Counting to Ten

Thanks to modern technology, most ‘news’ is beaten to death within hours of its release, and if you’re like me, you’d probably like to escape from it and the myriad of opinions that accompany it, for a day (maybe two). On that note, I would like to start off by apologizing for writing this in the first place. I’ve heard enough about Duck Dynasty and Phil Robertson to last a lifetime, and the last thing I would normally want to do is throw any more mud into the water; yet here I am, about to do just that. Thus, this post is an exercise in hypocrisy as I throw my hat into the very ring that I hate (when occupied by others) to flog that proverbial dead horse…


Sorry about this old boy, but you know how bad their aim is with blasters…

When I was younger, sometimes I would lose my cool. I had somewhat of a short fuse, and every once in a while… I can’t be the only first-grader to run away from school to avoid the consequences of having beaten up a friend during a high stakes game of soccer-baseball… can I? OK, that’s besides the point, but after incidents such as those, there was a lesson my parents endeavored to impart: count to ten.

When someone gets on your nerves; don’t punch him in the face, count to ten.

When someone says something hurtful; don’t give the first retort that comes to mind, count to ten.

When someone’s being a downright a-hole; don’t decapitate him with your Katana, count to ten. (Unless he’s a zombie. In that case don’t count, there are probably a lot of decapitations in your future – you’ll need the practice).

Its simple. All too often people don’t take time to think; instead they simply react. We’re emotional creatures and when someone hurts us, we want to hurt them back. Our fight or flight instinct is roused, and we take their eye in payment for our tooth. In other words, we escalate things. It’s the third law of motion, except that the reaction normally isn’t equal or opposite: its greater.

There is a scene in one of my favourite shows that illustrates this point better than I ever could, and I quote:

Henry: For every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. Who?
Young Gus: Isaac Newton. Third law of motion.
Henry: And how does that apply to the nature of man? Anyone? Shawn?
Young Shawn: You push, they push back.
Henry: Correct. Why?
Young Shawn: Because man is a stupid creature who would rather fight than use its brain.
Henry: And what idiot said that?
Shawn & Gus: You did.


In case you don’t know what I’m talking about… well this probably won’t help, but these are two of the guys in the quote, just not young…

Its natural. We’re human, we react without thinking, seek retributive justice, we want the last laugh, but just because its natural doesn’t make it right. As Louis Fischer wrote: “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” [A1]

So, getting back to the Duck Dynasty kerfuffle…

When Mr. Robertson’s opinions became public knowledge, did GLAAD count to ten and think; “Maybe there’s a way we can deal with this in a civilized manner?” No, they called for his head. When A&E got wind of the backlash did they count to ten and think; “Maybe there’s a way to appease the gay rights advocacy groups without enraging the fan base of our most popular show?” No, they kicked him to the curb. And when the fans learned of Mr. Robertson’s indefinite hiatus, did they count to ten and think; “Maybe there’s a way we can deal with this in a civilized manner?” No, They called for A&E’s head.

All I see is a series of reactionary retaliations that only succeed in ensuring the propagation of more hate, and in making any beneficial resolution impossible.

It is within an organization like GLAAD’s rights to call for Mr. Robertson to be punished. Does that make doing so smart? Its Debatable. It is also within a corporation like A&E (or whoever owns A&E)’s rights to let Mr. Robertson go in order to protect the corporation’s image. Does that make doing so smart? It certainly doesn’t appear so. Finally, it is within the rights of the fans (and others) to raise all hell in response to A&E’s actions. Does that make it smart? No, the snowball has gotten too large, and picked up too much momentum for smart to even be an option.


This would have been a good indicator of how I felt at the beginning of this post…

At some point over the course of the last week or so (has it even been that long?) any one of these players could have taken the time to count to ten and decide that maybe non-escalation would be a good policy for a change. Because when you push someone, they push back, and this normally goes on until somebody lands a K.O., and I don’t know about you, but as for me, that’s a lot of ugliness I’d rather avoid if it’s at all possible, especially if it could all be avoided by simply listening to our parents and counting to ten.

(I should also apologize for telling anybody to listen to their parents. I may never have been more hypocritical in my life…)

Update-Dec 23: I realize now that it may be ‘count to three’ and not ‘count to ten’… did anyone else grow up with this advice? And if so, can you help me figure out which is right?


Back to Post [A1]: This quote is normally attributed to Mahatma Gandhi; however, there is no evidence of his ever having said it. Louis Fischer first used this phrase in order to explain Gandhi’s concept of Satyagraha, a non-retaliatory philosophy, in an early biography of the Indian leader. It has also been used by Martin Luther King Jr. in his book Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story.


Book Review: X-Wing Mercy Kill

Mercy Kill (Star Wars: X-Wing, #10)Mercy Kill by Aaron Allston
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The original X-Wing novels were a breath of fresh air. Instead of beating the dead horse that was the rapidly tiring saga of Luke, Han and Leia, Michael A. Stackpole (and subsequently Aaron Allston) abandoned the ‘big three’ for the hitherto unsung starfighter pilots of Rogue and Wraith Squadron, and in many ways revitalized a stagnating genre. The cocky Rogues and misfit Wraiths allowed for humour and humanity to be (re)injected into Star Wars, creating a series that was just plain fun and enjoyable. The novels were somewhat superficial, and never truly probed (or attempted to probe) the limits of the genre, but they were Star Wars as it was meant to be; a series that didn’t reject, but reveled in its pulp, and all its cheesy goodness.

X-Wing: Mercy Kill promised a return to this happy go lucky brand of Star Wars, a return 12 years in the making, over which time 31 years had passed in the galaxy far far away, and at first, it appeared to deliver. A promise left unfulfilled. Seemingly picking up where X-Wing: Solo Command left off, Mercy Kill opens to a Wraith operation that features many of the original characters doing what they do best before it jumps to the post-Fate of the Jedi: Apocalypse present. A present in which the Wraiths have been disbanded. Piggy (now going by his given name – Voort) is mathematics professor, while Face is retired and trying to ‘get the band back together’ (by which he means create a completely new band with the addition of a former member, or two, and still call it Guns & Roses… I mean Wraith Squadron).

As the story progresses, it becomes obvious that the first chapter (which is also the free preview that can be found online) is nothing but a flashback (one that will have both an anticlimactic and almost inconsequential effect on the narrative, but I’m getting ahead of myself), and that whatever magic previously permeated the series has somehow been lost. Face and Voort are the only original Wraiths to return, and Face’s ‘behind the scenes’ role as master puppeteer effectively removes one of Allston’s better characters from much of the novel. This also thrusts Voort into the spotlight, a role it would appear, he was never meant to enjoy. Piggy was a great supporting character in the earlier X-Wing novels, and had a good turn as a member of Twin Suns Squadron in Allston’s contributions to the New Jedi Order, but he isn’t up to challenge of the role of ‘main character Voort’, and both his character and the narrative sufferer accordingly.

Bhindi Drayson and Sharr Latt return as representatives of the ‘New Wraiths’ introduced in Rebel Dream & Rebel Stand. However, both characters were never anything much more than forgettable in the first place, and they both pretty much pick up where they left off, serving more to elicit questions of ‘who?’ rather then enforcing any sense of continuity. And then we have ‘The Offspring’ (this is actually fairly pertinent, as there are in fact (spoiler alert) two bands!); Jesmin Tainer daughter of Kell Tainer and Tyria Sarkin, and Myri Antiles scion of Wraith Squadron founder Wedge. While this continuing legacy does enhance the nostalgia, and both Jesmin and Myri are strong enough characters in their own rights, neither are capable of replacing, or of living up to, their forebears. Wedge is pretty much Luke, Han and Leia’s second fiddle (a position once occupied by a suave gentleman played by Billy D. Williams, or maybe, more accurately occupied by a not-so-recently deceased walking carpet), Myri? Well, she’s more of a Tycho Celchu (who is mentioned in the novel, and is therefore relevant). While Tainer was a goofball whose advances towards Sarkin where all the more entertaining due to her initial rejection and eventual acceptance of them. Jesmin can’t embody both her mother and father, and none of the new male Wraiths are able to step up either, and when the loses of Janson and Wedge are added to Face’s reduced role, a lack of strong male characters becomes quite evident. As a result, there is also a lack of sexual tension, once a lynchpin of the series. In fact, there is a disconcerting lack of tension at all among the Wraiths.

The only real source of tension in the novel can be found in the conflict between Voort and Scut. Two aliens raised by humans, they are foils for one another and butt heads from the get go because Scut is Yuuzhan Vong: fanatical, genocidal, extra-galactic invaders who had brought the New Republic to its knees 15 years ago. Voort’s seemingly racist views clash with Scut’s belief that the Gamorrean is unfit to be a Wraith. However, this tension never reaches much of a climax. The squabblers simply sit down, hash out their differences, and agree to disagree; then a couple chapters later they sit down, acknowledge the factors behind their disagreement, and everything is hunky-dory. Not only does the antagonism between the characters never get a chance to have much of an effect on the narrative, the resolution is so contrived that it is incomprehensible that a large chunk of the novel was actually built around said conflict. Furthermore, how is it that none of the other Wraiths appear to have any problem with working with the Yuuzhan Vong? The idea that Voort is the only Wraith unable to immediately accept a Yuuzhan Vong as a best friend is ridiculous; almost as ridiculous as the fact that if Scut’s extra-galactic origins were never mentioned, he would be next to impossible to identify as Yuuzhan Vong. I understand that he was raised by humans, and the message of racial equality is commendable, but what is the point of including alien races if there are no characteristics to differentiate them from humans, or for that matter, any other alien races?

These many small problems prevent a plot, which at first appeared to have potential, from ever really taking off. An overabundance of ill introduced characters confuse the plot, which is weighed down by becoming overly complicated instead of complex. There are too many tangents that don’t tie in, too many possibilities that are ignored; what could have been a streamlined clash of master-plans augmented by a couple twist/surprises is instead a choppy series of operations and predictable outcomes. There are flashes of brilliance, and glimpses of what once made the series so enjoyable, but in the end the potential of the plot doesn’t translate into a strong narrative as opportunities are missed, and imagination appears to be lacking.

The promise simply adds to the disappointment as expectations remain unmet. To be blunt, Mercy Kill just doesn’t belong in the X-Wing series; it’s jokes are flatter, it’s characters – flatter, and it’s narrative? You guessed it: flatter. They are all simply pale imitations of the simple, yet well executed concepts that made the nine previous novels enjoyable reads, and in the end, that’s all Star Wars X-Wing: Mercy Kill is: a pale imitation of an X-Wing book. What was once a breath of fresh air has now become as stagnant as the adventures it originally broke away from.

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Book Review: Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor

Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor (Star Wars)Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor by Matthew Stover
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Harkening back to the origins of Star Wars, Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor departs from the seriousness and melodrama that have plagued the more recent Expanded Universe publications in favour of a fun-filled rip-roaring good time in the galaxy far far away… mostly.

Taking place six months after the Battle of Endor, Matthew Stover’s latest contribution to the Star Wars cannon attempts to recapture the fun and youthfulness of the original trilogy, and for the most part, succeeds. Instead of trying to be a great work of fiction by delving into the darkest recesses of the human psyche, and over analyzing the ethics of using the force, Mindor is true to the essence that was Star Wars; a futuristic, extra-galactic offspring of a space-opera and a western. If anything, this is the book’s greatest strength. Rather than trying to be something it is not, and suffering from the identity crises that has consumed both the Legacy and the Fate of the Jedi series, Mindor accepts that it is Star Wars, and revels in it. This may mean that the novel doesn’t have the depth of a great work of fiction, and will undoubtedly not be the greatest prose you have ever read, but at the same time, it doesn’t spread a novel or two’s worth of action over nine books.

Besides, the seeming simplicity of the plot doesn’t belie the fact that the novel is fairly well written, and has one of the best villains since Grand Admiral Thrawn. In addition, Mindor still manages to achieve a level of depth through a subplot that focuses on Luke Skywalker’s loss of innocence as he struggles to find the place of a Jedi in a galaxy that tends to be a darker than the average shade of grey. In a sense, it is the last grasp of the naive farmboy introduced in Episode IV, as he comes of age and embraces his destiny. All in all it is a fun, well conceived adventure that still manages to get serious, but not so serious as to stagnate in its own melodrama.

Sadly, the novel is not without its faults. Although Stover’s characterisations are some of the best in the EU (on occasion he even surpasses Timothy Zahn in this regard), at times, mainly with Han, he losses his way. For the most part Luke, Leia, and Lando are spot on, while Stover’s C-3PO may be even better than Anthony Daniels’. However, at times Han Solo went from being the cocky scoundrel of the movies to a practically unrecognizable character. Worse, voices have been given to both R2-D2, and Chewbacca, creating dialogue that is interspersed with ‘Arrowrowr Reghar’s’ and ‘Bleep Bloop Bleep’s’ that would be out of place in a novel for pre-teens. On the whole, the characterisation is one of the novel’s strong points, its just sad to see it fall apart so badly 10% of the time.

Stover’s prose suffers in a similar fashion. Most of the novel flows well and is both engaging, and exiting. However, at times, such as the second half of chapter two, the whole narrative falls apart. In a way it captures the essence of a movie too well and feels more like a script or screenplay than like a novel. Not to mention that many of the problems with characterization previously mentioned pop up in scores at this point in the narrative. Then, for another chapter or so at the halfway point, the story grinds to a standstill and becomes incredibly boring and repetitive. The ship is eventually righted, but once again this problem should have been easily avoidable with a good editor able to correct the glaringly obvious missteps in what was otherwise a better than average narrative.

The only true weakness in the novel is the Shadowspawn/Blackhole plot involving the transfer of consciousness through the force. In my opinion, the over reliance on super weapons/borderline ridiculous force powers instead of creating well conceived antagonists has been one the main detriments of the Star Wars franchise. Shawdowspawn/Blackhole is a brilliant tactician and a powerful force user, who may have been capable of being in the same league as Darth Vader or Thrawn as one the franchises best villains. He does not need a ridiculous and unoriginal transference of consciousness plot to make him more compelling, in fact, he would be more compelling if he simply relied on mind control and/or brainwashing. It just requires too great a suspension of disbelief, especially when Blackhole fails to effect it. Twice. An occurrence within the narrative itself that alludes to its implausibility, as well as its ineffectiveness as a plot device.[ Blackhole fails to effect it. Twice. An occurrence within the narrative itself that alludes to its implausibility as an effective plot device. (hide spoiler)]

It was disappointing to see these relatively minor transgressions derail what is, for the most part, an enjoyable, well written adventure. Yes its refusal to pretend to more than simply a Star Wars novel prevents it from ever being great literature, but were it not for those gaffes, it could at least have been considered a superior work. However, said gaffes are just too numerous to ignore, degrading Mindor’s status to simply one of the better Star Wars books. It may not measure up to Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy, and isn’t at the level of Stover’s other Expanded Universe contributions, namely Traitor, but its does manage to capture the essence of Star Wars (which is saying a lot) and is very good… if only 80% of the time…

Incongruous Expectations

As I write I am serenaded by the melodious whine of an air compressor, the pitchy buzz of a reciprocating saw, and the staccato ‘tac tac’ of a nail gun. My folks are having new windows put in, and I am left pondering the seemingly incongruous expectations we place on those who make their living performing manual labour; namely, the perfection that is expected from those to whom a pittance is paid.

My father, ever the attentive consumer, has been pointing out, and asking questions about, some of the imperfections he’s noticed as the windows are installed. Now he has every right to complain, and should; this work is costing him upwards of $30,000, and that’s no small sum. However, how much of that 30 grand do the installers, who in addition to labouring all day in the sun must now listen to said complaints, see? Expecting perfection for 30 G’s is a right, but to expect it from someone making a couple bucks over minimum? I don’t know. If you’re expecting to get what you pay for, than those expectations must be balanced between the value expected from $30,000, and the value assigned to the slightly-more-than-minimum-wage employee.

When programmers (or whoever was to blame), probably paid [let’s say] double the salary of a skilled labourer, manage a fiasco like the Diablo III launch, shouldn’t one expect double the error 37’s from the latter? I’m not suggesting that the salaries for these two jobs should be comparable. The former go through much more school and training, and deserve higher salaries. As someone who has designed and built interlock patios, I understand that jobs requiring manual labour are not the most difficult, and the wage paid for them reflects that. However, it takes time and practice to master anything (as evidenced by the numerous incredibly botched interlock jobs done by do-it-yourselfers one can see in almost any neighbourhood), and most labourers aren’t being paid to master, they’re being paid to get by (as evidenced by the numerous botched interlock jobs done by poorly run companies that I have had to repair). Expecting perfection from said workers can only be deemed excessive when their salaries constantly tell them they are incapable of it.

By no means should one not expect good work, a $5,000 patio should look like a $5,000 patio, just like a video game designed to played should be playable, but one should also keep in mind that perfection cannot (or at least should not) be expected of someone who is being paid for shit.

Book Review: Timeline

TimelineTimeline by Michael Crichton
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Timeline by Michael Crichton is hard to review. On one hand, like most of Crichton’s work, it is conceptually brilliant and tremendously well researched, while on the other hand the prose is choppy and the pacing inconsistent. As a teenager I loved the book, and counted it amongst the best I had ever read. Returning to it as a young adult I found it unenthralling and difficult to read.

Hence my conundrum; Timeline is a novel with obvious strengths and glaring weaknesses. What Crichton does well, he does as well as most any other author. His meticulous research into both quantum physics, and Medieval Europe, provide the novel with a foundation of bedrock. Science and history collide in an amalgamation of genres to create a science/historical-fiction hybrid which juxtapose the new technologies of a supposedly not-so-distant future with the relative barbarism of 14th century France. Making use of the multiverse to allow historians to (pseudo) time travel and get stuck in the past should make for an incredible story, and would, if not for Crichton’s inability to write.

It is greatly disappointing to see such a brilliant concept be mired in choppy writing. The author, or his editor, seem to be oblivious to the existence of punctuation other than the period. As a result, his narration is choppy and the dialogue stilted. This prevents the reader from establishing a rhythm, and the characters from coming fully to life. The pacing of the novel is also thrown off kilter by Crichton’s staccato writing, as it can move quite slowly during instances of great excitement, or speed up when the action has ceased.

The characterisation is decent, but not good enough to make up for the tepid writing. The protagonists were real and relatable, while the antagonists were easy to loathe, but had just enough humanity make them believable. However, none were able to jump off the page and truly come to life, as most were easily forgotten upon either their death, or the return of the book to the shelf. They do however provide great social commentary on the human condition, as the collision of past and present calls into question who is truly barbaric; modern man, or his medieval counterpart.

Crichton is an idea’s man, and the premise and setting of Timeline ensure that it is an enjoyable read, yet the ineffectual style of writing mires the book in mediocrity sometimes making reading it a chore. In all honesty, the low rating probably stems from the incredible potential of the plot, and the product not living up to the concept, but this is a book that can only be loved if you’re willing to ignore bad writing, as I could, when I was young(er).

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Get the Cameras out of the Dressing Room

It was a bigger story than Marc-André Fleury’s inability to stop a puck, ‘James Neal: Headhunter’, or Jonathan Quick shutting out the President’s Trophy winners. Yes, I’m talking about Sydney Crosby Vs. the glove of Vorachek, apparently the most captivating saga since Ilya Bryzgalov Vs. the Bears, quickly eclipsing Shea Weber mistaking Henrik Zeterberg’s helmet for an egg-shell.

Since when is this even a story? Since when did hockey become so boring that a glove becomes a bigger story than the player supposed to be wearing it? Yet commentators spewed their indignation over the incident, whilst reporters seemingly thanked God for finally having something compelling to ask the superstar. What did they expect, an admission of the incredible immaturity of his actions? An apology? Something other than the scripted, PC, or cliché answers always given by athletes during interviews? Sports media has become so drama obsessed that the commentary is gradually morphing into People Magazine, crying wolf at gossip that isn’t there. Jersey Shore won’t be back for a sixth season, thank goodness we have the NHL to pick up the slack!

This glove incident is the pebble that starts an avalanche, so inconsequential that it barely deserves an eye-roll, yet somehow deserving of a Kimmo Timonen slash and the eventual ejection of both him and Kris Letang. The only thing less mature than Crosby’s glove antics were the reactions to it. Reactions that include not only the brawl, but the media’s over infatuation with, and over exposure of, the incident.

Its ridiculous, but nothing new. Last year Roberto Luongo got more attention for “pumping someone’s tires” than for the Jekyll & Hyde nature of his goal-tending, while during the season, self-proclaimed ‘hockey experts’ cared more for Tim Thomas’ (who deserves kudos for standing up to the media’s hounds) political views than for Bruins’ struggle with a similar identity crisis. It is a sad story that is by no means restricted to hockey, but is indicative of the problems with a modern media in which Question Period is simply an audition for the 6-O’clock News, and court rooms are more important for boosting ratings than for dispensing justice.

So get the cameras out of the locker rooms. The players rarely, if ever, have anything new or insightful to say. And while we’re at it, get them out of the House of Commons, if only to create the illusion that QP actually serves a purpose. At the end of the day, the only people who will truly miss the drama are those who are paid to talk about it, and hockey, not to mention politics, will be better off for it.