Saturday, December 27, 2008

Late. A little. It is a little late. But here it is. It is here.


A Visit from Saint Nicholas in the Ernest Hemingway Manner

It was the night before Christmas. The house was very quiet. No creatures were stirring in the house. There weren't even any mice stirring. The stockings had been hung carefully by the chimney. The children hoped that Saint Nicholas would come and fill them.

The children were in their beds. Their beds were in the room next to ours. Mamma and I were in our beds. Mamma wore a kerchief. I had my cap on. I could hear the children moving. We didn't move. We wanted the children to think we were asleep.

"Father," the children said.

There was no answer. He's there, all right, they thought.

"Father," they said, and banged on their beds.

"What do you want?" I asked.

"We have visions of sugarplums," the children said.

"Go to sleep," said mamma.

"We can't sleep," said the children. They stopped talking, but I could hear them moving. They made sounds.

"Can you sleep?" asked the children.

"No," I said.

"You ought to sleep."

"I know. I ought to sleep."

"Can we have some sugarplums?"

"You can't have any sugarplums," said mamma.

"We just asked you."

There was a long silence. I could hear the children moving again.

"Is Saint Nicholas asleep?" asked the children.

"No," mamma said. "Be quiet."

"What the hell would he be asleep tonight for?" I asked.

"He might be," the children said.

"He isn't," I said.

"Let's try to sleep," said mamma...

---------------------------------

For those who weren't reading the New Yorker in 1927, catch the rest of Thurber's parody here. Even Papa probably chuckled, between drinks.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Pacem in Terris

No Christmas musings. I've just moved into a house that's still undergoing the magic of a renovation or two (after a blizzard, yet) so I'm not much into introspection. I am into drinking coffee, making sure my son is in good stead (he is) and savouring the people around me without focusing on those most conspicious in their absence. Yin and yang, right? And in the immortal words of John Cougar Mellencamp, life goes on.


Divide time between the ecumenical and secular pleasures of the season. A Christmas Carol is a fine Christmas movie, as is Die Hard (and yeah, I'm not the first to figure that out). The Gospel According to St. Matthew is a neo-realist favourite around Christmas and Easter for me (and yeah, I might be the first person to use the phrase 'neo-realist favourite'), but chasing a three year old around and vacumning up drywall dust takes up most of the time. Really, it's just nice to spend time with the usual suspects.

If you're feeling in a giving mood, CanadaHelps.org is more than willing to spread whatever goodwill you've got to the charity of your choice regardless of your political/social stripe. They list everybody.

If the giving's done, just have one for me. All the best, all around.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

So it is Christmas and WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!


PTA Mom, Boy Found Half Naked In Car

Okay. The heart wants what it wants, right? But c'mon. If I remember High School properly, I seem to recall that when you've almost been caught in flagrante, you're supposed to say "We were just talking," not "We were just kissing." Oh, and being naked from the waist down is a clear give-away. In more ways than one.

Christmas Spirit Rating - A surprising 7 out of 10. The act itself was ill-advised, but it is the season for giving.


Harper's pessimistic talk making a bad situation worse, critics say

This Globe and Mail piece suggests that Harper's comments "...might have scared Canadians six months ago but they predicted consumers are mostly inured to dire talk after months of awful economic developments." So, he's given us the news we've already got.

Christmas Spirit Rating: 5 out of 10. He did give. We don't want, but hey, the effort was there.


Music industry drops effort to sue song swappers

"RIAA Chairman and Chief Executive Mitch Bainwol. 'Filing lawsuits as a strategy to deal with a big problem was not our first choice five years ago.'" Apparently hanging, shooting, drawing and quartering wasn't really an option, so this was a close second. And they did famously.

Christmas Spirit Rating: 10 out of 10. Cooler heads prevailed.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Woke up and was Forty

Hey, it happens. Let's move on.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Ernie Kovacs and the Nairobi Trio



I felt like the one in the middle for the last 2 weeks of November.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

You don't believe them, do you?

"One of the tendencies of the conspiracy notion, the whole appeal, is that a lot of the information the believer has is secret or special...The real evidence is out there, [and] you can give them all this evidence, but they'll have convenient ways to discredit [it]."

- Evan Harrington, associate professor at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, quoted in Salon

For anyone outside of Toronto: the Taste of the Danforth is a street festival held in a predominantly Greek area of town once every summer. Traffic is shut down and every business and restaurant drags their wares onto the street for a weekend. Depending on the weather, the heat, the crowds and your own interpretation of the term 'fun,' it's either heaven or hell to navigate.

Last year, it was heaven. It was friendly, there was an alarming amount of good and cheap food to wander along with (and a surprising amount of Sushi for a Greek area) and there were a lot of local bands ranging from Bouzouki (of course) to bar rock to Samba. You couldn't walk 10 paces without being urged to buy something, eat something, drink something, or take a pamphlet to support a local cause. And at Danforth and Broadview, beside the Samba band (Brazilian restaurant), the stage with bellydancers (my wife's school) and the crisping lamb on a spit (I think three Greek places hosted it together) was a long 9/11 was an Inside Job banner held by some of the faithful.

The crowd looked fairly indifferent - one or two people called them out on it and asked for details, they were pleasantly referred to a website that you can Google on your own time - and it was a public place, so they were entitled to hold up whatever banner they wanted. But I didn't think that there was a lot of dignity involved in it - a bunch of conspiracy-minded souls taking advantage of concentrated crowds to suggest that the US government was behind 9/11 at a street festival with free tapas and dancers and cheap souvlaki.


This was called 'expanding awareness' rather than 'generating web traffic' and maybe they were refused access to the CNE so Taste of the Danforth was a close second. Maybe they got the attention of 5% of the crowd. Maybe they debated the semantics of jet fuel fires and the melting point of steel with a few cranky engineers. Maybe it just felt good to stand around on a hot day and go home feeling like the world was a little changed due to their efforts.

They weren't around this year, or I didn't see them. The same people could come back with the same banners and different theories this time around, while still claiming the same mantle of truth-teller. If their evidence changes, well, that's just fine. A good conspiracy theory is based on rock-hard truth that changes because the truth is never the same, of course. The conspiracy part - the one nobody knows about but them - is a delicious morsel that transmogrifies. If last year the planes were piloted by CIA operatives and this year they were radio-controlled by black ops, it's because that morsel has given so much more. It'll change again. It can be whatever you want it to be.

----------------------------------

Norman Wilner recently pointed out that President Obama is a US citizen, that he was born in Hawaii which has confirmed that he's a US citizen and therefore he can't be removed from the office of the President of the United States for (you guessed it) not being a US citizen. It doesn't matter to those who consider themselves in the know, and the subset of Average Joes who want to believe otherwise are going to do so. Let's assume just for a minute that not all of these Average Joes are necessarily bred-in-the-bone Republicans (although the numbers appear to veer in that direction), let's say that some of them have just latched-on to the story and won't let go. It's overloaded a silicon chip inside their head and any evidence to the contrary has been fabricated just to make them mad and they want to tell you about it.

Or maybe not tell you about it. They'll probably tell me about it. I don't know if I look nonthreatening, easily led, or simply don't wear an iPod often enough to avoid the kind of people who talk to strangers on the subway and tell me about what's really happening. Here's a quick summing-up of the latest- Stephane Dion is a communist and a junkie (he's so thin), Bush and Harper are buying up real estate in South America in anticipation of the coming dissolution of North America (I hear Rio's rather pretty), the Poverty Industry (food banks, apparently) is trying to take the food out of my mouth through high taxes and the mafia (which was never explained). One guy pointed at a poster and said "I've never trusted triangles," with a frown. I didn't question it further.


I didn't - don't - believe any of these stories and noticed that all of the people telling me were not conspiciously wearing tinfoil hats, exactly. They looked prepared (all had pamphlets, including the born-again triangle guy) and could all probably handle a day job without a second look. They just had a thing they couldn't let go of. They weren't as scary as the bookstore owner who told me about the RCMP's interment camps in Northern Ontario that were waiting for Clinton to annex Canada and mark everyone's right-hands with tattoos like in the Bible and like the Nazis did to the Jews, and while we were on the topic, what if less than 6 million died? Of course, it's wrong if even one person died, but there were some people (i.e. Jews) who might be milking it and did I want to see some of the literature he had to prove that maybe...

I left. This guy scared me for the nonsense he was spouting and for the fact he was running a bookstore that catered to churches (it's since gone out of business). And his particular line was a grab-bag of black helicopters, evil bankers, biblical prophecy, and old fashioned anti-Semitism disguised behind a desire for decent accounting.

I haven't seen a lot of that face-to-face. I worked one summer with a woman who told me that since the Jews ran the newspapers, they'd censor the news (she was speaking about the Toronto Sun at the time, of all things). And a guy in a coffee shop once asked me what my heritage was: the code was pretty unsubtle. I told him I was a German Jew to see what he'd do.

This was not a smart move on my part (I was around 26yrs old at the time and it struck me as a valid means of discourse). It encouraged conversation with a undesirable and, not being Jewish and having almost no working knowledge of German, I had no idea what I was supposed to say next. The guy shrugged and retreated, and I think it was Norman who winced later and said "You really didn't have to take that tack..."

-----------------------------

Let's go back to the tinfoil derby people. I put most them in the 'odd, but mostly out of my universe' crowd. I'd rather run into somebody who believes there are secret underground tunnels beneath Toronto (click here and scroll down) that potentially house grey reptilian aliens than be sat down by a 9/11 truth person who has specially refined photos (i.e. photoshopped) that reveal the secret explosions which took down the towers. I take the alien people less seriously. I have fewer concerns about aliens from below than I do about the basics of physics being ignored via a rather flexible timeline and indeterminate case of characters.

It comes down to this: eventually, anyone wearing a tinfoil hat will enourage you to put one on. You can try to talk to them, discover a common point of reference, agree to disagree on certain points and schedule later debates. And at some point, they're going to insist that you put on the hat they've made especially for you as protection from the forces their hat protects them from.

You have a choice. You can look carefully at the chapeau and decide whether it's tinfoil or not. If you don't put it on, you're going to lose whatever dialogue is possible between yourself and the kind who feel that the Reynolds Wrap beanie is de rigeur. And if you put it on...then you're wearing a tinfoil hat. Full stop.

I don't care that Canada is a cold country. Maybe its a sign of age, but whenever I'm asked to sit down and discuss some issue in detail, I am more and more inclined to insist that one takes off one's hat at the table. At least you stay on the same level.

Better yet - don't accept every seat at the table that's offered to you.

And watch out for those triangles.

"Sunny loved Christmas..."

"We realize that this is not just a skimpy reenactment of tabloid truths when the narrator turns out to be Sunny, the comatose yet irreverent heiress. 'Brain dead. Body better than ever,' she says as nurses tend to her lovely shell. With the wisdom we expect of the departed, Sunny asks us to weigh the evidence, both subjective and factual, against her husband. 'Is he the Devil?' she asks. 'Can the Devil get justice?'"

- Rita Kempley, The Washington Post


The former Mrs. Von Bulow has slipped this mortal coil after 28yrs in a coma that her husband Claus was accused of precipitating. The case delighted tabloids in the early 80's and inspired Reversal of Fortune, a chilly black comedy which somehow manages equal sympathy to the (potentially) wronged Sunny and the (potentially) culpable Claus. It suggests that death's door had not been propped open exactly, but it maybe it hadn't been closed as quickly as one might have hoped.

Jeremy Irons won an Oscar for playing Von Bulow and apologized later for having intruded on the family's privacy (I remember the clip and I really want to cite this, but I can't find an reference to it online- any suggestions?) It was an odd move - the enterprise obviously didn't bother him enough to turn down the part - but I can understand why he did it. The film looks at people rich enough to have no idea of how good things are for them, so anyone without a house in the Hamptons and trust funds from European aristocracy will find the experience rather abstract. It's a great movie, and it stops short of sensationalism because of this abstraction.

I've always thought that Irons met a few of the Von Bulow clan or simply realized that his arch little film still boiled down to several people who walked the earth (and one who was breathing but static), and when you know the subjects are watching, you're likely to feel the weight of their eyes.

The film closes with Sunny's oddly reassuring voice informing us that "Claus von Bülow was given a second trial, and acquitted...this is all you can know, all you can be told. When you get where I am, you will know the rest." That line is the invention of screenwriter Nicholas Kazan, who must be feeling rather odd on the day that at least half of this prophecy is fulfilled. Sunny must know, Claus knows his side. Both stories must jibe at some point. All I know is what I see in the movies.

(raising an imaginary glass of Kristal towards the late Mrs. Von Bulow) Here's to knowledge.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Sixty-Two Percent


A little perspective, from Slate. And Drudge had linked to a Bloomberg story about the Governor General's ruling, but has since (as of 1:39PM) dropped it in favour of a story about a cardboard cut-out of Hillary Clinton getting fondled by an Obama staffer. And really...is anyone surprised?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Stephen, it's not a coup d’état. Stop whining.

My, my, my. What. A. Mess.


"Tactically, a coup d’état usually involves control by an active portion of the country's military, while neutralizing the remainder of the armed services' possible counteraction. The acting group either captures or expels the political and military leaders, seizes physical control of the most important government offices, means of communication, and the physical infrastructure, such as key streets and electric power plants."

- Wikipedia (so take it with a grain of salt if you wish and do your own damn research)

Unless I've missed the military presence on the streets of Ottawa, I don't see the aformentioned scenario happening. Dion, Layton and Duceppe, who've been at each other's throats for the last few months, have decided to act as one throttle and lean in the direction of Harper. I'm amazed that they've been able to stay in the same room, let alone pull this off, and the 30 month agreement will probably dissolve at the first act of overheated mon pays (Duceppe), ego (Layton) or walking into a sharp object (Dion). It's sneaky, I'm not convinced it's a good idea and it's rickity. But it ain't no coup.

In black and white:

"Canada's Parliament is based on Britain's Westminster system and follows the conventions of responsible government. That means the government must have the confidence of the House of Commons in order to function.

Therefore, if the government loses the confidence of the House, or doesn't have it, the House is supposed to get a new government...The Governor General essentially has two options: dissolving Parliament and sending Canadians to the polls, or finding a new government that does have the confidence of the House. If the country has recently had an election, like in the present case, then finding an alternative coalition government is preferable.

Parliament Hill has only ever seen one real coalition, and that was back in 1917, when Sir Robert Borden managed to combine his own Unionist party with the Liberals
."

- CTV News, Democracy or Bloodless Coup

This is a game of numbers. If the greatest number of seats in the house are in favour of a coalition, that coalition will form the government, full stop.

I don't know if any of this is a good idea, even with my usual feeling that Harper has impulse-control issues and makes his policy up on the fly depending on how badly he wants to look tough on any particular morning. I'm not alone in this: the Globe and Mail endorsed Harper a few weeks ago, and ran this Lawrence Martin piece yesterday:

"Up until now, the Prime Minister has been able to get away with his strong-arm tactics, his disavowing of his own election law being another recent example. But the economic update did much to expose the essence of him. My suspicion is that we don't know the half of what went on in his first term and that if there were more journalistic inquiry the extent of his attempts to put a stranglehold on the system would be found to be startling.

Last week, a bureaucrat with close ties to the PMO, said Mr. Harper has told colleagues, “When I'm hiring someone, I want to see fear in their eyes.” It may be an apocryphal story, but...it seems to fit the mould. In any case, the fear isn't in the eyes of others now. It's in his own
."

I hadn't heard the phrase prorogue before yesterday, it amounts to Harper closing this session of parliment and letting the opposition linger before pulling this stunt in the spring. It's the equivalent of taking his soccer ball and going home, leaving the other kids with nothing to play with after school. Of course, he's gotta go back to school eventually, and they'll be waiting. It'd be a cheap trick, and the odds appear 50/50 that he's going to play it.

The National Post crowd is predictably sulking or hysterical, but even David Frum appears to see at least some of the writing on the wall:

"The Harper government may manage to prorogue Parliament. But sooner or later, Parliament will have to meet again. And when it does, the government will face a wall of mistrust, resentment and non-co-operation. Nothing will pass. No legislation will get through. Question Period will be pandemonium. If there was a second-term agenda, it is now utterly dead.

Coming out of the October election, the government’s best strategy was to play for time, avoiding an election for the 12 or 18 months it will take for the economy to recover from the U.S. financial crisis. Before the Ottawa Parliamentary manoeuvre, that strategy was feasible: The Liberals would not want another election until they had chosen a new leader and raised some campaign funds.

But now? Now that schedule is sure to be accelerated. The next election will arrive soon, probably very soon - as unemployment is rising, as families are cancelling vacation plans, as retirees confront RRSP declines of 30% and 40%. And how will the government explain why it has been obliged to return to the people so soon: “Sorry to bother you again, but you see our first priority after returning to office was to rewrite the campaign finance laws to beat down our opponents - and we did not count the votes carefully enough to realize that we probably couldn’t get away with it. Vote for us so we can try again!”

That too seems an invitation to a catastrophic defeat."

Dion ran a lousy campaign. Layton was overconfident. Harper was dismissive. Duceppe is single minded. Flaherty tried to pawn off economic responsibilities and play for time. The results are plain to see. These people are running the country. 2009's gonna be great.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Red and Warm


Two onions, chopped and dropped in a pot with some Kalamata olive oil, left on a low simmer as everything else gets prepared: two yellow zucchini, one red, one green pepper. The colour doesn't matter since this is facing a stick blender later, it's simply what was found in the fridge. Add four cloves of garlic, some dried basil, hot pepper flakes, kosher salt, a splash of Chianti. When the onions smell sweet, add two cans of tomatoes.

It tasted fine, but too much like tomato sauce rather than tomatoes and peppers and zucchini. Back to the fridge, find two more zucchini, two carrots cut small, dropped into the bubbling sauce. Carrot in a red sauce strikes me as weird but works well when pureed.

The sauce cooks down. I'd found two grilling steaks in the freezer (odd, since I don't own a barbecue), thawed them and pounded them thin. I didn't have to (you're more likely to do that to a marinating steak), but I liked the idea of wide, thin cutlets. I added a touch of salt and pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice and left them in a dish.

I turned off the red sauce and took the stick blender to it. It was soupy before, thick after. The carrot and peppers sweetened it, the zucchini gave it body. It was thick enough to be spooned on top of each pounded steak without running. I poured a shotglass of Marsala into the dish, covered it and stuck it in the fridge to marinate overnight. I'll top them with extra peppers and mushrooms before baking.

Steak Pizzaiola is simple, and to some a waste of a perfectly good steak that could be grilled. I disagree. You can look at it as a cheat, a way to use a tough cut of meat, or you can appreciate the distinct flavour of the sauce, the beef and vegetables folding into something different than a meat sauce or simply tomato added after the fact.

On that same evening, I made a Minestrone. Italian for 'leftovers' unofficially (from somebody who clearly doesn't speak Italian). A quarter cabbage cut small, four diced potatoes, two onions, two cloves of garlic, two carrots, more olive oil, the remaining two yellow zucchini and low heat. And half a dry sausage softened with the other savories. Five cups of water and the half-full container of concentrated chicken stock found in the downstairs freezer alongside four chicken carcasses. At some point in my life I became the kind of person who keeps the bones from roast chicken in his freezer for stock. I don't know how I've reached this point, but I do know that it makes for fine soup.

I top it off with one rinced can of fava beans, one can of Romano beans, and a full bunch of chopped parsely. The soup looks green yellow and red, the dry sausage gives it a bite and the cabbage mellows it all out.

Two days before, it was bread. Slow rise bread is a cheat for those who don't like to knead. It got popular a few years ago after a New York Times article allegedly cracked the secret of creating a bakery crust at home. French, Italian and Portuguese bakers across the world collectively shrugged and said "We've been doing this for years, you know..." and the debate is still on for people who care about that kind of thing.

Three cups of bread flour, two teaspoons of salt, one teaspoon of quick-rise yeast, one and a half cups of room-temperature water. Stir it up and cover it and leave it somewhere warmish for 15 - 18hrs (you can cheat it in all kinds of ways, but the bread seems lightest with a longer rise). When it looked right, I dusted a sillicone baking sheet with nine grain flour and dumped the dough onto it, stretched it into a square and folded it three times into a rectangle. I covered it for 20 minutes, then folded that rectangle into a square, re-covered and left it for another two hours.

I put two small covered stoneware pots into a 475 degree oven to get nice and hot (500 would be better; my oven can't handle it). I oiled a knife, cut the square loaf (a very puffy square at this point) in two, oiled my hands and dropped each half into the hot pots, re-covered them and put them back into the oven for 20 minutes before taking the tops off and baking for another 10.

The result is a crusty light boule of bread. No preservatives, no stabilizers. Wrap tight and freeze and heat in a warm oven to crisp whenever your appetite requires it. It goes well with Minestrone, and will be used to sop up the sauce from Steak Pizzaiola. Even when times are stressful, unpredictable and the air pressure's giving you headaches, ya gotta eat.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Doozy Revisited


The short story is that we bought a house. The long story appeared in letters to Alice and Lucy and was going to be reprinted here for the sake of my sanity, but it's not going to happen. There was, shall we say, a clerical error on behalf of one of the dramatis personae which could have ended badly. It didn't. But I don't even want to talk about it in this kind of forum.

That said...some kind of positive karmic shout-out is required for all those in our corner. The professionals first, in order of appearance: It wouldn't have started without sales rep Jane Rennie, who was efficient, professional and managed to keep things moving without pressuring Abby and I into a hasty decision. Welcome advice and administration was provided by our lawyer Allan Strader (a lot of it at the last minute), our insurance issues were taken care of amazingly quickly by Leane Besky, and Mortgage Broker Debi McKeon (aka mortgagelady@rogers.com) quite literally rescued the entire operation with some mountain-moving when we needed her. I recommend their services to anyone wanting to buy a house.

The personal side is a little more complicated: Thanks to a different Jane for setting us up, Georgia for her unexpected (and welcome) assistance, Colleen and Doug for their inital recommendations and their counsel, and Ingi and Emma for coming through with information about insurance and electricians in hours, not days. Abby's parents took our son out of the danger zone for a few days (less stress for everyone), and my mother wrangled some much needed perspective out of us when required, we needed it and appreciate it. Kudos all around.

If you think you belong in either list and I forgot you, let me know. It's been a long 17 days.


There is one other person to thank, who I am sure would prefer to remain a silent parter. Attention must be paid, as they say, but I'm outclassed. I can't find the right words of gratitude. Nod to it in German. Wie kam es so spät geworden, so bald? Wir vermissen dich. Ich hoffe, Sie verstehen. Vielen dank. Alle meine liebe, Michael John.

In the end, we have a nice new house, close to a subway and a green grocer and a park or two. Leave the rest as prologue. Come by some time for tea.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Doozy update

As I grow older and (supposedly) more mature, the immortal strains of the late, dearly missed Warren Zevon's "Lawyers, Guns and Money" ring resoundingly in my ears and fill the half-hidden catacombs of my subconcious moments before sleep.

Well, no guns at least. Thus far.

Everything's working out, I'll follow up when the ink is dry.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Been a mite quiet lately...

...but give me, oh, 5 days or so, and I'm gonna run some variation on a doozy.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

1,460 days, give or take


I've kept this blog for almost 4 years. I started it to force myself to write something - anything - assuming that if the text was going out into the universe (or the 8 or so regular readers), I'd at least be compelled to write something coherent.

The jury's out on that one. I've resisted the urge to go back and edit old entries - call it penance. If I read something and cringe at a mistake, I won't make that mistake again.

And the jury's out on that one as well. Let's just say that over 4 years, a few pieces actually managed to do what I wanted them to do. I have no idea if that makes them good, legitimate or worth reading, but they're the ones I remember. More than a few were pounded out at 1am simply to get them out of my head, and there are plenty of cringe-worthy typos and awkward phrases. Not a surprise for anyone who reads this regularly.

So, as part of the very small anniversary celebrations (I am, as we speak, eating a small cinnamon bun to fete the occasion), here are the entries that I think were worth the effort:

- Two brief pieces about dealing with the minefield of Christmas, one after the death of my father (Happening), one dreading the death of my uncle (Epilogue, written in April yet). Hey, I never said these were cheery entries...

- A piece that tried to figure out the motivation behind an allegation of rape (A story and a volume of Auden) from somebody I tried to take care of.

- An multi-part account of being seduced and abandoned (which is rather overstating the case) 8 years or so after a high-school makeout session (High jumping, gold hatted). The duration of the event and the general slow-motion weirdness struck me as an interesting story.

- Laying Down in 2003. Fun and wackiness intering a box of ashes. In the words of my cousin, said with a sweet smile, "It's been a perfectly morbid day."

- My meeting with Gene Simmons or a reasonable facsimile (Knights in Santa's Service), and I really hope it was just a tall guy from the states with a good make-up kit.

- The danger and inevitability of somebody's well-intended or false Promises and Apologies.

- Suicide, a media circus, a few unpleasant personal connections and the accompanying awkwardness (Fallen Away). It was launched by a comment from Kim on the West Coast, talking about a classmate. Tapped into something. Thanks, Kim.

- Food and revenge? At the same time? Why not? Eating.

- And a weird bit of fiction based on an even weirder story heard over a beer (April fifth, two thousand and two)

Even if only for my own peace of mind (and what is a blog, if not self-indulgent), the above entries were worth the time and effort. I think. Comments welcome. Signing it off with Ta, followed by Da.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Bravo


From MSNBC.com

Powell...said he was “troubled” by Republican personal attacks on Obama, especially false intimations that Obama was Muslim and Republicans’ recent focus on Obama’s alleged connections to William Ayers, the founder of the radical ’60 Weather Underground.

Stressing that Obama was a lifelong Christian, Powell denounced Republican tactics that he said were insulting not only to to Obama but also to Muslims.

“The really right answer is what if he is?” Powell said, praising the contributions of millions of Muslim citizens to American society.

“I look at these kind of approaches to the campaign, and they trouble me,” Powell said. “Over the last seven weeks, the approach of the Republican Party has become narrower and narrower.”

Good for him. The fallout's going to be incendiary.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Posted Unrepentantly

From around 1989 to '99 or so, one of my most prized posessions was a live bootleg CD of Springsteen's Nebraska tour. The sound quality was dreadful. But the arrangements were different enough from the studio album that it felt like a true catch, theme and variation of an underrated mood piece.

This clip is post-Nebraska, but it's more or less the same arrangement and I'd never known there was footage of the song. An acquired taste maybe, but for the faithful, here's the melancholy Man at the Top. Enjoy. Or at least don't complain.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Irrational and in progress


I'm in a west-end Costco on a mission for my company. I detest spending other people's money, especially my employers, and have volunteered a Costco run to buy large boxes of cookies straight from their bakery rather than buying overpriced stale pastries from one of Canada's favourite donut chains. I'm also insane enough to voluntarily do this at noon on a Friday before the kind of holiday that most people require vast amounts of food to enjoy properly. I've done my Thanksgiving duty for the year in a filial, come-to-dinner sense (attended a meal out of town with cousins I've known since we were all assigned to a kiddy table). Any spiritual responsibilities of the count-your-blessings variety are too esoteric to outline in this forum, and I wouldn't know how to address those half-murmured, half-heard voices at the best of times.

The noon-hour rush at Costco is not the best of times. The place is its usual zoo, and since it's never too early to encourage people to drain their disposable income, there are a few shelves stocked with assorted Christmas items and general ephemera. The aisle isn't decorated for the occasion, it's just a reminder that seasons change and if you're going the way of material goods, why not start with a sale? I'm not going that direction myself, but at least the Costco floor plan isn't offering me a few jolly (and compulsory) carols or compelling me to feel warm and fuzzy. It's just a fact of life. We've all got to make a buck, here's our scratching at the matter.

None of this interests me. The 600 cookies for my company doesn't interest me. The rectangular box of oversize Christmas tree ornaments does interest me, only in that I'd be much happier if I hadn't seen it. The ornaments feature a small colour screen and a discreet USB port at the back. It probably runs on triple A's or watch batteries. You can upload JPGs into it and set a duration for the image display. The ghosts of Christmas past will be displayed at whatever rate you want, from wistful meandering to blink and they're gone.

My response to the beast worked out as follows, and I'm not calling it sane, rational, or the mark of a man without issues. I'm just outlining what played out:

1. I looked at the thing and thought 'My mother would like that.' The year my father died, there were ornaments with a voice chip that you could drop sound file onto. My mother asked for one - we could look at some of the old tapes, maybe grab a few words, hear my dad's voice around the tree. It'd never go away.

I didn't bring myself to edit the tracks (or figure out how to do it on short notice) and couldn't figure out what few, scattered words from old videos would be appropriate for an on-the-tree, we-'ll-always-have-him-near gesture. The whole idea just wore me deeper into the all-purpose numb I was feeling at the time, so it never came together.

2. I realized that we could fill this new ornament with family photos.

3. I realized that most of the photos I would hold dear involved the recently deceased and this is a broad term. Let's call 'recently' anything with the last 5 years since that feels, right or wrong, like recent events. I realized that if I found myself gazing into a plastic ornament looking at tiny pixelated renditions of happier times (or at least formative times), that I would probably lose most control and fall to the floor as a mess.

4. Ergo and therefore, the ornaments were trying to ruin my life and remind me of mortality, and had ruined my Christmas. Which is 2 months away. And will, most likely, not take place in a Costco.

5. There's a happy ending to this - I realized that the previous 4 steps amounted to the kind of morbid self attention that DeNiro warned us against in Taxi Driver.

And if I could realize that the nice folks at Costco and whatever South Korean electronics firm developed the cheap ornament were not personally out to make me sad...then I could put on a facade of normality, buy the damn cookies, and get the hell out of Dodge City.

I did.

An odd overreaction to a relatively innocuous item. I have a beautiful, healthy and charming 3yr old son who is far happier to focus on during any holiday season. And Thanksgiving isn't Christmas, isn't even located near to it in the dictionary, there are spiritual, associative, and probably karmic apples and oranges getting re-arranged in short notice in a damn Costco for corn's sake. This is a corporate Amex expedition, not the long tea time of the soul.

And that said, triggers do what they do, without rationale or apology. I left the store. Delivered the cookies to a storeroom. Picked up my wife and son and got away from either things lost or the simple fear of remembering what is no longer with us. It's always odd what comes to the surface, and when.

I had a family friend who was a rare bird, a devout Baptist, social conservative, economic liberal. He wanted to distribute wealth to developing nations, set up micro loans, and compel corporations to put more of their proceeds to charity whether they wanted it or not. He also had a knee-jerk reaction against Hillary Clinton, who was going to steal the presidency and make abortion mandatory in the one-child-only Chinese model or some such.

The thing about this person was that, knee-jerked, he would back away from the more extreme aspects of his argument and provide an engaging debate. He'd listen to your points, find something to agree with, and somehow not come across as potentially frightening as he might appear here.

I did not agree with his politics. But in the wake of the US situation, I would very much like to have been discussing the election with him. I'd like to know what he would have thought about Harper (would probably have appreciated the family angle) and Dion (would have been a green shift fan). It would have been a respectful chat. The last time we spoke was in a restaurant 10 months ago. He'd held a Christmas party for years. Elections and thanksgiving and that damn ornament in a big box store. Triggers. Unrelated. Unrelenting.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Cheap Yin and Yang

I have a grudging respect for Peggy Noonan. I disagree with her politics 9.95 out of 10 times, but there's something fascinating in the way she delivers good news/bad news about her beliefs and her going-down-with-the-ship attitude about the Republicans as a whole. As one who feels herself to be keeper of the Reagan flame, she draws a weird line between boosting her party with a pat on the head or aiming disapproving glares in their direction.


Politics aside, the woman writes very well and makes compelling arguments (which I don't usually buy into, but I appreciate the thought). This doesn't mean that she writes in a consistent, logical, or less than patronizing fashion that's absent of contradictions. If she's trying to maintain a Yin/Yang balance been loving/hating the company she keeps, I guess it works. But it's got all the depth of a Yin/Yang symbol seen on a t-shirt of a novice Karate student in a strip mall Dojo.

When she was still supporting George W.'s ticket (she's since decided that he wasn't such a hot idea as President) she wrote stuff like this, which manages to be patronizing, partisan, exactly what George W. wanted people to think of him and exactly what's wrong about his Presidency and followers:

Mr. Bush is the triumph of the seemingly average American man. He's normal. He thinks in a sort of common-sense way. He speaks the language of business and sports and politics. You know him. He's not exotic. But if there's a fire on the block, he'll run out and help. He'll help direct the rig to the right house and count the kids coming out and say, "Where's Sally?" He's responsible. He's not an intellectual. Intellectuals start all the trouble in the world. And then when the fire comes they say, "I warned Joe about that furnace." And, "Does Joe have children?" And "I saw a fire once. It spreads like syrup. No, it spreads like explosive syrup. No, it's formidable and yet fleeting." When the fire comes they talk. Bush ain't that guy. Republicans love the guy who ain't that guy. Americans love the guy who ain't that guy.

Her summation of the Biden/Palin debate flips itself so many times to present the good news (Sarah Palin rocks sort of, maybe in Peg's estimation) and the bad (Sarah's attached to an old, patronizing, divisive lunkhead who's repeating the kind of garbage that George W. got tripped over). "A question is at what point shiny, happy populism becomes cheerful manipulation," asks Ms. Noonan, and she was Reagan's and Bush Sr.'s speechwriter. Think about this for a moment or two. Then, if brave, read Palin the Populist and figure out what she's trying to dance her way out of. Or into.

photo lifted from today's Star, Tom Hanson/Canadian Press

As for the debate that actually influences Canadians, I watched Layton and May have themselves a hootin' good time last night, watched Dion make a plea for fun, Duceppe riff on his usual 'At least I admit I'm not going to be Prime Minister, not like at last 3 of the rest of you' thing, and watched Harper say as little as possible with that Dave Foley-esque grin. Maybe nobody handed him any notes. Which might be a good thing, given the recent reputation of his people.

Nobody walked away particularly proud, but there were enough points made and disputed that the voting public can focus on what they didn't hear and shape their votes accordingly. Hearing the moderator joke about losing audience to Biden/Palin showed a surprising level of candour, or maybe he was just bored. As for me, I'd like a good look at the transcripts. Anybody know where I can find them?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tempest in a borrowed teapot, but it's the borrowing...

This needed a late-day update, skip to the bottom if you're in a rush.


So. It appears that Prime Minister Harper lifted some text from a John Howard speech back in 200. An easy mistake to make if you're not familiar with the potentially unpleasant consequences of such an act. Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary defines it as:

Plagiarism
1. The act or practice of plagiarizing.
2. That which plagiarized.

Seems direct to me, but Prime Minister Harper isn't a voracious reader (being busy and all), so maybe the American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition definition will help him:

Literary theft. Plagiarism occurs when a writer duplicates another writer's language or ideas and then calls the work his or her own. Copyright laws protect writers' words as their legal property. To avoid the charge of plagiarism, writers take care to credit those from whom they borrow and quote.

The Liberals are delighted. The Conservative Spokesman Yaroslav Baran says "This is exactly why the Liberals are in the trouble they're in, as a party and as a campaign...They want to focus on a speech from five years, two elections, three Parliaments ago, from a party that no longer exists." And the National Post points out that Bob Rae's claiming the plagiarized speech was "...also duplicated in guest editorials that Mr. Harper submitted to the Toronto Star, National Post and Ottawa Citizen which were published under his byline on March 21, 2003, and in a guest editorial published on March 29, 2003, in the Wall Street Journal under the byline of Mr. Harper and then-foreign affairs critic Stockwell Day.”

Harper hasn't said anything yet. Wise man.

Reduce, reuse, recycle hasn't been a Conservative mantra, but apparently they're at least a third of the way there. This isn't an election changing issue. But it is low-level unpleasant. Harper has to admit to doing it and shrug it off, or admit to doing it and apologize. It's the equivalent of being caught cribbing lyrics from your favourite album for a long-ago poetry class. And if you try the old "I was paying homage to a universal truth" routine, it'll go badly. T'aint the crime, it's the coverup.

Another reason to look at Stephen Harper and ask: is this as good as it gets?

Update, around 5:15pm - “In 2003, I worked in the Office of the Leader of the Opposition. I was tasked with – and wrote – a speech for the then Leader of the Opposition. Pressed for time, I was overzealous in copying segments of another world leader’s speech. Neither my superiors in the Office of the Leader of the Opposition nor the Leader of the Opposition was aware that I had done so."

So says Owen Lippert, a former foreign policy adviser and (quite recently) former campaign worker on Team Harper. 'Oops' says a lot. And the matter, I guess, is closed.

Right. Any ideas?

"When President Bush took office, he inherited President Clinton’s surpluses — four years in a row, budget surpluses, on a trajectory of $5.6 trillion in surplus. And with his reckless economic policies, within two years, he had turned that around.

And now eight years later, the foundation of that fiscal irresponsibility, combined with an anything goes economic policy, has taken us to where we are today. They claim to be free market advocates, when it’s really an anything goes mentality. No regulation, no supervision, no discipline. And if you fail, you will have a golden parachute, and the taxpayer will bail you out.

Those days are over. The party is over in that respect. Democrats believe in a free market. We know that it can create jobs, it can create wealth, it can create many good things in our economy. But in this case, in its unbridled form, as encouraged, supported, by the Republicans — some in the Republican Party, not all — it has created not jobs, not capital, it has created chaos."


And the meltdown is official. I know I'm in the wrong country and all, but it's fascinating. McCain's whiplash response to what he calls a partisan attack by Pelosi is both telling and outright terrifying. You can read Pelosi's entire address here, decide for yourself whether it was grandstanding or if it was her "Have you no decency, sir, at long last?" moment in the best Joseph Welch tradition with Bush standing in for McCarthy.

To be fair, one should spread the blame around. In the late 80's, Bobcat Goldthwait said that "Blaming Ronald Reagan for the state of the country is like blaming Ronald McDonald when you eat a bad cheeseburger. Neither of them runs the company." He was not without a point, then or now.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

RIP Mr. Newman



From the oft-cited Wikipedia: Paul Leonard Newman was an American actor, film director, entrepreneur, race car driver, racing team owner and humanitarian. He won numerous awards, including an Academy Award, two Golden Globe Awards, a Screen Actors Guild Award, a Cannes Film Festival Award, and an Emmy award, along with many honorary awards. He was also the founder of Newman's Own, a food company from which Newman donated all profits and royalties to charity. As of May 2007, these donations have exceeded US$220 million.

Paul Newman dies at 83.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

A scarier situation


"...it was soon apparent that Mr. Harper's politics were the old politics. Power was hoarded in the Prime Minister's Office to an extent seldom, if ever, seen. Despite bringing in new accountability legislation, the government was run with secrecy and mistrust and strong-armed control. Everything had the look of being done for political reasons alone."

-Lawrence Martin, The Globe and Mail

There's gotta be a better option than this.

Monday, September 01, 2008

High road, everybody


Okay. Brand-spanking-new VP candidate Sarah Palin's daughter is seventeen and pregnant. The jokes just write themselves, don't they?

Me, I don't care. Really I don't. I'm a new parent. Handling a baby isn't easy and if I were seventeen and had to face it, things would not have been pretty. I don't even think it's any reflection on Palin's parenting skills. Teenagers do dumb things. I did several. Nobody got pregnant (especially not me) but maybe I just went to the wrong parties. Teenagers do dumb things. So please - please - don't fall into the trap of making this an issue.

Let's call it a crapshoot. It happens. And when a right-to-lifer stands behind her agenda rather than taking care of things quietly in a private clinic with a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do sermon in waiting in case the story breaks, hey. Good on her. It's a family matter, I'll buy that line. Anybody who throws mud is going to be wearing it as well. McCain's people have already drawn first blood (onto themselves) with a cute little comment along these lines:

"The despicable rumors that have been spread by liberal blogs, some even with Barak Obama's name in them, is a real anchor around the Democratic ticket, pulling them down in the mud in a way that certainly juxtaposes themselves against their 'campaign of change.'"

You could harp on the point that if the rumour turns out to be true ("Psst...her daughter's pregnant, pass it on"), it's not exactly despicable. Were there rumours that I missed over the last 96hrs or so? This is what happens when I leave town. McCain's spokesperson has a point, however. I can't think of a bigger fish in a barrel than Palin's sooner-than-scheduled grandchild. And every time it gets kicked at, it's that much more ammunition for the soft-Republican ticket ("They beat-up on a mom, man! A mom with a kid! Who's a mom!"). It's a weird variation on the bullet-proof vest; come up with a VP candidate where the potential scandal will show up early, and then accuse anyone who brings it up as being mean-spirited. McCain's campaign can pre-emptively whine and talk down the Democrats without any party-approved communication in the matter. "They started it" is going to come up a lot in the next few weeks, get ready.

It's Labour Day. This story will kick into full gear tomorrow. If Palin takes care of her daughter, helps her to be a teenage mom, raises a healthy kid, that's great. Keep out of the process. Ms. Palin and family, from this point on, are sacrosanct. Let them deal with a family matter as they wish. For the rest of the world, however, some questions are in order:

To the media celebrity (shudder) of your choice: Check out their transcripts and check out their previous opinions about unwed teens and their parentage. If said commentators come to Palin's defense, remind them politely of their previous positions and see if there's a switch. I'm sure they'll be delighted to discuss it.

To McCain's people: You've said he knew about this. Get a direct on-the-record quote about how it influenced his decision.

To Obama's: He's got daughters, he's going to steer clear of this as far as humanly possible. Perhaps let him drop a few words to the faithful suggesting the same. Update: As of around 2:30pm on Sept. 1st, Obama made a statement. Read the comments. Some are pretty venal. From both sides.

To all those who believed the Clinton/Lewinsky unpleasantness was best dealt with outside of the political sphere: Ms. Palin's just given you a chance to practice your 'it ain't my family' position. Yeah, it isn't the same thing. But just make an informed decision, okay?

To the producers of Juno: ...okay. That was cheap. Let's move on.

To the Alaskan State Government: What (if any) state programs are in place to address teen pregnancy? Birth control clinics? And if your abstinence program consists saying "Don't do it" and heading out for a coffee, it doesn't count as counselling. And what have Ms. Palin's past positions been on the issue? As stated previously, let the woman alone, let's just peek at the record. It'll be interesting if there's a disconnect that's not addressed.

To the spiritual leader of your choice: Get their take on it. Why not? Might be a good time to either reaffirm your beliefts or agree to disagree. Either way, it's always a good excuse for coffee. Maybe cake, even.

For the rest of us: Ignore it and focus on issues that actually matter.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

T-shirts with political slogans are stupid. Grow up.

Around a year ago I wrote about Post Secret and suggested that it appealed to people who think a pithy t-shirt or a catchy bumper sticker is legitimate and thoughtful discourse. Somebody took great offence (or didn't understand the word 'discourse' and thought that they, personally, were being dissed) and left some snippy comments which I erased. In hindsight I should have kept them. Freedom of speech and all. In fact, so few people actually read this blog that any apparent stranger (or at least somebody too intimidated to leave even a fake name) should be considered a valued guest.

I was hoping that particular level of indignant-pissy was limited to a certain breed of Post Secret fans (and you know who you are), but it's an election year in the States (and, suddenly, here) and I'd forgotten that t-shirts are the perfect way to piss off the guy beside you in Starbucks. It's a faster and easier way to look civic minded than actually voting, and it's a fine excuse to avoid any kind of genuine activism while still being able to attend the right parties and linger over the dip with an air of street cred. It's quite beastly really, but they like that, the politicos.

These samples are mostly American and come from Zazzle, ThoseShirts, BrandResistent, mediumt, the che store (I couldn't make that up if I tried) and a CafePress shop. These are the first few that struck me as either vaguely clever or nauseating, frequently simultaneously. I know I'm falling into the same trap that I'm decrying, but hey. Forewarned is forearmed. Feel free to disagree. And use names, okay?





Flogging a dead horse.












Flogging two dead horses, simultaneously.








Juvenile.











Juvenile and downright scary.








To be fair, I didn't see this one coming. It's frighteningly single-source- you can drop in the political stripe of your choice and use the same image, feed your martyr complex, and get the occasional cry of 'I am Spartacus!' on the street with one shirt. Bravo.





I don't agree with the logic, and the whining doesn't dignify anyone, but this gets points for being topical if nothing else for appearing within 24hrs of McCain's choice. Does he know about it? Did he sell one of his houses to pay for the quick run? It's a fair question.




Of course, Americans don't have all the fun. Any red-blooded Canadian can wear this one and probably cage free dip at any party as the rebel. If not, there's always take-out and the dignity of an evening at home.






And everyone- when your side tells you to vote early and often, think about the request.

Ladies and gentlemen...

...I'm on vacation and trying to write (or not write) about My Favourite Year, the fratboy dismissals of Obama in the US (check out the National Review for a good example or three), the sheer idiocy of Stephen Harper calling an election because he's bored and because it'll be harder after a few pending court cases, Pauline Kael, Sidney Lumet and why The Verdict holds up better than it should almost 30 years later, a meeting with an old high-school friend and why it was sweet rather than weird, the ratio of energy some people put into apologies vs. actually not screwing up on a regular basis...and so on. And yet, all I can think about is this:



Underrated, and still flawless. Mr. Elvis Costello. And the vaction's going just fine, thanks.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Thanks, Mr. Lynch



I've been having similar nightmares since 1980. So, no, really. Thanks.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A cryptic shout-out, as those crazy kids say today...


...to everyone in St. John's Antigua, Mountain View & Downey California, Congers NY, Annette's friend in (I think) Kingston, and especially that intrepid soul Whitechurch-Stouffville. That said, who are all of you?

One hell of a way to wake up

Keele and Wilson, around 3:30am.



The 401 is closed from the 400 to the DVP, quite a mess.

Signs of Age

I'm watching a DVD that has a trailer for Rent. I ask my wife "Has the world really been crying out for Pat Benetar's La Boheme?"







Then I ask "Have I just dated myself horribly by referring to Pat Benetar, or by concerning myself with any incarnation of Rent, either the horrible Broadway show from the 90's or the annoying flick from a few years back?"






She takes a long pause before saying "A little of column A, a little of column B..." before we mercifully move onto other topics.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

People ain't human - three case studies

Cannibalistic Attack on Greyhound Bus Prompts Ad
Opportunistic and reprehensible.

'Hated' church group to protest Tim McLean funeral
Disingenuous and fundamentally evil.

Dark Knight’s Phantom Clowns: Jokawild and Beyond
Ridiculous, insulting and blindingly insensitive.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Ivan Denisovich has left the building


Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Is Dead at 89

The wheels grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small.

Very few earn their acclaim. Read Ivan Denisovich if you want to understand how bad things can be and how life can continue as easily out of spite as of hope. With all due respect, dos vidanya Aleksandrovich.

Updated, Aug 4th - "Others, in turn, have criticized Mr. Solzhenitsyn’s attacks on Soviet power, at a time when a revisionist movement has emerged that looks upon Soviet accomplishments more kindly." Soap box and all.

Friday, August 01, 2008

The Adipocere Foxtrot - 'White Mischief'


Messerschmitt wasn’t the only German word frightening the British upper classes in 1940. Eton-educated souls who found themselves facing ration cards and stuffy air raid shelters along with the commoners might have looked up the term schadenfreude and felt themselves on the wrong side of it. But if you had lots of money and a pioneer spirit, you could take off to Kenya. It provided a fine colonial cover for those who fled England simply to protect their assets (and their ass).

And who could resist hobnobbing with the Happy Valley set, those frisky settlers who’d been the darling of British tabloids since the early 20’s? After all - when you’re rich and bored and out of his Majesty’s sight, why not try those ever-so-naughty things that the right kind of people aren’t supposed to enjoy?

Undercurrents of class consciousness, colonial entitlement and good old fashioned debuachery runs through Michael Radford’s White Mischief. It has the trappings of a mid-80's tony costume drama, but it doesn’t play out that way. There’s too much decadence in the background, including cross-dressing, binge-drinking, wife-swapping and a request for a chocolate covered lobster.


 When Sir Henry ‘Jock’ Broughton (Joss Ackland) and his wife Lady Diana (Greta Sacchi) arrive in Kenya, they’re instantly welcomed into the social scene. To be precise, Jock is tolerated. Diana is welcomed. Aggressively sexy and drop-dead gorgeous, it’s clear that she’s married Jock for his title and money. It’s pretty obvious why he’s married her. Putting the morality of a loveless marriage of convenience aside for a moment, most men would consider themselves lucky to have a bombshell like Greta Sacchi for a partner in such an endeavour.

Upon closer examination however, the scenario isn't quite as cold as all that: Jock might be misguided, but he isn't an idiot or a bully. He treats Diana with a level of respect that makes their arrangement both poignant and creepy. "Would you mind, dear?" he asks before she dutifully takes off her clothes in his bedroom (they sleep in separate beds with conjugal visits upon request). And Diana might be a social climber, but she isn't a whore. You can see creeping boredom behind her eyes rather than outright opportunism. A dull marriage is a small price for respectability.

Almost. Marrying into respectability doesn’t quite register with those who consider themselves of the manor born. When somebody sums Diana up by saying “You don't marry women like Diana, you keep them,” you see the horrible catch-22 that she’s facing. A class-slight is something far crueler than a moral condemnation- one can improve one’s behaviour, but one can never turn back the clock to be born to the right family. And it’s not like the Happy Valley crowd can stand on the moral high ground, anyway- when it comes to the seven deadly sins, they’ve have been at it for decades and could teach the average sybarite a thing or two.

When Jock’s inevitable cuckolding kicks in, it comes from Josslyn Hay, Earl of Erroll (Joss to his buddies, played by a quietly amoral Charles Dance). He's respectably disrespectable, an Eton dropout with a reputation for having slept with everyone who’s everyone in Kenya. It’s whispered that he’s the fourth in line to the throne of Scotland, and nobody dwells on the fact that Scotland hasn’t had a monarch for a few centuries. Moviestars would be commonplace; regal blood is not to be questioned too intently.

Joss’ shtick is well-worn but effective. Upon his first dance with Diana at a party, he whispers “Shall you tell your husband, or shall I?” as if their illicit relationship is already in progress. She resists at first, but stuffy old Jock (who’s hard at work losing his family fortune with an ill-fated cattle ranch) isn’t a match for the relatively dashing Joss. When she finally spends a weekend at his lakefront house, their naked swim and accompanying frolic doesn’t garner any response greater than a wry smile from the other guests. You can almost hear them chanting ‘One of us’ quietly between their cigarettes and scotch.

Joss and Diana’s affair isn’t taken seriously by anyone except Joss and Diana. The locals think it’s business as usual and even Jock rather meekly admits that “young women must have their amusements.” He and Diana have an arrangement after all, he’d just prefer than it be kept discreet. He doesn't have much luck with that – she and Joss canoodle openly during one of those cross-dressing parties that’s supposed to be frightfully outrageous but actually looks rather dull (it must be said that Jock makes a very homely girl, while Joss might be considered striking in proper lighting with the right hat).

Radford should be credited for making this scene come across as bleakly funny rather than ridiculous, and the audience sees that the biggest problem for the Happy Valley set is boredom. Decadence isn’t the same thing as all-out fun. Hard partying takes it out of you after awhile, and if your liver doesn’t dissolve and you don’t overdose on morphine and you’ve slept with everyone and not caught anything worse than a cold, good old fashioned ennui will still get you in the end. By the time somebody sighs “Oh God...not another fucking beautiful day” in the face of a glorious African sunrise, you understand these people perfectly. Whether you’re amused or appalled depends largely on your sense of humour.

When Diana starts staying out until dawn, Jock is long past laughing at anything. Their arrangement involved a pledge to step aside if she fell in love with someone else, and he’d kindly offered 5000 pounds a year to her for seven years if she requested a divorce. That cash is looking hard to come by after buying a Kenyan estate and a ranch, so what’s a lovestruck fool to do? His close friend Jack Soames (a frail Trevor Howard) sums it up thusly- “You’ve been a chump, old boy” – and Jock is never quite the same.

It’s irrelevant whether said chumphood was intentional on Diana or Joss’ part or not. The final effect is undeniable. Sacchi is a good enough actress to still project some concern for Jock – the old dear has been ever so kind to her, after all – and it’s impossible to tell whether she’s angling for that 5000 pound annual or not. Joss, throne of Scotland notwithstanding, claims to be broke (every colonial in Kenya seems to live large and fret about money) and you can’t guess if he’s wooing Diana as his meal ticket or the end of his days as a bounder.

But by the time Diana finally relents to ask Jock for the dough, Joss announces that he won’t accept it. You’re not quite sure if the con game is still on or if both players have taken a leap of faith. They don’t look sure either. The two poker champs have simultaneously called each other’s bluff and the hanging possibilities are tantalizing.

Unfortunately, Jock meets a nasty end shortly thereafter when a bullet is shot through his ear into his brain by persons unknown. It benefits nobody except the fifth in line to the throne in Scotland who is immediately promoted to fourth. The ear in question makes a re-appearance later. In a courtroom scene. In a jar.


White Mischief is almost 2/3rds into its running time before it becomes a murder mystery, and its not much of a mystery. There are lots of suspects (mostly irate husbands and jilted lovers), but Jock has the most motive and gets carted away to a cozy cell as the investigation gets under way. Radford ratchets up the ghoulish tone in the local morgue where one of Joss’ past paramours performs an inappropriately intimate gesture to his corpse. You’re appalled by it, but not surprised. These people are practically zombies already, so an act verging on necrophilia somehow fits rather naturally between polo and a cribbage match on a slow afternoon.

Diana waits for the court date and gets squired about by Gilbert Colvile (John Hurt), a monosyllabic cattle baron who’s barely tolerated by the country club set that claim he’s ‘gone native’ (somebody hisses “When I see his fingernails, I thank god that I can’t see his feet” upon his arrival). His cattle are overseen by the Masai, a deal which works out especially well for him. “They wouldn’t take money if it was offered,” he says, “they just want to be close to the cattle.” It’s clear both sides think the other is quite mad for their choice of lifestyle, but at least they’ve managed to co-exist.

Race isn’t a spoken issue in the film, which is a virtue considering how easy it would have been to throw in a few scenes of rich white folk mistreating the natives. But there's a beautiful (horrible?) bit of shorthand for the disregard that the colonials have for the colonized – Jock and John sitting in lawn chairs on a sun-swept veranda, shooting at rows of fresh fruit on a fence as target practice. They’re clearly on their 3rd or 4th scotch for the afternoon, having a gay old time blasting produce into atoms with their old service revolvers.


Between rounds, you watch an unflappable Kenyan servant setting up a row of three pineapples, and you see the pineapple on the left explode just as he finishes placing one to the right. He barely twitches. He’s used to it. You don’t see Jock or Jack’s response, but you know there must have been some concern over the incident. If their aim had faltered, there would have been the trouble of finding a new servant.

The film is an odd duck – it’s too reserved to work as juicy pulp fiction and far too mordant to serve as a morality play, at least not the kind where you enjoy the immorality before the comeuppance. It revels in upper class misbehaviour while pointing out that everyone involved is long past enjoying it. Even sin has a best-before date. Forbidden fruit is best before it dries up and wrinkles. Or rots and starts to smell.

That also sums up most of the Happy Valleyers: they’re long past withering on the vine and a few of them are steps away from all-out (if well dressed) mummification. Live fast, die young, make a great looking corpse is the exception; Get bored, get old, get a closed casket by popular demand is all too often the rule. Diana finally twigs to this fact and you're left with the impression that she'll get out alive, if not proud.

The rest of the expatriate nosferatu are probably lost causes, but they're rather charming in an undead sort of way. You almost want to tell them to get into the sun occasionally, cut down on the cigarettes and gin and for God’s sake, stop trying to have fun. It's never been a forte of the British upper classes. They're simultaneously too well-bred and inbred to do it properly. They've done their best, but the fun's gone off and it's gotten all lumpy.

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