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Friday, June 28, 2002
So I have been, well, remiss in not mentioning a recent victory, and this rare omission was brought to my attention by the very person who made it possible: Rory. A week or so ago Rory sent out an e-mail requesting submissions for a newsletter name for Wordfest, the yearly literary celebration that makes Rory work much too hard for not nearly enough money. So I sent in a couple of names, and to my delight, one was chosen: The Latest Word. In reward, I was given a choice of free books [I picked "Microcosms" by Claudio Magris] and a bookplate signed by Carol Shields, the Pulitzer prize-winning author. Both delight me to no end. As does the irony of Rory bugging me about not blogging about it, since her blog frequency is roughly equivalent to that of Comet Hale Bopp entering the solar system. But still! Thanks, Rory! For the opportunity and the ass-kick! And hey, you or something.
Poetry Friday:

I release the wild bird of love towards you:
a ragged crow falls dead at my feet.

I harness the winds to whisper your name,
only to level the huts of the poor.

I raise the hammer to carve your name forever.
If the chisel had not slipped, you would have known.

Thursday, June 27, 2002
That someone considers her freedom to worship infringed by not being permitted to wear a veil covering all but her eyes in her driver’s license photo is funny enough. Somehow, the civil libertarian lawyer disputing the state’s case for photo identification that shows, you know, the person’s actual face, saying that “his client had offered to provide fingerprints, DNA or other information that could be used to verify her identity” is even funnier.
Because when you’re pulled over by the cops, everybody knows they can cross-reference your fingerprints or DNA on a database, but they’re just too lazy, that’s what it is, too shiftless to do more than look at a photograph that instantly identifies the cardholder. Those bastards. [Full story available here, requires free log-in and password.]
Of course, I’m not letting the feds off the hook. I have two beefs about driver’s licenses here in Alberta:
  1. In the age of digital photography, they still refuse to allow “do-overs” when one’s driver’s license photo is particularly gruesome (speaking from experience here, I’m sad to say: my picture looks like a disgruntled wax figurine that was left too near the stove). What would it cost them for a reprint? Nothing, that’s what.
  2. And I have no idea why my weight should be part of my identity. My picture is right there on the card. At the accident scene, I doubt a police officer is going to gaze at my crumpled remains and say “Well, it looks like her, all right, but we’d best get out the scales just in case.”

Oh, all right, all right. My obligatory G8 comments are coming up: Protesters in Canada seem to comprise a few groups: the smallest and smartest section of people like Grant Neufeld [check out his site at] who do their research, work tirelessly, and can offer actual, viable solutions for reform. The earnest rhetoricians, who cover their lack of knowledge with stilted phrases such as “we need to start a dialogue process,” or “we need to humanify Africa NOW.” The anything-for-a-change group who seem to attract the most coverage; I particularly enjoyed the local TV reporter talking to two people howling and yelling at The Gap protest who had to have it pointed out to them that they were, in fact, wearing Gap shorts at the time. The angry louts: enough said. And then I guess there’s people like me: not liking the government crackdown on free speech; bored by the rhetoric of both sides; irritated by the louts; but, lacking the knowledge to devise viable ways to get G8 nations to spend more on social programs in underdeveloped countries and at home, determined to shut up until we can make a reasonable contribution, rather than add to the noise.
But hey, you protesters, you! Two days in a row I was able to get into work on time. No traffic snarls, no sirens, not even a human blockade. Thanks a hell of a lot.
Tuesday, June 25, 2002
Ah! Not only has Duane blogged twice within the last week, which should shake up some of the cobwebs and tumbleweeds on Spikebelt, but he also gave me a link to the Italian knock-off of lawn-bowling, bocce. Thanks, Bad Man. See you next month.
Which reminds me: in answer to the people who've asked about my volunteer efforts around town, no, I do not mow the lawns of geezers from any charitable instinct. Nor do I do it solely because I dig riding that big bad John Deere mower and brandishing the outsized weedwhacker. The lawns that I mow are lawn-bowling lawns. The people I mow them for are killer lawn-bowlers who may not be able to pull the starter cord on the gas mower without leaving their arm behind, but who can throw a 2-lb bowl to touch a small target 30 feet away. And lawn-bowling is, simply, the most fun you can have without putting your beer down. Easy to understand. Impossible to master in under 40 years. I'm currently in my second season as a member of The Inglewood Fraternity of The Bowls & Cups, a completely bad bunch. In 24 hours I and the rest of my team, The Myrmidons, will rage upon the green and continue our Wednesday night tradition of "Shame or be shamed." Myrmidons toss the jack scornfully past the hog line. Myrmidons know that sometimes a mere lifted eyebrow is enough to finesse the bowl past an opponent, closer to the gleaming jack. Myrmidons get their asses handed to them by 80-year-olds who can put enough backspin on a bowl to go back in time. Don't ask me what the difference is between lawn-bowling and bocce and petanque. I only know that lawn bowls are wooden and weighted to one side, whereas petanque "boules" are metal. And bocce players call the jack the "pallino." It's a sport that's played all over the world. And it's thousands of years old. Just like the players.
Monday, June 24, 2002
What I like best about summer barbecues is staying late enough for the guitars to come out. By then people will usually have drunk enough beers to get over themselves and sing in public. And so it was at Bryce and Tabitha’s barbecue on Friday night. Two guitars and three musicians. And somewhere in the bass and baritones of Bryce and Sheldon, the lilting tenor of Sean, there was me in the background, grackling like the magpie I am. Of course, it could have been the cigar I was puffing away on. I didn’t inhale but that’s not good enough for the wheezy lunch sacks in my thorax. Whine whine whine ever since.
Those are the best memories of summer, the unexpected moments. And I don’t think I committed too many breaches of Yetiquette, apart from mauling the pots of mint and other herbs, and possibly turning the other way when Theo spotted a snack or two just sitting there, gawdsakes, it’s already got a bite out of it. Oh, and staying way too late. Heh.
However: I have a horror of potluck gatherings and songfests when I don’t know the participants personally. So I was fine, in fact, extremely well fed, at Bryce’s bash on Friday, because I know all the guests and believe they are sterling folk who would not knowingly poison me. But last night there was the condo barbecue, arranged by a neighbour, “Kenny-not-Ken”. Kenny has a new boyfriend these days, so his attention is somewhat diverted. He did a fine job of inviting people, buying a gift for the guest of honour and wrapping it artistically, and even supplying paper plates. But he neglected to ask us what we were bringing. Confused, we all brought meatballs. There must have been one moment on Sunday afternoon when we all thought, “Oh, everyone always brings potato salad to these things. I’m going to do something different.” Dish after pot after tray of lumps of meat with sweet and sour sauce, chunks of pineapple, lego, etc. I piled one or two lumps on my plate and covered them with chips, hoping no one'd notice.
And more singing for me, backup this time, for the guest of honour, the former president of the condo board. Dan the guitarist and treasurer had rewritten the lyrics to “Secret Agent Man” as “Super Condo Woman.” Yeah. “She’s solved all of our problems, and taken away our cares.”
So I was thanking God for two things, or to be more precise, thanking Richard. First, for his having a senior jazz recital that was the perfect excuse to take off from the condo barbecue before the guitars got picked up again, and second, for performing the most enjoyable senior recital, ever. Superb saxophone playing. As soon as the first jitters were out of the way, and Richard settled into some serious playing, I had a permanent grin on. As I’ve said to other people, it’s not that I only like cool people, but just that so many of the people I do like are so cool.
Friday, June 21, 2002
Poetry Friday:
[Robert West, ©2002]

Careless of his debts, he never credits
submissions to the magazine he edits.

Her father’s dead at last, the lout--
but now he’s all she writes about.

His verse means less to the world of letters
than the bad reviews he gives his betters.


He pointedly avoids the few
who pay to see his point of view.

His art? To make a spectacle
of this, then that, receptacle.

Why should he care what critics say?
The lemmings line up either way.


His too-Good News would strip the Scripture
of every inconvenient stricture.

Consumed with gall, this other one forgets
the News is Good, and just makes threats.

They couldn't believe that the name wasn't taken? I couldn't believe it wasn't taken, either. They being Nucleus, my new ISP. After six months of frustration with the Telus/Cadvision "Wow, Have We Got Great Service, Unless You're on a Mac" switchover, I dropped them in a disdaining manner. Muddy clods splatting on concrete. Manure from an impossibly tall horse. That sort of thing. Just for the sheer hell of it I asked Nucleus if I could get "jane@nucleus" as an e-mail address. Apparently I could, which surprised not only me but everyone at Nucleus. The tech support rep said "No, I need your full e-mail address, not just your first name" when I called for help. After I told him that "" was indeed my new address, I could hear keys tapping in the background as he double-checked it, the skeptical bugger. But there you go. The one name e-mail address. Neat, huh? So why not write a pal? Note: owing to current deadness of my home Mac, please enjoy the irony of me having an easy e-mail address and being unable to use it.
I decided that what was lacking from this year, what’s making it seem battier and darker than usual, was a noble quest. Something to achieve. After all, look at the Mango, off tinkering with Balinese glockenspiels, or bravely hammering at keyboards. Or the Saint, brandishing a gleaming saxophone before thousands. But although I can read music, I’m really no musician, and so have opted instead for the music of the Spanish language. This has been an ambition for years, but it was lately revived by seeing “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” which reinforced my desire not to have to rely on subtitles any longer.
Last night was the third session of online Spanish lessons, which I’m practising at work as my home Mac is all dead right now. And I was in the middle of the oral exercises, fiercely concentrating on trilled “rr” versus “slightly ‘d’-sounding r,” hard “d” versus “sort of ‘th’-sounding d”, saying “Pero!” “El Perrro!” “El Destornillador!” “Nada!” when suddenly, I hear delicate snickering outside my office. The two janitors, who are Central American ladies, are standing in the corridor [“Corrrrithodr!”], thoroughly entertained by the big old gringa singing out “But!” “The Dog!” “The Screwdriver!” “Nothing!” When they master their giggles, they’re quick to say that they think it’s great that I’m teaching myself Spanish, and if I need any help, they’d be only too glad etc. And would I mind saying “Perrrrro” again? Come on, just once?
Tuesday, June 18, 2002
While hosting the impromptu bridal shower for a woman she's known professionally for four years, friend La Vin in CA discovers that the bride-to-be is, genetically speaking, the bridegroom-to-be. So what! It's Los Angeles! Transgendered weddings are nothing new. As part of the festivities, Vin and the other guests, under the direction of an art therapist (again, common as dirt in those parts), inscribe arty bits of paper with advice for the newlyweds, which bits are then lacquered to a tall glass candleholder. A child was present and, as children are gifts of the future, was encouraged to contribute to the proceedings. Each bit of paper was lacquered and affixed as soon as it was completed. And so it befell that amongst such gems as "Total Honesty" and "Be true to You," there appears "Mom I have to pee" as a connubial blessing. Vin then looked around the room and realized that the crowd of people offering advice on marrying a guy consisted of herself and 19 lesbians.
I think it's cruelly unfair that entire chapters of novels keep playing themselves out in Vin's life. She once tutored a loutish teenager whose mother had an uncontrollable Spock fetish, but have I seen this episode in print yet? No.
Monday, June 17, 2002
O clever alchemy... Just reading the recipe made both eyebrows disappear into my hairline. Went straight to market and picked up the simple yet seemingly discordant ingredients. Yesterday afternoon, toasted almonds, pistachios and pine nuts. Ground them finely with olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes. Added a handful of spearmint and peppermint leaves and mashed further. Tossed all in a bowl with sliced cherry tomatoes and a little of the water in which the noodles had been cooking. Added the drained noodles and mixed and mixed. Finished with more torn mint and a few chopped nuts. DIED AND WENT TO HEAVEN.
Friday, June 14, 2002
The ugly side of Not My Dog is prone to emerge whenever I see an abuse of knowledge, a lazy use of authority, or my beloved lingo festooned with inappropriate apostrophes. I was just on a friend's blog that linked to a site on Jewish history, compiled and written by Rabbi Ken Shapiro. So it's an overview, obviously, the Reader's Digest view of history, and I'm not exactly expecting a glowing example of scholarship. Even so, I was unprepared for the following parenthetical statement:
"Incidentally, the Crusader cry of "Hep! Hep!" originated at this time. It was an acronym for the Latin of "Jerusalem Has Fallen." With time it became "Hip, Hip, Hooray!" -- a cheer that Jews never use.
Gee, says the big-bummed cynic, that sounds a tad convenient. "HEP" as an acronym of "Hiersolyma est Perdita" ["Jerusalem is lost/has fallen"] I had read about years ago -- in fact, it even shows up in a James Michener novel, The Source. And if you think I'm about to embark on a lengthy argument as to how Jews were never really persecuted, you can forget that noise. There is evidence to support "Hep" being used as an anti-Semitic rallying cry in 19th-century Germany and Russia. But there's no substantive proof that "Hep" became the "hip" of "hip-hip-hurray." I will also point out that the word "Hup" was used as an encouraging cry: picture circus acrobats using the common cry "hoy-hup-holla" as they launched each other through the air. It's just as likely to have evolved into "hip."
So what irks me here is Shapiro's readiness to pass off conjecture as fact. Because a lot of people are going to assume it's true. Hey, the guy's a rabbi, he must know what he's talking about, right?
I beg to differ. If Shapiro had even done two minutes worth of research on the Net, he'd have seen that the folks over at The Straight Dope and Take Our Word, not to mention the Oxford English Dictionary [which says that it's a 19th-c. term of unknown origin] have discovered that no one is 100 percent certain about the origin of "hip hip hurray." Coulda' come from livestock herders yelling "hep" and "hip hip" to hurry along the cows and sheep. Coulda' come from the circus. To further muddle things,this guy presents opposing points of view, albeit incoherently and in an appalling colour scheme.
It's a shame that Rabbi Shapiro couldn't have shown a more scholarly approach to etymology. True scholarship demands objectivity, the willingness to reveal data that may contradict what you hold to be true. The HEP/hip-hip-hurray theory makes an interesting story, but it's still only a story, not fact. If he had only said "Some people believe that 'hip hip hurray' originated with the anti-Semitic chant 'HEP,' " I wouldn't be so disappointed, or so likely to view the rest of his scholarship with suspicion. And to say that no Jew says "hip hip hurray" is a bit of an overstatement, and an insult to non-gullible Jews the world over.
Perhaps, you say, I'm overstating the issue. But over the past few years as a copywriter, meaning someone who's had a lot of experience creating buIlshit from innocent words, I've encountered people who think that the terms "picnic" and "monkey bars" are racist, based on what they've read on the Internet. Their rationale goes like this: it's been published online. It must be true, right? Without ever considering that there are a lot of pranksters on the Internet. And sadly, even the intelligent and well-meaning among us can be led astray by people like Rabbi Shapiro who pass along fascinating surmise rather than sound research. Bet he thought that Nostradamus really did predict the September 11th attacks, and if he passes the e-mail to five other people, he'll get a certificate from The Gap, too.
Thursday, June 13, 2002
I make out like a freakin’ bandit: Eight books, two CDs, two bottles of wine, a Folk Festival Pass, and three brassieres. Okay, everything but the wine, the two CDs and one of the books, I got for myself. But hey, I know what I like. And thanks to Fearless for the beauty deal on the Folk Fest pass.
The birthday was starting to look unusually subdued yesterday, with a lunch-hour staff meeting preventing my beloved colleagues from stuffing me with sushi and saké, and a meeting of the condo board nixing any Bacchanalian doings after work. Like that's going to stop me. Somehow I con Jon and Rory into coming to see Star Wars with me at 10:25 and we have the whole place to ourselves, nearly, two other people not being polite enough to leave once they realized they were in MY theatre on MY special day.
So, movie. The clanky dialogue caused inadvertent chuckles throughout the movie, but it was way, way better than Episode I. For one thing, I didn't fall asleep. However, after seeing it, I am more than ever convinced that a new style of acting needs to evolve for all this CGI bluescreen stuff. Staring at a fixed spot during blue-screening results in actors staring fixedly at an animated figure in the final product. Filmmakers are going to have to find a way to encourage actor's eyes to move as they normally would when watching another character in action. Finally, was mildly amused to see George Lucas putting homages to himself in his own movies now: the café scene in Episode II was Mel's Drive-In from American Graffiti, right down to the rollerskating waitress.
So thanks, all, for making another birthday pass painlessly and enjoyably. [Oh! And the books are: London, A Biography (Peter Ackroyd); How Buildings Learn (Stewart Brand); Collected Poems 1956-1997 (Wislawa Szymborska); Italian Country Table (Lynn Rossetti Kasper); The Hornblower Omnibus (C.S. Forester); History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters (Julian Barnes); Stet (Diana Athill); and "Manual", which is a PDF rather than a book, featuring my favourite Web writers and bloggers, and which I was damned glad to get in printed form.]
Wednesday, June 12, 2002
It’s my party and I’ll quote poetry if I want to:
[Wislawa Szymborska]

If the gods’ favourites die young --
what to do with the rest of your life?
Old age is a precipice,
that is, if youth is a peak.

I won’t budge.
I’ll stay young if I have to do it on one leg.
I’ll latch onto the air
with whiskers thin as a mouse’s squeak.
In this posture I’ll be born over and over.
It’s the only art I know.

But these things will always be me:
the magic gloves,
The boutonniere left from my first masquerade,
the falsetto of youthful manifestos,
the face straight from a seamstress’s dream about a croupier,
the eyes I loved to pluck out in my paintings
and scatter like peas from a pod,
because at that sight a twitch ran through the dead thighs
of the public frog.

Be amazed, you too.
Be amazed: for all of Diogenes’ tubs,
I still beat him as conceptualist.
for your eternal test.
What I hold in my hands
are the spiders that I dip in Chinese ink
and fling against the canvas.
I enter the world once more.
A new navel blooms
on the artist’s belly.

To recap:
  • Wednesday, June 12, 1963: Subject enters the world ass-first, an unfortunate precedent. Doctor notices astounding lack of alertness in newborn, and declares subject autistic. Mother, after four years of marriage to Mad Melvin, recognizes total infantile inertia as a paternal inheritance, and tells doctor to jump at self.
  • Late fall, 1964: Iodine: a refreshing mid-morning beverage? Pediatrician says no. Pumps are involved.
  • Midwinter, 1965: Are you SURE iodine isn’t this year’s Freshee®? Emergency room staff: Yes, we’re sure.
  • March 1965: A younger male sibling is born and proves to be much cuter and friendlier than subject. A month later, the older male sibling throws a metal soap dish at subject, opening three-inch gash on subject’s forehead. Conclusion: Brothers: a bad idea.
  • 1966: Funny how those iron pills look exactly like red Smarties. Mother petitions father to move closer to hospital so as to cut down on driving time to Emergency.
  • 1966-1969: Winnipeg winters are cold. Family moves to Northern Alberta for the improved climate and is in for a sizable shock.
  • 1968:No, subject did not invent the word "fuck," and perhaps this spanking will serve as an aide-memoire.
  • January, 1971: Just because the car in the curb lane comes to a stop and the driver motions you to cross the street, it does not mean the driver in the next lane is paying attention. Time out while doctor reattaches nose to head. Highlight: Mother slugs pediatrician for attempting to slap subject awake. Subject’s nose, after all, is not yet back on face.
  • 1973: Ah, Calgary! It’s warmer here. Lake Bonavista is nice. During outing at grandparent’s farm, subject learns why it’s important to check the cinch before embarking on a quick gallop. The osteopath informs subject’s parents that elbows take longer to heal than other fractures.
  • 1975: What, back up North? Didn’t we learn anything the first time? And playing the bagpipes? Subject convinced parents not of this earth, determines to become most misunderstood teenager, ever.
  • 1977: The Bay City Rollers prove, in concert, not to be the greatest superest cutest band in the whole wide world, but rather a bunch of talentless frauds. Damn.
  • 1978: Meet Billy Connolly in January and decide he’s one of the funniest humans ever, an opinion which has not changed to present day. Other plans: to speak French, live in Wales, go to med school and win Nobel Prize for Literature. We shall see.
  • 1980: They sell beer in corner stores in Quebec! Kids in school think subject’s anglo accent is vrai cool! Can Broadway be far behind?
  • 1981: Camrose Lutheran College? What was subject’s father thinking? His recent widower status definitely affecting higher cortical processing.
  • 1982-1987: A series of colleges, summer schools and universities, interspersed with godawful music and hapless jobs. This is the Eighties. Calgary looks to be stuck with subject.
  • 1988-1994: Working, unrequited love, requited love, auntiehood, death, working, unrequited love.
  • 1994: The bagpipes not having worked for subject, next up is the violin. Subject uses mute on violin while practising, but still, someone knocks her off her bike in August, concussing her mightily and breaking her left elbow, which prevents any violin-playing for friggin’ months, and though she cannot remember anything about the accident, subject notices her neighbours have a certain guilty look.
  • 1995-present: Work, love, more nieces and nephews, heartbreak, too much fucking death, a wardrobe of various sizes, blogging, new condo, new allergies, new friends. Same old car. Same old cat. Perhaps too soon to start rehearsing Nobel acceptance speech. Happy birthday, though.

Tuesday, June 11, 2002
What the welts have taught me: Not a hell of a lot, actually. Here's what my kind of urticaria has been looking like over the past couple of weeks:

Yet, the moment I manage to get a doctor's appointment and actually strip down, this is what she sees [minus the watermark]:

So here's the upshot: Claritin® is the ticket, though it takes two to three days for noticeable effects, and if you take it before going to the doctor, you may be surprised to find the doctor giving you the stink-eye, and labelling you as a whiny waste of time.
Wednesday, June 05, 2002
To copy a line from a recent e-mail: The only thing to fear is Veer itself. Congrats to you all. And thanks for the free font. [And while I’m at it, thanks for the link, Issa.]
Scratching, scratching, scratching: Oh, great, a rash. I look like I’ve been staked out in a tank of mosquitoes. I don’t usually get rashes, despite my hypersensitive skin, but lately something’s convinced every histamine in my system to go for the gusto. It started, oddly, on my ears, then branched out to the backs of my hands, both arms, back, chest, neck and face. I look loffly, dahlink. Of course it’s hilarious, I mean, two days ago I was in the mountains on a client visit, walking the site of a future real estate development for the fiendishly rich, and kept lagging behind the group to rub against tree trunks as unobtrusively as possible. I catch myself grinding away at my ears as I try to write headlines. And the home pharmacology is no screaming hell: Hydrocortisone cream, hah! Baking soda, hah! Antihistamines -- well, besides knocking me out and putting electric currents through my scalp, they have me convinced that I really, really understand the cat, and I suppose I don’t scratch as much when I’m unconscious. Oh, see a doctor, you say. Love to -- but there’s a bit of a waiting period, doncha’ know. Meanwhile I’m going to teach myself Braille so I can read the welts and figure out what the hell my skin’s trying to tell me.
Tuesday, June 04, 2002
Verbatim: "A flag don't flutter where there ain't no air! So why the Yankees got a flag on the moon, tell me that! It don't flutter! Never happened! Just a setup. It's all about oil. That George W! Ralph's in his pocket. Bush wants Alaska. And the National Geographic wants him! It's just money and women --white slavery! They'll do anything to anyone for money! Drugs! --" and the bus doors wheezed shut behind him.
Monday, June 03, 2002
Whadja do on the weekend? Yesterday afternoon I saw a local, young theatre troupe perform a very ambitious play, which is my tactful way of saying that I kept falling asleep or losing interest in the amount of fierce ack-TING that went on. Still, if no one supports local theatre, we'll be left with Anne of Green Gables - The Musical! and warmed over Ayckbourn until the end of time in this town.
Afterwards had a very long and serious conversation about the play with two friends, during which I pontificated more than usual. Yipped on and on about how and why one of the actors in the play was stellar in comparison to the rest of the cast, simply because he was utterly unself-conscious. [Is that a word? Anyway.] He had his character down to the toes, and acted the part with more than just his head and arms. But as I say, it was a young cast, and speaking from experience, back in the dim times, it takes a lot of it to overcome the habit of equating emotion with volume. And it's hard to believe that you need to build the character first, before memorizing and barfing forth your lines. But no less true.
Other than that, mowed lawns for old people on Saturday, and spent the evening with some of the nicest and most interesting people around, celebrating the birthday of that music junkie and cereal-chomper, word freak and racquet smasher, He Who Does Not Blog, Jon. Another sign of being a good human being: having good people as your friends, people who may never have met one another but are interesting and congenial and can carry on without having to be stage-managed through conversations. It's a rarer gift than you might think.