Monday, March 28, 2016

Pregnant Pause

Just a few years ago, the limit for humanity seemed to be 5 billion.  Then it was raised to 7 billion, and now, even 9-11 billion doesn't seem like much of a reach.  When my sister got married, I respected the fact that they chose not to have a baby.  The Earth already had too much of a population explosion, and another kid around the house would be more trouble than it's worth.
That, and I didn't want to share attention away from myself.
But then five years later, some kind of Biological clock switch suddenly flipped, and my sister decided to join the ranks of the statistically deprived.

While this doubtlessly made my parents happy, this news filled me with an air of impending doom.

My sister is one of the few people that I connect well enough to share my inner thoughts with, and can have meaningful conversations with over shared interests.  Having a baby around would mean she'd have less time to spare for the extra library books I take out for her that I think she'll really like.  Not to mention having a toddler in the process of growing up would wind up damaging the numerous comics that I've helped accumulate for both of us.
My sister, in all her glory, before bloating up.
But mostly, it's because I'm phobic about babies in general.
A close-up of my sister's unique shirt...
I've always dreaded being in the presence of children, because their sudden movements are too unpredictable and uncontrollable for me to react.  Furthermore, my number one fear is that I'll do or say something that could potentially corrupt their impressible young minds.  As much as they might look up to me for my sense of humour, my lifestyle isn't exactly something they should strive to emulate, since I'd be simultaneously the most mature and immature adult they'd ever know.  I'm more a model for a cautionary tale than anything.
Which looks a lot like those foam fruit protectors.
Assurances that I'll be a wonderful Uncle aren't very reassuring.  I have no experience in that field, and doubt that I'll overcome my anxiety anytime soon.  Just because women have been having children for generations is no excuse for my naive inexperience.  One of my guiltiest fantasies regarding babies is to hang around the paternity ward during a lightning storm, and when asked about the gender (is it a boy or a girl?), to cackle maniacally, and proudly proclaim, "IT'S ALIVE!!"  Scenarios like the above is why I shouldn't be trusted around children.  (Not that I relate to anybody within my age group anyways)
You can't look at these apples the same way anymore.
The plan was to keep my sister's pregnancy a secret until she revealed the big news on her social media.  However, the influx of hormones in her system made her continuously tired, and she wanted to draw a picture commemorating the moment, but kept putting it off.  At this point, keeping her bulging belly from being noticed is getting harder to ignore, and is pretty much general knowledge by now.  To make up for that oversight, I decided I couldn't wait any longer, and use the picture she drew on the card, commemorating her announcement.
(Chant - if you want to switch this self-caricature out, now's the time)
Even at this stage, I'm not 100% certain that the baby won't turn out to be flawed upon delivery.  Every expectant mother lives under the illusion that their babies would turn out perfect, but there are so many things that can go wrong.  It could be premature, it could be stillborn, it could be handicapped (my sister and I were both born Deaf), it could suffer from any number of potential death-related injuries or undergo a fate worse than death.

Some women cry when they hear their baby's heartbeat.  My sister took the opportunity to record the sound of the baby's heartbeat instead.  That's just an indication of how much things have changed since the old days.  People have become so accustomed to taking selfies they're now attempting doing them while driving, when the previous distraction worry was just texting. It's only a matter of time before someone decides to take the ultimate selfie by capturing their birth via cellphone.  Future hospital dialogue would likely be in the vein of "I - ugh - I can see the head!" all while holding the instrument of vanity aimed at their privates.  That'd be an unfortunate home video quite difficult to explain for any unsuspecting soul who'd find it.

On the plus side, my sister's deafness has the unintentional advantage of being unable to hear her child's overnight cries.  That should make sleeping much easier for her.

Even so, I compiled a list of universal constants that, baring a sudden shift in evolution, should withstand the test of time for... a decade or two, assuming humanity lives long enough to survive past then.

You'll attempt to show your favorite children's movies (and pre-screen the latest releases to ensure they're suitable for your kid), but the things children get scared of may not be the same disturbing things seen on the screen.

Your kid will be a constant purveyor of TV shows and movies that'll be watched repeatedly, beyond the scope and limit of what you'd consider reasonably acceptable.

Your kid will not believe that there were novelty comics / books / cartoons / movies that were better than the current stuff, and that the people who created such timeless classics are dead, or about to be dead.

Your kid will develop its own interests, which will drive you nuts, since you'll get repeat requests for toys along those lines.  If you can't provide, you'll have one unhappy customer.

Your kid's interest in these various forms of entertainment will reach fanatical levels that will last a lifetime, or peter out and die, once they've gotten used to the formula, and move on to more stimulating things.

Your kid will suss out the plot points to many old TV shows and movies that existed before their time, in order to catch up on many pop-culture references.  Either through osmosis, word of mouth or a general promiscuity for spoilers.

You will struggle to maintain your opinion from the "helpful" influence of well-meaning friends and family members, who may have conflicting ideas of how to best raise your child.

You will be continuously astounded by how smart and stupid your kid is; retaining astounding amounts of trivia while remaining remarkably ignorant on other issues.

You'll struggle to wrestle your child's attention away from the shiny allure of latest technologies, which they'll instinctively master.

You'll attempt to shield your child from the harsher realities of the world.  Up to a certain point, this will work, but eventually, your kid will find out these things, whether you like it or not.

Your kid will be an adept mimicker, aping aspects of its parents... up to the day it'll rebel and enthusiastically decide NOT to follow in your footsteps.  Enjoy it while you can!

Your kid will ask questions you won't have answers to.

Your kid will attempt to keep secrets from you.  Chances are, you'll find out about these secrets yourself, and you'll be split on deciding to play ignorant, and let your kid think they pulled a fast one on you.  If the situation is serious enough, you'll want to confront your kid over these issues before they become a blown-out problem.

You'll also have to learn about deciding when to give your baby reins of control over your lives, and when to put your foot down, no matter how painful it may be in the short term.  Being a parent means setting rules with boundaries, making sure those rules get enforced, and that there are consequences for breaking them.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

October Crisis Influence

When it comes to Canadian domestic issues, there's a rather short list of disasters that've happened.  Apart from Heritage Minutes and documentary movies, knowledge about Canadian history is sketchy at best within their own citizens, and less memorable outside Canada's borders.  The notable exceptions being major headline grabbers such as the Lac-Megantic train explosion, the École Polytechnique Montreal Massacre and Mayor Rob Ford scandal, events in Canada is usually pretty quiet around here.

One of the defining moments in my country's history was the 1970 October crisis, the effects of which are still debated and contested today.  It may seem hard to believe, but there was a time when there were national terrorists from an extremist version of the PQ (Parti Quebecois) party, actively championing for French rights.  These guys got their message across by bombing mailboxes, which made people understandably nervous.  Around the same time that home delivery mail was being phased out for community mailboxes, I made the tasteless question of asking "Where's the FLQ when you need them?"

As if kidnapping a British trade commissioner wasn't enough, they decided to up the ante by kidnapping the Minister of Labour.  From this point on, stakes are raised and tensions rise.

Pierre Trudeau executed the War Measures Act, and started rounding up all members and potential members - anybody who had potential relations with the FLQ, and had them locked up.

Upon discovery of the ambassador's death, even the people who were on the FLQ's side couldn't condone their actions anymore.  Even though many of the people who were rounded up turned out to have superfluous ties to the FLQ, there was little doubt that the tactic used was very effective.

The War Measures act was the only time it was implemented during peacetime, and while the majority of people were for its use, there were complaints later on due to the large amount of police brutality in response to a perceivable threat.  Arrested citizens were held for a week without due process, and could be imprisoned for another three weeks.  In response to rising tensions, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau uttered one of the most memorable political lines this side of Fuddle-Duddle and "A proof is a proof".

In his summary of Canadian elections, MightyGodKing wrote in his footnotes,
"It is worth explaining that Jean Chretien embodied one of the central principles of Canadian politics, which is that for all that the world thinks of us as nice and polite, we inevitably vote for whichever political leader seems like the most capable bastard. Chretien was a ridiculously capable bastard."
While in power, political leaders can be under threat of being targeted, such as Jean Chretien's late-night break-in (who was stopped by his wife) and the Ottawa shooting at Parliament Hill. However, once their term is over, they're pretty much on their own.  Unlike Presidents who continue to be guarded for life after completing their service, Canadian Prime Ministers revert back to being citizens without protection.  It's not unusual to see one shopping, taking public transportation or ordering fast food in public, though it can be a little jarring.

In exchange for the safe release of James Cross, the people responsible for the kidnapping were exiled to Cuba as per their demands, believing that the Communist Castro government would be sympathetic to their cause.  They escaped, but the reality of the Castro regime was far from their expectations.

While people were voicing loud complaints about how innocents were treated, they were strangely silent regarding the perpetrators who were left unpunished.  Just recently, around the time Justin Trudeau revived the Liberal Party away from Harper's strongarm scare tactics, one of the first laws they overturned was revoking the citizenship of people accused of terrorism.  While their intentions were in the right place, the execution left a sour taste in some people's mouths.  The general consensus was that if you committed an act contrary to the values of Canada, then you've forfeited your rights to be a Canadian, and shouldn't be considered a citizen anymore.

The FLQ didn't just target mailboxes as an outlet for their frustration.  They also performed attacks on the Montreal Stock Exchange, City Hall, the RCMP, recruiting offices and army installations.

I only bring this history lesson up because of something I recently read; Violence Jack, the most Go Nagai-ish Go Nagai Manga ever made.  Go Nagai works tend to be filled with  reprehensible leads, villains, side characters and outrageous concepts played in a sadistic cartoony manner.  Violence Jack is a post-apocalyptic Manga of epic proportions.  Japan basically goes straight to hell after huge earthquake, which leaves it a deserted wreck.  Every Mad Max cliche you can think of is conveyed here, from punk-armored wearing fetish biker gangs to plucky orphaned children to scandalous torture, abuse, and sexual threats aimed against women.  And that's not counting the flashbacks to horrendous events before the devastating earthquake that reduced all of Japan to a savage wasteland.

Around this time in 1969, there were multiple student protests and riots in Japan over campus policies and Vietnam.  Shortly after being introduced to a revolutionary group, a fugitive murderer, Saotome Mondo starts off by kidnapping an American ambassador...

...delays on giving any specific demands for the ambassador's safe return...

...starts blowing up several army outposts...

...parades the ambassador around in a tank...

...while... well, I'll let the headlines speak for themselves.

Then, shortly after the ambassador is found left for dead, the police are called out in force...

...who righteously take down the remainder of the gang, while the leaders elude capture.  (Though they're arrested later, wearing paper-thin disguises)

Violence Jack started sometime around the 1970s, and the October Crisis happened in the 1970s.
It's not entirely implausible that a documentary about the kidnapping caught Go Nagai's eye, but if it did, the timing for influence certainly fits.  It's somewhat strange to notice a distinctive Canadian influence in an otherwise nihilistic work, when the majority is largely limited to American/Japanese media.  It's like discovering an ugly unicorn in a world of My Little Shetland Pony.
Something like this.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Breaking the Gummi Wall

There's a sugary place in Seatle that's renowned for being the second-largest depository of chewing gum stuck to its wall.  Late last year, it was forced to clean up the colorfully disgusting surface due to health issues.  The concern wasn't the amount of sugar available, but more along hygenie issues.  While it sounds like the outlandish premise to a classic Simpsons episode, it's something that actually happened.

I'm only bringing this news up because it's tangentially related to the title heading, and figured it was too bizarre to pass up on search results.

By all rights, The Gummi Bears shouldn't have been as good as they turned out to be - a barely fleshed-out premise, influenced by a punny take on a candy, using character designs from the ruined concepts of The Black Cauldron (The Chronicles of Prydain which is currently being reconsidered for a revival, preferably done right).  For all of Lloyd Alexander's complaints about how the movie bastardized his work, the cartoon series' success skewed closer to his source material, and paid more attention to the more competent female role.  (A welcome inversion of the Trinity Syndrome, where the male lead's self-esteem is bolstered in contrast to the woman's ability)

However, what worked so well for the television screen was drastically neutered for the comics page.  Since the only purpose for acquiring a slot on the funnies (other than taking up valuable advertising space) was to retain copyright and produce public awareness of their property, it shouldn't have been surprising that such a fondly remembered series should be reduced to pandering to a childish audience.  Yet it still remains a surprise.

There aren't very many available resources for finding samples of Gummi Bear comics, since the few newspapers that carried them didn't keep them for very long.  As with most licensed properties, they were only kept around long enough to serve their purpose.  A cursuory survey of their strips show hardly any variance in their formula - being little more than one-off jokes set in a widescreen format that could've been put to better use, usually limited to just two characters, and with barely any dialogue.  Comics broken up into panels were even rarer, and just as unmemorable.

Yet there were a few instances of the comic being aware of their surroundings, as if the cartoonist was straining against the limitations of the form, and wanted to rail against the corporate structure bearing against them.  Showcasing a desire to expand the conventions beyond the borders of a daily strip, and maybe move onto long-term storytelling.

Or possibly, I'm projecting, and reading too much into what's basically just another flawed comic strip.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Coffee, Tea and Yea

When it comes to pick-me-ups, none convey this more than a cup of pitch-black coffee.  For most people, having a drink of this devil's brew is oftentimes, is the only thing that gets them up in the morning.  An acquaintance of mine who works from early in the morning to late at night keeps his energy up by downing triple-booster caffeine energy drinks to keep him wired.

On the other hand, I avoid conveying the typical writer cliche, since I generally avoid consuming coffee in the first place.  Neither coffee or cigarettes appeal to me - both are simply too smelly for me to concentrate.  And I can barely sip soda drinks without recoiling from the fizzy sensation, let alone attempt to down any beverages.  (I am absolutely terrified of losing my inhibitions after years of keeping my overreactions in control)  A simple dose of chocolate is all the caffeine input I need to keep my energy up.

Of course, despite all warnings about how dangerous consuming large doses of coffee is, people who are busy busy busy have a hard time cutting back on their production without increasing their intake to include Ritalin and tea in the mix, which is understandable, given my selective ignorance on chocolate not being healthy.  (Even now, you're actively avoiding the link on Valentine's chocolate)  For the few brave souls who've decided to wean off to more reasonable rates and quitting altogether, as a gradual cold turkey, they find alternatives in staying awake and being motivated.

It's actually very hard for me to make recommendations for a drink I actively avoid, but my mother has been brewing a morning brew for herself that's something she takes pride in.  Recently, she showed her recipe to someone, and I took the opportunity to ask how she made this cheap procedure for making your own home-made Soy Mocha Latte with the following ingredients:

  • A pot of coffee already prepared
  • A large coffee mug
  • Skim Milk - accept no substitutes!
  • Chocolate Soy Milk
  • One microwave
  • One battery-charged frother

First, you get your coffee mug and fill it with 1/4 Skim Milk.  It HAS to be Skim Milk, and no other.  2%, 1% and even rice milk won't work as well for the frothing later.  Fat by itself simply doesn't froth.

Once your milk is in your mug, put it in the microwave until it's warm.  This will be dependent on the type of microwave you have, which will likely vary.  My parents have been using the same microwave for over thirty-five years, and it still works.  But it hasn't gone through such a long period of avoiding planned obsolescence without suffering a few knocks - the opening knob's held on with scotch tape, and some of the numbered buttons wouldn't work.  A repairman came over to fix the wiring... and wound up making things WORSE - now, only the "3", "6", "8", "9", "0" and "Start" buttons still work.  The "Clear" and "Time" buttons work too, but those are less essential than being able to warm up our bread in the morning.  And every time we suffer a power failure, or have to change the time due to Daylight Savings / Wasting Time, we have to wait until 3:00, 3:03, 3:06, 3:08, 3:09, 3:30, 3:33, 3:36, 3:38, 3:39, or 6:00, 6:03, 6:06, 6:08, 6:09, 6:30, 6:33, 6:36, 6:38, 6:39, 8:00... (you get the idea) before we can get the time right.

And that's only step one!  Moving on to step two!

Once your skim milk is warmed up, next comes the task of frothing the milk to a fine lather.  Normally, this would be done by using an extra-large cappuccino machine costing in the realm of $60-8000.  However, my parents weren't too crazy about having what amounted to another coffee machine taking up valuable space in the kitchen, and found a cheaper alternative from using a battery-charged handheld milk frother for just $5-10.  Plus tax.

Using this electric toothbrush-like device in the middle, you spin the Skim Milk at the bottom with a hearty FZOOOONT until you've built up a nice head of foam.

After that, you add 1/4 Chocolate Soy Milk to the mix, and put it back into the microwave again, until it's hot.

Then, once your concoction's hot and ready, you fill the remainder of the empty mug space with coffee until it's full.  The froth will rise to the top and avoid being spilled over.

If done correctly, you should have something along the lines of this:
Yes, that's a beer mug there.
If done incorrectly, chances are you used milk that was likely past the expiration date.  Get some regular skim milk not found in the bargain section of the store and try again.  Drinking with a straw is highly recommended to avoid getting a face full of foam.

Sprinkling cinnamon or chocolate powder on the frothing for extra taste is optional, though the froth sinks upon itself as a result of the extra weight.

After that, all that's left is to take a sip, and see if you want to try doing it again.