Friday, April 16, 2010

Socialists Reject Soldiers

(Update: In fairness, a crazy professor in Regina, one time zone away, has written a column to the Calgary Herald. Hence today's essay.)

My last essay, on Decent Democracy, ended with this footnote:
In fairness to the Americans, recently (March 24) some Canadian professors in Regina - 16 of them - were equally crazy. Obviously these eggheads think not only is our government "separate," like an occupying power, but the soldiers are separate too. They signed a letter saying the children of soldiers killed in Afghanistan should not be allowed to have university (heroes program) scholarships because the war was "imperialism." Clearly they have forgotten the average soldier can't even define imperialism, while the rest of us regular Canadians are also shaky on the word... Surely it is the responsibility of the professors as part of our community, our body politic, to educate the rest of us. But no. Instead they feel separate, off in some alienated ivory tower. Wimps.
People responded in anger and contempt. On the internet and in letters to the editor they called those professors "the Regina 16." No workers uttered any words of support. Perhaps, over on the Regina campus, the young (figuratively long haired) students offered support, but from what I know of us prairie people, I doubt it.

I was young once. I sometimes shopped and conversed at a Marxist-Leninist bookstore in Vancouver, one long since firebombed. (Perhaps by Stalinist-Khrushchevists.) Across the street was Spartacus Bookstore. This store had a handmade sign on the shelf: "This is a people's bookstore. If you must shoplift, steal from a bourgeoisie store!" (Incidentally, for decades, until a few years ago, the student bar in the technology school was the Spartacus lounge. Now it's The Gateway.)

Being too embarrassed to try on a beret, or pose with the popular Che Guevara T-shirt, —I'm no poser!—I nevertheless tried on diffferent scenarios. Which scenario was I to believe?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Art and Crichton

My friend Christina Chan was invited to an art gallery tour and she took me along as her guest.

Christina, along with all her fellow volunteers at the Science Centre, was invited to a place also staffed by volunteers: The Art Gallery of Calgary, the one with the unobtrusive doorway onto the pedestrian mall. The gallery was booked for us on a Saturday afternoon. She knows I collect art; before we walked down to the gallery I admitted that when it comes to art, I only know a little bit. I added, "Hey, is it OK if I pretend I know more than I do... and tell you stuff about the pieces we see? I'd like to sound important." My friend, knowing full well I can't really pull off sounding pompous, agreed to let me try. We had a good time.

The actual pieces we saw that day, an exhibition of extremely creative Canadian portraits, I won't describe here - maybe some other time.

The staff gave us a nice tour, main floor and basement, and then we went up to the top floor for some fine cheese and crackers. One of the tidbits we enjoyed was, in Christina's words, "savory." The word belongs to categories like sour and sweet: My friend has quite an "educated palate." Keep your on Christina and her palate for savoring that bit - we'll get back to it...

... This tour was in mid-February. In early March articles appeared - in an art magazine and the LA Times - regarding an estate sale of one hundred splendid pieces belonging to the late Michael Crichton - I still miss him. There would be a showing in LA in April, and then an auction in New York in May. I'm not surprised to find that Michael had excellent taste, and very fine pieces. I wish I could be there for the auction.

What strikes me is how incongruous it must seem that a man like Crichton could collect art. I have to smile at imagining how none of the sides of this multi-sided fellow match up with our conception of art lovers.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Decent Democracy

An essay inspired by the book To the Edge of the Sky by Anhua Gao

Our U.S. neighbors have changed for the worse during this past year. Besides feeling unhappy with the changes, I also feel foolish and defensive, since many people would say nothing's wrong. If only the changes  were to things I can plainly see, such as more handheld gadgets. Sadly, there are confusing changes to stuff I can't so easily see or measure: I am unhappy with the new decline in politeness in U.S. public discourse. I can't prove this decline, but it's important to me. Of course, it would be easy for me to escape from confusion, easy to escape into the cliche, "What is not measurable does not exist."

As for politeness, it's a pity the book I've just finished, a "best seller" according to wikipedia, probably was not a best seller over in the U.S. I am moved by To the Edge of the Sky, an autobiography by Anhua Gao, a sweet pretty lady. In her book she is "I," while to me she is "Anna." She tells of surviving a harsh life under communism. Anna loses both parents, "revolutionary martyrs," at a  young age. Just like when I read of orphans like Pollyanna or Sara Crewe, my heart goes out to Anna.

She had a good mother. A good person herself, Anna spent her life rejoicing in what very few good people she was able to find. Too few. I wish I had been there, perhaps as part of the embassy or a trade mission, so I could have offered Anna my heart and taken her away from it all. Unfortunately for Anna, so many people under communism were so horrid. To call them "impolite" would be the "understatement of the year."

I wonder: What makes North Americans so optimistically oblivious to the fact that mass oppression, be it  political or economic,  affects masses of individuals?... Sometimes, on the breeze, I catch overly optimistic ideas about the world. I think such optimism is magical thinking, suitable only for children, but perhaps, I say with sarcasm, they are right.