Something about Harry

January 15, 2005 at 2:30 pm | In yulelogStories | 6 Comments

Struck by some kind of viral or bacterial infection — which is horrid enough to remind me of my 1998 near-death encounter with pneumonia — I still feel compelled to heave the old laptop literally onto my lap, because how can I let this story pass? By now everyone has read about not-so-charming-prince Harry and his swastika armband, right? Do you know that last year he went to the same birthday party with the same awful, “only an upper-class twit of the year could think of this” theme: “Native and Colonial”? My son said that last year either Harry or some others were dressed as Zulu “warriors.” Charming, I’m sure (not!). Like, what kind of thick-brick-of-a-brain party theme is that, anyway? Doesn’t it just invite “offensive” costumes, along the lines of having a party with the theme, say, “Alcatraz and Abu Ghraib”? The people holding and attending the party don’t give a damn about “approved” themes or fitting in with the vanilla values of the middle-of-the-road class, or of the press, which just loves to tut-tut-tut. They are the upper-class twits of the year having a good time, and that means you ordinary blokes can just p-off. Harry’s costume actually expressed their world-view perfectly: “we are the Herrenrasse [Master race].” Perhaps drunken-sod-ass Harry has a hidden genius after all: for symbolic semiology of the visual kind. Next, consider this: any Joe-off-the-street “commoner” could easily wear the Afrika-Korps costume with its tacked-on swastika armband — the costume shop that rented the outfit to Harry has rented this item many times to many others. The shop even has a costume of an SS-officer; apparently, Harry originally wanted to rent that one, but it was too small. The average commoner has the freedom of expression to be an idiot, to be in bad taste, to dress as he wants. But somehow, we don’t want to allow that Harry has that freedom. Why not? Simply because he was born into a position, which he’s now supposed to “uphold” and “represent”? Hmmm, in other words, doesn’t this prove beyond a doubt, however, that if one is going to uphold the principle of freedom of expression, one should oppose the continuation of any inherited positions, since being born into one can result in the most egregious restrictions of one’s individual freedom? Is the press, with its saccharine outrage, in actual fact strengthening and defending royal institution here, even as it piously wrings its collective hands that Harry’s exploit is perhaps one more symptom of the monarchy’s demise? I think the monarchy should be abolished, and Harry should be allowed to act (within the law) like the asshole he clearly is. (If one wants to see how Harry’s blunder can be used to fan the flames of support for the monarchy, see this article: a poll indicates most Britons disapprove of Harry’s behaviour. They like his goody-two-shoes brother better, because he has learned not to make the error of exercising his free speech in public. But what is free speech if it can’t be public? I have to conclude that too many Britons are brainwashed. Harry would probably say, “But I am a prince, therefore I get to do what I want.” (Remember, he’s reputed to be not so bright.) He could argue that in choosing to behave as he wants, he is actually embodying royal prerogative in the fullest sense of the term. In other words, Harry is using his “privilege” to act like a pig (and it seems Fergie, his aunt, is defending this), while the press is using the royal privilege as a stick with which to beat him. It’s kind of funny, actually, because both of them exhibit a fine disregard for the underlying notion of free speech which should apply equally to all: low- and high-born, regardless of gender or race. What’s not funny, however, and what really amounts to a gross disregard of free speech is this: in the wake of the “Heil Harry” incident, German political leaders (on both the left and the right) have proposed to the European Parliament that the German ban on all outward symbols and insignia referring to the Nazi period should be extended to all of Europe. (I.e., displaying the swastika is illegal in Germany, and the Germans now want to have that ban legal in the rest of Europe.) I hate the Nazis and all they stood for, and I hate the Neo-Nazis perhaps even more because they’re certifiable cretins who willfully ignore anything that would enlighten their dark and shrunken brainmass, but I can’t imagine that such a sweeping restriction on free speech makes any sense whatsoever. Get rid of the monarchy: that would be more effective. Finally, I have an idea for a costume that Harry should have worn instead — he would have saved himself some of the present flak: He should have dressed as his prospective potential father-in-law, Charles Davy, who is a Zimbabwean mafioso of the worst sort, a man who has made a career out of sucking up to the psychopath Robert Mugabe, a man who charges rich bastards $30,000 for a three-week jaunt on his “farm” where they can “legally” (ol’ Bobby M. says it’s ok) shoot endangered big game, like elephants and lions. Now that costume would have been a sartorial statement worth reporting.

Something about language

January 11, 2005 at 7:12 pm | In Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Nope, it’s gone. Driving back from UVic tonight, after choir drop-off for one of the offspring, I had a moment of clarity about language, about why it’s our first technology. But then I lost it. By the time the CD track changed from Slipping below the water line (which I love because, among other things, it provided succor during an attack of hate mail) to The world is full of crashing bores, it was gone. I was thinking of my brainstorm of several days ago, which (although I intended to keep this to myself) entailed my return to sculpture: I had this total brainstorm about a new series of 3-d work. (I used to be a sculptor, eh, just like I used to be an art historian.) Sculpture: not exactly a language technology, right? Or is it? And driving down the black and rainy streets from the heights of UVic to the knobs of Rockland, I had this picture (worth a thousand words?) of why language is a technology, even though we generally don’t treat it as one, preferring to slut and rut our way instead with tarted up gadgets and powerfully virile machines we think we understand.

Imagine if we actually managed to understand our (technological) proficiency in …language. Poets would make out like bandits — finally; and then bandits would be saints.

Better git hit in your soul

January 10, 2005 at 9:10 pm | In Uncategorized | 6 Comments

I need a solar panel on my sole. Unshoveled sidewalks have frozen over — joggers are hogging the street instead of staying on sidewalks, and one can only surmise that infirm elderly people are staying indoors. New mothers, off to a “new start” with the “new year,” dogged in their pursuit of “new figures,” put babies in joggers and careen, red-faced, parallel to sea-shore paths (now iced over), on snowy turf where their running shoe soles can gain traction. It’s a dismal scene, let me tell you. Rain is so much more civilised. I’ll be blogging lite here for a couple of weeks. Had a few brainstorms (ow, that hurt!) for projects which will take me away from the computer, and these will also be weeks in which I’ll be in full harness (not naughty, not what I had in mind): both kids are back in piano classes and music theory, which involves a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, especially since one of them is, first, taking a supplemental exam at the end of this week and, second, registered for five competitions with a local performing arts festival in March. In addition, fencing is back on for both of them, currently two evenings per week, but soon perhaps going to three nights, and gosh, it’s so cold and dark out there and I’d rather stay home than drive them to class…. Oh yeah, and I guess I have to pick them up, too. And of course there’s choir for one of them one night of the week, and there’s swimming for both one afternoon a week. I was going to add, “thankfully, they’re not in school on top of this,” but it so happens that over the course of the next three weeks, their distance ed. school will engage them in 3 Renaissance Program workshops. Then there are the sundry medical appointments: braces are coming off (yay!), retainers are taking their place, and quacks of all manner (plastic surgeons, if you can credit that) need be consulted over the matter of the son’s trigger finger: will he hold a foil with ease, play Bartok with confidence, and (most importantly), keep that mousing hand moving deftly on the rolling trackball in the eternal quest to amass points in a computer game? “Will he turn the pages of a book” is another question, heh…. (Actually, in fairness, he reads tons of books.) I wonder whether “trigger finger” is related to what we do, how we use the hand. Our doctor seems to think it’s an inherited tendency, which I guess explains why I have to restrain myself from shooting some people… See this neat little movie of what happens in the finger joint to make it “lock.” But worst, certainly worst of all, yours truly has to get up really early this week to go to a day-long workshop for our local distance ed. school (“local distant”? is that an oxymoron? probably… or not at all, given the internet). There, in the role of PAC and SPC member, I and the rest of the stakeholder community, together with the service providers, will workshop in accordance with guidelines set out for improving student performance. We will come up with visions (I know I will, especially since I’d normally be sleeping at that time of day) for the school community represented by the school, and we will brainstorm (ow, there’s that word again) ways to improve student success. Knowing what happened last year, I just know that we will have “break-out groups,” and we’ll have to do all kinds of funky role-play exercises, free-associate, use coloured markers on the walls, and present findings from our break-out group to the rest of the participants. Dear reader, you have no idea how painful this sort of thing is for someone who would rather chew off their leg than stay trapped in the spotlight, and who doesn’t even really wake up until about 2pm…. After last year’s meeting — which must have taken place during mild spring weather, not in the middle of winter — I went to Government House, which has a beautiful garden, and I stood on my head on one of its lovely lawns. The blood rushed back to my head, the sunshine filled my eyes, the world was upside down in a pleasant invigorating way: I remember it vividly. I think if I try it this time around, my head will simply freeze to the grass, crows will occasionally perch on the soles of my boots, and my hair will eventually meld with the turf, roots mingling with roots. I’ll have to stay there until I compost into something else. That’s why I need solar panels on the soles of my shoes: for de-icing when my head gets stuck to the frozen lawn.

Snow???

January 7, 2005 at 9:24 pm | In yulelogStories | 5 Comments

It snowed today, which is a relatively unusual meteorological occurence in Victoria, British Columbia. It snowed for most of the day, in fact, which means that I am eating my words — the ones that said, around the Winter Solstice, “Oh, it won’t get colder, it will just [finally] start getting ligher.”

Twice my kids went out to shovel the sidewalk: once in the morning, and again in the afternoon. We live on a corner, so we had two sidewalks to clear. Very, very few other neighbours shovelled sidewalks, and when I went to the grocery store, I saw almost no bare pavement in fair Fairfield.

I think that not clearing your sidewalk is indicative of an extremely anti-social attitude. (But there are at least two ways to think about this, too [wait for it]). By and large, Victorians think snow is so rare that it’s bound to melt away within 24 hours, …and typically it does, which makes shovelling the walkways redundant. However, the weather has been very off-ish lately, and my cursory examination of 3 or 4 different online weather sites gives almost radically different forecasts (as well as reports of current conditions) for Victoria. Yesterday, for example, CBC insisted it was cold and snowing in Victoria, but it was actually warm-ish (relatively speaking) and raining. Currently, some online sites say that we’re in for more snow, as well as freezing temperatures overnight, followed by ice and snow in the days to come. Admittedly, that’s the most extreme view, and it’s probably not fully accurate. However, none of the sites reported (or predicted) that it’s going to get warm enough to melt, really and truly, all that snow (and we got quite a bit) from the sidewalks, …and if it gets colder, the wet slushy snow will freeze to ice. It’s already the case that wherever pedestrians have been walking, little ice-packs have formed beneath the pressure of their bodyweight, and those icepacks will stay and make sidewalks tricky for the elderly and for joggers.

I sometimes think Victoria is made up of the elderly and joggers — the former move alone or in pairs, the latter typically move in packs.

After my kids went out this morning to clear the sidewalk (and our 5-foot long driveway — ah, the joy of a city lot), a couple of neighbours also appeared to clear the public paths bordering their lands. But it continued to snow throughout the day, and as seasoned veterans of filthy weather, we knew that come 4 pm, prior to darkness, someone would have to clear the sidewalks again. So my son went out and shovelled a second time. That’s what you do, right?

Not around here.

My son remarked that in Massachusetts, long-term friendships were formed with neighbours over the course of snowshovelling, sometimes in spite of the din from gas-powered snow-throwers. The taciturn New Englander could be a chatty fellow, and I literally met some neighbours for the first time because of our sidewalk battles with ice and snow. We would discuss technique, compare snow shovel technology, critique the different plowing techniques of the snow jockeys cruising the street, ponder the merits of perhaps buying a communal neighbourhood snow-thrower to share for the winter, and ponder the pros and cons of different outdoor gear.

In other words, exigency made a bond between people.

Which reminded me of a book by Heinrich Kupffer, who subsequently appears to have evolved into an advocate for homeschooling. Hmmm, who would (not?, duh) have thought? Who wouldn’t have realised that there’s a connection? From what I remember of Kupffer’s 1984 book, Der Faschismus und das Menschenbild in der deutschen P

Communist?

January 6, 2005 at 8:37 pm | In yulelogStories | 2 Comments

Bill Gates was asked what he thought of advocates for copyright reform. It appears he likens them to communists:

There are some new modern-day sort of communists who want to get rid of the incentive for musicians and moviemakers and software makers under various guises. [More…]

Oh my. Could that big house of Bill’s be emitting radon, eating his braincells? Is the feng shui not conducive to intellectual openness? Or is it just an extension of monopoly thinking?

In Massive Change, pp.92-93, Larry Lessig answers the question, “What are the roots of intellectual copyright law?” with a short history lesson:

People have an understandable view that the idea of copyright has been around for 200 years and that it has never changed. And so, when you see this explosion of peer-to-peer file sharing — which is said to violate copyright laws — most people’s natural response is to say, “Let’s stop the theft.” But in fact, there’s a long tradition to consider. There was once a powerful group in England called the Congor [sic]. They were a monopolist group that restricted the spread of knowledge by keeping prices of books high. Then along came the Statute of Anne, which was designed to promote education and learning by limiting copyright to 14 years. Its effect was basically to tell the Congor [sic] that their government-granted monopolies would be over, and they would have to compete in the marketplace if they wanted to continue to prosper. As a result of its implementation, for the first time in English history, the works of Shakespeare, for example, were no longer under the control of monopoly publishers. Works became free and the tradition of free culture was really born. [Online source here]

A little further down, Lessig relates how Walt Disney’s work built on work that was in the public domain. For example, he took the stories recorded by the Brothers Grimm and “retold them in a warm and fuzzy way…” [p.93]:

He was free to take those stories and retell them in the way that he did because the Grimm fairy tales had passed into the public domain. This was Walt Disney’s technique — and it’s been the technique of the Disney Corporation all the way to the present. Because Disney has been so successful in extending the terms of copyright, nobody can do to Walt Disney what Walt Disney did to the Brothers Grimm. Nobody can build on top of Disney’s work in the way that Disney built on top of other peoples’ [sic] work. And that change in the basic bargain of copyright is what I think has been most destructive to the way in which free culture has evolved. Free culture has always depended upon the Walt Disneys of the world having the freedom to build without seeking permission upon our past. That freedom has now been removed by lobbyists, who convince Congress that a better way to have a culture is to require that you first get permission from corporate owners. [Online source here]

That puts the matter quite succinctly, doesn’t it? As for “communism”? Lessig’s closing comment, describing his thoughts on the future:

My hope is that we get a much wider range of adopters to this model [Creative Commons, eg.], so that the extremism of All Rights Reserved, which was Hollywood’s vision — versus No Rights Reserved, which is the kind of anarchist’s vision and is no longer what defines the debate — is replaced by something more moderate, something that enables artists to build and share content, but also compensates them for their creativity. [Online source here]

On his blog, Lessig today briefly comments on Bill Gates’s remark, with an entry titled what a total (intellectual) disappointment this man is.

Poor [sic] Bill, must be bad feng shui, for sure.

(some) Lumberjacks in British Columbia do it underwater

January 5, 2005 at 9:27 pm | In yulelogStories | 2 Comments

There’s a nifty local company in Victoria called Triton Logging. It’s a fabulous project — a marriage of lumberjacking and advanced marine technology. The company harvests trees submerged decades ago during hydroelectric dam construction. According to Triton Logging, there are twenty million standing trees submerged under water in British Columbia alone, and countless more submerged elsewhere in Canada, Russia, Brazil and Malaysia. That’s a lot of lumber to harvest, and it represents a lot of old growth that can be saved from cutting:

Triton Logging spent over three years developing a patented underwater tree harvesting system called the Sawfish, which is a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) feller buncher platform traditionally used in offshore oil & gas and telecom applications that was launched in August 2003. The Sawfish is powered by a 40hp electric motor and uses a vegetable oil based hydraulic system, and includes a 5’ grapple, a 55″ chain saw, and 37 airbags. The Sawfish is operated from the surface by an operator, called a pilot, who’s in a control room on a barge on the surface. “The Sawfish is tethered to umbilical cords that supply power and air to the airbag systems,” explains Godsall. “It’s basically an underwater feller buncher with cameras and a sonar that allows the operator to see the underwater forest.” When the Sawfish is ‘flying’ into the forest, the grapple clasps the base of a tree, and an airbag is secured and inflated. The chainsaw then cuts the tree above the grapple, and the airbags lift the tree to the surface, where a service collection team takes over, remove the airbags and tow them to a dewatering site before being inventoried” In a single dive of about three hours, the Sawfish can cut 37 trees. [More…]

Yes, today, Monty Python’s BC Lumberjack would have to be an engineer and would probably have to know how to swim.

Triton’s chief pilot for the Sawfish, the Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) that cuts the trees underwater, is Chris Elder, whose “background includes many years of instrumentation development for oceanography, with the last seven years specializing in ROVs for several research institutions. He has done work for the Canadian Scientific Submersible Facility, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and the National Geographic Society, as well as several universities. These projects focused primarily on exploring underwater volcanoes and hydrothermal vents in water of depths from 1,500-5,000 metres. [More…]”

The Sawfish has barely touched the surface in terms of harvesting the 80 year-old second growth—mostly Douglas fir in Lois Lake—which has gone to various markets. So far, they have only harvested a small section of the lake. But the major overall goal of the company, and its engineering division, is to get to the point where they are turning out Sawfish equipment in a production mode, to help other logging companies tap the huge potential for harvesting sunken wood. Fraser cites estimates of upwards of $50 billion worth of submerged, preserved wood in reservoirs, worldwide.

Canada accounts for about five per cent, or $2.5 billion, of that. Fraser points out that one lake in the BC Interior, Ootsa Lake, has enough submerged timber to support 30 Sawfish units. And while a small amount of timber has been harvested using arm-mounted cutting equipment, 85 per cent of the wood in Ootsa Lake is below 60 feet, ideal depths for the Sawfish. And with estimates of upwards of 10 million cubic metres of wood in the lake, there’s enough timber to keep a school of Sawfish busy for years. [More…]

And the timber? It’s not just eco-friendly and saves live trees from being cut, but apparently it’s also very sought-after: “Craftsmen especially crave this vintage wood, most of which is between 100 and 500 years old, because it is essentially the same age and color and has the same grain as that used by artisans in earlier centuries to create pieces we consider fine antiques today. [More…]”

So…. if the Sawfish succeeds to bring up all that classy wood in mega-quantities, will we see mass-produced fine antique-looking furniture at Ikea soon?

I, Claudia

January 4, 2005 at 9:47 pm | In yulelogStories | 6 Comments

Several nights ago, we rented I, Claudia, a marvel of a film based on (and starring) Kristen Thomson’s one-woman play of the same name. The film was directed by Chris Abraham, and Thomson plays all the major parts with the help of masks that cover half the actor’s face:

As a result, the work had an intense and sometimes scary intimacy to it, one strengthened by Thomson’s remarkable facility for writing in (and impersonating) various voices. Thankfully, the filmmakers have retained this quality while devising some unique additions, such as a series of animated films made by the janitor – an Eastern-European immigrant who was once a successful filmmaker – which play like mini-parodies of Jan Svankmajer’s work. [More…]

There’s a bit of a synopsis here, and much more here:

Thomson wears four different masks (part of a set of 26 masks created by British designer Abdul Kader Farrah and used at the National Theatre School to help actors develop their characterization skills) to play four different figures: Claudia, a sensitive, lonely 12-year-old “official pre-teen” whose parents are going through a divorce; her grandfather Douglas; her father’s new girlfriend Leslie; and Drachman, a school custodian whose basement becomes Claudia’s secret refuge. “It was really important to me that the parents not be in the play,” Thomson says, “that Claudia’s point of view would not be mitigated. One of the main things I wanted was for Claudia’s perspective to have credibility—it wouldn’t necessarily be the final word, but we wouldn’t try to lessen the intensity of her experience by understanding what her parents are going through. It felt to me that that’s the place kids are always relegated to in divorce situations, as secondary players. But they aren’t secondary players! They’re primary players in the separation of the family. And with adults, divorce may be painful, but it’s something they choose. With kids, their lives and their place in the world gets fundamentally changed and they have no say in it. So the play is not just the story of a family; it’s the story of the birth of an individual. This girl finds herself in her first confrontation with that crisis, that loss of innocence.” Critics have put Claudia in the same pantheon of classic young female characters as Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird or Frankie from The Member of the Wedding—and it’s only when you read those reviews that you realize how infrequently you see stories about girls that age onstage. “And it’s a phenomenal age!” Thomson says. “It encapsulates a really important time of life. The characters have this tremendous na

Hang on!

January 3, 2005 at 10:29 pm | In yulelogStories | 3 Comments

Hang on a minute, I liked many of the Emperor’s proposals, er, plans, er… whatevers…. WTF?? See James W. Johnson’s A Man With a Plan (via Gibson). Very scary, stunning, and …duh.

Not just any old white bread…

January 3, 2005 at 10:25 pm | In yulelogStories | 3 Comments

Elaine is on a roll — go read now: there’s this entry on the religious (in)significance of the Indian Ocean disaster; another that celebrates feedback and ends with an interesting commentary on the “Sandwich Generation”; and her most recent entry, referring to Norm Jensen‘s blog which includes a clip for this, aka GW blooping live.

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