Saturday, December 31, 2005

Crossing Cultures and consequent Bafflement - Dinner for One

As part of its farewell, and more accurately in observation of the New Year, German TV will be broadcasting a sketch called 'Dinner for One' as the clock heads for the Central European midnight tonight. It is a long tradition in Germany to run this show as a key component of the New Year celebration. (I have not experienced it when in Austria for New Year's but that may have been simply not staying up late enough.)
It is about a 20-minute sketch in which a 90-year-old lady has a birthday party, and is helped by some sort of butler; none of the guests actually show up (it seems they have all died), and the pair drink away merrily as the evening proceeds, the butler standing in for each guest in turn as toasts are made; finally they retire, with both apparently somewhat sloshed.
I have seen this a couple of times and am told it is quite funny. To me it is a classic example of something that can cause helpless laughter in millions of people, and leave me dead cold.
The characters in the sketch are British, and the version shown each year was filmed in Hamburg by NDR in the '60s, with a British cast. It is NOT shown in the UK.
I am steeling myself for one last attempt to try to find it all amusing.
You can learn some more about it here.

Farewell German TV

The patience of the German taxpayers has run out and today is the last day of the broadcasting of GermanTV to North America. While I will save a little money each month as a result, I will miss the entertainment I have been soaking up during the all-too-short time it has been available on Canadian cable television.
My basic motivation was to get better at listening to spoken German, but the availability of this station also meant the availability of a good collection of German TV Krimis (crime shows). I much prefer the German Krimis to our police/detective shows in general. They offer a wonderful variety of protagonists, from older women who exert a good deal of authority and struggle with feckless husbands at home, to young 'uns trying to work their way into a rather hierarchical structures. There is very little physical violence (except from Claus Theo Gartner), and there is often a good deal of focus on procedure (der Alte). One series, Tatort (the scene of the crime), features police KomissarInnen in several different German cities, and each location generates quite an individual atmosphere. Some of the finest German actors appear in various roles on that show. I will miss it.
We are still left with Deutsche Welle, but it is primarily a news show, and as such, the speech one hears is more formal and easier to understand, so less useful for my purposes. And also less entertaining.
GermanTV also featured many soap operas; I feel more sorry for their fans, as the disappearance of the network means an abrupt end to a continuing story.
I do not recall watching sitcoms, or for that matter, much in the way of humour, other than Harald Schmidt, somewhat of a lesser Letterman; I did find him reasonably amusing.
In the end, apparently Germany's taxpayers could no longer see a case for subsidizing my entertainments. Fortunately (see my many posts about theatre-going, attending operas, etc) the Canadian taxpayers have not yet figured out to the same degree what is going on.

Wiener Blut

Our long month of the shows (one last night, one next weekend, two each of the following weekends) began last night as we attended the Toronto Operetta Theatre's Wiener Blut.
This operetta, written largely to music of Johann Strauss II after his death, is certainly no Die Fledermaus, but it is pretty hard to listen to two hours of Strauss without having the spirit lifted pretty significantly.
The plot of the operetta was inane, but the singing was a pleasure to hear, and the enthusiasm of the cast was a nice addition to the sheer exuberance of the music. Sean Watson really stood out for me, with wonderful diction, a fine baritone voice, and acting that carried the humour of his role in the plot nicely.
After a long period during which Gilbert and Sullivan wrote the only operettas I watched, my in-laws started exposing me a few years ago to the outdoor shows in Moerbisch, high quality productions, and a thorough treat despite the accompaniment of mosquitoes. One of the albums I played constantly as a teenager was a Met production of the Fledermaus with Rise Stevens and Anna Moffo, so my tastes had been developed to make me receptive to this style of art. I have yet to see the Fledermaus live; that is now a goal near the top of the list.
One nice side effect of going to this performance was exposure to the Jane Mallett Theatre for the first time in my 20 years in Toronto. Shame on me. We sat right above the orchestra, which was quite pleasant, and interesting; it is amazing what a lush sound 15 instruments can make.
My new vision contributed to the experience as well; all through my life, full of theatre-going, the actors on stage have always seemed a little fuzzy. One result of my surgery seems to be that I now see them clearly in ways I cannot recall. I should have had this done at birth!
All in all, this rigorous schedule is off to a good start.

Friday, December 30, 2005

One of Three

normblog suggested this entertaining partial self-revelation:

1. Beatles, Stones or Beach Boys? Beach Boys
2. Kant, Hegel, Marx? Kant
3. Cluedo, Monopoly, Scrabble? Scrabble
4. Paul Newman, Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford? Paul Newman.
5. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart? Beethoven (but man, that one is tough)
6. Australia, Canada, New Zealand? Australia
7. Groucho, Chico, Harpo? Groucho
8. Morning, afternoon, evening? Morning
9. Bridge, Canasta, Poker? Bridge
10. Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou? Fargo
11. Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau? Hobbes
12. Cricket, football, rugby? Cricket
13. Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte? Jane Austen
14. Parker, Gillespie, Monk? No idea
15. Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham? Arsenal
16. Cheers, Friends, Seinfeld? Seinfeld
17. Henry Fonda, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart? Cary Grant
18. France, Germany, Italy? France
19. Apple, orange, banana? Banana
20. Statham, Tyson, Trueman? Huh?
21. Rio Bravo, El Dorado, Rio Lobo? Rio Bravo
22. Katharine Hepburn, Meryl Streep, Ingrid Bergman? Ingrid Bergman
23. Chinese, Indian, Thai? Indian
24. Handel, Scarlatti, Vivaldi? Handel
25. Oasis, Radiohead, Blur? Huh?
26. Fawlty Towers, The Young Ones, Yes Minister? Fawlty Towers
27. Chekhov, Ibsen, Shaw? Chekhov
28. American football, baseball, basketball? American football
29. FDR, JFK, Bill Clinton? FDR
30. Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky? Luxemburg
31. Paris, Rome, New York? New York
32. Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Steinbeck? Steinbeck
33. Blue, green, red? Blue
34. Guys and Dolls, My Fair Lady, West Side Story? My Fair Lady
35. J.S. Mill, John Rawls, Robert Nozick? J.S. Mill
36. Armstrong, Ellington, Goodman? Armstrong
37. Ireland, Scotland, Wales (at rugby)? Wales (actually, no difference)
38. The Sopranos, 24, Six Feet Under? 24
39. Friday, Saturday, Sunday? Saturday
40. Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear? Macbeth
41. Fried, boiled, scrambled (eggs)? Fried
42. Paths of Glory, Cross of Iron, Saving Private Ryan? Paths of Glory
43. England, Australia, West Indies (at cricket)? Australia
44. Chabrol, Godard, Truffaut? Truffaut
45. Bringing It All Back Home, Blonde on Blonde, Blood on the Tracks? Blonde on Blonde
46. Trains, planes, automobiles? Automobiles
47. North By Northwest, Psycho, Vertigo? North by Northwest
48. Third, Fourth, Fifth (Beethoven Piano Concerto)? Fourth
49. Coffee, tea, chocolate? Coffee
50. Cardiff, Edinburgh, Dublin? Edinburgh (only one I have been in)


In what appears to be a rather stupid behaviour (the alternative is that someone hacked his site), a Liberal organizer in Ontario used his blog to publicize what he considered to be jokes, one of which was to put photos of a Toronto NDP candidate for a federal seat, Olivia Chow, side-by-side with a picture of a Chow-Chow dog, and the joint caption 'Separated at Birth?'.
Is this racism? I suppose it depends on what was going on in his mind, but it looks more like species-ism to me. It's a pretty broad brush that gets used with the notion of 'racism' today, it seems; I note that people expressing reservations about Islam are often called 'racists' in response, which bespeaks a serious lack of understanding on the part of those using the term.
Jack Layton, Chow's husband, and the leader of her party, cites what he considers to be a justification of such a characterization in this case, with:
Layton noted that Europeans who controlled portions of China in the past used to hang signs that read "no dogs or Chinese allowed," and said no Chinese person familiar with their history will ever forget those signs.

"This is no joke, and I think it's a culture of arrogance that has set in . . . and the election will have to deal with it," he said. "It reminds us that insults flow from arrogance. There is far too much of this in today's Liberal party."
I rather agree with Layton's second paragraph, but the assertion in the first paragraph is an interesting one. A quick Google search brings up some very interesting discussions of the claim about the 'no dogs or Chinese' sign, which can be summarized as: there is widely spread through Asia the notion that Huangpu Park in Shanghai had a sign at the entrance that said "no dogs or Chinese allowed" (and in fact such a sign appears in a Bruce Lee movie, "Fists of Fury"); there is NO solid evidence extant at all that this is true. So let it join the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, etc. And be careful - I do not doubt for a second that there were parks that denied entry to Chinese, and to dogs, and likely to several other categories, and that some of the exclusions were utterly racist in character. The point is the short catchphrase.

The web site in question included quite a bit of stupid abuse, against Layton too, and Stephen Harper. My own guess is that it is all of a category and Chow's surname fed the 'fertile' mind thinking up what he thought to be jokes, rather than any actual racism. It helps nobody to have accusations of 'racism' flying around for no very good reason.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Outraged Cat Sleeping

My own cat has been blogged by someone else! And I am grateful as it provokes this post. Just to show that the old fellow can look other than outraged, here is a slightly different perspective.

Boxing Day at the Beach

With my new-found vision, I am trying to get back into the habit of regular visits to my normal jogging haunts (I am not yet allowed to exercise vigorously, but walking is permitted). So I wandered down to the beach this morning; it is Canada, so it is not quite summery, but I was greeted by a lovely sunrise.
Part of my mission was to see how the swans were doing. I came upon three of them having breakfast (and you will note the young (grey) one is even drooling with satisfaction in one of the pictures).

Also about were the usual mallards, plus quite a number of buffleheads, what I took to be some goldeneyes. Some cormorants were commuting from their roosting area to their breakfasting spot.
I went back this morning and behold! The oldsquaws are back! I love their chatter when they are gathered en masse; today they were paddling about in small groups so it was a little impressive. But the arrival of the oldsquaws is always a milestone (I did not see any yesterday, though they could have been around somewhere).
There was also a sign that a beaver had been actively at work recently.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Bionic Fellowship enters Phase Two

For those following my eye improvement progresm, the second lens replacement operation took place yesterday; today's examination seems to say it went well, though it was a rougher ride than the first operation. The multimedia experience which I had in the first operation, featuring wild colours, occasionally sensations of water rushing through the eye, and eerie sounds, was enriched this time by a sensation I don't recall from the first operation, that of having my eye jerked around and manipulated directly. Perhaps a matter of anesthesia, but it was never painful.

So now we await a few more weeks of the eyes adjusting themselves. I have a provisional pair of glasses for distance vision, and can read fine without glasses, and the world is much clearer than it has been for months, and features more contrast and apparently brighter colours than it has in years.

My fellows in yesterday's round of operations were somewhat more subdued than the companions of the first one. Nobody was singing a national anthem or talking about joking with the surgical staff about their boyfriends, and that is slightly to be regretted.

It does make me wonder what crackpot ever thought there was any future in the idea of fixing clouding lenses by sucking the old ones out and sticking new plastic ones in.

Stay Clear of the Stampeding Porcupines

I was reading an article in my morning printed Toronto Star about the US Republicans' somewhat dubiously conducted attempt to get drilling permitted in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and the article included the following passage:
Ottawa has argued drilling would affect the migrating Caribou, porcupine herds, and the centuries-old way of life of the Gwitchin First Nation in the Yukon
Down here in the south porcupines live a more solitary lifestyle than up north - I decided it was the cold that caused them to band together in herds, and I tried to imagine the sight of porcupines as far as I could see crossing the tundra, and the Gwitchin people of course killing exactly as many of them needed to supply exactly the food they need, the vital porcupine fat for their oil lamps, and of course the skins for their porcupine leather outfits, while running a tiny industry in porcupine quill novelties for sale in craft stores here in Ontario. In fact I almost expect to see some excellent German nature documentaries on these subjects, including the courage of the people in facing the danger of possibly triggering a porcupine stampede, something that strikes me as having significant danger for anyone nearby, as well as for the porcupines. Or maybe I am over-interpreting 'herd', and in fact the porcupine has been domesticated by the remarkable Gwitchin.

Of course the truth is more prosaic. The Star fact-checkers missed this one (hmmm I wonder if the Star does use fact-checkers). There is a herd (one, so far as I know) that is generally referred to as the Porcupine Caribou Herd and you can read about it at multiple sites, like this one, which any Google search on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or for that matter on caribou and porcupine, would bring your own personal fact-checker.

The article online has been fixed as follows (it's a Star link so no guarantees from me)
Ottawa has argued drilling would threaten the migratory Porcupine caribou herds, and the centuries-old way of life of the Gwitchin First Nation in the Yukon.
So it is not yet quite fixed though at least I can breathe more easily.

The best part of this is that the error made it to the Star's allied free morning newspaper, Metro, which was being read by pretty well everyone I saw on our subway train and buses as I was making my way ta and from my eye surgeon. I wonder what all those people were picturing. At least they were paying a reasonable price for the Guardian-Independent-quality accuracy the Star seems to aspire to.

Someone suggested a nice image related to the idea of the domestication of porcupines - porcupine dogs, the analogue of sheep dogs. I imagine breeding would produce something like a Border Collie but with a specially hardened snout for resisting the quills as they harry the porcupines.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Those Ancient Greeks!

My local cable TV is now running 'Troy' and 'Alexander' so I am able to enjoy all these tales, now played out for me on my TV screen.
Neither film is anywhere near so bad as I had anticipated.
Brad Pitt is an utterly perfect pouting Achilles in 'Troy', pissed off at the whole universe. Eric Bana's Hector is too good to be true, but that is what he should be. Helen is a slut - and so should she be. I recall movie reviews joking that this actress' face might be the face that launched 3 ships, but I would up the ante to more like 100. Let's leave the mythical Helen on another scale.
As for 'Alexander', I came in with incredibly low expectations. After all, it is an Oliver Stone film. And it is true that the dialogue and script are at their high points leaden.
But I am not finding it anywhere nearly as bad as anticipated (well, given that I knew it was Stone, and would be ponderous). Many reviewers laughed at Angelina Jolie but I find her perfect; Colin Farrell is less bad than the reviewers caused me to expect, though I will agree that he is pretty tedious, especially when getting philosophical. I am only partly through the film, so we shall see.
I shall update this post when I know more.
All I know for sure know is that this is way better than I would have expected from Oliver Stone. And I feel sorry for Colin Farrell, for all the bad jokes people made about his performance. He seems pretty good to me.

Studio 2 Sports

I agree with their summary point - watch out for the Patriots.

I'll trust Athena on this

One of my relatives sent me a link recently suggesting that women were barely better off in Afghanistan today that they were under the Taliban. This seemed at best highly dubious to me, and could only be believed under the most curious of ways of equating before and after.

Athena at Terrorism Unveiled posts very nicely on this today. It is worth going and checking out her post. She makes no pretence that the new world is perfect, but it is seems too easy to forget how awful what did exist was.

P.Z. Myers and Mark Steyn - another unfortunate round

Myers asks this question about Mark Steyn:
Conservatives don't actually pay any attention to this guy, do they?
Well, yeah, I think so; many people consider me a conservative (I am not sure), and I must say Myers cured me of my enjoyment of Steyn's very slick glib wit - in a previous post I linked to the exchange that caused me to stop reading Steyn. And I have in fact stopped. So some conservatives (if I am one) actually no longer pay attention to him.

It is sad - he could be really funny. But he himself made it clear there was not a lot behind the humour with his comment about one look out the window being enough for him to come to a conclusion.

Go read Myers' post. Steyn really should not have got past his glib dismissals, which at least did not expose him to half the trouble Myers now creates for him. I think my favourite Myers paragraph was the following:
And really, the rest of his argument, besides being a sloppy hodge-podge, is just as fallacious. He points to the differences between organisms as somehow supporting his point of the intrinsic and unquestionable superiority of humankind. He doesn't seem to recognize the symmetry of the differences: if I am 1.5% different from a chimpanzee, the chimpanzee is also 1.5% different from me. All science can measure here is a difference, not whether one is "superior" to another…and if anything, since we're all equally children of a long history of evolution, we'd have to say that each are roughly equally fit to their role in nature.
It reminded me of an interview I recall hearing on the CBC's Sunday Edition with Stephen Jay Gould, where the interviewer got all excited about how some possible disaster could wipe out life on earth, and Gould pointed out that perhaps human life could be wiped out, but it would be pretty hard to knock off all life. And a lot of the non-human stuff looks pretty persistent to me!

Myers also has a little fun with some further Steyn twittiness:

There's a peculiar notion, the idea that mooning about over an afterlife that doesn't exist is by definition more efficient than a secular society. How? Why should I believe that? Does Steyn also believe that a planned central economy is more efficient by definition than capitalism, and does that mean it is more efficient in practice? Secularism has a history of working very, very well, as the United States and Canada and modern Europe show. Where is this highly efficient religious state that we should admire and model ourselves after?

It baffles me Steyn wants to pick this fight again. He is overmatched.

The BBC lets Matt Frei go to Bolivia

...or so it seemed, and wax orgasmic over what is likely a disastrous election outcome for the Bolivian people, though one can understand the emotions behind it.

Brad deLong finds a lovely historical reference from Pyrrhus on the subject and cites an insightful NY Times article on the problems in Bolivia.
"Another such victory and I am lost," said Pyrrhus of Epirus after beating Rome's legions. Juan Ferrero writes about another such victory--this time for the left in Bolivia
To give the BBC some small credit, their expert analyst indicated he did not know what would happen. And from what I have read, I suspect Morales has no idea either right now. We shall see.

Wendy Crewson was in an Episode of Street Legal!?

Just to fill in you non-Canadians, 'Street Legal' was an excellent, well, really good, TV series that ran several seasons in Canada Many of the most significant players in our acting/theatre community are veterans of that series - Albert Schultz, the brilliand father of Soulpepper, played the utterly sleazy Rob Diamond; Cynthia Dale, whom I defy anyone not to find somewhat fetching, played the perfectly awful Olivia Novak.
And now I find Season 5 opened with a series of episodes with Wendy Crewson, playing "Wendy Nelson" (well, that should have made it easier for her to remember the character's name).
My heavens though! I have watched her in the Joanne Kilbourn movies (well, TV-movies) and in the Spenser movies (well, TV-movies), but as I watch this episode, all I can say is Wow!! Even more than I have in the past. I sure wish I remembered that old 'Cherry Orchard' better.
Heavens to Betsy - Maury Chaykin is in this episode too. And he is superb, no surprise.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Naomi Watts was in 'Flirting'?!

Flirting is one of those very fine movies that came idiosyncratically out of Australia.

It was a Noah Taylor vehicle, and he is great - I have yet to see a film he is in that was a waste of time (and that is high praise). And Thandie Newton was totally impressive.

What I really recall from watching that film was a young actress, playing some authority figure at the girls' school; the actress was attractive and clearly very good - her name was Nicole Kidman and later she became famous.

But now, years later, I learn Naomi Watts (whom I have found utterly great in '21 Grams', 'Mulholland Drive', and of course, most recently. 'King Kong'), was also in 'Flirting'!.

OK - time to head for the DVD rental shop and watch that excellent film one more time.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Purple Fingers!

I don't normally do this sort of thing but this is an important day and you should go read Omar's latest today - it is being steadily updated.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Our PM will stand up for Canadian Values

Our Prime Minister (PM) as part of his electioneering, decided to miss no opportunities to claim to lecture the US, and used the climate conference in Montreal to make an ostentatious and absurd appeal to the US to agree to binding targets. Of course the interesting thing is that Canada, like many other Kyoto signatories, speaks loudly and carries no stick at all. Whatever we have agreed to, no progress is even approaching.

Many reports, even on our media, show that Canada's emissions have increased far more rapidly since the Kyoto conference, than those in the US. Chalk one up for Canadian values.

The other issue we like to posture on is softwood lumber. Here I think the American complaint is utterly correct - the 'arrangements' we have regarding costing of lumbering acreage obscures costs horridly. On the other hand, I do think it would be better if the US appeared to take more seriously the various NAFTA arrangement we have in place.

In any case what are the values Martin says he will defend? I guess those of posturing and legalism before substance. Sounds about right. Those are our Canadian values today. Shame.

The Lord of the Apes - King Kong

For several years my management has been rewarding its employees with a special day around this time of year featuring a movie showing, usually on the day of its premiere, and before general release, in the morning, and the rest of the day off. The films in the past have usually been Star Trek films, or Bond films - I work among nerds (and am one proudly).
For the last three years it has been "The Lord of the Rings", and this has been tough for me - the first half hour of the first film was lovely - I truly enjoyed the Hobbit world Peter Jackson created. After that it all went to hell for me, turning more or less into a silly video-game full of monsters, with occasional bouts of implausible mythical gorp. The only redemption was in the final episode where Miranda Otto turned up.
So this year's selection of "King Kong" left me in some doubt.
It is done magnificently, though overall it is generally still the sort of thing I don't require to be done. It is a great thing that others do want this sort of film, as this had elements I thought were marvellous.
Jackson knows about movie-making in many ways that matter. I will never forget the opening sequences in "Godfather II", where the Italian New York is created for the young deNiro, and Jackson's opening half hour did somewhat the same thing for me, convincing me I was in New York of the '30s. I confess I found the journey of the ship and its encounter with the rocks compelling as well (and loved Thomas Kretschmann as the captain).
Once we got to the island, in Act 2, we found ourselves back in video-game silliness - I suspect many will enjoy the battle of the stolid ape with three T-Rexes all at once, but this is not my cup of tea; I also found tedious beyond my taste the battles with the insects. The Brontosaurus stampede through the canyon was pretty good but that comes early, before it has all been laid on way too much (for me - my guess is many will find this section the best - the technical elements are unreal). I must say as well that the stupidity of the characters began to wear on me in this act.
And then we were back in New York and I perked up. Even knowing that Naomi Watts would not fall off the Empire State building, I found my palms coated in sweat. It took far too long for things to get resolved but I was never really in painful boredom.
Jackson achieved quite a lovely balance; he left a goofy implausible story in that state. That is the respect it deserved - for example, while it may be implausible to find dinosaurs on an island in the South Pacific, it is no more implausible than Naomi Watts' being able to climb the Empire State Building in those lovely high heels, or her being able to stand up without being hit by major winds up at the top. Jackson does not care and that is right. I must say King Kong's climb up the building appeared to me to defy the laws of physics and that is one of the delights of cheap fiction.
He has a script that leaves a perfect slot for the wonderful Jack Black, and Adrien Brody and Naomi Watts do just what they must do. The script is sly, and amusing, and Jackson gets a chance to "say" many things about film-making and our human love for telling stories and putting on shows for one another.
For people like me I give this about 3 out of 4; my guess, though, is that for many this is 5 out of 4. It is also a film worth seeing in a theatre.

UPDATE: Fun watching the Canada AM review. So the fight with T-Rexes is 20 whole minutes - no wonder it seemed so tedious to me. But I did like the brontosaurus stampede.
And yeah, I did feel for the ape. And the geek reviewer is right that the small plot change, Watts' vaudeville act for the ape, is a vital part of why this thing works. To the degree it does.

UPDATE (Jan 16 2006): P. Z. Myers reviews the film, with a somewhat broader perspective than mine.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Law and Order

My friend EclectEcon has begun to sign off his enthusiasm for "Law and Order".

I read his post and thought about it and had to agree that there was a gruesome political correctness taking over even this series that for so long had made so much sense and had done so much to teach us about how the law works.

And yet. And yet. I shall keep watching. And here is why.

Mariska Hargitay in SVU. I always thought Jayne Mansfield was a sad joke. What a nice heritage and lovely actress for her to have left behind.

The general troop of Jack McCoy's ADAs. This is one major puclchritudinous army, now shipped off across the universe. All gorgeous young actresses. There seems no end to them.

I am in my mid-50s. And so there is something I enjoy even more. The syndicated episode I watched tonight featured Mariette Hartley! She is a delight - of course she had a certain other magic on her younger days in the fabulous Ride the High Country and later in the Rockford Files but heavens - it is nice to see her now.

Moreover we also get Dianne Wiest, who had two unforgettable dates in one night with Hannah's ex-husband in Hannah and her Sisters.

So I can absorb the political correctness for some other politically incorrect rewards.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Local Candidates

Paul Summerville (running in St. Paul's) might tempt me. I mentioned I could vote for an NDPer despite all the compromises that would mean.

He is not running in my riding.

Sad. And in his riding right now I would vote for Peter Kent.

I *love* elections!!

I have no idea who will seduce me in my riding. I sent them all a note today asking what they thought of Louise Arbour's apparent notion that free speech in Denmark was out of place.

Curious to hear what they all say.

Win Some, Lose Some - Subscription Series

We subscribe to a pretty full Canadian Stage Theatre season each year - part of the point of subscription is to forcibly be exposed to shows one would not otherwise choose to watch.

This can have wonderful effects. One of the best shows we have seen in this context was Leslie Arden's "House of Martin Guerre". It is inconceivable that we would have bought tickets individually for that show.

Much the same is true perhaps of "Cookin' at the Cookery", the first Jackie Richarson show we saw as part of a series there. It was wonderful, not just for Jackie Richarson, but largely because of her.

I regard her as a Toronto theatre spectacular resource.

Her show last year, based on the music of Fats Waller, "Ain't Misbehavin'", was also delightful.

But this year's show made me think Canadian Stage just offers her a show, whatever show. This show had a concept, "Crowns" - where the crowns are the hats - so crowns - worn by black women in the US South - and the concept had promise. But there are many shows whose concept outdid the implementation. And so I thought last weekend watching it was the case here. Wow, many of those people could sing, especially Jackie Richardson. But someone needed a real concept and a coherent script, and I saw no hint of that.

Overall it seemed a mess to me.

The superb highlight - - WOW!! Could he sing and do everything. Sterling Jarvis! That boy deserves a career on the stage.

The Zebra's Stripes

Childless, I am not too excited about issues of childcare, other than the likely taxation any programmes defined by our government will suck out of me.

I do recall seeing several months ago a report of our Minister of Social Development, named Ken Dryden, in his time a superb hockey goalie, and later executive in a hockey company, explaining to his audience that we (meaning what he thought was the bureaucracy he led) now knew how to bring up children, and so it would be a good thing for the country for him and his to take over the task. Can anyone find me a link to that speech? - I notice he is very mute on his web page about anything he has said in the past.

I do recall this speech chilling me, as major hubris of the state. But of course, when he announced his department's child care programme, it became clearer that this memory might not have been an hallucination - it was clear that his programme would support child care only where the child was sucked into a state-supported (surely unionized, and highly expensive, and of course licenced and regulated) system of care that of course executed what the goalie knew to be the sole right way to raise children.

Still part of me could not believe that our Liberal party could put forward a programme that would give NO support to families who wanted to have one parent stay at home and care for the children. That part did recognize that allowing the parents any say was not consistent with the goalie's confident view that only the state KNEW how to raise children.

And yet and yet. I could not believe this. The second party in Canada, in a recent policy announcement, suggested they would just give money to parents and let them figure out how to spend it to have their children cared for. Heavens, maybe the grandmother could stay at home and help, with the additional tax rebate. And then we learned how true what I thought was this nuttiness was.

The goalie's party's communications director said that parents would just spend tihs money on beer and popcorn. Far better to have the money go to the experts who know far better how to raise their children.

Now, unlike many who have responded to this revealing slip, I am not outraged by his statement. I am rather pleased; it makes it very clear what paternalistic leanings lie behind that party's policies. They do in fact know better - in fact it now baffles my why they do not simply tax us all at 100% and determine what we all need.

They clearly know better. I am sure I watch too much TV and I suspect they could get me doing something much more valuable.

The Continuing Bionic Fellowship

I had to visit my cataract surgeon last week; all went well, though I must confess my relationship with my new eye remains testy; it does some things really well, but seems still to be trying to pull itself together. This is apparently to be expected.

The time in the surgeon's waiting area was filled with some of the usual suspects; in fact, the old Italian came in, so positive, asserting that all would be well. And it looked as if it was for him,as it remains for me.

The GREAT news is the other eye gets addressed next week. I am very pleased.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Our celebrity candidates

Just watched another interview with our astronaut Marc Garneau running for the Liberals in Quebec; he actually seems like rather a good fellow.

Then, oddly, they switch to a panel led by Jane Taber, supposedly of other celebrity candidates. And who are they - one is Michael Ignatieff, who fits the bill, and another is Peter Kent, a newscaster. But this third is Marilyn Churley , the NDP candidate in my riding! A celebrity? Well, shewas a cabinet minister in Ontario, if I recall correctly, but this is no Marc Garneau - she is an NDP hack.

In any case she is living up to my expectations (or perhaps down to them). Ignatieff brushes away a stupid question from her - he is vulnerable because he has written thoughtfully in the past on military interventions and the limits of interrogation techniques, and of course Churley has no need of thought on any of those topics, and in fact regards any serious consideration of these issues a shocking thing.

Even better, Kent brushes away a stupid privatization rant from her with a very nice observation that our medical care system would not be viable without all the private organizations delivering medical care to us (as I have pointed out, I am pretty sure all my current suppliers run private enterprises, and bill the government for my basic services, and me for extras). I'll bet Churley gets her medical care from a doctor running some private enterprise. Though I wonder if she knows.

Ignatieff has an interesting road ahead of him; there is no question his support for the war in Iraq, and his complicated positions on several issues, will not fit easily with the moronic style of some of our campaigns. But even this show has made me hopeful; Kent's performance was excellent in tossing back the privatization mantra from Churley, and Ignatieff was delightfully brusque with her stupidities. Whether that brusqueness can work for good we shall see. Many of the press are anointing Ignatieff with the Liberal leadership succession, which seems a little odd at this stage of the game, and I think we should wait another several decades before getting ourselves another Trudeau, and the disasters that could come from that (and it is Trudeau that same press yearn to have back).

March of the Penguins

I am a sucker for nature specials, and ordered the DVD of Luc Jacquet's March of the Penguins. I had to - there was so much traffic on the Web about how some people had somehow regarded this film as proof of some alternative to roughly Darwinian theories - I find this mind-bending, as I can think of few other cases of poor individual creatures' lives turned so totally ugly by the interests of their genes. Any raw creator of these lives must have been wildly malicious.

The trick with buying a DVD is the answer to the question of how many times one could watch it. Well I can watch penguins for hours so this is no problem! Moreover, it turns out that the narrator of this version is Morgan Freeman. Heavens to Betsy - what a delight - I will rent what I know will be totally rotten films just to hear him speak. Has anyone in the world a more delightful voice? I may just go to bed to this DVD for the rest of my life....

It is a very well-done story, very sad, and terribly touching. (And I mean that word 'terribly'.)

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Backyard Visitors

One of my brothers noted my backyard visitor pictures and sent me a picture of one of their visitors where he lives. Your mission, should you take it on, is to identify where he lives. I find his animal exotic, but he tells me there are no black squirrels where he is, and I had an English visitor this summer who found black squirrels pretty wild too.

There is sure some interesting circuitry somewhere in me

My right eye is accustoming itself to its new bionic lens. I am still wearing glasses that allow reasonable focusing through the left lens, but make the image through the right lens completely fuzzy. When I take the glasses off the right eye takes the world in much better.

And my brain (or something) knows! In fact this cataract got initially diagnosed only because I was getting the funny feeling that my irght eye was being 'ignored'. So my science experiment these days is to remove my glasses every now and then. It is almost completely immediate which eye I sense is being 'ignored'.

There are other interesting complexities in this. When I came home from the surgery with an eyepatch on I found my attempts to measure distance from objects pretty vulnerable - I had to reach tentatively, for example, for door handles. I am surprised to discover that even with very unbalanced vision between the eyes, having both functional makes the sorting out of distance pretty solid.

Beautiful Girls - the preternatural Natalie Portman

A few years ago I stumbled across a film on cable TV, 'Beautiful Girls', one of those high school reunion films, and started watching it - it was not bad, and Timothy Hutton did a nice job of wandering about trying to figure out the world his character was fumbling forward through. Another character in the film was a 13-year-old neighbor, played by Natalie Portman, and I must say she blew me away. There are scenes in that movie I go out of my way to see again when it shows up on my TV screen - she was captivating as the slightly over-mature pre-teen who could capture the heart of a slightly confused and lost male.

Of course since then Natalie Portman has become a star. And I have to confess I have found her dull and uninteresting in her current roles (e.g. 'Closer') (though clearly a standardly attractive woman - akin to Kate Beckinsale, another actress I recognize intellectually as attractive, but who does nothing to trigger any of the natural responses in me).

Somewhere I read about a Luc Besson movie she had appeared in - and I just found it on cable television - here it is called 'The Professional', though apparently 'Leon' is another title. This is her debut film, and she was actually really only around 13 when she did the movie ('Beautiful Girls' comes a couple of years later). She is stunning - as is the rest of the cast - especially Jean Reno, one of my favourite actors. Again her character has a maturity beyond her years, and there is great humour that is drawn from this. Gary Oldman gets to play a completely corrupt policeman, and has a great confrontation with Portman.

I've seen some nasty rhetoric about this film; I do think that it stays on the right side of a tricky balance, featuring a character who is really a child, but aspiring to be an adult, especially with her Louise Brooks hairstyle, and foul mouth and sense of authority, wanting to learn to become an assassin. That the 13-year-old Portman could carry this off, and remain so sensible in so many ways is impressive (go read her IMDB biography to get rid of the easy notion that she is just exploited at this stage in her career).

It's a film that it is hard to imagine an American making.

Reno is a stunning actor. His vulnerability in this role, as a professional hit man, unable to defend himself against this precocious child, is wonderful to watch.

If you want to try him out I suggest 'Jet Lag', a film also doing the rounds on cable TV these days. He is wonderful in it as well.

As for Natalie Portman, my guess is I will find her this captivating again before too many years pass. I certainly hope so. I even have hopes for Kate Beckinsale.

Afghanistan! Where is that?

As I was reading my Toronto Star and muttering "How stupid can one person be?", I thought I would have to post on the offending column. But I have been busy with curling.

In any case, Damian Penny did me the enormous kindness of anticipating my thoughts and created this post.

To give Walkom a little credit, he does point out in his column, or at least this is how I read him, that he would be just as happy to have the Taliban in control of Afghanistan as Kharzai. I did find that a rather extraordinary assertion, but then he is a man, and he isn't going there soon, and I doubt any of his relatives would find themselves trapped there, I guess, and what the hey, moral relativism is all the rage in some circles today. Surely they had a valid culture too!

And of course, to go back to the theme of mischaracterizations of why campaigns started, the idea that the invasion of Afghanistan was solely undertaken to catch Osama bin Laden does not correspond to what I recall. There was a more general issue of trying to remove possible nesting sites for bin Ladenites - bin Laden would have been a bonus.


I have to quote this and follow up a bit. From Walkom's column:
I do not pretend to have an answer to Afghanistan. My own view is that it was a mistake to invade in 2001 — a mistake underlined by the fact that the key war aim, capturing bin Laden, has never been achieved. Afghanistan is arguably more of a failed state now than it was under the Taliban. Bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorists have simply decamped to Pakistan.
I love the fake humility - "I do not pretend". But in fact he then says he does - his answer was to leave the Taliban in place. What else could he mean by saying invasion was a mistake. And then much of the rest of the paragraph is nonsense. The key war aim was not capturing bin Laden, and I recall nobody thinking back then that this would be a slam dunk, but rather removing the Taliban and the nesting ground they had created for Islamic extremism and terrorism. Even funnier is his "Bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorists have simply decamped to Pakistan" - well he may have failed to notice but these guys have had a hell of a mortality rate over the last few years. Deservedly, as they would like to have us suffer the same (including Walkom). And Pakistan is, for all its warts, no safe haven for these charming lads.

I would welcome Walkom writing a column detailing what it takes to be a failed state. I am very curious about the criteria that produced the sentence on that topic in the paragraph I quoted. I suspect it would be very revealing.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Dilbert becomes too pleased with himself

Scott Adams has long been wonderful at skewering foolish management behaviour in the tech world by way of his Dilbert cartoons.

The eternal danger in these situations is that you begin to believe you have something worth saying beyond that domain (and actually, even in that domain he had a free pass to caricaturize, as someone who has played both sides of that gap can say).

In any case, in my view, he has made a bad error by engaging that terrier P Z Myers. I invite you to go to examine the current forensics. This is sad - for me it has undermined my naive belief that Adams' cartoons arose from a fundamental intelligence about the world around him.

New Year Calendar Discounts

I know I will be attending the Scott Tournament of Hearts Tournament in London next year.

My guess is the famous calendar will be on sale, and at a tremendouns discount, at the tournament. I have no idea how to buy it at a reasonable proce today so will wait.

This is sad. I need some calendars. (The annual turnover on the various walls and doors.)

Even the Natalie Gulbis Calendar is out of reach.

I suspect my reservation price would be a lot higher if the Canadian Jones' had been willing to participate.

Can anyone bid the curling calendar down already?

Credit to the BBC and Matt Frei

What seemed to start as a ritual performance on capital punishment (disclaimer: I think I generally oppose it but am not really sure - as I don't think we have it in Canada I don't really have to think about it much) got some nuance.

The report stated with what struck me as mischief - Matt pointing out that capital punishment occurs routinely in the US, but that the North Carolina execution which was the 1000th since the resumption of the penalty in the US had engendered vigils. Then he interviewed one of those on the vigil - but had he not just deligitimized this poor guy? I thought so.

Then on to San Quentin and I assumed ah yes, the Nobel Peace Prize gorp! But not quite - Matt did say in passing that Tookie Williams had been engaged in years of lobbying against gang violence (pardon my skepticism)

No menton of the Nobel Peace Prize. (Just do a Google search to know how inane this story is.) But what did Matt Frei do next?? Glory be, he interviewed the stepmother of one of the victims! (Your Google search will tell you a witness said this lovely lad killed his victims because it gave him pleasure to kill whites - yeah - that makes me feel defensive.) The stepmother was pretty unrepentant.

So maybe this is a sucker punch. The Beeb wants Arnie to let the execution happen, and will then go bonkers over what a savage Arnie is (forgetting how we have purged one truly documented savage in the process)?

Let's wait and see. All I know is, Matt got me wondering.

Hopes for the upcoming political debates

It seems Steve Paikin will be hosting one of them.

I look forward to that intelligent mischievous smile. This is a great improvement on the usual deployment of the CBC Liberal sycophants.

Blaikie's Creeping Privatization Argument

I commented earlier that his argument made more sense than Layton's totally stupid argument of the last election campaign.

Here is what I think I heard. The danger is that there will come to be a large number of clinics providing services on a private basis and not run directly by the government. They might also on the side provide services not covered by the state, and so could run those on a private basis (e.g. the blue-blocking lenses I have ordered from my cataract surgeon). It will become clear to people that these clinics are pretty efficient, and could be much more efficient if we sacrificed the single payer system to let them provide services even more broadly on a private basis.

I think this is what he said. It makes sense. It certainly is consistent with my view that the only way to assure equal service to all consumers in a community is to provide inferior service, below what each individual participant would be willing to pay for, to everyone, and likely service inferior to what anyone would get when things were run differently. Recognition of this is what the NDP fears most.

They have had a bad day in a sense as the leader of our key national union has semi-endorsed the governing party, sort of, as well as, maybe, the NDP. Weird. This is going to be a fun two months.

Ur? uh? huh? Room for private service

I just don't get it - the CBC reported today, that there is a question whether there should be room for private enterprise in our health care system.

I'll have to ask my cataract surgeon and the local medical clinic I use for family-style health care issues. But I strongly suspect neither if them is an enterprise owned by the government. Of course they bill all the covered services to the state, as makes sense in a single-payer system. But hang on - I actually bought special lenses to replace my cataract-ridden natrural lenses and spent a good whack of money to get them - I seriously doubt that money went to the state - I hope it went to my surgeon as an entrepreneur and to her suppliers in some proportion. No doubt the innovation to produce those lenses occurred outside Canada.

Don Newman of the CBC just got the distinction correctly in a discussion of Stephen Harper's speech today. He asks sensibly, "Why does it matter whether the delivery is private or public?". Sadly, the Conservative mumbled, and the current Health Minister simply wandered off and answered another question. The level of dishonesty here, in all parties, is phenomenal. Weirdly, only Bill Blaikie of the NDP answers sensibly, recognizing that there is a ton of existing private service. And actually, his answers are better than the totally inane objection Layton produced in one of the debates in the last campaign - that the private clinics were more costly than publicly-owned ones. Well, were that the case in a fee-for-service based system, the private ones would have trouble surviving so this is a 'problem' that would solve itself.

Why oh why cannot anyone speak honestly about this? Maybe it will come. I can sense Don Newman (a quality reporter, so unlike so many of his colleagues) trying to force this out.

We shall see. It is a long campaign and maybe the lights cannot stay out for a whole two months.

Aaarrggh - They are all it it again

Health Care (capitalized because of its religious significance here) finally popped into the campaign today.

The moronic level of the discussion is an insult to the voting population. Martin and Layton are flashing their health cards and credit cards. Martin is back to the meme that Stephen Harper said something awful in the last campaign, when he seemed to me to say the only honest thing anyone said in the campaign on the subject, by asking why we should care how health care is provided in a single-payer system. (Confusing whether we should have a single payer system with this question is a key to the NDP and Liberal approach to the discussion, and is profoundly dishonest.) It is hard to break into the discussion with this apparent 'subtlety'; I use that word only as it seems our media cannot get the distinction either.

Amazon recommendations

I just placed another order and of course was offered some recommendations. I find it fascinating trying to figure out what past behaviour of mine could lead to this:

DVD Recommendation: Don Carlo
OK I do order Opera DVDs. But never Verdi.
They have at least figured out the place for them to broaden the recommendations were Westerns and Classics. When I checked this second level I was perplexed to find "Mr and Mrs Smith". No not too likely a purchase (this being the Pitt-Jolie movie, not the earlier excellent Robert Montgomery-Carole Lombard film, which I might have ordered).

Book Recommendation: Diana Gabaldon's "A Breath of Snow and Ashes"
I have no idea who this is or what this book is.
Maybe I should have got the recent Minette Walters and Scott Turow from them and not Chapters so they could have got the idea.

Video Recommendation: What the Bleep do we Know
I got exposed to this film visiting family last year and could not get very far into it. What have I ordered that popped it onto the list?

Music Recommendation : Barbra Streisand's Guilty Pleasures
Man - you want a mystery? - this is a mystery to me. Never in my life can I imagine buying a Barbra Streisand album (yes she could sing but so can Celine Dion).

Getting Married in Buffalo Jump

It is not unheard of me, though probabilistically unlikely, to say good things about a Canadian movie but now I must.

Not just Wendy Crewson - who has clearly captivated me for far more years than I knew - but Paul Gross too! (To quickly set one part of this theme aside, let me say that this is the Paul Gross of Due South, and Slings and Arrows - I loved the former TV series and was even more shocked and delighted one day, on a trip tagging along with my wife to a conference in Antwerp, to pop the TV in our hotel room on, and find 'Due South' on Belgian TV. It still seems odd to me that Canada is so committed to cultural protectionism. "Slings and Arrows" deserves the same exposure, not just for Gross' role in it.)

Now on to the movie. Sophie (Crewson) returns to her Alberta home and the ranch her family ran when her father dies; she has received an education in the arts and tried to make a career out East (in Canada that would mean in the big city, unless she had started there) . She hires on a local boy Alex (Gross) she went to high school with to help maintain the ranch. He proposes marriage in a non-romantic way as a means to keep the ranch going. The plot follows the usual romantic comedy series of obstacles arising and being overcome, but carries itself nicely because of this fundamental anti-romantic conceit.

There are many nice touches. An opening John Ford shot of mother and daughter. A scene in which Alex tells Sophie she could be a good rancher, with Abba's "Honey, honey" playing in the background, and the loveliest smile comes across her face. Her exasperation at the odd wedding proposal she has received - "Can't we just sleep together like reasonable adults?" Her playing "Try to Remember" on the piano. You may get the idea I liked the soundtrack - sure did - lots of k. d. lang, beyond what I have mentioned. Several voices I am not sure of as well.

Another star is the western sky. I still remember my first experience getting out of an airplane in Saskatchewan - I had read for years about 'The Big Sky' but only then did I get it.

In any case this is a lovely romantic comedy with the romance part wittily suppressed via the businesslike nature of Alex' proposal, but otherwise with the same plotting. The two stars make it an extremely attractive enterprise. And Alberta is beautiful as well in this film.

Marion Gilsenan has a bravura performance as the mother who wants better for her daughter Sophie - I only became aware of her for the first time when she appeared and stole the show in an otherwise not remarkable Canadian Stage production of 'The Norbals'; only shortly thereafter did I learn she had done the show in the late stages of the pancreatic cancer that killed her the year after. She is quite wonderful in this movie.

Maybe I'll poke up recommending some other fine Canadian films. Despite our cultural policies, perpetually subsidizing the mediocre, much talent gets to the surface and expersses itself.

The Charms of Convalescence

I'm still at a stage where I am not supposed to do too much so I am happily vegetating, novels in hand, with the 'televison machine' (one explanation of the phrase here) (I own several) on.

For a few terrible moments I thought the online TV listings I use told me I had to choose between Natalie Gulbis' Calendar Shoot Special on the Golf Channel (hang on - I will explain) and a Wendy Crewson movie. Fortunately I was wrong.

Natalie Gulbis is an LPGA golfer, who has a good deal of marketing savvy (or at least is advised by those who do). She is quite a good golfer, and as is increasingly the case in the increasingly competitive LPGA, has quite an athletic body, which did make the special on her 2006 calendar shoot very impressive, especially as it now slants to bathing suits. She appears from that TV show to be cut from that strange American cloth mixture of social conservatism combined with a pragmatic exhibitionism. It is even more characteristic that her parents are at her side throughout. To be honest, I would love to have a copy of her calendar, but the $30 US shipping costs to Canada are prohibitive to my mind.

As for the Wendy Crewson part of my delightful day, that awaits a later post.

400 kgs? no - wait 1000 kg? Garbage garbage everywhere

Statistics Canada caught my fancy again today.

Their statistics on garbage are now current to 2002. And heavens to Betsy, what we generate!
In total, the nation produced just over 30.4 million tonnes of solid waste in 2002 from all sources, such as residential, industrial, commercial, institutional, construction and demolition. This was 3.9% higher than the total in 2000, and amounted to 971 kg per person on average.

Of this total, the 12 million tonnes of residential waste accounted for just under 40%. Industrial, commercial and institutional sources accounted for just under one-half.

971 kg is a ton! 40 pounds per week? Where does it all come from? The personal part is addressed elsewhere:

Each Canadian generated about 383 kilograms of solid waste on average in 2002, of which about one-fifth was recycled or otherwise diverted, according to a report in the 2005 edition of Human Activity and the Environment, the annual compendium of information on how Canadians interact with their environment.

In 2002, the residential component of Canada's waste was estimated at just over 12 million tonnes, a 6.8% increase from 2000. The total was equivalent to about 383 kg per person, or around 30 green garbage bags.

OK 30 green garbage bags I will buy, but they don't weigh 10 kg each! Or could they? Ahh maybe it is the cat litter.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Goods and Services Tax

One of the joys of an election campaign is you can never be quite sure what wil pop up on a given day.

Today the Conservative Party proposed to reduce the current level of our Goods and Services Tax (GST). The local Toronto CBC News just purported to provide some background - and what was their potted history? According to this report the GST came from nowhere around 1990, a proposal from the Conservative government of the time led by Brian Mulroney. Entirely elided was the fact that the GST replaced an earlier sort-of-consumption tax, the Manufacturers Sales Tax (MST), whose effects were significantly worse (according to pretty well all the economists I recall hearing from at the time). And apparently this tax change was meant to help Canada adapt better to NAFTA, another initiative of the time.

The secret here is that the MST was invisible, and the GST is visible, which meant one could get hysterical about it, and heaven knows Canadians were led to do so. I recall watching closely around the time of the transition and one thing I did notice was that the walkaway cost of an equivalent television set, the consumer item I cared about most, seemed to me to drop significantly at the time (which is what one would have predicted with a revenue-neutral tax shift of this sort).

I suspect there are two reasons for this poor reporting here:

a) sloppiness, ignorance, and poor editorial standards
b) a continuing distaste among CBC staff for Brian Mulroney, who is the prime minister responsible for NAFTA, and for the replacement of the MST by the GST (both of which appear to have been good for us) - so it is difficult for lazy reporters to tell the full story here as it flies in the face of their core beliefs.

Count South Africa In!

Excellent news regarding gay marriage there.
South Africa's highest court on Thursday ruled in favour of same-sex marriages, striking down a law that banned gay unions and ordering parliament to draft new legislation within a year.

Conrad Black and the BBC Coverage

I have now watched several BBC reports (on BBC World) on Conrad Black's Fitzgerald-induced griefs.

They are amazingly coy about his citizenship. I believe he carries only a UK passport today. The Canadian press say he is trying to recover teh Canadian citizenship he renounced to become a peerin the UK.

The BBC also studiously do not refer to his membership in the House of Lords in the UK.

Canada may well be a silly little country but we are not alone!

UPDATE: I have noticed in the past that odd behaviours that appeared on CBC Television were not replicated on the web pages of the network.

It seems the same thing goes on at the BBC.

World Cultural Masterpieces

Restless after my operation yesterday, I slept fitfully, and so had the radio on all night long tuned to CBC's 'Overnight', one show I truly missed during the recent lockout. During part of what I was awake for, I heard from Czech public radio about the exciting triumph of the Czech Republic at the designation of one of its art forms as a World Cultural Masterpiece. I groggily realized it was not their superb dramatic movie-making (in the last few years on cable TV I have seen utterly amazing films from the Czechs on the WWII and post-WWII experience of their society and recommend them to everyone), or the amazing industry they have built around animation.

In fact my half-awake brain found it hard to credit what I was hearing, either what the masterpiece was, or how it was so declared. Some music I had not wish to hear again was played. It seems a lot of the money our government contributes to the UN goes into a program to support a committee of bureaucrats to designate every couple of years what are the cultural masterpieces of the world. I could barely credit my memory of all this when I woke but a little research has brought me to this.

You can go read the description there but hte last paragraph of the description is particularly ominous:
The migration of young and middle-aged people to the country’s urban centres is considered the greatest threat for the viability of the different regional types of Slovácko Verbuňk. This tradition also relies on financial support since the traditional costumes and musical instruments are made by hand and need regular maintenance.
This sounds depressingly like something a large bureaucratic organization wants to find a way to spend money (whose?) on. The people considered to be its supporters are losing any interest in it. It costs something to do it. I suspect this designation is unfortunate for the overall welfare of Czechs, who will now find themselves pressured to maintain this (unlikely, in my view) masterpiece (curiously named 'Slovacko' something).

Even more symptomatic of a bureaucratic (and political) process, we discover that in this cycle there is also a Slovakian masterpiece! And note how its characteristics dovetail with those I mention above.
During recent decades the role of the Fujara has changed from an everyday context to the performance at exceptional events, such as at festivals or in a private environment. The communist era and the political developments in the 1990s have caused significant social, cultural and economic changes. Young people especially have become increasingly estranged from traditional folk art. Despite a lack of support, individual initiatives have been trying to safeguard the Fujara instrument and its music.
Nobody is interested anymore and somebody needs a way to get other people to pay for this.

No doubt I'll go read and discover that the whole purpose of this effort is to save things the market is killing off (I have not bothered at this point). But I am pretty sure that will be it - I have scanned the list and there is nothing that is actually clearly a masterpiece so recognized - i.e. something like the complete works of Beethoven or of Abba or of Neil Young. In fact there is nothing from Canada or the US.

This is the kind of thing I really did not want to learn about the UN. Not that I have not learned a lot I did not want to learn.

The Bionic Fellowship

On the morning of my transformation to a bionic human, I was one of six others privileged to be dealt with by my cataract surgeon. Her general protocol is to check everyone the next day, and a week later.

As a result, all of us who had been gathered in our various vulnerable states yesterday (heading into an operation in a hospital is definitely one way to become pretty vulnerable), passing by one another, were reassembled this morning not far from the scene of the operations in her office.

Many of us were jubilant; I am sure that like me, they had tentatively and hopefully removed their eyepatches in the morning, and discovered like me that something remarkable and delightful had happened to their vision. One person came in with the eyepatch still on; she did not look happy. One person had her son phone in, and had not removed her eyepatch. I understand that anxiety well, though I did overcome mine.

The man who sang the Italian National Anthem yesterday was decidedly gregarious and jubilant today, greeting us all happily on arrival, and giving me a farewell wave as I left the office (though I think we meet again next week). The fellow whose post-operative good cheer gave me such a key pre-operative lift yesterday was in very good spirits as well; he told me that his anxiety at this latest patch removal, even though this was his second eye to have the operation, was still real. And I believe mine will be as well when this stage comes (soon, I hope).

All in all, it is interesting to watch us creatures slightly in extremis, and to see the group psychology as we all recognize our common plight (and delightful, it is beginning to seem, opportunity).