Author Archives: Matt O.

Kind of a review: Deadwood


I just finished the third season of Deadwood and wow, what a phenomenal show. If you’re unsure of what Deadwood is, it’s a TV show that aired on HBO from 2004-06. The show takes place almost entirely in the camp of Deadwood, South Dakota in the years 1876 and 1877. Because I started the show more than a few months ago I can’t remember every detail, but I also don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll keep it mostly spoiler free.

The show has a mixture of fictional characters and real life people who lived in or visited Deadwood. I don’t think the show ever means to say it’s an accurate historical piece, but the extensive use of real people – such as Seth Bullock and Al Swearengen – gives the show a more authentic feel. There are of course many liberties taken with their day-to-day lives, but the accuracies of who the people were make the show ever more enjoyable.

But what also makes the show so good are the actors who portray these figures. While Timothy Olyphant is perhaps the main character with his portrayal of Seth Bullock, it’s most definitely Ian McShane‘s portrayal of Al Swearengen that steals the show. He’s ruthless and he’s scary, but he’s also what keeps the camp going and in a somewhat orderly manner. However, I think my favourite character is Charlie Utter, played by Dayton Callie. He’s just an all-around great character.

One aspect of the show that seems to garner both criticisms and applause is the extensive use of swearing. A couple viewers even took it upon themselves to see how many times the word “fuck” was used, and it’s a lot. Over three seasons, that word was uttered 2980 times with an average usage of 1.56 times per minute. And that’s only one word. But as linguist professor Geoffrey Nunberg from Berkley writes, “‘fuck’ wasn’t actually a swear-word back then. It was indecent, of course, but people only used it for the sexual act itself. Whereas swear-words are the ones that become detached from their literal meanings and float free as mere intensifiers.” Additionally, other swearwords used in the show weren’t considered offensive back then, and were simply a description of a body part or sexual act. Examples of words that would be offensive in the 1870s include: “‘darn,’ ‘doggone,’ ‘dadburned,’ ‘tarnation,’ ‘goldarn,’ and ‘gee-whiz.'” However, as Nunberg states, “if you put words like ‘goldarn’ into the mouths of the characters on “Deadwood,” they’d all wind up sounding like Yosemite Sam.”

I am personally not insulted when so-called curse words are used, but I guess I can understand how one might be. However, I would argue that the use of these words in Deadwood makes for a more enjoyable and authentic feeling experience. The viewer is supposed to be pulled into the world of a chaotic Nineteenth Century gold camp. The extensive use of swearwords is one way the unlawfulness and chaotic world of Deadwood comes alive. And I found that the swearing fit the main theme of the show: the struggle between chaos and order. But within this struggle we are treated to other themes of the era, such as life, death, politics, race, sex, capitalism, violence. The show is definitely not for the weak-hearted: there’s swearing , there’s sex, and there’s killing. But each act of violence, each sexual act, and each word is chosen for a specific reason. Every scene is in the show is to either advance the plot, portray who the characters were, or demonstrate a specific theme.

Now with all that said, like anything the show is not without its faults. At times, it can be temporarily difficult to follow what’s going on because the dialogue can be so unique, sometimes almost poetic. At times, the show can be a bit plodding, especially a few of the sub-plots that don’t really advance much. And at times, there are so many characters that some feel left out or not used to their full potential (thinking primarily about Cy Tolliver). But these are simply minor gripes about a show that is superior to almost any other show out there.

From the beginning to the end, the camp of Deadwood was a living entity that grew and evolved along with the people that lived in it. The viewer sees this small camp grow as more people come, a post office is started, a telegraph makes it way there, a bank is founded, and the many other on-goings of a growing town take place. The creators do an excellent job at making the viewer feel he or she is seeing a real camp grow. Even though the series technically ended unfinished, as it was cancelled by HBO, the end of the third season could act like a finale. It doesn’t tie the show up in a nice little bow, but it does give closure to a major plotline. And with a show about the growing camp of Deadwood, I don’t really see any other way to end it other than knowing Deadwood and its inhabitants will live on and adapt to new changes.


Well, this is awkward…


Sorry I haven’t called in awhile. I know, it’s been almost four months since I’ve written a blog post. I’m normally full of words (we’ll use that word) but lately I have just been so busy the words haven’t wanted to come. Oh, and I think the Master’s paper I wrote from May and August drained most of the writing out of me.

It has for sure been a busy few months and perhaps some of the busiest months I’ve had in awhile. At the beginning of July, my partner and I moved into our new place. At the beginning of August I finished my MA paper on Private Military and Security Companies, entitled “An Under-Regulated Free Market Force: Understanding Two Decades of Military Privatization.” Within a few days of that we were off to Las Vegas for a part business/part vacation trip. As soon as we returned it was time to prepare for two weddings I would soon be in. The first one, at the end of August, I was a groomsman, and the second one, a week later, I was the best man.

While it is no small feat to finish a graduate program, the weddings were amazing and even though I wasn’t the one getting married, seeing my friends so joyous were without a doubt some of the happiest days of my life. Seeing people you care about so deeply experiencing the happiest day of the lives – and being honoured with the position of sharing that day with them – was unlike any experience I’ve ever had. Congratulations to the two new married couples!

Now that I’m done school (for now), and that this half of Breaking Bad‘s final season has finished, I’m spending my time job searching, submitting papers to journals, watching the excellent Deadwood, fixing toilets, and anything else to subside my boredom. I’m also planning on getting back into writing more blogs in hopes that it will help fuel some creativeness. It’s also a great place to write and pretend people are actually reading what I write.

Anyways, thanks for reading this short blurb and I will be back sooner than later.


Why Is Everyone So Angry?


When I was eating dinner yesterday I picked up the local newspaper and on the front page there were two main articles discussing different issues. While on the surface they appear to be different, I think they are actually somewhat related. The first article was about Gerry McNeil, a police watchdog, who found in an independent study that there was misconduct by police in their handling of riots and protests at the G20 summit in Toronto two year ago. The second article was about the ongoing student protests in Québec and Premier Jean Charest’s proposal to implement a law to stop classes until August in hopes to quell the protests.

What these two issues have in common is that Canadians – especially young Canadians – are getting angry. And quite frankly, that’s a good thing because that means people are concerned, and concerned people are needed for democracy to thrive.

There are normally better ways to express ones discontent than through violence, but I think these two events show that Canadians do in fact care about what is going on. Many Canadians are tired of having their rights sidelined in order for the government(s) to push through their agenda(s).

Let’s take a look at Bill 78, the proposed law in Québec. Perhaps the most questionable part of the bill is the first part of Division III. It states that:

“A person, a body or a group that is the organizer of a demonstration involving 10 people or more to take place in a venue accessible to the public must, not less than eight hours before the beginning of the demonstration, provide the following information in writing to the police force serving the territory where the demonstration is to take place:

(1) the date, time, duration and venue of the demonstration as well as route, if applicable; and

(2) the means of transportation to be used for those purposes.

The police force serving the territory where the demonstration is to take place may, before the demonstration and to maintain peace, order and public security, order a change of venue or route; the organizer must comply with the change ordered and inform the participants.”

That’s a pretty vague statement. It basically states that any group of over 10 people who are demonstrating without telling the police are breaking the law. You could have ten people peacefully protesting  with signs and they could be fined. In fact, it doesn’t specify what the protesters need to protesting, i.e. it doesn’t specify it even has to do with the current student unrest. And should someone break this law, they are subject to fines ranging from $1,000 to $125,000 (see Division V)! This doesn’t sound too democratic.

Now I know someone would criticize me and say “Well, I trust the government to only use it in the intended cases (i.e. punish protesting students).” Well, I don’t. I believe that laws need to be written as clearly as possible and not be put together as hastily as this one. And on top of that I don’t think people should be prohibited from peacefully protesting. If people are breaking windows and attacking others then the law should come down on them, but no one should have their rights to protest be taken away.

Returning to the discontent among Canadians. It may be a coincidence (I doubt it), but it seems to me that the anger has been rising over the past few years. I would hypothesize that the recession has a lot to do with it. People don’t have the funds they used to, and it is becoming more difficult for young  Canadians to find jobs. We’re promised that with a post-secondary education we will be able to find work, but it’s becoming more and more difficult.

I think another issue is the disconnect between the Federal Government and the people. For example, Vic Toews recently said that Bill C-30 is not dead. Among other things, this bill that could force telecommunications companies to hand over customer information (i.e. Canadian’s information) should authorities want it. Remember, you “either stand with us [Conservatives] or with the child pornographers” (to quote Toews himself). So basically, if you don’t want to have your personal information made readily available to authorities you must be hiding something. (This reminds me of US Senator Joe McCarthy and his ‘ism’ in the 50s, when if one used the First Amendment they were accused of siding with or being a Communist.)

Then we have issues like: the closing of PEARL, an arctic research centre that is apparently too expensive to run; the misleading costs of the proposed purchase of F-35 jets; concerns over Bill C-11 which would “update” the copyright laws; another environmental research station being shut down; and so on and so on.

While I have different opinions on all the issues mentioned in the above post, I do feel that people – again, especially young Canadians – are growing concerned over the path Canada is heading down. Whether you agree or disagree with the specific issues at hand, or how your Federal or Provincial Government is governing, it is important to to make your opinions known. That is, after all, how democracy survives.

EDIT 05/20/12: Because of the controversy they’ve revised the bill to make it applicable to a group of over 50 people who is putting the public in danger.


We’re Disconnecting From War – Part 2


A couple weeks ago I made a blog post about how North American society is becoming more and more disconnected from the wars our country’s are waging. I argued that this disconnect came from the use of such institutions as the privatization of the military and the use of robotics in warfare.

Yesterday I picked up Rachel Maddow’s Drift: The Unmooring of the American Military Power. I bought it for a couple reasons, but mostly because it had a chapter devoted to military privatization. It just was published at the end of March so I figured it might have some information I didn’t know already and hoped it could be useful for my final MA cognate paper.Cover

I ended up reading the entire book today and found it to be rather good. The book looks at the time from around Vietnam to today and covers a lot of ground in a relatively short space of two-hundred and fifty-two pages. If you’re looking for a book about a specific event, then this isn’t for you. But if you’re looking for reasons how we’ve become disconnected from war, then pick up Maddow’s book.

She’s a good write and her book is easy to breeze through. I would have wished that her “Notes” were more comprehensive, but that’s just for further research’s sake. I also have to admit I love the snarky and sarcastic tone she employs. For example, when she’s talking about North Korea and Kim Jong Il’s goal of acquiring nuclear weapons, she has this to say: “It was one thing to marvel at state-run news reports that Kim Jong Il hit holed-in-one every time he golfed and that his birth was heralded by a double rainbow and a new star in the sky; it was another to imagine that same guy having the power to level part of the planet at the touch of a button.” She then goes on to discuss how is it not only pretty crazy to talk about North Korea having nuclear weapons, but that “the North Korean nuclear test revealed the fact that mainstream Washington discussion about nukes had become pretty weird too” (p.224).

Anyways, more importantly for this blog and my research, she also presents the ways in which American society has become disconnected from war. Using examples such as growing Executive power and lack of Congressional oversight, waging war without declaring war, and privatization, she presents a society that is completely disconnected and unaware of what’s going on. She doesn’t blame any one political party or group, but acknowledges changes are needed.

I’ll leave you with what I feel is one of the best quotes that represents the book and the way our society is changing:

Thanks to the skyrocketing use of privateers, and thanks to our new quasi-military institutions empowered to make war while keeping the details of that war making (and often even the simple fact of that war making) hidden from us, and thanks to public relations triumphs like the Bush administration sparing us the sight of the flag-draped caskets of dead American soldiers deplaning week after week at Dover Air Force Base, thanks to all that and more, the American public has been delicately insulated from the actuality of our ongoing wars. While a tiny fraction of men and women fighting our wars are deploying again and again, civilian life remains pretty much isolated in cost-free complacency. (p.206-207)


Entering the World of Role-Playing Games


For the first time, today I played a Role-Playing Game. My friend Sacha had been pressuring me to do it for a couple years but I just didn’t want to commit until I was able to. This year I met James in the History MA program and he wanted to do a game as well. We decided to do a test run with Pathfinder to see if we liked it and wanted to continue with the story (we’re using the module The Brinewall Legacy). Sacha’s friend Alex was kind enough to be our Dungeon Master (DM).

This post will outline my character I created as well as the narrative of our adventure. I’ve tried to hyperlink any unfamiliar terms in case you want to find out more.

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Character Name: Caelash | Race: Elf | ClassRanger | Alignment: Lawful Neutral | Sex: Male | Age: 150 | Height: 6’3″ | Weight: 180lbs |  Hair: Silver | Eyes: Green | Languages: Common, Elven, Goblin | Weapon 1: Longbow | Weapon 2: Rapier | Armour Type: Studded Leather | Key Skills: Climb, Craft, Knowledge of Geography, Perception, Stealth, Survival, Swim |

Story so far:

Caelash is travelling with his caravan in a wooded area. Among the people with him are Zerris (Sacha), a Tiefling Witch, and Hadji (James), a Half-Elf Rogue. They are travelling to trade in goods, such as spices. Upon their travels they see something in the distance that looks like it’s smoking. Hadji and Caelash decide to sneak up to inspect the the situation. Upon being able to see it is they realize it’s  another caravan that appears to have been attacked. The members of the caravan are all dead or they ran away. In the distance they hear some loud bangs and booms. The three members of the caravan decide to leave the trail and inspect the noises. They end up coming to a swamp but they didn’t find the cause of the noise. As they were about to head back to the caravan, as they feared of travelling too far away from it, they thought they saw something long and slithering in the swamp. Instead of inspecting further they figured returning to the caravan was safest for everyone.

The module (story) we’re playing

After travelling for sometime more they come upon a small trading post and village. When they get close enough they realize there are burn marks on the walls surrounding the village. They end up discussing the marks with a guard and he informs them that goblins have been attacking and using fireworks as weapons. They decide to investigate the matter further and speak with the town sheriff. They find out from the sheriff that there is a 300gold piece (gp) bounty on the goblin king’s head. Additionally, there is also a 10gp bounty given for every ear of a goblin that is returned. It’s still mid-afternoon so the three adventurers, plus an NPC named Ameiko, decide to head out towards the swamp where they were told the goblin were living.

Goblin.jpg

A goblin

As they’re about to leave the gates of the village nine goblins attack! In the end they ended up killing seven, one was captured, and one escaped. After debating about what they should do with the captured goblin, they decided to press him for information about where the king lived. After some persuasion he agreed to lead them to the king the next day. They end up sleeping for the night in preparation for the travels tomorrow.

At the break of dawn they leave and head out into the swamp with the goblin guiding the way. As they’re walking along between the forest and the swamp water, a really ugly creature attacks the goblin who was guiding the party. The creature turns out to be a sinspawn, an aberration of a human. Caelash, Zerris, Hadji, and Ameiko fight the ugly creature but, unfortunately, the goblin is killed by the sinspawn because he was not able to fight back as the adventurers had his hands bound and a rope around his neck like a leash. Caelash was also knocked unconscious but Zerris revives him with a spell.

Sinspawn mini.jpg

A sinspawn

Hadji wants to take the sinspawn head as a sort of trophy or intimidation factor when travelling to the goblin’s hideout, but Zerris tells him it’s probably useless weight to be carrying around. In a childish fit Hadji attempts to kick the sinspawn’s head into the swamp, but he barely hits the head. The adventurers continue on in the direction that the goblin was leading them, hoping that they were not being led into a trap.

Shortly after they see a a village with a spiked wall around it. Hadji and Caelash sneak ahead and scout the perimeter of the walls. They find out that there are two entrances and it appears they arrived at the back of the village. There are five goblin guards at the front, but only three at the back. Since Zerris knows goblin, he tries to send a message telepathically to the guards at the back to tell them to go to the front doors. It appears it may have worked since one of the guards leave. However, the remaining two set up in a defensive position. Unfortunately, Zerris doesn’t know much about goblins and thus he didn’t know they don’t use magic. Soon after they see us and another four goblins emerge.

The four adventurers make fairly quick work of the six goblins through the combination of long ranged attacks, magic to put them asleep, and swordplay. The adventurers storm the village quickly and run to the large centre building, assuming that is the king’s house. Upon entering they see two guards and a very fat goblin sitting in the middle of the room. The two goblins attack quickly and Caelash uses a point-blank shot form his long bow to injure one, who Ameiko quickly finishes off. Hadji rolls out of the way and critical hits the remaining guard for a single, deadly blow. Seeing that his guards were dispatched of quickly, the king yells: “Fools! I’ll have to deal with them myself!”

Rendwattled

The goblin king

The king attacks the adventurers but misses. In a very quick sequence of events, the fight went like this: Caelash uses his bow to deal damage; Ameiko misses her attack; Zerris does some damage with his ear-piercing scream; Hadji misses his attack; the king stabs Hadji and reduces his health to about half; Caelash misses his attack; Ameiko lands a blow on the king; Caelash lands another blow; then Hadji lands a critical hit on the king and kills it in one strong blow. Zerris walks up to the king and slices off it’s head.

The adventurers leave the house, raise the head in the air and yell to the village that their king has been killed. Being the disloyal and fearful creatures they are without proper leadership, the remaining goblins flee the village. Instead of chasing after them the adventurers decide to search for loot. The adventurers find a total of six fireworks and some magical components for Zerris. They then come across a large, red chest and Hadji picks the lock. Within the chest there are six shurikens, a long hair pin with a red pearl, a golden ivory fan with a gecko on one side and a hastily drawn map on the other, 329silver pieces (sp), and 112gp. They collect the ears of the goblins they have killed as they’re worth quite a bit. As the adventurers are returning to the village Zerris allows Hadji to pick up the sinspawn head to see if they can in fact get any money for a bounty on it. Hadji had agreed to give the king’s hat to Zerris in order to return for the sinspawn’s head. Upon arrival the adventurers collect their 300gp for the goblin king, 160gp for the ears, and Hadji smoothly persuades the sheriff to give them 100gp for the sinspawn head. In total the adventurers acquire 560gp, which they split evenly. After a long day, Caelash, Zerris, and Hadji decide to rest in the village.

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That was James and my first time playing a role-playing game that was not of the video game variety. We had a such a good time that we’ve decided to continue with the story and play regularly on Mondays. While there may be some sort of negative stigma that still surrounds Role-Playing Games, Greg Tito of The Escapist argues that “The Stigma of Role-Playing Must Die!” And frankly, I agree. With video-games becoming a main-stream pass-time and one of the largest entertainment industries in the world, perhaps some of the stigma around Role-Playing Games will start to disappear. If something like this interests you at all, I highly suggest you gather some friends and play some games! It’s excellent fun.

Here are a couple clips from Community where the entire episode followed the characters playing a game of Dungeons & Dragons.


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