Category Archives: A — BLOG

Image of the Month

Some hand­some Vic­to­ri­ans not far from my more hum­ble apart­ment.

Image of the Month

19-03-01 BLOG Image of the Month

Image of the Month

19-02-01 BLOG Image of the month

Wednesday, January 30, 2019 — Toronto with Frosting

19-01-30 BLOG pic1Attache ta tuque! Toron­to doesn’t usu­al­ly get much snow, com­pared to most of the rest of the coun­try. Mon­treal­ers laugh at our lame, half-heart­ed win­ters. It’s posi­tion on the west end of Lake Ontario, with a ridge of high­lands to its west, means that the pre­vail­ing west­er­lies usu­al­ly drop most of their snow before they reach the city. The clos­est Amer­i­can city, Buf­fa­lo, posi­tioned at the east end of Lake Erie, gets much more snow. But every now and then a snow­storm will be big enough to dump a hefty load on Toron­to. The evening it hit was a bit grim for Toron­to­ni­ans, many of whom immi­grat­ed from warmer lands.

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But look at the mag­ic of the fol­low­ing sun­ny day:

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Image of the Month

19-01-01 IMAGETri­umph of the Virtues by Andrea Man­teg­na [also known as Pal­las Expelling the Vices from the Gar­den of Virtue and as Min­er­va  Expelling the Vices from the Gar­den of Virtue]
Tem­pera on can­vas, 160 x 192 cm paint­ed around 1500. Musée du Lou­vre, Paris

I had no title or artist for this paint­ing at first. It attract­ed me because I couldn’t fig­ure out, for the life of me, what the hell it was about. It took me hours to find the painter and title. I first found the Pal­las ver­sion of the title. I could find no ref­er­ence any­where in Greek mythol­o­gy to this par­tic­u­lar inci­dent, but it is clear­ly Pal­las Athena, bear­ing all her sym­bol­ic para­pher­na­lia, who is the main char­ac­ter. There are a plen­i­tude of tales around Athena. How­ev­er, the Min­er­va ver­sion of the title pro­vides a hint: Min­er­va was the Roman god­dess con­ven­tion­al­ly equat­ed with Athena, and the sto­ry is prob­a­bly a Roman one dat­ing from much lat­er. Man­teg­na would far more like­ly have culled the sto­ry from some Latin source. On the oth­er hand, he may have sim­ply made it up. The Renais­sance played fast and loose with Clas­si­cal sources, and doubt­less this was paint­ed to suit polit­i­cal rhetoric about “drain­ing the swamp”. The paint­ing lit­er­al­ly rep­re­sents a swamp enclosed in a ruined wall, with Athena dri­ving out a horde of mon­sters that rep­re­sent the “vices” in the con­ven­tion­al medieval fash­ion. The paint­ing was com­mis­sioned to cel­e­brate the coro­na­tion of Isabel­la d’Este as Mar­quise of Man­tua. She was wide­ly seen as the ide­al ruler in her time, and has been revered by fem­i­nists ever since. 

Image of the month: The Palace of Purification

18-12-01 IMAGE Harris PlantThis is not the mag­nif­i­cent main build­ing of the R. C. Har­ris Water Treat­ment Plant in Toron­to. It’s mere­ly a pump­house and main­te­nance build­ing below the more famous main struc­ture which is “opu­lent with mar­ble entry­ways and vast halls filled with pools of water and fil­tra­tion equip­ment”. Yet even this struc­ture is grand, wor­thy of the self-taught genius who believed that civ­il engi­neer­ing was a spir­i­tu­al call­ing.

Seventh Meditation on Democracy [written October 1, 2008] REPUBLISHED

https _s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com_736x_ee_59_33_ee593300e425c02784549e0228c025e1In the begin­ning years of this blog, I pub­lished a series of arti­cles called “Med­i­ta­tions on Democ­racy and Dic­ta­tor­ship” which are still reg­u­larly read today, and have had some influ­ence. They still elic­it inquiries from remote cor­ners of the globe. They are now buried in the back pages of the blog, so I’m mov­ing them up the chrono­log­i­cal counter so they can have anoth­er round of vis­i­bil­ity, espe­cially (I hope) with younger read­ers. I am re-post­ing them in their orig­i­nal sequence over part of 2018. Some ref­er­ences in these “med­i­ta­tions” will date them to 2007–2008, when they were writ­ten. But I will leave them un-retouched, though I may occa­sion­ally append some ret­ro­spec­tive notes. Most­ly, they deal with abstract issues that do not need updat­ing.


14-03-18 BLOG SEVENTH MEDITATION ON DEMOCRACYA few days ago, I was in the sub­way, and I over­heard a con­ver­sa­tion about our cur­rent nation­al elec­tion. Two boys who, from their appear­ance, could have been no fur­ther along in school than grade nine or ten, were dis­cussing the tele­vised debates between the lead­ers of the five major polit­i­cal par­ties. What struck me, as I lis­tened in, was that the dis­cus­sion was cogent and intel­li­gent. One of the boys, who seemed the youngest, was par­tic­u­lar­ly artic­u­late, and his opin­ions were not the sim­ple par­rot­ing of some adult he had heard, or the pur­suit of a par­ty line. In fact, his analy­sis of the debate showed keen­er obser­va­tion and judg­ment than that of the pro­fes­sion­al com­men­ta­tors who dis­sect­ed the debate after the broad­cast. Read more »

Image of the month: Kel Tagelmust

18-11-01A Tuareg noble of the Sahara, exact­ly as I remem­ber such men. They are occa­sion­al­ly referred to as kel tagel­must (veiled peo­ple) because of the head­gear and robe dyed with shim­mer­ing indi­go. This gar­ment is fine-tuned for the Sahara’s vio­lent sand­storms, blis­ter­ing sun, wild swings in tem­per­a­ture, and is designed to con­serve pre­cious body mois­ture. Per­haps it’s the inspi­ra­tion for the “still­suit” in Frank Herbert’s Dune. The sev­en trib­al con­fed­er­a­tions of the Tuareg always seemed to me a much more plau­si­ble mod­el for Herbert’s sci­ence fic­tion clas­sic than the Badawi of Ara­bia, and the his­to­ry of the Sahara and Maghrib have episodes that par­al­lel the sto­ry of Dune.

Second Meditation on Dictatorship [written March 1, 2008] REPUBLISHED

https _s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com_736x_ee_59_33_ee593300e425c02784549e0228c025e1In the begin­ning years of this blog, I pub­lished a series of arti­cles called “Med­i­ta­tions on Democ­racy and Dic­ta­tor­ship” which are still reg­u­larly read today, and have had some influ­ence. They still elic­it inquiries from remote cor­ners of the globe. They are now buried in the back pages of the blog, so I’m mov­ing them up the chrono­log­i­cal counter so they can have anoth­er round of vis­i­bil­ity, espe­cially (I hope) with younger read­ers. I am re-post­ing them in their orig­i­nal sequence over part of 2018. Some ref­er­ences in these “med­i­ta­tions” will date them to 2007–2008, when they were writ­ten. But I will leave them un-retouched, though I may occa­sion­ally append some ret­ro­spec­tive notes. Most­ly, they deal with abstract issues that do not need updat­ing.


14-03-18 BLOG SECOND MEDITATION ON DICTATORSHIP

The argu­ment behind this series of med­i­ta­tions is that aris­to­crat­ic elites, whether they are dressed up in mil­i­tary uni­forms, busi­ness suits, or the regalia of roy­al­ty, are iden­ti­cal in pur­pose and func­tion. Dif­fer­ences between them are triv­ial and cos­met­ic, not struc­tur­al. The term “dic­ta­tor­ship” applies equal­ly to all places where an unelect­ed gang of hood­lums rules over peo­ple and ter­ri­to­ry, what­ev­er their sup­posed ide­ol­o­gy or what­ev­er style they chose to prance around in. I fur­ther con­tend that they are nei­ther moral­ly legit­i­mate, nor “gov­ern­ment” in the sense that demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly elect­ed admin­is­tra­tions are. Dic­ta­tors are mere­ly crim­i­nals, no dif­fer­ent from the crim­i­nals that rob con­ve­nience stores or attack women in dark­ened car parks. The only dif­fer­ence is the amount of mon­ey they steal and the num­ber of peo­ple they mur­der or maim.

Next, I have argued that rule by aris­toc­ra­cies is a con­stant dan­ger to human soci­ety in any time and any place, inde­pen­dent of a society’s lev­el of wealth, or avail­able tech­nol­o­gy. I argue that there are no nec­es­sary or pre­des­tined “stages” in the orga­ni­za­tion of human soci­ety. Moral­ly good and ben­e­fi­cial demo­c­ra­t­ic social arrange­ments can be made at any time and in any place, by any group of peo­ple, large or small. Lan­guage, eth­nic­i­ty, loca­tion, and degree of wealth are not struc­tural­ly rel­e­vant to demo­c­ra­t­ic prac­tice, and demo­c­ra­t­ic prac­tice does not orig­i­nate with, or “belong to” any par­tic­u­lar cul­tur­al group. Sim­i­lar­ly, dic­ta­tor­ship can occur in any human group. Immoral, dis­eased soci­eties can be made at any time, in any place, by any group of peo­ple, large or small. Both pos­si­bil­i­ties always co-exist.

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Image of the month: a fine bridge

18-10-01 IMAGE Burlington Canal bridgeThe Burling­ton Canal Ver­ti­cal Lift Bridge, in Burling­ton, Ontario — built in 1962. I wish I could cred­it the pho­tog­ra­ph­er, who has giv­en it a spe­cial mood and mag­ic.