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.