Wednesday, October 24, 2007
You all know how I enjoy staging kids' theme birthday parties. Our family's all-time favourite theme is Super-Hero School, which we staged again last weekend for my youngest son's birthday. We've done this theme three times, once for each of our kids. Sadly, that means this was also our last chance to do that theme until grandkids come along.
In case any of you have desire and opportunity, here's the complete party plan:
Invite - our adventures in fantasy begin with the invitation. In this case, we designed it to look like a brochure from a local technical school.
Staff - you should have at least three people working this event. Both parents and an older brother or two works well. Ideally, all the staff should be dressed in super-heroic or mad-scientist garb.
Venue - a reception area plus lots of room to run around. The first time we did this theme, we held it in our house and backyard. The other two times we rented a church hall.
Decorations - superhero posters plus various print-outs of Zap! Pow! sound effects. Use as many as you like. I tend to decorate the reception area heavily but not bother with the running-around area.
Once all the guests have arrived and settled, capture their attention by flamboyantly welcoming them to the school. It helps to have some superhero theme music running in the background throughout.
Name Picking - have one bag full of superheroic adjectives ("Super", "Mighty", "Crimson" etc.), another bag full of nouns. It's fun to come up with your own lists, but if you get stuck I have templates I can send.
Slogan Practice - this part is pure ad-libbing and creativity. Work with the kids to come up with and rehearse a superheroic battle-cry appropriate to their name. My fave from last weekend's party was "Let's slice it up!" for the Blue Blade.
Costume Design - supply the kids with white t-shirts and an assortment of permanent markers. Let them go crazy coming up with their own costume. For added fun, you can also supply white eye-masks for them to colour. When they're done, help them put on their shirts, masks and capes (for capes, I just get a few yards of cheap, silvery cloth and cut it to the appropriate lengths ahead of time, then just safety-pin them on.)
Super-strength - make fake weights using styrofoam and granite-texture spray paint. Make a big show out of having the adults try and fail to lift them. Distract any kids who suggest the weights are fake. Give the kids some sort of power-band and let them take turns lifting the weights with ease.
Super-speed - issue the kids mini-fans and tell them they will boost their normal running speed. Then let them race.
Web-blast - Silly string. Moving target. 'Nuff said.
Flying Practice - a rebounder and lots of gymnastic-quality mats.
It's quite important to do Super-speed before Web-blast so the kids don't slip on the silly string.
"Graduation Banquet" - cake, Happy Birthday singing and presents. While this is going on, one of the adults should sneak off to a lap-top and a portable printer to prepare for...
Graduation Ceremony - play Pomp and Circumstance in the background. Give each kid an authentic-looking graduation certificate and their super-hero license, ideally with their picture on it. If you have time, also take a class picture and print out one for each guest.
As a rule, I don't do treat bags. Instead, I work the take-home items into the play. In this case, each kid should be sent home with his shirt, cape, mask, wrist band, mini-fan, silly string and certificates. With diligent dollar-store shopping, you can keep the take home items in the neighbourhood of $5-$8 per kid. That's not so bad considering that the items are also the party's main activities.
If you have to rent a hall and the gymnastics equipment, this party will cost you about $200 for about 10 kids. That's comparable to commercial parties like Lazer Quest and such, but unlike those run-of-the-mill events I 100% guarantee that guests will leave exclaiming "This was the best birthday party ever!"
If you are interested in staging this party and have any questions, let me know.
posted by Mentok @ 10:22 AM, ,
Thursday, October 18, 2007
You're lookin' swell, Dalai. You're still glowin', you're still crowin', you're still going strong.
OK, killed that gag.
It was nice to see the Dalai Lama honoured with the Congressional Gold Medal. The guy works hard and, for all his faults, he is a really great ambassador for Buddhism to the western world.
"For all his faults?" Oops, did I say that out loud?
Yeah, I'm sure it won't surprise long-time readers to learn that I'm such a cantankerous bastard that I even have mixed feelings about the Dalai Lama. But he's winning me over, and his statements yesterday helped.
You see, I'm a bit suspicious of Tibetan Buddhism in general. Buddhism is supposed to be a practical, sensible religion that avoids mysticism, superstition, meaningless ritual and religious vanity of all sorts. Yet Tibetan Buddhism is all those things, in spades.
Let's translate the situation into something closer to home for Westerners. Imagine that the Catholic Pope was also the King of Italy. Next, imagine that he was no longer selected on his merits through election by the College of Cardinals. Instead, when a Pope died, the cardinals would sit around for years waiting for a sign from God to tell them who the next Pope/King would be. Imagine that a cardinal had a dream that the next Pope was a small boy living on a farm in southern Italy, so all the cardinals piled into a bus and drove around southern Italy looking for the right farm. Then, when they found him, they would take the kid from his home, force him to take the job, refuse to allow him any personal life and spend the next ten years brainwashing him with Catholic dogma.
What a freakshow that would be, eh?
And then there's all those titles. Cripes, those Tibetans love their titles. 'His eminence' this, 'His holiness' that, and everyone and his dog from Tibet seems to like to use the (often self-proclaimed) title Rinpoche, meaning "Precious one." Guys, didn't you get the memo about being humble and suppressing all expressions of personal ego?
Then there's the whole Free Tibet business. Although I'm totally in favour of bashing the Chinese government, it seems to me that nationalism and Buddhism shouldn't mix. Nationalism, after all, is attachment. Who cares who rules what piece of land? Who cares if some monk-king is sitting in his castle or not? What matters is that the people of Tibet live in a Buddhist way.
To his credit, this is what the Dalai Lama is now saying and it was the focus of his speech yesterday. He is now talking about Tibet as being a semi-autonomous part of China. He has shifted his focus to fighting for the religious and personal freedoms of everyone in China, and that is a good and important fight to take on.
And don't get me wrong. The Dalai Lama is a good guy, no doubt. Contrary to popular belief, he wasn't selected as the Pope of Buddhism. He was chosen to be the secular head of government for a little theocratic country. Yet he has willingly taken on the job of fostering the religion world-wide, and that deserves much praise.
Speaking of deserving praise, George Bush, idiot that he is, deserves credit for his public support of the Dalai Lama. It might be the one truly, purely good thing the guy has done. It saddens me to think that Richard Gere, all the Hollywood Democrats and all the young hippies wearing Free Tibet t-shirts will nonetheless try to find a hateful perspective to the whole event. Quel dommage.
posted by Mentok @ 12:24 PM, ,
It's provincial election time where I live. As well, there was some threat of a snap federal election in Canada, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen yet. Also, I see that the campaign ads for 2008 have already started to run on American TV.
Times like this make me stop and think about what I actually believe about politics.
Of course, the simple answer to "what do I actually believe?" is "Not much." Long experience in the belly of the beast has left me skeptical of all political rhetoric, left and right.
But boil down my various stray thoughts on the issues, and it can probably be expressed in a couple of sentences:
Human beings are vain and over-confident. Our ability to fuck things up vastly overshadows our ability to do things properly.
So when politicians, left or right, come along and tell me, "We've got a bunch of great new ideas for the future!", my reaction is "Oh, Christ, not new ideas again. Heaven preserve us from the new ideas."
Why do we need to have new ideas every four years? That's hardly enough time to get the old ideas rolling, much less prove that they were bad ideas. Our society is like the ADD kid of civilizations. Why can't we try doing something consistently for awhile? Consistency: now there's a new idea I might actually support.
But consistency has its own dangers. Sometimes you have to vote the bums out just so they don't go getting lazy and corrupt.
The nice thing about our Western society is that the "new ideas" talk usually ends up being for show. The bureaucrats, gawd blessem, are usually too lazy and narrow-minded to tolerate new ideas. Many patently bad new ideas have been stopped in their tracks thanks to bureaucratic stubbornness. If only bureaucrats in the past had made an extra little bit of effort, had pushed the envelope and tried to be just a bit more lazy and stubborn, who knows how many tragedies could have been averted.
So here's my advice to voters: Vote for the same shit, different pile. Vote in different groups of politicians but don't vote for them until they promise not to do anything really different from the last group. Of course, they will never out-and-out say that, so you have to listen close.
posted by Mentok @ 11:05 AM, ,
Thursday, October 11, 2007
For those of you who don't yet know, I'm a magazine writer/editor. At parties, when people ask me what magazine I work for, I like to say: "I work for a publication called Gent: Home of the D Cup. Perhaps you've heard of it?" I especially enjoy saying this to a couple and then watching the deer-in-the-headlights look on the guy's face as he tries to formulate an answer that will neither incriminate him nor make him look naive. Fun!
No, I'm afraid my publications are very boring trade and professional magazines, nothing you'd ever find on a magazine rack. Nonetheless, I make my livelihood with words. Like all writers and editors, I have my own set of pet peeves.
Some of them are really anal, I know. For example, I have a very low tolerance for the split infinitive (e.g. "to quickly go to the store" instead of the correct "to go quickly to the store"). As I see it, infinitive verbs are meant to be one word. In most languages, they are single words (such as aller in French). It was just a linguistic freak accident that led English-speakers to use two words for this purpose. Would it make sense for a French speaker to say "al - vite - ler au magasin"? No, obviously that would be pretty fucking stupid. But we do it all the time in English and no one says boo about it. Some style guides even permit it these days.
OK, yeah, so you see, pretty anal, right?
On other matters, I feel more confident getting on my high horse. For some of the magazines I work on, I just edit submitted material rather than write it myself. The submissions typically come from intelligent, college-educated professionals, yet their writing typically is almost complete jibberish. In fact, that's how I think of it sometimes: "I'm not editing. I'm translating from jibberish to English."
One thing that really bugs me is the obsessive over-use of the passive voice by professionals of all sorts. It doesn't matter whether its cops, nurses, architects, engineers or civil servants. They all seem to think they sound smarter if they write like Yoda. One lovely "sentence" I handled today, believe it or not, was "The attachment of the boards is achieved through the use of nails." Bleh!
Of course, like any writer, I also hate buzzwords, techo-babble and bureaucrat-speak of all sorts. I've got a long hate list of these. The number one spot on my list varies over time. It used to be pro-active. For the last time, people: the opposite of reactive is active. Pro-active is not a real word and, if it was, it would be a real fucking stupid word because it would be totally redundant. Active already means active; you don't need to stick a "pro" in front of it to make it mean active again. Grrr!
But even pro-active doesn't bother me as much these days as the new darling bastard child of bureaucrat types everywhere: impacted. The illiterates who use this word must think it is just the verb form of impact. Impact, it should be said, is a great English word because it is so often used very artfully in metaphors e.g. "The full impact of the tragedy hasn't hit him yet."
But there's nothing artful about impacted. Its real meaning is "wedged or packed together", but pretentious types use it when they mean to say affected.
I actually saw a billboard, sponsored by the local nurses union, featuring that awful word: "Health care cuts: How have they impacted you?" What astounded me was not that a nurse would think of using the word, but that the copy-writers at the ad agency that designed the billboard for them let them get away with it. Incredible!
OK, so just for reference, here are the two examples when one might legitimately use "impacted":
- If you are an astronomer and you are talking about extra-terrestrial bodies like asteroids, e.g. "the asteroids became impacted after their collision."
- If you are talking about dentistry, e.g. "impacted wisdom tooth".
In Orwell's 1984, he tried to make it sound horrible that the fictional Stalinist regime was working to try to eliminate words. Given how routinely words are misused in our society, I think such a campaign would actually be doubleplusgood.
But enough of my rants. Do any of you have linguistic pet peeves you want to get off your chest?
posted by Mentok @ 3:21 PM, ,
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
I should say from the outset that, on the whole, I support globalization.
I know that sounds strange, given how much anti-globalization protest there is these days, and I'm sure there are some readers who'll want to tear a strip out of me for saying it. I'm not an expert, I stand to be corrected, but my understanding of economics is that countries generally benefit from the free movement of capital.
Further, I think that corporate globalization is an important (but sometimes unpleasant) phase in the eventual unification and pacification of the human race. When the day comes that the pension funds of Chinese workers are backed by investments in North American and European companies, and vice versa, the world will be a much safer and better place.
Still, while this may be an inevitable process of evolution, there are some days when it's hard to swallow some of the traditions that get killed off along the way. Today is one of those days:
Molson Coors and SABMiller have merged. The new company will be known as MillerCoors. The 221 year old Molson corporate name is dead.
On top of being my personal brand loyalty, Molson had become synonymous with patriotism in this country. A few years back they dominated the Canadian beer market with their "I AM Canadian" ad campaign, which featured a regular guy standing on a stage in front of Canadian flag, defiantly and humorously shouting a list of things that make this country special and different. The ads were so widely imitated and parodied that they could be a textbook study in viral marketing.
The merger between Molson and Coors a few years back was spun on this side of the border as being, effectively, a conquest by Molsons. The Molson name was out front. The Molson brand was going to grow beyond Canada and become one of the world's dominant brewing companies.
The current merger puts the lie to all that. Pete Coors is the new chair. SABMiller Prez Tom Long takes the job in the new company. No one with the last name "Molson" anywhere in sight.
Will this make a difference in any real way to me? No. I've long since lost those college-student taste-buds that once allowed me to distinguish differences amongst bland, generic commercial beer brands. The consolidation might even make my favourite brands cheaper, which would be good.
Plus, there's the whole historical / philosophical perspective. Stuff changes. You can't get attached to unstable things, such as who owns what. Traditions are important but they have to change eventually. Europe is full of rotting castles because the aristocratic families who once owned them can no longer afford to keep them up. The Earl of Sandwich has stooped to hawking subs in Texas. Time is a cruel mistress.
Still, I'll shed a quiet tear for the Molson brand today. And maybe toast it with a pint. Or two.
Here's the original Molson's Joe Canada ad:
This was Molson's follow-up ad. Fuck me but my eyes still well up when I watch this:
posted by Mentok @ 11:12 AM, ,
Monday, October 08, 2007
In the news over the weekend, James Blunt says there are times he wishes he wasn't famous.
Don't we all. Don't we all!
posted by Mentok @ 10:37 AM, ,
Thursday, October 04, 2007
It was Wednesday, but it seemed like Freaky Friday. The first post-pilot episode of NBC's re-imagined Bionic Woman was not just bad, it was surrealistically bad.
Long-time readers and real-life friends will understand what a disappointment this is to me. The new Bionic Woman is the creation of the people who brought us the new Battlestar Galactica, a show I unabashedly love.
Let me underline that last part. The new Battlestar Galactica is the smartest science fiction series ever made, full stop. More than that: BSG may well rank as one of the most important shows in TV history. The show stared unblinkingly into the ugly face of human weakness and used science fiction symbolism to great effect.
It handled deep contemporary and philosophical issues with a level of complexity and sophistication rarely seen on the boob tube. This is, after all, the series that carried off the 'know-thine-enemy' artistic coup of making North American audiences regard a suicide bomber as a hero, a feat with few parallels in TV history.
Bionic Woman started off with all the advantages BSG had. Same writers, directors, producers, many of the same actors and crew. Even the locations (Vancouver and area, natch) are the same and I wouldn't be shocked if they even recycled a few of the old sets.
And yet it is not the same at all. It is a pale, pathetic imitator. It made me think of those scenes in Freaky Friday in which, after the mother and daughter switch bodies, the daughter hopelessly attempts to imitate adult life but only succeeds in pulling off a string of cliches and transparent bluffs. It's as though someone has taken over producer/writer David Eick's body and is trying to fake his way through the show by using Eick's previous formulas but with none of his previous talent.
If this is what Eick's future holds, he should just pull an Orson Welles and spend the rest of his days doing talk shows, conventions and product endorsements.
The only thing I kinda enjoyed about the show was the irony of a show about a half-robotic woman that featured so much totally robotic acting and dialogue.
I'm not going to go into the terrible, terrible details of why the show sucks or what scenes or aspects I found especially suckitudinous. Just take my word for it and avoid it.
posted by Mentok @ 10:07 AM, ,
My lovely wife, Mrs. Mentok aka Library Mama turns 31 today.
I know all you guys are jealous 'cause I'm married to this sexy trophy wife and all.
But put that aside for a second and go wish her a happy birthday. That's an order.
(Facebook pokes would also be in order, of course.)
posted by Mentok @ 7:51 AM, ,