The Mission

A friend suggested we meet at a newish coffee shop. Their beans are goose pimple good I was assured. Vancouver being Vancouver, life being life, kittens being little cats, we didn’t meet up.

Curious, and as more of a no go than an aficionado when it comes to the exotic roast, I decided to give it a whirl on my own and add the extra steps to my imaginary pedometer (the real one munches too much phone data and pegs me as an athlete when in fact I'm on the bus). 

Vancouver coffee skewers bitter. It's not just the decaf (yes, caffeine days are allowed for experimental whims), it’s a complaint I've heard from outsiders for years. So much so, I've given up being defensive seeking the perfect indie coffee house for visitors and now send them to mega Canadian donut chain Tim Hortons.

Tim's may have dispensed with the idea of doing anything cool with lighting, but they do profess to know good coffee. For hipsters, let's call it rustic pour over, for the rest of us who remember a world pre-Starbucks (1997 England), filter coffee.

New Place coffee was bitter — in a good bitter Vancouver way I related to my friend later. Smooth for sure… and bitter. But hey, I only drink decaf, so what do I know.

Bitter extended beyond the coffee to atmosphere. Not a little bit of attitude, but Snow Queen Ice Palace minus 273 degrees Kelvin take that Matt Damon on Mars attitude (that movie wasn’t very realistic btw, Matt should have been able to see at least a dozen Ikeas from Mars).

My eyes were frost bitten before I uttered a word.

Despite copious mirrors at home reflecting my every sense of self, I had forgotten how I looked. And whilst the last eight months of injury woes has left me resembling a sack of potatoes, I'm convinced my face wasn't covered in welts.

It doesn't help either when customers have ear buds fit snug into their external acoustic meatus and their faces deep into what-nots. What else are staff going to do but talk to each other and pass judgment on the sack walking through the door?

Still, it’s one step above London where Café Nero offers up real Italian coffee served by actual rude Italians.

Determination surged. I vowed not to let another coffee shop go down. How many more coffee shops must become silent offices? If I had to work in such an office I would have "left" work years earlier before I did.

People will talk I tell you, they’re not food, they’re humans.

If I could elongate my body I would dress full French mime artist and mime across the glass fronts of Vancouver coffee houses to see if anyone would notice (and not call 911).

But first, I plan to walk the streets and go to restaurants with a 42” TV, pretend to take pictures, and talk to it.

I leave the coffee shop with a myriad of thoughts and this determination not to be beat in the ice palace. All is not lost Frodo Baggins, I tell myself.

There was a chink of light. When I spoke I noticed a change, a possible thaw, and cheekily went thick with the Brit accent – you should have heard me say, quoi-sant (croissant). I kept a straight face.

Four weeks later, I’m off for the third coffee encounter and can’t remember the visit in between (probably because it was reminiscent of several bad high school experiences rolled into one).

It was a pleasant afternoon; spring in the air, sampling heather honey baklava, exchanging greetings with a woman in tight pink pants and a pair of ice skates slung over her bare shoulders. It was fifty-five degrees out.

If that didn’t rock the old man amble, then a woman wailing something unintelligible to a large fluffy toy dog in her arms did.

The wailing was loud, constant, distressing, and by the looks of everyone she passed, funny.

Us humans do this when we can’t place an oddity in our experience, especially when it’s too big to bash with a shoe.

From behind the woman appeared topless with faux-fur piping around her neck, pushing a cart with a fan wheel in pride colours placed with precision. It was quite a feat of multi-tasking.

I approached the coffee shop half-smiling to the jaw-dropping reactions on patios while contemplating states of distress, how we can function in them, and how asking this woman if she was okay would seem idiotic.

When our city finally converts to being an extension of the 90210 zip code, where will people go?

Granted, if it’s down to pushing a cart it won’t make a difference if you’re on marble or piss-ridden sidewalks, but how and where will the rest of us learn to fail if we’re not wearing Gucci shoes? What will happen to our stories?

Ta-Dah is an album by the Scissor Sisters. And can best describe what happened next.

I entered the Ice Palace to discover it had become the Seven Dwarves Cottage. Warmth exuded across the counter.

Playtime. Gaps appeared between words. I pointed to the medium cup size, but forgot to say what I wanted in the cup.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking… that I ordered caffeinated.

We entered into light, mutual self-deprecating territory, topped off with finicky. Finicky, what a great word. Neurons were firing, inspiration taking hold.

[EVERYTHING IS AWESOME]

When has someone ever used that word while taking a coffee order?

The best part? 

Leaving the coffee shop and realizing for all my determination and perseverance, the change had nothing to do with me. The decaf was bitter as ever, but the non-curly quoi-sant flaky and delicious.

 

A Nasty Rash

I'm confused. House of Cards has stripped the satire that was present in the British series and left an unfathomably dark drama. Sometimes I think the writing is brilliant, other times I think every character sounds the same. Then the GOP Presidential race flares on my screen and I'm, "Hey! That's satire. That's entertainment." That's what that other thing should be and this is...

Rush Limbaugh.

I read the other day Limbaugh hates Trump. Wonder if the irony's lost on him? Rush, his fellow jocks, and Fox News et al have spent decades in the anger mismanagement game. They have fomented, nay, cultivated dissatisfaction with anything progressive in America. Trump is the appropriate prophet for their fertile field. Suck it up Grand Old.

American culture and politics floods across our border. I'm okay with it because I've built a wall. If Canadian politics rubs me the wrong way, I'd break out in a nasty rash with a whiff of the American stuff.

It happened on Super Tuesday.

I've recovered, but still want to know how Trump plans to bring those $2/hour Apple jobs to America.

It's tiring, but that horse has bolted. We're the humans in Wall-E, bred to consume.

One thing I learned from the Oscars is the rich have cash (oodles of it), the poor have credit cards, and the destitute neither.

Outside of professionals, people went through an education system that made them functional for a world that no longer exists.

All that's on offer are low-paid service sector jobs. That's not a future, that's bitterness (for an older generation).

Late Boomers and X'rs in low-wage jobs unable to adapt to a fast-evolving economy will be left behind. Politicians can't say that because that's a bucket load of super-sizers they're clueless how to help.

Instead they make promises of bringing back jobs that either didn't exist in the first place, or will be low wage and union free if they do come back.

Throw in nostalgia, reinvent childhood and create another non-reality. Writers have to learn to kill their darlings, politicians daren't.

Trump says he's calling it as it is. No, he's saying what he wants.

It must be heart breaking to sane Americans (pretty much all I've met) to see their fellow citizens either embrace racism and bigotry or simply ignore it. 

Pigs may fly, but the day Republicans realize there is a role for them in supporting a national public health care system rather destroying it, will be the day they have control back of their party. They've allowed Conservatism to be redefined along narrow lines.

See, I'm a natural optimist just suffering from watching House of Cards. Yesterday I thought the sun came out, I was corrected, they were store lights. 

Disney, your lack of faith is disturbing.

If there was ever a movie that didn’t need to be advertised, it’s this one. In the ludicrous fear we’re not going to see Star Wars Ep.7, we’ve been subjected to a blitz of advertising to mobilize us into cinemas.

I’m one of the children of the original Star Wars, those aged between 7-12 who went to see it in a movie theater, cinema, or in my case, the South African bioscope. That’s apartheid, not very well boycotted South Africa. We had the toys.

My brother went. I had to wait. No 1977 viewing for me.

In June 1978 my parents took me, and on the way home lasers shot from every streetlight in the sky. Naturally from the rear window I shot back in my Tom and Jerry sweater.

What do I remember?

Honestly? Not very much that hasn’t been distorted from repeat viewings since December 1982, when it first aired on British television. The Christmas TV schedule in Britain was a wonderland of movies, even if recent Hollywood blockbusters of the time didn’t air.

We had to make do with Battle of the Bulge every Christmas Eve, but there were also captivating gems like Powell and Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death, which aired in 1979 and seemingly never again — I scoured the Xmas schedules for the next decade.

Star Wars on a big 24” CRT in 1982 was as magical as ever, even with commercials.

Still, there are fragments that remain from 78. The opening text scroll allied with feeling pleased (and excited) I could keep up, followed by the first laser gunfight and Darth Vader’s entrance. Oh, that breathing. There were the holographs, the battle upon escaping the Death Star and… and…

… and now I have to search my feelings.

There were two standout moments.

The death of Obi-Wan still haunts, the hollowness of loss, the confusion forever imprinted, but Obi-Wan also delivered the single, most important line a child could ever hear about The Force: All living beings are bound together. It resonates today as humanity lurches from one crisis to another.

Hailing from a moderately irreligious Jewish family (we didn’t keep Kosher but didn’t eat pig) it struck my nine-year old self as truth. It may be the most important spiritual teaching I’ve ever received. Seriously, what better way to be guided in life than knowing we’re all connected?  It dovetailed nicely with an art class in school when we were asked to draw/paint God. I have no recollection of what I did. Put me through hypnotherapy and I’ll come up a blank. The class remains in memory, because while I’m certain we all created some kind of Human figure, one girl painted a sky (with clouds). The teacher recognized the perception of this child and so did I.

Oddly, Joseph Campbell in his dialogue with Bill Moyers said he didn’t understand the one God of Judaism (why there was only one God). Star Wars and an eight year’s old painting representing the oneness of existence was explanation enough for me. Even if as an adult I don’t believe in God (watching Season 9 of The Voice makes feel like I’m living in a Theocracy), the message of interconnectedness remains.

When the trailers for Star Wars Ep.7 play across various platforms, I wonder if there will be anything enlightening for a new generation. The trailers look good, slick, playing on fan sentiment, but will it have soul, will it have anything to say?

Or will it be, these aren’t the films we’re looking for as can be applied to episodes 1-3.

We should remain hopeful. This is a new era of Star Wars, an opportunity for redemption. We can be certain the story will work, as we can be certain of it milking every revenue source.

We had small action figures back in the day. They were roughly split between my brother and I along the lines of personality — and more importantly, he being the elder. He was Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and C3PO to my Obi-Wan, R2D2 and Han Solo. Who didn’t want to be Han Solo.

In truth we didn’t have Han Solo, and I’m uncertain about Luke and 3PO. Pretty sure we had a Storm Trooper though. I could ask my brother, but that would take the fun out of trolling through memory. They were well-used — the lightsabers of Vader and Kenobi the first to go, or be chewed by the dog.

My younger sister might have felt left out at age five, but she did have a growing Barbapapa collection and a Pink Panther in the pinkest room on planet earth.

There was a comic. We had one. It was irreconcilable to the film. Scenes with Luke and Biggs shooting it up on Tatooine (or just off planet) were eliminated from the film. I was confused and disappointed there wasn’t a literal adaptation of what I had read months earlier — the comic not lasting, pages falling apart into the oneness of a landfill.

It’s weird but I’m Star Warz’d out. I’m pleased we played and destroyed our toys and didn’t keep them in a fucking box. It’s occupied a good chunk of 37 years in our cultural landscape, and mine. I have them on Blu-ray. They’re stunning. Amazingly George Lucas didn’t change the ending.

I want to be excited. I want more from film than a distracting bag of popcorn, my own work included. I want this from Star Wars ep. 7. And I’m prepared to wait as I did as an 8-9 year old. I don’t need commercials to build anticipation, I can do this on my own.

Trust me Disney, I will watch, but on Friday my preference will be Trumbo.

"Harper's gone... I've roasted some vegetables."

Canada – Post Election, Day 6

The Daleks are gone!

Six days now, free of "protect the economy, protect the economy". Yay to the Doctor.

My neighbour (an NDP volunteer) expressed a sense of relief, that a cloud had been lifted. Justin Trudeau has the good will of progressives.

Truthfully though, Monday night turned out to be somewhat anti-climactic. The need of media to declare a winner as soon as possible nullified any sense of catharsis from the last decade.

We had an enthralling first couple of hours poring over Atlantic Canada's 32 results. Presenters and pundits were in shock. Liberals were expected to win big in this part of the country, but the manner of it blew them away. Conservatives lost seats they had won with over 50% of the vote in 2011. Good, progressive NDP MP's were also swept aside. It wasn't an anti-NDP vote, their downfall was strategic voting which mainstream media had questioned over the campaign – the tone continually one of doubt. I lost count of the poo-poo's.

We entered the evening on the west coast, where polls were still open. The warnings came: Atlantic Canada voting behavior usually ends in Atlantic Canada. Be prepared.

It was edge of your seat stuff. We eagerly awaited Act 2. Another 280+ ridings to report.

Twenty minutes later it was all over.

Justin Trudeau was declared the next PM. There was zero time to process, to build a story, to engage in its ups and downs. We had zipped to the Act 3 denouement; Stephen Harper's head being carried away by a triumphant crowd.

We had seen the arrest, but were denied the trial, and worse, we didn't get to see Harper climb the gallows, watch the guillotine's clean cut (or not so clean – tis Halloween season after all), and gawk as his head spun into a basket to be finally held aloft before a baying crowd.

No! None of this. His head had been carted off and the end credits flashed before our eyes.

Or just mine.

Crap, not even a friend had arrived on my doorstep to watch – I had opted for a quieter evening rather than a wild celebratory party (I voted Green). I received a text to see if I had popcorn.

"Harper's gone… I've roasted some vegetables." It was that mundane.

And what of us in British Columbia? The Third Act? Nary a word. For the first time it was touted our votes would be decisive, we would have a say. He-llo, throw us a wave.

Our votes were kind of, sort of, decisive. We gave Justin Trudeau's Liberals a solid majority.

In the end we watched a crestfallen Tom Mulcair trying to stay upbeat, Stephen Harper give a victory speech – less the bit about him taking responsibility, and Justin Trudeau's seemingly never-ending speech. Still, he hit plenty "good intention" notes.

Canada has its first GenX PM, a chap at ease letting commuters take selfies with him two mornings after being elected. Someone who speaks from the heart, whose false notes are more obvious and awkward than of any political leader I've seen. We've gone from the consummate liar to a horrible one. Canada has done a 180. In Stephen Harper we had a PM who played to his 25% base, and by casting fear and doubt about the abilities of others to lead the country, secured victory three elections in a row. In Justin Trudeau we have a leader who has the eyes of progressives – 65% of the voting public – watching him, hopeful that his personality can overcome the cynicism of the political machine.

He hasn't taken office yet, but already there's a sea change. Some Conservatives, now off-leash, are beginning to sound human for the first time in decades. They would do well to elect Lisa Raitt. 

I want to dig the knife in because their defeat was far worse than they're portraying – and I was denied that cathartic moment on Monday. They were the governing party, they had finally balanced a budget, they literally bought votes 1-2 weeks before calling the election by sending cheques worth upwards of several hundred dollars to families, they had a massive war chest, and what every pundit has forgotten, the new ridings favored them 2-1 for an extra 21 seats. BIF! BANG! BOSH! Take that!

I'll let Conservatives kid themselves their policies were good but the tone of the message let them down.

Justin Trudeau has made an awful lot of promises. Good ones. I wish him success in his efforts to make real change. If he can institute electoral reform, raise the bar how politics is conducted, and take meaningful action on climate change he could preside over one of the great governments.

He has opportunity to engage truthfully with First Nations, launch an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, change Bill C-51 for the better, turn Environment Canada back into an environmental dept. not an economic one, and invest in municipalities. The list is exhaustive, but on first glance possible. We have a PM who wants to engage with the electorate, perhaps do it differently than we’ve seen before. I have to admit it’s exciting. My sense of catharsis will be achieved when his promises become reality. If that was the bargain of last Monday's anti-climactic moment, I'll take it.

Just one thing for Justin and the Liberals, please avoid the $15 glass of orange juice, you know that kind of sh*t is your kryptonite. 

Conservatives finished with 99 seats, the NDP 44.

Conservatives finished with 99 seats, the NDP 44.

The Drumbeat of War in an Election Year Misses the Point

A case can be made for Canada expanding its current mission in Iraq and joining the US in air strikes against the psychopathic ISIL in Syria. It hasn’t been made, and certainly not in regards to protecting our national interest as PM Harper is rather keen to reiterate. The logic of chasing ISIL is filled with holes.

The claim has been made that ISIL declared war on Canada, but we haven’t looked at what this actually means. How much damage can a group of thousands of miles away inflict? What is their strategy, their tactics to do us harm? We are expanding a mission, not because of the consequences to Iraq and the region, or some greater moral good, but because they have threatened to attack us.

Well, excuse me, they can’t launch an (expletive) attack from Syria. Maybe they can fly in some renegades, but this is why we fund security agencies. Their best option is to radicalize Muslim youth in Canada.

Let’s be blunt, youth are and have always been susceptible to alienation no matter what their background, and we do an absolute crap job of addressing this problem. It’s why youth in my lifetime have always turned away in droves from voting in elections. We’re banking on people to go through this phase, and hope by the end of their 20’s they have a decent job or have settled down with their focus now on the more mundane aspects of living, you know, like getting on with life.

Nice idea, but increasingly difficult to do as our cities become too expensive to live in as we build condos for international investors, not Canadians.

Another significant change in society is access to confirmation bias through the Internet, a problem for everyone, not just youth. In this process we substitute connecting directly in person with connecting online.

To some degree we’ve always gravitated to those who share similar views, our tribe, where we feel safe, but in the process of discovery and even within our group we can be challenged to contemplate other perspectives.

The Internet provides a hotline to circumvent this process. It’s an efficient way to eliminate other viewpoints. When we do encounter them our response tends to be reactionary. Message boards, blogs (including this one), twitter etc. appear no more than a propaganda war for pre-existing views. We’re missing the human aspect. If we don’t engage with our neighbours (of which I’m guilty) then they are easily objectified.

An argument used by radicals to lure young Muslims is that the West is killing Muslims or doing nothing to stop the killing. Five minutes online and they can find images to back that narrative. They don't need radical websites.

Walk the streets, and we appear oblivious to their plight. This feeds into a loop that our culture is anti-Muslim. The recruiter has the attention of their prey. The aim of these confidence tricksters is to break the bonds of trust between their recruit and the society they live in, and importantly those closest to them. It depends on fostering the alienation.

And in Canada, what are we doing, knowing the bleeding obvious?

Increasing the alienation of course.

Our Prime Minister recently criticized the niqab as from a culture that is anti-woman. He can do that because most Canadians would agree, and so, in an election year, he can score brownie points. What he doesn’t factor is any affect it may have on susceptible young Muslims.

Shouldn’t he be allowed to speak his mind?

Indeed, but he rarely ventures from predetermined messaging. The latest being “it’s in our national interest”.

Bear in mind he and his party have ramped up the spectre of a (home grown) terrorist threat so he can force far-reaching laws upon Canadians. If he and his party’s concerns are terror threats from inside the Canadian community, inflammatory remarks irking those most likely to carry out this threat would seem at best unwise, and at worst, wholly irresponsible and counter to Canadian values of tolerance. It begs the question just how serious that terror threat is—perhaps not what it seems.

It is, however, a great political play. Introduce laws to protect Canadians with enough elements to draw fire from the opposition and you make them appear negligent or not serious about running the country. It screams, Hey, these guys don’t care about your security. Crack the whip of fear, throw in some disparaging remarks to be added to the cumulative effect of anti-Muslim sentiment, and presto, you’ve activated your base and attracted the soft Conservative vote that was drifting away. It’s small, but significant percentages.

The niqab took centre stage because a Muslim woman was thrown out of a Canadian citizenship ceremony for refusing to identify herself. Actually, that’s a complete fabrication. Nothing of the sort happened but if you’re only catching sound bites of news and headlines, at least the refusing to identify herself part, like movies based on true stories, it's an easily reached conclusion. Most Canadians, including yours truly, would think it absolutely ridiculous not to identify yourself when you’re about to become a Canadian citizen, so you can see the sentiment the PM was playing on. Double score brownie points.

If you weren’t paying attention to the details, which is frankly 90% of the population, you wouldn’t be aware it was the woman’s constitutional right to wear the niqab and was challenging a ban of the niqab introduced in 2011 which prevented her from wearing it during a citizenship ceremony. Crucially you would have missed that she is willing to identify herself (in a private room) beforehand.

It took weeks before I found out that last critical piece of information through casual observance rather than research (as in reading a newspaper). It left me thinking, as much as I don’t like the niqab, because we express so much with our face and covering it up reduces authentic communication, if a woman wants to wear it during the swearing of an oath after formally identifying herself, it is her right to do so under Canadian law.

If I wanted to dress up as a clown with my face painted to celebrate becoming a Canadian I should be allowed to, in fact lets be allowed to take our oath naked. In this context, the woman (Zunera Ishaq) is simply saying, this is who I am.

Instead the narrative allowed her to be portrayed as anti-Canadian and people of her ilk not having Canadian values. Now imagine a young, susceptible Muslim, who then hears racist comments from elected members of parliament hot on the heels of (and before) the PM’s comment and who just happen to be in the Prime Minister’s party?

This brand of Conservatives really knows how to divide a society. What on earth are we doing?  What on earth are they doing? Does our government actually know what it’s doing?

Add this to fears of terrorism and the barbaric images we’ve witnessed (or heard about) over the last several months and you create a hyperreality allowing public opinion to support an expansion of activities in the Middle East.  An action sure to back the radicals message, the sort of message I thought we were trying to undermine.

A result of this hyperreality is a society losing trust with one another. Isn’t that the terrorist’s strategy too? Isn’t this what they want? Create a division they can exploit? Has our government just fallen into the most obvious trap?

You see, we might physically defeat ISIL (unlikely without ground troops) but the ideology remains. A defeated ISIL will result in a mutation of groups with millions of dollars (could we stop money flowing into their coffers please) and will be able to reach many disaffected youth because we are missing a third piece to this strategy to defeat terror, the defusing of domestic tension. And it should have been the first one.

Instead we have a proposal for poorly conceived laws intended to catch a group before they carry out an attack, or before an individual is completely radicalized. We are watching a pot of water come to a slow boil but are doing nothing to mitigate the water being poured into the pot.

Hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent on these laws and military operations, and nothing will be spent on fostering goodwill in our communities. We don’t need a roundtable on why young people become radicalized; we need to do something about it.

Every action this government takes does the reverse. We need to find ways for people to connect in person so we can see each other’s humanity. This is the challenge of the early 21st century. It’s literally one person at a time, and while it has to be grassroots it also requires leadership. We’re not all going to like or agree on the same matters, but there’s far less chance that we’re going to want to kill one another.

We have to bang heads together and see the bleeding obvious. Assimilation of immigrants is a slow generational process. The speed of change in the world, the one that ironically may slow down change and allow us to ignore our neighbours far outstrips this traditional process.

We want people to be free to practise their religion and tell others far away, our values as a country, as a society is the way forward. We want unity under an umbrella of diversity. It should be so strong no kid would ever contemplate supporting ISIL or any other religious fundamentalist terror group. We make a natural assumption this should happen especially when events such as the persecution of Yezidis hit headlines last year, but the world has changed in the way we communicate, and in opportunity and affordable living, and this complacency means our great society needs work and investment, not rhetoric.

I fear though, we have a Prime Minister who wants to have his moment in history — at least in a Canadian context. He wants a bit of Churchill but comes off hollow, a poor carbon copy of George W. Bush, although he is getting better at delivering a joke. His thinking is traditional, from the history books, the men of war, and it’s strictly inside the box.

He doesn’t want to be on the sidelines in the Global War on Terror, itself a nebulous, ongoing, no-end in sight mission much like the War on Drugs. But how can fostering unity and harmony at home be considered the sidelines? In terms of national interest for any leader, surely this has to be the priority. What we’ve witnessed is a Prime Minister and his party sowing seeds of discord.

As an admirer of Margaret Thatcher, PM Stephen Harper would be aware of what a little war does in difficult economic times. His plan of turning Canada into an energy superpower has spluttered into a super whimper. On a petty note, I’ve had a couple of humorous tweets ready to go for weeks on the matter, but there’s been nary a whisper on the economy. Instead, I hear hollow words from a bygone age.

All this nonsense is about an election to hold onto power. Talking about security scores well in the polls. Drum up Nationalist fervour. Insert your favourite catchphrase (or not so catchy phrase). The consequences don’t matter. If it’s necessary there can always be more war and increased draconian powers, and media will continue to be used to create a hyperreality in which to sell them.

There is a case for military intervention and it’s on humanitarian grounds, not because it serves the national interest and the threat of a terror attack. It would require achievable targets, explanation, and discussion, all clearly communicated to Canadians. If the government were truly interested in acting upon humanitarian grounds it would have done so last summer when Yazidis were hounded up a mountain in northern Iraq. They waited until October.

Canadians have always struck me as having a great deal of common sense, and now we have a government who seem intent on reducing us to little sense. It’s sad because it doesn’t have to be this way.

 

Small notes

Bill C-51 does make an attempt to censure radical opinion on terrorism. The Walrus article outlines why that might not be a good idea. I have my own views on this. Those groups will modify their behaviour, or how they would appear to their potential victims. We shouldn't assume those who are screaming from the rooftops (or the pulpits) are a deciding factor. In fact, it may be better to leave their websites untouched, not because they'll be driven underground (a valid point), but because they appear unhinged. A grounded youth should be able to see right through psychopathic propaganda and question them. Confirmation bias doesn't necessarily come from a terror group. 

During the writing of the piece, a couple of amendments have been made to Bill C-51. A protestor, say someone taking action on climate change, will not be subject to anti-terrorism laws. Amazing they would include such a loose clause in the first place. Still, they won't amend the lack of oversight in the proposals, the main criticism of the Bill.

The cumulative effect narrative: Muslims and niqab, different, don't trust them, look like terrorists, we must do something about terror attacks, their culture is anti-woman, their culture is anti-Canadian, threat from Muslims inside Canada, horrific images of barbaric acts carried out by ISIL who are Muslims, who are here, who could turn against us, they've declared war against us. Let me know if you think that isn't divisive. I'll send a couple of men in white coats.

The terms strategy and tactics have become commonplace for politicians and pundits alike since the release of the documentary The Gatekeepers. I couldn't resist.

The Review

"I would recommend Margolis’s easily read novella to readers who want a science fiction adventure that causes them to think, not only about the future, but also about themselves. It is also just a fun read, if one is not so easily depressed by imperfect futures."

Someone stole my biscuit.

A biscuit is a twice-cooked cookie. In North America, it’s a cookie, and to confuse matters, it’s also a baked product similar to the scone. Those outside of the continent may have heard of the term biscuits and gravy. I’m sure Oreos are biscuits and not cookies. Whenever I pass them (or Dad’s Cookies) in a Canadian supermarket my brain screams biscuit. And to throw another spoke into the cookie wheel, a cookie in South Africa, is in fact, a cupcake. Perplexed?

On a recent family visit to England I made one frivolous purchase (other than eating chips). It was Fortnum & Mason’s Lucifer’s Ginger & Chilli Biscuits. I can’t offer you any, because—well—not that they were a cure for anxiety exactly, but on my return they were scoffed down before I could invite anyone over for tea. They were worth the devilish price.

I paid for The Code of Happiness review. I really wanted to say, goddamn, I can’t buy a review (at the lack of reviews), but that’s not true anymore. In principle I’m against this practise of paying for reviews because the reviewer is compromised by payment — and I’m sure as hell am not going to ask a reviewer to give me a bad review on the basis I won’t believe them if it’s good!

As someone who talks to himself at an alarming frequency, I found a reasonable counter. The reviewer is aware of this notion and thus their credibility and integrity is on the line. For the writer, it requires a leap of faith.

In my research I found “paid for” reviews had mixed results but generally skewered toward the negative as an aid to self-published authors. It was also noticeable how quickly the world of self-publishing is changing. Posts about this subject matter from a mere two years ago seemed to be losing relevance. As a barometer, consider how Publisher’s Weekly has changed its stance and now offers paid reviews.

My case was simple. I had a specific genre, and while I watch Sci-Fi, I’m not a Sci-Fi reader. Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go was my closest encounter with the genre before writing the novella — and that was before the movie came out. I was frankly, an interloper.

A review by someone who reads, writes, and reviews Sci-Fi made sense. Someone who is part of, or trying to build an online magazine, and whose readers will turn away if they can’t be trusted. It was apt. A summation, which recommends books to a certain kind of Sci-Fi reader helped push me over the edge — and I like to swim in the deep end.

I didn’t know my reviewer. I had no contact with them. I didn’t know if they had seen my short synopsis. I assume they had. What I did notice is their review ratings ranged from 5-7. I was dreading a six or worse. A seven? Hmm, okay, but honestly, I was hoping for more. The novella had been through proofreading and passed editorial with flying colours. I knew it worked, but liked, loved, appreciated? Understood? Enjoyed by people whom I didn’t know? Completely in the dark.

Receiving an 8/10 and a review that made me want to read the book again left me ecstatic. But more so because the decisions I made around story, character and style worked. I felt I had connected with the reviewer, and potentially, an audience. From screenwriting I know how important (and how fabulous) it is when you make a connection with a reader, and subsequently people who want to (and can) turn your script into a movie. Believe me, my ego has flipped (and then unfortunately flopped) all over LA.

A special shout to screenwriting. What a discipline. A training ground. It is brutal. You can’t lose a reader on a page because there’s another script they can read. It’s that simple. Whether you think Hollywood turns out crap or not, it’s the bottom line for those trying to break in. A book? How many people will admit to skipping pages?

Admittedly my mom skipped a few pages of the novella, but then again, she was up until 1:30am and read it straight through — and she’s not exactly of the demographic this would appeal to (or a Sci-Fi reader). I neglected to ask for her score.

Did I want a score greater than 8/10? No, unless the reviewer gave them out routinely, and I wouldn’t choose a reviewer who does this because it renders the score redundant.

This relates to another problem in the self-publishing world. And it’s namely all the fake reviews on Amazon and the like. It’s comic (literally) and does a disservice to authors. It occurs because user reviews drive sales.

Yes, it’s sad to say, but we humans are sheep. I can attest. The Code of Happiness looks (sniff) unwanted and disowned on cyber bookshelves. It begs, an object of doubt, a naughty child, untrustworthy of a precious download. If only it had a smattering of user reviews to keep it company.

The unfortunate result is almost all self-published eBooks are splattered with five-star reviews. Apparently we’re all Ishiguro’s.

While I haven’t expressly forbidden my family and friends from posting, I have discouraged such practise. I’m happy if my friends spread the word if they like the book. I do not expect them to share if they don’t like it. If Sci-Fi isn’t their thing, then I hope the review will help when they meet, or know someone who does read the genre.

And the price? Print (on demand) copies would have to retail at US$5.99 to yield any return. US$2.99 for an eBook is a steal, even if it’s a novella, the bastard child of literature, and from an unknown author. But we self-publishers are in a race to the bottom. I suspect we’re already there.

There’s a glut of free and 99c books as we look to find an audience. I started off free for the first two weeks as I didn’t want family and friends to feel obligated to purchase, and also to encourage unknown readers to take a chance without any reviews to inform. As the second week ended, it was clear; free or not, great review or not, I had tapped out my social networks, and the limited advertising had failed to draw a quorum. There is a merchandising argument it should remain free for months, or until it finds a readership. If we are all taking the same advice, we are all doing the same thing — and in a saturated market. The demand is not so much for books, but for constant creativity in marketing.

Nonetheless, the feeling someone has stolen my biscuit grows.

As I’ve negotiated these early weeks of self-publishing (and it’s taken far too much of my time), two things have become abundantly clear. There is a need for publishers, organizations who are expert at finding and establishing a market for their authors, particularly new one’s. Secondly, there’s a need for paid reviews from those who can rise above the noise, those who have a readership. Trust is the de facto online currency.

Does my novella review warrant an 8/10? All I know is that it seems to match what was written.

The jury is out (and may not return for years) on my decision to and whom to pay for a review. EBooks after all, are a slow burn. It wasn’t a frivolous decision.

On second thoughts, perhaps I should have saved some of those Lucifer’s Biscuits, for at least, I’ll have time to debate about cookies and biscuits, and work on something new while I find out if my novella is really half-baked, disappears into the ether, or if I am indeed Ishiguro.

The full review can be found at www.Epicstream.com and www.Fantascize.com.

The Code of Happiness is available for a ridiculously low introductory price of 99 cents at multiple online retailers. It’s cheaper than a bar of chocolate and lasts longer too.

For a wonderful take on paying for five star reviews, here's Andrew Shaffer's Huffington Post article.

Never Let Me Go has a user rating of 3.8/5 on Goodreads.

This blog post marks an official return to blogging after a year's absence. All previous posts on this site can be ignored (pretty sure they have been).

 

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*The Kobo link might take you to the Canadian Store, all others are U.S. stores.