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Monday, October 20, 2008

Questionable Content and Other Sundry Notions

So one of the biggest productivity-killers I've encountered of late has been the amusing and endearing webcomic, Questionable Content by Jeph Jacques. It's a wonderful ongoing comedy about twentysomethings in college, hanging out, having coffee, listening to hipster music and contemplating life, sex, love and pop culture. The website is here, but if you're new to the comic, you should probably start reading from the beginning, here.

I guess what I like best about this story is that it reminds me in many respects of Oh Well, Whatever, Nevermind, my own novel about twentysomething lovelorns growing up and hanging out. I think Jacques nails the sentimentality and the poignancy better than I did, however, and I really think his work deserves to be read. Please check it out; I think you'll enjoy!

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On to other topics, this weekend I completed the third rewrite of The Darkness and the Stars, which is the follow-up volume to The Unearthing. I am currently recruiting beta readers to go over the "finished" story and let me know their thoughts. For fans of The Unearthing, this is your chance to read the next part of the story before anyone else; it is also an opportunity to provide feedback to the author, and possibly help shape the final version of the novel.

I am also looking for beta-readers for another project some of you may be familiar with, called Crossroads. The latter story is technically "finished", having debuted eight years ago on the Jumpgate web portal. However, I feel it needs a bit of polish. It has proven beyond my capacity to see where to tweak it, so I'm offering it up for book-doctoring. I know it needs some work, I just don't know where.

If you're interested in helping with either project, you can either reply to this post or email me. Don't be concerned if you're not a writer; what's more important is that you be a reader. It is a reader's opinion I need.

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Also in the "ME" news, I will be going back over Oh Well, Whatever, Nevermind as my next project. Following the suggestions of one of it's beta readers, I will be doing the final revision of that story by starting with the last chapter and working backwards. Likely, Nevermind will be the next story I submit for publication. I'll be shortly in the market for an agent/publicist to help with that.

Well, that's it for this post. Glad to be writing about writing again...I'm sick of that beady-eyed fat fuck Stephen Harper. God help us, we have at least another two years of his shit to live through.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

If you're looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror.


"Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth."

Of late, this space has been less writing-related and more political. For that, I apologize. However, the simple truth is that for quite a while now, something has been going wrong, terribly wrong in my country.

It started a little more than two years ago, when a gang of religious fundamentalists seized power. It wasn't a military coup that allowed them to gain power, nor was it the result of foreign invasion or domestic revolution. No, far worse, the people of the country actually allowed this travesty to happen.

"Our story begins, as these stories often do, with a young up-and-coming politician. He's a deeply religious man and a member of the conservative party. He is completely single-minded in his convictions and has no regard for the political process."

In 2006, Stephen Harper and his band of like-minded bigots, conservative Christians and corporate cronies rode into power, waiving their ten-gallon hats and whooping and hollering as they won a minority government.

Minority governments are a funny thing...the party with the most votes gets into power, but most of the electorate cast their votes for parties other than the one in power. It's a subtle perversion of the democratic process: although most people who voted voted for someone other than you, because their votes were split two, three or four ways, you win by default.

"He promised you order, he promised you peace, and all he demanded in return was your silent, obedient consent."

A number of scandals involving high-ups in the previous Liberal government's administration caused massive voter disapproval, which opened the door for the Harper Boys to ride in.

From the get-go, Harper and his government began doing everything they could to mimic their American counterparts: accessibility to the government by media dried up; the party closed ranks, Harper keeping a tight, tight reign on his deputies in order to ensure the party stayed on-message. Then, of course, came the legislation: Cut funding for social programmes here, provide corporate welfare to profitable businesses there; accusing civil servants of partisanship for going against Party ambitions here, endangering the public by disregarding the nuclear regulatory experts to reopen an obsolete nuclear power plant there.

Along the way Harper also barred the press from airbases when military coffins were shipped home from overseas, and continues promising to stay the course and keep Canadian forces committed to cleaning up Bush's mess in Afghanistan.

Then there was the dissolution of our civil rights, as detailed here. And of course, the censorship of and funding cuts to our arts, as previously discussed here, and here.

Lest we forget, Christian Conservative Harper and his gang attempted to put legislation into place that would have made it a special crime to assault a pregnant woman, as well as separate legislation designed to allow doctors to refuse patient referrals to women seeking abortions.

Add to that Harper's stated intentions to impose harsher sentences on young offenders, preferring punishment and incarceration to rehabilitation and education. In his own words, Harper said he prefers the opinion of the "Common Man" over the opinion of the EXPERTS.

If you're done letting that pile of anti-intellectual, counter-intuitive and ignorant hubris sink in, we'll continue.

A couple of months back, after the opposition parties balked at continuing to allow Cowboy Stephen and the Circle-C Posse to run roughshod over the governance of Canada, Harper decided to call a snap election, in violation of his own law requiring set terms before elections can be called.

And as of Tuesday, the Harper Conservatives have returned to power once more, when the vote was split between the other three major parties, namely the Liberals, NDP and the Bloc Quebecois.

But how did it happen? How did Harper, despite his unpopularity, win re-election, even if it was once again with a minority government?

"We're oft to blame, and this is too much proved, that with devotion's visage and pious action we do sugar on the devil himself."

This election, something terrible happened. This election, perhaps one of the most undemocratic events took place. No, the Canadian election was not robbed in electoral fraud as we witnessed in 2000 and 2004 in the United States. No, the governing power did not simply disregard the democratic will of the people as happened in Zimbabwe, Pakistan and Burma.

What happened was far, far worse.

For the first time in Canadian history, voter turnout during a Federal election was below 60%.

Only 59,1% of Canadian voters turned up at the polls.

Put another way, that means that of the 23 401 064 eligible voters, only 13 832 972 people bothered to vote.

And, dear readers, mea culpa. I was among those who did not vote. Why? My reasons seemed sound, at the time: I live in a Bloc Quebecois stronghold; a riding that has always voted for the separatist Bloc Quebecois. I believed that it was a waste of time to vote, especially given that the candidates from the other parties running in the riding had little to no visibility, and in more than one case, didn't bother campaigning beyond putting up posters.

"And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn't there?"

The thing is, some nine and a half million other eligible voters across this nation had the same idea. They all stayed away from the polls. Whatever their reasons, the fact of the matter is they, and I turned our backs on the democratic process. We failed the electoral process. We failed our civic duty and we failed our democracy.

Even if those nine and a half million votes had been split between the Liberals and the Bloc, or the Liberals and the NDP, or all three parties, it is entirely possible that the Conservatives would not have returned to power.

The lesson is simple: Not voting does not profit democracy. It does not profit the election. It profits the party you don't want to see return to power. What never occurred to me as I stayed home on Tuesday after work is the fact that if everyone in my riding who didn't vote because it's a "safe" riding for the Bloc had actually cast a ballot, then perhaps the Bloc would not have been returned to Parliament.

And if the 9 568 092 of us from across Canada who did not vote had cast a ballot, then perhaps the Harper Conservatives would not have won re-election.

I can only apologize on my behalf. I'm not certain that the other 9 568 091 failed voters realize their culpability or accept their guilt.

Not voting is treason; the treason of apathy.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Remember, Remember...

I cannot believe the voters of Canada were fucking stupid enough to re-elect the Conservatives.

Stephen Harper, who has raped culture, whored tax dollars to Big Business and has completely fucked over the cause of women's rights, is in the process of winning a minority government.

That means more people voted for anyone but Harper and his gang of bastarding crooks and misogynists, but not enough people voted for any other one party to keep the pigs from power.

Canada, we cannot allow the fucking Bush Lite Regime of Stephen Harper to have another one, two, three or five years in power. Canada cannot afford what these bastards will do as they strip mine the country in the name of their Christian Conservative Capitalist credo.

Whenever any Government becomes desructive, it is the Right of the People to abolish it and institute new Government. Revolt, Canada.

In 1605, Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up the British Houses of Parliament...400 years later, an idea can still change the world.

A building is a symbol. Symbols are given power by people. With enough people behind it, blowing up a building can change the world.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Stephen Harper: Fuck Culture.

Stephen Harper, the Conservative Party’s Canadian Prime Minister by Default, leader of a minority government (which means that a majority of people voted for anyone else but him and his party), recently slashed 45 million dollars from Canada’s arts funding. Under the guise of fiscal responsibility and moral leadership, Harper attempted to justify this attack on Canadian ideals.

The question is, why slash 45 million dollars from arts funding, but maintain 50 BILLION dollars in corporate welfare-subsidies given out to some of Canada’s richest corporations? This wasn’t money to bail out a bankrupted industry; this was cash giveaways to “encourage” business.

Is it that much more fiscally responsible to cut culture programs than it is to stop profitable corporations sucking at the taxpayer’s teat?

Which brings us to the next problem: the government imposition of morality. This isn’t the Harper Conservative’s first attack against culture on moral grounds. Earlier this year, they pushed through legislation that allowed them to deny Canadian films public funds, if the films were found to contravene “public morals”. What contravenes public morals? Well, the Harper Conservatives seem to take particular offence with the word “Fuck”. One of the films they cited as justifying their cuts was “Young People Fucking” which, according to them was an obscene and immoral film. Ironically, there are shows on television with more graphic portrayals of sex and sexuality. Likewise, the fuckophobia of the Harper Conservatives continued, when they claimed that music acts like Canadian rockers Holy Fuck were what was wrong with Canadian culture, and singled them out as one of the reasons for the 45 million dollar funding cut.

Here in the province of Quebec, we have always been militant when it comes to culture, and we have always elevated our artists to the status of cultural icons. In the last couple of weeks, a series of free concerts have been held in protest of the Harper Conservative arts funding cuts, featuring many of Quebec’s greatest and most respected artists.

Upon learning of this, Harper said “I think when ordinary working people come home, turn on the TV and see a gala of a bunch of people at, you know, a rich gala all subsidized by taxpayers claiming their subsidies aren’t high enough, when they know those subsidies have actually gone up - I’m not sure that’s something that resonates with ordinary people.”

In so doing Harper betrayed not only his own anti-intellectual temperament, but his complete ignorance of what it is to be an artist, particularly a musician in Canada. To say Harper is out of touch with reality is nothing short of hyperbole. Harper demonstrates the ingnorant’s disdain for anything intellectual, creative, or to use a favourite word of Harper’s Conservative cronies in the United States, “elitist”.

That Harper, who has never done a hard day’s labour in his life, has the audacity to claim these funding cuts in the name of the “working people” is offensive, for several reasons.

First, anyone involved with the arts on any level knows how difficult it is for artists to make a living in their chosen field-if they even can. Musicians must practice constantly, learning new songs; they usually have to provide their own transport and accommodation when on tour; at CONFRONT Magazine we’ve spoken with countless musicians who spend their tours sleeping in the back of a battered Econoline van. Likewise, the cost of supplies, be it guitar strings, musical instruments, what have you, can be exorbitant. More than one band has folded for want of being able to afford to replace lost, stolen or damaged equipment.

One need only look at the faces of the young men and women who are working artists-be they musicians, actors, painters, sculptors, or God help them, writers-to see how tiring it is to live an artist’s life. It’s certainly not the life of excess and delights that Harper and his gang of anti-cultural bigots would have us believe. These men and women work diligently and tirelessly, not just to be able to afford to practice their art, but to be able to afford food, clothing, shelter…the basic necessities of life. On average, working artists earn less than 27 thousand dollars a year. That’s less than most people make. Professional artists depend on those government subsidies to survive.

If Harper does not think that the struggles of artists resonates with ordinary people, then he is ignorant of the vital and ever-present role that art in all its many forms plays, not only with what we label “Culture”, but in our everyday lives.

How many of us drop earbuds into our ears in the morning, and crank up the MP3 player as we head out on our commute? How many of us adorn our walls with photographs, paintings, pictures? How many of us buy little odds and ends from street-corner vendors, like decorative sculptures, hand-made bracelets, necklaces, earrings or pendants? How many of you go to museums, or stop to look at public-display sculptures? How many of you go to movies, watch television, go to plays, go to the outdoor summer festivals? Art and culture is all around us. Art and culture saturate our daily lives. Whether we notice it, appreciate it, take it for granted or ignore it, whether we love it, hate it, are passionate about it or outraged by it, art and culture affects each and every one of us profoundly, regularly, constantly.

Subsequently, Harper has claimed that 45 million dollars is a paltry amount, that it is a small cut to cultural funding. If that is true, then why has he repeatedly claimed that these cuts are of such importance to fiscal policy? If that 45 million is so desperately needed, why are corporate handouts in the excess of 50 billion still allowed to continue?

The anti-cultural bigotry of the Harper Conservatives is vile, outrageous, and is an attack on Canada’s ideals as a nation, as a society, as a people. His disdain towards artists and arts programs smacks of ignorance, of the very sort of elitism he supposedly derides. For who else but elitists so ignorantly assume artists to be decadent, lazy, arrogant low-lifes? Who else but elitists think they know what is in the best interests of the “ordinary” person? These cuts were not merely the deletion of a few line items from an invoice. Vital programs have been affected:

• PromArt, a grant program supporting foreign travel for artists ($4.7 million)

• Canadian Memory Fund, which gives federal agencies money to digitize collections and mount them online ($11.7 million)

• Culture.ca Web portal ($3.8 million)

• Canadian Cultural Observatory ($560,000)

• Research and Development component of Canadian Culture Online ($5.64-million)

• Canadian Independent Film and Video Fund ($1.5 million)

• Audio Visual Trust ($300,000)

• National Training Program for the Film and Video Sector ($2.5 million)

• Trade Routes, supporting international tours by Canadian performers ($7.8 million)

• Northern Distribution Program, which distributes the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network signal to 96 Northern communities. ($2.1 million)

These decisions are supposed to be fiscally sound, but yet they fly in the face of any real understanding of the revenues generated by cultural programs, arts, music, film, theatre and television. According to ACTRA spokeswoman Taborra Johnson, “The arts contribute $85 billion per year to our gross domestic product. It creates 1.1 million jobs, which is 7.2 per cent of our employment.”

The arts don’t just contribute to Canadian culture; they contribute to the Canadian economy. When you consider the residual sales of merchandise, memorabilia, food, beverages, hotel and tourism dollars that festivals, concerts, exhibits, productions and plays generate, when you consider the multitude of spin-off income generated by such things, not to mention the jobs for technicians, service people, maintenance professionals and others, it becomes clear that cuts to cultural programmes are not only myopic, but imbecilic in the extreme.

Canada is currently in the midst of a Federal election. This election was called by Harper, in an attempt to change his minority government into a majority government. The funding cuts that Harper has so cavalierly justified have become one of the elections major issues.

It is incumbent upon all Canadians who care about culture, be they fans of music, patrons of the Arts, theatre-goers or festival fans, to send a clear message to the Canadian government that these funding cuts are unacceptable, and far more obscene than the use of the word “Fuck”.

Stephen Harper and his gang of Conservatives have shown a callous disregard for public opinion on this, and on several other issues. The fact of the matter is, nothing less than our Canadian identity is at stake in this election. Anyone who cares about that identity must take action. There is only one way to remedy this situation, and that is to ensure that Stephen Harper does not return to Parliament as Prime Minister. If we care about culture in this country, if we care about our friends and family who toil to make a living in the creative fields, there is only one thing we can do: On October 14th, we must vote against the Conservatives; we must ensure that they are not re-elected to Government. This is a war on Canadian culture. We cannot afford to let the Conservatives win.