Sunday 30 May 2010

sacred & profane, it's all in the thalamus

or 'suspended disbelief'
Up, Down, Appendices.

"... none of 'em doin' nothin' that your mama wouldn't disapprove ..."
Dragonfly on the Louisiana shoreSengai, Medicine For The EyePearls Before Swine
ai ai ai, every week is the same - I think I will stop this flow of shit, and then ... there is just nothing else to do and something catches my attention and ... off I go like a drunken butterfly, like a lizard, like our easy rider Dennis Hopper, like a blown-out oil well ... whatever

Four headlines from the BBC:
1. Malawi pardons jailed gay couple: A gay couple jailed in Malawi after getting engaged have been pardoned by President Bingu wa Mutharika.
2. UN to reduce DR Congo peace force: The UN Security Council has voted to authorise the withdrawal of up to 2,000 peacekeepers from the Democratic Republic of Congo by 30 June as sought by Congolese President Joseph Kabila.
3. Rwanda arrests US lawyer Erlinder for genocide denial: A US lawyer, Peter Erlinder, has been arrested on allegations of genocide denial, days after arriving in Rwanda to help defend opposition leader Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza who is charged with promoting genocide ideology.
4. Insulin giant pulls medicine from Greece over price cut: The world's leading supplier of the anti-diabetes drug insulin, Novo Nordisk, a Danish company, is withdrawing a state-of-the-art medication from Greece.
[Novo Nordisk first-quarter pre-tax profits DKr4.3bn ($765m) on sales of DKr13.7bn]
A-and one from the New York Times:
BP Prepares to Take New Tack on Leak After ‘Top Kill’ Fails: In another serious setback in the effort to stem the flow of oil gushing from a well a mile beneath the Gulf of Mexico, BP engineers said Saturday that the “top kill” technique had failed and, after consultation with government officials, they had decided to move on to another strategy.
which brings me back around to pondering my potty mouth and the endless river of shit that is this blog ... I mean, is the nonsense in the Gulf of Mexico a 'tack' or a 'strategy' or an 'option' or a 'technique' or wtf would you say it is? or maybe we should be calling it a 'technology' or even a 'paradigm' - is that it?

try this - it seems to me that if you can't distinguish a strategy from a tactic then you are well and truely FUCKED(!)

Denny Cranethere is an elephant in the room, everybody knows it, BP and Halliburton don't give a rat's ass for anything beyond the shine at the end of their knobs, never did, never will, neither do the bureaucrats and administrators and politicos and lobbyists and journalists who serve them, Denny Crane is not a parody - he is the literal bona fide EPITOME(!) and he is not the exception, he is the paradigm (to use the word correctly just one time), the EXEMPLAR, dig it

and as long as I am on 'E' words ... what we earthlings need is an EPIPHANY, you remember Klaatu & his robot sidekick Gort do you? from that 1951 sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still? whatever ... (you can download it here)

you can just about count the people with any power at all who do care on your combined fingers and toes, Barack Obama, Ed Markey, Al Gore ... okokok, there are more than that and the number is growing, there are even some in k-k-Canada, David Suzuki, Jack Layton, sure, there are lots, doing something though some of their actions seem lame, Layton's bill C-311 is lame, ok? ...


today is Sunday, there is a story in my family that in his youth, when he was an altarboy, my grandfather once attacked a priest with a censer, as a result the family pew was locked when they arrived the next week, my great-grandmother made a separate peace somehow but my great-grandfather would not parley and so spent subsequent Sunday mornings walking with his son in the woods and fields, maybe he was meditating, maybe he was just smoking his meerschaum cigar-pipe with the amazing horses carved in full-relief on the back of the bowl (which I still have on my shelf), and when I was a boy my father took me to the woods and fields too, in the Don Valley before the days of expressways, down the Belt Line, Hog's Hollow ... the Credit River, taught me how to do telemark turns ...

maybe the priest was a kiddie-diddler, that's not in the family story so I can't say, let it suffice that I don't think grandfather just whacked him over nothing, ok?

and no, I don't go to church anymore either though I dearly miss the music, I choke at putting money on their plate, I choke when they tell me "God cares," here, here's Odetta, and Judy Collins and Joan Baez and Aaron Neville, like Bob says, "the confusion I’m feeling ain’t no tongue can tell," and I figgure God is just as likely with Tony Hayward & Lamar McKay & Dick Cheney, they certainly think so if they can be said to think at all ... ok?

Reginald HarkemaReginald Harkema Cindy WolfeReginald Harkema Kristen AdamsLeslie, My Name Is EvilI went to see a movie this week, Leslie, My Name Is Evil ... just started to get interesting when it ended - I think they ran out of money

Horsey, Mother Earthfor some reason this Reginald Harkema reminds me of Paul Quarrington and Joe Hall and The Continental Drift, which is also in the paper today - a review of Quarrington's last book by Mark Kingwell

Joe Hall is still around apparently, hanging out in Peterborough these days which happens to be where I first saw him back in the 70s, calls himself a 'geezer' now

Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacheranyway, as long as we are on Joes ... I am re-reading James Hoggan's Climate Cover-up, when I read it the first time I came away feeling that James Hoggan is a weenie, and a friend took me up on this opinion so I promised to have another look, and my opinion has not changed much, but still and all he mentions a connection between Joe the plumber (remember him?) and 'Clean Coal' and sure enough - here it is, take a close look at this guy, do you really think anything short of Klaatu's threat to turn the whole shebang into a cinder will work?

we used to joke and call the thalamus the 'lizard brain' or maybe it was the hypothalamus, I can't remember, something to do with heat ... whatever

Jón GnarrJón Gnarrok, here's some good news to end on: Best Party wins polls in Iceland's Reykjavik, and the Best party video (with subtitles) Besti Flokkurinn, Bjork eat your heart out :-)

Best Party EnsembleBest Party, unknown singerthe Left-Greens were decimated - 1 member, a lesson here for Green parties everywhere maybe? Jón Gnarr calls it 'anarcho-surrealism' and they say it is "a way to do away with a broken political system"

you would have to say it worked - 83 percent of the Icelandic capital's registered voters participated - compared with 59 percent turnout in the 2008 Canadian general election and 62% turnout in Obama's 2008 election,

the best coverage I have found is on an Icelandic blog 'Raving Raven': Icelandic Politics - Just a Bad Joke? before the election, and The Mayor's Office - A Jon Gnarr Comedy Show after, and I am looking for more information, particularly on the people in the 'Besti flokkurinn' video ...

a-and in the meantime, if you can read icelandic, here is the Best party website X Æ - Besti Flokkurinn.

1. Creative minds 'mimic schizophrenia', Michelle Roberts, 29 May 2010.
2. A genius at living, Mark Kingwell, May 28 2010.
3. Best Party wins polls in Iceland's Reykjavik, BBC, 30 May 2010.
4. Comic's Party Bests Rivals in Iceland Vote, Michael Casey, 31 May 2010.

Creative minds 'mimic schizophrenia', Michelle Roberts, 29 May 2010.

Creativity is akin to insanity, say scientists who have been studying how the mind works.

Brain scans reveal striking similarities in the thought pathways of highly creative people and those with schizophrenia.

Both groups lack important receptors used to filter and direct thought.

It could be this uninhibited processing that allows creative people to "think outside the box", say experts from Sweden's Karolinska Institute. In some people, it leads to mental illness. But rather than a clear division, experts suspect a continuum, with some people having psychotic traits but few negative symptoms.

Art and suffering

Some of the world's leading artists, writers and theorists have also had mental illnesses - the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh and American mathematician John Nash (portrayed by Russell Crowe in the film A Beautiful Mind) to name just two.

Creativity is known to be associated with an increased risk of depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Similarly, people who have mental illness in their family have a higher chance of being creative.

Associate Professor Fredrik Ullen believes his findings could help explain why. He looked at the brain's dopamine (D2) receptor genes which experts believe govern divergent thought. He found highly creative people who did well on tests of divergent thought had a lower than expected density of D2 receptors in the thalamus - as do people with schizophrenia.

The thalamus serves as a relay centre, filtering information before it reaches areas of the cortex, which is responsible, amongst other things, for cognition and reasoning.

"Fewer D2 receptors in the thalamus probably means a lower degree of signal filtering, and thus a higher flow of information from the thalamus," said Professor Ullen.

He believes it is this barrage of uncensored information that ignites the creative spark.

This would explain how highly creative people manage to see unusual connections in problem-solving situations that other people miss.

Schizophrenics share this same ability to make novel associations. But in schizophrenia, it results in bizarre and disturbing thoughts.

UK psychologist and member of the British Psychological Society Mark Millard said the overlap with mental illness might explain the motivation and determination creative people share.

"Creativity is uncomfortable. It is their dissatisfaction with the present that drives them on to make changes.

"Creative people, like those with psychotic illnesses, tend to see the world differently to most. It's like looking at a shattered mirror. They see the world in a fractured way.

"There is no sense of conventional limitations and you can see this in their work. Take Salvador Dali, for example. He certainly saw the world differently and behaved in a way that some people perceived as very odd."

He said businesses have already recognised and capitalised on this knowledge.

Some companies have "skunk works" - secure, secret laboratories for their highly creative staff where they can freely experiment without disrupting the daily business.

Chartered psychologist Gary Fitzgibbon says an ability to "suspend disbelief" is one way of looking at creativity.

"When you suspend disbelief you are prepared to believe anything and this opens up the scope for seeing more possibilities.

"Creativity is certainly about not being constrained by rules or accepting the restrictions that society places on us. Of course the more people break the rules, the more likely they are to be perceived as 'mentally ill'."

He works as an executive coach helping people to be more creative in their problem solving behaviour and thinking styles.

"The result is typically a significant rise in their well being, so as opposed to creativity being associated with mental illness it becomes associated with good mental health."

A genius at living, Mark Kingwell, May 28 2010.

Review of 'Cigar Box Banjo: Notes on Music and Life', by Paul Quarrington, GreyStone Books, 244 pages, $30

Any judgment of a writer's last book, especially a posthumous one, is bound to be at least partly eulogy. So let me say right out that I knew Paul Quarrington for a long time, though at no point very well. We met in 1984 when, as a young admirer of his quirky baseball novel Home Game, I asked him to write something for the University of Toronto Review, an undergraduate literary magazine. Not only did he give us a piece – a sort of goofy fantasy poem called The Voyage of the Turtle, which I'm pretty sure has never appeared anywhere else – he later invited me for beer at the old Murray's Restaurant on Bloor Street.

As the years passed, we shared drinks a few more times, usually at long intervals, and talked about fishing, whisky, cigars, music and finding the funny. Certain writerly bits of his, like the pickled-egg-eating performance or riff on “sudden-death overtime” in The Life of Hope, are permanent features of my mental lumber room. We only went fishing together once, on Stoney Lake in the Kawarthas, and his reflection in this book that, nearing his end, he's done enough fishing to last him, made me sad. Not enough with me.

I mention all this not just to show what kind of guy he was, though this is indeed the kind of guy he was. But Quarrington – as he'll be here for the sake of formality; in life I always called him Paul Q – was more than just a generous soul. He was, in his shy fashion, a genius at living. Which is also to say, as this heartbreaking and funny book makes amply clear, that he was a genius of life’s end.

The backstory of Cigar Box Banjo – the title refers to the hoary tale of a poor kid who wins a music contest with a homemade instrument – may be familiar. In the midst of his busy creative life (among other things, writing a book about how he came to love playing music), Quarrington was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. He nudged the book over from music memoir to last-days diary without losing the power of either. In fact, the book he produced as a last gift to his many fans is in a category of its own, a layered, rambling, deceptively casual mixture of music history, coming-of-age narrative and reflection on mortality. There's even a CD – it includes versions of the last two songs Paul wrote, both about dying.

The memoir part is in the same vein as Giles Smith's Lost in Music, Nick Hornby's High Fidelity or Joe Pernice's Meat is Murder. For me, it's superior to all of them in the sense that he manages to put a “fifteen-year-old hard-drinking, hard-smoking bluesman from Don Mills, Ontario” into the same teenage-ambition pantheon as aspiring pop stars in Wolverhampton, London or Boston – places with better track records. The resulting suburban rec-room ambience, with the long transit journeys to Sam's to buy one Bob Dylan 45, later played over and over on a hand-me-down turntable and shop-class speakers, is so evocative you can practically feel the runnels in the plywood panelling and smell the Molson-stained shag on the floor.

Like all good memoirs, there are brushes with the later-famous, in this case singer-songwriter Dan Hill and music producer Daniel Lanois, among others. There is also plenty of arcana, especially about the blues, and funny-scary tales from the road when Quarrington was playing with Joe Hall and the Continental Drift and, later, his band Porkbelly Futures. What will be surprising to people who know Quarrington mainly from his novels is how, right to the end, music-making remained his true passion. He makes peace with his written works early on, in an excessively modest way if you ask me, but the desire to compose a really great song never waned.

That sustained him, as music and passion will, even as his time grew ever shorter. The inevitability of death is not usually experienced with such intimacy and directness as this, the diagnosis without respite. But Quarrington found the funny here, too, and he reminds us, and himself, several times of his medical therapist's wisdom that “the tumour hates laughter.” The descriptions of Don Mills fashion sense circa 1975 – the madras shirt, the dickie, the tight red pants – are hilarious, and a one-paragraph takedown of New Country music near the end of the book is as sharp as anything he ever wrote.

Sad, funny and wise – the writer's trifecta. The last word should go to him. Quarrington's description of how he reacted to his diagnosis will double as an account of what reading this book feels like: “The truest thing to say would be that it wasn't a single emotion, it was quite a few of them stumbling into each other to get out, like drunkards in a doorway.” Yes, exactly.

Best Party wins polls in Iceland's Reykjavik, BBC, 30 May 2010.

A party that calls itself "the Best" has won local elections in the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik.

The Best Party, founded by comedian Jon Gnarr, secured 34.7% of the vote, ahead of the Independence Party's 33.6%.

Its campaign video featured candidates singing to the tune of Tina Turner's "Simply The Best".

Key pledges included "sustainable transparency", free towels at all swimming pools and a new polar bear for the city zoo. The party also called for a Disneyland at the airport and a "drug-free parliament" by 2020. As well as specific pledges, its video promised change, a "bright future" and suggested that it was time for a "clean out".

The Best Party was only established six months ago. Its victory means it will hold six seats on the 15-member city council.

Commentators suggest it has benefited from voters' loss of trust in government and the establishment in the wake of the country's banking collapse in 2008. According to Iceland Review Online, several local races saw parties that were in power ousted in the polls.

Comic's Party Bests Rivals in Iceland Vote, Michael Casey, 31 May 2010.

REYKJAVIK — Voters here blew a loud raspberry at Iceland's political establishment Saturday, handing victory in the capital's municipal elections to an upstart political party that ran a blatantly satirical, humor-based campaign.

After promising a polar bear for the Reykjavik zoo and making other unorthodox proposals, the six-month-old Best Party won 34.7% of the vote, securing six of the 15 seats on the city council. It was closely followed by the Independent Party—the traditional powerhouse in the city—with 33.6% of votes and five seats. The Social Democratic Alliance, which currently governs Iceland in coalition with the Left-Green Movement, won three seats while its coalition partner was left with one.

The win for the Best Party—whose slogan loosely translates to "Whatever Works!"—puts its leader Jon Gnarr, Iceland's best-known comedian, in a strong position to become mayor of Reykjavik, a post that is sometimes a launching pad for national politics. Although the Bests are two seats short of an absolute majority, longstanding enmity among the other parties will make it hard for them to agree on an alternative candidate.

Speaking Sunday, Mr. Gnarr said his party's entry into government opened up "a new option for politics."

He added that his team "will have to work on the infrastructure of the party so that people have a way to understand what the Best Party is about and to learn the benefits of what we are calling 'anarcho-surrealism.' "

Mr. Gnarr said he is confident he will be named mayor, at which time he will immediately order the construction of a polar bear enclosure at the city zoo, all part of his bid to "make Reykjavik a friendlier, nicer and safer place to live."

As polls began predicting a strong showing by the Best Party earlier this month, its meteoric rise sparked a firestorm of debate in Iceland. Government and opposition leaders alike warned against putting the city in the hands of what they characterized as clowns at a time when Iceland is mired in an economic crisis. But many Icelanders embraced the party as a way to do away with a broken political system.

While the Best Party's critics implored its team of comedians, actors and musicians to end their campaign, Mr. Gnarr insisted he would follow through to the end. It was the best way to expose the "ridiculous" state of traditional politics, he said.

The Bests' victory comes at a pivotal moment for Iceland's 320,000 people. Their tiny economy was arguably the hardest hit by the 2008 global financial crisis, which devastated a domestic banking system that had swollen to 10 times the country's gross domestic product.

The meltdown left Icelanders mistrustful of traditional politicians, even more so after a parliamentary report exposed close ties between the previous Independent Party government and the brash bankers who had fueled Iceland's giant credit bubble, as well as widespread corruption.

Many have seized upon the Best Party as a means to overhaul that system, even if they aren't sure what it will do once in government.

"I think this is very important, because change is a good thing right now," said Oskar Gudson Einarsson, a contractor who didn't vote in the election because he is from the town of Gardabair. "Whether [Gnarr] is the right man to bring that change, I don't know."

Supporters of the other parties are dismayed, however.

"I'm in shock," said Rikey Eggertsdottir, a student who voted Left-Green in the Reykjavik election. "I thought people were just joking with their responses to pollsters during the campaign."

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