Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Fat Celt Wept

We're studying Japan and Korea in my grade 7 social studies class and this week, among other things, we've been talking about the atomic bomb. Yesterday I thought it would be a good idea to read Eleanor Coerr's Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes aloud to my students. Since I was in 4th grade the last time I read that book, I had forgotten just how sad it is. It's probably the saddest kids' book I've ever come across, after Charlotte Graeber's Mustard. So anyway, I got to the end, where it reads

The next time she awoke, the family was there. Sadako smiled at them. She was part of that warm, loving circle where she would always be. Nothing could ever change that.

Already lights were dancing behind her eyes. Sadako slid a thin, trembling hand over to touch the golden crane. Life was slipping away from her, but the crane made Sadako feel stronger inside.

She looked at her flock hanging from the ceiling. As she watched, a light autumn breeze made the birds rustle and sway. They seemed to be alive and flying out through the open window. How beautiful and free they were! Sadako sighed and closed her eyes.

She never woke up (Coerr 63).

and of course I had tears streaming down my face like a goddamn girl. Gah! I'm 6' tall, 240 lbs with a shaved head and a chinstrap beard and I'm crying like a baby in front of a bunch of preteens. All I could think to say was, "Sorry, guys, It's a sad book." It's part of my nature to be a sentimental mangina on the best of days, but I'm good at covering it up with my relatively scary appearance, deep voice and witty faux cynicism.

But not yesterday.

I'm not a "new age" guy. I'm not "emo." In fact, my wife can probably testify as to how insensitive I am. But I'm easily moved to tears by literature. That part in Chaucer's "The Knight's Tale" when a dying Aricte cries, "Mercy, Emilie!" gets me every time. Never before, however, have I gotten all weepy in front of a class full of kids.

I guess the point of this story is twofold: a) I'm a big, bald pussy; and b) If you're going to read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes to a grade 7 class, practice in private and make sure you can get through it first.

Jezis Maria.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Golden Compass: Atheist Propaganda?

I just read The Golden Compass: Agenda Unmasked, a 23 page tract by the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights about how Phillip Pullman wants to turn my kids into atheists. I get the impression that this is the kind of controversy he's been looking for all along, but the stupid things people are saying about his books still get under my skin.

According to the Catholic League, the point of The Golden Compass movie is to slip a camouflaged, diluted form of atheism in under parents' radar to get kids hooked. These brainwashed youngsters will then ask for the trilogy of novels for Christmas, and their atheist indoctrination will be well underway. I haven't seen the TGC movie yet, and I've heard Hollywood has watered it down and omitted some of the more explicit connections between the Magisterium and the Catholic church in order to give it a broader appeal. If this is true, it's unfortunate, but the filmmakers obviously did this to placate Christians (who probably comprise the majority of the film's U.S. target market), not hoodwink them.

I wonder what the halfwits who are up in arms about The Golden Compass would make of the works of William Blake or John Milton. If they can't even get through 3 children's books, relying instead on secondary sources like the "synopsis" in the aforementioned pamphlet, it's probably safe to assume that it won't ever become an issue.

Rupert Kaye, chief executive of the Association of Christian Teachers, claims it is "revealing... that Pullman chose not to add Allah to his list of names" (for God, depicted as a mendacious angel called the Authority in the books). Now that's food for thought: the atheists in league with Islam. Mr. Kaye has obviously considered this scenario carefully.

Says Caroline Moore, comparing TGC to Narnia in The Spectator: "Lewis's version is informed by his Christianity; Pullman's driven, far more explicitly, by militant atheism." Apparently Christians are informed but atheists are driven, just like the animals they believe we're descended from. When Richard Dawkins compared atheist and homosexual politics in The God Delusion (a book I found snide and disrespectful of religion and which, incidentally, sings Pullman's praises), I thought he was being melodramatic. Now, I'm not so sure.

I support Philip Pullman unequivocally and I will continue to encourage my students to read his books. Censorship, ignorance and hysteria are enemies of truth and beauty, of civilization and of God.

Monday, December 10, 2007

It's Monday Morning Again

I hate Mondays. The following is a small but representative sample of what my morning has been like:

ME: Turn to a clean page in your notebooks. I'm going to put our Venn diagram up on the smartboard.

GRADE 7 GIRL: I don't have my notebook.
ME: You can go to your locker and get it.
GIRL: I don't have a notebook in my locker, either.
ME: Then take out a piece of paper. I don't care, you need to get this down.
GIRL: I don't have any paper.

At this point, the homunculus who sits in my frontal lobe and keeps me from getting fired (or arrested) most days caught me getting ready to shout, "Are you goddamn fucking RETARDED or something? This is SCHOOL!"

Fortunately, what actually came out was, "What did you think we were going to be doing today, [name omitted]? Get some paper from someone else. Now, please."

After class had ended, I found she had left me an origami crane on my desk (made out of paper) with a note (written on paper) that read as follows: "To Mr. Mac: Sorry about the silliness today in class. I'm just trying to make friends. I only have two good friends like I said SORRY!"

If I had any hair, I'd be tearing it out today.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Monday, December 3, 2007

Rest in Peace, Daniel Pearl (1963-2002)

I just watched the film A Mighty Heart, which tells the story of the abduction and murder of journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan in 2002. After I watched the movie I went online and found the actual video of Pearl's beheading here. Warning to anyone who follows that link: it's pretty graphic.

Human life is sacred, and so are its remains. I only hope Mr. Pearl's murderers get the chance to meet their God.

(Photo found here).

Let's Pretend Our Kids Are 20% Smarter

Where I'm from (Nova Scotia, Canada) the minimum passing mark is 50%. Here in Maine, it's 70%. At first glance, it seems like students are being held to a higher standard, but in reality the kids simply receive easier tests and assignments so that few or none of them get low marks. A 70% pass makes it harder to encourage struggling kids to put more effort into their studies (what student will believe hard work pays off when her score of 16/20 earns a C grade?). It also makes it harder to convince high achievers that it's OK to take risks and make mistakes (the two best ways for gifted students learn to think critically and self-critically) when a 2% loss drops their scores a full third of a letter grade. Most gifted kids are smart enough to see "the game" for what it is, but they are less likely to experiment with changing the rules or pushing the envelope if their college applications are at stake.

Now, I'm no information theorist, but it seems to me that a complex informational entity (e.g. what a given student has learned over, say, a 5 month period) can be more subtly and accurately represented by 50 smaller units of information than by 30 larger, more blocky chunks of information, just as a greater number of smaller pixels can draw a more detailed character in a video game. There is an elementary concept at work here that even a mathematical ignoramus like me can grasp.

When the minimum passing grade is high, educators have 2 options: they can give out more failing grades, or they can make the work easier. Since more failing students cause a teacher to have to deal with more headaches and meetings after school with concerned or angry parents, I'd be willing to bet a lot of teachers just inflate grades (Sally's project was great so she gets 105%, but Leon's was mediocre so he only gets a 92%) and dilute the curriculum (What are 10 things about Japan that everyone in the class will be able to memorize at least 7 of?).

According to the principles of "differentiated instruction," it's practically undemocratic to fail a student anyway.

After spending some time working in public schools, I am seriously considering sending my own children to private schools, if and when I can afford it. These may well breed elitism, but at the end of the day I'd rather my kids end up elitists than complacent illiterates.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

H.P. Lovecraft on Church

This passage is taken from H.P. Lovecraft's short story, "The Silver Key":

In the first days of his bondage he had turned to the gentle churchly faith endeared to him by the naive trust of his fathers, for thence stretched mystic avenues which seemed to promise escape from life. Only on closer view did he mark the starved fancy and beauty, the stale and prosy triteness, and the owlish gravity and grotesque claims of solid truth which reigned boresomely and overwhelmingly among most of its professors; or feel to the full the awkwardness with which it sought to keep alive as literal fact the outgrown fears and guesses of a primal race confronting the unknown (Lovecraft 54).

I don't go to church. I find Christianity philosophically and aesthetically interesting, but in my experience its public practice, at least in this part of the world, is rather uninspiring.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Never Send a High School Teacher to Do A Middle School Teacher's Job

At least not if you want to keep the educational content G-rated. I put together a slideshow on the Yakuza for the unit on Japan that I'm doing with my grade 7 social studies classes, and apparently some of the images that I used were too risque for the age group.

Here's the first one. I cropped it once already, but there's still too much crack according to my gentle but emphatic elders.

Here's the second, which I didn't think was that bad. Half of those kids will probably go home and play Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas tonight, anyway.

(I found these images at Illegal Economy and respectively via a google image search)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

How Embarrassing!

In terms of personal style and musical taste, I guess I've always thought of myself as an occult-leaning metalhead/rocker. My iTunes top 25 playlist, which I just discovered tonight, reveals the shameful truth:

1. "Digital Bliss" by Underground Bass Masters.
2. "Transcendental Bass Journey" by Underground Bass Masters.
3. "The Spirit of Gaia" by Underground Bass Masters.
4. "Jesus Walks" by Kanye West.
5. "UBM Subwoofer Test" by Underground Bass Masters
6. "Verdis Quo" by Daft Punk.
7. "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley.
8. "The Slasher" by The Adults.
9. "The Blood of Cu Chulainn" from The Boondock Saints soundtrack.
10. "Da Funk" by Daft Punk.
11. "In Your Room" by Depeche Mode.
12. "Hallelujah" by Jeff Buckley.
13. "Jazzy Belle" by Outkast.
14. "Gaelic Morn" by Celtic Destiny.
15. "Kimdracula" by the Deftones.
16. "Two Dope Boyz (In a Cadillac)" by Outkast.
17. "Around the World" by Daft Punk.
18. "In Your Room (alternate version)" by Depeche Mode.
19. "Stay and Drown" by Finger Eleven.
20. "The Hollow" by A Perfect Circle.
21. "Schism" by Tool.
22. "Lateralus" by Tool.
23. " Hexagram" by the Deftones.
24. "Natural Blues" by Moby.
25. "Ruiner" by Nine Inch Nails.

Holy sentimental metrosexual, Batman. I guess that's why I cry at weddings.

Correggio's Parma Frescoes

"Assumption of the Virgin" (+ detail) by Antonio Da Correggio (1489 –1534) is painted on the dome of the Parma Cathedral in Florence, Italy. How could anyone deny the existence of (a) God upon experiencing such beauty?

Of course, with a little imagination, one may notice Charles Darwin in the choir.

(Clicking on the pictures makes them bigger and even more lovely).

Old Dog, Old Trick

It's a shame the creationists and the evolutionists can't get along, because I think they could find a lot to agree on concerning the value of family.

I'll have to sober up a bit before I can render this one defensible. Colt 45 stimulates the heart rather more than the mind, alas.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Internet Wallowing

It feels good to bask in information like a manatee in water warmed by a Florida power plant. It's light but dense, ethereal yet efficacious. It's also easy to waste time in: browse, but don't actually read; poke, but don't say anything.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Shakespeare's 7 Ages of Man

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything
(As You Like It 4.7.143-70)

(Image is of Da Vinci's famous "Virtuvian Man").

Sunday, November 18, 2007

I Just Finished Books of Blood 4-6 (Sickest Post Ever)

I just finished reading the Books of Blood 4-6 omnibus by Clive Barker. The final story in Book 6, entitled "The Last Illusion", contains what might just be the most twisted passage I have ever read in any book:

Though he tried to form the simple word, "No", the music was gaining influence upon him with every note played. He began to hear melodies in the caterwauling; long, circuitous themes that made his blood sluggish and his thoughts idiot. He knew there was no pleasure to be had at the music's source--that it tempted him only to pain and desolation--yet he could not shake its delirium off. His feet began to move to the call of the pipers. He forgot Valentin, Swann and all ambition for escape, and instead began to descend the stairs. The melody became more intricate. He could hear voices now, singing some charmless accompaniment in a language he didn't comprehend. From somewhere above, he heard his name called, but he ignored the summons. The music clutched him close, and now--as he descended the next flight of stairs--the musicians came into view.

They were brighter than he had anticipated, and more various. More baroque in their configurations (the manes, the multiple heads); more particular in their decoration (the suit of flayed faces; the rouged anus); and, his drugged eyes now stung to see, more atrocious in their choice of instruments. Such instruments! Byron was there, his bones sucked clean and drilled with stops; his bladder and lungs teased through the slashes in his body as reservoirs for the piper's breath. He was draped, inverted, across the musician's lap, and even now was played upon--the sacs ballooning, the tongueless head giving out a wheezing note. Dorothea was slumped beside him, no less transformed, the strings of her gut made taut between her splinted legs like an obscene lyre, her breasts drummed upon. There were other instruments too, men who had come off the street and fallen prey to the band. Even Chaplin was there, much of his flesh burned away, his rib-cage played upon indifferently well
(Barker 142-3).

Clive Barker is a talented writer, but I wonder how he sleeps at night.

(Image enlarged from "The Garden of Earthly Delights" by Hieronymus Bosch courtesy of Wikimedia)

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Broken Heart Still Beats

There is a budding, a blossoming, a brief fruition (the texture, shape and significance of which the mind must go over again and again, vainly trying to discern exactly when "it" happened), then cooling, wilting, failing, falling, dying and rotting. So it goes.

Cliches become classics by virtue of sacrifice. Life isn't a pose (although it is a performance). It can't be faked.

Young people have their whole lives ahead of them. The tedium and anticipation are agonizing. Old people have theirs behind them, and the days go by like hours, the years like months. In between, life gradually gets colder and harder. It crystalizes.

It hurts to remember but it also hurts to forget.

There might be a seed or a sequence of letters hidden somewhere in/out there that has the power to redeem everything. It would be tiny, like a drop of blood in a Dali painting or a poppy pinned to a lapel (endorphins, enkephalins and dymorphins are opioids, after all).

(Evicko, chybiš mĺ).

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Darwinians Don't Have to Be Jerks (or Clap If You Believe in Fairies)

I believe in Darwinian evolution. It does the most thorough and convincing job of explaining who we are and how we got here. It also prompts men to say some pretty ignorant things. Consider, for example, Richard Dawkins' thoughts on polytheism in The God Delusion:

How did the Greeks, the Romans and the Vikings cope with such polytheological conundrums? Was Venus just another name for Aphrodite, or were they two distinct goddesses of love? Was Thor with his hammer a manifestation of Wotan, or a seperate god? Who cares? Life is too short to bother with the distinction between one figment of the imagination and many. Having gestured towards polytheism to cover myself against a charge of neglect, I shall say no more about it (Dawkins 35).

The sneer is one of the ugliest human expressions. Frederick Crews, in his foreward to The Literary Animal, takes a similar tone:

Although I am not a champion of evolutionary criticism, I do happen to be a committed Darwinian... Those of us who embrace Darwinian knowledge without cavil are convinced that all existence is unplanned and therefore quite pointless, leaving humanity with the task of rendering its life dignified in moral, intellectual and aesthetic ways scrounged and adjusted from our evolved heritage of repertoires. When the gods have been shipped back to fairyland to rejoin the Easter Bunny, we can direct our awe toward beings who actually deserve it--Shakespeare, Rembrandt, Beethoven, Einstein--without cheapening their achievements by ascribing them to mysterious infusions of spirit (Crews xiii. Let's leave aside the question of how a literary critic who who "embrace[s] Darwinian knowledge without cavil" can fail to espouse evolutionary criticism).

In my opinion, it's the "mysterious infusions of spirit" that make life worth living. We humans render our "pointless" lives meaningful and dignified with our techne and our poeisis, including religion. The Bible, the Q'uran, and the Bhagvad Gita are no less great works of art than Hamlet or "Bathsheba in Her Bath". If Occam's razor can dispatch the gods to fairyland, it can do the same to Antony and Cleopatra, or to Florestan and Leonore and every other character in Beethoven's Fidelio. If this so-called "fairyland" is the world of stories, dreams and myth (i.e. information), then the gods probably never left it in the first place. Unfortunately, some Darwinians have grossly misappraised its value and efficacy and have adjudged themselves exceptionally clever for doing so.

Darwinian atheists who see fit to ridicule the spiritual practices of most of the human species would do well to remember that natural selection, the preeminent explanatory model of life's origin, does not automatically confer its elite status to its adherents. Darwinian discourse should enlighten and instruct, not abuse and alienate. Snide rudeness and narrow-mindedness are unbecoming to Christians and scientists alike.

Also, the uber-Darwinian claim that scientific and religious truth will be forever incompatible may be jumping the gun somewhat, although it has provided some thinkers with a kind of "bad boy" notoriety that undoubtedly boosts book sales. As Hamlet said, "There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy" (Hamlet 1.5.166-7). Conflicts insoluble in their own terms are among the most universal structures in existence, and history has proven again and again that such snarls and double binds can eventually be worked out, provided time and imagination get the chance to embed them in a richer and more comprehensive informational framework.

With effort and luck , the great theme of the 21st century might turn out to be syncretism--the transformation of humanity, the reenchantment of lovers, the Alchemical Wedding, the mapping of Tifareth, the Great Work. Subsequent generations of scientists, scholars and clerics will hopefully be able to see the appeal and necessity of renaissance, and will work on the fringes and underground, if necessary, to bring such a future to fruition while waiting for the (tenured) hard-liners to die off.

Of course, if no one believes in fairies and no one claps, then no fairies emerge. The philistine is then justified in his denial, and Tinkerbell dies before she is even born. If we dismiss the great human virtues of faith and imagination as mere credulity and delusion, then our lives will become "pointless" indeed, and we might very well while away our miserable hours by taking potshots at people who seem more whole and happy than ourselves.

And that would be a shame.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

E.O. Wilson on Civilized Termites

Our cultures and values seem highly variable to us but in fact are very specialized and very epigaic [living and foraging above ground] and diurnal [active during daylight hours] mammalian. Here, for example, are several of the values that we could expect to characterize termite cultures if they had attained the intelligence threshold of civilization: loving dank darkness, photophobic, with a refined taste for lignin and cellulose and for music consisting of sophisticated phermonal song, faithful to the taboo against reproduction by any caste but royalty, and devoted to the duty of consuming injured and dead nest mates. Civilized termites...would consider the very conception of human existence a nightmare.

From E.O. Wilson's foreward to The Literary Animal (p. ix).

Friday, November 9, 2007

I Started a Tobacco Cellar

I discovered a few weeks ago that it's possible to buy high quality pipe tobacco in bulk online at a fraction of what it costs per tin. So, I ordered an 8 oz bag of McClelland's 2015 and another of 2035 from Mars Cigars down in Pennsylvania. When the two big zip-lock bags showed up at the house, I felt like Tony Montana.

The 2035 is really impressive--it's cut into big, flat, jagged black chunks that smell like ketchup and look like the shredded tire of an 18 wheeler. Apparently, the ketchup smell comes from the ongoing fermentation process of the sugary virginia leaf. This stuff is basically a bulk version of Dark Star, except the pressed flakes are gigantic. For days, I couldn't stop taking them out of the bag and playing with them.

2015 looks like a much more ordinary broken-flake virginia blend. There's perique in it too, but it's the same mottled brown colour as the virginia. From perique's reputation as a strong, spicy condiment leaf I figured it would have a distinctive tangy aroma, but 2015 actually smells quite bland in the bag, like bran flakes and apricots laced with a little vinegar.

The tobacco was wet, wet, wet. Both blends required about 8 hours drying time to become smokeable. They burned fine after that, but both had an acidic, "green" bite to them. One of the reasons why bulk tobacco is cheaper (at least in the case of McClelland's blends) is because it hasn't had much aging time. Needless to say, my dreams of sitting atop a pile of pipe weed like Smaug on his pile of treasure, smoking at my evil leisure, were dashed when I realized that this stuff will have to age for another 6 months to be really good.

My wife bought me a box of mason jars, which I filled with tobacco and labelled with names and dates. I put them all on the shelf in the closet, and just like that I had my very own tobacco cellar. I'm hoping I will be able to hang onto at least one of each jar for 5 or 10 years. Virginia ages well.

Lots of great companies sell tobacco in bulk, like GL Pease, Samuel Gawaith, Esoterica and the aforementioned McClelland's, and I think it's the way to go. I like the idea that one day, 10 years from now, I might pack a bowl of 2015 '07 and think back to a time when my son had just turned one year old, Stephen Harper was prime minister, styrofoam was still legal and I lived 400 meters from the U.S. border and could still get the old "Quebecois discount" on American contraband.

It's nice to have warmth, comfort, and a little something special, whether it's a cup of coffee, a bottle of wine, or a smoke of some kind or another. "The good life" sounds insufferably bourgeois, but it is, at least for now, a good life.

(Photo is of Mark Twain smoking a calabash, which is a pipe made from the dried gourd of the calabash vine capped with a meerschaum bowl).

Monday, November 5, 2007

I don't wanna sound gay or nothin

but Depeche Mode are a pretty sweet band. These were the only 2 decent tracks on Exciter (2001), but they're fuckin A.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Happy Birthday, Jack

My son John Charles MacEachern turned 1 year old on Friday, November 2nd. He shares this birthday with his maternal grandfather, Charlie Hunter.

November 2nd is also All Soul's Day, or the Day of the Dead. I bought a little mickey of Crown Royal to dump out on the lawn for the people who didn't make it this far, but I never actually got around to doing it. Oh well. I'm sure the dead llke Crown Royal just as much on November 3rd or 4th.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Review of Mac Baren's Virginia No. 1

I smoke virginia flake tobaccos almost exclusively. Since I can only buy the good stuff in Halifax, which is 7 hours away from Northern New Brunswick, I am occasionally forced to choose between doing without (never!) and dabbling in the locally available brands of tobak. I was initially pleased that there was a VA blend to be found in Edmunston. However, after getting the stuff home and smoking it, I was less than thrilled.

Virginia tobaccos are naturally sweet. More sugar makes tobacco burn hotter, and thus virginias are more apt to bite the tongue than any other blend. Also, they burn cooler when pressed into flakes (strips of tobacco that look like beef jerky), which is what most manufacturers do with their VA blends. Mac Baren should know this--they've been making pipe tobacco for decades now. But, for whatever reason, they have seen fit to soak Virginia No. 1 in a cloying, hot-burning, honey-flavoured casing, utterly ruining what at first glance looks to be high quality, tasty leaf. Fucking Danes and their candy-weed. They also chop it up into itty-bitty pieces, so it burns even hotter.

Needless to say, one bowl of this stuff will blister you so badly you'll think you smoked a cigarette with the lit end in your mouth. The molten sugar in the smoke sticks to your tongue like napalm, too. I've never been burned like this by a 'backy before.

UPDATE: Cooking this stuff in the stove for a while (20-30 minutes or so at 150 degrees) and then rehydrating it seems to take some of the sting out of it, but it's a pain in the ass for a smoking experience that's at the low end of mediocre.

I wish I had four hands, so I could give Mac Baren's Virginia No. 1 four thumbs down.

Ani DiFranco, Joni Mitchell and The Problem with Feminism

I was surfing the Internet today (as I do from time to time when I'm putting off doing real work), and I came across an online piece on Ani DiFranco in The Guardian entitled "I'm Considering a Revolution" (October 10, 2007). The article references an earlier piece DiFranco did for the LA Times, in which she interviewed venerable female artist Joni Mitchell, in the following paragraph:

Last year, the National Organisation for Women (NOW), America's largest feminist advocacy group, honoured DiFranco with a Woman of Courage award. She has always been outspoken about her feminism; in that same Joni Mitchell interview she suggested that her subject, who has been disparaging of feminism, might embrace the concept. Mitchell simply responded, "I prefer the company of men." DiFranco went on to write that "Either you are a feminist or you are a sexist/misogynist. There is no box marked 'other'" (Emphasis mine).

This isn't "courageous," it's narrow-minded and hypocritical. In fact, it's exactly the kind of aggressive dichotomizing and intolerance of diversity that feminists are always saying characterizes patriarchal thinking. I thought the cardinal sin of "phallogocentric" patriarchy was its tendency to sort the world into binary oppositions (like, say, feminist and sexist/misogynist), one of which (feminism, in this case) is privileged over the other.

Unless there is a kind of feminist logic at work here that is subtly "subversive" on a level beyond the understanding of a petit-bourgeois white male rube like me.

DiFranco's attitude is remarkably patronizing, bullying, and arrogant towards women who are unsympathetic to feminism's goals and aims, which profess to be about improving women's quality of life, but are (in my experience) more often locally and immediately concerned with securing status and opportunity for upwardly mobile career-feminists. This bears repeating: Feminist interests and women's interests are not identical. Feminism's support of women is "universal" only in the sense that it regards all women as targets for prosyletization, and DiFranco's treatment of Mitchell illustrates this point.

I love women, and I support them in their struggle for equality. It's ironic and disappointing that feminist discourse is so often characterized by bitter and virulent intolerance of any point of view other than its own.

I think the next frontier for women's liberation will be the freeing of the mature female worldview from the worst tonal excesses, political reductionism and skewed logic of 20th century feminism. These may then be consigned to the historical scrap heap with the rest of the rusting avant garde intellectual apparatus.

One can always hope, anyway.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

"My only grudge against nature was that I could not turn my Lolita inside out and apply voracious lips to her young matrix, her unknown heart, her nacreous liver, the sea-grapes of her lungs, her comely twin kidneys" (Nabukov 165).

"It is not the artistic aptitudes that are secondary sexual characters as some shams and shamans have said; it is the other way around: sex is but the ancilla of art" (259).

"The moral sense in mortals is the duty
We have to pay on mortal sense of beauty" (283).

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Post-Mortem Photograph

One of the nice things about the modern era is that infant mortality rates have been dropping steadily around the world. Overpopulation is a concern, but there's nothing sadder than a baby who doesn't make it.

Photo from the Kircher Society via a google search by the folks at Blog Supergroup.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Bacchian Morbidity

Today I woke up feeling like a gang of pineapple-wielding ogres had clubbed me into unconsciousness and shat in my mouth. I think I lose three years off my life for every goddamn volcano bowl I drink.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Dinosaurs' Prayer

"Lord, a little more time!"
-Arthur Koestler

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sergio Leone + Arcade Fire

This clip is awesome. My old flophouse comrade Quammy read about it on The Onion's A.V. Club and posted it on Quammy Blog. Someone edited together a bunch of cuts from Sergio Leone's Once Upon A Time In The West to sync up with Arcade Fire's "My Body is a Cage." I was like, "Ho hum" when I read about it, but then I watched it and it blew my mind. (Contains spoilers)

The Parting of the Sensory (Carbon's Anniversary)

Whoever said that mind/body dualism is only a Cartesian fallacy was either young, high, or otherwise unusually free of regret. My own experience suggests that the body is pulled kicking and screaming into the future, while the mind (miracle of nonlinear computation that it is) is compelled to return to the past, like a fly to shit, like a tongue to a cut on the roof of its mouth. The body wants to return, but it moves on; the mind wants to move on, but it returns. Somewhere in this wretched in-between-ness, this Indian rope burn on the soul, the human subject can be found.

Death (hers) is irreversible, at least in this sad, dirty little stretch of monkey time that I inhabit. Some days it's light but grave, like a crow's wings brushing against my skin. Other days it's a fish hook in my guts, dragging me away from the people I love and need. Most of the time, though, it's just a guilty, impotent feeling--full of rage, shame and regret, and a terrible, terrible sadness. A ghost with a voice but no recognizable face. An exquisite and tuneless agony.

Thank God for family, without whom a disturbed and grieving mind might tear itself to pieces.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Fast & Dirty

On the way home from the Tool concert in Portland, we stopped in a New Brunswick town to get food (this was probably the first stop all weekend at which Andrew "Jailbait" Wood didn't get ID'd). After contemplating a number of greasy, unwholesome choices, we ended up at ***.

Cleveland was the first to notice the lewd sub-text of their drive-through menu, which featured items like "whistle dogs," "chubby strips," and (our favorite) "family gravy."

Ten bucks says their copyright-protected mascot is naked under that suit.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Hopeful Monster

1. a dancing, hopping, or leaping movement.
2. an abrupt movement or transition.
3. Biology.
a. a sudden discontinuity in a line of descent.
b. a single mutation that drastically alters the phenotype.
4. Geology. intermittent, leaping movement of particles of sand or gravel, as from the force of wind or running water.
(From Latin saltare, meaning to leap. [])

Saltation is the idea that a new species can emerge in one big mutational jump, rather than as a result of many tiny evolutionary steps. The idea isn't popular these days, as scientists have mostly debunked the hypothetical divide between macro and micro mutation. In evolutionary biology, it's colloquially referred to as the theory of the "hopeful monster," a charming term coined by German geneticist (and saltationist) Richard Goldschmidt (1878-1958).

Did reptiles dance, and dream of birds?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Neo-human Clip from Waking Life

I thought Waking Life was pretty good, although some of the shorts were better than others. This one is my favorite:

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

We Thought Pierre Got a New Car

Robyn: Ooh! Did you get a new car?

Pierre: No.

Robyn: We thought since it was the same colour as your old one that you might have decided to get another one like it.

Pierre (puzzled): It's not the same colour. My car is orange. This car is burnt orange.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Review of Dunhill's Light Flake

I got this little blue and white tin of Dunhill Light Flake at a store in Bangor that sold herbal tea and bongs. Upon first opening, the aroma was ripe, a little sour, and laden with orange and purple notes. It had a tartness reminiscent of dried apricots, with a dark and prune-ish sweetness underneath. In the three weeks since I've opened it, this lovely bouquet has diminished and given way to a more mundane "raisin bran" tobacco smell. I'd like to try a tin that has been aged for a few years, but I have yet to find the money and patience to get a proper cellar going.

The flakes are nicely presented and economically packed. However, they come apart a little too easily when I'm taking them out of the tin and when I'm putting them into my pipe. I don't usually rub out my flakes at all, and I hate it when they break up and fall all over the floor as I try to fold them.

I smoke a lot of virigina flake tobacco (Best Brown, Long Golden Flake, Blackwoods and Dark Star, mostly), and I find different blends can usually be characterized along the axes of "fruity," "toasty," and "grassy." Dunhill Light Flake lands heavily in the first category, but its fruitiness combines with Dunhill's characteristic strength, astringency and severity (an overall quality I have noticed both in Dunhill's pipe blends and their cigarettes) to produce an intriguing and highly original blend.

This is not an all-day smoke (nor am I an all-day smoker), as it bites easily and its sour-ish, slightly bitter middle notes can overpower the sparse, delicate sweetness and complexity that peeks through at the top end, especially toward the middle and end of the bowl. But during those rare moments when everything comes together perfectly (O sapient hybrid! O perfect daughter of Cup and Wand!), there's nothing else like it. It's like an unsweetened fruit jerky in smoke form that makes the tongue tingle in the most peculiar (and addicting) way.

Dunhill Light Flake is a good smoke. I'm considering adding it to my regular rotation, assuming I can find it in Halifax.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Baby Einstein, Hack Journalism

There's a short, terrible article by Alice Park in Time magazine this month. I will quote it here in full:

"How Not to Raise a Genius: Is Baby Einstein doing your child more harm than good?

"There are no shortcuts when it comes to learning, and that applies to becoming a prodigy as well. Popular videos such as the Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby series have attracted millions of parents eager to give their babies an intellectual leg up. But a recent study shows that these products might be doing more harm than good. Experts at the University of Washington reported early in August that for every hour each day that infants watched the kaleidoscope of changing images and music on these DVDs, they understood an average of seven fewer words than babies who did not use such products. 'The assumption is that stimulation is good, so more is better,' says Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician and co-author of the study. 'But all the research to date shows that there is no such benefit.'

"That's hardly reassuring to parents who last year spent 200 million on the Baby Einstein series. They might consider instead the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends that infants under 2 not watch anything on a screen and instead just interact with parents."

If Alice Park had actually read the study mentioned in her article, instead of skipping right to the University of Washington's press release on it, she would understand that it did not specifically evaluate any Baby Einstein products at all. The authors of the study asked questions pertaining to the general category of "baby videos," rather than Baby Einstein in particular. Regardless of whether Park did not read the study or she simply did not understand it, this is still piss-poor journalism. I've come to expect nothing less from Time, which has disappointed me with every issue I've picked up in the last several months.

Additionally, there are a few other problems with the article worth pointing out. The pompously phrased idea that "there are no shortcuts when it comes to learning" is basically incoherent. It's not even possible to conceive of a "shortcut to learning" that would not itself warrant the description of "learning," albeit of a more efficient kind. Consider, for example, a sci-fi scenario in which babies have USB ports installed in their skulls allowing Disney to simply jack information directly into their brains via a neural-cybernetic interface. It's hard to imagine a shorter "shortcut" than this, but if the information were absent at first and then present afterward, the act by which the brain acquired it would still be called "learning."

My family owns one Baby Einstein video. I have watched My First Signs: See and Sign with Baby from beginning to end with my son, Jack, several times. Park's description of the video as a "kaleidoscope of changing images and music" hardly does it justice, except insofar as this might apply to any commonplace multimedia presentation (as seen, perhaps, by a time-travelling visitor from the 18th century). This mischaracterization further reveals the lack of care and attention with which the author has reviewed her source material.

A co-author of the study, Dr. Dimitri Christakis, is quoted as saying, "The assumption is that stimulation is good, so more is better." To whom does this assumption belong? To Disney? To parents? To the researchers who designed the study? It is not clear whether Christakis or Park gets credit for the irresponsible ambiguity of this statement, but when it is combined with the article's murky, unqualified use of data and the idea of a "kaleidscope of changing images" the impression made on the reader is like something out of A Clockwork Orange--a harrowing, psychedelic experience so unwholesome that it actually causes children to unlearn language at the rate of 1 word every 8.5 minutes.

Alice Park and Dr. Dimitri Christakis are right to claim that children are better off being spoken and read to by attentive mothers and fathers rather than plunked in front of the television set all day. To any thoughtful parent, this information should be self-evident and accessible by plain common sense. People who require an opportunistic, manipulative and ill-informed magazine article to convince them of its validity should probably think twice about having babies in the first place before they start worrying about raising geniuses.

I don't particularly care for the garish theme parks and neutered fairy tales of the Walt Disney corporation, but I have even less time for bad writing and bad thinking. I don't think Baby Einstein is going to raise our son in lieu of his mother and me--it's basically Sesame Street with classical music. Speaking more generally, I don't think watching a "baby video" once in a while is going to hurt him, either.

I would be more concerned if he wanted to start reading recent issues of Time magazine.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Monday, August 27, 2007

"Slovania" by Laibach, The Good Old Days

Here's another video from Laibach's Volk album. The first time I watched it, I didn't really get the irony, or the whole nuclear war subtext. Then again, their irony is lost on a lot of people, and they're often mistaken for either neo-nazis or communist sympathizers. I think that's why I like Laibach, even though I'm not crazy about everything they've put out. I find them more subtle and creative than many North American industrial acts. They have a real rock opera-ish quality about them, and the fact that they spent the 1980's in communist Yugoslavia gives them a little more political credibility, I think, than many self-styled "activist" groups here in North America.

I can remember a time about ten years ago when I thought "revolutionary" (postmodern) politics were the coolest thing since sliced bread. My friend Ondrej and I would drink Labatt Maximum Ice and talk about anarchism, communism (he's a Czech, and at that point it had been less than 10 years since the velvet revolution) and all kinds of stuff that kids think is interesting before they go to college. There was a time in my life when I thought Marx was just misunderstood and misapplied, and that the "pure" socialist economy (i.e. one that replaces the act of exchange with a top-down notion of "social justice") was a great idea hampered only by a nasty and inconvenient human nature. Spending a year and a half in the Czech Republic was enough to convince me that there had been something fundamentally ugly and inhuman at the heart of Marxist socialism, and four years of "the university experience" led me to the conclusion that most political posturing is naive, narcissistic, self-serving horseshit.

I still like Laibach, though, although my enjoyment is more than a little nostalgic.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

"Anglia" by Laibach

Laibach are a Slovenian industrial band that have been around since the early 1980's. On their newest album, Volk, they play industrial covers of different countries' national anthems.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Saruman Does Not Approve

"Your love of the halflings' leaf has clearly slowed your mind."

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Good Life?

I'm so bourgeois I don't know what to do with myself. If I'm feeling a bit peckish, I make myself a sandwich (with light mayonnaise, of course). The last time I was feeling blue, I cheered myself up by ordering $40 worth of books online.

In the next life, I'll probabably be reincarnated as a pillbug or something.

It's All in the Context

I recently saw an article on the notoriously shallow and inane MSN News page entitled, "Tipping: Is 20% the New 15%?"

What a fascinating question! It and others like it might just keep me up all night:

Is turquoise the new black?

Is 8 the new 5?

Is cake the new pie?

Hilarious. And some people say po-mo has lost its ability to charm and inspire.

Summer '07 (the black hole) part 3: Josh Goes Through the Windshield

I got a call last Friday from my wife informing me that Josh, my younger brother, had been in a car accident. I found out various details over the course of the week: He had been asleep in the passenger seat (buckled in) when the vehicle in which he was travelling hit a parked car, he went through the windshield (figure that one out), the vehicle caught fire, etc. The police told him that had his seatbelt engaged, he'd be dead right now, because when the examined the car they found most of the engine sitting on his seat.

Poor Josh landed on someone's lawn in a suburb of Red Deer (missing 30 feet of pavement for 10 feet of grass, apparently), and woke up from his original nap in the hospital. His eyelid and one of his ears were nearly torn off, and his lip was split so badly that he tells me he accidentally stuck his tongue through the hole below his bottom lip. He took 130 stitches in his head and face alone. He also suffered multiple broken ribs and, most seriously, a lacerated liver. They're keeping him in the hospital because apparently there's a high risk he'll contract pneumonia in the next little while.

I'm very glad my little brother isn't dead. I'm also alarmed at how quickly and easily several tons of metal and glass gone awry can mangle the delicate bones and tissues of a human body (like Josh's or Eva's), and how, when that phone rings, you never really know what you're going to hear from the other end.

God(s), bless my family. You can have our blood, but please leave us our lives.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Summer '07 (the black hole) Part 2: Sox Passes Away

Sox, our beloved family pet of 15 years, was put to sleep at the New Minas Animal Hospital on July 31st, 2007. She was suffering from what we think was end-stage renal failure. Accompanying her at the end were Josh, Alex, and myself. She went quickly and (we hope) painlessly, but it was still sad for all of us. I always figured Sox would be one of those cats that live to be 20 or 21--she seemed so well preserved, like she was drying up as she aged, instead of falling apart--but I was wrong.

It was surreal (and really shitty) to see her lying there, limp, with her eyes open and glassy. I kissed her on her forehead (or the feline equivalent) and she smelled strongly of anaesthetic. We had to put her hindquarters in a plastic bag before we put her in her burial box for the ride home, because bodies get leaky when they're dead. We buried her out back of my mom's house, by the shed, in a 3 x 3 x 3 hole that Alex dug the day before.

It hurt my heart.

It's weird. When I was a child, I figured the stories my parents told us about "Cat Heaven," or "Dog Heaven" were just white lies meant to make us feel better. Now that I'm an adult, and my idea of the afterlife rests on the idea of my quasi-divine ancestors, in the distant future, having access to some technological means of locally or globally reconstructing space-time, I'm pretty sure that if people make it to Heaven, then the animals with whom we've developed meaningful and affectionate moral relationships probably do, too.

I'll never forget her elegant silhouette, her haughty, proud demeanor, and her charming, throaty, distinctly Siamese manner of catspeaking. I'll remember how we came home from Dad's house one weekend (I was 12) to find that our mother had got us a little gray kitten with white feet who was so freaked out by the sudden appearance of 5 scrambling, clutching, chattering children that she shat on the floor. She fell asleep curled up on my lap as I practiced the piano that night. I'll remember how every time I'd go off to college, once she started to get older, I'd find her right before I left and tell her that she'd better stick around until I got back. I'll remember how dense and heavy she was in her prime, for such a small animal, and how in the last 2 or 3 years of her life she seemed to weigh almost nothing, like she was made of paper.

She was a beautiful, exotic creature in a family of mutts. We'll all miss her.

Summer '07 (the black hole) part 1: Getting Married

Sorry I've been away for so long. It's been a very eventful summer, full of comedy and tragedy both. Since I wasn't able to keep the blog up-to-date while everything was going on, I'll go over some of the highlights in the next couple of posts.


Getting married was pretty cool. Shouts out to Josh Spicer, as well as Jeremy and Josh MacEachern, for hosting a bachelor party that would make a rock star blush, and to Marc "The Face" Harper for his Moncton street-savvy and his willingness to take one for the team (he phoned his girlfriend at 4 in the morning to ask her where to buy booze, and she was furious). I'm sure the Colonial Inn has seen worse debauchery, but this blogger sure hasn't.

The ceremony was short and tasteful, lots of family members and dear friends were in attendance, and the weather was cooperative. Props to Frederick Turner for giving us permission to read his unpublished poem, "Epithalamium," and to Robyn's cousin Pearce (or Pierce, I'm not sure how he spells his name) for his bagpiping skills. My only complaint lies with our young, inexperienced minister, who probably should have told someone he had a beef with Aristophanes' story of the stuck-together-people at some point before Cat got up and read from Plato's Symposium. Original sin is a doozy of a theological concept, but it was an unnecessary and inappropriate downer to remind everyone, mid-wedding and without warning, of how unhappy God is with the humans he created. I don't think that a wedding is exactly the time to sermonize about divine disappointment. Or maybe, as Robyn suggests, he was just being unclear. Since I don't expect to see him again anytime soon, we may never know for sure.

I'm a firm believer in the felix culpa myself. The fall describes the unavoidable shame and difficulty of human self-consciousness. If it weren't for original sin, we'd still be relatively ignorant lower animals.

The reception was a great time. Depeche Mode's "Somebody" was a good choice for the first dance, Harper was a great MC, Charlie's speech was a riot, and Matthew Hunter tore up the dance floor. So did my drunk mom, whose technicolour yawn outside the reception hall has become a MacEachern family legend. Other highlights included Chantal's moving slideshow, and the Spicers' timely bottle of Dom Perignon. The MacEacherns and the Eddies were well-represented, as were the Hunters, the Parkers, the CK crew, the Flophouse/STU almuni, the Sackvillains, and we even had a few stragglers left over from the original Berwick school.

Our honeymoon was nice and relaxing. We saw Charlottetown and Brudanelle, stuffed ourselves with lobster, and slept late for 5 days. We went canoeing, and fought the whole time, we got drunk and watched Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and we had a lot of sex. Also, we saw a raccoon climb down a brick wall face first in broad daylight to get into the garbage cans at a snooty country club. Thanks to the Hunter family for looking after Baby Jack while we partied it up in PEI.

It's good to be in love.

Overall, a good time was had by everyone. It was a shame that some of the folks we invited couldn't make it, but c'est la vie. The people who could come just had to party 33% harder.

(If I forgot anyone or anything, I apologize. Don't be afraid to brow-beat me for it in the comments section of this post).

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Sea Bricks Make Good Book Ends.

Divinity is grave.

Philosophy is its own consolation.

Gods rest you, H.P.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The Nipples of Mother Hope Have Run Dry

So here I sit, trying to find a topic for this paper I have to write for tomorrow and getting nowhere. And as I pick through the readings from my class, hoping for the muse to whisper something worthwhile in my ear, I realize suddenly that I will be unable to hear her even if she does because there is a junior high marching band playing in the Knights of Columbus parking lot right outside my goddamn window. I'm not kidding. The xylophone carries the melody, and the rest is all drums except for the guy barking marching orders in French. I'm glad this is my last week of school, because they sound like they need a lot of practice.

Monday, April 30, 2007

My Kids

Caitlin, the know-it-all; Chloe, the hedonist; Jack, the baby.

Sunday, April 8, 2007