Smitten with Jason, Medea has her brother Absyrtus help her steal the golden fleece to deliver to him. They then flee from Colchis with the king and his men on their trail. As the soldiers close in, Medea kills and dismembers her brother, forcing them to give up the pursuit and gather his scattered remains. Note that all of this happens before Euripides's play begins.
Maria Callas's performance here is breathtaking Remember that this is the only film she was ever in. In spite of being one of the world's great opera singers, she doesn't sing a note in the film. She barely even has any lines. But that expressive face, so often shown in close up, carries the film.
Sunday, August 31, 2008
Smitten with Jason, Medea has her brother Absyrtus help her steal the golden fleece to deliver to him. They then flee from Colchis with the king and his men on their trail. As the soldiers close in, Medea kills and dismembers her brother, forcing them to give up the pursuit and gather his scattered remains. Note that all of this happens before Euripides's play begins.
"I told myself then, and I still believe, that all the unhappiness of my situation came from living in a little town, relegated to the depths of a northern country. Only big cities are suited to exceptional people when they want to live in society. As life there is varied, people like novelty. But in places where people have assumed fairly pleasant monotonous habits, they do not like to enjoy themselves on one occasion, only to realize that they are bored every day."
-Madame de Staël, from Corrine, ou l'Italie.
Returning to Barack Obama's plan for the economy, the International Herald Tribune has an article today asking "Is history siding with Obama's economic plan?" It's sort of a surprising article actually, because it highlights two trends that don't immediately seem to correspond to one another in the way highlighted:
1. Annual Growth: "Data for the whole period from 1948 to 2007, during which Republicans occupied the White House for 34 years and Democrats for 26, show average annual growth of real gross national product of 1.64 percent per capita under Republican presidents versus 2.78 percent under Democrats."
2. Income Inequality: "Over the entire 60-year period, income inequality trended substantially upward under Republican presidents but slightly downward under Democrats, thus accounting for the widening income gaps over all." In other words, income inequality has trended slightly downward at times when economic growth was highest, instead of upward.
What this reminds me of is something I've noticed in recent articles about Brazil. As you might know, the Brazilian economy has been growing by leaps and bounds in recent years. It is the second largest economy in the Americas, after the US (yes, ahead of Canada), and the eighth largest in the world. It also has one of the highest rates of income inequality in the world. In order to address this, the current President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has begun a program of cash transfers known as Bolsa Familia. The result is that something like 23 milion Brazilians have indeed moved up in the class hierarchy, and the country's measurement on the Gini coefficient has dropped from 0.6 to 0.56.In fact, it is possible that the growing economy and declining inequality are working off one another. The Economist notes: "A sense that Brazil is becoming a little more equal makes for a healthier kind of capitalism, in which the people buzzing around above São Paulo in helicopters attract less opprobrium. Brazil's billionaires appear on magazine covers and are celebrated for their skill rather than lampooned for their greed, which is new. In turn, “young entrepreneurs are realising that you don't have to be born rich or have political connections to raise capital,” says Antonio Bonchristiano of GP Investments, a private-equity firm." As a possible result, worker productivity has risen by 4.2%.
So there might be a point to Obama's interest in addressing income inequality instead of worrying about recession. To be blunt, the US is not in a recession, but Americans feel like it is. The reason for this is that, as the economy has grown, the average person's wages have not kept up with it at all. People have kept themselves afloat by taking on credit card debt, but debt is not as good an incentive as opportunity to work harder or invest more. I don't like Obama's nods towards protectionism (which I suspect are just pandering anyway); but perhaps addressing the income gap will actually stimulate growth instead of slowing it. And, conversely, it's possible that all the tax cuts for the rich aren't actually stimulating the economy all that much.
In other words, it's fairly easy to see why a growing economy could help reduce income inequality. But, it's also possible that reducing income inequality will help to stimulate the economy.
The Herald concludes: "The two Great Partisan Divides combine to suggest that, if history is a guide, an Obama victory in November would lead to faster economic growth with less inequality, while a McCain victory would lead to slower economic growth with more inequality. Which part of the Obama menu don't you like?"
Saturday, August 30, 2008
Here we have the end of the ritual- it's worth noting the primitivism of Medea's people. She is the daughter of the King of Colchis, but part of the reason that Jason can have her cast out of Greece is that she is a barbarian. Again, I love how religious ritual permeates everything here.
In the next sequence, Jason appeals to his uncle Pelias, who has usurped the throne of Iolchus. Jason has just returned, after having been supposedly killed at birth, and Pelias sends him off to retrieve the golden fleece. Here he sets off with the Argonauts in this quest.
Friday, August 29, 2008
"All actions take place in time by the interweaving of the forces of Nature; but the man lost in selfish delusion thinks that he himself is the actor."
-The Bhagavad Gita (3:27)
(Incidentally, no one should take my quoting a source from the "non-west" as an attempt at "indoctrination"!)
In this next sequence, Pasolini depicts Medea’s people as tribal and devoted to seasonal rituals. The young man is sacrificed and his blood used to fertilize the ground. He is killed in place of Medea’s brother Abysertus, as a sort of scapegoat- he is supposed to represent the sacrificed king. The scene is fairly gruesome. I am impressed by the anthropological detail in this scene and how it draws parallels between this mythological tribe and tribal rituals from history. Obviously, Pasolini has read Frazier’s Golden Bough.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
I'm really enjoying watching Pasolini's film of Medea that someone posted on Youtube. Pier Paolo Pasolini was a fascinating filmmaker and individual. It's sort of amazing to me that the man who made SALO: 120 Days of Sodom, one of the most shocking movies I've ever seen, also made the superb Accatone, The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, and this film. And, of course, Maria Callas was just incredible.
Anyway, here is part one.
I've known a few American punk rockers who likely fantasized about this sort of thing happening to them, but thank goodness it never did- Gorki Aguila is a Cuban punk rocker and the lead singer of the band Porno para Ricardo (great name!) who is soon to stand trial for "social dangerousness", a crime that could land him in jail for four years. The reason? He wrote songs criticizing Fidel Castro. The band is currently banned from Cuban radio.
The point here isn't that American punk bands should count their lucky stars that they can write songs criticizing George Bush that the radio won't play; it's simply that Cuba still ain't libre and the regime still sucks. I'll post more information as I find it.
Update: Here is the band website for Porno para Ricardo. Check out the great band logo!
Update 2: Good news! He got off with a $28 dollar fine for "social dangerousness", a charge that is usually used to arrest dissidents in Cuba before they actually do anything. No doubt the widespread criticism of his arrest from outside of Cuba helped here.
And, to celebrate, here is an entertaining video by his band. Consider as you watch that this completely loopy punk band is actually threatening to the Castros.
Just in time for the new semester, Townhall has published an article on College Classes for Conservatives to Avoid. I looked for something on the site about what courses conservatives would actually want to study, but I couldn't find anything; maybe that's not where their heads are at.
Anyway, to clarify things here, the article explains that teenage conservatives don't want to take Queer Theory, which I'd imagine that they would avoid anyway. Also on the shit-list would be Lit courses on Women Writers, unless they feature the Bronte sisters or Jane Austen, who most people have already read in High School. Conservatives also want to avoid anything to do with Sociology and courses with the words "Multicultural" or "Non-Western" in the title. I've never actually seen a course with the word "Non-Western" in the title; would Chinese History count? Is the Eastern Hemisphere now officially liberal? Also they should avoid American History courses, "that teach American history not as it actually happened, but as the professor thinks it should have happened"- something impossible to tell from the course catalog, but the tip here is to avoid courses that teach Howard Zinn. Lastly, avoid "classes in pop culture, drugs, sex, and the entertainment industry."
Just a note: clearly these kids aren't "conservatives", are they? They're Republicans, which is something different now. Hell, I'm old enough to remember when the so-called "progressive" students were protesting to get courses that upset them dropped from college catalogs. Now it's the so-called "conservatives" who are politically correct. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
I know the article will upset some people. Sara Gwin makes the excellent point: "College is supposed to be about challenging our understanding, not picking and choosing what one wants to hear and ridiculing the reality of other peoples lives." And, personally, I wouldn't want to imagine the sort of dogmatic being that couldn't take an introductory Sociology course without it upsetting her mental equilibrium.
But, I don't care. Really I don't. People have the right to avoid whatever courses they want to. And is it really so bad to have these junior ideologues avoiding your courses? It sort of sounds like a blessing.
Yes, there's something morbid about this article- "conservatism" for these people is now about avoiding certain ideas, ignoring entire groups of people, and working hard not to be exposed to any information from the outside world- it's cliquish and in decay. This is definitely not the article of a healthy movement. It's a guide to what not to think, totally devoid of ideas. Again, there's nothing here about what a conservative might want to study, what topics might interest them, what parts of the world they might actually be curious about. But, again, that's just not where their heads are at. And, yes, these people are missing out on the joy of college, which for me was taking courses that I didn't know a thing about- Ancient Chinese Philosophy 202, for example.
But, it's their right, isn't it? I mean, I'm already at a university whose attitude towards its "consumers" seems to be "give 'em what they want!" And that attitude is widespread in academia. This would just seem to be the logical extension of that.
Nobody in their right mind should care how many houses John McCain has. Nor should they give a damn where Barack Obama went to church. None of the things that people are talking about ad nauseam leading up to this election matter in the slightest.
Here, in my opinion, are what matters:
1. The economy,
2. Foreign relations,
3. The ongoing wars,
5. Trimming the power of the Executive branch and federal government.
For me, the economy is tops. I have been so far underwhelmed by both candidates: Barack Obama seems to think you can tax your way out of a recession, and John McCain's plan seems to be, "just keep doing what we're doing, only moreso". So, my plan has been, whoever wins, to start drinking heavily.
But, since the economy is so important, this David Leonhardt article about Obama's economic thinking, strikes me as the most important thing I've read on the election so far. Surprise! Obama's economic thinking is pretty complicated.
Please read it and we can discuss it. I know it's eight freakin' pages! But, it's interesting.
I've also sent it to a relative who is a CFO at one of the world's leading corporate accounting and economics firms. He knows this stuff inside and out, and will hopefully be able to tell us if he thinks Obama's head is in the right place. He's also a Canuck and not leaning one way or the other, so hopefully he can give a more "fair and balanced" reading than me.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Today I sat in on the first World Civilizations lecture in which our professor introduced the course to a room full of about 230 bleary-eyed freshmen. I was impressed to see that he spent a good part of the time answering the question that nearly every one of them has: why should we be taking this course?
The short answer is "because this state says that you have to". And there are times, in my darker hours, that I think maybe it's a bad idea to require all of them to take the course. But, there really are a number of good reasons to take one of these generalized introductions to history and culture.
Just off the top of my head, I can think of:
1. To get a sense of the historical context that you were born into,
2. To understand the traditions and beliefs of your own culture,
3. To understand the traditions and beliefs of other cultures,
4. To learn how to read primary documents more closely,
5. To gain a base-level cultural competency,
6. To see how other human beings have responded to eternal problems,
7. To learn to think of yourself as living in a specific time and place,
8. To get some sense of humanity outside of time and place.
And there are many more reasons.
The professor focused on the idea of citizenship, which sort of contains all of these things. We study World Civ in order to get an idea of what civilizations are and how they work, since we're going to be living in them. We want them to become citizens of their country and the world. I like this approach: a lot of "experts" will say things like, "30 is the new 20" and the assumption seems to be that this generation just won't take part in adult life for some time to come so we should let them opt out. But that sort of defeats the purpose of going off to university.
It's also interesting to me just how "traditional" many of us in the profession actually are. There certainly are some political radicals in the academy, but the majority of us in the humanities are cultural conservatives, whether we realize it our not. Fundamentally, we believe that culture is worth preserving and it is worth creating adults who can preserve it after us. We are stewards of culture.
To be honest, it's not my concern what they do with their lives; but I think that one of our tasks is to give our students the mental tools they need to take part in the adult world that they will be entering, whenever they choose to do so.
Monday, August 25, 2008
Not exactly surprising I'd say, but apparently assistant professors of communications can be fired for screaming obscenities at and mooning their colleagues. Actually, this is true in a lot of jobs, with the possible exceptions of carny and pro-wrestler.
The (relatively hilarious) video is here, and its inevitable musical remix is here.
(Image: The Women's Studies course in question.)
Roy Den Hollander, an "anti-feminist" lawyer from Manhattan, who has previously sued nightclubs for offering ladies' nights, is now suing Columbia University for offering women's studies courses, based on the argument that they use government aid to preach a “religionist (sic) belief system called feminism.” He's also trying to have parts of the violence against women act declared unconstitutional. All of this to protect us "guys", who have "been raked over the coals by females and this culture." Columbia has given no comment. Probably a good idea.
If you read the suit, (and really, why would you?) you'll see that he's making the old argument that if one really, really believes anything, it becomes a "religion". Admittedly, most academic disciplines suffer from holding certain unquestioned beliefs, and women's studies is certainly no exception. But, by framing the issue in such an idiotic way (seriously, does anyone honestly believe that women's studies classes are akin to religious rituals, like the Temple of Doom, with co-eds ripping out the hearts of frat boys before a statue of Gloria Steinem?), he's made it impossible to take any of his critiques seriously. This is not a serious lawsuit, and it shouldn't be taken seriously. He's not a serious person.
And this is exactly the sort of anti-academic drivel that makes academics so prickly about the much-needed critiques of their own disciplines. Academics could all stand to be much more self-critical, myself included. Good lord, it can be a stifling discipline! I'm all for letting some light in and fighting the sort of lock-step thinking that grows in those little Petri dishes known as university departments. But academics won't become more self-critical because the know-nothing party rants and raves at them from the bleachers.
Stanley Fish has a unique and interesting take on most subjects, which means that his essays are well worth reading, even though I quite often disagree with him. I think he's got a point in this recent NY Times opinion piece on "crying censorship" although he's leaving out some relevant information.
Fish is disagreeing with "self-appointed poster boy for the First Amendment" Salman Rushdie- a bit unfair swipe there: after all, it's not as if Rushdie issued a fatwa against himself- who recently "cried censorship" after Random House decided to pulp a novel by Sherry Jones which deals with the Prophet Muhammad's love life. They were afraid that the novel's racier passages might offend believers. It should be noted here that this was a "preemptive strike": nobody has been offended as of yet by this book.
Fish's argument is that Rushdie is wrong to call this censorship. It's censorship when the government says that you can't express certain opinions without being fined or jailed, as they now do in many Western countries- including Canada. Fish believes that what Random House was doing was exercising judgment, certainly a good thing as the culture becomes infinitely coarser. Also, he believes that crying censorship every time someone decides not to support any sort of speech cheapens the idea of free speech. I think he's right there.
However, it seems to me that when we talk about "exercising judgment", it has to do with making a decision about if we should or should not say something. In the case of Random House, the question seems to have been if they could or could not say something. In other words, it was an issue of safety in their minds, rather than decorum. Fish largely ignores this. He mentions the idea of self-censorship, which seems to apply here, without dealing with it in any serious way.
If the government says that you cannot say something, or you will be subject to the force of the state, that is censorship. If private individuals say that you cannot say something or you will be subject to their force, that might not be "censorship", but it becomes unofficial censorship if the state cannot protect you from that force. The effect is the same: you don't speak the taboo for fear of being clobbered, not because you made a judgment that it was inappropriate.
Much of the criticism of Islam that is floating around is stupid and offensive- say, for example, the born-again Christians who think that Muslims worship Satan. And nobody has an obligation to provide a public forum for every crank who has an opinion. But I think that the climate gets a bit colder when people do not express an opinion not because they make a judgment call that the opinion is offensive, but because their safety might be at stake if they speak up. I would call that self-censorship.
And if we wouldn't accept it if the government told us to keep our big mouths shut or get clobbered, we really shouldn't accept it when private individuals do the same. We definitely need to learn to treat each other with a base level of respect that seems to have vanished; but respect is fostered by wielding the carrot instead of the stick.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Watch more cool animation and creative cartoons at aniBoom
so radiohead teamed up with aniboom (youtube's answer to an animation site, i think?) to have fans make music videos for their new album. the band chose their favorites, and i believe there was a prize that allowed the winners to pursue their creative endeavors further but don't quote me. see, they haven't done music vids since OK Computer came up, not traditionally at least, which is one thing i love about the band. I'll be posting the winners, since I think they're incredibly good and wonderfully creative.
I wondered all of these things after watching Southland Tales, a film that nearly every review I've read described as an unwatchable, pretentious mess. This from reviewers who have collectively popularized the idea of "harmless and enjoyable fluff" as worthwhile in films, a noble goal; but who cast a jaundiced eye at a film with perhaps a few too many ideas in it. This is what constitutes a lousy film now? The worst film of the year? From people who have fallen all over themselves trying to describe the decent film Batman: The Dark Knight as some sort of benchmark in filmmaking? Can we even call this "criticism" any more, or is it now something akin to "consumer reports"? How can you learn to appreciate art if you constantly expect it to come down to your level?
So, this makes Southland Tales the third movie, after Showgirls and Eyes Wide Shut, that I read was "a mess" everywhere only to see the film and wonder if the reviewers even understood the film they were reviewing- I'm scared to see Gigli: it'll probably turn out to be sublime!
Look, I don't think that Southland Tales is a four-star movie either. It is definitely convoluted and gets confusing in parts; it reminded me a bit of Zardoz, another ambitious movie that seems ready to go off the rails at any moment. And the film's satire of Republicans and homeland security is a bit too easy. And, yes, it's impossible to tell if director Richard Kelly is joking or serious at any moment- probably both. Lines like "Nobody rocks the cock like Krysta Now" are not exactly Shakespeare.
But, how many films today suffer from being overly ambitious? This is a film that deals with: the paranoid security state, power-hungry left-wing factions that become indistinguishable from power-hungry right-wing factions, mindless entertainment "fluff", pornography, T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, musical numbers, the collapse of the military, alternative fuels, schizophrenia, drug abuse and the end of the world. Oh, and it's also explicitly structured around the Book of Revelations. Did any of the reviewers bother to read the Book of Revelations, the Wasteland, or The Road Not Taken? Or is that an "arrogant" request of people whose cultural competency is supposed to be higher than our own?
The fact that all of this does make sense- with some work- is a testament to Kelly as a writer. Some of the comedy doesn't work- it's a bit too much of a lampoon at times. And a few storylines could have been cut without problems. Overall, I'd probably give the movie a B-. But it's a testament to the middlebrow, mediocre tastes of film critics that a filmmaker coloring outside of the lines is now seen as a strike against his or her work. And if a director is "pretentious", I'd rather have this than having them assume the pretense that the audience is too stupid to pay close attention.
After all, what explanation could there be for calling it "pretentious" when an artist shoots for the moon and falls a bit short, aside from a personal aesthetic rooted in resentment?
Today I'm going through the pictures I took in the archives, hoping to find that there's enough here to write a dissertation with.
Anyway, this picture is from a book published by the Archives of the Chamber of Commerce of Marseille about the Industrial Revolution and the impact it had on Marseille. What I like about this picture, aside from the fact that I know where it is, is the three people standing at the edge of the gorge watching the train, which would have still been a novelty in the south of France in 1848.
It reminds me of a scene in Proust in which the narrator breaks down crying upon seeing his first plane fly overhead. I think that he is crying partly because man has left the earth, and partly because he senses that his world is coming to an end. Of course, these people are not crying, but you have to wonder what sorts of thoughts they're having.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Friday, August 22, 2008
That's the number of stolen bikes that police found in the possession of Toronto used-bike shop owner Igor Kenk.
The Times article also includes this great detail:
"As the police gathered the mounds of bikes, they also found cocaine, crack cocaine, about 15 pounds of marijuana and a stolen bronze sculpture of a centaur and a snake in battle."
The public is pissed at Kenk, especially the wizard whose statue was stolen. “He’s easily the most hated man in Toronto,” said Alex Jansen, a documentary filmmaker (a job title that applies to about 47% of unemployed Torontonians). I don't know- there are condo architects in Toronto that I would pay cash money to punch in the face long before I'd get heated up a bike thief. He sounds like a kook more than a menace.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
The problem centers around South Ossetia, which either is or is not a region of Georgia. It was annexed along with Georgia by Russia in 1801, and maintained a degree of autonomy under Russian, and then Soviet control. Administratively, however, South Ossetia was considered a part of Georgia.
In 1991, when the Soviet Union busted up, South Ossetia became part of the independent state of Georgia and North Ossetia stayed in Russia. Going against its traditional autonomy, Georgia declared that Georgian would become the official language in South Ossetia. The majority there speaks Ossetic, and they said, in Ossetic, "screw you" and declared themselves independent. There was an exchange of gunfire with Georgian authorities, and finally a truce was extablished and an autonomous zone created. South Ossetia declared itself the Republic of South Ossetia. The United Nations still considers South Ossetia part of Georgia, but Russia has taken advantage of the new situation by offering 70% of the Ossetian population Russian citizenship and funding the new government in South Ossetia. 29% of the population, incidentally, is Georgian.
This was the vague and weird status quo until Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili ordered his troops to invade South Ossetia and reclaim it. Russia responded, as you know, by invading Georgia. This is when Barack Obama said (stupidly) that Georgia should be made a member of NATO (which would require NATO to take a military stand against Russia), and John "Rambo" McCain started beating his chest about taking an even tougher stand against Russia, saying, "We are all Georgians". It can be assumed that none of us are Ossetians.
For everyone then this is a bit of a nostalgia tour. The Georgians want to return to the days when South Ossetia was comfortably a part of Georgia. The Russians, particularly Putin, want Russia to be as strong as she was during the Soviet days and want Georgia to once again be a part of the realm. The American neoconservatives want to return to the Cold War, when good took a stand, and evil spoke Russian. These are, generally, people who have no sense of the world without someone to struggle against.
So, expect to hear a lot in the next weeks about "weakness" and "decisive action" and "taking a principled stand against evil". Also, hopefully, we will be told who is "good" and who is "evil" here; otherwise this all might just seem like a crazy, overheated, regional struggle that has nothing to do with us.
Well, why not? A new softcore porn channel is planning to make Canadian-themed smut shot in Canada. No doubt casting all of those farmgirls who came to Regina thinking that they were going to become movie stars!
Anyway, I've no idea what they're going to call these Canadian porn films. "The Regina Monologues"? "Fucking, eh!"? "No Hockey Tonight"? "Back Bacon"? "Hot 'n' Horny Hosers"?
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Bad news for evildoers (real or imagined) everywhere- John McCain has opened up a five point lead over Barack Obama in the race for the White House. Honestly, every article I read about the race talks about Obama, Obama's campaign ads talk about Obama, and McCain's ads are all bitchy griping about Obama- have you heard that he's a celebrity?
Do we seriously have to wait until John McCain becomes President to get the slightest idea of what a McCain presidency might entail? Is he just like the default candidate now?
-Robert Ouellet, incoming President of the Canadian Medical Association, and a big advocate of putting in a mixed system- using both public and private health care to improve access- in Canada; an idea that is surprisingly popular in the country.
The number one question I'm asked by Americans who know that I live in Canada is, "What's the health care like?"; even more so than questions about the weather or hockey. I am currently insured by my university in the United States, and Claire has an Ontario health card. Therefore, I have seen both the Canadian and US health care systems in action and here's the truth: they can both suck in different ways.
Don't get me wrong- both systems have their advantages; the problem is that advocates of private or public health care don't know how to take advantage of the benefits of the other system. As with so much else, it becomes an all-or-nothing argument, and the die hards don't know how to copy the good parts of the other system, so we end up suffering all the problems in order to maintain an idea.
We all know the problems in the US: all those people who are uninsured have to pay through the nose for health care. When Claire and her family hear about someone getting soaked for, say, a broken arm, they cringe. Personally, I've had ear drops that ended up costing me $250. My father, who is a self-employed lobsterman, pays as much for his health insurance as he does for all of his other expenses combined. He's a Reagan republican. He is also a big advocate of adopting a Canadian-style system in the US.
Secondly, it is absolutely false that having a private system increases your choices: if you have to use insurance, you're stuck with who the company will pay for. For instance, our school insurance allows me to see only three or four psychiatrists in our county, two of which seem to no longer practice! With public health care, Claire can go to any doctor in the country and not have to worry about the "list of approved providers", and for the record, there are just as many doctors up here as there are down there. It is much easier for her than it is for me.
Lastly, nearly everyone who has dealt with insurance companies has had some experiences in which the company refuses to pay for something for some nonsensical reason. It's heartbreaking to go bankrupt because you got sick; it's even worse when you actually have health insurance, but the company won't pay out. Every time the companies try to rip off a customer this way they dig their own grave a little deeper.
Okay, so let's get to burying public health care! For me, the most frustrating thing about Canadian health care can be illustrated by a story (that Claire can attest I repeat frequently!): a few years back, Claire was suffering from severe migraines; they run in her family, but the doctors wanted to be sure that they weren't caused by a tumor, so they wanted her to get an MRI, just in case. I expected that, sure, this would be taken care of within a week, so we wouldn't have to worry about her. She had to wait six weeks. For everyone else, this was okay- after all, she most likely didn't need the MRI. She was probably fine. They told me, correctly, that she would have gotten in quicker if the chances were higher that there was something there. I was livid.
The second problem can be illustrated by something I heard when I first came here that I thought was a joke: a doctor in Canada doesn't make much money at all. In fact, GPs start off making about as much as a good plumber. The result? They get trained in Canada and go to practice in the United States. Canada suffers from a serious drain of trained doctors and has been trying to make up the difference by luring over doctors from poorer countries. In my opinion, it's absurd to require people to go through that much schooling in order to get a job that doesn't allow them to pay the mortgage on a medium-sized house. It's also anti-intellectual.
Lastly, private funding is why the United States is so good at finding cures for illnesses: there's money in it. The downside, of course, is that American drug companies are also pretty good at inventing illnesses! But it was those "evil drug companies" that turned AIDS from a terminal illness to a chronic illness. And they're the ones that are going to perform miracles with stem-cell research. This will be the century of biology, just as the twentieth was the century of physics. And many of the innovations will come from the US, even if the doctors were born in Canada!
So, it seems to me that the US needs a bit less of the profit motive and Canada needs a bit more of it. In fact, Canada is already moving towards a mixed system that would include more private health care (the point of the article) while the US is moving towards a mixed system that would include more public health care. This is nothing to be afraid of. Our goal should not be to maintain the purity of an unsullied idea, but to get the best of both worlds.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Monday, August 18, 2008
Some novelists are spiritual physicians: they try to diagnose what's wrong with the modern way of life by cataloguing its more painful symptoms. They poke and prod; they expose tumors and cysts to the light. Ultimately, they try to pinpoint what's wrong with us by telling us where it hurts them.
The type is certainly well-known in France, a nation whose writers first diagnosed the mal du siècle and popularized ennui. Musset, Rimbaud, Céline, Baudelaire, and now Houellebecq all attempted to map out a world that they could hardly stand living in. Reading their work is often uncomfortable or irritating; we ignore it at our peril. The greatest novelists exhibit all of the flaws of humanity; but they imitate God in being omniscient and pitiless. They are immoral scourges.
Scourges can be a pain in the ass. Very few people want to hear what's wrong with their behavior, and absolutely none want to know what's wrong with their soul. Scourges can be so impassive that we think they are racist when they tell us about racists, perverts when they discuss perversion, psychopaths when they discuss psychopathology. Often they actually are vivisecting themselves in their work and this leads to charges of hypocrisy: how can they criticize sins they engage in? Hypocrisy is the most insufferable sin for us: we can tolerate nearly any vice in others provided they're consistent in it. Houellebecq can come off as a sexual libertine who describes the spiritual emptiness of sexual libertines, a pornographer who can't stand pornography.
Platforme is a novel that pissed off more than a few people when released in 2001. Their main problem was that Houellebecq- or his narrator- doesn't seem to have much respect for the Islamic faith, and we like our public figures to at least pretend to respect Islam. Most westerners are not interested in, or particularly impressed by the religion, and it seems weird that a novelist who portrays the west as we live today would not deal with that. But we expect decorum to be maintained.
The secondary problem- and incorrect in my opinion- was that some believed that the novel celebrates sex tourism. Essentially, Platforme deals with an uncomfortable problem in the west- a young professional class that talks all the time about sex, but who have basically stopped screwing. Or, at least, stopped enjoying it and continue to do so out of some sort of social commitment. Houellebecq seems to agree with conservatives that this problem has cultural roots, and with the left that it has to do with the intrusion of capitalism into all aspects of life: thus he pisses off everyone. He also sees a clear-cut solution: the demand of Westerners for sexual pleasure met by the supply of third world men and women who have only their bodies to offer. Donc voilà! mass-marketed sex tourism.
It goes badly.
And, in fact, according to Houellebecq, it could not go any other way. What critics seem to miss is his insistence (which he isn't exactly subtle about) that capitalism increasingly makes human connection destructive, if not impossible; and in a world without affect, we can't expect any sort of cultural understanding, much less an end to enmity and violence. Westerners may or may not respect Muslims, but they do not really respect people who live in poor countries as individuals, and their desperate attempts to do so are painfully false. Houellebecq isn't so much celebrating sex tourism as mocking the self-righteousness that sees sex tourism as off-limits while all other sorts of exploitation are good to go.
In many ways, he's actually a moralist, but his morals are rooted in empathy and lust instead of in moral precepts. For instance, the two main characters: a sour middle-aged bureaucrat and a travel company mastermind: are deeply and passionately in love with each other, and express that love in a variety of ways, including group sex in swinger clubs. At one point, they fuck a couple whose marriage is falling apart and who are using group sex to hurt each other. Houellebecq's point is clear: the act itself is not enriching or destructive, but neutral; among people who love one another, it's loving; among people who don't, it's destructive. In fact, this love between them sanctifies the entire book.
One suspects that Houellebecq sees love as the only thing that will save our souls from capitalism. What he bemoans (and his characters frequently express that they do not like the modern world) is the death of genuine loving connection. Young professionals work too much for money that bores them in jobs that fill their lives with stress, so it's no wonder that they barely fuck anymore. And their culture has no answer for this. Houellebecq sees love as a door out of hell, but one that is closed both by the religious fundamentalism of other cultures as well as by the nihilistic turbo-capitalism of our own.
It goes without saying that his point of view is gloomy. He sees no escape left.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Who knows how long Youtube will leave it up, but here's that Sigur Ros video.
Well, I guess I'm sick, sick, sick because I actually like this ad campaign for Wrangler Jeans by the French ad company FFL. The company previously did a bizarre sexy animal ad for Orangina which weirded me out when I saw it everywhere in France. This one is also bizarre and evocative; but it works for me.
Melissa McEwan at Shakesville: "Um, yeah. Because murder? Is so hot and edgy."
You get the picture. So to speak. There were also lots of commenters on the sites who objected to the second image. Many also objected to this commercial from the campaign, which they tried to reconcile with their idea that it was an ad campaign about murder: was this a pre-murder film of the wild woman who later got murdered?
Friday, August 15, 2008
(*And, yes, I get that a giant inflatable dog turd is funny! But, after you've been following contemporary art for about 20 years and seen exactly 47,539 variations on this same shtick, the joke gets really old.)
Thursday, August 14, 2008
I'm "unmedicated" right now, due to general insurance fuckery, so my mood is low and limited. Actually, I feel like I should be given a medal for having eaten food this afternoon, and an inspirational book written about my plans to take a bath this evening. Big things. We are the champions, my friends.
I don't like taking Prozac (or "hitting the 'zac" as we call it on the street), but I really hate not taking it. Remember the multiple tracks in my brain that I talked about? When I'm not hitting the 'zac, they all go fuzzy and my head hurts, and basically everything else hurts too. It's too irritating to do anything and I am generally nervous and jittery most of the time, while wanting to punch a hole in the drywall out of irritation. And my mood is black.
Hiromi once talked (on her now-defunct blog) about wanting to stay off meds in order to remain herself, and Jonathan Richman has a song on his new album with the biting line, "When we refuse to suffer, then the Prozac wins". I understand the desire to feel everything, and it certainly irritates me that so many people use psychotropic drugs to disengage from their lives instead of fixing them. The threshold for psychological normality is dangerously low these days. Frankly, the way that most of us live our lives sucks, and we shouldn't be medicating in order to maintain an idiotic schedule of work-shopping-sleeping-work-shopping-sleeping unto death.
And yet, there's a need to romanticize my panic attacks that needn't be there. The reason I'm on drugs is simple- I realized at one point that my symptoms weren't really connected to anything in my life. Many days, I wake up and start to panic, even though nothing is wrong. Or, I wake up and start to feel like life is shit, even though nothing is wrong. Then I try to attach the feelings to something tangible: they are free-floating until I can blame them on something. So, I decide that I am feeling suicidal because I hate television, or driving, or cuisine in North America. I really do hate all of those things, so it sort of makes sense. However, one day I just owned up to the fact that I was walking down the sidewalk on a sunny day and nothing was wrong- but I still felt overwhelmed and miserable. I decided the symptoms might be more akin to fever delusions than to actual psychological responses to the world.
I decided that the symptoms were getting in the way of being myself and living my life, and that medication would negate that. Actually, it's not much different for me than taking cold medicine to remove the symptoms that are preventing me from functioning. It definitely has nothing to do with "functioning" in the work-related sense. It's more like experiencing the full spectrum of emotions- when I am wonky, my emotions are limited to 1. wired/irritated and 2. crying for no reason. That's about where I'm at now. I could kill the fucking bird that is singing outside of my window!
Other things help me in these times: art helps, booze helps, sex helps. I understand why some artists need to stay this way to create and why my mother drinks so much. These are the doors that let them out. For me, the trick is to take a very small dosage of the 'zac, which rids me of the free-floating panic attacks. My daily dosage is lower than anyone I've met. Otherwise, I'm actually unmedicated most of the time. But there's a big difference between being generally unmedicated and being totally unmedicated. So, if I post on here about how *#&$@# much I hate driving a *#!%! car, for no apparent reason, just shrug your shoulders and say: "Ah, yeah- he's unmedicated!"
Julian Critchley makes a good point about the unlikelihood that the war on drugs will ever be called off. Unfortunately, anyone calling for drug legalization finds themselves put in the unenviable position of having to argue that society should accept that there will be some drug deaths that carry the government's imprimatur. Of course, there will still be drug deaths if drugs remain illegal, and there would probably be less of them if we took a harm management strategy; however, drug legalization means that we officially accept the reality that some people will kill themselves with drugs, just as we now accept that they will kill themselves with cigarettes, booze, guns, or cars. Would you want to be the politician to push for that?
Instead, we get in this position with programs like the war on drugs, or the homeland security regime, where every time it seems as if things aren't working, we have to "get tougher" with more laws, more cops, and more hassle. Hitting the alarm clock with our fist isn't making it run any better, so let's use a hammer! Once we've gotten tougher in some way, it's nearly impossible to go back- do you want to be the one to argue that the homeland security measures have been a tremendous, irrational overreaction that has done very little good and made public life considerably more difficult? Maybe that's right, but try arguing with your older relatives that we should cut down on the CYA security measures, even if it means that some psycho might kill someone, somewhere, in the future. Sure, that's going to happen anyway- we'll never be completely safe. But owning up to that reality takes a certain "toughness" that most people simply don't have.
"Ultimately, people will make choices which harm themselves, whether they involve diet, smoking, drinking, lack of exercise, sexual activity or pursuit of extreme sports. In all these instances, the Government rightly takes the line that if these activities are to be pursued, society will ensure that those who pursue them have access to accurate information about the risks; can access assistance to change their harmful habits should they so wish; are protected by a legal standards regime; are taxed accordingly; and – crucially – do not harm other people. Only in the field of drugs does the Government take a different line."
"I think what was truly depressing about my time in the civil service was that the professionals I met from every sector held the same view: the illegality of drugs causes far more problems for society and the individual than it solves. Yet publicly, all those people were forced to repeat the mantra that the Government would be "tough on drugs", even though they all knew that the policy was causing harm."-Julian Critchley, former director of the UK Anti-Drug Co-Ordination Unit
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Claire and I spent yesterday in downtown Buffalo, New York, at the Canadian consulate. It was a happy day- I finally became an official "permanent resident" of Canada. It was also fascinating to see what's happened in Buffalo; I haven't been downtown in years, and they seem to have rebuilt or renovated quite a bit of it.
In my opinion, Buffalo is one of the best cities in America for architecture. During it's heyday in the early twentieth-century, the area thrived, due to the Erie Canal and Buffalo companies, such as American Express, and Bethlehem Steel. The main industries were flour and steel, and the area was rich enough to attract some of the best architects in the country: there are five Frank Lloyd Wright houses in Buffalo, and I think they're actually building a new structure there from one of his designs. Driving around the city, you see many neighborhoods where it's possible to live in classic American homes for very little money. There is also one of the great art galleries in the country there: the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Forbes lists Buffalo among it's "fastest dying cities" in America, and puts the population decline at 51,302 since the year 2,000. Most of the cities are in the "rust belt" and four of them are in Ohio. In the case of Buffalo, the local economy was devastated when Bethlehem Steel shut down its production in Lackawanna between 1977 and 1982. The economy has been in perpetual decline ever since.
In many ways, Buffalo resembles a hollowed-out version of our own city, Hamilton. When we walked around the local mall, looking for a washroom, about half of the stores were empty- they've tried to replace the departed businesses, but can't attract replacements. They stack empty boxes with the mall logo on them in the store fronts.There were almost as many security guards as customers there, and there's a weird security paranoia in general downtown. We were "trailed" by a security martinet who didn't like us taking pictures of each other near important buildings. Eventually, one imagines the shrinking population and post-9/11 paranoia will result in something like the buddy system in Buffalo, with one guard for each local.
The cultural issues are much the same: the drunks in public at 2 pm, people sleeping on park benches, teenage mothers, and the same casual domestic cruelty. Quote from a passing teenage mother to her six year old: "You slow down Stephanie, or I'm going to break your fucking stick legs!" As in Hamilton, you see a certain percentage of the adult population who seems totally unprepared for the demands of adulthood; actually, given the cultural similarities, I'd imagine that cultural decline is more widespread than economic decline. Many parts of Hamilton and Buffalo are very civilized, but walking around downtown Buffalo, I wondered what would happen to the more dysfunctional parts of Hamilton if our steel mills close. Where would these people go? What would happen to them? The culture in no way prepares them for such possibilities, and the economy is not improving.
There are many people who talk about revitalizing Buffalo. Certainly, the rebuilding has made much of the town gorgeous, and it's inspiring to see tree-lined, peaceful neighborhoods for blue collar black families. There have been some films shot here, such as The Savages, which we just watched, and which made Buffalo look miserable. Ani Difranco runs her record label out of Buffalo and has made a beautiful venue space out of a classic John Selkirk building. Given the cheapness of living in Buffalo, it could well become a magnet for cool young artists. On the other hand, even though people talk glowingly of bohemian urban renewal, can you really build an economy on indie rock bands and hipster websites?
Is it possible that Buffalo will finally die completely? The local government was so short on funds a few years ago that they started closing libraries and suspending the 9.1.1. service. It was something of a bluff- the state finally kicked some money to them. But I have to wonder if it wouldn't be best to start moving people closer together and closing off some of the neighborhoods. Certainly, they have already demolished a few houses to put in parks and gardens. Would it be best to run Buffalo as a large, very secure, nursing community and allow its aging community to slowly die out? Or would the psychological costs offset the economic gains?
"I personally have gotten the hookers away from Barton and Emerald. They're done. I've got them finished. They're not here anymore."
"Hey, it's Deb. Please get the message. It's been eight weeks since we've talked so take the hint!"
"To the guy who talks about mini motors: how dare you call people losers who walk or take the bus! Has it ever occurred to you that some of these individuals are trying to support families and fight the economy at the same time, you goof?"
"Anybody been down to the Farmer's Market and bought themselves a nice big bag of compost?"
"Hey, dude! The one who is looking for Deb! Wake up and smell the coffee! Deb's finally happy. It's probably going to be infinity plus seven weeks before you get to see her again. She's finally getting what she deserves so you can just move on."
"This is in response to the rant about the pizza guy not getting tipped. As a stoner myself, I like to order pizza at midnight. If drugs were cheaper, I'd be able to tip more. It's not my fault drugs aren't any cheaper than they are now."
It's worth clicking through to the larger version to see the back of the dress in the reflection.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Monday, August 11, 2008
As far as names of political groups go, that's a pretty hard one to beat for sheer silliness. I also think that "Not in my Shower!" would be a great name for an exploitation film; almost as good as "Hooker Riot".
Anyway, a group in Montgomery County, Maryland, calling itself "Not in my Shower", wants to make sure that transvestites don't break into their homes and use their showers. Actually, no, that would be stupid. Instead, they're opposing laws that would make it illegal to discriminate against transgendered people. They are afraid that, if it becomes illegal to discriminate against transgendered people in hiring and such, the natural outcome would be cross-dressers hanging out in female gym showers and raping women, and nobody could do anything to stop it! Okay, actually, that's pretty stupid too...
First, we have to understand that several parts of the country are passing laws to prevent discrimination against people based on their gender identity. I tend to be skeptical that you can actually legislate away bigotry. It seems like boycotts are usually more effective than laws in getting businesses to act civilized. On the other hand, I can't imagine that you can get very many people to sign up for a transgender rights boycott, and I would also imagine that many businesses and public places have issues with transgendered people. As Ned Sublette once sang, "small towns don't like it when somebody falls between sexes." But, most importantly, I really can't think of many jobs in which somebody falling between sexes would legitimately prevent them from doing the work. Maybe wet nurse.
Okay, so the law makes sense, I suppose. Now, the reasoning behind the group "Not in my Shower" seems to be based on the idea that a man could hang out in a public shower or restroom that was designed for women, provided that he claimed to identify as a woman. So, there could, possibly, be men dressing like women, in order to hang out in the women's shower room and get their rocks off, who would then claim the right to do so. This is all very plausible... provided that we're all living in the film Porky's.
I do think it's good that groups like this (is it a 'women's group'?) exist in order to air out and dispel just these sorts of delusions. I don't think that they're made up of people who are hateful; just afraid and confused. And most people haven't met a lot of transgendered people. I've known a few people who were legitimately convinced that they were born the wrong gender. And, to be honest, I was usually convinced that they were born the wrong gender too. More importantly, all of them I've known were the sort of people who would never dream of hassling anyone else in a public place, especially as they were frequently themselves hassled in public places! For the most part, they just wanted to be left alone.
Also, let's be honest- there really isn't a possible "loophole" that would allow anyone to hassle, molest, or rape a stranger in a public shower. It's just not in danger of being legalized. I think that the issue needs to be put on the table, and people need to talk about their fears, and work out their differences, and then all hit the showers together.
I just reread Philip Mansel's great study Constantinople: City of the World's Desire, 1453-1924, and there's an interesting point that he makes in there about Jews in the Ottoman Empire: "In Constantinople, the words pogrom, ghetto, inquisition had no meaning." The official Ottoman tolerance of "people of the book"- honestly more economic than philosophically-based- answers a question from Western European History, namely "Where did the Jews go to flee the Inquisition?" Many of them fled to Constantinople.
This is interesting for us moderns who are used to hearing about the "eternal enmity" between Jews and Muslims. Mansel notes that, while there were in fact tensions between Christians and Jews in the Empire, "The Muslim population of the city... was tolerant or indifferent towards Jews." Indeed, when Jews were expelled from places like Castille and Aragon, the Ottomans threw open their doors to them. Mansel notes a (perhaps apocryphal) comment from Bayezid II that "King Ferdinand could not be as clever as reputed, if he expelled so many industrious subjects to enrich a rival monarch." The port of Salonica, in particular, became a famed home for refugee Jews, and was often called the 'New Jerusalem.' After 1502, the Sultans also took in Arabs from Granada, and it's worth remembering (as it's often forgotten now) that the Ottomans and Arabs were quite often at odds.
In the nineteenth-century, its cosmopolitanism became a problem for the inhabitants of the empire. Following Mazzini's creed, "Every nation a state," one by one various nations took on the Ottomans, especially the Greeks, Bulgarians, Armenians, Arabs and Turks. However, largely due to the time and place of Jewish national aspirations, the Jews didn't really run up against the Ottoman will in the same way as, for example, the Armenians did. We don't hear about the same pogroms at this time either, while there are bloody clashes between the authorities and other groups in the empire.
On the other hand, Mansel makes the interesting note that Jewish poverty increased greatly in Constantinople after Mahmud II abolished the Janissaries in 1826. Mansel: "Closely linked to the Janissaries, whose finances they alone had been said to understand, the Jews suffered from the 'Blessed Event'." So, while they weren't being targeted by the authorities and local mobs, as in places like Russia, the Jews of the Ottoman Empire were becoming poorer.
Their safety in Constantinople didn't really decline as the Turkish nation replaced the Ottoman dynasty. The Turks aimed at forming a modern and enlightened state, although the reality often fell short of the goal. We should remember that the Armenian genocide, for example, was the work of the crumbling Ottoman state, and not the Kemalists who replaced them by 1924. Modern Turkey was to be guided by Islam, but was intended to be secular in all public functions, a goal that is still often in doubt.
It's interesting to note (and I know a scholar who notes this frequently) that many of the Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany were taken in by Turkey and other ex-Ottoman territories, such as Greek Salonica. In the latter case, this was no protection as Salonica was occupied by the Nazis and its Jews shipped out to the death camps. Even today, Salonica (also known as Thessalonki) has not returned to its former status as a city in which at least a third of the population was Jewish.
Again, it's worth considering much of this when people talk about the eternal anti-Semitism of the Islamic Mind. In my research, it seems as if there is quite a bit of anti-Semitism in Arab countries, beginning largely in the late 1800s and the twentieth-century. However, there is not the same history in the Ottoman Empire, which was the largest Muslim empire in history. So it's worth making distinctions within the dar al-Islam because different Muslim territories tend to differ greatly.