December 27, 2007

Here in the Islands

Cutline on a poster for a health information seminar:
"1 in 8 Men are Expected to Develop Prostrate Cancer."

How exactly is this expectation conveyed I wonder? Any thoughts? Mass mailing perhaps? And how exactly do they pick the 1 in 8 they expect will shoulder this burden? Is it completely random or are there certain categories of exemption? Inquiring minds want to know.

Canvassers asking if you want to donate to a disease are already endemic.
"Would you care to make a donation to cancer?"
"I don't guess so, it's already had my testicles, I think that's more than enough to give in one lifetime."
"I'd just as soon keep the other breast if you don't mind. I might feel differently if I could afford reconstructive surgery."
"Care to give something to Alzheimer's?"
"I'm just about certain I already--isn't it lovely here in the islands, Jen?"

C 2007 Martin Heavisides

December 22, 2007

Ahh, Go Ahead. . . Follow Your Heart

"Very few men, properly speaking, live at present, but are providing to live another time."
--Jonathon Swift

There are cliches that have only the shallow meaning they typically display, but these are actually quite rare. Far more frequently a cliche is a phrase or expression capable of deep meaning in proper context, but in the present instant being used as a cover for shallow thought. It's easy enough to prove a saying false if you ignore its depth and focus on the shallowest of its available meanings, but what does that net you? A cliche rebuttal of a cliche.

It's possible I suppose to understand "Live each day as if it were your last" in the stunted and empty sense Jonathon Kay (Nat Post, Dec 11 '07) is at pains to refute, but who that took the idea seriously ever did mean what he accuses us of meaning by it? What's almost invariably behind a life lived in hellbound excess, without plan or goal, is an increasingly desperate attempt to cling to the delusion that one is untouchable--indestructible--will live forever. Rainer Werner Fassbinder, weeks before his untimely death, was saying to people "Stick close to me if there's an atomic war. You'll be in a safe zone, no bomb's going to kill me." He was right--no bomb did.

There's no necessary contradiction, on the other hand, between living each day as if it were your last and making plans--even long distance plans--in case it turns out not to be. There might be if you were obliged to live by one maxim and one maxim only, but how stupid is that? I recently finished, in a thirty day spurt of activity, a play whose first partial and abandoned draft I started twenty years ago. My awareness waxed and waned, but I always carried somewhere in my mind the intelligence that one day would be my last, and that I had no guarantee it would be twenty years, or twenty months, or twenty days away. So fine, make plans, recognizing they're all contingent, but recognize as well that each day is a gift that will not be repeated in the same form ever again, and may not be repeated at all. Don't grow so engrossed by plans for the future that you ignore this precious jewel of time and space, yours to shape (within limits) as you choose. (Definitely lay off any plans that'll take more than a century to realize.)

Kay is more cautious in attacking the maxim "Follow your heart"--he makes it clear he's talking about a common understanding whereby following any superficial impulse is described as "following your heart". Why accept the misuse of language then? Why not say what people really mean is "follow your nose" or "follow the prickling of the hairs on your forearm", or whatever superficial guide you prefer, rather than one so firmly embedded at the core of existence as the heart?

If I understand him correctly, Kay believes it's reasonable in youth to pursue the dream the heart prompts you to, and acceptable to continue if you succeed; if not, wise at some point to come up with a plan B. Not the worst advice in the world, but how likely is it that anyone with a deep passion will follow it? If Louis Armstrong had spent twnety years in the wilderness instead of achieving considerable success early in his career, do you think he'd have looked for a plan B? William Blake with his incredibly wide-ranging gifts could have succeeded in any number of careers other than the one he stubbornly clung to all his life, at which he only succeeded posthumously.

He was as politically astute as any British Prime Minister. He had as much unforced eloquence as any three combined. Only one of them might be considered--not by me--his equal as a writer. None was close to his equal as a painter, but then that's not exactly a Prime Ministerial qualification. Very likely that gift would disappear into doodling impulses during idle moments at session, and his great power as a writer be chained to partisan political discourse. Blake as Prime Minister. What countries would he have forced war on, in what far-flung corners of the globe, to vent the bitterness of his frustration over unacted desires?

Are there follies and even crimes associated with following the heart? I suppose. But the ugliest crimes human beings are capable of, the ones it freezes the blood even to have described? All of them, without a single exception, follow from stifling impulses of the heart.

C 2007 Martin Heavisides

December 15, 2007

Mulroney v. Schrieber

"Mulroney will triumph in the court of public opinion because he's up against Karlheinz Schrieber. If he were up against no one, he would lose."
--John Ivison, Nat Post, Dec 14 '07

I'm not so sure. A Breakfast Television poll may give early indication, and it was running better than 75% against Mulroney. I doubt Karlheinz Schrieber would have come out better in a poll answered by the same people, but see here's the thing: people do not necessarily and invariably choose sides in an adversarial contest. Sometimes they say 'a plague on both your houses'. They're particularly likely to despise, more or less equally, two adversaries who've had a bitter falling out, but were questionably allied for an uncomfortable length of time. As Ivison points out at the top of this article, Mulroney began by calling Schrieber's allegations 100% false and ended by citing the man as a character witness: "[Schrieber] told the Toronto Sun that accusations of bribery against Brian Mulroney were as much a hoax as the Hitler Diaries." Not a word-for-word quote I suspect, since it lacks that curious Karlheinz broken English flare: but it's syntactically and referentially challenged enough; 'twil serve.

(Incidentally years ago I saw an interview on television with one of the people who exposed those diaries as a fake, and he said they were written in ballpoint pen. With camouflage that cunning it's hardly a surprise they fooled so many of the world's major news bureaux for so long.)

Then again in his opening remarks Mulroney only said Schrieber's allegations in the affidavit that led to the inquiry were "completely false". Perhaps Schrieber has superstitions against lying to reputable newsmen? no wait, this was the Toronto Sun, he'd have to have reservations against lying to journalists of any kind. But I imagine the three envelopes of cash were cited in the affidavit, and Mulroney contests only the amount--75,000, not one hundred thousand. That allegation, then, is at least 75% true.

And there's a difficulty with Mulroney's claim. The amount he declared for tax purposes, six years later than he ought to have filed, was three hundred thousand. This was the amount admitted to by Mulroney and his press liaison, and I've never heard them contest it since. If he was given 75,000 a pop along with the coffee which was all he admitted to at the time of the airbus lawsuit, he met Schrieber four times. In which case it's a coin toss whose account is nearer the truth.

(Or was this the amount the Mulroney team admitted to at the beginning of all this pother? Commentators are already taking Mulroney's revision as read, which means either my memory is cloudy or theirs is convenient. I was pretty sure that's what I'd read though, and that I'd read it in statements from the Mulroney team as well as Schrieber. Did Mulroney take the totals Schrieber initially gave on faith, until he'd counted the amounts still left in the safety deposit boxes and checked them against expenditures?)

This is a problem likely to persist throughout Mulroney's testimony. Given the number of half truths, quarter truths and evasions both have insisted on as the whole truth and nothing but, is he or Karlheinz Schrieber more to be believed? At best you could give a shade or a shaving to one or the other on this point or that. And you'd be speculating at that. Give Mulroney maximum benefit of the doubt at every point and what do you come up with? Maybe not as dishonest as Karlheinz Schrieber. There's an accolade. Add in that your first known association with Karlheinz Schrieber was in 1983, when he spearheaded a team backing your successful bid for the Conservative Party leadership, which led to a ten year term in the PMO, during all which time you insist there was never any payback to a man who doesn't do favours withot expecting payback--well, I'd say the old legacy's pretty much built.

C 2007 Martin Heavisides

December 7, 2007

This is Not an Art Critique

From the defense his roommate and fellow artist Peter Moheddin makes in a commentary (Nat Post, Dec 6, 2007), I hope Thorassin Jonsson has the sense not to call him as a witness, should his public mischief charge come to a trial. If I were a judge subjected to such nonsense in defense of somebody planting a fake bomb as an artistic statement, I'd find my thoughts shifting from a stiff fine or community service to moderately serious jail time.

Apparently Jonsson agrees with Moheddin's essential argument (whether point by point I don't know) since he's taken to expressing great pride in the success of his project--planting a realistic-looking bomb, labelled (after Magritte?) 'This is Not a Bomb' at the Royal Ontario Museum on Nov 28 and phoning in a 'no bomb' warning to the ROM switchboard. This replaces an initially apologetic tone. I think he's got the whiff of publicity up his nostrils.

Peter Moheddin begins his defense with a reference to the curious fact that audiences at 'The Great Train Robbery' were so startled by a shot of a train coming toward the camera full speed that they fled the theatre--an effect similar to that achieved by Thorassin Jonsson's 'not-bomb'.

It seems a curious example. Apart from the fact that this was not intended, who has ever talked about'The Great Train Robbery' as a serious work of art? Not even its makers. It occupies a place in the history of cinema as the first film to tell a sustained story, but if I were listing the great short films of movie history, I'd certainly name Mack Sennett's 'Teddy at the Throttle', Laurel and Hardy's 'Big Business', W.C. Fields' 'A Fatal Glass of Beer' among many others. I would certainly not name 'The Great Train Robbery'.

Coming down to present cases. After a long rambling paragraph about the controversy over the not-bomb, Moheddin concludes: ". . . the defining function of a bomb is that it can explode." And?

The implication here--and it's pretty well what you have to argue if you want to claim Jonsson's false alarm was a work of art rather than a high misdemeanour--is that the reaction of the bomb squad was stupid. Duh! guys, this is not a bomb, it can't explode, it even says so right on it. What are you so worried about? To which the obvious answer is duh! how do we know something that looks exactly like a functioning bomb isn't until we test it? It would have been stupid, if not criminally insane, to look at it, see the sign and say "Hey guys, look at this! Says here it's not a bomb. That's a relief! now we can all go home."

What was stupid, profoundly cynical or both (my money's on both) was Jonsson's imperviousnes to the actual consequences of what he was doing, the impact on people's lives as well as the possible juridical implications. The law student who assured Jonsson if he attached a note saying 'This is not a bomb', he'd be absolved of liability? I suspect--what's more I hope--he's getting nothing but Fs on all his courses. It's certainly the grade Jonsson deserves for this project.

C 2007 Martin Heavisides

December 1, 2007

What's Sushi Like?

All quotes below are from James Geary's 'The Art of the Aphorism' (Nat Post, Nov 29, '07). He may not have contributed the title, which seems to be error-free.

"There is an aphorism for everything, and everything its aphorism: That's my philosophy."
? Can a single sentence be a philosophy? Not if its redundancy serves only to make its intended statement incoherent.

". . . only a fool makes a speech in a burning house. Aphorisms must work quickly because they are meant for use in emergencies. We're most in need of aphorisms at times of distress or joy, ecstasy or anguish."
Ok, I'll bite. In what way do joy and ecstasy figure in moments of personal emergency? Sorting from this sentence the terms that do apply, I don't see how despair or anguish is likely to heighten anyone's appreciation of even so embattled an aphorism as Swift's "Is this an Age of Man to consider a crime improbable merely because it is great?" Anguish might make you more sensitive to emotion, though it's likelier to deliver you over to indiscriminate puddles of it; in neither case does it necessarily heighten sensitivity to sharp, precise thought; and despair tends to flatten response to thought and feeling both.

A little later he quotes, as an example of "the surreal one liners of standup comic Steven Wright:
'When everything is coming your way, you're in the wrong lane.' "
Not the sharpest one liner I've ever heard, and surreal? Put it in a box of four with 2.) a fur covered coffee cup, 3.) a landscape of melted watches, 4.) a man looking in a mirror at the image of the back of his head, and sing "One of these things is not like the others."
Geary himself manages an (unintentionally?) surreal effect though, in his final paragraph:
"Aphorisms are food for thought--always fresh, always in season, always delicious. Like sushi, they come in small portions that are exquisitely formed. And, like sushi, I can never get enough."
Sushi can never get enough of aphorisms? This I never heard.

C 2007 Martin Heavisides

November 13, 2007

Mixed Messages

"At some point in all our lives, someone you love or know will be affected by diabetes."

.'all our lives, someone you know or love': pronoun agreement would seem to require 'we'.

.'someone you love or know': are the two, as this seems to imply, really mutually exclusive? The philosophical implications are staggering.

The poster for which this phrase is a cutline advertises a fundraising--wait for it--bake sale. Cakes, pies, cookies, doughnuts, cupcakes, brownies, the whole nine yards. Nice compacting of effects: help create the condition at the same time as you're raising funds for its cure. Me? I want to start a new career handling the bar concessions for Islamic fundraisers.



You learn something new every day. There's a new product called
'White Light': you pull back your lips and press this gizmo against
your teeth, and besides emitting an eerie white glow it gives you a
dazzling smile until it wears off and you need another pressing. How
many of these before you get gold?

What happens if you smile too broadly and expose the yellow at
opposing sides of the mouth where the light doesn't reach? Or
does its irradiation spread across the whole span of the teeth
and in that case, how does it know to stop before bleaching the
tonsils and adenoids the same glist'ning white? Does it bleach
the gums or only turn them a sickly pink? Are these the colours
of the future so far as the innards of the mouth are concerned?

How long before 'Yellow Light' comes on the market, for that
distinctive villain or lowlife look in Hollywood action
pictures and crime drama on tv? Instant and iconic visible
identifiers are required in drama whose heroes and villains
increasingly subscribe to the same code of ethics (or absence
of same). Yellow teeth might work as well as black hats once
did. The more visible idiosyncracies you supply villains
with the more viewers will subtly lean in their direction

That's why it's best to keep the weird inflections, gimpy legs
and such for your repertoire of endearingly hopeless sidekick
types. Then again yellow teeth, like scruffy unkempt facial
growth, might go from being the signifier of a villain, to the
signifier of a rebel against social customs, to a universal
symbol of male sensitivity, virility and lawfully constituted
authority. But a change like that would hardly
happen overnight--it could take months.

I don't know whether the most popular Egyptian tooth
cleansing agent--urine--would be much use in obtaining
this now-fashionable stain. There are disadvantages
which the most powerful mouthwash, even aided by cologne
or aftershave, would be hard put to remedy.

Almost inevitably the next phase would be an indisputably
high-class social marker--one with the stamp of history on
it. 'Black light' could give authority and the upper classes
the same polish it gave Japanese Lords and Ladies in the late
Middle Ages. White teeth--even those slightly yellowed for
rebel effect--would be shunned as what ordinary plebeian
brushing could produce.

But why stop at black if artificial colour's what you want?
Why not red, green, blue, violet--why not all the colours at
once? Be the first on your block with a smile like a rainbow.
There's no trick to it, or if there is--it's only a trick of
the light.

C Martin Heavisides 2006


Aeolian. Byzantine. Copacetic. Duodenum. Elysium. Feldspar.*
Gelignite. Hymeneal. Iridescent. Jongleur. Kittenwood. Laproscope.
Marmoset. Necrophilia. Omphalos. Peripetaiea. Quirile. Rhodomontade.
Sequipedalian. Tarantella. Ucalyptus.* Vituperate. Widdershins.
Yellowjacket. Zamboni.

*Bet you thought I was going to say 'Firebreak'.
*All right, have it your way--Ukase.

November 6, 2007

Blood Clot

I've been having problems with an infected leg for a while, which as you can imagine is a special challenge if you're a walking courier. Monday I had to go to emergency because it wasn't responding to treatment. At emergency an ultrasound was taken to see if it mightn't be a blood clot instead of an infection. Which it turns out it is, for which reason I have an unexpected week off while I'm treated with daily needle injections of blood thinners. After a week of that I should be on tablets and able to work again, taking some precautions.

I'm going to make use of the time. Read through a few thick books on my shelf. Refamiliarize myself with the art books we have a solid row or two of. See what I can do about putting work up in files and submitting the files I already have up to as many markets as I can. (That'll depend on the ballooning in my leg not getting appreciably worse if I spend an hour with it not elevated--the treatment is lessening that effect though, so I think I'll be able to spend an hour or two a day on concentrated work.)

There's an interesting time paradox to my case. The nurse I saw this morning for my second round of injections wanted to know when exactly I'd come in, because according to the file she had in front of her, I'd come in on November 7, which is tomorrow. If I wasn't waiting six hours yesterday in emergency while I got through the ultrasound, awaited the results, had the results and awaited the needle--my wife went in at one point when I'd been waiting more than an hour after bloodwork, and found out they'd mislaid my case; the doctor came by when I was getting my injection and told us we could go, since I'd already had it--my leg turning a little more zeppelin each hour, if I didn't go through that yesterday as I say, it was certainly an unusually vivid and unpleasant hallucination. Don't look forward to going through it tomorrow.

October 18, 2007

Stupid Song Lyrics

{a modest compendium; obviously it's scarcely possible to be comprehensive. For the most part I've avoided mentioning howlers like "In time the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble, they're only made of clay", because I'm aware that 'stone' or 'rock', which would be correct, doesn't rhyme with the last word of 'Our love is here to stay', and a songwriter has to eat after all}

"Wo-o wo-o, hey hey
I love you more than I can say.
Love you twice as much tomorrow.
Love you more than I can say."
Math and language skills about equally challenged here. If you can't say how much you love somebody, it's a safe bet you can't coherently promise twice as much tomorrow--and why should the object of his affection settle for, at best, half the love he's capable of, today?

I don't know how many times over the years Crosby, Stills, Nash and Yonge have sung "Four Dead in Ohio", or how many times Neil Young has sung it solo. Thousands I'd imagine and in all that time it's never occurred to them that these lines
"Gotta get down to it, soldiers are gunning us down.
Should have been done long ago."
means exactly the opposite of what they intend.

There aren't any intelligent lines in Neil Diamond's "I Am (I Said)" but I think the peak of stupidity is reached by the refrain
"I am, I said, to no-one there
And no-one heard at all, not even the chair."
Which is surprising when you consider what amazingly sensitive ears most chairs have.

The writer of these lines was exceptionally proud of them, since they're the only lyric heard (like it were a needle skipping) on a song running 4 minutes or thereabouts (I was in a bar and my drink wasn't finished, that's why I subjected myself to the nuisance)
"There's things I haven't told you
I go out late at nigh
And if I was to tell you
You'd see my different side."
I'll let that, and this blast from the past, stand in for all those songs whose invention stretches no further than the repetition of one exceedingly stupid lyric 'til you can practically see the drool tricking down the singer's jaw on both sides, and perhaps secretly wish it were copious blood
"I'm a Neanderthal man, you're a Neanderthal girl
Let's make Neanderthal love, in this Neanderthal world"
(I bet somewhere there's an errant Ph.d thesis comparing this lyric, not unfavourably, to the elegant thought twists of Wittgenstein, but stupid academic theses are a whole 'nother issue.)

"Whatever I said, whatever I did, I didn't mean it.
"I just want you back again."
Where do women dig up these bozos? (I don't mean that literally.) And why do so many otherwise intelligent women stick to them like glue? (I suppose the same question can be asked in reverse, and about same sex mismatches, but that doesn't make it any less puzzling.) Assuming the lady he's singing to has a legitimate grievance--and the evidence of these lines is enough for me on that score--the least she should expect is awareness of precisely what she's complaining about, and a particular apology. I'd advise dumping. Shag him one last time for auld lang syne if you must, if his cock's in better repair than his hart and brain, but after that's done, make like the birds and flock off.

'Norwegian Wood' isn't at all a stupid song, but in his last interview Lennon made an amazingly stupid remark about it: "I wanted to write about an affair, but I didn't want me wife to know I was writing about an affair.
"I once had a girl
Or should I say
She once had me."
Really smooth camouflage there, Johnny.

I won't pursue this any further, but I throw the comment board wide open to reader contributions. Please make your quotes as accurate as possible. Cheers.

C 2007 Martin Heavisides

October 16, 2007

Baby Talk

"A ridicule deferred is a ridicule lost forever."
R.A. Lafferty

"Last fall, a Toronto lawyer who works at one of the city's bigger firms asked for two weeks of paternity leave so he could help his wife settle into a routine with their newborn daughter. For that, he was mocked endlessly.
" 'So,' his male colleagues would say, eyebrows cocked, 'paternity leave, huh?'
"This tone suggested no true lawyer would ever do anything so sissified.
" 'It drove me nuts,' says the lawyer, who asked not to be identified."
--Dave McGinn, Nat Post, Oct 16 '07

What follows is a balanced journalistic account of this issue as it works itself out in the contemporary marketplace. You know the drill: follow this example with one from a friendlier work environment, wing in a few more anecdotes and then bring on the sociological observation on how things are changing in the workplace and how further change might be managed. Give me the basic data and I could produce a dozen of these a day, so long as I could repress a constant urge to giggle. (Humour is strictly frowned upon in this sort of think piece, though a think piece without humour is like a rainstorm without water IMHO: it lacks a little something.)

It doesn't seem to have occured to the lawyer--trapped in this anecdote like a fly in amber--that he had at least two responses available to him. The first was to maintain a dignified silence, firm in his own principles. In practice that seems to be out, since he was actually so infirm in his principles that this teasing "drove him nuts" as it would have on the school playground when he was three. In which case what he needs is a quiverful of barbed responses.

He could ask those teasing employees to tell him--quick, off the top of their heads--the names and ages of their children? What milestones in their children's development were they present for and which did they miss? First word, first step, little league, first school performance, first run-in with the law? Right, you were sort of obliged to take notice of that since parents, who on earth knows why, are held somewhat responsible in those cases if their children are not yet of age. Even if, as in your case, involvement was so minimal you could hardly have done or said anything to set them so seriously off on a wrong path. Your part of the joint enterprise was completed by your part in making them. And what's kept you a stranger to your children all these years? Ah right, all those thousands of extra billing hours in Millstadt v. Hagler, which has been in litigation more years than you can count on the fingers of both hands and is unlikely to be resolved in as many more. One or two colleagues whose hobby is literature have taken to calling it Jarndyce and Jarndyce and won't tell you why. Drives you nuts.

Certainly there's nothing the least bit sissy about a man all gwowed up whose life's work is resolving (or resolutely leaving unresolved) the endless hissy fits of corporations. Civilizations have been known to totter and fall over less. But do you never feel you've given over a little more of your heart and soul than--oh now please! the office is no place for that kind of blubbering.

C 2007 Martin Heavisides

October 14, 2007

Doris Lessing

Doris Lessing

This year, for a change, I approve of a Nobel pick--though I got a great kick out of seeing just how underwhelmed Lessing was when told the news. "I've won every bloody prize in Europe, why do you have to bother me like this?" Which might seem like an ungracious response to a microphone stuck in your face out of nowhere when you were peacefully steeping out the back seat of a car, but it's reported Lessing's been on the short list of the Nobel committee for 40 years. (Her story is that 40 years ago she was told the Nobel committee didn't like her. That wore off presumably, or the people who held that opinion died out.) Look over the list of the winners in that period--there certainly aren't any better writers than Doris Lessing on it (supposing that's a possibility) and probably not more than three that are arguably in her class. The writers who might be compared to Lessing are mostly conspicuous by their absence (going right back to the turn of the century) and in many cases--recently, Peter Barnes, R.A. Lafferty, Dennis Potter, Janet Frame--the error can never now be rectified. Assuming the committee is right now on a roll, what about Alasdair Gray next year? If he lasts as long as Lessing has, there's a 14 year window of opportunity, but where's the guarantee of that?

The Golden Notebook's the one everyone talks about, and scarcely needs my recommendation. Read it if you haven't, read it again if you have. Enjoy.

Shikasta may be just as good. (Thomas Disch said in an interview that Lessing's science fiction novels were dreadful, and about the other four I agree with him. One of them is 150 pages of weak rhetoric contending against rhetoric as a corrosion of language. Plato's argument, which she derives hers from, is equally weak but not quite so wordy.

About Shiikasta I'd quarrel with him though. It's a story that freely overleaps centuries and millenia and takes our entire planet for its locale. Here's a passage that stood out for me:

"This woman, this man, restless, irritable, grief-stricken, sleeping too much to forget their situation or unable to sleep, looking everywhere for some good or sustenance that will not at once give way as they reach out for it and slide off into reproach or nothingness--one of them takes a leaf up from the pavement, carries it home, stares at it. There it lies in a palm, a brilliant gold, a curled, curved, sculptured thing, balanced like a feather, ready to float and to glide, there it rests, lightly, for a breath may move it, in that loosely open, slightly damp, human palm, and the mind meditating there sees its supporting ribs, the myriads of its veins branching, and rebranching, its capillaries, the minuscule areas of its flesh which are not--as it seems to this brooding human eye--fragments of undifferentiated veins, but, if one could see them, highly structured worlds, the resources of chemical and microscopic cell life, viruses, bacteria--a universe in each pin-point of leaf. It is already being dragged into the soil as it lies there captive, a shape as perfect as a ship's sail in full wind, or the shell of a snail. But what is being looked at is not this curved exquisite exactness, for the slightest shift of vision shows the shape of matter thinning, fraying, attacked by a thousand forces of growth and death. And this is what an eye tuned slightly, only slightly, differently would see looking out of the window at that tree which shed the leaf on to the pavement--since it is autumn and the tree's need to conserve energy against the winter is on it--no, not a tree, but a fighting seething mass of matter in the extremes of tension, growth, destruction, a myriad of species of smaller and smaller creatures feeding on each other, each feeding on the other, always--that is what this tree is in reality, and this man, this woman, crouched tense over the leaf, feels nature as a roaring creative fire in whose crucible species are born and die and are reborn in every breath . . . every life. . . every culture. . . every world. . . the mind, wrenched away from its resting place in the close visible cycles of growth and renewal and decay, the simplicities of birth and death, is forced back, and back and into itself, coming to rest--tentatively and without expectation--where there can be no rest, in the thought that always, at every time, there have been species, creatures, new shapes of being, making harmonious wholes of interacting parts, but these over and over again crash! are swept away!--crash go the empires, and the civilizations, and the explosions that are to come will lay to waste seas and oceans and islands and cities, and make poisoned deserts where the teeming detailed inventive life way, and where the mind and heart used to rest, but may no longer, but must go forth like the dove sent by Noah, and at last after long circling and cycling see a distant mountaintop emerging from wastes of soiled water, and must settle there, looking around at nothing, nothing but the wastes of death and destruction, but cannot rest there either, knowing that tomorrow or next week or in a thousand years, this mountaintop too will topple under the force of a comet's passing, or the arrival of a meteorite.
. . .
"And when the dark comes, he will look up and out and see a little smudge of light that is a galaxy that exploded millions of years ago, and the oppression that had gripped his heart lifts, and he laughs, and he calls his wife and says: Look, we are seeing something that ceased to exist millions of years ago--and she sees, exactly, and laughs with him.
"This, then is the condition of Shikastans now, still only a few, but more and more, and soon. multitudes.

"Nothing they handle or see has substance, and so they repose in their imaginations on chaos, making strength from the possibilities of a creative destruction. They are weaned from everything but the knowledge that the universe is a roaring engine of creativity, and they are only temporary manifestations of it.

"Creatures infinitely damaged, reduced and dwindled from their origins, degenerate, almost lost--animals far removed from what was first envisaged for them by their designers, they are being driven back and back from everything they had and held and now can take a stand nowhere but in the most outrageous extremities of--patience. It is an ironic, and humble, patience, which learns to look at a leaf, perfect for a day, and see it as an explosion of galaxies, and the battleground of species. Shikastans are, in their awful and ignoble end, while they scuffle and scrabble and scurry among their crumbling and squalid artefacts, reaching out with their minds to heights of courage and . . . I am putting the word faith here. After thought. With caution. With an exact and hopeful respect."

Much of Lessing's work remains undiscovered country for me. I think I'll begin by tacking The Four-Gated City again. I've tried reading it through more than once, and while I've gotten through hundred page swatches with considerable pleasure, I've yet to succeed at that. It's about time I did.
If there were no better reason for celebrating than how much this award got up the nose of Mr. Tweed Suited Pretension himself, Harold Bloom, that might be almost enough. But there are far better reasons.

C 2007 Martin Heavisides

October 6, 2007

Unconditional Love

The wide dispersion of this cliche in ordinary speech and on the printed page alarms me. It's usually possible, with divagation, to figure out what people mean by it; but what they mean is never anything resembling unconditional love. Small children might feel that or something very near it, until they're taught to discriminate what's worthy of love and what isn't. (You'd strip a great deal from the school curriculum if that lesson were removed, which would make for a lot of work; you'd have to replace it with things worth learning.) A Buddha perhaps or a figure of perfect enlightenment under under another name (for the sake of argument, let's say Louis Armstrong) might actually be so free and open to all experience as to love unconditionally. But please! "I love my children unconditionally."? Unless you're trying to set a record as a limbo dancer, that's setting the bar awfully low; 'my children' being itself a stated condition.

At a minimum you might speak of loving children unconditionally. To do that wouldn't necessarily make 'my children' an irrelevant distinction, but would certainly somewhat diminish its importance. And are children the only human creatures this teeming globe presents us with? Unconditional love would have to expand enough to include adults as well, and I know by considerable experience they're a far harder test. But where would the children we're to love unconditionally come from, if not the sweaty loins of adults?

And are people the only creatures with whom we share this ample earth? far from it I'd say. There are untold species of plant and animal life we haven't even discovered yet--a new breed of hummingbird was recently found in South America, and put on the endangered species list the same day. You've got to love a guy with a hard luck story like that. Not that there are any shortage of told species--you could probably google the number of distinct species we've catalogued and named, but trust me--the number is immense. The number we've put on endangered species lists is no small potato, nor the number that have grown extinct in the average baby boomer's lifetime. We'd be a lot more actively concerned about that if unconditional love were as thick on the ground as people are in the habit of claiming.

Personally I think we'd do well to act as if we loved all life on earth, even if we were faking it a bit, because all life exists within a complex web of interdependence and we're high on the list of the most dependent. A great many species might be extinguished if we continue or clear-cutting, gas-burning, air and water and land poisoning ways, but one of them will certainly be ours. Possibly as soon as our children's or grandchildren's generation reaches the age of majority. There's no way to love our children unconditionally if we don't love tree frogs, dolphins, fruit flies and house flies, rain forests and all the hyperabundant life that thrives in them. Tell that to the next person you hear boasting of unconditional love for anyone, and tell them I said so.

C 2007 Martin Heavisides

October 3, 2007

African Concept Album

In a BBC interview Mick Jagger, asked what he might have been if not a rock star, replied: "Maybe I'd be in Africa trying to help a beleaguered economy. Who knows? Or probably an ex-ballet dancer with bad knees." There was no follow-up question apparently. What is it with these slacker interviewers? I think I'd've pointed out to Sir Mick that while a ballet career at his age is probably out of the question--though if he tried it the bad knees would be sure to arrive in short order--a hale and hearty sixty is not at all a bad age to start pitiching in in Africa if this really is a long-repressed dream. Full time or between tours--the Stones are off the road more than they're on it after all. And there's this in favour of the idea--though when it comes to his personal fortune Jagger's reputed both greedy and stingy, he has a far wider practical streak than most of the celebrities who've been making the obligatory three-week junket to save Africa or at least one of its itty-bitty cutey-wooty babies. Jagger's never been a sentimentalist unless on the delicate issue of his male member, and unsentimental sympathy could do a power of good almost anywhere in Africa--anywhere the risk of being on the wrong side of automatic fire or artillery shelling isn't too great. Wouldn't expect a foreigner to risk that, I'd prefer it if Africans didn't have to. Yes, I can almost picture it.

Well it was a thought.

C 2007 Martin Heavisides

September 17, 2007

Business by Other Means

I'm told the head, at the time, of the Krupp family and therefore the Krupp armaments concern submitted a bill to the Allied armies at the end of WWII. It seems an unexploded German bomb, discovered early in the war, revealed to the Allies the superior fuse the Germans employed and they promptly adopted it for their own use. Well! there was clear appropriation if not violation of copyright and patent here so you can imagine. But how to calculate the number of fuses owed for? As surely as severed umbilical cords entail live births, exploded bombs entail exploded fuses.

As it happens, perhaps not unexpectedly, the Krupps were able to calculate the effects of weapons of mass destruction to a fine statistical point. They knew quite precisely the ratio of civilian death to bombs dropped in a terror raid. They erred on the conservative side by a point or two--after all, where calculation is approximate, it's best to give your customer the benefit of the doubt. They were businessmen after all, not thieves.

Flush from recent victory, the Allies felt comfortable violating a legitimate commercial obligation, and simply refused to pay.

There's a lesson to be learned here. As little as patriotic feelings typically inspire what used to be called cartels and are now usually called multinationals, the side of any conflict they wind up on will affect their bottom line. IBM collected throughout the war on the first widescale practical application of the stippled card technique which would ultimately lead to the earliest computers--numbering for administrative purposes the prisoners in the Nazi death camps. (Tattooed on their arms were skin-imprinted replications of the numbers encoded on these stippled cards.) Nazi Germany having collapsed and surrendered with the last payment still due--bankruptcy with extreme prejudice you might say--the final cheque was delivered to an IBM representative by Allied High Command, within the shadow of Bergen-Belsen. Everything has hidden as well as visible costs--worth bearing in mind when you read a story like this online.

C 2007 Martin Heavisides

September 9, 2007

Last News of Peter

My first experience of Googling was an attempt to learn what
new Peter Barnes projects might be coming up, which instead
led to the discovery that he'd died, suddenly and unexpectedly,
the previous summer; that put me off the service for nearly a
month. When I finally Googled Alasdair Gray it was with fear
and trembling, but last I checked he was doing fine.

There were other, happier surprises. The year before, his
second wife had given birth to triplets, which made him
briefly notorious in the tabs (triplets in your seventies
apparently being news in a way that merely writing a
significant number of the finest plays in the history
of the world is not), and inspired his last, most personal
work, BABIES (posthumously telecast by Granada).

Not long afterward I read that Christopher Fry died at 97
which was a surprise. I hadn't known he was still alive.
Certainly he'd done no new work in decades, even up to
the rather slight standards of his best work such as THE

Peter could have made good use of another 24 years. The amount
of fine work he was doing right up until the end suggests
there was every reason to picture him going on till his
dying day whenever that might be. He even wrote a
masterpiece of criticism in those last years--a study
for the British Film Institute of Ernst Lubitsch's TO BE
OR NOT TO BE. Masterpieces of criticism are far rarer
than masterpieces of drama or fiction because it's not
a requirement, any more than it is for journalism,
that a critic be able to write, and most never learn how to.
(Strictly speaking, it's no more a requirement in drama and
literature, but story-telling is a more primal urge, and
sometimes people will write, even thoughtfully, even
against explicit instructions from publishers
and producers.)

Two passages from this study can be conflated into an informal
artistic credo:

As in all the best comedy, the seriousness is *in* the
comedy, not outside it. Every good joke must be a small
revolution. In the great classic comedies of stage, film
or novel, the jokes and gags themselves contain the deeper
meaning critics crave. . . In the end I believe the only
thing in the theatre that has the ring of truth is comedy.
[. . . ]
Reality is more theatrical than the theatre. It is why
naturalism looks so unreal and comedy so much truer than
tragedy, which sentimentalises violence, misery and death
and poeticises rotting corpses by calling them noble. The
artistic rendering of the physical pain of those who are
beaten down with rifle butts and iron bars contains the
possibility that profit can be squeezed from it. Tragedy
makes the unthinkable appear to have some meaning. It
becomes transfigured, without the horror being removed,
and so justice is denied to the victims. Comedy does not
tell such pernicious lies.
TO BE OR NOT TO BE, pp.51-52,
p. 77

C 2005 Martin Heavisides

August 24, 2007

Grace Paley 1922-2007

I haven't seen any obituaries yet in the local papers; perhaps I missed them yesterday. I heard the news through one of the offices in an online writer's workshop I belong to. People had memories of Paley as writer, teacher, activist--one even mentioned a reading he had attended where Paley had read some of her poetry. He'd often heard poets read their own verse badly, and all too often heard bad poetry read badly. It was refreshing to hear fine poetry read well.

I'll have to take his judgment of her merit as a poet on faith until I've read a little more of it. The only poem of hers I've read was a droning, agitpropish piece that sent me resolutely back to the astonishing wit, depth, breadth and tenderness of her short stories. I'd be happy to discover that poem was a rare or even unique misstep, and she'd discovered as fresh and original a voice in her poetry as in her fiction. It certainly doesn't surprise me that a writer with such precise command of speech rhythms would read her own work well.

Her body of work was small, but the ratio of successes to failures was very high--more like a golden glove fielder's than a winning pitcher's percentage. For that reason many far more prolific writers have produced considerably less that is likely to endure--for as long at least as humanity, and literacy as a human skill, endures.

C 2207 Martin Heavisides

August 13, 2007

Movie & TV Quiz Answers

Though I half hate to post this list now I'm getting people offering their answers, I suspect that process has run its course very nearly. (It took the threat of posting my answers to bring anyone out in the first place.) Anyway, these are the answers, some of which you have indeed guessed:

1. "Can you lend me a rope so I can swing a fellow out where I can get a better shot at him?" Buster Keaton, in Our Hospitality, has fallen in love with a woman he doesn't know is part of a family his family were feuding with in the Old South. His father and brother learn his identity while he is under their roof, so there's a problem about shooting him on the spot, but once they get him out of the house and running free, he's fair game. Keaton has fallen over a cliff and is trapped on a ledge when one of the brothers makes this request of a prospector with a well loaded burro.

2. "General--you go down there." As Grace guessed, Little Big Man.

3. "She's my sister AND my daughter. Do you understand--or is it too tough for you?" Evelyn Cross Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) in Chinatown. (This one was copiously guessed.)

4. "Why why why WHY was he wearing a ballet sssKIRT Charles?" As Grace discovered by technological means, a line from The Ruling Class. The Archbishop, usually referred to as Bertie, and played well past his considerable comic potential by Alastair Sim. Peter Barnes, the playwright, remarks in the commentary for the Criterion edition that the part as written in the play is funny, but as played by Sim it's ten times funnier. He turns a supporting role into a leading part simply by the exuberance of his playing. (This line in the play is "Why was he wearing a ballet skirt, Charles?" I don't know if this influenced Peter Barnes in developing the character of Carlos with his characteristic stammer in Barnes' next major play The Bewitched: "Why why why WHY do I ssssuffer?") Barnes adds that it's quite common in the theatre for people to turn a lesser part into a lead by force of presentation, but rare in film because editing tends to trim such flights--and in fact every version of The Ruling Class I've ever seen that was trimmed for length had much less of Sim's sheer manic exuberance as Archbishop Bertie.

5. "That's not a single malt whisky. It's some kind of a . . . polymalt!" (Corrected reading.) Doyle, the half demon/half human who becomes Angel's first assistant when he moves to L.A. on the series Angel (a spinoff from Buffy the Vampire Slayer). After mighty exertion he ask for a shot of single malt whisky and Angel gives him what's on the premises, which of course is a blended scotch. As is frequently the case on both Buffy and Angel, a charcter searching for a correct word and not finding it, comes up with a substitute which is comically/poetically apt.

6. "There was me, that is Alex" etc. This was generally recognized; the opening line of A Clockwork Orange.

7. "We're screwed."
"We're way past screwed. We're so far past screwed the light from screwed taqkes a billion years to reach us." An exchange between Dan and Roseanne Connor as the consequences of a bad financial decision sink in. A good number of people who've always avoided Roseanne would be surprised at how sharp, witty and literate the scripts generally are.

8. "Success to crime." A toast proposed by Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) in The Maltese Falcon.

9. "So these staged suicides of yours are for your mother's benefit?"
"No. (Long pause.) I would not say benefit." Exchange between Harold (Bud Cort) and his psychiatrist in Harold and Maude.

10. "C.K. Dexter-Haven. . . either I'm going to punch you in the jaw or you're going to punch me in the jaw."
"Perhaps we should flip for it."
Exchange between Mike (Jimmy Stewart) and Dex (Cary Grant) in The Philadelphia Story.
(Sorry Grace, not Groucho, but he's on this list.)

11. "So who do you like as the killer?" I'm sorry I don't remember the name of the assistant who says this to the Mexican police captain played by Charlton Heston in Orson Welles' Touch of Evil. See the restored print. Accept no substitutes.

12. "They have you shot twice in the tabloids."
"It's not true. Never came near my tabloids."
Exchange between Nora Charles (Myrna Loy) and her husband Nick (William Powell) in The Thin Man.

13. "Why do you realize if there were no closets, there'd be no coats, and if there were no coats there'd be no hooks, and if there were no hooks there'd be no fish and that would suit me just fine."
Groucho avoiding the subject of how he came to be in a lady's closet in Monkey Business.

14. "So get out there and lie like dogs and if Willow doesn't miff all her lines like she did in a rehearsal, this'll be the best high school production ever of Death of a Salesman."
As Grace guessed, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) is directing a High School drama production in Willow's dream. (Very intricate episode involving Willow, Xander, Giles and Buffy in individual dreams which meld into a collective one.) I figured anyone familiar with the series, even if they didn't remember this line, would get it just from the name 'Willow'.

15. "So that ebola virus--that's really got to suck right?" Grace guessed The Outbreak, which I haven't seen, but I heard this line (and it's the only really funny line I've ever heard, though my knowledge of the show isn't encyclopedic) on an episode of Friends. Maybe they lifted it from The Outbreak, as they lifted the head engulfing turkey from Mr. Bean on another episode.

16. "Watch how you're driving!"
"Am I driving?"
Exchange between the Little Tramp and the millionaire who's his bosom buddy when drunk, but doesn't recognize him when sober, in City Lights. Charlie, in panic at the news, grabbs the steering wheel double handed.

17. "How do you say 'drugstore' in French?"
"Le. . . Drugstore."
Exchange between a pretty young American tourist in Paris and Jacques Tati's M. Hulot, in the movie Playtime.

18. "My my my. . . nipples explode with delight. My my my. . . hovercraft is covered with eels." As Grace guessed, John Cleese of Monty Python, impersonating a Hungarian trying to make himself understood in English with a phrasebook he doesn't know is seriously misleading.

19. "I'll give you exactly ten minutes to get your hands off my balls." The neo-Nazi Schillinger's response to what some might consider an overfamiliar gesture of reacquaintance by Ross, a prisoner he knew before, re-arrested and sent to Emerald City in the maximum security facility called Oswald Penitentiary (Oz for short), which is also the name of the series this touching example of tender human contact is drawn from.

20. "Try to break into my house. . . I ought to blow you away. I got to tell you the truth--the only reason I don't is 'cause somebody might hear me."
Dennis Hopper as Ripley, the title character in Wim Wenders' The American Friend. These are almost the first lines he speaks, and quite characteristic.

July 23, 2007

8 1/2

Carol Novack has invited me to a game of revelation tag. These are the rules: 1. The rules must be posted by each participant at the beginning of the post. 2. Each player posts 8 facts about himself/herself. 3. Tagged parties post their own 8 items in a blog, and post these rules. 4. At the end of the blog, each player or 'tagee' must post the names of eight people s/he is tagging in turn. 5. And inform said tagees by e-mail, telegraph wire or telepathy if blessed with such ability, but in any case inform them or they'll have trouble participating.

My random facts:

1. I've frequently entertained the suspicion that I'm not who I think I am. In some ways this is the story of the human race.

2. The first time I saw newborn kittens I thoght they were mice.

3. I read window signs, billbords, poster boards and graffitti tags for clues to the zeitgeist. "Aeon 101." A young girl from the front of whose jeans the sun spectacularly rises. (Lois Jeans, I think that one was.) "Honest Ed's an honest man. People look at him and say 'Honest, is this a man?' " How microscopic would such examination have to be to achieve total insight? How macroscopic? "Our prices will make you come."

4. I recently started a blog, The Evitable. My secret plan is to use it as a base from which to become a presence in the world of ideas and maybe eventually make a few bucks. So far, my progress is, regrettably, easy to gauge.

5. Picasso couldn't learn arithmetic as a child because the number 7 looked like an upside down nose to him. I wonder what my excuse was? (I don't even know why I'm saying this, except that it's classic schtick. I was actually pretty good with numbers. Certainly very attentive to figures, once I noticed girls had 'em.)

6. I love classic schtick.

7. I work as a walking courier. I have pages and pages of material towards a Catch-22 of the courier business, but I won't have the free time to pull it into shape as long as I continue working full time as a courier.

8. There's no reason, apart from universal human destruction or sudden widespread disinterest, that this chain of octopedal personal data entries should ever cease. Curious what people will be posting in a thousand years' time. Better get a good health plan installed pronto if I want to find out.

8 1/2. I was never any good at colouring between the lines. I wonder if Michelangelo had the same problem.

The people I'm tagging are:

1. Nonnie Augustine.
2. Andrew Tibbett.
3. J.A. McDougall.
4. G.C. Smith.
5. David Coyote.
6. chancelucky.
7. Antonios Maltezos.
8. Anne Chudobiak.

July 18, 2007

Movie and TV Lines and Poly Lines

[an interactive: post your guesses in comments and in a week or two, if they haven't all been guessed correctly, I'll post the answers.
I'm quoting from memory, so I won't vouch for 100% verbatim accuracy. Also I'm quoting one or two dialogue title lines from the silent era.]

1. "Can you lend me a rope so I can swing a fellow out where I can get a better shot at him?"

2. "General--you go down there."
"And I suppose you're telling me there aren't any Indians down there?"
"Oh no. There are thousands of Indians down there. And them ain't helpless women and children, but Cheyenne braves and Sioux. When they get through with you there won't be nothing left but a greasy spot. General--you go down there, if you got the nerve."

3. "She's my sister AND my daughter. Do you understand--or is it too tough for you?"

4. "Why why why why WHY was he wearing a ballet ss-sKIRT Charles?"

5. "That's not a single malt whisky! It's a, a . . . polymalt!"

6. "There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogies, that is Georgie, Petey and Dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar trying to make up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening."

7. "We're screwed."
"We're way past screwed. We're so far past screwed, the light from screwed takes a billion years to reach us."

8. "Success to crime."

9. "So these staged suicides of yours are for your mother's benefit?"
"No. (Long pause.) I would not say benefit."

10. "C.K. Dexter-Haven. . . either I'm going to punch you on the jaw or you're going to punch me on the jaw."
"Perhaps we should flip for it."

11. "So who do you like as the killer?"

12. "They have you shot twice in the tabloids."
"That's a lie. Never came near my tabloids."

13. "Why do you realize if there were no closets, there'd be no coats and if there were no coats, there'd be no hooks, and if there were no hooks there'd be no fish and that would suit me just fine."

14. So get out there and lie like dogs and if Willow doesn't miff all her lines like she did in rehearsal, this'll be the best High School production ever of Death of a Salesman.

15. "So that ebola virus--that's really got to suck, right?"

16. "Watch how you're driving!"
"Am I driving?"

17. "How do you say 'drugstore' in French?"
"Le. . . Drugstore."

18. "My my my . . . nipples explode with delight. My my my. . . hovercraft is covered with eels."

19. "I'll give you exactly ten minutes to get your hands off my balls."

20. "Try to break into my house--I ought to blow you away. I got to tell you the truth. . . the only reason I don't is 'cause somebody might hear me."

July 14, 2007

L.B.o.C., his Life of Crime?

Some of the commentary running up to the verdict seems a little overblown. Yet another piece (by Linda Diebel, who usually has better things to occupy her mind) on whether Lady Black will cut and run if Conrad is sent to Durance Vile? Evidence suggests it's unlikely, (which is L.D.'s conclusion as well), since she hasn't already, in any case why speculate? We'll know soon enough. But this passage simply jumps the shark:

"The horror, the horror," said Kurtz in The Heart of Darkness, and there is no question that Lady Black has peered into the same black maw. (Will she even remain Lady Black now there is pressure in Britain to strip Black of his peerage?)
--Linda Diebel, Toronto Star, July 14 '07

I have to doubt whether Barbara or Conrad (both of whom have cracked a fair number of books) would be in the least impressed by the sheer inept bathos of this literary allusion. Surely if anyone Lord Black, who's the one potentially doing time, would be facing that black maw. But culpable memories of massacres, with heads left on pikes for a demonstration? By no stretch of the imagination is Black contemplating a life gone so desperately far off its initial moral compass (such as it was) as that, and analogy with the Lady Black is even more farfetched. Kurtz's terror in the face of a death that resembled the death-in-life he'd descended to, had to be more considerable than Barbara Amiel Black's at being possibly subtracted from the nobility section of the British social register. (I must say they're getting finicky if Lord Black of Crossharbour's in danger of being crossed off their list. Time was if you wanted anything from a knighthood up, you'd pretty much better have ten to twenty years as a cutthroat pirate on your resume. Now suddenly it's the twenty first century and what? a mere conviction for fraud's enough to get you struck off their honour roll?)

Maybe the same can be said of a think piece on whether his upcoming sentence, if severe as the law allows, would be "cruel and unusual punishment". This, as they say in courtroom drama, calls for speculation. Will Bush pardon him as he did Scooter Libby? This is about the most ludicrous of the suggestions I've heard (and hasn't been made, to the best of my knowledge, in print--I heard it in elevator conversation). a) There's no political hook to a pardon for Lord Black; b) the Bush administration does favours for American citizens, not the Canadian or British variety; c) do you really imagine the two are at all close? I certainly wouldn't assert with definacy that Bush has never been on the guest list at a Black party, but I hardly think he'd have been seated above the salt. Politics makes strange cocktail mixers, but Lord Black and a man of whom it's darkly rumoured that one time, in the distant past, he spoke aloud a sentence of his own devising that was coherent and syntactically correct from beginning to end? in consideration of which he was allowed to graduate Yale? I can't see Bush and Black ever having been really tight.

But James Stribopoulous (quoted by Tracey Tyler, Toronto Star, July 14 '07) has a point:
"I don't think someone like Black, who is a nonviolent, first-time offender should go to jail for the rest of his life."
(Which is likely? Don't know, but it's certainly possible.)

Oh, I wouldn't go so far as to say Ken Lay or his cronies-in-fraud at Enron were non-violent criminals, not when shareholders and employees lost every penny they had and were hobbled with debt besides, only because they took these gentlemen at their word. I don't think the despicable hooligans behind the S&L scandal were nonviolent criminals either: you'd be hard-pressed to find a gangbanger as icily calm in his violence. But if Conrad Black was guilty of fraud, he wasn't guilty of defrauding people whose losses stripped them of houses and possessions and faced them with the live prospect of starving, or eking out scanty livings begging on our notoriously charitable streetcorners. Someone refresh my memory, how many years on average did the S&L criminals spend in jail? How much of the money they'd casually appropriated and squandered were they required to restore to their destitute victims? How many of those victims survive to this day on the kindness of strangers and the warmth on cold nights of sewer grates, and how many no longer survive? no: on that scale Conrad Black certainly isn't a violent criminal. In my view the only reason for ever imprisoning anyone for fraud is that the proceeds are most often too widely and thoroughly dispersed for restitution to be made. Proper penalty in a case of this kind would be full payback plus perhaps a fine of ten percent of the amount of the misappropriation as determined by court of law. Jail time on top of that? useless expense to the state, adds to the problem of congestion in prisons, gains us nothing except an easy satisfaction of our punitive, hence highly moral values. The fact that there might be 10,000 people in prison , poorer, less well-represented at trial*, who it's equally useless to imprison gives no reasonable grounds to make Conrad Black the 10,0001st.

*Now wait a minute--let's think this through. Good representation in Conrad Black's case? Expensive representation for sure, but Edward Greenspan's win record in court would be a mediocre batting average.

C 2007 Martin Heavisides

Happy Birthday, Ula

It's my niece Ula's birthday today. She's the closest Marysia and I will ever have to a daughter, and once or twice I've made the Freudian slip of calling her that. We commemorated the occasion by a visit to the AGO and after to a blues jam at the Rex in her name. Would have taken her along, but she seemed to think the distance between Brussels and Toronto was an insurmountable obstacle. Haven't we taught that girl teleportation yet?

Last year we visited New York when she was dancing there. Not one of her own projects--she was hired, working with four dancers from the New York City Ballet. We had a long dinner with her the last night, Wieisia, Marysia and I. Her mother Wieisia was sitting across the table from her. I was sitting across the table from Marysia, so Ula was seated to my left. She gave a sigh of weariness at one point and plopped her head on my shoulder to rest. I remembered a similar gesture when she was nine.

{Happy Birthday from Bernini AGO. We just saw a fine show of his sculptures. After Bernini we went to the Rex, to celebrate your Birthday with B.B. King Blues/Jazz. Love Marysia.}

July 9, 2007

Down Among the Dead

R.A. Lafferty wrote once (I quote from memory, but I'm pretty sure I have the essential gist): "People will tell you words are opposites when they are not even related. Listen to me: the opposite of radical is superficial; the opposite of liberal is stingy; the opposite of conservative is destructive. Therefore I am a radical liberal conservative." Which is a pretty tall order to fill, but at least a coherent political philosophy. Segment them and what do you get? Conservatives so in love with destruction they have nightly wet dreams of world-immolating Armaggedon; Liberals who with the Heinz fortune or McCartney's billion at their disposal, will pinch a penny 'til the copper melts and streams at their feet; Radicals who lose their train of thought completely in the middle of an ordinary sentence,only to save the day by a quick cry of "Right on!" "Fight the power!" or "Whatever." And damned if the lot of them won't squeal like stuck pigs if you try to deny them the medal, educational distinction or merit badge they prefer. Divorce words from their meanings that thoroughly and a functional illiterate can call himself an education president; an actor can fly, at the brink of war, on a mission of his own devising and give a more credible performance than most professional diplomats, because he's a better actor, and the professionals have no diplomatic skills; sincerity become the irony of the new millenium; democracy, theocracy, plutocracy and secret government become interchangeable synonyms (not to mention technocracy, consumerism, warcraft and social vision); voices rise to swell grand auditoria, perfectly satisfying every hearer except those few troubled by not being able to make out a single word of what is said; the lies people tell become particular badges of honour; they substitute second-rate t-shirt slogans for philosophies of thought and action (which take far too long to test and compile); the real world becomes a billboard campaign, with colours bled and tonal values values randomly transposed, sometimes for fiscal, sometimes for artistic reasons; gibberish replaces gold as universal coin of the realm; flames leap from window to window while overeager commentators zealously interview the laid-out rows of smouldering corpses (you'd think they'd notice at least the briquet colouring and toasty condition--steam rising from the charred mouth instead of words? I'd call that a dead giveaway but I guarantee: learned theses will emerge from transliterations of the steam).

C 2007 Martin Heavisides


I have to thank the National Post columnist who casually libelled Geronimo in a think piece (July 4) on the First Nations Day of Action on June 29. (See Colonials.) I didn't reply on that subject at the time because my knowledge of Geronimo was superficial, but the catch-up reading I've done since has been fascinating. I don't know enough yet to give more than a thumbnail sketch, but I can say the evidence I've encountered scarcely supports a charge of ruthlessness and implacability against Geronimo--far more against the adminstrations he made war on.

He was certainly a rough warrior. I'm not thrilled (as one example) with his account of killing four Mexican peasants. It isn't made any prettier by the fact that there was nobody in that war party (Spanish Territory, 1858) who wasn't raw over the recent murder by Spanish soldiers of somebody close to them--in Geronimo's case, his mother, wife and three children--none of these last, given the date of his marriage, could have been older than 11. Posit yourself as an adult soldier of the Spanish crown, charged with the murder of three children that age and younger. Legitimate act of war? Discuss. And these were only Geronimo's immediate family, this was a close-knit tribal community, it's unlikely there were many among the helplessly butchered who hadn't been known and in some way dear to him.

None of that makes the killing of farmers unaffiliated with the army a justifiable act. I don't even think it made sense tactically. Odds are these peasants owed a life of oppression and a few graves of their own loved ones to the kind ministrations of the crown--they might easily have been recruitable.

There are three things I don't find in the record of Geronimo's wars, and I'll accept correction and duly note it if anyone can point to counter-evidence that proves me wrong. I don't find a single campaign undertaken by Geronimo under less provocation than an atrocity committed against his people. I don't find a case where he met a band of brothers, weary of war and of wandering to escape further provocation to war, and lulled them with soft words the better to set them up for ambush and slaughter. I certainly find no evidence that he made war by preference on unarmed men, women and children who had no reason, until the sudden appearance of horses, guns and glistening sabres, to suspect they were anything but safely at peace. All three can be unequivocally charged against both the Spanish Crown and the U.S. government in their dealings with the Indians of the plains.

Far from being implacable, Geronimo more than once tried to reach an honourable accomodation with territorial adminstrations, and would have succeeded if he'd ever met one administrator who was a man of honour. I don't say it would have been impossible to find one, but I can't say it's surprising, after so many frustrations, that Geronimo grew tired of looking. From what's known of his character, it's very likely he would never have taken up arms again if the words of peace spoken to the Apaches at Apache Tejo (U.S. Territory, 1863) had been genuine rather than a calculated move in a despicable act of betrayal.

I suppose it could be argued that if the territorial adminstration was as ruthless as I've suggested, they would have hanged him unceremoniously at his last surrender. I suspect the administration would have been happy to do that if public opinion would have allowed it, but in fact it wasn't usual to hang or even jail enemy combatants who had honourably surrendered. The imprisonment at hard labour of Geronimo and his remnant band was a violation of the terms of surrender. Robert E. Lee wasn't imprisoned and put to hard labour at his surrender, and Lee's brilliant generalship considerably prolonged a far more devastating insurrection than Geronimo's, with far less justification at its core. Geronimo was not fighting to preserve a slave empire.

I'd guess the administration figured they could avoid the time, trouble and possibly embarrassing publicity of a trail and hanging, by quietly working Geronimo to death. He was nearly sixty, which is a lot older in 19th century years than in ours. He double-crossed them by living to be eighty and telling his own story in his own words. Words always rich in their cadence, and at the height of their sonority reminiscent of a Cathedral bell.

C 2007 Martin Heavisides

July 8, 2007

Renoir at the National Gallery, Ottawa

I was pleasantly surprised by the Renoir exhibition at the National Gallery. With the best will in the world I find it hard to regard most of Renoir as anything but superior decoration, and perhaps the reason is he's most famous for portraits. With the exception of one interesting self-reflexive piece in this show--a canvas showing a landscape with a painter, off to the side, painting it (this being Monet)--the figures in his drawings are stiff, overposed, not sensitively handled. But most of them are pure landscape and he shows far more sensitivity in portraying earth, water, sun and the elements moving through it. I wrote down impressions of the paintings that particularly struck me:

Laundry Boat on the Seine near Paris (1871) grey, wintry scene--blackish brown boat, touched up here and there with white, bobbing on grey water. The sidenote speculates that it was painted during the period of the commune (Mar.-May 1871) which would mean winter was hanging in that year. It's certainly a scene full of sympathy for ordinary workers such as might have joined the communards at the barricades if they'd been in Paris. Luckily he is able to portray their situation indirectly, since if he'd painted the family living on the boat they'd likely have come out like the extremely posed couple in

La Promenade 1870 Man in working clothes gives hand to woman to help her up path. Not a very exciting canvas.

Duck Pond 1873 (1) Pink sky exploding behind leaved and partly leaved trees along the bank of a river. Ducks on the pond perfect flutterballs of white with black crowns. (2) I was mistaken. The pink sky is the roof of a house otherwise barely visible, but more so in the second study (roof now orange). Mix of ducks and swans on the pond (the black crowned white feathered birds in the previous scene being, perhaps, Dwans.)

Claude Monet Painting at His Garden at Argenteuil (c. 1873) Self-reflexive, technique mirrors Monet's. (Same might be said of the two Duck Ponds. Mostly Renoir worked alone, but in that case he and Monet were painting side by side.)

The Bridge at Chateau c. 1875 Sunlight on a river, bridge and town behind pauses to have its picture taken (much the same might be said of Les Grands Boulevard and La Square de la Trinite, same year).

The Wave 1879 Waterscape, no land visible. Portrait of a storm. (The Wave 1882 is far less interesting, a mess of paint in search of a point of view.)

Landscape at Wargemount 1879 Orgy of colour, red deepening to purple, orange, amber, controlled firebursts, everything, the greens particularly, heightened as colour is under partly overcast sky especially if there has recently been rain.

Wheatfield 1879 Again brilliant colours (subdued ripples of gold through the light brown of the wheatfield predominating in foreground) under a moody sky full of assembling/dispersing clouds.

I hope somebody other than Renoir titled Lady With Parasol and a Small Child--it seems an odd order to put them in.

Algerian Landscape "The Ravine of the Wild Woman" 1881 Spiky blue aloes in foreground, background an indiscriminate sweep of bushes and flowers, all alight, all swaying under the force of wind? heat haze? Dizzy uphill perspective.

The Jardin d'Essai, Algiers 1881 Eloquent palms, brown with bursts or red or (the new growth ones nearer earth) verdant green, accompany their shadows across the parched sand on a promenade.

Banks of the Seine 1880-81 Pink sky traverses groves of willows and poplars to reappear as pink sheen on water, crosses wild sprays and thickets of bush and early growth forest to become a pink pathway through.

Fog on Guernsey 1883 Another study of light breaking through obscuring elements with powerful force. (Fog visible mainly over the water, not unlike puffs of steam above a tea kettle.)

The Bay of Naples (Morning) 1881 Mist burning off at sunrise. Complicated crisscross patterns of ships with furled sails in the harbour. Volcano smoking just to the left of centre in background?

Rocky Crags at L'Estaque 1882 As in others of his paintings, trees bursting with leaves above trunks that are vivid red. The hills a near white, interposed by what must be growths of forest or bush, but read at this distance like stands of moss or lichen.

C 2007 Martin Heavisides

July 5, 2007

What Were They Thinking?

{as before, there's at least a fifty-fifty chance these are principally the fault of mechanical proofreading systems}

We need First Nations to have reified present-day native-led nations in the real geography of the land.
---Robert Priest, Now, June 28-July 4, '07

Surely it's the reification, or something like it, of the nations and their land claims that native groups chiefly complain of? Only by actually writing this sentence could you remove all of its muddle, but 'ratify' instead of 'reify' would at least give it the dignity of a conventional lamely-worded platitude. (I recommend checking out Drew Hayden Taylor's piece in the same issue.)

"What is the Captain's name of the boat in the musical Showboat?"
--Trivial Pursuit Question, Timothy's Chalkboard, June 29 '07

I'm not even sure what the question is: what is the Captain's name? What is the name of the boat? Or does the Captain have a name of his own for the boat, different from the one she's commonly known by? "Her name was McGill/And she called herself Lil/But everyone knew her as Nancy."

C 2007 Martin Heavisides


"In the studio, [native activist Terry Nelson] favours a T-shirt sporting an image of the ruthless Apache warrior Geronimo above the slogan: "Homeland security. Fighting Terrorism since 1492."

I confess to foreboding at the term 'terrorists' being attached to white colonizers. Along with its false revisionist branding of Eurpoeans' intentions and policies, not to mention pre-emptive self-exculpation for possible future reprisals in kind, the word speaks to a reckless sensibility with an itchy trigger finger. By extension, I sense in Nelson's identification with Geronimo, whose diehard refusal to recognize the American government resulted in years of futile Intifada-style bloodlettings, a romantic intoxication with an ideological zeitgeist that justifies random violence amongst the world's (soi-disant or actually) colonized."

--Barbara Kay, Nat Post, July 4 '07

Revisionist. I'd certainly never suspected Barbara Kay of closet Bolshevist sympathies. I wonder if we can soon look forward to her blueprint for a new Gulag?

Columbus began the European colonization of the 'new world'--though he certainly didn't discover for Europe lands whose banks Europeans had been fishing for two generations already. It's not entirely relevant to his role as imperialist that he was an appallingly bad sailor and navigator--men refused to sail with him until he had hired a competent navigator, Martin Pinson, for fear he'd smash his ships, and he did manage to sink the Santa Maria through incompetence, Pinson barely saving the Nina and Pinta. Not entirely relevant, but satisfying to record just the same. What is relevant is that his forthright intention was to grapple to himself as much wealth as possible, gold being his chief preference; his policy for achieving this to enslave whole peoples and set them in to digging. This intention and policy--broadened, sophisticated and improved with hypocritical gloss "We appropriate other's lands and weath and enslave their persons for their own good, as part of the great work of civilization"--became the prototype for dedicated European colonizers in the new world. Swift's incomparable two paragraph anatomy of empire building near the close of Gulliver's Travels cannot have been intended merely as a portrait of Columbus, but fits his method in every detail, and his biography in all but one: I don't believe Columbus had ever been a pirate as the vast majority of empire builders, up to and somewhat beyond Swift's day, were at first, until they found a crown-approved legitimate outlet for their greed, rapacity and cool killer's temperament. Would I call Columbus a terrorist? no. A thief, yes, a conniver, sycophant and terrifying bully, a mass murderer himself and the inspirator of mass murders by others--I'd call him all that as well as the very model of a Eurpoean colonizer.

Andrew Jackson--the first of the truly implacable demonizers of America's native peoples, who was certainly one of many reasons there were Indian nations who would fight to the death against impossible odds rather than recognize any American government--wouldn't call him a terrorist either. With his revolution of the rich against the poor, slaveholders against slaves and those who sought to free them, with his fevered efforts to exterminate every Indian on American soil, man, woman and child, I'd call him a preliminary sketch for Hitler. You see? if we put on our thinking caps and let them massage and stretch the muscles of our minds, it's possible to find terms fitted to almost any occasion in the lexicon of abuse, without falling back on hackneyed cliches-of-the-day such as 'terrorist'.

Or 'revisionist', a term time's turned soft and mushy, though to be called it has sometimes been a death sentence in the fairly recent past. I've never seen anybody use it who wasn't trying to paper over an historical argument and hide its present implications, while trying to give the appearance of the utmost conscientious attention. As it is here, since Ms. Kay offers no opinion on the intentions and policies of colonialism--as you see I have offered mine here--only contends a t-shirt thesis on the subject is oversimplified. I have to say I haven't read many t-shirt slogans that aren't oversimplified, or met many people who are really prepared to go to the wall for the truth of what's printed on their casual summer outerwear.

The First Nations' Day of Action was not even a rude interruption of business as usual, but a polite and barely discernible one. As for the remark Barbara Kay quoted that alarmed her most--"There are only two ways of dealing with the white man. One, either you pick up a gun, or you stand between the white man and his money"--even though I haven't any money and therefore would get the shitty end of the deal, I can't say it alarms me much more than the similar rhetoric of the Black Panthers in the '60s, though if I were First Nation by birth and familiar with that period it would alarm me---rhetoric like that got a number of Panthers killed, as well as blacks unconnected to the movement but in the line of fire. It's nowhere near as offensive as "The only good Indian is a dead Indian," and there've been Canadians who believed and acted on that motto, and whole American administrations that had no other response to the Native question. One of these is permanently memorialized on the U.S. $20 bill.

C 2007 Martin Heavisides

July 3, 2007

Peter Barnes

{in (just a few of) his own words}

So what was I trying to do in these plays? I wanted to write a roller-coaster drama of hairpin bends; a drama of expertise and ecstasy balanced on a tightrope between the comic and tragic with a mult-faceted fly-like vision where every line was dramatic and every scene a play in itself; a drama with a language so exact it could describe what the flame of a candle looked like after the candle had been blown out and so high-powered it could fuse telephone wires and have a direct impact on reality; a drama that made the surreal real, that went to the limit, then further, with no dead time, but with the speed of a seismograph recording an earthquake. . . a drama glorifying differences, condemning heirarchies, that would rouse the dead to fight, always in the forefront of the struggle for the happiness of all mankind, an anti-boss drama for the shorn not the shearers.
. . .
At times I feel I could not track an elephant in six feet of snow, but at least I have provided a good home for scores of old jokes who had nowhere else to go. I have laughed a lot when I did not feel a lot like laughing, and of course I have made a mess of my life, but then I have made a mess of all my shirts. I write hoping to make the world a little better and perhaps to be remembered. The latter part of that statement is foolish, as I can see, quite plainly, the time when this planet grows cold and the Universe leaks away into another Universe and the Cosmos finally dies and there is nothing but night and nothing. It's the end, but that is never a good enough reason for not going on. A writer who does not write corrupts the soul. Besides, it is absurd to sit around sniffing wild flowers when you can invent them, and new worlds.
---Barnes Plays One, pp. viii-ix

13th Earl of Gurney: Touched him, saw her, towers of death and silence, angels of fire and ice. Saw Alexander covered with honey and beeswax in his tomb and felt the flowers growing over me. A man must have his visions. How else could an English judge and peer of the realm take moonlight trips to Marrakesh and Ponders End? See six vestal virgins smoking cigars? Moses in bedroom slippers? Naked bosoms floating past Formosa? Desperate diseases need desperate remedies. (Glancing towards the door.) Just time for a quick one. (Places noose over his head again.) Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and play the man. There's plenty of time to win this game, and thrash the Spaniards too. (Draws his sword.) Form squares men! Smash the Mahdi and Binnie Barnes!

(With a lustful gurgle he steps off.But this time he knocks over the steps. Dangling helpless for a second he drows the sword and tries to tear the noose free, gesturing frantically.)

. . .

14th Earl of Gurney: My heart rises with the sun. I'm purged of doubts and negative innuendoes. Today I want to bless everything! Bless the crawfish that has a scuttling walk, bless the trout, the pilchard and periwinkle. Bless Ted Smoothey of 22 East Hackney Road--with a name like that he needs blessing. Bless the mealy-redpole, the black-gloved wallabye and W.C. Fields, who's dead but lives on. Bless the skunk, bless the red-bellied lemur, bless 'Judo' Al Hayes and Ski-Hi-Lee. Bless the snotty-nosed giraffe, bless the buffalo, bless the Society of Women Engineers, bless the wild yak, bless the Picadilly Match King, bless the pygmy hippo, bless the weasel, bless the mighty cockroach, bless me. Today's my wedding day!
--from The Ruling Class

Carlos: Has Christ died that children might starve?
And whole towns made poor t'raise up the merchants' walls
(They turn bread t' stones; the Devil'd more charity,
Turning stones t' bread; 'tis no wonder men worship him).
Why shouldst some ha' surfeit, others go hungry?
One man two coats, another go naked?
Now I see Authority's a poor provider
No blessings come from 't
No man born shouldst ha' 't, wield 't.
Authority's the Basilisk, the crowned dragon
Scaly, beaked and loathsome.
Born from a cock's egg, hatched under a toad
Its voice is terror, glance, certain death.
Streams where 't drank once are poisoned
And the grass around turns black.
'Twill make a desert o' this world
Whilst there's still one man left t' gi' commands
And another who'll obey 'em.
Release all suspects!
I'm not bewitched or possessed,
'Cept t' right the wrongs done my people.
I'll show you the good life, if you'll show me pardon
F'not knowing thy needs and miseries.
I raise my hat t'you three times in courtesy.
---from The Bewitched

Lilly: Their first question was, 'Is there intelligent life on earth?' I thought for a long time before answering that question. I still believe it was a trick. With their vast powers they would've known whether there was or not. Anyway I finally answered choosing my words with care, 'Yes. . . you could say there was intelligent life on earth.' I wasn't going to be caught making wild generalizations. They must've thought the reply satisfactory because they asked me there and then if I'd help the cause of Cosmic Uplifting by becoming their P.T.M.R.C.
. . .
It seemed strange at first conducting Operation 'Dog Star Evening Star' from 14a Willowside Avenue, East Sheen. For in this world-spread spiritual operation twenty four mountains in countries from Peru to Tibet, from the Rockies to Fiji were charged, through me, as New Space Centres. I made these mountains great batteries of power which would radiate through the world thus renewing the vital psychic energy banks of Mother Earth. Instructed by the Alphan High Governors I was able to recharge the Earth's batateries by supreme mental concentration and silent prayer. In Cosmic time this Solar Recharging lasted some five years or 1 1/2 minutes in Earth time. The mental concentration demand was enormous but so was the importance of the operation. One miscalculation and it would've turned out a failure, vast worlds would've been thrown out of orbit and this Earth would've dropped out of Vector Balance with the Cosmos, never to return. But it wasn't a failure. Far from it. Thank Zorn, I was equal to the task. . . Satellite Number One Magnetic flux in this quadrant is eight and holding. Magnetic flux eight and holding. . .
. . .
I have been a humble instrument of Great Powers. I could've taken this world apart and put it together. The greatest terrestrialman this world has seen since the great Avatars who also acted as agents, Shri Krishna Buddha, Moses, Christ and Mohammed. I am of their country. . . 'Come in Satellite Number One, Satellite Two, Satellite Three come in. . . ' But I'll slip away, no trace in the snow, no hand print in the dust and they'll continue delivering the morning paper as if nothing had happened, as if they hadn't lost a great Avatar. . . 'Come in all Satellites. Come in all Satellites. Come in. . . ' I could've been all-mighty and no-one would've smiled. But who knew? You don't know. How could you know?. . .
---Confesssions of a Primary Terrestrial Mental Receiver and Communicator: Num III Mark I

July 2, 2007


Good evening one and all, we're all so glad to see you here.
We'll play your favourite songs while you soak up the atmosphere.
We'll start with 'Old Man River'.
It may be stormy weather too.
I'm sure you'll know just what to do.
On with the show, good health to you!

--Jagger, Richards, On With the Show

So I entertained myself on Canada Day, the weather being blustery and unpredictable in T.O., by taking in Michael Moore's latest, Sicko. Fitting, since Canada's is one of the health care systems Moore holds up as exemplary by comparison with his own country. Recall thinking he was wise to go to London, Ontario to ask about waiting times. In Toronto we're still feeling the impact of Mike Harris's hospital closures, though I don't think people are actually dying at the rate of one every week or two anymore, as they desperately hunt up the nearest open facility--the system's managed at least a partial recovery from that mean-minded murderous assault. We've closed the worst of the bleeding holes. And I would suggest anyone inclined to think Moore's is the last word on the British health care system take a look at Lindsay Anderson's Brittania Hospital. But I agree with a point Moore's made about that in interviews--he isn't obliged to anatomize rival health care systems down to the bone, and he certainly isn't obliged to prove rival systems perfect, given how far from perfect the American system is, either compared to other systems or in its own proud isolation.

The section of the film that's proved most controversial comes at the end, when he seeks medical attention for three boatloads of HMO victims at Guantanamo Bay, and when he's refused there, chugs a little further onto the island of Cuba proper. What no reviewer's commented on that I've seen is that the decision to land in Cuba proper seems to have been improvised. Moore had made his point about Guantanamo Bay, and he surely must have known the result in advance. But using three boatloads of desperate people in a stunt and then dropping them off home must have seemed a little shabby. If that's how things happened it's a little less surprising he didn't feel the need to dot i's and cross t's about the less pleasant aspects of Castro's Cuba. As to whether Cuba, as has been speculated, was using this as a propaganda stunt, it's impossible to say--though they'd have to be swifter at improvisation than Moore, since he didn't phone ahead, and even official films complain that Cuban bureaucracy is plodding. (See Death of a Bureaucrat.) A number of reviewers with poor eyesight have even said the doctors seem selected for their Dr. McDreamy looks. TV star looks? Nah. No eyes blazing blue over scruffs of beard created by a special Hollywood razor. Healthy and handsome, yes. Posterboard material, no.

There's this to say on the question of whether Cuba treated (or at least now regards) this as a propaganda coup: who's to blame if they were able to use it that way? All the HMOs Moore indicts in this film had to do, to prevent this sort of propaganda against their system, was consistently provide honest and decent health care coverage at a fair rate, which systems all over the world manage to do without registering a loss.

The film confirms some of my reservations about Moore, but it's a reminder that his naif pose hides an incisive intelligence and corrosive wit--between films that sometimes dims in the memory. He can have his satirist's card back as far as I'm concerned, though the stunt buried in the last few minutes of the film suggests I should rather go on the attack. Moore discovered that a man who'd been keeping up an anti-Moore website over a number of years was about to close it down because his wife was ill and he couldn't cover her medical expenses. Moore sent an anonymous check to cover those expenses so the man didn't have to choose between saving his wife's life and keeping his attack site open. So perhaps I should write the most savage possible review and see if I can wangle an arts or journalism grant out of the Michael Moore Foundation.

C 2007 Martin Heavisides

July 1, 2007

Notions on Quotients

Just recently there's been a controversy in the press over whether recent studies actually demonstrate a 3% difference in IQ on average between first-born and late- to last-born children. Plus speculations on the reason, if these studies are true, for the greater intelligence of first-borns. I suppose I should declare at the start that I'm a last-born, but my reasons for doubting whether IQ is a credible measure of intelligence don't really have much to do with my placement in the family pecking order. (Equally, my view is not confounded by the fact that the one time I was tested, in grade 3, I had the highest score in class. I'm still above average on Trivial Pursuit questions.)

The most damning anecdotal evidence against the IQ test I know of is Billie Holliday's score the one time she was tested--87. It can be argued whether Billie Holliday was a genius or only a near-genius, but in either case, if IQ numbers mean what's routinely claimed for them, this score is out by at least 50 points. It's lucky for the reputation of the IQ test that they were able to assign at random, instead of testing, the IQs of Goethe, Mozart and Da Vinci. And a three point difference in IQ signifies what?

CBC ran a nationally televised IQ test recently. I didn't participate, but I did do a question from the test that was quoted in Toronto Star (Weekend): "Which of these words is closest in meaning to conflict?" a) was contradiction, d) problem. b) and c) weren't close at all. The correct answer given confidently, just below, was contradiction. You see my conflict here? Sure you can argue for contradiction, but--such being the nature of partial synonyms with their irregular areas of overlap--you can arague just as cogently for problem. So I was being asked, in effect, which is the whole number closest in value to 4, and told the correct answer was 5, not 3. And I'd lose points in the test for guessing, incorrectly, 3. And a three point difference in IQ signifies what?

If you tied a Cheetah's hind legs together and sent it running, you'd be surprised how overrated its recorded speed was in comparison to its performance when tested. If you devise an intelligence test which excludes any measure of divergent thinking, your results will be similarly distorted--and there's no way to test for divergent intelligence that can possibly produce a numerical grade. And how well do the two functioning legs of a Cheetah perform if two are hobbled? Not very. It's not possible to improve skills at convergent thinking by ignoring divergent thought--concentrating on correct answers to the exclusion of wide-ranging questions--because the quality of the answers we discover is intimately bound to the scope and free-ranging sweep of the questions we ask.

C 2007 Martin Heavisides

June 30, 2007

A Microbe Speaks

{Two 'test passages' from a projected novella I'm thinking of getting back to work on called Hello, This is Your Virus. The speaker is a microbiotic specimen that has been gifted with long life and articulate intelligence. Won't go into the specifics, might keep 'em just a little shady in the story itself, but keep in mind the voice in the following is that of a loquacious viral infection}

{This passage will link to a description of the organism's 'birth' as a conscious entity, in the bloodstream of a soldier in the great war. The argument connecting disease and war as natural phenomena will be considerably extended}

The influenza outbreak that followed (partly overlapping) the end of the First World War caused more deaths than every other battle of the war. Which suggests that if you were a miltary commander seeking true bang for your buck, you'd hire germs instead of people to fight your wars. Certainly they're a whole lot less demanding when it comes to wages and medical benefits. The only real disadvantage is that your true epidemic never knows when to quit. Try showing a deadly bacterial strain two rival armies sometime, and see how well it distinguishes friend from foe. If you lay much emphasis on the distinction yourself, the result is bound to disappoint.

The military efficiency of the 1918 epidemic is surprising in one sense: your average influenza strain is dumb as two posts, and this particular variety was dangerously inbred. It could lead you to wonder if military success is a function of intelligence at all.

{The virus's opinion of smart bombs}

Some of the terms you use puzzle me. There are whole nations whose bloodstreams my progeny are entirely ignorant of, so I have no firsthand knowledge of how suicide bombers are viewed in the parts of the world where they proliferate: I gather more admiringly than they are hereabouts. You tend to regard them as cowardly, which makes no sense according to any definition of the word I've ever come across--and the definitions you carry in your blood are truer than the ones you put on paper--or as mad, and that seems a good deal more plausible. Then you turn around and describe a bomb that acts exactly like a suicide bomber as smart: where's the logic in that? I have no idea what the quality of life is of your average bomb: maybe they're in a state of permanent depression or diffused impotent rage. But if these bombs were really smart, wouldn't they refuse to explode?

C 2007 Martin Heavisides