Post Mortem (part 2)

It was shortly after Trudeau announced the new ban on oil tankers on the BC north coast that I realised that Stephen Harper really has left no legacy to this country at all.

What were the great projects of his time in office? He tried to make Canada into an “energy superpower,” and failed. He tried to rewrite Canada’s national identity in line with Conservative Party values, and failed. His pipelines remain unbuilt; his propaganda remains unaccepted.

He has done extensive damage to Canada’s social, scientific, cultural, and environmental infrastructure, to say nothing of our democracy, but even that is already in the process of being repaired; even if the Liberals don’t fix it, much of it will almost certainly be thrown out by the Supreme Court over the next few years.

What will there be left to say about him in history books a few decades down the line? That he lowered the general sales tax by two percentage points? He’ll be just another stultifying dead white guy to file next to Richard Bedford Bennett or Sir Mackenzie Bowell.

It hasn’t even been a month since the election and already his time in office seems like a half-forgotten dream. In the long run, he will be forgotten, and this is exactly what he deserves.

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Back to Haunt Me

So apparently, after years of sitting inert, one of my old April Fool’s Day posts is suddenly getting heavy traffic because a commentator on a skeptical website is apparently citing it as serious evidence in favour of quantum immortality. This being the post, need I remind you, in which I claim to be secretly four hundred and twenty-seven years old, incapable of dying, and Virginia Woolf’s inspiration for Orlando: A Biography.

Well, let me clear the air for any new visitors: this post was an April Fool’s Day joke, and I’m afraid, only particularly funny to people who actually know me in person. I am a legitimate theoretical physicist, with a Master’s Degree and everything, but I don’t really believe in quantum immortality beyond the extent to which I believe that it could be a good plot device in a science fiction story. My genuine opinions on quantum theory can be found here and here.

So no; I am, to the best of my knowledge, not 400 years old because of a quirk of one interpretation of quantum mechanics; and you should be glad that I’m not, because it would mean that the universe would be my personal solipsistic fantasy and you would all be the supporting characters.

Besides of which, it’s a well-known fact that the real reason that I’m secretly 400 years old is because I’m a vampire.

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Election Post-Mortem

People will recite bitter claims that Canada has chosen style (Trudeau) over substance (Mulcair, or even Harper). And while that may be true, I absolutely disagree that the Liberals only won because of Justin Trudeau’s good looks and famous name. Simply put, Trudeau was the first Liberal leader in decades who was actually able to put forth a coherent vision for what he thought Canada should be. For a long time (certainly since Jean Chretien left, if not well before that), it felt like the Liberals were just going through the motions and reciting stale platitudes. People like Paul Martin and Michael Ignatieff could never articulate what the party believed in beyond some vague mumbling about healthcare. It is difficult imagine either of them ever standing up in front of a camera and saying–in as many words–that they believed that convicted terrorists should be allowed to maintain their Canadian citizenship because that’s what citizenship means, and then daring Stephen Harper to put it into an attack ad; but Trudeau did exactly that, and he got away with it because, you got the impression that he genuinely believed it. This may just be his background as a drama teacher showing through, but it’s been a very long time since I have heard anyone defend the principles of liberal democracy without sounding like they’re reading off a cue card.

In this respect, I think that the Liberal Party has actually benefitted from its appointment with the gallows in 2011. This was a party that had governed Canada for seventy years out of the previous hundred, and dominated Parliament for so long that it had ceased to embody any particular ideology, and become instead a vehicle for ambitious technocrats to advance their own careers (the ultimate example of this, once again, being Michael Ignatieff in the previous election). But the rout that the party faced last time around got rid of the last of these people, making it far easier to finally answer the question that the Liberals have been avoiding since the departure of the first Trudeau: namely, what is a Liberal Party for?

This is a lesson that the NDP could stand to take to heart, as we deal with our own rout. In the build-up to this campaign we (ironically, as it turned out) pulled-out all of the stops to make ourselves “electable;” we got ourselves a new leader, late of the Liberal Party of Quebec: a man who is on recordpraising Margaret Thatcher for sending “the winds of liberty and liberalism” that “swept across the markets of England.” After decades of resisting the diktats of the corporate media, we even finally gave in and did the Tony Blair thing, and replaced all reference to “socialism” in the party constitution with the far more vague and milquetoasty “social democracy.” In short, we made ourselves into the kind of party that someone like Andrew Coyne, editor (up until a few hours ago) of the National Post, could unashamedly admit to supporting. And then, of course, the actual population of this country responded by kicking us to the curb. What we have learned is that Canada neither needs, nor wants, twoLiberal Parties.

So, the question that we must now face is: what is a socialist party for?

I submit that the answer is socialism.

Now, of course, should we go this route, we will hear the inevitable wailing from the national newsmedia about how this will make us “unelectable.” But in this day and age, to what extent do you think that you can trust the national newsmedia for an impartial assessment of such things, really? And, more fundamentally, assuming for a moment that it would make the NDP unelectable, is there any point to getting elected if, in government, we’re just going to do the same things that the Liberals are already doing?

In my humble opinion; any NDP that the editor of the National Post would feel comfortable supporting is an NDP that has fundamentally lost its way.

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Cultivating Language

I’ve decided that I’m going to learn to refrain from casual swearing. The emphasis here is on the “casual.”

You see, what I want is to have a special store of really strong words that I can break out for special occasions. That way, when something truly, absolutely needs to be emphasized, it will be impossible for other people to mistake it for some sort of over-reaction, or linguistic tick.

Essentially, I want to reach the point at which, on those few occasions that I do swear, the natural reaction of the people around me is to think: “holy spit, did Jaime just drop an f-bomb? Crap must be really serious!”

I admit that my plan might require some better word substitutes.

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In Which The Author Polishes a Turd

I enjoy my job; it doesn’t pay as much as I would like, and I could do with a more regular set of hours, but it pays the bills, I’m good at it, and I get to work in my field, which is more than a lot of graduates of my generation can boast.

And yet: the downside of being paid to edit scientific papers is that you have to edit scientific papers, regardless of how boring, poorly written, or otherwise unreadable they may be. For every paper that I get to edit about using laser-armed robot drones to safely enter malfunctioning nuclear reactors, I have to edit some shit-ass paper about quantifying the degree of scuffing suffered in transit by logos on cardboard boxes*.

But no matter how dull or badly written a paper may be, no matter how limited the scope of its applications, at least I have always been able to take solace from the knowledge that, by working on them, I was advancing legitimate scientific research.

Until last night.

Now, given the sheer number of cranks who regularly spam my inbox with their demented “theories,” it’s remarkable that it has taken nearly a year for one of them to be submitted to me for editing. I suppose your average crank is content to just hammer out an article, stick it up on ViXra, and then mass e-mail a multicoloured, exclamation point-laden wall of text to the physics faculty at every major university in the western world. This gentleman**, evidently, stands out from the crowd in that he cares about the proper use of the English language and is willing to pay good money to polish off his work.

I am contractually obligated to not discuss this paper in detail. However, those of you who are familiar with the genre probably know, in broad terms, exactly what to expect: basically, an attempt to use poorly-remembered first year-level calculus to disprove modern physics. Now imagine that you actually have to read such an article, from beginning to end, whilst earnestly trying to follow its central argument and infer the meaning of its sentences, remarking politely upon its gaps in content.

At first, I regarded it as a challenge; and, for the first half of the paper, I was reasonably amused. Then, the author defined a variable as being the full range of thought that could be imagined by a Human Being, and all of a sudden, I felt profoundly disturbed in a way that I still don’t fully understand. I’m not sure exactly what changed just at that precise moment–I can only describe it as being like one of those dreams that starts off as a little bit weird or silly and then spontaneously turns into a nightmare–but in that instant, I felt like I was staring into an abyss of perfect chaos, and that, more than that, it was somehow looking back up at me.

Anyways, I took a few minutes to calm myself, and then finished up with the rest of the article as quickly as possible. It was a surprisingly freaky experience.


*This being, at the risk of sounding like a particularly embittered broken record, what our beloved Prime Minister calls “innovative research.”

**A practitioner of chiropractic medicine who feels his education qualifies him as a quantum cosmologist.

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The Complete History of Canada (According to Stephen Harper)

ca. 15,000 BC – 1496 AD: Nothing at all happened.

1497: John Cabot (who was definitively not named Giovanni Caboto) discovered Newfoundland while in the service of England, at which point Canada entered history.

1608 – 1758: A bunch of Frenchy Catholic dudes held-down the fort for the British to arrive.

1759: In days of yore/ From Britain’s shore/ Wolfe the dauntless hero came/ and planted firm/ Britannia’s flag/ On Canada’s fair domain (and there were probably some French people there too or something)

1760-1812: Canada came into existence when heroic Tory loyalists fled their traitorous neighbours.

1812-1814: The Seminal Epic of Canadian History!!!!!!!!!! General Brock! Laura Secord! Charles da Salaberry! Tecumseh! (the natives having quietly popped into existence sometime after the French arrived) Standing firm against the vile Yankee invader (except not too vile, because we’ve still got to sign a free trade agreement with them in about 200 years)

1814-1914: Oh man, it was epic! There was “Royal” everything, and railroads all over the place, and pioneers, and that traitorous scum Riel got executed, and they beat those liberals Mackenzie and Papineau, and the Hand of Franklin Reaching for the Beaufort Sea, and fuck yeah, British North America!

1914-1918: The Other Seminal Epic of Canadian History!!! Vimy Ridge! Ypres! Passchendaele! White flowers for all of the cowards!!!!

1919-2006: The Canadian Dark Ages, characterized by socialism and devolution. Sole bright spots included only the reign of John George Diefenbaker, and Mulroney signing a free trade agreement with the traitorous rebel scum our heroic American allies, whose conservative movement is a light unto the world!

2006-End of Time: The Canadian Renaissance!  Pipelines everywhere! No more socialism!  Everything is “Royal” again!

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The Peace of the Worlds

About a year ago, I got to thinking about H.G. Wells’s novel The War of the Worlds, and more specifically about its adaptations. The most famous is, of course, Orson Welles’s 1938 radio play, which panicked a number of listeners who didn’t realize that it was a work of fiction, but there have also been two major motion pictures, a short-lived tv series, any number of knock-offs and unofficial sequels dating back very nearly to its publication*,   and a rock opera from the 1970s which I seriously cannot recommend strongly enough.

What most of these unfortunately have in common is that they downplay the original’s commentary on colonialism. So I got to thinking: what if a modern adaptation retained this commentary, but updated it? In Wells’s day, colonialism was a fairly straightforward business: you landed in someone else’s country with a battery of Gatling guns and announced that you were “introducing Western civilization.” These days, however, it tends to be a great deal more insidious (if, on the whole, less bloody). What if the Martians, instead of immediately mowing everyone down with a heat ray, instead declared that they wanted to “modernize the Earth’s economy?”

Well, I’m very pleased to announce that I have now written and sold this story, and that it will be appearing in the anthology Second Contacts, coming soon from Bundoran Press!


*The only one of these that I have read is a serialized 1898 American novel about a fictionalized version of Thomas Edison getting revenge for the Martian attack by flying to Mars and basically killing everyone there. Surprisingly, this story appears to have been the origin of several now-well-worn tropes in science fiction, such as battles in space, handheld disintegrator rays, asteroid mining, and the idea that aliens built the pyramids. It’s not very well-written, but then, not everyone can be H.G. Wells.

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Whereas astrology is a load of complete dingos’ kidneys which makes no sense in terms of the empirically established laws of astrophysics; and

Whereas double blind tests have repeatedly shown that most people will automatically identify with generalized descriptions of their own star sign, regardless of whether or not it was written based on ‘legitimate’ astrological techniques; and

Whereas a person should always be aware of, and strain to rein-in their own cognitive biases;

I must reluctantly admit that…

I am such a Gemini.

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One Life-goal Down

So I am pleased to announce that I am now a published author*. My story , “The Birds of Ecthalion,” can be read online here.

They even commissioned an original piece of artwork for it from artist Shannon Legler!


*Of fiction. I have already been a published author of scientific papers for some time. Still, it’s nice to know that I will always be able to list the Mad Scientist Journal next to Physics Review D on my curriculum vitae.

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Board Game Secrets

Everyone knows about the secret passages at the corners of the Clue board, but only tenth-level Clue-Masters know about the catacomb beneath the ballroom. There might you find, stacked like firewood, the stabbed, shot, bludgeoned, or strangled bodies of generations of Boddys, dating back to before Humans walked upright.

Reduced to refugees in their own country, the Natives of Catan dream of the day upon which the Earth will open up and swallow the Settlers, together with their roads and cities. They know in their hearts that upon that day, the old ways will be restored and everything will be as it was before.

There’s a phantom hotel in Monopoly. It appears, on average, in one out of every 200,000 games, on a random property, and only for a turn or two. The price of landing on a property with the phantom hotel cannot be paid in mere money. Once you have paid this price, whatever it may be, you may yet go on to win the game, but you will no longer be able to derive satisfaction from material gain.

One day, soldiers on the opposing sides in Risk will realize that they have far more in common with each other than they do with any of their generals. When that moment of class consciousness comes, they will turn on their bourgeois masters, and join forces to paint the world red.

There’s a little pink lady in the Game of Life who lies awake at night, haunted by the knowledge that no matter how many Bohemian flourishes she affects when decorating her suburban home, she will never be anything more than a sell-out. Her little blue husband snoring beside her, she quietly regrets not running off with her friend Deirdre when she was in college. A single perfect tear slides down her plastic face.

The prototype of Snakes and Ladders included an Ouroboros snake. During testing, one of the players managed to land on the Ouroboros (though they still haven’t figured out quite how). He has been circling about ever since.

Errant torpedoes in Battleship may explode amid the Deep. The mariners aboard your ships all pray that the blasts do not awaken that which slumbers down there.

You can pawn a king when playing Chess. You don’t even have to walk it all of the way to the end of the board. All that you need to do is to wait until the burden of kingship becomes too much to bear. Then the king can cast off his heavy crown, shrug off his magnificent golden brocade, and become as small and as faceless as the common rabble. His ministers, loyal to the end, will see him off as he slips out of his palace late at night, and then declare the king to be dead. He isn’t though; he’s just become one of us. No king in the history of Chess has ever chosen to do this.

Posted in boardgames, fantasy, Fiction, prose poetry, weird, writing | Tagged | 2 Comments