Saturday 1 September 2012

A sketch, in broad strokes (and tiny stories).

Up, Down. 
Contents: George Monbiot I, II, Sketch Stroke I, Stroke II, Stroke III, Photographs, Tiny Stories, The end I, II, III.

I am wondering if the six day hiatus at Belo Monte was a kind of vaccine? If it was planned somehow just to take a little steam off? An intentional conspiracy?! (¿¿¡¡) Ridiculous I know ... but it does make sense of a certain lack of enthusiasm I find among the so-called activists I know, a failure in follow through. Just wondering ...

Neat that Greg Perry has composed a caricature of Stephen Harper that includes elements of his other buddy, wazizname ... Jim Flaherty.

You do look, my son, in a moved sort,
As if you were dismay'd: be cheerful, sir.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
George Monbiot put this bit of The Tempest in this recent rant at the Guardian. Since he went nuclear I can't bear him (in fact it began with his performance at the Munk Debate here in Toronto in 2009 - Fuck! Has it been three years already?!), ... but a harmonic convergence (Bob Dylan's forthcoming is called Tempest too apparently) can't be passed up. 
Arctic Sea Ice Extent 1978-2012.Arctic Sea Ice Extent 1978-2012.
Some more words on George Monbiot may be in order.

A few days after the rant mentioned above, he published another one: The day the world went mad.

The image is from Real Climate: An update on the Arctic sea-ice, August 26. The story for Antarctica is about the same: Is Antarctica's warming natural or man-made?, August 24, from an article in Nature which is locked up.

The lead author, Rob Mulvaney, kindly responded to an email with a copy - sure enough, a bright red spot of warm temperature trends in Antarctica.

Mulvaney et al: Recent Antarctic Peninsula warming relative to Holocene climate and ice-shelf history, Figure 1a.My objection to Monbiot's performance in the Munk Debates (it is on-line here but you have to pay to watch the videos - I attended) is that he basically stood there wringing his hands and mouthing sentimental arguments (an oxymoron I know). The two of them, Elizabeth and George, made me cringe and weep to watch them. They should have won the debate hands down, conclusively and incontrovertibly, instead ... Bollocks!

I have had emails from Elizabeth May herself in which she still maintains that she and George won the debate. Doh!?

Somehow George's latest exercise (for all that he is ABSOLUTELY RIGHT ON!) reminds me of this clip (8 seconds) of John Goodman in Tremé (remember what becomes of his character in the end eh). And it also reminds me of a phrase from Will Self: "the embourgeoisement of nothing" (taken out of context I am sure). 
OK. We've got Eschenbach's Parzifal, Parzival, whatever ... Percy. After numerous travails Percy almost asks the question the first time he gets the chance but chokes; then gets it right the second time: "What ails thee?"

It may be important that the question is not so much a question as an answer. A twist not so unlike Blake's The Question Answered: "... What is it women do in men require? / The lineaments of gratified Desire."

And we've got the Samaritan who comes on the scene and knows at a glance what ails the fellow; something in his manner of seeing, something about the word 'saw' in Luke 10:33.

And then this much more rudimentary question: "Where's the bug?" My bug that is, limited scope; or (getting very far fetched) in something fundamental & generally shared. But this question may have something in common with the larger ones. It feels like it does because there is a definite uplift, lightening, in simply considering it - it's liminal!


How to avoid pulling this thread so hard it snaps?
How to avoid solipsism and the snake that eats its tail?
How to qualify the use of this 'bug' metaphor? 
Computing seems to make for better metaphors than any real achievement.

Take 'feedback' f'rinstance. The OED tells me the earliest usage is 1920 relating to radio, eventually in the 40's & 50's moving towards systems technology and carrying on that way. But 'feed' is a biological word, a living metaphor, even towards 'nurture' in an expanded context, even (at a stretch) that popular quasi-religious notion of 'human flourishing'. A brief reflection should suffice to realize how dangerous it might be to mistake it. You are what you eat and so on ...

And yet how rich to visualize a psychological ecology with feedback as a fundamental principle. If the phrase 'make love' represents instantiation (in some sense), what would 'feed love' look like? And combined with Eschenbach's and Blake's interpenetrating inversions mentioned above ... awesomely rich!


My friend Keith reacted most negatively, rejected outright a notion of social engineering I once mooted. I wish he were still here to tell me if this is more acceptable, more 'like it'. 
If I am conjuring all this out of personal deficits, making principles out of incapacities - how would I ever know for sure? It's no more than merest guessing.

The trail (of crumbs in the forest) that led me here, to what seems like a promontory - the latest step being Steve Gardiner's ethics - now seems to have split: the Samaritan's way of seeing vs a more-or-less rational appreciation of simple moral failing. And so far I cannot weave them together again (if they were ever so).

Any single one of you, gentle readers, might have said something, and the meniscus curve at the lip of this cup might have broken and overflowed into ... who knows what?

But it didn't happen eh? Oh well. 
Kids playing in a camp somewhere.Kids playing in a camp somewhere.
I came on this photograph quite unexpectedly and was enchanted.

It is not without an ambiguous side if you consider that there is a photographer involved too, motivations and so on, and a grim enough camp in the background there. But still, these two kids can walk on their hands - we used to do this as youngsters - and I guess I am just pleased to see them at it. More than pleased - hopeful.

I know this next photograph may cross the line gentle reader. Their hair is done up expensively so it's likely they are not the ingénues they appear to be - impossible to prove I suppose. Someone may take offence and bar this blog.
That could be a blessing too.

Kids in a whorehouse someewhere.Kids in a whorehouse someewhere.
If you try to rescue them you may find that what they really want is to go and work at a sex club in Spain or Germany. There are theories: they do it for the money, for the thrill, coercion in many flavours, stupidity, laziness, desperation.

R.D. Laing tries to delineate the chasm between experience and perception. He doesn't succeed for me but identifies the situation at least.

Oh sure, we know all about it from the left-lib pundits in the NYT ...

But in the end I have no real idea either, just an ache - and cannot even say with certainty if it is one or several or what kinds they are.

The photograph is an old one. It has been on the Internet for a long time, years, so the dénouement has already played itself out somewhere.

[Assumptions can be troublesome. You might easily assume gentle reader that these stories are autobiography. Maybe they are, partly, and then again, maybe they're not. Doesn't matter. What I will say is that I don't know what they are about until they are done. And even then ...

Very simple: slowing down to accomodate the nonsense of counting words is enough, makes enough space; and too, less than 300 words means it all fits into the (limited) cerebral RAM (available? remaining?) at once. Room for an editorial on word-processors here as well but I'll spare you.

What comes to mind repeatedly as I am doing this are feelings of rightness, satisfaction, lightness. (Also countervailing fear & paranoia-lite that I am saying too much, revealing too much.) Will Self apparently told a reporter, Gillian Glover in 1997: "I want to make them feel that certain categories within which they are used to perceiving the world are unstable." 'Making them feel' is one thing I guess, too didactic and know-it-all for me - just putting the evidence out there seems a gentler approach. Even Sylvia Plath's "Taste it, dark red!" is only an invitation.] 

          1.  Ottawa courthouse.
          2.  Grandfather.
          3.  The Girl at Palmas.
          4.  Morena.
          5.  Ski stories.
          6.  Ski Tow.
          7.  Telemark.
          8.  Shakti & Woodstock.
          9.  Sex.
          10. Keeping Faith (v1).
          11. Old Man.
          12. Keeping Faith (v2).
          13. Carnal.

And a few more here:

          14. Buggery.
          15. Memory.
          16. Ctrl/Alt/Delete Reboot/Reset.
          17. The lake.
          18. 3AM.
          19. Nothing ever heals.
          20. He knows and does not complain.

And later:

          21. The Cat (& a pome).

[There are a dozen more titles on my workbench but I am unsure how to proceed. An end of present tense third person? Dunno. Can't decide.] 
Buggery:    He was gay and in that very jail at the time. Wasn't he? For buggering the son of some mucky-muck was it? Or maybe they buggered each other.

She says some of the girls at the termas bring along their kit and try things out. "Oh sure," she says, "It works. Shortens the job." The prostate is just waitin' in there like a plum for little Jackie's thumb.

He had a conversion experience in that jail too they say. Went from Anglican to Catholic was it? Or was that later on? But he must've held something back to put into that line. Oh sure, you can read it, "Each man kills the thing he loves." You can deconstruct it with the proper analytic tools and a bit of help from the Rolling Stones, understand it, just, or pretend to.

But here in the midnight it arrives again, knocking, knocking ... (Hey! Wait a minute. What's goin' on here? Was Poe gay too? No no, it was some kind of addiction with him. Wasn't it?)

She says it's a job, work. "Oh sure," she says, "I do men, women, couples ... parties. I had a dwarf one time and he was enormous."

They go to visit her father. He's just out of hospital and with a huge pink scar. He plays his cavaquinho, sends her for a beer, passes the cuíca. When their son is killed in the police massacre he is invited to the funeral and takes a snapshot of her father beside his wife, and the very next moment she leans over and kisses him so sweetly.

Memory:    She is mostly silent by that time, almost past speech, on the verge. Her husband dies and he steps up to be the one to tell her. She mumbles, seems to say, "He was good," or that's what it sounds like, then nothing. Gaunt jaws working against a permanent frown as they sit on a bench in the park there.

There is a question about bringing her to the funeral which he has to decide. The priest asks for a hymn. He says, "Holy Holy, Holy, #100 I think," not a suggestion. And then, when the music begins, doesn't she lift her head and pipe up. Off key of course - she loves to sing but is never in tune. That is the last he hears from her.

Who would think the casket could be so heavy? He stumbles. There are red roses on it. He takes one (knowing no better) and seeing him the kids each take one too. Someone says, "Oh, let them, that's all right," but he misunderstands, not knowing the code.

When they visit next she is curled on a couch on the asylum verandah like a question mark in the sun. Asleep or, not sleep exactly - the peace of everything having permanently passed away.

His young daughter reaches out and puts her hand into the soft folds of velvety skin on her neck but she does not stir.

Ctrl/Alt/Delete Reboot/Reset:    And luck. Well, maybe not luck so much as being near the leading edge of a growing wave. A time and place, a brief space where numbskulls can thrive.

And thrive they do.

There is really only the one - fifty or sixty years from trough to trough - and then the place is trashed and the party's over. The drunks don't want to go home yet. They make up what sound to them like plausible excuses for carrying on.

You know how drunks are; and kids.

It is on the way to and from school. He watches the wheels of the streetcars as they run down the hill in their shiny tracks. He imagines they cannot hurt because they pass so quickly. He watches the wheels carefully and, weeks later, decides to try it out it with his toe.

The driver rings his bell again and again, opens the door and shouts until he backs away.

The lake:    Outside the window there is an alleyway then a public parking lot (then a fence, treetops, and a tiny, sometimes bright fragment of the lake at the horizon - which is the only real part of this story).

Trucks use the lane at all hours: deliveries, garbagemen. He imagines a municipal dictum mandating backup beepers with a specific volume. He imagines humble drivers avoiding any reverse - that the annoying annunciation drives them mad. Some clever ones have muted them somehow. Nothing overt in the unlikely event. He imagines an experienced respected cadre, passing on the techniques only to trusted acolytes.

The gates to the parking lot are cunningly designed to limit height. He imagines it excludes camper-vans. One of the citizens, with bicycles on the roof forgets. No one of them imagines there is anyone to hear the constant racket of beeps and honks from security devices they can neither operate nor control.

3AM:    They come down the lane at 3AM on their way to cars that have been discreetly parked well away from the bar. Young people in groups. The conversations, even the sexual negotiations, are banal and uninteresting. No equal to the repartee among the garbagemen. (There are two girls in glitter and spiked heels who use the parking lot as a rendezvous late at night. Their conversation is interesting - but that's another story.)

He used to perform such tricky diversions when he was drinking and driving. As if the cops don't know and couldn't shut it all down in a week.

Late one bitter winter night he is stopped at a checkpoint. He rolls the window down and congratulates the constable for her initiative and fortitude, not too hearty. Luckily he is wearing a suit and tie and a good overcoat with a silk scarf. Or something in the van masks the smell, or the size of it, or the broken heater. She lets him pass. There is a sideroad to avoid this stretch in future.

Nothing ever heals:    There is a tiny scar on one of his fingers. It has been there most of his life. Yes, there it is, at the last joint of the pinky.

The knife is a gift - bone handle, birthday present, with a sheath. The cut is v-shaped and bleeds until he holds it above his head (as instructed) and runs home. Drips fall on his shoulder, ear, into his hair. Cold water in the sink. Red threads running down the drain until it stops.

They are in the truck headed out for chinese. His son is sitting beside him and says, 'I've been thinking: nothing ever turns out and the good things all disappear.' Those are not the exact words he uses: a moment of grace, something he thought would be etched indelible forever has now partly disappeared. This trace is left.

Accumulated arthritic injuries, various tortures, plaques, shortening telomeres on the chromosomes ... stepwise, additive, the inevitable algebra and calculus. Yet the remainder is just infinitesimally larger than whatever disfunction ... entailed, comprised. There are clues.

He knows and does not complain:    His father develops strange growths in the palms of his hands - hard lumps, more like strings, ropy. There is an unsuccessful operation to remove them. The fingers will not open fully anymore. He doesn't want to touch them but does when asked.

The lights on his father's car are flashing. They don't stop when he turns it off so he goes to the gas station at the corner for help. The battery will run down. The attendant reaches in and pulls up the 4-way switch. Oh. The story is told again and again, always with a laugh.

There is a ruckus, ructions and he storms out and away down the street. The church door is not locked and he sits in there for a while. When he comes out his father is there waiting in his car. "How did you know?" he asks. "What did you think you would find in there?" his father asks in reply. A good question.

When he dies it is entirely alone. They say he is lying on his back with his hands folded, at peace. (But you can't trust a word from these people.)

It's inevitable that I'm doing this all wrong. Some geriatric syndrome - old farts sitting in the praça watching the girls and bullshitting intermittently, desultory, the same stories over and over again.

We all know the question: Which came first? The Chicken or the egg? TS Eliot plays with a similar structure at the end of The Hollow Men: "Between the conception / And the creation / ... Falls the Shadow". But maybe you can't see it ...

[Ai ai ai - they have started taking down copies of Eliot's poetry 'for copyright reasons'. What a joke. The man is long dead. ... I guess this Internet wave is ending too, has a bug and is eating its own tail. Good riddance.]

The thought goes on, I'm sorry - Carson McCullers' lonely hunter, where do all the extra, unwanted unheard and unpaid for, undischarged words go? Well, in a sense, like the chicken and the egg, they drive the machine :-)

You probably won't see that either, sorry.

About the same time I started this blogging business I started playing Freecell. Sitting in Houston with nothing to do. When they took the kids away back in the 80's or whenever it was I got so good at California Dreams' BlockOut - I could go for days - but that disappeared with the 386's and eventually I wound up with Freecell. One evening in Icaraí I was having a few beers with an American technician and we got to talking about it. He was a tiny little guy and married to this great big woman - I think she dominated him a bit but he liked whatever it was that was goin' on, lived for his 'rota'. He admitted he often played it and I was just drunk enough to ask, "Do you manage to get through it to the end very often?" And he said, "Yeah. Most of the time," and gave me a look.

So here it is nearly ten years later, and finally able to maintain a 99% success rate at Freecell - either because I cheat, or have memorized all the games, or both. I am able now to understand that look, and maybe a bit more of what he may have gone through, and that I was never as smart as I thought. 
And I do like a good joke (even when they seem mostly to be at my expense these days).

I don't have a TV but I read the reviews in the NYT & the Guardian and download shows to watch. Most of it is such dreck! Yes Minister is good ... Fawlty Towers ...

But lately I was fooled. There is an American series Homeland and after I had seen it all I found that there had been an antecedent - Hatufim / Prisoners of War - so I got that and began to watch. It seemed subtle, compassionate, the odd moment of what looked like real human situations. I was enthused. Having spent some time in Israel in the 70's I thought, "Aha! Those clever Israelis actually know how to do it properly!"

The last episode (luckily I watched it before posting this) disavowed me of these ridiculous notions. It is the same paranoid xenophobia as the American rewrite, coyly manipulative and trivial.

This is not so unrelated as it may seem. The plot gambit of being forced to kill your brother/friend/acquaintance is not a new one - in recent movies ... Susanne Bier's Brødre in 2004 (which at least gets to the true point that truth may cleanse the wound), and the 2009 American remake, Brothers, before these TV shows picked up on it more recently (with their prurient interest it seems to me). So. 
There seems to be a superficial symmetry between the Sunni/Shia split in Islam and the Christian Catholic/Protestant/Anabaptist ... ad infinitum splits. This introduction at the BBC is interesting.

Postlude (for the blue moon last night), and a chorous from Kentucky by Bill Monroe.
Malvados: Menos um / One less (my caption).Malvados: Menos um / One less (my caption).
Be well.

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