Friday Nite Movie

May 24, 2003 at 12:00 am | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Friday Nite Movie

It’s Friday, no big blog today. I made pizza from scratch and then settled down to a rented DVD, Catch Me If You Can, which could be interpreted as every parent-of-an-exceptionally-gifted-kid’s nightmare, except that it has a happy end. Frank Abagnale, an obviously highly able individual, typically has the emotional resonances proper to people of exceptional abilities, and when his parents announce their divorce, he just loses it and does a bunk. He is 16 and in high school, but he drops out of normal life with a vengeance. He runs away to New York City where he starts writing bad cheques to get by. The difference between him and the average con, however, is one of magnitude. Seeing that petty cheque forgery isn’t going to earn his keep, he cons his way into PanAm, pretending to be an airline pilot. After flying around the world for about a couple of years, he goes to Atlanta where he pretends to be a doctor, taking over the emergency room at a local hospital. Finally he goes to Louisiana where, after studying for two weeks, he passes the bar exam and becomes a lawyer. By now he’s 18. After that he also works as a college professor, which he says was the easiest con. Throughout the entire period, he continues to write bad cheques. By the time he is apprehended in France, he has cashed over US$2m worth of bogus cheques and has flown gratis around the world several times over. He goes to jail in 3 countries (France, Sweden, the US), but after several years of US jail time, the FBI asks him to come to work for them: they need his expertise. He does this for several decades, but also consults and runs his own business, helping financial institutions make cheques forgery-proof, and into the bargain amasses a veritable fortune — about ten times what he wrote in bad cheques (you do the arithmetic). No wonder Steven Spielberg wanted to make a movie about him.

Birds of a feather

May 22, 2003 at 9:28 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Birds of a feather

It’s difficult for me even to begin a post about someone like Ernst Zundel, but a friend of mine local man, Gregory Hartnell, received an anonymous and threatening letter yesterday after speaking out publicly against Mr. Zundel, and it’s of course impossible to let the matter get swept under the rug. He took the letter to the local police, who in turn want to take a closer look, as befits the situation.

Here’s a brief summary: Ernst Zundel, born in Germany in 1939, is a Holocaust-denier and a hate-monger. From a website called Zundelsite, operating out of California, he distributes vicious anti-semitic propaganda. He came to Canada in 1958 at the age of 19, to avoid the German draft, and rapidly fell in with a notorious Canadian Nazi, Adrien Arcand, who helped him turn his own snippets of personal history into a cosmic melodrama. To whit, Mr. Zundel joined his personal story to the old canard that Jews control the world and the Holocaust never happened.

Suddenly, the metaphysically small Mr. Zundel was very big, and just as suddenly he had a crusade to embark on.

Despite emigrating to Canada in 1958, Mr. Zundel never applied for Canadian citizenship, at least not until 1994, when he perhaps sensed that his German citizenship was a potential liability. However, since he had been busy for years propagating hatred, the Canadians were by this time not interested in granting his application and he was turned down. Let me add that Germany doesn’t allow dual citizenship except under very exceptional circumstances. If Zundel had applied for Canadian citizenship before the Canadians got wind of his activities, and had succeeded, he would have lost his German one, which is perhaps why he never applied earlier, the loss of status in the fatherland being too much to bear. Canada on the other hand allows multiple citizenships, which indicates to me that it’s more democratic in its bureaucracy than most other countries. Although Mr. Zundel made his home here from 1958 to 2000, he was unwilling to recognize this fact, probably because he wasn’t interested in democracy in the first place.

Mr. Zundel left Canada for the United States at the end of 2000, and through his lawyer renounced his Landed Immigrant status (the Canadian equivalent of Permanent Residency). When his visitor visa to the US expired, the Americans wanted him out; he was returned to Canada in February 2003, from where he is supposed to be deported to Germany (recall that he renounced his Canadian Landed Immigrant status).

But now Mr. Zundel is fighting this in the courts, trying, of all things, to claim refugee status here. He’s a German citizen, and he should be sent back to Germany, which was the point Gregory Hartnell made in his letter to the local paper, which in turn prompted the local Nazis to emerge just long enough to send their anonymous, poisonous missive.

One more thing: Back in 1995, I published an art and intellectual history of the immediate post-World War II period in western Germany. It grew out of my irritation over the marketing of 1980s neo-Expressionism, which according to contemporary critics represented the first time that Germans were culturally coming to terms with their Nazi past. The suggestion was that everyone from 1945 onward was a sheep, and that not until the 68ers came along was analytical justice done. Many 68ers despised neo-expressionism, and I agreed on this point, but I came to disagree with their view that they had a monopoly on open discourse. In my research I discovered that the immediate post-war period, particularly prior to the 1948 currency reform and Berlin blockade, was one of vibrant discussion, and I did not come across a single instance where the Americans “directed” the Germans in suppressing anything, even though Sixties anti-Americanism often enough bowdlerized this idea into a truism. When suppression came, it originated from the Germans themselves, from a ruling class, unfettered by American directives, reconstituting itself out of a wartime old guard that wanted to ensure the firmness of its strides towards the new economic miracle of the 50s. At this point — half a decade after the war ended — the lid on the past was slammed shut, by Germans, and Germany returned to a status quo of “normalcy” that had never existed in the first place. Ironically, Zundel appropriates a Sixties leftist rhetoric when he links his petit-bourgeois trajectory to History At Large. Thus, he writes in his autobiography that he had been taught to “hate Hitler and all he stood for and had been brainwashed by Allied occupation authorities-produced books in post-war German Schools.” Along with the rest of Zundel’s bag of tricks, this “poor German” canard, while not as morally repugnant as the anti-Semitic ones he likes to dispense, also deserves to land on the trash heap of bankrupt ideas.


May 22, 2003 at 12:11 am | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Art

I’m not sure that I can really sort this matter out, but here are two quotes that seem to represent two possibly irreconcilable views on art. I’ll post them here for the reader to ponder. Maybe I’ll be inspired enough to discuss them myself, later.

First, Artropolis, an exhibition of contemporary art that opened in Vancouver on May 16, featuring three curated segments, “Art in Exile,” “Here,” and “Residue.” The curators explain their choices. One artist “translates this sticky miasma of intimacy into cool text based reflections on human interactivity.” Another artist-curator tells us that his “goal in curating this exhibition was to represent and recover the primary image of the artist as one who makes intellectual connections visible, as one who exercises choice, and has the ability and power to illustrate the essential course of humanity: moving toward creative practice.” I like that last bit, although it sounds awfully high-flown and at any rate I’m uneasy with where that creative practice is headed. I’m uneasy because it seems that the curators agree that art’s power lies in creating distance: leaving the “miasma of intimacy” in favour of translating “human interactivity” into “text based reflections” — not confrontations. Perhaps that hangs better over the sofa. It’s about as toned-down as the Dutch cow pictures that good Canadians used to buy at the start of the 20th century when landscapes of Canada were still considered too barbaric because it was bad enough to have to live here: why put pictures of the place on the walls?

Second, Judy Feldman, who has been working tirelessly to save the Mall in Washington, DC from overdevelopment, in a press release yesterday. She is speaking out against a proposed Vietnam War Memorial visitors’ center:

“We don’t have to explain anything to the people who weep as they walk down the paths lining the Wall, trace rubbings of the names, and leave Teddy Bears and other mementos to lost loved ones.”


May 20, 2003 at 10:25 pm | In yulelogStories | 2 Comments

I had to decide between Art and Food for my daily blog, and opted for the four-letter word. Art has to wait till tomorrow.

By now every news hound in North America has heard that the first case of mad cow disease turned up in Alberta, which again raises the whole issue of industrial agriculture. Consider the Cattle car syndrome, which young cows on their way to feedlots tend to develop. “They develop a cough, pneumonia and drip mucus from their eyes and noses.” Caused by a coronavirus, Cattle car syndrome resembles SARS and comes from the same family of viruses. Airplane travellers subject themselves to similar conditions as the poor cows in cattle cars, and SARS-infected individuals have similarly spread the disease around among their fellow cabin occupants. It seems we are dehumanizing ourselves just as we are treating food production less and less as something having to do with sentient bodies, whether our own or other animals. And so, without further ado, several well-chosen articles to chew over while you wait for your microwave to finish defrosting the mystery meat.

Open Democracy starts the chain with a global perspective, Roger Scruton’s Eating the world: the philosophy of food. Although a co-founder of the Conservative Philosophy Group, Scruton‘s theses resonate with those of any dyed-in-the-wool pink-to-reddish environmental activist: “The place of food in the moral, political and monetary economy has changed radically in the last fifty years. The result has been a vast and potentially catastrophic loss of equilibrium.” Scruton identifies a plethora of “disequilibriating forces” which he traces to “developments in international trade, agricultural technology and food processing that have occurred since the end of the second world war,” going so far as to note that “The solitary stuffing of burgers, pizzas and ‘TV dinners’; the disappearance of family meals and domestic cooking; the loss of table manners — all these tend to obscure the distinction between eating and feeding.” In that moral argument, you can easily recognize the conservative in Scruton, but whatever your persuasion, you have to recognize his point. Yet just when you think you have his number, he launches into a section entitled, “Of wine and waistlines,” in which he mentions Kant’s “weakness for Medoc, which is not a weakness at all but a strength, [which] endears Kant to your editorial team, all descended from long lines of dipsomaniacs.” Ha-ha, cheers!

But speaking of waistlines, let’s hear it from the left: Linda Baker, in An Out-of-Whack Food Chain, describes the rituals of grocery shopping in upscale Portland, Oregon food emporia where free samples of exotic foodstuffs are the norm, while the homeless and poor on the street go hungry. When she takes her children grocery shopping, they can eat the equivalent of lunch in free samples, all without being hungry in the first place. As Baker puts it: “There is more than one way to disrupt the natural relationship between hunger and eating. One is to starve; the other is to stuff. In the United States, these are two sides of the same coin.” Meanwhile, today’s The Oregonian has an article about a Food Bank volunteer, Julie Massa, who hangs out in the dockets of Multnomah County Community Court with free food and information pamphlets on how to obtain food stamps and aid. She hands them out to the accused, for many of the people who come before the judge got into trouble in the first place because they were hungry.

Eating Low: A New Paradigm by Joseph George, a professional cook, advocates making the choice to eat more often on the low end of the food chain. And even though you can probably hear me cursing about making dinner from scratch day in and day out, I’ll add my own plea to stay away from processed food. It’s a capitalist plot! Just kidding, sort of. There likely is no plot; it’s just the logic of our stupidity propelling us along, which makes it all the more imperative for you to make decisions.

Ok, I think I get it now…

May 19, 2003 at 9:14 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Ok, I think I get it now…

I’m a little slow on the uptake sometimes, and wasn’t quite able to feel the pain of frustration over the exchanges regarding googlewashing and the problem of newspaper articles disappearing off the face of the internet, even if I understood it theoretically. But I get it now. Here’s why: someone asked me if I had paper copies to hand of the Vancouver Sun articles by Stephen Hume on the fish farm fiasco in the Broughton Archipelago. I had blogged about that back on April 14, so I thought, “Easy, I’ll send my correspondent the article.” But of course — and this is why I get it now — the article is el-gonzo. Disappeared. Vanished. I now understand fully why Betsy Devine called newspapers the dead-tree press and I also understand fully why Dave Winer and other people were getting so bent out of shape over Andrew Orlowski’s hand-wringing at bloggers supposedly clogging up internet search-engines and making it so hard for serious researchers. Ha — as if! It’s not the bloggers that are doing it, it’s the dead-tree press doing it to itself. The latter are disappearing themselves, which is why you won’t find that Vancouver Sun article if you type ‘fish farms’ ‘broughton archipelago’ and ‘sea lice’ into google. (You won’t find me, either, so I’m exonerated as a google clogger.) You will find 519 articles, most worth looking at, but not the well-researched articles by Stephen Hume. The Vancouver Sun is off limits. All of its sister-monopoly publications presumably also are. So who’s skewing what?


Meanwhile, back at the ranch: I wrote about Victoria yesterday, and today came across an article in the sneaky-disappearing-act Vancouver Sun (which I will point to despite the fact that it’s not worth the energy in my fingertips to do so, given that it will be history in a few weeks — who’s ephemeral here?) about the state of venture capital financing in B.C.’s high tech sector. It stars Harry Jaako, co-CEO of Vancouver-based Discovery Capital, a venture capital facilitator specializing in advanced technologies, including B.C.’s famous health & life sciences sector. Jaako notes that the B.C. Liberal Government talked about making the province a “global magnet” for advanced technologies, but that there are too few tax incentives for venture capital investment. I’m no fan of voodoo economics or of trickle-down economics or of tax breaks for the upper 2%, but Jaako has a point. B.C. “has produced 239 spin-off companies from universities in the last decade or so, compared to 229 in Ontario, 110 in Quebec, and 816 in all of Canada.” We have lots of talent in this province. But while Quebec raised about $2billion in new venture capital, and Ontario raised $1.44billion, B.C. only came up with $168million. To drum up more investment capital, Jaako wants the government to end the cap on tax-sheltered venture funds, which is currently set at 30% up to an investment of $80million. What’s in it for the average citizen? Payback for the government treasury, which in turn is supposed to translate into government services for the citizenry: “The reason why the knowledge-based payback is so fast is so much of what you’ll spend money on with knowledge-based businesses is people. You’re not building a $500-million plant with bricks and mortar that’s paid off over 25 years, you’re spending money on people, and the minute you hire that person, they’re making money and they’re paying income taxes.” Sounds good, as long as the corporations that are thereby created pay real taxes, too.

About Victoria

May 18, 2003 at 9:27 pm | In yulelogStories | 11 Comments

In case anyone has noticed, I have two local Victoria bloggers on my links bar at right, Davin and Julie. I don’t know them; I put their links there because, first, they have such great photos on their sites, and second, I wanted to link to some local cyberspace. In that same spirit, I’m really happy to see that my partner in crime from Oak Bay high school days, Betsy Burke, has decided to resume blogging from Florence, Italy.

Blogs, it seems to me, are about these virtual “spaces,” but also very much about actual people moving and meeting in real geography. To the majority of bloggers at Harvard who live in the greater vicinity of the Republic of Cambridge: I know what those real spaces that you occupy smell like, look like, and feel like — in muggy heat waves as well as in cruelly dessicating wind chills. I know how much louder the traffic gets in the warmer months, when heat-prodded drivers bolt and screech, guys roll down the windows and crank up those stupid sub-woofers even more, while suburban matrons keep their a/c on high and their windows firmly shut. I know what it’s like to slog back to Brookline via numerous inexplicable ejections from trains that mysteriously go out of service on the Green Line, or to ride a commuter train to the North Shore, standing up the whole way. I know how long it takes to get from Widener Library to Cardullo’s, and how many gates and intersections at the Yard’s perimeter you need to negotiate to do it, and what a crummy job those snow-cats do in clearing the sidewalks of winter’s ice and snow. In many ways, everything that Wendy or Vernica or Philip (or any of the others I don’t personally know) write evokes a physical memory of this place, even though — and this is the odd bit — they almost never write specifically about place. And while Davin and Julie don’t always include place in their blogs, they do however have so much cool pictorial material — along with their descriptions of a music (sub?)culture — that I felt it made sense to point to them, hoping that others might get a sense of what it’s like in this simultaneously beautiful and odd city.

As William Gibson noted, Victoria is the world capital of Satanism (scroll down a bit). (He also claims that Douglas Coupland, in City of Glass, coined the phrase “tweed curtain” to describe the border between Oak Bay & the rest of the world. Well, I can testify that my friends and I used that phrase back in the first half of the 1970s, and unless Coupland [b. 1961, end of December] has books reaching back to that date, Gibson is dead wrong.) This “global Satanism” business is also silly. Yes, there are many covens in Victoria, but they are simply peripheral to the fact that British Columbians have the highest rate in Canada of non-affiliation to official religion. It’s an alternative kind of place: PETA voted Victoria & Vancouver #2 & #1, respectively, as best places for vegetarians in Canada.

Gibson lives in Vancouver (close enough), and has written slightly snarkily about Victoria — which annoys the heck out of me, because we can’t all afford to live in Kitsilano. In some ways, Victoria is a giant Kitsilano (without the Vancouver clog) that we can at least (still, vaguely) afford. But despite his slights, and in the interest of creating a cyberspacially significant event on my blog, I’ve decided to put William Gibson on my blogs-link bar — besides, I loved Pattern Recognition.

Meanwhile, Vancouver businessmen buy up property to the tune of CDN $7.5m in the Uplands (first planned community in the area in its time, in a section of Oak Bay — behind the Tweed Curtain). And now John Travolta’s agent Fred Westheimer has said no comment to the rumours that Mr. Saturday Night Fever is moving to North Saanich on our peninsula. They have a US$12.5m property for sale.

Victoria: former retirement haven, now a playground for the rich? What do Davin and Julie do here? Check out their sites and the links they have to their friends to find out. They are all looking for work. As was the case in the 70s, there is lots of talent here, much poetry, terrific flair — and not nearly enough opportunity to put it to use. Many of us had to leave, whether we wanted to or not.

Maybe John Travolta or Mr. Anonymous Software Magnate from Vancouver can endow some North American style Money Making Machine agencies to put all that talent to productive use, beyond the tourism industry that Gibson soured on. Maybe we can make our own party, and contribute to decentralization here. Local talent designed the website for the company my husband works for. When their Florida-based ISP went around the corner, a local business seamlessly picked up the slack. It would indeed be great if these were indications that we don’t really need to be mere tourists here.

“…scares the clergy”

May 17, 2003 at 10:33 am | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on “…scares the clergy”

Betsy Devine has some funny & scathing commentary on George Bush’s famous flight-suit photo-op. I have to admit that I missed most of this, pictorially speaking, but the picture on her site …fills in the gap. It’s too bad that Rowan Atkinson’s Russian codpiece (“it scares the clergy”) moment in Black Adder isn’t available as a clip on the internet — it would make such a great counter-point.

Where are the women?

May 17, 2003 at 10:21 am | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Where are the women?

On the subject of where Iraqi women are in that country’s reconstruction, go to this Christian Science Monitor article by Laura Liswood, Find a role for women in rebuilding Iraq. (See also my May 6 blog entry for link to Michele Landsberg’s article, Iraqi women are conspicuous by their absence, and the AlterNet story, Female Fedayeen.)


May 16, 2003 at 1:08 pm | In yulelogStories | 5 Comments

Apropos of my post on May 12, where I admitted to being ignorant of Dostoyevsky’s work, I think I might have to pick up the Grand Inquisitor after all. My children’s social studies curriculum (courtesy of S.I.D.E.S. — a great place!) asks them to find information “from books and/or the Internet, [to] discover what Socrates’ ‘crime’ was. Then, in a few paragraphs, write a speech in defense of Socrates that could have been given at his trial.” Since my own recollection of Socrates’ crime wasn’t clear enough (something about corrupting youth, etc.), I did some Internet research and found an interesting paper by Lee Honeycutt about Mikhail Bakhtin, whose writings about Dostoyevsky I read years ago (again proving Adorno’s point about the pitfalls of Halbbildung or semi-education, which might also lead one to Italo Calvino’s Why Read the Classics?). Honeycutt writes that “the dialogic tradition which reached its pinnacle in Dostoyevsky sprang directly from the Socratic dialogues, which he [Bakhtin] felt had begun ‘almost as a memoir genre’ or a recollection of conversations with Socrates.” A direct quote from Bakhtin follows:

At the base of the genre lies the Socratic notion of the dialogic nature of truth, and the dialogic nature of human thinking about truth. The dialogic means of seeking truth is counterposed to official monologism, which pretends to possess a ready-made truth, and it is also counterposed to the naive self-confidence of those people who think that they know something, that is, who think that they possess certain truths. Truth is not born nor is it to be found inside the head of an individual person; it is born between people collectively searching for the truth, in the process of their dialogic interaction. Socrates called himself a ‘pander’: he brought people together and made them collide in quarrel, and as a result truth was born; with respect to this emerging truth Socrates called himself a ‘midwife,’ since he assisted at the birth…..

Honeycutt then adds, “This Socratic emphasis on the dialogic nature of inquiry eventually weakened under Plato’s influence, when it ‘degenerated completely into a question-and-answer form for training neophytes (catechism)’.”

Well, that does it, I have to overcome my aversion to 19th century literature (further admission: Henry James’s manner of conveying the dramas of his bourgeois characters puts me to sleep) and finally read Dostoyevsky. My Halbbildung will be a hybrid plant and well-branched out.

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