Monthly Archives: August 2011

‘Hasta la vista, baby’ hasn’t worked so well for Arnie lately, but it may for me

You won’t be hearing much from me in the next couple of weeks. Except for tomorrow possibly you actually won’t be hearing anything from me for a fortnight. That’s because I am not only taking a break, but I have happened upon the painful decision to be ‘unconnected’.

I am taking no electronic communication devices whatsoever. That’s for two reasons: 1)I still make a bit of a living freelance writing, so connectedness smacks of work and 2)Wendy said: “You bloody well better be leaving your laptop and everything else at home while we’re away! We’re on vacation and that’s exactly what I want it to be.”

Well, I couldn’t argue with that steely logic.

And truly, we both need a break of sun, surf and general frolicsomeness of all description. Hmm, that ‘all description’ kind of frolicsomeness sounds inviting.

The only difficult part of all of this (aside from paying for it) is that we have to leave Max at home. Agonizing a bit about that. But, as a friend said, we’ll miss him more than he’ll miss us.

He’ll be able to settle back, smoke his pipe (he’s an old-fashioned kind of fellow and he likes him a good meerschaum), read his paper, and watch Cesar Milan with no threat of interference or being pestered to take hi s master and mistress for a walk.

So, for now, ciao, shalom, hasta la vista (baby) and aloha. Be back soon.




Indiana don’t want you if you if you’re one of them penmanship sorts


Well, you can dream all you want about that old moonlight on the Wabash, but you won’t be able to write it down no more. Not if you are going to school in the state whose greatest contribution to culture is the Indy 500 and being the inspiration to the Music Man song Gary Indiana, of which nobody can remember anything but the first line.

But I jest, of course, so take no umbrage, Indianans (is that what you’re called?). It’s just that I have been made aware that Indiana educational authorities have decided, in their wisdom (?) to no longer teach cursive handwriting in state schools. What in hell is that all about?

Not only are our spoiled brat kids rioting in the streets for the sake of purloining I-Pads and sneakers from burned out stores (that they burned in some precincts), and they have completely lost connection with the value of the apostrophe, but also they now do not have to go through the ritual of learning how to write a proper bit of script.

As has been suggested, no longer will the expression “putting pen to paper” have any meaning – at least in Indiana – but that the pen, while it may or may not be more powerful than the sword, it is obviously not considered more powerful than the computer keyboard, for that is what the Indiana eddication folk are going to be concentrating on.

So much has already been taken from captive schoolkids, and now this.

Rites of passage are to be rent asunder one more time. Where will it end?

I remember in 2nd grade when we were first taught the rudiments of cursive handwriting. But we were only permitted to do it in pencil. A bit like feeling up over the sweater. Going all the way didn’t happen until 3rd grade when we got to use ink and a pen. Our desks had little inkwells, which the teacher used to fill from a giant bottle of ink. But, we weren’t allowed to opt for Parker-sophistication, but had to content ourselves with scratchy straight-pens that needed to be dipped regularly I recall one kid getting the strap for sticking his nib into the arm of the girl next to him.

“Oh no. She’ll get blood-poisoning and die!” we wailed. Most everything, when I was a kid, caused blood-poisoning, it seems. Anyway, we weren’t too distraught because she was a priggish little thing and her wounding was deemed almost worth the sacrifice of a strapping.

Anyway, so we learned cursive writing and became better and more productive human beings as a consequence of that discipline. Ultimately alternative writing implements came into vogue (early teachers decried ballpoints initially as being almost satanic and wouldn’t allow us to use them). In truth, I still love me a good fountain pen and I own a couple. I mean, I never use them because they’re so damned inconvenient, but I like the idea.

As my education increased my handwriting deteriorated radically from the days when I would waste an entire math lesson trying to devise the coolest signature imaginable. Now, whenever I put pen to paper (which is rarely) the scrawl is ghastly. They say you can tell how well educated a person is by the awfulness of their script. And surely the nadir of the art must be found with doctors.

Anyway, the world continues to deteriorate, and in penmanship and the loss thereof, Indiana is playing its part. But, beware, your state or province or nation may be following shortly.

He did too visit that old ‘stately pleasure dome’ and he told us all about it

The Polo travels as I see them. Only as far as the Black Sea indeed

Goddamn archeologists. They wreck everything.

Now they’ve gone and put the lie to a cherished childhood belief in human accomplishment and adventure.

One of my genuine joys in elementary school (believe me there were very few other aspects of formative schooling that brought me any pleasure at all) was learning about the early explorers. Those lessons gave me a lifelong love of history that certain had some influence in my being a history teacher way back there in another life.

Anyway, a teacher could enchant me no end with tales of Columbus (of course he is no longer PC, but screw that revisionist crud), and Vasco da Gama, and Cartier, and Cook, and especially that old Marco Polo.

I’d listen in class (a rarity for me, all too often) as the tales of derring-do and human sacrifice unfolded and I would ply the uncharted seas with the mariners, and would tramp the unbeaten tracks with the overland heroes. I’d pore over books and ponder the illustrations. My grandmother took me to see the movie Christopher Columbus with Frederick March playing the primo explorer and I found it to be the most wonderful piece of cinema to ever grace our neighborhood movie house.

Yet this morning I read an account of findings by a couple of Italian archaeologists who claim that Polo was nothing more than a big fat Venetian fraud. That he never did go to China and sit in the “stately pleasure dome” of Kublai Khan. He didn’t even bring pasta back to Italy. I suppose now they’re going to attest that he didn’t bring back fireworks or invent the Chinese take-out dinner.

This information gobsmacked me and made me wonder about their motivation. Who are these people? A couple of disgruntled Genoese who don’t want to see a Venetian get all the glory? Well, I could say to them, due to their shattering of this boy’s erstwhile beliefs, and would say to them in language they would understand: “Wassa matta fo’ you?” Their names, I have on good authority, are Dr. Vinnie Moscone, and Dr. Tony Ragusa, though I could be wrong about that. I didn’t read the article too closely, so incensed was I.

As the story goes Polo traversed the legendary Silk Road to Cathay sometime in the mid to later 1200s. The Silk Road had been known to western Europeans since Roman times and many merchants and the like had traversed it, but never all the way. Polo, according to widespread beliefs, did the whole shot. It took him 24 years, there and back and when he returned to Venice he told his tale and it was generally accepted at face-value.

But now these scoffers reject his claims, and maintain his accounts are filled with falsehoods that he had gleaned at writings from the time, especially Persian ones, and that the Persians were much more cognizant of China (geographically situated where it is)) than were western Europeans. Indeed, one suggestion is that Polo never actually ventured further than the Black Sea and all the rest of it is just so much self-hype.

But, you know, I’ll continue to live by my delusions. Delusions that also tell me that Pluto is a planet despite what some astronomical dweebs attest. Astronomers and archeologists, what killjoys. They have no poetry in their souls like the average 4th grader who sat enchanted as tales of Columbus and Polo unfolded.

‘Let’s make everybody’s’ lives hellish just for a good time!’

empathy [ˈɛmpəθɪ]

1. the power of understanding and imaginatively entering into another person’s feelings

Rioting – pshaw – that’s old stuff and yet people are getting so exercised about it that you’d think this is the first time in history that assholes had torn apart cities and towns to satisfy their own selfish whims.

Yes, we could regard rioting in such a dismissive manner. When I lived in England in 1981 there were vicious and frightening riots in the Toxteth area of Liverpool, and horrific ones in Brixton, London. These riots were blamed on such esoterica as the ‘reactionary’ viciousness of Mrs. Thatcher, poverty and (always) racism. There is likely validity to all such excuses.

Paris has, of course, always been riot-central in Europe. “Aux barricades citoyens!” was first cried out in the 1848 revolution in the French capital, as paving stones were ripped up and les citoyens took to the streets to thwart injustice.

They didn’t succeed then, and they haven’t succeeded since. And therein lies the farce in such ghastly little bits of destructive ‘street theatre.’ That is, that the repressive overlords always win, one way or another. So, rioters in St. Petersburg in 1917 chucked out a Tsar, and then they turfed an inept moderately democratic provisional government, and replaced it all with a regime that was going to make tsarist days seem benevolent.

The fatal flaw in any manner of rioting is that it is ill-directed and primarily wounds ordinary people. That is exactly what happened in London (and other UK cities) recently, and it is exactly what happened in Vancouver a while back with the (as yet unpunished and will probably remain unpunished thanks to our inept legal system) so-called Stanley Cup Riot.

All the overprivileged young assholes (sorry, but ‘assholes’ is about the most benevolent descriptor I could manage here) accomplished was to terrorize the innocent; honest merchants cowering in their stores and eateries while punks ravaged what they had worked to develop.

What motivates these pricks and prickettes (for there’s goils in the mix, too)? I have no idea. But what character flaw to they demonstrate to a one? That is easy: A complete and pathological lack of empathy!

They cannot ‘get’ that people live and work in these neighborhoods. Did the yobs in London truly think that the PM, the Lord Mayor or all the titled and overindulged jerks of the realm were inconvenienced by their actions in the way that residents, shop owners and cops were? If they actually thought that, then schools are failing the young even more egregiously than one thinks they might be. As for the motivations of the drunken hockey revelers in Vancouver, I have absolutely no idea of what influenced them other than surfeits of alcohol, paucity of brain cells, and spoiled-rottenness.

But, it is lack of empathy that brings about such things. Privileged pups that have never faced real adversity themselves but are quite happy to wreak it on others in the name of – oh, I don’t know. Really I don’t.

It’s the same impulse that leads to wanton vandalism, obnoxious graffiti taggings and, yep, even littering. It’s all flagrant disregard for the happiness of one’s fellows.

So, yes, we can throw the bastards in jail, and I have no problem with that. But at the end of the day that doesn’t address the fundamental illness that causes these people to “let slip the dogs of war and cry havoc.”

That illness is the loss of empathy in our society.

I don’t know what to do about that. Do you?

Compared with modern despots old Louis XVI was a decent guy

I simply have a few burning matters buzzing around in my head that darn well need addressing. So, consider this blog item a basic mélange of my fractured thoughts about a few things.

Be forewarned, the musings of Ian aren’t always – aren’t always – well, aren’t always even connected in any particular manner.  Non sequiturs would be the best description of the workings of my fevered musings.

Now that you know how it works, we shall ponder my current stream-of-consciousness. But, please be appreciative of the fact that most of these came to me in a state of insomnia early this morning when I was trying to slow down my thoughts, but it wasn’t really working.

Witness the topics that follow, if you will:

–         Monkeys: Don’t care much for monkeys or any other members of their poop-chucking, noisy, nasty disposition simian clan. I make an exception for gorillas, which I think are magnificent and much too threatened by assholes like us. I think part of my problem with the ape family and related species is that they are much too like us with their little hands and all. They make my skin crawl just a little bit.

–         Royalty suckholes in Canada: This truly exasperates me and my blood nearly reached a boil when I read how our %$#&* federal (or is that ‘feudal’?) government has decided there are no issues in the country that really need addressing other than sticking the term ‘Royal’ back (at huge expense) with the designations for our armed forces branches. I think this is the hangover of the ‘Will and Grace’ tour we had a while ago when I found myself cringing with embarrassment at the obsequiousness of certain Canadians caused by the presence of a couple of pampered foreign kids.

–         I don’t think there is any excuse, ever again, to describe any disaster (or even disruption of anything) as a “perfect storm”. Cut it out, already. The movie wasn’t even that good.

–         I’m feeling kind of bad for Louis XVI: I just read an account of his last days after he and Marie Antoinette were arrested and held prisoner by a bunch of not only ragtag commoners, but ‘French’ ragtag commoners. That must have been disquieting for the once powerful king. I mean, he wasn’t really such a bad guy. He wasn’t a drunk, he didn’t seek congress with whores and Mme. De Pompadours like his predecessors. Sure, he was a bit despotic, but only a ‘little’ bit despotic. Compared to latter day despots old Louis was a pussycat. And, he was actually faithful to his wife; a rare behavior in such circles. Furthermore, he remained brave until the end when he was not only unceremoniously marched to the guillotine and then the drum roll even drowned out his last speech. Sucked to be Louis for sure.

–         One of the most obnoxiously self-indulgent songs ever to be composed is the execrable My Way. The fact it was written by Paul Anka renders it doubly repulsive.

–         I have a schoolboy crush on ‘Penny’ from Big Bang Theory. I also think BBT is one of the few genuinely funny sitcoms on the wasteland of contemporary TV.

–         Why isn’t there a ‘dislike’ category on Facebook postings? Sometimes a person will post an item that is unfortunate or even disastrous and some moron(s) will hit the ‘like’ slot just to indicate that they’ve read it. If you are concerned for your friend then at least have the energy and decency to write a brief comment.

–         What’s with this very boring Ashton Kutcher guy being in anything? He’s to replace Charlie Sheen, I hear. At least old Charlie was – depraved addict that he might be – both a bit interesting and mildly talented.

–         I miss the golden age of magazines. In the day I could go to a newsstand and browse for ages and finally emerge with at least a half dozen periodicals to peruse at home. Even Time and Newsweek and substance and demanded a bit of reading that wasn’t insulting to the reader. And there was Saturday Review, and Saturday Night, and National Lampoon, and a Vanity Fair that wasn’t obsessed with fucking the rich, famous and trite. Oh, and I genuinely miss Dominic Dunne. And Esquire I just find to be weird these days. Used to be a good read, too. We decry (justifiably) the demise of newspapers, but I’d like me mags back.

–         We had the Stanley Cup Riots in Vancouver. Nobody has been arrested, nobody was thrown in the calaboose even briefly. Similar destructive assholes in the UK were thrown in gaol to get them off the streets posthaste and many of the perps have been charged. Law enforcement in the City of Vancouver is pathetic and largely non-existent and the province will do nothing about it despite nonsensical patter from a proving-to-be nonsensical premier.

–         And finally, when a notorious gangster was recently mowed down here in BC the RCMP stated that they hoped to apprehend the perpetrator(s). To hand out medals, I trust.

Now I really need a nap.

It could be worse — just so much worse

Life is a Shakespearean tragedy in that it does not have a happy ending. It is a terminal illness. Or, as Samuel Butler suggested, “Life is one long process of getting tired.” Or, if you are feeling really down and blue, you can opt for Woody Allen’s view that “life is divided into the horrible and the miserable.”

 I am not feeling especially negative today, it’s just that as I scan the headlines of the morning paper, I see tales of crime, a gang slaying (yay – that’s one less of the bastards) war, even more ink the arsonist thugs in London and other English cities and towns, pestilence, politics and omnipresent political stupidity, greed and incompetence (closely equated to war and pestilence, and often crime), corruption, cruelty, disgusting self-indulgence, the extolling of the moronic glitterati, depravity and vile tastelessness (and those are all on a good day).

An advantage of newspaper news over television news (which is hardly news at all, at least in the Cronkite and Murrow tradition) is that I can pick and choose what I care to read. I am not bombarded. I just turn the page. I never, or hardly ever watch TV news. In any case, I have worked in the print trade for too long to see electronic renderings of the news as anything other than sensationalistic pandering of the ickiest sort.

The world today is really no worse than it has ever been, and in many regards it is better – for us at least. Lapsing into Dickensian cliché, it is indeed “the best of times and the worst of times,” But, like old Sam Butler I sometimes find that I just get “tired.” And, when that happens I know I have to change my focus and call to attention those things I do cherish and that keep me from getting just too tired to bother.

This all came to mind from a domestic discussion the other day based on one of those lists concerning the 10 (20, 50, 100) things you would like to do before you die. The by now slightly tired “bucket list”. Well, I attempt to do my utmost to live for today and have, for about a decade, believed in the adage that “If you want to give God a laugh, make a plan.” I mean, sure there are things I want to do before I die, but I just prefer to keep them to myself so that if they happen I am delighted. If they don’t, then I’m not grievously disappointed. It’s similar to the process I go through when I go vacation. Obviously there is some planning involved but, at the same time, I refuse to get into anticipatory excitement. My excitement starts when the plane touches down on the tarmac and I know I have arrived safe-and-sound. But, even then, it is only ‘guarded’ excitement. My true exultation only begins when I am safely ensconced in my hotel or condo and the hostelry has proved to be everything it purported to be on the website or in the brochure. My lack of anticipatory glee pisses Wendy off, but I am who I am.

However, this blog is not intended to be a negative, so please don’t construe it as such. There are things, many things I’ve experienced, or continue to experience that give me a reason to just carry on and see what indeed is next in my life.

So, here are some of ‘my’ things, in no order of importance whatsoever:

1. The fragrance of new-mown hay on a ride in the countryside.
2. The sensual sculpting of a perfect rose.
3. A book I dread to see come to an end, such has been my enjoyment of it.
4. Holding hands with a special person on a long walk.
5. A long walk.
6. A special person.
7. Seeing something I had long wanted to see, for the first time.
8. Cherished friends.
9. Watermelon so sweet and crisp it actually snaps when I bite into it.
10 The fragrance of the ocean on a moonlit night.
11. The rustling of the sea breeze in palm trees.
12. Hugging a tearful little girl, or grown woman and trying to “make it better.”
13. An eye-mist inducing film.
14. Laughing so hard I’m fearful of peeing my pants.
15. Candlelit dinners.
16. Making love.
17. Making love on a very private moonlit tropical beach (did that once and it was all you might anticipate it being).
18. An ocean swim.
19. Snorkelling through canyons of multi-colored coral and shooing the beautiful fish to one side, such are their numbers.
20. An Orca breaking the water near me.
21. Whale song.
22. A day fully at my disposal.
23. The first day of vacation.
24. A medical check-up in which everything is A-OK.
25. Taking Max for a walk.

26. Seeing justice done.

27. The fragrance of good coffee in the morning kitchen.

28. New fine cotton sheets on a king-size bed.

29. The rumble of a London Underground train.

30. Crickets in the early evening of a late summer day.

There are more. Lots more. Feel free to add your own.

Sometimes once can be even more than enough

Some aspects of life demand obvious repeating to the degree that they become autonomic patterns in our lives. We eat, sleep, consume liquids, empty bladder and bowels and a few other things on a daily basis.

Other things we do a little more sporadically, but they remain part of the fabric of who we are. So, we make love every little once in a while (more often is better in my esteem), with frequency depending on the libidos of us and our partner (or partners, if you really get around), we quaff alcoholic beverages if so inclined, we grocery shop, to a restaurant for a meal, and we go on vacation, and so forth.

And then there are things we’ve perhaps done once, but would truly like to do again. This may include having gone to some exotic spot on vacation that persists in having an allure and draw, like Rarotonga in my case. And I would do that again if only it didn’t demand (due to economic realities) flying steerage on a 10 hour flight from LA across the Pacific. Add to that the three hours flight from Vancouver to LA.

And finally there are those things that I have experienced once and once only and for various reasons have no desire to repeat them. Here are my one-offs and I likely won’t go there again, or at least I ‘hope’ I won’t revisit any of them:

–         Ride a roller coaster: I was in high school and all the other guys were and I was loath to admit to being a craven coward, so I joined them. It was a remarkably unpleasant experience for me and I’ve never had any desire to repeat such a dubious pleasure. It reminded me of the tale a reporter friend once told me about making a run on an Olympic luge course. “I never knew there was such a thing as an instant laxative. Believe me there is, and it’s not a pretty sensation.”

–          Ride the Vancouver Skytrain. Sleek, state-of-the-art, ridiculously overpriced and hideously impractical (when compared with other rapid transit systems in other cities), and also much favored by knife-wielding young thugs. So, no, I don’t think the need will arise.

–         Ride in a jet fighter plane: It was extremely exciting when I got a newspaper assignment to write a feature on what it was like for a shmo like me to ride under the Plexiglas in a jet plane. It was all that it promised to be and more. What a rush. On the other hand, it also involved some 5 hours of pre-flight instructions that included how to eject and bail out. Bail Out! WTF? Anyway, once was enough.

–         Go on a drug raid with the police. Another reportorial experience that got the old ticker pumping at the time and resulted in a great story. But, there were also nasty, nasty dogs, and a certain potential for guys with guns being present, hence the flack-jacket I was compelled to wear. Thanks for the memory, guys. I leave it at that.

–         Do a social work tour of a maximum-security prison: This left me with one strong conviction. I do not ever want to go to prison. Prisons are really really awful claustrophobic places populated by some really bad human beings. The chill that goes through you when those heavy iron doors shut behind you can’t easily be described.

–         Go to jail: Once, when younger and much more foolish, I spent a few hours in a lockup. It was mortifying and frightening and I wasn’t allowed to leave when I wanted to, which was from the second that barred door slammed behind me.

–         Go to a senior prom: Arguably more stressful than my jail experience. All my adolescent anxieties came to the fore on that single night and my date was somebody I scarcely knew from school and we were utterly bored with each other in an instant. You know when you are dancing with a girl to some slow Johnny Mathis thing and she sticks her ass out behind her so that your hips will never come anywhere near to each other’s, and she devotes her time to looking over your shoulder to see if she can espy somebody more interesting, then this is not a match made in heaven. On the plus side, however, at that same dance I met the girl who was to become my steady for the next two years, so it wasn’t all bad.

There are likely more, but these will suffice for now. Feel free to name some of yours.