Monday, September 13, 2021

Twenty years after

"Ethan looked at her with loathing.  She was no longer the listless creature who had lived at his side in a state of sullen self-absorption, but a mysterious alien presence, an evil energy secreted from the long years of silent brooding"--Ethan Frome

Saturday was the 20th anniversary of 9/11.  President Biden called for unity. (What's the Doddering Groper going to call for, disunity?) Did it really change America, or just bring out Uncle Sam's true face?  The American government may not have (or may have) been guilty of imperialistic hegemony in the Middle East before then, but there's no credible doubt that it's guilty now!  We still hear the calls to remember, yet Americans are encouraged to remember without learning, like the Bourbons.

I remember how my flight to England was delayed two days because of all the American planes landing in Toronto, which does seem pretty minor.  And I remember Americans asking "Why are we hated?" but unwilling to listen to any answer that didn't have a pro-American spin. (Which only leaves "They hate us for our freedoms...") I also remember ceremonies commemorating the three-month anniversary on December 11, which was a little much.

Twenty years later, Adolf Bullyani is finally discredited.  But back at the time, of course, the American press turned him into a hero because he'd said some reassuring things. That tells you everything about what's wrong with the mainstream news media!  They decide what the people want to hear and reward those who say it, just like with Reagan. (When Howard Dean raises his voice, on the other hand...)

Twenty years later, the Afghanistan and Iraq wars are both discredited.  But I remember all the liberals who supported the Afghanistan invasion to show how "balanced" they were, while hoping that Iraq wouldn't be next. (Who was naive?) In particular, Salon published an article titled "We Were Wrong," by a progressive apologizing for having opposed the Afghanistan invasion, like a heretic's official recantation.  And I remember born-again hawk Christopher Hitchens obtusely insisting that what Noam Chomsky said no longer mattered! (So who looks irrelevant now?)

The remarkable thing about the American response to 9/11 wasn't the predictable self-pity but the quick shift into self-congratulation! (Shortly afterward The New York Times quoted some American asking, "Why did they attack us when we're so good?" I smell doublethink...) The real winners, of course, were the corporations that made a killing from their piece of the taxpayers' billions that were spent on the military adventures that followed. No price is too high when you're "getting tough," right?

I guess I've said most of this before, but it bears repeating.  The Pentagon may misplace trillions and the CIA may keep dropping the ball, but the answer is always to give them even more money and power.  The USA's two-party system has produced a false consensus which endlessly benefits the Military-Industrial Complex.  Thank you, Ronald Reagan.

Meanwhile, it turns out that the local NDP campaign does have an office after all, so I'm doing some office work there.  Yesterday I finally finished Ethan Frome, with the book club coming up on Thursday.  I could have finished it a lot earlier, but I just prefer reading history to reading fiction!  I think that for our next book we'll read Stephen Leacock's Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Dog days

I've been feeling a bit lazy lately. Even writing to women on the Our Time dating site feels like a chore.

Well, Trudeau Jr. went ahead and did it!  He called a snap election when we still aren't finished with this pandemic.  The other week I went on an NDP canvassing run and even got to meet the local candidate Sidney Coles.  I'm doing another run tonight.

I finished Ghost Empire and my next history book will be Justinian's Flea, about how Justinian tried to restore the Roman Empire in the 6th Century AD but got thwarted by a devastating plague. (It was a consequence of increased international trade, like COVID-19.)

Our Short Story Meetup was just discussing Virginia Woolf and our next author will be Katherine Mansfield. (I should do To the Lighthouse in my Book Club.  I'm also thinking of Stephen Leacock.)

I recently saw a particularly good story on that anime One Piece.  It's a prequel about when Luffy and his blood brother Ace were young and getting started in mischief, along with a boy called Sabo, who resembled the Artful Dodger.

For the next two weeks my Friday History Meetup watch party will be showing Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima, Clint Eastwood's two movies about the Battle of Iwo Jima, from the American and Japanese perspectives respectively.

In Saturday night's thunderstorm a couple of lightning bolts seemed really close!

Friday, August 13, 2021

Corn on the cob!

This time of year the supermarkets are selling really fresh corn at low prices!  Moira doesn't like corn on the cob herself, but she gets it for me unilaterally, blessings on her.

I've started reading Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome for my Book Club Meetup.  I'm also reading Ghost Empire, about Cavalier de la Salle, who claimed the Mississippi basin for France but whose attempt at colonizing Texas ended with his own men shooting him!  That's for next month's History Meetup, whose subject is New France.

Last week my historical movie watch party showed Ed Zwick's Legends of the Fall, which I hadn't seen before.  Didn't care for it:  the Brad Pitt character just seemed like a jerk to me.  The Italians seem to do this sort of family saga better than Americans:  see Padre, Padrone or Rocco and His Brothers.

This week we showed The Painted Veil, based on W. Somerset Maugham's novel about an unhappy medical missionary couple in China.  The story's a bit conventional, but the lead actors Edward Norton and Naomi Watts brought something convincing to their roles.

I've now written several haikus:

March, the year's best time!

From cold to cool, then to warm:

Ice and snow melting.

September passes,

Grey morning frost on green grass.

Winter will yet wait.

Old man plants a tree,

Its shade and fruit for others.

Greatest act of faith!

March Fundy spring tides,

Big brown chunks of dirty ice,

Highest in the world!

Wet snow, almost rain,

Big flakes good for snowballs but

Soon to be icy!

Monday, July 12, 2021

Hong Kong satire

"Rags was beginning to clear the table.  His cynical light eyes took in every detail of Finch's attire.  They said to the boy, as plainly as words: 'Ho, ho, my young feller!  You've decked yerself all up for the occasion, 'aven't yer?  You think you've made an impression on the lidy, don't yer?  But if you could only see yerself!  And just you wait till the fmaily catches you in your Sunday clothes.  There won't be nothink doing, ow naow!"--Jalna

Robbery scene: "Shit, you're just a boy!"

Blam! "That's just your knee!"

--The Wire

I've started reading A Concise History of Hong Kong.  But I also bought an Ebook by Larry Feign, who did the satirical Hong Kong comic strip The World of Lily Wong in the late '80s and early '90s for The South China Morning Post, until they dropped it because Beijing didn't like it. (Feign is a good name for a satirist...) In 1997 he revived the strip for the British press to cover the 100 days before the final handover to Chinese rule, and I've brought the reprint, titled Let's All Shut up and Make Money! which could be the Hong Kong motto.

But there's a catch.  It turns out that after I've read a few episodes, my Kobo software chokes and I get that spinning iris so the only thing I can do is turn the power off and restart!  I've solved the problem--I think--by only viewing one episode at a time, and quitting Kobo in between.  So now I have a system where I alternate between reading a section of the Concise history and an episode of the comic strip.

The neighbourhood was pretty noisy last night what with the Italy vs. England soccer game. (I had to close my windows and even pull down the shutter!) I heard a huge roar when Italy scored a goal.

I've finished the last episode of the last season of The Wire.  I think we'll try The Handmaid's Tale one of these days.

Sunday, July 04, 2021

Snip, snip!

Wednesday morning the Toronto barber shops reopened and I got my first haircut since November!

Next week is the History Meetup event discussing the Seven Years War so it's time to think about the August event.  I want to discuss Hong Kong and Macao, but my difficulty is deciding on the background book.  I tend to be the only one who reads it, which I don't mind--it's just a suggestion--but I still make sure to name one that has several copies in the library system in case someone else does want to read it.

In this case, the two finalists are John M. Carrol's A Concise History of Hong Kong and Steve Yang Yui-Sang's A Modern History of Hong Kong.  One concern is that I tend to buy the Ebook. (I could order a library copy, but I don't know how long it'll take to get to me.) Both of these books are for sale in that format, but Carrol's a lot pricier.  On the other hand Carrol's the shorter of the two, so I think I'll choose that one.

Just the other day in that history of 1759 I was reading about the Battle of Minden and how Lord Sackville got in the soup for being petulantly slow in backing up his German commander.  That interested me because my New Brunswick hometown was named after him! (He went on to be Colonial Secretary during the American Revolution, and got in the soup again...) Now I'm reading about the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.

We've started watching the fifth and last season of The Wire.  This one puts a new focus on the newspaper world.  McNulty, the boozing, womanizing shit-disturber, stepped down from detective to patrolman and seemed to have straightened out the previous season. But now he's back to his old vices and scheming to plant evidence on homeless corpses to look like a serial killer's active, so that the under-budgeted Baltimore cops will be given more money to catch the real murderers they're after!

I'm past Episode 400 of One Piece.  In the previous arc the superpowers of warlord Kuma got the whole crew blown away to different places around the world, and Luffy landed on an island of bikini-clad amazons, which was pretty lame. (Their queen wanted to kill Luffy, but ended up falling in love with him--how original!) But now I've come to a better story, with Luffy sneaking into the big World Government fortress, Impel Down, to bust out his brother Ace from death row.  The place has lower and lower levels like in Dante's Inferno, with Ace at the bottom.  Buggy the Clown is another convict there, and he and Luffy have become allies!

Wednesday, June 23, 2021


A family quarrel: "Renny stood looking from one excited face to another, feeling irritated by their noise, their ineffectuality, yet, in spite of all, bathed in an immense satisfaction.  This was his family.  His tribe.  He was head of his family.  Chieftain of his tribe.  He took a very primitive, direct, and simple pleasure in lording it over them, caring for them, being badgered, harried, and importuned by them.  They were all of them dependent on him except Gran, and she was dependent, too, for she would have died away from Jalna.  And beside the fact that he provided for them, he had the inherent quality of the chieftain.  They expected him to lay down the law; they harried him till he did.  He turned his lean red face from one to the other of them now, and prepared to lay down the law"--Jalna

Last week my Classic Book Club discussed The Name of the Rose. Now I've started reading Mazo de la Roche's family saga Jalna (for the second time) as our next book.  It's the first of 16 novels she wrote about the Whiteoaks, an old-fashioned landowning family on an estate in what's now Mississauga, named for the station in India where the founder and his wife met.

The series is rather middlebrow, of course, but I like them overall. (Today they're more popular in France than in Canada.) I think my favourite character is Piers, the brother who's a consummate farmer and gets most of the work done.  It isn't that I admire him--he sometimes bullies his younger brothers--but there's something genuine about him.

Last week John, Moira and I were working on the driveway in our back yard, digging up the soil and replacing it with gravel.  We no longer have a car, but it's useful for visitors.

Next month the History Meetup is discussing the Seven Years War, so now I'm reading Frank McLynn's 1759:  The Year Britain Became Master of the World.  It has an interesting discussion about how Edmund Burke published an essay that year distinguishing the beautiful and the sublime and European soldiers experienced the Canadian landscape in sublime terms.

We recently finished the fourth season of The Wire. (I'd seen the first three before, but this was my first time for the fourth.) It's an especially brilliant season, with things going wrong in a thousand different ways.  This one put a new focus on the school system as Prez, the cop who got into trouble over excessive force but has a brilliant mind, quit and became a teacher instead.  Herc screwed up even more grandly than usual!

Friday I'm getting my second COVID-19 vaccination!

Sunday, June 13, 2021


Just finished The Name of the Rose.  Here are some more quotes from it:

On Franciscan leader Michael of Cesena: “Minister general of the order of the Friars Minor, he was in principle the heir of Saint Francis, and actually the heir of his interpreters:  he had to compete with the sanctity and wisdom of such a predecessor as Bonaventure of Bagnoregio; he had to assure respect for the Rule and at the same time, the fortunes of the order, so powerful and vast; he had to keep an eye on the courts and on the city magistrates from whom the order, though in the guise of alms, received gifts and bequests, source of prosperity and wealth; and at the same time he had to make sure that the requirement of penance did not lead the more ardent Spirituals to abandon the order, scattering that splendid community of which he was the head, in a constellation of bands of heretics.”

“Finally, I had no more doubts as to the gravity of my situation when I read quotations from the great Avicenna, who defined love as an assiduous thought of a melancholy nature, born as a result of one’s thinking again and again of the features, gestures, or behavior of a person of the opposite sex (with what vivid fidelity had Avicenna described my case!): it does not originate as an illness when, remaining unsatisfied, it becomes obsessive thought (and why did I feel so obsessed, I who, God forgive me, had been well satisfied? Or was perhaps what had happened the previous night not satisfaction of love?  But how is this illness satisfied, then?), and so there is an incessant flutter of the eyelids, irregular respiration; now the victim laughs, now weeps, and the pulse throbs (and indeed mine throbbed, and my breathing stopped as I read those lines!).”

“Politely interrupting Abo at this point, Cardinal Bertrand spoke up, saying we should recall how, to complicate matters and to irritate the Pontiff, in 1324 Louis the Bavarian had intervened with the Declaration of Sachsenhausen, in which for no good reason he confirmed the theses of Perugia (nor was it comprehensible, Bertrand remarked, with a thin smile, that the Emperor should acclaim so enthusiastically a poverty he did no practice in the least), setting himself against the lord Pope, calling him inimicus pacis and saying he was bent on fomenting scandal and discord, and finally calling him a heretic, indeed a heresiarch.”

“And on this score two ways of having are posited, one of which is civil and worldly, so that it is one thing to defend in a civil and worldly sense one’s own possession against him  who would take it, appealing to the imperial judge—but to say that Christ and the apostles owned things in this sense is heretical, because, as Matthew says, if any man will sue thee at the law and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also; nor does Luke say any differently, where Christ dismisses from himself all power and lordship and imposes the same on his apostles; and consider further Matthew, where Peter says to the Lord that to follow him they have left everything; but in the other way temporal things can yet be held, for the purpose of common fraternal charity, and in this way Christ and his disciples possessed some goods by natural right, to sustain nature.”

“Whereas with goods perishable with use, such as bread and foods, a simple right of use cannot be considered, nor can de-facto use be posited, but only abuse; everything the believers held in common in the primitive church, as is deduced from Acts 2 and 3, they held on the basis of the same type of ownership they had had before their conversion; the apostles, after the descent of the Holy Spirit, possessed farms in Judaea; the vow of living without property does not extend to what man needs in order to live, and when Peter said he had left everything he did not mean he had renounced property; Adam had ownership and property of things; the servant who receives money from his master certainly does not just make use or abuse of it; the words of the Exiit qui seminat to which the Minorites are always referring and which establish that the Friars Minor have only the use of what serves them, without having control and ownership, must be referring only to goods that are not consumed with use; and in fact if the Exiit included perishable goods it would sustain the impossible; de-facto use cannot be distinguished from juridical control; every human right, on the basis of which material goods are owned, is contained in the laws of kings; Christ as a mortal man, from the moment of his conception, was owner of all earthly goods, and as God he received from the Father universal control over everything; he was owner of clothing, food, money for tribute, and offerings of the faithful; and if he was poor, it was not because he had no property, but because he did not receive its fruits; for simple juridical control, separated from the collection of interest, does not enrich the possessor and finally, even if the Exiit had said otherwise, the Roman Pontiff can revoke the decisions of his predecessors and can even make contrary assertions.”

“It has been written that many will be the agitations among those of rank, and among the peoples, the churches that wicked shepherds will rise up, perverse, disdainful, greedy, pleasure-seeking, lovers of gain, enjoyers of idle speech, boastful, proud, avid, arrogant, plunged in lewdness, seekers of vainglory, enemies of the Gospel, ready to repudiate the strait gate, to despise the true word; and they will hate every path of piety, they will not repent their sins, and therefore will spread among all peoples disbelief, fraternal hatred, wickedness, hardness of heart, envy, indifference, robbery, drunkenness, intemperance, lasciviousness, carnal pleasure, fornication, and all the other vices.”

“I had never loved that man, who frightened me; and I will not deny that for a long time I believed him guilty of all the crimes.  But now I had learned that he was perhaps a poor wretch, oppressed by unfulfilled passions, an earthenware vessel among vessels of iron, surly because bewildered, silent and evasive because conscious he had nothing to say.  I felt a certain remorse toward him, and I thought that praying for his supernatural destiny might allay my feelings of guilt.”

A dream vision: “The skin with each of its folds, wrinkles and scars, with its velvety plains, its forest of hairs, the dermis, the bosom, the pudenda, having become a sumptuous damask, and the breasts, the nails, the horny formations under the heel, the threads of the lashes, the watery substance of the eyes, the flesh of the lips, the thin spine of the back, the architecture of the bones, everything reduced to sandy powder, though nothing had lost its own form or respective placement, the legs emptied and limp as a boot, their flesh lying flat like a chasuble with all the scarlet embroidery of the veins, the engraved pile of the viscera, the intense and mucous ruby of the heart, the pearly file of even teeth arranged like a necklace, with the tongue as a pink-and-blue pendant, the fingers in a row like tapers, the seal of the navel re-knotting the threads of the unrolled carpet of the belly…”

“But if one day—and no longer as plebeian exception, but as ascesis of the learned, devoted to the indestructible testimony of Scripture—the art of mockery were to be made acceptable, and to seem noble and liberal and no longer mechanical; if one day someone could say (and be heard), ‘I laugh at the Incarnation,’ then we would have no weapons to combat that blasphemy, because it would summon the dark powers of corporal matter, those that are affirmed in the fart and the belch, and the fart and the belch would claim the right that is only of the spirit, to breathe where they list!”

“Perhaps the mission of those who love mankind is to make people laugh at the truth, to make truth laugh, because the only truth lies in learning to free ourselves from insane passion for the truth.”

A dialogue near the end:

“It’s hard to accept the idea that there cannot be an order in the universe because it would offend the free will of God and His omnipotence.  So the freedom of God is our condemnation, or at least the condemnation of our pride.”

“But how can a necessary being exist totally polluted with the possible?  What difference is there, then, between God and primigenial chaos?  Isn’t affirming God’s absolute omnipotence and His absolute freedom with regard to His own choices tantamount to demonstrating that God does not exist?”

“How could a learned man go on communicating his learning if he answered yes to your question?”

“Do you mean that there would be no possible and communicable learning any more if the very criterion of truth were lacking, or do you mean you could no longer communicate what you know because others would not allow you to?”