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Sean Montgomery

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Sunday Musings Part Two: Bernie Sanders [Jan. 24th, 2016|08:43 pm]
Sean Montgomery
I'm really not sure what to make of the 2016 US Presidential Election. For a long time, it looked like it was destined to be another Clinton vs Bush match-up, and that Clinton would win it. And there's still time, we could still end up with that result. But on the Republican side right now, Jeb Bush is pulling barely 5% support. The egomaniacal charlatan Donald Trump has all the momentum. He appears to be a lock to win their nomination, provided that he doesn't go before the cameras next week to reveal his campaign was all just a piece of theatre, to see how offensive he could be and still command support. But more interesting to me is what's happening on the Democratic side.

In the first two primaries, it appears that Clinton might lose to Bernie Sanders, who the media has done their very best to ignore until very recently. And it's easy to see why. Sanders espouses crazy socialist ideas like bringing in universal free health care, free college tuition, raising the minimum wage, and jailing the CEOs of big banks when they break the law. I like a lot of the things Sanders says, and it is so refreshing to hear them being said on TV by someone who has a shot at becoming President (Dennis Kucinich and Ralph Nader held similar progressive stances, but were never threats to win power). Have we finally reached a stage where people who had grown disenfranchised from politics see in Sanders a candidate who'll actually change things? That certainly seems to explain Clinton's diminishing support. She has the name recognition, many people still think her husband was an okay president, and she has all the big money backing her. But...people can see that she's just another corporation candidate, like Obama. People are turning to outsiders, who they feel 'speak the truth'. For some, that means Trump. For others, it's Sanders.

But will Sanders be *allowed* to become President? I use the word allowed deliberately. There will be a lot of very powerful interests arraying against him, starting with the Democratic Party establishment. The attacks from within have already started. Democrats are being told that they can't win with an 'extremist' like Sanders as their candidate; that it would hand power to Trump or some other Republican zealot. The cynic in me actually wonders if Sanders recent boost in support (specifically, the financial kind) is someone being aided by the Republican Party, to hurt Clinton. And the *real* cynic in me suspects that if it looks like the 74 year old Sanders might actually win, then he may develop a sudden case of heart attack, or lead bullet poisoning. Because that's the brutal nature of the political game in the United States.
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Sunday Musings Part One: On Reaching 'Peak Cape' [Jan. 24th, 2016|04:29 pm]
Sean Montgomery
There are way too many superhero movies getting made. As for the question of 'why?', the easy answer is that the successful ones make a big pile of money. Studios chase after that success, just as they used to churn out westerns, invaders from Mars stories, or whatever other type of movie seemed to be putting asses in the seats. Marvel Studios (now owned by Disney, who knows a thing or two about drawing crowds) has continued to test the market with more and more product, and now DC is about to get in on the game with its own batch of films. And I wonder: why is it that people *have* continued to plop down their money for these products? So here's some speculation:
1) As society becomes more and more fragmented; as our entertainment options become more numerous and individually targeted (video games, smartphones, Netflix), I think there's still an interest in community experiences which everyone can have and weigh in on. And every year, there are 3 or 4 movies which serve that purpose. The first big superhero movies (Spider-man, Iron Man, The Dark Knight) happened to have come along just as this phenomenon really started to manifest itself, and the studios ran with it, making more and more (even though not all are successful).
2) As people's entertainment options expanded, they began to spend more time and money on things other than movies. Studios had to give people a reason to come to theatres. They opted for spectacle...productions with flashy visuals and big sound. In an echo of the 1950s, when movies had to face the threat from television, 3D made a comeback, and there were other gimmicks like seats that 'rumble' in time with the action on screen. Superhero movies were tailor-made for this kind of purpose. Modern special effects allow for levels of mayhem that would have been impossible even 20 years ago (big spectacle movies have also become very expensive to make, which means they have to be huge hits just to break even. There has been more and more risk aversion. More repetition of whatever had been successful before. Ergo: more superheroes). It's also driven up ticket prices, and so people tend to see fewer movies now...focusing on the small group of really big ones that everyone else is going to see.
3) Finally, I think it has something to do with 9-11 and the War on Terrorism. The current rise of the superhero movie really got under way with 2002's Spider-man, which included the 9-11 referencing line: 'you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us'. Later movies, like The Dark Knight and Man of Steel, would reference the 9-11 attacks either visually or thematically. We were being sold on the idea that we now lived in a world where villains were everywhere, hiding, waiting for a chance to blow us up for no reason. And yet, even as billions of dollars was funneled into bombing, militarized police, and surveillance, the villain remained unstoppable. How appealing, then, to turn to demi-god figures who can swoop in and smash the bad guys that our governments can't. It's a reminder of how comic books exploded in popularity back in the 1930s and 40s as the world grappled with bad guys in Germany and Japan. Ultimately, there are two concepts which the stories accept and promote: evil is real and implacable, and that it must be met with violence. Which is why the movies always get co-operation from the Pentagon during their production.

I think we're definitely heading for Peak Cape though. At least, that's based on my own reaction to recent and forthcoming releases. Deadpool looks like it could be fun, but otherwise I have grown tired of the narratives in these movies. The ante on action and destruction has to get raised every time, which squeezes out character development and coherence. Yet another day for some kid to answer the call of duty and rescue us helpless humans. True, the shows Daredevil and Jessica Jones have taken things in a new direction. Constrained by smaller budgets, they keep the focus on the people and adult themes rather than the heroics. Hopefully those kinds of shows survive when the big action films start flaming out at the box office.
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Wallace Montgomery: 1920-2015 [Dec. 11th, 2015|11:01 pm]
Sean Montgomery
Tonight, I received the phone call from my mother that I'd been expecting: my grandfather Wallace Montgomery passed away this afternoon. I'm glad that I got a chance to see Wallace one last time, but will now be left thinking about how I could have expended some effort to see him more often. To get to know him better. At the same time, he was a difficult man to know. My father has now entrusted me to deliver a eulogy on his behalf (since his speech is not clear). It was written three years ago, before the stroke...back when my grandfather's health was declining and it was thought we might lose him. And my father speaks at length about how granddad was more interested in self-mythologizing than in being open. It's an odd thing, reading about your father's struggle to know his own father. While my relationship with my Dad has never been as strained and complicated, I do recognize bits of myself in my fathers' words. I come from a long line of loners, it seems. But I'm actually going to re-word some of the eulogy. I find it to be too sarcastic and critical in tone, and I don't want to be looking out at a room full of frowning faces. I explained to my Mom that I wouldn't deliver a speech that I didn't feel comfortable with. It *does* contains some good anecdotes, and I think people will like those. It's also a reminder that I will have to deliver one for my Dad one day, and I should probably think about what I might want to say. I expect Granddad's service to be on Thursday or Friday. He will be buried beside by Grandmother Iris in London - whose funeral I flew home from California to attend in 2006, and wound up missing because I got stuck in a huge traffic jam on a snowbound Highway 401.
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Grandpa's last days [Nov. 28th, 2015|01:15 am]
Sean Montgomery
As of today, I have one surviving grandparent, 95 year old Wallace Montgomery. But he has been in declining health for some time now, and tonight I got a message from my mother to inform me that the end is now near. Karen and I are going to see him at his hospice in London Ontario tomorrow, as are my parents. I never developed a close relationship with him, but I'll miss the man. He was a tough old guy.
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Paris Terror Attacks [Nov. 18th, 2015|12:16 am]
Sean Montgomery
Last Friday night, just as I was about to leave work and meet Karen and other friends for dinner, news outlets began reporting on a terrorist attack in Paris, France. Multiple targets had been hit. At least 40 casualties. It was not the first time this year that the city had seen such bloodshed. Back in January, eleven had been murdered at the office of the newspaper Charlie Hebdo - an attack which was seen to have been retaliation for the paper's having published cartoons of the Muslim prophet Muhammad. Immediately, because the internet abhors an outrage vacuum, social media offered its opinions about this new event. Before any information about possible perpetrators had been determined, the Muslim world had already been blamed. I got 9/11 flashbacks when the French president declared the deaths in Paris 'an act of war' (to be dealt with by soldiers; rather than a crime, dealt with through police work).

One of my first thoughts was: this is going to make things difficult for new Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. Just a couple of weeks ago, I was feeling optimistic about the new tone in this country. Trudeau had pledged to end Canadian Forces combat missions in Iraq, against the new enemy there: ISIS (or ISIL, or Daesh, or whatever it's being called now). He had pledged to accept 25,000 refugees from Syria, people fleeing the deadly situation in that nation. Would he now have to back down on those pledges? (As I write this, four days after the new Paris attacks, it appears that the refugees will still be welcomed, but Canada will now be committing ground troops to Iraq rather than jet fighters). I already get the sense that Trudeau isn't going to bring quite as much progressive change as hoped. We shall see.

Almost after the incident in Paris, people all over the world began updating their Facebook profile pictures to show a superimposed French flag (Facebook facilitated this - just click here!). A message of solidarity for the survivors, and of sympathy for the dead (over 130, by the current count). I usually resist participating in this kind of action, which I view as mostly to do with promoting your I Am A Person Who Cares brand to the world. But I do understand it. There was a lot of talk about the selectivity of honoring France's tragedy, and not the dozens of others which happen in 'less white' countries on a nearly daily basis. But human beings are tribal. Social media is where people join together with their fellow tribe members, building and sustaining ties through mutual grooming and mirroring behaviour. It's not that other events in the world aren't also tragic, but you can only be outraged about so many things at once, and people tend to focus on whatever a lot of other people that they know are also talking and caring about. The mainstream media also play a key role, focusing public attention in certain places. The French attacks did this, because they had been made against 'us', and were attributed to a culprit that has already established itself as our tribes' bogeyman du jour. Only 12 years ago, France was declared Public Enemy #1, because of the countries' decision not to back the United States' bombardment of Iraq. But now we're on the same side in a war which the people in charge clearly want. Whether it's religion, a flag, a brand of jeans - we are always finding ways to separate those who are like us from those who are not - and to distrust/hate/attack those in the second category. I felt that putting the Tricolore over my face, with its message of 'we are are Parisian' would ally myself with whatever actions that the French government undertook next. And those actions were entirely predictable: suspend civil liberties, and bomb Syria (well, bomb it *more*, since they were already doing so). I didn't really want to associate myself with that, and so my profile pic went unchanged.

The attacks led to a fair bit of anti-Muslim talk, and also a few hate crimes (a mosque here in Ontario was set on fire). I considered adding my voice to the conversation on Facebook, to counsel a more critical analysis of the situation. I find myself in the peculiar position of defending Islam from those who think all of its followers are potential killers - when as an atheist I *do* think religion is a lot of nonsense, which is frequently used to subjugate woman and keep people ignorant. But thankfully, other people that I know jumped in - arguing that this was the actions of a few people, not the fault of an entire religion or ethnicity. Unfortunately, there was also a lot of misinformation flying around. People cherry-picking photos and fact-free articles which only confirmed what they already believed. I sort of laugh when people say that when we respond with violence after an attack, that this is exactly what terrorists want. How do you know - have you spoken to them? Ultimately, I opted not to say anything. But after taking some time to digest the whole situation, I thought I'd just post a few words here instead - for posterity.

Something that's definitely changed for me in the years since 9/11 is that I am far more cautious about believing conspiratorial explanations. Unsubstantiated accusations are exactly what I hated about the initial online responses to the attacks. And the waters of conspiracy are fouled with antisemitism and stupidity. Having said that, there is much about the ISIS situation which I continue to find rather ponderous. It's not like the old days, where the designated bad guy was a specific person. You got to see their picture, maybe hear speeches that they gave to their people. ISIS is a big mystery. Bunch of anonymous masked men. Pretty much the only things that we know about the group come from the U.S. Department of Credible Intelligence, which has a rather poor track record when it comes to telling the truth. But like Al Qaeda (the bogeyman that they replaced), ISIS can be accused of being anywhere, at any time - wherever there's a strategically important country that needs some invading. Its public statements come from statements on the internet that could be getting made by anyone. Governments demand and get greater and greater powers of surveillance, yet this seems to do nothing to stop 'terrorists' from making plans, and doing damage. The governments double down on the same strategies: more violence, more surveillance. Clearly, these aren't stopping terrorism. But maybe stopping isn't the goal? Maybe it's allowed to continue, even purposely incited? I think about how ISIS gets much of its funding and supplies via Turkey and Saudi Arabia, both of them U.S. allies. And about how the group has been able to generate funds by exporting oil in truck caravans. The US couldn't see and stop those? This week, a US spokesperson said they were left alone because the country didn't want to risk killing innocent people. Which is ridiculous, since the country is killing civilians every day. Just last month, they deliberately shot up a Doctors Without Borders hospital, killing 30 patients and staff. So...I guess I can't help myself when it comes to conspiratorial thinking.

But when you look at all of the information, how can you *not* come to the conclusion that governments are lying about their true purposes? While rightfully calling out ISIS for its violent interpretation of Islam, the US has nothing bad to say about Saudi Arabia, which still crucifies people under Sharia Law. In fact, the US just approved the sale of over $1 billion is new weapons to that country. It also gave weapons to Syrian rebels affiliated with Al Qaeda...and wasn't the US on a mission to destroy Al Qaeda? The US works out a deal with Iran to abandon a nuclear weapons program, paving the way for detente between the two countries, even while Iran remains a supporter of Syria's Assad. Russia says it started bombing Syria to take out ISIS terrorists, but was mainly interested in destroying opponents of Assad - specifically, the US-backed rebels who are also fighting ISIS. Then ISIS claimed to have taken down a Russian passenger jet, killing all aboard.

Why? Who benefits? Plans hidden inside of other plans...it's like some multi-level game of chess in which the only visible goal is to create hatred and chaos. Now, ISIS has the guns of 4 of the world's 6 largest militaries trained on it. How is it that ISIS continues to exist? Shouldn't it have been completely annihilated by now, if the major powers were truly serious about its destruction? In any case, the U.S. and Russia have opposing objectives for Syria, and neither seems inclined to back down. And as such, there's a chance that shots may inadvertently get fired between the two. Which could wind up being very bad for a lot of people. But good for armaments makers...and Malthusians.

Over the past few nights, Karen and I have been watching a PBS series about the Roosevelt family (Teddy, FDR, Eleanor), which originally aired last year. In looking back at those early years of the 20th Century, with its two World Wars, it's interesting to see how history repeats. Desperate people getting restive, being seduced by demagogues. Business interests and bloodthirsty men championing the need for war. Nations jockeying for position and advantage. Millions of ordinary people suffering and dying. There's that old saying about how those who don't learn from history are condemned to repeat it...but we *do* learn from history. Wars are good for a certain segment of society (the ones who profit rather than die). And those who prevail get to take their share of the losers' loot. Suggesting that the conflict in the Middle East is about control of oil fields and pipelines is not controversial now (the price of oil is currently falling, as global demand slows, and the US enjoys a short-term bounty from shale oil - but it'll be back up). Governments still lie about it, and say it's about stamping out evil, or defending freedom (or Allah)...but people know the truth. Yet, too many still follow - driven by fear, anger, tribal affiliation, or addiction to the thrill of the kill. Underneath the glossy veneer of civilization, we're still a bunch of animals.
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The Martian [Oct. 25th, 2015|11:33 pm]
Sean Montgomery
I knew that I wanted to see The Martian as soon as the first trailer was released. But I'm no longer the passionate 18 year old who needed to get out and see movies on opening weekend. I'm prepared to wait for a proper opportunity, and that opportunity came tonight. Our friends Dennis and Lissa were also interested in seeing it, and our schedules were free. We met up at the Cineplex VIP theatre on the Queensway. Such a civilized way to see a movie! Not only do you reserve your seats when you buy the tickets, but those seats are big, and have retractable tables. Servers come by to take your food/beverage order, and you can actually have dinner items like sandwiches and burgers brought to you instead of just popcorn. No screaming kids, and people weren't talking through the film. That's worth paying $25 for once in a while. Especially when the film is good....and The Martian was. Matt Damon is very likable in the lead role, and it was fun to watch intelligence being celebrated in a film. It's also just a great story about determination and survival. I understand that things got even more dire for Damon's character in the original novel, but it was understandable that it had to be streamlined for the movie version. As it was, I found that things started to drag just a bit towards the end. But it was still consistently engaging.

Small spoiler: I loved the 'council of Elrond' reference, with Sean Bean sitting there at the table. I almost expected him to say 'one does not simply rescue a man from Mars!'

Quite apart from the movie's inherent good or bad qualities, I came away from the screening thinking about the wisdom of putting people on another planet. Karen and I were talking about it in the car on the way home. There's a certain school of thought that says we should do it because humans have always been explorers, and this the next Everest to climb. Or that we should do it because there will be technological discoveries made along the way that could benefit lots of people. Or that we're on our way to ruining this planet, so will have to start developing a Plan B for the day we have to leave it (and begin work on ruining another one, I suppose). I don't really put much stock in any of those arguments. Yes, we explore. But the reason those explorations turn into colonization is because there's a compelling reason to stay (usually a financial one). Mars is no place for human life. We already have a planet perfectly well suited for us...why not put that money and effort into working on the problems we have here? During the movie, you see the importance of sustainable energy, agriculture in hostile conditions, even 'making water'. These are things we will have to do here on Earth, not millions of miles away.

I realize that thinking like mine would have put a stop to the Apollo moon missions of the 60s, because people made the same arguments back then. But the moon missions are actually a useful point of comparison. After the flag got planted up there and the U.S. did its victory lap, there were never any moon bases built. No one has been back in over 40 years. There just wasn't any reason for it. Too expensive, too risky, no resources to exploit or science left to do. And I feel it would be the same with Mars. Landing people there would be a triumph of human ingenuity, but permanent bases? I don't see it happening. I have a friend who says that I will be proven wrong in the next decade. We shall see!
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Kingsman: The Secret Service [Mar. 1st, 2015|11:27 am]
Sean Montgomery
All last week, Karen had had a craving for Ethiopian food, and so a dinner at Lalibela was arranged for last night with our friends Dennis and Lissa. And then that plan expanded into dinner-and-a-movie. Karen asked if there was anything out that I was interested in seeing, and I mentioned that a few of my friends on Facebook had been saying positive things about Kingsman. Dennis was immediately on board for that plan, and so that's what we did.

My review? Overall, it was a lot of fun. Simultaneously an homage to and a parody of 1960s spy stories (James Bond, The Avengers), shows which I enjoyed watching as a kid. Throw in a bit of Men in Black, a dash of My Fair Lady, and some topical social commentary. Some Colin Firth playing a pretty convincing bad-ass, and a spectacularly choreographed fight scene. I wish I could say that I loved it without reservations. But with me being me, I couldn't let some things go.

Spoilery Comments FollowCollapse )
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Brief Dad Crisis [Mar. 1st, 2015|10:16 am]
Sean Montgomery
Friday afternoon, my mother sent me a message at work through Facebook which began with the words: "Hi Sean, an update on Dad. They have finally moved him out of the emergency area..." And my first response was 'what?' What emergency area...since when? It turned out that my mother had phoned our home land line on Wednesday, and left a message saying that my father had started violently vomiting after dinner and producing blood. He'd been taken to St Joseph's hospital and diagnosed with a case of pancreatitis. I didn't know this because I let Karen check our home phone messages, and we get so few that she'll go 2-3 days without listening to them.

Anyway, I stopped by the hospital after work on Friday, and my father was doing fine. Dosed with morphine, and already being given some solid food again. He's being sent home today. No word on what may have caused the inflammation...it certainly wasn't excessive alcohol consumption, and doesn't appear to have been gallstones. But he's okay now, so that's the main thing.
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(no subject) [Aug. 31st, 2014|10:15 am]
Sean Montgomery
I had a dream about school last night, for the first time in a while. Probably triggered by a conversation I was having at a party last night, about how September feels more like 'New Years' than January does - since all those years of schooling made me permanently associate the month with new beginnings. Details of the dream are kind of fuzzy now, and it really made no sense. A series of unconnected episodes. I was back at Queen's University. In one part of it, it was the first day of classes, and I entered a studio space, where everyone was picking a standing easel to work at. But I was too slow and ended up having to use a seated 'donkey' easel instead. Then I looked at my schedule and discovered that I was in the wrong classroom anyway...this was a first year class, I should be with 4th years (although I think it may also have been a realization that I shouldn't be there at all, because I has already graduated). In another part of the dream, I was looking forward to showing my new paintings to my professor, because I had been feeling inspired and I thought it was good work. And at the end, I was somehow flying in the air above Ontario Hall (the building where my art classes were), and I could see smoke rising from it. I landed by the front doors, which were stuck shut, and pulled them open - allowing people to escape.

There was also another dream last night that I remember even less about...it seemed influenced by Lord of the Rings. There was some king-ly character (like Theoden) who was trying to lead a charge into battle, but he couldn't run because he was starting to turn into a tree.

I wish I remembered more of my dreams!
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(no subject) [Jun. 1st, 2014|10:30 am]
Sean Montgomery
Okay, these 'improvements' to Livejournal are getting ridiculous. Now, when I look at my friends' feed, it's squeezed down to just 1/3 of the frame, with a second third reserved for widgets I don't use, and the final third empty. I tried finding a settings feature where I could change this, but I can't find one. So annoying.
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