Disclaimer: The opinions expressed on this site do not necessarily reflect my actual opinions.

November 29, 2004

Blog the dead donkey

Darren Barefoot, a Canadian PR dude and blogger, makes two interesting points about personal, diary-style blogs.

The first is that everyone who blogs wants readers. This might seem like it's not even worth saying, but I believe it is, because it speaks to a more general need to be observed. Very few people go through life doing nothing at all to attract the attention of our fellow creatures. Often we dress in a way designed to elicit attention: obviously the youthful are more prone to using appearance to draw attention to themselves (witness goths and punks and emos), but others do it too. Does that guy's business suit need to be that sharp? Do those earrings have to be that eye-catching, or, indeed, even worn at all? Body decorations such as tattoos are designed solely to be seen, and arguably the use of makeup fulfills the same role (especially, of course, amongst men). We seem to have some innate desire to have an audience, from obvious examples like professional performers (actors, musicians, etc.) and artists to not-so-obvious examples like those who attempt suicide in a way guaranteed to fail.

It is perhaps an attempt to gain validation. We want to hear that we are entertaining, or clever, that we will be missed when we're gone, that we're worthy of being alive. But moreso perhaps it is a way to feel connected with society, the superorganism of which we all form a part. In The Lucifer Principle Howard Bloom suggests that an overwhelming feeling of separation from the superorganism -- loneliness, basically -- is far more dangerous than we usually conceive it to be, and can even be fatal, as in the case when a previously healthy person dies shortly after their partner.

In this respect blogging is no different. It's a way to feel connected, a contributing part of society. It is a form of creativity, and there's something soulless and unsatisfying about a creation without an audience. An online journal, by definition, seeks readers. And, as Darren says, no blogger can claim not to want to be read. (I suppose that somewhere there must exist a blog not meant to be read, perhaps as a postmodern artistic statement, but that is attention-seeking in itself.)

But, to address Darren's second point, does this mean that a blogger must be interesting? His post, entitled I May Not Want to Read About Your Cat, contains a list of suggestions for those running personal blogs, ranging from "If you're going to write about the ordinary day-to-day events of your life, write extraordinarily, with humour and insight and passion" to "Don't post unless you've got something compelling to talk about." He makes a valid argument, and I would agree with him if blogs were just another form of publishing. But they aren't. Blogs, unlike newspapers and magazines and non-literary novels, don't have to appeal to the lowest common denominator within a particular demographic.

This is "bottom-up journalism." It is arguably, because of ease of access and the facility to hyperlink, the mechanism most suited to forming a "public discourse" we've yet devised. There's a difference between wanting to be heard and wanting to be heard widely: I, as a writer, would prefer as large an audience as possible, mainly to stroke my ego, to feel my talents (for what they're worth) are appreciated. But someone writing about their cats in a non-extraordinary, humorless way almost certainly doesn't want what I want. I think those who maintain very personal blogs -- by which I mean closer to diaries than anything else -- gain more satisfaction from the creative process than from the observation of the end result, from feeling included in the great equalizer that is the blogosphere.

So do I agree with him or not? In a sense. I agree that bloggers want to be read: I think that is an axiom of this new way of communicating. I agree with all his suggestions for making a blog more readable, and should likely pay more attention to them myself. But I disagree with his assertion that blogs necessarily should obey those guidelines, that just because someone places their journal online means they want to attract as many readers as possible. Me? I want a million hits a minute (I am still some distance from reaching this goal, to employ a tiny hint of understatement). But for many, I feel, as long as someone somewhere is reading, that's enough.


I picked up a copy of Shattering the Myths of Darwinism by Richard Milton the other day. As those who know me well (or even in passing, probably) can attest I love a good argument, especially if one side seems utterly hopeless. So I'm naturally drawn to anti-Darwinian stuff like this and Darwin's Black Box by Michael Behe.

The book was deeply impacting, not so much because his arguments are compelling, but because it highlighted my ignorance of evolution beyond the most basic concepts. I know essentially nothing more than what I learned in school, and what I read in a few of Richard Dawkins's books a decade ago.

I was alarmed by my inability to contradict most of his points; indeed, I walked away almost convinced by it all. While I consider some of his points to be valid (such as that "survival of the fittest" is in fact a tautology, because when you get right down to it, from a linguistic point of view, what it really means is "the individuals that produce the most offspring... produce the most offspring") I can't help feeling that I should know much, much more about probably one of the most important topics of all, in any area of life.

To this end I just bought The Structure of Evolutionary Theory by Stephen Jay Gould. At just over 1,400 pages I reckon it should provide me with a pretty thorough treatment of the subject, if I ever manage to get through it all. At the very least I should emerge, blinking and pale, significantly more knowledgable about evolution than I am at the moment. On the plus side, too, is the fact that it was written by the guy who proved able to resist the comfort and safety of the academic mainstream and was able to break free of the restrictive dogma of Darwinism enough to propose significant modifications to the theory in order to explain the evidence, rather than explain away the evidence, of the fossil record (by which I mean punctuated equilibrium).

So that's that. A quite possibly highly disingenuous book made me recognize a shameful inadequacy in my knowledge, and hopefully a dead biologist can help me fix that.

The is the end of my least interesting blog post ever.

November 23, 2004

Couple of new blogrolls

I recently added Colin McKay's blog to my blogroll. Colin's the brother of a friend of mine, but stop right there! I know you're thinking "nepotism," you cynical bastards. In fact he was added on the basis of his writing and the "nutrition information" label acting as a table of contents, which I think is fantastic. So there.

Also please welcome Query Letters I Love to the fold, published by an anonymous Hollywood script reader (or something). It's a collection of the very worst suggestions for screenplays he receives. Too cool for words. Favorite submission:

The World has imploded on itself. Evil Robot plans an Empire built on the backs of remaining humanity.Can a man from the pass survive the hate of a savage woman and save humanity before the sands of time run out…?

Answer: Not without the help of his trusty sidekick, Scrofula Boy.

Update: He's an agent, not a script reader. And this is now my favorite submission:

It isn’t just the monkey that sets 'Laughing My Sphincter Off' apart from other cancer memoirs, it’s also my skewed sense of humor. The one-two-punch of the monkey’s low down physical commentary coupled with my friskiness of mind give the reader a unique look inside the soul of a person battling colorectal cancer

Personally I think I'll wait for "Laughing My Sphincter Off 2: Remission to Uranus."


Rather a shame

Dan gets the push. Big surprise. Favorite quote:

"Dan's 24 years at the 'CBS Evening News' is the longest run of any evening news anchor in history and is a singular achievement in broadcast journalism," Leslie Moonves, CBS chairman and co-president and co-chief operating officer of CBS parent Viacom said in a statement.

In history? So he's the longest-serving anchor in the last 15 billion years, then? His was the most lengthy tenure of any news host since spacetime itself was created in the Big Bang, the physical laws of reality coalesced and the glorious fire of creation enabled fundamental particles to form? A gentle fingering of hyperbole from CBS, I feel, but goshdarnit are they proud of him or what?

Killing an elephant

How do pygmies kill an elephant?

Sometimes they use spears and stab it repeatedly, delivering a final blow to the head. Elephants often die still standing, so to check it's actually dead one will touch his speartip to its eye. Other times they use poisoned darts and then track it for days until it finally succumbs. Still other times one will sneak up behind it, a spear or sharp blade in each hand, and with one of them slash across its Achilles tendon and ram the other into its comparatively soft belly. It's not unknown for the elephant to collapse backwards and crush the unfortunate hunter, but whatever happens it's not going anywhere.

Once the thing is dead the tail is cut off and taken to the village as proof, and as a sign the women should come to the site of the kill. The man who wielded the death stroke is given the best cuts of meat and the rest is divided evenly amongst the families. Then the pygmies pray over the animal to ask forgiveness from their god, because they believe what they did was wrong and that now they've killed one of god's creatures they won't receive eternal life. For the pygmies staying alive comes at an infinitely high price.

In 1862 The Geologist journal told of a human skeleton found 90 feet below the ground's surface in Macoupin County, Illinois, beneath a two-foot thick layer of unbroken slate. The earth in which the skeleton was found is estimated to be 300 million years old. In the early 70s, at a dig in Hueyatlaco, Mexico, American archaeologists discovered stone tools and weapons in a layer of earth estimated by geologists from the United States Geological Survey to be 300,000 years old. In the last century gold miners working Table Mountain in Toulumne County, California discovered human skeletons and artifacts in solid rock. The rock is believed to be about 50 million years old.

Within the rock-like structures that are stromatolites live bacteria -- cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae. A lot of cyanobacteria, three billion of them per square metre, working in cooperation to build their home. A stromatolite that is a metre-and-a-half high, like some of those in Hamelin Pool in Western Australia, may have taken two billion years to grow. Cyanobacteria use photosynthesis, extracting carbon dioxide from the water and, as a byproduct, releasing oxygen. A simply unimaginable quantity of cyanobacteria living three-and-a-half billion years ago very very slowly turned our atmosphere from oxygen-less to its present state, allowing animal life to exist. Cyanobacteria, and other types of algae, are considered a delicious snack for many forms of sea creatures, and now living stromatolites can be found only two places in the entire world. Cyanobacteria, in the most literal sense, created their own predators.

Humans, including pygmies, share about seventy percent of their genes with bacteria.

November 22, 2004

Study: Ben Affleck's two facial expressions "natural"

BERKELEY, CA -- Researchers at the University of California in Berkeley reignited the age-old "nature or nurture" debate today by announcing the results of a year-long study into Ben Affleck's facial expressions.

The researchers claim the study, which will be published in a peer-reviewed journal within the next six months, proves that both Affleck's facial expressions -- "determined" and "confused" -- are the result of genetics rather than rearing.

The two faces of Ben Affleck: top, determined, from Daredevil; middle, confused, from Gigli; bottom, determined and confused, also from Gigli

"Since [Affleck] first burst zit-like onto the scene with Good Will Hunting I've wondered what caused his astonishing lack of emotional range," said project lead Dr David Fisker. "Now, thanks to our hard work over the last year, I can rest easy. It's a good feeling."

Fisker explained that all available evidence indicates the 32-year-old actor has just two facial configurations, one expressing determination and the other expressing confusion.

"He can do a mix of both, too, and look determined yet confused or confused yet determined, but that doesn't really count," said Fisker.

After a frame-by-frame analysis of all of Affleck's movies to date the team presented their proposal to the Department of Health and Human Services, where it was determined sufficient evidence existed for the team to receive government funding.

With the financial backing in place the team began interviewing Affleck's friends and family to determine if his facial expressions off-screen were as staggeringly restricted as on.

Matt Damon, co-author with Affleck of Good Will Hunting and long-time "close acquaintance" of the emotionally limited actor, confirmed their hypothesis.

"It's true, yeah. He's like that all the time," said Damon. "It was great when we were writing [Good Will] Hunting though because if I needed, say, determined dialog I'd just give him a jar to open and I'd be inspired by his face."

The researchers then moved on to addressing their most important question: is Affleck's inability to adopt a facial arrangement other than determined or confused a result of his genes or his childhood?

"We really had no idea when we started," said Dr Peter Ferguson, the team's head anthropologist. "It could've gone either way. So naturally the first thing we did was visit with his parents in Cambridge [Massachusetts]."

The researchers soon discovered compelling evidence for the theory that Affleck's condition is genetic.

"It was obvious from the very moment we met [Affleck's parents]," said Ferguson. "We were startled to discover that Ben's father, Tim, only ever looks confused, and his mother, Chris, only ever looks determined."

Both elder Afflecks suffer from a medical condition known as monoris (literally, "single face") which is exceptionally rare in the United States.

Research in the 70s and 80s proved to most doctors' satisfaction that the condition is genetic, with a single sufferer having a 25% chance of passing it on to their children.

Ben Affleck, though, is believed to be the first child ever conceived by two monoris sufferers.

"His case is remarkable, to be sure," said Fisker. "It seems that when both parents carry the monoris gene it's possible that their offspring can inherit not just the disease itself but also a combination of his or her parents' only possible facial expressions."

This explains, according to the study, how the younger Affleck is capable of both determination and confusion, and also why the team didn't consider monosis as a possibility in the first place.

"I'm not... Er... Wait... What?" said the constantly befuddled Tim Affleck in a telephone interview yesterday.

"The... No... Hang on. It's like... Ummm... I don't... Sorry. I'll start again," he added.

Chris Affleck declined to comment by phone, instead opting to respond to halfacanuck's queries through her attorney, David Bauer.

"Chris is determined to see her son through this ordeal," said Bauer today. "She has absolutely no intention of becoming lackadaisical in that regard. She couldn't be more driven in her desire to see him succeed despite his condition. Chris is absolutely hell-bent on being there for Ben, and has been single-mindedly unfaltering in that goal since his affliction became apparent, at which point she swore a blood oath to be utterly firm that she be unwaveringly resolute and purposeful in her doggedly stubborn show-no-mercy take-no-prisoners no-holds-barred iron-clad support for her son. She's quite determined about it really."

But in their study the researchers conclude that further investigations into Ben Affleck's unique condition are necessary.

"We've only just begun to scratch the surface of his almost total lack of facial talent," said Fisker. "The work has just started for us."

When contacted by halfacanuck Affleck initially expressed confusion as to why his woefully inadequate front-of-head contortions were "even newsworthy," but then said he was "absolutely immovable in [his] steadfastness" not to let his condition affect his surprisingly successful career.

November 21, 2004


You say that poetry is just
A bunch of people shouting, or
The work of some attention whore,
A feedback loop of limelight lust.
But poets do not poems make:
The words are what we're meant to hear,
The meter, rhyme, the rhythm we're
Rewarded with if we partake
In listening, allowing each
Soft syllable, divine diphthong
Caress us like a Siren song.
They climb aloft and out of reach
Once they escape the sordid breath
Of poets, rappers, all the fools
Who utter them: these mass-less jewels
Live far beyond their speaker's death.


I just switched from the default Blogger comments to using HaloScan for it instead. Suffice to say that you can now enter your name for the comment without having to sign up to Blogger, and you can put in links to your email and home page if you so desire, and I can edit your comments to make it look like you wrote something you didn't, possibly about negroes. It's a win-win.

Also, I get trackback links for no extra charge (above and beyond the $0 I already pay on a monthly basis for the comments facility). I'm still not 100% on what a trackback is, but apparently it lets people comment on my blog in their blog and let me know about it by "pinging" me. Or something. Maybe you can understand this better, my brain is slow and feeble.

Course, there is a downside. All the comments left via the old Blogger system are now inaccessible. Ah well, they all sucked anyway. So leave some goddamn comments. You have no excuse now. And none of that anonymous crap, either. Personal responsibility, people, personal responsibility.

November 19, 2004

Here I go

I sent my first story from while I was away to the National Post. Tiny bit nervous now. Which is to say I can barely sit still, think, or go to the toilet. Quite a few of my friends read it: three loved it unconditionally, like puppies, three thought it a little distant or detached, and one thought it was boring. I love writing.

But I hate people reading it. That's not quite true: what I hate is when people say it's anything other than perfect, especially if I invested a lot of time and effort into writing it. I know, obviously, that nothing I write is perfect -- there's no such thing as perfect, anyway -- but that doesn't stop me being disheartened by even the slightest criticism. (That's not to say I want people to lie to me about my writing. I'd hate that too, probably even more.)

It's funny. When I show something I've written to someone I watch them while they read it. Watch their face for reactions. Try to guess, from the position of their eyes, where on the page they are, because I know what's coming up and what kind of reaction I expect from it. And if they don't react in the way I expect I start worrying. Are they not enjoying it? Did I fuck something up? Is it only me in whom those particular words stir that particular reaction? If they do react the way I expect, it delights me.

For some reason this is all amplified a hundred times if the writing is meant to be funny. If someone laughs where they're meant to laugh over something I've written, I am ludicrously pleased. But if someone doesn't laugh once at what I think to be a consistently funny piece, I'm devastated. It's an utterly horrible feeling. Failure. Inadequacy. I could never be a stand-up comedian. No wonder they're all alcoholics.

So why do I write? I ask myself that occasionally. Will I ever be able to produce anything even resembling "limping invisible down to the sloe-black, slow, black, crow-black, fishingboat-bobbing sea," or "fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion"? Will I ever make people laugh as hard as Bill Bryson or "Ted L. Nancy," or entertain with such squirming perfection as P.G. Wodehouse or Roald Dahl, or keep people up all night reading reading reading like Dean Koontz or Dan Brown, or irritate so compulsively as Auberon Waugh or Mark Steyn? Will I? If not, what's the point? Is writing about the creator, or is it about the audience? Do I blog for me or do I blog for you? Why do I care so much?

November 18, 2004


Some alarming intelligence: my brother just set up a blog. Liberals everywhere are darting for cover, grandmothers are trembling under their duvets, once-peaceful woodland dells are scarred with the high-pitched screech of warring badgers.

He'll probably accidentally delete everything soon, though, bearing in mind this is the guy who didn't double-check he'd packed his laptop's power cable despite knowing that the battery is dead and it won't function without it before leaving on a two-week working vacation. So make the most of it while it lasts.

November 17, 2004

The Windhover

I CAUGHT this morning morning’s minion, king-
   dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
   Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
   As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
   Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
   Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

   No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
   Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

-- The Windhover, Gerard Manley Hopkins


Lucky y'all

I hereby declare, unilaterally and without consulting any of my hopelessly sycophantic forelock-tugging subjects (that means you), that this blog is now covered by one of the Creative Commons licences. Specifically, you are allowed to "copy, distribute, display, and perform" my blog (that's right, perform) provided you give me credit, it's for noncommercial purposes (sorry, Andrew Lloyd Webber), and you don't "alter, transform, or build upon" it.

I also hereby reserve the right to make too many paranthetical comments in one paragraph.

Oh, and when I say credit, that includes credit cards.

November 15, 2004

Me, the terrorist

I got selected twice for a special in-depth airport security search, once in Toronto and once in Las Vegas. What the hell? Do I look like a terrorist? I think I do not. Perhaps, in hindsight, wearing my "Allah Ackbar" t-shirt was a mistake. Here's roughly how it went:

Me: I'm lining up at security now. I'm not talking to anyone in particular, I'm just setting the scene.

Stranger: I see.

Security guy: Can I see your boarding pass?

Me: Yes indeed you may.

Security guy: Oh dear, oh dear. Allow me to alter the configuration of this maze-like area with movable posts and elastic straps acting as barriers so that you can take a different route than everyone else and they can all stare at you and hide their children behind their legs. This way, please.

Me: Oh dear. But I'm white!

Security guy: This isn't Texas.

Me: True. Okay.

Second security guy: Hi ...Thomas?

Me: Ross.

Second security guy: Ross! I'm Malcolm and I'll be searching you invasively today.

Me: Would you still search me invasively if I were called Thomas?

Malcolm: Even more invasively.

Me: Ah.

Malcolm: Now if you could just place your feet on this mat with outlines of feet drawn on it in case you're exceptionally stupid and haven't yet grasped the complexities of standing still, and raise your arms to shoulder-level with your palms facing up...

Me: My palms don't have faces.

Malcolm: Do not toy with me.

Me: Gulp. I am now assuming the position you described.

Malcolm: So I see. Now please don't move while I wave this magical beeping wand over your body. But first I must wave it near my own chest so that it beeps.

Me: Why?

Malcolm: It makes my nipples hard. Okay, here we go...

Me: Oh dear. It beeped.

Malcolm: I'm afraid it did. Can you take your shoes off?

Me: Yes, I've been able to do that for many years.

Malcolm: Excellent. Could you do that for me right now?

Me: With pleasure. I have now removed my shoes.

Malcolm: Very impressive. Okay. It seems it was your shoes making this magic wand beep, not your feet, so I won't need the scalpel, but I will have to inspect your shoes just in case. Is there anything sharp in there that might cut my skin or pierce my skin, that might lacerate me and cause me grievous bodily harm, or that might penetrate my epidermis in such a way as to cause vital fluids to leak from my interior?

Me: Aren't those all the same thing?

Malcolm: Yes, but I have a degree in English and I feel a bit wasted here to be honest.

Me: I don't generally keep sharp things in my shoes. I have a sharp tongue, but not the shoe kind.

Malcolm: That joke was lame but clever. Okay, here I go.

Me: Good luck.

Malcolm: Your shoes are safe. Though you might want to consider a darker brown -- these don't complement your pants very well.

Me: Fair enough. What now?

Malcolm: Now you must unbutton your pants and roll the waistband down.

Me: To make your nipples hard?

Malcolm: No, so that I can see if you have hidden weapons.

Me: Ah. Okay. There.

Malcolm: Great. Now I want you to stand still while I run my hands over your body in the way you normally only let a lover touch you. Is that okay?

Me: Not really, no. I'm uncomfortable with a man's intimate caress.

Malcolm: Too bad. Do you have any difficulty breathing, or any areas of your body that cause pain when touched?

Me: If I have difficulty breathing while a burly security guard runs his hands over my body then I have bigger problems than I previously suspected.

Malcolm: Good point. Okay, here I go. Oooh... Nice.

Me: Thanks. I'm particularly proud of that part of my body.

Malcolm: Now I'm going to run my fingers through your hair. Do you need a dandruff protector for your shoulders?

Me: No, my scalp is in impeccable condition.

Malcolm: Great! You don't seem to be hiding any nuclear devices in your hair. Alright! We're done.

Me: Thank God.

Malcolm: Now we just need to search your bags.

Me: Ah.

Malcolm: So put your shoes on and step to this table, if you would be so kind.

Me: Righto. I notice there are no outlines of feet walking to the table for me to follow. I'm not sure what to do.

Malcolm: Use your imagination. These are your bags?

Me: Yes. A nice Saudi Arabian man packed them for me.

Malcolm: This is probably not the situation in which to be making jokes, given that I have the right to interrupt your passage in several senses of the expression.

Me: Please don't do that.

Malcolm: Trust me, I'd prefer not to. Is this a laptop?

Me: You mean the laptop-shaped object with the Apple symbol on the lid, the sockets for various connectors parading up the side, and the light on the front that's fading on and off to indicate it's in sleep mode? Yes.

Malcolm: If I open the lid will I be presented with pictures of dwarves having sex with farmyard animals or anything of that nature?

Me: The chances are slim.

Malcolm: Shame. Yup. It's a laptop alright. Okay! We're really done this time. I was just joking before.

Me: So I can go?

Malcolm: Yup.

Me: Can you tell all those people to stop looking at me as if I'm going to quote from the Koran and blow myself up?

Malcolm: No. I'm afraid you just have to deal with it. After you've left this area you'll encounter some of them again, but you won't know who they are, so after a while it'll seem like everyone is looking at you suspiciously. Eventually you'll be consumed by paranoid delusions fed by acute lack of sleep and a diet consisting entirely of fruit for the last two weeks.

Me: Well, that's nice. Thanks, Malcolm. I'd say it's been fun but that would be a filthy lie.

Malcolm: Sure. Hey, you! Meek-looking woman with baby! Get your terrorist ass over here and spread 'em...

Finally, some words

Well, I'm back from my trip and sufficiently recovered to string together a coherent sentence or two. I suppose you all want to know how it went, right? Nosy bastards. I wish you'd all stop living through me vicariously. Alright, here we go...

Dateline: Bay Area, California. Why is it called a dateline, anyway? It should surely be a placeline. Anyway, California was sunny and filled with eccentric characters!! Not that I'm stereotyping or anything. I was in San Francisco (pictures) to do two stories, one of which involved getting a makeover. I can't go into details until I sell the story, but suffice to say: my color is gray. Yes, gray. I was delighted to hear that. The other story involved crashing four parties in one night, during which I had my first 40 and was fined US$15m by a girl with a great ass in a cop costume for being Canadian. I pointed out that I'm not Canadian, I'm English, and so she fined me US$30m for impersonating a Canadian. Luckily she gave me 30 days to pay, since I didn't have my checkbook on me. I was also in San Jose to visit cowonahill and Tarantino27 (who, I'm now quite convinced, isn't actually Quentin Tarantino). We played pool and I was still a tad tired from the 437 sleepless hours it took to get from Kitchener to California, so I 1) Wasn't very good and 2) Said about three words. Most impressive. In addition I accidentally visited King City, which is about as exciting as the web site implies, "on the way" to Carmel, where Clint Eastwood used to be mayor and where the tourist shops sell things like $112,000 Picasso prints. Yes, really.

Dateline: Las Vegas, Nevada. And met with my brother, who'd arrived a couple of days before. The first day we didn't even make it out of the hotel due to pathological laziness, opting to dine at a phenomenally expensive restaurant ($7.50 for a bottle of beer? What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, because you can't afford a fucking plane ticket out of there). Day two we visited a ghost town called Nelson (pictures), where we met Brent, the owner of the abandoned gold mine who now makes a living by operating tours and wearing a really cool cowboy hat. He told us that a tour group was arriving shortly -- and lo! he was correct, and they were, surprisingly enough given how infrequently Australians travel, Australian -- so we decided to tag along. The mine was interesting and safe, having electric lights throughout and regular inspections by the US Department of Making Sure Interesting Old Mines Are Safe, and Brent told a very entertaining story about how he'd been down the mine once on his own at night and something had chased him and it turned out to be his dog (his version was rather better than my summary). We then took a walk and found the Colorado River, and I noted to Sean how interesting the day had been, and yet it wouldn't be very interesting when I blog about it. On the way to Nelson I picked up some food at a 7-11, including some Beef "E" Beef (incredibly, I can find no official home page for the Beef "E" Beef product), a name which was to inspire much hilarity for the next ten days. That night we took in the Strip (pictures) and ate at the Harley Davidson Café, where my wife and I exchanged 78,000 text messages regarding her latest work crisis and Sean got hit on by a 55-year-old Pennsylvanian chain smoker, almost certainly called Phyllis.

Dateline Zion National Park, Utah. Ah, Zion (pictures). Home of entirely non-smoking hotels with homicide-inducingly slow net connections, no cell signal for 43 miles, no televisions in the rooms, and bars that close at 8pm. Luckily the scenery made up for it... just. We found another ghost town and its cemetery, including the grave of an entire family killed by Indians (or "child-murdering First Nations," as they probably would've preferred to be called) on the same day. We puzzled over Utah's bizarre alcohol laws. We hiked through the park and discovered the soon-to-be-infamous Zion Curse. We pointed to people at random and postulated that the chances are good he or she is a Mormon (since 75% of the Utah population is). We joked about Beef "E" Beef.

Dateline: Cedar City, Utah. Time to meet up with Corey and Dave of Gold Rush Expeditions (my pictures, and also Corey's) outside Wal-Mart. The day before Sean called Corey for the first time and got his voicemail -- and discovered that Corey isn't in fact female as he'd assumed, but very male. It was fun to watch Sean's expression evolve from surprise to dismay as he recalled all the flirtatious things he'd written in the organizational emails that had been exchanged. I asked if he was still going to read the poem he wrote for "her," or just give "her" the earrings he'd bought, but strangely he didn't find it funny at all. I did. We switched from our rental car to Corey's Land Rover (I offered Sean the front seat and got myself another glare) and headed into the wilderness, to Frisco, where we toured abandoned mines and explored a silver mine that was definitely far from safe. As we clambered over piles of rocks from previous cave-ins and dodged bats it suddenly occurred to me that there was a billion trillion gazillion tons of rock above my head and I was in a 100-year-old hole at the very bottom of it all. I didn't enjoy that thought much, but, somewhat oddly, the fear added to the excitement. I wasn't quite excited enough to climb up a rickety old ladder surrounded by rat crap to the second level of the shaft, mind you. Only Dave was excited (i.e. insane) enough to do that. After we emerged and changed underwear we headed off into the Wah Wah Mountains to Pine Grove, another abandoned mine, where we set up our tent (or, rather, stood around useless and self-conscious while Corey set up our tent) and then sat around the camp fire drinking impressive quantities of beer and eating the delicious moose-based supper Dave had prepared. Finally we retired for the night and I was very glad I'd invested $5.60 in a hat and gloves at Wal-Mart because the temperature dropped well into negative-C and my sleeping bag should've come with a label reading: "WARNING: SUITABLE ONLY FOR USE NEAR THE EQUATOR." Initially we followed Dave's advice of not sleeping in our clothes (because it would make us sweat, and that would make us even colder) but then at about 1am when we were nearing death we realized that Dave's full of shit and got dressed again. We passed the night in some discomfort. Lovely stars, though, and it was a weird feeling being 30 miles away from the nearest other human. In the morning, after we'd thawed out a little, we had breakfast and then shot at cans with several dangerous-looking guns and one ludicrously tiny one that Dave bought for his girlfriend and with which was impossible to hit anything ("Happy birthday, honey!" "What is it?" "It's a ludicrously tiny gun with which it's impossible to hit anything." "Oh, thanks"). As Corey notes on his web site I have a "natural aptitude" for firing handguns. Sean, on the other hand, merely "stalked the can," which is code for "didn't actually hit it." Then it was back to Cedar City and our rental car.

Dateline: Kayenta, Navajo Nation. After three days with no Internet and no cell signal I was looking forward to arriving at the Holiday Inn, Kayenta. Surely, I thought, the Holiday Inn would have Internet, at least in the lobby. Er, no. But hey, at least I'd be able to make phone calls! Er, no. Still no cell signal (I guess a bunch of poor First Nations aren't top of the list for GSM service in the US), and due to a hard drive failure none of the phones in the rooms worked. I became very familiar with the six feet of lobby corridor containing the pay phones over the next two days. We mostly just lied (laid?) around recovering from the seven hours of driving it took to get there, but did visit Monument Valley (pictures, impressive panoramic shot). If you've ever seen a Western, you've seen Monument Valley. There's a weird sense of déja vu: I've been here, I've seen this, but I haven't.

Dateline: Phoenix, Arizona. On the way from Kayenta to Phoenix we stopped at Flagstaff to get an Internet fix (I spent the entire time trying to repair the cybercafé's wireless network, while Sean simply went somewhere else. He got the net, I got free beers. Not sure who won that one), and then on to a ghost town called Two Guns (pictures), next to Canyon Diablo (they sure knew how to name these places). Two Guns had a very strange atmosphere: a sort of threatening air mixed with wistfulness, a certain malevolent sadness about the place that was hard to pin down. While we were there the sun set, casting everything in a wonderful golden light that was a photographer's dream. The Golden Hour, they call it in Hollywood, and now I can totally understand why. To Phoenix, or a suburb of it called Scottsdale, and the nicest hotel yet (pictures). We did very little again, but this time because we discovered we had a grand total of US$15 between us. Not so bad for me because I was returning home the next day, but less than great for Sean, who was to drive to LA and spend a week there. To top it off he discovered he'd left his power adapter in the hotel in Kayenta and so was unable to recharge his phone when the battery died. He's still incommunicado and might in fact be dead.

So that, minus many details, was my trip. It was a lot busier and a lot more tiring than I've made it sound. Now I just need to sell and then write (or vice versa) all those stories in an attempt to recover the money I spent. Will I ever be a successful freelance journalist? I guess I'm about to find out...

November 13, 2004

Last day

Home! Exhausted! Still not writing anything! But three more photos!

November 09, 2004

Lots o' stuff

Finally got to Phoenix and am in civilization again (i.e. I can get on the net). Too tired to entertain you with words, so here are many pictures.

November 04, 2004

Las Vegas, Nevada

Even more pictures. Don't say I'm not good to you.

November 03, 2004

San Francisco, California

And here are some pictures from Cali...

(Okay, the first one is Toronto airport. Deal with it.)

Nelson, Nevada

Hello! Finally able to blog, from my hotel room in Las Vegas, Nevada, United States, North America, Earth. Today we went to Nelson and toured an old gold mine. Here are some pictures. The end.