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Most of the month has passed and is past, but that's all the more reason to get on with posting about the last one.
Sean Stewart, Mockingbird
Lois McMaster Bujold, CryoBurn
Samuel R. Delany, Stars in My Pocket like Grains of Sand (reread)
Little reports:

CryoBurn has the worst of Bujold's titles (much worse in my estimation than it would be without wiki-style BumpyCaps), but it is one of her better books -- not one of her best, but good enough that I am satisfied with it, as the first new novel in one of my favourite series since I started reading it in 2003.

Astute readers may notice that Stars in My Pocket is the only novel assigned in my class that I reread in full as it came around, in addition to reading it in preparation. This was necessary because I wrote my long paper on it, but it would have been even for the class conversations, because the book is so ambitious and dense with detail.

(I want to talk more about my class, and how it went, and I'm not sure that I will, but I'm marking my intention here in hopes that it will galvanize me regardless.)

This is all a bit vague and fragmentary because I am tired. I am writing in bed in a small, aging farmhouse in Ontario somewhere which belongs to Joanne's grandmother, typing on the internet because it's the future; we flew into Ottawa around the solstice to see her family, and drove out here for Christmas proper. (Her parents, with startling generosity, gave me several science fiction novels and a tiny video camera.) It's my first time hanging out in the part of my country home to more than half of its inhabitants (I'd slept in Toronto once and eaten dinner in Windsor another time, but on neither occasion really stopped to look around), but due to an illusion of scale -- the city I usually live in being more densely populated than anywhere I've stopped -- I have been able to avoid being provincially overawed. I am more daunted by the more local culture shock, the polite, slippery mass of family tradition not my own (but maybe it will become mine).

I am here because Joanne and I agreed after the summer that we didn't want to spend weeks at a time apart from one another ever again in the foreseeable future, which I guess is one of the more active definitions of family. She is in arm's reach of me instead of time zones away, chortling and exclaiming over a non-fiction book. She just told me about Skara Brae, a ruin in Scotland of a 5000-year-old settlement where they had locking doors and sophisticated furniture. I am always excited by places like this, where we have the gross physical record of civilization but no direct linguistic record. It expands the historically possible.
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The student-directed seminar instantiation of my class is looking more and more likely. My thinking about it is starting to infect my negotiations of academics more generally, examples from science fiction novels cropping up in the paper on gender identity (I'm supposed to be) working on right now. Not entirely by coincidence, I've been especially interested lately in reading fiction that lends itself to that sort of analysis.
Elizabeth Bear, By the Mountain Bound
Charles Stross, The Jennifer Morgue
Ursula K. LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness (reread)
Maureen F. McHugh, Mission Child
Samuel R. Delany, Dhalgren
China Miéville, The City & The City
Months are long sometimes! I remember those first two books but not as things that I've been reading recently; the back of my mind puts the LeGuin through the Miéville in a block together and expects those to fall somewhere nebulously before. Anyway, I'm just going to say things (at more or less length) about the last three on the list, but I could expand on anything if someone were curious. (Have we been here before?)

Mission Child is my new favourite McHugh. I've only read one other before but I don't care.

I used to think of Delany as a novelist that I admired more than I enjoyed, but now on the basis of the last two I've read he's turning out to be one of my favourites. I first heard of him when an online quiz suggested that he was which science fiction author I was, which would have been in 2002 or 2003, since I remember writing about it in my weblog; so, in the tail end of my teenage. At that time I picked up Dhalgren, bounced off it within a couple of pages, and came away with this impression of what it was like: a plotless prose-poetic experiment detailing a series of mysterious encounters between an unnamed protagonist and a series of equally opaque others.

Turns out that's not what it's like at all! Even though it would be easy to describe it that way. It's full of undreamy specificity, a post-apocalyptic story exploring the way that, in the wake of civilization-collapsing calamity, the people still there immediately reconstitute civilization, as they work out consciously and publicly how to live together. There's a lot about being an artist and a lot about being an artist's creation: there's one strange occasion on which the protagonist interacts directly with Delany, which I would have thought self-indulgent if anybody described it to me, but which comes across both deft and creepy. There is a lot of creepiness; the book is partially also a kind of horror story in which the horror is not being able to trust one's own memories or perceptions. On the back-cover blurb it's described as a work of "American magical realism", which I'm not sure is accurate or is not an oxymoron; but it might be magical realism by Jo Walton's taxonomy, which holds that fantasy has internally consistent laws by which magic operates, while magical realism has magical things take place because they are emotionally appropriate to the moment. One of the things that Delany does with that is to build up a sort of vocabulary of associations with certain recurring images, so that there's a sense of the frightening and/or the numinous about them despite our never understanding what they actually imply is going on. This is difficult to explain without examples, but the examples on their own, isolated from the rest of the text, probably wouldn't carry enough weight to make it any more explicable. Anyway, I really liked it.

The City & The City was just nominated for the Hugo, which doesn't surprise me. (It's nice to be a little ahead this year! I already had a hold on Boneshaker, too. Of course I don't end up reading everything I take out of the library, so don't be shocked if it doesn't show up here.) It felt very Hugoish, by which I mean that it was built around a clever speculative premise that was essential to the plot, intelligently explored, and such a new and yet such an obvious story element that after you've read it it transforms in a small way your conceptual vocabulary. The specifics of the plot are well-enough done, but it's the elaboration on the central idea that kept me fascinated. It made me think a lot of Judith Butler -- it's about the performativity of nations, how they're socially instantiated and in that sense real, but at the same time things that could be troubled and disrupted by performing differently, which is precisely why there are such strong socially punitive reactions to those who begin to do so.

Which could lead me rather suddenly on a tangent about nationalism more generally, with reference to the recent proliferation around here of enormous Canadian flags and to Stephen Harper's distressing tendency to respond to criticism by saying that "Canadians don't care about that," but it's late and this here is a long enough entry for now, so I'll content myself with mentioning the possibility and go to bed.
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Happy year! 2010 semiotically speaking has acquired increasingly dystopian associations from a Canadian perspective, but maybe semi-omnipotent aliens will turn Vancouver into a tiny sun. Actually that wouldn't really help.
George R. R. Martin, The Armageddon Rag
CJ Cherryh, Destroyer
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison (reread)
Dorothy L. Sayers, Have His Carcase (reread)
Dorothy L. Sayers, Gaudy Night (reread)
CJ Cherryh, Pretender
CJ Cherryh, Deliverer
Sara Ryan, Empress of the World
Somewhere in the middle of the month there I was evidently taken over by the urge to read about Harriet Vane for a while. I had forgotten what a lovely and assured prose stylist Sayers was, particularly in Gaudy Night, which in its own quiet way I think might be one of the best novels of the 20th century. I would like to read it together sometime with Pamela Dean's Tam Lin, with which it has a surprising amount in common (so perhaps it's not surprising that I should like it so much).

Speaking of Pamela Dean, I read The Empress of the World on her recommendation. There is something about both of the principals being women that breaks down my detached resistance to romantic tropes in a way that's very pleasant. (But the romance in this was not mindless or uncomplicated, and I've kept thinking about it since.)

When Rachel was here I introduced her to cryptic crosswords, which she got good at much more quickly than I did back when I first started. In the process of some incorrect speculation we came up with our own clue, "Editorializes to the trees. (6)"; later I encountered in a published crossword a very similar clue with the same answer, but I like our wording better. It is possible that we are nerds.

I've got out of the habit of linking things I write from this weblog, in part because I write things to link (or for that matter entries from which to link) so relatively rarely these days. But I did write a song and a poem I'm pretty happy with in 2009, so there's no reason not to get around to mentioning them.
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Kate Beaton's Steven Harper looks somehow much more Prime Ministerial than he does in the real world; I think it's the Diefenbaker jowls.

So, it's election time! I am going to assume the reader's general familiarity with Canadian politics, because I am more interested in complaining than in educating, and it's kind of late. A day in first-past-the-post is a day for thinking about strategic voting; with less than eight hours to go before I'll be riding down to our polling station, most of which I'll presumably spend sleeping rather than deliberating, I'm still not sure which way to go. As faithful readers may recall, my MP was kicked out of the Liberal caucus about a year ago over allegations about campaign finance irregularities (for which I understand that he was later acquitted). After a while as an Independent, he recently joined the Green Party, as a result of which you may recall that Elizabeth May was able to participate in the televised leaders' debate. (Yes, I live in that riding.) Since this is the only riding with an incumbent Green MP, it seems like it's likely one of those ridings in which the Greens stand the best chance of getting someone voted in, so it's not a useless vote; plus, I am more persuaded by their platform than I am by anybody else's; and really, I have this slightly ignoble interest in keeping Blair Wilson around just so that I can see what he does next.

On the other hand, this is traditionally a riding closely split between the Liberals and Conservatives; I think that Wilson won it by less than a thousand votes, out of about fifty thousand cast in 2006. So although it's possible for those who dare to vote Green to get a Green candidate, it seems rather more likely that we'll split the vote just enough to get a Conservative. Back on the first hand, though, I hate choosing for that reason. I'd like to resist the tendency toward two-party systems as much as possible. Although Stephane Dion is definitely my preference of the two likely candidates for Prime Minister (and I think that he'd be not just relatively but objectively a good one), a while ago he was widely quoted as having said that "a vote for the NDP is a vote for the Conservatives"; and while I don't know the precise context in which he said that, it seems pretty clear that he didn't follow up with, "and therefore our voting system is obviously defective and as Prime Minister I'll make it a priority to fix it". (Ms. May, by contrast, mentioned during the debates that one of her first acts, were she to become Prime Minister, would be to implement some form of proportional representation. Yes, this is in her self-interest as a third party leader, but it's also in the interest of voters, so don't the other leaders feel at least a little embarrassed?) It is a traditional Liberal tactic to try to scare me into a compromise vote this way; even if that didn't irritate me, I do try to make a general rule of taking the more dangerous but more potentially rewarding way out of prisoner's dilemmas, which in this case means voting for candidates, rather than against them.

But the Georgia Straight thinks that I ought to vote Liberal, and Elizabeth May herself arguably agrees. I do think that a Conservative majority would be rather terrifying, and another minority still pretty deletirious. My conscience remains divided.
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Tuesday was Canada Day (Canada!), and Monday was the 100th anniversary of the Tunguska Event. Friday is my mother's birthday (also, America Day). Today is the day on which I tell you guys what I've been reading.
Diana Wynne Jones, Howl's Moving Castle (reread)
Sean Stewart, Firecracker (American Title: Perfect Circle)
M. T. Anderson, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume 1: The Pox Party
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1: Okay, here's an entry.
A. S. Byatt, Possession
Steven Brust, The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars
Laurie J. Marks, Water Logic
Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn
(Steven Brust actually has two middle initials. He just chooses not to use them.)

So I managed to be kind of responsible, though not as much as this list might imply, because a bunch of that time not spent reading was spent doing stuff like visiting Rachel and watching television. (Surprisingly impressive shows that I am currently in the middle of watching for the first time: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Princess Tutu, and Farscape.)

2: I wonder whether word is starting to get around, yet, among people who weren't at either of the shows so far, that La La Boom Boom is good? Because they're really good. I mean, not just by the standards of people one happens to know.

At their show on Friday the band invited me to stand next to them while they played and shake an egg-shaped shaking instrument. I was really nervously ambivalent about this (which probably didn't look at all like a big deal to anybody else in the room), but I'm glad that I did it, because it was a lot of fun.

3: Am I the only Canadian who likes having elections?
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I've written reports on Spook Country and The Screwtape Letters for J. et. al, and on The Privilege of the Sword for Brendan alone.

My sister had a story picked up by the Globe and Mail! (I unfortunately can't link to it online because apparently one has to pay for it.) It's all about how the little northern city she's living in now is a hotbed of immorality and disease. You might be able to read many more scandalous details about her experience there right now, if she had yet got around to setting up the weblog she talks about. She says that the main thing preventing her is that she can't think of a good title/account name, and is apparently not amenable to my solution of putting in a very basic placeholder title and never bothering to come up with a better one. (Hey, if it worked for Windsor House...) "Why don't you put up a call for title suggestions on your deviantart or something?" I suggested a couple of weeks ago on the phone. "Why don't you do that?" she riposted, somewhat illogically. "The people on your weblog seem like they would be good at that sort of thing."

So here you go. Does anyone have a good title idea for my sister's hypothetical blog which, if she likes your idea enough, she might feel motivated to start? Her name is Tess and she is a 21-year-old newspaper reporter who will probably be especially amenable to suggestions drawn from Tegan and Sara or Be Good Tanyas lyrics.

The other day I saw the tail end of a Conservative attack ad against Stephane Dion. I haven't been paying attention: is there going to be an election? Our local MP -- the only winning candidate I've ever voted for -- just resigned from the Liberal party amid allegations of campaign finance law violations (is it a sign that I'm used to BC politics that I'm not even really upset about this? At least he didn't switch parties immediately after being elected), so I wonder who they would find to run instead.
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I don't have a great deal of faith in Stephen Harper as a leader; back when he was leader of the opposition, I thought that most of his arguments were outright bizarre, and I've never heard of an important political position making someone saner. I remember, though, in my Canadian Politics and Government class, learning that Prime Ministerial hopefuls have a tendency to campaign to curtail the enormous power of the office, and then, when they get in, completely forget to do that, because the power is much too useful. So it's pretty impressive that he actually seems to be doing it after all.

("I worked with Stephen Harper for five years and never once did he, in that time, eat a baby," he told the newspaper.)

Yesterday passed through, got late and ended much sooner than I've been used to, all of the reasons for which are probably variants on "I'm back from Japan". I'm jet lagged, and recuperating; I got up later than I have been, and didn't have any larger schedule of the day to conform to; I'm in an environment that doesn't require a great deal of consideration or concentration for me to interact with. Here are some things I ought to do before much more time surprises me by passing:
  • Finish my Buddhism reflections journal, two very short essays, and a website showcasing pictures of animals, so as to properly complete the academic portion of the Japan program.

  • Start looking for a job.

  • Shop some more for my sister's birthday. Actually, I did that yesterday. (In addition to which I brought her a stuffed Totoro from Japan.)

  • Start partaking of the advantages home has over abroad (other than my own computer), especially including the company of people I know here who aren't in my family. I miss you guys!
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Wouldn't it be cool if it turned out that David Emerson actually were Stephen Harper's worst enemy -- if he were a mole, working to topple the new government from within? He would have to stand by, to hear himself called oathbreaker and worse, and offer only the most facile of justifications, because to truly defend himself would be to blow his cover, and undo all his careful work. He would do it for his country, and cry only in private.

Alas, it doesn't seem very likely.
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I got up early this morning to get a ride down with my mother to vote, and so I am very sleepy today; it's a little unsettling how much quietly harder that makes it to think. I have this vague idea of my mind and my identity as things that exist and operate without usually being bothered much by physical constraints; that it's possible, and even the normal way of things, to be so perfectly clear-headed that I'm hardly there at all. I know, when I consider it, that this isn't true, but it's strange to be reminded how completely.

I don't think I've talked to anyone who isn't conflicted about how they're voting today; there are a lot of dilemmas, prisoners' and otherwise. In the case of my most central dilemma, I'm still not sure that I made the right choice, though I've been thinking about it for weeks. But it makes me cheerful to have done, even so; for some half-rational reason, voting is a lot of fun.
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A couple of days after Christmas, Blair Wilson, the Liberal candidate for my riding, came to our door. He introduced himself to my mother and asked her name, at which point she panicked, and shut the door in his face.

"What was your impression of him," I asked, "In the brief moments before you shooed him off?"

She pursed her lips. "Used car salesman."

We live in a very populous riding, though. If he means to personally visit every home in it, I'm pretty impressed.
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I find the French language much less irritating now than I used to. A lot of this is for weirdly patriotic reasons.

I believe my reaction to the Rita and the Cold Man timeline is best described as 'fanboying'.

Also, Rachel is awesome.
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I have an idea. Why don't you guys tell me in what ways I'm a dork?

Today we went to see Tess formally graduate from the Lucas Centre, which was neat for the Tess aspect but kind of strange to me, otherwise. There was a restrained quality to the atmosphere, and a sense that everyone was speaking and clapping only when they were supposed to, and a little bit listless for it; even the small attempted transgressions seemed tame and rehearsed. A lot of platitudes, and a lot of imposed homogeneity. I'd last been in that same space for Helen's retirement party, so the contrast was very pointed, and kind of surreal.

I am very happy with my country today.
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So, Stephen Harper is now trying to amend the bill, in, he says, two ways. First, he wants to get rid of the part where gays can marry.

(...but formally acknowledge that it's okay for them to have some separate but equal form of civil union. Why don't this - and the other argument, advanced by many thoughtful people, that governments should retreat entirely to civil unions, leaving the marriage business exclusively to religious authority - seem like a satisfactory solution to me? Mostly, because I think that marriage is, at this point, a secular institution - like Christmas, but much less conflicted about it. Atheists get married all the time, and when you see someone rejecting the institution, it's much more likely to be for its cultural implications than its religious.

Mr. Harper's amendment here, of course, would leave the legal and civil recognitions of marriage in place, and as such would actually restrict those churches as want to from marrying (with authority) homosexual couples, at least as far as I can tell.)

Secondly, he wants,
Amendments to strengthen protections for all those who refuse to be associated with same-sex marriage, not just for religious leaders asked to solemnize such marriages.

Which I still don't understand. It sounds suspiciously like people want the "right" not to see a couple in wedding rings kissing on the bus, which to me is pretty difficult to justify.

A while ago, another Conservative (Vic Toews, the opposition justice critic) gave a few examples of what they're apparently thinking of. The first was federal marriage commissioners who don't want to perform same-sex marriages, which I have very little immediate sympathy for; it seems to be that the marriage commissioner's job is to administrate civil marriage policy - to behave as the government's agent, not an autonomous authority on the propriety of a marriage. I don't imagine that, if you're a marriage commissioner and your sister walks in with a fellow you think is incredibly wrong for her, you're allowed to refuse to marry them; similarly if you're Catholic, and asked to marry a divorcee*. A policeman has the right to refuse to enforce a law he believes is immoral, but I'm pretty sure that he exercises that by resigning; as far as I'm aware, the same, here.

(*Unless I'm remembering wrong, and Catholics don't disapprove of remarriage. Someone does.)

After that, he talks about a church that is being sued by a lesbian couple, because it wouldn't rent its building out for their wedding (presumably, they will rent it for weddings in general). This seems a little more reasonable to me - it seems like the church's perogative - until I imagine a situation where the church similarly refuses to allow the use of its property, because it disapproves of an interracial wedding. It seems like if one is justified, then so is the other, so, I'm not entirely comfortable with any of the options. I don't think that this situation would be particularly improved if the church could argue that the women's activity was not nationally legally legitimate. Also brought up is
A person who offers a marriage preparation course for a Presbyterian congregation but is reluctant to advertise it in the community because he might have to open it up to gay couples.

It seems like this guy has an obvious recourse, which is to say, "I'm sorry, but I only offer preparation for Prebytarian weddings, which you're ineligible for." Unless Presbytarians have one of the churches which are willing to marry same-sex couples, which kind of seems to be between him and his

Agh! I'm late for class!

Later: ...and his church.

Mr. Toews also said,
"What we are seeing is a consistent pattern... Whenever equality rights and religious rights collide, equality rights trump."

I think, though, that what's actually happening here is that a positive right is trumping a negative; the right to participate in this societal institution is more important than the right to have no contact with behaviour that upsets you. Especially considering the provisions already in place to avoid forcing folks into active participation, I think this is just fine.
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The Liberals tabled their same-sex marriage legislation the other day. (In Windsor House nomenclature, to 'table' something is to put it aside until the next meeting, but apparently in Parliament it can be very nearly the opposite.) Wikipedia has a neat page charting how each MP is likely to vote; it reminds me pleasantly of A Civil Campaign.

Speaking of good books, apparently Diana Wynne Jones has a new one coming out this April. Yum.

I finally have a Langara bus pass this month; no more need I hesitate to go somewhere, or just wander around, because it will cost me money. It's surprising what a joy and a relief this mobility is, especially as the weather (cold winds notwithstanding) strives increasingly toward Spring. Soon - another month - there will be cherry blossoms. Already the air tastes wonderful. Perhaps sometime soon I'll get on the skytrain and ride it the whole way around, or get off somewhere I never have before; old enthusiasms waking anew.

Argh

Jan. 20th, 2005 03:04 pm
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"...Paul Martin wants to impose same-sex marriage."

No, he doesn't. How does he want to do that? I've seen no indication that the proposed legal change would make such marriage mandatory; not even for religious institutions, which (certainly according to the Supreme Court) will continue to have to right to refuse to perform marriages to whomever they please. It's not even like the legality of smoking, which forces me, every once in a while, to take some of someone else's unhealthy choice into my lungs; the extent to which it will probably chafe a few people that the government acknowledges the validity of a moral standard other than their own can only be termed an imposition in the loosest sense. Are they being intentionally misleading?

This entry is about how Stephen Harper made me politically grumpy enough to complain about it in my weblog.
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Oh, I should get around to telling you guys what my school schedule is going to look like. Thanks to Marilee for politely explaining that I ought to be using the search function which told me whether a class was full (this is one of the reasons this list is not identical to the list of prospective classes I posted a while ago).

Read more... )

I wonder what I ought to bring to these classes? Presumably I'm expected to provide my own paper and writing implements; are there other canonical 'school supplies' I ought to be aware of?
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I'd heard a few mentions of Barack Obama, so the other day I followed a link to a transcript of a speech he had given. He begins by talking about his childhood and his heritage for a while, and in here he drops a few rather extravagant mentions of how cool he thinks America is.

But my grandfather had larger dreams for his son. Through hard work and perseverance my father got a scholarship to study in a magical place, America, that shone as a beacon of freedom and opportunity to so many who had come before.

...

My parents shared not only an improbable love, they shared an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation. They would give me an African name, Barack, or ”blessed,” believing that in a tolerant America your name is no barrier to success. They imagined me going to the best schools in the land, even though they weren’t rich, because in a generous America you don’t have to be rich to achieve your potential.

...

I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that, in no other country on earth, is my story even possible.
(My emphasis.)

And so on for a little while. I read this with a feeling of mild distaste, waiting for him to come to the statements he believed in, but I wondered how it would read to the proud Americans that I know. Is it commonly accepted that, as I assumed, this sort of hyperbole is a political formality, etiquette demanding that any statement of "we have some improvements to make" (which he does go on to say) must be preceded by "of course we already live in by far the best place that has ever existed, but"?

Or is there a general belief that this is at most only slightly overzealous, that these oft-repeated American ideals really are American realities, and that in no other country in the world can your average person expect to be treated with fairness and respect?

(I noticed a couple of people in the recent Canadian election speaking as though Canada had some inherent greatness, and I assumed there, too, that this was really a sort of politeness, like they were calling the whole public by a particularly gracious honorific. For myself, there is nowhere I have seen that I would rather live than Canada, and I have a quiet but surprisingly deep fondness for the place, but I have never found myself composing inner paeans to it in the abstract, if you see what I mean.)

Mr. Obama also on a couple of occasions is sure to make it clear that he's Christian, and my general (limited) impression of American politics leads me to believe that this almost certainly is a political formality (regardless of whether he really believes it), something that he feels compelled to include because if he does not, the things he really wants to say will be dismissed. If the nationalistic remarks are indeed the same sort of thing, then I wonder why it is considered necessary that a politician adore his country with such unusual fervor. It doesn't seem to me like it would be bad to have someone in charge somewhere who is more vociferous about his love for people in general than his nation in particular.

The second part of my Otakon report remains upcoming.

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Andy H.

February 2013

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