Wednesday, September 30, 2009


This post is going to be a rare one for this blog; it has political undertones. Reading discretion is recommended. Because usually I have no idea what the hell I'm talking about.

This post was inspired by our trip to the CNE this year, where we always make a point of watching the air show I love watching the acrobatic prop planes as well as the vintage war planes which are always featured.

These fighter planes are history, retired, part of a past that can't be changed. Like the career of Mohamed Ali. Or my once brown beard. And I can also look at contemporary fighter planes and admire their design, the skill with which they are made, but I still can't forget that they are flying guns.

Then you see something that makes you pause. That makes you think beyond the pretty plane and the skill of the pilots who fly it. At the CNE air show this year, it was the Raptor.

This is one of the scariest airplanes I've ever scene. If an F-14 is a flying gun, the F-22 is Flying Armageddon. At the air show, the young airman who did the commentary was positively drooling when he told us about this airplane's lethal capabilities. I've never seen an airplane, especially one the size of the Raptor, do the things that it can do. It hovers, lifts vertically, it floats like a leaf, it flies backwards .. not even a Harrier can do this.

The thing is loaded. Bombs. Missiles. Cannon. Nuclear capabilities. All at supersonic speeds, flying the way it does, with stealth technology, this thing can sneak up on you from another continent and vaporize you back to a molecular level. Not just you. Your city. Your country, your world. It is a killing machine, so advanced, the pilots don't really fly it, they manage the computers.

I understand they have ceased production on this plane but at the time, they cost about 146 million per plane. One. Hundred. Forty six. Million. Per airplane. Stop right here for a second One hundred and forty six million to make a gun. A big, fast, sneaky, deadly gun. The USA is the only country in the world that could manufacture these things. Think about that: Right away, the most powerful country in the world goes ahead and grabs itself the .44 magnum Desert Eagle of jets, ensuring once more that it's the biggest baddest Dirty Harry nation in the game. As if it wasn't already.

This is like the schoolyard bully going home, wrapping himself in body armour and stomping back to school with a pair of brass knuckles, a spiked baseball bat and a chainsaw. All the kids already on the ground, nursing their bruises and bloody noses would look up and say "Really? What the fuck?"

I'm not going to go into a long discussion of a nation's need to maintain a standing army. I'm not unrealistic. We don't live in a soft marshmallowy world where no one needs to defend themselves... lots of countries have been served evidence in the last few years, that we don't live in that world. But my American neighbours have been the best armed cowboy in the corral for a long long time. It didn't save them from a home based terrorist attack. So what does going out and inventing a whole new six gun going to do for you?

Listening to the airman speaking about this weapon, his enthusiasm about its terrifying lethal potential and his joy at the Raptor's ability to "single handedly alter the course of events" brought home what this thing is all about. I can't condemn this soldier for promoting this weapon; he's a soldier, that's his job. But the course of events the Raptor is designed to alter is the enemy's well being. The enemy's army, his culture, his civilization, his life. Whatever enemy that may be. People of different cultures, religion, race, people who had something, or threatened to take away something, that the Raptor's owners need. Want. Desire.

Why does this bother me so much? Why does it scare me? One hundred sixty million per plane, about 65 billion for the whole program, a weapon so advanced, and so expensive, no other nation can compete with it. Yes, the program has been scratched, in part, due to this titantic expense. But they built them. When, like other nations, the US had people starving, homeless, begging for healthcare, education .. they build them. They're still flying. Right now, people in the US gov't are planning and dreaming and designing even more deadly, unstoppable weapons. Regardless of cost. Because they can.

This one plane, this one weapon, is designed to defeat all defenses, via its stealth and its speed and its incredible vector based flying ability, and with its impressive weapons systems, wipe out bases, soldiers, towns. People. Sure, the argument is that one plane replaces perhaps hundreds of ground troops, thereby preventing many casualties. No argument there. I am all about keeping soldiers out of harm's way. But it still scares me. This huge, "silent" air plane, floating through the sky, apparently unstoppable, its laser guided munitions set to fly .. are they up there now, somewhere? Circling? Who's in the cross hairs?

It's a humbling thing, this Raptor. When you get past the amazing and groundbreaking engineering you see it as it is: The flying gun. The weapon. Designed to destroy. To kill. Nothing else. It's not a rescue aircraft, not designed for reconnaissance or observation. Designed to kill. Someone.

Anytime someone shows you a gun, no matter how beautiful, ask yourself this question: Who's it aimed at?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


This past weekend, Collette and I attended one of our favorite events in Toronto, the Word on the Street book festival. This is a huge book fair held simultaneously in Toronto, Kitchener, Halifax and Vancouver. Here in TO, it's held in Queen's Park circle. That's where the provincial Parliament is located. So even when it's chilly, enough hot air wafts out of that building, that you can still wear shorts. Ahem

It actually turned out to be a pretty nice day, no rain, sun with some clouds, not too hot, a perfect day to wander around all the tents, perusing thousands of books. Collette did not bring her Nikon, that would just occupy space in her bag that books could go into. Such a practical girl. I did bring the Samsung palmcorder, as it fits in my pocket. There's a little video at the bottom of the post, just to give you a taste of what the festival was like.

There are lots of scheduled events at the fair, including readings (Margaret Atwood was there) and musical performances and awards being passed out in various genres, but frankly we go there for the books. Very often we can buy a year's worth of reading material in one day.

It may be a sign of the economy, but the really amazing deals of years past just weren't there. The Toronto Library used to bag up books by genre (westerns, thrillers, romance etc) and sell a bag of eight books for two bucks .. an outstanding deal. You find one paperback for that price you like, you are in great shape, if find another,you're laughing. But they no longer do that, not really sure why, probably too labour intensive or something. Heaven forbid we should wake up a librarian and make him/her work. Ahem

Collette goes primarily to look for books for her classroom and certainly, kids books are a huge part of the festival. This is a good thing. Encouraging kids to read is a bonus. So when they grow up and start driving, perhaps they will have enough reading skill to understand what "do not enter" or "speed limit" means. Ahem

But seriously, it was great to see the vast variety of books and other materials available to kids and their keepers. Collette not only scored some books for her classroom, she made connections with companies that produced a wide range of teaching materials. She was a bit disappointed that the number of exhibitors seemed to be down, and the ones that were there, weren't carrying the usual number of books.

Still, she managed to pick up some cool stuff that should aid her in her new position

It wasn't all work related for Collette. One of the cool things about a fair like this, is the opportunity to get up close and personal with publishers, artists, editors and authors. A lot of authors are there, flogging their books and Collette met such a woman, S.P. Hozy who stood by here tent saying "real life author here" After chatting, Collette ended up buying her novel, which looks interesting indeed.

Of course, yours truly was not really hunting down anything of any kind of educational value. If I wanted education, I would have gone to colleges without student pubs. But I scored some great swag. I have a long time interest in American pulp crime fiction and it doesn't get much tougher and grittier (with the exception of St Mickey Spillane) than Jim Thompson and James Ellroy

From tough guy fiction, I morphed into ludicrously fantastical females, or more precisely, Japanese anime picture books. Full colour books of just images are hard to find and stupidly expensive and I got a couple at what were pretty fair prices

I've recently reconnected with my past passion for comics. I bought a couple of graphic novels at the Fan Fest earlier this year and I picked up a few at Word, a couple that were not costume hero kind of tales and one that fits nicely into the contemporary superhero mode.

I am not, normally a big fan of manga. I find perusing the endless titles of the endless series that I don't see many that appeal to me. But a lot of American comics are the same, if I am going to invest in the time and money it requires to buy a series of books (I'm an old dude, I recall buying comic books for 8 cents a pop) it really needs to grab my attention.

But there are exceptions to every rule. I found a huge manga, really a graphic novel, by Akira Hiramoto. The title is Me and the Devil Blues and it is a fictionalized, mythical account of the life of bluesman Robert Johnson. Anyone who knows me, realizes that this book was in my hand in the blink of an eye. Robert Johnson. The Crossroads. The Delta. The dark, pulsing, mysterious music banged out on simple six string guitar. Hell yeah, I'm in

So another successful Word on the Street. A pleasant day wandering around, surrounded by thousands of books and magazines and people of like interests. We came home with sore feet and bags laden with our books and these gems should get us through the long cold winter that is beginning to bang upon the door.

Here's the video, just a short piece, to give you an idea of what the festival looked like. Music is Enya's Book of Dreams ..yes, book. Shut up. Watch the video.

Word on the Street from Victor Kellar on Vimeo.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Jump in the wayback (though it will be a short trip) to the last weekend of August. Collette and I made our annual pilgrimage to the Canadian National Exhibition, or the C.N.E

This is always a must for us. We usually go for a couple of days, enjoying summer's last gasp as it were. Usually one day is pretty much occupied with the Air Show. It's always worth seeing, a good four hours, all kinds of planes. This year featured the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels ariel demonstration team, the first time they've been to the CNE in about twenty years.

I've never seen the Angels fly, so it was a treat. We're big fan of the Snow Bird's, Canada's demo team and the Angels routine was a lot like that .. only way faster.

You have to admire the skill of the pilots, hurtling these jets around the sky at hundreds of miles an hour, passing so close to one another that you'd swear that they can count each other's blackheads.

I know that these planes are flying guns, but watching the demo, these skilled pilots made these huge, roaring, complex machines into something graceful and perhaps even organic.

So, that's the Blue Angels .. cool, cool. I liked watching these planes, there is a beauty to their design and an undeniable skill to the pilots who fly them. Still, these jets were designed to be weapons. They are, in fact, flying guns. And that brings us to something completely different. This, is the Raptor.

This may be the scariest plane I have ever seen. The Raptor is not a flying gun, the Raptor is Flying Armageddon. This plane does things no airplane should be able to do. It hovers, it floats around like a leaf, it stands on its tail and flies backwards ... all, loaded with enough firepower to turn your favorite nation (and all its peoples) into a puddle of hydrocarbons.

The young Air Force officer who did the Raptor's play by play was quite enthusiastic; when he went on about how the Raptor was the deadliest single thing ever conceived or created by man or any other creature, I swear I could hear him drool. The Raptor is an amazing thing to watch fly, it really is, but I just can't help get a little queasy watching it, and realizing that if the pilot decided he hated Canada, he could have wiped out my city in the blink of an eye. Yup. Scary.

But the C.N.E. is not all about supersonic jets and world-destroying potential. It is, after all, a fair. A big ass fair, but a fair nonetheless. Like most fairs in North America, this one started off as an agricultural exhibition. You can still find those roots in the horse shows and Farm building .. though it ain't no barn. It's a sparkling clean convention hall. With critters. Here's a pic of sheep; this is for my two dogs. This is basically border collie porn.

Besides critters, another thing fairs are known for, are "attractions" The one thing the Ex has been doing in the last few years is bringing back some of the old fashioned carnival attractions. Last year (they returned this year as well) they brought in an escape artist. This year, they brought in a stunt man and his "wheel of thrills"

So what this is, is a huge wheel on the end of a gigantic lever, that when pushed, swings him 60 feet up in the air. The wheel itself spins, and homeboy tosses himself around on it.

The guy was a true showman, wobbling and gasping and making us feel that at any minute he could plunge to the earth. I think that most of this was artifice. But hey, the man was 60 feet in the air, no net, no air mattress.

OK, so we have airplanes, sheep, guys jumping on big ass wheels, what else does the CNE have? Well, food of course, but we don't have pics nor video of that. But it does have shopping. We like the International Pavilion, with booths representing countries from all over the world.

The Canadian Armed Forces had a display as well, lots of hardware and shiny guns and big broad shouldered guys in uniforms.

They had a pretty cool mountain rescue demo where they rigged lines about 80 feet up and traversed a stretcher with attendant down it, as well as a suspicious flying polar bear.

The other attraction we saw, was this cool portable wave machine, that you could pay 25 bucks to ride on with surf boards or wake boards.. or perhaps try to ride is a more apt description. Luckily, they brought a couple of pro riders to give us an idea of what you can actually do on the wave. Check out the video for their demo.

Before we get to the video, I want to comment on the pics here. Collette took them. Collette takes the majority of the pics that appear on this blog and I don't often credit her for them. You want to see weak ass pics, check out this post with myself as the photographer. All the good pics Collette takes and they definitely improve whatever sad quality this blog may have.

Now to the video. Highlights of the Air Show, couple shots of the midway, the Canadian Forces display the wave riding machine. Hidden within, is a clue to a future gift of a special friend of ours. A couple of songs here, including Tunnel of Love by Dire Straits, appropriate to the subject matter and a nice reminder of the Making Movies CD, one of my favorite recordings of all time, and something I haven't listened to in years.

CNE 2009 from Victor Kellar on Vimeo.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


This is my second post chronicling our visit to Buskerfest here in Toronto. I wanted to do a separate post focusing on our favorite act of the festival, and one of the best acts we've seen at any of the Buskerfests.

Jason and Sophie McGrath are a married couple from Austrlia. They are not jugglers, thank god. But they do play with fire in a remarkable, entrancing, sensual way; individually and together, just as most couples do things. In my previous post about the Buskerfest I bemoaned the fact that too many of the acts, particularly the jugglers, used patter to cover up the fact that their acts were not particularly original. No fear of that here. This couple has patter, but it's quite cute, the kind of He says something outrageous She says "Jason!" in a way most couples would recognize. But trust me, Dream State Circus is about a lot more than just patter.

They started off the show with some warm ups. Not only are these two a pretty pair, they have some pretty impressive athletic gifts. Including a bit where Jason lifts Sophie up over his head and holds her there for 20 seconds. I don't think Sophie cracks 100 pounds, mind you, but it's still pretty impressive.

After the warm ups, each member of the couple did an individual fire dance. Sophie begins, using a pair of chains with a ball of fire on the end of each one. I love her focus, the mental connection to the physical, as she readied herself for her performance, you could see her body change, marshaling her energy in preparation

From this sort of Zen like state, Sophie quickly exploded into a whirlwind of beautifully controlled energy, her body moving to the music, the fire flipping around her, creating entrancing patterns in the air.

Fire is heat and heat is often associated with sensuality and if you ever had any doubt about that, watch the video at the bottom of this post.

After Sophie's first performance, it was Jason's turn. He used a pair of long batons, ablaze on each end, whirling them around with a casual grace that made it look way too easy.

At one point, during Sophie's performance, Jason joined her, and demonstrated that he may have skin made out of asbestos, as he ran the fire up his bare arms

After Jason's solo, Sophie came back out and used a hula hoop in a very original manner.

It wasn't just that the hoop was on fire, it was Sophie's remarkable body control, easily flipping the hoop from feet, to torso, to around her neck

After this dance, the couple teamed up and each used a pair of flaming flaming brands in a high energy dance.

At the end of this dance, Jacob proved he is a real Australian by bringing out his bullwhip. Of course, this is no normal whip. It's made out of Kevlar, so he can set it on fire.

He set the whip on fire and popped it, sending these big fireballs into the air. In the video, you can hear the loud crack as the whip breaks the sound barrier.

After the whip display, Jason and Sophie went into their final routine. Setting up a ring of fire, the pair went through a series of acrobatic poses that were quite breathtaking.

As is traditional in these kinds of displays, it was a lot of Jason holding and posing Sophie. They looked beautiful. Clean lines, steadiness, perfect balance. But there was also a move where Sophie was supporting Jason in an impressive display of feminine strength.

What makes this fire dancing so sexy? I mean, beyond the two beautiful people? Is it the lambent reflection of the fire rippling over the exposed, sweating flesh? Is it the heat that you feel on your own skin as the torches pass by you, the smell of the gasoline, the sound of the fire itself? Is it the concentration of the performers, when you see them caught up in the moment, losing themselves in the music and the movement and the energy of the crowd.

Whatever it is, it works. And Dream State Circus certainly works.

The video below is a long one, but I wanted to capture the entire performance. As the sky got darker, of course, the effect of the fire became more dramatic. Dream State also performed as part of Buskerfest's closing gala; we attended that as well and I shot some video, it may make an appearance in a future post, but enjoy what was, for Collette and I, the performance of the festival.

Dream State Circus from Victor Kellar on Vimeo.

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