Monday, December 17, 2012

My diary decade

About ten years ago I started writing a diary. (Call it mid-life crisis.) I started out with the quirky approach of writing to an imaginary 13-year-old girl called Dinah.  When I saw GANGS OF NEW YORK, I wrote: "I know you want to see any movie with Leo DiCaprio in it, but I can understand your mother not wanting you to see this one." But that approach was unsustainable and I soon reverted to a more conventional approach.

This diary was a chance for me to write longhand regularly.  I'd always write about what I'd eaten for dinner because I'd always eaten something and it gave me something to write about every day, if only something small.  I figure that's why Samuel Pepys wrote about food so much.

I haven't written as much in recent years.  There was a time when I'd write every day, or at least six times a week.  But in the last year I wrote once or twice a week so I could be sure each entry would fill a whole page.  I stopped writing it when I visited London this September, and turned to this blog when I returned.

I may have to take a break from this blog for the rest of December (I haven't been feeling much energy), or just write irregularly.  But I hope to return to posting every day in the new year, which is barely a fortnight away!

Saturday, December 15, 2012


Today I saw Giuseppe Verdi's AIDA yet again at the Met simulcast.  It's one of my favorite operas.

It's the one where Aida and Radames love each other but Aida's a captured Ethiopian princess in Egypt's royal palace and Radames is a general whom the Egyptian king sends to defeat an invasion by Aida's father King Amonasro and Aida's mistress Princess Amneris loves Radames too and Radames achieves a big victory and captures Amonasro and the King makes Radames get engaged to Amneris and Amonasro pressures Aida into pressuring Radames into revealing which route the Egyptian army is taking and Radames agrees to desert and elope with Aida and unintentionally reveals the military secret and Amneris catches him and the priests convict Radames of treason and sentence him to be buried alive and Aida hides in his tomb and they face death together and Amneris prays to her gods to grant her peace.

It's one of Verdi's late works, composed a few years after the Risorgimento, and with its critical view of nationalism surely reflects the master's mixed feelings about Italian unification. (Sure, Verdi's name became an acronym for "Victor Emmanuel, king of Italy," but his own sympathies were republican.) I keep wondering if the Egyptian priests are symbols of the Catholic Church, but maybe I'm reading too much subtext into it.  

It has one of the great opera finales:  Amneris praying for peace sometimes gets me teary-eyed.  One thing I like about Verdi's dramatic sense is the way he'll take an unsympathetic character like Amneris and give him or her a moment of grace, in a rather Catholic way.  Other examples are Germont singing "Di Provenza il Mar il Suol" in LA TRAVIATA, di Luna's "Il Balen di Suo Soriso" in IL TROVATORE, and Macbeth's "Pieta, Rispetto, Amore" (all baritone songs I've been learning to sing).

Friday, December 14, 2012


Now we have another mid-month gap between DVDs, so I rented the fifth season of MAD MEN for a week.  It's an unusually intelligent, existential show about a Madison Avenue advertising agency in the early and mid-1960s.  It's funny--watching that show, I can see everything that was wrong with that time:  the casual racism and sexism, the stifling conformism in much of the middle class, the heedless drinking and smoking, the littering!  Yet I still feel the emotional pull of nostalgia for that time.  People today may feel superior to the pre-1968 era, but I sense that we aren't so superior today.

When you think about the show's premise, it can seem almost as bleak as Matthew Weiner's previous series THE SOPRANOS.  Sterling & Cooper reminds me a bit of Never-Neverland, with Don Draper as Peter Pan and Joan as Tinker Bell.  You have a group of original writers, artists and thinkers basically whoring their talents to sell various products and overcome the general public's sales resistance.  Yet that wasn't completely new:  artists like Michelangelo created their great religious imagery basically to "sell" the Roman Catholic Church.

I think my favorite character is the glum, unpredictable senior partner Roger Sterling. (I was surprised to learn that John Slattery is only my age.) In one episode when they tried to work with a Japanese company he caused a big scene and made an issue of the Pacific War that he'd served in.  I got a feeling that World War II was the only time when he really felt alive.

Classical music Meetup

Another of my Meetup groups is Toronto Friends of Classical Music.  Mary, the organizer, gave me the designation "Attendee extraordinaire" because I've been a member for years, going back to when she took over.

Tonight we had an event at the Mad Bean coffee house on Eglinton Avenue West, hosted by assistant organizer John D.  The subject was Beethoven, whose 242nd birthday is this Sunday.  He played for us his CDs of the Egmont Overture, the second and fourth movements of the Seventh Symphony and part of a late string quartet. (He brought new high-quality speakers.)  He also played a CD someone else brought of Glenn Gould playing the Pathetique Sonata.  But nobody else brought music to play.

I'm running short again.  I'm still not over that cold.  I've been playing that jigsaw puzzle app a lot.  We've been eating stew the last two days, and I wish there'd been more potatoes.  I still haven't finished writing out the TOR lines I'll have to have memorized soon.  I've been watching a DVD of French and German avant-garde silent movies from the 1920s and '30s, but I have a feeling I won't understand any of them.  Now I read that they didn't prosecute HSBC for money-laundering because they're afraid they'd bring down the whole financial system--maybe the financial system will collapse anyway!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Today I saw the DVD of Sidney Lumet's SERPICO, for about the third time. (I didn't get it from but rented it from nearby 2Q Video.) It's a fine true-life story about Frank Serpico, a New York cop who exposed corruption among plainclothesmen.  I think there was actually a cop who broke the code of silence before Serpico, but they wrote the book about him because his story was more dramatic, what with getting shot in the face and such.

SERPICO, released in 1973, is one of those realistic New York movies of the time that prided themselves on unfancy, "gritty" realism.  The 1970s, especially the early years, was a good time for original, realistic American movies, partly because the studios were relatively uncertain about what they should be offering the public.  Al Pacino is in great, often funny form as the principled but sometimes difficult title character.  There's a lot of sharp dialogue. ("Frank, let's face it, who can trust a cop that won't take money?") I'm sure it was a big influence on the TV series HILL STREET BLUES, especially the show's undercover cop Mick Belker.

What got me interested in seeing it again was the Bradley Manning trial.  Both of them had to deal with a code of silence protecting criminal activity and superiors who preferred to cover it all up.  And both did the people a great service by showing what needed to be shown.

Another persistent cold

I've had this cold for about a week.  When I get a cold, I have a sore throat first, then nasal congestion, then finally a headache.  I'm still in the headache stage.

The last few nights I've been going to bed around 7:00, then waking up at 10:00 or 11:00, then staying up to well past midnight.  Then I sleep till about noon.

This isn't a good day for blog-writing.  I have a few subjects to write about, but I just can't work up the concentration.  I can barely even watch videos.

Just now I feel like Linus in that PEANUTS episode where he started writing a school composition about what he did on his summer vacation: "I played ball, and I went to camp." Then he said, "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight... Four hundred and ninety-two words to go!"

The effort of making these posts long enough always makes me think back to when I was fifteen taking high school courses by correspondence.  The one who marked my history lessons was always making me do them over because I was too brief.  The reason that I was too brief was because they never told me how long I was supposed to be. (They only decided after I'd written it.) Frankly, "Do over in more detail" is something any idiot could say.  That period of correspondence courses is not something I look back at nostalgically.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Jigsaw puzzles

I've had a cold for the last few days. (I had to miss Coro Verdi's Sunday concert at Villa Colombo Sunday, but we're doing it again next week.) I've been killing time on the computer, so I've been looking for new games to play on Facebook.

As for my current games, I've lost interest in Farmville 2.  Raising crops can only occupy me for so long.  I started Cityville 2, but lost interest in that too.  I've recently got into Evony and Stormfall, strategy-building games similar to Kingdoms of Camelot and Glory of Rome.  And I'm still faithful to Hot Shot.

I found a new Facebook game that allows me to play online jigsaw puzzles.  Some expert said that Aspies don't like jigsaw puzzles, but I enjoy them somewhat. But I wish I could do them so that they didn't show me what the complete picture was beforehand, so it would be a complete surprise.

This got me to thinking about the jigsaw puzzles we had when I was young.  We had a couple of maps of Canada in jigsaw form.  I also recall one of a canoer waking up in the morning and seeing a huge moose leaning over him, a rather disquieting image.  And we had a huge British puzzle, whose shape was round rather than rectangular, showing half a dozen old English inns. (We must have got it when living in Brighton in the mid-'60s.)

Sunday, December 09, 2012

The one thing in THE NEW YORK TIMES worth paying for

I subscribe to the NEW YORK TIMES crossword puzzles.  But I just do Friday and Saturday:  I skip the Monday to Thursday puzzles, because they're too easy. (They put the easier puzzles early in the week, and they gradually get harder toward the weekend.) I used to do the Sunday crossword just in case it was one with rebuses, but I've got out of the habit lately.  As for the second Sunday, I do the diagramless every six weeks.  The puns and anagrams puzzle is a bit too easy for me, and the acrostic takes to long for the reward.

Back in 1992, the TIMES honored their first Sunday crossword's 50th anniversary by reprinting several from over the decades.  The ones from the early years were really tough!  I'd like to get a reprint of their early Sunday crosswords.

As for the rest of that newspaper, don't get me started.  The TIMES has been in decline for the last three decades, since A.M. Rosenthal was in charge.  They have the disease of thinking of themselves as "liberal enough," so when Judith Miller publishes stories promoting the coming invasion of Iraq, they think they're proving how balanced they are.

I remember one sentence from a SUNDAY TIMES "Week in Review" article back in 1988: "In countries that hated America eight years ago, American is chic today." I was impressed by the sheer condescending laziness that makes such an assertion possible. (The Sunday paper got a bit of flak back then when the editor admitted that an up-to-date "Week in Review" was less important than an up-to-date sports section.)

Another thing I recall was a report from the newspaper's Chile correspondent dismissing Chile before Pinochet's military takeover as "a backward banana republic." Never mind that Chile before 1973 was fairly developed and politically stable by South American standards.  This is redundant rhetoric (aren't all banana republics backward?) better suited to THE NEW YORK POST than to the TIMES.  But of course, it proves how "balanced" they are...

Was there once a time when I was capable of buying the SUNDAY TIMES?  It's a barely portable ripoff.  I don't even read it at the library anymore.  Nothing to miss.

"In the beginning..."

Today was ROLT's December event.  I chose children's writing as the theme and called it "In the beginning..." Almost a dozen people said they were coming, but only five showed up. (My sister Moira came for the first time, and enjoyed it.)

Unfortunately, I've had a cold for the last few days so I couldn't read as much as I intended.  I did manage to do Humpty Dumpty's poem from THROUGH THE LOOKING-GLASS. (Its last line is "I tried to turn the handle, but--") Coincidentally, Jane read a couple of other Lewis Carroll poems:  "Jabberwocky" and "The Walrus and the Carpenter.")

There was a new member called Sebastian, who's an East Indian from Fiji.  He read us a fine story he'd written himself, about a Fiji family with a small sugar cane farm and two bullocks, and even handed out copies!  For next month I think we'll do Canadian writing.

Running short again!  This reminds me of some thirty years ago when I was briefly living in England, where there was a TV critic with a weekly column in one of the Sunday newspapers.  There was also a mediocre cop show called BERGERAC.  One Sunday, at the end of his column, this critic wrote: "If I had more space I'd write about BERGERAC.  I've been meaning to do that one of these weeks." (Ouch!)

Friday, December 07, 2012

If I were really, really rich...

I mentioned that I was watching THE GRAND TOUR a TV documentary series following art critic Brian Sewell around Italy as he talks about the experiences of young eighteenth-century British grandees there.  He's very hard to please:  he didn't like Chianti wine, dismissed the Vesuvius crater as boring, and pettifogged that the modern version of the Turin Academy was showing something they wouldn't have shown the Grand Tourists (peasant dancing to hurdy-gurdy music).  But the show is entertaining despite his efforts.

One place he stopped at was the sixteenth-century Bomarzo gardens near Rome.  That actually wasn't a Grand Tour stop; interest in that place only developed in the twentieth century.  But who cares?  It's a piece of ground where some Orsini noble commissioned a whole set of grotesque, imaginative stone statues: stuff like a grimacing head whose mouth is big enough to step into.

Which brings me to the question of what I'd do if I were really, really rich.  I'm not interested in fast cars (can't drive), fancy clothes or big mansions, but I would travel a lot.  When I was about four in the mid-'60s my father, a physics professor at Mount Allison University, spent a sabbatical year in Brighton, England.  That was about the time when Brighton was a big Mod centre, though none of us remember anything about that.  Anyway, we sailed there and back on the Greek Line ship Arcadia. (The return, I recently found out, was its last voyage before being scrapped.) I'd like to cross the Atlantic by ship again.  Also there are a few places I'd like to visit in my lifetime like Madrid's Prado art gallery and the pilgrimage mountain Tai Shan in northeastern China.

But I was also thinking, if I had the money I'd create a new Bomarzo.  One of my statues might be of Glooscap, the Hercules-like hero of the Micmac, a native people in eastern Canada, showing him sailing away on a whale as they say he finally did. (Whale-riding is found in a lot of cultures:  even Herodotus had a story about someone riding a dolphin.) Or I might have some famous Canadian explorers like Humphrey Gilbert (gesturing his palm toward heaven just before his ship was lost) or Lief the Lucky.  Or theatrical heroes like King Lear (raging on the moor), or opera heroes like Rigoletto.  Just so long as they're larger than life.

I've finished Herodotus!

Yesterday I finally finished Herodotus' history.  This edition also has several appendices and an introduction, but I mostly skipped over that part.  The eighth volume is largely about the sea war, culminating in the Battle of Salamis; the ninth and last is about the later land war, culminating in the Battle of Plataya.

You know those cheesy war movies where the sergeant gets orders to gather his men and retreat, and he says "The HELL we'll retreat!"? There's a scene like that in Herodotus' book from just before Plataya.  In that version the non-retreaters relented when they realized they were on their own.

There's also a story near the end about how the Persian Emperor Xerxes fell in love with his brother's wife, and married off his son to the wife's daughter, then his fancy turned to his niece, then his jealous wife blamed the brother's wife and had her disfigured, then the brother ran off to a remote province to start a rebellion, then the Emperor's army caught up with him and killed him.... They should make that into an opera.

Seriously, the first place I remember reading about the Greco-Persian Wars was in a comic book where Uncle Scrooge and his brood used a time machine to land on the Plain of Marathon just as the Battle was about to start...

Now I've returned to the politics issue of LAPHAM'S QUARTERLY.  My next big book will be the first volume of Mark Twain's century-delayed autobiography, which I've heard reads like a blog.

I also finished the first season of HELL ON WHEELS yesterday on Netflix.  It's a powerful show, with an effect that builds cumulatively. One line goes, "Choose hate.  It's easier." A quibble: How did the surveyor's widow manage to stay so gorgeous while living on the frontier? (Such visual license I can live with, of course.)

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Geeks like me

Today I had lunch with my Aspergers Meetup group at Spring Rolls just south of Yonge & Bloor.  Tiffany, who lives in Hamilton, was in Toronto so she had an event.  The others visited Allen Gardens first, but Bev and I weren't up to that and met up with them at the restaurant.  Too bad it wasn't a day earlier when the weather was far milder.

The food is pretty good there:  I ate Malaysian spicy chicken fried rice.  At these events I tend to talk to Bev more than anyone else:  we're the two oldest people in the group.  She's twice as passionate about Bradley Manning as I am. (We've been talking a lot about that case at THE HUFFINGTON POST the last few days.  I wrote of the bit in SERPICO where Al Pacino's girlfriend told the story of a king who was the only one in the kingdom who didn't drink from a well that made people crazy, so they thought he was the crazy one instead, until he drank too and they decided he'd come to his senses.)

In the evening I went to another Aspie event at the Geneva Centre.  I used to go to an Aspergers support group there because I wanted to meet people, but then I decided I could do it through other means like Meetup.

Anyhow, this event involves a psychologist called Jonathan Weiss who got a research grant and wants to work with us Aspies on things like "mindfulness." We'll see how that works out.  I've worked with a psychologist before:  Liljana Vuketic interviewed me in researching her doctoral dissertation, and paid me $200 which I promptly squandered on books.  BTW, they've now stopped calling it Aspergers and just call it high-functioning autistic spectrum disorder, or something like that.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Children's encyclopedias

When I was little we had Harwyn's THE ART LINKLETTER PICTURE ENCYCLOPEDIA FOR BOYS AND GIRLS, originally published in 1961.  I read somewhere online that many of the artists who illustrated it also worked on EC's notorious horror comics.  I remember being creeped out by the picture of Macbeth gleefully preparing to knife the king, and I guess that had an EC sensibility.

We also had Bobley's ILLUSTRATED WORLD ENCYCLOPEDIA.  The entry on communism is a McCarthyite classic.  Under the sub-heading "What makes people communists?" it says "In democratic nations, a communist is often a person with a sort of mental illness..." The item about rivers says "They can be damned [sic]..." (Was that REALLY a typo?) This edition had a last-minute addendum about the just-elected Richard Nixon.

And we had a 1930s edition of the British encyclopedia THE WORLD BOOK. (The entry on flags showed the Third Reich's swastika flag.) It had a special volume focusing on the British Empire's dominions.  It was an incomplete set:  the volume covering Irw to Mis somehow got misplaced.  It had a last-minute addendum about the new king George VI.

And then there's THE BOOK OF KNOWLEDGE.  That started out being published in Britain around 1910 with the title CHILDREN'S ENCYCLOPEDIA, and Grolier published it in the US with its new title.  THE BOOK OF KNOWLEDGE has gone through many revised versions, but we had the first Canadian edition from the 1920s, substantially the same as the original British version, though it added some stuff about World War I and some specifically Canadian items. (I think there was a photo of Moncton, the city we lived closest to.) Mother's family bought it when she was a little girl.

THE BOOK OF KNOWLEDGE in its early versions had an earnestly didactic style, not quite as manipulative as more recent counterparts.  It was a 20-volume set, divided into lots of categories like "The Book of the Earth," "The Book of Things to Make and Do," and "The Story of Famous Books." "The Book of Wonder" had the "Wise Man" answering questions like "Did any of the Apostles visit Britain?" and "Will the last man die gasping for air?" a question characteristic of the time. "The Book of Life" had a section called "Alcohol, the enemy of life." (This was the age of Prohibition, of course.) And it had a lot of children's stories with some remarkable illustrations:  I think Sir Arthur Rackham worked on it.

The pleasant mount

I'm not a big fan of cemeteries.  My old home in New Brunswick was fairly close to the local cemetery, but I rarely visited it.  Even when the subway between St. Clair and Davisville stations carries me past Mount Pleasant Cemetery, I tend to avoid looking at it.  But I have visited that place several times with Meetup groups.

I've got to know some of the sights in Mount Pleasant cemetery:  the Massey and Thompson mausoleums, Mackenzie King's grave, the Stavros tomb (it's a little much), the Salvation Army's memorial to the EMPRESS OF IRELAND shipwreck, and the lane with a whole lot of millionaire mausoleums like the Eatons.  I've also discovered a few things for myself, like opera soprano Teresa Stratas' family plot (at least I think it's her--the epitath refers to music), and the graves of journalists Norman Depoe and Larry Zolf.  I'd like to find a grave I've heard of there where the eccentric deceased chose a completely unmarked boulder as his headstone.

Saturday I visited it again as part of the Urban Explorers Meetup organized by Vik. (We also went southeast to the Discovery Walk loop, which took us past the brick works.  On the way back, we took a wrong turn and had to take a precarious path, which was actually pretty fun.) Vik told us about some of the prominent trees there, and mourned a weeping willow that was a victim of a recent storm. I quipped, "They should have a cemetery for trees!"

In China they have something called "tree burial," where they cremate you and plant a tree over your ashes.  I think I'd like to have that done with my body:  I like the idea of having a living monument.  On the other hand, Zoroastrians in India put you on a high tower and feed you to the vultures:  a very eco-friendly method, for what it's worth.

Sunday, December 02, 2012


Last night I finally went to see Paul Thomas Anderson's THE MASTER at the Revue.  This time I had the wits to walk south from Dundas West station instead of waiting for the streetcar.

I'm not a big Anderson fan.  I liked BOOGIE NIGHTS, but I couldn't take more than a few minutes of MAGNOLIA or PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE. (Moira liked MAGNOLIA, so maybe I should try it again, or maybe not.) THERE WILL BE BLOOD I found oddly off-putting, though Daniel Day-Lewis was worthy, if not as appealing as he got to be in LINCOLN.

Didn't care much for this one either.  Before I saw it, Moira--who hadn't even seen the movie--predicted that I wouldn't like Joaquin Phoenix' performance, and she was right!  I don't know where she got the gift of prophecy.  He was rather annoying as the cult newcomer:  I could see him "acting." (He might get an Oscar nomination.) Philip Seymour Hoffman was better as the cult leader:  watching him just felt more comfortable.

I'm sometimes attracted to movies like this because of the 1950s setting, another example being Terence Malick's THE TREE OF LIFE. (Watching that movie was like doing a jigsaw puzzle where half the pieces are missing.) But this film could have been called "The World Is Full of Idiots."

Hoffman sings the song "I'll go no more a-roving" during an ORGY scene! (That reminded me of all the classic music A CLOCKWORK ORANGE ruined.) At least, it was sort of an orgy: the women got naked, but there didn't seem to be any sex happening.  Not as self-important as the EYES WIDE SHUT orgy, but pretty slight.

It's the kind of movie that his this dialogue exchange: "I'll quit boozing." "Say it again." "I'll quit boozing." "Say it again." "I'll quit boozing." "Say it again." "I'll quit boozing."

("We'll quit repeating our lines." "Say it again.")

Query:  In the scene where Phoenix sees Hoffman's boat for the first time, they're playing chacha music.  Did they have that as early as 1950?

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Two months!

I've now been posting daily for two months without interruption. (It looks like I only posted 29 times in November, but that's because last night's post was published after midnight.) I'm getting an appreciation for ministers who manage to come up with a sermon every Sunday, week after week. gives me an overview of how many views each post receives.  I usually fluctuate between ten and twenty or so, but when I wrote about THE HUFFINGTON POST Wednesday, that got fifty views!  That's what brings in the troupers. (I'm tempted to write about popular subjects all the time, but I have my integrity...) My post with recipes for fettucine alfredo and gingerbread also got a lot of views.

I'm still writing down subjects for future posts.  One I haven't got around to is the children's encyclopedias I knew in my youth.  And now that I've mentioned it, I'll have to write about it before long rather than keep my audience hanging.

I've run short again.  Should I mention that we ate tacos last night? Or that I was a long time getting to sleep last night because I felt happy?  Or that I dreamed about being an actor and having to deliver lines while running down a stairwell?  Or that because it's now December I'm going to start taking my Cipralex daily instead of four times a week so winter won't get me depressed?  Or that I've run out of razor blades and haven't got around to getting new ones yet? (I planned to stop using the last one at the end of the month, but nobody will die if I use it one extra time...)

HUFFINGTON POST moderators, are you reading this?

I was going to post about the movie THE MASTER tonight.  I got on a streetcar and went to St. Clair & Dufferin to take the bus south to the Bloor subway to Dufferin station, then go west to the Dundas West station, then take a streetcar south on Roncesvalles to the Revue Cinema.  I could have walked to St. Clair & Ossington and taken the bus south to Ossington station, but I figured that the Dufferin bus was more frequent and less likely to be delayed.

As it turned out, the Dufferin bus did have a fairly long delay, so when I reached the Dundas West station I already had little time to spare.  Then there was ANOTHER delay on the part of the Roncesvalles streetcar, and I couldn't get to the cinema on time, so I went home. (I wasn't so sure I wanted to see THE MASTER, but I'll definitely have to see it now that I've made you readers curious!)

What shall I write about instead?  Yesterday at THE HUFFINGTON POST I read a post saying "Many posters say the Dems won the election.  The Repubs, however, were given a strong House majority.  No one won, so each side needs to bend." So I wrote a reply: "Of course, the Republicans lost the popular vote and had to win through gerrymandering..." (I like putting an ellipse at the end of my post.  Gives it a bit of ponderous style.) So someone replied to me: "I live in a reality based world.  Redistricting is reality.  Whining is unbecoming."

Such snark I can't take lying down, so I replied to him: "In other words, 'We cheated and won, so just shut up.' (Same as Bush v. Gore.)" But the Huffpost moderators blocked this reply, and I later figured out that the words "shut up" automatically get a post blocked, even in the context of quotation marks. I confirmed this when I rewrote the post with "say nothing" in the place of "shut up," and it wasn't blocked.

Moderators, you need to make a public announcement of all the terms that'll automatically get you blocked. (I wish they'd send a message saying something like "You can't post this because it includes the words "shut up.") I know that a lot of the people who post at the site are bothered about their posts being blocked for reasons they have no idea of.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Last TOR fall rehearsal

Tuesday was the last fall rehearsal for the TOR chorus.  We'll be coming back in January, and then we'll be rehearsing on stage, and we'll need to have our lines memorized! (Coro Verdi is easier in that we can continue to use our scores while performing.)

I'm usually quick to get my lines memorized, but this year I've been a bit slower.  I won't have much excuse for not learning them, because we have a piano I can use for practicing with. (It's a Yamaha baby grand we bought in the 1970s.)

One way I learn my lines is by writing them down syllable by syllable. (I indicate a rest by writing [_] for each eighth note.  I actually use a more curved version that makes the length clearer, but [_] is all I can type in this post.) Most syllables last an eighth note, but if one lasts a quarter note I write a hyphen (-) after it.  If it's three-eighths, I follow it with an equal sign (=).  If it's a half note, I use both (=-).  If two syllables last a sixteenth note each, I but a brace bracket under them, which indicates triples when it's under three syllables.  If a syllable lasts three-sixteenths and the next one sixteenth, I put a slash (/) between them; if the first is one sixteenth and the next three, I use a backslash (\).  And I use (|) to indicate barlines.

My approach can be useful for learning elision, which is common in Italian, one of our opera languages, but doesn't come so naturally to Anglophones.  If we're given "che un" to pronounce as a single syllable, I write down "kyun." And "E il" as a single syllable can be written "E'l." (In one part of BARBER OF SEVILLE we pronounce "si e un" as one syllable, so I wrote "syen.") One part that goes "E il cervello, poverello, si riduce ad impazzar" I wrote down as "E'l/cer |vel_lo, ___po/ve| |rel_lo, ___si/ri|du-chad___im/paz|zar."

I have some other tricks.  When a whole passage gets repeated, I put brace brackets ({) at the beginning and end, along with the number 2.  If it's just a bar or two getting repeated several times, I put the brace at the top, making it long enough to show the beginning and the end.  A big problem ends up looking smaller.

What a long post I've written!  I wish I had a subject like this every night.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Odds & ends

Today I got my hair cut.  I do that every three months at a small barber shop on the other side of St. Clair Avenue.  A Hungarian woman does a pretty good job for fifteen dollars. (She even trims my eyebrows!) This time I just got a small trim because the opera's coming up in February and Giuseppe says we should maximize our "plumage." I sometimes read THE TORONTO SUN while I'm waiting--the only time I ever read that newspaper--but this time the place was empty and I didn't have to wait at all!

Today I also saw the DVD of the Steve Martin comedy L.A. STORY, some twenty years after seeing it in a theatre.  (I saw it again because I'm interested in Richard E. Grant, who has a supporting role.)  It has some pretty good lines:

"I'm doing thirty-minute lipstick..."

"I don't think we should make love, OK?" "All right, we'll just have sex."

On Sarah Jessica Parker (who plays an aspiring spokesmodel): "She isn't so young.  She'll be twenty-eight in four years."

I sometimes have unusual dreams.  I went to bed early this evening because I had a headache, and dreamed of a non-existent episode of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW about a station manager involved in drug smuggling, with an appearance by Eb (who was actually on GREEN ACRES!) The other night I dreamed about Julia Roberts being in the boxing ring with a midget, wearing a turtle-shell helmet like Bamm-Bamm on THE FLINTSTONES.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


My interest in THE HUFFINGTON POST blows hot and cold.  I read it every day, but there isn't always much for me to write posts about. (It doesn't help that the posts don't always get through the moderation stage.  I have a feeling that their software has bugs that cause some posts to be scrubbed automatically without being considered.)

Lately I've been more active.  The other day they carried a MOTHER JONES article by David Corn insisting that when Obama let the Bush tax cuts continue three years ago he wasn't really "caving" to the Republicans; because he got them to agree to a second mini-stimulus, that made it "jiu jitsu" in which he brilliantly forced a concession from them.

I have little patience with people saying stuff like "Obama is playing chess when everyone else is playing checkers." This happened even when he made the impressively inept decision to choose homophobic fundamentalist Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his first inauguration.  He offended not just the GLBT community but everyone concerned about the power of American fundamentalists.  And fundamentalists can't be appeased:  give them what they want and they'll just take it as confirmation that they're in the right.  Yet there were Obama-worshippers on THE HUFFINGTON POST who insisted it was actually a brilliant move.

And so I wrote several posts on this subject.  One said: "Time once again for progressives to present a defeat as a victory." Another one was in response to someone who blamed the Democratic defeat in the midterm House of Representatives elections on the left not voting because they felt Obama had caved: "Could it be that the Republican victory of 2010 was due not to the perception of Obama caving, but to the ACTUALITY of Obama caving? (Perish the thought!)"

And today there was a report about Bradley Manning's upcoming trial.  That subject always brings out haters saying things like "He's guilty of treason and should be shot!" Since they keep repeating their opinions, I keep repeating mine:  Manning's real crime was exposing to the American people evidence of war crimes that the Pentagon keeps trying to cover up, and causing the US government embarrassment.  It was totally predictable that the Pentagon would throw the book at him (and NOT at the war criminals he exposed), but that doesn't mean people should just accept it.  If Obama doesn't pardon Manning, that'll be one of his more disgraceful betrayals of the American people.

Learning Greek

I've finished another lesson in the book TEACH YOURSELF ANCIENT GREEK.  Most recently I've been learning imperative and conditional verb moods, comparative and superlative adjectives, and some very odd verbs with an -mi form.

One difficulty I have is with the small Greek writing, so I've been writing it out on my computer using transliteration before translating it.  From the Greek to the Latin alphabet is mostly simple, though I write eta as e^ and omega as o^ to indicate long accents, and this iota subscript used for dative endings (it's like adding an "i," but subtler) I indicate with ~.

Recently I was translating a famous passage from Xenophon's ANABASIS, about an expedition of almost 10,000 Greek mercenaries who tried to install a new emperor in Persia until their client was killed and they had to fight their way to the Black Sea coast whence they could sail home.  It's the part where the vanguard reached some mountain heights and saw their sea objective below.  They started shouting "THALATTA, THALATTA!" meaning "THE SEA, THE SEA!" and the news quickly spread back to the rear guard.  When the others caught up even the officers were weeping and hugging each other.

I've also been translating a scene from Aristophanes' comedy THE WASPS, about a father who's so obsessed with serving on juries that his son arranges a trial for their dog, charged with eating all the Sicilian cheese!

In addition, I've been retranslating my Greek-to-English translations into Chinese and Japanese.  Chinese is difficult to transliterate into, so I renamed the WASPS characters Philocleon and Bdelycleon Fuqin (Father) and Erzi (Son) respectively.  But Japanese is better-suited for translation, so I called them Pirokureon and Buderukureon.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


Today was the TOR fundraiser.  I baked gingerbread for it Friday night, and I hope nobody noticed that I put too much salt in. (The recipe requires half a teaspoon, and I added half a tablespoon!) Actually, I just brought two-thirds of what I baked and kept the rest for the family.

The chorus doesn't have a huge function at these fundraisers.  We performed in three of the numbers, while the rest were all soloists. One of the numbers we did was the famous Barcarolle from TALES OF HOFFMANN, which I've sung so often at Coro Verdi that I don't need to look at the score! (It helps that there are no words to learn, like the Humming Chorus in Puccini's MADAMA BUTTERFLY.) We also accompanied the septet from the Giulietta story in TALES OF HOFFMANN, and the second-act finale in BARBER OF SEVILLE.

Of course, there were eats afterward. (Some people, I'm told, come to these fundraisers just for the food.) We always bring more cookies and such than we need, so those who stay to the end get to take home a good share of the leftovers!  I got a wide variety, including a bit of my gingerbread.

When I briefly went outside tonight, I saw snow for the first time since last winter. (It was only noticeable on the parked cars; the snow on the street had melted.) I miss the big snows we used to experience in New Brunswick.  Another thing I miss about New Brunswick is getting up in September or October, looking out the window and seeing our lawn grey with the first frost since spring.

Saturday, November 24, 2012


I just saw the DVD of the DOCTOR WHO story "The Robot."  I've been watching quite a few episodes of that long-running BBC scifi series on video.  Of course, it's about the Doctor, a super-intelligent but witty being who travels with various sidekicks into different planets and eras in the Tardis (Time And Relative Dimension In Space), which looks like a normal police phone booth from the outside.  I especially like the early stories from the 1960s with William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton and wish more of them were available. (My favorite sidekick is Frazier Hines as the Troughton-era Scot Jamie.)

"The Robot" is a 1974 story, the first one with Tom Baker as the Doctor.  He brought a special quirkiness to the role that brought the show to its peak of fame. (Catch him as Rasputin in NICHOLAS & ALEXANDRA or as the sorcerer in THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD.) The show back then had relatively low budgets, but it didn't need much money:  the appeal was in the clever writing.

This story involves strange goings-on at a government think-tank and a morally conflicted robot that goes around stealing top-secret information and material to build a disintegrator ray. (It's the last several stories that had the Doctor earthbound in the 20th century, working with a British general:  after this he returned to roving.) There's also a quasi-fascist group intent on nuclear blackmail.  It got a bit goofy at the end when the general turned the disintegrator on the robot, only to have it grow into a King Kong-sized threat.

There's some good dialogue, as usual for the series: "I don't like the word 'impregnable.' It sounds too much like 'unsinkable.'" "What's wrong with 'unsinkable'?" "Nothing, said the iceberg to the TITANIC."

Friday, November 23, 2012


Today I cooked dinner, which was fettucine alfredo.  I use pre-cooked fettucine, which Ziggy now sells in tight clumps, so I make sure to boil it in a lot of water. (I miss the days when they sold it in nests.)

For the alfredo sauce, I use a recipe we got off a milk-themed calendar some twenty years ago.  First you melt three tablespoons of butter, then whisk in three tablespoons of flour. (With a whisk I can take on the world.) Then you heat it till it's sizzling, and add three cups of milk, and half a cup of cream or of more milk.  You heat it till it's boiling, then take it off the heat for five minutes.  Then you add 125 grams of cream cheese, a teaspoon of salt, half a teaspoon of pepper, and a quarter teaspoon each of cayenne pepper and nutmeg.  You heat it again, and when it's boiling you add a cup of grated parmesan cheese.  It's now ready to add to the fettucine.

In the evening I've been baking gingerbread for the TOR fundraiser Sunday.  For that I use a recipe from THE NEW YORK TIMES COOKBOOK.  First you wax an 8" square pan and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Then you add a tablespoon of vinegar to three-quarters of a cup of milk, and put it aside to curdle.  Then you mix two cups of flour with two teaspoons of baking powder, a quarter teaspoon of baking soda, half a teaspoon of salt, two teaspoons (or a bit less) of ginger, a teaspoon of cinnamon, and a quarter teaspoon of ground cloves.

The next part is where it gets challenging.  You cream a third of a cup of shortening, gradually adding half a cup of sugar and creaming all the time.  Then you add an egg and whip till fluffy. (I personally use my whisk instead of beaters.) Then you add three quarters of a cup of molasses.

(A tip on the molasses:  before measuring it out I put a little oil in the measuring cup--just enough to cover the bottom--and spread it about until it covers the whole inner surface.  The molasses then comes out pretty easily.)

Now you take the milk and the flour and stir them in alternately, a quarter or less at a time.  Then you put the batter in the pan:  I stir it about clockwise, then counter-clockwise, then horizontally, then vertically, then diagonally both ways.  You then bake it for 45 to 50 minutes.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Translating Caesar

I first started learning Latin in the summer of 1977, when I was 15. (It was a difficult time in my life, but that's another story.) A pet project of mine has been translating Julius Caesar's famous COMMENTARIES ON THE GALLIC WARS.  It has the famous opening "Greater Gaul is divided into three parts..." (I translated it as "Greater Gaul..." instead of the more common "All Gaul..." because I wanted to distinguish between that superregion and Gaul proper, which didn't include the Belgians in the northeast or the Aquitanians in the southwest.)

I put the translation aside for a few years after finishing the first section, which was about Caesar's war with the Helvetian Gauls, who staged a mass emigration out of what's now Switzerland and tried to overrun the rest of Gaul.  About 300,000 people left on this trek, but after Caesar had defeated them only about 100,000 returned. (The rest were largely killed or enslaved.)

Recently I started translating the next section, which is about Caesar's conflict with German tribes from the east who'd been overrunning eastern Gaul.  Their leader was Ariovistus, whose name is probably a Latinized version of the German for "Lord [Herr] of the West." I've just got to a tough part where Caesar's giving a pep talk to his officers because the German warriors' reputation as supermen has scared even the Roman soldiers.

Translation always involves issues of style.  Caesar keeps referring to himself in the third person (there's a crook on BOARDWALK EMPIRE who does that too), but I use the first person for him.  Also, I use the modern name for the places in the text whenever that's clear, one example being Besancon for Vesontio.  And I refer to the province of Transalpine Gaul, the base for Caesar's operations, as a capitalized "the Province."

One thing to remember when reading the text is that it's only Caesar's side of things--no doubt he was writing it to justify himself against the charge that his wars were an unnecessary vehicle for his political ambitions.  And he hasn't mentioned what the whole conflict was really about:  gold.  I learned from Terry Jones (of Monty Python fame) in the TV documentary series BARBARIANS that Gaul at this time had become a major gold-producer and its wealth was now attracting conquerors from Helvetia, Germany and Rome.


It's the mid-month gap in shipments, so I've been watching DVDs of the second season of BOARDWALK EMPIRE.  It's an awfully uneven show:  it has some great elements, but the whole is somehow less than the sum of the parts.

Steve Buscemi as Atlantic City boss Nucky Thompson is the best thing in the show.  I've liked that actor since he played Mr. Pink in RESERVOIR DOGS. ("Let 'em learn to type!") I also like the depiction of gangster politics:  the show could use a bit more of the Al Capone character.  Some of the dialogue is enjoyable. ("He's an easily bamboozled character.")  And some of the soundtrack's period songs appeal to me, like "Look for the Silver Lining."

But I could live without Jimmy the punk's uncomfortably intimate relationship with his mother.  And Van Alden the fed is an annoying prick.  Lucy the sexpot was fun in the first season, but in the second they made her pregnant and miserable.  I've always found that "two boats and a lifeguard" joke stupid, and in this show's context it seemed anachronistic.

Really, the 1920s was a pretty depressing time, notwithstanding all that "jazz age" nostalgia. (The despair of the '30s and the horror of the '40s created a prism that made it look good in comparison.) The moralists enacting prohibition is just the start.  It was the age of Warren Harding--the worst president in US history and also the most popular--stock speculation frenzy, and the Ku Klux Klan revival.  And it was also a time when a lot of lamentable long-term trends got their real start:  Madison Avenue manipulation, smoking, pro sports mass culture, love of big cars, women being obsessed with thinness.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Board games

Some of the Meetup groups I'm a member of are devoted to board games.  I haven't been so active in them lately, but I used to be a regular and I may return someday.  These groups have introduced me to several new games which Parker Brothers can't hold a candle to. (I've even bought some of them.)

Of course, the "gateway" game that got me into this new generation of games was Settlers of Catan.  It's a strategy game where you start with a map of an island formed with hexagons representing areas that produce wheat, wool, wood, brick and metal ore respectively.  You build settlements on vertices where three hexagons meet and they yield resources from these areas depending on dice rolls.  You then spend resource cards to expand your network:  wood and brick buy you a road; wood, brick, wool and wheat buy you a settlement; two wheat and three metal buy you a more productive city.  It can involve intricate strategies.

Another game I like is Ticket to Ride, where you collect train cards of different colors and use them to lay rail lines between cities until you fill the routes on tickets you chose at the start.  I prefer the Europe variation:  it has extra-challenging tunnel routes and sea routes, and you can also buy stations to leap over a link when someone else has taken it.

Puerto Rico is another strategy game where you start plantations, introduce settlers (more like slaves), buy factories to make the plantations productive, and ship the goods home.  I'm a big believer in the hospice card, which speeds up settlement.

Smallworld is a D&D-style game with fourteen different races and twenty special powers.  You choose a race with a power and use it to conquer land until it's worn thin, then you put it into decline and choose a new race.  There are 280 possible race-power combinations, and some of them are especially powerful:  spirited ghouls, bivouacking amazons, flying wizards, pillaging orcs, seafaring tritons...

Recent DVDs

Here are some DVDs from that I've recently seen.

BRIAN SEWELL'S GRAND TOUR OF ITALY:  A British documentary series in which art critic Brian Sewell retraces the journeys of eighteenth-century English gentlemen on the "Grand Tour" in search of Italy's cultural sophistication.  Father considers Sewell an insufferable twit, but for me the show has historical interest.

ONCE IN A LIFETIME:  THE EXTRAORDINARY STORY OF THE NEW YORK COSMOS:  A documentary about the 1970s New York pro soccer team--part of the Warner Brothers empire--which created a brief sensation after hiring Brazilian star Pele.

ROSAMOND BERNIER:  PARIS BY DAY AND BY NIGHT:  A filmed lecture at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art about the impressionist movement in the key decade of the 1870s.

MILDRED PIERCE:  Not the classic Joan Crawford potboiler but the miniseries remake with Kate Winslet.  Still pretty fun, though it omitted the murder that was central to the movie. (Was it in James Cain's novel or not?)

NORTHWEST FRONTIER:  An entertaining adventure movie about Brits in the Raj transporting a young prince to safety on a train during a rebellion, directed by J. Lee Thompson (who went on to make lots of Charles Bronson movies).

MARTHA GRAHAM:  DANCE ON FILM:  Three half-hour films of modern dance by Martha Graham's troupe, from the '50s, produced by a pre-PBS station.  They include Aaron Copland's APPALACHIAN SPRING and a ballet based on the Oedipus myth called NIGHT JOURNEY.  Graham was still in fine form for a dancer in her fifties.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

My first auction

Today I went to an art auction.  I'd never been to one before, though I do remember that scene in NORTH BY NORTHWEST. (The one where the spies are closing in on Cary Grant, and he saves himself by making ridiculous bids and turning himself into a spectacle at a high-class art auction.)

Lindsay, who organizes my Philosophy Walk Meetup, organized this auction at the Gladstone Hotel, where they were selling off framed photographic prints for her charity So Kids Can See.  That's an organization that gives Third World children early eye examinations to correct conditions that can lead to blindness. (You can find more info at .)

The bidding for items at the live auction started at $150, so I just bought a $60 item in the silent auction.  It's a photograph of a doorway in an old fort in India, taken by Lindsay herself. (I like doorway pictures.) I'm feeling guilty about spending even that much money, but it is close to Christmas time.

Once again, I'm running short.  I could mention that I finished the book 50 MATHEMATICAL IDEAS YOU REALLY NEED TO KNOW, and started reading 50 PHYSICS IDEAS....  I've now learned about Mach's principle:  mass in one place influences inertia in another.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


Today I saw another Met opera at the Sheppard Grande:  Donizetti's famous comic opera THE ELIXIR OF LOVE. (Moira saw it too, but at the Scotiabank, a cinema I can't stand:  the lobby reminds me of a Hieronymus Bosch-style nightmare.) It's one of the operas I've done with the TOR chorus, so I know it fairly well.

It's the one about the bumpkin peasant Nemorino who's hopelessly in love with Adina, a shameless tease who treats him badly (sort of like Archie and Veronica).  When the soldier Belcore courts Adina, Nemorino gets desperate and buys a love potion from travelling mountebank Dulcamara, which tastes suspiciously like cheap wine.  But just when he drinks a second bottle, the local girls find out (before he does) that he's inherited a fortune, and give him the sort of attention that makes him think the elixir is working...

This was a zippy, well-directed production that didn't seem long.  I liked details like the tall grass set decoration.  My favorite aria is "Una Furtiva Lagrima," which I've started learning in my desultory singing lessons.

Coincidentally, in the evening I started looking at our DVD with highlights from LIVE FROM THE MET. (I think I saw it years ago.)

Friday, November 16, 2012

More on US electoral reform

John George, my friend at Coro Verdi, was asking me about my scheme for reforming the House of Representatives.  Being the obsessive type, I checked the 2010 census results and figured out how the seats would be apportioned under my scheme.

The way I figured it, Washington DC, Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota and Alaska would each get one seat; South Dakota, Delaware, Montana and Rhode Island would get two; New Hampshire, Maine, Hawaii and Idaho three; Nebraska, West Virginia and New Mexico four.  Each of these states would have nothing but category A seats, as they do today.

Nevada, Utah, Kansas, Arkansas, Missisippi and Iowa would get six seats; Connecticut seven; Oklahoma and Oregon eight; Kentucky nine; Louisiana, South Carolina and Alabama ten.  These states would get two category B seats each and the rest would be A.

Colorado and Minnesota would get 11 seats; Wisconsin and Maryland 12; Missouri, Tennessee and Arizona 13; Indiana, Massachusetts and Washington 14.  These states would get three B seats each, the rest A.

New Jersey would get 18 seats, North Carolina and Georgia 20.  These states would get four B seats and one category C seat, the rest A.

Michigan/Ohio would get 21/24 seats each, including 15/16 A, 5 B and 1 C; Illinois and Pennsylvania would both get 27 seats, including 20 A, 6 B and 1 C; Florida/New York would get 40/41 seats, including 30/31 A, 8 B and 2 C; Texas would get 54 seats, including 40 A, 11 B and 3 C; California would get 79 seats, including 59 A, 15 B and 5 C.

Now consider the totals.  There'd be 540 A seats (83.1% of the total), 92 B (14.2%) and 18 C (2.8%).  Five-sixth of the seats would still be chosen in the old "first past the post" way, so the system would not be seriously destabilized.  But a greater range of the public would be represented, and gerrymandering would have a much smaller effect.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


I recently put aside Herodotus and started reading the latest issue of LAPHAM'S QUARTERLY.  That's a magazine published every three months by Lewis Lapham, longtime editor of the longtime highbrow monthly HARPER'S.  Every issue has writing on a single subject, and I've been reading it faithfully since the first issue eight years ago (which was about war).

It's similar to HARPER'S in reprinting selections from a wide range of publications, but while that magazine usually focuses on recent writing, LAPHAM'S QUARTERLY publishes writers from ancient to modern times, from everywhere in the world.  It also publishes a handful of original essays (including an introduction to each issue by Lapham).

The latest issue is about politics.  I didn't care so much for the previous one, which was about magic, but this one looks pretty good so far.  I've started out by reading the original essays.  I found HW Brands' apologia for Ulysses Grant's notorious presidency rather weak.  Brands goes into great length about Grant's thought process that led to his vetoing a bill that hoped to end a severe economic downturn by printing more money, but how does he judge the final decision? "Even in hindsight it is difficult to tell whether his action DID serve the country." But I did like the articles on Kenya's recent political strife, the use of humor in US presidential politics, political novels, Egyptian queen Hatshepsut, and a review of a biography of Savonarola.

The older writing, by people like Machiavelli, John Adams and Chairman Mao, is divided into sections under the sub-headings "Power," "Citizenship," and "Government." But I'm back with Herodotus, and when I've finished the last part of that book I'll return to LAPHAM'S QUARTERLY.

Lunch with Pui-tak

Yesterday our friend Pui-tak invited Moira and Me to lunch in Chinatown.  We've known Pui for about twenty years, since Moira started teaching her English.  She was born on the Chinese mainland before moving to Hong Kong, then to Toronto.  She's worked as both a seamstress and a chambermaid.

We had lunch at a dim sum restaurant near Spadina Avenue. (She and her husband live in the Village by the Grange apartment complex northwest of the Osgoode station.) I'm afraid the food was on the oily side and disagreed with me, part of the reason I had to leave opera rehearsal early last night.

Some years back Pui gave us a clay jar of Guilin sauce, which went very well with things like fried chicken.  I was talking about it at lunch, and afterward she took us to a Chinese grocery store where we found a sauce that looked pretty similar. (Of course, the eating will show how close it is.)

My post's a bit short today.  That's what happens when I start writing about my friends.  Should I let it stay on the short side, or should I think of something new to say to extend it to the usual length?  Or should I just ramble on and on and on to make it just long enough?  Well, what do you know?  It just took a bit of extra rambling to make it as long as I wanted... (I can only do this once, of course.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Measure of the man

Last week at the TOR the chorus finally started learning our BARBER OF SEVILLE part.  It's pretty small compared to TALES OF HOFFMANN.  Speaking of the latter, the other week I saw a DVD of a Lyons production of HOFFMANN, with Nathalie Dessay as Olympia.  It was an odd version, with the chorus kept backstage and numbers like the drinking song and "Scintille, Diamant" removed.

This week we got measured for our costumes.  Costume rental is our biggest single expense, even with the generous discount Malabar gives us.  This year they finally had a scale so I didn't have to guess my weight. (I'm never sure of it.)

I had to leave rehearsal early again today, because I'd got one of the severe headaches I occasionally suffer from.  But I made sure to get my measurements first.  I think my headache was caused by the sharp drop in temperature today. (I'm often sensitive to quick rises or falls in the temperature.)

A week from Sunday will be the TOR's annual fundraiser at Columbus Centre.  What makes it especially fun is that the members bring a wide range of snacks for them and the audience to eat. (One donor has said she comes for the food.) Every year I bake some of my world-famous gingerbread for the big occasion.  And there's often some good leftovers to take home.

Monday, November 12, 2012

US electoral reform

What's the most underreported story from last week's US election? It's that the Republican candidates for the House of Representatives got a combined vote slightly smaller than their Democratic counterparts, but still managed to win more seats, thanks to the magic of gerrymandering. (If the situation had been reversed and the Democrats had gerrymandered their way to victory without winning more votes, you can be sure conservatives would be challenging their victory's legitimacy.)

If you don't like how things are done, it's important to suggest a better way.  So I've come up with an electoral reform proposal for the US House of Representatives similar to my proposal for Canada's House of Commons.  First of all, I'd increase the number of House seats from 435 to 650. (House districts are huge, and this change would bring the US in line with parliaments from smaller nations like Britain and Germany.)

As with Canada, I'd have Category A seats, chosen in the same "first past the post" way as before; Category B, allotted to the different parties so that the total of A and B would be distributed in proportion* to the popular vote in that province; Category C, going to the party with the largest statewide popular vote, except in states where a party scored a landslide and its A seats alone were greater than its proportional share of A and B seats, in which case these seats would be distributed between the other parties to allow their full proportion* of A and B. (If their totals are still below their proportional share, they'll lose out in equal* number.)

(*=or as close as possible)

Now for the distribution:

A state with 15 seats or less would receive no C seats; one with 16-30, one C seat; 31-45 two, 46-60 three, 61-75, four.

A state with 5 non-C seats or less would receive no B seats; one with 6-10, two B seats; 11-15, three, 16-20 four, 21-25 five, and so on.

Thus a state with 5 seats would have 5 A seats; one with 6, 4 A and 2 B; one with 11, 8 A and 3 B; one with 17, 12 A and 4 B and 1 C; one with 33, 24 A and 7 B and 2 C;  one with 49, 36 A and 10 B and 3 C; one with 65, 48 A and 13 B and 4 C.

While I'm at it, I've also thought of how to reform US Senate elections. First, I'd raise the number of Senate seats from two to three, on the same principle as increasing House size.  Instead of having each state choose Senate seats in alternating Congressional elections like today, I'd have it choose all three at the same time every six years.  And I'd have them elected on a single ballot, with the top three candidates winning a seat. (You'd only need a quarter of the vote to get elected.) That would bring in some new blood where it's needed!

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Today I saw LINCOLN at the Varsity with the Sunday Afternoon Movie Meetup group, an appropriate movie for Remembrance Day.  It was pretty good, with smooth, unostentatious direction by Steven Spielberg.  Daniel Day-Lewis was convincing and likeable in the title role, and the depiction of his home life felt plausible.  Tony Kushner's fairly intelligent script is so focused on political maneuvering that the Civil War may seem peripheral. (I don't recall any mention of General Sherman's march through Georgia and into the heart of the Confederacy.) Tommy Lee Jones was a hoot as Thaddeus Stevens, the radical Congressman with the obvious wig.

Of course, what with last week's election, people are sure to see a subtext about the Obama presidency.  Kushner has said that Obama inherited a crisis bigger than any president faced since Lincoln. (Has he forgotten FDR's first hundred days?) Obama apparently wants to be a Lincoln--he spoke of appointing another "team of rivals" to his cabinet--and some of his admirers certainly want to see him as another Lincoln.

Yet deeds are more important than words, and when we consider deeds Obama pales next to the previous Illinois president.  What did his "team of rivals" rhetoric mean in practice?  This administration's leading domestic policy people all supported the banking deregulation that led to the 2008 crisis, while the leading foreign policy people all supported the equally ill-starred invasion of Iraq.  People who had opposed either are conspicuous by their absence at the top level.  In practice, the result was the dispiriting liberal phenomenon of "one-way balance," often seen in THE NEW YORK TIMES today.

If the Lincoln I saw in this movie had been dealing with health care reform, he would have stuck to the public option, forced a vote and won narrowly.  The Obama people, on the other hand, were poor negotiators and abandoned the public sector early on, though they clearly had the votes to pass it.  And Obamacare suffered from one compromise too many.

Rhyme and reason

Today I hosted another ROLT Meetup.  This time the topic was poetry, so I called it "Rhyme and reason." Eight people came, our biggest event ever.  Three of them were poets who read their own work! (In one case, I made the faux pas of applauding someone who hadn't finished his poem.)

Jane read TS Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." I like the part that goes "I grow old/I grow old/I shall wear the bottom of my trousers rolled." She also read the soliloquy from Shakespeare's OTHELLO that Verdi's "Dio, me potevi" aria is based on.

I started things by reading Oliver Wendell Holmes' poem "Grandmother's Story of Bunker Hill Battle." I hoped to get it from the library but in the copy I got the poem was supposed to be on page 224, and this edition repeated pages 187 to 210 instead of printing 211 to 234! (I found a printing mistake like that in a book reprinting recent articles from THE NATION.) So I had to print it off the web.

The other poems I read were Robert Frost's "After Apple Picking," Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "The Day Is Done," and William Butler Yeats' "The Stare in My Window," on the Irish Troubles which includes the classic lines "We've fed the heart on fantasies/The heart's grown brutal with the fare/More substance in our enmity than in our love..." You have the twentieth century right there! (I also printed out WH Auden's "September 1 1939," but didn't have time to read that one.  Its theme is similar to the Yeats poem anyway.)

Next month our topic will be children's literature.

I also went to another Karaoke Meetup at Barplus.  I sang Paul McCartney's "No More Lonely Nights," but it's a song which could use figuring out the best key shift for my voice.

Friday, November 09, 2012


Today I saw Steven Spielberg's 1993 blockbuster JURASSIC PARK at the Yonge & Dundas cinema's Event Screen. (They've been showing classic movies in that theatre.) Believe it or not, I'd never seen that movie before.  I've actually seen few of Spielberg's post-SAVING PRIVATE RYAN movies:  just CATCH ME IF YOU CAN and TINTIN.

What did I think of the movie?  Meh.  Spielberg knows how to deliver thrills, and it had some witty moments, but there was something not so important about the whole thing. (I felt the same way about the Indiana Jones series.) The "don't mess with nature" theme felt very familiar.

The cast did include Laura Dern, who's a bit like my brother John's girlfriend Kathrine.  I've liked her since she played Sandy in BLUE VELVET, with her speech about the robins coming down. I also liked the scene where she was slow-dancing with Kyle Maclachlan and a shot with him on the left and her on the right faded smoothly into one with her on the left and him on the right--or was it the reverse order?--suggesting the two of them becoming one. (The role had originally been offered to Molly Ringwald, but Ringwald's mother read the script before she did and gave her daughter's agent an earful about the garbage he was sending them.)

BTW, we ate Chinese food today and my fortune cookie said, "Other people appreciate your expressiveness." Does that mean there are people who like reading this blog?

Thursday, November 08, 2012

I'm an Aspie

I was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome about ten years ago.  I've heard a lot of talk about the full range of the spectrum of autism, but I'm not sure about it:  compared to the low-functioning autistics, I don't feel like I have any important problems.  But it's usually fun to be given a new category you can fit into.

To tell the truth, I'm not completely sure I'm a real Aspie.  My sister Moira tells me she's met genuine Aspies, and I'm not like them.  I trust her, but I also trust my psychiatrist.

I've been unemployed since finishing university, and I still live with my parents.  I hope to get Ontario Disability Support Payments someday, but first I'll have to transfer certain bank deposits into Moira's name. (It's mostly my parents' money anyway.) That's a complicated business.

For a while I participated in an organization designed to get employment for Aspies, but it wasn't right for me.  I found them to be micro-managers, better suited to lower-functioning Aspies.  What I really needed was guidance about how to look for employment, but that wasn't their strong suit. (I'm not intimidated by the interview process like some Aspies are, but I do feel intimidated by the job-search process.) One thing they did do for me was find me a temporary position as a file clerk at the Toronto library's Human Resources branch--I did quite well in it--but it only lasted six months.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

My Ph.D. experience

I spent the 1990s at York University working on my Ph.D.  It got pretty difficult.  The trouble really started after I did my comp exams in 1993 (on which I did very well). When I submitted my first thesis proposal to my supervisor, it was already a few weeks overdue, though neither of us took the deadline very seriously.

As for the thesis proposal, he said it didn't have enough focus and wanted me to improve it.  A week later I submitted a revised proposal.  The following week I asked about it, but he hadn't had time to look at it yet.  The week after, he had looked at it but all he had to say is that it was the same as my first draft!  Three weeks down the drain, three weeks further overdue, of which I spent two weeks waiting for feedback.  For the next draft, I went over his head and submitted it to the Graduate Programme in History.  I wasn't happy about doing things this way, but I didn't know what else to do, and I wanted to get started on my research!

This was only the start of our troubles.  I remember that when I wrote some report on my research, I mentioned some anecdote about a foreigner in a local club wanting to go "where the dead are not so present." His response: "So?" So I'm sorry I mentioned it!

In 1996, just before he went away for the summer, he wanted me to add an "overview" to my first chapter.  I wrote it in a hurry because I had already prepared to write my second chapter and had to do it soon while the material was fresh in my memory.  He told me that it reflected "basic weaknesses." I wanted to talk to another committee member about it, but nobody was available!  I spent this crucial summer on my own.

What frustrates me is situations where they tell you it isn't good enough, so you try to make it better, but they don't really have anything more to say.  Even worse is when you try to improve something, and it just seems to make things worse.  When I made my first revision, I decided to add an appendix of historical subjects related to the thesis (my father's idea).  I had to write three more revisions until he finally told me, a year after I first submitted it, that it contained "numerous" inaccuracies and irrelevant items.  So much time had passed that I felt my only choice was to remove it completely.

The worst part of it was the waiting.  For an overcommitted professor like my supervisor, someone's Ph.D. thesis is the low priority that has to get sacrificed.  I submitted my first revision in April 1997 and met with my committee after the fifth revision at the end of September 1998.  In this 18-month period I spent close to 12 months waiting for feedback, which was very demoralizing.  It didn't help that I didn't have my first committee meeting till after my third revision.  He wanted me to improve it before meeting the committee, but how was I supposed to do so without their input?  It wasn't like we'd been making such wonderful progress together.

After I submitted my sixth revision, in early 1999, they told me the thesis was "unexaminable." After a week, I decided to demand an examination anyway.  After three more revisions, I had my final examination in October 1999, and actually passed!  I'd written a long letter to the assistant dean of graduate studies describing my experience, and she attended the examination. (She later told me she loved my thesis, for what that's worth.)

At the start of the long journey, I'd told myself: "I don't really care about the degree.  I just want the experience of writing a Ph.D. thesis." But even though I passed in the end, I'm not sure it was worth it.  I know I'm not interested in teaching history.  The best thing about it was the researching time I spent in London.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

What the plot requires

Of course, it annoys me when movie and TV plots require people to do things that aren't credible.  Roger Ebert famously used the term "idiot plot" to describe a plot which requires the characters to be uniformly incapable of perceiving something that's perfectly obvious to non-idiotic moviegoers from the start, lest the central problem be solved too soon.  One example, I imagine, is the Princess Diaries sequel (directed by Gary Marshall--who else?) where Anne Hathaway's mother the Queen wants to marry her off because she's worried about a pretender to the throne, who happens to be male, single, young and handsome...  I haven't even seen the movie, but I think I can already guess how things will work out.

One thing that definitely bugs me is plots that require a character to be careless at a crucial moment.  There was an episode of THE WALTONS where Jason was considering becoming a conscientious objector and discussed it with a recruiting officer.  Just as he was leaving and a couple of guys were coming in to volunteer, the officer added, "I hope you talk to your parents ABOUT BECOMING A CO." (My emphasis.) Of course he could have omitted the emphasized part, but then the guys coming in wouldn't know enough to bully Jason shortly afterward.

Another example is Spike Lee's JUNGLE FEVER.  In that movie Wesley Snipes confides in his friend (Lee) that he's cheating on his wife.  Soon after Snipes comes home to find his wife throwing him out.  It turns out that Lee was careless enough to tell his wife about it, and the latter promptly informed Snipes' wife.  Don't tell any secrets to Spike Lee!

If one thing bothers me more than a plot that requires a character to be careless, it's a plot that requires a character to be childish!  The whole plot of Lee's SUMMER OF SAM requires John Leguizamo to be a philandering, hopeless douchebag. (Lee's characters tend to do whatever the plot requires.) Other such characters are Tom Cruise in EYES WIDE SHUT and Julia Roberts in several romantic comedies.

War and me

When I'm in London one of the places I always visit is the Imperial War Museum. (For me the uniforms make it real.) Their exhibit on the Holocaust showed a film of Joseph Goebbels making a racist speech, in which he tried to wag his finger but ended up wagging his whole hand.  Pretty strange.

I've also visited the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, where two exhibits have connections to my parents' hometowns.  One is a cannon from Fort Louisbourg, near where Mother grew up.  The other is a wartime diary kept by Father Raymond Hickey of the North Shore Regiment.  He was a priest in the vicinity of Father's hometown of Cambellton, New Brunswick. (Father recalls that Hickey had plenty of anti-Catholic prejudice to deal with.)

On this last visit to London I also went to the National Army Museum for the first time, and it made me feel sad.  Other London places I visit include the Canadian war memorial near Buckingham Palace, and Tavistock Square with its statue of Gandhi and monument to draft resisters through the ages.

How do I feel about war?  I'm anti-prowar, which isn't quite the same as being antiwar.  There may be good wars in theory, but in practice I tend to view each individual war with skepticism:  even the best ones are usually messy.  My Huffington Post avatar is of JS Woodsworth, first CCF leader and an uncompromising pacifist.  Stephen Harper made an issue of Woodsworth voting against Canada declaring war on Germany in 1939, but didn't mention that he was isolated even within the CCF caucus.

How would I have voted if I'd been an MP then?  Well, Canadians took a more honorable course in 1939 than did the Americans, who hid behind arrogant, short-sighted neutrality for two long years until Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and Germany declared war on them. (Remember that the next time some US loudmouth attacks the cowardice of the French, who undeniably showed more courage than Uncle Sam did at that not unimportant moment in 1939.) If I thought the vote was going to be close, I'd have voted yes.

But the vote clearly wasn't going to be close, so I would have voted no just to remind the government that not all Canadians were on board.  As it is, I'm glad Woodsworth prevented the vote from being unanimous.  Unanimity is overrated.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Cold weather

"November is the Norway of months"--Emily Dickinson

Our house is about a hundred years old. We bought it from a family returning to Portugal almost twenty years ago.  The first time I entered it I thought, "What are we doing here?  We'll never be able to afford this place!" But we managed to swing it, and it's about doubled in value since then.

It was originally owned by a guy who had a whole orchard just south of St. Clair West:  we continue that tradition with big cherry and plum trees in the back yard.  It was built next to that avenue, until he sold the strip of land just next to the street--it had become very valuable--and moved his house a short distance to the south, to the property he still owned. (People put houses on trucks and moved them a lot more back then.)

The house is made of red brick, and had an extension added in the 1930s or so, and you can see the line where the brick pattern is interrupted.  My bedroom is on the second storey of that extension. (They added an extra sun room in the 1960s or so.) Unfortunately the first extension wasn't well-built on the second story.  My room only has electrical outlets on the wall facing the older part of the house, and only one vent for heating and air-conditioning.

The single vent doesn't matter in spring or fall, and even in the summer I'm just as happy to cool the room by opening the windows.  But it's a disadvantage in the winter, so I got an electric heating element for that season.  I brought it up from the basement just the other day. (I've also been bringing out extra blankets for my bed, and wearing a blanket for when I'm on the computer in my room.) To tell the truth, I rather like the time of year when things are starting to get cold.  Indian summer, on the other hand, feels a bit unnatural to me.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

One month!

A month ago I revived my blog.  Since October 1 I've been steadily writing a new post every day, and I want to see how long I can keep it up.  I'm starting to imagine how Joe DiMaggio felt in 1941 when he managed a record hitting streak of over fifty games!

I got the idea to revive my blog when I was in London, because I figured the trip would give me a lot to talk about.  But so far I've been able to rely mostly on other topics. (In the days to come, no doubt I'll be talking about London more.)

I've set a rule that every post will be long enough that when I'm writing it, the scroll bar will form.  I also intended the rule of not discussing similar topics on consecutive days, but I've already broken that rule once, thanks to a headache.

One way I've tried to keep it up is by writing down a list of potential topics.  Four of them I've already done, and I have three left over.  If I have several topics not yet written, that should reduce the pressure, at least in theory.

Sometimes I'll realize that I finished a post without including something I intended to mention.  For example, when writing about the art walks the other day I omitted one detail.  In the previous walk I'd mentioned to Betty Anne that I hoped to ride London's new cable car over the Thames, and also that I'd started singing the song "Finiculi, Finicula" (which is about a cable car, of course.) So she dared me to sing that song while I was on the cable car.  I said I would, but when the time came I lost my nerve.  The other night I had to admit to her that I'd "funked it," as the English would say.

Visiting my shrink

Yesterday I visited my psychiatrist at his office near Lawrence station. (I could have talked about it yesterday but I wanted to talk about the art walk while it was fresh in my mind.)

Dr. Hassan is a Palestinian-Canadian, and one of what I imagine must be very few psychiatrists in the Toronto region who can speak Arabic.  He must fill a big need.  I think he sometimes treats children, because there are some toys around his office.

I started seeing him about ten years ago and that was when it got diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome.  These days I visit him every couple of months.  I sometimes have trouble thinking of things to say. (In particular, when he asks me questions involving sex I tend to clam up.)

This time I had more to talk about than usual.  I had my September trip to London to tell him about.  And I also talked about my blog. He says he's impressed by my efforts to be socially active through groups like Meetup.

He prescribes me anti-depressant pills like Cipralex.  I used to take one every day, but I worry about getting dependent on them. (My mother fears that even more.) These days I take one every couple of days, though in wintertime I go back to taking them daily.  I ran out of pills when I was in London and had one unpleasant nightmare--I was really angry at some woman--but I survived it pretty well.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Betty Anne's art walk

Another of my Meetup groups is Betty Anne Jordan's Queen Street art walk.  On the first Thursday evening of the month we meet somewhere on Queen Street West and she gives us a guided tour of a few art galleries and boutiques.  She tends to get pretty big crowds.

Today we started at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (a place we visit frequently), where several finalists in the competition for the annual Sobey Prize had their work on display.  One had created what looked like a barrow for a travelling artist.  Another had a leaning ten-foot pile of record albums (I noticed a Lawrence Welk).

Then we went several blocks off Queen Street to see the Museum of New.  Lumir Hladik talked about his exhibit of symbiotic baroque and arboreal gothic. (He achieved the latter by cutting and burning holes in canvas to create hollows for sketched lines and wolf hair.) We also met the director Joseph Rappell.

After that we went to Bluebird, a boutique selling objets d'art from around the world.  Then we retired to a restaurant called Harlem Underground.  Queen Street West is dense with interesting little places I know nothing about.

Betty Anne is pretty friendly.  She often gives me a hug and always seems to be interested in what I say.  She says she likes to know how I think, so I hope she reads this.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


We were lucky in Toronto:  after sobering weather Monday, Sandy largely passed us by.

Tonight being Halloween, I went to see the double feature of DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN at the Fairview Cinema near Don Mills station. It was an event in the new Classic Movie Meetup.  The Fairview has a special screening room for small audiences, and they may be renting it for future events if enough people are interested.  In a few weeks they plan to show Hitchcock's VERTIGO; unfortunately, it's on the same day I'm going to an opera screening. (In theory I could attend the opera in the afternoon and the movie in the evening, but in practice I'd get a huge headache.)

The two movies we saw were restored versions of two Universal horror classics from the early '30s.  That was in the first years of talking pictures, and they're both a bit slow and talky like many films of that time, DRACULA especially.  But FRANKENSTEIN has some great set pieces (the birth, the fiery windmill climax), and they both have some good lines, like Dracula's "I never drink... wine." I spotted two actors who were in both movies:  Dwight Frye as Renfield/Fritz and Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing/Baron Frankenstein.

On the way home I was chatting with Cecilia, a Brazilian who lives near my neighborhood.  She's been in Canada less than a year, but she already speaks pretty good English.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Still reading Herodotus

I've resumed reading Herodotus' history.  I couldn't remembered where I'd left off, so I started in the middle of the fifth book.  After a great deal of rereading, I found that I'd got all the way into the sixth book!  (I remembered most of what I reread.)

I'm now close to the end of the seventh book.  The fifth book is about the rebellion against Persian rule of the Greek cities on the west coast of Asia Minor, led by the foolish Aristagoras.  The Athenians were careless enough to send a naval expedition in support of the rebels, leading to Persian retaliation, and the sixth book is about that retaliation:  Persia's first attempt, under Darius, at conquering Greece, leading to defeat on the Plains of Marathon.  The seventh book, which I've almost finished, is about the second Persian attempt under Xerxes, leading up to the Battle of Thermopylae.

As always, Herodotus has an eye for a good story.  Near the end of the sixth book, there's the story of Hippokleides wooing Kleisthenes' daughter. (Back then courtship meant winning over the father.) Hippokleides was thought to be a leading candidate among the army of suitors until Kleisthenes threw a party for them.  Let Herodotus tell the rest:

"As the drinking progressed Hippokleides, who was already commanding much attention from the others, ordered the flute player to play a dance tune for him.  The flute player complied, and while I suppose Hippokleides pleased himself with his dancing, Kleisthenes, as he watched, was annoyed at everything he saw.  After pausing for a moment, Hippokleides ordered that a table be brought to him; then he stepped up on the table and first danced some Laconian steps, and then some Attic ones, too.  But the third thing he did was to turn upside down and, with his head resting on the table, gesticulate with his legs waving in the air.  Now during the first and second of these dances, Kleisthenes restrained himself and did not blurt out his thoughts, although he felt somewhat disgusted at the thought that Hippokleides might still become his son-in-law, but when he saw him waving his legs around, he could no longer contain himself and said, 'Son of Teisandros, you have just danced away your marriage!" And the young man replied, 'For Hippokleides, no problem!'... And that is where the saying came from." (He's referring to an Athenian catchphrase, "For [insert your name], no problem!"

That's right, there's breakdancing in Herodotus!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Coro Verdi

I'm a baritone in the Giuseppe Verdi Chorus (its Italian name is Coro Verdi), which rehearses Monday nights--except in summer-- at the Columbus Centre near Dufferin & Lawrence.  It's conducted by Giuseppe Macina, also the man behind the Toronto Opera Repertoire.

In recent times we've been presenting two operas in concert form every year, but this year we've cut back to one.  I prefer it that way:  it'll give us more time for folk songs and such.  The opera we're doing this year is Verdi's MACBETH.

For the first month or two this year we rehearsed MACBETH, but now it's time to prepare for our Christmas concert.  My favorite among our Christmas pieces is Pietro Yon's "Gesu Bambino." We also do stuff like "The Little Drummer Boy," in which the men keep repeating "Prum, prum..." for the first verse, then "Prum, pum-pum..." in the second, and in the third verse it gets complicated, with stuff like "Prum, puddly-pum..." (That song always reminds me of TRU, Robert Morse's sad one-man show about Truman Capote, in which he talked about Christmas a lot and they played that song near the end.)

A lot of people were absent tonight, what with the weather already getting raw as Sandy approaches.  Also, some people didn't know what we'd be rehearsing and didn't bring their Christmas music. (I've solved that problem by carrying all my Coro Verdi music in the same bag.  I have strong arms.)

Sunday, October 28, 2012


Movies have their own notorious set of cliches, especially genres like the western ("Head 'em off at the pass!") and the horror movie (the sluttiest girl dying first, the virgin surviving). But what really bugs me is movies that use TV cliches!

One example is PRETTY WOMAN.  In the first scenes, when we see Julia Roberts working the streets in miniskirt and thigh boots, she's wearing a blond wig.  Later on, in the scene where we learn that she's really a "nice girl" underneath, the wig comes off and we see that her true hair is different.  TV shows will often use a change in appearance to mark a parallel change in character, or in this case mark a change in how we're expected to view the character. (That sort of thing makes it easier for inattentive people to follow what's happening.)

It shall come as no surprise that PRETTY WOMAN was directed by Garry Marshall, who started out making sitcoms like HAPPY DAYS and never really stopped.  Now there's a director who knows his cliches!  I'll bet that when he was starting out some old-timer sat him down and explained all the cliches to him. (Sort of like in the baseball movie BULL DURHAM, where Tim Robbins couldn't think of anything to tell an interviewer beyond "It was really OUT THERE!" so Kevin Costner taught him to say things like "I just want to be good for my team," and "I'm taking things one day at a time.")

Another example is in Spike Lee's THE MO' BETTER BLUES, which starts with Denzel Washington and his jazz band being unhappy because their manager (Lee) made a bad deal for them.  But we don't see Lee making the deal; he made it before the start of the movie and we only hear of the deal and see its consequences.  They sometimes do that on sitcoms because dramatizing someone making a bad deal is too complicated and it's easier to just have people say what happened. (This happened more than once with JJ on GOOD TIMES.)

While I'm at it, another TV cliche may happen when an episode ends with a breakup, a dramatically convenient way to end an episode.  The show's structure, however, may require the relationship to continue, but reconciliations are a lot harder to write than breakups.  So one solution is to wait an episode or two and simply show the two of them back together with no explanation.  In other words, they simply FORGET about the breakup.  I've seen this happen on shows as good as UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS and THE SOPRANOS!

Saturday, October 27, 2012


Each year I see several high-definition broadcasts of performances by New York's Metropolitan Opera.  I see them at the Sheppard Grande cinema near the Sheppard subway station.  I got a Scene card so I can buy tickets in late August earlier than the regular people, while there are still good seats. (I'm glad they started selling tickets to individual seats:  the good seats used to go to those who got into the auditorium first, except that some people would reserve seats for friends who hadn't yet arrived, which was unfair.)

Today I saw the Met production of Verdi's OTELLO.  It's one of the truly powerful operas.   Iago has a great aria in the second part, Otello in the third, Desdemona in the fourth.  I found Iago's aria especially disturbing. ("I'm evil because I'm human... I've absorbed the primordial slime of existence... That's what I believe.") I also liked the dancing in the drinking number.

One problem with these showings is that some of the people see themselves as in a theatre rather than a cinema, and get angry if you make the sort of noises moviegoers are accustomed to.  I've learned to only grab popcorn during breaks or applause, but once someone complained when I slurped a drink!

I used to go to the Canadian Opera Company a lot, but to tell the truth I've stopped going now that I have Met performances to go to instead.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Senate reform

I don't usually talk about similar subjects on consecutive days, but I've had a really big headache today.

If I got a chance to reform the Canadian Senate, I'd introduce a scheme where 60 seats would be federal and 40 provincial.

Out of the 60 federal seats, 20 would be assigned after each federal election in proportion* to the overall popular vote.  Each senator with a federal seat would effectively have a term of three parliaments.

Each province would receive 4 of the provincial seats, to be assigned after each provincial election in that province in that same proportion* to the province's popular vote.  A senator with a provincial seat would have a term equal to those in the provincial legislature.

What could be interesting is adding a few extra seats.  Each of the three territories would get a Senate seat, to be chosen at the time of territorial elections.  And there could also be a seat for the First Nations, and even one for non-status Indians.  Other possibilities are a seat for Canadians living overseas, Canadian children (because they can't vote), and even Canadians who don't vote!  These seats would provide representation for people with no influence over the House of Commons.

They can't take away my dreams...

(*=or as close as possible)