Friday, June 22, 2018

My Log 632 June 22 2018: Chronicles from the Tenth Decade: 68 ; I have two sources for cheap books: and both have granted me rich rewards

Most of the books I have bought in recent years have been 50 cent jobs from the array of good books being remaindered outside The Word bookshop on Milton street in Montreal. To my knowledge this is the only bookshop these days that still puts out good, readable works in this way, at giveaway prices. Two of my recent purchases there have been remarkable British novels, one by Andrea Newman, An Evil Streak, a deliciously witty and thoroughly amoral work about the nasty love held by an uncle for his niece, whose love life he controls and manipulates to tragic effect, and  the other a book called The Blue Afternoon, by William Boyd, a strange tale about a scruffy old man who turns up in the life of a successful woman architect in Los Angeles with the story that he is her father, and thereafter  leads her into  the story of his great love affair for another man’s wife during his younger years as a surgeon in Manila, Philippines, again leading towards a tragic, or at least very sad, ending. 
It was the first book of Boyd’s I have ever read, and it has persuaded me to read more. And as for Newman, I had never even heard of her, although I have subsequently discovered that she has written at least eight other novels with the same disturbing and page-turning effect, one of which, with the wicked title of A Bouquet of Barbed Wire, apparently held the British viewing audience spellbound every Sunday night for weeks, just as I remember a BBC version of The Count of Monte Cristo, starring that spectacularly brilliant and romantic actor Alan Badel, doing during the 1960s. Not a bad one dollar’s worth from The Word, in sum.
But I have an even cheaper occasional source of books. I walk most days through the McGill university campus, past the McGill library, where they have the habit, from time to time, of putting out books they are anxious to get rid of, hoping that passers-by will take them off their hands for free. I have indulged that hope frequently.  I remember one day when they laid out two beautiful dictionaries, the Concise Collins,  in a 1988 new edition (1392 pages),  and the Third College Edition also 1988, of Webster’s New World Dictionary of American English (1576 pages).   These were such beautiful books, so crammed with knowledge that everyone who works with words needs, that I simply couldn’t pass them by. I lugged them the mile or so to my home, to offer them to my children, who, wouldn’t you know, shoved their noses in the air with a gesture of incredulity, and asked, “Why would I need a dictionary? I have a dictionary already online.” 
I didn't need a new dictionary, either, as it happens, because my Bible still is The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, an immense book of 2515 pages, first published in 1933 and revised and reprinted thirteen times up to the 1960s, when my wife wrote a note in front saying she had bought it in the rain for my birthday in 1965.  That would have been my 37th birthday: how did I ever manage before, without it?
The preface is a lovely piece of arcane Britishness: “This Dictionary is an abridgement officially authorized by the Delegates of the Oxford University Press of a New English Dictionary on Historical Principles, later known as the Oxford Englsh Dictionary. The need for such an abridged form of the great work was envisaged at the outset. The publication of this work is, in fact, a fulfilment of one of the provisions of the agreement entered into in the year 1879 between the Philological Society and the Oxford University Press. The relevant clause of the Indenture is as follows:
“The Delegates may (if and when they think fit) prepare and publish any Dictionaries compiled or abridged from the principal Dictionary and in such form as they may think fit, and may deal with the same in all respects at their discretion.
“It was not until 1902 that the project of an abridgement was initiated. It was clear that the editors and staff engaged on the principal work had their hands too full to undertake it….” 
And so “a scholar from outside”, Mr William Little, Fellow of Corpus Christi College, began the work and continued it until his death in 1922, and the work thereafter was continued by a succession of others, one of whom was the famous H. W. Fowler, famous for his own indispensible work, Modern English Usage, first published in April 1926, and constantly reprinted and revised since then.
I also have two other valuable books I picked up at the same source, the Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations (first published in 1995), compiled by  Ned Sherrin who was a well-known presenter of humorous  TV programmes in the 1960s, and Funk and Wagnall’s Modern Guide to Synonyms, edited by S.I. Hayakawa, who was Professor of English and Speech at San Francisco State College.
When I saw the name, I remembered this professor had won fame as a hatchet man for Ronald Reagan when he was governor of California, and who, like his master, was bitterly opposed to student activism, and the black protest movement. Hayakawa was a Canadian who had migrated to the United States, where he worked all his professional life, and was appointed by Reagan to be president of the university. I remember the noted Montreal architect Moshe Safdie showing me a model of a revolutionary-type building he had designed for the student body at the San Francisco State University. Although only in a cardboard model when he showed it to me, it was composed, in the Safdie manner, of building blocks, piled on one another, but its distinctive feature was that Safdie proposed its having no front door into the building, which would be entered by students climbing the gently-sloping roofs, where they would enter classrooms as they came upon them. Hayakawa, however, as president,  was at war with the very student body for whom Safdie was doing his work, and he quickly cancelled the project.  
The student rebellion, led by the Third World Liberation Front,  supported by the Students for a Democratic Society and the Black Panthers,  proposed a black studies department independent of the university administration, with open admission for black students. Hayakawa’s opposition to these demands won him a political following among the right-wing. According to Wikipedia, “He  became popular with conservative voters after he pulled the wires out from the loud speakers on a protesters' van at an outdoor rally. He  relented in 1968, and created the first-in-the-nation College of Ethnic Studies.” But he had discovered a taste for politics, and in 1976 he won election to the US Senate, where he served until 1983. He died at the age of 85 in 1992.
I started out this piece with a different objective, and have gotten sidetracked along the way. I set out to tell how his week I picked up four books from the McGill Library castoffs, one of which was a slim volume on the History of Europe in the 20th century by two American professors. I wondered why I had bothered to take this book, but then I realized it was just the journalist in me: during my career I have learned a little bit about a wide variety of things, and that includes Europe and its history. I know something of what happened in Europe from the time I was born in 1928, but virtually nothing of the years before that, although there are thousands of learned works written on the period, by such as A.J.P. Taylor, Margaret Macmillan, and others, none of which have I had the courage to confront.  So, squirrel-like, I was hoping this slim volume, evidently designed for laymen like myself, might give me some information I do not have, and even allow me to pretend that I know more than I do, the favorite journalist’s trick.
So far, after reading only one chapter, I have been delighted with the amazing facts outlined in the book: but I am afraid that will have to wait for another Chronicle, which will at least give me time to finish the book, and thereafter, with any luck, be able to  pass on some of the insights it has granted me (I hope).

Link of the day: June 22 2018: Chris Hedges exposes Bernie Sanders for a phony

In an outstanding article in Truthdig, the leftish former establishment journalist Chris Hedges eviscerates Bernie Sanders piece by piece, and reveals that his follow-up organization, Our Revolution, has disintegrated because of Bernie’s compromises with the corrupt, corporate-controlled Democratic party establishment, the very same outfit that fraudulently ensured he would not beat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primary. For those of us who might have been waiting for Bernie to ride to the rescue, this article provides a cruel corrective. It can be read here.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

My Log 631 June 14 2018: Chronicles from the Tenth Decade: 67; Salesmen, whether selling snake oil or politics, have in common an exrremely fancy way of presenting their wares

When I sit here thinking over  my many years as a worker with words, one of the most surprising things to me is that  it is not the many pages-long investigative pieces  that stick in my mind so much as the throw-away sidebars that foundered at the editorial stage – by which I mean, pieces that were rejected for publication for various idiotic reasons.
I remember, for example, many years ago covering a luncheon speech given by a salesman --- perhaps I should call him a sales expert --- who analysed the perfect sales pitch for the delectation of his business audience. He expressed himself in terms that, to me, constituted a revolutionary recasting of the purposes of the English language.  Moving smoothly through the initial need for a salesman to make contact with his victim ---  sorry, proposed customer --- our man  (let’s call him George, that’s a matey sort of name),  recalled the salesman’s initial need to outline what he called “the needs creation” area of his sales call. In other words, he had to set out to persuade his interlocutor  that he needed something that until that moment he had never known he needed.  This, I guess, is the golden rule of all advertising, and it is probably why many serious dissenting analysts of our current economic status quo nominate advertising as the first thing to go in their proposed creation of a better- ordered economy. But call me naive, I had never heard it expressed in such stark terms before.
From that peak moment, George, putting two and two together,   moved seamlessly  into what he called  the “needs satisfaction area” of the call, namely that part of his spiel in which he could persuade his victim that, his hitherto unknown need having been created, the means for its satisfaction lay at hand, right there in the speaker’s suitcase.
There were many other refinements in this amazing address, items that have escaped my mind with the intervening years, but I hastened back to the office to write an amusing, and to my mind irresistibly informative piece, about the thought processes of the door-to-door salesman, so brutally expressed in words such as I had never heard before.. I was perfectly confident that my piece would receive a warm welcome from the editorial poobahs.
In a pig’s eye with that. The piece made its way to the desk of the Editor-in-chief who chuckled over it,  spiked it firmly, then took the trouble to call me in and inform me that this was not the sort of thing that any newspaper that depended on advertising should think for one moment of printing.
Ah, well, wot the hell, as I tend to say nowadays.
A similar fate met a piece I wrote, only a few days after I returned from my eight years of relative freedom as the correspondent in London, where I could write almost anything that came to mind (within reason, of course, as all reporters know, although many of them seem to think, mistakenly, that they are free actors).  I was asked to cover the opening of a super-market in one of Montreal’s northern suburbs. Unaccustomed to the grandiose aspirations of Canadian mercantilism after my years in well-mannered London, I waxed eloquent over the new structure’s cathedral-like dimensions, marvelled at the amount of money devoted to its construction, and commented that this was exactly what Fidel Castro only a few days before had meant when he talked about the mindless extravagance of North American capitalism.
This time there was no warm chuckle of amusement when the Big Poobah lifted my piece from his desk and let it fall as if it were utterly worthless. “This,” he said, “….this….we cannot be seen to be critical of the very people who provide us with our income. That would be an act of extremely bad taste.” It wasn’t very long thereafter that he began to find things for me to write about elsewhere, in Alaska, where they were building oil wells, or northern Alberta,  wandering the native communities, anywhere except at home, where it seemed I might be expected to  come up with an embarrassing piece  at any time.
I can’t exactly say what is the connection, but all these reminiscences were brought on by my recent astonishment at hearing so many politicians and commentators straining themselves to the limit to make rational argument for the impulsive and implausible actions of their new President,  who is so intent on making America great again.  I even heard one enthusiast outline how the president had already proven the commentariat wrong by taking actions which have resulted in higher black employment figures  than America has ever before experienced. That Latin Americans should be worshipping at his feet because his enforced reduction of illegal immigrants has solidified the labour market for authentic legal, Latin workers, who are already beginning their elevation into the middle-class.  (I have no idea where he came up with these figures, mind you.)
I even read a piece somewhere by Yanis Varoufakis, the failed wunderkind finance minister of the Greek government, who analysed Trump’s onslaught on the global economic order as a matter of the highest significance, and presented it as if Trump, the greatest stumblebum ever elected in North America,  had thought it all out as if he were some professor of economics.  
This brought me back to something I mentioned in my recent piece  about the bumbling Doug Ford, now in charge of Ontario’s economy and well-being, which is that if some half-baked leader comes up with a lunatic idea, there is never any shortage of people who will get right behind him, and propagate his loony ideas as if  they were handed down from heaven. I guess the connection mentioned heretofore is that these leaders who have been foisted upon us by the rigged electoral system, are nothing but door-to-door salesmen, peddling their wares to the ultimate disadvantage of a gullible public.

Friday, June 8, 2018

My Log 630 June 8 2018: Chronicles from the Tenth Decade: 67; Blindsided by the victory of Ford Nation; a political junky, accustomed to hanging in to the end, wilts under the pressure, and goes to bed

These days I feel that before I write anything, I should make what they call nowadays a full disclosure, which is that from the time I first had a political thought, which would have been around when I was 15 (at which time I was usually preoccupied with running and jumping and either throwing or kicking or hitting a ball back and forth), since that time I have always believed that politically speaking the best system is for the collective to take care of the well-being of everyone, of no matter what economic class.
In ordinary speech, that would be called socialism, and my belief in it has impregnated my life to such an extent that not only have I never voted for non-leftist political parties, but in my personal life I have steered clear of making friendships with people of conservative leanings with, of course, some very rare exceptions. I know this is rather a shameful thing to admit to, but there you are.
I had been thinking of making this full disclosure, a sort of half-joke, because I intended to launch into a review of the crazy antics now seizing the world political scene. But overnight that has been overtaken by a more immediate event, the election of Doug Ford by the supposedly highly educated electorate of Ontario, as Premier of that province. To be quite frank with you, this event has blindsided me to such an extent that I can almost not find words to describe my incredulity. It is not as if Ontarians have not been warned, since Doug was part of the duo of the late Mayor of Toronto, headed by his brother Rob, and Doug, who campaigned with pride on the record of his brother’s mayoralty, has never given any evidence that he is much closer to being sane than was the unlamented mayor.
Suffice it to say he followed the Donald Trump playbook, saying over and over that he was going to make Ontario so damned great, Ontarians as prosperous as they have never before been, and that he was going to do it by cutting government expenditure --- where, exactly, pleaded his opponents, where are you going to cut, how many nurses will be laid off, how many teachers, how many schools closed?  --- without, he said, giving the big, expansive smile,  one person losing his or her job.
Given the history of Ford Nation, as he and his brother have been so amusingly called, that should have been enough to persuade Ontario voters to look elsewhere: after all, we are living in the 21st century, and this guy is vowing to abolish the carbon tax, to lower all taxes, to ignore everything we know about the climate problems threatening the globe, all the while claiming, as Trump has claimed,  to be representing ”the little guy.”
No, no, no one could fall for such a crude political presentation, I thought, this isn’t serious. Is it?  Is it?
Within 15 minutes of the polls closing, the Ford Nation had achieved so resounding a victory that the CBC was able to announce he had won a Conservative majority government for the first time since 1999 or thereabouts.
I have been watching election broadcasts all my life, and I invariably hang in to the end, waiting until each of the candidates has either declared victory or conceded defeat, a habit I have followed in spite of my distaste for the endless prognosticating of the commentariat. But as soon as I heard that incredible news, I transformed myself into a Quebecer, to whom this massive setback to the civilized Canada I had always half-admired means nothing, and retired to bed.
It is the following morning, and I haven’t been able to face more commentary about this event. As I have often observed, there is nothing so indecent, no idea so fatuous, that it does not attract a following of enthusiastic idiots (the template is the post-war educated, cultured nation of Germany, the homeland of Beethoven and Bach, which allowed itself to fall under the spell of an obsessed, murderous, thuggish gang that took xenophobia to the very limits of imagination, and yet who won enthusiastic support from the population.)
This event in Ontario lies literally beyond the parameters of my political world. I sit here musing about this democracy that is so endlessly prated about by the wealth-owning media. I have never been entirely sold on the idea of democracy in politics, certainly not when it is propagated as the answer to the problems of every nation and every people everywhere. Its one virtue is that it tends not to lock up people for their political beliefs, although the current situation in the United States, where democracy is as a religion, with prisons full of millions of black men and women, is surely just a political repression under another guise.
I think of Europe, struggling so manfully in the 70-odd years since the Second World War to put their endless wars behind them,  and create a united population, only for it to begin to fray under right-wing attacks by xenophobes and nationalists. I think of Latin America, having so painfully struggled free from the reactionary rule of American and European money, gradually drifting under democratic voting, back towards the old ways of political murder gangs and state-sponsored executions.
Democracy every way, democracy everywhere. Oh, yeah, what a great future lies ahead.