What I’m thinking about

Loyal reader edeast writes in the comments, “What are you thinking about? The plebs would like to know.”

I have never let the plebs down, so here’s the inside scoop:

Scholarship-wise, I’m thinking about the Pseudo-Plutarch‘s treatise De Homero, in which the pseudo-author praises Homer every which-way, and especially for his command of all branches of learning and of rhetoric in particular.  This work is usually seen as a rather lame piece of flattery, but I am rereading it in terms of ancient Imperial education, in which Greek-speaking schoolboys would progress from the performance of Homer (and other canonical authors) to the acquisition of the oratorical art.  Perhaps this is the ordinary way of reading the treatise at this point; the bibliography will tell.  But it’s a work I’ve been meaning to integrate into my book on school performance, and it’s never too early to start planning (and rereading).

Literature-wise, I wrote my third Young Adult novel this summer and am still working on my Riel tragedy, when I have a moment.

Politics-wise, it all passes me by at a remote distance, as I have been too caught up in a wonderfully hectic summer to bother much about truly crazy sh*t like the Census Debacle.  Why do the Conservatives even keep StatsCan open at this point?  They can just invent their own statistics, or denounce the very idea of empirical proof, and their base will love them all the more.  Meanwhile, Canadians apparently don’t care if the democratically elected component of our government — the policy-making component — is simply out to lunch for five years at a stretch.  Tony Clement is the Minister of Industry.  That is how little Canadians care about Canadian politics.  The one thing they care about is that nobody else should tell them to care more: that really riles them.  So, like a good little democrat, I am obeying the deafening command of a mute nation and not caring at all as this country slowly but surely goes down the drain.  It’s all relative, in the end: we have so far to go before we become a lively, interesting nation that it hardly matters if what our forefathers achieved is smashed to smithereens — we’ll have to start fresh anyway.  It’s irresponsible to be a Canadian patriot and not be a radical of one sort or another.  The status quo is intellectually untenable.  My heart goes out to the pundits and journalists who are forced, if they would eat, to witness and bear witness to the coke’d-up hillbilly dwarf-tossing competition that is our res publica.  It’s nice that guys like Michael Chong are in there fighting the good fight, but let’s be serious for once, as opposed to moralistic: the subject who is truly loyal withdraws entirely from political life.

Personally, I spend most of my time thinking about how wonderful is the woman I married on the 5th of June, 2010.


Meditations upon a national sport

A number of Think pieces have been appearing of late about the good old hockey game.

In the April issue of the LRC (not available online) Chris Dornan had a truly stellar piece about “Our Violent National Game,” asking (inter alia) why this lawless game sits (and has sat since the 1870’s) at the centre of our supremely lawful nation; why the Leafs can peddle bits of the net that receive Sundin’s 500th goal at $40 000 a pop, given that they suck and have always sucked (well, for 43 years anyway); why we mythologise what is, after all, just a fun game that occasionally turns into the Ultimate Fighting Championship.  I’m in favour of mythology, and I like watching hockey, but things are certainly out of whack when our biggest accomplishment as a country (in our own eyes, anyway) for the last decade has been winning the Olympic gold medal in a sport in which we have only two or three serious competitors.  It’s a bit like the Zurich canton having fits of self-love because they won the yodeling competition.  The joke’s on us.  Which isn’t to say it’s not a triumph, but honestly we need more triumphs if we’re going to see it in perspective.

Coincidentally with Dornan’s piece, the cover story of the June 2010 issue of The Walrus (not yet up online) is “Whose Game Is It?  How the Americans are hijacking hockey” by David MacFarlane (also titled “Hockeyland” — anyway, it’s on Page 32); it’s about going to hockey games in the American sunbelt and looks interesting.  Also, Bruce Croxon in The Mark argues that we should have bigger ice surfaces so as to cut down on injuries and generally make the game faster and more fun (like 4 on 4 or the Olympics).  I think it’s a great idea: I hate all that grinding on the boards.  What people like about hockey is the pace, and that’s as much about passing as it is about skating.  It’s certainly not about backchecking or the Trap (which ruined the game for about seven years).  But is reform even possible?  How undignified is it that our National Game, our Pride & Joy, our act of self-definition par excellence, should be in the hands of Gary Bettman and his legion of cynics and whores?

Appetite for politics – TICE!

I’ve spent the day in reflection about my grandfather, and missing him; seeing him everywhere, as it were.  As mentioned in my poem below, he was a man who thought about politics and public policy as naturally as most people breathe Continue reading

Robert James Gordon Mitchell, 1925-2010

(Updated.)  My grandfather, Bob Mitchell, died on Saturday night.  The interment took place on Thursday on Vancouver Island.  The obituary appeared Friday in the Globe:

During a long life, Bob did what was important to him and lived his social-democratic values to the end. He was a fine amateur cook, proud of having launched the Sunflower Café in Regina. He was a keen collector of Canadian art. Even as he became more frail, he remained deeply interested in public affairs and was a faithful watcher of Newsworld and the Jim Lehrer Report.

I wrote the following poem as a tribute to a very fine man, whom his grandchildren called “Gramps”; my brother Dave read it at the interment.

Dinner at Gramps’s
28 April 2010

You’re glad to reach the door.  Before you knock,
It opens.  Gramps was looking out for you.
He shakes your hand, he takes your coat, his smile
As wide as prairie evenings.  From inside
You hear and smell the feast: it’s something new,
He says, a recipe he’s trying out.
His apron on, he points to the TV,
Where something’s wrong, and something’s quite good news;
You feel, now here’s a patriotic man.
You take a turn at stirring, and he pours
Your favourite drink, asks how you found the drive,
And how’s the family; he’s been reading up
About a painter, not far north, the town
Is one he knows quite well, and yesterday
The paper had a column — landscape, oils.
The food is ready, table’s nicely laid,
There’s gravy (light: these days he keeps an eye
On calories, though he’s looking very fit —
You’d never know his age), and here’s the pie:
Minced pork, and onions, with a nice side dish
Of mango chutney — all homemade, of course —
And good Canadian wine, one you remarked
Last time, and he’s remembered you preferred it.
Like the dinner, so the talk now moves
From that first bite (how each of you has been),
To broad reflections (nothing rash, of course),
And words, like forkfuls, count.  Yes, each one counts,
And that’s especially why they’re always good.
A second helping?  Yes, but you refuse
A third — there’s something special in the way
His eyebrows flicker with a hidden smile
When he suggests dessert: a pecan pie,
Glowing upon a handsome plate, and thus
A chance to speculate about the future:
Yours, the nation’s, all the world’s dreams.
You feel like talking and you love to listen.
Coffee.  Time seems to have given up,
But there’s the drive back waiting.  Time
To offer to clean up and be refused.
He finds your coat.  A handshake, firm and true,
Although his hand is getting weaker.  Now
You wish that you could stay, or that the time
Had come to dine again.  A wave goodbye.
He watches from the doorway, waves again,
And smiles as only he can smile.  Goodbye!
Oh, goodbye, Gramps!  And thanks!  We’ll see you soon!

JF Simard on the nationalism of accomodation

Rereading my post below about my review of Poliquin, I find it reads as though mine were the only piece in the April issue of the LRC.  Au contraire!

There’s quite a powerful piece by Christopher Moore about Six Nations’ land claims, in which he compares the situation along Grand River with the situation in BC: as various First Nations have recently been recognised out West as having legitimate complaints about infringements on their (non-treaty) land, owing to the 1973 Calder decision, so too the numerous 19th century appropriations of Iroquois land in Ontario may get recognised by the courts.  To be sure, such matters are always more than legal, i.e. political, but at the very least the essay is an eloquent heads-up on what the legal and political issues will be in the next 10-20 years.

Ian Clark has a wonderfully clinical take-down of Howard Woodhouse’s Selling Out: Academic Freedom and the Corporate Market, which, from the review, sounds like a new benchmark for academic self-entitlement.  Other highlights (in my book): Reed Scowen on Jacques Parizeau, Colin Robertson on Canadian-American relations, and — last but not least — as mentioned today in the Vancouver Sun — JF Simard on the “nationalism of accomodation” that has both robbed the PQ of its raison d’être and promised smooth sailing for Canadian federalism for the next while, even if we’re rather becalmed at present; translated by yours truly!

New piece of mine in the LRC

In the current (April) issue of the Literary Review of Canada, which has been hitting newsstands everywhere, I have a one-page review of Daniel Poliquin’s biography of René Lévesque, which was nominated for both the Charles Taylor Prize ($25 000) and the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize ($25 000).  My piece is just 1200 words or so, but it’s a stylistic tour de force etc.; and the book reviewed is quite interesting and written with great élan: Lévesque in cameo, the painter quite unafraid to show the subject’s wrinkles.

As a totally unapologetic francophone federalist — as an unapologetic federalist of any stripe — as a realist who could not care less about our cozy Compact arrangement in Canada — Daniel Poliquin is unique and very valuable.  I’m in earnest in this review when I exhort him to tackle Trudeau, but what we really need is In the Name of the Father (his 1999/2000 attack on Quebec nationalism) updated for 2010 and expanded to assault our platitudes from sea to sea.

Sonnet on the priest abuse scandal

My fiancée was raised Catholic, and the ongoing scandal about child abuse in the Church has really gotten her down, as I’m sure it has many Catholics.  I’ve gotten used to hearing her exclaim, as she surfs the New York Times, “It’s absolutely disgusting”: I know what she is referencing and, since virtually every day brings to light a new coverup of abuse, I hear the expression a lot.  For me as a non-Catholic it’s less personal, less of a blow at one’s own biography, though of course I have great respect for the Catholic Church’s historical and theological role.

So: the other day we realised that I hadn’t written a poem for her in some months, what with all the job-seeking and apt-selling and house-hunting and what have you, so it was agreed that I should write her a sonnet.  But it helps to have a theme, and she suggested, upon my requesting one, that the sonnet discuss the priest abuse scandal(s).  Great, thinks I, a romantic poem about clerical criminals; but actually I rather like the result.  Comments and criticism welcome, of course!  The references are to Matthew 7.24-27 (“. . .like a wise man who built his house on the rock” etc.), Matthew 16.18 (“you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church”), and the Sistine Chapel with its Creation panels and Sibyls.

Oh, woe to him who built a house on rock!
Alike the amphitheatres and the churches
Topple when Heaven chooses to defrock
The City of mere Man: the ceiling lurches,
Crackling, shaking, jerking to and fro,
Crushing the shepherd who betrayed the sheep
Beneath its chunks of Michelangelo:
Creation crumbles and the Sibyls weep.
But dry your tears: let rock entomb the dead,
Let God annihilate whom God has damned;
I seek the sea, to build my house instead
Upon the free, blue shore, upon the sand.
And there, my darling, safe from old men’s lies,
We’ll look for love, and struggle to be wise.