Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Interview, the Terrorists, and Fighting for Our Culture

NOTE: The following blog post was written before Sony decided to release the movie for independent theatres and on streaming video. As it examines a pivotal period of time in 2014, the original text is being preserved for posterity.

Truth to tell, judging from the trailer, The Interview isn’t a movie I’d dash out to see. Oh, some of the bits in the trailer I saw (the final one) looked cute, and if I got a copy of the DVD or blu-ray (ordinarily at a low price) I’d probably keep it, but it’s not the kind of comedy I really like. It’s more the kind of movie that if friends with different tastes wanted to see a movie with me, it would be a “safe” choice, probably not a lot of laughs but definitely a number of smiles. So when I say that I am appalled with the events surrounding The Interview, it’s not that I’m selfishly wanting people to die so I can see a movie I was really looking forward to. Rather, it’s what the movie has in the past couple of weeks come to symbolize, and the precedents being set here.

For the uninitiated, Sony Pictures has until recently been promoting The Interview, a comedy with a scheduled December 25 release date starring Seth Rogen and James Franco as reporters asked to become spies and kill the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-Un. This created some rumblings and threats from the North Korean government. At first the threats were not taken overly serious, in part because this isn’t the first time a North Korean leader had been “killed” on screen, notably Kim Jung II in Team America: World Police; more on this in a moment.  But then Sony Pictures became heavily hacked by a terrorist group called the Guardians of the Peace, with private e-mails, Social Security numbers, and aliases used by actors being released.  The Guardians made it clear that this was the result of plans to screen The Interview. The terrorists threatened 9-11 style attacks should anyone attend a screening of the movie. Despite law enforcement investigations claiming the threats appear groundless, after enough major chains in the United States and Canada pulled out, Sony decided to pull the movie entirely. No theatres, no streaming video, no DVD or blu-ray, nothing.  Some theatres in response wished to show Team America: World Police in its place, but Paramount cancelled such plans. This hasn’t entirely satisfied the terrorists. At the time as I write this, they were threatening further activity including more leaks unless all traces of the movie were removed from the Internet entirely. United States President Barack Obama publicly rebuked Sony for cancelling the movie, citing the precedent it sets, and hinted that a response was coming at a time of the White House’s choosing. While the Korean government denies being behind the Guardians of the Peace, they have threatened grave consequences should they not be allowed to participate jointly in the investigation.

The Guardians of the Peace said "Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made". The problem is, thanks to the Guardians we are not able to see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made. The reaction to the theatres and Sony has been divisive. Some people claimed they made the right move, citing safety concerns and the potential of lawsuits. I disagree with their decision. It’s easy to forget sometimes, but the freedoms we enjoy now didn’t come as a gift wrapped in a bow from some higher power, with no effort on our part. Rather, they were fought for and, yes, people have even died so that we could have and keep these freedoms. It doesn’t matter if you love Obama or think he’s the Anti-Christ, he’s right on this score: giving in to the terrorists sets a dangerous precedent.

You see, when we show them fear, we give them power. Most terrorists don’t stop at one demand and then go home. We’ve seen it already in fact: the theatres and Sony gave in to their demands not to show the movie so they made new demands, to remove all traces of the movie from the internet. I have no idea how that is even possible, but I doubt they will stop there. Maybe they’ll demand that older movies get destroyed, maybe they’ll demand permission on any movie coming out of a political nature. Maybe they’ll even tell us what movies to make. I don’t know what their next moves are, but if we give in and let them know we’re afraid, they won’t stop. Why would they? We’ve given them power over us, and they’re not nice people.

The people in the theatre? Most of them know what they’re getting into if they’ve been paying attention to the news. If they haven’t, have the people at the ticket booths let them know the situation and include a paper in writing with supplementary information. Let the people decide if they think it’s worth the risk. Some will go home, no harm no foul. Others will think the risk is too mild to worry about. And some will actually be encouraged to see the movie to flip off the terrorists, and perhaps want to see it only for that reason. If nothing happens, and it appears that nothing would have, then the threats, other than the cyber-attacks are rendered toothless. If the attacks do happen, it’s an act of war.

Ironically when things started to hit the fan I decided that I would see the movie in the theatre even though I wasn’t that interested in the movie. I’ve enjoyed a lot of the freedoms that were fought for but I haven’t really put myself out there to fight for them. Going to the theatre doesn’t take a lot of effort or money on my part, but it does let me take a stand for my freedoms and show that in a small way, I am willing to risk my life to ensure that future generations can enjoy the kinds of freedoms that those of us in the western world enjoy. The movie might not be to my taste, it might even be a POS, but it’s part of a culture that encourages freedom of expression in all its forms. And that means allowing the great works, the merely okay works, and the terrible works to all be made. And likewise I’d buy a DVD or blu-ray at a higher price than I normally would, not for the movie itself but what it now represents.

As for the subject of the movie, the North Koreans have their way of life just as we have hours. The western world has made less than flattering movies, fiction and documentaries alike, about its leaders. The North Korean government, being more insular could surely find ways to make sure its citizens never see the movie if that is part of their way of life. I hope that North Korea eventually finds a better way of life, but that’s for its citizens to decide.

The thing about The Interview and the cyber-terrorists targeting it is, it’s no longer about a silly Seth Rogen/James Franco movie. Oh, that’s where it started, absolutely. But it’s become about western values and whether, in the face of fear, we wish to hold onto them, even with the risk of death, or if we wish to give them up, let a foreign power walk all over our values and our culture and tell us how to live our lives even though they have no legal power over us. The Interview has become a symbol. The question that must now be decided, and fast, is, is it a symbol of a time when people became willing to stand up to bullies from a hostile power, or is it a symbol for when people decided that we were letting to let bullies walk all over our freedoms for fear of death?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Eastern Canada Trip 2013 Day 7 Wednesday September 18 Toronto, Niagara Falls ON & NY

This is the seventh of a series of posts dealing with my third trip to Eastern Canada. I’ve made minor corrections to these reports. Also, I’ve added additional thoughts with the hindsight of a year later or to add further clarification.  These are indicated by “NOW”.

First off a little bit from last night: Evelyn is still not sure of me but she let me take photos of her without running off. Later after Dave and Jan got home we went out for drinks.

[NOW: The above are friends I was stayed with, Evelyn being their cat.]

This morning I took the Bloor-Danforth train to Yonge and the Yonge-University-Spadina to Dundas Station but this time a little west of Yonge-Dundas Square.

[NOW: The Bloor-Danforth line is now also called the 2 Line. The Yonge-University-Spadina Line is now also called the 1 Line.]

I grabbed breakfast from Daily Brew, by the Toronto Coach Terminal.  I got in line a little late because the bus was at a different bay than usual.  A guy claiming to not be a bus terminal bum nevertheless talked someone into giving him money. The bus I got on this time was Megabus, in Canada an affiliate of Coach Canada. The bus headed west, getting caught in a traffic jam. Someone was texting or something similar and creating lots of beeping noises. I looked back and asked in a low but loud enough voice, "What's that noise?"  They took the hint. At one point I used my left hand to text and make plans with Aidan while taking photos with my right.

As the bus arrived at its destination, it make have run over a squirrel, which caused a lot of dismayed gasps, including from me. It was however in the middle of the road and thus not near the tires so there is a chance it survived,  I got off the bus at Niagara Falls Bus Terminal and started jogging towards Clifton Hill, mostly using the Olympic Torch Run Legacy Trail I walked to Nightmares Fear Factory just outside of Clifton Hill but it was not yet open.

On the Hill I tried the House of Frankenstein haunted house. My main concern was actually the dark (not so much the fear but if tripping). You were supposed to follow the red lights but in a few places I had trouble finding them in in fact early on someone had to send me in the right direction. I next went on the SkyWheel, part of a Clifton Hill Fun Pass I'd purchased. I traded in my piece of paper for the official card and rode this Ferris Wheel. I then went on the Ghost Blasters 3D ride (part of the pass) inside the Midway games place. It was one of though rides where you ride on a small train and shoot at objects along the way. The third pass attraction I did was Movieland Wax Museum. Some of the wax figures resembled celebrities better than others but it was still fun and there were a few cute gags along the way (a sign noting Invisible Predator wasn't by any wax figure).  At the end there was actually a haunted house component that was optional. I did it of course.

[NOW: The full name of the Midway place is Great Canadian Midway Arcade. The full name of Movieland Wax Museum is Movieland Wax Museum of the Stars. During a second visit it seemed that Invisible Predator was actually a hologram that sometimes appeared.]

I then crossed the Rainbow Bridge (which is grey) from Niagara Falls ON to Niagara Falls NY; there was a bit of a delay due to a Quebec couple not understanding the Customs guy's English questions. I jogged along Main and then Pine, visiting House of Fantasy (comics), Rite Aid, and Family Video (got a DVD and a blu-ray). Crossing to the other side the heading back I ate lunch at McDonald's (heavier than planned because at first I couldn't find the grilled onion cheddar burger I wanted so I ordered that as well). Continuing along Pine I visited 7-11, Walgreen's, and another Rite Aid, then back to Main, then eventually making my way to a bridge that crossed over from the mainland to Goat Island; smaller Islands plus part of the American and Bridal Veil Falls were visible in the background.

I walked north on Goat Island and then turned east over a small bridge to Luna Island, where I got great photos and videos of the Bridal and American Falls, complete with rainbow.  Remembering something I'd overlooked I returned to Goat Island to get some photos of the Horseshoe (Canadian) Falls on the US side, then picked off where I left off on Luna Island. Unfortunately there's no pathway east on Luna so I had to return to Goat Island, head south and only then take another bridge to Green Island and then cross a bridge from Green Island to the mainland.  Unfortunately on the mainland most of the views were being blocked, but the island views, which I'd overlooked in previous years were better anyhow.

[NOW: There blocking was due to construction which was still in progress in 2014.]

The Observation Tower was open so I did take some photos of that, took what few off deck photos I could, and the returned to the Canadian side.  There I worked my way east to the Horseshoe Falls gradually before wandering back the other way.

Returning to Clifton Hill, I went to the XD Theatre, part of the pass in the Midway complex. This proved to be the real surprise of the Hill, a 3D motion simulator which creates the illusion of being in a roller coaster in space.  The less rational part of my brain was convinced it was real. I'd been in Disneyland and Universal motion simulators; this was topped them. I returned to Nightmares Fear Factory not part of the pass but also prepaid; unlike the other houses I couldn't take photos. They had a chicken board for people who give up and they give you a card if they make it through. As before, tripping in the dark was my main concern; the only point where I was tempted to give up was a point where you are being squeezed by airbags. But I just told myself to wait a few seconds and the bags did let me free. Amusingly, there's a point where people get their photos taken, everyone else in scared positions; however, mine showed me hyperfocussed with my hands out to feel my way. I then bought Jan and Dave some cards for putting me up.

[NOW: XD Theatre’s 2014 theme was a safari, which didn’t have as nice visuals.]

Back at Clifton Hill I got a brainstorm: there was a golf option included with the pass. There was no time to play but I checked if it was okay for me to take photos of the course of my choice. I went with Dinosaurs Adventure Golf because it was outdoors. I might have the chronology a little off here but I think next it was hot dog and large strawberry Julius at the DQ, then Midway games (I played two two-token games, winning a skull key chain on the first one and kept the fifth token as a souvenir. So the latter two in that order or vice versa. The five tokens were also part of the Pass. The Pass also allowed a second go with the SkyWheel so I did that, then walked to the Horseshoe Falls again. It was getting late so I made faster time heading back. I passed through the Hill, worked my way back to the Trail, did a quick dip into the lovely downtown, and then made it back to the Bus Terminal.

The bus stopped in St Catharines as per the way over but no one was going to Oakville so that second stop got cut out. The bus gradually got so dark I only took photos I thought I would have a fighting chance of identifying later. The bus did a courtesy stop before the bus terminal in Toronto. I took a chance and it turned out to be by St Andrew Station, on the Yonge-University-Spadina line. So I took a train to St George and another to Lansdowne.

[NOW: The latter train was the Bloor-Danforth, now 2 line.]

Eastern Canada Trip 2013 Day 6 Tuesday September 17 Toronto including Toronto Islands

This is the sixth of a series of posts dealing with my third trip to Eastern Canada. I’ve made minor corrections to these reports. Also, I’ve added additional thoughts with the hindsight of a year later or to add further clarification.  These are indicated by “NOW”.

Wow, six days already!

During the night Evelyn the cat batted her ball around but didn't try to socialize with me the way Artemis did a couple years back. Judging from a note she might have snuck out when I left this morning. Luckily there's two doors.

[NOW: I was staying at my friends Dave and Jan’s place at this point. Evelyn didn’t actually sneak out.]

Walked along Bloor St to Yonge, passing another Evil Dead: The Musical banner, this one by a United Church.  Heading south along Yonge, I ate breakfast at the first McDonald's I came to.  I turned on to College and visited the Police Museum, which opens at 8. Back on Yonge, I resumed my travels south, grabbing food for later at a 7-11. I continued down Yonge to its southernmost point and then headed west slightly to Jack Layton Ferry Terminal.

[NOW: The McDonald’s is probably the one at Yonge St and Charles St E

There I bought a return ticket to Centre Island Ferry Terminal, part of the Toronto Islands.  I visited the Centreville Amusement Park, not intending to do any rides this time.  Good thing too, as the rides weren't open today. It was fun if a bit eerie wandering an amusement park where almost no one was around and all the rides were in their dormant state. The photos I got will probably prove to me more interesting than if the rides were in full swing. In one stream I saw a type of duck or goose I didn't recognize. The Far Enough Farm, park of the amusement park was actually open and I got a bunch of photos of small horses and other usual petting zoo animals. I saw a young cat actually struggling to climb a fence. Leaving the farm I noticed that white geese were also exploring the dormant park.

[NOW: To clarify, once you’re at the Islands you can return for three from any of the three ferry terminals: Centre Island, Ward’s Island, Hanlan’s Point.]

I'm actually not sure what the island the Centre Island Ferry Terminal is called. I'm pretty sure it's north of the true Centre Island, the large island which is inexplicably called Ward's Island on the east end only.  I went north to the Chelsea Beach (on the spot it's called Chelsea Beach though a map calls it Manitou Beach). Then I went west then south to Algonquin Island. Someone pointed out some sort of international sailboat race. I watched a bit but finally got bored. Crossing the bridge back to the main island, a guy gave me the aforementioned map. I walked to Ward's Island Ferry Terminal then Ward's Island Beach. I ate one of the sandwiches I got from 7-11, a bit bland and dry; tiny flies kept bugging me (pun only partly intended). I went east back to Chelsea/Maintou Beach, then Gibraltar Point Beach, then the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, which I don't think you were allowed up.

[NOW: Confusingly, Centre Island Ferry Terminal and Centreville Amusement Park are actually on Middle Island, though it’s sometimes referred to as Centre Island. Given the much larger Centre Island, I prefer Middle Island myself to distinguish the two.]

I got curious that there was a clothing optional beach near an airport on the main island and while not brave enough to join in, I decided to check it out (Hanlan's Point Beach; hey, clothing optional implies that clothing is an option). A bit hidden from the airport though you can see the planes go by. I stopped taking photos upon arrival as per the rules, though I discretely took a few of areas where there were no people around,  Interestingly probably due to slightly windy weather, this was also the only place I saw swimsuited sunbathers today as well.  I returned to Chelsea (or Manitou) Beach and relaxed there for a bit, then returned to the Hanlan's Point area. There I just missed a ferry by 4 minutes so I wandered a bit and got photos of the airport. I finally got the Hanlan's Point Ferry back to Jack Layton Ferry Terminal.

[NOW: The airport is Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport.]

I wanted to do the short streetcar ride from Queen's Quay Station to Union Station, but the former was closed due to the construction. With all the construction at Union it's a miracle that isn't closed as well. I walked over to Union Construction Site, er, Union Station and took the Yonge-University-Spadina line to Dundas Station at Dundas Square. People were sitting in a large number of cots as part of some Lotto 649 promo. Across the street at Eaton Centre the preacher from Sunday was giving another speech. Walking north I visited Hairy Tarantula (comics; upstairs; sign not visible heading north), NDJ Books, One Million Comix (there you could see Not Just Condoms across the street; to repeat a joke I made last year, "But wait, there's more!"),  Eliot's Bookshop, ABC Book Store (bought DVDs), Sunrise Records (on Yonge just before Bloor).

[NOW: The Yonge-University-Spadina Line is now also called the 1 Line. NDJ Books was closing down when I visited this year.]

Turning west onto Bloor, I dipped briefly onto Bay for Bay St Video, Continuing west along Bloor, I visited Labyrinth (comics), BMV Books, Book City, Seekers Books, Queen Video (got DVDs), Sonic Book Records (Honest Ed's complex on Bathurst), The Beguiling, Suspect Video (the latter two also attached to Ed's on another side), Honest Ed's itself (tacky but fun Toronto icon celebrating its 65th anniversary by putting itself for sale; got DVDs).

[NOW: That Book City is now closed, though one a lot further west on Bloor has since opened up. Honest Ed’s is scheduled to close at the end of December 2016.]

I did the Tuesday deal at KFC next (not the best tasting KFC) and then visited Doug Miller Books. They have a cute rabbit there. I took the Bloor-Danforth subway train to Dundas West Station and got a couple DVDs at Movie Art Decor, then walked east to my friends' place. I dropped off my DVDs then walked east to see the hours of various laundromats which I'll be needing soon. I also went to Zoinks! (books and DVDs) but it was closed for the day. I did make it to High Tech (games and some DVDs) just before they closed, I also checked out a discount store at some point during this last walk, though the name escapes me. I returned to my friends' place.

[NOW: I returned to the above KFC in 2014 and the chicken tasted better then. The above rabbit is Bumpkin. The Bloor-Danforth line is now also called the 2 Line. The discount store was probably Super Pawn]

Eastern Canada Trip 2013 Day 5 Monday September 16 Toronto

This is the fifth of a series of posts dealing with my third trip to Eastern Canada. I’ve made minor corrections to these reports. Also, I’ve added additional thoughts with the hindsight of a year later or to add further clarification.  These are indicated by “NOW”.

Last night I walked around the block before turning in. Those three women the whole time kept spraying their legs and the room with some obnoxiously fake fruit spray. Well last night they finally ran out of that crap. I pretended to sleep but was smiling on the inside, even though there was still enough to smell it. I checked out of the hostel but stored my bags there.  I walked north along Spadina and then took a 510 streetcar (all transportation today Toronto Transit) to Spadina Station.

[NOW: The hostel, Global Village Backpackers, is now closed.]
I took the Bloor-Danforth subway line to Dufferin Station, then did my eastbound walk that I had been missing this trip. Fun walk. However, my favourite fast food location, the two-storey McDonald's across the street and thus with an excellent view of the Royal Ontario Museum had been demolished. So instead I ate breakfast at the McDonald's on Bloor East.

[NOW: The Bloor-Danforth line is now also called the 2 Line.]

I decided to do something I had never done before: I walked north on Yonge St from Bloor St. En route I passed a cemetery; across the street from the cemetery there were banners advertising Evil Dead: The Musical. The walk was a lot of fun, so much so that I walked the full way to Sheppard Centre (to get a sense of the distance, go to Google maps, set to Pedestrian and put in Bloor & Yonge and Sheppard Centre (or Bloor and Sheppard), At the Centre I bought the Japanese cut of The Toxic Avenger.   I skipped a less interesting and uphill area by taking the Yonge-University-Spadina subway line from Sheppard-Yonge Station to the north side of Lawrence Station and then did the same walk south along the other side of the road, making it to Eglinton Station. Just before I visited Vortex Records, Film Fest (gone), and a branch of BMV where I bought a second edition zombie guide, having bought the first edition from a BMV earlier.

[NOW: The Toxic Avenger purchase was at Sunrise Records; that branch is now closed. The Yonge-University-Spadina Line is now also called the 1 Line.]

I took the Yonge-University-Spadina train to Bloor Station, switched to the Bloor-Danforth line, west east one stop by mistake, doubled back and took to Spadina, and then took the 510 streetcar to meet my friend Aidan at Richards, overshooting a stop. I also met his friend Ann or Anne. Their chosen burger place was too pricey (Priest) so while they were in line i bought lunch from the Queen and Spadina and actually ate it all before they got out of line. We walked to a nearby park. Don't know the name.

[NOW: The park is St. Andrew’s Playground.]

I took another streetcar (506??); east on King; I actually saw Aidan and Anne outside my hostel but didn't have time to shout bye at then. I took the Yonge-University-Spadina line train back to Eglinton and resumed by south walk, with a stop at Book City. I took the Bloor-Danforth line to Keele; my phone died for a time. I took the 98 bus a short ways to Dundas W, and explored the Junction there. Pandemonium (books/DVDs) was gone from its old location. I bought a pop at Dollarama, found the new location of Pandemonium, passed the role-playing game place from last year (gone), visited Pawnbrokers West next door. Big Daddy's DVD was briefly closed, so I went to Book Exchange and Dencan Books before returning to Big Daddy;s, now open again. I bought some DVDs and a blu-ray; briefly couldn't find my weekly pass which was a scare.

[NOW: The streetcar was a 504.]

I walked south a block and took a 26 bus to Jane Station and visited Red Nails II (comics) and 2 for 1 movies around the coner (only 8 movies for sale, Hollywood types, no prices). Back to Jane Station, I took the Bloor-Danforth line to Spadina, another 510 streetcar to the hostel to grab my stuff, then the 510 streetcar back to Spadina Station, then Bloor-Danforth train to Lansdowne.

I walked to my friends Dave and Jan's place. Dave was in but not yet Jan. Their cat Evelyn was formerly feral and a bit spooked by the camera. Jan showed up, we had dinner, and we finally got the cell phone working again. While I've been typing this Evelyn has been putting in appearances and playing with my luggage.