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Film review: Danton outgrosses Robespierre

Preface: As I've said, oldie writing will be dusted off and plunked blogside (at least at first; new stuff should gradually overtake i...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Footnote to Shempnatieff

Wondering what all the Shemp/Ignatieff stuff below was about?

Check this:


Et merci beaucoup a Vampirella de Calgarie pour le photo-recherche!

Monday, December 8, 2008

A cabbie editing Shakespeare?? Huh???

My projected edition of the Bard's Troilus and Cressida will have a four-part intro:

1. Circumscription. Six pages of quotations, mostly from the scholarly poohbahs, about Shakespeare's elusive religion and politics, and about this "problem play."

2. Preface. The wacky story of how I more or less blundered my way into solving the problem (for full Preface, see below).

3. Prologue I. "Shakespeare's Repentance: What to Recognize When Rethinking a 'Conservative Authoritarian.'" All about Shakespeare's allusive coding in an earlier work (the cute part is that Shakespeare never wrote anything called Repentance, overtly anyway *hee hee*). Ideally this portion will be first presented as a public lecture at my alma mater, the University of Alberta, so profs and I can go at it with hammer and tongs!

4. Prologue II. "Troilus and Cressida as Mega-Parable." How Shakespeare continued his coding pattern into a cleverly concealed satire -- at a time when satire was illegal...


(To come...)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Facebook asks, what are you doing?

I'm channeling Mackenzie King -- Waxing poetic if necessary, but not necessarily waning prosaic.

Any resemblance to the weaselly verbiage flying around Canada's Parliament these days is purely echoic.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Last laugh at Parliament...

Again, me mouthing off, from Post's "Full Comment" (where the excitable are getting really, REALLY excited about the mud-wrestling in Ottawa...). I start with a quote, like all the best pontifical pundits:

"... my view of my country is predominantly tolerant and amiable. I do not believe in democracy, but I am perfectly willing to admit that it provides the only really amusing form of government ever endured by mankind."

-- Not written by a wit from Canada (although Mordecai Richler loved him), and the statement is 60 years old, but it still comprises a perfect comment upon the current, farcical power-struggle.. Regardless of political stripe, I think everyone should be laughing heartily at the clownarama...

# # # #

And I still think Ignatieff is perfect in the role of Shemp.

Holocaust, Irgun, hot reactions...

Slice of blogosphere, from the National Post's "Full Comment" site:
(and I hope everyone can guess who "Gaard4thee" is...)

Larry Zolf: Izzy Asper and the Irgun
Posted: December 02, 2008, 5:53 PM by Marni Soupcoff

In his biography of Izzy Asper, Peter C. Newman says that Asper was a fan of the Irgun, the revisionist Jewish terrorists led by Menachem Begin who blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. That makes Izzy a bit of a Jewish radical, says Newman.

This got me thinking. The Post has not said a word about Anna Porter’s latest book: Kastner’s Train, The True Story of Rezso Kastner, Unknkown Hero of the Holocaust. Kastner saved the lives of Hungarian Jews like Peter Munk.The Irgun assassinated Kastner in Palestine. The Irgun says that Kastner dealt with the Nazis and betrayed the Jews.

Anna Porter’s book on the genocide of Hungary’s Jewish communities is the best book on the Holocaust by a Gentile ever written and rivals Prof. Michael Maris’s holocaust work on the subject. Anna Porter is an absolute marvel as an historian of the Nazis and the Jews in Hungary. Her book gives you the smell of death of Adolf Eichmann. Anna Porter insists that Kastner has not been given his due, his just recognition.

Izzy and the Irgun don’t see things that way. Anyone who dealt with the Nazis was a traitor to the Jewish people, says Izzy and says the Irgun and Menachem Begin. Anna Porter presents a great case.

Personally I grew up with the Irgun. Ben Hecht, too of the Irgun, whom Anna Porter dismisses, was my favourite Jewish writer. Hecht and Charles MacArthur wrote the classic “Front Page” in 20th century movies. Ben Hecht’s autobiography: A Child of the Century, was the best growing-up-Jewish-in-America book ever written when I was in college.Hecht was a friend of John Barrymore and W.C. Fields. Hecht once said Hollywood was so censorious it removed the word ‘nuts’ for fear it might offend a sensitive masturbator.

Hecht and the Irgun hated the British treatment of the death camp survivors. So did I. In my bar mitzvah speech I said the Labour party’s Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevin were Nazis and Harold Laski a Jewish self-hater.

He was Hollywood to me. In Canada all we had were Wayne and Shuster and Bert Pearl. In the U.S. NBC, CBS, and ABC were Jewish owned and Jewish staffed. In Canada at the CBC, I and Jason Moscowitz were the two token Jewish reporters at CBC News.

I was pro-Irgun in the Asper sense but I didn’t hate the British. I married one.

Anna Porter is too hard on Hecht and Begin but she’s dead on in saying that Hecht’s book, Perfidy, on Kastner is very, very much over the top. Porter knows her Israeli and Jewish politics well. Anna Porter prefers Golda Meir and Itzak Rabin to Begin and Asper. So do I for the most part.

Still, Izzy Asper had his reasons to not like Golda Meir and Itzak Rabin. They were too socialist for Izzy. That’s too bad. Today Izzy would have been the perfect reviewer for the National Post of the Anna Porter book. -->

var addthis_pub = 'nationalpost';

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by Tim Cares
Dec 02 20086:50 PM

Israel elects terrorists as their PMs but the Palestinians can't.
I guess it's a case of do as I say...

by Jackal1234
Dec 02 20086:59 PM

wow tim ... you're a helluva lefty mouthpiece apologist.
yasser arafat was the biggest terrorist of them all and was the leader of the PLO for how long 30 years?
you are a symbol of what is wrong with our country today.

by Gaard4thee
Dec 02 200810:55 PM

So, re the "goyish but good" books, was Harold Flender's Rescue in Denmark on the short-list? Or was it disqualified because technically the Holocaust didn't happen in Denmark?

But seriously, interesting review of an interesting book, especially for those of us who agonize about all the damn walls between "us" and "them".

I think H. L. Mencken would have been a better reviewer than Izzy, though. His 1938 newspaper column "Help for the Jews" showed he was one of the very few who understood Kristallnacht for what it was, and instantly understood that German-Jewish emigration, fast, was the only solution. Oddly enough he is now labelled an "anti-semite" by just about everyone...

Intellectual life in the West, I tell ya...

More on racism...

Orwell said that racism generally elicits emotional over-reactions, whereas it was a subject that really needs cool and rational study.

Amen. And here is a rare person who gives it just that:


Nyuk, nyuk, Mr. Dion (footnote to previous)

A few hours after hatching the "slapstick deficit" post, I pick up the Edmonton Sun, and there is columnist Greg Weston, stealing my Three Stooges metaphor for the three coalition leaders! Well, it's a natural parallel, and I imagine there will be six or seven smartass journalists using it today.

But, weird confession time: I actually rather like Stephane Dion. Strictly as a human he seems by far the best of the national party leaders. Alas, he is also a professor (whose Ivory-Tower Syndrome [ITS] might have been cured by a decade or two driving a taxi, as I did), and stuck in the dirty, conniving business of politics. Ergo, the coalition, and quite possibly Dion suffering the curse of getting what he wished for.

As Jonathan Kay points out in today's National Post (prophetically perhaps), it is virtually certain that Dion becoming PM and attempting to manage the gargantuan financial crisis (i.e. the unmanageable) will destroy the last shred of his credibility and perhaps the Liberal Party as well. Not to mention turning a bad economic situation into a worse one.

Kay also thinks, as I do, that Harper can only gain from relinquishing power, although his reasons are a bit more elaborate than mine. Alas, Harper, like Dion, is all too preoccupied with clutching the mace of power, whatever the costs.

Laugh or cry.

As for "managing" the crisis, the balloon of bad credit in the system cannot be wished away, legislated away, or transformed into pudding by contractual alchemy. It must work its way through the economy, slamming all of us more or less, regardless of any incantation by the political shamans. The only difference between a "managed" solution and a "free-market" solution is that a supposedly "managed" solution will enrich a few of the shamans and sub-shamans in the process.

For myself, I prefer the free-market solution, if only because it guarantees a higher rate of golden-parachute failure among the wheeler-dealers, a real pleasure to my blue-collar sensibilities.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Coalition attacks the slapstick deficit

If Stephen Harper had a sense of humor (okay, we're talking science fiction here) he would be making every effort to grease the newly-formed federal coalition of Liberals, NDP and Bloc Quebecois into the seat of power.

I mean, imagine the three parties trying to draft policy when all they share is a vague but intense dislike of things conservative! And the economy is tanking! And the coalition needs EVERY member to keep Harper's near-majority at bay -- thus empowering all 54 nano-rumps in the tenuous coalition, emboldening each to get their doctrinal shorts in a knot: "Meet our demands! -- or three or four MPs will cross the floor and it's all over!"

As to concrete measures --bailouts? Uh...

By what criteria? Um...

Maybe just issue shovels to all Treasury employees? Ah.. er...

No, Harper should just saddle up his best gelding from the speechwriter-barn and tell his kept intellectual to compose a good Churchillian resignation speech full of rhetorical fire:

"All right you socialists and ragtag leftists! All right, Mr. Dion and the Detachables! Put together your little supergroup and see if you can do any better than we did. Let's see if you can do anything at all!"

You don't need a stock-market lurch to tell you that the result would be an endless parade of program pratfalls, a sort of ideological Three Stooges farce with Ignatieff playing Shemp. (Note how Iggy's initial opposition to the coalition collapsed faster than his initial indifference to the Lebanon war).

Within three weeks Canadians would be gasping with laughter and begging Stephen Harper to bring back his tight-lipped sourpuss and save us all from respiratory failure.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Review: The Diary of H. L. Mencken (Edmonton Journal, March 10, 1990)

Herewith, the clippings-flagship, not my first published book review--that was a whimsical buffoonery upon a self-published paperback Seventeen Days in Tehran (which viewed the Iranian revolution optimistically circa 1980--one wonders if its rosy-visioned author is still as exultantly hopeful about Khomeini's legacy today. Nor was this Mencken autopsy the first judgement to rake in dollars; that was a review of Andrew Malcolm's The Canadians, done for the late, great, sanctified (or is that just sanctimonious?) Alberta Report...yeah, an amusing and instructive story behind THAT, which I'm saving for a projected volume of memoirs .

But the Mencken Diary review was my first Important Book dissected for a Major Publication, so I really sweated to give it some magisterial style and substance.The anti-climax came as I repeatedly tucked my precious baby into job-applications, and just as repeatedly had HR people neglecting to get back to me.

Cause and effect, perhaps? Who knows.

The review was printed under the headline "Was Mencken an objectionable bigot or simply a wit misunderstood by boobs?" The venue being sort of high-profile, I hoped my contribution might help kill the lingering accusation of racism against Mencken (via the mock-theory of Mencken's "hexaphenic personality"--ho ho--since I knew from long experience that any direct disproof of racism is ipso facto futile. A racism charge always sticks like napalm).

And sure enough, it continues to stick to H. L. Mencken, despite a thorough refutation of his "anti-semitism" in the American Scholar about the same time -- which I didn't uncover until years later, or I would have added to my below citation of Lawrence Spivak the additional fact that Spivak was still alive (and over 90) when the Diary was published, and when consulted he called the anti-semitism charge nonsense. Despite this and other vindications, the racism smear persists, e.g. in the Globe and Mail...

EUREKA! I actually found the Mop and Pail quote in the office mess!!! -- Jan. 25, 2003, pD7, in "America's skeptical sage" [review of Terry Teachout's biography, The Skeptic] which states, "Certainly, Mencken was an anti-Semite."

Horseshit. Read the American Scholar article. Or my, um, masterpiece below. For what it's worth. From the Edmonton Journal, March 10, 1990:

The Diary of H. L. Mencken
Edited by Charles Fecher
Alfred Knopf Inc.
477pp., $41

During his lifetime H. L. Mencken had a genius for scandalizing the boobs with his satire and criticism, and even now, 36 years after his death, he still inspires controversy.

The latest kerfuffle arose with the release of this diary, whose contents revived the charges of anti-semitism and anti-black bigotry which had occasionally dogged him before, though never too seriously.

Opinions differ as to whether the Diary validates the charges. Jonathan Alter recently went off the deep end in Newsweek, calling Mencken a "conventional bigot" -- which is rather absurd, since conventional bigots don't usually stay on amiable terms with dozens of Jews, as Mencken did, most notably with his publisher and close friend Alfred Knopf, who in 1980 described their relationship as "perfect" -- an astounding enough fact in any writer-publisher relationship, let alone one with a bigoted goy.

Furthermore, conventional bigots don't usually play a key role in.sparking and nurturing a black literary movement, as Mencken did with the 1920s Harlem Renaissance.

Douglas Fetherling, writing in Saturday Night, is inclined to deflate the whole controversy, saying that while Mencken had a penchant for ethnic characterizations typical of his time, his only real hatred was of the British. Curiously, in 1946 the British ambassador asks Mencken if he is anti-English. According to his diary, Mencken replies, "This was a gross calumny, circulated by Japs.".

Diary editor Fecher merely tut-tuts what he sees as Mencken's paternalistic attitude towards blacks, but he does a dramatic flip-flop on anti-semitism. Where he once defended Mencken on the charge, he now believes it is true, mostly due to Mencken's copious use of the word "Jew."

The word, of course, usually has nasty overtones, but this isn't generally true here. For instance, Mencken calls Lawrence Spivak a "young Harvard Jew," but his assessment of him is completely favorable.

Clearly a more sophisticated explanation is needed. Maybe Mencken wasn't entirely a bigot, but merely had a hexaphenic multiple personality. In Phase One he was a raving anti-semite, labeling two businessmen as "dreadful kikes." In Phase Two he was a sweet liberal, frowning on the anti-semitism of Theodore Dreiser and Gerald K. Smith. In Phase Three he waffled, giving mixed reviews to Jews such as Morris Fishbein and Charles Angoff.

In Phase Four Mencken suggested that blacks are superstitious. In Phase Five he championed black journalist George Schuyler over the "dunderheads" (i.e. whites) at the Baltimore Sun. In Phase Six he described a negro chauffeur as uneducated but smarter than any New Deal economist.

This explanation should satisfy all factions in the bigotry feud, leaving us to the remaining 95 per cent of the Diary, which is far more interesting. It is a rich hodge-podge, the random gossip of a wide-ranging and very well-connected writer, editor and journalist.

Some of it is ancient news, like the drinking habits of Sinclair Lewis, some of it is mundane, like the details of his personal health,, but mostly it is alive and sublime. It covers everything from Mencken's bad luck in cultivating women writers, to jokes about William Randolph Hearst and physicist Robert Millikan, to the medical details of Al Capone's syphilis.

One of the best anecdotes comes from Dr. Frances Townsend, the old-age pension crusader, who confesses to Mencken that he once committed euthanasia on an unfortunate newborn. Mencken knows a good story when he he hears it, and he is wise enough to repeat this poignant tale without comment.

It's a pity that some critics of this book didn't exercise the same judiciousness.

# # # #

Since there is a new book just out, saying nice things about William Randolph Hearst, at least in his earlier life, perhaps the joke Mencken passed along about him should be made explicit -- some contemporary wiseacre quipped that "William Randolph Hearst married a prostitute, and dragged her down to his level."

That was pretty strong stuff in those prim, puritan days, and reminds us that Citizen Kane didn't happen by accident.

PS: If you are wondering who the hell Lawrence Spivak might be, he was one of the people Mencken gladly approved as his successor to the editorship of the American Mercury. A curious act, coming from an "anti-semite" eh?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Dr. Swift meets the doctors sluggish (The Loserly Legacy Ch. 2)

How bad can English scholarship get? Well, this old term-paper, earmarked for a collection of my various undergrad cud-chewings (working title: Purely Academic) plumbs the depths of the wretchedness! Possibly the scholarly journals are as bad as Maclean's?

### In progress -- i.e. still hunting through the office mess for the damn thing). Did I mention that the prof marking the paper said it was the first time she had ever seen a Playboy publication cited? A **FREE** dog-eared Norton Anthology to the first person to guess WHICH Playboy, um, autobiography (hint: famous guy using a stage-name; real surname Schneider). ###

Extreme-headline cult seizes Maclean's!! Editor Kenneth Whyte steers media vehicle off rhetorical cliff into a chasm of crap!!!

The North American auto industry is DOOMED!


Actually, that's just this week's golly-gosh headline on the cover of Maclean's ("Canada's Timely Newsweekly") In loud, large type, our lurid rag whoops: "The long, sorry decline and ultimate crash [Maclean's colorful highlighting] of the mighty North American car industry (Who's to blame and what's next)" -- complete with a cover-illustration of dubiously relevant Freudian chrome auto-tits from 50s...

And, come to think of it, doesn't "ultimate crash" sort of answer the rhetorical question of "what's next"? In any case, the delicate art of headline-writing is certainly alive and foaming...

Have done a little headline-blaring myself (see above, and tell your libel-lawyers it's all "in the tradition" if you happen to be reading the snappy thing with eyes a-pop, Mr. Whyte and Co.) Hell, even the venerable National Geographic has resorted to jolts-before-sense ... (anyone guess which headline in last three years attracted my baleful eye?)

###More apocalyptic nonsense to come!!###

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Culture in the cab: back with a BlackBerry

First trip: a young lady, 20ish, with a story to tell. She has locked herself out of the garage, and her housemates, who might have loaned her a key, are all out of town.

"What are the chances, eh?" She ruefully asks..

A speeder rips by, cutting across lanes without signalling.

"Alberta drivers are just the worst," she laughs.

A familiar comment. Where is she from?

BC, and therein lies another tale, of our exorbitant insurance rates. In BC she paid $200/month for car insurance. Here she is paying $300, and one insurer even quoted her $500. On top of that, she had to have her 2008 Honda inspected before registering it, even though it was only two months off the lot.

For some reason this inspection-anecdote reminds me of my own mini-ordeal a few years back, when the City of Edmonton required all cabbies to take an English comprehension exam.

I tell my passenger how I enquired whether my Alberta high-school matriculation (I did my entire schooling in the Alberta system, including three years in the NWT) plus my university degree in English would excuse me from writing the exam? Nope. Rules are rules.

My passenger laughs again. I'm not sure it is from some fellow-feeling of being victims of bureaucracy, or because she is a waitress (usually good tippers) but she gives me $10 for $7.60 on the meter.

The happy moment opens the floodgates of thought, from the personal superstition that a good first trip portends a good night in the taxi (actually, this night will merely be ordinary, at least in dollar terms) to the recurring thought that I've GOT to write some of these stories down.

Indeed, having recently bought a new BlackBerry, the job should be easier now. I resolve then and there to blog, for the first time, direct from the cab.

Two days later, doubts are creeping in. Most of the preceding,for instance, was composed the morning after, and even the small segment done in the cab is some sort of testimony to how unusable all the plentiful free moments in the cab are --if one isn't watching the dispatch-computer like a Pavlovian hawk, one is undoubtedly missing trips and losing money. Who has time to watch another screen and ponder the Big Cultural Questions?

##in progress##

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Loserly Legacy: Prologue and Sphinx

As stated in the preceding post, this blog will recycle a bunch of OLD ARTICLES (click here for a Zen exercise in futility) partly for the amusement of visitors, partly as a "batch of clippings" for any employer brave or crazy enough to actually consider hiring this freaky critic.

For starters, here is a 2005 book review, never published, as it seems to have scared the editor who first agreed to let me review the book (Shadowplay), sending me the review-copy but then retreating into a shell of silence when I submitted the dissection. You have to sympathize; even to a Shakespeare specialist the critique must seem presumptuous, and of course it shows (deliberately) myself groping my way through that mystery poem "The Phoenix and the Turtle."

But I believe a critic should NOT use the standard aloof-pontifical style (except maybe humorously, or reviewing a lesser work), but should show the messy and awkward "workings" of criticism to some degree. The review's main job, next to giving a general idea of the book, is to pique an interest in author and effort -- informality does that best, although it's no easy task given how high-school pedants have dully inflicted Shakespeare upon their victims!

PS: I posted this on FaceBook nine months ago, to absolutely zero response. You just know it's going to be a long, hard slog for this heretic and his heresies...

* * * *

Author wanders from the sublime to the ridiculous
Was the Sphinx of Avon... Catholic? Puritan? Or what?

Clare Asquith
Public Affairs, $37.95

The passerby’s t-shirt is white, but darkly states: “Humpty was pushed.” I laugh, for all conspiracy theories are humdingers, from Keegstra’s Illuminati to the DaVinci Code piffle to John Ralston Saul’s Voltaire-bastardized intelligentsia.

But of all the paranoid mysteries, none surpasses the chronic question of Shakespeare’s true beliefs. Herewith, another agenda-hunter, reviving the century-old theory of his Catholicism. A tough one to prove, as Reformation zealots suppressed English Catholics, often with sickening ferocity. Evidence is thus mostly in textual intimations, the fodder of looney conjecture.

Having spent a few years poking at the religious enigma, I came to Shadowplay armed. Is Shakespeare’s bird-fable poem “The Phoenix and the Turtle” here? Yes, naturally, since recent studies plausibly make it a stealthy elegy to a dead Anglo-Catholic couple, one executed... But Asquith skimps on details of this nice sleuth job.

If only she had trimmed her 2,000 repetitions of “Old Church good, Reformation bad” she could have provided better insight into a sphinx-poem that retains some mystery. For instance, one of its lines, “grace in all simplicity,”is almost a Puritan slap at ornate Catholic ceremony. What’s with that?

Asquith quotes the line and its neighbors, intuiting, “Shakespeare is here confronting for the first time the possibility that the spirit of the Catholic resistance would be extinguished” A mighty conjectural leap! The line, “Truth and beauty buried be” is her only visible evidence.

But now another possibility jolts me: this line’s double meaning is imperative: Shakespeare is quietly telling Truth (scripture-based Protestantism) and Beauty (ceremonial Catholicism) to “buried be” (i.e. bury their differences?--and in the poem’s final triad, pray for the dead, whether “true or fair”–a very significant “or” methinks).

Such analysis follows Asquith’s two critical methods of choice, testing the Bard’s writing with a keyword-code (e.g. “beauty,” “fair” and “gazer” indicating Catholic), and assuming “allegory” in his plays (i.e. veiled parallels behind stories and characters). But while these tools do resolve some cryptic bits, as a panacea they fail. Her attempt to make Julius Caesar a Christ-figure in a play promoting papal authority, for instance, is a knee-slapper.

Proud Caesar equals humble foot-washing Jesus?? Well, you see, Caesar’s 23 reported wounds are upped to 33, the years Jesus lived. Shakespeare prankish, maybe? Nah.

Still, hidden meanings have a respectable vintage. As scholar David Bevington notes, Elizabethans generally assumed that plays commented sneakily on current events, and often they did. But 19th-century poet Swinburne illustrated the downside, lampooning the habit of finding Robert Cecil, sly fixer for Elizabeth I, everywhere in the plays, arguing Juliet was a Cecil-figure, the sheer ludicrousness of this being proof of Shakespeare’s masterful concealment.

But Asquith’s pratfalls into “Fluellenism” (a term honoring the bonehead academic in Henry V who made dubious parallels an art) are balanced by pause-giving items: the details of an Anglo-Catholic execution in the “dovehouse”aside in Romeo and Juliet, Catholic Viscountess Montague lurking in A Winter’s Tale; and above all, many a perplexity cleared up by keyword coding, particularly in the Sonnets and early plays.

But Asquith uses her tools clumsily. She detects wavering Catholic Lord Strange in Sonnet 89, for instance, but doesn't connect the persecuted “gazers” in Sonnet 96. She virtually ignores Protestant hero Falstaff (as does last year’s pro-Catholic tome The Secret Shakespeare). Worse, twisting Hamlet to fit Catholic allegory reveals a gap in her references: Shakespeare’s Christian Dimension (1994, ed. Battenhouse). Its critics painstakingly delineate Hamlet not as her tragic hero but a vicious schmuck (and when will stage productions move beyond costuming atrocities to reflect such advances in understanding?)

The flaws will leave Shadowplay beneath most scholars, while its esoteric topic sinks it for most general readers. Still, for noting that poet Edmund Spenser was once banished to Ireland for calling Cecil’s father William a fox (a link to Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, where sly Ulysses --say his name backwards-- is called a “dog-fox”), for this gift I give Asquith my own discovery: Shakespeare’s stealthy references to the morality plays in the Macro manuscript, a medieval relic likely rescued by Catholics.

All these connections clearly show Shakespeare’s familiarity with what Orwell called “ecclesiastic Trotskyism.” But was he thus Catholic? Or Puritan?--as Rev. T. Carter suggests, finding that Shakespeare’s father helped remove Catholic images from Stratford’s church, and was listed as a Puritan recusant by church-establishment spies.

For myself, the question is moot. Everything I have teased out of Shakespeare reveals an ecumenical above all, a conclusion that jolted home again when my headbanging against “The Phoenix and the Turtle” finally unriddled the poem’s subtext: that the horrific infighting between Protestant and Catholic destroys the loving essence of Christianity.

Check yourself if you doubt me. After 400 years Shakespeare still yields surprises.

Cabbie Jens Andersen devoutly wishes some publisher shared his fascination with the religious undertones of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida.

* * * *

Actually the theory of Shakespeare's Catholicism is about 200 years old (which didn't stop a heavyweight Maclean's reviewer from calling Asquith's book a fresh new insight), and the "nice sleuth job" on the "Phoenix" turns out to be Asquith's own, as I re-discovered on checking my Horrible Heap of scholarly articles. In my undergrad days (before her sleuth article) I wrote a course-essay on the poem--discovering exactly how little is really known about it (almost nothing), and what a big step Asquith's detective-work was, however groping and clumsy.

The latest scholarly book containing the "Phoenix" (from about 2007? -- check the Horrible Heap?...) doesn't mention Asquith at all, nor any "Christian" interpretation of the poem. Academic thickheads! Glad I'm no conventional Christian faithmonger so I can champion this view without being accused of the obvious biases...

2015 note: A few years ago I was also surprised to find an Anglo-Catholic Church in my neighborhood--and see that it wasn't Catholic but Anglican! Ooops. Things have gotten more complicated since Shakespeare's day...

Friday, November 14, 2008

Two poseurs, two letters to the editor

Dull domesticity envelops me. Pull the last potatoes. Reset fresh bait in the mousetraps. Clean leaves out of eavestroughs. Drive taxi for another 12 hours. And so on.

Before one knows it, two weeks are gone (three???!!) and this bloggistic attempt to reshape the cultural firmament has a gaping hiatus. Not that anyone is actually reading it. Or cares (and I sort of like it that way; until it has more meat on its bones it may as well languish unnoticed).

Still the human comedy proceeds apace, and scarcely a day passes that three or 17 topics don't pop up, begging for a satirist's cudgel. How about all the "historic" oohing and aahing over Barack Obama's election as U. S. president? The h-word was thrown about with such abandon that supplies of it must be severely depleted. Let's hope nothing else "historic" happens in the short-term, lest we have no gush-words left to whoop.

Politics is mostly the art of the not-possible in any case, so I try not to get caught up in all the surging hopes and futilities. Anyone who places their faith in politicians is gambling in a den of iniquity more dubious than the stock-market. Me for the wide-open spaces.

Nonetheless, I did take a quick gander at an Obama Facebook site (whatever...) and the official McCain site, which seemed to have made the mistake of allowing free speech, for it contained (and for all I know still contains) a "Sarah RACIST Palin" thread. Being a connoisseur of all things racism-related (stay tuned for my ancient History-of-Biology essay "Was T. H. Huxley a Scientific Racist?" among A COLLECTION OF MOLDY OLDIES TO BE POSTED HERE) I absolutely had to groove to the indignation and sputtering contained in the posts, and even contributed a personal smidgen telling everybody to calm down a little, and consider that racism might actually be to McCain/Palin's ADVANTAGE in a racist society. Or something like that. It managed to silence the thread for a week or more.

Then a few days before the U.S. election Christopher Hitchens wrote a long piece in the National Post savaging Palin for her downright voidness of intelligence. Well! What could a chivalrous gallant like myself to but write another soothing, calming pensee to the editors thereof:

A small quibble with Christopher Hitchens's otherwise sterling trashing of uber-bimbo Sarah Palin:
Hitchens rightly thumps her for under-rating and "Frenchifying" genetic research into drosophila (fruit flies), but he might also have noted that this 1930s Nobel-winning research was matched and even scooped by American Barbara McClintock, who labored under the handicap of employing corn (zea mays), an organism that produces only one generation a year (versus ten days for a generation in fruit flies).
McClintock's achievements in genetics (she eventually won a Nobel for them, after years of neglect and incomprehension, even among her peers) is a monument to the sort of feisty independence and individualism that Palin merely talks about, not to mention the sort of towering intelligence that Palin can't even remotely imagine.
Oh yes: McClintock had only disdain for fashions in feminine dress.

Mirabile dictu! -- the letter appeared Oct. 31 (slightly mangled due some missteps between myself and the letter editor). And of course the Hitchens/Andersen Critique was the "October surprise" that stopped the McCain juggernaut in its tracks and gave Obama his squeaker victory.

Hey, all in a day's work!

Then a few days ago I notice the showbiz machinery clanking and gearing up for the release of the latest James Bond flick Quantum of Solace. Oh jeez, another action-packed moron-treat for us critics to grab with our tongs! And not just the idiotic film itself and reviews of it, but all the gazillion spinoffs, as if jiggle and fantasy-hardware were more consequential than Taliban guerrillas and the ethics of HPV vaccine.

Count the column-inches devoted to each and weep.

(As I write this and chuck out old newspapers, I find "It's the Steve McQueen of jackets" in the Nov. 8 Globe and Mail and "Bespoke tailors of the world unite!" in the Nov 14 National Post, both gurgling about the film's sartorial splendors, yadda yadda. Or how about todays Post, reprinting a cutesy "Anything you can do, Bond can do better" spoof from Dose.ca, full of stuff like "Your average Brit Uses his accent to pick up women. James Bond Uses his British accent to pick up women... if his sophisticated charm, impressive knowledge of fine wines..."

And further codswallop.

One of the first Bond-items to annoy me was a review of a museum exhibition of things Ian Fleming, printed in the Edmonton Journal. Off I went again with a letter to the editor:

A Journal featurette (Nov. 10) cites a young Ian Fleming wooing his beloved: "...the azure of your eyes, the red red lips, the golden mystery of your hair!"
Oy! To think that our precocious, budding James Bond novelist could write such melodramatic crap at such a young age!
I'm just praying to my non-university-endorsed Divinity that Mike Myers will assemble yet another lampoon, Austin Powers: Modicum of Bolus, before the current spate of Fleming-cloning destroys Western Civilization with cheap imitations of the master's upscale sensationalism!

Let us hope our sarcasm wises up all the editors complicit in promoting the Bondomania.

Oh, don't be so cynical! YES WE CAN!

... and the letter DID get printed today...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I Don't Know Anything About Art, but I Know What Is Sufficiently Wacko. Ch. 1 - "Striped Socks"

Does the American auto industry need a government bailout, like the financial sector? Is Victoria Beckham's new "poxie" hairdo better of worse than her 2007 platinum brushover?

Push aside all such piddling questions and meditate, instead on our City of Edmonton's decision to erect a 20-foot-high sculpture, a whimsical pair of brick clogs and striped socks, at the new Southgate Light Rail station, scheduled to open in 2010.

The story, with artist's conception (in color) graced (if that is the right word) the cover of today's Edmonton Journal, praised by their culture critic Todd Babiak along with the city's new downtown winter-lights program. Well, hell, Todd is an old classmate of mine whom I owe at least one favor (hi Todd) and God knows I am not averse to whimsy.

Did I not once imagine, in print, in detail (occasionally phallic), a male "Poker Party" to rival Judy Chicago's feminist "Dinner Party"? Would not a sombrero of 100-metre radius be a fine umbrella to place over Churchill Square and all its summerfests?? C'mon people, trip the light fantastical!

All the same, I have the uneasy suspicion that Sandy Public is going to holler this whopper down, as a lump of Clownishness Unparalleled, perhaps unaware that CU is currently the dominant movement in the 3D arts. Acres of forest will be reduced to cheap newsprint in the churning debate, and radio and TV announcers will exhale vast amounts of CO2 doing the same. And part of my schizo self (possibly the section of my genome containing the neoclassical alleles) will sympathize with Sandy Public too.

I dunno. In any case I am enough of a veteran of public debates to predict that they will settle nothing, and enough of an arts critic to disbelieve Todd's optimism that public art is going to transform Edmonton into something unique and wonderful. We homo borealis hereabouts will still be the same mix of stodgy businessmen, sturdy working stiffs and flailing anarchists that we always were. Has our already sizeable scattering of public art (much of it better than decent) changed Redmontonians even one whit? I ask you!

Maybe it is the art racket that needs a bailout. Of the ideology.

In the interests thereof, let me offer City Hall some privatized help, in the form of a quote from Will Cuppy's The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody, on the subject of all that iconic (sorry for the buzzword) Greek art:

...Pericles was able to make Athens the City Beautiful by building the Parthenon and other things on the Acropolis and adorning them with a great deal of art. The average Athenian citizen, if he so desired, could daily contemplate the most magnificent specimens of architecture, painting and sculpture the world has ever seen. The effect of this upon the citizens was the same as the effect of art upon citizens today.

Hahaha ouch! Cuppy particularly cites the Greeks' looting problem (nothing on grafitti, which probably didn't survive; the looting reminds me that someone in Edmonton once stole a huge sculpture containing four giant steel cylinders, and first nobody noticed it missing, and then when it was rediscovered years later with only three cylinders, nobody noticed the fourth, wonderfully horizontally-extended fourth cylinder missing either).

There is a moral there somewhere. Anyway, sic semper civic sophistecture.

Surf's up!!/flotsam #1 -- sight gags!!

Need a cartoon of Mohammed with two bomb-like Mickey Mouse ears? Or an impromptu logo for Canada's "The Sex Party" ? (which lacks a logo, but not a platform, which advocates, among other things, that, "The Sex Party would create a Sex-Positive Press Council that would expose the overt and subtle censorship practiced by BC media.")



Huge scroll of hilariously and painfully literate stuff around these two items, but the blog itself is a year defunct, as the blogger, alas, seems to have decided the effort isn't worth the returns, particularly time lost with family.

Meanwhile, in related news, crap-by-the-kilometre types continue to churn it out...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Art imitates blogosphere (there's an echo in here!)

If you follow the Doonesbury strip, you know that Rick Redfern has just been fired as political reporter at the Washington Post. Whereupon he falls back upon writing a blog. Same work educating the yokelry, right? Wrong. Now his status has sunk from the eminence of a byline to being just one electronic yap in a million. And wife Joanie pointedly asks him if his latest scoop about Obama's basketball skills is going to pay the mortgage! Ouch!

Any resemblance between Trudeau's satire and my first two posts is, well... judge for yourself.

Also, found the related item below while doing an unsuccessful Google-search for my own "Gerard Kennedy -how Utopian?" post:

February 20, 2006 (andrewcoyne.com)
What Would Orwell Blog? (II)
#showlink {display:none}
#ellipsis {display:none}
Handcaper points me to this article from the Financial Times on why blogging is an obsolete medium. It's a bit long and makes some predictable points, but there is some great stuff at the end:

Which brings us to the spectre haunting the blogosphere - tedium. If the pornography of opinion doesn’t leave you longing for an eroticism of fact, the vast wasteland of verbiage produced by the relentless nature of blogging is the single greatest impediment to its seriousness as a medium. To illustrate the point, I asked a number of bloggers whether they thought Karl Marx or George Orwell, two enormously potent political writers who were also journalists, would have blogged if the medium had been available to them. And almost always, the answer was, why of course, it would have given them the widest possible audience and the greatest possible impact. …. And that, in the end, is the dismal fate of blogging: it renders the word even more evanescent than journalism; yoked, as bloggers are, to the unending cycle of news and the need to post four or five times a day, five days a week, 50 weeks of the year, blogging is the closest literary culture has come to instant obsolescence. No Modern Library edition of the great polemicists of the blogosphere to yellow on the shelf; nothing but a virtual tomb for a billion posts - a choric song of the word-weary bloggers, forlorn mariners forever posting on the slumberless seas of news.

"A choric song" my harmonic ass! More like a self-cancelling cacophony of endless yowling! Occasionally something semi-organized does roar out of the blogosphere, to sink its teeth into reality, but not often, and not without profile-raising help by other media (send me a contrary example, dear reader, if you can find one). Even here, the world-shaking event will be found to be more fitful craze than co-ordinated campaign, succeeding (if it does) more by luck than any shrewd strategy and tactics.

And (and!) do bloggers REALLY post, necessarily, four or five times a day????

I'm lucky to have posted three days in a row now (the housework is suffering severely, believe me). Obviously I'll never make the grade as a blogger.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Balloon Farm and Shakespeare

Just for the hell of it I did a maiden search for a tune on the Google-thing to the right (fine political position, eh?) (2012: Wait--is it left now?)

"Give it a hard one," I thought -- Balloon Farm's "A Question Of Temperature" (a truly great, nitty-gritty 60s rocker).


The great, vast Internet is still a bit blinkered, it seems. Just as it remains blinkered on the possibility that Shakespeare's Hamlet is a satire. Tsk.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

So, how "utopian" is Gerard Kennedy anyway?

Just a "quick and dirty" note on Gerard Kennedy, since he survived the Liberal slump and wrested back a formerly Liberal Toronto seat from the NDP in the federal election.

Haven't seen Gerard in decades, but I met him a few times back in the early 80s when he was editorial cartoonist at the University of Alberta student newspaper the Gateway. We had other cartoonists, but there was no doubt in anybody's mind that Kennedy was our BEST, even if he was a bit Aislin-derivative (hey, borrow from the topmost). He drew under the pen-name of Pasken, which years later I finally grokked as being a combination of three letters from his name and three from his hometown of The Pas in Manitoba.

In 1983 a group of us newspaper clowns (NOT including Gerard) ran a "joke slate" in the Student Union election, under the rubric of the "Utopian Pragmatists" and in a masterstroke of publicity we decided to let Gerard draw our caricatures for the campaign poster. He did a fine job, and evry one of us six quasi-politicians saved ten or twenty of the posters as collector items. We knew he was going to amount to something.

A curious memory-fragment of the campaign survives in my Alzheimered brain: the bunch of us going to Gerard's apartment, clutching personal photos for him to operate upon. We had previously offered what we considered a sufficient bribe for the task, a case of beer (which he had accepted), but upon arriving at the Bel Air apartments -- then owned by Peter Pocklington, I think; all weasel journalists should therefore feel free to say that Kennedy "helped line" Peter Huckster-Puckster's pockets with money -- we discovered that Gerard had done some homework, thereby discerning we were funded (as all SU candidates were) by the Student Union, whereupon he matter-of-factly suggested some cash was also required.

We readily agreed to a top-up of $30 or $40 (if memory serves; hell, he was worth at least double) and then left, myself feeling a few twinges of guilt at Gerard's seriousness throughout. We WERE trying to raise issues in our goofy way (one plank in our platform stated that the SU should build a nuclear-missile dense-pack in Quad, so we could negotiate with the provincial government from a position of strength). But somehow Kennedy's steadily sober attitude triggered feelings of unease at our frivolity, at least in my mind.

Shortly after this (or perhaps shortly before, the sequence always eludes me) Gerard walked into the Gateway newsroom one day and approached each staffer to make a contribution to a charity-run (or something of the sort) for "the Hunger Project." Being a charity-doubter on all fronts, and seeing hunger itself as a hideous Hydra beyond solving by mere handouts, I was instantly doubtful about the whole thing. But I contributed a measly amount, mostly on the basis of Kennedy himself. Then I did a bit of research into the Hunger Project's particulars and, finding them somewhat dubious and cult-y wrote about them in my regular column.

Kennedy didn't take this lying down. He promptly wrote a rebuttal, which we also printed. His arguments didn't persuade me --there existed a clear liberal-conservative philosophical split between us, not to mention a differing assessment of the Hunger Project, but I was impressed by the coolness and humor of his reply. Polemic goads were my specialty, and many previous readers of them had responded by popping a cork, so Kennedy's unflappable response was noteworthy.

Moreover, it was shortly after we crossed swords that he founded the Edmonton Food Bank, Canada's first. All in all, I think the sophistication and realism of my ideas flew acrobatic rings around his (that's an unbiased assessment, isn't it?) but the Food Bank, alas, was his clincher. Whatever you might think of the Food Bank's accomplishments (I think they are severely limited) they still comprise some sort of ultimate argument. Doing something always trumps mere talk.

Since then I've followed Kennedy's career with interest, and I note that others who knew him from the early days do so too. I suspect they are impressed by the unflashy solidity of his character (it didn't surprise me at all that he "jumped on the grenade" for Stephane Dion at the leadership convention) and get carried along by his can-do attitude. I also note that most media coverage is favorable and that he seems to inspire fierce loyalty among the people he works with. See for instance:


Note however, that even the Star's columnist, while obviously charmed by Kennedy, still hedges that his presented ideas are "a bit woolly." A more negative judgement (from the Liberal leadership race? --man, gotta get these clippings in order) was a National Post editorial calling his ideas "utopian" (now THERE was an adjective to make my eyes pop!)

Well, maybe Kennedy is somewhat left-idealist, with his views on making the Liberal Party more democratic, and making government more helpful to us common folks and the downtrodden. But he doesn't seem either dreamy or doctrinaire, qualities that very often go in tandem. His father, I hear, was mayor of The Pas and, if I can believe a taxi passenger of mine, the operator of a bulk-fuel depot in town. Neither influence seems conducive to rose-colored glasses.

I suspect if he ever does get into a position of influence/power (a real possibility) his specific proposals for government action would be very criticizable, and I would be among those to howl at them. But that is secondary. Intellect and ideas are only one-tenth as important as "people skills" for a political leader (and I am screwball enough to think that Chretien was a far better Prime Minister than Trudeau for precisely that reason).

On that ground too I would venture that Kennedy has a promising future. All he needs (maybe) is a little more "tempering in the fire." The devilish details of policy can be left to his gang of wonks.

PS: And why is Kennedy suing the National Post?? Can any Facebooker provide the story?


I assume it isn't because the Post tarred him as a utopian...

PPS: Okay, I guess this is a start:


...but I assume that if the lawsuit still awaits a court date (does it?) everyone will be tight-lipped to avoid prejudicing the case...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"Till next Tuesday"?? -- hahahahahaha

Election day! For myself, time to think about something else to avoid depression (although I did cast my "Perverse Conservative" vote for the NDP... don't ask. Okay, ask, but you are going to be sorry. Very, very sorry).

So, anyhow, my excuse for plummeting into this "Blogger" spot is that AOL is currently scrapping their blog-site "Journals" (where the first post appeared three years ago as a hesitant experiment) due to declining interest. Big surprise, that, eh? A gazillion morons with computers, thrilling themselves and nobody else by seeing their inane "thoughts" IN PRINT!! In cyberspace!!! Woo hoo!!!!

Then (then!) they ultimately see (if they aren't blinded by ego and wishful thinking) that, hell, I am but one pitiful voice crying in the e-wilderness...
Ignored. Totally. Damn! Didn't those Internet people promise to CONNECT us all together in wonderful togetherness?? Hey, who voted these Internet people into power anyway?

The original RCMP* plan (click here for Zen exercise in futility) was to provide a dumping ground for stray thoughts, unsuccessful pieces that no publication in their right minds would want to buy,** pitch the projected culture magazine, and maybe educate my clueless, dilapidated self about a thing or two in the electronic media. All while regularly exercising those scribbling muscles between my ears!

Well, three years later I still feel clueless. The magazine is nowhere. And four gazillion other chores scream to be done. So, um, another "week" or so to the next post? =]
Possible topic: Margaret Atwood's politics, if the subject isn't, like, totally YESTERDAY.

* Cute acronym, eh? Okay, maybe it WAS, when the title of the blog was Rudimentary Culture Monitor Precursor.
** Anybody want to see posted the "Three for Thought" essay I wrote on the subject of war (title: "Choose Sides! Choose Sides!") and sent to the "Books" department at the Globe and Mail during the 2003 Iraq invasion (response: dead silence). Anybody? Nobody?