Review of the 2003 Academy Awards

Normally, around this time of year, I rant about the really dumb decisions the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science makes when awarding their own. Normally, it’s because they give Oscars to those who “deserve” the award, not those who’ve earned it.

Not this year. This year, I actually have to praise them for making the hard choices.

Last night, I convinced Tamara and her friend Todd to watch the Oscars. Didn’t take much — all I had to say was that “Bowling for Columbine” was up for Best Documentary. That was enough in Tamara’s books to watch the rest of the ceremony. We missed the beginning of the show, but came in just as the awards were beginning.

Okay, let’s get most of the nitty-gritties out of the way. Best Animated Feature Film could only have been Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away”. Having seen all the other nominees except “Spirit: Stallion Of The Cimarron”, there was but one choice. Best Supporting Actor and Actress (Chris Cooper and Catherine Zeta-Jones) gave me no reason to argue (though I might have preferred John C. Reilly in “Chicago”). “Chicago” scooped most of the primo awards, but considering the competition, that wasn’t all that surprising.

But the night was a rollercoaster of surprises. Unlike previous years where the winners were always predictable, this series seemed to play to the underdogs and renegades of the industry. Adrien Brody winning Best Actor for “The Pianist” threw a lot of people — I was expecting Daniel Day-Lewis. (Not that I’m arguing with the choice.) Eminem taking out music heavyweights like “Chicago”, U2, and Paul Simon was extremely welcome (although the guy who accepted could have least had the decency to wear something better). The Best Original Screenplay went to a foreign film, “Talk to Her” — an Oscar rarity. And despite all the controversy, Roman Polanski won the coveted Best Director.

Nothing was more surprising, and more pleasing, than hearing “Michael Moore, ‘Bowling for Columbine'” being read out. Both Tamara and I cried out in joy. Frankly, I thought Moore’s chances of winning were virtually none. Heck, I was shocked that he was even nominated! (Though I had a personal note never to watch the Oscars again if they didn’t nominate the movie. I guess someone listened to me for a change.)

If you’re wondering why I was shocked about the nomination, you obviously haven’t seen “Bowling” or know who Michael Moore is. The guy is possibly the single most politically-charged firebrand in the States at the moment. (Even previous Academy Awards where Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon made statements barely even come close to what Moore did.) In “Bowling”, he asks a lot of hard questions, though finds it almost impossible to actually get them answered. He even confronts Hollywood heavyweights Dick Clark and Charleton Heston. Both come out looking a lot dirtier as a result. Heston takes a cinematic beating, however, retreating from Moore’s questioning by merely walking away.

For those insults, I thought Moore’s changes of a nomination were nil. Okay, so he gets nominated — no chance he’ll win. The institutionalization of Hollywood won’t allow it. I would kill for a video tape of the production booth when “Bowling” won. The producers probably dove immediately into recovery mode. Because as soon as the standing ovation ended, and the quick thank-you was done, they knew that Moore’s political views would turn the heat up inside.

Hell of a way to get a ratings boost, though.

So the speech was barely cut short (Adrien Brody actually managed to get an extension, but finished his war speech far more tactfully than Moore’s), but the point was made. I think that’s all Moore really wanted to do. I don’t think he returned for the rest of the evening. Mind you, after his speech, producers might have just avoided showing him again. Steve Martin (the host) joked that Teamsters were helping Moore into the trunk of his limo. It was Moore’s first Oscar, and my guess is that it’ll be his last. Something tells me, though, that he won’t mind too much.

I want to thank the Academy, for doing the right thing for a change!

Going to Antique Steam School

It’s been a long time, but I’ve gone back to school.

The last time I took a class (see [[Why I Don’t Want to be a Technical Writer Anymore]]), it was for work. I wasn’t learning anything I didn’t already know, and I wasn’t really all that happy about it. This time, I’m taking something I have (some will say) far too much interest in, and (so far) have been really happy with. What is this wonderous education that I’m receiving? What is this subject in which I’m so engrossed?

I’m going to Steam School.

Okay, you can stop groaning now. Yes, this is related to trains. But not in the same over-the-top manner many seem to expect from me. (Either I’ve set far too many precedents, or people seem to expect a lot.) It’s actually an Antique Steam course, which is something I need to take so I can start my safety training for steam boilers.

Why steam boilers, you ask? Remember my girlfriend? (See [[Steam Train with CN 6060, Stettler to Big Valley]].) Well, she needs more people trained to maintain and operate her. There’s a lot of work involved with running a steam locomotive, especially one with a boiler the size of 6060’s. And with the bulk of our society getting older every year, we’re in a pinch to make sure our newer members (e.g. me) have the necessary training.

Now don’t get me wrong — the course I’m taking now doesn’t even come close to qualifying me to even getting me in the cab while the locomotive is running. As with all things, it’s a step in the right direction. Once I’ve obtained this permit, then I can start working towards my Class 5 permit. That will, at least, get me in the cab during operation. Then it’s a matter of time and training before I can write my Class 4. I need a Class 4 to operate 6060’s boiler — in other words, apprentice to be a fireman. (It’ll be a number of years before I can be an engineer.)

The class met at Pioneer Acres, a museum in Irricana, about 45 minutes northeast of Calgary. The village of Irricana is small, only about 1,000 people. It was likely once a railway town (the CN mainline — formerly Grand Trunk Pacific’s — to Edmonton runs through Irricana), but has since become little more than a small farming community. The village is surrounded by vast acreages.

Our instructor was late, caught in the snow where he lives. Although a chinook and the onset of spring has pretty much wiped out the snow in most of Alberta, some parts are still in a deep freeze. No-one seemed to mind too much, though. For the $100 fee, a large number of us are having the fees covered by employers or our respective museums and historical societies. It gave us a chance to get to know eacy other a little better.

The instructional material is … well, not so much in-depth as it is cohesive. Sounds a little odd, I know, but allow me to explain. Although I haven’t spent a huge amount of time with the Rocky Mountain Rail Society, my education started the day I showed up in Warden (see [[Reunion with Steam Locomotive CN 6060]]). Sometimes it’s just someone telling me the name of a strange blob of cast iron. Sometimes, it’s telling me how it works. If I’m really lucky, I get to see it in pieces. However, none of it really seemed to make sense.

The course I’m in is primarily aimed at safety. Steam engines (stationary boilers, traction engines, and locomotives alike) are all very dangerous. Even a stationary pressure vessel with pressures as low as 20psi can explode with disasterous consequences. 6060’s boiler runs at 260psi. As you can guess, safety is covered repeatedly during the session. The safety isn’t so much for us (though that is important), it’s mostly for the public. No steam engine would exist today were it not for the public wanting to see it operate. They’re far too expensive to own and operate without funding. So with the crowds we expect come the rules needed to operate them.

Over the last two days, I’ve received a very clear picture of how certain elements of a steam boiler operate. Most of them to me were textbook concepts. Our instructor make sure that the ideas that once seemed so simple were carefully explained. Luckily, we have several in the class who can explain things a little further. The SAIT instructor even managed to fill in the missing bit of information that finally cleared up how a steam injector operates. (Of course, having some knowledge of physics and thermodynamics actually does come in handy.)

I still get strange looks from friends and coworkers whenever I tell people about the things I do in my spare time. I guess most people expect that I would work on a computer all the time. With my job being close to the leading edge of computer technology, I guess I prefer having a hobby that has nothing to do with computers at all. There’s a certain amount of relaxation that comes from working with something that predates the electronic age. Something that has no knowledge of microprocessors (the federally-mandated radio notwithstanding), no cares about lines of software code, and no relation whatsoever to the mass-produced garbage of our era.

It might weigh more than 23 times the average city bus, but our nigh 60 year-old toy always seems to lift off the worries of my little world.

CBC documentaries at the Glenbow Museum

Last October, I bade farewell to my newly-made friends from the CBC Train (see [[CBC TV 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train, Halifax finale|5 October 2002]] and [[Touring Halifax, Part 1|7 October 2002]]). Since then, I have only talked to them over email and phone. It’s not the same as being there in person. And I’ve missed a lot, too — I get emails from some of them telling me about events and run-ins with the crew. Living out here, I feel pretty separated.

So imagine my excitement when I saw a note from Angela informing me that CBC (specifically Angela and Tracy, who handle CBC Newsworld) were coming to Calgary for two nights of free documentaries. All she asked was that I tell a few people.

I figured about 300 would be enough.

I arrived at the Glenbow Museum at about 18:40, well before the 19:00 start time. Angela and Tracy were holding the inner doors open, and greeting people as they arrived. Simultaneously, it felt like only a moment had passed since I’d seen them last, and a lifetime.

We talked for a while at the door, I stepping out of the way of arriving visitors. But soon it was time for the movie, and I wanted to go find a seat. That wasn’t too hard — the theatre was mostly empty. Although I had tried to tell as many people as possible, it can take a bit to get Calgarians to go out and do something, even if it is free.

The documentary was “The Hockey Nomad”, the filmed version of Dave Bedini’s “The Tropic of Hockey”. (Dave Bedini is the rhythm guitarist for the Rheostatics, and a self-proclaimed hockey fanatic.) A couple years ago, Dave had travelled the world looking for hockey. He’d found things like a tribe in remote northern China, a national team in Mongolia, rumours of a rink in the Amazon, and things that to even the most aware North American hockey afficianado would sound peculiar.

Such was the case of this movie. Dave and his camera crew visited three places: Ciuc (pronounced “chuck”) in the Transylvania region of Romania, ice rinks in the United Arab Emirates, and Ulan Baatar, the capital of Mongolia. He came to do one thing: Play hockey. Dave is a great story-teller, and even a subject like hockey (which can make even the most avid player roll his eyes) was completely fascinating. The story was compelling, and all the while featured a Canadian perspective.

Afterwards, Dave came down to answer questions of the audience, and of a local broadcaster who had his own set of questions to pepper around. Questions were plenty, and the answers interesting. Soon, it was 21:00, and time to wrap things up. I walked over to Tracy and Angela in an effort to see if maybe they wanted to grab a coffee and have a quick chat. They countered with an offer to tag along with their group.

We headed first to Saltlik, hoping to get into the lounge. Completely full, we opted for the James Joyce, just down the road. Tracy, Angela, and I were soon embroiled in our past. I felt kinda bad, though — they’ve already been through this with the others in Toronto. I have not. The only person out here is Enza, and I haven’t had time to get together with her for a chat.

For a time, it almost felt like we were in some dark corner of a bar in the middle of the prairies. (Okay, we *were* in a dark corner of a bar in the middle of the prairies, but that’s beside the point.) I could have sworn that if I’d turned around I’d see Emma, Roger, Amy, Chris, Gerry, the Bills, the Robs, Neil, Jule — the whole crew doing what we did best: Be together as a team.

It was all over too soon. Work calls as always, and I have early mornings at the gym. I left my part of the tab, and bit Tracy and Angela goodbye. Tomorrow is another movie, which I will unfortunately miss, and then they are off to Edmonton. It will probably be a while before I see them again.

Though the saying may go: “The world is getting smaller”, it still seems far too large for me.

Start of the Iraq War

One is left with the horrible feeling now that war settles nothing; that to win a war is as disastrous as to lose one.
Agatha Christie

What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?
Mahatma Gandhi

It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.
Robert E. Lee

War is not nice.
Barbara Bush (wife of Fmr. President George Bush, and mother of current President George W. Bush)

A little over 12 years ago, I sat on the floor of my bedroom, watching in silence as the Gulf War burst into horrific life. I had been greatly saddened by the events, and greatly worried that our world was about to boil over into something much more serious.

Imagine my shock when I sat down to watch a little television tonight. At 19:45 MST, the White House spokesman stepped onto the podium, saying that operations had begun in Iraq, and the President would be addressing the nation in 30 minutes. I had planned to do some work. Instead, I suddenly felt 12 years younger, and a lot more worried about the future.

When Dubya went on the air a half hour later, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Except for armageddon, of course. Sure enough, through all the rhetoric, the message was quite clear: The “Allied Forces” (comprised mostly of America and British forces) had started their attack on Iraq. Exact details weren’t clear, but from what I could glean from CBC and CNN, the US had launched a barrage of missiles into Iraq as part of a “decapitation” strike, trying to take out Iraqi leadership.

No matter how you try and make it sound nice, a “decapitation strike” sounds about as appealing as a root canal without painkillers.

I can only imagine what we’ll see in the coming weeks. No commentator can agree on the details. Some think this will be a fast war, some think it will drag on for weeks, maybe months. Some say the Iraqis don’t have a lot to offer in the way of defence, others suggest that the Allied forces are outnumbered four to one. They are agreed on a couple of things: the US will spend countless billions to fund this war, and a lot of people are going to lose their lives. And it’s almost certain that the protests will begin tomorrow.

There are two sad ironies in all this. First, the US can’t really “restore” democracy to Iraq. If they do, it’s almost guaranteed that the electorate will vote in a follower of Islam, who would more than likely not bow to the will of the US. So Iraq will likely be run under a US-positioned puppet. At least until that person decides that they don’t want to listen any more, start doing their own thing, and bring the US military back in about two decades.

Second, terrorism will likely increase as a result. No-one seems to have considered this part. Striking an Arab nation (even one run by a despot) will only succeed in angering neighbouring nations. Most certainly, this will raise the fur on Al Quaeda’s back. We can only certainly expect a reprisal at some point.

It’s debatable whether the Iraqi people are going to be better off as a result of all this. Everyone seems to be speaking of them, but more concerned with their own self-importance and sword-waving. Only the United Nations seems to have a rational head on their shoulders. It’s too bad that legally, they’ll have no recourse against the US and UK. It’s all fine for the UN to crack down on a small rogue nation. But what do you do when two of your most powerful nations go renegade? The coolest heads seem to be coming from France and Germany: Two countries that know all-too-well the horrors of war and of occupation.

I find it interesting that 65 years ago, another nation that opted to force its opinion and will on others started the “War to end all wars”. It was horror the likes of which no-one had seen before, and has brought us 60 years of stories (fictional and non).

Actually, I take that back. It’s not interesting. It’s frightening.

‘Cuz we might end up with a front row seat.

Middle Management

I found out today that I’ve become middle management. I’ve become my own arch-nemesis.

Critical Mass has (almost) finished its massive organizational effort. It’s not really a reorganization, per se, but it is a process that we’ve needed to go through for a very long time.

This year, Critical Mass turns eight years old. It’s been almost six years since the launch of our first website. I’m employee #175, and new people are in the #400 range. We’ve got a lot of people that need organziation to get through their daily lives. So with the introduction of Thelton, our new COO (well, “new” as of September), we dove into the melee of putting an actual structure into Critical Mass.

Continue reading “Middle Management”

Anniversary of my father’s death

Today is the first anniversary of my father’s death.

The last time I saw my father was over a year ago (see [[A Slight Ray of Sunshine on a Very Cloudy Day]]). Since then, all I’ve had are pictures and the memory of the sound of his voice. I have no home movies, no audio tapes. Just memories that will fade with time, eventually to the point where I can barely remember him.

I no longer speak of Dad in the way I used to. Now it’s with more reverence, and with more humour. For some reason, I’ve gotten into the habit of using phrases that are prefaced with: “As my father used to say…”, even if I know full well he never said those things. I attribute many of the things I know to him — most of my home maintenance and renovation skills (most of which, admittedly, is unproven), my (limited) knowledge of automobile mechanics, some of my financial sense (though I have to give most credit to Cathy, also known as my financial advisor), my love of adventure, my desire to travel, and a purpose in life.

Dad didn’t teach me all these things. I learn a lot through observation. (Hence, my “Observer” moniker.) And I certainly cannot mention learning without mentioning Mom. She taught me the rules of life, probably the hardest rules to learn. Mom knew me better as a child than I knew myself.

It’s been a year without my father. And it’s been a strange year. A couple of months ago, my family started discussing the possibility of what to do on the anniversary. There had been talk of Las Vegas. Not Dad’s favourite place, but I’m sure he’d appreciate the need for celebration rather than mourning. Dad never was a big fan of that.

Hopefully, today will pass without notice. I have no plans to call anyone in my family. Unless I need to. Today, I think all that I may do is find a quiet corner of a bar or pub somewhere, and have a glass of Scotch in my father’s name.