Drivel 2009-2010

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Letter to Maria Duval         (December 30, 2010–see Drivel for
                                               December 27)


Click here for audio reading.

Hi, Maria:


Just thought I’d drop you a note to acknowledge your kind offer of my Golden Predictions for 2011, along with the Biomagnetic Bracelet and Moonlight Blue Sapphire Jewelry set, for $29 including handling and first-class shipping and $1.38 GST.

Hey, the picture of the Bracelet looks really cool! I like the jewelry set too–even though I’m not sure why you included the certificate of authenticity when I haven’t even ordered the set yet.

You see, Maria, you’re right about the bad luck and money problems. I guess you saw that in my Astral Chart. I’m a big time loser in just about anything–life–love–money. Especially those damn penny stocks! And right now, I really need that bracelet, but the $29 is sort of steep.

I’m writing this because I thought maybe–just maybe–we could do a deal. You see, I’ve got this Magic Stone that was my grandmother’s. It’s not much to look at –you might even think I found it in the backyard last spring. But it was my grandmother’s–and she wore it in a special locket around her neck all her life. She lived, fit as a fiddle, to 98, and said it was the Magic Stone that accounted for her great health. First sign of the sniffles, or arthritis (Knock, knock. Who’s there? Arthur. Arthur who? Arthuritis–her favourite joke)-- out would come the Magic Stone!

A few rubs of the Magic Stone and her symptoms would disappear!

Maria, she gave me the Magic Stone on her deathbed. I know it’s magic, because, if you hold it for a few minutes, you can feel the warmth from my grandmother’s hand!

There’s only one catch. When she gave me the stone, grandma told me it wouldn’t work for me.

"Idel, my little kindershmaltzen," --that was her favourite name for me–"Idel," she said, "this won’t work for you–your Astral Chart is so f-ck-d up (Grandma was a master–or should I say mistress-- of the Obscenity Ellipsis) that bad luck and money problems will be the bane of your existence. You will lose money on penny stocks until the day you die. You were born under the sign of Taurus on the cusp of Jupiter, with a lucky number of Two–I’m sorry, my little kindershmaltzen–but basically, you’re scr-w-d."

"Idel," she said, "the only hope I can see is an extraordinary and gifted woman with the initials M.D. You may encounter her, probably late in life, when you are losing big time, when your Astral Chart has reached an all-time, f-ck-d up, totally scr-w-d up low. The Magic Stone will be useful for her, and she may be able to turn your life around. I’m seeing a wonderful Bracelet, and Moonlight Blue Sapphires from Madagascar."

So, Maria, you can see why I’m writing to you now. How about a straight trade: the Magic Stone for the Biomagnetic Bracelet? Send me the Bracelet, and I solemnly promise to send you the Stone. I do hope to hear from you soon.

Just one other thing, Maria–I have to confess I didn’t realize how famous you are. I sort of figured you were this gifted, slightly eccentric patrician lady–probably with links to Russian Royalty–forced by circumstance to operate a little business from the basement of her Woodbridge, Ontario home. I remember seeing the picture of that terrible smashed-up car–the crash which you miraculously survived–and imagined your determination to re-build your life, one Biomagnetic Bracelet at a time. But no! Your little business is operated world-wide, with tentacles–well–maybe branches is a better term–into the remote places of the planet!

But Maria–well I’m sure you have seen this by looking at your own Astral Chart–there are dangerous forces at work which may bring you harm. Just google your own name-- there are those who say you don’t really exist, and you are actually just a character created by a business devoted entirely to scamming the gullible public.

I know that isn’t true, Maria. I have seen your picture, and the mangled wreckage of that car. But you need the Magic Stone. I think you need it soon. There are those calling for a shutting down of the UPS mailing address in Woodbridge, and government prosecution. Write soon, Maria, write soon. God bless.


Dr. Idel Dreimer



What happens when you don’t believe there is a Troll under the Bridge? (December 29, 2010)

After a while, many people decide that there no Trolls under the bridge. They have looked under bridges, and not seen them. They have also concluded that a race of large ugly beings, said to turn into stone upon contact with sunlight, is unlikely to exist under bridges, in caves, or in remote mountain areas.

It all seems straightforward enough, and the matter of no real consequence, a matter eminently forgettable.

We ourselves have decided that Trolls do not exist, and would be perfectly content to let the matter rest, and never mention them again, but for the fact that intelligent people keep bringing up the matter, and profess their own passionate belief.

Take, for instance, Ian Hunter–a professor emeritus in the Faculty of Law at the University of Western Ontario. To have become a professor, he must have some considerable intelligence. The fact that he is concerned about the power of Human Rights Commissions shows that he has considerable common sense.

But, writing in the December 21 edition of the National Post, Mr. Hunter attacks agnosticism, first of all with a sort of unholy glee, with the punctilious pedantry of a man whose universe is defined not by the meaning of words, but by the precise placement of punctuation.

Citing the Oxford English Dictionary definition of agnosticism: the belief that nothing beyond material phenomena can be known–Mr. Hunter triumphantly states that "agnosticism is an oxymoron...if nothing about religion can reliably be known, then it cannot be known whether anything about religion can reliably be known. If it is impossible to decide the truth or falsity of religious claims, then it is impossible to decide whether agnosticism is a preferable claim to even the narrowest or most fanatical religious prejudice."

All right, all right! We give up! The straw man of the Oxford English Dictionary definition has been set ablaze, and is reduced to a few smouldering wisps. Who gives a swearword?

That will still not people from saying: I simply do not have sufficient evidence to determine whether there is, in fact, a Troll under the bridge.

Mr. Hunter’s next attack is to state that agnosticism "leaves the voyager without compass (for Christians the Bible); without a guide (for Christians, Jesus Christ); without a destination (for Christians, heaven); and without hope (for Christians, resurrection)."

There is not a word here about truth. There is no doubt that those who can believe in a comforting illusion, are comforted. Atheists and agnostics are those who remain unconvinced by imaginative stories about the nature of existence. The arguments against religion are, to us, so obvious that we have great difficulty in understanding why anyone with an I.Q. over 85 would give it a second thought. We have reluctantly concluded that the majority of people prefer a comforting illusion to an uneasy truth, and intelligence, or lack thereof has nothing to do with it. The great pity is that religious belief, because it is not subject to rational argument, can be used to justify any horror, any inhumanity. As Thomas Jefferson said: "Man once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without rudder, is the sport of every wind."

We would dearly love to stop talking about Trolls under bridges. They aren’t there. But it is difficult to remain silent when so many claim to see them.



Atheists in Foxholes        December 27, 2010

We would like to take this occasion to announce that we have received another letter from Maria Duval, propitiously, just in time for the New Year. It is heartening, indeed to hear from Maria, especially since she sees for us "many triple 777 and many quadruple 7777" and 63 chances to win in 2011.

Maria is well aware that at the moment we are suffering from "terrible bad luck and also a shortage of money." But–the Astral Chart be praised–she "sees," in January of 2011, our bank manager congratulating us–"probably on a large sum of money being deposited to [our] account [one] day."

Now, if this startling information came to us from a complete no-account stranger, we might be inclined to dismiss it with a wave of our poverty-stricken pinkies. But Maria–as she tells us herself–is a "holder of the highest honorary awards and degrees," and has behind her "more than 30 years of accurate and verifiable predictions."

Nor has her light been hidden under an Astral Bushel–her ability to predict the future is "confirmed in experiments by the greatest scientific authorities," and she is "consulted by many international celebrities." Wow! With this kind of specific and irrefutable evidence, we would be foolish not to take her seriously.

And, indeed we do.

First, we are impressed with Maria’s perseverance. You see, this is not the first time our name and address have appeared, hovering nebulously in the aura emanating from her very own Biomagnetic Bracelet. On at least three other occasions, Maria has written eight page letters from the prestigious Destiny Research Centre, and despite our never having replied–Maria won’t take no for an answer. Indeed, we have never written to reject her kind offer of a Biomagnetic Bracelet of our very own, along with her Golden Predictions for only $29.00, including handling and first-class shipping, and $1.38 G.S.T. But –Maria has persisted in her attempts to shower us with luck.

Nor, indeed, have we ever replied by midnight of "this coming Sunday" in order to claim a precious gift: "A One Full Carat genuine Sapphire Jewelry set with pendant and matching earrings." We do not know how, but we have resisted this offer, in spite of the fact that "Each one of the 3 genuine Moonlight Blue Sapphire on this set has been extracted from the Ilaka sapphire mines in Madagascar, meticulously cut into an oval shape and then has been fully faceted and delicately hand polished before being precisely mounted."

In spite of our unresponsive, obdurate nature, Maria has persisted; we are impressed.

Second–and this is a related matter–we suspect some research has recently been done on an insight of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson–one of whose characters remarked: "What I tell you three times is true." (The Bellman in The Hunting of the Snark.) We have noted that some of the e-mailed journals to which we subscribe have adopted the "Video Presentation" technique. These are impossibly long essays broken into short paragraphs; each paragraph is presented separately and consecutively on the screen, and is convincingly read aloud. The unfortunate viewer is locked into a careful reading of the material, and is gradually, relentlessly hammered into submission: Send $49.95 for this Special Half-Price offer: The Armageddon Journal on How you and your Family can Survive 2011, and Thrive in 2012.

Is it a coincidence that repetition and persistence are seen as the hallmark of successful selling?


Third, we are led to reflect on our own part in this affair. Maria is no fool. She does not send out her letter with no prospect of success. What have we done to have our name and address emanate from her Bracelet? To what Scamatalogical Journals do we already subscribe? What donations have we made to the Nigerian University of Musicology, in Mississippi–or the Shady Hollow Psychiatric Facility in downtown Toronto?

God forbid! Has Maria hacked into our computer, and looked at our Portfolio of Penny Stocks?

This is a matter which urges immediate investigation.

Fourth, we have to confess that in spite of our well-cultivated skepticism, there is a tiny, unworthy voice within us, which urges us to send in the $29–it is refundable–we have Maria’s word on that–just to see what the Biomagnetic Bracelet might bring. And, after all, those sapphires from Madagascar may have a potency of which even Maria is unaware.

You see, it is almost impossible not to realize that human beings are two-armed, two-legged, and two-brained creatures. On the one hand, there is the carefully cultivated rational, cortical brain. On the other hand–it may be rooted in the diencephalon–there is the more powerful, more primitive superstitious brain. The superstitious brain is fed from infancy, with monsters under the bed, fairy tales, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and Religion. The belief in the magical, the unseen, and the miraculous can never be fully extinguished.

How else to account for religious belief among those who have intelligence quotas significantly above the mean average temperature for a Canadian July?

The reservoir of Superstition is there; one needs only the appropriate tap.

We were horrified some time ago to see Barbara Kay, writing in the National Post refer--apparently approvingly-- to that old saw: "There are no atheists in foxholes." On reflection, we thought–no–of course not. Being in a foxhole is like surviving a car accident with no limbs, or being tortured by the Inquisition. Under sufficient duress, people will say what they think may lift the oppression.

We ourselves have been heard to utter the Lord’s Prayer while suffering from a kidney stone.

The piety of one in a foxhole, on a deathbed, or under torture, is fearful, not rational, and no indicator of truth.

And now we must cede: there are foxholes replete with Armageddon Avoidance, Lucky Triple Sevens, Biomagnetic Bracelets–and possibly Moonlight Blue Sapphires from Madagascar.




Letter from Aunt Myalgia       (December 23, 2010.)

As noted in the Diary Section, the reviews of Light on Dark Waters are starting to come in. One of the first was from our Aunt Myalgia–who is–in fact–our senior by only a few years. She writes from her current residence at Shady Hollow:

Dear Boy:

Was pleased to receive the latest Lumpenbangen CD, Light on Dark Waters.

Some of it is, I think, quite beautiful, and I think Rufus has made great progress.

I do think he lacks a bit in his sense of tempo. Have you considered the purchase of a metronome? I’m sure that the Institute could well afford one!

I am a bit mystified by the last piece–it seems to have been played on an entirely different piano in order to create the effect of a Chinese instrument. Do you not think we hear more than enough about China? The new superpower, friend of North Korea, and completely in charge at Wal-Mart? It’s all a bit unsettling!


I must say my dear, I think your enclosing an invoice for $100.00–even as a joke–was in doubtful taste. You know I am as poor as a churchmouse, and without the funds to challenge my present unfortunate circumstance. The idea that I would poison Minnie AND Harold is ridiculous. Everyone knows that Harold was manic-depressive, duplicitous, and vindictive. After that foolish radio-pushed-into-the-bathtub routine, he took arsenic just to get back at me.

I know that after the Terror of 2008, you won’t even plow your driveway at Wind-in-the-Pines, so I realize you are not currently in a position to help with my present battles. But am I still in your will dear boy?

I am adjusting fairly well, and find I have much in common with another patient, Gladys Fumblefingers, also here on falsified psychiatric assessment.

I’m arranging with Doris to send you some of my grape jelly–one of the jars marked "extra special." I do hope you enjoy it. It was one of Harold’s favourites.

Do have a happy Christmas.

Your fond aunt,





Hard Choices                           (December 16, 2010)

An article in yesterday’s National Post outlined the case of Suresh Kapur, who was diagnosed with bleeding on the brain at hospital and given an "urgent" appointment with a neurosurgeon in three days’ time. Fortunately, Mr Kapur has a son-in-law who is a doctor in Buffalo, and was able to arrange for a second opinion in that city the same day. That opinion was that Mr. Kapur’s situation required an immediate operation. Mr. Kapur had the operation, and then applied to have the cost paid by OHIP, which refused on the grounds that it was not convinced that Mr. Kapur’s situation did, indeed, require emergency surgery.

But this month, the Health Services Appeal and Review Board ruled that OHIP should pay for the operation.

Now, it is true that there is an element of uncertainty in this situation which can never be eliminated. Was the Ontario system unduly complacent, or was the Buffalo doctor unduly alarmed? Given a choice, and the potential deadly results of delay, we think most people would prefer to err on the side of caution: if a doctor says, as did the Buffalo neurosurgeon who examined Mr. Kapur's CT scan: "I thought I was going to see someone who was dead, or about to die," we think a majority would prefer not to dither.

But our failing Health Care system provides no options. Mr. Kapur, without a fortunately situated son-in-law, would have had to wait the three days. Had he died in the meantime, his case would not be on the front page of a national newspaper. If there are others, who, at this moment, are dying in similar circumstances–we will never hear about them.

Ours is a system in which hypocrisy reigns supreme. Efficacy is sacrificed on the altar of feel-good idealism–the notion of equality. We are absolutely convinced that if Mr. Kapur bore the name of Jean Chretien–or Stephen Harper–or Margaret Atwood–he would not have been asked to wait three days for an appointment with a neurosurgeon. Indeed, did Jean Chretien not recently have a similar condition which was treated as an emergency?

It has long been our contention that it is unfair that politicians be allowed to decide that our present system be continued: they are pretty well safe. They will not die, neglected in the waiting room of an emergency ward like Therese de Repentigny (See Drivel entry for November 18 ). They, we contend, will not be asked to wait three days to see a neurosurgeon after a diagnosis of bleeding on the brain. They have no personal incentive to fix the broken system.


In addition, we have noted the advantages of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, or indeed, of anyone who can get a "third party" to order care outside the public system. The very wealthy, of course, like Danny Williams, can seek medical care wherever they wish. (See Drivel entry for November 10.)

The hypocrisy is typical of the socialist ideal: everyone is equal and everyone will be treated equally. Human nature keeps on getting in the way, of course, so things never work in quite that way. Additionally, central planning is doomed to inefficiency. All that such systems can provide is an equality of insufficiency.

Yes, in a two tier system, there will be inequality. The middle class who can afford to buy insurance may get more rapid care, and will have greater choice of doctors. The poor will have fewer options–but they may well be better off than the majority is now–since the private system will reduce the pressure on the public.

It has been noted that Canada’s insistently socialist system is shared only by –I believe– those models of patient-centred, world-renowned, high-performance endeavour in Cuba and North Korea.

The present system in Canada does not provide for freedom of choice, for innovation, or even near optimal outcomes. It is, for a supposedly democratic country, an outrage.



 2010 Xmas CD                           (December 11, 2010)

We have completed our 2010 Xmas CD, and are about to mail out copies to selected recipients. We would note that each CD represents both the rare element of inspirational genius on the part of Dr. Dreimer, who conceived the melodies (with the occasional nod to existing tunes), but also the somewhat laborious process of development and actual playing by the completely untutored Rufus Allthumbs. Mr. Allthumbs has an indifferent ear, no sense of rhythm, and has significant difficulties with digital dexterity and the memorization of a piece. It is, perhaps, a Christmas miracle that the Institute was able to produce the CD at all.

We would also note that each CD is manufactured using the highest quality sleek and stylish discs obtainable at Wal-mart, and each is encased in a sleek and stylish plastic jewel case, obtainable in bulk at the same prestigious location. The title of the disc, Light on Dark Waters, is hand printed with a felt marker on the jewel case. The discs are laboriously manufactured on the sleek and stylish Roland CD-2 player: blank discs are serially inserted  by hand for the burning process, and are then removed after about ten minutes, or when white puffs of smoke appear from the machine.

The "liner notes"--which may be observed to the right--are electronically transferred to real paper, which has been inserted through a labor-intensive hand process into an HP Laser Jet P1005 Printer.

The following is the price list for this remarkable new CD:

General Public                 10.00
Friends                             20.00
Acquaintances                 15.00
Relatives, wealthy           50.00
Relatives, poor                25.00  
Aunt Myalgia                  100.00  

Warning: It has come to our attention that certain amoral individuals have been known to copy CDs for the purpose of resale or unauthorized distribution. Lumpenbangenpiano discs have been digitally altered so that any attempt at copying will have serious consequences: black puffs of smoke will appear from the copying device. If the copying persists, spontaneous conflagration will occur with a concomitant digital revocation of any existing fire insurance.  




The Lumpenbangen Piano Institute is pleased to present the 2010 Christmas CD, the fourth in a series of annual musical offerings in keeping with the traditions of the season.

It is a well established fact that the Christmas season is one of the most depressing times of the year, with much enforced jollity and hollow attempts at merry-making which are but a thin veneer to the real elements of quiet desperation and suicidal impulse brought on by gift-buying, financial stress, memories of happier Christmases, vanishing daylight and cold weather.

In a spirit of Christian charity, the Lumpenbangen Institute has once again managed to create twelve entirely new compositions of mournful music, which, we hope, may serve as appropriately enhancing and intensifying adjuncts to the deep wells of dissatisfaction and misery which are hallmarks of the season.

The melodies on this disc are titled as indicated below.  

1. Light on Dark Waters

2. Cascading Light, Dappled Ground

3. Silly Piece

4. Summer Wine

5. Without Your Love

(Without your love, I’m stranded–
A ship drawn far ashore--
Or a diver empty-handed
On a pearl-less ocean floor.)



6. Br’er Rabbit

7. Lament

8. Music Box Dance

9. Another Story

10. Memories of You

11. Earth, Sea, and Stars

12. Moonlight: The Water Garden of Zen Chou Lai



About Christmas Cards              (December 10, 2010)

In the age of e-mail greeting cards, the webcam, and the touchy-feely visual phone, it may be a fairly safe prediction that the era of the Christmas card–the actual paper card, sent in an envelope through a primitive system of labour-intensive pick-up and delivery–is approaching its end.

It is not quite dead. We note that Wal-Mart still has a selection of cards, and we were intrigued to see, in a busy mall, an entire booth devoted largely to these relics of another era. We are in the unhappy circumstance that our last batch of cards–circa 2006–has, at last, been exhausted. Since we are in the process of sending out the new Xmas 2010 CD–Light on Dark Waters–-- it seemed that a small card of a Christmassy and festive nature would not be an inappropriate inclusion.

Choosing a card–one that we expect to give us many years of reliable service–is not an easy matter. The face of the card is not that difficult. It does not take us long to determine whether the card falls within the bounds of acceptable good taste. We know very little about art, but we know what we like, and what we like is, by definition, in good taste.

Any overtly religious card is in bad taste. No nativity scenes, Magi, shepherds, stars, angels, or big stars over Bethlehem, thank you very much. Or figures with halos. We object to the selectivity of such portrayals. We might soften our principles for a good Inquisition Scene–a close-up of a thumbscrew, rack, or iron maiden–or a lively and engaging portrayal of a burning at the stake, a drowning of witches, or a dropping from a great height. Sentimentality over the matter of religion deserves its counterpart–a reminder of where the whole thing can end up.

For many years we were devoted to scenes of winter–pleasant landscapes, whether populated or unadorned. We recognize that our objection to selectivity does not operate in this sphere. It is undoubtedly an atheist bias.

Lately we have come to favour stylized decorative Christmassy items–as long as they are reasonably bright and cheerful.


The difficulty, of course, lies in the sentiment. One would think that the card in good pictorial taste would have a reasonable and inoffensive sentiment. But this seems not to be the case.

We think it is, perhaps, a matter of striving to go beyond the conventional. Such a nice card-- goes the reasoning-- must needs have something more original, more classy than "Season’s Greetings," or "Happy Holidays."

Alas! How many an otherwise respectable card is ruined by an excess of sentimentality! How many wishes for peace, love, warmth, and goodness. How many special feelings, special times, and magic moments! And not just for the present season–sometimes the wish is that the warmth and magic moments of the special festive time continue–always–into the indefinite future.

Our least favourite word is, perhaps, "joyous." It is undoubtedly an indictment of our own crabbed, pinched, and miserable existence that we cannot conceive of the word "joyous" being used in any way except ironically. Ah yes. We had a joyous time during that last root canal. "This is a joyous moment indeed," he said, as he stumbled, tripped, and sank into the quicksand.

Our advice to the manufacturers: stick to "Season’s Greetings," "Merry Christmas," or "Happy Holidays."

Or leave the card blank, so that we can write in our own sentiments.

Bah! Humbug!


About Bull           (December 4, 2010)

It is our custom to follow the "bullboards" which relate to our most significant stock market holdings. These boards are forums for those who own, or have some interest in a particular security. Sometimes useful information can be gleaned–reference to an analyst’s comment–the expertise of someone familiar with the industry–an analysis of a recent news release.

Because comments are made under a pseudonym, the "Mask Effect"–or the "Wizard of Oz Syndrome"-- comes into full play. We make the following observations.

1. Very few women participate in the forums.

2. This is because the forums are like boxing, the Tour de France, politics, parliamentary debate, corporate hierarchies, football, and the acquisition of anything you care to name (money, women, art, houses, stamps)–arenas for the expression of the male competitive instinct.

3. This is made abundantly clear by Agoracom, one sponsor of such bullboards, which encourages participation by classifying contributors as "mail room," "treasurer," "president," "hub leader," and so forth, according to frequency and ratings of Posts.


4. It is amusing to watch:

(a) "Over-the-top" expression using huge fonts, exclamation points, and coloured type--the unself-conscious rantings of the "naked pumper."

(b) Adverse personal comment at about the grade school level.

( c ) A variety of one-upmanship strategies: everyone wishes to let his successes be known-- be it ever so subtly, or in full braggadocio. Admissions of error or uncertainty, are rare, and are made only in the context of larger success.

(d) The absence of any correlation between apparent affluence and the ability to spell.

We ourselves, have made occasional comment on some bullboards, but our motives are pure and unsullied. While we usually include our website address, this is not for personal aggrandisement, but for the purpose of full disclosure.

The above comments are in no way to be interpreted as indicating superior insight or an elevated position with respect to ordinary human frailty; indeed, the male competitive instinct is completely foreign to our constitution, the happy result of our early upbringing on the planet of Krypton.


Dirty Little Secrets       Part Five              (December 1, 2010)

For the love of money is the root of all evil.. (Timothy 6:10)

When we last left Brad, he was on the horns of a dilemma. Suffering from nausea and headache after ingesting Plummet, at a preliminary trial for the drug, he is asked by Dr. Genial, one of the doctors conducting the study, how he is feeling. If he reveals his headache and nausea, he runs the risk of rendering himself ineligible for future studies–possibly even being removed from this one. If he keeps quiet, he runs the risk of damage to his health and rendering the study invalid, but he has a good chance of collecting the $2000 fee for his participation.

We are sorry to have withheld Brad’s decision from our avid readers for so long. We understand that dealing with such ethical dilemmas is not easy for anybody. But –just think for a moment.


Aunt Marigold is coming to reclaim her tastefully furnished Toronto Condo in a very short time. Brad has no job, and Mandy makes minimum wage as a part-time cleaner for Officewash Incorporated.


There, there, now. We do hate to disillusion you. But sometimes you have to face the truth, even if only briefly. And don’t forget–Santa is still up there at the North Pole, getting gifts ready; the Easter Bunny is still making chocolate; and the Tooth Fairy is still buying teeth at regular market rates. So there’s a lot to be thankful for, and a lot to be comforted by.

Oh dear. You are still sobbing, aren’t you? Possibly it is best if we wait a little bit before continuing. Try to buck up a bit, and look on the bright side of things. We’ll resume our account shortly.



Dirty Little Secrets    Part Four          (November 25, 2010)

Next came Charybdis, who swallows the sea in a whirlpool, then spits it up again. Avoiding this we skirted the cliff where Scylla exacts her toll. Each of her six slavering maws grabbed a sailor and wolfed him down. (The Odyssey)

We have been happy to explain the little disclaimers which accompany every prescription drug which we receive from the drug store. Without such disclaimers, we might believe that the volunteers on whom the drug was tested were representative of the population at large. It would never cross our minds that the drug might, in fact, be inappropriate for an elderly white male suffering from dyspepsia, heart palpitations, and terminal skepticism.

You are quite welcome to send your thanks, with an appropriate money order, to the Lumpenbangen Facility on Dreimer Avenue in Hamilton.

But let us return to the fortunate Brad, who seems well on his way to earning $2,000 as a volunteer for the Plummet trials conducted by the friendly Nostrum, Quack, and Toxin Pharmaceutical Company.

As fate would have it, he falls into a conversation with George, another of the volunteers.

Brad: Have you done this sort of trial before?

George: (Showing Brad his arm.) You think these needle marks are from doing drugs?

Brad: Well, er, no, I guess not. So you’re a veteran of this sort of thing?

George: Well, I used to be a brain surgeon. But after reading Heart of Darkness–well it kinda sucked the enthusiasm right out of me. I quit my job, travelled the world, but when I came back, nothing had changed. So, I drive taxi, and do clinical trials. It’s enough to pay the rent and put thin gruel and remaindered bread on the table.

Brad: Wow! So you do this for a living! What’s it like?

George: The only thing you’ve got to watch out for is the side effects.

Brad: So if I start getting any symptoms, I should let Dr. Genial know right away?


George: (Looks at Brad in wide-eyed disbelief.) Are you kidding? The point of this study is to show that Plummet is safe, with absolutely minimal side effects, so that it can be prescribed for children as young as six, and geezers of eighty-nine. The last thing Dr. Genial wants to hear about is side effects. In these studies, if you have too many side effects, they will become very concerned about your overall health. "Tut, tut," they will say. "You seem to show an excessive sensitivity, and we think, that it is in your own best interest not to do these trials. We will not accept any further applications from you."

Brad: Wow!

Over the next few days, as Brad ingests the tiny Plummet pill each morning, he develops a persistent headache and nausea. He is thankful that George has smuggled in some Gravol pills, which he generously sells for ten dollars apiece. After three days, Dr. Genial asks him how he is feeling.

The question puts Brad on the horns of a dilemma. He is between the Scylla of telling the truth, and running the risk of being banned from further studies-- and the Charybdis of keeping quiet, possibly running the risk of serious damage to his health, being complicit in a misleading study, but making his $2,000.

We will let the reader ponder this difficult situation. We realize it is an ethical dilemma which may cause some of our more sensitive readers (Hi, aunt Myalgia!) to experience sleepless nights, possibly accompanied by headache and nausea. May we recommend Gravol?

Next week, assuming the Gods of High Cholesterol are willing, we will reveal Brad’s decision.



Dirty Little Secrets         (Part Three)                November 24, 2010


"Many are called, but few are chosen." Matthew 22:14

Brad and Mandy have been accepted into the Plummet study–the one conducted by the friendly Nostrum, Quack, and Toxin Pharmaceutical Company, a division of Behemoth Incorporated-- to determine the safety of a new drug which will suck the last tiny bit of Cholesterol from the human body.

In order to be admitted to the study, Brad and Mandy have been able to show that they are non-smokers, non-drinkers, and have sex no more than twice a week. Having been brought up on the remote hills of Northern New Guinea, they have never encountered the words marijuana, cocaine, or ecstasy. They are older than 21, but not older than 42. Their blood sugar, white cell count, and cholesterol levels are within the normal range. They have never suffered from depression, grouchiness or ill-temper. They are as "normal" as one could possibly expect.

In this particular study, however, NQT Pharmaceuticals wishes to be especially careful. Don’t forget, there are literally millions of dollars at stake. If Plummet is successful in sucking the last tiny bit of cholesterol from the human body, the world-wide sales will be phenomenal. It is very important that the drug be shown to be safe. (We must ignore, for the purposes of this little fantasy, the fact that such a drug could not be safe, since it would cause instantaneous death.)

Thus, NQT has hit on the plan of subjecting the sixty volunteers to a pre-test test. In each of three consecutive weekends, each volunteer ingests one tiny Plummet pill. Brad and Mandy, in the days following the ingestion of the single pill, are subjected to a battery of tests. No known test of the blood is omitted. No telltale trace of organ discomfort is ignored. No admission of nausea, headache, or snappishness is overlooked.


At the end of the pre-test test, of the sixty volunteers, only thirty-six are deemed acceptable. The rest are considered to have shown an unacceptable sensitivity to Plummet. NQT would certainly not wish to expose these volunteers to a full dose of the drug. There are, after all, millions of dollars at stake.

As it turns out, Mandy is disqualified, and is sent away with a reduced payment. Brad, having shown no exceptional sensitivity to Plummet, is retained.

Now, we have presented this little fantasy as a public service. Possibly you, like many others have wondered why, when you get a prescription drug from your local pharmacy, the following disclaimer appears:

(Drug X) has been tested for safety on volunteers who are non-drinkers, and non-smokers, who have sex no more than twice a week. Brought up on the remote hills of Northern New Guinea, they have never encountered the words marijuana, cocaine, or ecstasy. They are older than 21, but younger than 42. Their blood sugar, white cell count, and cholesterol levels are all within the normal range. They have never suffered from depression, grouchiness or ill-temper. They have not shown any unusual sensitivity to (Drug X) in pre-test trials.

These disclaimers–which one sees everywhere–are simply an element of full disclosure, which, as a matter of principle and in accordance with FDA regulation, are a hallmark of the ethical values of the large Drug Companies.



Dirty Little Secrets      (Part Two )         (November 23, 2010)

"No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money." (Samuel Johnson, 1709-1784)

In our last episode, we presented two contrasting scenes. In the first, idealistic Bradley, given to working on dingbat projects like Green Endeavours, the McGuinty Plan for providing environmentally friendly energy at unaffordable prices, wishes to volunteer for a test of a new drug, Plummet, which is designed to suck every trace of cholesterol from the human body. He is blissfully unaware that such a drug would cause instantaneous death; he is motivated by the fact that, upon his father’s death, the attending physician, unable to divine the true cause, attributed it to "High Cholesterol."

 In the contrasting second scene, we saw Brad and Mandy, the downmarket version of Bradley and Amanda, who are under considerable financial pressure, and jump at the chance to make $2000 each, which represents a considerable alleviation of their penurious condition.

We understand that the typical Canadian reader will have much difficulty in deciding which of the two scenarios is more realistic. We will doubtless be considered cruel and heartless to suggest that Dr. Johnson had an insight into the human condition of which the average Canadian, trained to believe in the magic of socialized medicine and the efficacy of Human Rights Commissions, is blissfully unaware.


In fact–and we know that this will come as a complete shock to you–Bradley decides to go to Aruba. Brad and Mandy end up at the NQT testing facility. They are doing it for the money. Do not read into our comments more than is there. We ourselves, on occasion, have done demeaning things for money. We taught in Canadian High Schools for sixteen years.

Let us look, very briefly, at another element in the subject at hand. NQT Pharmaceuticals, like Brad and Mandy, is motivated by money. This is not, of course, necessarily a bad thing. But the curious reader might wonder how it is that, from 1997 to 2001, twelve prescription drugs were withdrawn by manufacturers like NQT. Just to mention two recalled drugs: Baycol, a cholesterol lowering drug was recalled in 2001 because of the potential for muscle deterioration and renal or other organ failure. Vioxx , a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug was withdrawn in 2004 because of the increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

One would imagine that adequate testing of such drugs would result in a better safety record.

In our next segments we will try to explore some of the less-publicized elements of the prescription drug world.



Dirty Little Secrets            (Part One)     (November 22, 2010)

The big drug companies do much research in order to find useful drugs to treat the ills of mankind. One element in this research is the holding of trials on human volunteers–initially to determine the safety of a particular drug.

It is a frequently asked question–people have often stopped us in the street, or leaned over in the elevator-- "How do drug companies find such volunteers?"

Let us deal with this question with a little imagined scene, which, we suspect will give all those avid questioners a warm comfy feeling, and will allow them to go on with their sunlit, agreeable lives.


The scene is a tastefully furnished condo in downtown Toronto. It is Saturday, and the morning newspapers, spread around in various locations contribute to a slight air of dishevelment. Bradley and Amanda, a fit-looking couple in their early thirties, are seated on the leather couch which faces the television screen. They seem to be engrossed in a variety of Travel Pages and Travel Brochures.

Amanda: What about Aruba? We’ve never been there before.

Bradley: Yeah, but I really liked Club Maeva in Manzanillo.

Amanda: But we’ve been there twice, already!

Bradley: True. (Looking somewhat uncomfortable) Actually, Amanda, I’ve been thinking quite a bit since Dad died. ‘Member the cause of death: High Cholesterol.

Amanda: (Immediately sympathetic, she places her hand on Brad’s arm.) Oh, I remember. He was riddled with the stuff. And when they found him, there was all that horrible goo burbling through his lips!

Bradley: Yeah. The whole thing has been bothering me more and more lately. I see here that NQT Pharmaceutical–you know the friendly Nostrum, Quack and Toxin people–they’re looking for volunteers to test a new drug called A53Q2, or Plummet, which is designed to suck every last bit of cholesterol out of the human body.

Amanda: So?


Bradley: Well, I thought that maybe this year instead of working on Green Endeavours, the Mcguinty Plan for high-priced but environmentally friendly electricity, we could volunteer for the initial trials of the drug. We’d be doing our bit for humanity, and all the folks facing a terrible death from High Cholesterol.

Amanda: What about Aruba?

Bradley: Well, we could do that next year.

Amanda: Look Bradley, you know I would never stand in the way of your humanitarian impulses. Sure, go ahead, volunteer. I will phone Samantha and see if she can go to Aruba.

Bradley: But they pay $2,000.

Amanda: Be my guest. (Dials. There is a pause.) Samantha? It’s Amanda...........


Our Second Scene is set in the same Condo. A similar couple are seated on the same couch, and seem to be leafing through a stack of bills. They resemble a "downmarket" version of Bradley and Amanda; their names are Brad and Mandy.

Mandy: Jesus Christ! How are we going to get out of this mess?

Brad: You know I’ve been looking. You want I should drive taxi?

Mandy: (Immediately sympathetic, she puts her hand on Brad’s arm.) Now, you know I don’t, Brad. But Aunt Marigold will be coming back from her cruise in two weeks, and we’ve got to be out of here. Where are we going to go? Where do we get the first and last?

Brad: (Looking in the paper) Hey–here’s something: NQT Pharmaceuticals is looking for volunteers to test their new drug, Plummet, which is designed to suck the last trace of cholesterol out of the human body. They’re paying $2,000!

Mandy: I don’t believe it! What’s the number? (She seizes the phone, and begins dialing.)



We certainly do not wish to influence our readers, or suggest which of the above scenes is closer to reality. We realize that, for one segment, we have already provided more information than can be conveniently handled by the modern brain. Assuming that we do not succumb to High Cholesterol, we will continue with the adventures of Bradley and Amanda, and the reader will be better able to reach conclusions.


More Forward News                   ( November 18, 2010.)

In our Diary entry of August 12, 2010, we announced the establishment of Forward News–a new Service, which, unhindered by facts and reality, would report on the News as we would wish to see it. The first of two news reports announced the discovery of 2.7 trillion dollars of unsuspected cash in an anteroom at the Federal Reserve Board Facilities in the United States; the second revealed an admission by a leading climate scientist that the whole climate change scare is complete hogwash.

We were dismayed today to see a report in the National Post that Emergency Room wait times are getting worse. Mentioned in the account, were: Therese de Repentigny, 78, who died after waiting for six hours; Shayne Hay, 34, who was suicidal, and who waited 12 hours before hanging himself; Mariette Fournier, 86, who died after spending four days in the Emergency Department corridor; and Mieczyslaw Figel, 75, who died after waiting for some hours, while his family was knocking on the triage booth window trying to catch the attention of the nurse to tell her that Mr. Figel had stopped breathing.


The following report has been received from the Forward News Service.

November 18, 2011. (Special to Forward news) Iconic Canadian author Margaret Hatwood died early this morning at St. Margaret-full-of-Mead Hospital in downtown Toronto. She had been rushed to the facility three days earlier, complaining of chest pains, but, because of the overcrowding in the Emergency Department, had yet to be seen by a doctor.

This is the second death of a prominent figure at the hospital in less than three months. On September 12, Prime Minister Stephen Kharper,  died of complications of anorexia nervosa, after a two-day wait, as his staff tried vainly to attract the attention of triage nurse, Ms. Whatsit Tooya.

Dr. William ("WTF") Theodore Frankengarben, spokesperson for the hospital, commented that while the deaths were unfortunate, he was pleased that accusations that the poor and inarticulate received care inferior to that accorded prominent persons in society could be put to rest.

"We are pleased to be able to show that the Health Care System is governed entirely by the principle of Equality. We may be astoundingly inefficient, but we are equally inefficient for all our patients, regardless of position or income. We hope that all Canadians see the matter as we do: a triumph of the principles of fairness and equality which define this great nation."


Masked Women          (November 12, 2010)

The Aztec culture in the fifteenth century held that ritual human sacrifice was  helpful in consecrating a temple. The German culture in the 1930's was marked by a belief that Aryans were a superior race, and that extermination of Jewish people would be of great benefit. The Pakistani culture of 2010 seems to believe that the death penalty is an appropriate punishment for blasphemy, and Iranians see stoning as a fitting penalty for adultery.

So, enough, already, about the wonders of multiculturalism; different cultures hold different views on matters of importance, and these views are not of equal merit or always compatible. It is time that we stopped using the feel-good notion of multiculturalism to stifle real arguments about significant issues.

In today’s National Post, three letter writers, who support the wearing of the niqab and the burka by focussing on the primacy of individual choice, seem completely to miss the point. The fact is that in our western culture–you remember–the one that has provided greater freedom and comfort for its citizens than any heretofore–it is considered an important principle that people be identifiable. A failure to observe this principle is fraught with danger–as is shown by the damage caused by masked individuals during the recent G20 Summit protests.


It would be difficult to imagine an acceptance of groups of masked males in our society–since masking is associated with the perpetration of assault and theft. Indeed, that there is not more vociferous protest against masked women is a measure of a lingering sort of chivalric discrimination which caters to the perceived sensibilities of women.

Beyond that, it is a custom in our society that citizens interact freely, and are able to observe faces to discern meaning, and to make judgement. Those who do not wish to observe this customary interaction are cutting themselves off from normal social discourse, and are rejecting an important aspect of the society in which they have chosen to live. It should not be surprising, then, that this insult to our culture is less than welcome.


The Outrage of Nanny-Care.                October 31, 2010

It seems to me Canadians have been bamboozled by idealism.

The idea is, apparently, that the highest quality of healthcare can be provided for all citizens, equally, in a centrally planned system.

Canadians have been fed this line, along with the notion that such a system is, somehow, morally superior to other systems–systems in which the ordinary rules of supply and demand are allowed some reign. By and large, Canadians have swallowed the idealistic hook, the misleading line, the "sinker" of wait times and lack of choice–and have managed to convince themselves that the indigestible concoction of insidious garbage is actually palatable. This is what comes of learning to say "Oh, I’m sorry" –when someone steps on your foot.

These fanciful notions have been tried before in countries that have pursued a socialistic ideal–and they have failed miserably. The problem is, of course, human nature, and reality, keep getting in the way. It’s nice to think that everyone is equal, and it’s nice to think that economic rules can be suspended in the pursuit of a morally superior supra-human existence. But nice thinking and reality are two entirely different things.

People who would be quite capable of buying private insurance and going to the doctor of their choice, or having an investigation or procedure done within a reasonable time period, are simply not allowed to do so. In the interest of equality, they are made to wait in line, regardless of the effect on their health. The number of doctors is artificially restricted so that choice–the key element in an otherwise market economy-is virtually a forgotten concept.


The terrible irony is that the great concept of equality, for which Canadians are asked to sacrifice their choice, their equanimity, and their health, does not, in fact, exist.

The recent revelation that members of the Saskatchewan Roughriders are able to "jump the queue" and obtain MRIs for payment should come as a surprise only to ten-year-olds. As noted in the National Post editorial for October 25, those whose treatment is covered by Workers’ Compensation are also given preferential consideration.

Beyond that, the principle "what you know is not as important as whom you know" is not one that can be deleted from human affairs. You can tell me-- until you are hoarse and bleary-eyed-- that politicians, health-care professionals, and prominent individuals in society are put on the same waiting lists with the same priority designations as everyone else–and I simply will not believe you.

"Ah, yes, pity about Dr. Jones, head of Cardiology at St. Margaret's-full-of-Mead–had to wait four months for an MRI–and, of course, when they found the brain tumour, it was too late. Towards the end of his wait, he did try out for the Roughriders, but couldn't make the cut. He could have gone to Buffalo, of course–but it would look so bad, don’t you think? On the bright side–at least the concept of equality has been appropriately preserved."

The present state of affairs cannot persist. How soon a remedy is made will be a measure of our willingness to sacrifice a hollow, phony ideal for a more efficacious reality.


First Anniversary      (October 28, 2010)

We thought it only fitting to mark the first anniversary of the Lumpenbangenpiano website, which was launched in November, 2009.

Our initial impulse was to hire a hall, a band, and purchase a clutch of balloons. A small number of deterrent factors presented themselves. There are only three known readers of the site, and we might have trouble finding a facility which would provide wheelchair access for Aunt Myalgia.

Additionally, the Lumpenbangen coffers are less than robust after the stock market crash of 2008.

Finally, Dr. Dreimer is noted for his aversion to publicity, and there is some question whether he would wish to attend wearing the heavy burka which he feels necessary to avoid being identified.

And, so, instead, we wish merely to record the fact of the anniversary.


The most significant question about the site, the one that led to extended periods of omphaloskepsis, interspersed with bouts of rumination and intervals of self-analysis, was posed a couple of months ago by a member of the Longevity Racquets Club, who inquired: "Is there any point to this site?"

We were so taken aback by the piercing clarity of the question that we were rendered, effectively, speechless.

Only now, months later, can we state that the site is like a vast Poem, which is best approached with a neo-Aristotelian but interdisciplinary mindset such as that favoured by some of the members of the Chicago School of Literary Criticism. The point, in other words, is in the eye of the beholder. (This may account for the fact that we have so often been asked to use the rubber-tipped end of the pencil.)

Art is man’s challenge to Time, his rebuke to Chaos; the protest will survive neither the triumph of fire, nor the finality of ice -- but it is better than the silence of consent.



More about Islam.     (October 22, 2010)

In the National Post today, there are two stories about the battle between Political Correctness and the free discussion of Islam.

Mark Steyn, whose commentary from America Alone appeared in Maclean’s in 2006, and which occasioned a complaint by Muslims to the Human Rights Commission, has been unable to book the municipally owned London Convention Centre for a speech, because the Centre “had received pressure from local Islamic groups, and they didn’t want to alienate their Muslim clients.” (National Post, Oct. 22.)

Another article notes that Juan Williams, a senior news analyst for NPR News was fired for agreeing with the remarks of a television host, Bill O’Reilly: “The cold truth is that in the world today, jihad, aided and abetted by some Muslim nations, is the biggest threat on the planet. Mr. Williams added: “I think, look, political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don’t address reality.”

Everybody agrees that there are peaceful Muslims. But it must, by now, be obvious to all that Islam is used as a rationale to oppose–and potentially destroy-- everything that we consider important in our culture, our way of life. While there are a few “moderate Muslim” voices– there seems to be an extraordinary epidemic of Islamic laryngitis. To refuse to discuss these matters because of the politically correct demand that no one should be offended, is to embrace the folly of appeasement.

Some of the notions held by some practitioners of Islam are simply intolerable to western democratic societies:


1. The claim that the religion is beyond criticism or ridicule.
2. The view that religion should not be separated from the state, but should control it.
3. That view that death is an appropriate punishment for apostasy.
4. That belief that stoning is an appropriate punishment for adultery.
5. That destruction of other cultures is desirable and will be rewarded in the afterlife.
6. The place of women is veiled, separated, subservient, and uneducated.
7. Honour killings are acceptable.
8. The opposition to freedom of speech-- novelists critical of Islam should be put to death.
9. “True Islam permits neither elections, nor democracy.”( Sufi Muhammad)
10. There is an obligation to convert unbelievers by force for their own benefit and salvation.

We conclude with an excerpt from Mark Steyn’s America Alone:

In June 2006, a 54-year-old Flemish train conductor called Guido Demoor got on the Number 23 bus in Antwerp to go to work. Six -- what's that word again? -- "youths" boarded the bus and commenced intimidating the other riders. There were some 40 passengers aboard. But the "youths" were youthful and the other passengers less so. Nonetheless, Mr. Demoor asked the lads to cut it out and so they turned on him, thumping and kicking him. Of those 40 other passengers, none intervened to help the man under attack. Instead, at the next stop, 30 of the 40 scrammed, leaving Mr. Demoor to be beaten to death. Three "youths" were arrested, and proved to be -- quelle surprise! -- of Moroccan origin. The ringleader escaped and, despite police assurances of complete confidentiality, of those 40 passengers only four came forward to speak to investigators. "You see what happens if you intervene," a fellow rail worker told the Belgian newspaper De Morgen. "If Guido had not opened his mouth he would still be alive."
Respect for Islam    (October 21, 2010)

I remember, as a child, during the Second World War, asking my mother about the possibility that we might lose the war. I do not remember her exact reply–but the meaning was clear–the prospect of loss was not one that could even be contemplated.

Such conviction doubtless sounds odd in a later era, when wars are less unambiguous matters.

We may think we are doing the right thing in Afghanistan, but there are critics. We are not fighting for our immediate survival–as Britain was in the 1940's–and principles are worth fighting for–in principle–at least–until the cost seems to be too great.

In this context, it is encouraging to see a more open debate emerging about Islam. The initial Western response–for example--to the fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie–or the violent reaction to the publication of the Danish cartoons-- seems to have been like that of a politely timid dinner guest who recognizes the man seated across from him as a murderer featured on the previous week’s "America’s Most Wanted." He is frightened and appalled, but is too refined to make a scene.

In the course of the conversation, the murderer makes much of the unwarranted hostility of timidly polite dinner guests, implying that his apparent crimes are an entirely reasonable response to provocation. The guest starts to believe that, just perhaps, he himself is in some way responsible for the crimes featured on the television program. He leaves, in timid confusion.

In yesterday’s National Post, Lorne Gunter refers to an e-mail he received during the Danish cartoon controversy: "This is about treating Islam equally! I am a Muslim and all we want is for our religion to be treated with the same respect as other religions."


Mr. Gunter makes the point that, in fact, the cartoonist did treat Islam with the same lack of deference we treat other religions. Muslim outrage is actually a demand for special respect; the claim is, in fact, that no criticism or ridicule of the religion is acceptable.

Oddly, in the same edition of the Post, a letter from a reader, responding to the claim that Islam is, at its heart, a violent religion, argues that it is no more fair to characterize Islam as violent as it is to characterize Christianity or Judaism violent on account of the Second World War or the Arab-Israeli conflict. He ends by asking for more respect for all religions, and "less haste to blame an entire faith for the sins of its members."

Three readers took issue with the letter, pointing out that the wars to which the writer refers were not fought on account of religion–and that Israel’s wars have been defensive. One reader notes that Mohammad himself was "intolerant of those who opposed him," and would more likely serve as a model for violence than Jesus. Another reader claimed his right, as a citizen of a free and democratic society, not to respect Islam.

We do see the demand for respect for Islam, the claim that it is above criticism, and that critics –or indeed apostates--are to be put to death–is a matter over which there can be no compromise.

This point must continue to be made by as many people and on as many occasions as possible. Tip-toeing around the issue is to give weight and credence to a claim that is bizarre, idiotic, and destructive. There is no evidence for any religion, and the attempt to coerce people to believe--or respect--what is, essentially, superstition-- has no place in a civilized society. This is a battle in which the prospect of a loss cannot be contemplated.

As a relevant postscript, we add here a rather old joke. It concerns a charismatic preacher who was renowned for his fiery and convincing sermons. After a particularly rousing performance, he inadvertently dropped a page of his speaking notes and left it on the stage. A member of the audience, curious to see if the page would give a clue to such inspiration and conviction, picked it up, and was intrigued to see the page was extensively annotated with comments on technique and delivery. Of particular interest was a passage marked: "Argument weak here; yell like hell."



An Imaginary Conversation (October 14, 2010)

The strange case of David Chen, who was charged for apprehending a thief, has, with a trial, come once again to our attention. We think it revealing that Mr. Chen was charged with assault, forcible confinement, carrying a dangerous weapon, and kidnapping.

This does not suggest any element of hesitation or reluctance on the part of the police. There is no hint of awareness of manifest injustice. This is "throwing the book" at a supposed unredeemable and hardened criminal. Such obvious over-reaction leads one to suspect hidden motives. The police do not wish citizens to tread on their turf. It is–perhaps–like a union jurisdiction matter.

In essence, of course, it is the power of government shown in an unseemly moment. Government is necessary to maintain order. The unfortunate truth is that a little power is never enough. The impulse of government is never to rest until citizens are completely robotized. Citizens will not discard more than one bag of garbage; they will not park more than one car in the driveway. The justification is always an irrefutable appeal to the common good.

We see a trend.

We have imagined a conversation in a grand, important, and august Chamber between an Ignorant Questioner and a panel of Learned Experts. The Learned Experts sit on a raised platform in oak chairs, elaborately carved and richly upholstered. The Ignorant Questioner is led into the Chamber. He is a slight, aging, bespectacled figure. The Experts regard him with unconcealed hostility. He is the first to speak:

I.Q.: I understand that the apprehension of a thief, except under very strict conditions, is forbidden, such apprehension being reserved for the correct authorities. Given the preoccupation of the police with parking enforcement and coffee shop monitoring, does this not imply that many thieves, possibly subject to apprehension by ordinary citizens, will go scot-free?

LEARNED POLICE REPRESENTATIVE: Yes, in the overall scheme of things thieves will go free in the context of the need to preserve the hierarchical consistency in the enforcement of justice.

I.Q.: Doesn’t it send the wrong message to render citizens powerless and let thieves go free?

LEARNED SOCIAL SCIENCES REPRESENTATIVE: We see that the Ignorant Questioner has branded himself with a barbaric way of thinking which, quite frankly, we thought had long ago been extirpated. Thieves today are not the thieves of the Middle Ages. Today’s enlightened thieves were born good but through the malign and evil forces of society, have been shifted from their chosen paths, and been forced, against their better natures, to commit anti-social acts. If a few go free, it is quite likely they will, of their own accord and through their innate natural goodness, begin to behave in a more socially acceptable manner.


I.Q. I guess the idea of punishment to change behaviour is really old-fashioned.

LEARNED PSYCHOLOGICAL REPRESENTATIVE: Not at all. In the case of those who threaten or inconvenience important personages in our society, it is thought that incarceration may have some benefits. If ordinary people are involved, a moderate reprimand is usually sufficient. We do have, as our primary mandate, the preservation of the self-esteem of all citizens, but especially those who experience difficulties in adapting to social norms.

I.Q.: This question will undoubtedly seem politically incorrect, but is there any significance to the fact that an honest, hard-working Chinese person was charged with so many offences, while the thief, a black man, was given a reduced sentence for his testimony against his captor?

LEARNED HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION REPRESENTATIVE: This is an outrage! The Ignorant Questioner should be well aware that any generalization based on race, when made by an ordinary citizen, is a matter for the Human Rights Commission and is subject to the severest penalties. Government racism, on the other hand, is perfectly acceptable. Some individuals are members of races which have suffered inequities in the past, and, on that account are afforded–along with other disadvantaged groups–preference in hiring and promotion, and are treated with exaggerated respect in all government offices. Without examining the particulars of this case, we cannot say whether usual government policies played a rôle. We hereby order the Ignorant Questioner to be detained at the conclusion of this session!

I.Q.: Well, I guess I knew I was on dangerous ground. Speaking of dangerous ground-- if I am ever allowed my freedom--if I were to slip on the sidewalk, or fall over the Scarborough Bluffs–what procedures should I follow?

LEARNED RESCUE REPRESENTATIVE: On no account should you pick yourself up from the sidewalk or attempt to climb up the Bluffs. You should call 911 and await the arrival of the Fire Department, the Coastguard, or other appropriate Rescue Agency, who have exclusive jurisdiction over such matters. Attempting self-rescue is fraught with danger, and could lead to serious injury.

I.Q.: Suppose my cellphone has been lost or crushed. Suppose no one finds me. Suppose I should die?

LEARNED MEDICAL REPRESENTATIVE: The Ignorant Questioner should understand that injuries sustained by amateur rescue attempts are costs that must be borne by the Health Care System, which may be considerable. In many cases, death is the least expensive outcome.

I.Q.: I see.

The Learned Human Rights Commission representative motions to two armed Security Representatives at the sides of the Chamber. They come forward, handcuff the Ignorant Questioner, and lead him, roughly, away.


The Different Light in America    (September 10, 2010)

In an earlier entry, Happily Ever After (August 10) we revealed our addiction to Real Estate Shows–those programs which feature human beings caught up in a primal urge–the basic drive for territorial possession.

In an attempt to account for our addiction, we noted several powerful narrative strands– the quest–the detective story–and the fairy tale. But there are other appeals, as well. These shows are also “reality shows” – they feature real people in real situations--and provide another opportunity to view, from afar, the human comedy. It is as much a delight to detest a picky, fussy, unrealistic middle-aged couple complaining about the insufficiency of a half-acre lot as it is to grow misty-eyed over the newly married High-school sweethearts falling in love with–and purchasing-- an quaint country cottage.

It is also interesting to compare national characteristics: is it true that Canadians, in general, are more lovable than Americans? More naive? More down-to earth?

Well, we’re not going to answer those questions. What does often come through is a difference in terminology. The Americans have “HOA fees,” “great rooms,” oddly pronounced “foyers,” and “craftsman style homes.”
There is also, it appears, a peculiar, unnamed light in America. Time after time the questing couple will enter a room and remark on the windows which give a “lot of natural light.”

They seem to be much pleased with this phenomenon–as if there is another, less desirable type of light emitted from other, less favouring windows. We can only assume the United States is plagued with a harsh, undesirable synthetic light created from recycled plastic bottles and directed, relentlessly, through any window which is of a quality inferior enough to admit it. The discovery of windows which allow for the transmission of “a lot of natural light,” is therefore, for them, a feature worthy of remark.

In Canada, we should consider ourselves indeed blessed. A solid banking system, the oil sands, and a dearth of outdoor unnatural light.

In the National Post, Marni Soupcoff (Freedom to Fail, August 28) refers to the astounding shift in the Policy of the Ontario Ministry of Education which will “allow teachers to give students a ‘zero’ grade on assignments they don’t hand in on time.”

Hi, Marni:

Glad to see you focus once more on one of the more idiotic trends in society. (Freedom to Fail, August 28.)

I quit teaching High School English in 1979, because I could see the direction of the new winds. The revolt against precision and rigidity was to usher in a new era of freedom and creativity. Out with grammar and chalk dust; in with self-expression and the flowering of self-esteem!

We were instructed, in one first term, to allow our grade 13 students to do a creative project in lieu of the regular grind. One enterprising student of mine did taped interviews with some luminaries of the day–Robert Fulford, June Callwood, and our esteemed and beloved principal-- among others. I was instructed to give him a mark of 80. Thereafter, the student did nothing, and ended with a mark of 27.

He passed his Grade 13 English quite handily, however, on the basis of the ancient tradition of Principal’s Prerogative, a minor variation of the notions of l’état, c’est moi, and cedo maiori.


I think the major shift in thinking has been away from a belief in original sin to a belief in original goodness–I call it neo-Rousseausim. Man is born noble; if he doesn’t turn out well, it’s the fault of society. The emphasis on self-esteem is a reasonable concomitant: if man is born good, he should have an appropriate self-regard.

It may happen that, before we blow ourselves up, one or two cultures may come to some reasonable accommodation between the requirements of the real and the appeals of the ideal. But it’s a tricky business!



 Phony Touchy-Feely Fone Ads        (August 25, 2010.)

We had been about to write a scathing review of a recent Wal-Mart television advertisement–one so loud, so relentlessly cheerful, and so gratuitously obnoxious that we rediscovered the “mute” button on the Remote Control Unit. The advertisement seems to have disappeared–quite possibly as Head Office began to notice declining sales coincident with the airing of the offending material.

We are left then, to deplore the recent Bell ads which, we assume, are meant to promote the sale of a visually interactive communications device–we can only imagine it is the new “touchy-feely fone.”

The ads feature brief conversations charged with the kind of mawkish sentimentality which has become so popular as the concluding note in many Crime shows. The addition is the sense of intimacy: the viewer is led to believe that he is eavesdropping on conversations in which the participants are letting their guard down–responding to one another in a manner which can only have developed over years of private interaction.

In one ad, the young lady coyly asks her partner whether he is alone. Even with that assurance, her coyness persists: “You know that 'thing' we were working on?" she asks. Smirk and giggle. Surely she doesn’t mean “baby making”? Well, sakes alive, that’s exactly what she’s on about. Why this phone is positively pornographic!

In another conversation, --I believe this is a Telus ad--a grandfather is shown his new-born “perfect” granddaughter–or at least that is his conclusion when shown a swaddled entity indistinguishable from perhaps a hundred others. He does not quite break into tears–but it’s a mighty close thing. This phone is many things–a pornograph and a paean to the cycle of life, a reflection of human awe at the eternal mysteries of existence.

The other two, if we remember correctly, involve cutesy interchanges between fathers and daughters.

We think it only fair that these advertisers portray a more complete range of human interaction.

(A) A Mobster moment.

Vito: Hey Danny, the cops are on their way: now look at me–I don’t want no screw-ups this time– get that van outta there and park it outside Tony’s place. Have you got me?

Danny: Yeah, yeah, Vito–no problem! As long as that sucker starts, I’ll get it outta here. Did you get the distributor fixed yet?

Vito: Now Danny: look at me! I don’t want no excuses. If the cops find that van, you’ll be swimming to Buffalo with concrete flippers.

Danny: Yeah, yeah, all right awready. Love you, bro’.

Vito: Read my lips, Danny: Concrete. That’s C-O-N-C-R-E-T-E.

(B) The Remote couple.

Miranda: Hi, Brad, are things going O.K.?

Brad: Miranda! Where the f–k have you been?

Miranda: Yeah, I guess it was a bit of a surprise. Roast beef dinner on the table and the apron on the floor. But I’d just had it, Brad. It wasn’t working out.

Brad: Not only that–the beef was WAAAAY overdone. Where the hell are you calling from? Look at me Miranda: what the f–k is going on?

Miranda: I just wanted to tell you I’ve cancelled the touchy-feely fone as of tomorrow. Cholmondeley and I are leaving for Venice and a tour of European Capitals...

Brad: Aw... f–k. (Hangs up.)

August 24, 2010

Is there a Santa Claus?

About fifty years ago, there was a psychologist –we think it may have been Dr. William Blatz–who argued that children should not be taught to believe in Santa Claus, since it gave them a false perspective on life. Certainly a belief in the impossible is an enduring element in human existence: that the White Queen in Through the Looking Glass claimed to have believed six impossible things before breakfast is, we think, a shrewd commentary on the human condition.

We are not sure that refusing to tell children about Santa Claus would do much good. We think that belief in the impossible is perhaps a necessary coping mechanism which everyone employs in one form or another.

A very large proportion of the population believes in religion, despite all the obvious and convincing objections which might be made by a ten-year-old child. A fortunate coincidence is always adduced as proof, while a terrible tragedy is never seen as a refutation of the idea of a beneficent meddling creator. The buying of lottery tickets–despite the infinitesimal odds–is a well-established habit of–we can only assume–millions. In Canada, there are many intelligent people who believe that Health Care can be divorced from economic reality, and that the government can provide all remedies to all people, despite an aging population and an increasing complexity of drugs and procedures. Indeed, millions believe that the laws of human nature can be suspended, and that a socialist paradise may be obtained by voting for the NDP.

We point out all of the above, not in a spirit of smug superiority, but merely as an introduction to our own personal version of the Santa Claus Syndrome.

You see, while we think all religion is bunk, that buying lottery tickets is a waste of time, that the Health Care System will eventually succumb to reality, and that Socialism is idiotic, we have always harboured the pitiable belief that it is possible to buy stock in a small mining Company, and, despite infinitesimal odds, become disgustingly rich.

No amount of contrary experience, it appears, is able to dissuade us from this deep-seated conviction.

In 2007, despite never having paid much attention to gold, we bought fairly large positions in three small gold companies: Committee Bay Resources, New Guinea Gold, and San Gold. The idea was partly that in difficult economic times, gold might increase in value, and partly that, in each case, the companies were increasing reserves and were about to start production.

Gold was trading at about $670 an ounce.

The stock market tsunami of 2008 was far greater than anything we had anticipated, and all three stocks were ground into the dust. We held on to Committee Bay, and New Guinea–but were forced to sell much of our San Gold to meet margin requirements. Oddly, from the rubble, San Gold has emerged as a winner. It is selling at about $4.00, up from our purchase price of about $1.20.

The other stocks are not dead; they are in Intensive care, but still breathing. Committee Bay (now Niblack Mineral Development), in its spin-off, North Country Gold, is encountering good drill results in its Nunavut property, and New Guinea Gold, despite what appears to be spectacular mismanagement, still owns valuable properties and is getting high grade results from its Sinivit project. One day, we may be able to get our money out, although it may take a concerted effort from the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and old Santa himself to pull it off.

The point of this overlong narrative is simply this: undeterred by reality, we are purchasing a similarly large position in Dynacor Gold Mines. It has only 30 million shares outstanding --apparently 70% owned by institutions. The company is unique in that it actually makes money by processing gold for individual miners in Peru. This cash is about to be used to drill its large Tumipampa project, which looks to be within 200 km. of the new Xstrata 4.2 billion Las Bambas copper /gold property.

Alexander Pope, who is, apparently (how would they know?),  the most quoted English writer after Shakespeare put it thus:

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest.


 August 22, 2010

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The Heart of the Apocalypse           (August 15, 2010)

It has been our custom to dismiss Apocalypse Now as leaning on Heart of Darkness in some of its details, but rather missing the point of Conrad’s novel.

This weekend, at Wind-in-the-Pines, we had the opportunity of viewing a DVD "redux" version of the film, and re-evaluating our view. We have concluded that the works are hugely influenced by their respective media.

Heart of Darkness is a novel written to make a philosophical point: the narrative is subordinate to that aim. It is not a particularly interesting or "gripping" story. At the outset, we have no doubts about the survival of the narrator–he is alive and well, and seen to be telling the story to others at the beginning. The events are often more symbolic than meant to engage the emotions of the reader. As well–the events are narrated from a perspective which might be described as at an "ironic remove" rather than in "breathless engagement."

There is, in the narrative, a deliberate fuzziness. Kurtz`s decline is suggested through reports of others. The most vivid detail–the compound surrounded by poles bearing the shrunken heads of his victims–is not elaborated and leaves much to the reader's imagination.

Kurtz himself, when Marlow discovers him, is a spent force, virtually alone and very close to death. He is no threat to Marlow, but provides a glimpse of the "abyss" into which he has fallen.

The philosophical point of the novel is made at the end, when Marlow meets Kurtz`s  fiancée, his "Intended." She represents the civilized, idealistic Kurtz–the man who had written a treatise on the Suppression of Savage Customs. She asks what Kurtz's last words were. Throughout the novel, Marlow has made much of his detestation of lies, but, instead of responding truthfully: "The horror! The horror!"-- Marlow lies, ands says that Kurtz died with the Intended's name on his lips. Conrad's point is that, when faced with the choice between an unpleasant truth and a lie which is more consistent with human ideals, we feel forced to tell a lie–and that is the darkness at the heart of the human condition. Truth is unacceptable; civilization is founded on lies.

The film medium presents pictures; its focus is not suggestive, but explicit. Apocalypse Now is more interesting, dramatic, and suspenseful than Heart of Darkness. Although we are aware that the narrator is telling the story as one who has survived, the immediacy of film makes that fact easy to forget. Willard, although oddly passive, looking as though he is absorbing, weighing, and calculating, and is removed from the events, cannot provide the ironic buffer that Marlow does. The events are not merely symbolic; the air of the surreal, the atmosphere of the irrational the breakdown of normal response, are powerfully conveyed by episodes of death and destruction on a scale made possible by the film techniques which are, by now, almost expected.

When Willard finally meets him, Kurtz is in full control of his compound and its inhabitants. He is able to imprison Willard, and it seems unlikely that Willard will be able to fulfill his mission of 'termination.' The film is able to make a much clearer picture of Kurtz and his motivations. He is a man of ideals who has come to see that success and survival are dependent upon ruthlessness and terror. If these elements are not the friends in one’s arsenal, they are the enemies to be feared. Kurtz’s absolute, cruel, and arbitrary power is made clear by a landscape littered with hanging, dead, and bloodied bodies-- and the imprisonment of Willard. Like his novelistic counterpart, Kurtz is riven by an ambiguity: his view of the world is correct, and he wants his son to know the truth; at the same time, he is aware of the horror of that truth.

When Willard kills Kurtz, an event coincident with the ritual animal sacrifice–an emphasis on the primitive notion of cyclic change-- the film makes its symbolic statement by showing the (rather unrealistic) acceptance by the compound inhabitants of Willard as the new king, the new God. In the Apocalypse, mankind is vulnerable to Kurtz’s philosophy, and reverts to primitive thinking:–they will accept cruelty as long as it is wedded to strength and security.

This, perhaps, is the apocalyptic vision that the film wishes to portray. Certainly, history suggests the persistence of regimes built on the exercise –by a few–of ruthless terror. It is, of course, quite different from the point that Conrad wished to make. Conrad tells us himself that the whole point of his novel is made in the interview with the Intended. In the film, Colonel Kurtz expresses the wish that, after his death, Willard might tell his son the truth. But it is impossible, after the vivid picture of Kurtz portrayed in the film, that Willard could meet with the son and say that his father’s last words were to wish him a happy birthday.

In the novel, with its greater emphasis on Kurtz’s original intentions–“he was an emissary of pity, and science, and progress” – his weakness when Marlow discovers him–and the misty haze surrounding his crimes–Conrad is able to make his philosophical point. The film, with its visual emphasis, its spectacle, suspense, and drama, is led, inevitably, to make a strong but different–and, we think–less universal  statement.
August 12, 2010. Forward News Service.

Cleaning Lady discovers 2.7 trillion at Federal Reserve; Bernanke confirms U.S. Woes at an end.

At approximately 4.00 p.m. yesterday, Mrs. Rosa Jardineri, a member of the maintenance staff at the Federal Reserve Bank stumbled upon a hidden cache of cash in a seldom used storage room adjacent to the Caretakers’ Lounge. Officials called to the scene confirmed that approximately 2.7 trillion dollars in U.S. banknotes had inadvertently been placed on a skid destined for the Central Cleaning supplies storage area.
U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke, scarcely able to conceal his surprise and delight, announced that U.S. economic woes could now be considered a thing of the past, and that new Economic Forecasts would soon be forthcoming.

President Obama, informed of the good news, expressed relief that the onerous burden formerly borne by drunken sailors, could now be shouldered entirely by his Administration.
August 12, 2010.  Forward News Service

Man-Made climate Change is complete Fraud: IPCC Chairman

In a stunning announcement at the Prestigious Summit for Climate Change Conference in GlacierMelt Iowa, Dr. H.A. Igotcha revealed that the link between human activity and Climate Change had been asserted on the basis of false data, and that the projections for future change, and the dire consequences to follow, have been made using computer modelling techniques similar to those employed to predict the extinction of human duplicity, and the conversion of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Judaism.

“The evidence is incontrovertible,” said Dr. Igotcha, “and we confidently predict that the consensus of the vast majority of scientists in the field will, in due course, regard this matter as a huge joke played on a gullible public. The University of East Anglia, so prominent in the scam, has been shown to be the creation of a particularly ingenious group of patients at the West Norwich Psychiatric Facility, locally known as the Norwich Nutters Farm.”
“Of course,” he continued, “we very much regret the inconvenience and alarm that this elaborate fraud has caused; on the other hand we take solace in the fact that we can now continue to study the vast subject of climate change on a realistic, rather than fanciful basis.”

Canadian response to this announcement has so far been muted. Reporters from Forward News who attempted to contact Dr. David Suzuki in his underground bunker several miles below the CBC building in downtown Toronto, were told that the well-known scientist had recently returned from a fact-finding mission at the LCBO, and was unlikely to be able to comment for the foreseeable future.
Happily Ever After            (August 10, 2010)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that human beings are territorial creatures and seek nothing more earnestly than a plot of land, a space, a structure that they can call home. This territorial nature is observed in many animals, and so we speculate that the roots are powerful and deep. As Joseph Conrad noted: "Few men realize that their life, the very essence of their character, their capabilities and their audacities, are only the expression of their belief in the safety of their surroundings"–and perhaps there is a relationship between ownership and a sense of safety that allows for the confident expression of capability, and accounts for the territorial instinct.

Given the importance of “homership”–it is not surprising that it is a significant focus in television programming. We can watch Sarah remodeling and decorating her house (or cottage, or farmhouse), Jeff Lewis flipping out, Mike Holmes, indignant, puritanical, making things right, Jim Caruk raking in the renobucks, Brian Baeumler building his dream, and teams of amateur renovators competing for maximum profit. There are programs dealing with the problems of sellers, the strategies for creating income, and the bang-for-buck assessments of renovation projects. There are programs about staging, the challenges of design, competing real estate agents, and therapists-cum-renovators.

But the cleverest shows–well–to be more accurate–the ones to which we are most addicted– are those take the subject--the territorial instinct-–and marry it with the narrative power of the quest, the challenge of the detective story, and the unlikely promise of the fairy tale. We refer, of course, to programs such as House Hunters, House Hunters International, Property Virgins, Relocation, Relocation.

In these programs, a young couple–or a middle-aged couple–or a family–or two friends–or a single person–are shown on a quest for their territory. Almost invariably –Relocation–a longer British program is the exception–the questers are shown three (a magic number) properties from which they may make their choice.
The viewer is presented with the detective story challenge: given what we have seen of the questers–and their possible choices–which property will they choose? The programs do not, it must be said, always play fair. When the seekers with four dogs, two cats and a small pony choose the house with the smallest yard, we discover that–a carefully kept secret–there is a large Park with extensive Pony Trails, a large patch of catnip, and a dog-minding service-- just across the street.

But hey, who said life was fair?

But we feel the most important element in these programs is that of the fairy tale. The holy grail, with its convenient animal park, wonderful French village life, or magnificent views of a Nicaraguan beach has been found. We are shown the seekers, cups raised, revelling in their newfound, appropriately furnished digs. But that’s it.

We never discover that the animal park is subsequently closed as a hazardous toxic waste site, the Nicaraguan idyll is subject to periodic break-ins, and French village life, after a time--so replete with French villagers--begins to pall. We never learn of the subsequent roof collapse, the serious foundation problems, or the marriage breakdown when one of the partners integrates more completely than expected with some of the wonderful new local friends.

Ah no. You see, it’s “happily ever after.”

Saturday, August 7, 2010.

(Special to the Hamilton Observer)

At a press conference held today at the Lumpenbangen Piano Institute, Dr. Idel Dreimer, the President and Chief Composer firmly refuted rumours that the famed Institute was about to close its doors because of weak sales and declining revenues in a sluggish economy.

Wearing the traditional burka which he customarily adopts as a security measure in all public appearances, Dr. Dreimer, while admitting that recent sales had not been up to expectations, said that this was not a factor in the sudden disappearance of website entries, unanswered phone calls, and the neglected appearance of the Lumpenbangen Studio Building over the past week.

“These matters can all be explained,” he said, “by a sudden betrayal by our immune system while at Wind-in-the-Pines. The system, which had functioned with admirable reliability throughout the cold and assaultive winter months, suddenly went into a Phase I Breakdown and allowed a common Cold Virus to attack our Respiratory System.

Under the circumstances, it seemed preferable to continue at Wind-in-the-Pines for the duration of the attack; hence, much Lumpenbangen business faltered as our overworked skeleton staff attempted to deal with the regular workload.
This emergency has given rise to two new priorities: (a) We are undertaking a beefing up of our skeleton staff with less bony and more lively and well-rounded entities.

(b) We are seeking full indemnification under the Factory Immune System Warranty. The System, a highly desirable Airflow AB1935, developed under license from a Major Automobile Manufacturer, has been well maintained and serviced according to the terms of the Warranty; we anticipate a full recovery of all costs associated with the Phase I Breakdown.”

Pleading the need to attend to urgent business of the Institute, Dr. Dreimer refused to answer any questions, including those about the long awaited Youtube Video, and technical problems reputed to be plaguing the new Lumpenbangen laptop computer.
Being a lengthy dissertation on the origin of the name “Wind-in-the-Pines.”              (August 4, 2010)

We must admit that any name containing three hyphens may be accused of a soupçon of pretentiousness. Even the single hyphens in Amanda Forsythe-Jones, or Smedley Thurgood-Winterspoon conjure the notion of a somewhat determined-- if not actually desperate-- flight from the ranks of the ordinary to the echelons of the exceptional and the privileged.

Wind-in-the-Pines is a modest nine-room secondary residence which was built to replace a small cabin--circa 1943–situated on a generous lot on an inferior lake some distance north of the Toronto megalopolis. But, in spite of the temptingly easy psychological analysis–that insecurity and compensatory aspirations are at the root of its name–we must hasten to protest such a facile application of fashionable Freudian foolishness.

The original name for the property, High Pine Point, had become unsuitable, partly because the high pine had been ignominiously felled in a windstorm. There was also the not inconsiderable difficulty that the point in question was actually on a neighbouring property.

One of our first thoughts for the name was Folly`s End –a name which had appeal because of its double meaning. The cottage could be regarded as a place of sanity, a place where folly had finally been banished–or–quite the opposite–the end result of folly--a place which served as a warning–a cautionary tale about building modest nine-room secondary residences on an inferior lakes north of megalopolises.

We did consider, briefly, Into My Own –the title of a poem by Robert Frost. In that poem, the narrator speaks of stealing away into a forest that “stretched away unto the edge of doom,” and, if overtaken by those who might miss him, he would be found, unchanged–“only more sure of all I thought was true.” Thus the cottage would be a place of affirmation–a place where one's gloomy perceptions of reality could be justified, deepened, and enhanced.


On reflection, we concluded that the literary reference would be lost on 99 and 44/100ths of the population–pure and untainted by any more than a passing acquaintance with the name of Robert Frost. What is the point of showing off one's literary knowledge if no one knows that applause is in order?

The very best name–Firefly–had, regrettably, already been taken–by that rascal Noel Coward–for his place in Jamaica. It surpasses in quality by a considerable margin names such as Pine Haven, or the perennially popular Rest-a-While and its Scottish counterpart Bide-a-Wee. Indeed, we cannot overstate the brilliance of the name. The firefly is a brief, evanescent glow in the surrounding dark, like the sudden glint of a jewel--momentarily struck by a shaft of sunlight--in a hidden cave, or a transitory spark of animation, perception, or intelligence in a blind, chaotic universe. A place called Firefly must always be a conjurer–drawing from the air the sad and equal notes of brevity and muted fire.

We confess we wished to replicate some of the connotations of Firefly. “Who has seen the wind?”–goes Christina Rosetti’s poem–“Neither you nor I: / But when the trees bow down their heads / The wind is passing by.” W.O. Mitchell, of course, took the title for his book about a young boy’s introduction to the mysteries of life–and death.

The cottage is surrounded by very tall pines, and the wind, while itself invisible, is audible as the trees sway. The wind has something of mystery about it–it is manifest in sight and sound–but is still elusive, like a suddenly appearing spirit, a deus behind the machina, which plays its rôle and then vanishes into stillness. The cottage, too is transitory and impermanent, but symbolic of an evanescent spirit, like the glow of fireflies, like the glint of a jewel, like the spark of animation and intelligence in an extraordinary universe.

And anyway, something --preferably with a lot of hyphens--had to be done to distinguish the place from the original primitive cabin, and the rather inferior lake on which it sits.


Rejoice! Rejoice!      (July 29, 2010)

The Saturday, July 24 edition of the Globe and Mail shows a smiling family on page A9: Mohammed Haydara, Julie Thibodeau, and their son, Souleymane Haydara. They are smiling because of a legal victory in a Quebec Superior Court.

It appears that Souleymane was one of twelve boys picked for a regional basketball team, and his parents paid $500 towards tournament costs. Subsequently, the coach, Jean-Francois Caron, decided that another player, who was injured during the tryouts, would be a better choice. Souleymanye was out.
The judge decided: “The decision to cut Souleymayne, although taken in good faith, constitutes a real injustice for Souleymayne”–and ordered him back on to the team.

Right thinking citizens everywhere should rejoice at this ruling, since it shows that the legal system can be brought to bear in virtually any matter. Although heretofore we may have expressed some skepticism about the dawning of a Brave New World, we have at last been convinced. A quiet joy is replacing our former discontent. In the future, we have no doubt that twists of fate, reversals of fortune, unfortunate episodes, crushed expectations, will gradually be eliminated, and nirvana will be achieved. Who would have thought that it would all start with a Quebec Superior Court Judge?
Mercy Killing                      (July 28, 2010)

Many, many, many years ago–when I was about nine–it almost predates recorded history–a schoolfriend and I encountered, by the roadside, a frog that had suffered a severe trauma and was certain to die. I do not remember the content of the conversation, or who actually took the rock and killed the frog. Being fairly squeamish, I suspect that it was not I--but what I do remember was the complete and utter conviction on the part of both of us that, as horrible as it was, killing the frog was absolutely the correct thing to do.

Frogs are not, of course, human beings, and we like to think that human life is “sacred”–in the sense that only “God” should take it. Of course, we make exceptions in time of war, or when the state decides it is appropriate. But the capacity to hold two contradictory opinions at the same time is extraordinarily useful, and one can sympathize with the desire to make killing people something that one does not undertake lightly.

In fiction, the example of mercy killing that I remember occurs in the poem David, by Earle Birney–although it might be more properly considered assisted suicide. David has been severely injured in a mountain climbing fall, and, knowing how long it will take rescuers to reach him, and fearing that even if he survives he will be condemned to a wheelchair, he asks to be pushed over a precipice. Bob, his friend, complies.

This poem was written in 1942, and it strikes me that we have moved a considerable distance from the mindset of that era, and are inclined to think life in a wheelchair a minor inconvenience. A modern Bob would be incapable of pushing his friend over the cliff. (We will try to ignore the point that the CSI team would soon determine the true story, and Bob would face years in the slammer for his deed.)

The modern day, real life example, is that of Robert Latimer, who killed his severely disabled daughter, who was in constant pain, so that she would not have to go through further painful operations. Spokespeople for the disabled were outraged, seeing a refusal to see this act as infinitely worse than a gangland killing as the thin edge of the wedge which would lead to wholesale slaughter of people with limps, myopia, or speech impediments.

At the time, reference was made to a much earlier and similar case–I suspect it was in the 1940's–or earlier–in which public opinion was entirely sympathetic to the perpetrator.

In 1997, however, Robert Latimer was found guilty of second degree murder and sentenced to prison with no chance of parole for ten years. A poll conducted in 1999 showed that 73% of respondents believed he should have had a more lenient sentence.

In the most recent (July 20) case of Robert Semrau, the captain was found not guilty of murder in killing an already fatally wounded Taliban soldier. However, Brigadier-General Denis Thompson, commander of Task Force Kandahar at the time of the incident, has recommended Semrau be discharged from the army, and that such conduct is “completely unacceptable.”

These matters represent a clash between ideals–the perfect world we would like to have– represented by the laws we make in the expectation that they will apply to every eventuality–and the real world in which what is “right” is uncertain, and clouded by unique and difficult elements. Over time, it seems to me, we have become less forgiving, and less realistic. It is human nature, perhaps, to hold others to a higher standard than we hold ourselves. It is also, we suspect, human nature to refuse to look reality head on, and take refuge in the world of theory, no matter that the suffering of some in the Procrustean bed of the Ideal is manifestly unjust.


Universal Health Care.               (July 22, 2010)

Most relationships–we are tempted to say ALL relationships-- involve an imbalance of power. The imbalance may be relatively unimportant, or extremely important. In many commercial transactions, the customer, or buyer, may be considered to have more power than the seller. The customer chooses where to spend his money; if he is dissatisfied with service or product, he can spend his money elsewhere. The pressure is on the seller to improve his product or service, or face a declining business or bankruptcy.

On occasion, the seller has more power than the buyer. In a real estate market of rising prices, the seller may have greater power than the buyer, because of the scarcity and desirability of his product.

In relationships between government and the individual, the government has more power. “You can’t fight city hall” is less a hypothesis than an observation borne of experience. Not only does the government have powers of fining and incarceration to impose its will on the populace, it has the advantage of scarcity: one cannot choose government services better than, or different from, those which are offered. Take it or leave it.

And this, we would maintain, is the chief problem with the much vaunted, highly praised Universal Health Care System.

The system is run by Government, in collusion with Doctors, to provide a certain standard of service for an entire population. While doctors are, in some sense, private business owners, their freedoms are severely curtailed by government regulation, and by the fact that their income is derived, not directly from patients, but from government. We might note that landlords are similarly, but to a lesser extent, co-opted into providing their services according to government regulation.

To some extent, we may see this as a good thing. Is it not comforting to know that your doctor is dispensing approved medications, and that your landlord cannot raise the rent without government approval?

It seems, however, legitimate to question whether the benefits exceed the disadvantages. In the case of landlords, forcing them to become agents of the state may be politically popular among tenants, but not conducive to the building and maintaining of an adequate stock of rental units.

In the case of the Universal Health Care System, the advantage would appear to be the provision of medical care without cost to the patient, but we see it as inevitably leading to a lack of innovation, and a regrettable but inexorable tendency to force the patient into the category of a statistic.

The patient does not have the power of the customer in the free market system; instead, he is the tiny manipulable element which must fit into the inexorable, cumbersome machinery of government.

A few cursory inquiries into the availability of MRI scans revealed that there are no “open” (non-claustrophobic) machines in Ontario, and the wait times often stretch into months. Open machines are available in the United States, and appointments can be made within days.

As a customer, are you dissatisfied with your doctor? Is he not explaining things to you? Well, frankly, he doesn’t have the time. If you were paying him at the end of the consultation, he might show a little more interest – but as things stand now–his cheque comes from the government–and that is where his loyalty lies. Those government forms are critically important, after all.

Perhaps you’d like to find another doctor–why certainly–just knock on the door down the hall or try the Yellow Pages. The scarcity element applies here, as with every other government service.

The attempt to divorce Health care from ordinary economic reality may seem like a noble enterprise, but it is doomed to failure. The horror of inequality lurks– but we should not be deluded that the Universal system provides that anyway. We have often noted the advantages of those within the system, those with connections, those of prominence in society, and those with the wealth to go elsewhere.

We think it is time to grow up, face the music, and allow for the purchase of private insurance, and the provision of a private system.
Who Writes those Crappy Sermons at the National Post?   ( July 18, 2010)

Part I

First, we would like to say that we think the National Post is a wonderful newspaper. It provides, in general, a refreshing change from the typical Canadian CBC/Socialist view of the world–that world in which Canada is defined by its nirvana qualities: its peacekeeping, its universal healthcare, its multiculturalism, its smug anti-Americanism, its Suzukiism, its Human Rights Commissions.

Consider the writers and columnists: Robert Fulford, George Jonas, Lorne Gunter, Lawrence Solomon, Terence Corcoran, Peter Foster, Rex Murphy, Barbara Kay, Marni Soupcoff, Jonathan Kay, David Frum...and we are certain to have left out several others. In addition, we are able to read interesting imports such as Christopher Hitchens and Clifford May...there are really too many to list.

These writers, we think, are distinguished by their challenging skepticism–whether it be with respect to climate change, the equality industry, religion, or any number of appropriate follies.
We do see, three days a week, the Hamilton Spectator, which is, essentially, The Toronto Star run through a Steel Mill. We have been given to understand that our grandfather would not allow a copy of The Star in his house. We have always marvelled at the breathtaking hypocrisy of The Star: using the appeal of working-man socialist values in order to make pots of capitalist money.

It has been so long since we have read the Globe and Mail, that we are in no position to comment. We have the vague notion that The Star is like the older brother who still works on the shop floor, while The Globe is the younger sibling, who has similar views, but has had the advantage of a University education.
Part II

We have long held that illusion is rather more necessary than truth, and so, while the National Post is often skeptical, it is somewhat, but not hugely surprising that it maintains, in its editorials at least, a strong pro-religion stance.

On Saturday, July 10, the editorial God and the Charter argues in favour of the affirmation in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms: “Canada is founded upon the principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.”

The first argument adduced is that the idea of the “supremacy of God...reflects a historical fact.”
The writer notes that the institutions of religion are part and parcel of our history–from the “French explorers and Jesuit missionaries to the British institutions of Crown-in-Parliament.”

While this is undoubtedly true, we are not sure that elements of the past are always appropriate as elements of the present or future. Pemmican, outhouses, and public hangings are also part of our past–but we are not sure that they should be accorded reverential treatment. And God, you see, is somewhat–how shall we put it–protean. Are we speaking here of the jealous, petty, unjust and vengeful God of the Old Testament, or the one who cares about the fall of a sparrow? Is this the God for whom thousands were tortured and burned at the stake, or the one who inspired “The Messiah?”
The editorial goes on to argue that “Something, after all has to be supreme. And if it is not God, even understood in the broadest possible sense, then what is it? Fearsome it would be to live in the land where the works of man alone are supreme.” Yes. The broadest sense. Once again, when it comes right down to it–and while we are horrified at man’s inhumanity to man-- we cannot help but think that God’s world–the world of sunsets and lakes, birds and flowers–is also the world of volcanoes, earthquakes, species-destroying meteorites, floods, cancer, viruses, parasites and the ubiquitous, ruthless push for survival. We confess to considerable ambivalence about God’s world. Is it not Man who has attempted to make the world hospitable for himself? For the writer of this Editorial, “God” is viewed through a very selective prism. “God” is what the writer wants Him to be. (We see this as an extension of the Humpty Dumpty Principle–see weekly quotation, Feb. 5, 2010.)

The editorial concludes with the notions that “The supremacy of God and the rule of law together comprise the anti-totalitarian principle...”(this has all the compelling gravitas and conviction of an idea drawn from thin air), and smugly notes that, although the God of the Charter is undescribed, “we ought to be grateful” that it 'intuitively' points in the direction of the God of Jews and Christians.” How cosy to find one’s own God comfortably ensconced just where one would like to find Him! No uncomfortable Jovian or Glooscapian surprises here!

This editorial in the National Post is merely one among a number which are really just bad sermons, thinly disguised, and many of them–like the one from Christmas of 2009-- are hopelessly banal, blinkered, balderdash. We are almost tempted to suspect Father Raymond de Souza, who can write intelligently on many subjects. If they are his work, it is indeed a testament to the transforming power of belief–50 points dropped from the I.Q. in an instant! Perhaps one of the Editors has an out-of work clergyman as a distant and needy relative.
Part III

We repeat below our comments on the Sermon from December 24, 2009.

The Child Born in Bethlehem (December 28 2009)

It would appear that the National Post has reached a new low in meaningless Christian blather with its December 24th editorial. It would be too harrowing a task to deal in detail with this bit of delusional drivel, so let’s just take one sentence: “Every baby is good news. Lest we forget that elementary truth, Christmas reminds us.”
Well, yes, I suppose if you live in the world of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, this unthinkingly glib “feel good” sentiment is true. But what about the real world–the one in which babies are born with fetal alcohol syndrome, severe defects, or rapidly terminal diseases? What about the babies born into families that cannot afford to feed and look after them? What about babies that turn out to be serial killers? What about babies that become Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, or Pol Pot. No, not what you would think. According to the National Post, these babies are all “Good News” –and that’s an elementary truth.

The rest of the piece is pure Christian fantasy–broad statements about God being on the side of man, Jesus rescuing a groaning nature, and Jesus now uniting the divine and the human. (No reference, of course to the manifest unfairness to the nature and human beings who predated the wonderful event.) At the foot of the column is a picture of a small haloed baby –it is not a real baby, of course–but a porcelain, manufactured, kitschy representation of one–entirely appropriate to the column and the sentiments expressed therein.

In Praise of Failure.    (June 30, 2010)

We long for absolutes, and the certainty that they imply– but perhaps that very longing for certainties is a reflection of their rarity. Indeed, life is strewn with uneasy compromise, with imperfect balance.

One of the basic realities of life is that it is, at its essence, a Darwinian struggle for survival and triumph. All life is infused with a dual motive, a dual imperative: eat and avoid being eaten. The path to survival is focussed, determined-- and often ferocious and bloody. In contrast to that reality is the human aspiration for a world of equality, justice, harmony, and beauty. It is the human condition to be caught in the uneasy balance between reality and aspiration.

It is interesting to watch the pendulum swing. In recent years, we have seen society become focussed on such things as equality of outcome, avoidance of hurt feelings, the building of self esteem regardless of accomplishment, the abolition of failure. It is often difficult to quarrel with such aspirations. One is reluctant to claim to be in favour of inequality, of hurting feelings, of damaging egos, and approving of failure–even though all of these things are inevitable concomitants of human existence.

There have been two recent items in the National Post which suggest some awareness of the limits to human aspiration. The first was an excerpt from New Threats to Freedom --“The Freedom to Fail” by Michael Goodwin–published on June 16. In this excerpt, Mr. Goodwin notes the aim of “social perfectionists” –“In their vision, failure has no place in the civilized world, so they are determined to eliminate it.”

Examples of the counter-productive determination to erase failure can be seen in the attempts to support homeowners in owning homes they cannot afford, bankrupt businesses deemed ‘too big to fail,’ lazy unionized workers, and students who do not meet academic standards. There are even attempts to eliminate the notion of competition from athletic endeavour.

It will be readily apparent that these extreme attempts to erase, in individual instances, the essential Darwinian nature of life, though driven by admirable intentions, can only result, in the wider sphere, in that which they seek to avoid: failure.
Mr. Goodwin concludes with the apt remark: “Without failure how can we know success?”

Or, indeed, how can success be achieved without struggle, failure, and inequality?

A second article, by Marni Soupcoff on June 30, is entitled: Failure is Part of Life.

Ms. Soupcoff notes that when two boys were dropped from a Midget Junior A hockey team, their parents launched separate suits for $25,000, and links this extraordinary occurrence to a wider trend--especially evident in Canada: “If I’m sad, distressed or disappointed, someone else should pay.” One of the lawsuits claims that the action of the defendants “...destroyed the dignity of my son, [who] in good conscience gave his team nothing but his best efforts.”

Not too long ago, we remember reading that a significant number of students thought that good grades should be awarded for “trying hard”– an excellent way of avoiding the harsh judgment of success or failure. On this basis we should also commend the surgeon who tried hard to remove our appendix, the mechanic who tried to make the brakes work, or the lawyer who made an exceptional effort–but failed-- to discover an impediment to the title to our property.

Ms. Soupcoff ends by lamenting the Canadian tendency to depend on the state for protection from everything, –“even the sadness and frustration that are inseparable from everyday living.”

These two articles suggest that a flat note of realism may be sounding amid the ethereal harmony of impractical ideologues.
Why do people Believe in Nonsense?                (June 17, 2010)

It has been our observation that nonsense is extremely popular, and has gained the unswerving loyalty of an inordinate portion of the population. We have spent many a sleepless night wondering why this should be so. There seemed to be no plausible, sensible explanation, and we had virtually given up on the problem, when, one night, somewhere ‘twixt sleep and wake, an apparition appeared at the foot of the bed. “Who the hell are you?” we asked. The apparition placed his insubstantial finger to his lips, and said in a dry, half-whisper: “I am the ghost of skeptics past; I can help you with your problem, but you must promise to publish my insights on your website.”

“We promise, We promise,” we said, but even as the words left our lips, the ghost vanished as a mist in the sunlight, and almost immediately we fell back into a deep sleep. We do not know how long it was that we slept, but when it was still dark, we were awakened by a rustling noise, and behold, a second apparition appeared at the foot of the bed. “I am the ghost of skeptics present,” he said. “I can help you with your problem, but you must promise to check your Word Perfect files under “nonsense” in the morning.” “Of course, of course,” we said, “but could you please send in the ghost of skeptics future? We’ve read Dickens, and we’d sort of like to tidy these visits up before morning.” Immediately the ghost vanished in a puff of smoke, only to be replaced by a third apparition, who promised to add his insights to the “Nonsense” file.

As you may imagine, when we awoke the next morning we rushed to the computer, to be greeted by the following:


1. Nonsense threatens the believer.
2. Nonsense offers protection from the threat.
3. Nonsense has the backing of a group of experts or cognoscenti, or authority figures.
4. Nonsense is widely accepted by others; thus the believer partakes of tribal wisdom, and tribal comfort.
5. The belief in nonsense is flattering to the believer.
6. Belief in nonsense allows one to feel superior to and to control others.
7. Belief in the nonsense is easier than using one’s personal bullshit detector; giving in seems better, or more convenient than fighting.

We immediately decided to test the ghosts’ insights by examining three examples of nonsense to see how applicable the list might be. Because one man’s nonsense is another man’s truth, we recognize that some might strongly disagree with our examples. To this we can only say: Get a life! In the fullness of time, we will be proved to be correct.

The most obvious example of nonsense is religion. There is not a shred or iota of credible evidence for any of the religions; they are all fanciful suppositions of what might be true. The very fact that different religions have different beliefs, practices, and requirements might give the average ten-year-old a clue that the likelihood of any of them being valid is virtually zero, and that if, in fact, one of them is valid, it’s a pretty cruel joke on all the earnest believers who have, usually through no fault of their own–people tend to accept the religion of their family, or their region-- made the wrong choice. And that fact in itself is a rather negative reflection on the “winning” God.

But there are millions of believers. We remember speaking to a mechanic who worked on our old 1947 Chrysler Town and Country convertible – he had got drawn into some kind of cult which required (on threat of hellfire) a portion of his income. When we voiced our skepticism, his response was: “But what if they are right?” The same fearful thinking lay behind a question asked of an atheist in a recent CBC interview: “But what if you are wrong?”

It is our contention that fear is one of the chief elements behind belief in religion–and it would seem that many of the listed elements above are present. Religion also offers an exemption from the threat: believe in the great God Hypotheticus, support our little operation here–and get your reward later–yes, you’ll be dead, but don’t worry-- we’ve got all the rituals you need–everything will be taken care of. The message is delivered by those who dress differently, surround themselves with unusual trappings, and claim to have special knowledge. People who accept a religion get a sense of comfort and belonging-- and it also allows them a wonderful opportunity to judge and disapprove of others. It’s a lot easier to go along with the crowd than stand apart and think for oneself. The recent popularity of prominent atheists may be changing that–and it is engendering a virulent response. It was interesting to watch Rex Murphy’s recent hyperbolic diatribe against Christopher Hitchens–and Hitchens would appear to be Father Raymond de Souza’s pet bête noir.

So–that one was easy–some traditional nonsense from the past--and really it provides a template for other types of nonsense. The “science” of climate change is a current example. Despite the fact that people are aware of very great changes in the climate over the millennia–what high school student has not heard of ice ages?-- people have been more than ready to believe that an alteration in temperature over a period shorter than their own lifetimes might presage the destruction of the planet. The fear is not quite as direct and immediate as that posed by religion – the victims would be our children, or our children’s children. No effort has been spared to indoctrinate school children on this account. The message of fear is spread by people with University degrees in Science, by CBC fixtures such as David Suzuki, by people working for the United Nations. They also promise alleviation, although the certainty expressed is somewhat less than we are used to from the religionists.

The climate change bandwagon has the usual benefits: the believer can feel he is part of a “cutting edge” group, can be -- finger in the dike of public opinion-- a saviour of mankind. As with religion, a wonderful opportunity is provided to express disapprobation and moral superiority to the unconverted. And, as is always the case, it is far easier to believe with the crowd than risk tribal disapproval. The Green Clucks Klan (wearing Suzuki masks) haven’t yet started burning old beer fridges on peoples’ front lawns–but nothing would surprise us.

It may well be that man-made climate change has some basis in fact; but, in view of the fudging of results, the politicization of the matter, and the considerable appeal for the promoters concerned to reap rewards in status and cash, it seems sensible at this time to regard the matter as nonsense until credible proof can be adduced.

Finally, we would like to consider the medical profession and its view that high cholesterol is a cause of heart disease. (We can hardly refrain from mentioning also its tendency to classify lower and lower levels of cholesterol, or blood pressure, or salt intake as harmful, with the clear intent of being able to declare entire populations to be in need of medication.) Once again, if a ten-year-old child were informed that many people with high cholesterol do not suffer from heart disease, and that many who have low cholesterol do, and that studies of the elderly have shown that high cholesterol is associated with longevity, not premature mortality, it is quite likely the ten-year old would declare the medical profession’s obsession with cholesterol, and its tendency to prescribe statin drugs at every possible opportunity, to be a perfect example of nonsense. We might note the same factors are present as in the previous examples. The nonsense threatens the believer with heart disease, but holds out the hope of prevention. The message is delivered by experts in white coats. No doctor could dissent from the nonsense without becoming a pariah in his tribe, and he is genuinely convinced (by the big drug companies) that he is helping his patients by prescribing drugs for life, even though dangerous side-effects are well documented. Patients who may disagree with their doctors have an uphill battle, since they do not wish to alienate their health care providers. It’s much easier to go along with the nonsense.

There are many other forms of nonsense–extended warranties on appliances–belief that multiculturalism or human rights commissions are good things–the belief that equality of outcomes is achievable–that human beings are born good–these may all share the listed characteristics to lesser degree.

We realize that some of our readers may dispute our three main designations above. We think it only fair to inform you that The Lumpenbangen Institute has obtained a sophisticated new technology from Apple which allows us to detect your skepticism, and deliver harmful, withering lumpenrays directly to your cerebral cortex. Our team of bio-magnetic induction specialists and electro-molecular transmission neurologists is standing by to deploy these rays at a moment’s notice. We can selectively inhibit the system for a modest series of monthly payments.


Letter to Maclean's, in response to their stated position in favour of the niquab.  (June 14, 2010)

I was most surprised to see  (Good News June 21) that Maclean's thinks that it should be the choice of a woman to shield her appearance for religious reasons--whether on the street, at work, or in dealing with civil servants. Such practice runs counter to the traditions of this country, where it is considered important to be identifiable.


I assume that Maclean's position is not gender-specific, and it would regard with equanimity the claim of men --for religious reasons, of course--to go similarly masked?
Letter not sent to Father Raymond de Souza concerning a column in the National Post (June 10), comparing Hawking and Hitchens. (June 13, 2010.)

Re: Physics vs. metaphysics: Isn’t it a bit of a stretch to use Hawking to beat up on Hitchens? Particularly when the Hitchens you use is a straw man. You quote Hitchens as saying “Religion has run out of justification...it no longer offers an explanation of anything important.” But surely that is not the same as saying that there is no mystery. There is a mystery–but speculating on it, while fascinating–isn’t terribly helpful. The problem-- as I see it --is that theists take the mystery, explain it by using the word “God” and then proceed to speculate on the nature of God...without evidence, of course, and using selected inferences from the nature of reality. It will hardly have escaped your notice that there is a completely dishonest trick at the heart of this–using the word “God” does not solve the problem of why anything exists...we are still left with the vexing question of where God came from. In other words, the human mind, so bound to the notion of cause and effect, is not capable of dealing with the problem.

You state that wisdom is not possible without a “compelling” answer to the question of why there is something instead of nothing–and for you, I assume, that is the “personal God of Abrahamic revelation whose creative love is the answer...” What is compelling for some is repelling to others. You identify God with “creative love” – but you obviously do not live on a planet on which life is only maintained at the expense of other life, a planet subject to the chaotic forces of flood, hurricane, volcano, earthquake, and meteoric intrusion, a planet of viruses, bacteria, deadly parasites and cancer, a planet on which spiders eat their mates, a planet in which the comfortable distinction between man and other living creatures has been erased, and hence, also, man’s “special place” in God’s hierarchy.

No, you live on some other planet altogether.

As a side note, it has always impressed me how free William Shakespeare (or whoever wrote the plays) was from the Christian cant of his era. Doubtless you would consider him lacking in wisdom–but the statements such as “[Life] is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” – or “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport” – these seem far more resonant of reality than the comfy notion of “creative love.”

There is no doubt that religion can provide a comforting myth to those troubled by the realities of existence. But it also dangerous because it allows for the justification of the authoritarian impulse–less visible now than heretofore in Christianity, but amply evidenced by militant Islam. (How can anyone actually be comfortable in a religion so irretrievably damned by the Inquisition?) That’s one of the big troubles with the belief in things that aren’t true–they cannot be proved–but nor can they be disproved–and thus provide an unassailable weapon for those who claim knowledge of “God’s wishes.” This is creating something out of nothing indeed.

Doubtless you find the atheism of Christopher Hitchens annoying. But you might consider how atheists feel about the sort of smug condescension of columns like yours of June 10, in which you claim the superiority of “wisdom” for those who speculate, and make up fairy tales about the unknowable, as opposed to those who try to find out as much about the real world as is humanly possible. I’ve heard that humility is good for the soul.


Bull and Bear             June 6, 2010.

Oh tell me, tell me, market true
Is this a bull to boast or bear to rue?
Are you prancing and bucking to crash the gate,
Or shuffling off to hibernate?
Is this dip a brief correction,
Or a definite step in the downward direction?
Are our fortunes all poised for a giddying rise,
Or perched on the edge of a messy demise?
Oh tell me, tell me, market true,
Is this a bull to boast or bear to rue?

Justin Bieber (May 24, 2010)

No memory of having starred
Atones for later disregard...
Provide, Provide!

                  --Robert Frost, Provide, Provide!

O pity the singer, the young Justin Bieber,
Who basks in the glow of a pop star fever;
Little he knows that though life can be charmed,
No one gets through it completely unharmed.
Indeed, we’ve observed in the very long range,
The only true constant is unceasing change!
Monday’s lark darling
Is Tuesday’s drab starling;
A lad bright and perky
(Though you may say, “Surely not!”
And “That’s absolute rot!”)
Can morph to a turkey!
How not to get lost
When gold turns to dross,
And dreams must be tossed?

Consider, my lad, the wisdom (Provide, provide!) of old Robert Frost:
Secure your life lot
With a real estate plot;
It’s really quite fine to get rather fond o’
A block of swish flats or a waterfront condo;
Or–life’s road of rude shocks
Can be cushioned with stocks;
Diamonds and gold
Are good things to hold–
And bonds have been known
To ease many a groan.
In short–avoid the old rue
Of the “too good to be true.”
Take this advice, though you think you don’t need it--
(And most people think it’s not possible to heed it.)

Primer on Political Correctness and Acceptable Opinion  (May 8, 2010)

It has recently come to our attention that there is, throughout our fair land, a considerable puzzlement over the matter of Political Correctness. The chief complaint seems to be that it is a subject on which there is insufficient clarity: people wish to know exactly what it is, and how they can acquire the requisite amount. There is much dissatisfaction with the circumstance that there are no courses offered at Institutions of Public Education, no privately offered instructions at reasonable cost, and indeed, no lectures or materials provided at the Public Libraries so that ordinary working Canadian families can achieve their legitimate Political Correctness Goals.

In order to fill this abysmal void, we have considered it only appropriate that we offer the following material in the time-honoured spirit of public service and private sacrifice.

1. Racism.

Racism is a morally reprehensible error. It consists of considering individuals as members of a cultural or ethnic group, and prejudging them on the basis of characteristics often applied to that group. Example: That Australovenian pig! He's wearing a babooshka and getting drunk on potato wine again!

Exceptions: I. A comment which focuses on a perceived positive ethnic or cultural characteristic is not considered racism: (a) Fair Comment: The Australovenians are a kind, fun-loving people, much given to drinking their native potato wine and dressing up in their colourful babooshkas for dances that last into the morning hours.
(b) Racism: The Australovenians are a lazy, self-indulgent lot, drinking and carousing until all hours, regardless of the needs of their neighbours who have to get to work the next morning.

II. Some groups are exempt; comments which, if applied to certain groups would be considered racist, are not if applied to others. (a) Fair Comment: The Scots are stingy; the English are stuck up; Americans are loud and obnoxious.
(b) Racism: The Austrolevenians are stingy, stuck up, loud, and obnoxious.

III. Government sponsored racism is perfectly acceptable. Affirmative action hiring policies favouring blacks, browns, albinos, aboriginals, and so forth, are NOT racism. Neither is the fact that whites, greens or purples are being discriminated against as a result.

2. Other Group characterizations.

Any disadvantaged or officially victimized group is considered to be morally pure and blameless in any situation. On the contrary, any group officially considered advantaged or successful is afflicted with a deep moral rot which can never be expunged. A few examples should be enough to allow a derivation of the general principles, and hence application to other particular situations.

(a) Tenants are invariably honest, straightforward, and of impeccable moral character; their claims do not require evidence of any kind. Landlords are the scum of the earth, and should not be believed under any circumstances.

(b) Complainants to Human Rights Commissions are invariably correct; the accused are, without exception, corrupt and guilty.

( c ) Women are incapable of error; men are inherently flawed.

(d) Wealthy people are morally corrupt: they could only have become wealthy through devious, underhand means, and through the oppression of the poor. The poor are, essentially, saints whose unfortunate situation arises chiefly from their oppression by the wealthy.

(e) Children are born good and, if allowed free rein, will grow up to be good and noble citizens – probably poor and oppressed tenants making legitimate complaints to Human Rights Commissions. If they do not turn out this way, it is because they have been corrupted by society, or criticized unjustly during their formative years.

(f) Alcoholics and drug addicts. See (e) above.

3. Victimhood. All victims are, by definition, unfairly so, and are deserving of compensation and promotion. The chief aim of every citizen should be to attain victim status.

Victim status will allow, among other perks, successful complaints to Human Rights Commissions. Hurt feelings, obesity, sexual orientation, inability to focus, drug addiction, propensity to violence, membership in the Society of Ordinary Working Canadians, or qualification as member of any other designated victim group may well turn out to be the keys to a well-deserved success.

We hope that the above will enable hitherto puzzled citizens to grasp more fully the concepts of Political Correctness and Acceptable Opinion, and that such understanding will soon lead to a greater harmony and feelings of goodwill throughout our favoured land.

April 28, 2010.

Luc Cagadoc, a seven year old Filipino student in Montreal, appealed to the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal because he was repeatedly reprimanded for disrupting other diners at his school for “eating like a pig” –apparently using a Filipino style eating technique using fork and spoon to “slurp” food into his mouth.

In its infinite Wisdom, the Tribunal awarded Luc’s family $17,000 for racial and ethnic prejudice.

This is the end result of the idealistic notion that all cultures are equal, and that those from other countries must be accommodated when their cultures conflict with Canadian culture. On such grounds, of course honour killings and female circumcision are just fine by us.

The practical reality–which, of course, no one will ever refer to for fear of being accused of bigotry, racism, and plain nastiness-- is that it is prudent, when attempting to live in a foreign culture, to make some attempt to adapt to that culture. Everyone prefers his own culture, but, it is sensible to realize that you will not be admired for the ways in which you reject the habits and customs of another country to which you have moved and in which you have decided to live. Being somewhat non-conformist ourselves, we are are somewhat reluctant to trumpet the virtues of conformity. On the other hand, we have always recognized the practical reality: there is a price to pay for not fitting in, and this cost should be considered.  We have long held that the idea of multiculturalism is patently stupid; it can only be divisive.  The more that this idealistic notion is forced, the greater the eventual backlash will be. Idealistic notions may temper tribal emotions; but they will never overcome them.

There are many other things that can be said about this absurd case, including linking it to other absurd undertakings of our Human Rights Commissions; but the National Post editorial (April 27) does an admirable job.
Euthanasia vs. Suffering                     (April 23, 2010)

We have long been an enthusiastic and cheerful advocate of euthanasia. Our temperament is such that gloom is the norm. Eeyore was the character in The House at Pooh Corner with whom we felt the most sympathy. We are not much enamoured of life when healthy; we imagine it to be significantly less attractive when ill or facing imminent demise.

It was interesting, therefore, to read three letters in the National Post from those who seem to be cheerful and enthusiastic advocates of suffering. One, a resident of Newmarket, recounts the near-death party thrown by a recently deceased friend, who attended himself via ambulance. “He showed us how to live and die with class,” the writer burbles, and contrasts the fun time that was had by all with the less attractive option of legalized suicide.

Another writer, from Oakville, sees suffering as having a “redemptive” quality. “In suffering and dying with dignity, we can teach others to live with dignity–something our secular society has no wish to dwell upon.” Huh? Well–we guess you had to be there. Not sure we want to suffer in order to show people how dignified we can be at it.

The third writer, from Thornhill, says: “Watching our loved ones suffer is never easy. Yet suffering has a purpose. If euthanasia was granted, nothing would have been gained and a great deal lost.” We hate to be picky, but this sounds unsatisfactorily vague. What, then, exactly IS the purpose of suffering, and what exactly would be lost without it? Pain and misery? We suspect this letter, like the one before, is informed by a primarily religious (Puritan/punitive) view of life.
To believe these three letters, one would think a certain pity would be appropriate for those who die quietly in their sleep, expire suddenly from a heart attack, or exit quickly being run over by a bus. Aw shucks! No suffering! Bummer!

To each his own. These writers see suffering as inspiring, uplifting, educative and purposeful. We sincerely hope that each of these writers is able to experience the duration and intensity of suffering which they deem to be appropriate. We have to say, given their positive views of suffering, we are not terribly comfortable with the idea of their having access to pets or small defenseless children.

Back to reality. As a subsequent letter writer notes–-these Pollyannas are missing the point. Their view is their view. They should not be allowed to impose it on others who may disagree with them.

Our view: let those who find suffering uplifting, purposeful, beneficially punitive and educational suffer all they want. Let the Eeyores of the world accumulate a useful stash of sleeping pills, or otherwise choose the time of their dying.


The Messiness Principle, Part II

(The application of logical and sensible solutions to human affairs is bound to be confounded by the perversity of human nature.) (April 22, 2010)

The recent Catholic sex abuse scandal, for atheists, simply reinforces the notion that the Catholic Church--like any other organization of human beings–has no magic which protects it from the effects of human frailty and human error. It’s an interesting organization based on an unprovable hypothesis-- it has an excellent mastery of the art of mumbo-jumbo--and doubtless provides solace to those who require a comforting answer to the mystery of existence–even though the answer isn’t true.

It is tempting for the atheist to focus entirely on the “isn’t true” aspect of religion, and say that we would all be better off without the absurdities into which religious belief can lead us–from suicide bombings to suicide prohibition. In The National Post (April 17) Robert Fulford draws attention to the suggestion of Jurgen Habermas, a German philosopher, that societies may function best when they have religious traditions they can draw on. He also refers to Lionel Tiger’s God’s Brain, which argues that faith or religion is a natural product of the brain’s development–the brain is “more comfortable believing than doubting.”

While it may be true that belief is “natural,” and that there may be some positive benefits to religion, we think that the “laissez-faire” approach is fraught with danger–surely the history of religion so far should be enough for significant trepidation.

What we have, we think, is another example of the “messiness” principle. It seems sensible to root out religion on the grounds that it is untrue, and destructive; but suppose it is untrue, and necessary–or at least–almost necessary for a great number of people? Or suppose it is untrue–but, on balance, it’s “better” to pretend it is?

Joseph Conrad dealt with this very problem in Heart of Darkness. A brief recap of the most essential parts of the plot: Marlow travels to Africa seeking Kurtz the legendary ivory trader. Kurtz was a man who impressed with his eloquence: he was “an emissary of pity, and science, and progress.” He had written an idealistic and compelling report for the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs. But Kurtz's experience in the jungle takes its toll--he himself is overtaken by "savage customs." When Marlow finally finds Kurtz, he is dying, there are human “heads drying on ... stakes” under his windows, and at the end of his report are scrawled the words:  “Exterminate all the brutes!” As he dies, Kurtz, apparently in a final moment of self-knowledge, exclaims: “The horror! The Horror!”
At the end of the novel, Marlow, who detest lies –“there is a taint of death, a flavour of mortality in lies”–meets Kurtz’s fiancée, his “Intended” (she is a symbol of Kurtz’s intentions). She asks about Kurtz’s last words, and Marlow replies: “The last word he pronounced was – your name.”

Marlow knows the truth, and “the horror" is an accurate summation of the situation– but he cannot reveal it to the Intended–who is too idealistic, he feels, to deal with reality. In spite of the “flavour of mortality” in lying, Marlow lies. The title of the novel is Heart of Darkness. The darkness is not in the middle of Africa, in the appeal of savagery, or in Kurtz’s descent into madness, but, rather, in the lie that Marlow tells at the end of the novel. More precisely, it is the NECESSITY of the lie that constitutes the 'Heart of Darkness.'

Now, is this not the same Messiness principle? Lying is a bad thing, a terrible thing, and should be avoided. But the world is built, not on reality, but on the sustaining of lies. Is this also true of religion? Is it a lie, but a necessary one?

If so, like Conrad, we would characterize life as  possessing a "heart of darkness.”

In other places on this site, we have advocated that, if religion must be retained, that it be relegated to a limited and private aspect of existence. Yet even this may involve the Messiness principle. Could it be that religion relegated to the arena of quaint ceremony, with a message no stronger than that of an Old Wives’ Tale, is insufficient to provide the comfort of a powerful all-encompassing belief? Is it simply in the nature of religion to require a strength of belief which inevitably causes militancy and destruction?

The fact that Christianity seems to have lost much–but not all-- of its destructive influence, gives some cause for hope. Radical Islam?
The “FO” Letter.              (April 16, 2010)

For some years, it has been our habit to send letters of complaint. We do this for a number of reasons. First, we usually complain when we are angry, and when we are angry, our capacity for complaining orally in a coherent fashion is dramatically diminished. Second, we think that a letter gives a certain gravitas to our complaint. We do not just pick up the phone and yell: we write out our thoughts, and mail them in. Finally, it is always interesting to get the “FO” letter in return.

We usually write to the head of the organization–we feel that writing to the lower levels is rather a waste of time. The letter may be conveniently filed in the waste bin; as well, the letter writer is not usually up to the job, and we have to write another letter to the President or CEO to complain about the incompetence of his employees. We are under no illusions that the Head Honcho will actually read our letter; but we think it likely that it will be redirected appropriately, and is unlikely to end up in the trash.

We remember once we did get a letter from a bank President, indicating that our letter had been received, and that it would be dealt with by Ms. Jenkins (sometimes it’s Ms. Peabody) of the FO department.

Now, there’s an art to the FO letter. The first thing the recipient of the complaint must do is to pretend to be delighted. Thus the Bank President referred to above is likely to say something like:

Dear Dr. Dreimer:

Thank you for taking the time to bring to our attention some of the difficulties you have been experiencing. It was certainly unfortunate that you burst into flames at our Main Street Branch while discussing our policy of selecting Sundays, Saturdays, and public holidays as due dates for Visa payments, thereby ensuring that a certain slack-jawed and woolly-minded proportion of our customer base, who rely on mailed payments will not realize there is no mail delivery on the due dates, and find their late payments are subject to outrageous penalties.

We do hope you are recovering well in the Burn Unit.

I have forwarded your letter to Ms. Jenkins, of the FO Department; she will be in touch with you shortly.

Thank you again for apprising us of your concerns.

Yours truly,

Head Honcho

The FO letter itself, must also pretend gratitude to the complainant. The successful FO letter can take a purely congratulatory but passive and completely non-committal approach. The main idea is, of course, to get the complainant to feel good, to stop complaining, and go away, allowing the bureaucratic system to function in the best interests of the bureaucrats, as it always has.

Thus, Ms. Jenkins’ letter might read as follows:

Dear Dr. Dreimer:

Mr. Honcho has forwarded your letter of April 1, 2010, to my Department.

We are certainly pleased that you have taken time from what I am sure is a very busy day, to voice your concerns. We at the International Thumbscrew, Kneecap, Savings and Loan Bank can only improve service to our loyal customers, such as yourself, if we keep attuned to their needs of the moment and attempt to anticipate their needs in the future.

Of course, you can be assured that the Visa payment due dates are never deliberately set on days on which the bank is not open for business, and on which mail is not delivered.  How this could ever have happened, is a complete mystery.

I will be bringing this matter up at the next meeting of the Thumbscrew and Kneecap Policy Directive Committee.

Thank you again, so much for your input. I do hope you will soon be out of Intensive Care, and on your way to a complete recovery.

Yours truly,

Ms. Jenkins

(Chief Administrator, FO Department)

The second approach to the FO letter is a bit more edgy, and more complicated. In addition to expressing gratitude, making the complainant feel important, and not committing to anything, an attempt is made to suggest that the complainant is also an incompetent dolt, completely out of his depth in dealing with matters that are too complex for the unwashed. There is also an attempt to suggest that he is the only one who has ever complained about the matter at hand: all other customers are either ecstatic, or repositories of quiet, bovine approbation.

Dear Dr. Dreimer:

We certainly appreciate your taking the time to voice your concerns; we always welcome customer feedback.

I hope you are aware that it is not necessary for branches of International Thumbscrew, Kneecap Savings and Loan to be open for you to make your necessary Visa payments. Many of our customers, who can afford to own a computer, pay via electronic transaction. Others can make deposits at our handy automated Teller Machines. We also keep a small flock of homing pigeons at our Main and Bay Street branch. Simply attach your payment to the small satchel around the neck of the pigeon, feed it a few crumbs of oreo cookie, and Bob’s your uncle!

True, a small number of our elderly customers attempt to estimate the arrival date of snail mail, and use Canada Post. However, this is becoming an increasingly less viable option. It is our experience that the vast majority of our customers, with so many great options, have no trouble paying their Visa bills on time, and International Thumbscrew, Kneecap, Savings and Loan has been voted “Friendliest Bank” three years in a row by the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association.

The dates for Visa payments are set by an algorithmic formula based on moon cycles and the price of broccoli at the Ontario Food Terminal Warehouse, and are an integral element in our Automated Computer Synergistic Control Complex.

We do thank you again for expressing your concerns in this matter, and hope for your speedy recovery. The Bank has considered, but rejected, the pursuit of a claim for singeing damage at our Main Street Branch.

Yours truly,

Ms. Jenkins

(Chief Administrator, Thumbscrew and Kneecap FO Department)

P.S.: Ms. Elvira Jenkins-Smythe, the teller who had the presence of mind to access the CED (Customer Extinguishment Device) and put you out, sends her best wishes for a complete recovery. Ms. Jenkins-Smythe is a single mother of four who takes in laundry to supplement her income; she would doubtless appreciate any token of gratitude you might think appropriate.

News item: Sumo suits, the plastic novelties that can transform a skinny sports fan into a comically unstable sphere for the delight of a stadium audience, are racist and dehumanizing instruments of oppression, according to the student government of Queen’s University. (National Post, March 30, 2010.)

LBM  Research April 11, 2010.

A study by the Equity Purity Research Institute of Toronto was released on Thursday, April 1, 2010.
The study, conducted in collaboration with the Queen’s University Alma Mater Society, has revealed a hitherto unexpected area of oppression and discrimination: left-handed, blue-eyed males are significantly under-represented in a variety of fields of endeavour, most significantly in the upper echelons of corporate management, in tenured teaching positions at leading Canadian Universities, and in the medical, legal and accounting professions.

“It seems clear,” said Dr. Sumo, the lead researcher for the study, “that there is a left-handed, blue-eyed ceiling for males in these prestigious fields. It would appear that there is much catch-up work to be done in this unexpected area of discrimination, and there is a need for Advocacy Groups, Task Forces, and University Courses in left-handed, blue-eyed male Policy Issues."

Melanie Pinhead, of the Queen’s University Alma Mater Society, and one of the collaborating students in the study is calling for an immediate cessation of the insensitive practice of students donning plastic left-handed, blue-eyed male suits at University football games. “This custom turns LBM identity into a costume, dehumanizing LBMs. It also fails to capture the deeply imbedded history of oppression that LBMs have traditionally suffered,” she said. “We would ask all students to think carefully, examine their consciences, and determine whether they have ever spoken unkindly to a left-handed, blue-eyed male. We will be setting up LBM confessional booths at various locations on campus so that our students may unburden themselves of past unjust and inequitable behaviour.”

Jordan Fatuous, another student collaborator in the study, cited the determination of the Queen’s Alma Mater Society to work ceaselessly to eradicate all elements of discrimination, racism, and unkindness in Canadian Society, and called for an increased role for Canadian Human Rights Commissions in achieving a “level of Equity and Social Purity of which we may all be proud.”
The Messiness Principle Part I     (April 11, 2010)

Racism is often in the news these days. We note the recent decision of Queen’s University students to cancel the use of plastic Sumo wrestling suits on the grounds that to “wear these suits and partake in the activity appropriates an aspect of Japanese culture. This is wrong because it turns racial identity into a costume; the process of putting-on and taking-off a racial identity is problematic because it dehumanizes those who share that identity and fails to capture the deeply imbedded histories of violent and subversive oppression that a group has faced.” Hmm. Isn't there something politically incorrect  about dealing with members of a group on the basis of what the group has experienced in the past? Doesn't that open the door to reflections on Pearl Harbor and the Second World War?  Oops, sorry--we forgot that political correctness only works in detecting victims, and only certain groups can be accused of racism. An exquisite sense of nuance is required in dealing with these matters.

Jonathan Kay of the National Post writes of recently attended an anti-racism workshop at which he concluded the participants were like “communist die-hards confessing their counter-revolutionary thought-crimes,” or “devout Catholics on their knees in the confession booth... regarding their pallor as a sort of moral leprosy.”

In the same issue (April 3) Robert Fulford reviews a report of the Task Force on Campus Racism which draws on anecdotal evidence to conclude that “all faculty and staff should take ‘anti-oppression’ training...They also like the idea of departmental review committees to spot and remedy inappropriate ‘Eurocentrism’”

The current fashion in anti-racism, promoted by those who specialize in the industry, would be laughable in a disutopian novel, but is cause for concern in that it is taken so seriously and, for example, is expressed in the contortionist logic of the apology of the Queen’s students’ Alma Mater Society noted above. We had formerly thought that a University education was an assistance in developing an efficient and effective bullshit detector; instead, it appears to be an aid in the unthinking manufacture of bullshit. (Mr. Fulford aptly quotes from a classics tutor of former British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan: “Nothing you will learn in the course of your studies will be of the slightest possible use to you in life, save only this: That if you work hard and diligently you should be able to detect when a man is talking rot.”)

First, it appears to us that there is a often confusion between racism and culturism. To discriminate on the basis of race–skin colour or characteristic physical features is not terribly sensible. It is the kind of discrimination we might expect to find on a school playground. We do not doubt that there is an inherent sort of herd instinct which leads the human animal to reject those who differ in appearance from the “normal,” and to seek safety in the conformity of the tribe. One only has to look to the fashions in dress or music among the young to realize the power of this instinct. And this is the sort of racism we should all seek to eradicate.

The matter of culturism is a different thing. Culturism and racism become confused because those of different races often have different cultures.

Let us be blunt: human beings are discriminatory. What is the point of having a perception if one is unable to express it? We prefer browns and yellows in decorating schemes–as opposed to blues and greens. We prefer cars that suggest a parallel relationship to the horizon. We frown on the habit of spitting on the sidewalk. Wearing a sequined red dress at a funeral is in extremely bad taste We suspect only a deep-seated psychological deviancy could lead people to position the toilet roll so that it unfolds next to the wall, rather than away from it.
This sort of discrimination does not stop when matters of culture are at issue. One naturally prefers one’s own culture. Accommodating the cultures of others, while often a good thing, has its limits. If you are in the habit of roasting a pig in the backyard, or wearing a turban (we do not think the turban, a religious symbol, should be worn by the R.C.M.P or any other representative of a secular government) or sari, this is a minor or “cosmetic” cultural difference. If you don’t believe in the principle of the queue, want to wear a niqab, or are inclined to favour honour killings, or female genital mutilation, well, that becomes a bit of a problem.

The effect of discrimination or prejudice against newcomers in any society is to force conformity. It is not surprising that newcomers also prefer their own cultures, and often congregate in particular cultural communities, in order to resist such pressure.

In spite of the rhetoric, we cannot view multiculturism as a good thing; we see it as inevitably divisive. Multi-racialism, yes; multiculturism, no.

In addition to having deep-seated primitive instincts, mankind is also idealistic, and longs for purity and consistency. Because these are unattainable in the real world, man can always see himself as sinful, and guilt can be a powerful motivating force--something Jonathan Kay notes in his description of the anti-racism workshop above. The current fashion is to pretend that deep seated tribal instincts and preferences for one’s own culture can be overcome by idealistic force of will. Because it would be nice if it were true, there is an attempt to pretend that all cultures are equal–in spite of the fact that societies which offer the most freedom and convenience, the “highest standard of living” are those in which there is a separation of church and state, a scientific and economic entrepreneurial spirit, democracy, and relatively little corruption. The attempt to apologize for modern western democratic cultures and see them as unworthy and oppressive seems to be a peculiar example of modern cultural masochism.

Those who pursue the ideal of equality are particularly interesting. They seem to see it as an underlying reality: if only we could rub away all the perverse and confusing elements, there, beneath all, would be equality: burnished, shining, and pure. In reality, equality is as rare as the unicorn, as possible as the seamless reconstruction of Humpty Dumpty. Deep down, we all know this; but we are loathe to utter unpleasant truths.

Does it sound as though we are arguing for discrimination, prejudice, and inequality? Of course, we are not. We are merely pointing out the Messiness Principle.

In his Notes from Underground, (1864) Dostoyevsky noted the difficulty of schemes for the reformation of mankind:

Gentlemen, I am tormented by questions; answer them for me. You, for instance, want to cure men of all their old habits and reform their will in accordance with science and good sense. But how do you know, not only that it is possible, but also that it is desirable to reform man in that way?

Now, how is the Messiness Principle relevant? The human condition does not allow for simple fixes. One cannot be entirely opposed to the desire for equality, or for the reduction in prejudice, or culturism. On the other hand, one cannot enforce equality or banish cultural preference in a logical, consistent, idealistic manner. (It is particularly unhelpful when all the consistency and accommodation is required of only one culture.) Schemes for the betterment of mankind inevitably contain inherent inconsistencies, the stumbling block of man’s intrinsic nature. Man is NOT a piano key. He is NOT a robot to be fitted into some idealistic scheme of equality and undiscriminating behaviour. That is why Queen’s students’ apologies and task forces on Campus Racism and Human Rights Commissions, and the establishment of workplace equality (as opposed to equality of opportunity) are bound, not only to fail, but have the potential for causing more problems than they solve.

It is time for more freedom, and less political correctness-- for more flexibility, less doctrinaire certainty-- for more pride in the successes of western democratic culture-- and less guilt-ridden hand-wringing which often manifests itself in a self-destructive desire to accommodate cultural practices which are characteristic of societies far less desirable than our own.

 Observation   #38: The “Messiness Principle” suggests that all grand schemes for the improvement of human affairs, carried far enough, and consistently enough, will eventually reveal the internal contradictions which make them ineffective, unworkable, and absurd.

From the Diary, April 1, 2010: Up betimes and to the Eye Clinic for an early April Fools appointment. An unpleasant encounter with Bureaucracy, the details of which may be gleaned from our Letter to the Director of the Site, posted in the Drivel Section. One of the Difficulties of a Government-run System is that the Employees owe their loyalty, not to the Patients, who soon become seen as Cattle to be herded, but to the Government which pays their Salaries. They do not need to compete for our Custom with the Eye Clinic in another, nearby Location: they are free to construct a System with Features as Kafka-esque as they please.


I have just returned from my 8:15 a.m. appointment at the Eye Clinic.

When I approached the clinic desk, I did indeed notice signs requesting patients with appointments to “STOP” and take a seat. The request seemed so outlandish, that I ignored it and approached the desk. As I was approaching, my temerity was rewarded with a question which ascertained that I did, indeed, have an appointment, and a request to take a seat: my name would be called.

It is certainly not true that common practice is always the best, but it seems to me that the procedure which you are attempting to implement has some significant flaws.

First, it is susceptible to human error. Suppose that I simply THINK I have an appointment for April Fools Day, at 8:15 a.m.? Suppose, in fact, in an unaccountable befuddlement I have mistaken the day, the time, or the place? I know that this next idea will strike you as extraordinarily bizarre: what if–-I hesitate to breathe the notion–the clerks behind the desk should make an error?


This morning, as I was complaining at the desk, another patient said he wished to talk to me. His account was that he had waited two hours under these wonderful new procedures. When he finally did inquire, he was seen right away. To me, it sounds more like error than coincidence!

Second, this procedure smacks of an unnecessary and insulting enforcement of passivity; the message is strident: patients are to be seen, not heard; they are to wait submissively, hoping for some small crumb of recognition which, in time, will be vouchsafed to them by the all-powerful system. A few unfortunate slaves ground to mincemeat in the moving of the slab? No matter: the Pharaoh’s tomb is on schedule.

I particularly disliked the attitude of the person telling me to sit down. It was delivered in a “Can’t you read the sign?” tone of martyred exasperation.


Dr. Idel Dreimer


Rex Murphy on Religion   (March 24, 2010)

We were intrigued to see the redoubtable Rex Murphy hold forth in Saturday’s National Post, criticizing critics of religion, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins as the apostles of “militant secularism.” He sees them as setting up an “anachronistic straw-man conception of God as a big, bearded White Guy in the sky,” and pronounces that their “mischaracterization is adolescent in tone and substance.”

As a supporter of “militant secularism” we must, indeed confess to a certain simplicity of thought, an aversion to complications of subtlety and nuance, which might indeed be considered adolescent. Our earliest contribution to the Drivel section was entitled A Child’s Objections to Religion and the title reflects our acute consciousness of the simplicity of the arguments presented therein. But the easiest manner to dispel such simplistic, adolescent, and naive arguments is to refute them.

Perhaps they can only be refuted in terms which are full of nuance, subtlety, and sophistication. It would seem unfortunate to make a “true” religious belief accessible only to those with minds of Mr. Murphy’s calibre. Religion is not, apparently, the "opiate of the masses," but the refuge of the local chapter of Mensa. We note that Mr. Murphy does not deign to apprise us of the exact nature of a less anachronistic view of religion than the “straw man” view of the critics.

As an aside, we might ask: how can a view of religion be “anachronistic” anyway? Either there is a force, or “big bearded White Guy,” who has a particular concern for human beings, or there is not. Looking at the evidence available, we have concluded that there is not, and that further embellishments on that basic notion–the meddling of that force in human affairs, including the provision of a compensatory after-life, are so unlikely as to be unworthy of serious consideration.

We have concluded that religious belief is emotional in nature; it answers certain human desires–desires which may even be characterized as needs. We would like to think that existence has some sort of meaning or purpose beyond that which we can perceive or construct for ourselves in our limited journey through time.

The existence of even the tiniest bit of matter is miraculous. It has always puzzled us as to why anything should “exist” at all. We feel awe at the complexity of the universe, the construction of an atom, the sight of a sunset-- or  panoply of stars. There are undoubtedly “more things in heaven and earth....than are dreamt of in [our] philosophy.” What we object to is the weaving of such emotions into a religion, to make conclusions which, ultimately, end up in suicide bombings or Grand Inquisitions.

This is why we think that religion should be, as much as possible, a very private matter, which does not impinge upon the public sphere. We would prefer it to be slightly furtive–something like our own habit of watching Murder She Wrote re-runs rather than celebratory–an admission of irrational need in the face a daunting and impenetrable complexity.

March 19, 2010. Google found Mentally Incompetent!

At a news conference at the Dreimer Ave. Offices of the Lumpenbangen Piano Institute today, Dr. Idel Dreimer claimed he had evidence of mental incompetence on the part of internet giant, Google.

 On March 18, Dr. Dreimer informed a member of the Longevity Racquets Club that googling the words “Piano Institute” would lead to a page on which the Lumpenbangen piano site would be listed at the bottom of the first page. On arriving home, Dr. Dreimer tested this instruction and discovered, to his shock and horror, that the website address was not at the bottom of the first page at all. It had been raised to the second listed site on the page.

“While we are pleased to be raised to the Avis position on the page,” said Dr. Dreimer, we reject the implication that we should try harder. In addition, we begin to question whether Google is not experiencing a significant loss of marbles. The traffic on our website is so low, that this promotion cannot possibly be justified. It is a closely guarded secret that the existence of our site is a closely guarded secret. Apart from two remunerated acquaintances and our dear but somewhat imbecilic Aunt Deirdre, there are no known intentional visitors to the site. First Google decides to move out of China, and now they place the tiny Lumpenbangen site near the top of the ‘Piano Institute’ page. We think we detect a pattern here. There are only two explanations we can think of. (a) Aunt Deirdre has found a way to discombobulate the Google system by multiple searches for “Lumpenbangen = the square root of -1," or (b) Google is mentally or technologically incompetent.

It will be instructive to see whether this is the first tiny crack in the invincible Google system, which will spread to a complete and shattering breakdown, or whether the Google system is self-correcting, and will lead to a reordering of the hierarchy on the ‘Piano Institute’ page.”


Reflections on the Niqab    (March 15, 2010)

The recent rejection of a niqab wearer at a Montreal College has led to the following reflections.

1. Hey, how come they can get away without using a “u” after the “q”?

2. Think of the places or rôles in which a niqab really doesn’t work:

Montreal language colleges.
Ballet Dancing
Actress (unless portraying a niqab-wearer)
Street walker
Photographer’s or artist’s model (unless portraying a niqab-wearer)
Squash, tennis, or badminton court
Police or R.C.M.P. force
T.V. anchor
Applying for passport, driver’s license, or health card
Make-up consultant
Fashion model
Wig model
Pop star
Door to door salesperson
Avon lady
Nude beach
Any beach
Swimming instructor
Swimsuit model
Beauty pageant
Speed skating
Teacher, especially elocution
Auto assembly line
Used car salesperson
(add your own)

We do not deny that the monk’s robes or the nun’s habit are also awkward in many of the above, but the face-covering is additionally exclusionary. We have dealt with the inappropriateness of masking the face elsewhere. (Diary, March 8.)

3. Obviously those who wear the niqab, the monk’s robes, the nun’s habit, or the “Goth” look are rejecting social norms of dress, and we would not deny them that right. But rejection works both ways. We reserve the right not to speak to anyone whose face we cannot see, and not to patronize commercial establishments staffed by niqab-wearers, robed monks, or Goths. This is undoubtedly exclusionary, discriminatory, and subject to awful penalties imposed by human rights commissions. Those who defy convention always take a risk: wearing red shorts and a green toque may evoke admiration and imitation, and set a trend; it may also result in ridicule. Ridicule should not be withheld on the grounds that religious practice is involved, or that feelings may be hurt. The freedom to defy social convention should not trump the freedom to ridicule or oppose that defiance. Our opposition to the niqab is more profound than our opposition to red shorts and green toques, because we believe the ability to identify individuals and read their faces is necessary to the functioning of an open, civilized society.

Lipitor  (March 8, 2010)

About five years ago, we received a prescription for one of the most "popular" drugs in the world: Lipitor. Almost immediately, we noticed that we had "sore feet"--perhaps more commonly known as peripheral neuropathy. An exploration of the whole matter of heart disease, including internet postings--especially those on www.thincs.org --and books such as Anthony Colpo's The Great Cholesterol Con, Heart Frauds by Charles T McGee, Malignant Medical Myths by Joel M. Kauffman, Why Animals Don't Get Heart Attacks...but People Do by Matthias Rath, The Cholesterol Myths by Uffe Ravnskov, led us to the conclusion that the whole saturated fat/ high cholesterol/heart disease hypothesis was completely WRONG, and that statin drugs, such as Lipitor, had serious side effects, and their small benefits accrued not because of their function in lowering cholesterol, but more likely because of anti-inflammatory effects--benefits which could be obtained by other, less dangerous means.

    The "Paean" (homophone intended) on Lipitor was one of our first responses to our encounter with the drug.

Paean on Lipitor

Hail, the vaunted Lipitor!
(Too bad it makes my feet so sore.)
It works to lower blood-borne fats,
But all agree: a carcinogen for tested rats.
It’s the doctors’ tool in the war on plaques–
But the liver wilts, when it attacks:
And other side effects-- fatigue, weakness, forgetfulness–
I can’t remember all the rest....
I fear I lack the strength to carry on.....
Hmmmm.....I wonder--
What will they say, when I am gone?--
“He was on the mend, and then, and then.....
He ran right out of CoQ10.”*
Millions take it, play the doctors’ game–
And yet the death rate–it stays just the same!
They say it’s making Pfizer rich–
But I – well, I’m giving it the ditch.
I love the banners and the trumpets, and the cheering crowd’s acclaim--
But–isn’t it a shame–
I’d march ten miles, and ten again
For Lipitor, oh Lipitor–
But, you see, I really can’t:
My feet are sore.

*Statin drugs are known to deplete levels of CoQ10, which is necessary for heart function. In the late 1980's, Merck applied for a patent in which their statin products would be combined with CoQ10. They received the patents in 1990, but never created the combination product.  Some commentators have observed that they did not do so because of the negative impression created: statin drugs are not "safe:" they need a built-in antidote. In our view, anyone terrorized by his doctor into taking a statin drug should also take CoQ10.


The Sales Pitch (Part 1)    (February 25, 2010)

Once upon a time, when we* were very, very young, we investigated the possibility of a summer job selling encyclopedias. In order that they might acquire a better understanding of the job, potential applicants were sent to accompany salesmen on their rounds.

The salesmen would pick lower-income suburban neighbourhoods, on the cruel but not unrealistic assumption that income and intelligence were co-related. Houses were selected on evidence that children were present. The first pretense was that a “radio survey” was being conducted: had the resident encountered advertisements for the Wonderful encyclopedias on the radio? Once a conversation had been established, the lucky resident was informed that his very home had been chosen to be the neighbourhood showcase of the Wonderful brand of encyclopedia, and he would be given a FREE set.

The word “FREE” is known to have magical powers, and they were immediately evidenced: the salesman was invited in and a lengthy dissertation was made to extol the virtues of the Wonderful reference books. The seductive vision was presented: with knowledge all things were possible. Four year old Eric, currently rushing about the house pretending to be a choo-choo train, might become a calm, decisive, square-jawed captain of industry. Little Matilda, drooling in her food-splattered high chair, might well become a lecturer on Women’s Rights at the University of Toronto. Even slack-jawed Hubert, at eleven already evincing a disturbing propensity for mindless cruelty towards the dog, the cat, and his younger siblings–even he might become an important functionary in one of the as-yet-unconceived Human Rights Commissions.


Then the catch: it turned out that the Wonderful encyclopedia publishers also provided, in their generosity and concern for the intellectual development of Wonderful encyclopedia owners, both a reference service and an annual updating volume–available at a very modest cost spread out over many months.

Naturally, the lucky recipient of a FREE set of the Wonderful Encyclopedia would wish to remain in a state of currency, and up-to-datedness, would he not?

Well, of course, if he would not, he could not possibly get the “FREE” encyclopedia–for the cost of the set was, in fact, included in the cost of the annual updating volume. And the salesman, of course, would never admit to the connection between the FREE set, and the updating volumes; when questioned on this precise point, he tended to go back to some earlier portion of his pitch, hoping that, with another run, he could rush past the obstructive inquiry.

This was our first introduction to “the sales pitch.” It impressed us then, and seems not without a certain curious power, even now.

*We –this should not be mistaken for the “royal” we; it is merely an honest attempt to warn the reader of our multiple personalities.

(To be continued...)

The Sales Pitch (Part II) (February 26, 2010)

Our first remembered encounter with the sales pitch seemed to suggest four stages: (a) the conversation (b) the lure (c) the vision (d) the catch.

Our second experience with the sales pitch was memorable not so much for the lure or the vision–which we provided ourselves-- but for the catch. It occurred a short time later, after we had graduated from University, secured a job, and – what could be more predictable -- wished to purchase an automobile. Oh that car! It was a Buick. It was white. It was of the convertible persuasion. It was then, and is still today –we can say this with the confidence that only distant memory can confer–one of the most beautiful automobiles ever built. It is, today, a Barrett-Jackson Auction type of automobile.

It was on a used car lot. It may have been Joe’s Used Car Lot. Or it might have been Mike’s. Or it may have been Joe’s Used Car Emporium. It certainly was not Addison’s. Whatever. For the sake of argument, let us suggest the asking price was $2,000. For the sake of argument, let us suggest that we offered $1700.
We were ushered into the tiny office, where we filled out forms, provided all kinds of information which would suggest that we were ready, willing, and able to purchase the car. In our innocent mind, the offer had been accepted, and the car was ours. You know this story, of course. The salesman disappeared into another cubby-hole, and returned with a crestfallen appearance. No, the Manager could not possibly sell that car at that price. Joe’s Used Car Emporium would be unable to continue in business at that price. Joe, his wife, and the three kids would be forced from their third-storey walk-up; the Manager and the Salesman would both be out of a job. The lowest they could go was $1800.

The best deals are done when one is prepared to walk away. But the car was beautiful. We were hooked. We paid.

(To be continued...)
The Sales Pitch (Part III)  (February 27, 2010)

The key to the deceptive sales pitch is to draw the victim in gradually–to get him to accept the full cost of the item or service being provided. The prospective encyclopedia purchaser is lured into an imagined world in which he has a free encyclopedia, is envied by his neighbours, and has given his children a significant head start in a knowledge-based society. When the “catch” is presented, he must weigh the dream against the cost which has finally been presented to him.

Similarly, the young man buying the white Buick convertible, once he has signed papers, and given out significant information he has placed himself in an imagined world of his own choosing. He thinks, that for $1,700, he will be driving the car off the Joe’s Used Car Emporium lot. When the $100 “catch” is presented, he must weigh his dream against the extra cost.

Thus, the “catch” or real cost is always carefully withheld from the Purchaser until he has been moved, imaginatively, to a point where he may be ready to accept it.

Last Friday, when we arrived with the ailing Serviceable Six at the Canadian Tire Service Centre in Maple, the Service Representative held out the possibility that a diagnosis could be made for $106 including tax. It was not left to the vagueness of a verbal commitment. The cost was indicated on a form that we signed. Imaginatively, we had been moved to a world in which we would ascertain the precise nature of the problem for $106.00. The Representative knew perfectly well that the vehicle was a Cargo Van, and that the chances of doing any work to the ignition system without removing the engine cover were slim to none. But the catch was to be withheld. After the initial computer check, when we were told that further diagnosis could only be done by removal of the engine cover at a cost of $47.00, we were well aware that we had been manipulated. Our option was to give up the trip to Wind-in-the-Pines, have the vehicle towed back to our mechanic in Hamilton, unload our supplies, and have the tow truck driver drop us off at the Lumpenbangen Institute. We had already committed to $106–in writing! The “catch” was $47.00–bringing the total, with tax, to $153.00. Further catches were a possibility. The most likely cause of the problem was the coil, so we checked to make sure that the part was in stock. We had no intention of waiting for hours while the necessary part was retrieved from another facility. We suspected that the charge for labour would be, by our standards, astronomical. But, in the end, we fell for the pitch.
The total cost for diagnosis and replacement of the coil was $365.99.

We recall, a few years ago, we had experienced a similar problem with the predecessor Serviceable Eight. Someone at the Antique Mall south of Barrie directed us to a small owner-operated garage nearby. We do not recall the precise details –it may have been a loose ignition wire. The diagnosis was done by driving the van. The time spent seemed to justify a far larger bill than we were asked to pay; indeed, the cost was so minimal that had we believed in Saints, we would have instantly submitted the name of the mechanic to the Vatican for fast-track approval.

So–you win some–you lose some. But we suspect you win more often if you avoid Canadian Tire.
Tiger Woods’ Apology   (February 22, 2010)

It would have been difficult this past weekend, to have watched television and avoided numerous bits and snippets of the “Tiger Woods' Apology.” The evident popularity of this particular news item suggests that there may be a mineable iceberg beneath.

Indeed, we confidently predict the emergence of a new entertainment form: the Humble Apology/Entertainment Presentation–which would be a presentation of Significantly Hypocritical Intentions of Transmogrification. For those economically and acronymically minded, that would pare neatly down to HEAPS of SHIT.

These little mini-bites of entertainment would be broadcast by the transgressor-of-the-moment–be it Tiger Woods, Adam Giambrone, John Edwards, a washroom-bound TTC Driver, a sleeping Fare Collector–doubtless there would, in any one year, be a considerable list. The HEAPS would consist of carefully scripted apologies catering to the common expectations and misconceptions about the nature of human perfection.
We would confidently expect, that, as with any entertainment genre, there be an annual award–the FIDO award–in the form of an attractive gold doghouse–slag metal covered with the thinnest of ersatz gold–with a resident canine showing an appropriate “hangdog” expression. We see no reason why the presentation of FIDOS would not command an audience similar to that achieved for the Oscars.

We suggest that the HEAP should consist of a compulsory section–the apology proper, with a list of the offended, and then a “free-skate” element in which the apologist really tries to connect with his audience. It is in this section that a list of steps taken to overcome the problem, and the expressions of determination and reform, would come to the fore. In keeping with modern beliefs--that there is a simple formulaic solution for problems of the human condition, we would expect to see religious fundamentalism, psychotherapy, counselling, yoga, sweat lodge, saunas, colonic irrigation, omphaloskepsis, and, indeed, any other unlikely curative formula to be espoused. Finally, competitors would be judged on their apparent sincerity and the abjectness of their feelings of unworthiness.

We feel that Tiger has but scratched the surface of an interesting new Performance genre.

February 22, 2010

An Emergency Meeting of the Literary Policy Committee of the Lumpenbangen Piano Institute was held at the Dreimer Ave. Offices of the Institute at two o’clock today. Dr. Idel Dreimer, the Institute’s President announced that a complaint had been received from B. J. Paterson, of Toronto, to the effect that the metre and line length in many of the items on the Limerick Lane page are not in accordance with the accepted Limerick form.
Wearing the burka which he has recently adopted to thwart the complete Googlization of his person, Dr. Dreimer spoke clearly and distinctly in order to counteract the muffling effects of the heavy cloth garment:

“It was, of course, only a matter of time before our somewhat cavalier attitude towards the rigid Limerick requirements was discovered, and exposed. At the time that we embarked on the “Limerick Lane” experiment, we were aware that much of what we wished to say would not fit comfortably into the precise Limerick configuration. Once one decides to end a first line with “Abdulmutallab” –the achievement of perfection of form is hardly a serious issue.


Our chief fear is that B.J. Paterson is affiliated in some way with the Canadian Branch of the Literary Purity Society, an evil organization with tentacles stretching into the very heart of the apparatus which has spawned the Human Rights Commissions. The Human Rights Commissions, as we all know, are dedicated to stamping out Impurity wherever it can be found, according to any definition which their highly paid lawyers can come up with.

We propose, therefore, to apply to the Canadian Branch of the Literary Purity Society for a special Literary License which will allow us to continue to poke fun at people of whom we disapprove in a form which can only loosely be defined as “Limerick.” We are not overly confident of success. The Purity Society is evil, petty minded, and vindictive. The character of B.J. Paterson may well be analogous. However, at this juncture the move may represent our best hope. Should this tactic fail, we may take some comfort in the fact that the preliminary discussions regarding the removal of our operations to Samoa, are proceeding well.

For the time being, we will allow the force of our humorous insights to trump our literary purity. As an additional tactic, it might be worth asking B.J. Paterson to contribute her own Limericks to our pages. Purity has often been known to succumb to Flattery; the present occasion may well be one to prove the truth of that observation."


Banal Commentary      February 15, 2010

Of a sudden,
We are thrust into the
Sea of senses,
Grope to a
Construction of the universe,
Sunrise, sunset,
What works,
What doesn’t;
How to navigate the maze
Of human misunderstanding.
Lacking the burden of foreknowledge,
The lives of animals simpler,
Cruel and hard in the wild,
A clue to the universe,
A truth which we ignore,
Turn often to a pretense
That we are different,
That there is another life for us
Where the inconsistencies will be
The manifold injustices
Made right,
The Deficiencies
Made whole;
But never, never never.
And always the undercurrents
Of triumph and desire
Inherent, intrinsic, instinctive,
Pushing always against the ideal
Constructs of the mind,
Leading to betrayal, absurdity, despair--
Often desire a jeering, defiant challenge
To the contrived, prim face of
And always the search for coherence,
Consistency, and meaning,
And always everything
Flawed, flawed, flawed;
We are buffeted always between
The necessity of illusion
And frightened glimpses of the real.
And at the end,
It’s all over-- too soon-- too soon–
Everything is still a jumble,
A rubik cube
Of chameleon colours
Clarity, resolution still entice,
Still elude.
If there were a final exam,
We know we would fail.
In a backward, fleeting glance at the landscape,
Of all, what is to be most cherished?
Only those times when love
Convinced us that
There was something that transcended
Sun, moon, and stars;
It was not so, is not so–
But the human mind
Must believe it so,
Still groping,
Still fathoming
A construction
Of the universe.
News Flash! Google discovers Dr. Idel Dreimer!

February 8, 2010.

 Hamilton, Ontario. At a Press Conference held today at the Dreimer Ave. Offices of the Lumpenbangen Piano Institute, Dr. Idel Dreimer, the President, and Chief Composer, announced that he had been discovered by Google.

Wearing a full burka, with his voice conveying considerable agitation, Dr. Dreimer revealed that, in an idle moment in the previous week, he had googled his own name, expecting the usual response: “Did you mean ‘Idle Dreamer?’–or entries referring to a widget factory in South Dakota, a German Escort Service, or a Website Design firm in South Bend, Indiana. Instead, much to his shock and amazement he found links to his recent contributions to the “atheist quotes” website, www.chrisbeach.co.uk and also to the Lumpenbangen Piano Institute.

“This is a serious development,” said Dr. Dreimer, his voice somewhat indistinct beneath the heavy cloth of the burka. “We have always zealously guarded our personal privacy by wearing an Einstein wig and novelty store nose and glasses, in order not to attract attention, whenever in public. But now, we feel that Google, with its invasive forays into the web, its omnipresent camera capacity, and its formidable resources and databases, may soon discover our true identity.

We would like to assure the public, and our many loyal fans, that we will take any measures necessary to thwart this eventuality. Plans are underway, even as we speak, to disguise our Offices as a Macdonald’s restaurant. The ubiquitousness of these fast food outlets will most likely ensure that the Google cameras will pass by unaware. We, ourselves, of course, will be forced to wear the traditional burka, even when applying for a passport, or a Driver’s License Identification photo. In a modern, Google-dominated society, we fear that the erosion of virtually all privacy may be simply a matter of time.

Had there been some compensating, or mitigating factor associated with this extraordinary development–such as a sudden increase in the sales of CDs–or visits to the website–we might be more resigned to the unwanted publicity–but no improvement in our performance in either sphere has been recorded since this traumatic event.”

Asked whether he had considered moving the Lumpenbangen operations to an offshore tax-haven, Pago Pago or Anunu’u Island, Dr. Dreimer would only admit that preliminary discussions were underway, but that he was unable to comment further at this time.



 February 1, 2010.

At a press conference held early today at the Dreimer Ave. Offices of the Lumpenbangen Piano Institute, today, Dr. Idel Dreimer, President and Chief Composer of the Institute, announced the Webalizer results for January, 2010. Appearing in his usual Einstein wig and novelty store nose and glasses, Dr. Dreimer seemed more than usually agitated, as he announced that January figures showed thirteen fewer visits to the Lumpenbangen site than were logged in December. “These results,” he said, “are due in part, of course, to seasonal influences-- to the somewhat milder early part of January, and the somewhat colder weather which followed. These seasonal factors may easily be linked to the disappointing results. When the weather is warmer than usual, people habitually do more walking, skating, skiing, and shopping, as opposed to logging onto obscure and sometimes incomprehensibly elitist websites filled with arcane nonsense and obscure quotations made by dead people that few people have ever heard of. Similarly, when the weather is colder, people are inclined to sit at home in a deep depression, often afflicted by unseemly and debilitating bouts of omphaloskepsis and Boobtubitis.

“Nonetheless”, he continued, “we will make no excuses, nor will we whine at length about this stunning rejection by the web-surfing population, few of whom have opinions that are worth caring about anyway. It has never been our style to sulk, or lash out angrily at a hostile, ignorant, and demonstrably useless group of retards who lack taste, refinement and a sense of humour.

We will continue, instead, to make our melodies available at no cost to the general public, and even add to our free collection during February. Limericks and Drivel will appear regardless of their lack of popular appeal, and other features such as the Diary and Pet Peeves will be recorded for posterity, which, we have no doubt, will prove to be a more loyal and appreciative audience.”



Limericks --January 28, 2010

(Please note that future Limericks will be posted in a new "Limerick Lane" section. (See link above.) The creation of this separate section, added with considerable effort by the technologically challenged Dr. Dreimer, will almost certainly ensure that no further Limericks will be forthcoming. At present, the new section contains limericks composed since December 3, 2009. The short poem about David Suzuki, is not a limerick, and so has not been transferred to the new section.)

News comment:  “...Andrew Weaver, probably Canada’s leading climate scientist, is calling for replacement of IPCC leadership and institutional reform. Mr. Weaver...has been a major IPCC science insider for years....For him to say...that there has been some 'dangerous crossing' of the line between climate advocacy and  science at the IPCC is stunning in itself."  (Terence Corcoran, National Post, January 27, 2010.)

Andrew Weaver

There once was a hot shot, Andrew Weaver,
A Pooh-Bah of climate change fever;
When the conspiracy flopped,
His temperature dropped,
And he cooled to a “has-been” achiever.

News Item: “Mardi Tindal, the newly elected moderator of the United Church of Canada, returned from last month’s climate change summit in Copenhagen with a deep malaise...an anxious despair that reduced her to weeping.” (National Post, Tuesday, January 19, 2010)

Mardi Tindal

Oh pity the breast of Ms. Tindal,
Where the climate a pure flame doth kindle;
Such fond foolish fears!
Those climate change tears!
Ms. Tindal! Ms. Tindal! It’s a swindle!            (January 21, 2010)


Origins   (2008 posted January 20, 2010)

Somewhere out there, I figure,
There’s this genius kid
Who got a fancy chemistry set
For his birthday.
Had a few creative ideas about
What would happen
With the right mix.
And behold!
A considerable explosion,
And stuff expanding
All over the place,
And in some places,
Under the microscope,
Funny little
Servo mechanisms crawling
Out of the muck.
Now he’s called away–
Lunch time, I guess–
But when his parents find
The expanding mess in the rec room
Threatening the leather couch
And new TV,
Down the toilet
It will go.
Bed time with no supper
For that kid.

Limerick: A kind of humorous verse in which the first and second lines rhyme with the fifth line, and the shorter third line rhymes with the shorter fourth.

The structure and metre of the limerick seem invariably conducive to humour. The obvious “tum-tee-tumedness” of the metre rollicks along, and the shorter rhyming lines in the middle seem to hold us in abeyance for a surprise return to the original rhyme; the weaker limericks may simply repeat the same last word or phrase of the first line in the fifth; the best limericks provide a humorous twist in the last rhyme.

See earlier entries for our experiments with the limerick thus far. We have wondered whether a dark limerick is possible, and whether something of the structure must be sacrificed in order to achieve it. We will allow the reader to make his own judgement
(Note: yes, the correct word is “his.” We refuse to be bullied by the feminists, rolling pins raised, foam burbling unattractively upon the lips. The current practice, a pusillanimous, weak-kneed, and above all, irrational retreat to “their” –which is PLURAL not SINGULAR is to be deplored as a triumph of political correctness over rationality. “His” stands for both genders, just as “mankind” refers all of humanity, not just the male variation of it. And yes, we are being deliberately provocative; the coward’s way out would have been: “We will allow readers to make their own judgements.”) (If you really want to know, we find “We will allow the reader to judge for himself” the most pleasing expression. Would the wimpified say “themself?” “themselves?”)

January 18, 2010


There once was a leader, Ahmadinejad,
Grew mad from his days as a teeny lad;
Disavowed with a aplomb
He was seeking a bomb
And wielding a power such as Hitler had.

Bin Laden

There once was a madman, bin Laden;
With the writhings of Hell filled his garden,
With every dark breath,
Sowed scorched seeds of death,
And such was the fruit of bin Laden.



              Abdulmutallab           (January 15, 2010)

There once was a young man, Abdulmutallab,
Longed cold for the kiss of a fine marble slab;
Thought a plane his best chance
With a bomb–in his pants!
That wicked, absurd young Abdulmutallab.

News Flash, January 13, 2010.

At a hastily called Press Conference this morning, the Hamilton Branch of the World Religions Council issued an Extermination Edict against Dr. Idel Dreimer, President and Chief Composer of the city’s Lumnpenbangen Piano Institute.

Speaking for the Council, Dr. Angelus dePhonie, of the Young Men’s Christian Coalition, expressed the growing concern that the Lumpenbangen Piano Institute has become a hotbed of Atheism, and through various observations and Diary entries by Dr. Dreimer, published on an obscure website, seems determined to spread its own brand of noxious nihilism and degenerate doubt to the intellectually vulnerable and emotionally insecure. “We must at all costs, maintain the commitment of our followers to the unbelievably undefinable and the undefinably unbelievable,” he said.

In a rare expression of Religious Solidarity, Imam Osama bin fatwa added that the existence of Civilization as we know it is at stake. Without Allah, God, Glooscap, Zeus, Osiris, Buddha, and a host of others, human society would be in a parlous state, rife with disagreements, tiffs, wars, rivalries, ideological differences and deep-seated uncertainties. “And,” he said, “without an afterlife, what would be the point of 76 virgins?”

“It is imperative, therefore,” said Dr. DePhonie, “that any move to Atheism be firmly scotched, the head of the snake crushed, severed, smothered, or all of the above. We hereby issue an Extermination Edict for Dr. Dreimer. Our Cross is waiting; the Druids and Zoroastrians are onside; we have three al Quaeda suicide bombers en route from Yemen; the Buddhists, whose reverence for life is legendary, have agreed to look the other way. We look forward to an imminent announcement of “Mission Accomplished.”


(Updated as drivel is conceived and executed.)

McGuinty (January 3, 2010)

All hail our great mugwump McGuinty!
Square jaw, eyes steel, nose flinty!
But when a defiance is native,
He can’t be berative (ah--cash–so creative!)
And our flinty McGuinty turns wimpy.

There once was a premier McGuinty
(His vision a little bit squinty)
Said: “Though I may have some flaws
In enforcing the laws,
With your cash, I’ve ne’er been skinflinty."

There once was a premier McGuinty,
His vision a little bit squinty:
When natives laid claim, or their victims laid blame,
His dash to our cash was always the same,
That predictably unskinflinty McGuinty!


Why Saturday Night Live Isn’t Very Funny  (January 2, 2010)

 I’m not sure–maybe it used to be funny–but recently I have concluded that Saturday Night Live is so weakly funny that watching it is hardly worth the effort. By comparison, Canadian comedy often creates genuine laughter. You might argue that I find Canadian comedy more amusing because humour often depends on a context with which we are intimately familiar: a Canadian is more likely to appreciate humour with a Canadian, rather than an American context.

    Admitting that there is some truth to that argument, I still believe there are cultural differences which make it difficult for Saturday Night Live to be very funny. Americans are a very competitive bunch–and a very successful society. There is a sense in which Saturday Night Live is not really meant to be funny -- it is meant to be successful. It is a showcase for celebrities showing off their celebrity. First, there are the celebrities who are famous for being--famously--on Saturday Night Live. Then there are the celebrities who are brought in from the outside world of stardom to enhance their status by appearing on Saturday Night Live.

    The hosts of the program are not usually noted for their comic genius– they are celebrities who have recently scored some sort of success–usually they have starred or been prominent in a film. Their first task, in the introduction to the show, is to draw attention to their recent success; their second, by appearing in some of the subsequent skits, is to enhance it.  In addition to the hosts, other famous guests are sometimes added to the mix; for example, Al Gore was on recently. The context in which he was presented was such that the sales of his recent book and his well known advocacy of the theory of man-made global warming could hardly be said to be advanced; indeed, his intellectual raison d’être – assuming there ever was one–was trivialized. But, he was, after all, on Saturday Night Live.

    When one examines the individual skits, one cannot help but feel that their chief function is not so much to be funny, but to consolidate and expand the turf of the participants. The more often a character appears in a skit -- a skit often repeated with minor variations -- no matter how weak and ineffective it may be–the closer he or she comes to the real goal-–a move from the celebrityhood of the program into the larger world of Celebrity Comedy Film. The longer the skit–the less funny it is–but the greater the exposure of the actor-participants.
It is interesting how often the skits are based on  television game shows, panel shows, or interview shows–all of which, I think it may be fair to say–have a focus on personality. The humour of these pieces -- what little there is of it -- seems to be based on the stupidity of the contestants, the panellists, the interviewed or the interviewer. There seems little attempt to satirize any particular show; but -- we do get to see the resident and imported celebrities interacting.

    Even the “Weekend Update” feature of the program–which has the best chance to be funny because of the brevity of its individual segments--has been compromised by the focus on celebrity. There is now almost always a character introduced–either a real celebrity or someone pretending to be one–who goes through a routine or “schtick.” At the end, Seth Meyers calls for a round of applause for the character. Once again, the focus is not on the humour, but on the actor or personality.

    The fact that there is a musical segment on the show, featuring a very popular or successful group, is another clear signal. The chief concern of the show is not humour, but celebrity entertainment. Stephen Leacock once said that happiness is not something that can be aimed at directly–it “comes at backrounds, so to speak.” I suspect the ironical situation of Saturday Night Live is that it would be far more successful if it stopped aiming at success, and got down to the genuine (possibly serious?) business of being funny.
The Child Born in Bethlehem  (December 28 2009)

It would appear that the National Post has reached a new low in meaningless Christian blather with its December 24th editorial. It would be too harrowing a task to deal in detail with this bit of delusional drivel, so let’s just take one sentence: “Every baby is good news. Lest we forget that elementary truth, Christmas reminds us.”

Well, yes, I suppose if you live in the world of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, this unthinkingly glib “feel good” sentiment is true. But what about the real world–the one in which babies are born with fetal alcohol syndrome, severe defects, or rapidly terminal diseases? What about the babies born into families that cannot afford to feed and look after them? What about babies that turn out to be serial killers? What about babies that become Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, or Pol Pot. No, not what you would think. According to the National Post, these babies are all “Good News” –and that’s an elementary truth.
The rest of the piece is pure Christian fantasy–broad statements about God being on the side of man, Jesus rescuing a groaning nature, and Jesus now uniting the divine and the human. (No reference, of course to the manifest unfairness to nature and human beings who predated the wonderful event.) At the foot of the column is a picture of a small haloed baby –it is not a real baby, of course–but a porcelain, manufactured, kitschy representation of one–entirely appropriate to the column and the sentiments expressed therein.



                                                                                      Famous Last Words                          ( 2006 --posted Dec. 28, 2009)

                                                                                         Human kind
                                                                        Cannot bear very much reality. – T.S. Eliot

                                                              Rage, rage against the dying of the light. -- Dylan Thomas

Always been a talker;
Hard, sometimes, to shut me up.
Even at the doctors’--
I have to tell them
The REAL story behind the latest study,
(As opposed to the misinformation the
Drug Lords gave them)
How high cholesterol is associated
With longevity
In those over 70,
And why prescribing Lipitor to a man of my age
Is like lighting up a stogie at the gas pumps:
The risk outweighs the reward.
I’m right, but they think I’m nuts, of course:
No surprise they want me outta there pretty quick.

But, getting to the point of where I was going
Before I wandered off.....
Caught this program the other night:
“Dying at The Grace”.
What a downer!
It showed a bunch of people dying,
One by one, and
Kinda slow and long drawn out.
I would’ve switched channels,
But it had that
Car accident quality–
You’re afraid to look
Because you don’t want the truth–
The mangled torso
After the grinder;
The rag doll child;
Some old lady
Head on backwards,
Anatomy creatively rearranged,
Lying mute as the raccoon
I almost missed
On the Silver Lake Road one night,
But didn’t--
But you have to look
Just in case
You might miss something
Really gruesome.

Well, that was this program–
All these goners–
They mostly came in all rational
And talkative
Just like you and me,
And then, over the days,
They got quiet and tired
And then miserable and struggling,
Reaching for raspy breath
That wouldn’t come
One guy went through some awful fits
And still survived
For more--
(Just one of Nature’s
Little surprises;)
That same guy–really bad–not too old–
Had a family of Jesus freaks:
“Just let go, and be with Jesus”,
They said.
“More morphine,” I yelled at the screen,
“Jesus Christ! ‘Let go,’ my ass! –more morphine!”

Anyway–the strangest thing–
I never knew this before–
They all went with their
Mouths open!--
Their final response
To life
A universal
Cheeks hollow, drugged to the eyeballs
Wide-mouthed and stupid:

Now, what I want to know is–
What happened to the witty bon mots,
The sculpted epitaphs,
The last brilliant flashes
From the resourceful mind
Before all goes dark?

I guess that’s all myth:
Charles II did not apologize for being
An unconscionable time a-dying,
And Edmund Gwenn could not have said:
“Dying is easy; comedy is difficult.”
Kurtz could never have made his triumphant
Realization of truth:
“The horror, the horror.”
I’ve always imagined Frost murmuring
In that gravelly voice:
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep:’
And Holden Caulfield-- and the raccoon–
A heartfelt
“Fuck you;”
And if Dylan’s dad said nothing,
I hope he was appropriately literate,
And scrawled,
“Fuck this shit” on both palms.

But no,
At The Grace,
They can’t afford the sticky strips
So it’s fly-catching time for the unpaid help:

You can bet your ass
The next day
I took off for the Dollarama;
I keep the magic marker and the crazy glue
In my breast pocket
Right next to the nitro and my cell phone.
Sure, I’d love to have
“An autumn voice far richer
And more brilliant than the gold of spring”--
But just in case, when the time comes.....
Well... don’t ask.
My lips are sealed.
(Both palms outstretched.)

Religious Fundamentalism vs. Eco-Fundamentalism (December 21)

1. God is our Father. To Him we owe our being and devotion.

2. God’s wishes are conveyed to us through his priests and ministers. The Pope, of course, but think Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Benny Hinn, Billy Graham, Oral Roberts.

3. Hellfire awaits the Sinner.

4. Hellfire can be avoided by repentance, acceptance of God and his Ministers, and change in behaviour involving self-denial.
(a) Hairshirts and self-flagellation. (In an earlier era.)

5. There is no evidence for the statements made about God and his wishes; thus, the certainty of his ministers is fraudulent. Some of them are obvious crooks, and have been exposed as such.


1.Earth is our Mother. To Her we owe our being and devotion.

2.The Earth’s needs are conveyed to us by Al Gore, David Suzuki, Phil Jones, Michael Mann.

3.Unimaginable destruction awaits mankind.

4.Destruction can be avoided by repentance, acceptance of Suzukiism, and a change in behaviour involving self-denial.
(a) Bicycles and fluorescent bulbs.

5.The evidence for statements made about the needs of the earth is conflicting; the certainty of the ministers is fraudulent. Further, some of the ministers have made blatant attempts to suppress evidence which contradicts their theory.


As Voltaire said, "si Dieu n’existait pas, il faudrait l’inventer." (If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.) It is interesting to speculate that there is, in mankind, a sort of religious impulse–possibly a useful Darwinian adaptation–involving a number of psychological elements. If this is the case, then the decline of one type of religious expression will inevitably be followed by the rise of another. Along the way, there will always be (necessarily) fraudulent minister-priests and avid self-denying followers. Aldous Huxley said that the art of Utopia lay in making people love their servitude. The servitude of man in society is a given; the trick is to fool him into not recognizing it. (This is why capitalism works relatively well.) Similarly, the art of the religious impulse would seem to be to allow for its expression in such a way that the least amount of damage is done. Thus far, we seem not to have made much progress.

Our next contribution to this section, we suspect, will be to make up a table similar to that above, but comparing Religious Fundamentalism with Medical Fundamentalism. In 1979, a doctor, Robert S. Mendelsohn, wrote a book called Confessions of a Medical Heretic, in which he traces some of the similarities between the Church and the Medical Establishment. More recently, Joel M. Kauffman, a Professor of Chemistry, has written Malignant Medical Myths, which casts doubt on the Scientific basis for much Medical Gospel.


Wicked Wit: The Wonderful World of Lethal Limericks and Perverse Verse (Dec 3, 2009)

There once was a sly man called Jones–
Preached doom in the direst of tones–
But for Climatic thuggery
And e-mail skullduggery–
May we hope Mr. Jones now atones.

There once was a sly man called Jones–
Convinced us with alarms and bemoans;
But he’d have been much acuter
To avoid his computer
And conspire using nothing but phones.

Twinkle, twinkle, Dave Suzuki--
Wonder how you got so spooky,
Shining bright above us far--
Who’d have thought-- a falling star;
Climate change–a bit, well–flukey–
And 'spooky' looking more like – 'kooky'.


News Flash: Google Discovers Lumpenbangen!

Hamilton, Ontario, November 26. (Special to the Hamilton Observer, the Dundas Peeper, and the Burlington Voyeur.) At a press conference held earlier today at the Dreimer Ave. Offices of the Lumpenbangen Piano Institute, Dr. Idel Dreimer, the Institute’s President and Chief Composer, announced that the tiny Lumpenbangen Institute has been discovered by Internet giant Google.

“Short weeks ago,” said Dr. Dreimer, “the Institute had scant recognition from Google: it was necessary to type in the exact website address, and Google would, indeed, without fanfare, and with a certain automatic quality, take a browser directly to our site. Now, however, there has been a significant change: a page is displayed which includes a description of the site, and a click on “more results from Lumpenbangenpiano” will show many of the individual pages on the site, including the first few words. More astounding still, typing in “Lumpenbangen Piano Institute”–as opposed to the web address-- will lead to this same page.

Asked about the significance of this development, Dr. Dreimer was cautious. “We must confess to mixed emotions.” he said. “On the one hand, we cannot deny a certain frisson of excitement at this unexpected discovery. On the other hand, it is unlikely to have any material impact on our operations. It is still necessary to know the name–Lumpenbangen Piano Institute–in order to gain access to the website, so we do not really expect an increase in our sales of Compact Discs. Nor do we fear,” he added, wearing his customary disguise of Einstein Wig and novelty store nose and glasses, “an invasion of our privacy, with throngs of curious thrill seekers storming our Dreimer Ave. location.

In sum, we should be able to continue, quietly and unobtrusively, to compose music and manufacture the over-engineered and under-purchased quality discs for which the Institute is so justly famous.”

To a final question as to whether the “newly found” status of the Institute would occasion a salary increase for Rufus Allthumbs, Chief Pianist at Lumpenbangen, Dr. Dreimer replied: “Absolutely not. Global financial conditions are completely prohibitive of such folly.”

Ending the conference, Dr. Dreimer was overheard to mutter “...that busybody Bertha should mind her own damn business...” while glaring in the direction of Rufus himself.


Reflections on the Meaning of it All

I drowned another mouse--
Its tail had landed on one of those cardboard
Sticky traps–
And although otherwise in great shape–
Alert, active–
‘Julie Grey Ears’ was, as they might say “mobilely challenged”.
The cat, I assume, had frightened him into a sudden upward rush--
Into the leaves of the spider plant--
And the unwanted appendage was stuck in the leaves;
Untroubled by the irony, he waited.

I am efficient, and prepared.
First, the small plastic container, filled with water.
Next, the vinyl glove–
(Visions of hantavirus, other microbial malignity–and that sticky stuff!)
Then the cardboard, with mouse attached,
Carefully pulled from the leaves.

A little mammalian squeaking here–
After all–he’s just a smaller version of the cat–
Or me.

Now for the morning dip.
At first, the vigorous struggle,
The attempt to swim to the top,
Then the fading, the bubbles,
The final shit;
The eyes, dark, replete,
Then the downward folding,
Mouth open,
Acceptance at the last.

Millions of years,
Untold deaths,
In the evolution of this
Tiny, delicate marvel;
The myriad electro-chemical mechanisms
Balanced on a hair:
But when you’re out of gas,
You’re outta gas.
Over in a minute.
Seems hardly fair.


Will there be grieving amongst the near and dear?
I don’t know
Whether mice grieve.
Ninety percent of our genes are shared--
So, perhaps–
A few solemn pieties at
The Memorial.
A couple of stilted paragraphs
In the Mousetown News;
More generally, some helpful repetitions
From the mouse lore trove:
“Ya gotta watch yer tail, I always say!”
“I told him, ‘Little Julie’, I said, ‘Don’t go! Don’t go!’”

But hey, life goes on.
There’s food to find,
Shit to be made,
Sex to be had,
Generations to come.
For all I know,
There’s business to be done,
Poetry to be written,
Music to be composed,
An Amazing Race,
And a contest for the new Mouse Idol.

One thing-- for sure--
Those who kneel, full of awe in the vaulted, holy naves,
The mystic, sere and spare in his mountain cave,
The dervishes whirling ecstasy to the stars,
The meditator delving for evidence of soul,
The nun with fingers beaded in the bone,
The Muslims in the street, tribal, open- mouthed,
Eyes obsidian with hate
At some perceived slight to Allah–
Believe me, my friend–
They know nothing
Of God.
The Pathology of Bad Driving

It’s an epidemic! A plague! A malady of moronic motorists! Who has not returned from a trip by automobile–extended or short–without some residual chaotic emotions arising from one or more encounters with bad drivers?

The first step in reducing such chaotic responses, in understanding confusing phenomena, is simple: classify, classify, classify. It is a well documented fact that botanists and zoologists, living in their highly classified worlds, have slower heart rates, better digestion, and superior life expectancy,  compared to the population at large. It is probably not unimportant that their language of classification is Latin, a language that has all the serenity and staticity of the undeniably dead.

We propose, therefore, to add to the sum total of human serenity, if not staticity, by classifying some of the major Driving Diseases, and note some of the underlying mental conditions. Although treatment is often difficult, because of the speed and elusiveness of the patients, and their tendency to retreat into a state of denial about their condition upon diagnosis, specialists in the field are increasingly focussed on practical remedies, some of which we will delineate below.

1. Hoggus Sinistris, the compulsive tendency to drive in the left lane of a multi-laned highway, regardless of speed, or the desire of other drivers to pass. This malady is not, perhaps, as simple as it may appear, being a general symptom with a number of possible psychological origins.

(a) It may simply be a case of Juvenis Rottensis, a fairly common condition arising from a misguided attempt by parents and educators to instill a sense of self esteem, or Arrogans Upyoursis, without the legitimizing elements of hard work and accomplishment. If the afflicted driver can be caught and confronted, a calm reprimand combined with –and this does require the assistance of an experienced nurse/practitioner–a surreptitious Deflatio ad flattissimus of the tires of the offending vehicle may prove to be effective.

(b) Particularly if the driver is driving at exactly the posted speed limit, the cause may be Prissimus Maximus, an unfortunate condition arising from the misguided notion that since the speed is governmentally mandated, any greater speed is sinful, and the use of the left lane at the posted speed is a rebuke to the amoral and godless appetites of the unblessed. In some parts of the country, particularly on the East Coast, the condition is referred to as Holius Upyoursis. Treatment of this condition is particularly difficult, as it involves conversion to Wicca, Paganism, or Zoroastrianism.

(c) Very occasionally, the underlying cause is simple stupidity, or mentalis vacuus, which can also give rise to some of the other maladies listed below.


2. Passus Upyoursis. This condition is marked by a consistent practice of passing vehicles and then cutting back into the right hand lane with entirely unnecessary alacrity. The driver of the passed vehicle, who has been scrupulously keeping a safe distance from the vehicle ahead, is immediately forced to slow down, experience a precipitous rise in blood pressure, and a virtually uncontrollable urge to utter loud and unkindly imprecations regarding the female parentage of the offending driver. There are only two underlying conditions we need look for here: first, the above-mentioned Juvenis Rottensis, and the more-prevalent-than-expected Moronicus Retardis Absolutis. In patients with recurring symptoms, a lengthy prescription of Licencus Suspensus may provide effective, if temporary relief.

3. Vehiculus Meanderus. The symptoms may be varied, but if the experienced practitioner is led to ask : “Where is this driver going? What is he doing?”-- then the Meanderus diagnosis is likely accurate. There is, unfortunately, a wide variety of causal factors. We have space to mention only a few here:

(a) Ultimus Inebrius

(b) Aurus Cellphone Adhesis

(c) Via Hypnotica

(d) Moronicus Retardis Absolutis

(e) Crazy Hazy Miss Daisyitis. In a typical case, Miss Daisy has gone on her usual leisurely Sunday drive to visit her imaginary grand-daughter. But oops! It’s not Sunday, it’s Friday! And–it’s rush hour! This condition is one of the more troubling in the Pathology Lexicon. Licencus Revokus, Vehiculus Vendus, or, in extreme cases, a radical address change (Casa Ga-Ga) may be prescribed.

4. DoubleLane Sweverus. This malady comes on quickly and unexpectedly. The driver feels impelled to move over two lanes of a multi-lane highway in one smooth, quickly executed manoeuvre. He does not realize, or particularly care that you, after carefully checking an adjoining lane, and signalling, have begun to move into that lane. The afflicted Swerverus appears from nowhere, and executes the ultimate Passis Upyoursis, coming within a few feet of your vehicle. After a number of exhaustive studies, researchers have concluded there is only one cause, the most potentially fatal strain of Moronicus Retardis Absolutis, Moronicus Retardis Snapsis/Synapsis Absolutis. Regrettably, Smashus Collapsis Totalis may be the final outcome of this malignant condition.

5. Spiritus Flintus, Determinus & Egregious. This malady is characterized by a fanatical refusal to let other vehicles into a lane of traffic; the driver will concede only over his crushed vehicle and dead body. Occasionally a symptom of the most virulent Upyoursis, the dreaded Upyoursis Upyoursis, researchers have discovered that often such factors as matris neglectus, patris loathus, spousus rejectus, careerus floppus may all give rise to the overwhelming sense of inferiority at the heart of this affliction. In the absence of clear evidence of Upyoursis Upyoursis, a complete course of Psychiatris Revampis at an Accredited Facility is considered the Standard of Care.
A Child’s Arguments against Religion               (November, 2009)

1. What puzzles me, Daddy, is how different religions all claim to have the truth about what God wants and what He doesn’t want. One religion says God doesn’t want to have women priests, and another says it’s okay to have a woman minister. One religion says eating a wafer is really important, and another says women and men shouldn’t pray together. One religion says that God cares about the fall of a sparrow, another says that blowing up your enemies gets you brownie points in the afterlife. I mean. Daddy, all religions can’t be right, can they?

If I met six people who all claimed to know what was exactly at the centre of the planet Saturn–and they all had different answers--but none of them had any real evidence–I’d be inclined to believe all six people were full of bullshit, wouldn’t you, Daddy?

2. I understand the watchmaker argument, Daddy. Here’s this wonderful watch with tons of moving parts all working together to tell the time. It didn’t just come out of nowhere, it had to have a clever watchmaker to design and build it. The same way, the world is so wonderful and complex, there must have been some pretty sharp fella to design and build it.

Okay, that’s fine. But let’s look at the nature of the watch – or world -- that’s been created. Most animals survive by eating other animals. (That was a really good chicken dinner last night.) There seem to be an awful lot of chaotic, unexpected events–volcanoes erupting, tidal waves, earthquakes, and lots of people and animals die when that happens. And sometimes whole species get wiped out –maybe just because an asteroid or meteorite hits the earth and changes conditions so radically.

And if you look at individual lives – whether human or animal – some people live a long time, some die within a few days. Some people are born with or get terrible diseases, and others aren't, or don’t. Life seems pretty unfair. And, if you look at the trajectory of individual lives on average, it’s not the happiest story: you are born, you grow stronger and smarter, then you begin to decline, your body gives out, and you die. Does God like to watch people die, Daddy? I’m not so sure I think the watch is all that wonderful, and so I’m not sure that I’d want to be best pals with the watchmaker.

3. Yeah, okay, an afterlife would help, so that all that misery and unfairness can be evened out, and people can live happily ever after, just as in the fairy tales. But there is no evidence of an afterlife, as there is evidence for the existence of the moon. And I’ve always wondered about Pickles, our cat. He’s also a mammal, with eyes, nose, ears and mouth – sort of a standard body plan. Will he have an afterlife? And if he doesn’t, why not? He seems to have feelings, and sometimes he seems pretty smart. Wouldn’t it be unfair for me to have an afterlife, and not him? And if he does, does a fly, or an ant? What about the bacteria or the viruses we are so anxious to kill? Do they also have afterlives? We all seem to be made of the same genetic building blocks, so it seems pretty hard to draw the line, and say that certain creatures should have an afterlife, but not others.

4. There’s lots of things I don’t understand, Daddy. I don’t know why anything – even the tiniest bit of matter –should exist at all. Yet, obviously, matter does exist. I don’t understand, given that matter exists, how bits of it can come together and form life, which is so different from other kinds of matter. But I don’t understand how computers work either. Does that make it okay to make up stories about how the computer was created, and what the computer maker wants me to do – or not do? Isn’t it better just to wait for real evidence and real answers – even if they never come? Do you think, Daddy, that perhaps God is just the universe – full of order and chaos, and wonder and horror, changing and evolving, and through us, trying to understand itself?

Daddy? Daddy?



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