Saturday, August 28, 2010

Centennial Post

When I first began toying with the idea of starting my own blog, I shied away from it, primarily because I couldn't imagine what I would blog about. I was inspired to blog largely by my best friend, Mart, who had started his own(now defunct) blog before me. His blog was largely about his personal life and his family. I recall musing aloud to him in an e-mail once that, were I to start a blog like his, a typical post might read something like "Went to work again today. Nothing new or interesting happened. Went back home and spent the evening as usual." (Admittedly, this hypothetical post was conceived during one of my more sullen, cynical moments). How amazing that, having finally opted to actually try my hand at blogging, I find myself at my keyboard this evening, tapping out my centennial post!

Yes, Dear Reader, in the 22½ months since I started this blog, one hundred posts have sprung from the mind and the fingertips of The Halmanator. That's the equivalent of over a thousand Twitter tweets!

I've made a point of attaching labels to each and every post, right from the very first. You can see them at the bottom of this, and all my posts. Click on one of the labels, and you'll get a list of all the other posts to which that same label is attached. My initial reason for doing this was to give readers who enjoy any given post a quick and easy way of finding other posts on a similar topic or with similar moods or themes. I soon discovered a secondary benefit to doing this, however. tracks the number of posts with which each label is associated, and this makes for some fascinating statistics. Before proceeding, let me clarify that the stats which you are about to review do not include this post, as I've not yet attached any labels to it at the time of this writing.

The label which is far and away my most prolific, being attached to 65 of my 99 prior posts (just a smidgeon short of two out of every three) is "humor", and that is well. My primary intent in maintaining this blog has always been to amuse and to entertain, with an emphasis on "amuse". To steal a line from my favorite musician, Mike Oldfield, "It's something that makes you feel good, because there are enough things in the world that make you feel terrible." That, first and foremost, is what this is supposed to be.

My distant second place tag is "Personal" (41 posts). That's just under half. Like many people, I suppose I like to talk about myself. More to the point, I often like to connect personal references and observations with whatever it is that I'm writing about, in order to show my reader why the subject has meaning for me.

I have to admit that most of my regular readers are personal friends of mine and I like to think that, through this blog, some of them have perhaps gotten to know me better. When I write, my target audience, the reader whom I picture in my mind, if you will, is a stranger who doesn't know me at all. I have the odd (and sometimes unsettling) ability to conveniently forget, while I'm blogging, that my writing will be read by friends and family. Because of this, I've caught myself writing things that I wouldn't necessarily say to a close acquaintance, friend or family member. It's a round-about way of opening up. It may also be, in part, that I'm subconsciously emulating Mart's blog, which was pretty much 100% personal, to some degree.

In third place, we have "Editorial", connected to 33 posts; exactly one third of them. I really never meant for this blog to become a soap box. However, I have do have strong opinions on a number of subjects and I simply cannot stifle myself when I feel that something must be said, not that I suspect anybody really cares what The Halmanator thinks. Happily, I'm not well-known enough to seriously offend anyone.

Interestingly, fourth place is a tie between "Politics" and "Work" (15 posts each). "Politics" is strongly linked with "Editorial". Many of my editorial posts involve politics, and therefore carry both tags. The fact that "Work" figures fairly prominently probably has a lot to do with me having been laid off late last year. Losing one's job is never easy, and it was pretty much the first time that it had really happened to me, so I exorcised my demons through my writing. In this way, "Work" became tied in with many of my "Personal" posts.

In fifth place we have "Music" (10 posts). I'm a great lover of many different kinds of music. It relaxes me when I'm tired and lifts my spirits when I'm sad, worried or fearful. My wife and I like to spend between 30 and 60 minutes most evenings doing nothing other than reclining in our easy chairs and listening to music. It's not just background noise to us; we really listen, taking in each note, each lyric, each nuance. I suspect that not many people do this anymore. I think that more people should try it.

I won't dwell on the tags whose number of uses can be counted on the fingers of both hands (except for music, I suppose) other than to note that there are a large number of tags that appear only once. These tend to be very specific, such as "Bettman", for example. I mentioned Gary Bettman in exactly one post (Whoops! Make that two!) and I wouldn't give the man the satisfaction of wasting a lot of ink (or, in this case, bits) on him.

Having posted 100 times, I consider myself an experienced enough blogger to offer sage words of advice to any fledgling bloggers or to those who may be contemplating starting blogs of their own and have stumbled upon this post whilst still deciding on whether or not to take that Great Leap.

First of all, know your purpose. Whether your blog is to revolve around a theme or whether it is to be more random in nature, such as this blog, be clear about why you're blogging. To paraphrase a line from Oliver Stone's Talk Radio, "The world is listening; you'd better have something to say." Do not attempt to make an easy buck by festooning your blog with ads. It only annoys your readers and I'm convinced that the only people who actually draw a large enough readership to make any kind of money from people clicking ads on their blogs are celebrities. Scott Adams is one example, and even he admits that the income that he receives from internet ads on his blog is negligible (by his standards, anyway).

Have some idea of how frequently you intend to post. Will it be daily? Weekly? Monthly? At random intervals? Posting frequently can be difficult. It can be hard to keep thinking up new and interesting topics. While you may have a handful of ideas at the start, ask yourself how easy it will be to think of more once you've used them up. Ask yourself how much time you can realistically devote to blogging. It's not uncommon for me to spend between one and two hours composing a single post. (I proofread and re-word a lot). How frequently can you afford to spend that kind of time on your blog? On the other hand, if your posts are too infrequent, your readers may get tired of seeing nothing new and stop returning. If you review my previous posts, you'll find that I usually tend to post once a week. That works well for me.

Use a stat counter to track your visitors so that you have some idea who's reading your blog. I use, which is free as long as your blog is getting less than 250,000 hits per month and, if you're getting that many, you can probably afford to pay for the service. (Also, if you're getting that many, you may disregard my advice about not putting ads on your blog).

Don't get discouraged if you have few or even no readers at first. It will take time for people to find your blog and not everyone will enjoy it enough to keep returning regularly. After almost two years of blogging, I'm just a shade under the 250,000 monthly hits that would put me over's "pay" threshold (I get about ten to fifteen hits per day on average), but I also know that I have about ten regular readers, and some of them are people whose identifies I have yet to deduce. A few of them may quite possibly be people whom I don't even know. I like to think so.

If you're just starting out, a good way to get people visiting your blog is to spread the word among friends and family. Word of mouth is a wonderful thing. I have a tagline beneath my signature at the end of every e-mail that I send which advertises this blog. It serves as both an invitation to those who have never visited by blog, as well as a gentle reminder to those who have visited before but may not have checked back for a while. One of the things that tells me is how people are finding this blog (i.e. where they're coming from) and this has confirmed that several people have come here by clicking on the link in that tagline.

Finally, there are a number of widgets out there that you can attach to your blog and the posts therein which help people to spread the word if they like what they see. The "Share" button at the end of this and all of my posts is a good example of same.

I'd like to close by thanking my readers, once again, for sticking with me. If nobody were reading this blog, it would no longer exist by now. As every late-night radio announcer knows, everyone who talks likes to know that somebody is listening. If you like what you see here, or on any other blog or website, do the author a favor and spread the word. I also encourage you to post comments. Feedback is a powerful motivator, and a great way to say "I'm listening, and I'm interested in what you have to say."

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Fountain

My local grocery store has a bargain bin full of cheapie DVD movies. It's one of my personal weaknesses. I simply cannot go to the grocery store on even so simple a mission as acquiring a loaf of bread and a bag of milk without being drawn, as if by some invisible, irresistible force, to the DVD bargain bin.

Being a "bargain bin" after all, most of the offerings therein tend to be of the variety that a regular video store couldn't give away, including such titles as "Old Yeller - The 'You Shot My Dog' Edition" and "Barrie the Barber - Uncut".

You can imagine that such stimulating titles as that tend to stay in the bargain bin for week after week after interminable week, so it's not as though I'm likely to find anything new from one visit to the next. I know this. My rational intellect explains this to me each and every visit. Yet my feet stubbornly insist on moving toward the DVD bin, almost of their own accord, because one never knows what bargain-priced gems one might uncover if one but digs deeply enough into the bowels of the collection. (Let me take this opportunity to assure my fellow shoppers that I do tend to make the DVD bin my last stop, as I'm not so thoughtless as to handle food intended for human consumption after immersing my hands in the ick of some of the titles to be found therein).

In my own defense, I have rescued a handful of palatable titles from the quagmire in my day, and have even uncovered the occasional, albeit rare, gem. It is most likely this that keeps me going back. Ever the optimist am I. Still, most of the titles that I've acquired in this manner are passable at best.

The store management, having apparently entered into a partnership with Satan, have deviously priced their bargain bin movies at $7.99 apiece, or two for $10.00. This means that, should I happen to stumble upon the occasional title that actually interests me, I invariably feel compelled to include a second selection, because it apparently makes more sense to me to shell out an extra five dollars for a title in which I have little or no interest than to pay an extra $2.99 for something that I actually want. It is in this manner that I came into possession of "The Fountain".

"The Fountain" (© Warner Brothers, 2006) directed by Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream) and starring Hugh "Wolverine" Jackman (X-Men) and Rachel Weisz (The Mummy), is not a movie that I particularly craved for my collection. I'd never even seen it before purchasing it, nor had I even so much as seen a trailer. I only purchased it as a "second" to bring down the price of something else that I actually wanted from $7.99 to $5.00. Still, the cover artwork and the short write-up on the back cover sounded mildly interesting, so I decided to take a chance. Here's how the writers of the jewel case copy sought to tantalize me (please feel free to read the following aloud in your very best "Don LaFontaine" voice):

"Yesterday, today, tomorrow. Past, present, future. Through time and space, one man embarks on a bold 1000-year odyssey to defeat humankind's most indomitable foe: Death.

Hugh Jackman plays that man, devoted to one woman (Rachel Weisz) and determined to protect her from forces that threaten her existence. His quest leads him to a Tree of Life ... and to an adventure into eternity."

Sounds fascinating, no? A "1000-year odyssey" certainly sounds epic! The reference to the "Tree of Life", combined with still shots of Hugh Jackman dressed up as a Spanish Conquistador conjured up images in my mind of Ponce de Leon and the mythical Fountain of Youth. Yes! That must be what the "Fountain" in the title refers to! The bit about "one man, devoted to one woman (being) determined to protect her from forces that threaten her existence" sounds disturbingly "chick-flicky" but, no matter, mayhap this might entice my better half to watch the movie with me.

Having since watched to movie, I'm reminded of a scene from "The Simpsons" in which Bart, Milhouse and Nelson" see "Naked Lunch", apparently mistaking it for an adult film, and emerge from the theatre some time later, looking very disappointed. Nelson quips "I can think of at least two things wrong with that title!". After viewing "The Fountain", I shared Nelson's sentiments. I'm not certain exactly what the titlical "Fountain" refers to, but I can state categorically that there is no fountain to be seen anywhere in the film. Not a one. Not even so much as a lawn sprinkler! Well, okay, there's a sort of pool of water with a tree growing out of one end of it, but it's not what I would call a "fountain" by the strictest definition of the word. This is just the first, and most obvious, indication that "The Fountain" is to be anything but straightforward. On the up-side, it's certainly no chick-flick either.

The movie begins, promisingly enough, with Hugh Jackman, as a Spanish conquistador, in an South American jungle with a band of his fellows, preparing to infiltrate an Aztec pyramid on a quest for ... we don't know what at this point, but it seems to have to do with a woman (perhaps a queen?) and a ring. Predictably, a trap is sprung and the hapless handful of Spanish soldiers find themselves surrounded by hordes of Aztec warriors. Equally predictably, Jackman's "stalwart" companions immediately turn tail and run, leaving him to face the horde alone. He, of course, puts up a valiant fight, taking out several warriors before being relatively quickly overcome. Somewhat formulaic so far, but good, solid "guy" fare nonetheless.

Rather than killing him immediately, as one might expect, the Aztecs prod him to climb the pyramid, which he of course does (no doubt thinking "Well why didn't you say so? That's what we were going to do anyway!") only to find an Aztec priest awaiting him at the top. The priest inserts a ceremonial dagger into Jackman's abdomen, crying "Death is the road to awe!" (why don't you try it yourself if you think its such a trip?) and then, just in case the dagger doesn't do the trick, swings a flaming sword, at his neck.

Jackman cries out (well who wouldn't?) except that, suddenly, he's no longer a conquistador. No, he suddenly finds himself as hairless as Patrick Stewart, sitting in a lotus position, floating amidst the stars inside of a giant glass bubble which appears to be racing toward a giant nebula and which contains a large tree. It is at this point that one begins to suspect that this movie may be better appreciated after ingesting your favorite mind-altering substance.

Approaching the tree, the monk-like Jackman reaches out to touch its trunk, which appears to be covered in fine hairs, not unlike the hairs found on human skin, which seem to stand up as if drawn toward his outstretched fingertips. He whispers something inaudible to the tree, then scrapes off a bit of its bark and eats it. Suddenly, a woman appears who looks remarkably like the one who sent him on his Aztec quest. He asks her what she's doing there. She beckons him to take a walk with her, and the scene changes again.

Now they're in a modern, 21st century home. Jackman now looks much more contemporary having regained a full head of hair (but not the conquistador's beard). He is a young doctor, we learn, and he is summoned to a lab where a Reese monkey is being prepped for brain surgery. The nature of the monkey's ailment is not made clear, but it is clear that his chances of survival are not good. A sudden flash of inspiration causes Dr. Jackman to inject the monkey with an extract from some exotic Guatemalan tree. Predictably, the monkey later makes a miraculous recovery.

I certainly don't want to give away any spoilers for those of you who may be intrigued enough to see the movie at this point so let me just summarize by saying that the rest of the movie continues to jump around between Spanish conquistador, 21st century and cosmic space bubble. Along the way we follow several seemingly disjointed yet strangely connected plot points involving a wedding ring, a dying star and an unfinished book. The only constants are Hugh Jackman, the woman (Rachel Weisz) and, of course, the ubiquitous tree. The overarching storyline involves the quest for immortality.

While I certainly wouldn't rank it among my top ten, or even top one hundred, favorite movies of all time, "The Fountain" is not what I'd call a bad movie; just a bewildering one. I suspect that another viewing or too may reveal subtleties that I missed the first time around. The fact that I'm willing to endure same in the interest of finding out if I'm right is probably the best testimonial I can give the work.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


"...Neither be cynical about love, for in the fact of all aridity and disenchantment, it is perennial as the grass."

- From the Desiderata (Anonymous)

It's summer and, most anytime one ventures outdoors in my neighborhood, the drone of a lawnmower can be heard somewhere. That's how people in southwestern Ontario spend their time during the summer, especially on weekends; tending their lawns.

Lawn care was never one of my favorite chores. Some people seem to enjoy it. There are some who absolutely obsess about their lawns. One elderly lady in my neighborhood spends hours literally crawling over her lawn, plucking each unwanted dandelion by hand. I swear she keeps a pair of hand clippers on her person with which she trims any blade of grass that has the audacity to stick up more than a quarter of an inch higher than its peers! Her lawn looks immaculate, to be sure! Golf courses envy her. However, I for one just can't bring myself to devote that kind of time or energy to grass. After all, it's grass! It's supposed to look after itself.

It doesn't help that I'm horticulturally challenged, to put it kindly. I actually have, in my personal library, a book entitled "Lawn Care for Dummies". Mind you, it's a fascinatingly informative book. Did you know, for instance, that Kentucky bluegrass isn't something that you play on a banjo? Who knew?

The book also goes a long way toward easing the consciences of those of us who admit to less-than-perfect lawns.

"A completely weed-free lawn is impractical, if not impossible," it consoles. "Go take a look at the best lawn in your neighborhood. Take a real close look, on your hands and knees if necessary"

(uh, scootch over a bit there, will you Mrs. Martin?)

"What do you find? Some weeds? Now back away from the lawn, and what do you see? The weeds are gone, at least to the naked eye."

Okay, let's review. What have I learned so far?

  1. Even the best lawns have weeds.

  2. If you don't look too closely, you won't even see them.

Cool! I think I can close the book right there. Just ignore the weeds. Works for me.

Wait a minute! On my lawn, I can still see the weeds, even when I back off! In fact, I think I need to get up close and personal with my lawn in order to spot the odd healthy blade of grass! Don't blame me, though. It's the government's fault.

The Ontario government irritated the heck out of many suburban home owners this year by outlawing cosmetic pesticides. In their defence, they only acted out of a concern for public health. See, chemical pesticides pose a serious health risk, especially to young children and pets. At least, Ontario's control-freak premier thinks that they might pose a serious health risk. No scientific studies have ever shown any confirmed correlation between pesticide use and health problems of any kind. I, however, can categorically state that, ever since the pesticide ban took effect, I've noted a marked improvement in the health of young dandelions and grubs all over my property.

I also have to concede that the provincial government has shown some flexibility on this issue. For example, the pesticide ban does not apply to agriculture, forestry or golf courses. So... we can't put weed killer on our lawn, because it might be unsafe, but go ahead and spray it all over the produce that goes to our supermarkets for human consumption. And, while public health is important, let's be reasonable! This is golf we're talking about! Let's keep our priorities straight, shall we?

Okay, this is starting to sound a bit "editorial" now, and I promised myself I was going to lighten up a bit this week. Reviewing my last couple of posts, this blog has been getting far too serious for my taste, lately. This is supposed to be fun!

Hey! I just found out about another cool book that I must add to my library...

No, I haven't read it yet. How'd you guess?

Monday, August 2, 2010

The End Of Money

When I was younger, and much more idealistic than I am now, I used to imagine how wonderfully Utopian our world might be if we could only do away with money. Imagine a world in which nobody has to pay for anything. Everyone contributes according to their talents, and takes only what they need. Crime and poverty are non-existent. People are more fulfilled and happy in their work, because they do what they enjoy and what they excel at, rather than what pays the most. Gone is the society in which a privileged few enjoy obscenely ostentatious lifestyles while the unfortunate live in unspeakable poverty. Everyone enjoys a lifestyle that's comfortable, but not extravagant.

Before I go all John Lennon on you, let me assure you that I fully understand why such a system could never be. One problem is greed. There will always be those who crave the lion's share; those who, for some reason, feel entitled to more than the rest. The other problem is laziness. There will also always be those who want to enjoy the fruits of others' labor without contributing themselves. In order for my Utopian society to work, everyone would have to make a genuine effort to contribute to the best of their abilities and learn to be content with a common standard of living.

On the other hand, it seems to me that we may be evolving to a version of my money-less society. I rarely use cash anymore. Almost all of my payments are either by debit card or through on-line banking. I likewise almost never receive cash either. My employer pays me by automatically depositing my salary into my bank account. There's not even a cheque to deposit. I can see society moving to a point at which all transactions are electronic and no actual money ever changes hands at all.

This ties in with my recent post about money having no intrinsic value in and of itself. First, we did away with the gold backing the cash. Now we're eliminating the cash itself. In a sense, you might consider an electronic commerce system as dealing in "points" rather than cash. Each of us receives 'X' number of "points" for whatever contribution we make to society, and we use those "points" to acquire the things that we need and want. The "point" system gets us around the problems of avarice and sloth. It's not exactly the Utopian society that I imagined in my younger days, but perhaps is as close as we're ever going to get.