Thursday, December 18, 2014

12 People You’ll Never Believe You Actually Elected

Today, instead of a fictional farce, we look at the actual farce that is Alberta politics. The Progressive Conservative party has been in power in Alberta for 43 years. I’m just going to repeat that number in case you missed it the first time: 43 years. They have literally been around longer than disco.
They can be called a centre-right party, inasmuch as a party whose name is an oxymoron can have a coherent position. But it’s not very accurate to call the PCs a party. A party is a faction, a group of like-minded individuals who band together to better compete against other groups of like-minded individuals. The PCs are an institution. They are the Blob, inexorably absorbing every sentient being within reach.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The young man and the sage

Once upon a time a young man who was acclaimed for his wit and the profundity of his thoughts decided to visit an old sage who lived as a hermit on a mountain. The young man climbed up the steep path to the hermit’s hut and found him working in his garden.
 “Great sage,” said the young man, “I have come to you because you are reputed to be very wise, and I wish someday to be as wise as you. So, tell me: what is the secret of your wisdom?”

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Return to blogging

I’ve been neglecting this blog for a while, but it’s been a busy few months:
  • I finished my book, now titled The Myrtle Child. It is the funniest thing since sliced bread. It is so epic it makes Game of Thrones look like People magazine. Next step is to find an agent, and then I'm on my way to world domination. (Except that with the comic novel instead of the death ray I was hoping for, I may have to revise my plans a bit.)
  • I did some philosophy, writing a piece called “Intellectual Virtue Now and Again” for a volume called Epistemic Situationism, to be published by Cambridge University Press. If you know what all those words mean you should check it out. If you don’t, what you need to know is that philosophical debates are basically like this.
  • Pavel and the Ivans, the patriotic Ukrainians you might remember from previous posts, were finally noticed by the media (and by ‘the media’, I mean ‘the media who aren’t just making the news up’). Vladimir Putin explained that they and the other Russian soldiers in eastern Ukraine were not invading the country; they were just on vacation. I was a little suspicious of this story at first, but I checked TripAdvisor and it turns out he was telling the truth. Just look at this review of the Donetsk Best Western, posted by a ‘Sgt. Pavel’:

    This hotel is terrible. The air conditioning didn’t work half the time, and neither did the running water. We specifically asked for a quiet room, but the sound of artillery fire kept us awake until three in the morning! The service was rude and totally unreliable. The concierge never showed up once. When we ordered room service, it took almost an hour for them to bring it, and there was blood all over the cart. The bellhop said he’d been shot by a sniper, of all the ridiculous excuses! I think he was actually drunk – he was slurring his words and could barely stand up straight. We sent the food back but then when we checked out, the meal was STILL on our bill. We should have known better than to book a hotel advertising it was a short walk from the Historic Front Lines.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A metaphysical interview with Toronto city councillor Doug Ford

This afternoon I had the opportunity for a metaphysical interview with Doug Ford, Toronto city councillor and brother to the mayor, Rob Ford. You’ve probably heard of Rob Ford: his pro-taxpayer, anti-downtown-fatcat policies have been featured in news media all over the world, and Youtube is full of amateur videos of his impromptu political speeches.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Return to Ukraine

I’d hoped to make it back to Ukraine for another metaphysical interview for a while now, but with my work schedule it just hasn’t been possible. It takes time, you know, speculating about a transatlantic flight. Finally, while doing laundry this afternoon I managed to get back to Kramatorsk, in the self-declared sovereign state that used to be the province of Donetsk.
Looking one way down the street, it seemed like a normal afternoon. People strolled and chatted and shopped. A pair of old men played chess outside a café. A grocer argued with a heavyset woman who was waving around a beet that had apparently offended her. But just twenty yards away, the street was cut off by a barricade of sandbags and cinderblocks. Soldiers lolled in the sun or rested in the shade cast by an armoured personnel carrier parked on the sidewalk. They still wore uniforms that looked oddly like Russian ones, but they had patches freshly sewn on their shoulders that read Donetsk People’s Republic.
“Greetings, Dr. Lipak!” Pavel Aleksandrov strode over to me, a rifle slung over his shoulder, followed by two of his men – who I think were both named Ivan. They stopped a few feet away and saluted me. Pavel’s eyes fell for an instant, and then he said, “Welcome back to Kramatorsk!”

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Stephen Harper, Grade Eight

Beverley McLachlin cleared her throat. She’d been teaching junior high for thirty years, long enough that she’d started thinking of things in self-coined aphorisms. There are all sorts of troublemakers, went one of them, but the smart ones are the worst. That definitely applied here. “Stephen,” she said sharply, and tapped her foot until he turned around.

“Sorry, Ms. McLachlin,” the boy replied. “We were having a caucus meeting.”

She managed not to sigh. Ever since little Stephen Harper had been elected class president, his ego had been swelling steadily. This was even though he’d won more out of luck than popularity. His rival Iggy had managed to staple his hand to a bulletin board while trying to put up campaign posters. And still, Stephen had only won because a number of students had actually written “Anybody but Stephen” on their ballots instead of voting. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A metaphysical interview with some protesters in eastern Ukraine

Last night I had the opportunity for a metaphysical interview with a group of protesters in eastern Ukraine. (As I explained in a previous post, a metaphysical interview is one where instead of talking to a person you speculate about what they might say.) While the kids were watching Johnny Test I nipped over to the town of Kramatorsk. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A metaphysical interview with Vladimir Putin’s mom

In recent weeks Vladimir Putin has invented a new sort of Russian reversal. This is where you send troops to Crimea and take control of the government and media, then hold a vote on whether you should send in troops and take control of a region’s government and media. The notion of consent involved here – as in “Crimean voters consented to annexation” – is a little bit peculiar. But it turns out that this sort of behaviour is a Putin family tradition.
This morning I had the opportunity to conduct a metaphysical interview with Maria Ivanova Putina, Vladimir Putin’s mother.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"I don't think every sweater you get from Goodwill has demons in it"

No posts recently; I was busy writing for a while. Then I got sick with bronchitis for nearly two weeks. Then I didn't have anything interesting to say.
I still don't, but somehow this morning I ended up reading the Christian Post for a while. Luckily, Pat Robertson has interesting things to say. The quote above is from him; the full article is here.
(Just so you don't think I'm maligning the Christian Post, the article does call Robertson "controversial".)
There was also a fascinating op-ed by Rachel Alexander on a recent gun control law in Connecticut. The new law allows for "the confiscation of weapons". It makes "between 50,000 and 350,000 gun owners felons....which could result in a prison sentence." According to it, "innocent gun owners would be put in the same category as sex offenders." The law is "insanity"; it is "foolish legislation", passed by legislators who "do not represent the will of the people who elected them". 
Oh, no! What sort of totalitarian horror is this? 
Passed last year in response to the Sandy Hook shooting, SB 1160 bans so-called "assault weapons" - certain rifles, more recently known as AR-15s, that have been singled out based on purely cosmetic criteria - and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition....The only way to legally retain one of these newly banned firearms or magazines in Connecticut now is to register it - but most gun owners do not want their name on a government list.
Huh? Sorry, I think I misheard you - could you repeat that last bit?
The only way to legally retain one of these newly banned firearms or magazines in Connecticut now is to register it - but most gun owners do not want their name on a government list.
So the law "bans" weapons and categorizes gun owners along with pedophiles because it...puts their name on a government list? Like the lists of car owners or property owners? Like the list of registered voters? One of those lists?
Alexander compares the brave gun owners who are risking felony charges to support their constitutional right to not have their names on a list to the Spartans at Thermopylae. The image it brings to mind is Leonidas at the head of a phalanx, blocking a narrow mountain pass from a bespectacled, balding Persian clerk armed with a fierce clipboard. 
"Sorry to bother you," says the secretary. "Your name is 'Leonidas', right? Is that 'Leonidas the First' or a later 'Leonidas'?"
"I WILL NEVER TELL!" bellows the mighty Spartan.
"Could you at least confirm that your name is 'Leonidas'?"

The clerk sighs and wipes the sweat off his forehead. "I'll just go with 'Leonidas the First', then."

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Return of the Jedi, with commentary by a three-year-old

This is a few years old, but I didn’t have a blog at the time, so it ended up as a very elaborate status update on Facebook. (Which I don’t use much anymore, owing to privacy concerns.)
Watching Return of the Jedi with my son Milo, who was then three, I decided to write down what he said about the movie:

Monday, February 10, 2014

On names

Before I get complaints from any more relatives, I should explain: yes, I misspelled my own name.
My last name is officially spelled Lepock, pronounced LEE-pock. It’s some immigration officer’s attempt to render the Croatian Lipak, which I’m told means rosehip. My great-grandfather was from Glina, a small town in Krajina, a majority-Serbian region of Croatia. I visited Croatia once, but I stayed on the gorgeous Adriatic coast and skipped a pilgrimage to Glina.
When Croatia seceded from Yugoslavia, Krajina seceded from Croatia and most of the Croatian residents fled in fear of ethnic cleansing. A few years later, the Croatian army retook the territory, destroying everything in their path, and most of the Serbian residents fled in fear of ethnic cleansing. The generals who led the invasion were convicted of war crimes at the Hague, but acquitted after appeal. You may be wondering: if the Croats fled, and then the Serbs fled, who lives in Krajina now? Apparently: not very many people. Wikipedia lists Glina’s population as having fallen from 23 000 before the war to 10 000.
Glina was also the site of a series of massacres during the Second World War. And people wonder why I’m suspicious of nationalism.
I’m rather fond of the name Lepock, but people find it hard to pronounce. Most of them think it’s French and convert it to LePock – except, in my experience, for the French. They know a French name can’t end in ‘ck’, and just find it weird.
Calling myself Christopher L’Époque would be awesome, but maybe a teensy bit pompous. Going back to Lipak has its merits, but it’d be mispronounced “Liepack”, which would be unfortunate and not at all an accurate description of half of what I say.

Canadian literary types often misspell my name Leapock anyway, probably thinking of Stephen Leacock. (I occasionally get people who call me “Leacock”. I also get people who call me “Lepcock”, which makes me spend the next forty-five minutes trying to suppress the impulse to misspell their name by adding “youreadick” to the end.) So Leapock it is. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Justin Trudeau and the Chamber of Secrets

I’m often struck by how much Canadian politics resembles genre fiction. You have the evil villain, the friend-betraying science-hating electoral-playing-field-rigging development-aid-into-corporate-welfare-turning Stephen Harper. (But don’t let that suggest that I think he’s a purely malevolent force. He’s the only politician who hates my cellphone company as much as I do.) And you have Justin Trudeau, the scrappy hero who, like Frodo Baggins or Harry Potter, must save the country from certain doom with only his courage, his wits, and a motley band of plucky friends.
I wish it didn’t seem that way, but there are too many parallels. Trudeau is the scion of a noble house, anointed by fate to return the nation to the pride it enjoyed under his father’s benevolent rule. Yet his early life was humble – he was a mere schoolteacher. Even after entering politics, he was reluctant to take up his quest, preferring to canvass Papineau on foot until Michael Ignatieff’s self-immolation left the elders of the party begging, “Help us, Justin! You’re our only hope.”
He’s adopted radical new tactics (like Ender) chosen with disarming honesty. (“Well, let’s just legalize marijuana. Heck, I smoke a little myself. Why is everyone staring at me like that?”) The agents of the enemy are never far behind him, falling on his every misstep like screeching Nazgul. Sometimes Trudeau only escapes by the skin of his teeth (like that time when he accidentally praised China for having a nice efficient dictatorship). His hair is unruly no matter how much he brushes it.
Last week Trudeau expelled all Liberal senators from the party. The Senate has been embroiled in corruption scandals - two senators were charged with defrauding the government with fictitious expense claims earlier this week, and two more are under police investigation. For anyone not familiar with the Canadian constitution, our unelected Senate also doesn’t do anything except for providing a world-class retirement plan for party hacks. Trudeau declared that the Senate should be nonpartisan, and started it on its way by booting all his partisans.
(I figure what he has in mind is something like the House of Lords. But constitutionally our Senate is much more powerful than the Lords. So it’s unclear whether that would work.)
This strikes me as the moment when the hero finally sets off alone into the wilderness, giving up all support except for a trusted friend or two. Trudeau has severed ties with the old fundraisers and strategists of his party, just as Frodo left the Fellowship of the Ring and Harry snuck away from the Order of the Phoenix. The parallel’s made even stronger by the rumours coming out of Ottawa that Trudeau made this decision without consulting anyone.

Godspeed to you, Justin Trudeau. Our fate is in your unlikely hands. I hope Hermione remembered her purse. 

Fate Soup

So like I said, I write a bit. My main project right now has the working title Fate Soup (unless I come up with something better). Set in mythological Greece, it follows three heroes on a quest to save the world: Lizzie, a beautiful warrior with impulse control problems; Athos, a wizard who can’t cast spells or do pretty much anything else; and Bertrand, the sprite who has to keep them pointed in the right direction. Along the way they face incompetent gods, nonsensical prophecies, riddling trolls, a lobotomized dragon, and a fire-breathing chihuahua.
The book is widely considered by people living in my apartment to be Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for the Harry Potter generation.
Along the way, it also reveals the mysteries of the universe, such as “why do bad things happen to good people?” (short answer: the gods are idiots) and “why are your testicles on the outside of your body?”
Here’s an excerpt from the current draft:

Friday, January 31, 2014

My blog has words and stuff

So I’ve just been informed that it’s not enough to just have a blog; you also have to put stuff on it.
I write, primarily speculative fiction. Most of it is comedy; well, some of it’s all comic, and some only part. A lot of it would be termed “fantasy”, but I don’t like calling it that, for two reasons. One is that “spec fic” is broader, and I’d rather not pigeonhole myself in a genre. heresy alert Lord of the Rings is pretty good, but problematic in so many ways that I wouldn’t try to imitate it.
The second reason is that whereas “fantasy” should connote giving one’s imagination free rein, to many people it means “elf going on a journey”. I don’t write about elves going places. (And if I did, the elf would be stuck in traffic in midafternoon heat with no AC cursing the dwarf’s low hygienic standards and listening to the others whine and argue, until finally he snaps and shouts at the hobbit, “I don’t care if you’re a hundred and forty years old! If you’re only three feet tall, you have to be in a booster seat!”)
What I do write I’ll get to in another post.
For a living, I teach philosophy, part-time at U. of Alberta and part-time doing distance ed for Athabasca U. They’re both nice gigs, interesting work, though the lack of any job security is frightening at times. I wrote my Ph.D. thesis on metacognition – how we regulate our own thinking. I do some research, mainly on intellectual virtues, though it tends to end up on the back burner these days because it’s not nearly as fun as writing.
I follow politics obsessively, and will likely post often on that.
And then there are these two scoundrels, whose escapades are sure to occupy much of this blog:

The one on the left with the crazy hair and the dimples is Milo. The one on the right with the crazy hair and the ski jacket is Gabi. Remember that now.

This picture was taken at Milo’s sixth birthday party. The party was supposed to be held at the skating rink across from the downtown library, but the rink was closed because it’d been above zero for several days. Gabi and two of her aunts were at the library building and programming that Lego robot, so we joined them. They have an amazing little room set up there called the MakerSpace (I think), with a number of computers, a printing press, and a 3D printer. After a few hours there, we went to Churchill Square where the kids chased each other around and ate cupcakes – and I do mean that they were doing those simultaneously. It was a completely improvised and yet entirely successful party. (Improvised by the kids’ mother, by the way. I was too fascinated with the 3D printer to help.)

I have a blog

I have a blog. Am I important now?