Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Steve Jobs knows how to make it all matter

Please read this:

Richard Linklater

I remember watching 'Slackers' long ago. He did a great job.
I am now watching, I think, 'Before Sunrise'. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy talk and talk. They did this in an earlier film where they walked through Vienna, and in this one they hit Paris. Very disturbing to me, as one who thinks he cannot stand either actor, I struggle to fit together my belief that Linklater lets these folk improvise. I guess I can adjust my beliefs - Hawke and Delpy have me believing completely in them. Well, I love to be fooled.
Find a way to see this movie.

The arbitrariness of life

I was in Ottawa, Canada for the weekend, and when I go there I look for an exhibit at a museum - it is the nation's capital and there is always something interesting. On this trip I chose the 'Pompeii' exhibit at the Museum of Civilzation.
Here is what I knew about the eruption of Vesuvius - lots of people died. This exhibit tells a lot more of the story, which is heartbreaking. The poor people suffered a rain of pumice and stones of varying sizes for many hours as they watched the column bulding out of the volcano, and had to make sense of a phenomenon they had never seen A few hours later the molten lava came down to vaporize them at high speed.
The exhibit shows how wonderfully the simplest of archaeological studies can reveal those terrible hours. The combination of the bodies with the durable nearby objects is very telling.
We have had the tsunami in the last year but in many ways this was far more crushing a story, because of the time to try to sort out what to do in this terrribly unfamiliar environment. People had twelve hours to try to make decisions about what to do. Pliny the Elder (I knew he was a nature nut but did not know he was leading, as an admiral, the Roman navy on a rescue effort) committed his life to a combined rescue and scientific mission. Pliny the Younger documented events that only seemed to make sense many years alter as he watched Vesuvius from across the bay.
For me the saddest tale was of a female body found, surrounded by numerous pieces of jewellery (the display box with this jewellery is impressive); a key piece is her bracelet inscribed 'Dominus meae ancillae'. "The master to his slave girl". Maybe I should have been more taken by the whole family found in the upstairs room of their house (you had to go upstairs as the pumice collection ascended) surrounding a young pregnant woman. Both stories are telling and teribly human.
In the end the exhibit made me feel, as I always do, terribly lucky to be living my life.
If you are near Ottawa go see this exhibit. If you are not, find a way to get there and see it.

UPDATE: The exhibit's first cast of a body is that of a dog, who had evidently been desperately climbing continually up a pile of accumulating pumice. This establishes the tone of the whole exhibit.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Undermined Again yet Again!

I keep saying the point of this blog is to document life in the silliness of the Canadian environment (cultural, physical, etc...). But the news keeps placing silliness pinnacles elsewhere.
Over the last month or so here we have had a Prime Minister ready to bargain at multiple levels to avoid losing a non-confidence vote, which would pretty much force new elections. However, this behaviour is fairly simple and conventional. And he prevailed. But we have a bundle of new motions tonight.
Consider the German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. When his party badly lost provincial elections in a normally no-can-lose province, and for a variety of reasons it is just too complex to explain here, he decided that he needed Federal Elections to be advanced about a year from the originally planned date - they should now happen September this year rather than in 2006.
So how does one achieve this in Germany under the constitution? Not easily. He will be bringing a motion to the federal Parliament, a motion of non-confidence in the government! So basically the motion says "We the government do not have confidence in the government...".
Honest perhaps, but it beats our silliness hands down.
I remain somewhat disarmed.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Undermined again!

I started this blog thinking from time to time I could post some simple links that would show what a silly country Canada is; and it is, but it seems often in ways that require a lot of education.
But I keep finding myself able to post far more economically in behaviour from other countries that is manifestly more silly. And here is a true wonder.
Last week I read the following fascinating post on Dawson's Danube- "Tatort", one of my favourite German Krimis (crime shows), had broadcast on ARD an episode titled 'Scheherezade', the plot of which built on the idea of showing Bush (or the Carlyle group, which Michael Moore adherents understand to be the same thing) to be behind 9/11 and to be shipping hit squads to Germany to eliminate the ever-so-clear evidence for this thesis. (Recall that several of the 9/11 killers spent formative time in Germany, making this even more bizarre, in terms of who is blaming whom). You can find much more here on David's Medienkritik.
Now I am a subscriber in Canada to 'German TV', largely because it means I can practice my German listening skills, but also watch normally quite enjoyable shows - several of the Krimis are very entertaining to me. (Of course I can also watch highlights like the Eurovision Song Contest.)
So last week when I read this I became very excited and consulted the German TV online listings - to my delight, per the listings last week, the episode in question was to appear tonight (June 12) in North America (also last night but I could not check as I was not near the TV). I just checked the current listings for tonight and it is now gone! I will know in about half an hour whether this is a clerical error or a cowardly retreat.
Personally, I thought originally the uproar was a bit much, as the show is fiction; were I ARD, feeling no guilt, that would be my response.
AND the answer is:
The episode originally slated for next weekend (we run normally a week behind what is in Germany) is on and not 'Scheherezade'. In summary, the German state media appear to lack the courage to show to the Americans (and us Canadians too) what they happily, and demagogically, show to their home audiences.

More pleasant surprises - Orchestra London's 'Tosca'

I had occasion this weekend to attend a performance of 'Tosca' put on by Orchestra London and Pacific Opera at The Grand Theatre in London, Ontario. I have seen this opera a few times, and it has never been one of my favourite Puccini operas.
The Grand Theatre is a pleasant small theatre. Little did I know what a difference this could make. Sitting in the back of the orchestra section, I was amazed at how close to both the orchestra and the stage, and thus the performers, all of us in the theatre were.
The opera was very artfully staged, very well performed, and quite well sung (all principals were excellent, with a believably noble Cavaradossi, a fiery Tosca, and a tremendously Snidely Whiplash Scarpia), and the orchestra sounded lovely, with the usual small number of passages that seemed to miss slightly. But what was good was so intensified by the scale, and the small misses so obscured by how powerful the good was, that I found the evening an utter delight. It told me a lot about how much one loses by seeing opera in a theatre that allows too much distance from the stage; I am very curious now to experience the new centre in Toronto, as I had stopped attending Canadian Opera Company performances at the larger local theatre some time ago.
Congratulations to Orchestra London and team for a wonderful piece of work.
I had never seen an opera in this intimate a setting and it makes for a wonderful experience.
My understanding is that this was somewhat of an experiment for the companies involved. It seems they have concluded it is a success - I concur completely - and will be putting on 'Rigoletto' next year. I plan to be there.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Must be fair to the CBC and surprised by the Supreme Court

Imagine my surprise!
Even greater was my surprise during several evening CBC broadcasts suddenly talking about 'European-style Healthcare'. Given explicit references to this in the ruling(s), I suppose it made sense for the reporters to abandon the standard mantra and take their lead from the justices.
If I understood law a little better I might mix my delight at the outcome of the ruling with the concern expressed by the Eclectic Econoclast at the role the justices have apparently arrogated to themselves.
My own naive reading sets off a little less alarm. There are several rulings (two from the majority and a dissent) but the summary seems roughly to be this. It is on the face of it a violation of my rights (were I a Quebecer) to prevent me from contracting for better than the currently supplied public medical service; to arrive at this the judges had to observe that we get poor service. But even this violation could be permitted if the prohibition on private medical care could be shown to serve a larger purpose, for example, the preservation of the public system. Astoundingly to me, the majority judges then concluded that not only did the proponents of the prohibition provide no evidence for such a concern, but that the evidence (from the OECD) points the other way!
The dissenting judges disagreed, pointing heavily to some semi-governmental studies.
Are the judges prescribing the nature of our health-care system? It does not seem so to me, but setting the burden for the state, that if it chooses to suppress my right to try to take care of myself, the state had better have a system in place that does the job, or a good argument for the situation. And the state has neither, ruled the majority.
Now the state could conceivably respond by enormous over-spending on health-care, likely the worst possible solution.
There is an excellent extensive discussion on this as well from Brian Ferguson.
No doubt we have many days of bluster ahead, before we see we this is really going to take us. The prime minister has already pointed to some $40 billions of dollars he has claimed to earmark to saving this sorry institution. The knee jerked.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

American-style Healthcare

Our Supreme Court is ruling today on whether a Canadian is legally permitted to purchase accelerated or improved healthcare with his own money (or possibly via private insurance). I continue to be fascinated at how the CBC reports this (I am not sure about other Canadian media). They give a voice to someone opposed to the idea who does the usual rant on how this would lead to "American-style healthcare". Now in fact what we would get if the court suggests we are able to make medical decisions without the direct intervention of bureaucrats is what I would call European-style healthcare.
And this raises an interesting question to me - why is it NEVER mentioned (in my experience) that Canada has the outlier medical system and that two-tier systems exist pretty well everywhere else? All the reporting I have seen starkly contrasts our humane approach with the, obviously, inhumane "American-style" two-tier approach. Only by using the scare words "American-style" can they make this so frightening - what if they said "UK-style" or "Austrian-style"?
Possible answers:
a) the CBC staff are biased and want to do all they can to maintain their conception of our healthcare system
This kind of theory I generally cannot buy into.
b) the CBC staff are ignorant and actually think European healthcare systems are like ours
Surely some of them have been in Europe, or know Europeans, so this is hard to believe.
c) Help? I can think of no other theory.

Very interesting. An excellent web page at the CBC site

I ran into something like this once before - an ignorant report from Neli McDonald on screen on CBC TV, while at the same time, the CBC web site had an accurate and reasonably correct report on the same subject. Do these people not talk to one another?

Friday, June 03, 2005

The Bible and Evolution

Always fascinated by Google ads I took a look and found this on my site.

OK - I did mention evolution, and linked to a discussion of blasphemy in previous posts. Not just to increase my revenue, I clicked on this one. It is actually somewhat entertaining.

Tennis and Fashion

Rafael Nadal is into the final of the French Open of tennis.

This would normally delight me - I am always happy to see the young underlings start to knock off their elders (in this case I think the elder was 23). Tennis is one of those great sports where all they have to do is beat the older generation to advance.

But what is it with the Capri pants? They look bad enough on women. I certainly hope this does not spread to the WTA.

I recall much frightful tennis fashion (the young Agassi a leader in the field) but we are reaching new levels here.

Winning is the only thing

Todd Zywicki has performed a valuable service today.

Yesterday I posted on a quotation I think now that I did not understand fully. Todd is posting on one I have always understood.

And the use of Vince Lombardi's "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing" more or less to mean its opposite has annoyed me for years. This twisting grew out of the '60s clash of cultures, as Lombardi did not quite seem a believer in flower power or an adherent of The New Left. I have never understood this twisting. Though my own reading is slightly different from Todd's, if in the same spirit.

Vince Lombardi was talking about competitive sports. A competitive sport does not work if the competitors are not competing. During the competition, winning must be the only thing for each competitor, besides the rules that govern the competition. But winning is not everything - in the end it does not actually matter who wins at some fundamental level. It is having competed fully that is key.

Even to me, slightly seduced at the time by the siren call of counterculture, this seemed clearly to be what he meant. And it was brilliantly concise.

I guess too concise.

Now someone should produce a pithy saying to explain the core of those sports (which I cannot motivate myself to play) where cooperation is the key; for example, trying to have a tennis rally that lasts an incredibly long time.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Watergate, Deep Throat, and this Silly Little Country

A news highlight of the last week for those of my generation is the final confirmation that Mark Felt was 'Deep Throat'. Thre has been much analysis of this of course. Looking back it is hard to know how much he contributed. In the end the sheer checks and balance process of the US Constitution caused the President to resign.

Now here in Canada we had about a week ago a key vote that could have caused our minority government to be forced to go again to the polls. Now tapes have been released apparently documenting discussions between government representatives trying to'persuade' opposition members to change their votes. The government survived.

It is now in other hands to see what happens. The RCMP has the tapes.

I am far less confident that Canadian processes can do the job of the processes in the US.

I lived a year in England (Oxford in fact) and came to enjoy cricket - in fact I found it magic. Now I was as a teen a baseball player so there were similarities. But really! 5 days/ The subtlety of declaration! Which could actually improve baseball.

I continue to spend a lot of time in England. Sadly, they seem to have figured out that shorter matches draw audiences. Ahh the decline of cultures.

Norm Geras is running a debate on cricket. Given that I have now posted on 'culture' I should point out this connection - cricket and dance. You should go by way of Norm back to one of my local papers.


The Web is wonderful. I was about to post on something I had read, that had argued for the denial for people to act on their own, on the grounds that they should adhere to their 'culture'. (This silly little country is prone to such discussions.)
So I was going to start with the tired (but usable in a variety of ways) "When I hear the word 'culture' I reach for my gun."
And I think - Is it really Goebbels? Or who was it?
Off to Googledom.
And I find this wonder from Umberto Eco:

Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism, from Hermann Goering's fondness for a phrase from a Hanns Johst play ("When I hear the word 'culture' I reach for my gun") to the frequent use of such expressions as "degenerate intellectuals," "eggheads," "effete snobs," and "universities are nests of reds."
Hmmm. Goering not Goebbels. and not quite into Godwin's Law.
Moreover it did not mean remotely what I would have liked to use it for. My view is that 'culture' is one of those words that lies behind the most blatant rent-seeking.
Goering's problem is a little different (perhaps there will be a later post on how much, but I am now rattled by my near-lifelong belief that it was Goebbels).

Well, I have to go off and think some more.

The Web is really a wonder.

To clarify some things. I don't have a gun to reach for. I don't work in a University. I may be effete. Perhaps a snob. My head is shaped strangely, perhaps not like an egg.

As for 'culture'. I like to think of myself as a member of the PLO but occasionally I deviate and I worry that its lead member might come and tell me I have to stick to my defined culture. I am meeting the fearless leader soon so I should know more then.

OK better go off and think.