emotions is kind of like the sense of taste. They are both wired into us for reasons that have nothing to do with modern human society, but a lot to do with whatever environment we evolved in before we started to bypass natural selection. And a lot of them both we probably share with other mammals.
The four basic tastes are sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. Anything more complicated than that has to come from the more complicated sense cells in the nose, though exactly how that works I'm not sure. The tastes all seem to have fairly straightforward associations. Sugar is good because it gives us a burst of energy, and when you're struggling to survive, that's a good thing. Salt is mostly good, because it something that we lose in the heat and need to replenish. Sour and bitter are probably meant to be bad, meaning things like underripe fruit or alkaline water. People like me who love sour things are probably freaks of evolution...or maybe underripe fruits are not as bad as all that.
Similarly, if you think why sulfur compounds smell bad, then it probably comes either from decay, or from volcanic gases, both of which are not that good for us. I'm not sure if volcanic gases would be prevalent enough to do that selection, though, so I'm not sure. (And remember, kids, that not everything is an adaptation. Some things are just left over from what we started with.)
So with emotions, I think that they come about the same way. Certain things make us happy the same way the sugar tastes sweet. And perhaps there are higher and more complex emotions the same way there are more complex tastes once you get other organs into it. Anger and fear and all those things affect us at a prehuman level.
Today, we know that eating too much sugar is bad, because we're wired for a time when there was never too much sugar, so we always turn it into fat. Are our emotions any more suited to a modern society? If we understood them better, then we would know better which ones were hazardous to our health.
I finished reading Precursor a few days ago, and it was pretty damn good. As always, despite most of the action seeming to occur off-screen, Cherryh keeps the tension cranked up to a high level. Perhaps because of the fact that the main character is mostly in the dark.
Then I breezed through Neil Gaiman's Coraline, which we had gotten from the library. It was pretty good, though I'm not sure if Simon will be getting a copy anytime soon. I'm taking the cover quote from Lemony Snicket to heart.
Now I'm starting another big huge fantasy series, "The Malazan Book of The Fallen" by Steven Erikson. I picked up the first two books mostly because he's a Canadian author, and I still like to support Canadian writers. I'm about a third of the way into the first book, Gardens of The Moon, and it's interesting. It managed to make the transition from one set of characters to another without losing my interest too much. The first part reminded me of both the Black Company books and, a little bit, of Michelle West's most recent fantasy series. The next part is a bit less intense, with more of a Thieves' World kind of atmosphere to it. So it's not all on one level. We'll see if it keeps my interest, and if I get to the second book anytime soon. Or buy the third.
I've been borrowing Red Dwarf videos from the library and rewatching them for the past few weeks. I got the first two series no problem, but the first half of the third is unfortunately missing; I might have to try to find that in a video store.
Some of them I'd actually only seen once before, and that on Showcase, a Canadian cable channel that, unbeknownst to me, cut several minutes out of them to put commercials in. Filthy swine. So some of what I saw was completely new, though admittedly not completely essential to the plot.
It's between the second and third series that they make a big break, though. Norman Lovett leaves as Holly, the ship's computer, replaced by Hattie Hayridge. Robert Llewellyn joins the cast as Kryten, giving the whole thing quite a different dynamic. And, in a hyperspeed rendition of the "Star Wars" opening info dump, they dispose of several plot threads from the first two series entirely. Maybe they just thought they'd written themselves into a corner. (Although there's still the bit where Lister five years later apparently goes back and marries Kochanski...did that ever happen? Or is that in the same timeline where Lister turned into a brain in a jar?)
Anyway, it's fun watching these again. I hope to be able to find the rest of them, and I also hope that one day they continue with the series...
A week or so ago, someone on the SF Canada listserver posted a link to an article in The Atlantic called "Caring For Your Introvert", by Jonathan Rauch. I tend to think of myself as a classic INTP personality, and years ago I had formulated the theory that introverts recharge from being with people by being alone, while extroverts recharge from being alone by being with people. It's nice to see that other people corroborate this as well.
If you are an introvert, or think you may be one, read this article. If you're not, but you know someone that you think may be(or is just no fun at parties), then read this article too. Of course, if you're a blogger, you're likely an introvert, right?
Now for some library CDs:
Ultravox: Dancing With Tears In My Eyes. This seems to be a collection of singles and rarities, or something, from the Midge Ure era of Ultravox. I'm less than enthralled by Ultravox in general, but there are some good tunes, like the title track and "Hymn", that I hadn't heard much before.
Talvin Singh: Ha. For some reason I was expecting India-style pop, like Dal-Dil-Vog or something, but this is all electronic and mostly instrumental, with some Indian instruments to spice it up a little bit. There are a couple of interesting tracks, but the rest came off as a little bit samey.
Wishbone Ash: Bona Fide. I didn't know much about this band, but I did read up on them at the All-Music Guide, as is my wont. They list this album as a "compilation", but given its lyrical references to September 11th, I'm inclined to think it's not. It veers from hard blues-rock to slightly softer stuff, and at no point struck me as essential.
The Stranglers: Hits And Heroes. Another singles/rarities collection, from the Stranglers, going up to "Strange Little Girl". I'm not that much of a fan of their earlier stuff, but "Golden Brown" is one of my favourite songs, and I found the other songs from that period to be interesting as well.
Spin This!. This is a compilation put out by Spin! magazine, a couple of years ago. I've never read the magazine, but The Spin Alternative Record Guide made quite an impression on me when I first read it. The fact that I found few of the artists lauded therein to be to any degree listenable has palled it on me somewhat, but I thought I'd check it out anyway.
It's mostly either rap, electronica, or sludge. The electronica I already had, and the other two I could mostly do without. The major exception to this was Nikka Costa's "Like A Feather", which must have gotten on by mistake, and Gorillaz' "19-2000", which I had apparently musically misfiled under rap. So hopefully I will get something out of it...
On to the countdown:
340. Duran Duran: New Religion, from Rio
Now that I've gotten over my phase of considering Duran Duran a guilty pleasure, and can like them guilt-free again, I have to acknowledge that I really like this song, mostly because of its interweaving vocal lines. When I first heard it, on an early-80's underdocumented cassette, I had no idea that its subtitle was "A dialogue between the ego and the alter ego", but now I have it on CD.
339. Traveling Wilburys: The End of The Line, from Vol. 1
The trading off of the five vocalists works well on this song, even if I still suspect that everyone gets to make up their own verse, and the harmonies when they get together are wonderful. I also can't help but associate this one with the video, made after Roy Orbison died, with the empty chair where he would have been sitting.
"Petting zoo? I thought this was a Killing and Corpse Raping Zoo..."
I ended up going to his site and wandering round a little bit recently. I felt a vague urge to do something Nomicky, but I really didn't want to actually get involved in a game, because I don't have time for it. I did take a look at the NomicWiki, with a bunch of Nomic information in Wiki format. There was apparently an attempt to do a Wiki-based Nomic game, but that didn't work too well. How can Nomic work if anyone can edit any rule at any time, as one can on a Wiki?
I had also thought that a blog might be a great format for a Nomic. You can have one blog, editable only by the Speaker or something, with the rules, and another which serves as the public forum. Possibly more than one. Just replacing the old mailing lists with blogs.
Apparently someone else came up with the idea, because I found something called BlogNomic. It doesn't look quite like how I had envisioned it, though. For instance, you have to have a blog to play, and while you can do Nomic-related activities on it, you can't actually mention Nomic on your blog. Anyway, it also had other outlandish requirements, like having to update at least once a week, so it probably wouldn't work for me anyway.
There are a lot of dead Nomics out there. I don't know what makes one Nomic succeed and another fail, or one last for years and then fizzle out. When I was in Ackanomic, I was gung-ho for months, then I finally got my share of the responsibility, and then it became work, and then I lost interest. I don't know if that's the typical cycle(it is for me, anyway), but if so it probably depends on enough people being in the right phase at the right time. Also, after time most Nomics tend to accumulate lots of cruft in the ruleset, overelaborate things, and get into phases of just refining the ruleset rather than shaking them up.
It was fun at the time, but I wouldn't do it again right now...
I was finally listening to a bunch of MP3's that I'd downloaded a while ago. I was on Bearshare looking for some rare Barenaked Ladies and Kate Bush songs(not together, I should add, though that would be cool), and found a few. But listening to them...I wondered who the hell labelled them. Not somebody who had actually acquired the track with any information, apparently.
Labelled as "Kate Bush & Annie Lennox" was a song called "When The Rain Came Down". It sounded a little bit familiar with I started to listen to it...but that voice didn't sound like Annie Lennox. It sounded deeper. And then it hit me. It was Happy Rhodes.
I first heard of Happy Rhodes mostly because of a guy named Steve Fagg from the U.K. who sent me a tape of her stuff, among others, when I asked about her on rec.music.gaffa, the Kate Bush newsgroup, some time ago. If you listen to some of her stuff, it sounds like Kate, from her early days...but others sounds nothing like it. Happy Rhodes has a very masculine voice in some ways--she probably sings tenor, and she has a falsetto. The falsetto sounds like Kate Bush; the tenor might have sounded a little bit like Annie Lennox. But honest, it's the same person.
Then there was "The Spirit We", which was labelled as "Kate Bush & Indigo Girls". Another guess, which turned out to be wrong. It was a good song, but I didn't hear any of the vocalists supposedly present. A quick search on the net revealed that the song was by a woman named Rachael Sage, and the same song was available on her website. Sloppy.
There were a couple supposedly with Peter Gabriel, too. Both were from a live bootleg, I think, and of questionable sound quality. One, "Here Comes The Flood", may very well have had Kate Bush on it, but she wasn't singing, so I couldn't tell. The other one was more rewarding--a cover version of "Another Day"(I don't know who did it originally, but This Mortal Coil also did on "It'll End In Tears"), with Gabriel and Bush both singing.
Kate is not the only one to get so mislabeled, though. One of the Barenaked Ladies songs I got was "Marajuanavile"[sic], and a quick listen confirmed that while the vocalist did sound a little bit like Ed Robertson, there was no way this was the Ladies. This was some bad comedian getting into some crass drug humour. I didn't even finish listening to it.
I remember looking for Weird Al Yankovic songs a while ago, too. I got four or five that were not Weird Al, but someone had figured that they must be, because they were parodies. As if he's the only parodist around...
I have been trying, lately, to mostly look for actual legitimately accessible MP3s, from promotional websites or mp3.com or the like. This works best for obscure artists that I can't find at the library, who need to promote themselves by MP3. It's a great way to sample, though it's more hit-or-miss. If I don't like the one or two songs put up on the sample, then how will I know if the rest of the album might happen to be great? I can think of a few albums that I grew to like in spite of the singles. Of course, going on file-sharing services only allows me to go by title, so that's not always any better.
A few more library CDs I might as well do:
Barenaked Ladies:Rock Spectacle
I forgot this one last time. This one was almost their real breakthrough in the U.S., before "Stunt" and "One Week". It's from the tour for their third album, "Born On A Pirate Ship", which is not really considered their best, but it does contain some good songs from their first three albums. Still, considering that I thought "Maroon", their fifth, is their finest work so far, it doesn't do much for me.
They do do some fabulous improvisation stuff live, interpolating all sorts of things into "If I Had $1,000,000", and doing lengthy rap routines, but that's only a little bit tucked onto the end of the CD. That's most of what I was looking for on MP3, to be honest, and I haven't gotten around to listening to it yet. A lot of that is probably bad bootlegs too...
Natalie Imbruglia:White Lilies Island
This one was a little bit of a disappointment. The only track that really stood out for me was "Beauty On The Fire"; the rest didn't do much for me. Maybe I should try to give it another listen.
Marah:Float Away With The Friday Night Gods
When I went to look up this band, I discovered that they were supposed to be inspired by Bruce Springsteen. Could've fooled me--from this album, I would have filed them under "Madchester". Even the opening track, "Float Away", which featured Bruce himself, didn't sound like him, though it was pretty good. It's almost worth acquiring, since about half the album is pretty decent("Shame" being the other standout track for me, mostly because of the guest vocals of Caroline Lost, whoever she is), but the last three songs were just meandering and raucous and turned me right off.
Right now I'm reading Precursor by C.J. Cherryh. This is the fourth of her atevi books, about a colony of humans stranded on an alien planet. The main character, Bren Cameron, is the main liaison between the atevi and the humans, and there are no shortage of tense situations for him to deal with. By this point in the series, it seems that most of the sympathetic characters are atevi(apart from Cameron and one or two others), and Cameron seems to be able to figure them out better than the humans in his life. We'll see if that changes anytime soon...
Before that I read(reread?)Nightwings by Robert Silverberg. If I read this one before(and I suspect I did), I totally didn't remember it. It's really three linked novellas, though I don't know if it was published separately, or maybe serialized. It's set on a future Earth that has overspent its social capital, and ended up mortgaged to an alien race that it had treated intolerably. The book deals with one character and how his life is transformed when the alien creditors show up to repossess the planet. It's pretty good, but not outstanding.
Then there was Blake's Progress by R.F. Nelson. It's a weird book, almost all from the point of view of William Blake's wife, Kate, who is taught by her husband to time travel. They run into other time travelers with their own agenda, and there follows a bizarre battle of reality that makes Fritz Leiber's "Changewar" look like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book. Well, not really, but it is pretty spectacular.
This weekend is looking a trifle busy. Besides our normal library/bookstore trip on Saturday, Nicole and I are scheduled to go give blood, and then get haircuts. There was going to be a Heraldry Society meeting too, but Darren's car didn't start, with the weather and all, so he's trapped in Red Deer this weekend and can't make it. And of course the usual weekend chores--dishes, laundry, etc. Plus cleaning the bathtub and cleaning the cat's litterbox, which have been put off several times now, each. We're so bad.
Time to wrap this up, now, with the latest entries in the countdown:
342. The Pretenders: Back On The Chain Gang, from Learning To Crawl
This is a definite classic, from what has grown to be one of my favourite albums. I've known this song for longer, though, and it is bittersweet and melancholy and even a little bit vulnerable, with an exquisitely understated performance from Chrissie Hynde and the rest of the band.
341. Bruce Cockburn: Laughter, from Further Adventures of Bruce Cockburn
A gentle song, laughing at many things but not seeming to mock them outright. More like the way you laugh at a child--sometimes they do things wrong, and sometimes they do things that are just too precious, and either way you can't help but laugh. At least, that's what parenthood is teaching me.
The more things stay, the more they change the sane.