Wednesday, 26 February 2014



Montego Bay


Maybe my first Edmonton winter in 20 years has been longer and colder than I’d expected or cared to remember. Maybe there was a hackneyed sun destination getaway commercial on TV during a Canadiens game. Whatever the reason, I woke up one recent morning chanting the ‘oh oh oh oh’ hook of Bobby Bloom’s 1970 Top Ten hit Montego Bay. I swear to God that I don’t believe I’d actually heard the song in its entirety since its release. Now I know all the words. The ‘official’ video, a promo reel, has some 538,900 hits on YouTube. I am responsible for 100 of them.


Vernon will meet me when the BOAC (sung as bo-ack) lands/Keys to the MG will be in his hands/Adjust to the driving and I’m on my way/Everything’s on the right side in Montego Bay


Cue the whistling and the enchanting nonsense syllable chorus over an addictive calypso lilt. The song is about a repeat visit: I think I remember but it’s twice as good. There is the requisite rum reference: I thirst to be thirsty in Montego Bay. And likely heaping mounds of pot: You ain’t been ‘til you been high in Montego Bay. After months of shivering in the dark, I’m game. Sounds good to me on every level.


The rhythms of the heat seduced another American, Johnny Nash, whose light reggae I Can See Clearly Now and a cover of Bob Marley’s Stir It Up were hits in 1972. Those songs, more so than Harry Belafonte’s novelty Banana Boat Song, opened these ears to the unexpropriated splendor of the real thing, the music of the Wailers, Jimmy Cliff, Toots & the Maytals, the Heptones, Sly & Robbie, ex-Wailer Peter Tosh and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry who comes across in interviews as an agreeable a lunatic as there ever was.


The Jamaican influence on popular music, from Belafonte through to Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, the J. Geils Band, 10cc, the Police, the Clash, Keith Richards’ labour of love side project Wingless Angels, indeed the entire British ska revival of the 80s, is disproportionately massive for a country with a population of less than three million souls. Country icon Willie Nelson even released a reggae album, of course the old outlaw has ingested more herb than anyone else on the planet.

Apparently Bobby Bloom not only suffered from the ignominy of being a one hit wonder but depression too. He shot himself accidentally whilst cleaning his gun. The tragic math is simple. If only he could’ve made it back to Montego Bay. Everything would’ve been twice as good. I've never been but I'd sure like to go right about now.

Monday, 24 February 2014



Universal Media Syndicate


ABOARD THE E.S. CHAMPLAIN – We have become prey. A strange vessel more than 20 times the mass of Champlain has emerged from its hiding place on the Saturn side of Hyperion. Its design and configuration are unlike anything found in the Jane’s Space Ships databank. It is closing at an incredible rate; students of aviation history may imagine a jet chasing a hot air balloon.


“That’s some kind of foo fighter,” Commander Alicia Yuan says in wonder. “That would be a kick to fly.” Her ward room adjacent to the Champlain’s bridge is filled with her senior staff. Grant Turnbull, Titan’s sole survivor and an old friend of Yuan’s sits in. The mood in the room is one of tense bewilderment but there’s no place for panic on the agenda. This reporter has been granted full access, perhaps because traditional protocols for dealing with the press now seem meaningless.


“Mars wasn’t the best place to grow up,” Turnbull says to Yuan, “but it’s home and we’re leading them right there.”


“They’ll overtake us long before we’re even close,” she replies.


“And probably turn us into another Armstrong.”


“How ever they may’ve done that,” Yuan confirms.


Like her doomed sister ship, the E.S. Champlain was purpose-built for research and exploration with a large cargo capacity to re-supply stations along the relay system. She carries no armament. The additional weight and crew complement but mostly the extra expense was deemed unnecessary by irrefutable though dusty a priori logic proved by thousands of years of recorded human history: We are alone and our enemies are ourselves. Well, not any longer. Hopefully this lesson just learned is not too late.


“But they’d have to get very close,” Turnbull says. “Maybe we can give them some of their own medicine.”


There is a strained silence. Finally Yuan says, “Are you suggesting we turn the Champlain into a missile too? Ram them?”


“That might be overkill.” Turnbull rises from his chair and then picks up the lone ornament in the ward room. “Jimmy gave you this?” He is referring to Jimmy Singh the late sole proprietor and president of the Last Chance Gas outlet on Titan. He brandishes a brass figurine of a leaping tiger.


“The Brass Tiger,” Yuan replies. “Jimmy said he had it cast just for me.”


“I’ve got one too,” Turnbull says, “or I should say, had one. He had thousands made.”




“He was, but charming. You remember Nick and that cricket bat or whatever it was he always carried around?” He is referring to the late Nick LeBlanc, Singh’s major domo and Titan security chief. “He always said that anything can be a weapon if you know what you’re doing.”


Can one brass tiger bring down a ship? “No!” says Turnbull. “But a cloud of flotsam and jetsam just might. We’re in the middle of a relay, in a vacuum. Commander Yuan, you know what even the tiniest speck of dust or meteor fragment can do to a ship travelling at high velocity. It’s like running into a punch.”


A human fist is about the same size as a human heart and it tends to punch above its weight.


Everything on board that may be flushed into the wake of the Champlain has been collected. A brass tiger sits atop the pile at the cargo bay door. While the risks don’t matter, there are still many questions and concerns. How long will the field of metal debris last before it is swept into an orbit by some distant source of gravity? Will the alien ship have time to take evasive action? What is the integrity of the panels which comprise its hull? Will Turnbull’s idea even work?


At first, it doesn’t. The mechanism of the segmented cargo bay door is jammed. There is an emergency manual release intended solely for use while the ship is at rest. This reporter, the least essential member of Yuan’s Champlain crew, volunteers to break the glass and pull the lever. A tool will have to be retrieved from the heap of scrap awaiting ejection; perhaps a hammer or a tiger sculpture. With Champlain in full flight, an anchored lanyard and pressure suit are pointless. One is reminded of visions of skeletons half-buried in the gravel dunes of Titan.


Your reporter asks for gree-gree; desperate for the courage soon to be required, and wanting to know why people travelled to Titan just to get it. Turnbull looks on with disapproval as Yuan prepares a dosage from her dwindling personal supply. The Martian knows the damage done. Three inhalations are enough to fool the brain into tasting ambrosia and then focus all of its resources on the immediate. I have ceased recording history; I will now be its agent: I am ready.


Copyright UMS 2414.

End of a series. Editors’ note: For updates and additional news and commentary on this subject, including a retrospective gallery of our correspondent’s past work, please visit: Universal Media Syndicate/Invasion Threat.

Friday, 21 February 2014



Universal Media Syndicate


ABOARD THE E.S. CHAMPLAIN – The explosion near Titan’s northern pole is so immense that its shockwaves necessitate a course correction by the ship’s pilot. The gravitational mass of Saturn has created a slingshot effect and amplified the detonation of what equates to some 500 nuclear warheads a thousand-fold.


E.S. Champlain Commander Yuan, Last Chance Gas refinery guru Grant Turnbull, this reporter and the crew on the Champlain’s bridge are transfixed by the stream of data that incessantly reiterates the end of a world each one of us knew intimately just days ago. There is a momentary stunned silence punctuated by sobs and cursing before years of training and experience quickly reestablish ingrained professional conduct. This vessel and all aboard must be preserved. Earth and the relay stations en route must be alerted to a new, oncoming and hitherto unknown threat.


The initial transmission from Last Chance Gas was joyous. The E.S. Armstrong had somehow rebounded from mission critical in the great void beyond the human boundary and was orbiting above Titan’s orange atmosphere in preparation for a sort of homecoming. One can imagine galactic entrepreneur and station proprietor Jimmy Singh breaking out the gree-gree in celebration. One can also imagine Nick LeBlanc, Singh’s head of security and self-described fixer, being leery of a Trojan horse landing ploy by sophisticated raiders.


The second transmission requested the Champlain’s return to Last Chance Gas for possible medical assistance and as yet unforeseen aid and evacuation services. Commander Yuan at once ordered her great ship to turn back. A quarantine protocol was swiftly concocted. Atmospheric ballast was forced into its empty, sealed cargo bays. Row upon row of hammocks were strung up in the gaping, grey and shadowy steel cargo space; jury-rigged facilities and jerry-built amenities followed suit. No one could be sure what to expect, except the worst.


There were just three designated weapons on Titan: a pool cue, a baseball bat and a hockey stick. The horrific content of the final message from Titan made very clear that LeBlanc’s varying lengths of milled wood were useless: the Armstrong had been recalibrated as a missile and its defenseless target was the Last Chance Gas installation on Titan. Neither he nor Singh had ever anticipated such a lethal tactic.


The order to return to Titan has been aborted. It could not come soon enough. The quashed rescue detour has depleted the Champlain of a crucial portion of its fuel supply and therefore limits the ship’s range. This leg to the next refueling station in the relay system should be easy enough, provided the balance of the journey goes smoothly – but there are no guarantees in space. We are bolting for Mars and Commander Yuan’s course will be a straight line.


All we know now is where it happened, when it happened and how it happened. The who and why are X factors, unknowns.


Copyright UMS 2414.

Part six of a series.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014



Universal Media Syndicate


TITAN – Baby, it’s cold outside: almost 200-below zero Celsius.


With departure aboard the E.S. Champlain imminent, this reporter decided to take a walk around the grounds as it were. Nobody here in the Last Chance Gas complex ventures out of doors unless they absolutely must; unless they’re suicidal or high on gree-gree – or both. Refinery overseer Grant Turnbull has graciously acquiesced to your reporter’s request for escort. Turnbull is the man of Titan who must most frequently go what is termed ‘walkabout.’


The fit of the pressure suit is surprisingly snug, almost like a second skin. Yet the wearer must concentrate on simple motor functions, one foot ahead of the other to take a simple step: Left! Right! The boots are weighted with lead. Any automatic gesture becomes pre-planned. One imagines a performer, an actor or a dancer, struggling for graceful movement whilst trapped in a pool of tar. Inside one’s helmet respiration is a roar of white noise punctuated by intermittent staccato cackles of radio contact.


Titan looks very different from its surface. The greens and blacks of the porthole lenses no longer apply. There is an orange smog low in the sky that hangs like a shroud despite the ferocious winds. The gravel dunes are rippled, almost as perfect as a fabric pattern. A beachcomber’s paradise with nothing to offer. Uncollected brittle human remains crumble into shards if stepped upon. There are treacherous patches of ice or something like it, polished and scoured, more beautiful than any precious gem sold on Earth. Sheets of poison mist whip inshore from the roiling surface of the vast lake of methane.


Turnbull believes there are life forms in the lake, but how many fathoms deep he cannot guess. The refinery’s intake and filtration systems offer some evidence and Turnbull is a curious man, but he is a journeyman steamfitter, not an astro-biologist. What matters is the lifespan and integrity of his steel composite components and how tasty they may be to Titan’s native microbes. The economics of deep space private enterprise do not lend themselves to the advancement of arcane scientific knowledge beyond the here and now. All that matters is the stability of existing infrastructure and the premiums added to the ever rising cost of fuel.


The most alien feature on the landscape of the strangely beautiful wasteland surrounding Last Chance Gas is man-made: the garbage dump. It could almost be mistaken for a living thing as it grows constantly. A heap of waste has become a hill and will become a mountain. Virtually anything and everything ever discarded on Titan glistens in the methane rain. Solutions such as recycling or curated landfill are deemed impractical due to the potential expenses and labour involved.


To be on Titan is to be on the verge of future human history. To be walkabout on Titan is to recall the history we carry with us and wonder if humankind is destined to make the same mistakes we have made so many times before.


Copyright UMS 2414.


Part five of a series.

Sunday, 16 February 2014



Universal Media Syndicate


TITAN – This moon orbits Saturn every 15 days and 22 hours. The proverbial morning after dawns hard and fast. Nick LeBlanc surveys the disorder in the now quiet mess hall. “Alicia (E.S. Champlain Commander Yuan) runs a tight ship,” he says dryly. Seven members of her crew are sleeping it off in LeBlanc’s brig.


LeBlanc is the head of security on Titan. He’s been proprietor Jimmy Singh’s major domo since their time together in New Mumbai. “I’m the fixer,” he says, “although today I feel more like a custodian. Look at this place, just look at it.” A cockroach works its way up the leg of an upturned bench. LeBlanc crushes it with the flat of his hand and then wipes the goo on the thigh of his trousers.


There are three weapons on Titan. LeBlanc possesses them all. Coincidently they are all modified pieces of sporting equipment: a sawed-off pool cue, a heavily taped baseball bat and a shortened hockey stick with a pointed blade. “Obviously anything can be a weapon, a utensil, a tool, even a piece of paper if you know what you’re doing.” He indicates the video screens, the Perspex portholes, the air conduits and the entire steel shell with a wave of his arm, “If you were to discharge any type of firearm in here… I mean unless you hit meat – havoc.”


Last Chance Gas is extreme private enterprise on the very edge of the human boundary, an outpost on the new frontier. “The law on Titan is whatever Mister Singh says it is,” LeBlanc admits. “And I enforce it.” There is no official presence of any sort. Indeed, the entire installation, worth billions in bitcoin, is defended from invaders by one man brandishing a cue, a bat and a stick. The main and ever-present threat is a hostile takeover.


“Pirates, raiders,” LeBlanc says. “Out here, obviously, you can charge a premium for fuel. Titan is the freest market ever, so it would be attractive. But we have natural defenses. We’re near the pole where atmosphere is dense and hazy, you can’t see us and you cannot land without a digital pilot. If you manage that, you’ve still got to disembark and for that you need our assistance too. If you were to get that far, well, I can tell you that the refinery rig-pigs are tough customers – I’ve got the scars to prove it.”


And what about non-human intervention? “You mean little green men? Non-human intervention? Is that the jargon now?” LeBlanc laughs. “Hasn’t happened yet. Hopefully they’d have bigger fish to fry than Last Chance Gas.” LeBlanc twirls his pool cue, his fingers nimble blurs. “I don’t care if they’re green or not, but I hope they’re little.”


Copyright UMS 2414.

Part four of a series.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014



Universal Media Syndicate


TITAN – The final chapter in the mysterious saga of the missing E.S. Armstrong has yet to be written. The vessel is out there somewhere beyond the human boundary: that much is known. Whether the ship is crippled and adrift in the emptiness of deep space, wrecked upon the barren surface of an asteroid, suffered a collision with a meteor or has met some other unpredictable fate remains a topic of pure speculation. On Earth, far-fetched alien conspiracy theories, so much a symptom of this age of exploration, abound. Here on Titan, the Armstrong’s last port of call, there is a firm yet quiet faith that she must one day come home.


There is a palpable sense of relief in the filtered, recycled air of the Last Chance Gas complex when the E.S. Champlain touches down. One of their own, like the prodigal wanderer of myth, has successfully returned from an extended mission in the great void. The Champlain is inbound, stopping on Titan for refueling and maintenance before undertaking the next leg of the relay back to Earth. The hulking hull of the ship fills in all of the gaps in the refinery’s lattice pattern of scaffold and piping, its ovular shape suggesting an ancient dirigible, one of humankind’s original airships.


The 16-wheeled accordion crew shuttles have begun splashing through the relentless green methane rain from the landing pad and disgorging their riders. The Last Chance Gas mess hall is filling up. The atmosphere above the long picnic-style tables and benches is thick with gree-gree vapour and fluids flying from toasted drinks. The video bulwarks flick a moiré pattern of real time Titan data (the weather among other things is always a concern), entertainment shorts and advertisements for goods and services which may only be had closer to Earth. The noise is akin to an idling rocket motor. The scene is a celebration, a tacit reminder that despite all of the progress and technological leaps, human life is frail and at great risk in these merciless and distant environs.


Champlain Commander Alicia Yuan has been around. “But only if you’re talking about the solar system,” she laughs. She is sitting with Last Chance Gas proprietor Jimmy Singh and Grant Turnbull, the refinery’s overseer. The trio has known each other for years, ever since Singh opened a night club on the First Martian Colony. “I remember The Brass Tiger well,” says Yuan. “It was notorious. But what happened at The Brass Tiger stays at The Brass Tiger.” There is an aura of exclusivity to the reunion, interlopers are welcome but will always remain outsiders. The jokes and japes are fast and furious. “I’ll tell you this much,” Yuan shouts above the din, “Jimmy likes me better outbound because that means I’m carrying a cargo of goodies for him. Grant likes me better inbound because it means he gets away from Jimmy for a well deserved holiday.”


The talk soon turns serious, as it must and then to the fate of the Armstrong, as it will. The space travel relay system is innovative in its simplicity. Starships journey in stages from fuel point to fuel point. Titan is the end of the line or figuratively, the ends of the Earth. An outbound vessel from Singh’s Last Chance Gas will eventually near mission critical, the point of no return. The trouble is, mission critical is not an absolute U-turn co-ordinate on what may be an incomplete navigational chart.


“Ships’ ranges vary,” says Turnbull. “Once you’ve reached Titan and you’ve off-laden all of your cargo, you’re able to carry that much more fuel.”


“(Armstrong Commander) Yannick Saul was no cowboy,” Yuan maintains. “We trained together and he knew his ship, every O-ring and rivet, knew its limits.”


Singh adds, “I’m a businessman, not a scientist. But I can tell you that whatever the laws of astrophysics are, none of which I pretend to understand, weird things happen to time and distance out here. It’s possible the Armstrong communicated a distress signal. It may take years to reach us.”


Oddly for a perfect vacuum, space is full of noise. There is a constant background of static believed to be an echo of the Big Bang, the universe’s creation. Primitive radio waves and even beams from long ago extinguished sources of light become bent and distorted, knotting themselves into the pulsing fabric of the unknown. Nothing ever vanishes.


“Foo fighters,” Yuan says, using a phrase coined by 20th century aviators to describe strange atmospheric phenomena. But so far only silence from Commander Yannick Saul and the E.S. Armstrong throughout the white noise of the galaxy. “Whatever my mission is, whatever any Earth Ship mission is, we all have standing orders to locate and if possible, rescue the Armstrong.” Yuan stands up; her ship requires its Commander. “If it was the Champlain lost out there, my ship, I know Yan would be all over it.”


Copyright UMS 2414.

Part three of a series.

Monday, 10 February 2014



Universal Media Syndicate


TITAN – The work is hard and fraught with risk, the hours are endless and journeyman steamfitter Grant Turnbull is compensated accordingly. He would not have it any other way. “Welcome to my world,” he says atop an enclosed gantry overlooking Titan’s enormous methane fuel refinery. “You get used to the smell,” he adds. “Eventually.”


The synthesis of methane, overly abundant on Titan’s surface and even in its monsoon-like storms, into rocket fuel has allowed humankind to travel ever farther within the solar system, to push the boundaries of research and exploration. There is a peculiar elegance to the plant itself, an almost alien beauty to the rows of tanks, networks of piping and enclosure of scaffolding. It is the epitome of centuries of increasingly sophisticated and efficient industrial design.


Almost all of the refinery’s processes are fully automated and much of the extremely hazardous work is performed by robots which are of course oblivious to the conditions on Titan. “The trouble with ‘bots,” Turnbull says, “is that no matter how perfectly they’re programmed, they’re still limited by their programming. There’s always a need for a little human ingenuity and experience. It’s amazing what you can jury-rig with a roll of duct tape and a dab of solder. A ‘bot can’t do that. Not yet, anyway.”


Turnbull is coming to the end of his six calendar months rotation and due for one month’s leave. He has lived this grueling schedule for well over a decade now. “You need to be wired a certain way for this type of work. Close quarters and little or no time off. A lot of people arrive here expecting to make a quick pile and then move on to somewhere else with a better quality of life.” Turnbull nods in the direction of the green-hued gravel dunes on the shore of the lake. “The souls of the departed are out there,” he says. “The most common method (of suicide) is to simply pass through the air-lock wearing your gym clothes or something. I watched a man die out there once, as naked as the day he was born. It didn’t take long but it didn’t look like very much fun either. He was a friend of mine. I was two minutes too late.”


Titan Last Chance Gas does have a wellness protocol in place for its 75 employees. Counter-intuitively, new hires must sign a waiver releasing the operation from any responsibility. “We monitor things as best we can,” Turnbull maintains. “The recommended regimen is strict: work, exercise, sleep.” And what about the prevalence of gree-gree? It can be a problem, Turnbull admits. A dilemma. A paradox. “I think it’s almost Titan’s best attraction, in a way. People come here just to get it. And then, I don’t know, maybe it gives them the courage or stupidity to take that walk outside and die in the methane rain.”


The E.S. Champlain is due to arrive on Titan in just a few days’ time. Turnbull has made arrangements to hitch a ride to Mars where he will spend his leave from Titan. Why not the warmer climes of Earth? “I’ve never been to Earth,” Turnbull says. “My father and my uncles helped construct the server farms on Mars. That’s where I was born. Earth? I’ve seen video. It looks okay although I doubt I could stand the gravity.”


Journeyman steamfitter Grant Turnbull is a rare breed indeed.


Copyright UMS 2414.

Part two of a series.

Saturday, 8 February 2014



Universal Media Syndicate


TITAN – It is always there. A reminder of how far we have come and perhaps a warning as to how far we may safely go. Viewed from Titan’s south pole and always locked with its moon’s synchronous orbit, Saturn looms like a wall blocking further exploration of the solar system and beyond.


“Oh yeah, man, that big old gasbag can seem a little oppressive,” sighs Jimmy Singh, president and sole proprietor of Titan Last Chance Gas. “I mean, it’s there. Always. But so is the potential to move beyond (it) and that’s where the money is and that’s why I’m here. Right now, we’re at the absolute edge of the human boundary; my traffic’s mostly science and research vessels. But they have to turn back, you know?” Singh gestures toward a porthole. “So, I can envision a casino out there, bars, amenities. And eventually, space tourists.”


The Titanic vista outside the Last Chance Gas modular steel complex is not pretty. The gravel dunes crumble toward the lapping methane lake. On the far shore the industrial spaghetti lattice and piping of the fuel synthesizing plant begs for some type of skin to conceal its immodest angular frames. Farther beyond is a plumbed plain of heat-seared and wind-swept landing pads. The view is further tainted by the cast of the porthole’s night-vision lens; what is not green is black.


Singh’s own quarters are more Spartan than five-star. Even though the re-circulatory ventilation network is going full blast the air is stale with gree-gree vapour and human funk. There is an elaborate exercise machine, a health staple in distant low gravity stations. There’s a console, an ergonomic chair and a ‘hot bunk’ hammock, shared with Singh’s Number Two, who is currently on a scheduled tailings pond measurement excursion among the dunes. Amid the cluster of CCTV monitors and computer screens on the dull metal walls are centuries-old signs, relics from a simpler age. One reads LAST CHANCE GAS. “I found that in a junk shop in New Mumbai,” Singh says. “It gave me an idea.” The other is in the shape of a heraldic shield and if one peers at it long enough there are traces of red and blue stripes to be seen and the embossed phrase ROUTE 66. “That’s a highway sign of some sort,” Singh allows. “But from where, I don’t know. Maybe part of the Old Silk Road?”


And the whiff of gree-gree? “Earth laws don’t apply this far out,” Singh chuckles. “They’re unenforceable. This is the frontier.” What about supply? “You would not believe the contraband smuggled aboard cruisers. Pallets. If you’re into that stuff, Titan is paradise.”


Which is perhaps why, Singh, one of the new breed of so-called ‘galactic’ entrepreneurs, is betting heavily that his Titan operation, despite its incredibly harsh, claustrophobic and utilitarian environment, will become an adventure destination for Earth’s bored and wealthy elite.

Copyright UMS 2414.


Part one of a series.

Sunday, 2 February 2014



The Wretched Excess of Stupor Sunday


Jesus. Where to begin?


A football game will be played tonight in the great State of New Jersey. In excess of 110-million fans and curious viewers will tune into the broadcast. A single minute of commercial time equates to a $6-million hit to the advertiser. And here at the house there are 41 cigarettes, 31 tins of beer and an eight-layer Mexican dip all prepped for the football coin toss. Actually the dip may be a nine-layer monster mound in a Pyrex dish as the cats have been about most of the afternoon and they’re experts at shedding. Vomiting too - although it’s best not to think about that.


Today’s NFL finale has some resonance in Western Canada. Denver, Colorado is down the Rocky Mountain chain and the Broncos’ owner, Pat Bowlen, once practiced law here in Edmonton. No need to mention his ties to the oil and gas industry that drive this province’s boom and bust cycles. The Seattle Seahawks, whose sharply designed Haida inspired logo is one of the league’s best because of its evocative sense of place, are a regional phenomenon and therefore Canadian fans wanting to buy tickets must be residents of British Columbia or Alberta.


Advertising, when it’s done well, is a simple proposition: in exchange for your time you will be provided with some information that may prove useful to you. Advertisers know that the best way to fulfill this implicit contract is to tell a story. The Super Bowl is North America’s biggest stage, the perfect real time platform. And yet, Rolling Stone magazine’s digital site has already leaked most of the new spots. Tomorrow, maybe even now, the ads will be all over the ‘Net. Fabulous. The subtle suggestions are getting out, or are they? Everyone’s a critic and the short films promoting products are now being reviewed like Hollywood product. In this February instance has the medium become larger than the message?

Bruno Mars at the half. iTunes is probably going download mad now and he will move many CDs at Wal-Mart tomorrow. The James Brown suits and dance moves are good. The Chili Peppers belong in the eight-layer dip. The 48th Super Bowl seems to be shaking down as the previous 47 have, utter entertainment stiffs that never match the previous two weeks of hype. Still, there’s plenty of time to go: about 25 minutes of football and a good two hours of television time unless most viewers have already tuned out.