banner photo:

"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope

Banner photo
Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: September Song - sung by Nat King Cole, accompanied by George Shearing

Friday, September 27, 2013

People are upset that Stephen Harper skipped this UN freak show?

The usual suspects have their knickers in a twist about the fact that PM Harper declined to speak at this week's annual meeting of the UN General Assembly, sniffing that he's denying Canada a "place at the table". Some table! Also addressing the UN today was His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya J.J. Jameh, President of the Republic of the Gambia, who took the podium to warn the world that one of the three greatest threats to human existence was homosexuality. The Sheikh Professor Doctor President solemnly intoned that homosexuality was one of three "ungodly attributes" that threatened to destroy the world (the other two being greed and obsession with world domination).

Here's the relevant excerpt from Sheikh Professor Doctor President Jameh's speech:
The biggest threats to human existence are basically three and are a consequence of human behaviour which are ungodly attributes. These are:
1. Excessive greed, and; therefore addiction to gather material wealth by any means necessary mostly through violent or immoral schemes;
2. Obsession with world domination by any means including the resolve to use nuclear, biological and chemical weapons to achieve this fanciful dream;
3. Homosexuality in all its forms and manifestations which though very evil, antihuman as well as anti-Allah; is being promoted as a human right by some powers.
All these three have nothing to do with climate change and are more deadly than all natural disasters put together.
For the third [threat]; we know for a fact that all living things need to reproduce for posterity. They become extinct when they can no longer reproduce. Therefore, you will all agree with me that any person promoting the end of human reproduction must be promoting human extinction. Could this be called promoting human rights when you advocate for a definitive end to human reproduction and procreation? Those who promote homosexuality want to put an end to human existence, it is becoming an epidemic and we Muslims and Africans will fight to end this behaviour. We want a brighter future for humanity and the continuous existence of humanity on this planet, therefore we will never tolerate any agenda that clearly calls for human extinction.

President Sheikh Professor Doctor Jameh, by the way, is determined to eradicate homosexuality from the Republic of the Gambia. In 2008 he ordered homosexuals to leave the country or face beheading (he later retracted that policy, saying he only wanted them to leave the country).  "Allowing homosexuality means allowing satanic rights. We will not allow gays here," said His Excellency. He also believes that he can cure AIDS with bananas and an herbal body rub, which sounds a little gay if you ask me. In Gambia, incidentally, a homosexual act can be punished by 14 years in prison.

Paul Dewar, the NDP's Foreign Affairs Critic, slammed Harper's no-show in an article in Tuesday's Globe and Mail:
For the second year in a row, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be in New York during the opening ceremonies of the United Nations General Assembly, but will not be joining other heads of government in speaking to the representatives of the world.
It’s embarrassing that the Prime Minister apparently can’t be bothered to show up, stand up, and speak up on behalf of Canada. Sadly, this fits into a pattern of disengagement and withdrawal from the international community – a pattern that has weakened Canada’s reputation and influence abroad. By abandoning the hard work of diplomacy in favour of isolationist grandstanding, the government is harming the very foreign policy goals that it seeks to achieve.
It may be embarrassing to Paul Dewar and his fellow travellers, but I'm pretty happy that Harper didn't dignify that gong show of half-wits and psychopaths with his presence. Keep it up, Prime Minister.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The 9/11 Memorial

This summer I spent some vacation time in New York and had a chance to visit the 9/11 Memorial in lower Manhattan. I was skeptical that a memorial could do justice to that immense tragedy without being maudlin or kitsch but I came away from the visit profoundly moved. The memorial and its surrounding park are a magnificent and thought-provoking tribute to the people who died on 9/11.

The neighbourhood around the park is still largely under construction as crews rebuild the area that was devastated by the collapse of the twin towers. It's noisy, hot and dirty and you have to thread your way through hoardings and chain-link fences just to reach the visitor centre to get the free tickets that allow you to visit the site. The enormous skyscraper called One World Trade Center which is nearing completion just north of the site dominates the area.

Once you get your tickets you have to walk a few blocks through the construction to the park entrance where you stand in a long line to pass through security. On a hot July day it was almost unbearable.

When you finally enter the park you cross into a landscaped plaza planted with hundreds of mature oak trees. It's an unusual oasis of green in an otherwise densely built-up area. Hundreds of people mill about laughing and taking snapshots and doing other typical tourist things, which strikes one initially as being a little incongruous given the seriousness of the event that took place here.

In one area of the park is a pear tree from the original World Trade Center plaza that was found badly damaged in the rubble of the collapse and moved to a nursery, coaxed back to health for ten years and then replanted on its original site. Now called the Survivor Tree, it draws reverential crowds.

Gradually you approach the footprints of the vanished twin towers, which have been replaced by two gigantic fountains that outline the exact location of the missing buildings. The white noise of the falling water cancels out all the street noise and conversations and you are left alone with your thoughts as you stare over the lip into the huge holes where the buildings once stood. It's a brilliant idea - memorialize the missing buildings not with a structure but with empty space where the buildings once stood. You are dramatically confronted by their absence in a way that would not be possible with a sculpture or monument.

The water falling over the edges of the void immediately reminds you of the trauma of watching the buildings fall that day in 2001. In the centre there is a dark square opening where the water in the collecting pool falls again and disappears. Gusts of wind occasionally cause the falling water to collect in waves which remind you of the falling debris and the trapped people who leapt to their deaths rather than be burned alive. People standing around the lip stop talking and stare thoughtfully at the falling water.

Around the edge of the fountains is a bronze ledge with the names of the victims of the attacks cut into the metal - the letters form empty spaces in the bronze that reflect the loss of the person named. In a poignant gesture, the names of victims who died together in the same office, fire station or airplane are grouped together. It is very moving. Occasionally spray from the fountain falls on the names of the departed - it can't help but remind you of tears of mourning for the loss of loved ones.

People leave the site quiet and thoughtful, which is an amazingly successful effect for a memorial to have on visitors.

In a footnote to my visit, while walking out I passed by Zucotti Park which was the location of the Occupy Wall Street protest for a few months in the fall of 2011. Today it has been reclaimed as a public space from the anarchists and nihilists who claimed they were going to stay there until capitalism collapsed. Now people sit on the benches under the trees eating lunch and sipping lattes. I walked by around noon and the park was occupied by hundreds of construction workers from the nearby One World Trade Center site who were eating their lunches and ogling women.

It was a fitting final moment to the visit - the people who tried in their own ways to bring down "the system" were replaced by the workers who were literally rebuilding it. I came away with a smile on my face.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Study: rural gays are happier

A recently-released study by Chris Wienke of Southern Illinois University and Gretchen J. Hill of Arkansas State University goes against the conventional wisdom that gays and lesbians are happier when they move to large metropolitan areas:
There’s a common perception that gays and lesbians who live in rural communities aren’t as happy as their counterparts living in major cities, researchers say. But a new study shows rural gays and lesbians may have a better quality of life by some measurements than those living in the nation's largest metropolitan areas.
Chris Wienke of Southern Illinois University and Gretchen J. Hill of Arkansas State University looked at the well being of gays and lesbians living across the urban-rural continuum – from the nation’s largest metropolitan areas, to midsized cities, suburbs, small cities and rural areas.
What they found contradicts conventional wisdom that large urban areas are better places for gays and lesbians to live.
The authors said the results were somewhat unexpected:
“The finding that gay residents living in the largest cities experience a relatively low level of wellbeing is a bit a surprising. After all, many of the best-known meccas of gay life in the United States are located in major cities, including Greenwich Village in New York, the Castro in San Francisco, West Hollywood in Los Angeles and Boys Town in Chicago.”

The authors theorized that any advantage that comes from living in large cities also comes with a price. “It may be that the benefits of living in extremely large cities are exceeded by the costs,” they wrote. “For gay people, large cities tend to provide more social-networking opportunities, more social and institutional supports and more tolerant social climates. Yet, they also typically have more noise, pollution, traffic, crime and ethnic conflict – stressors that tend to erode wellbeing. Other drawbacks of urban life may include high taxes, inferior public schools, substandard housing and a relatively high cost of living.”
This has generally been my experience. I moved to rural Eastern Ontario 25 years ago from Toronto. I came out relatively late in life (in my late 40s) and in the midst of the emotional turmoil I convinced myself that I could not be gay in a rural area and that I would have to move to a city to be around "my people". When I pulled myself together I decided that my job, my 120 year old Victorian house that I bought for a fraction of what a house in Toronto costs and the beautiful countryside that I lived in were worth sticking around for. I think I'm better for it. I met my partner a few years later - he lives in a city not too far away and we have a fulfilling long-distance relationship that I think combines the best of both worlds. It's turned out pretty well all in all.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: Eric Burdon & the Animals cover the Muddy Waters classic Louisiana Blues: