Category Archives: A – BLOG

Monday, November 28, 2016 — A Letter to my Member of Parliament, Bill Morneau

To: Bill Morneau, House of Com­mons, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1A 0A6

Re: Prime Min­is­ter Trudeau prais­ing Castro

I voted for the present gov­ern­ment. I voted for you. I had vis­cer­ally despised Harper, and I fell for your party’s hokum about “sunny days” and restor­ing Canada’s demo­c­ra­tic val­ues after the grim repres­sive­ness of the Con­ser­v­a­tive admin­is­tra­tion. Naive me.

This rid­ing includes Canada’s prin­ci­pal Gay neigh­bor­hood and busi­ness com­mu­nity. Among my friends was a man who suf­fered ago­niz­ing tor­tures in the con­cen­tra­tion camps that Cas­tro threw thou­sands of gays into. He is now, mer­ci­fully, dead, and does not have to hear a Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter prais­ing his tor­turer. He was under the impres­sion that he had come to a democracy.

Prime Min­is­ter Trudeau’s inane, syco­phan­tic blather prais­ing a mass-murderer, slave-holder and exploiter is no dif­fer­ent from Trump’s cring­ing praise of Putin, Ronald Rea­gan call­ing the geno­ci­dal butcher Rios-Montt “a man of great per­sonal integrity”, or Mar­garet Thatcher claim­ing Augusto Pinochet as a “true friend”.

This clearly demon­strates that our sup­pos­edly “demo­c­ra­tic” lead­ers have no com­mit­ment to, or respect for democ­racy, what­ever their party.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016 — Fucking American Morons, part 2

Gmail was down for an aston­ish­ing 24 hours. It will, no doubt, cost Google a lot of money, as they have con­trac­tual oblig­a­tions to their com­mer­cial cus­tomers which will incur penal­ties. The out­age effected much of the world, and most intensely North Amer­ica and the U.K. It started around when the U.S. elec­tion polls closed, and con­tin­ued for the bet­ter part of a day. Now, I don’t know for cer­tain the cause of this unprece­dented out­age, with its unlikely coin­ci­dent tim­ing, but I could ven­ture a guess.

There are few can­di­dates for any­one who could hack such an out­come. The best can­di­date would be Don­ald Trump’s good bud­dies in Moscow. Motive? Per­haps an unsub­tle reminder to the world’s busi­ness inter­ests that they should not inter­fere with Putin’s Pup­pet Pres­i­dent. If that’s the case, we will never know it for sure, as silence would doubt­less be a con­di­tion of com­pli­ance. No doubt we will all quickly learn that it was just the “fat man on a couch.” Whether this is the case or not, Putin is singing in the shower these days. He now knows that he can safely start restor­ing the old Com­mu­nist empire. If he decides to, say, invade Esto­nia and annex it, he knows that his good buddy Don­ald will sab­o­tage any resis­tance from Europe.

Mean­while, Trump’s even bet­ter and closer bud­dies, the Neo-Nazi ter­ror­ists of Europe, are pop­ping cham­pagne corks and danc­ing. There are now fanat­i­cal racists and anti-semites in power in Wash­ing­ton as well as Moscow and var­i­ous Euro­pean cap­i­tals, and their influ­ence is grow­ing rapidly in South-East Asia. Europe’s Jews and Gyp­sies have few places to look for safety. Canada may be one of the few remain­ing havens of freedom.

Bei­jing stands to lose finan­cially from Trump’s ascent, but it is power, not money that inter­ests Bei­jing. They are already reap­ing the pro­pa­ganda bonus. They are already loudly boast­ing that democ­racy has been dis­cred­ited, that the U.S. is washed up, and that Com­mu­nism will ulti­mately triumph.

Those Lib­eral val­ues —- democ­racy and free­dom — that Con­ser­v­a­tives, Com­mu­nists and Fas­cists all hate, are in full retreat. Soon they will be forced underground.

Well, you fuck­ing Amer­i­can morons, you fuck­ing Con­ser­v­a­tive trai­tors, you finally got what you wanted.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016 — FUCKING AMERICAN MORONS!

FUCKING

AMERICAN

MORONS

I”m sad to say that I had a mis­guided faith in the Amer­i­can peo­ple. It’s not just the mis­lead­ing polls that had me bam­boo­zled. From the time I lived in the United States, I retained a deep feel­ing that the Amer­i­can peo­ple where at heart decent and patri­otic, that they cher­ished free­dom, and that if push comes to shove they will do the right thing. That faith is now gone. The Amer­i­can peo­ple have destroyed that illu­sion. Mak­ing that ass­hole Pres­i­dent demon­strates clearly that the United States is washed up, a nation of cow­ards and pathetic losers. If Amer­i­cans would rather be slaves than free human beings, it is up to Canada to take up the flag of free­dom. I will ded­i­cate my life to pro­tect­ing my beloved coun­try from the influ­ence of that mon­strous evil below the border.

Sunday, November 6, 2016 — Two Days

In two days we will finally find out what degree of power the Racism, Rape and Trea­son Party will exer­cise in the United States for the next four years. It’s plain that they will not win the Pres­i­dency — patri­otic Amer­i­cans have sensed an immi­nent threat to the coun­try, and are turn­ing out in record num­bers to defend it — but what really mat­ters is whether or not the RR&T (Repub­li­can) Party will retain con­trol of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. A gen­er­a­tion of sys­tem­atic voter sup­pres­sion and dis­trict ger­ry­man­der­ing has allowed the Repub­li­cans to con­trol the House, repeat­edly hold­ing the Amer­i­can peo­ple to ran­som and obstruct­ing any kind of ratio­nal admin­is­tra­tion. If they retain this power, there will be four years of relent­less obstruc­tion of the kind that Amer­i­cans have become accus­tomed to in the last eight years. Repub­li­cans have no claim to being patri­ots: the well-being of the Amer­i­can peo­ple will always be the last thing they are con­cerned with. They are dri­ven by a total­i­tar­ian ide­ol­ogy that has fused older ele­ments orig­i­nat­ing in Amer­ica with Com­mu­nism and Fas­cism imported from Europe. Those who delude them­selves into think­ing that Don­ald Trump is some sort of aber­ra­tion in his party need to wake up. Trump is the nat­ural, log­i­cal and inevitable con­se­quence of Con­ser­v­a­tive ide­ol­ogy in exactly the same way that Stalin was the nat­ural, log­i­cal and inevitable con­se­quence of Marx­ist ide­ol­ogy. Every­thing that Trump has done in this elec­tion is some­thing that the Repub­li­can Party has done before, every slo­gan he shouts and every slimy tac­tic he employs are straight out of the long-term Repub­li­can play­book. Trump will prob­a­bly not suc­ceed in his dream of destroy­ing Amer­ica and turn­ing it into a sleazy, Putin-KGB style dic­ta­tor­ship, but the Repub­li­can Party will not stop their ide­o­log­i­cal cru­sade with his fail­ure, and their ambi­tion is exactly the same as Trump’s. They will keep on try­ing. Amer­i­cans will not be safe from the specter of tyranny until the Repub­li­can Party is com­pletely erased from their lives.

This does not mean that the Demo­c­ra­tic Party is any­thing admirable. It has absorbed most of the creepy ele­ments of Con­ser­v­a­tive ide­ol­ogy. The Clin­ton admin­is­tra­tion of the 1990s adopted most of Con­ser­v­a­tive crack­pot eco­nomic the­ory. Its repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act and pass­ing of the Com­mod­ity Futures Mod­ern­iza­tion Act laid the ground­work for the sub­se­quent Repub­li­can global reces­sion. Hilary Clin­ton is not the demon she is por­trayed as, but she clearly rep­re­sents the oli­garchi­cal and Con­ser­v­a­tive ele­ments of the Demo­c­ra­tic Party, and can­not be depended on to do any­thing to lessen the power of the rich, which is the can­cer eat­ing away at Amer­ica. But there is a great dif­fer­ence between a cor­rupt, aging aris­to­cratic regime and a dynamic total­i­tar­ian move­ment. The Romanov monar­chy and the shaky Weimar Repub­lic were not any­thing to boast of, but the Com­mu­nist and National Social­ist dic­ta­tor­ships that dis­placed them were a thou­sand times more hor­ri­ble. The Repub­li­can Party embraces and pro­motes such a men­ac­ing total­i­tar­ian ide­ol­ogy, and has been work­ing away dili­gently to impose it on Amer­ica. Like all such ide­olo­gies, Con­ser­vatism chan­nels the ener­gies and resent­ments of dis­parate groups, gives them scape­goats to hate, and employs a mish-mosh of con­tra­dic­tory slo­gans, pro­pa­ganda lies, and pseudo-intellectual argu­ments that can be deployed or negated at any time. But the under­ly­ing prin­ci­ple is straight­for­ward: if the Leader enters the room, get down on your hands and knees and suck his dick. There is really noth­ing else to it. View­ing any ten minute seg­ment of a Trump rally makes this per­fectly clear. It’s an ide­ol­ogy for sniv­el­ling cow­ards. But there are a lot of sniv­el­ling cow­ards out there.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016 — Danger

16-07-27 BLOG CaligulaThings are get­ting very dan­ger­ous. There is now a seri­ous pos­si­bil­ity that the peo­ple of the United States will elect Caligula as Pres­i­dent. The entire world is endan­gered by this folly.

I will repeat what I have said before. I con­sider any Amer­i­can who votes Repub­li­can in the com­ing elec­tion to be a trai­tor to his coun­try. There is sim­ply no excuse con­ceiv­able for an act so immoral, so dis­gust­ing, so vile, as to vote to make Don­ald Trump the most pow­er­ful per­son in the world. Fur­ther­more, I count it a moral oblig­a­tion for any Amer­i­can to act to pre­vent it. Nobody can claim to be a patriot unless they actively oppose this mon­ster at least to the extent of going to the polls to vote against him. There can be no sit­ting this one out.

Friday, March 25, 2016 [part 1] — Game of Caves

My appoint­ment at Gar­gas was for early in the after­noon, so I was able to have a pleas­ant and leisurely break­fast. In place of the stan­dard French baguette, there was a much more chewy local loaf known as quatre-banes, which I thought superb, per­fect with the fresh coun­try but­ter and jam. The cui­sine of Hautes-Pyrénees, like many other aspects of its cul­ture, is more closely in tune with that of the Basque Coun­try and Cat­alo­nia than with north­ern France (and indeed, the slang expres­sion nordiste is used by the locals with obvi­ous dis­dain). Beans and spicy sausages, coun­try soups, hard rather than soft cheeses, bread that you can get your teeth into. After break­fast, I still had plenty of time to reach the caves on foot. From Lom­brès, I walked down the road to the vil­lage of Aventig­nan (about three times larger than Lom­brès), then along a minor road to the cave’s recep­tion cen­ter, lit­tle more than 4km.

The road to the caves starting at Aventignan.

The road to the caves start­ing at Aventignan.

Only two cars passed me, and there was noth­ing much along the way but empty fields until the hills and for­est started. The weather was cool and over­cast. Often, when I’m walk­ing, music pops into my head in sur­pris­ingly com­plete form, and this time it was the Shepherd’s Song from Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne, sung in Old Occ­i­tan, the lan­guage of South­ern France before it was con­quered, re-educated, and reg­i­mented by the nordistes. The dialect of the Auvergne was con­sid­er­ably dif­fer­ent from the Gas­con spo­ken in this region, but it nev­erlthe­less puts across the South­ern mood:

As gaïré dè buon tèms?
Dio lou baïlèro lèrô,
Lèrô lèrô lèrô lèrô baïlèro lô.

Pas­tré lou prat faï flour,
Li cal gorda toun troupel.
Dio lou baïlèro lèrô,
Lèrô lèrô lèrô lèrô baïlèro lô.

Pas­tré couci foraï,
En obal io lou bel riou!
Dio lou baïlèro lèrô,
Lèrô lèrô lèrô lèrô baïlèro lô.

(“Shep­herd across the river, your work there is hard. Look, the mead­ows here are in bloom. You should watch your flock on this side…. Shep­herd, the water divides us, and I can’t cross it”). Noth­ing at all like French. Incom­pre­hen­si­ble to all but a few surv­ing speak­ers of the Old Tongue, but the melody con­veys such a won­der­ful sad­ness and yearn­ing that it would be under­stood emo­tion­ally in Tokyo. In fact, it resem­bles many Japan­ese folk melodies.

The forest approaching the caves.

The for­est approach­ing the caves.

I soon reached the recep­tion cen­ter, which boasted a café, which was closed, and a small museum. It was here that I con­firmed my reser­va­tion. A staff archae­ol­o­gist was busy explain­ing how stone-age tools were used to some chil­dren, so I chose to walk up to the cave entrance and wait there for Alexan­dre Gay, who was to be my guide into another world.

Now is the time to explain why I had picked this par­tic­u­lar cave. Oth­ers are more famous, more spec­tac­u­lar, and eas­ier to get to.

Grad­u­ally, most of the pre­his­toric art caves are being closed off from pub­lic view. The mere pres­ence of human beings is destroy­ing the cave art, because the increase in the level of car­bon diox­ide caused by human breath­ing pro­motes the growth of a nasty green slime of bac­te­ria and algae on the cave walls. The famous art of Las­caux and Chau­vet have been nearly destroyed, and these caves are now sealed off. The French gov­ern­ment has spent a for­tune cre­at­ing replica “caves” for tourists. But I have lit­tle inter­est in view­ing these repli­cas. Good pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phy and the appro­pri­ate tech­ni­cal reports will give me more infor­ma­tion, and no replica can pro­vide the real­ity of expe­ri­ence I seek. Gar­gas is not one of the more famous ones, and it is not con­ve­niently located. Unlike many of the caves, its exis­tence has been known for cen­turies, and in fact it has vis­i­tor grafitti from cen­turies past. Most of all, it has only a small amount of the ani­mal art that peo­ple asso­ciate with such caves.

But Gar­gas specif­i­cally has fas­ci­nated me since I ran across Claude Bar­rière & Ali Sahly’s L’art par­ié­tal de la Grotte de Gar­gas in a two-volume Eng­lish trans­la­tion pub­lished by Oxford’s British Archae­o­log­i­cal Reports. In the many years since I read it, the cave has haunted me. There are many ways in which it is pro­foundly dif­fer­ent from other pre­his­toric cave sites. First, and for­most, are its hands. Hand sten­cils, formed by plac­ing a hand against a stone sur­face and then spray­ing pig­ment onto it by con­trolled spit­ting — a slow process, but very pre­cise — are scat­tered through­out Europe, and can also be found in Africa, Indone­sia, Aus­tralia, and South Amer­ica. But Gar­gas has far more than any other site. In fact, it accounts for half of all the hand sten­cils in Europe. The sig­nif­i­cance of the hand-stencils is unknown. They exhibit great pecu­liar­i­ties. Many of them appear to have fin­gers miss­ing. This trig­gered var­i­ous the­o­ries based on anthro­po­log­i­cal par­al­lels, such as the cus­tom in some places of chop­ping off a fin­ger to sig­nify mourn­ing of a deceased loved one. Oth­ers sug­gested that fin­gers were being lost to frost­bite. But the num­ber of sten­cils at Gar­gas show­ing miss­ing fin­gers far exceeds the prob­a­bil­i­ties of these kinds of expla­na­tions. For­tu­nately, some­one even­tu­ally demon­strated that one needs only to bend a fin­ger under­neath one’s hand while spray­ing the paint to achieve the “miss­ing fin­ger” effect. Hand sten­cils of this type are much, much older than most of the fig­u­ra­tive art that is known in pre­his­toric caves. The famous ani­mal paint­ings at Las­caux were made around 20,000 years ago, and are asso­ci­ated with the Solutrean archae­o­log­i­cal cul­ture [archae­ol­o­gists des­ig­nate sim­i­lar com­plexes of arti­facts as “cul­tures”, but this should not be taken to mean a “cul­ture” as nec­es­sar­ily an eth­nic entity]. The art at Altamira is between 17,000 and 13,000 years old, and is asso­ci­ated with the Mag­dalanean cul­ture, and the images at Trois-Frères are push­ing to the edge of the Neolithic. Gar­gas con­tains some ani­mal art, and it too dates from around 15,000 years ago and is iden­ti­fi­ably Mag­dalanean. But the hand-stencils at Gar­gas date from more than 27,000 years ago, and are asso­ci­ated with the Gravet­t­ian cul­ture. This was before the last Glacial Max­i­mum. It is impor­tant to remem­ber that when the best rep­re­sen­ta­tional art was made at Gar­gas, the artists were near to work done by artists who were nearly as far back in time from them as they are from me.

Visitor photography is not permitted at Gargas. This and the next photos come from technical papers

Vis­i­tor pho­tog­ra­phy is not per­mit­ted at Gar­gas. This and the next pho­tos come from tech­ni­cal papers

The hand-stencils at Gar­gas are very sim­i­lar to ones found across the planet in Sulawesi, Indone­sia. Recent re-dating using “U-series” Uranium/Thorium dat­ing tech­niques have con­firmed that these were made 39,900 years ago. As in Europe, Asian hand-stencils tend to pre­date ani­mal art by sev­eral thou­sand years at the same loca­tions. The idea that art “orig­i­nated” in Europe is long aban­doned from seri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion. Pari­etal art in Aus­tralia, Asia, and Africa can be dated to the same time depth, or earlier.

Another thing that is unique about Gar­gas: It is the only Euro­pean cave in which art co-exists with clear signs of human habi­ta­tion. In the famous caves in the Dor­dogne, for instance, there are caves nearby that were inhab­ited, but the art-caves were func­tion­ally sep­a­rate enti­ties. At Gar­gas, all the art is inside the cave, well beyond the lim­its of nat­ural light, and had to have been made and seen by portable illu­mi­na­tion (prob­a­bly fat-lamps sim­i­lar to the ones used by the Innuit), but there was con­sis­tent, long-term habi­ta­tion at the cave mouth. Why Gar­gas should be unique in this way remains a mystery.

16-03-25 BLOG Hands 2small16-03-25 BLOG Hands 3small

A small group gath­ered below the cave entrance, at a place with a fine view of the val­ley below. M. Gay arrived, and after a brief talk led us into the upper cave. It is now only acces­si­ble through a locked door. For about an hour, Alexan­dre led us through about 500 metres of gal­leries. The upper cave is nar­row and wind­ing, but does not require any spe­cial skill to pass through. It con­tains some of the fig­u­ra­tive art. The nat­ural fea­tures of this cave, includ­ing a vari­ety of rock pil­lows, sta­lagtites and sta­lag­mites, cre­ated an appro­pri­ate atmos­phere of sus­pense as we pro­gressed. We came at last to an arti­fi­cial tun­nel that had been con­structed to con­nect the upper cave with the lower.

The lower cave is much big­ger and wider and con­tains the two main cham­bers and a small side-chamber called the Cham­bre du Camarin. Most of the cave art is here, includ­ing all of the hands. There seem to be at least three phases of devel­op­ment in the fig­u­ra­tive art. Ani­mals rep­re­sented include Bovi­dae, Bison, Mam­moth, Horses, Ibex, and pos­si­bly birds. For the most part, it con­sists of etch­ings into the stone, some­times com­bined with paint­ing. This is the sort of thing that does not come off well in pho­tographs, and only see­ing the real thing in situ con­veys its artis­tic qual­ity. I was not pre­pared for the emo­tional power of this art, hav­ing long assumed that it must be infe­rior to the famous stuff. At one point, we were asked to crouch on the ground to look up at one engrav­ing that could only be viewed from this angle.

But is the hands I was most inter­ested in. They had come to rep­re­sent, for me, a direct con­nec­tion to other human beings across a vast gulf of time. And despite all the prepa­ra­tion for the event, the real­ity of it drained me emo­tion­ally. They are not merely pretty, but shock­ing, in some­thing like the way that the ghostly shad­ows of vapor­ized humans on the walls of Hiroshima are shock­ing. These are not arti­facts, like the ani­mal draw­ings, the mobile art, or the lithic finds. They are shad­ows of human beings, of real peo­ple who thought and felt and loved and hated and cried and died. Their pres­ence in the cave was pal­pa­ble, as if they were por­traits of my own fam­ily on a bed­room dresser. And these peo­ple strug­gled to stay alive in a way per­fectly famil­iar to me — the hunt­ing of large mam­mals in a cold cli­mate, much like the world that still exists in north­ern Canada. It is not very long since I spoke and shared a whiskey or two with peo­ple who would have rec­og­nized the inhab­i­tants of Gar­gas as “folk just like us.”

Gay has devoted all his life to the Gar­gas caves. He had an appoint­ment to attend to, so we agreed to meet on the fol­low­ing day at his home pour un apéri­tif. He con­ve­niently lives in Loubrès, a short walk from the fro­magerie. It was a con­ver­sa­tion I eagerly looked for­ward to.

But what to do next? It was still mid-afternoon, and I might as well see some of the coun­try­side. M. Uchan had men­tioned that there was a medieval church or some sig­nif­i­cance, and some roman ruins another four kilo­me­ters to south. This would put me in the val­ley to east of the one Lom­brès was in, sep­a­rated by a wall of steep, forested hills. The topo­graph­i­cal maps indi­cated that there was a foot­path over the hills, in fact a frag­ment of the medieval trail of pil­grim­age known as El Camino de San­ti­ago. There seemed to plenty of time to find this trail, cross the hills, find the Roman bridge that was sup­posed to cross the lit­tle river Larise, and then make my way back to Lombrès.

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.

Thursday, March 24, 2016 — A Voyage to Blefuscu

The first part of my trip was a bit of a chal­lenge: thirty hours of con­tin­u­ous travel, and no sleep for forty hours. Every leg of the jour­ney had to match the next in a short time span, and I was to be met at the Mon­tré­jeau rail­way sta­tion at a spe­cific time. One missed con­nec­tion would put my finances at risk. There were two flights by Ice­landair (always more com­fort­able than most air­lines because the hefty Ice­landers require leg room) but, sadly, my stopover in Reik­javik was less than hour. No chance to stroll in one of my favourite towns. I could do noth­ing more than look out the win­dow at the black lava fields around Keflavik.

I had wor­ried about bor­der has­sles because of the ter­ror­ist attack in Brus­sels the pre­vi­ous day. Last year, Ice­land with­drew its appli­ca­tion for EU mem­ber­ship, which had only ten­ta­tive sup­port among the tra­di­tion­ally independence-minded Ice­landers, but it remains per­haps the eas­i­est entry point into Europe from Canada. No ques­tions, a quick pass­port stamp, and I was in. I could walk straight from the plane at Roissy with­out going through cus­toms. Roissy-Charles deGaulle is, however,an air­port the size of a small city, and requires some nav­i­ga­tion. After mak­ing my way through a maze of inclined tubes resem­bling a futur­is­tic ver­sion of the stair­cases of Hog­worts, I needed to take the dri­ver­less CDGVAL train five sta­tions to the part of the air­port where the Grande lignes of the SNCF trains depart for the south. There, I caught the train for Lyon, hav­ing time to spare only for a baguette with ham and cheese. The trains pull into the sta­tion at higher speeds than a Cana­dian train would go on open track. When under­way, they accel­er­ate to speeds that ViaRail in Canada could not imag­ine. The Paris-Lyon run nor­maly goes at just a bit under 200 mph (320kph). Trains com­ing in the oppo­site direc­tion whip by in a sec­ond, vis­i­ble only as a blue blur. Like most trav­ellers, I find rail travel vastly more com­fort­able, con­ve­nient, and civ­i­lized than air travel, and I’m ashamed that my coun­try has let its rail ser­vice, once its pride, decay into incom­pe­tence and tech­ni­cal back­ward­ness, while much of the rest of the world strides into the future.

At Lyon, I switched to another train, which took me on the longest rail seg­ment of my voy­age. It went through Avi­gnon, Nîmes, Mont­pe­lier, Beziers, Nar­bonne, and Car­cas­sone to Toulouse. An elderly lady explained to me the com­plex geol­ogy of the Mas­sif cen­tral, a mostly Devonian/Permian struc­ture that is mostly karst­land, but with vol­canic intru­sions. I strug­gled to trans­late geo­log­i­cal terms that I knew only in Eng­lish. For exam­ple, I ven­tured “ter­rain de type Karst” but the cor­rect form is “for­ma­tion kars­tique”. This regions marks the tran­si­tion from North to South, a divi­sion that is lin­guis­tic, cul­tural, cli­matic, and eco­log­i­cal. Once in the South,you are in a Mediter­ranean place. The archi­tec­ture reflects it. Plenty of red-tiled roofs, plain stucco walls, and when you get down to the coast, palm trees.

By the time I passed through Car­cas­sone, it was dark,so held lit­tle expec­ta­tion that I would see its fab­u­lous cas­tle. But it is flood-lit, and so huge that I glimpsed it in the far dis­tance in the train win­dow oppo­site. At Toulouse, I did no more than take a few steps across a plat­form to get on my last train, a milk run that would take me to Mon­tré­jean, in the foothills of the Pyrénées. I shared a com­part­ment with a snow­boarder who yearned to visit British Colum­bia (a log­i­cal ambi­tion for a snow­boarder — he even knew who Ross Rebagliati was).He brought me to another com­part­ment where a small group, young and old, was pass­ing around a gui­tqr. The snow­boarder didn’t play, but he sang excel­lent rap, pour­ing out a stream of lyrics with­out hesitation.

The train reached its des­ti­na­tion on time to the minute (please take note, ViaRail). My host, M.Michel Uchan, spot­ted me instantly in the crowd of one, I being the only pas­sen­ger to get off. M.Uchan has proven a most con­ge­nial host. He speaks French and Span­ish, but no Eng­lish. His French is the musi­cal accent of the South, where the final vow­els and con­so­nants that are silent in stan­dard French are clearly pro­nounced, and there is the rhyth­mic lilt you hear in Span­ish, Cata­lan or Ital­ian, rather than the machine-gun tempo of the North. Within a few min­utes we were in Loubrès, a vil­lage of eighty peo­ple that is uncom­pro­mis­ingly rural and Occ­i­tan. M. Uchan oper­ates a small fro­magerie, which pro­duces a local cheese of the vari­ety known as Tomme de Pyrénées, which I am most eager to taste, but for the moment, forty hours with­out sleep sends me promptly to bed.

Sunday, March 13, 2016 — Where I Stand

I will make my posi­tion plain. I am a Cana­dian, not an Amer­i­can, but like all Cana­di­ans I must pay close atten­tion to the pol­i­tics of the coun­try that bor­ders mine for 8,891 kilo­me­tres (5,525 miles), has ten times our pop­u­la­tion, with which we have (by far) the largest-scale trad­ing rela­tion­ship in the world, and with which we share a con­sid­er­able degree of our cul­ture. Our economies are so inter­twined that every polit­i­cal deci­sion that occurs in the U.S. imme­di­ately and some­times pro­foundly influ­ences our life. I have at times lived in the U.S., and have many friends there, as do most Cana­di­ans. But we are not Amer­i­cans, and some­times all has not been well between us. When the United States entered its dis­as­trous war in Viet­nam, and we were pres­sured to join in with that deba­cle, a major­ity of Cana­di­ans were opposed to it, and we stayed out of it. When, sub­se­quently, many young Amer­i­cans resisted the slav­ery of con­scrip­tion, and the cor­rup­tion of the war, we wel­comed them as hon­ourable refugees, just as we had wel­comed refugees from slav­ery in the 19th cen­tury. They were the true Amer­i­can patri­ots, and we respected them.

One of those great moral divi­sions is upon us. The United States has accom­plished many great and noble things, but in recent times, it has reached its low­est moral ebb in a hun­dred years. The upcom­ing elec­tion in the United States is cru­cial to both our coun­tries. If the Repub­li­can Party wins, then the U.S. is washed up as a coun­try, every decent prin­ci­ple it has fought for will be defeated, degraded and destroyed. This is a pro­found threat to my coun­try, which I love.

There have been two great men­aces to human dig­nity and free­dom in the last cen­tury. One was the con­stel­la­tion of total­i­tar­ian move­ments that dom­i­nated the first half of the cen­tury, which included Com­mu­nism, Nazism, Fas­cism, and their var­i­ous mimic and out­lier move­ments. The other is its mod­ern suc­ces­sor, the Con­ser­v­a­tive Move­ment that emerged in the United States in the last gen­er­a­tion and has slowly taken over its pub­lic life, and spread around the world, as Com­mu­nism did, through the influ­ence of cor­rupt intel­lec­tu­als, deluded suck­ers and fellow-travellers. But there is no sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence between the two move­ments. The sec­ond is essen­tially just a reboot and re-branding of the first. In both cases, the aim is the same: the destruc­tion of free and demo­c­ra­tic soci­eties and the erect­ing of mil­i­taris­tic soci­eties ruled by a wealthy, all-powerful aris­toc­racy, in which most human beings will be dis­pos­able ser­vants, peas­ants and slaves. In both cases, human rights and lib­erty are to be sac­ri­ficed in the name of crack­pot eco­nomic the­o­ries. In both cases, the lead­ers of the move­ment mobi­lize racism, vio­lence, super­sti­tion and every base human pas­sion among the gullible to achieve their aims. The aims are the same, the meth­ods are the same, and the under­ly­ing phi­los­o­phy is the same. Only the slo­gans and catch-phrases dif­fer. Don­ald Trump and Ted Cruz are merely the tip of the ice­berg of evil. There is worse to come.

Any Amer­i­can who votes for the Repub­li­can Party in the upcom­ing fed­eral elec­tion is, as far as I am con­cerned, a trai­tor to their own coun­try, and a men­ace to mine. I will con­sider such a per­son to be beyond the pale of civ­i­liza­tion, a per­son to be shunned. Such a per­son will never be allowed to set foot in my home, I will never share food with them, and never, as much as pos­si­ble, ever speak to them. This deci­sion is final. It will never change. Ever.

I have spent the entirety of my life study­ing the abom­i­na­tions of aris­toc­racy and slav­ery, and sup­port­ing and pro­mot­ing democ­racy and free­dom. This is a crit­i­cal moment, and I wish to leave no doubt in anyone’s mind where I stand.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016 — Looking back at Alvar Aalto

What used to be called the “Inter­na­tional Style of Mod­ernism” in archi­tec­ture may have filled the planet with iden­ti­cal glass boxes, but there were always some archi­tects who never quite fit into its straight­jacket. Among them, the one that appealed to me most when I first started being inter­ested in archi­tec­ture (as a teenager) was the Finnish archi­tect and indus­trial designer Alvar Aalto (1898–1976). The Inter­na­tional Style worked with the credo of “form fol­lows func­tion,” but it was, I could see, a hol­low slo­gan. The rigid orthoxy of that kind of “mod­ernism” had noth­ing to do with “func­tion,” since all build­ings, no mat­ter what their pur­pose, loca­tion, or con­text, were the same. Build­ings in rain-soaked places that needed eaves couldn’t have eaves. The “func­tion” of cheap­ness, of course, deter­mined build­ing lay­outs, not the func­tion of what you were going to do in them. At first, Aalto paid lip-service to the mod­ernist ortho­doxy, but soon his build­ings started to devi­ate from it. Even­tu­ally he evolved a fluid style, often work­ing closely with his wife Aino, in which every aspect of a build­ing was con­sid­ered, includ­ing inter­nal sur­faces, light­ing, and fur­ni­ture, as an inte­gral whole. His scale was human, outer forms were play­ful and visu­ally inter­est­ing. He loved curv­ing, fluid lines, so that even today much of his work feels “sci­ence fiction-ish.” White­ness dom­i­nated the aes­thetic, but it was never a bor­ing blank­ness.
16-03-02 BLOG Aalto sanatorium16-03-02 BLOG Aalto room
These three images illus­trate what I mean. The one on the left is a tuber­cu­lo­sis sana­to­rium designed for the small Finnish town of Paimio in 1928, and com­pleted in 1932. At this time, Aalto was still in the orbit of offi­cial Mod­ernism, fol­low­ing Le Corbusier’s basic rules, but he was already lay­ing the foun­da­tions of his more holis­tic approach. Note the date of the design —- it still looks mod­ern. The sec­ond and third images show the kind of inte­rior space that Alvar and Aino con­ceived when the silent film had barely been dis­placed by the talkie. Notice that the forms are sim­ple, but not ster­ile. Human­ity and com­fort are the “func­tions” being served, not ide­o­log­i­cal con­for­mity, cheap­ness, or man­u­fac­tur­ing con­ve­nience. It still looks good.16-03-02 BLOG Alto Room 2

Tuesday, February 16, 2016 — Juniper and Bones

I can­not smell juniper with­out think­ing of small bones. I have very strong smell mem­o­ries, some­times stronger than visual mem­o­ries. I can still call up in my mind the smell of the north rim of the Grand Canyon, the myr­iad smells of dif­fer­ent deserts, the scents of tama­rack and black spruce as you get near the Wînipâkw, the smells of the blessed neem trees in Kano, the spring lilacs in Cana­dian towns, the com­fort­ing scents of freshly-sawn lum­ber, the many smells of snow in dif­fer­ent settings.

Hold that thought, for I must digress.

I just re-read Edgar Pangborn’s A Mir­ror for Observers for the eighth time. The only other novel I’ve read as many times is Lewis Carroll’s Through the Look­ing Glass. Reg­u­lar reread­ings of Carroll’s mas­ter­piece would not sur­prise any­one — I’m sure there are peo­ple who have read it dozens of times — but you might find it puz­zling that I would give equal loy­alty to a sci­ence fic­tion novel writ­ten in 1954, by an author who was respected in his day, but never a high-profile celebrity in the field. A Mir­ror for Observers is not even his best known book (though it is his best). I read the book in child­hood, and it imprinted itself on my mind so vividly that I hardly needed to reread it, for I could play out every scene in my mind at will. But, at reg­u­lar inter­vals through­out a life­time, I have read it with full attention.

Edgar Pang­born was an Amer­i­can writer who went to Har­vard at the age of fif­teen, then trained at the New Eng­land Con­ser­va­tory with the inten­tion of becom­ing a con­cert pianist and com­poser, but ended up writ­ing pulp fic­tion. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, he wrote a series of sto­ries and nov­els that were well-received, but prob­a­bly had more impact on the next gen­er­a­tion of writ­ers in the field than on the gen­eral read­er­ship. He lived much of his life reclu­sively in Bearsville, New York, a tiny ham­let in the Adiron­dack moun­tains, and died in 1976. His best known work was the novel Davy (1964), a fine work. But A Mir­ror for Observers did not always remain in print, and I had var­i­ous crum­bling paper­back copies until it was re-issued in hard­cover in 2004.

So why am I so devoted to this low-profile book, and why did I reread it this time?

Some recent events, both pub­lic and per­sonal, have forced me to think about things that I expe­ri­enced decades ago, which I have never been able to prop­erly artic­u­late, but which will be quite under­standible to those who know me. A Mir­ror for Observers addresses the moral issues these events embody. The book is about, among other things, per­sonal respon­si­bil­ity for pub­lic, col­lec­tive evil. Pang­born was unusu­ally sen­si­tive to this issue, as few writ­ers have been. Look at the parade of renowned writ­ers and artists who have kissed the asses of tyrants and devoted their skills to pro­pa­gan­diz­ing for Con­ser­vatism, Com­mu­nism, Fas­cism, and all the other Isms that have unleashed suf­fer­ing and hor­ror on the human race! Pang­born was absent from that gib­ber­ing and scream­ing crowd, and he could elo­quently express why. The “mir­ror” in the novel is an archae­o­log­i­cal arti­fact, a bronze hand mir­ror from the ancient Aegean. He under­stood that the issues are old, and that one must look into a mir­ror to solve them. But much as I take plea­sure in reread­ing that fine book, since the 1980’s, I could not read it with­out the smell of juniper obtrud­ing in my mind. So to read A Mir­ror for Observers is, for me, a strange mix­ture of com­fort and dis­com­fort, famil­iar­ity and alien­ation, all keyed to my expe­ri­ence, and the smell of juniper.

I don’t wax nos­tal­gic when I smell juniper. Juniper makes me angry, bit­ter, and for­lorn. The mem­ory of it leaps up and spoils things for me at odd times. When I was in Ice­land, for instance, I care­fully avoided going to the Höfði. The Höfði is a house in Reik­javik that is pro­moted as one of the city’s tourist sites. It’s noth­ing more than a rather nice house built in 1909, but Reik­javik has few old build­ings, and even fewer things with inter­na­tional his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance, so the fact that Ronald Rea­gan and Mikhael Gor­bachev held their sum­mit meet­ing there in 1986 looms large in the local imag­i­na­tion. Any­one who is dumb enough to think that the Soviet Empire col­lapsed because of the actions of Rea­gan no doubt would be inter­ested. But I avoided it, and had no inter­est in set­ting foot in it. I have always held a spe­cial con­tempt and hatred for Ronald Rea­gan. Unfor­tu­nately, the Höfði is on the water­front of Reik­javik, dra­mat­i­cally vis­i­ble from Bor­gartún and only four short blocks from the main drag of Lau­gave­gur, so it is imposi­ble to avoid pass­ing it if you spend any time in the town. They say that there’s a ghost in the Höfði. It sup­pos­edly came into the hands of Ice­landic Gov­ern­ment because the pre­vi­ous owner, the British Con­sul, was dri­ven out by her haunt­ing. But for me the ghosts were more numer­ous, and less charm­ing. The Höfði reeked of invis­i­ble juniper, mak­ing me think of Guata­mala. No place could be less like Ice­land than Guatamala.

Cen­tral Guata­mala is a maze of undu­lat­ing hills, with very steep sides descend­ing into u-shaped val­leys. The low­est land is cleared, farmed and dot­ted with scruffy bar­il­las of flimsy houses with dark rust-brown cor­ru­gated metal roofs. But the hills are forested with a mix­ture of pine and juniper called huitales by the locals. Very fra­grent. The hills once held many vil­lages, but most are now aban­doned. In the hill coun­try, Span­ish is sel­dom heard. The peo­ple speak a dozen or so lan­guages, among them Kiche, Kakchikel, Mam, Poco­mam, Pocom­chi, Ixil, Kekchi, Saka­pul­tek, Kan­jobal, etc., related, but mutu­ally unin­tel­li­ble. In the coun­try­side, most peo­ple are nom­i­nally Catholics, but pre­serve a deep core of ancient Mayan reli­gion. The cities, and the upper classes, how­ever, are pre­dom­i­nantly fol­low­ers of Evan­gel­i­cal and Pen­ta­costal Protes­tant churches that orig­i­nate in the U.S.A. The country’s spo­radic attempts to func­tion as a democ­racy have sys­tem­at­i­cally, over many decades, been sab­o­taged by the C.I.A., which has time and again staged coups and installed blood­thirsty and cor­rupt dic­ta­tors, usu­ally to please the finan­cial inter­ests of the United Fruit Com­pany and other global cor­po­rate pow­ers. These dic­ta­tors waged con­stant war against the poor­est and the most help­less. By far the most cor­rupt and blood­thirsty of these mon­sters was José Efraín Ríos Montt. Ríos Montt, an ardent Pen­ta­costal who was a lay preacher in the California-based Church of the Word, announced that “the true Chris­t­ian has the Bible in one hand and a machine gun in the other,” and com­manded hor­rors iden­ti­cal to those of the most bru­tal Com­mu­nist regimes — in the name of “anti-Communism.” His regime, of course, was in all ways absolutely iden­ti­cal to a Com­mu­nist dic­ta­tor­ship, except in name. In rural soci­eties, the peas­antry are the back­bone of resis­tance to total­i­tar­ian dic­ta­tor­ships, which are usu­ally cre­ated by city-bred elites. Just as the Khmer Rouge, Mao, Lenin and Stalin strove to break their peas­antries with mass exe­cu­tions, mass depor­ta­tions, and planned famines, Ríos Montt over­saw a planned pro­gram of geno­cide. More than three quar­ters of the vic­tims were eth­nic Maya, the rest Spanish-speaking ladino peas­ants, who were, in Ríos Montt’s sys­tem of racial clas­si­fi­ca­tion, only slightly above the Maya.

This was the method, dubbed Operación Ceniza: The Gov­ern­ment forces would sur­round a vil­lage, then con­duct house-to-house searches. First, all females between puberty and the age of twenty were sep­a­rated out and repeat­edly gang-raped. Then, usu­ally, their arms and legs where bro­ken so that they would suf­fer to the max­i­mum degree when they were later exe­cuted. At first, many adult men fled into the for­est, think­ing that their fam­i­lies would remain unharmed, until expe­ri­ence taught them bet­ter. Those who were rounded up usu­ally were forced to wit­ness wives, daugh­ters, and often their moth­ers gang-raped, then tor­tured and exe­cuted. The elderly were par­tic­u­larly sub­jected to tor­ture, but the fiercest sav­agery was saved for small chil­dren. These were usu­ally clubbed to death with batons (sup­plied by the Amer­i­can tax­payer) or burnt alive. Most of the remain­ing men, after being forced to dump the shat­tered corpses of their fam­i­lies into hastily dug pits or ditches, were then herded into huts and either machine-gunned or blown to bits with hand-grenades. In the west­ern high­lands, in the area of Hue­huetengo, for exam­ple, this was done in more than six hun­dred vil­lages. The moun­tains still have many empty villages.

Bod­ies decay quickly in hot, moist cli­mates and bones dis­solve in Guatamala’s luvi­so­lic for­est soil. But in 1984, there were still plenty of aban­doned vil­lages sur­rounded by trenches and hum­mocks of vis­i­bly dis­turbed soil, dec­o­rated with the frag­ments of thou­sands of children’s bones. Usu­ally, there was the smell of juniper. Vil­lagers would say noth­ing, even if they could speak Span­ish. Men­tion­ing these events to out­siders would quickly lead to “dis­ap­pear­ing.” But it was essen­tial that each vil­lage have sur­vivors, and where it was uncer­tain that enough men had fled into the for­est, some were spared on pur­pose. That was part of the pol­icy. You can’t spread ter­ror unless every­one knows. There was also a sys­tem­atic pro­gram of scorched earth. Crops were burned, roads to mar­kets sealed, all food con­trolled. Those who sub­mit­ted meekly, and handed over their youth for brain­wash­ing in the mili­tias, might get the hand­ful of dried beans nec­es­sary to avoid star­va­tion. “Fri­joles y fusiles” Ríos Montt called it.

This was the doc­trine of Operación Ceniza, deter­mined not in Guata­mala, but by those who had trained the sol­diers and death squads in spe­cial camps in the United States, who paid for every­thing, and who had planned and orga­nized every step of the oper­a­tion: the Admin­is­tra­tion of Ronald Rea­gan. Rea­gan per­son­ally overode Con­gress in order to dis­patch mil­lions of dol­lars worth of heli­copters, arms, and amu­ni­tion to Ríos Montt. Many mil­lions more were handed over in secret. Vis­it­ing the dic­ta­tor in 1982, Rea­gan anounced that the mass-murderer was “a man of great per­sonal integrity and com­mit­ment.” And Ríos Montt was only one of a long list of mass-murdering mon­sters that Rea­gan cul­ti­vated, financed, pub­licly praised, and loved to be seen with socially.

All of this hor­ror was com­pleted by the time the Repub­li­can National Con­ven­tion ush­ered in Reagan’s sec­ond term. The Rea­gan Rev­o­lu­tion was tri­umphant in the United States, and even his strongest polit­i­cal oppo­nents bab­bled inanely about what a gosh-darn love­able fel­low he was. Nev­er­the­less, the Rea­gan Revolution’s march­ing men required the ser­vices of a vast num­ber of pros­ti­tutes, hus­tlers and drug deal­ers to keep up their morale. That’s when I got to know quite a few Repub­li­can Party offi­cials, some of them fairly high up the lad­der. In the strip joints and bars, they were not par­tic­u­larly secre­tive about their views, and about what they knew. “Fam­ily Val­ues” Repub­li­cans were noto­ri­ous among the hook­ers and hus­tlers. “Some of them are real sickos,” one lad told me, “I mean, not just guys out for some fun, I mean real dis­gust­ing per­verts.” When­ever I talked to some of these exem­plars of Repub­li­can Fam­ily Val­ues, the self-styled “rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies” of the Con­ser­v­a­tive move­ment, the same pat­tern repeated itself: after drink #1, absolute denial that any attroc­i­ties had occurred in Guata­mala, it was all just lies told by “pinkos” and “left­ists” and “dirty hip­pies”; by drink #4, yeah, nudge-nudge wink-wink, sure of course there were attroc­i­ties, can’t be helped if some of “our friends” get car­ried away; after drink #6 it was a dif­fer­ent story. Killing women and chil­dren was a jolly good thing. “Best thing in the world. Exter­mi­nate the lit­tle nig­gers,” was how one coke-snorting slob put it.

That taught me every­thing I needed to know about the Con­ser­v­a­tive move­ment, just as inten­sive study of the past, read­ing all of Karl Marx’s dis­gust­ing racist and geno­ci­dal writ­ings, and some ter­ri­fy­ing expe­ri­ences in Africa had taught me what I needed to know about the Com­mu­nist move­ment. Among other things, that they were the same thing.