Archive for the Surveys and opinions Category

The Movie(s)-A-Month Club

Posted in Surveys and opinions with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2012 by JonH

January is always a good time to start something, make a resolution, a positive change, (a move out of your parents’ basement), that sort of thing. It marks a proverbial rebirth. A time to shed your former self and become the man or woman you always knew you could be.

For me, it marks the ideal time to think about the movies I want to see in the next 12 months.

(Actually, I’m not normally that organized, but my resolution is to be. And it’s all about baby steps, right?)

I like to think that I’ve got diverse interests when it comes to movies. I’ve enjoyed some artsy flicks just as much as I’ve been bored by some action movies. I’ve been surprised by Ryan Reynold just as I’ve been disappointed by Daniel Day Lewis (not really), and I’ve been rendered speechless by movies like The Human Centipede and the Twilight series, and moved to blather on endlessly by movies like The Fantastic Mr. Fox (sounds strange, but read the review).

Anyhow, here’s my list of movies to see for 2012. For each month I’ve included some runners up, if you have the dough. I’d love to hear from all of you regarding what you think. Do my choices suck? Do you agree? Are there other movies to consider?

Without further ado, here you go . . .

January: A Dangerous Method

January’s runner up: Coriolanus

February:
February’s runner up: Lock-out (Sweet, a story about a loose cannon cop who doesn’t play by the rules)
March: Goon (Love the stereotypes: notice Liev Schrieber saying, “eh.”)
March’s runner up: Snowtown


April: Cabin in the Woods
April’s runner up: Intruders
May:
May’s runner up: Dark Shadows (Tim Burton, ’nuff said.)
June: Prometheus
June’s runner up: Jack the Giant Killer
July:
July’s runner up:
August: Paranorman

August’s runner up: Total Recall (Redemption for Dick?)
September: Argo (The story is about six Americans held hostage in Iran in the late 70s. Hmm, sounds kind of like the Canadian Caper).
September’s runner up: Dredd I have faith that Karl Urban as Judge Dredd will be able to redeem this comic book cult classic.
October: Cloud Atlas All I could find was a cover of the book, which itself was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Nebula and Arthur C. Clarke award. This would seem to be no small feat. We need more thoughtful scifi movies. Here’s hoping.
October’s runner up: Frankenweenie T.B. again . . .
November: Skyfall (Ralph Fiennes and Javier Bardem are in this? Hmm, should be cool.)
November’s runner up: Rise of the Guardians (Santa and the Easter Bunny kicking behind.)
December: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
December’s runner up: World War Z

If you like this list, please share it! (Even if you don’t like it, share it!)

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Thoughts and Prognostications on the upcoming (and soon to be in the past) 83rd Academy Awards . . .Or, What I did at Work Today.

Posted in Surveys and opinions with tags , on February 26, 2011 by JonH

The 83rd Annual Academy Awards are coming up tomorrow (Sunday, February 27th), and while I don’t make it a point to watch them I’m always interested to know who takes home the big prize for best picture.

Last year, despite it being a good movie, I was a bit surprised when “The Hurt Locker” won. I thought “Inglourious Basterds” was the better movie, but that’s because I thought it was more imaginative in its conception and cleverer in its execution. The former was a reimagining of history; the latter more historically accurate, but one doesn’t necessarily trump the other. I go to movies for entertainment. I read books for information. Alas, this is not what lurks in the minds of those whose votes count when making such important decisions as what’s to be the best picture of the year. There always seems to be a bit of disparity between what the audience thinks, what the critics think, and what the academy thinks.

This year the nominees are Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception (two part review: here and here), The Kids Are All Right, The King’s Speech, 127 Hours, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit, and Winter’s Bone.

Having only seen four of these movies I’m not really in a position to provide any critical insight into which one should win. I’m merely going to offer some guesses based on what Rotten Tomatoes has to say on the matter. For interest’s sake, prior to divulging my choice for best picture, I’m also including a list of the previous 80 some-odd winners over the past eight decades, and what percentage of critics and audience members have provided positive reviews of each.

Here’s the list, complete with who hosted and where the event took place, as pilfered from Oscar.org. As you’ll see, there were a few stinkers.

1st Awards
Thursday, May 16, 1929, in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel (banquet)
Hosts: Academy President Douglas Fairbanks, William C. deMille
Critics: 96%
Audience: 75%
Best Picture of 1927/1928: “Wings”

2nd Awards
Thursday, April 3, 1930, at the Cocoanut Grove of the Ambassador Hotel (banquet)
Host: William C. deMille, Academy President
Critics: 38%
Audience: 30%
Best Picture of 1928/29: “The Broadway Melody”

3rd Awards
Wednesday, November 5, 1930, in the Fiesta Room of the Ambassador Hotel (banquet)
Host: Conrad Nagel
Critics: 97%
Audience: 85%
Best Picture of 1929/1930: “All Quiet on the Western Front”

4th Awards
Tuesday, November 10, 1931, in the Sala D’Oro of the Biltmore Hotel (banquet)
Host: Lawrence Grant
Critics: 50%
Audience: 30%
Best Picture of 1930/1931: “Cimarron”

5th Awards
Friday, November 18, 1932, in the Fiesta Room of the Ambassador Hotel (banquet)
Host: Conrad Nagel, Academy President
Critics: 86%
Audience: 77%
Best Picture of 1931/1932: “Grand Hotel”

6th Awards
Friday, March 16, 1934, in the Fiesta Room of the Ambassador Hotel (banquet)
Host: Will Rogers
Critics: 64%
Audience: 32%
Best Picture of 1932/1933: “Cavalcade”

7th Awards
Wednesday, February 27, 1935, at the Biltmore Bowl of the Biltmore Hotel (banquet)
Hosts: Irvin S. Cobb
Critics: 97%
Audience: 92%
Best Picture of 1934: “It Happened One Night”

8th Awards
Thursday, March 5, 1936, at the Biltmore Bowl of the Biltmore Hotel (banquet)
Host: Frank Capra, Academy President
Critics: 93%
Audience: 79%
Best Picture of 1935: “Mutiny on the Bounty”

9th Awards
Thursday, March 4, 1937, at the Biltmore Bowl of the Biltmore Hotel (banquet)
Host: George Jessel
Critics: 59%
Audience: 59%
Best Picture of 1936: “The Great Ziegfeld”

10th Awards
Thursday, March 10, 1938 (postponed from March 3), at the Biltmore Bowl of the Biltmore Hotel (banquet)
Host: Bob Burns
Critics: 70%
Audience: 71%
Best Picture of 1937: “The Life of Emile Zola”

11th Awards
Thursday, February 23, 1939, at the Biltmore Bowl of the Biltmore Hotel (banquet)
Host: Frank Capra, Academy President
Critics: 96%
Audience: 87%
Best Picture of 1938: “You Can’t Take It with You”

12th Awards
Thursday, February 29, 1940, at the Cocoanut Grove of the Ambassador Hotel (banquet)
Host: Bob Hope (for last half only)
Critics: 95%
Audience: 91%
Best Picture of 1939: “Gone with the Wind”

13th Awards
Thursday, February 27, 1941, at the Biltmore Bowl of the Biltmore Hotel (banquet addressed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt via direct-line radio from Washington D.C.)
Host: Walter Wanger, Academy President
Critics: 100%
Audience: 91%
Best Picture of 1940: “Rebecca”

14th Awards
Thursday, February 26, 1942, at the Biltmore Bowl of the Biltmore Hotel (dinner)
Host: Bob Hope
Critics: 88%
Audience: 83%
Best Picture of 1941: “How Green Was My Valley”

15th Awards
Thursday, March 4, 1943, at the Cocoanut Grove of the Ambassador Hotel (banquet)
Host: Bob Hope
Critics: 86%
Audience: 85%
Best Picture of 1942: “Mrs. Miniver”

16th Awards
Thursday, March 2, 1944, at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre
Host: Jack Benny (for overseas broadcast)
Critics: 97%
Audience: 94%
Best Picture of 1943: “Casablanca”

17th Awards
Thursday, March 15, 1945, at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre
Hosts: John Cromwell (for first half), Bob Hope (for last half)
Critics: 75%
Audience: 80%
Best Picture of 1944: “Going My Way”

18th Awards
Thursday, March 7, 1946, at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre
Host: Bob Hope, James Stewart
Critics: 100%
Audience: 86%
Best Picture of 1945: “The Lost Weekend”

19th Awards
Thursday, March 13, 1947, at the Shrine Auditorium
Host: Jack Benny
Critics: 97%
Audience: 91%
Best Picture of 1946: “The Best Years of Our Lives”

20th Awards
Saturday, March 20, 1948, at the Shrine Auditorium
Host: None
Critics: 83%
Audience: 79%
Best Picture of 1947: “Gentleman’s Agreement”

21st Awards
Thursday, March 24, 1949, at the Academy Award Theater
Host: Robert Mongomery
Critics: 92%
Audience: 80%
Best Picture of 1948: “Hamlet”

22nd Awards
Thursday, March 23, 1950, at the RKO Pantages Theatre
Host: Paul Douglas
Critics: 96%
Audience: 75%
Best Picture of 1949: “All the King’s Men”

23rd Awards
Thursday, March 29, 1951, at the RKO Pantages Theatre
Host: Fred Astaire
Critics: 100%
Audience: 94%
Best Picture of 1950: “All about Eve”

24th Awards
Thursday, March 20, 1952, at the RKO Pantages Theatre
Host: Danny Kaye
Critics: 98%
Audience: 76%
Best Picture of 1951: “An American in Paris”

25th Awards
Thursday, March 19, 1953, at the RKO Pantages Theatre (first telecast)
Host: Bob Hope
Critics: 41%
Audience: 62%
Best Picture of 1952: “The Greatest Show on Earth”

26th Awards
Thursday, March 25, 1954, at the RKO Pantages Theatre
Host: Donald O’Connor
Critics: 88%
Audience: 83%
Best Picture of 1953: “From Here to Eternity”

27th Awards
Wednesday, March 30, 1955, at the RKO Pantages Theatre
Host: Bob Hope
Critics: 100%
Audience: 94%
Best Picture of 1954: “On the Waterfront”

28th Awards
Wednesday, March 21, 1956, at the RKO Pantages Theatre
Host: Jerry Lewis
Critics: 100%
Audience: 86%
Best Picture of 1955: “Marty”

29th Awards
Wednesday, March 27, 1957, at the RKO Pantages Theatre
Host: Jerry Lewis
Critics: 73%
Audience: 52%
Best Picture of 1956: “Around the World in 80 Days”

30th Awards
Wednesday, March 26, 1958, at the RKO Pantages Theatre
Hosts: Bob Hope, Jack Lemmon, David Niven, Rosalind Russell, James Stewart and Donald Duck (on film)
Critics: 95%
Audience: 90%
Best Picture of 1957: “The Bridge on the River Kwai”

31st Awards
Monday, April 6, 1959, at the RKO Pantages Theatre
Hosts: Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, David Niven, Sir Laurence Olivier, Tony Randall, Mort Sahl
Critics: 74%
Audience: 75%
Best Picture of 1958: “Gigi”

32nd Awards
Monday, April 4, 1960, at the RKO Pantages Theatre
Host: Bob Hope
Critics: 91%
Audience: 80%
Best Picture of 1959: “Ben-Hur”

33rd Awards
Monday, April 17, 1961, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium
Host: Bob Hope
Critics: 91%
Audience: 93%
Best Picture of 1960: “The Apartment”

34th Awards
Monday, April 9, 1962, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium
Host: Bob Hope
Critics: 91%
Audience: 82%
Best Picture of 1961: “West Side Story”

35th Awards
Monday, April 8, 1963, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium
Host: Frank Sinatra
Critics: 98%
Audience: 91%
Best Picture of 1962: “Lawrence of Arabia”

36th Awards
Monday, April 13, 1964, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium
Host: Jack Lemmon
Critics: 81%
Audience: 60%
Best Picture of 1963: “Tom Jones”

37th Awards
Monday, April 5, 1965, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium
Host: Bob Hope
Critics: 94%
Audience: 87%
Best Picture of 1964: “My Fair Lady”

38th Awards
Monday, April 18, 1966, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium (first telecast in color)
Host: Bob Hope
Critics: 82%
Audience: 86%
Best Picture of 1965: “The Sound of Music”

39th Awards
Monday, April 10, 1967, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium
Host: Bob Hope
Critics: 86%
Audience: 86%
Best Picture of 1966: “A Man for All Seasons”

40th Awards
Wednesday, April 10, 1968 (postponed from April 8), at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium
Host: Bob Hope
Critics: 96%
Audience: 90%
Best Picture of 1967: “In the Heat of the Night”

41st Awards
Monday, April 14, 1969, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Host: None
Critics: 85%
Audience: 72%
Best Picture of 1968: “Oliver!”

42nd Awards
Tuesday, April 7, 1970, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Host: None
Critics: 90%
Audience: 87%
Best Picture of 1969: “Midnight Cowboy”

43rd Awards
Thursday, April 15, 1971, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Host: None
Critics: 97%
Audience: 93%
Best Picture of 1970: “Patton”

44th Awards
Monday, April 10, 1972, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Hosts: Helen Hayes, Alan King, Sammy Davis, Jr., Jack Lemmon
Critics: 98%
Audience: 85%
Best Picture of 1971: “The French Connection”

45th Awards
Tuesday, March 27, 1973, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Hosts: Carol Burnett, Michael Caine, Charlton Heston, Rock Hudson
Critics: 100%
Audience: 97%
Best Picture of 1972: “The Godfather”

46th Awards
Tuesday, April 2, 1974, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Hosts: John Huston, Diana Ross, Burt Reynolds, David Niven
Critics: 91%
Audience: 93%
Best Picture of 1973: “The Sting”

47th Awards
Tuesday, April 8, 1975, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Hosts: Sammy Davis, Jr., Bob Hope, Shirley MacLaine, Frank Sinatra
Critics: 98%
Audience: 96%
Best Picture of 1974: “The Godfather Part II”

48th Awards
Monday, March 29, 1976, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Hosts: Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, George Segal, Goldie Hawn, Gene Kelly
Critics: 96%
Audience: 95%
Best Picture of 1975: “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest”

49th Awards
Monday, March 28, 1977, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Hosts: Richard Pryor, Jane Fonda, Ellen Burstyn, Warren Beatty
Critics: 93%
Audience: 65%
Best Picture of 1976: “Rocky”

50th Awards
Monday, April 3, 1978, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Host: Bob Hope
Critics: 98%
Audience: 92%
Best Picture of 1977: “Annie Hall”

51st Awards
Monday, April 9, 1979, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Host: Johnny Carson
Critics: 91%
Audience: 91%
Best Picture of 1978: “The Deer Hunter”

52nd Awards
Monday, April 14, 1980, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Host: Johnny Carson
Critics: 88%
Audience: 85%
Best Picture of 1979: “Kramer vs. Kramer”

53rd Awards
Tuesday, March 31, 1981 (postponed from March 30), at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Host: Johnny Carson
Critics: 91%
Audience: 85%
Best Picture of 1980: “Ordinary People”

54th Awards
Monday, March 29, 1982, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Host: Johnny Carson
Critics: 86%
Audience: 77%
Best Picture of 1981: “Chariots of Fire”

55th Awards
Monday, April 11, 1983, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Hosts: Liza Minnelli, Dudley Moore, Richard Pryor, Walter Matthau
Critics: 85%
Audience: 91%
Best Picture of 1982: “Gandhi”

56th Awards
Monday, April 9, 1984, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Host: Johnny Carson
Critics: 89%
Audience: 82%
Best Picture of 1983: “Terms of Endearment”

57th Awards
Monday, March 25, 1985, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Host: Jack Lemmon
Critics: 96%
Audience: 94%
Best Picture of 1984: “Amadeus”

58th Awards
Monday, March 24, 1986, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Hosts: Alan Alda, Jane Fonda, Robin Williams
Critics: 63%
Audience: 84%
Best Picture of 1985: “Out of Africa”

59th Awards
Monday, March 30, 1987, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Hosts: Chevy Chase, Goldie Hawn, Paul Hogan
Critics: 86%
Audience: 91%
Best Picture of 1986: “Platoon”

60th Awards
Monday, April 11, 1988, at the Shrine Auditorium
Host: Chevy Chase
Critics: 91%
Audience: 86%
Best Picture of 1987: “The Last Emperor”

61st Awards
Wednesday, March 29, 1989, at the Shrine Auditorium
Host: None
Critics: 87%
Audience: 88%
Best Picture of 1988: “Rain Man”

62nd Awards
Monday, March 26, 1990, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Host: Billy Crystal
Critics: 79%
Audience: 78%
Best Picture of 1989: “Driving Miss Daisy”

63rd Awards
Monday, March 25, 1991, at the Shrine Auditorium
Host: Billy Crystal
Critics: 78%
Audience: 84%
Best Picture of 1990: “Dances with Wolves”

64th Awards
Monday, March 30, 1992, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Host: Billy Crystal
Critics: 96%
Audience: 93%
Best Picture of 1991: “The Silence of the Lambs”

65th Awards
Monday, March 29, 1993, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Host: Billy Crystal
Critics: 96%
Audience: 91%
Best Picture of 1992: “Unforgiven”

66th Awards
Monday, March 21, 1994, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Host: Whoopi Goldberg
Critics: 97%
Audience: 96%
Best Picture of 1993: “Schindler’s List”

67th Awards
Monday, March 27, 1995, at the Shrine Auditorium
Host: David Letterman
Critics: 70%
Audience: 93%
Best Picture of 1994: “Forrest Gump”

68th Awards
Monday, March 25, 1996, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Host: Whoopi Goldberg
Critics: 79%
Audience: 83%
Best Picture of 1995: “Braveheart”

69th Awards
Monday, March 24, 1997, at the Shrine Auditorium
Host: Billy Crystal
Critics: 83%
Audience: 82%
Best Picture of 1996: “The English Patient”

70th Awards
Monday, March 23, 1998, at the Shrine Auditorium
Host: Billy Crystal
Critics: 83%
Audience: 68%
Best Picture of 1997: “Titanic”

71st Awards
Sunday, March 21, 1999, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Host: Whoopi Goldberg
Critics: 93%
Audience: 76%
Best Picture of 1998: “Shakespeare in Love”

72nd Awards
Sunday, March 26, 2000, at the Shrine Auditorium & Expo Center
Host: Billy Crystal
Critics: 89%
Audience: 90%
Best Picture of 1999: “American Beauty”

73rd Awards
Sunday, March 25, 2001, at the Shrine Auditorium & Expo Center
Host: Steve Martin
Critics: 78%
Audience: 85%
Best Picture of 2000: “Gladiator”

74th Awards
Sunday, March 24, 2002, at the Kodak Theatre, Hollywood & Highland
Host: Whoopi Goldberg
Critics: 78%
Audience: 91%
Best Picture of 2001: “A Beautiful Mind”

75th Awards
Sunday, March 23, 2003, at the Kodak Theatre, Hollywood & Highland
Host: Steve Martin
Critics: 88%
Audience: 80%
Best Picture of 2002: “Chicago”

76th Awards
Sunday, February 29, 2004, at the Kodak Theatre, Hollywood & Highland
Host: Billy Crystal
Critics: 94%
Audience: 83%
Best Picture of 2003: “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”

77th Awards
Sunday, February 27, 2005, at the Kodak Theatre, Hollywood & Highland
Host: Chris Rock
Critics: 92%
Audience: 87%
Best Picture of 2004: “Million Dollar Baby”

78th Awards
Sunday, March 5, 2006, at the Kodak Theatre, Hollywood & Highland
Host: Jon Stewart
Critics: 76%
Audience: 89%
Best Picture of 2005: “Crash”

79th Awards
Sunday, February 25, 2007, at the Kodak Theatre, Hollywood & Highland
Host: Ellen DeGeneres
Critics: 93%
Audience: 92%
Best Picture of 2006: “The Departed”

80th Awards
Sunday, February 24, 2008, at the Kodak Theatre, Hollywood & Highland
Host: Jon Stewart
Critics: 95%
Audience: 84%
Best Picture of 2007: “No Country for Old Men”

81st Awards
Sunday, February 22, 2009, at the Kodak Theatre, Hollywood & Highland
Host: Hugh Jackman
Critics: 94%
Audience: 90%
Best Picture of 2008: “Slumdog Millionaire”

82nd Awards
Sunday, March 7, 2010, at the Kodak Theatre, Hollywood & Highland
Host: Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin
Critics: 97%
Audience: 83%
Best Picture of 2009: “Hurt Locker”
Interestingly, on Rotten Tomatoes, “Up” had a better response from both critics (98%) and audience (86%) alike.

This year’s nominations with their corresponding percentages from RT are as follows:

Black Swan
Critics: 88%
Audience: 86%

The Fighter
Critics: 90%
Audience: 90%

Inception
Critics: 86%
Audience: 93%

The Kids Are All Right
Critics: 94%
Audience: 73%

The King’s Speech
Critics: 94%
Audience: 95%

127 Hours
Critics: 93%
Audience: 88%

The Social Network
Critics: 96%
Audience: 89%

Toy Story 3
Critics: 99%
Audience: 91%

True Grit
Critics: 95%
Audience: 87%

Winter’s Bone
Critics: 95%
Audience: 74%

For this year, if one were basing the outcome solely on the numbers generated by what the critics aggregated by Rotten Tomatoes indicate the winner would be “Toy Story 3”.

However, as in the case of “Up”, there seems to be an issue on behalf of the academy to select animated films for the top honour, so if you were to pick the movie most closely agreed upon by critics and audience members alike, the winner would be “The Fighter”.

In the end, though, despite what the numbers may indicate, I’m willing to wager a firm handshake that “The King’s Speech” takes the Oscar for Best Picture of 2010.

What do you think?

Those Wacky Swedes . . .

Posted in Surveys and opinions with tags , on January 24, 2011 by JonH

When a hockey team is rebuilding it’s important for management to ensure that they bring in the right players. These players should embody the right blend of maturity and experience as well as youth and zeal. Each should offer a different skill set, but passion for the game, and the team, should be the unifying factor between them all. All of these pieces should complement one another, and help strengthen the bond between teammates.

For all of this to work ala “Boys on the Bus” it’s essential that these new Oilers build a sense of camaraderie, friendship, and that special bond that can only exist between true friends. Last year we saw it between Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano; earlier this year we saw it between Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle; now we’re seeing it between Magnus Paajaarvi and Linus Omark.

Granted the team is struggling right now — that’s to be expected — but I think if management can keep these guys together for a few years as they mature they’re going to make Edmonton a force in the NHL again. They’re fast, skilled, and colourful. And on that note, I have to say the Swedes are quickly becoming my favourite of the Oilers. They have the right blend of skill, speed, and most importantly, a refreshing sense of humour. What does he mean, you ask? Click to the 4:05 point of this video of Magnus Paajaarvi showing some people around his condo in Edmonton, and watch the magic unfold . . .

Monkey See, Monkey Do?

Posted in Surveys and opinions with tags , , , , , on November 22, 2010 by JonH

In honour of Jared Diamond’s November 17th lecture for the University of Alberta’s Festival of Ideas (which I missed) I’m posting my comments on a book I believe fits in with the title of Diamond’s discussion that evening: Why Societies Fail or Flourish.

Without even considering for a moment the idea of Intelligent Design, I proudly embrace my inner ape (some would say ‘outer’ when they see me in a bathing suit), and hereby proclaim my belief in the theory of evolution (both natural and artificial), and that humans descended from the apes that roamed the plains of Africa close to five million years ago.

As distilled from Ronald Wright’s book, A Short History of Progress, here’s a quick history of how our development into modern humans went down after the bloodlines between what was to become man (Homo erectus) and ape began to diverge close to five million years ago:

Two million years after leaving Africa, hominids begin making and using crude tools; another two million years after that Homo erectus is found in several temperate and tropical climates; jump ahead at least half a million years and we find that Homo erectus has begun to use fire; the evolution of Homo erectus begins to get a bit murky 130,000 years or so later as Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) and Cro-Magnon man (early modern humans, or Homo sapiens) come onto the scene. The author presents evidence that for brief period of time, 100,000 years ago, Cro-Magnon man and Neanderthals lived side-by-side in some areas. Living in close quarters isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be, and Wright suggests that the former wiped out the latter.

Arguably, development of modern man then came on at a pretty decent clip, and was due, in large part, to the impact of culture.

“Our main difference from chimps and gorillas is that over the last 3 million years or so, we have been shaped less and less by nature, and more and more by culture”, Wright says on page 30 of the book.

He describes civilization and culture as the sum total of a society’s knowledge, beliefs, and practices.

“Culture is everything: from veganism to cannibalism; Beethoven, Botticelli, and body piercing; what you do in the bedroom, the bathroom, and the church of your choice (if your culture allows a choice); and all of the technology from split stone to the split atom. Civilizations are specific kind of culture: large, complex societies based on the domestication of plants, animals, and human beings. Civilizations vary in their makeup but typically have towns, cities, governments, social classes, and specialized professions. All civilizations are cultures, or conglomerates of cultures, but not all cultures are civilizations” (32).

In a nutshell this discussion of culture provides the backdrop for the main thesis of Wright’s book, which comprises his 2004 Massey Lecture of the same name. The essence of the book is presented in the context of the Frenchman Paul Gauguin’s painting, “D’où Venons Nous? Que Sommes Nous? Où Allons Nous?

By asking ourselves these three fundamental questions: Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? Wright urges readers to consider the experiences of past civilizations as a blueprint for where the modern world and its desire for progress could be heading.

For the most part, we’ve answered the first two questions already. We come from the plains of Africa as distant cousins of the apes and are molded by our shared time with one another in the form of the cultures that we have developed.

As far as where we’re going, Wright then draws on the history of four civilizations, the inhabitants of Easter Island, the Sumerians, the Roman Empire, and the Mayans to illustrate how exploitation of the resources available to each of these civilizations had precipitated its downfall, and contrasts that with two of the more successful civilizations, the Egyptians and the Chinese.

The most provocative example is of Easter Island. Here, given the small size and remote location of the island, Wright describes how inhabitants would have seen with their own eyes the dwindling of resources and they would have actually witnessed the chopping down of the last tree available to them.

Bookending the Easter Islanders, the Mayans, the Romans, and the Sumerians are the Egyptians and the Chinese. Due to its location between the Tigris and the Euphrates, Egypt and its people were more inclined to live in concert with the environment as they were subject to the ebb and flow of the Nile’s cycles; whereas China benefitted from comparatively lush, fertile soil.

Clearly, the two successful cultures had something unique going for them, namely abundant resources in the form of water and fertile soil, but they must have also had foresight and understood that management of their resources was tantamount to survival.

This is provocative when viewed in the context of our current energy issues. Global Warming has been accepted as the dominant theory for everything from unseasonable temperatures and more extreme weather events to shrinking ice floes and the extinction of species; thus compelling governments to look towards another form of energy production now being touted as green because it purportedly doesn’t release greenhouse gases: nuclear fission. But until we learn how to properly dispose of radioactive waste that’s really just swapping one problem for another.

When you think about the discussions surrounding Alberta’s oil/tar sands and the possibility of using nuclear power to help extract fossil fuels you begin to see how precarious the situation has become. Our need for energy is understandable, especially when it’s minus 24 outside (as it is tonight), but our reliance on it in almost all aspects of our lives tends to put us more in line with the cultures that lacked long term viability than it does with ones that had foresight.

By ensuring advancements in technology have a commensurate advancement in environmental (and thus resource management) stewardship we might be able to squeeze a few more million years out of this rock.

Food for thought: “from the first chipped stone to the first smelted iron took nearly 3 million years; from the first iron to the first hydrogen bomb took only 3,000” (14).

The Proposed Downtown Arena: What are your thoughts?

Posted in Surveys and opinions with tags , on September 6, 2010 by JonH

I’m sure by now everybody has heard about the Katz Group’s proposal for a downtown arena district. If you haven’t, a good place to get a biased bead on what is being proposed can be found on the Katz Group’s website specifically dedicated to all things arena at www.revitalizedowntown.ca.

Another great resource is this article that draws together and provides links to a lot of the media coverage over the past few years, some of which predates Katz’s tenure as the owner of the Oilers: http://communities.canada.com/edmontonjournal/blogs/hockey/archive/2009/09/02/news-and-opinion-on-edmonton-s-downtown-arena-debatea.aspx

For those that don’t mind seeing people squirm, an interesting snippet of video featuring dialogue between Councillor Don Iveson and some people from the Katz Group can be found here: Oilers won’t play at Rexall, Katz Group says.

The point here is to get your thoughts on the Katz Group’s proposal. The following questions are some food for thought:

Do you think public funds should be used to finance a private venture?

Do you think that the proposed arena district will have the desired affect of revitalizing Edmonton’s downtown core?

If the project goes ahead what should be done with the current Rexall Place?

Who should get the profits from events being held at the facility?

How would having a state-of-art facility such as the one being proposed make you feel as an Edmontonian? If you’re not from Edmonton, how would the proposed arena district affect your opinion of the city?

Why Does The Cove get a Rise out of Hockey Players?

Posted in Surveys and opinions with tags , on July 5, 2010 by JonH

At the end of my review of the movie The Cove I mentioned that it was due to be released in Japan towards the end of June, and that we should watch out for some fireworks.

Well, according to writer Shingo Ito in an article published in the Edmonton Journal, the fireworks were less than dazzling:

“About 30 protestors, mostly right-wingers, briefly skirmished with supporters of the film ahead of its first commercial showing at a Tokyo theatre where police were on guard.”

I thought for sure that there would be a bigger stink, but what I can’t figure out is why hockey players, specifically, “right-wingers” comprised the largest group of protestors.

“‘Watching movies is an individual right,’ said Kunio Suzuki, who slightly cut his face in the skirmish. ‘If you criticize the film, watch it first.'”

Suzuki, himself a left-winger, had this message for the right-wing protestors:

The Polite Writer: Please Close the Door, I’m Trying to Post a Blog!

Posted in Surveys and opinions with tags on April 28, 2010 by JonH

Sometimes when I write I feel guilty.

It’s not because I’m writing about anything depraved (well, most of the time at any rate). It’s because I close the door when I do it. And sometimes that makes me feel bad. People are home and I’m secluding myself from them. I know that they understand, but nevertheless I feel compelled to explain myself; so I did so by posting the following note on the door to my ‘office’ (which is really the bathroom . . .):

“Dear family,

The reason I’ve shut the door is to announce that I’ve made a serious commitment to writing. This is a way of telling the world, as well as reminding myself, that I mean business.

In the words of Stephen King, I intend to walk the walk and talk the talk when it comes to writing.

See you soon,

The Management”

I thought I would now post this on my blog, so I could really declare my intentions to the world (so far, that consists of three readers, two of whom have already read the note posted on the office door), as well as to show all prospective clients the kind of dedicated guy they’d be hiring if they hired me.

Now, if I could just learn to quit surfing the damn Internet when I’m supposed to be writing I’d be set.

Kinda gives new meaning to “posting a blog” doesn’t it?