On the street where you live

February 28, 2004 at 11:55 pm | In yulelogStories | 2 Comments

I get busy. Too much to do, too little time to write. The tulips are out, tiger-striped, candy-striped. Magnolia trees potted in tubs are blooming in the Central Library’s outdoor courtyard. It’s not cold and the air is rich, rubbing off on me if only by association. Everything smells bloomy. I’m not writing here, which makes me sad, but I’m not depressed either. There is just a lot to do, and I have other jobs.

But with an hour finally to spare, I made off to the library to snoop around in old telephone directories. (Now you know how kinky I really am…!) Remember, however, that I was a very busy teenage witch here 30 years ago, but that since then I’ve been whacked over the head with amnesia, also called life. (Like, you haven’t? As if!)

After looking up the addresses of old um, friends, I looked in the reverse directories to find out more about the people who have owned my house in decades past. Rabbi Markowitz and family were the last to do anything legal or worthy here, hanging on to the place for 8 years, till ’85 or ’86. Before their tenure, it was an orgy of 70s revolving door hand-overs, no doubt fueled by the energy crisis and the problems of heating an old uninsulated barn like this: people lived here for a year or two, then left. After the M’s left, the house went to a building supplies store manager who managed to foist every ill-conceived DIY atrocity imaginable on the structure — without a permit, of course.

NB: in the past year, we ransomed the treasury of a small kingdom to bring this house into the late 20th if not 21st century, energy-efficiency-wise: insulated and be-storm-windowed, it is now markedly more comfortable and eats up half the oil to heat. And we added steel beams to compensate for the building supply store manager’s zeal in removing interior weight-bearing walls… So now we’re warm & comfy and it looks like the house won’t fall down around our ears, hooray. Meanwhile, in the other very real world, actual small kingdoms — countries — continue to have their (meagre) treasuries ransacked, however, for which I feel profoundly sorry especially since those ransackers aren’t doing anything to save oil or other resources or to ensure dignity for their fellow human beings. Nor do I expect that they’re building good architecture or renovating used houses thoughtfully. Sometimes I wonder why I bother, but I haven’t found a credible alternative yet.

Chicken Soup for the Soul? Chicken Soup for the Rest of Us? Chicken Soup for Dummies?

February 26, 2004 at 12:50 pm | In yulelogStories | 3 Comments

Doing a bit of googling for local feng shui practioners (no, it’s none of your business why I was googling them!), I came across this observation here:

Entropy isn’t what it used to be

It made me feel as though I had again missed out on something, sniff. On the same page, however, my favourite quote:

Erotic is when you use a feather, kinky is when you use the whole chicken. Perverted is chicken soup for dinner guests the next day.

“I thought about the people of St. Lawrence…”

February 24, 2004 at 11:00 pm | In yulelogStories | 7 Comments

On Dec.7, 2001 NPR’s This American Life broadcast Lanier Phillips’s story. You can go to the site and, using the “search this site” function, find lanier. You’ll get a short synopsis of the broadcast along with an audio link, which is well worth taking the time to listen to: use the fast-forward button to jump to Lanier Phillips’s story, which is about 30 minutes into the broadcast. Phillips is the only African-American survivor of the destroyer USS Truxton, which during a blizzard on Feb. 18, 1942 crashed into 100-metre (300 foot) high cliffs off the coast of St. Lawrence, Newfoundland. Waves were 25 metres (75 feet) high and the ship literally broke in half. I missed the 2001 broadcast, but my local paper ran his story, which he presented last Wednesday (Feb. 18, 2004) at the CFB Esquimalt’s Pacific Fleet Club. Phillips was speaking in Esquimalt at the Canadian Navy club in honour of Black History Awareness month and the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which takes place on March 21. The article just struck me at a visceral level. Lanier Phillips was the grandson of slaves, born in Georgia on March 14, 1923. He grew up in a racist society run by the Klan. His future was limited to sharecropper, shoeshine boy, drone. He joined the navy in the hope of having a better life, but discovered that here, too, segregation was the determining force: African-Americans could be mess boys and serve white officers, but their future was limited because the fighting forces were as racially segregated as the rest of society. If you take the time to listen to the NPR broadcast, you’re in for a riveting history lesson. Anyway, off to Newfoundland. When the Truxton broke up, five African Americans clung to the ship’s wreckage, afraid to try to get ashore for fear of being lynched or hurt because of their skin colour. Phillips was the only one who took the chance, the other four died at sea rather than risk being lynched on land. He dove into the icy water, experienced a jolt of pain, made it to shore, and passed out. “I thought at least I’ll die fighting” by trying to get to shore, Phillips (now nearly 81) said. I’ll quote from the Victoria News article:

Once he reached the land, he decided that he might as well lay down and die. But it was then that a huge crowd from St. Lawrence came down to the shore, Phillips said.
What happened next completely changed Phillips’ outlook on life.
“I was looking at this man and his white face. I thought, here is a white man who wants to save my life,” he said.

Phillips was aided by the townspeople who had descended on the beach to rescue the survivors — nearly 300 died and just under 200 survived from the wreckage of two ships, the USS Truxton and the USS Pollux. He passed out again and woke up in a room surrounded by a group of white women who were bathing him — many of the rescued sailors had jumped into cold ocean waters covered with a layer of heavy black bunker C oil, which then coated the men. All were in need of cleaning. Phillips noted that if he had woken up in Georgia, naked and surrounded by white women, he would have been lynched (and the women branded and run out of town). At this point the Newfie joke aspect enters the story: one of the women helping with the rescue had never before seen an African and was puzzled that the crude oil seemed to have soaked his skin to the point of colouring it. She was determined to scrub it off, and Phillips had to tell her that, no m’am, that’s the colour of my skin. She carried on, undeterred, but at the end of the day Phillips went home to her house (if I heard the NPR interview correctly) and was disoriented when he found himself sitting at the family table, using the same china cups and plates that the family used, and was dazed (and appalled) to find himself in one of the family beds, looked after by the lady of house who didn’t seem to be afraid of being in the same room with him. He said he didn’t sleep all night, it terrified him. The next day he was given a coat and hat belonging to one of the men of the family, and he went out to inspect the scene. A photographer was taking pictures, and she insisted that he join the group of four or five white sailors she was photographing. This, too, struck Phillips as downright incomprehensible. He was being treated like a regular human being, and it completely discombobulated his world. In a good way. Back in Georgia and Florida, and still in Navy uniform, his experience became “normal” again, but it never again seemed normal to Phillips after his experiences in St. Lawrence. Once, for example, on his way to a Navy base, he stopped at a prison for German and Italian POWs, and was nearly killed by a white American officer for daring to enter the prisoners’ all-white canteen. He had wanted to enter to ask where a “coloured” gentleman could get a meal. That sort of racism was “normal,” but Phillips kept repeating, “I thought about the people of St. Lawrence” who had treated him as a normal human being instead of a sub-human. He eventually became a civil rights activist: “They taught me that I was a human being,” he said, as opposed to all the racist teaching his white “superiors” had received at home and in society. It’s all a matter of what you’re taught, in other words. A news site article points out that “The kindness of the people of St. Lawrence, the total color-blindness of the town, led young Lanier Philips [sic] to question what he’d always believed about himself.” And this business of what you believe about yourself is key to building the internal parameters for how you allow yourself to function in community. Googling Lanier Phillips I came across a couple of Christian sites that refer to Phillips’s story. In fact, one is a sermon for Ash Wednesday (which is tomorrow, as today is Fat Tuesday) — Feb. 18, 1942 was Ash Wednesday? The 2002 sermon is called The Heart of the Matter:

They rescued him from the freezing ocean and bathed him and clothed him and fed him and gave him a bed in one of their homes and checked on him throughout the night. That experience gave Lanier Phillips a new vision of how people with different skin colors could be neighbors together. That experience gave Lanier Phillips a vision of what Martin Luther King Jr. would later call the “beloved community,” in which every person would be honored as a child of God and judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. On Ash Wednesday in 1942, the people of St. Lawrence, Newfoundland made their own contribution to the increase of the love of God and neighbor in the world, as they became neighbor to Lanier Phillips.

With that in mind, a final look at a website from the Downtown United Presbyterian Church in Rochester, NY, dated Jan.13, 2002, a church that goes out of its way to welcome gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgendered people. Lisa Larges, DUPC’s Regional Partnership Co-ordinator, used the NPR broadcast to teach a lesson in recognising the humanity of GLBT people:

“It is not too much of a stretch to say that transgender, bisexual, lesbian and gay people remember the Downtown United Presbyterian Church as Lanier Phillips remembers St. Lawrence. In the history of our movement for justice, countless women and men and many congregations large and small have contributed significantly to our this work of bringing the realm of God closer. (…)
“What Jesus knew after meeting John was the sweet, holy taste of grace. Once that divine truth is in you, you cannot go back. You cannot go back to that place when you did not know. There is an inextricable link between divine grace and human dignity.
“Suddenly we are awakened to the burden of grace. Isn’t it simpler, far less frustrating, and less exhausting, not to know of an injustice than to insist on justice in a system that refuses to yield it. . . . “Amendment after overture after debate after dialog, we run head long into that wall of our denomination’s stubborn and willful resistance to God’s wildly inclusive love. Preaching that the realm of God is at hand, Jesus preserved a special ire for those who willfully refused even to hear of it. ‘Having ears, do you not hear?’ he would say.”

…insist on justice in a system that refuses to yield it, recognise God’s wildly inclusive love, and a vision in which every person would be honored as a child of God and judged not by the color of their skin […or the orientation of their sexuality…], but by the content of their character: what interesting and useful ideas today, in the wake of fundamentalist panic over marriage licenses issued to people of different sexual orientation and the Bush Administration’s outrageous attempt to amend the Constitution to isolate and define and exclude an entire population of citizens on the basis of sexual orientation.

Terminate this

February 24, 2004 at 11:45 am | In yulelogStories | 12 Comments

Having said that I’m tired of political posts, something happens that won’t allow me to shut up:

Arnold Schwarzenegger, making his Sunday talk show debut as governor, said that he and other foreign-born citizens should be eligible to run for the White House…. [More….]

I don’t know, I think the anti-foreign-born law is a good one. Germany should have had that law. At least we should see that one Austrian was enough. Of course Mr. Schwarzenegger doesn’t see the irony in his attack on Mayor Newsom’s issuance of marriage licenses to gay couples as “setting a bad precedent.” (See Maria, too, for excellent commentary on this.)

Human rights and human freedom

February 22, 2004 at 9:33 pm | In yulelogStories | 1 Comment

Shelley Powers has a beautiful essay that argues the case for gay marriage as civil right: For Those Who Inhabit the Empty Spaces of the Coloring Book. If you read nothing else today, read this and follow the links in Shelley’s post. I’ve written in favour of gay marriage before, glibly here and with a bit more detail here, but for a really in-depth compassionate argument in favour of what is happening in San Francisco, with many links to other cogent articles, read the BurningBird.

The developments in San Francisco provide some cheer in the face of a corporatism that threatens our personal freedoms on a global scale.

Having used the c-word, can I also add that I’m depressed and appalled at the spectacle of Ralph Nader running for president? I think I’ll start calling him Dimitri

Et in Arcadia ego, or, I too am an absolute friend of open democracy

February 21, 2004 at 11:44 am | In yulelogStories | 6 Comments

I just finished reading a novel that helped me understand why I’m so sick of reading political blogs, political commentary, political critique. Here’s what was for me a key nugget:

“I am speaking of the deliberate curtailment of free thought in our society, Mr. Mundy, and how we may address it. I am an urchin, Mr. Mundy. Born one, stayed one. My intellectual processes are untutored. Scholars would laugh at me. Nevertheless I have acquired many books on this subject.” So Sasha said, Mundy is thinking. “I have in mind such thinkers as the Canadian Naomi Klein, India’s Arundhati Roy, who pleads for a different way of seeing, your British George Monbiot and Mark Curtis, Australia’s John Pilger, America’s Noam Chomsky, the American Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz, and the Franco-American Susan George of World Social Forum at Porto Alegre. You have read all of these fine writers, Mr. Mundy?”

“Nearly all.” And nearly all Adorno, nearly all Horkheimer and nearly all Marcuse, Mundy thinks, recalling a similar interrogation in Berlin a few lifetimes ago. I love them all, but I can’t remember a word any of them said.

“From their varying perspectives, each of these eminent writers tells me the same story. The corporate octopus is stifling the natural growth of humanity. It spreads tyranny, poverty and economic serfdom. It defies the simplest laws of ecology. Warfare is the extension of corporate power by other means. Each thrives off the other and the recent war proves the point in spades. Does this urgent message cut any ice with you, Mr. Mundy, or am I conducting a dialogue with myself?”

“It rings a lot of bells, actually,” Mundy politely assures him.

Dimitri is evidently approaching the summit of his oration, as he has no doubt approached it many times before. His face darkens, his voice lifts, as he leans confidingly towards his audience.

“How do these corporations achieve their stranglehold on our society? When they’re not shooting, they’re buying. They buy good minds, and tie them to their wagon wheels. They buy students wet from their mothers, and castrate their thought processes. They create false orthodoxies and impose censorship under the sham of political correctness. They build university faculties, dictate university courses, overpromote the professors who kiss ass, and they bully the shit out of heretics. Their one aim is to perpetuate the insane concept of limitless expansion on a limited planet, with permanent conflict as its desired outcome. And their product is the zero-educated robot known otherwise as the corporate executive.

– from the novel Absolute Friends (2004) by John le Carr

Spring in the air

February 20, 2004 at 1:01 pm | In yulelogStories | 2 Comments

Thick rich air heavy with crisp scents, many things blooming, the rhododendrons for example, and daffodils are out now, too, blooming ornamental fruit trees lining city streets, pink heads, and something that looked like a MediterraneanJudas tree (that is, not an Eastern Redbud), but shouldn’t it be in Italy or California and not here? Must have been something else, no Judas trees here, can’t be. But a woodpecker, red-headed like a Judas tree bloom, valiantly rat-a-tatted a Garry Oak. And I thought I saw a California lilac just starting to bloom purple on ever green today. Near Dallas Road and Douglas Street at Mile O, right on the cliffs, there is one (still leafless) tree-like shrub on which you can find a single hummingbird, day in and day out, summer, winter, fall, spring. He is always there, and if you step too close he attacks you, before changing his mind to nose-dive down the cliff. Snowdrops look lovely even though there’s never any snow, pansies and primroses got a hand when year-round gardeners put them into early beds — isn’t it funny that flowers don’t sleep in beds, it’s where they’re shown off, so why do we call them flower beds? And the Japanese plum in my backyard is starting to bloom. Thick rich air heavy with crisp scents blew clouds away, ushered in blue skies, and what’s that phrase Joni Mitchell used to describe clouds? Muscular and strong, something having to do with Hejiras and Michelangelos and the refuge of the road: some of those, too, over the Sooke Hills, over the Olympic Mountain Range in Washington State across the Juan de Fuca Strait, and haze in the East toward Vancouver across the Georgia Strait. Luscious, rich, green, colourful, and saturated Island. Many colours in sunlight, many smells in moisture.

“Spring in the air!”
“Why should I?”

What the heck, though. Maybe I will.

Cath-o-lic boy, listen: Learning to Live">Hey, Cath-o-lic boy, listen: Learning to Live

February 19, 2004 at 10:00 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Hey, Cath-o-lic boy, listen: Learning to Live

A while ago I pointed to Elizabeth Fischer’s music, which she made available online. Take a listen, she just updated the page by adding the complete Animal Slaves lp Dog Eat Dog (Mo-Da-Mu, 1985). Just excellent. Listen in, really, right here.

I owe a couple of people some serious entries, and Fischer is one of them. So is Torben Sangild (who had some great comments on my Adorno series, begun and then not continued, hi Torben ;-)), and I owe me, yes, because I promised myself that series. My poor bourgeois brain is buried under a dirtload of domestic detritus too often, though, hence it’s been a while. And remember, I don’t believe that work makes you free, so I work very hard at being lazy (joke!, it actually comes naturally). It’s important to be lazy. But the series will continue. It’s coming, truly.

For now, Elizabeth Fischer, thank you for making your music available for all — you’re fantastic!

And you, if you haven’t clicked those links yet, get thee now, Analyzing, pronto-presto-immediamento, into the Eye of the Hurricane. Go!

Dialectical jawbreakers

February 13, 2004 at 7:58 pm | In yulelogStories | 15 Comments

Canadian orthodontists, at least here on Vancouver Island, appear to be an aggressive lot. They really like to recommend breaking the jaws — sometimes just the lower, sometimes the upper and lower simultaneously — to create a perfect cosmetic and orthodontic bite. I’m horrified by this because (a) it involves extreme pain, (b) it takes a long while to heal up (I guess you could combine it with a 6-week liquid diet), and (c) I have this stupid idea that you don’t have to do everything possible to attain a beauty ideal. Repeat: this surgical intervention isn’t being foisted on people who have serious bite problems, this is being suggested to people who have managed quite happily thus far and would continue to do so without any intervention at all. It’s all about looking perfect. Period. Two of my neighbours on my street had it done within the last 12 months (and one is in his 40s, the other is in her 20s), my dentist is having it done (she must be in her late 30s, although she claims that it she’s doing it to cure a bite problem that gives her migraines), and it was suggested to a friend of mine who, in her mid-40s, innocently asked an orthodontist whether corrective braces would do her any good at this point in her life. He advised her to get both jaws broken and everything realigned over a period of several years. And at the end of the line, the financial cost to her would be in the ten-thousands. Yet she looks fine and I have always admired her distinctive profile. Why anyone would want to change their personal marker of individuality to fit the toothy ideal of America’s Hollywood is beyond me, but that visit to the orthodontist’s office left her feeling like an ugly freak in need of a paper bag. I spoke to another friend today who told me that when she was in her mid-30s nearly 20 years ago, an orthodontist recommended jaw breaking in her case. She has smallish teeth that have grown into a slightly irregular alignment, but nothing spectacularly glaring or weird. Frankly, she looks downright normal. But her dentist read the orthodontist’s report back to her later: the orthodontist characterised my friend as in need of this kind of surgical intervention because she “looked like a witch.” W T F ??????????????????????? Let me repeat: W T F??? On the heels of hearing Bill Leiss’s talk at PACTAC, I’m completely convinced that he’s right and that we will see massive genetic engineering very soon to “fix” things that we previously accepted. The pressure is on. Everyone is supposed to have a smile like Julia Roberts, and very soon we’ll be looking back on our benighted age with its surgical breaking of the jaws as a primitive time. Because genetic engineering will eliminate the need for such barbarism…. Submit, submit, submit. Resistance is useless… It’s not just science, it’s the pressure to conform.

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