Succinct

In a long-ago world, I had the pleasure of being introduced to the joys of French literature, principally by Miss Shelley at Lowell High School beginning in the second semester of Grade 10. It was very challenging at first, because few of us in the class had had much real experience with the language and it was a task to lift a corner of the literature curtain when reading the texts was a bit of a plod involving frequent recourse to the dictionary. I soon realized that using contextual clues, along with an increased linguistic awareness, allowed for focus on the content of a piece that transcended the text itself. I watched as the curtain slowly drew back and revealed a universe of tales and verse that mirrored the world back at me and brought on a wealth of insights into politics, social unrest, wars, pestilence, sex and violence. I suppose this might have happened without the linguistic stumbles had someone been able to light the same fire about English (American, Canadian, Australian…) literature, but that never happened, other than little sparks over Conrad and Faulkner in Mr. Lombardi’s English 11 class. Also, there seemed something mildly exotic and risqué about French  material, due to the prejudices of the time and place and the prudish newness of North American society. I couldn’t muster the same enthusiasm for the oriental works that ran across my desk in the course of the World Lit class in Grade 12 because I had to read them in translation and thus didn’t feel the same connection experienced in Miss S’s class.

It follows on that I continued this through a somewhat checkered university stint, and finally, into the public school system here in BC, wherein I found myself attempting to replicate, in some small way, the wonders of what a few had done for me in those risky late-teen days, that is, to drag a small number of students to a point in the study of the language where they could experience the real language and some interesting thought through the study of literature from a somewhat foreign perspective.

So here’s our lesson for the day, a poem by Jacques Prévert:

Composition française 

Tout jeune Napoléon était très maigre

et officier d’artillerie

plus tard il devint empereur

alors il prit du ventre et beaucoup de pays

et le jour où il mourut il avait encore

du ventre

mais il était devenu plus petit.

—Jacques Prévert

Basically, and I’m a poor translator, but there aren’t enough subtleties in this case for me to wreck:

In his youth, Napoleon was very thin

and an artillery officer

later, he became emperor

and he packed on weight and lots of countries

and the day he died he still had

a belly

but he had become a lot smaller.

This looks to me as though someone was encapsulating the decay of empire in a few short lines. It happened to France in Metternich’s time, and again after the Second World War, it happened to the British, and we seem to have a front-row seat (popcorn optional for some) for the American Empire, and we all get to pick our favourite figurehead to substitute for Napoleon.

Since some of us have benefitted materially from empire, it’s a bit of a daunting prospect, no matter how fervently we wish the end of empire, to suffer the consequences, especially if we’ve been paying attention to the lot of Cubans and Russians in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, or the hot mess that has been part of existence in Africa, say, or Southeast Asia. A good part of the fear stems from not having the option to resign gracefully, or to exert any measure of control over the descent from the heights, especially when combined with the disquiet that accompanies the thought that the same perpetrators are also driving humanity off an ecological cliff, seemingly without much real possibility of restraint or course change.

We might as well have a little poetry to usher us down the hallway to that much-vaunted new normal that isn’t likely what the puppet masters wanted us to see.

Tom Lehrer:

Soon we’ll be out amidst the cold world’s strife.

Soon we’ll be sliding down the razor blade of life.

The Mac Is Back (or never really went away because…memory)

This is the long(ish)-form response to a post over on the Pacific Gazetteer’s place about the transition from Fleetwood Mac to the Stevie Nicks/Lindsay Buckingham show. Mostly, I like to read this stuff and sigh, then move on, but, even though FM was never my favourite band, I did listen to a lot of their stuff, appreciated most of it (hint: sliding scale saw devotion diminish as they got further from their roots). I was a really hard-core bluzoid as I traipsed off to UBC in the fall of 1968, carrying with me a head full of John Mayall (Crusade, at that point), Cream, Michael Bloomfield, James Cotton and a slough of other older and/or more traditional blues singers/guitarists/harpists/pianists and other assorted hangers-on. So there, on a borrowed record player, was this:

And they made a bit of a pilgrimage to Chicago not too long after:

 

Some of it started with John McVie appearing on the Beano album, then with Peter Green on A Hard Road. Even then, Green was reaching for the edge of the blues envelope on The Supernatural.

Mac also introduced retro-rock influences into the Kiln House album, and Green drifted off while Jeremy Spencer got Cult-ivated.

More new directions with Bare Trees and Future Games, as Bob Welsh put in an appearance, and Christine Perfect-McVie and Buckingham eventually chased Kirwan and crawled into the hollowed-out corpse of The Mac.

At this point, most of the bluzoids had moved on and the noobs never knew the roots, even that there is, somewhere, a recording of Christine Perfect singing with Stan Webb’s Chicken Shack about how her sweetie “swears like the devil, is shaped like a frog, but when he gets to lovin’…” and leaves the rest to the listener’s imagination.(I haven’t heard this since the summer of 1970 and all efforts to find it have proven fruitless, along with another auditory fave having nothing to do with Mac, Pure Food And Drug Act, Sugarcane Harris and Harvey Mandel with Randy Resnick, Victor Conte and Paul Lagos, singing a modal thing with the lyric “Why don’t you cut that joker loose, and come and fly with me to L.A.” Apparently there is no recording of it other than in my head (sniff!)

 

Quick update: The Christine Perfect Stan Webb tune was called I See My Baby, from a 1969 album called O.K., Ken?  –it’s on Apple music. Now for PF%DA…

 

Olympian

Head Under Heels

Newest Olympic Sport

 

 

 

Photo by Zac Ong on Unsplash

Mount Olympus was held to be the abode of the Greek gods, from which comes the idea that something olympian is of great stature, lofty, admirable and worthy of the aspirations of the best of humanity. So why is it that every time a new sport is added to the Olympics, I get the feeling that the Olympic Movement has devolved into a marketing board for cheap distractions, tawdry displays of gaud, and colossal misappropriations of public funds?

This is how I felt when baseball and tennis were included, with a grudging nod to the ubiquity of some pursuits. This is how I felt about beach volleyball with its yahoo culture and skimpy get-ups…why not do as the wrestlers apparently did back in the origins and go full monte?

I also hear disturbing rumblings of the coalescence of a group looking to bring the Olympics back to Vancouver. We have had no meaningful reckoning for the binge of a decade ago nor a cost-benefit analysis of the temporary glow of winning some medals and the costs (still sealed) in money and disruption caused by the supporting infrastructure so that the IOC could bring its Spendy Circus to town and say the usual trite things about what wonderful hosts and suckers we’ve been. Tamp it down! There are several layers of more pressing issues that should be on the agenda.

Oh, and break dancing? Yet another marvel of one-time innovation, athleticism, and culture. No worries there, just that the IOC needs to work on the idea of universality and appropriateness as represented by the rings.

 

What’s Old Is Still Old

…but it often keeps resurfacing.

 

Camus, himself

Long ago, in student days, I read a couple of plays by Albert Camus, Caligula and Le malentendu, each of which dealt with some fairly weighty questions that get left out of most of the day-to-day conversation. With thoughts of a couple of other Camus pieces (Noces and L’été) that had shown me a side of the author not generally acknowledged (reflections of sun-drenched vistas and the general beauty offered by nature, however indifferent or absurd that nature might be), I plunked down some serious coin for a Pleïade edition of the man’s complete works and invest some time in broadening that horizon while keeping some language skills activated.

Caligula

 

As is often the case with works read in the deep past, the reader’s perspective will have morphed through piled up time and experience, and such is the case with Caligula, a ruler who has forsaken the conventions for his own individual struggle with a lack of limits, something that rings true with a number of authoritarian administrations, yet only partially in the case of our own Mr. Trump (he is a product of a confused and twisted world, and therefore belongs to all of us). The big difference between Trump and his Roman analog is that Caligula is fully conscious of who he is, what he is doing, and the nature of his relationship to those he rules. As devastating as Caligula’s rule might have seemed at the time, the threats to civilization posed by Trump and his associates are, if you’ll pardon a smarmy Camusian observation, existential.

And I’m sure it’s an utter coincidence that I arrived at this particular spot in Camus’ oeuvre at this juncture in the Trump narrative (impeachment, assassination of the top Iranian military figure).

Is It Illegal? Just Hang On A Sec!

The Centre of The Liberal Universe

 

(http://deadder.net/   https://www.thechronicleherald.ca)

While it is deemed that economic impacts may not be considered in the implementation of a DPA, it seems we can always find a way around any roadblocks inhibiting special treatment of our special friends in business.

The above is from the paper of record (for a lot of folks) and hints neatly at how the PMO can do it’s due obeisance to SNC so as to preserve votes in Québec. The law doesn’t do what we want it to do? The law, slack as it is, might cut SNC off the public trough? Wait, we can change the law, and deem it retroactive to the time of Methuselah, just, y’know, to be sure.

(with the gracious permission of the author: (http://deadder.net/)

Who publishes at:

https://www.thechronicleherald.ca

Mail It In

From linked site.

 

A friend sent a link to the news that BMW has developed the technology for a completely autonomous motorcycle. I used to indulge in cycling for both transportation and pleasure and mostly gave it up when I realized that climate stabilization and blowing fuel out the tailpipe for fun were not compatible.

So I wrote back:

This ranks right up with my other favourite automated activities, like eating, sex, and, why not? drinking wine. Think of all the snotty wine-tasting vocabulary you can forget, and God! the lack of hangovers after too much enthusiasm at the tasting bench…

Imagine sex without the need for dating, foreplay, birth control, STDs, messy relationships…

Food without having to buy, prepare and serve, no more chewing swallowing, gastric distress, voiding and defecating, no more spice-burn, salmonella and ptomaine poisoning, contented belching, low-flying ducks, fibre requirements, cholesterol, diets…

Feel free to weigh in on other activities!

It’s Like Vietnam, A Little, All Over Again

 

 

Back in the days of my USian existence, it was a bit frustrating during the course of the 1960s, my teen years, to watch the Vietnam engagement grow in scope, gravity and bloodiness, as well as in the consciousness of some of us coming out of the chrysalis of childhood. All around us, there was surf music, burger joints, game shows, big-bore V-8s and a whole lot of business as usual. It wasn’t a war, there was no declaration, it wasn’t even a police action like Korea a decade earlier. Everything on the home front seemed to perk along without the war bonds, rationing, and the exhortations on every street corner to traipse off to a foreign tar pit to put an end to your miserable little life for the good of God, democracy and the American Way. The home front never went to war, so it was easy to ignore the signals.

Of course, as the decade came to a close, the murmurs morphed into chatter and then to a roar to the point where even those legislators in the hallowed halls of power began to waver in their determination to see an end to the resistance of these black-pyjama clad little brown people until “we” finally tucked our tail between our legs, told our South Vietnamese allies that they were on their on, and high-tailed it out of Dodge in the last helo  to depart the roof of the embassy compound.

Now there’s smoke all around me. The signals that we’re waging war on ourselves are plain to see, hear, smell: it has never been so obvious that we are, in the name of convenience and consumption, fouling the only nest we have and setting up a gruesome end for civilization and for most life on this planet. And now, there begins that transformation from whisper to chatter as people wake up and discover that our collective complacency and procrastination have brought on the crisis foretold by phalanxes of climate scientist Cassandras, just when we reach the point where there may be no method to remedy the situation without major suffering, if at all.

 

It is easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we cannot dodge the consequences of dodging our responsibilities.
                                        —Sir Josiah Stamp

“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” – H.G. Wells

 

Living as if there were no tomorrow, we are converting a carefree metaphor into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
—John Whiting
Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so. 
—Douglas Adams

Sir John A., We Hardly Knew Ye

 

Mayor Lisa Helps announced yesterday that the statue of our first PM will be removed from its podium of honour in front of the entrance to Victoria City Hall pretty much forthwith. This has, of course, generated a good deal of tsking, finger wagging, and jaw flapping, much of it to do with the reverence we feel for our founding father, to borrow a USism. But let’s have a bit of context, by perhaps considering Johnny Mac in his own context, but somewhat transposed into our current status.

 

Do we hold Justin Trudeau to be worthy of the same level of reverence and Sir John A.? How about Stephen Harper? Paul Martin? Jean Chrétien? Kim Campbell? Brian Mulroney? John Turner? PET? Joe Clark?Mike?

With few exceptions for exceptional circumstances, the answer is no. I haven’t done the required research and reading to really nail it down, but my sense is that these folks, and all the rest of their ilk, were, first and foremost, politicians, with all the mixed connotations that that term carries on its overloaded back. They were people both revered and reviled, depending on your political stripe, your policy outlook and how deeply you were embedded in the system that produced them.

 

Perhaps a gentle step back to consider all facets of admiration and condemnation might help us to keep our blood pressure in check as we navigate possible attempts to reconcile settlers and First Nations, as well as our past with our present and future.

Deflection of Necessary Perspective

Photo by Ihor Malytskyi on Unsplash

 

There is an old Chinese proverb:

Quand le sage montre la lune, l’imbécile regarde le doigt.
When the wise man points to the moon, the idiot looks at his finger.
Paraphrased this morning in Libération:
Quand le sage montre le climat, l’économiste regards l’inflation.
When the wise man points to the climate, the economist looks at inflation.
No wonder they call it “the dismal science”. This is the very picture of pretty much all out national and regional leaders who still don’t seem to get the urgency of the situation in which we find ourselves. This is Trudeau/McKenna claiming to mitigate climate disruption while buying/expanding dilbit infrastructure, Horgan building Site C, and a whole whack of premiers fracking merrily away and giving away to energy to foreigners without bothering to collect royalties or taxes. It’s clear that Trump and Ford aren’t the only idiots, they just have less of the veneer of sanity.