Far far away from the bright lights

I spent some time over the past week or so teaching classes in Port McNeill and Campbell River. There are some fabulous people up there, and I quite enjoyed myself. Campbell River is awfully pretty — staring out over Discovery Passage at the coastal range on the mainland, it’s easy to see why people like it up there. (On the other hand, if you don’t fish, I’m not sure what you’d do. But never mind.) Port McNeill was interesting too, but more for the fact that you drive a long way, drive some more, and then drive even further, and after all that you’re still an hour away.

Anyway, I took a few pictures.

Is this a news report or a trailer for a motion picture?

As I mentioned in the previous post, I was up in Port McNeill over the weekend and drove home after teaching this afternoon and evening. McNeill is a long way from everything; this was the furthest up I’d ever been on Vancouver Island and it’s probably about as far north as I’m going to go for a while, barring a sudden need to instruct in Port Hardy all of a sudden (which I don’t think is going to be forthcoming anytime soon). I’ve spent most of the last two months on the road, actually, living out of my suitcase and generally being totally disconnected from my life in Victoria. Last week was strange, in that I managed to spend five nights in my own bed — the first time that had happened since the new year.

One of the interesting things about this travel is that I don’t end up paying much attention to the news. It turns out that unless it’s showing up in my RSS feed while I’m away, I probably don’t know it’s happening — I just don’t feel compelled to put the news on anymore. There are probably a bunch of reasons why this is true, starting with the fact that nothing ever really seems to change, but suddenly my not knowing what’s going on in the world seems like a great weakness, and things seem to be happening with a breakneck pace.

Consider this: When I left for Port McNeill last week, Libya was still a relatively stable country. Now it’s on fire and people are dying, and the situation is changing by the minute. In the time it took to drive from Port McNeill to Campbell River, an earthquake leveled big chunks of Christchurch, and Benghazi airport was more or less rendered inoperable, with Libyan airspace closed and refusing incoming traffic. Ambassadors began to resign their posts. A government — well, okay, a dictator — is poised to fall. I’m almost afraid of going to sleep. Who the hell knows what the world is going to look like when I wake up?

This is always true, of course. It just seems more true now, and more pressing now.

There are moments where it feels like we’re living in some kind of hyperreality, a state that is familiar and yet totally novel. The first time I really noticed it was after STS-107: talking about a Space Shuttle that “broke up on re-entry” — it was like being inside a science fiction story, and yet there it was, more or less live on TV, and unavoidably real. The idea of revolution in the Middle East, regardless of how it started, seems to underlie a lot of fiction, particularly of the action-adventure type, and often of the action-adventure gaming type, and now here we are. I was reminded, on the long and lonely drive that gave me an awful lot of time to think, of the line from “Modern Warfare 2”: “First Makarov turned the US into his scapegoat. The next thing you know, there’s flames everywhere.” Nobody scapegoated the United States here. But damn if there aren’t flames everywhere. If you don’t like that analogy, you can pick the opening to the original “Modern Warfare” where the deposed president of some unnamed country is driven to the civic square and shot on television. It hasn’t happened. Yet. But you can see it coming. Hell, you almost half-expect credits to start rolling over some of the footage we’re seeing.

My colleague, with whom I was traveling tonight, said that it felt like watching the OJ chase all over again. I pointed out that OJ didn’t have access to an air force and wasn’t shelling cities. But he wasn’t entirely wrong. I know in my head that this is mostly media coverage, and that the 24-hour cycle coupled with the immediacy of the Internet and particularly RSS feeds and especially Twitter feeds means that events can appear to be way out of proportion and seem more significant than they are. And I know that the combination of the entire Middle East in flames (or on the brink of bursting into flames) with a particularly deadly earthquake in New Zealand doesn’t mean anything at all — it’s just a stupid coincidence. But if you wanted to design a backdrop to a particularly violent and horrifying kind of early 21st century war movie, this might not be far off from what you’d choose.

I don’t mean to make light of the suffering, or trot out that tired old meme about how we process the world through the framework of entertainment and diversion — really, I don’t. I think I’m trying to process, for myself, what it means to be watching all of this, and to figure out why it all feels so surreal, and yet is completely unsurprising. It’s a very weird feeling, and I’m not sure what to make of it.

See also: full text of the original grim meathook future thing, which seems more appropriate now than ever. And oh, by the way, we’re running out of helium.

As an aside, I learned tonight the true meaning of the term “get-home-itis.” I never got it before — could never really understand how somebody really really really had to get home, to the detriment of their own safety and potentially the safety of their family. Driving through a blinding snowstorm (yes, really) around Woss, I finally figured it out, and when I did, I was awfully grateful I wasn’t driving at that moment, or flying myself home, because I knew in my heart that I would have been making bad decisions because of the desire to get home. It has been a strange, revelatory kind of day.

Soundcheck Sunday

We didn’t have a soundcheck last week because I was in Ucluelet getting very cold and somewhat wet. But we can have one this week (even though I’m in Port McNeill… getting very cold and snowed on — ah, north island)! And here we have “Hard Rain,” by the Shout Out Louds:

This is another band that I discovered a couple years after they hit the scene, so to speak, and I am still angry that it took me as long as it did to find out about them. “Hard Rain” was the first song I heard by them, and it’s still my favorite. Oh, and as a bonus, the video is shot in Tokyo. Enjoy!

My big fat scandal

The Economist, Tipping Point: Removing the rot from the sport of emperors:

Bout-rigging has been alleged for decades. Retired wrestlers occasionally admit it. In 1996 two former wrestlers about to go public with evidence died of a rare respiratory illness within hours of each other (no wrongdoing was found). A statistical examination of bouts over 11 years by University of Chicago economists clearly identified rigged matches (to let borderline wrestlers retain their rank). Still, the JSA always denied foul play. The body even sued those who dared to disparage the sport of emperors, which traces its lineage back more than a millennium.

Today’s charges will be harder to evade. Evidence is provided by erased but reconstructed text messages on the mobile phones of a dozen wrestlers and stablemasters. These were confiscated by police during an investigation last year over sumo’s links to baseball betting (illegal in Japan) and ties to the yakuza, Japan’s mob. “Who do I owe a win to now?” one wrestler texted another last March. “Will you let me win at the next tournament? If not, I want the 200,000 back,” texted another in May, according to police leaks to the media.

Yomiuri Shimbun, Sumo rigging probe: Long slog ahead:

Getting to the bottom of the sumo match-fixing scandal that has plunged the ancient sport into what could be the biggest crisis in its history is certain to take much longer than expected because of difficulty analyzing evidence and uncooperative wrestlers, a special investigative panel has disclosed. All signs are pointing to a protracted effort to fully reveal the details of the scandal and decide on punitive action against wrestlers and others involved, according to the panel. The independent investigative body headed by Waseda University Prof. Shigeru Ito submitted an interim report Monday to an emergency meeting of the Japan Sumo Association at Ryogoku Kokugikan.

Asahi Shimbun, Low-ranked wrestler played a key role in sumo scandal. Looks at the role of a 31 year-old sandanme wrestler named Enatsukasa, who may have been responsible for coordinating a lot of the match rigging. I include this mostly because it is the first time I’ve ever seen the term “dohyo diver” in print.

Way West

I spent the weekend in Ucluelet — the first time I’d been out there in nearly two decades, despite having lived 4.5 hours away for the past fifteen years. Looking back on it now, I can’t really understand what had kept me from going. It’s awesomely amazing.

Take a look. I didn’t shoot in greyscale, honest!

Yeah, baby — it’s content time!

We’re back. After a week of unanticipated downtime, precipitated by database problems — yes, again — and exacerbated by my being on the road pretty much continuously the last two weeks, I’ve managed to restore the blog to perfect working order. (Remember to back up your work, kids.) Not that anyone likely noticed or anything, this blog having all of about four readers. Anyway, we work again. Yes! A proud moment.

I note I am preparing to plunge into the pit of despair that is Amazon Web Services in an attempt to get back into the “this is a real computer” hosting game. Though perhaps that’s not strictly accurate, since AWS doesn’t actually offer, um, real computers. Sort of. Anyway.

We missed a Soundcheck Sunday, so here’s a late one for mid-week: Florence + The Machine, “Dog Days Are Over”

Ignore the video; it’s really silly. That voice is ridiculously amazing. How I was unaware of Florence Welch and her work before some time last week is clearly somebody’s fault, and I’m going to take it out on whoever that was.