Smarm factor blossoming

February 27, 2005 at 11:47 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Smarm factor blossoming

It’s the end of that time of year here: the annual flower count, where Victorianites get to drive the rest of Canada crazy with our smarmy smugness over our mild climate. Last February (2004), residents and other boosters counted 1,877,329,190 flowers. This year, residents counted 4,773,559,217 flowers. And, for the first time in years, I have hayfever like crazy. Ah, but it beats throwing my back out by shovelling snow.

All signs so far point to an early drought. Even early morning fog doesn’t add much moisture to the air, and by midday the skies are blue and clear. It’s lovely and fantastic, but ominous, too.

What are we trying to say with names?

February 27, 2005 at 11:36 pm | In yulelogStories | 2 Comments

Something about names struck me the other day. Looking through xeroxes of a sort of family tree my paternal grandmother had drawn up decades ago, the surnames all struck me as consistently and weirdly heterogeneous, especially when read as a list:

Distaff: Lampert, Rixmann, Plocner, Wiesel, Bonn, Welker, May, Crein, Riegel, Walbroels, Zorn, Arndt, Zimmerschith, Welker, Hild, Tiefenthal, Winkelbach, Goller, Loyser, Hild, Busch.

Spear-side: Heibel, Pirnay, Thomas, Lemaire, Herbst, Lejeune, Sturm, Cornet, Selbach, Pirson, Blasberg, Koll, Sichelnschmidt, Goffinet, Jacob, Gillet, Blaise, Burton, von der Eichen, Desforges, Noel.

(It all began to strike me as made up. I mean, in 1813, Wiesel (“weasel”) marries Riegel (“latch” — ferrets in bondage, anyone?), while in 1793 Herbst (“autumn”) marries Sturm (“storm”)? Sounds pretty silly.)

The first names, on the other hand, were nearly homogenous, predictably uniform, and repeating frequently. Looking at the women’s given names, starting with the grandmothers, I see:

Distaff: Elisabeth, Maria, Emma, Gertrud, Elisabeth, Anna, Helene, Philippina, Maria, Agnes, Catharina, Sophie, Elisabetha, Albertine, Clara, Barbara, Maria, Elisabeth, Henriette, Jakobina, Antoinette, Julianna, Elisabeth, Anna, Clara, Helena.

Spear-side: Marie, Marie, Josephine, Hulda, Maria, Catharina, Leopoldine, Magdalena, Elisabeth, Anna, Anne, many more Maries (every 19th and 18th century Belgian woman seems to be called Marie), Katharina, Margarethe, Maria, Anna, Marguerite, Elisabethe, Marie.

So, how come? Do other people recognise a great variation in surnames compared to a great homogeneity in first names in their family trees, too?

The distaff side’s first names exhibit slightly more variety, but it’s also the case that this was the more prosperous family branch, while the spear-side, as reflected perhaps by the stolid consistency of first names, consisted mainly of shop-keepers, traders, day-labourers, and farmers.

Presumably, there was some value in this earlier age in having a given name that fitted in with general social expectations by being the same as nearly every other person’s. If you were a good Catholic Belgian girl in 1780, one of your given names was bound to be Marie, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. If you were slightly more secure in a middle-class urban environment that placed value on enlightened protestantism, your name might be a bit different: Sophie, Barbara, Clara. If the family had hellenic aspirations, you might be called Helene. If antique-Roman, perhaps Julianna.

The names suggested to me that an enlightened capitalist-utilitarian and urbanised culture (protestantism, assimilation to modernity, whatever) encourages given names that signal a slight measure of distinction. A modern girl couldn’t simply be “Marie,” which was for the rural or village bumpkins stuck in rituals and liturgy. A modern girl had to be Philippina, Sophie, Antoinette. By a similar token, the efflorescence of hippie given names in the 70s, or new age ones in the 90s, might be seen in that same vein: the desire to belong to a rebelling or alternative culture seems to be an extension of an 18th/19th century modern mercantile mindset that insists on distinction (or difference) as the key to progress. To get ahead, you have to be slightly different, but not so different that you’re a total loser loner. You are, after all, still affiliating with a group, albeit one that reaches a bit beyond. The list of cool, alternative names spawned in the 70s by generally middle-class drop-outs is long. Behind every one, there’s a parent seeking some form of distinction, some proof that her (or his) baby is different, therefore worthy, and therefore proof of the parent’s in-the-know status. The 90s and 00s new agers are simply after-thought consumers of that hippie strategy (itself a logical expression of capitalist logic), now apeing and competing with Hollywood stars for the weirdest name: starting with the lovely Moon Unit, through China, River, Lourdes, Apple, Summer, Liberty, Rain, Montego, Dakota, Durango, Sunshine, and so on (and sure, why not add my first name to the list of weird given names? But I got mine in the late 50s, before all this hippie stuff came back ’round.). At this rate, “Mary Smith” (or “Marie Desforges,” if she’s Belgian) might yet see a comeback, especially since the effort to come up with unusual baby names means that kids get named after products and media more frequently than one would think: in my family, Herbst and Sturm really did marry, but their kid today could be called “Autumn Storm,” no irony, with a sibling called “ESPN,” while another might answer to “Accuweather.” You know, just to keep an eye on the heavy weather at home…

Well, that was a msitake

February 23, 2005 at 6:30 pm | In yulelogStories | 6 Comments

There’s a serious bug in this blogging software. As I’ve complained in the past, I can’t use simple html in the posting window, unless I use Internet Explorer. If I try to blog something using any other browser, all my little ‘s are turned into &’s and ;’s, and hyperlinks lie dead on the ground. I am not doing anything wrong — the fault is in the software. Another example: I’d like to post a Flickr badge in the sidebar, but that’s not possible either, because my blog turns Flickr’s code to gibberish. And incidentally, the Flickr code is good — there are no mistakes in it. I checked (“view page”) on blogs where it’s successfully displayed, and it’s exactly the same as what I’m trying to paste into my sidebar.

This afternoon, somewhat bereft of sleep, I foolishly thought I’d quickly update one little link on that useless “blogroll” page I have (which is actually a “story,” according to this blog software’s categorisation; i.e., it’s not a “post” — here called “news” — it’s a separate page that I can’t create using MarsEdit, the nifty mediating software which has been saving my sanity for the last few weeks …and oops, my free trial is probably about to expire, so I guess I better pay them), I say foolishly because instead of firing up the old IE, I opened the page using Firefox, added Chris Locke’s Chief Blogging Officer, hit the little update button and promptly fried the entire page. Sigh. Hence I spent the past hour in IE, recoding all the links, and now I really hate blogrolls.


February 21, 2005 at 8:33 pm | In yulelogStories | 5 Comments

One of the things I like about using the variant of tagging allowed on Flickr‘s profile pages is indulging in vanity searches, flattering myself when I turn up really cool people who share my interest. I can mentally associate with them for brief micromoments, which is a kind of pointless indulgence, but it’s fun all the same. For example, I named some interests (including books, music, art) in my profile, creating a list which is obviously going to be a real hit-‘n-miss kind of affair, because who in all seriousness can list all their interests, or even prioritise books or music in any meaningful way, given the allotted space?

And yet….

I put down biomimicry as one of my interests. Ever since I read Janine Benyus’s book, I’ve been thinking, “Wow, if I were embarking on a career, I’d look into something like this!” I mean, talk about an area with potential! Imagine my vain surprise when I discovered that the only other person on Flickr who has put biomimicry down as an interest is Steve Jurvetson, who seems too smart to be true. And who has a must-see fry-your-head set of puzzle pics on Flickr. And is a venture capitalist (who is interested in biomimicry …hey!). Oh, and of course he has a blog

Likewise, I put down the United Future Organization as one of my musical favourites, and that links me to a young guy in Worcester, MA, CalebVsJesus (who gets a prize for original name), as well as to a really interesting woman who goes by the name hurleygurley — and wow, do her photo pages ever look cool! It’s a visual cornucopia, and clicking on her various “contacts” on Flickr is yet another exercise in seeing all these fascinating individuals pop up! Holy smoke, there are so many totally neat people out there!

There isn’t a direct benefit to this virtual (and ghostly and one-sided) hobnobbing, but it’s comforting, somehow, to realise that there are so many interesting people. For every interesting person you turn up, you can tell yourself, “Well, that’s one fewer idiot,” and that’s a comfort.

I have yet to find another fan of Stefano della Bella, however…. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The date on the Fortune article about Steve Jurvetson eludes me for some reason, but it must be about two years old. I wonder if he still holds to this vision for the future: “…he thinks small companies will be the ones doing the most exciting work. ‘When things are stable and predictable, large companies execute best,’ he says. ‘When you have a lot of radical change and disruption in the tech sector, as we do now, it’s generally a good time for startup companies.'”

Which reminded me of a tiny article I saw over the weekend in our local community newspaper. “‘We’d be the Saudi Arabia of energy if renewable energy counted for anything,’ said Scott Davis, whose organization, FORE [sorry, no working website link available], promotes co-ops as a form of community business arrangement that can offer more flexibility and provide direct environmental and financial benefits.”

So I googled Scott Davis and learn that I’ve missed some opportunities to find out more about his agenda, and that one of his biggest areas of expertise is microhydro power — which makes a ton of sense, given our geography and climate. All of a sudden, the hyperbolic “Saudi Arabia” analogy seems less weird: drought-struck and super-sunny in summer, we could harness solar energy for ~4 to 5 months of the year, but during those darker, rainy days of winter, when creeks are swollen and rushing at full force, microhydro fits the bill perfectly.

Another “microinitiative,” which has big clout elsewhere in the world (Germany, Austria, etc.) and is getting attention and support here, is biodiesel fuel. Victoria has begun fueling its buses with biodiesel, and Wise Energy, the company behind the effort, actually managed to hack into parliamentarian consciousness.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ During my walk today, I ran into a friend who told me that a couple of days ago David Anderson had a commentary in the Globe and Mail. (This paper is usually by subscription, so who knows how long this link will last…) Anderson writes:

A few decades — two or perhaps three — is all we’re likely to have before the irreversible impact of climate change radically alters human existence.

Action now will not restore our environment to what it once was, or even halt climate change entirely. What it will do is improve the chances of our way of life continuing for our grandchildren and generations beyond them. [More…]

This isn’t anything you or I didn’t already know, but it’s still a bit of an event coming from Mr. Anderson, and published in the staid old Globe and Mail. Should we cheer or weep?

I guess we could wait for some big technological intervention to save us all, but shit, that’s like waiting for God, isn’t it? Hasn’t that already been done? And done badly? So, maybe these little interventions, these microsteps, really are the better way to proceed.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ If this week weren’t going to be such a marathon (meetings, meetings, dog goes to vet for surgery, more appointments, another meeting, etc.), I would commit to going out for dinner on Friday, February 25th: the Victoria chapter of the Values-Based Business Network is having a “do” at a local hotel. I don’t have a business, but I would like to get a feel for the level of energy in Victoria surrounding sustainability; I’d like to know if it’s another case of feel-good talk/ [flip the coin]/ or/ finger-pointing at the usual suspects, or if things really are happening …at whatever scale. It is time for a change, isn’t it?

Signs of summer coming

February 19, 2005 at 11:53 pm | In yulelogStories | 2 Comments

This morning, as kidlings and self sat around the dining room table pondering questions such as, “An artist wants to completely cover [sic: split infinitive, ack!] a rectangle with identically sized squares which do not overlap and do not extend beyond the edges of the rectangle. If the rectangle is 60 1/2 cm long and 47 2/3 cm wide, what is the minimum number of squares required? (a) 429 (b) 858 (c) 1573 (d) 1716 (e) 5148,” a speeding sports car (pale brown-beige, not a late model but something a bit older) plowed into a speed limit sign right across the street from our house. The driver, a woman, mowed down not only the sign (which crumpled nearly in half and which was ripped from its concrete mooring), but also grazed a nearby tree. Her car stopped on the grassy strip between sidewalk and road. She got out her car, examined its right front fender (which was the one that made contact with the stationary objects lining the road), and then got back into her car and sped off. It wasn’t even noon yet, but I seriously wondered whether she was drunk. Either that, or she was suffering from dementia.

What if it was all a misunderstanding, and her collision was due to her heroic attempt to avoid hitting the squirrel that hurried across the road in some territorial kamikaze gesture? What if she was inebriated after all? Would the hypothetical squirrel excuse her lousy driving? Would it be worse for her to have been drunk at 11 am rather than 11 pm? Is she any worse than the taxi drivers, who always speed, sober bastards with professional pride, and who seem to think that they are above the law?

I live on a corner. Across the other street (the quiet one, not the thoroughfare) live farmers. I’m kidding. Sort of. But it’s almost true. They highlight my maintenance inadequacies with their year-round yard work. While my yard is in a constant state of genteel disrepair, with clouds of “what if” plans embellishing its general dilapidation, theirs are marshalled into order. (“What if our ‘historic’ 1938 hedge, planted to please Their Royal Highnesses on their 1939 trip up Victoria’s avenue to Government House, were renovated and pruned and hedged and fertilised and brought back into a state of grace, instead of looking like a set of bad teeth, a study in green and brown?”) I could swear I saw my neighbour in late fall, with scissors the size of juvenile anchovies, snipping at his ornamental Japanese maples.

It’s true, however, that they use only hand-tools, along with the occasional electric-powered garden tool, but never any gas-powered gadgets. This is a blessing, since there are others (especially the custodians of the apartments across the busy street) where gas-powered yard maintenance is all the rage. And it does bring out all the rage in the rest of us. An anchovie-sized pruner might make a person laugh, but gas-powered noise-makers make you crazy enough to play in traffic, which can set off all sorts of accidents.

John Berger’s Dispatches

February 18, 2005 at 10:42 am | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on John Berger’s Dispatches

I’m having a hard time with language lately. It feels strange because it seems to be blending into an envelope without markers, eluding me with its absence of edge. Guilt over the language-based tasks I’m leaving undone, including (e)mail to friends as well as various official words I need to shoot through the fog, magnifies my sense of being swallowed, of being enveloped in a less-than-pleasant embrace.

I think in part I may be suffering from a defensive reaction to what I jokingly call “the Canada syndrome,” which is that fantastic ability people here seem to cultivate (especially at all and every bureaucratic level, whether school, government, or dog-catcher committee) that allows them to formulate plans and programs, to mandate them into action, and then to “celebrate” their achievements (“A” for effort), even if actual outcomes or progress or achievement is nil, inconclusive, and just plain white-washed. (On the national level, see, for example, any and all discussion as well as actual fact on Canada’s supposed participation in the Kyoto accord.) “Canada syndrome” is starting to make me feel like I’m living in that fairytale about the emperor’s new clothes, for it’s everywhere and at every level, and my response is a petulant silence reminiscent of the little Berliner in winter, who says, “‘Serves my old man right if my fingers are freezing — why doesn’t he buy me some gloves?” So, I’m looking for some way to kick myself into action, or (pardon the pun), take the gloves off ….

Oh well. Let’s read someone who really can write, shall we?

John Berger has an amazing way with words, acknowledging their ability to shroud and cloud and obfuscate, yet managing to shape their elusive two-dimensionality into substances with weight and heft and routine-stopping obstruction. I go through entire ages when I can’t stand reading Berger, and at other times note that his are exactly the words I need to read. Open Democracy posted his essay, That have not been asked: ten dispatches about endurance in face of walls. Berger doesn’t write about the rich; he focusses on the poor, and on what is obdurate and lasting. From Dispatch Nr.4:

Nihilism, in its contemporary sense, is the refusal to believe in any scale of priorities beyond the pursuit of profit, considered as the end-all of social activity, so that, precisely: everything has its price. Nihilism is resignation before the contention that Price is all. It is the most current form of human cowardice. [More…]

Dispatch Nr. 5 states:

The secret of storytelling amongst the poor is the conviction that stories are told so that they may be listened to elsewhere, where somebody, or perhaps a legion of people, know better than the storyteller or the story’s protagonists, what life means. The powerful can’t tell stories: boasts are the opposite of stories, and any story however mild has to be fearless and the powerful today live nervously.

A story refers life to an alternative and more final judge who is far away. Maybe the judge is located in the future, or in the past that is still attentive, or maybe somewhere over the hill, where the day’s luck has changed (the poor have to refer often to bad or good luck) so that the last have become first.

Story-time (the time within a story) is not linear. The living and the dead meet as listeners and judges within this time, and the greater the number of listeners felt to be there, the more intimate the story becomes to each listener. Stories are one way of sharing the belief that justice is imminent. And for such a belief, children, women and men will fight at a given moment with astounding ferocity. This is why tyrants fear storytelling: all stories somehow refer to the story of their fall. [More…]

Berger intersperses his dispatches with quotations from the Russian writer Andrei Platonov (1899-1951).

Happiness is not something to be pursued, it is something met, an encounter. Most encounters, however, have a sequel; this is their promise. The encounter with happiness has no sequel. All is there instantly. Happiness is what pierces grief. [More…]

Berger examines the spatial relations between people — the rich have residences, the poor, on the other hand, don’t have that luxury. Instead of residences (where one can be alone, too), they have “homes because they remember mothers or grandfathers or an aunt who brought them up,” but these dwellings are not associated with the fortress-like comfort afforded by the rich. The connective tissues of a home’s walls seem instead to be made of human fibre. The poor, in consequence, live out in the open, massively.

There is a ceaseless spatial negotiation which may be considerate or cruel, conciliating or dominating, unthinking or calculated, but which recognises that an exchange is not something abstract but a physical accommodation. Their elaborate sign languages of gestures and hands are an expression of such physical sharing. Outside the walls collaboration is as natural as fighting; scams are current, and intrigue, which depends upon taking a distance, is rare. The word private has a totally different ring on the two sides of the wall. On one side it denotes property; on the other an acknowledgement of the temporary need of someone to be left, as if alone, for a while. Every site inside the walls is rentable – every square metre counted; every site outside risks to become a ruin – every sheltering corner counted.

The space of choices is also limited. They choose as much as the rich, perhaps more, for each choice is starker. There are no colour charts which offer a choice between one hundred and seventy different shades. The choice is close-up – between this or that. Often it is made vehemently, for it entails the refusal of what has not been chosen. Each choice is quite close to a sacrifice. And the sum of the choices is a person’s destiny. [More…]

It’s difficult to plan for a future, since futures are fantasy constructions for the rich if predicated on capital-D development. The poor experience the future through generational continuity:

The future is not awaited. Yet there is continuity; generation is linked to generation. Hence a respect for age since the old are a proof of this continuity – or even a demonstration that once, long ago, a future existed. Children are the future. The future is the ceaseless struggle to see that they have enough to eat and the sometimes-chance of their learning with education what the parents never learnt.

“When they finished talking, they threw their arms around each other. They wanted to be happy right away, now, sooner than their future and zealous work would bring results in personal and in general happiness. The heart brooks no delay, it sickens, as if believing in nothing.”

Here the future’s unique gift is desire. The future induces the spurt of desire towards itself. The young are more flagrantly young than on the other side of the wall. The gift appears as a gift of nature in all its urgency and supreme assurance. Religious and community laws still apply. Indeed amongst the chaos which is more apparent than real, these laws become real. Yet the silent desire for procreation is incontestable and overwhelming. It is the same desire that will forage for food for the children and then seek, sooner or later, (best sooner) the consolation of fucking again. This is the future’s gift. [More…]

How to avoid going up in flames on Valentine’s Day: eat more fish and get a nanotech mattress made in China

February 14, 2005 at 8:34 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on How to avoid going up in flames on Valentine’s Day: eat more fish and get a nanotech mattress made in China

My [other] alma mater has a new electronically-available alumni magazine called Grad Gazette. Already, two articles caught my eye.

First, there’s Old Computers and Toxic Waste, which profiles UBC engineer Monica Danon-Schaffer, who theorises that it’s all those computers in landfills that are causing the unbelievable build up of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) — flame retardants — in organic matter, from mother’s milk to farmed and even wild fish. (“A Health Canada survey released earlier this year found that women in Canada had levels of PBDEs five to 10 times higher than women in other industrial countries.”)

Like PCBs and the pesticide DDT, substances now banned, PBDEs are slow to break down and, in a process called bio-magnification, their strength and resistance increases as they move up the food chain. What troubles Danon-Schaffer is that they are spreading globally at a faster rate than older pollutants like PCBs.

Danon-Schaffer thinks the main source of PBDEs may be the tons of computer parts dumped into landfills every year. Although computer manufacturers are starting to phase PBDEs out of newer generations of electronics, older models containing substantial quantities — up to 30 per cent of the final product in some cases — are now coming to the end-of-useful-life phase.

All the plastic components of these computer products — monitors, circuit boards, printers, scanners — amount to “only a sliver” of products containing the contaminant, she adds, but that “sliver” adds up to 70,000 tons of computer garbage in Canada annually. In the U.S., the figure is even more staggering. An estimated 55 million computers will be tossed into landfills in 2005. [More…]

On a weirdly less alarming note, there’s this article, Turning Gold into Green with Old Mine Tailings; Waste rock may help slow global warming, says geochemist. Knock me over with a bit of slag, but who would have thought that any good might come from the garbage we leave behind from mining?

…mine tailings — the waste rock produced in the mining process — may actually be helping to slow global warming by absorbing the greenhouse gases thought to cause climate change.

Greg Dipple, an associate professor of earth and ocean sciences, has been studying the waste rocks’ ability to soak up carbon dioxide (CO2) and hold, or sequester, it for long periods. His findings could impact mining operations worldwide.


“With tweaking, the tailings could soak up all the greenhouse gases that mining operations produce. I think it’s possible that we could turn large mining projects into a greenhouse gas neutral industry,” he says.

It’s also possible that mines could soak up more than they produce, earning them carbon credits — the system being developed under the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The credits could be used to pay for mine reclamation. CO2 credit futures currently trade for about CD$1.23 / tonne at the Chicago Climate Exchange, and are predicted to increase in value to CD$10/tonne or more as the Kyoto Protocol is implemented.

Not surprisingly, mining companies have taken notice of Dipple’s research. [More…]

Not surprisingly, indeed.

Happy Valentine’s Day, and don’t try to set yourself on fire with all that passion. Probably won’t work, anyway: you’ve absorbed too many PBDEs. However, you can now have safe (i.e., fireproof) sex on a hot new mattress made & designed in China with nanotechnology — and it doesn’t use any PBDEs. This looks like one cool product…!


February 13, 2005 at 2:01 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Dresden

Among the disturbing news of neo-nazis on the march in Dresden, this article (published the day before the Feb.13th anniversary) presents valuable historical background:

The myth of the “innocent art metropolis” that was unprepared and unfairly destroyed was started by the Nazis. They used the horrible images of charred bodies and smoldering ruins as propaganda to foment resistance against the Allies in the last weeks of the war. The Nazis portrayed the attack on Dresden as a singular and unnecessary act of brutal destructiveness.

And the myth carried on after the war in communist East Germany’s interpretation of the bombing. In a bizarre falsification of the United States’ role in the air raids, the GDR turned the yearly commemoration of the victims into a propaganda event against “Anglo-American imperialism.”

At the same time, West Germany shamefacedly chose to skip over the civilian population’s suffering and write off Dresden — and other destroyed cities — as a self-inflicted consequence of Germany’s war. [More…]

In other words, the bombing was an ideological tool in the final years of World War II, and continued to be one well into the Cold War. If the West German response after 1945 could be characterised as an inability to mourn (see Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich’s groundbreaking 1967 book, The Inability to Mourn: Principles of Collective Behavior as well as this critique of it from a feminist film-makers’ perspective), the East German response was blatantly instrumentalising, as the placards of the neo-nazis (who were raised in the climate of Eastern post-unification unemployment) attest: “Allied bomb terror — then as now. Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden and today Baghdad. No forgiveness, no forgetting.” Reading that, one can only conclude, “what a bunch of morons.”


February 12, 2005 at 2:42 pm | In yulelogStories | 14 Comments

I entered a CBC literary writing contest some months ago (and I’m not linking to the contest site directly — you should work for this and sleuth, if you’re really interested, ha!). The contest has three categories: short story; travel writing-slash-memoir; poetry. I entered the oddly balled-up “travel writing/ memoir” category. Last week I received a letter that informed me that CBC had a record number of entries, that I didn’t win first or second prize (which comes with a tidy CDN$6K and CDN$4K prize — yowza!), but that I made the short list of 29 out of 795. Whah-hey! That’s 3.6-something percent, isn’t it? (You see, when it’s in your favour, it’s soothing to apply numbers, innit?)

The point is….

The point is that I’m mulling over why I ever entered a fiction/ memoir contest in the first place.

The point is….

Well, there is no point, except to say that this particular entry is what is sometimes termed a “brain dump”: I am taking my shirt off (see, I wear my brain on my chest, um, breasts, um, those wobbly bits) and telling the internet that I have lost my North Star, my drive, my focus. There is just too much to do, and whatever technology you’ve got, it only goes so far.

Therefore, I must ramble. (It’s only 2pm…) Mother may I?

A while ago — nearly a week ago, actually, but who is counting? — a friend sent me one of those questionnaires full of quirky inquiries, which you’re supposed to answer and then send back to the sender as well as to as many other people as you can think of.

Well, I would never do that to my friends, would I? I’ll just post it on my blog instead, ha.

My inquisitor sent her completed questionnaire, which includes the question (and it’s number 13), “What characteristic do you despise?” She had answered “passive-aggressiveness,” and it made me think about how that’s a real hot-button issue for quite a few people. It’s interesting to note that most people would admit to hating passive-aggressives. Thinking about it, I’ve concluded that it’s a classic Freudian problem — you know, the kind of problem we all think we’re so bloody superior to. What happens — and if any reader has, unlike myself, actually studied psychiatry, please jump in — is that a person exhibiting passive-aggressive behaviour is experiencing a crisis regarding taboo feelings s/he has for an object. Typically (I think) the object to which the taboo has become attached is a parent, and the crisis is provoked by the fact that the person (let’s call him/her the subject) can’t acknowledge certain taboo feelings s/he has for the object. Let’s say I hate my mother, or I want to sleep with her, or I want to usurp my father’s place, or kill him (better!), or let’s call to mind any of these vehement and often sexual (and sexually violent/ violated) feelings: let’s say I experience them — perhaps because my life is the shits, or because I’m a shit, or because the mother or father is the shits — but I can’t even acknowledge that these conditions or these feelings exist because I need to maintain this Leibnizian insanity that this is the best of all possible worlds. Well, if that happens, I’m a candidate for passive-aggressive behaviour: I will act in a passive-aggressive manner toward substitute objects, perhaps in the hope that they will “repent,” that they will “understand,” that they will do all the things the passive-aggressive individual should be doing, and that they will “forgive,” which is what the passive-aggressive individual wants the now taboo object to do: forgive him for his sins, the most serious of which is probably having the gall to question, at whatever pathetic subliminal level the subject has allowed him- or herself to do so, the loathsome status quo.

What I want to know is: why does passive-aggressiveness have this massive ability to push buttons in others? Is it because we, too, are at heart our taboo object’s assassins, just waiting for our chance to kill the father and fuck the mother (or vice versa or both together), that we’re all just dying to do what mustn’t be done to those we love? Does it push our buttons because it proves we’re all saps who cling to the “best of all possible” lie? Does it make us angry because in the end we realise that we haven’t found a political solution to our illusions? And why oh why do people continue to behave in passive-aggressive ways? Surely they must realise everyone hates them for it?

Here’s the qwizz:

What you are supposed to do is copy (not forward) this entire e-mail questionnaire and paste it onto a new e-mail that you’ll send. Change all the answers so they apply to you and then send this to a whole bunch of people including the person who sent it to you. The theory is that you will learn a lot of little things about your friends, if you didn’t know them already!

1. What time did you get up this morning? 9:30am

2. Diamonds or pearls? diamonds

3. What was the last film you saw at the cinema? …Uhm, can’t remember, but I think it might have been a Harry Potter movie a couple of summers ago. Do DVDs count? In that case, I just watched The Matrix last night, and wasn’t too impressed.

4. What is your favourite TV show? …I don’t watch tv, but again, my DVD collection is (one-sidedly) extensive (lots of BBC stuff) — So, I’ll put down AbFab

5. What did you have for breakfast? [L-l-l-lov-vuh-vuh-vuh, followed by] Champagne mimosa, fresh-baked croissants, cafe-au-lait…

6. What is your middle name? Frederika

7. What is your favourite cuisine? Italian

8. What food do you dislike? Organ meats; stale couscous; anything rancid; bad fats; farmed fish; turnips, parsnips, rooties generally

9. What is your favourite Potato Chip flavour? Any sort, really — depends on how late at night it is.

10. What is your favourite CD at the moment? Oliver Nelson, “Blues and the Abstract Truth”

11. What kind of car do you drive? Honda Odyssey (yes, a minivan)

12. What is your favourite sandwich? Fresh baguette, with cheese or ham or roast beef, or maybe Boursin, and tomato slices

13. What characteristic do you despise? Exploitative manipulative snobbery (the sort of people who ask “what kind of car do you drive?” only to use the information as a put-down. [ I suppose this is a variant of passive-aggressiveness!]

14. Favourite item of clothing? See question #2

15. If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation, where would you go? Greece, London, depends…

16. What color is your bathroom? White tile, flesh-coloured walls

17. Favourite brand of clothing? Sweat-shop free, without visible branding — unless it’s haute couture (Jil Sander, eg.), which I can’t afford…

18. Where would you retire to? If I had enough money: perhaps Zurich — it’s centrally located, has a great airport, and is easy to leave (this is very important). Without that kind of cash, however, probably right here, Victoria (for now, anyway). Ironically, Victoria is very difficult to leave, unless you’re an excellent swimmer or have lots of money for planes.

19. Favourite time of day? Late evening

20. What was your most memorable birthday? Please, I’m of an age where I try to forget… and since I was born right after xmas, I’ve been trying to forget for as long as I can remember!

21. Where were you born? Duesseldorf (Dazzledorf), Germany

22. Favourite sport to watch? Difficult to answer; I’m not a fan of sports. Dressage?

23. Who was your childhood heartthrob? haha, this is funny: Peter Wyngarde — he played “Jason King” and in “Department s”

24. Who do you least expect to send this back to you? No idea; I suppose it depends on whether I actually send it out whether anyone reads this and knows how to click my name to get to the “mail to” link….

25. Person you expect to send it back first? See above

26. What fabric detergent do you use? Cheapest and with least number of additives available, currently: Kirkland (generic Costco detergent) — comes in a huge bucket, lasts forever.

27. Coke or Pepsi? Cabernet Sauvignon

28. Are you a morning person or night owl? Night owl

29. What is your shoe size? 9.5

30. Do you have any pets? Two children & a husband. Oh, and a Cairn Terrier, Jigger.

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