ed_rex: (Default)

The following was a response to Livejournal's Writer's Block #4444 prompt. I don't remember when I wrote this, but it was at least 10 years ago, possibly around 1995 — but I'm damned if I can find the original newsgroup posting on which I think I placed it. In any case, I'm lifting it directly from my website (Edifice Rex, on which there is lots of other great reading. /shameless plug/).

Memoir:

His Name Was Dog

Good old Dog

He was a big dog, a German-Shepherd/St. Bernard cross, light brown and tan with the Bernard's occasional white patches - from a distance, the smudged effect was almost a kind of gold - but with the Shepherd's body. I had not long turned two when my parents brought the puppy home. I wish I could say I remembered the event, but I do not. Instead, in the egocentric manner of childhood's memory, he was simply there, a constant, loving presence in my life.

Nevertheless, family lore has it, it was I who took to him and made it clear to all that he was mine and that his name was Dog.

For over five years he was my friend and protecter.

Good old Dog and me

When I was three I was lost in the woods behind our home north of Montreal - I called to him and he led me back to my door; he took a stranger's wrist firmly between his teeth when the man stopped his car and approached me while I was doing whatever it is 3 year-olds do when they play on the riverbank; he shared my joys and mourned my losses; he returned home, weeks after disappearing, like some canine Lazarus risen from the dead, or some muddy and famished adventurer, returned bearing the stigmata of an alien leather collar and the remnants of link chain rattling at his throat; and he was always there when the school bus brought us home on dark January afternoons.

He was in his sixth year when he died. We never did learn what it was that killed him.

I was just turned 8. My brother and I had awoken together, or at least had left our loft, at the same time.

Together, we saw the barracaded door, a chair wedged tight against the neck of the doorknob and much of the living room's other furniture piled before it. On the door itself, and barely legible for all the stools and tables and pillows and sofas in the way, was a terse but emminently clear note.

"DO *NOT* GO OUTSIDE!!!!!
WAKE US UP FIRST!!!!!
Mom and Dad"

My brother and I crept up the ladder to our parents' loft and, gently, shook them from sleep.

I don't remember much besides my father, pushing aside the barricade, with love in his eyes and a .22 rifle in his hand.

Good old Dog and me

Dog had come scratching at the door at 3 or 4 in the morning, begging entrance to his home. He was foaming at the mouth. I imagine my parents looked in his pleading eyes as they made the decision that the dog (Dog!) would not be permitted egress.

The door banged shut and we watched him trudge through the snow. He approached the rum barrel that had been Dog's home and peered inside.

Presently, he stood straight again and slowly returned to the house.

There had been no need for the rifle. Old Dog was dead.

ed_rex: (ace)

Random Gloats:

Return to the personal

And then there's meme

I got a telephone call from Philadelphia last night, from one of the best friends I have that I've not met in person.

Among the things we talked about was Raven. "I've never seen a picture of her," quoth Ms Philadelphia.

"Nor will you any time soon," I said, "Raven is pretty strict about limiting her online exposure. I'm awfully sweet on her and I'd love to show her off to the world, but well, I ain't allowed to."

But it's also true that I am allowed to speak of her in general terms. And it is even more true that I really am sweet on her. 我爱 Raven indeed.

Cut for mushy stuff off little interest to most of you. )

Meanwhile, back at the meme, Young Geoffrey tries to make sense of the term 'character interactions'. )

Click to see all the questions )

ed_rex: (1980)

'Everything you know is wrong'

My Own Private (game of) Telephone'


A (very) young Young Geoffrey, fall 1980.
Vern, almost as young (winter or spring 1982).

Well, we might have known, but we also forgot.

The story as I've been telling it to others for years — for decades! — now, and as (I think) we have been telling to each other when nostalgia has struck over drinks, went roughly as follows.

Vern and I had been practicing for maybe two weeks — he on guitar, with me as lead vocalist and (piss-poor) tambourine man — when we decided we were ready to take "Dow and Pineau" out to the streets and start our climb to stardom.

We were 16 years old and determined to begin our careers as buskers at the very top: right in front of the main entrance to the Eaton Centre at Yonge and Dundas.

And so, laughing with adolescent faith in our inevitable stardom, we set out in search of fame and fortune.

Only, Vern started to get cold feet and, even as we approached our destination, he stopped and said he wasn't going to do it, he wasn't going to play.

I tried cajoling, then yelling, but only when I kicked a rock (and hurt my foot), did I get through to him the importance of finishing what we had set out to do.

And so it was we boldly set up facing the Eaton Centre.

Vern laid his guitar case upon the sidewalk and took out his Norman, wrapped the strap across his chest and began to tune up. I nervously banged the tambourine against my thigh, hoping against hope I would not forget the words to "Helpless", or "Run for Your Life" or, especially, to our cover-tune par excellence, "Eleanor Rigby".

At length, Vern began to play and I to sing. And before long a couple of funky chicks (who later told us they were from New York City) stopped to watch us and then began to dance. Between the glorious music and the dancers' enthusiasm, we gathered a crowd that might have approached 50 people and the money poured into the open case.

Read the rest at Edifice Rex Online.

ed_rex: (ace)
Probably not of much interest to anyone but myself, but just in case this first draft effort is better than I think it is, you're welcome to read it here.
ed_rex: (Default)
... or something like that.

First draft, not-proofed. You're welcome to read it if you want, but I'm not actually recommending it. It's on my site, not here.
ed_rex: (Default)
I remember riding the subway one day back in the late 1980s and noticing just how many of the people around me were not white and for whom English was not their first language. Mulroney had opened the immigration floodgates, the results were beginning to be visible (as it were) and I was beginning to worry.

"We're taking in too many people, from too many places, too fast," I said to my friend John. How could such an influx be integrated into our society? I wondered.

John suggested I was being an idiot and possibly a racist, to boot.

He was wrong about my racism, but right that my fears were misplaced, as the subsequent 20-odd years have amply demonstrated.

During that time, immigration to Canada - and especially to Toronto - has continued apace, and yet the sky has not fallen.

But the worries I expressed some 20 years ago are still being expressed. Which brings me to the January/February issue of The Walrus and editor Ken Alexander's a-historical column, "Puzzling Ethnicity", in which he makes the startling observation that immigrants tend to settle near one another and, in a bizarre twist of logic, blames this process on the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Walrus cover

It wasn't supposed to be this way in Toronto the Good, or in Canada as a whole: we were never supposed to be a racial nation...I suspect these mislocations have been accelerated by the central event of the new world order, September 11, 2001, and the thoughts that spill from it: how can I embrace or trust the other when he may reject what I care about and affirm — permissive liberal democracy, for instance — and just might be wearing a suicide bomber's belt?

While ethnically-based neighbourhoods are far from ideal, the fact of them is as old as immigration itself. Simply put, newcomers who group together are able to build networks with each other much faster than they can with those who don't share their language and experience.

My maternal great-grandparents came (separately) to this country in the early years of the 20th century, part of the large Finnish diaspora of that era.

Like Ethiopian immigrants today, like the Greeks and the Portuguese in the 1950s, my ancestors did, in fact, create for themselves what Alexander called "a world apart". The Finns tended to settle in the same areas; Finnish immigrant married Finnish immigrant; Finnish-language newspapers and magazines were established and, for a time, flourished; even Old World political battles continued to be waged here on Canadian soil, only slowly being modified by the advance of time and a growing experience and involvement with strictly Canadian issues and disputes.

Homesteading outside of Sudbury, my great-grandparents' children were raised with Finnish as their first language, encountering English only when they were old enough to go to school. Nevertheless, among my grandmother's brothers came a master carpenter, an architect and a psychologist. My grandmother herself dabbled in writing - in English! - even if she remained fluent in Finn until the day of her death.

The same pattern is true of my father's side of the family, Slavs who settled in the Ottawa valley.

The point, in answer to Alexander's discovery that immigrants like to flock together, is simple: 'twas ever thus, and especially so during periods of high immigration.

As previously cited in these pages (Allan Gregg, "Identity Crisis," March 2006), a 2006 Statistics Canada report, "Visible Minority Neighbourhoods in Toronto, Montréal, and Vancouver," suggests that ethnic groups are self-segregating at an alarming rate. Writes Gregg: "In 1981, Statistics Canada identified six 'ethnic enclaves' across the country . . . [By 2001] that number had exploded to 254." Following an established pattern of chain-link migration — wherein members of particular foreign communities arrive first and beckon others to follow — combined with relatively large immigrant inflows, part of this is natural and expected. But as the current debate in Quebec over "the reasonable accommodation of minority groups" indicates, diversity in Canada is a troubled thing, and this trouble is felt most profoundly within the broad borders of Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver, where nearly three-quarters of new arrivals land.

In 1981, Canada had held open the door to non-European immigrants for not quite 15 years, and Brian Mulroney's government had not yet come to power; there were not yet the sheer number of newcomers necessary to create a significant number of new ethnic neighbourhoods. (See this Statscan chart for a useful overview of historical immigration patterns.)

Does this mean there are no problems with integrating 200,000-plus immigrants into a country of 30,000,000 people every year? Of course not. But those problems have more to do with economics (there are far fewer well-paying blue-collar jobs than there used to be) than with the natural desire of people to understand the language of their neighbours.

Nevertheless, having lived in Toronto's Kensington Market and now residing in Parkdale, I know from experience the vibrancy that can exist in heterogeneous neighbourhoods and am by no means saying ethnic neighbourhoods should be encouraged. But neither is their existence a reason for despair. Alexander rightly notes that our official multiculturalism policy not only encourages "...lively festivals and the celebration of exotic food and dress [but also] that it mean[s] cultural retention..." Wrongly, he believes this state-sanctioned social-engineering policy has worked and that "...now we have blowback and the various challenges being waged over what constitutes reasonable accommodation for minority groups."

Well yes, we do. And so what?

Canadians have been arguing over reasonable accommodation between groups and, more importantly, between individuals, for 400 years or more. Where other countries have settled their differences through the barrel of a gun, Canada has opted for eternal argument, a process of evolution instead of revolution. We change our immigrants slowly, and slowly, our immigrants change Canada.

For the record, my extended family now includes (former) Belgians, English, First Nations, French, Germans, Italians, Jews, Nigerians, Norwegians, Poles, Russians, Scotts and Ukrainians - Canadians all.

Canada faces many problems, but the choice of immigrants to settle close to one another is not among the significant ones.

* * *

Despite my argument with its editor, The Walrus is a very good magazine and getting better. You should pick it up.
ed_rex: (Default)
I was already in bed and drifting towards sleep when I heard my mother's scream. Instantly awake, I clambered down from my bunk as fast as I could and ran towards the sound, knowing only that I had never before heard her make such a sound.

I ran through the playroom and into the main section of the house - which was illuminated by a waving orange glow. The kitchen was on fire, flames licking up the walls. My mother was standing in the centre of the small space, throwing water at the flames.

I don't remember whether I acted from instinct or some half-remembered instruction, or whether my mother had shouted an order, by I do know I ran back to my room and returned with an armful of blankets, which we used to smother the flames.

The inner walls of the little house were made of a very soft partical board called tentest, which was great for accepting thumbtacks and which made for even better kindling. They looked like hell by the time the fire was out, but I looked on the damage with a lot of pride. In a real emergency, I had acted, not panicked, and I knew that most eight year-olds would not have done the same.

Despite this near-disaster, fire was and would long remain an old friend and a faithful servant to me. My folks had pulled up stakes from our home in suburban town of Two Mountains outside of Montreal and moved us to the outskirts of Sudbury, where my great-uncle Ray and my father put up a small house after clearing a big enough space out of the forest. Money was tight, so we did without such bourgeois luxuries as running water and electricity.

The structure was shaped like a fat ell. At the far end of the narrower section were three cells, deliberately designed without internal load-bearing walls, for easy conversion into a single room at a later date. They were about six by six feet square, each one outfitted with a lower and an upper bunk, the upper perpendicular to the bottom.

I was already a reader and had no choice but engage in that pastime by the light of candles and oil lamps. In my hand, matches were a tool, not a toy, needed the for light, for heat, and for igniting the Coleman camp-stove we used for all of our cooking. (It's really quite amazing how much one can do with a two-burner stove and no oven.)

Not that I was introduced to fire only when we moved to the country. In fact, the first time I remember making a fire, we had only recently moved to the town of Two Mountains (now called Deux Montagnes), which would have made me five or six years old.

My parents were unusual in many ways, not least of which was the condidence they had in their own judgement, rather than in rules or experts. And so it was I was permitted to wander in the woods on my own when I was three, my younger brother was an expert cyclist when he reached that age, and I first drove on the 401 at the age of twelve.

Similarly, when I got curious about fire and matches, rather than sternly forbidding me to play with them, my father instead found a big ash-tray and a few of packs of matches and sat down with me. He showed me how to light a match, explained the consequences of not putting one out, and let me at it. Never one to forbid fruit, he instead believed that, when he judged his child was ready to learn (which usually meant, when that child expressed an interest), the best policy was to teach, rather than to forbid.

And so it was, one spring or summer day, that there came a rather panicked knocking on our front door. I think it was my mother who answered it.

"Yes?" she said to the frightened-looking neighbour who stood on her stoop.

"There's a small boy, making a fire next to your house," he said.

"Oh," said my mum, "that's Geoffrey. He's just experimenting."

"'Experimenting!?!'"

"Yes," said my mum, but the neighbour's fear convinced her she should check on the progress of my experiment, just to be on the safe side.

And so she found me, happily feeding twigs into an impressive blaze, which I had built against the concrete side of the house. The flames licked a couple of feet into the air and - much to my dismay - she decided this particular investigation into the nature of fire had gone quite far enough and so extinguished it.

I was outraged, of course. I had been very careful and believed (and still do!) that I had everything was under control. I explained as much, but my mother was firm. "Experimenting" was all fine and good, but the results had to be kept to a certain size.

I often look back with not a little awe at the things my parents let me do when I was a small child. Lord knows, I'm not sure I will be able to do the same if ever I have the privilege to be a father. And yet, I am glad they did what they did - or rather, that they permitted me to do the things I did. From allowing me wander forests on my own or make fires, to letting me take the wheel of the car, to making firm noises at concerned librarians ("Of course Geoffrey can take out Gibbons' Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire! Geoffrey may only be nine, but he has my permission to borrow any book in this library that interests him!" (As it turned out, Gibbons was more than I could chew; I returned the (abridged) version to the library some time later having read only the first chapter . But I digress.

I'm glad my folks had the confidence in their own judgement necessary to allow them to let me learn at my own pace, to experiment and to grow, when I was ready to do so.
ed_rex: (Default)
My first "real" job was with CBC Radio in Sudbury.

The year was 1987 and I was renting my body out to the Biovail laboratories on Montreal's West-Island, taking what may have been a generic version of drug or what may have been a placebo, while living in a dormitory, having my diet strictly controlled and monitored, and having my arm pierced for blood-letting something like 8 or 12 times a day.

So when, during a telephone conversation, my mother told me that CBC Sudbury's morning drive-show, "Morning North," was looking for and not finding a temporary Production Assistant and would I be interested in the job, of course I said "yes". (This was nepotism, but not Nepotism. My mum was then hosting and producing the northern Ontario version of "Radio Noon". But had I flamed out, it wouldn't have done her reputation any good.)

Long story short, despite having essentially no experience in journalism (besides a couple of high-school projects) or current affairs, between my mother's assurances that I was capable and what must have been a decent performance on my part during a long-distance interview, I got the job and soon found myself "chasing" stories, doing pre-interviews and script-writing, among other tasks.

I mention all this to indicate that I have some practical background in the world of journalism and am not just another arm-chair critic.

Lies of Our Times: The Unexamined News Story Is Not Worth Reading

Back in the early 1990s, there was a magazine I read on a more or less regular basis called Lies of Our Times. I think it came quarterly. I don't know if it's still around. (Oh hell, all right - half a tick: Apparently it's not. Wikipedia says it was published between 1990 and 1994 and adds, "It served not only as a general media critic, but as a watchdog of The New York Times, which the magazine referred to as 'the most cited news medium in the U.S., our paper of record.'

Lies of Our Times analyzed and exposed both bias and factual mis-representation. At the time it seemed to me both reliable and open about its own biases, but as I did not then read the Times, I can't in good faith claim to have made a dispassionate study of it.

In any case, the August 19, 2007, issue of the Times contained a front page story, "Falluja's Calm Seen as Fragile If U.S. Leaves", that contains one of the most blatant examples of journalistic bias disguised as "objectivity" I have noticed in quite some time. The story, by one Richard A. Oppel, Jr., concerns the efforts by the U.S. Marine Corps to secure the security "gains" in the city prior to handing it over to the nascent Iraqi security forces (whichever one that turns out to be - but see below) before the U.S. forces pull out, perhaps as soon as early next year.

According to the story, Falluja had once "controlled this city" and, in the opening paragraph, the city's police chief is quoted as referring to the Marines as his "only supports".

The Marines invaded the city nearly 3 years ago and have since been engaged in "trying to build up a city, and police force."

Despite Fallujan complaints about the central government, "...in recent months violence has fallen sharply, a byproduct of the vehicle ban, the wider revolt by Sunni Arab tribes against militants and a new strategy by the Marines to divide Falluja into 10 tightly controlled precincts, each walled off by concrete barriers and guarded by a new armed Sunni force. (The emphasis is mine.)

According to Oppel's story, "the gains in Falluja...are often cited as a success stroty, a possible model for the rest of Iraq."

The article goes on to enumerate the problems involved in maintaining the "fragile" calm. Among them are the following.
  • Fuel, ammunition and vehicle maintenance still supplied by U.S. military;

    • Police "forced" to buy black-market gasoline

  • Police use "heavy-handed tactics, they "need to learn not to arrest 'a hundred people' for a single crime'";

  • There is a great deal of mis-trust between Fallujan authorities and the central government;
  • and,
  • Marines don't trust Fallujan police, so creating another, irregular militia - sorry, "auxilliary force to help the police", who are paid $50 per month by the Marines and who are armed, "with weapons they bring from home, typically AK-47s.".

The story quotes mostly American sources, who appear cautiously pessimistic about the long-term results of their operation - hopeful, but one wouldn't expect them to place bets that things will work out after they leave.

But what does working out mean? Consider the nature of the "success" in Falluja. Buried mid-way through the story is the following paragraph.
In just 24 hours, marines cut enough electrical cable and plywood to turn a shell of a building into a functioning outpost, one of the 10 they are building, one for each precinct, and to wall off the precinct behind concrete barriers, leaving just a few ways in or out. [My emphasis.]

In other words, "Falluja's calm" is due at least in part to turning the city into a series of prison cells - a "success", if it works.

But think for a moment about the nature of this success. A city divided into not 2 (a la the Berlin Wall) but 10 security zones, each separated by "concrete barries [with] just a few ways in or out".

In Oppel's 1800 word story, analyzing the security situation in Falluja, the nature of the (doubtful) "victory" is remains entirely unexamined.

I point this out in large part because The New York Times is a "liberal" American newspaper, one which has long been a thorn in the side of the Bush administration and which has been against the war - if not from the first, then for quite a while now.

And yet this front page story completely misses the real story: That the American occupation has gone so wrong that "success" is defined as turning a city into a prison; that "success" is creating a militia because the police are not to be trusted. (Shades of destroying the city to save it!)

"Objectivity" in journalism has been a goal in North American journalism since not long after the corporate elite gained control of just about every major news outlet. In practice, this has more often than not worked out contrasting "both sides" of a given issue; in the U.S., especially, this means quoting both a Democrat and a Republican - any third point-of-view being regarded a "fringe", a priori.

The result of such false objectivity is not necessarily a "lie", but something that might be even worse: a blind truth or, as the old saw has it, to ignore the forest for the trees.

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