Maewwadje bwings us here, or: I love Canada

June 18, 2003 at 10:19 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Maewwadje bwings us here, or: I love Canada

Everyone has heard by now that Canada is likely to join Belgium and the Netherlands — you have to love the contrast: the extra-large and the extra-small — in making same-sex marriage legal. I think marriage is a good thing for people and society (even if writing those words does make me think of Peter Cook in The Princess Bride). I’ve been married to the same man for 23 years — half (!) my life — and that’s not counting the 4 (?) years common-law that preceded it (if he reads this, he’ll kill me for forgetting…!). With six older sisters, and 16 nephews & nieces just on that side, I can testify that the married ones (they include straight and gay) generally seem happier. (In September another one is taking the plunge. That’s my nephew Mario 3rd from left, and his betrothed, Jeanne, 3rd from right.) I think Canada is heading in the right direction by legalizing marriage — for everyone.

Independent Education, au Canada

June 18, 2003 at 12:03 am | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Independent Education, au Canada

Canada is quite odd in some ways. In the US, a private (“independent”) school is a private school, and squeezes money out of the parents, alumni, and community via tuition and fundraisers. A public school receives per capita funding from public sources. But in Canada — at least in British Columbia — private schools get taxpayer (public) funding. It’s a substantial amount: from 35-50% of operating costs get covered out of the province’s coffers, provided the school follows a provincial curriculum (standards). According to the Vancouver Sun article here, the government pays out around $160M per year to private schools.

Now the government has taken an unprecedented step in giving a new independent school in Burnaby, a Vancouver suburb, a $250K start up grant. The Mediated Learning Academy, a K-12 school, is geared toward special-needs kids — from every spoke of that umbrella term — and will employ a method called the Mediated Learning Experience, which was developed by Lev Vygotsky and Reuven Feuerstein. It will teach to about 180 kids, with a 10:1 student:teacher ratio. The mediated learning philosophy maintains that “intelligence is not fixed but can be enhanced,” which isn’t news to anyone who has pulled their child out of the factory school. Obviously, one-to-one, or even one-to-ten tutoring, is going to have a major impact on any child’s learning. This program is being publicly funded, however, at a time of huge cutbacks to BC public schools: teachers here are facing fewer resources, are being run off their feet with increasing demands, and are looking at increased class sizes. The newly-formed private school will still have to charge tuition (between $10-12K per annum per pupil), although it expects to be able to give some need-based scholarships to families.

If the Mediated Learning Academy could function as a pilot tug that eventually compels public money to be spent for implementing mediated learning in factory schools, we might see more 21st-century-appropriate public education for everyone.

Beep, beep: coffeetable crossing

June 17, 2003 at 12:22 am | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Beep, beep: coffeetable crossing

On June 1 I asked Where’s Laura? in my blog. I just found her, in a magazine, part of the get caught reading campaign. And what is the First Lady “reading”? A big intellectual tome? Nope, a coffee-table picture book about the American flag. (And she’s not actually reading it, instead facing the camera with a surprised grimace.)

I much prefer the Canadian librarians who are getting caught reading as they pose for a slightly naughty calendar. Miss October, sensual in a bubble-bath, is reading about Marguerite Duras, the author of The Lover.

Is it just me? I find that Miss October looks engrossed, intellectually concentrated, and physically sensual, but Mrs. Bush looks as though the book were a scary Mac truck and she got caught in the headlights.

Thinking on (with?) your feet: about toe cleavage

June 16, 2003 at 11:06 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Thinking on (with?) your feet: about toe cleavage

Today’s New York Times has an article about feet, specifically naked feet nearly wholly exposed to view through binding sandal straps. Mmm, fetishism, anyone? Who cannot remember glimpsing naked feet and feeling somehow voyeuristic? Is there anyone out there — anyone female — who didn’t have an awakening at some point to the thought that her feet were (a) really ugly or (b) really beautiful? Most women I’ve talked to about feet dislike theirs, while a few said their feet were beautiful. I fall into the former category, not liking mine particularly. As a young child, I spent months walking around en pointe, without ballet slippers, desiring lessons which we couldn’t afford and which I consequently didn’t get. I read biographies of great Russian ballerinas who nursed bleeding feet at night after days of endless practice. Masochism doesn’t get any weirder than dreaming of bleeding feet. And all that en pointe traipsing on hard floors, with my head in the clouds, did something to the development of my, uh, big toe.

Georges Bataille, who single-handedly deconstructed stereotypes about librarians just by being one, made the big toe, like the anus, a theoretical jumping-off point for thinking about man’s material-sexual condition in the world. Note that the NYT article about feet mentions Judith’s feet as beguiling Holofernes, enabling her to gain his confidence, and then to chop off his head when he became distracted. She kept her head and had a plan, she saved her people. The article’s conjunction of the cephalic apex of man — the head — and the reminder of his rootedness to earth, to animal status — the big toe — would have had Bataille fidgeting with excitement.

Why should the foot, and especially the big toe, be an object of erotic fetishism in the first place? Because “it reminds man, whose feet are planted in the mud and whose head is raised toward heaven, that his life is no more than a ‘back-and-forth movement from ordure to ideal and back to ordure.'” (see big toe) And why should the foot be an object of fetishism for women? Catherine Lumby, analyzing the return to really high heels, concludes with a reference to Georges Bataille:

But surrealist writer Georges Bataille – author of the cult classic The Story of the Eye – offers a different take on the erotic significance of drawing attention to the foot. Bataille points out that toes are the things that connect us back to the animal world. The big toe is the hinge that keeps us upright. No longer prehensile, but rigid – it’s what braces us against the Earth. Without it, we return to the mud, on all fours.

If you wear high heels, mud is a big issue. You have to become a devotee of the pedicurist and the podiatrist because your feet repay the act of adornment by becoming animalistic – by developing callouses and bunions.

To be able to display a beautiful set of toes in a perfectly polished pair of pumps is a sign you have not only your body but your time and money issues absolutely under control. Now there’s a female fantasy for the 21st century.

So, while sandals are in and stilettos are out, and women feel free to flaunt a foot fetish, it’s also about status and control, and money. Some are apparently willing to spend lots of it to get the status foot, as the NYT article points out: people “are having toes shortened or plumped, feet narrowed or straightened, at costs as high as $12,000.”

Holy smokes and symptom of our post-modern condition! The fetish is subsumed to the strict regime of the economic head. It’s an upside-down world, literally.

Raymond Cohen on Israel in the EU

June 15, 2003 at 5:42 pm | In yulelogStories | 5 Comments

Dave Winer suggested that I was male-bashing in my blog of yesterday, which is why today I’m thinking about Israel in the European Union. Non-sequiter? Not quite. Dave’s comment got me thinking about a terrific political science course I took at UBC as an undergraduate in the early 80s. It was taught by a visiting Israeli professor, Raymond Cohen, who had written a book called Threat Perception in International Relations. It’s been years since I read the book, but I recall that it was a very smart inquiry into how our perceptions — on a nation-state level — influence policies. See, I thought that Dave was perceiving something that I wasn’t really saying: I think I was, in part, system-bashing, but not male-bashing. (Disclaimer: I don’t think that there is a state of Dave — or a state of Yule — here. I guess it’s just that men saying women are male-bashing conjures up threat perception issues.. ;-). )

Professor Cohen was a sharp lecturer, and he ran a tense tutorial. There were students who supported the PLO, and it was clear that Raymond Cohen, who seemed hawkishly pro-Israel, was more than impatient with any milquetoast Canadian students who were going to argue Israeli security concerns with him. Hence, imagine my surprise when, looking for his book online, I found that he spoke to the European Parliament in Brussels in March 2002 in support of Israeli membership in the EU. His speech was called Israel: A Return to Europe?

(N.B.: You can find the speech also on the website of the Transnational Radical Party, which it seems sponsored the motion before the EU. However, it’s impossible to link to individual pages directly on their site since they all have the same URL; hence, you need to go to the main page, scroll down to the “Israel in The E.U. – special page” section, click on that and then scroll on the page that opens to Cohen’s link. The “special page” link includes lots more information, photos of the meetings, backgrounders.)

I don’t remember hearing anything about EU membership for Israel last year, but perhaps I wasn’t paying attention. Today I looked around a bit more on Google, and realized that it’s a debated, ridiculed, and championed topic. I wonder what other people have heard about it, what they think? Is this a completely fringe phenomenon? Cohen’s speech is beautiful and very convincing — I’m ready to endorse it. Naturally, some of the opposition points out that the whole idea is like flying pigs: ain’t gonna happen, what’s to become of the law of return, and so on and so forth. What do other people think?

Some quotes from Raymond Cohen’s speech:

“At present, Israelis are locked into a conventional nationalist and strategic mindset more suited to the nineteenth than to the twenty-first century,” but “the prospect of Israel’s entry into Europe could encourage moderate forces, rejuvenate public discourse, break the near-monopoly of chauvinist ideas, and provide a set of incentives for creative thinking in the peace process. ” At present, Cohen continues, “the agenda of Israel politics is almost completely dominated by Revisionist ideas reinforced by fundamentalist and mystical religious themes. Fearful stereotypes from the Diaspora have also resurfaced. Settlers in the occupied territories are viewed as the heroic heirs of the Zionist pioneers. Occupation and settlement are presented as expressions of a sacrosanct historical right and essential to Israel’s survival. The Palestinians are anathematized as a reincarnation of Amalek, the quintessential enemy of the Jewish people from time immemorial. Critical external agencies, such as the European Union, are viewed with suspicion as a modern version of the Poritz, the Jews’ East European overlord and oppressor.”

What would inclusion in the EU bring into the mix? “…the promise of Israel’s inclusion in the European Union would transform a disheartening anticipation of national contraction and vulnerability into a more confident prospect of incorporation into a wider community of nations. Psychology is everything in a nation’s self-image and identity.” With that last sentence, Cohen shows that his research into threat perception still productively informs his thinking.

As for the Transnational Radical Party: can someone enlighten me as to who they are? Their website indicates pre-Iraq War support for Saddam’s removal; they are against the prohibition on drugs; their membership is mostly Italian and Albanian, but growing; Mussolini’s granddaughter is a member, but so are some leftwingers; they sponsored the movement to get Israel into the EU; and their plan is to get members of Parliament in all countries across the globe to join their group so that these members can then vote, in concert, on important global issues: a transnational, nearly virtual fifth column turned toward the good?

Questions upon questions, and all because Dave said I was male-bashing…. PS: Later today I’ll write a conciliatory response in yesterday’s comment box. Male-bashing, moi? Nah.

Something about Sabbaths

June 14, 2003 at 11:14 pm | In yulelogStories | 3 Comments

It’s been Saturday all day, and here’s a plug for doing nothing. It might be the secret of happiness and efficiency. Towards the mid-1980s, when I was a student at the University of British Columbia, I began adhering to my own idiosyncratic version of “time off.” I had these rules: no matter how many papers were due, no matter how heavy the seminar, I did no work whatsoever on Friday evenings, on Saturday afternoons (and evenings), and on Sunday mornings. That added up to one full day plus an evening. All other times were available for whatever stressy thing was coming down the pike, but those same, consistent fragments of days and evenings were absolutely off-limits. It was ritual. I was astoundingly productive during those years. I took my habit to Harvard, and in 5 years completed a PhD program which typically took candidates 8 years or more to complete.

I’m not religious. I have been to a synagogue once, for the funeral of a very special friend and mentor; I have been to a church perhaps three times (one funeral, possibly two weddings, although I only remember one of them); I have never gone to a mosque or other temple. Congregations — crowds where everyone is supposed to be on the same page — upset me and I prefer to avoid them. I was raised without religion; my mother was a hardcore atheist, my father a Catholic who left the church in distress when he was supposed to pray to god for a German wartime victory, which his Walloonian cousins (his mother’s siblings’ children) were praying to for a Belgian victory.

Sabbath-keeping is however a huge religious topic, derived from the Old Testament (“and on the seventh day he rested”), and, see Google, assiduously taken over by New Testamentarians. While religious propaganda doesn’t talk about this, I think sabbath-keeping is also a very male thing, one of the secrets of male productiveness. Women, traditionally, have rarely had the kind of time that a sabbath promises. If women do it, they’re virgins, or childless, or in some way without a man, or so religiously orthodox as to be like sheep to the men. Sabbaths are a paradox — you keep a contrived, essentially artificial obligation to your inner freedom — and that’s a tough thing to do in a demanding world of duties, particularly domestic ones. My 1980s rituals were relatively easy to keep: I had no kids, no pets, simple caretaking demands, a 2-bedroom apartment, no yardwork.

Men complain about losing ground to women who supposedly threaten their masculinity at every turn. But you know what? I think it’s probably just the case that many men are now living the way domestic goddesses always have: on-call 24/7. The desirability of ritualized Big Time (a rendezvous between you and meaning) is slipping away in favour of a weird illusion of availability to others, a kind of totalitarianism that smacks of “Arbeit macht frei” thinking. The ability to say, “on this day (or this part of the day) every week of every year, constantly and without variance, I shall do no work, do nothing that is a mere means to an end,” is a luxury-ritual that typically only males were able to afford fully: the women still had to figure out how to get the meals fixed and on the table. And god presumably allowed them to do the washing up alright. Now we’ve all yoked ourselves to technologies and “lifestyles” that effectively make “down-time” elusive, devolved into entertainment and vegging-out. But if today’s man is a Hausfrau, it’s not the fault of feminism. We don’t get enough sabbath, either. I want to take mine back again, small ritual by small ritual.

(De)Serving size

June 12, 2003 at 11:12 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on (De)Serving size

Apropos of the denial poser (see comments section, too), a news (?gossip) item courtesy of the Vancouver Sun about Bill Clinton and a possible dalliance with the comparably much younger billionaire socialite Belinda Stronach. She’s no wallflower, and no little intern, either. He may have bitten off more than he can chew this time. I think this item’s appearance on a front page is interesting, if not sinister, given Hillary Clinton’s recent successes.


On the subject of hungering and feeding: a couple of weeks ago I finished reading Caroline Knapp‘s Appetites: Why Women Want, which I’ll guess is better than years of therapy. This week I have tried (thwarted often by many interruptions) to start reading Margaret Visser’s 1986 best-seller, Much Depends on Dinner, a book as riveting as, if utterly different from, Knapp’s. Visser attends to her topic with such a hugely broad intellectual appetite that you find yourself amazed to be seated at her groaning board. While the book is about a simple meal — corn on the cob; chicken with rice; salad with oil & lemon dressing; ice cream — each item is a jumping off point for broader considerations. And while the meal might be boring in its simplicity, Visser has an agenda in regard to boredom, too:

“Boredom is the twentieth century’s version of social miasma; we bear in addition, of course, our specialty in natural miasma, which is pollution. Boredom arises from the loss of meaning, which in turn comes in part from a failure of religio or connectedness with one another and with our past. This book is a modest plea for the realization that absolutely nothing is intrinsically boring, least of all the everyday, ordinary things. These, today, are after all what even we are prepared to admit we have in common. We have recently discovered in ourselves a determination to consider nothing to be beneath consideration, and a willingness to question passionately matters which used to be thought too basic for words. I think the reason for this is that we are fighting back with an altogether healthy urge to recapture ancient but pitifully neglected, thoroughly human responses such as participatory attention, receptivity, and appreciation. We have learned well the lessons about the stupidities of superstition, of misplaced, because ignorant, wonder. It is time now to think about whether we have leaped from the trivial to the vacant. Boredom is an irritable condition, and an exceedingly dangerous one when it is accompanied by enormous destructive power.”

I’ll never again think about dinner in quite the same way. And after reading Knapp’s book, I’ll never think about appetite in quite the same way. I’ll go on a limb and say that anorexia might be a miasma of hunger, which explains why so many of us had so many rules about what and when we could (and mostly couldn’t) eat, what where and how little. Miasma is notoriously resistant, though, to rules from outside; in the end, you save yourself. Try substituting “anorexia” for “boredom” in Visser’s last sentence, above.

Her title comes from Byron’s Don Juan: “Since Eve ate apples, much depends on dinner.”

All Oval for You

June 11, 2003 at 10:41 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on All Oval for You

Serendipity. I just came across an article by Mark Morford ( San Francisco Chronicle online) which argues that mucho presidential sex is better than sexual repression in (& by) presidents. Morford notes that during the lascivious Clinton’s presidency, the nation surged onward and upward economically, while under Bush (who “does not have sex. You just know this”) the nation has been losing ground. While Clinton’s radiating sexual charm flowed during a period of “peace, …record budget surpluses, record low unemployment, international respect and admiration,” Bush’s libidinal charge is akin to a reversal, “inverted, painfully ingrown, like a bad karmic toenail.”

If it gives you pain, you have it out of course.

Eat this

June 10, 2003 at 11:50 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Eat this

There’s this wonderfully evocative song by Kate Bush, There Goes a Tenner, which includes the lyrics: “Ooh I remember, That rich windy weather, When you would carry me, Pockets floating in the breeze.” It’s ostensibly about a bank robbery, which is kind of an odd topic for a song, but Kate Bush was nothing if not eccentric. Think, however, of a bank robbery as a defining moment in a life: a cusping, budding penetration of daring into the quotidien boredom of the everyday. I’m about ready to pull off a heist or two myself. After a day like this. Typical. Day, that is. Six or seven loads of laundry, and two loads of the dishwasher. Social Studies supervision on the fly. Clean up clean up clean up. Sheets. Art class field trip drop off kids. Telephone calls, wrong address business matter letter favour. Science supply store ponder merits of stage vs. dissection microscopes. Lawyers in Vancouver, power of attorney vested interest minimal. Calls to bank not my account. Doctors appointments, speculum not too hot. More laundry. Dog to walk. Calls to make. Estimates for home improvements to ponder. School planning meeting at 6 pm. Math courses to pick up. VPs to meet. Cold supper at 9:00. More laundry at 10:00. At 11:00 repark the car, which I put in front of the driveway since everything else on the street was taken by theatre-goers. Now they’ve gone home, and I can repark my car in a legal spot so I don’t get a ticket in front of my own house. Going outside to do so is when I caught the rich windy weather. Carry me away, please carry me away. AlterNet had an article by Elizabeth Austin, Giving Mirth, extolling the virtues of Jean Kerr’s noblesse in combining motherhood with a professional life, in Kerr’s case writing. Aside from a Doris Day movie, there was a 60s tv series based on Kerr’s book, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies. I was a kid and the show briefly captivated me. Specifically, the main character got things done, but also actually liked her children. (I watched tv to find out what that must have been like.) For reasons I can’t explain, I checked out some of Kerr’s books a couple of years ago, and I realized how much solid economic underpinning there was to her life. Kerr, no matter how often she and her husband were short of money, was never poor, and she didn’t make bad economic choices. In the wake of Kerr’s death last January, the 5,700 sq.ft. house that she and Walter Kerr (d. 1996) bought in ’55 went on the market for $4.9. Let’s rob a bank, and perhaps our pockets will be floating in the breeze. Austin’s article annoyed me because it completely ignored the benefits of having a maid, au pairs, gardeners, and assorted staff in juggling the demands of family & career.

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