Sunday, September 30, 2007

Cosmic Impacts & Mass Extinction

The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water…A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter—Book of Revelation 8:10-11.

Most scientists agree that cosmic impacts have played a major role in Earth history and that they continue to pose a significant threat today. But interpretations vary greatly from legitimate science from pseudoscience, according to Skeptical Inquirer Magazine who recently reviewed ten trade books that span this broad range in interpretations.

Friday, September 28, 2007

ScapeCast: Farscape Lives!

For today’s Friday Feature, I want to introduce you to the very best TV science fiction show I have ever encountered (and I’ve been watching for a while!). A show, I might add, that didn’t even get into the Top 50 Scifi Shows of All Time at That’s okay…they had a few other things rather messed up in their list. So what show is it? FARSCAPE. If you haven’t seen this now cancelled show, I review it below. In any case, my Friday Feature is actually ScapeCast, a Farscape fan-created news and discussion audio program available as a webcast (more commonly referred to as a "podcast") for direct download, subscribed download by tools such as iTunes, or streaming over the web. Their mission is to keep the passion of Scapers burning and to introduce newcomers who have found the show via syndication or DVDs to the wealth of information and community available to Scapers. ScapeCast is totally fan-made by volunteer writers, voice talent, hosts, editors, and other folks like you! And it just rocks! You can find my contributions to Scaper podcasts here (featuring the hero’s journey of “villain” Crais) and here (featuring the hero’s journey of Crichton and Aeryn). Visit the site here and enjoy the wonders I’ve seen…

Review of Farscape

Okay, I’m a late bloomer, or so I’ve been told by many of my relatives. And they’re probably right: I got married later than most and had my son even later. I didn’t join the 21st Century tecky scene with internet service, websites, and cell phones until recently (yeah, really!). We still don’t have cable or satellite TV (and don’t plan on it soon either). And I still don’t have a cell phone, much to the chagrin of my teenage son. So, it’s no surprise that I discovered “Farscape” for the first time through an enthusiastic fan demo to re-instate the already cancelled show after four seasons!

Upon seeing a montage of scenes at a “Save Farscape” panel at V-Con, I knew I wanted to see more and out of sheer faith bought the first season on DVD (at no small sum, I might add!). I was totally vindicated, beyond my highest expectations.

This is an intelligent, edgy, subversively imaginative series that can be perceived on many levels. Crafted as a “hero’s journey” in its truest sense, the show’s title speaks of the yearning for home. And this is, on its most obvious level, what the series is all about: finding home. The theme is most literally portrayed by the lead character, John Crichton(played by the consistently attractive Ben Browder), the human scientist/astronaut who is accidentally propelled through a wormhole into a galaxy far far away, peopled with strange and awesome aliens of all manner and shape. On another level, one could equally apply “Farscape”, the name of Crichton’s ship, to his longing for a figurative “home” -- a place or state of being he can not find on Earth, where he withers beneath the imposing shadow of his celebrated heroic father.
When Crichton stumbles into this awesome “farscape”, he plunges into the mayhem of a raging space battle of Peacekeeper fighters (called Prowlers) with an immense biomechanoid ship (called a Leviathan). He is captured and brought on board Moya, a living ship linked symbiotically to its Pilot and manned by a rag-tag clutch of escaped convicts, D'Argo, Zhaan, and Rygel. Crichton finds himself imprisoned on Moya, along with one of the Peacekeeper Prowler pilots who has managed to get caught in the stream of Moya’s starburst (the equivalent to hyperdrive in other SF stories), as the homeless convicts flee into uncharted territory. Crichton struggles to grasp this very strange world and its alien beings who consider him “higher brain function deficient” (D’Argo in Premiere). Upon glimpsing his attractive female cellmate, Crichton thinks he’s found an ally in the human-looking Sebacean Peacekeeper pilot -- only to find her hostile and contemptuous (he is, after all, a lowly non-Sebacean). Crichton’s “Wizard of Oz” journey through this “farscape”, bursting with aliens who think him weak and useless, provides him with many opportunities to prove himself -- not as the brawny shoot-em up action-man but as the cerebral, problem-solving diplomat -- a different kind of hero. Crichton is a gentle soul, a man of integrity and given rather to humor and silly references to pop-culture to disarm his antagonists. Together, whether they like it or not (and the Peacekeeper certainly doesn’t – at least in the beginning) they must all find a way to work together as they are pursued through the uncharted territories. One of the greatest qualities and gifts Crichton brings to this group is his intrepid explorer’s willingness to see the best of a new and alien situation or phenomenon (e.g., Through the Looking Glass). This is because John Crichton is driven not by fear but by wonder.

The hidden protagonist of the series, the one who carries the deeper and more resonating metaphor of yearning for “home”, and ultimately the most interesting character, is the Sebacean Peacekeeper, Officer Aeryn Sun (played impeccably by Claudia Black) who is brought on board and, as a result irreversibly “contaminated”. Unlike John Crichton, Aeryn Sun is in her home; but circumstances (of which she is more responsible than she’d like to admit) swiftly render it as hostile and “alien” to her as her homeworld is to John Crichton. While Crichton's “Stranger in a Strange Land” discovery of the far universe draws our empathy, Aeryn's struggling journey through her somtimes tortured inner universe is far more compelling. Her plight resonates more universally with us as she is forced to seek her identity and to become more than she was. In this regard, John Crichton’s character serves as a catalyst to Aeryn’s evolution more so than she does to his. In the Premiere episode, shortly after she is declared a traitor by her superior officer, punishable by death, Aeryn fatalistically resists fleeing with Crichton from her Peacekeeper captors: “No. I will not come with you; it is my duty, my breeding since birth. It’s what I am.” To this Crichton simply replies: “You can be more.”

Aeryn’s “hero’s journey” is not unlike that of the other main characters she is thrown together with; each fighting their own demons to find their way to peace, their “home”. Hers is just more interesting. A Sebacean (human-looking but incapable of thermo-regulation), Aeryn was born and reared aboard a Peacekeeper Command Carrier, trained from infancy to be an elite soldier and to follow orders without question. Peacekeepers are proud mercenary soldiers, serving as a military force for planets that lack one. Tenacious and clever fighters with massive ships and weaponry, their society follows a harsh, unforgiving meritocracy, with success greatly rewarded and failure mercilessly and brutally punished. Here’s an example: Aeryn’s only transgression was that she spent too much time with non-Sebacean “alien lifeforms” while onboard Moya. Her commander, Captain Crais, declared her “irreversibly contaminated” through her unauthorized contact with these “lower life forms” and sentenced her to death. His true reason for throwing her in with the others was that she brazenly -- and foolishly -- defended one of them (John Crichton).

Aeryn Sun’s private struggle to reconcile her former Peacekeeper life with her life in exile resonates through the other characters, with each episode of the series providing its own individual element to the overarching theme. For instance, in the episode Exodus from Genesis, when the ship becomes infested by insect-like creatures (Draks), both Crichton and Aeryn must re-evaluate their notions of lesser creatures’s role in the universe; only Aeryn’s vision of a lesser creature isn’t the “bugs” but -- you guessed it -- humans. In Throne for a Loss, Zhaan attempts to enlighten a warlike Tavlek about choices, as D’Argo, Aeryn and even Crichton take their turns at donning the powerful device/weapon that removes the very need for choice. As a Peacekeeper, Aeryn is trained to be extremely independent and self-reliant. In Exodus from Genesis, Crichton tells her, “You're not in this alone. Everyone on board has had their lives derailed from what they thought they should be. We're stuck together. And as long as we are, we might as well be . . .” Aeryn finishes for him, almost sneering,“What? Family? Friends? I want neither.” Of which she both learns to value (e.g., DNA Mad Scientist) and cultivate by the end of the first season (e.g., Nerve, Family Ties). In the very episode where she claims no use for such ties, she finds herself relying on Crichton when she succumbs to Sebacean Heat Delerium (which leads to the Living Death).

In PK Tech Girl, both Aeryn and Rygel are forced to come to terms with their vision of the past and of themselves (Aeryn of her status as a traitor banished from the home she loved: “I hate being ambushed.”). Crichton’s vision of her culture (and implicity of her) provides Aeryn’s first challenge. Remarking on the incredible derelict Peacekeeper ship they are investigating, Crichton says, “If you guys only used your know-how to--” Aeryn cuts him off with her own challenge: “To what? To fulfill your vision of who we should be?” Then reveals her idealism: “We are Peacekeepers. Other cultures hire us to keep order, to keep harmony--” What she leaves out -- and Rygel is quick to point out -- is that in many cases this is achieved through assassination, brutal torture, and kidnapping. In DNA Mad Scientist the crew (namely D’Argo, Zhaan and Rygel) lapse into selfish bickering when a mysterious scientist, Namtar, offers them the chance to find their homeworlds at the expense of Pilot (whose arm is sacrificed) and Aeryn Sun, whom they abandon to Namtar’s unnatural genetic butchery. This is a pivotal event for Aeryn, who begins the discarding of her outer shell of Peacekeeping rhetoric to learn to trust her inner feelings. Emerging from this abomination done to her, Aeryn finds herself: “I always thought of myself in terms of survival, life and death … What Namtar did to me … It was me, inside. The real me.”

At the outset, Aeryn “has the most to lose and the most to learn” (Rockne O’Bannon, Creator/Executive Producer) when she gets caught up in the escaped ship’s rebellion and her consequent banishment. Despite her growing rejection of the Peacekeeper’s brutal totalitatianism and a society that has already rejected her, Aeryn maintains an affinity for its culture and the status she lost. But as she learns to embrace humility and tolerance (something unheard of for the proud facsist-like Sebaceans) through her interactions with Moya’s crew, specially with John Crichton, Aeryn grows as a person and begins to think in broader terms. She grows to a point where, despite her training “to survive” as a Peacekeeper (Aeryn in PK Tech Girl: “In our world showing pain is a sign of weakness…”), she permits herself the “weakness” of falling in love and chooses to sacrifice her life rather than survive at the expense of another’s (The Flax). Gradually she discovers, often with John Crichton’s help, that her true strengths lie not in the display of might or stoicism but in the gift of honor, loyalty, and compassion -- traits she has always possessed. In fact, it was her sense of honor and her compassion (for which she claimed to have no use) in initially defending John from the fate of a tortuous death at the hands of Crais, that condemned her as a traitor in the first place. This single act of compassion -- in itself counter to how Peacekeepers and Sebaceans deal with “lower life forms” -- seals her destiny and sets in motion her journey of self-discovery: a journey of slow but inexhorable peeling away of layer upon imposed layer of Peacekeeper rhetoric to release the light burning inside her.

Farscape is an elegantly crafted work of art created by Rockne O’Bannon (Alien Nation) and produced by the Jim Henson Company and Nine Network Australia (in association with Hallmark Entertainment). Edged by a haunting evokative score (by Subvision), seamless CGI, and other special effects, Farscape achieves a truly remarkable universe, often of cruel and bizarre beauty peopled by powerfully complex characters who’s journeys of mind, soul and body resonate with what it is to be human and of humanity. Displaying moments of clever humor, and incredibly sensual interaction, “Farscape” entertains like no SF TV serial I have seen to date. Farscape is both an intellectual feast of imaginary worlds with thought-provoking concepts and a love story told on a grand scale upon a tapestry of elevated themes such as honor, loyalty and sacrifice. The program has won widespread acclaim among both genre and mainstream press and was nominated for an Emmy when news of its cancellation broke out. Matt Roush of TV Guide described Farscape as “the most irreverent, unpredictable, sexy, intelligent and exciting sci fi show on TV.” Says Clare Sainsbury in her article “Who killed Farscape?” in Strange Horizons (Oct. 14, 2002): “Often baroque, visually spectacular and pyrotechnic … [Farscape is] strange, smart, sexy, psychologically rich, superbly acted, and apparently hell-bent on breaking every rule in the book, including its own -- as one fan summed it up, Farscape is ‘not your father’s sci-fi’.”

I recommend this series to anyone who appreciates intelligent science fiction in the vein of Stanislaw Lem (Solaris), Isaac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury. USA Today proclaims that, “Farscape is more than just TV’s best space show.” This “simply spectacular” (Desert News) series is “exotic … impressive…” (San Francisco Chronicle), “Eye-catching and energetic … lotsa fun” (Dalas Morning News) and “One of those rare outer-space adventure series that deserve to be called fantastic.” (Reader’s Digest). Farscape has generated an incredible fan-base, many of whom remain commited to bringing the show (e.g., mini-series, and feature films) back on the air or on the silver screen since its cancellation in 2003 (e.g.,; Google Farscape for more fan sites. DVDs of seasons 1 through 4 as well as the most recent mini-series, “The Peacekeeper Wars”, which had a limited airing in October 2004 are available. Enjoy it. I certainly still am!

Ben Browder plays John Crichton with a natural, understated style, portraying a man with an appealing mixture of high moral ethics, weird humor, and innovative intellect and proving that a hero need not be the dark, arrogant loner so common on the screen these days. He’s a nice guy, a scientist and pacifist, who prefers to use his brain and humor over brute force and an arsenal of weapons to solve a conflict. “Ben is an all-American guy. There’s always something going on behind his eyes. He’s got a certain spark that’s necessary for Crichton.” (Brian Henson, President of Jim Henson Co.). As John Crichton, Browder is both very male yet soft, sweet and boyishly vulnerable: “Come on, Aeryn, you bash me all the time for being soft, but the fact of the matter is sometimes it’s an advantage and this is one of them.” (Crichton in PK Tech Girl).

Says Browder of his character in Farscape, “John Crichton is a guy stuck in extraordinary circumstances … He spends a lot of time figuring out what’s going on around him and getting knocked down and dragged around and he pops back up and comes up with an idea to save his butt…” Browder shares a philosophical fascination for the genre of SF: “The thing about doing science fiction is it allows you to explore different ideas , different avenues, in a way you can’t do in standard drama. It allows you to raise very hard and interesting questions about what it is to be human and what it is to be moral and ethical … and also you get to tell really interesting stories and there’s fabulous alien chicks.”

During a quiet moment in The Human Factor, when John and Aeryn are hiding out, he sits beside her glum form and simply leans his head like a great big puppy dog on her shoulder. It is a move both so endearing and sweet that it’s no wonder she reacts the way she does.
Claudia Black is Aeryn Sun: “She’s this beautiful vicious killer who is at the same time a very innocent vulnerable girl deep down that was never allowed out.” (Brian Henson, President of the Jim Henson Co.). “When we first saw [Black’s] audition, we thought: that’s not what we imagined, that’s not really what we saw. Then you watch her for ten seconds and you can’t stop. There’s something so appealing about her; she’s like a magnet. There’s life experience in her. She’s very fit, she can be strong as a person and at the same time , underneath there’s a real vulnerability that you can see through the eyes. That’s pretty much Aeryn. Her energy inside is a pulling energy. We sort of thought we knew what Aeryn was; then we met Claudia and we realized we were wrong . . . Claudia was exactly what Aeryn was.”

Black manages in her facial expressions, voice, body movements and expressive eyes to deliver the subtle nuances of a complex, often paradoxical character: one that is both strong and vulnerable; courageous and crusty yet soft inside; ruthless yet compassionate; confident and intelligent yet often uncertain of her capabilities (particularly her intellect). Black considers Aeryn “a contemporary Emma Peel” (of the original Avengers). Says Black: “When the audience first finds Aeryn Sun they’ll be a little bit surprised by how harsh she is. She’s very tough. I don’t know if she’s very likeable but gradually she’ll find her smile.”

Supporting Cast:
D’Argo (Anthony Simcoe), Zhaan (Virginia Hey), Rygel (Jim Henson Creature; voice by Jonathan Hardy), Pilot (Jim Henson Creature; voice by Lani John Tupu) and even Moya (the ship) provide a rich tapestry of imaginative setting whose filigree of characters provide humor (mostly Rygel), spirituality, conflict and drama to a show willing to take risks. D’Argo is the fierce Luxan warrior whose reaction to conflict is to attack first and ask questions never. Zhaan is a Delvian priest, whose dignified gentle demeanor provides a much needed level of balance and spiritual strength to the disparate group. In contrast, Rygel is a Hynerian, formerly royal sovereign of more than 600 billion subjects. His excessive concern with his own self-interest is barely eleviated by his small size and although he appears rather cute, this alien is far from sweet. He often serves the role of comic relief in the show. Lastly, there is the mild-mannered Pilot, who is symbiotically linked to the leviathan. Later in the season, other strange characters join Moya’s rag-tag group, adding spice, grit and confusion to the already careering homeless group (e.g., the wild bratty Nebari, Chiana, played by Gigi Edgley; and the Banik healer, Stark played by Paul Goddard).

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Science & Magic of Love

Today bloggers unite in a “Blog Against Abuse” campaign to STOP ABUSE. I want to respect that in today’s post. But I also want to concentrate on the opposite: unconditional love, the seed of altruism, hope, forgiveness, compassion, honesty, courage and honor. And ultimately the victor over abuse. If you wish you can go here where I had earlier posted an article—and a short story—on bullying. But back to love, the ultimate balm and healer of all abuse:

In her book, “Why We Love: the Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love”, Rutgers anthropologist Helen Fisher, Ph.D., tells us that a biological/chemical cocktail of dopamine, spritzed with norepinephrine—preferably shaken not stirred—is the can’t-fail love potion for love.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Endocrine Disruptors & The Environment

Your endocrine system is a set of glands and the hormones they produce that help guide and regulate the development, growth, reproduction and behavior of most living things (yes plants too!). Some hormones are also released from parts of the body that aren’t glands, like the stomach, intestines or nerve cells. These usually act closer to where they are released. The endocrine system is made up of glands, which secrete hormones, and receptor cells which detect and react to the hormones. Hormones travel throughout the body, acting as chemical messengers, and interact with cells that contain matching receptors. The hormone binds with the receptor, like a key into a lock. Some chemicals, both natural and human-made, may interfere with the hormonal system. They’re called endocrine disruptors.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Fertility—Infertility & the Environment

The 2006 motion picture “Children of Men” compellingly expressed a silent worldwide consternation: the growing infertility in humans. Sperm counts worldwide are falling. Britain is concerned enough about this issue, according to Environment Minister Michael Meacher, that they are planning to launch a government research program to “investigate whether falling sperm counts are endangering the nation's reproductive capacity”. Testicle abnormalities have occurred with greater frequency over the past 50 years, reflected in increases in testicular cancer and the medical conditions hypospadias (testicles fail to descend) and cryptorchidism (opening to penis appears on the underside of penis), as well as the declining sperm count among the overall male population.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Language of Expression

When my parents immigrated to Canada from Paris, France, they each had a different experience when faced with a new white anglo saxon protestant community who spoke English, a language neither spoke well. And, even though my Romanian father was somewhat of a linguist, able to speak at least ten languages (including impeccable French), he was the one who had the most trouble picking up and mastering English. By contrast, my German mother, who could hardly speak French when she lived in Paris, had no problem picking up English and speaking it with hardly an accent. Aside from the obvious language differences (e.g., German is so close to English as a language vs Romanian and the romantic languages), I think one of the reasons that my father had more problems acquiring the English language with the usual ease he picked up Italian, French, Spanish, Russian, etc. was how the language was used. Language is, after all, much more than the spoken word. It is an expression of culture and biology.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

"I Love You"

What does it mean when someone says, “I love you”? I suppose it depends on who’s uttering those cherished words and to whom. Is it a lover? A friend? A mate? A relative? Is that love, in turn, carnal, tender, warm, sweet, spiritual or divine? Or ALL of these?...

Friday, September 21, 2007

Pollution Probe--Friday Feature

Today’s Friday Feature is Pollution Probe, a Canadian environmental organization and website devoted to clean air and water. Have a look. In their own words, Pollution Probe:

  • Defines environmental problems through research,

  • Promotes understanding through education, and

  • Presses for practical solutions through advocacy.
They are dedicated to achieving positive and tangible environmental change. I checked out its members and was impressed with who served on the board, artist Robert Bateman, among them. They have a great listing of publications and links, plus a decent news section. One of their publications, which I found both interesting and educational is their Smog Primer, part of the Primer series and a publication devoted to everything about smog given in palatable language. I found it useful and interesting.

I live in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia, Canada, considered by many to be one of this planet’s most beautiful and scenic locations. However, not unlike the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, the Fraser Basin is plagued with air pollution. And smog.

According to the federal government, two-thirds of Canadians are exposed to harmful levels of air pollutants (e.g., smog). Those most at risk include people with heart and lung disease, asthmatics, the elderly, smokers and children. Nearly 8% of non-accidental deaths in Canada have been attributed to pollution produced from the burning of fossil fuels, says the Population Health, Community Service, and Critical Thinking Unit of Nova Scotia.

Once discharged to the atmosphere, the ultimate destination of compounds depends, in part, on their chemical and physical characteristics and also on prevailing meteorological conditions. For example, large dust particles remain in the atmosphere for only a matter of minutes to a few hours, exerting a local influence. By contrast, some polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) may remain aloft for decades, traveling throughout the global atmosphere.

Smog, the term given to a haze in the air, is nasty stuff and consists mainly of ground-level ozone and fine airborne particulate matter (PM10, particles <10>Air quality in the Fraser Valley is regulated federally and provincially with input by the municipalities and regional districts through zoning and bylaws that regulate emissions. Smog is monitored in the valley by comparing monitored data to national and provincial guidelines or objectives. The air is then characterized as good, fair or poor, with public advisories issued when levels are expected to produce poor air quality. Advisories are based on a one-hour threshold level of 82 ppb for ozone and 50 µg/m3 over a 24 our period for PM10. Air particulates in the Georgia Basin ecosystem have gradually decreased since the early 1990s. Although air quality in the Fraser Basin is improving, there remain occurrences when air pollution reaches levels known to cause human health risks. Acute effects of air pollution include: irritation of eyes, nose and throat; exacerbations of existing lung and heart diseases, wheezing, coughing and difficulty in breathing. Particulate matter has been associated with increased risk of heart disease. Chronic effects include increased mortality, chronic bronchitis, lung cancer, and prevalence of asthma.

Environment Canada suggests the following things we can do to decrease emission levels:

  • Reduce air conditioning demands in summer by installing window blinds, using ceiling fans and shading your house with trees or awnings;

  • Keep your oil or gas furnace properly tuned. A well-maintained unit uses 10-15% less energy. Consider replacing your old furnace with a more efficient one;

  • When shopping for new appliances, compare EnerGuide consumption rates and choose the one that is most efficient. Even if its more expensive, it will cost less in the long run;

  • When shopping for a new home, keep energy efficiency in mind. What are the levels of insulation? How efficient is the heating system? Are the windows the best available for reducing heat loss?

  • Look for low-emission motors for regular household equipment like lawn mowers, snow blowers and outboard motors;

  • Consider using energy-efficient lighting when buying lights. Fluorescent bulbs for use in standard incandescent sockets are now available and are more than four times as efficient and last eight to fifteen times longer than the equivalent incandescent bulb;

  • Don’t idle your car (one of my personal pet peeves!). Turn if off, even if it’s just for a few minutes; and,

  • Try walking, biking or in-line skating rather than taking your car.

Smog is a composition of pollutants and particulate matter. The term was historically used to describe a mixture of smoke and fog. It now refers to a combination of toxic vapors, gases and particles. Smog is formed in the atmosphere by reactions of VOCs and oxides of nitrogen in the presence of sunlight. Ground level ozone is the primary component of smog and is what is measured to provide air quality forecasts.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

How Can One Sell the Air?

When I first came to the west coast of British Columbia, I was struck by Nature's power. The pristine rugged beauty of her coastal mountains and majestic forests, dripping with lichen and moss, served a sharp contrast to the gently rolling dairy farmland I'd grown up with in Quebec. Where jagged land meets the cerulean ocean--churning and crashing against the rocks like a dreaming god--life thrives like no where else. The First Nations people fish here, where two worlds collide. They're used to that, two worlds colliding...where the clash of two cultures must somehow reconcile in a "give and take" dance, like two partners, madly clutched in a giddy reel. More give by one and more take by another, it seems to me...

Not long after I arrived here, I ran across a wonderful publication, written by white interpreters of what the red Indian has said. The following is a an excerpt: an insistent entreaty and ecological lesson as only a First Nations person could have worded it. It is aptly called, "How can one sell the air?"

The White Chief says that Big Chief in Washington sends us greetings of friendship and good will. This is kind of him for we know he has little need of our friendship in return. His people are many. They are like the grass that covers the vast prairies. My people are few. They resemble the scattering trees of a storm-swept plain.

The Great--and I presume--good White Chief sends us word that he wishes to buy our lands but is willing to allow us enough to live comfortably. We shall consider your offer to buy our land. What is it that the White Man wants to buy my people will ask. It is difficult for us to understand.

How can one buy or sell the air, the warmth of the land? That is difficult for us to imagine. If we don't own the sweet air and the bubbling water, how can you buy it from us?

Each pine tree shining in the sun, each sandy beach., the mist hanging in the dark woods, every space, each humming bee is holy in the thoughts of our people.
The sap rising in the tree bears the memory of the Red Man.
We are part of the earth and the earth is a part of us. The fragrant flowers are our sisters, the reindeer, the horse, the great eagle our brothers. The foamy crests of waves in the river, the sap of meadow flowers, the pony's sweat and the man's sweat is all one and the same race, our race. So when the Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wants to buy our land, he asks a great deal of us.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

My Past, My Future: The First Peoples of Canada

I’ve always proudly considered myself a Canadian. I was born in Canada. And, yet, I am very much a product of my European immigrant heritage, which is German and Romanian, from my two parents who came to North America shortly before I was born. In fact, I represent a legacy of mass migration from as far back as 1534 with European explorers Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain. They came to a land already inhabited by the Iroquois or Haudenosaunee, and mistakenly considered them simple savages. It was a sad beginning to an uneasy history between the first nations peoples and their eventual usurpers.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Publish Your Blog!...Blog2Print

Some of you might have spotted this neat little widget that appeared on my sidebar a short while ago. Gwen, my publisher at Dragon Moon Press put me onto it and I think it's a blast! It's one of Blogger's newest--and neatest--toys: a way to turn blog posts into a printed book with a single click (oh, and for a little fee, of course!). It's pretty new and Blogger says that additional compatability with other platforms will become available later this year. Check it out on your own blog. Tell your friends or readers.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Mark of a Genius by Nina Munteanu

Many of us have experienced some kind of bullying, whether in school or the playground or later even in the work place. I remember being pushed, unprovoked, into the bushes by a gang of ruffians back in elementary school. It's always the one who is different, stands out in some way, and usually alone who winds up being targeted. Those memories, often painful or just embarrassing and enfuriating as in my case, can shape how we deal with difficult situations and potential bullying in our current lives. Sometimes we respond with angry tirade; but sadly we usually respond with silence.
I offer a story I wrote that touches on this subject. My story, "The Mark of a Genius" was first appeared in Scifi Dimensions and will be included in a collection of my short stories, entitled "Natural Selection" through Pixl Press (an Imprint of Starfire World Syndicate).

Alien Next Door Readers--Friday Feature

Hi, I’m back from holidays and today’s Friday Feature is YOU, my readers! Thanks for keeping Ishmael (Sammy) company and commenting on his story. Here’s what you said about his story, “Sammy the Wonder Cat”:

Jean-Luc: “Sammy is a true action cat. Sammy, you look like you could do well. Be sure to tell Nina you want your own blog.”

Twinky and Blinky: “This was the dumbest thing we’ve ever read! We laughed so hard Blinky over there peed himself and got thrown out of the house! We want more! More! MORE!”

Titania Starlight: “What a wonderful story!”

Limehead: "Why did they let Krapper go? Wasn't he bad? But they made friends with him...and then, no one ate Boba Fett...I don't get it..."

Bowser 1, 2, and 3: “We found the way dogs were portrayed ratter ofensuf. We ain't that dum and don’t all look alike eiter! We, aurselves are a hound of grate distinction.”

Karen: “Wonder Cat to the rescue!”

Mara Jade: "Sammy is so adorable! And he has great literary taste."

Kai: “Yay! Sammy the Wonder Cat!”

Vinnie: “ I felt sorry for Krapper—er—Norman. He seemed a nice fellow.”

Anonymous: “How can you put this **** on the internet? There should be a ****** law against this ***** kind of **** !!!...Oh, and I DO SO taste good…”

Ray Badbury: “This was a brilliant piece of metaphoric writing. Sammy’s clever use of vernacular in a staccato series of ribald bathroom cliché veils a stirring story of a hero’s journey.”

Speedcat Hollydale: “This is one of the strangest posts I have ever seen.”

Well, there you have it. Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m not sure if Sammy will post again. But perhaps he can be pursuaded to come back sometime if we ask him real nice...
(author's note: I must apologize if we've offended any of you with this story or posted responses: dog-lovers, country western folks, Mark Chessnut, beloved Ray. I myself, adore these...well, I have to admit that Country Western isn't my favorite music. But blogging is all about freedom of expression and while Sammy's and Kevin's opinions differ from mine, I believe in sharing them.)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Adventures of Sammy the Wonder Cat—Part 4

Here's the 4th and final installation of my story. If you missed the previous parts of the story, you can read them here: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3.--Sammy


Okay! Okay! Go ahead. Roll the script...I’m a big cat. I can handle a little embarrassment…

“Yeah,” I said, suspiciously. “I sort of remember it. What’s that got to do with you?”

“Everything!” Krapper said. “Your mistake was that you sent one of your own secret agents to jail because he smelled guilty, remember? You mistook him for Vinny, the musical pharmacist, who’d created a plague to make everyone tone deaf. But he was really Agent Bob with a sore throat.”

“What?” Kevin and I cried.

“You did that?” Kevin asked me and I saw the start of a crazy grin on his face. “How could you mistake one of your own agents for a criminal?”

“They’re both dogs.” I shrugged. “All dogs look alike,” I explained. Then I turned back to Krapper. “What’s that got to do with your warning?”

“Well,” Krapper said, “You made the same mistake with me. I’m really Agent Norm, not Krapper.”

I stared at him and my jaw dropped. I’m sure my cute little pink tongue hung out of my mouth.

Kevin snorted. “Let me guess: all rats look alike.”

I shrugged. Then it hit me. “That means that both Vinny and Krapper, his side-kick, are still out there!”

Krapper ― that is Norm ― nodded. “You got the picture. And Galaxy police reported them heading this way, to Earth!”

“Wait,” Kevin said. “So what’s the big problem? So this dog and this rat develop some plague that’ll make everyone tone deaf. My parents are already tone deaf. They don’t appreciate ‘Our Lady Peace’ or ‘Avril Lavigne’. . .”

Norm and I clutched each other in panic. “You don’t understand,” I said. “That’ll be the end of Rock & Roll, Hip Hop, Blues and Jazz forever! That leaves Rap and Country music! Imagine hearing that everywhere you go?”

Kevin shrugged. “So? I like rap music.”

I shivered. “Okay, let me put it this way. You want to listen to Mark Chestnut right after Emenem?”

Kevin blanched. “What can we do?”


You would too if you had to listen to Mark Chestnut all day. As for what Sammy and the Pixl did to save Earth from turning into a bad CD, you’ll just have to wait for the next installment of “Sammy, the Wonder Cat: The Plague of the Singing Pharmacist.”

The End…or is it?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Adventures of Sammy the Wonder Cat—Part 3

Hi! Me again ... Here's Part 3 of my story. If you haven't read the earlier parts you can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.--Sammy.


We crept down the hallway and peeked around the corner into the office. Kevin turned to me and shrugged. We saw nothing unusual. Then, out of the corner of my eye I caught a slight movement close to the computer screen on the desk. I tapped Kevin’s shoulder with my paw and pointed. He saw it too. A shadowy figure.

“You go that way,” Kevin whispered to me, pointing to the left. “I’ll go that way.” He pointed to the right. “We’ll ambush it.”

I nodded, trying to look brave and majestic.

“Sure, easy for you to say, you’re ten times my size,” I said under my breath as I crept forward to the left of the shadow. It was then that I saw the string of action figures on the floor. So, this was where they’d ended up!

I saw Kevin move forward. We were so close, I started to feel my fur stand up on end. Then I leapt and Kevin lunged forward.

BONK! We hit heads!

“Hey!” I yelled.

“Where’d it go?” Kevin said. “We lost it!”

“Yeah,” I countered. “But at least you found your action figures.”

“Yeah,” a little voice said. “They don’t taste good. Especially Boba Fett.”

I could have told him that ― Wait! “Who said that?” Kevin and I exchanged glances. This was spooky!

“Look!” Kevin pointed to the top of the deep freeze. And there he was. The last person I’d expected to see: Krapper. With a lightsaber!

My fur really stood up then! My worst enemy. How’d he get out of jail? Flush was supposed to be foolproof. No one ever got off that jail planet.

Krapper let out a nasty giggle. “I thought I’d never find you,” he said.

Was he here to get revenge? I’d put him in jail, after all. You see I discovered that Krapper was the ring-leader of an evil smuggling and drug organization called the “City Dudes”. When I exposed them, I sent Krapper to Flush, a penal planet totally isolated from the rest of the galaxy. Krapper insisted right to the end that he was innocent. But I could tell he smelled guilty. My nose never lies. Well, almost never. You see there was that mistake I made ― but it’s too embarrassing to tell you.

Kevin waved madly at me and pointed in several directions. I finally got what he meant and nodded.

“What do you want, Krapper?” I asked. In the meantime, while I kept Krapper listening to me, I saw Kevin sneak up behind him. “Are you here to get your revenge? Finish me off? Nibble on my feet?”

In a flash, Kevin whipped Krapper in his hand. “Gotcha!”

“Ulp!” Krapper squeaked in Kevin’s hand. He made some more pathetic sounds. Even I almost felt sorry for him. Kevin finally put him down again with a warning that he’d shmoosh him if he moved even a centimeter.

He gulped than said, “I didn’t come for revenge. I came to warn you!”

“What?” we both said. Kevin glanced at me, puzzled.

“What d’you mean?” I asked. “Why would you want to warn me, Someone who sent you to Flush, the toilet seat of the galaxy?”

“Actually, it’s ‘the toilet bowl of the galaxy’,” he corrected me.

“Okay. So?”

“Because I work for your boss too.”

“What?” Kevin and I said.

“Remember that little mistake you made on Gamma 9?” he asked me―

OKAY! CUT SCENE! I don’t remember this in the script. Time for a little pause with a pretty picture. This is me when I first came to Earth. Aren’t I the cutest thing you ever laid eyes on?…

(Part 4 next post…maybe)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Adventures of Sammy the Wonder Cat—Part 2

Here's the second part of my story. If you haven't yet and want to read Part 1 first, you should go here. Or you can just scroll down too.--Sammy.


I was just settling in to read my favourite Star Wars comic book, Mara Jade, when Kevin stormed into the room. At first I thought he was mad at me for drinking his milk but he looked worried too.

“Did you hide Boba Fett, Sammy?” he said, eyeing me suspiciously, like he usually does when I’ve just been exercising. He obviously meant his action figure toy.

“Why would I take Boba Fett?” I huffed. “What am I, a pack rat?” I turned back to Mara Jade, but, speaking of pack rats, my mind couldn’t help wandering to Krapper, the criminal rodent I’d sent to jail on the planet Flush. It was my last mission before . . . well, before that accident I can’t tell you about. I went back to the comic, remembering that Boba Fett didn’t taste that good anyway from the last time I’d tried to bite his head off.

“But that’s the third action figure missing today!” Kevin insisted.

“As if you cared about Xizor or Greedo!” I sniffed. Then I ignored him, like a good tabby cat does, and he finally calmed down to play with his other action figures.

I was just getting to a neat scene in the comic ― Mara Jade was creaming those lousy pirates using her blaster, light saber and her foot ― when Kevin shrieked in his highest pitched voice, “You pig! You ate my veeshy pie!”

He wiggled Nomi Sunrider in his left hand. Then wiggling Darth Maul in his other hand, he bellowed in a low, but still squeaky voice (he’s a kid, after all), “But it was good! Make another!” Darth Maul used to be an evil Sith, but he turned into a Rebel . . . and a gourmet.

“But I made the pie for Boba Fett,” Kevin made Nomi say. “He’s my hero―”

I couldn’t stand it any longer and pounced!

All mayhem broke loose. Kevin fell back, accidentally kicking one of his ships. Action figures flew in all directions. He screamed, “Get off, Sammy! You’re wrecking the set!” Next thing I knew, I was flying across the room, wondering if I’d just become part of the script.
Not one to sulk, I sauntered back to see the damage I’d helped create and maybe even to help Kevin clean up. Kevin flashed me a look of concern. “Shhh!” he whispered, putting his fingers to his lips. “I think I heard something in the office.”

“But no one’s there,” I objected.

“Burglars,” we both said at the same time. I was on Kevin’s shoulder in a flash. But my intrepid friend decided to check it out. Fool! Didn’t he know that’s how you can get creamed?

Okay, I decided. If the Pixl could be that brave, I could at least help out. So I scurried to my hiding place and donned my cape. Kevin changed into his Pixl suit. It was time for Sammy, the Wonder Cat, and the Pixl!

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Adventures of Sammy the Wonder Cat--Part 1

I’d like to introduce you to my guest blogger, Ishmael, who’s come from very far to post this week while I’m holidaying on Helsig 2, a moon off HD168443b in the HD168443 system (staying away from tax collectors). Ishmael has a story for you. It comes in four parts, with Part 1 to start today. Please be nice to him and post comments for him to read. This will encourage him to post more of his story. Well, gotta go. I leave you to him and…good luck.

Book One: Revenge of the Repulsive Rat

Hi. That good-looking dude is me. I’m Sammy and that goofy-looking guy next to me is Kevin, my pet. Hey, but don’t break the news to him. He thinks I’m his pet! Actually, the truth is we work together and he’s my friend. It seems he’s pretty good-looking for a human kid too! That’s what I’ve heard the girls say, anyway . . . if you can trust them.

So, you think we’re just an ordinary kid and his pet cat, eh? Well, think again! But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s how the boring story of an ordinary kid and his cat became the exciting tale of two super-heroes who had to fight an evil pack-rat from space who ate STAR WARS action figures. But I’m getting ahead of myself again . . . .

It started in a quiet little community called Delta, British Columbia. That’s in Canada, by the way, for those of you who are spatially challenged. That’s where Kevin and his parents live. Little did Kevin know when he chose me at the animal shelter that he was getting no ordinary cat. You see, my real name is Ishmael Jakheem Borrogrove Peetaky Sammiloo (Sammy, for short) and I’m a space traveler from Mangoleeky, the third planet circling IT-501, a tiny red dwarf star in the Araki System. That’s another galaxy, by the way, so don’t even bother to look for it. You don’t believe me? Well, take a look at my retractable antennae. Told you!

I’m Agent Sam, a galactic secret agent ― well, I used to be. I ran important missions for the Inter-Galactic Secret Police. Top Secret stuff, which is why I’m telling you all this. You see, I made a big mistake, as in GIANT. Mega HUGE. Well, you get the picture. I can’t tell you what I did, because it’s too embarrassing. Anyway, because of it, they gave me this routine mission on Earth. And if I do okay, they might give me my old job back. The mission was to keep any of our galaxy’s criminals from messing up this planet.
I was instructed to lay low as an ordinary tabby kitten. “Just act like you usually do and they won’t know the difference,” my boss told me. So I did. But what no one told me was that, while I was a normal feline on Mangoleeky, I had super powers on Earth! I found out one day when I was chasing a bird in Kevin’s backyard. I crept up to it like I normally do and just as I pounced it took flight, like they always do. The only difference was I flew after it! I COULD FLY! WEEEEEEE!!!!!!!

Of course, I had a few things to learn about landing . . . . Anyway, I thought to myself, how can I lay low when I have all these neat powers? Especially flying! I just had to do something to help these poor technologically-challenged humans. So, having read the best human stories on Earth (“Superman Comics”), I made a super-hero outfit to disguise me ― well, actually Kevin’s aunt did ― and I gave myself a super-hero name: Sammy, the Wonder Cat. Of course I had to let Kevin in on the secret, because we’re buddies. Well, being my sidekick, Kevin figured that he should have a name too, so we came up with “Pixl”, which is what his mom calls him when she gets mad at him for being such a smarty-pants.

That’s how “Sammy the Wonder Cat” and “Kevin the Pixl” came to be. Now you know too. But don’t tell anyone, because it’s a secret.

My first mission as the Wonder Cat came more quickly than I imagined. It was a normal day in Kevin’s house.

For exercise, I’d already tipped over a vase of flowers in the kitchen, coaxed an entire roll of toilet paper down to the floor, batted Kevin’s dad’s watch under the couch and drank Kevin’s milk from his glass on the dining room table. It was promising to be a very good day…