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