Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Happy 25th birthday, PC Engine!

On this day in 1987, my favourite video game console of all time was released in Japan.

The NEC PC Engine celebrates its 25th birthday today, and I in turn celebrate the many years of enjoyment the system has given me.

Released to compete against Nintendo's Famicom system (itself modified for the North American and European markets and released as the NES),  the PC Engine was Japan's top selling game console until finally losing ground to the Super Famicom some years later.  It was also the first home gaming console to have a CDROM attachment (albeit at a price - $400 CDN when it hit our shores!), which allowed for bigger, better, and more technically advanced games while also lowering production costs.

PC Engine games were released until 1999, when the last title, Dead of the Brain, was released.  The system retains a cult-like following (myself included) and remains one of the most sought-after platforms in the collector's market.

"Wait a second, CJ," you might be thinking, "I've been around since the NES days.  Why have I never heard of this system before?"

Well, my friend, it's probably because you're one of those people who only accepts what is waved in front of your nose and needs to be told what to buy, or you're totally ignorant of things outside your own particular culture.

Just kidding!

Truth is, if you've been around, as you claim, since the NES days (or further back, to the Atari/Intellivision/Colecovision/Vectrex/LeisureVision days), you probably have heard of the PC Engine.

In 1989, to compete with Sega's new Genesis console, NEC released the PC Engine in the North American and European market as the TurboGrafx-16.

Unfortunately, it wasn't much competition on these shores.  Despite largely being the dominant console in Japan until the early 90s (trouncing the Sega MegaDrive and Nintendo Famicom), poor marketing, horrible localization/censorship of Japanese games, and worse third party support relegated it to second-tier status to the domestic gaming public-at-large.

My own history with the console began in 1991.  We'd received a Sega Genesis for Christmas the previous year, and my friend Jason was in the market for a new console to replace his aging NES.  I'd shown him the Genesis, but he was leery of the Sega brand (unlike me, he hated the Sega Master System) and was curious about the new TurboGrafx-16 we'd seen advertised on TV.  I admitted to knowing nothing about the "Turbo", apart from what I'd read in the popular (and biased) gaming magazines of the time.

We went to the one place in Winnipeg where the machine was sold: Compucenter in St. Vital mall.  They had both a Genesis and Turbo on display - the Genesis was running Altered Beast, while the Turbo was running the appallingly-named Keith Courage in Alpha Zones.  After playing 'Beast and chatting with the salesman about upcoming games, and with the local video store now renting Genesis titles, Jason eventually decided on the Genesis.

Not long after, Radio Shack began selling the TurboGrafx-16.  Being my go-to place for computer stuff (I was a Coco 3 enthusiast), I was confronted with their Turbo display every time I walked in.  When the second wave of Turbo titles were released, I was subjected to games such as Bonk's Adventure and Devil's Crush.  They looked alright, but they still didn't touch the Genesis, and you couldn't rent Turbo games anywhere.

I remained curious, even played Bonk's Adventure a couple of times in-store.  The $200 price tag turned me off, and the $400 price tag for their vaunted-but-rare CDROM attachment didn't sweeten the deal.

One day, shortly after the release of the Super NES, the new Radio Shack flyer announced a price drop on the Turbo console:  $99, and you can pick TWO FREE GAMES from a limited assortment in-store.  Needless to say, I was sold.  Payday couldn't come quick enough!

Once I got the unit home and played a few rounds of Keith Courage, I was seriously underwhelmed.  "No wonder this thing is losing the Console War," I thought, "this game SUCKS!".  I took the game out of the system and vowed never to play it again.  I popped in one of the two free games I got with the machine, China Warrior, and played that for a while... "Good LORD, this game is worse!".  However, things changed when I got to the third game... Legendary Axe.

One of the few games ever to receive a perfect 10/10 rating from Electronic Gaming Monthly (one of the most biased and editorially corrupt magazines ever), Legendary Axe kept me occupied for weeks.  I picked up the aforementioned Bonk and Devil's Crush not long after, followed by a few dozen more games over the next couple of years.

In 1993, during my brief  "I need to grow up" phase, I sold off most of my video game collection... including the TurboGrafx-16.  NEC had handed their domestic console division to a new company called TTI, which tried and failed to keep the system relevant.  First-party support was gone, and the console as such had no future on these shores.  The only way to stay current was to join the truly hardcore Turbo fanbase, and devote myself to importing games from Japan.  I'd need to learn at least a little Japanese, and had to be willing to take a chance on unfamiliar games without knowing anything more than the title.  "More trouble than it's worth," I thought, and I soon gave up on the system and sold it.

In 1996, I discovered emulation.  A few years later, I was able to play all the old Turbografx-16 and Japanese PC Engine games on my computer via emulation.  By this time, I'd learned a bit of Japanese - enough to be functionally illiterate - and decided to give the system another look.

In 2002, flush with cash left over from buying my house, I finally bought a Japanese PC Engine.  I went whole-hog and bought a PC Engine Duo-R, which combined the PC Engine and the CDROM attachment in one console.

My PC Engine Duo-R, in need of a good cleaning

Ten years later, the system still sees near-daily use... from the occasional ten minute round of Galaga '88, to a few hours of Dungeon Explorer or Dracula X, to multi-week sessions of the system's many excellent RPGs.  With nearly two hundred games in my collection as I write this, and with more arriving every month, I suspect my PC Engine will be entertaining me for many years to come

Akumajyou Dracula X: Rondo of Blood
An excellent game that is not rare by any stretch, but still really overpriced..

Yesterday, I briefly considered resurrecting the video game section of Conceited Jerk Dot Com or starting a new video game blog altogether, but I don't really have the time for such a huge project (enthusiasm notwithstanding).  Besides there are already hundreds of established video game blogs and related Youtube channels on the net... why do one more?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Tale of Entitlement (conclusion)

CJ's note:  This post is dedicated to Brian Gilchrist, who reminded me several months ago that I hadn't concluded this story from this time last year.  As it turns out, I'd inadvertently deleted the post from my drafts folder, but thankfully the events that inspired the whole yarn are still fresh in my mind.  Since the day is dragging here at Moron Industries, I decided to finish the story off.

Part One can be found here, followed by parts two and three.

The following is a true story I just made up.

I was poring over the computer parts section on eBay when the boss called over from his desk, "Shaun, line two is holding for you."

CJ: Shaun speaking, how may I help you?

SP:  Hello, Shaun.  This is Nancy, the branch manager from Snailspace Express.

CJ: Hi Nancy.

SP: We're still trying to figure out what happened with Turnip Brothers yesterday.  Are you available to meet this afternoon?

CJ: I should be, if you'd like to pay us a visit.  We can talk to our shipper and sort out our stories if you'd like.

SP:  When would be a good time?

CJ:  3pm would work best.

SP:  I'll see you then.

At 2:55, our counter sales guy came up to my desk.  "There's a scary looking lady asking for you at the front."

"She's early," I thought, "how unlike Snailspace..."

I walked over to the front counter, where an older lady in a red coat was waiting.  She reminded me of the school principal from the movie Uncle Buck, without the mole.  She had her game face on.

CJ: May I help you?

SP: Good afternoon, are you Shaun?

CJ: Shaun Wheeler, Inside Sales.  Nancy, I take it?

SP: Yes, I'm Nancy Rinckelsbottum, manager of Snailspace Express.  Do you have a moment?

I nodded in the affirmative, and led her to our shipping area, where I introduced her to Ken, our "shipping department".

SP: I'm still a little unclear as to what happened yesterday.  I've had two different stories from my own people, and one from the customer at Turnip Brothers Mining and Smelting.

CJ:  Well, I received an order from Jimbob at Turnip for some parts he needed on a direct shipment.  The order was written up and filled, and sent to the shipping area.

Ken: Yes, I had the order packed and ready to go within fifteen minutes.

SP: What time did the driver arrive?

Ken:  Steve arrived not long after.  He got pissed off when I told him he couldn't fill his giant coffee mug, and he stormed out of here without the package for Turnip Brothers.

CJ: Did you call after him?

Ken: No, I didn't notice the package on the counter until ten, fifteen minutes later.  By that time, he'd already left.

SP: Did you call dispatch to let them know?

Ken: No, to be honest.  We got really busy back here, by the time I thought of it, the customer had already called looking for the stuff.

CJ: That's about when I got involved.  I spoke with Jimbob, and he called you guys to send the driver back.

Ken: And he never showed.

SP: He never showed up?  At all?

CJ & Ken:  Nope.

SP:  Our dispatcher told us a driver had been dispatched at 1pm and again 4pm, because the parts weren't ready.

Ken:  Oh no, they were ready.

CJ: In fact, Jimbob had left specific instructions to ask for me personally, per my suggestion, when the driver arrived.  And nobody did.

SP: Okay.

CJ: In fact, I waited around until quarter to six last night, and arrived early at 7am just in case the driver came while we were closed.  I kept an eye out for him, and nobody came.  Jimbob picked the parts up himself this morning, bitching that he'd been charged for several pickups that were never made.

SP: That corroborates what the customer is saying.  Do you, by chance, have surveillance video?

CJ: No, I'm afraid not.

SP: Okay, well, I guess that's all I need for now.

CJ:  If there's any more you need, please give myself or Ken a call.

After a brief tour of our branch, Nancy left, seemingly on a mission.

A week later, I got a call...

CJ: Good afternoon, Moron Industries, Shaun speaking...

JB: Hi Shaun, it's Jimbob.  I'd like to place an order.

Jimbob placed his order and asked us to hold it for pickup.  Remembering the unpleasantness from the previous week, I asked him which courier was picking up.

He laughed.

JB: I've switched over to ButtonFly Courier, they've been pretty reliable.

CJ: Ever get things sorted out with Snailspace?

JB: Oh yeah, they ended up crediting us for the four attempted pickups.  Their manager has been in here a couple of times to win the business back, but I told them basically to fuck off.

CJ: I can't say I blame you, given what happened.  Did they ever figure out what happened?

JB: Apparently they hauled the driver out onto the carpet and grilled him.  They figured out he was lying... He'd actually made pickups in other parts of the city at the times he'd claimed to have been at your location.  Apparently it wasn't the first time they'd had issues with this guy.

CJ: Shit...  anyways, I'll get the guys to pull your order.  Have a good one.

JB:  You too, thanks.

So, ol' Supertanker Steve was canned.  I felt a tad guilty at first, since it was my idea to limit his consumption which lead to the freakout and denial of service in the first place... I gave Ken the news.

Ken:  I'm not surprised.  The guy was an asshole.

CJ: Yeah, but really, what were we out by letting the guy fill his mug?

Ken:  It's my responsibility to make sure there's always coffee for the customers and drivers.  I have to run all the way upstairs to make a new pot, and at my age (CJ's note - he's 62!) it's pretty exhausting.  Frankly, I don't have the time to keep filling the damned thing what with all the work I have to do.

CJ: Yeah, I know, but I still feel a bit guilty...

Ken:  Don't!  I've been wanting to say something to him for a while, but didn't think I had the authority.  I was just waiting for someone to tell me I could...

CJ: Well played, old man, well played...

The preceding story is fictional.

Rather, it was an amalgam of several incidents that played out over the course of my 11-year career here at "Moron Industries".  There really was a "Supertanker Steve", however the real-life "Steve" was quite gracious when we asked him to limit his coffee refills, and was a really friendly guy.  He retired due to health issues in 2008, and is a regular reader of my blog.

Other drivers weren't as gracious, some being downright nasty, when cut off.  We had many arguments with drivers over the "free coffee" which led to the coffee pot's temporary removal a few years ago.  The day I wrote the first installment of this story, we'd just had a blowup with a customer's pickup driver (not an actual courier) over the coffee.  He stormed off in a huff, forgetting the package he'd been sent to pick up.  He did come back a half hour later, without having to be called, feeling rather sheepish.  It was this event that inspired this tale of entitlement.

What bugs me, to this day, is the fact that there's a Tim Hortons location in our parking lot.  If they needed a coffee fix, it's just a 20 second drive away.

Both Frieda and Nancy from "Snailspace" were modelled on real people as well.  Frieda was based on a courier dispatcher I dealt with when I first started at Moron Industries back in 2001 as a warehouse guy/shipper/receiver.   She had the worst disposition ever.  Nancy was based on a particular freight salesperson who used to visit us regularily.  She was all business, no nonsense, and you were always looking to stay on her good side.

My boss has always said "We could write a book about this place", and after writing this small story, I'm convinced he's right.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Blog Action Day: The Power of We (conclusion)

Thank God I'm done.

And thank you for putting up with my disjointed and oversimplified ramblings about things I experienced on TV, radio, books, and Wikipedia.

At the time of this writing, it's 9:21pm.  I have been blogging about the Power of We for over twelve hours.  Apart from a walk to 7-Eleven and a couple of bathroom breaks, I've been sitting at this keyboard all day.  I missed a lecture by a famous architect that I wanted to attend.  Not how I pictured myself spending the last day of my vacation.  And what did I get out of Blog Action Day?

Did I bring about change?

Was it positive change?

Did I win?

No, no, and no.

I was never really out to win.  I don't think one can "win" Blog Action Day (I got a couple of retweets for my efforts, though!), and despite participating nearly every year, I don't think one can truly bring about real change by participating.  One can bring raise so-called Awareness of an issue, but I have a number of problems with the current use of that word Awareness in social media and activism... problems I will detail in an upcoming post.

At any rate, I'm not entirely happy with my efforts today.  They weren't bad, but know I can do better.  I dusted off the Prague Spring draft a couple of weeks ago, along with the outline I'd done for Seasons of Change.  But I sat on it until this morning, and the work suffered.

Such is life.

So, what about this Power of We?

I sum it up as follows:

We have the power to effect real change in our lives and situations, but we need to have the courage and the will to speak up.

We need to have the fortitude and strength of conviction to speak louder if we are not heard, and to act if need be.

There is always strength in numbers.

And finally, though the winds of change may blow, they don't always smell pleasant.

Viva la revolucion!

Blog Action Day: The Power of We (part four)

"But just like over there, getting rid of the crooks and turning things around for real will probably require a revolution. Let's hear it for revolution!  The kind of revolution that the people of Romania, Czechoslovakia, and Nicaragua thought was impossible until they actually went out and did it!" - Jello Biafra, If Voting Changed Anything...

The Changing of the Seasons, part four:  Nuclear Winter

One of the things I remember most from my childhood was watching the news.  In 1981, from my privileged vantage point as an eight-year old observer, I got to watch history unfold live on TV.

I never saw coverage of Pope John Paul II's 1979 trip to his native Poland, but being barely six years old at the time, I wouldn't have understood its later significance.

Two years later, however, I got to see the first signs of the fall of Communism.  I got to watch millions of Polish workers organize to form the first non-Communist trade union, the Solidarność trade union, and the government's subsequent declaration (and eventual failure) of Martial Law to stamp it out.

At eight years old, I was just past the Age of Reason.  I began to question.  I asked my parents what was going on, and they did their best to explain it to a mind ordinarily preoccupied with Star Wars toys.  Much like Star Wars, it all came down to good guys against the bad guys.  Only I wasn't quite sure which one was which.  Aren't the army the good guys?  If it's "happening all the way over there, a long ways away in Poland", why is there a Solidarity flag by that big church? (At the Polish club on Main St. at Mountain Ave, kitty-corner to the Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox church)

I watched day after day.  I learned words your average eight-year old shouldn't need to know if he isn't affected by the events: Solidarity, martial law, repression, communist, hunger strike, Lech Walesa, and later, Mehmet Ali Agca...

This was my first conscious experience of the Power of We.

I saw a lot as a kid.  The Iran hostage crisis; the wars in Afghanistan, Central America, and Iran/Iraq; turmoil in Lebanon; assassinations; assassination attempts on the Pope and Ronald Reagan; car bombs killing yankees in Rome; the rise of groups like Hizbollah and Islamic Jihad; the worsening of US/Soviet relations; the bombing of Libya; Korean airliners being shot down; everything.  My favourite homework assignments were the ones involving current events.  But even as a bright elementary school kid, I knew deep down that things were very, very wrong in the world, and had a sense that things might come to a head.

Looking back at the 80s, it wasn't hard to see why the world teetered on the brink of nuclear war.  It didn't help when our own (Western) governments and media engaged in a new Nuclear Red Scare.  We were treated to nuclear holocaust movies such as the UK's Threads, and the US film The Day After.

Thankfully, in 1985, it all started to come to an end.

In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev became the head of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union.  Ushering in systemwide reforms like Glasnost and Perestroika had unintended consequences which (while I won't get into them now as it's getting late) led to political liberalization and a weakening of Soviet control over its republics and constituent states.

In 1989, with the stranglehold of Soviet rule loosening ever more, the people in the Soviet states began to rise up.  Poland was first, the workers reconstituting Solidarity, holding elections, and ultimately voting the Communists out.

On the other side of the world, public demonstrations took place in China in Tiananmen Square.  The bloody crackdown that followed made headlines around the world, and gave us some of the most iconic photos of the 20th century.

Hungary followed suit with reform and elections, voting the Communists out.  East Germany came next after a bit of resistance at the top, but ultimately lead to the symbolically important Fall of the Berlin Wall and subsequent German Reunification (and more competition in the Bundesliga).

After peaceful protests and a largely nonviolent revolution, the Communists in Czechoslovakia realized what was happening in other Soviet states and saw the writing on the wall.  A new non-Communist government was formed, and one of the figures of the Prague Spring, writer/playwright Vaclav Havel later became president.  The people celebrated in Wenceslas Square, named for St. Wenceslas, the patron Saint of Bohemia (and coincidentally, the saint whose name I took as my Patron upon confirmation).

Bulgaria came next.  The Communist government attempted to suppress popular dissent,  but soon relented...announcing it had abandoned power after a brief period attempting reforms.

Things in Romania weren't easy.  Leader Nicolae Ceausescu was determined to ride it all out, having recently been reelected.  The people rose up, Ceausescu ordered his Securitate forces to shoot to kill.  The army turned coat and joined the people, and the regime toppled.  I still remember seeing news footage of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu's bodies being strung up...

Other republics (Estonia, Latvia, etc) soon followed suit, and the Soviet Union was ultimately dissolved.  The Nuclear Threat was eliminated, and we were a couple of years away from the current terrorist threat.

But you get the idea.

The people took their destiny into their own hands.

This is the Power of We.

(to be continued)

Blog Action Day: The Power of We (part three)

"Rudi said 'We've got to get wise, and we've got to get armed'... Its a surveillance state operation, rich kid with a gun!" - Luke Haines and the Auteurs, aka Baader-Meinhof

The Changing of the Seasons, part three:  The German Autumn

The Power of We has its ugly side, too.

The protests of the late 60s weren't all flowers, beads, and peace, man!  They could get ugly.  Growing impatient due to a perceived lack of progress (or social change) of peaceful protest , and with authorities and governments cracking down (often violently) on peaceful protests, some groups of protesters took matters into their own hands.

Some groups, such as the Youth International Party ("Yippies"), resorted to civil disobedience, pranks, petty crime, and minor sabotage.

Other groups mobilized, grew more and more militant, got armed, radicalized, and attacked.

You've probably heard of such radical groups as the Weather Underground, the Symbionese Liberation Army, and the Black Panthers.  Many such groups existed or still exist, in some way shape, or form.

One that has always stood out for me was the Baader-Meinhof group, known by their formal name, the Red Army Faction.  Apart from my love of all things German, I was originally drawn to study the RAF by the writings of the group's half-namesake, Ulrike Meinhof.  While researching radical groups from the 1970s, I came across an article titled "The Urban Guerilla Concept", written by Meinhof and translated from the original in German.

I read the article.  Then I re-read it.  I was equally intrigued and horrified by what she had to say, what went through her head, how the group related (and responded) to their contemporaries in the "struggle".  I was so intrigued that, when I heard that her book Everyone Talks About the Weather... We Don't had been released recently in English, I hopped the first bus downtown to pick it up.

The book was a fascinating read.  It truly gave a sense of her (and later, the group's) reasons, motivations, and of the sociopolitical states of Germany(s) at the time.  It was certainly a lot different from other radical texts I'd read, from the disturbing Anarchists Cookbook, the near-comedy of Abbie Hoffman's Steal This Book, and the hundreds of poorly written textfiles I'd gotten from BBSes and the net.  These people were serious...

...and fucking scary.

I won't go into details as to the group's roots, motivations, and history (and those of its many offshoots and successor "generations"), suffice it to say, they were responsible for a wave of bank robberies, bombings, kidnappings, hostage-taking, and murder that lasted nearly thirty years.  The RAF's activities peaked in the mid-70s with the deaths of its founding members and the subsequent events of the German Autumn, with less and less activity in the following years.

What truly frightened me was that, at one point, the group had the approval and (tacit) support of a quarter of the West German population for a few years, identifying with their struggle against Western (American) Imperialism.

Condoning death, destruction, and extrajudicial killing in the name of social and political change.

What change was wrought?

Was it positive change?

Did you win?

This is the ugly side of the Power of We.

(To be continued)

Blog Action Day: The Power of We (part two)

"If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair" - Scott McKenzie

The Changing of the Seasons, part two:  The Summer of Love

Cold War interests notwithstanding, what really interests me is music, both as entertainment and also as a means of communication, of propaganda, of getting the message out.

As a young man, I was attracted to Punk.  It was loud, harsh, and in most cases, very political.  I was especially into the Dead Kennedys and through them, I discovered (former) lead singer Jello Biafra's spoken word albums.  Jello's frank talk on topics such as censorship, politics, the media, and activism are what inspired me to take up writing (and to attend the odd protest and public meeting)!  I started writing in 1994 and haven't looked back (although I have grown up a lot).

Before I discovered Punk, though, I was into Rap.  In my late teens, I'd gotten tired of the insipid crap they played on the Top 40 stations.  Sure, there were the oldies, sports, and country music stations, but there wasn't much out there that would interest a bored but searching teen.  I bought or borrowed a few rap albums, but nothing really grabbed me.  It seemed like it was the same pop crap repackaged for a different demographic.  That is, until I discovered Public Enemy.

Public Enemy were labelled "The Black Panthers of Rap", and with good reason.  Most (if not all) their material dealt with issues facing (and I hesitate to use this term) the African-American demographic: racism, poverty, addictions, slavery, and street gang activity.  The liner notes in one Public Enemy album summed it up best, "Rap is the black man's CNN".  PE turned me on to other similar acts, and it really opened my eyes to issues that really, in a so-called civilized society, should not still exist. 

I saw it for what it was: a rallying cry... although as a white man, not one particularily meant for me.  I cut myself adrift, and floated until I could find my own voice.  After a period of searching, I discovered Punk and subsequently the alternative music scene and ultimately, Lollapalooza.  This music drove my dad nuts, while Jello Biafra's spoken word material (particularily the political stuff) drove my mom nuts.

I used to joke that, over the course of my childhood, I was constantly subjected to their music, which in turn drove me nuts!

My parents were young-ish when I was born in early 1973.  Dad was almost 23, mom was nearly 20.  They grew up in the 50s and 60s, and naturally their musical tastes were centred around this era.  I grew up listening to corny songs about where in Philadelphia the hippies met, what to wear when travelling to San Francisco (flowers in your hair, apparently), and protest songs about how many were dead in Ohio.

As I got older, I began to realize that maybe these corny songs had a message of their own.  The more I listened, the more I reflected on events and sentiments of the era...  postwar consumerism, anti-authoritarianism, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, the Free Love movement, this cornball music was the hippies' CNN, galvanized during the Summer of Love and culminating in 1969 at Woodstock.

I realized these songs weren't just singing about events, they were inspiring events, motivating people, fuelling protests, and inspiring change.

It was the voice of my parents' generation, and a testament to the Power of We.

Blog Action Day: The Power of We (part one)

"The leaders' mistaken policies transformed a political party and an alliance based on ideas into an organization for exerting power, one that proved highly attractive to power-hungry individuals eager to wield authority, to cowards who took the safe and easy route, and to people with bad conscience.  The influx of members such as these affected the character and behavior of the party, whose internal arrangements made it impossible, short of scandalous incidents, for honest members to gain influence and adapt it continuously to modern conditions." - Ludvik Vaculik, The Two Thousand Words

The Changing of the Seasons, part one: Spring

It started, as it always does, with economic stagnation.  Soon followed political stagnation, then economic decline. 

Jobs were lost, the standard of living got gradually lower and lower, leading to mass poverty.

There was talk of reform.  The talk was quickly stifled.

We complained.  We questioned.

We were given no answers.

We demanded answers from the powers that be.

We were told to shut up.  Dissent will be dealt with harshly.

We contacted friends, who contacted friends, who contacted friends.

By radio, by phone, by samizdat, by social media, we organized.

We gathered.

We took to the streets.

We were told to go home.

We got louder.

We got noticed, by both the right and wrong people.

Friends and allies were imprisoned or disappeared.

Rights and civil liberties were taken away.

We were branded enemies of the state.  Agents of the West.

We marched on.

We got louder..

The crackdown came swiftly.  The rights that remained were stripped away.

With the world behind us, we fought back.

We bled, we died.

We wrought change.

But was it positive change?

Did we win?

The original title for this draft was Prague Spring, and it was to be the first part of a larger five-part work on political change.  I wrote it back in 1997, inspired by Jello Biafra, and it was to set the tone for a new online magazine I was planning.  As with most of my grandiose and overthought ideas, I realized I couldn't do it alone and sought the support of a few similarily-minded people I knew online.  It was a good idea, but internal squabbling over the magazine's direction lead to it being a non-starter.  The irony is, had I been willing to relinquish a bit of editorial control, listened to others' concerns and criticisms, and loosened up the subject framework a little, it would have worked... perhaps well.  Art imitating life?

A lot happened during the intervening 15 years since it was written.  First was the realization that I'd been confusing the 1968 Prague Spring with the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, which blows the whole "Seasons" theme to Hell if taken chronologically (you'll understand later).  They started out largely the same, had different levels of violence, lost the battle when the Soviets intervened, but ultimately won the war when Communism fell in the late 80s.

Second was my discovery of two more "Springs", in keeping with the seasonal theme.  The Beijing Spring of 1977, which was largely centred around freedom of speech, and the Croatian Spring of 1967, which started out as a means to preserve the Croatian language and evolved into a Croatian rights movement.  I won't get into these now, but will save them for a later installment.

Third were the events of the recent Arab Spring, which started in response to police corruption and brutality in Tunisia, and quickly spread to other nations in (and out of) the Arab world.  Thousands took to the streets to protest corrupt or brutal regimes, poverty, the standard of living, etc.

Dictators and leaders stepped down or fled.  Some were ousted.  Others, like Moammer Qaddafi, were killed.  But still others listened to the demands of their people, and conceded reforms.

Some battles were won.  Women in Saudi Arabia were granted the right to vote, regimes changed and elections held in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen.

Some battles are far from over, with Syria being plunged into a civil war, and Libya left in chaos.  Resolutions seem a long way off, and the fight continues.

So, while change has been wrought, and some of it positive change, did we win?

(To be continued)

Blog Action Day: The Power of We (Intro)

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it - George Santayana

When I heard that the topic for this year's Blog Action Day was "The Power of We", I was reminded of a magazine article I'd read some years ago.

Those of us old enough to remember Spin Magazine might also remember an "alternative" music festival called Lollapalooza.  It was the Woodstock of Generation X!  In 1992 (Good Lord, was it really twenty years ago?!), during the buildup to the event, Spin ran a "Lollapalooza Survival Guide", advising us disaffected and impressionable young adults what to wear, what to bring, and why.

One of the items on the list was deodorant.  Going through the whys and wherefores, the author of the piece (whose name escapes me) wrote something to the effect of "Your dreams of a unified front raising their fists in unison might seem like a good idea now, but wait until the wind changes!".

I remember laughing at the thought, until I realized the author was dead serious... and unfortunately, he or she likely spoke from experience.

I'm a history buff and, as my regular readers know, I am fascinated by different (and obsolete) means of communications.  But what many of you don't know is that I have also studied (informally, of course) military history and psychological warfare extensively, and I am also a collector of 20th century propaganda.

Such as this original Idi Amin shirt from the 70s

As a small kid in the mid-to-late 1970s, I was enthralled by the news on TV.  I experienced (second-hand) the turmoil and resulting paranoia of worldwide terrorist attacks, hijackings of airlines, bombings, Middle East tensions, hostage taking, OPEC and soaring gas prices, and the excitement of protest and revolution.  All of which continued (while I watched) into the 80s, then the 90s, then the new millennium, and continues to this day.

As a kid, however, I didn't truly understand what was happening right before my eyes.  All I saw was guns, planes, bombs, hostages, artillery, and most importantly, explosions... it was all just another TV (or alt-rock) show, and what a show it was!

It wasn't until much later that I learned about the human cost of the spectacle.

Today, as my Blog Action Day post, I'd like to share with you a multipart piece I started years ago entitled "The Changing of the Seasons".  I'll be posting throughout the day, following up with a post that ties everything (from Lollapalooza to propaganda) together in a relevant manner.

We'll be back after this commercial break...