Tuesday, November 27, 2018

My Log 665 November 27 2018: Chronicles from My Tenth Decade: 101; Dear “Marikim and the team”: Great to hear a youth group coming out strong for the environment. It’s great to know you are really going for it

We live in a time when small items of news seem to hold portentous meaning for our way of life. I have come across at least three of these over the last two days. Two of them seem to reveal extremely stupid political decisions, but let’s take the positive one first:
A Quebec youth group called ENvironnement JEUnesse  is launching a class action law suit against the federal government for having failed people under the age of 35 by not  adopting adequate measures to deal with climate warming.
ENvironnement JEUnesse (get the significance of the capitals: ENJEU -- which means, according to one translation, they really care about this issue and are not going to lose interest)  has filed an application  in Quebec Superior Court through its pro bono law firm of Trudel Johnson and Lesperence, for  authorization to bring a class action against the Canadian government on behalf of Quebeckers aged 35 and under. The group alleges that the government is infringing on a generation’s fundamental rights, because its greenhouse gas reduction target is not ambitious enough to avoid dangerous climate change, and because it does not even have a plan that would allow it to reach this already inadequate goal. They say that if the government continues in this direction “people under 35 will suffer the severe consequences of climate change thus depriving them of their right to life and security of the person, their right to equality and their right to an environment in which biodiversity is preserved.”
I had hardly time to cheer and say, “and so say all of us,” before the release quoted the group’s executive director Catherine Gauthier as saying that “Instead of accelerating a green transition, Canada is subsidizing oil companies and purchasing a pipeline in our name." Bingo! I thought, right on! Because the government has ludicrously argued about who has jurisdiction to build a pipeline, when the real issue is that building the pipeline would  expand the climate-destroying Alberta Tar Sands, which it seems to me every right-thinking Canadian should be in favour of shutting down completely, if we are to play our part in getting climate warming under control. But that seems to be the last thing the government wants Canadians to be debating and discussing.
Mlle Gauthier has it absolutely right when she argues:  "We demand that our rights and those of future generations be protected and respected. We demand that Canada act without delay to avoid dangerous global warming, above 1.5 degs C, as recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change."
And Bruce Johnston, one of their lawyers, also has it right when he explains that "the Canadian government's behaviour infringes on several fundamental rights protected by the Canadian and Quebec charters…. We believe that we have a solid legal case that deserves to be brought before the courts."
Several similar proceedings have been instituted around the world, notably in the Netherlands, where the government was forced to adopt a concrete plan to reach its climate target. The Dutch government is legally bound to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels. Similar legal actions are ongoing in the United States, Belgium, Norway, Ireland, New Zealand, Switzerland, Colombia and the United Kingdom.
An information kit is available at www.enjeu.qc.ca/justice.
Enthusiastic, I immediately banged off a letter to the group telling them: “I am a 90-year-old man, and I want to heartily congratulate you on your action against the government. More especially I am encouraged that you have linked the government action in buying the pipeline to this matter. This has brought all sorts of business people and conservative-minded people out of the closet in defence of expanding the Alberta Tar Sands, a measure that will make nonsense of our national objectives towards controlling climate warming.”
Almost immediately I received a reply from them, sounding rather dazed, perhaps at having received a letter written in English, or perhaps at hearing from a 90-year-old supporting their clear-sighted actions.
“On behalf ENVironnement JEUnesse, I thank you wholeheartedly for your message!....We need you. Here are three actions you can take to support us: 1. Support our cause and become a member 2. Stay informed of the case 3. Subscribe to our newsletter (French only)
Again, I want to express my gratitude for your support in our movement.
Best regards,
Marikim and all the team.”

Sunday, November 25, 2018

My Log 664 Nov 25 2018: Chronicles from My Tenth Decade: 100: I began these chronicles on Dec 22, 2017, 28 days short of a year ago, and already I am celebrating my centenary, taking the opportunity to denounce missionaries, in defence of whomsoever they may target

I have never been in favour of the missionary, although I might myself have been inaccurately accused from time to time of being one (however infrequently this accusation has been launched, it is because of my once fairly fervent defence of the rights of indigenous people against the depredations being made of them in their traditional lands by invading technologists, with their giant dams, reservoirs, roads, engineering, piles of money, and so on).
 For this reason I feel it impossible to really feel any sorrow over the death of the American Pentecostal missionary who was so recently killed by a remote tribe on India’s Andaman islands in the Bay of Bengal. He knew he wasn’t welcome when he set foot on their land: in my view he got no more nor less than his just desserts.
To tell you the truth, I would wish that all Pentecostal and most other missionaries, especially Christians, would meet a similar fate. I have chosen Christians for particular imprecation, because they are our lot, if I may use a colloquial expression. They are the guys and gels down at our local churches who are raising money to finance their onslaught on the beliefs of perfectly innocent people who follow different beliefs and practices from themselves. Simply for that, and for no other reason, these missionaries are sallying out around the world when they would be better advised to stay at home working to stop their own parishioners from destroying Earth’s life support systems, which, if continued is it is going on now, in the next few decades will have undermined the possibility of a prosperous, settled style of human life almost anywhere on Earth. One cannot separate this result from the cause, which is that fundamental to our Judeo-Christian belief system is the concept of mankind at the centre of everything, controlling all life for his or her own purposes.  There is a task for them, if ever there was one. They should get their God, whoever she is and wherever she might be --- allow me to fantasize for the moment that she really exists somewhere ---- to be busy with that one.
Of course, it is not only Christian missionaries who are objectionable. As we have seen recently, during the uprisings around the world, any religion that worships a God, or several Gods, or even as in some places several Hundreds of Gods, can follow the same destructive purposes, with exactly the same appalling results for human and other forms of life on the Earth. (Exhibit A: the total pollution of the Sacred River Ganges by its perfervid Hindu adherents, who wash, piss, crap, in it, and send the bodies of their family members off into the river on a burning pyre, there to be absorbed by the waters, sometimes accompanied --- although the practice is now illegal, it still exists ---   by an adoring widow, strapped into the fire in the hope of achieving a glorious death). I recently saw a film sbout the religions of India made by a friend who once made an excellent film about the Indian workers in the market gardens of British Columbia: and it can definitely be said, on the evidence from that film, that the Hindu religionists are barking mad, ready to kill and maim at the tip of a hat anyone with whom they disagree!
 The Moslem variety of religion can be even more disastrous than that of our Christian fanatics.  One could hardly expect anything else from a people who are flinging themselves on to the ground five times a day in prostration before their Boss Up There. When given the reins of government, as recently they seized them in Iraq and Syria, they have imposed the most inhumanly brutal government it is possible to imagine, killing and hacking merrily for all manner of unexceptional human actions that in most civilized countries would deserve hardly a slap on the hand.  These religious warriors keep the distaff side of the human race under cover-all subjection, and lop off hands, heads, breasts, lips or scalps as their inhumane laws dictate. (This sounds like a root-and-branch attack on all Islam; but I am perfectly aware that most Moslems are peaceable people who can hardly deny that these outlying cesspools exist as a result of their religion. Maybe the cesspools would cease to exist if they would stop flinging themselves to earth five times a day, and admit the right of others to exist.)
And they are not the only ones: in Burma there is a  Buddhist monk known as the Venerable W, who has whipped up his fervent followers to murder and pillage among anyone who professes a different faith from this own, especially those of the Muslim faith. This is odd because this religion, Buddhism, is generally supposed to be among the most non-violent of all the major religions. Non-violent my eye: look at what has happened in Indo-China in the last 50 years, nothing but slaughter and more slaughter.
I once had an amusing contretemps with the board of a Jesuit publication whose editor, having previously worked for a leftist magazine for which I wrote from time to time, asked me to write a review of the widely-heralded British film, The Mission, on which were engaged such major talents as Robert Bolt, writer, Roland Joffé, director, and Robert de Niro, Jeremy Irons, Ray McNally, Liam Neeson and Aidan Quinn, stars. This was an account of the establishment of a mission station by the Spanish Jesuits among the Guarani of Paraguay. I used the occasion to denounce the whole idea of missionaries, and to compare the film to a wonderful film by Jules Dassin, his second made in France after his banishment from the United States because of the McCarthy-ite blacklist.  It was in the making of this film that Dassin first met Merlina Mercouri, the smouldering Greek actress who played the role of Mary Magdalena in the film, later became Dassin’s wife, and even later a minister of culture in the Greek government, whose untimely death brought an estimated 300,000 people into the streets of Athens for her funeral.
The film is based on a Kazantzakis novel, and is centred on a Turkish-occupied Greek village soon after the First World War. A group of desperate, starving people who have been expelled from another village and are wandering the countryside, stop in the hills and  appeal to the villagers below them for help, but although the younger members want to help, the elders, worried that it might cost them something, and upset their Turkish overlords,  will not hear of it.  The principals in the Passion play that they are preparing, are especially imbued with the Christian message of the characters they are playing,  from Jesus on down, but the elders are inflexible.
The young man playing Jesus decides he must take matters into his own hands, but he is shot in the church by the character playing Judas, and thereafter the younger players invade the armoury, and take to the barricades against the authorities  in a vain but heroic effort to defend the Christian tenets of charity and compassion. As Bosley Crowther, of the New York Times wrote in a favorable review,  “Mr. Dassin has constructed a film that is as brutally realistic as the bare, dried-out Cretan town and the stony hills in which it was photographed. It abounds in a daring sort of candor and relentless driving toward its points of allegorical contact in a succession of searching and searing episodes….Dassin has made his picture so truly and sympathetically that it could be a documentary of an occurrence in life.”
I entirely concur with that judgment: the film was so powerful that I still remember its effect after more than half a century has passed. But my comparing The Mission unfavourably with the leftist-tinged film by Dassin did not sit well with the editors of the Jesuit magazine, who, after pondering the matter most seriously, finally agreed to print my review, if I would agree to their printing alongside it a review more acceptable to their general outlook on mission work. Why not? I asked, and so they did. But I never heard from them again: they did not hire me for more work.
If any of my readers would like to pursue the question of missionaries and their effects in South America, I can recommend a couple of  books that state the case.
The great English travel writer and shit-disturber Norman Lewis in 1988 wrote a definitive book about their methods and effects called The Missionaries, published by Secker in the UK, by McGraw in the US. But 20 years before, an article of his "Genocide in Brazil", published in the Sunday Times  led to the creation of the organisation  Survival International  dedicated to the protection of first peoples around the world. Lewis later said of this article that it was "the most worthwhile of all my endeavours."
Another great writer --- I’ve never understood why he didn’t get the Nobel Prize, this one --- who approached the same subject through fiction was Peter Matthiessen’s At Play in the Fields of the Lord, published by Viking Books in a paperback in 1991, copyright 1965. A missionary descends into the South American jungle to contact a remote Indian tribe, only to find a drunken North Dakota Indian has found his way into the jungle ahead of him, with hilarious results. This was also made into a feature film in 1991, directed and written by Hector Babenco, also the director of the unforgettable Kiss of the Spider Woman, and starring Tom Berenger, Daryl Hannah, Tom Waits and Kathy Bates Anyone with an interest in nature should read some of Peter Matthiessen’s eleven  fictional works, as well as his 22 non-fictional, scientific-cum-travel books. Among the fiction I can strongly recommend Far Tortuga, a wonderful dialect account of some fishermen descending along the Caribbean coastline of Central America; and the superb trilogy called Killing Mr. Watson, an account of the killing of an early settler deep in the Florida Everglades, seen from three different points of view.  This is a writer who doesn’t try to flatter his readers by making it easy for them: you have to stick at it for a while, but eventually you find yourself, much to your surprise, sucked into the centre of a whole imaginative world. One of the most revealing books about human nature I have ever read is Matthiessen’s Under the Mountain Wall: A Chronicle of Two Seasons in the Stone age (1982). This is a study of some  New Guinea villages two years after they were first contacted from outside. In 1978 he wrote his signature work The Snow Leopard, an account of trying to track down the elusive animal in the Himalayas; in 1983, a complete change of subject, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, is a defence of Leonard Pelletier who has been held for decades in a US prison for a murder he almost assuredly did not commit in the Pine Ridge Indian reservation during the 1970s disturbances there; also a very stimulating book, his last  The End of the Earth: Voyage to Antarctica (2003) tells us a great deal about the influences that are paramount on weather patterns around the Earth.

Friday, November 23, 2018

My Log 663 November 23, 2018: Chronicles from My Tenth Decade: 99; Henry Miller, even in his minor works, brings our world to vibrant life: I wish I’d had him around when I was growing up

It is curious how one can adopt stubborn prejudices that extend themselves into upsetting judgments that one would not otherwise make.
I am thinking here of a prejudice I developed against Time magazine as I was growing up. Perhaps it came from the fact that the magazine was so wholeheartedly the tribune of the might of the United States, against which the lowly citizen of a tiny nation buried in a mighty ocean far, far away, might more or  less reasonably react unfavourably, I suppose.
Let me be more precise. One of Time magazine’s heroes, if one read it consistently, was the British writer Lawrence Durrell, and the fact that the magazine was always fawning over him and his books was enough to put me off reading them. (I have since tried, and have found myself unable to get through his novels, although I have enjoyed a book he wrote on Cyprus, one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen).
The magazine usually remarked that Durrell was a close friend of   Henry Miller. Ipso facto, extending my prejudice against the magazine, I avoided reading Miller for many decades. And even to this day I have never read a word of Anais Nin, the oddly multinational writer whose fame seemed at one point to come mainly from her having had a passionate love affair with Miller.
Eventually I did read some of Miller’s shorter works, and enjoyed them a great deal, especially I remember one called A Devil in Paradise, about a literary friend from France who was up against it, and who Miller invited to spend as much time as he liked in Big Sur where  Miller was now installed on the California coast. The man came, and according to the story, was an infernal pest, impervious to every hint that the time had come to leave. Maybe because I am myself sensitive almost to a fault to the fear of overstaying my welcome wherever I may be, even when I have been invited by a friend, I found his description highly amusing of a situation that was well known to me in life, and he told it in a wonderful, semi-fictional, semi-autobiographical style that I hadn’t struck before.  I was able to relate so easily because I’ve never forgotten how some neighbours of some friends of my wife’s parents, previously unknown to either of us,  arrived to stay with us in Winnipeg once, and left after six weeks in high dudgeon because we had felt the need to  suggest the time had come for them to move on. The worst thing was that we recognized this as perfectly acceptable New Zealand behaviour at the time, to which we had been slightly prey on arrival abroad,  so we used it for behaviour modification in ourselves.
It was when I read his first great work, Tropic of Cancer, that I was completely blown away, enthralled by its astonishing verbal vigour, its non-linear shape, its denial of time constraints, it refusal to be intimidated by what proper people might think of his language, and its immense scope; a work of great humour, desperate depravity, reckless experimentation,  and fearless portrayal of people of all types, status or attainments. I finished that reading convinced that Miller had to be the greatest writer currently at work with the English language, and possibly one of the greatest novelists of all time.
This impression was solidified by an examination of what his book had to go through just to be allowed to be read.  He wrote it while living an itinerant life in Paris between 1930 and 1934. But the US customs service banned it --- I am indebted to Wikipedia for these details ---- and when some smuggled copies from Paris were sold in New York, lawsuits followed. In 1950 the American Civil Liberties Union tried to import the book, along with its companion volume Tropic of Capricorn, but one after another American judges declared the book to be obscene. And so it went on, a merry dance between publishers, booksellers and authorities, year after year, court case after court case, the book being memorably described by one judge as "not a book. It is a cesspool, an open sewer, a pit of putrefaction, a slimy gathering of all that is rotten in the debris of human depravity." Finally in 1964, 30 years after its publication, the Supreme Court, overriding many State judges, declared the book to be not obscene, but a work of art.
Not only were his works excoriated by authorities everywhere, but because they couldn’t sell, he failed to make a living out of them, and was kept alive during his years in Paris by acquaintances, friends, and lovers. among them Anais Nin. Tropic of Cancer in fact is, among other things, a record of his day-to-day existence, his constant bumming off people, his waking up every morning wondering where his food would come from that day, as he struggled to establish his validity as a writer, alternately disgusted by the behaviour of the people around him, as well as glorying in all the physical pleasures they offered.
Until I jettisoned most of the books I had collected when I moved from Ottawa to Montreal  in 2012, I had quite a library of Miller books, most of which I gave to the old folks’ home for their annual book sale.
Among them was a genuine curiosity, called Opus Pistorum, said to mean, in Latin, Work of the Miller, a pornographic work he wrote for a dollar a page, one of a number written by other writers as well, to fulfil a demand for such works from various Hollywood personalities. All I remember from the book is that one of its main characters was making out on as regular basis with both his wife and their daughter, and the protagonist and his daughter were taking the greatest of pleasure and enjoyment from their relationship. Thus, even in his lighter moments, Henry Miller was at work overturning the customary societal abhorrence of the sin that is usually held to be the only one that is common to all cultures.
You must be wondering what started me off on this praise of Henry Miller. Well, the fact is, a couple of his slim, minor works survived my great cleansing  en route from Ottawa to Montreal, and since I hadn’t read either of them, I picked them up this week, and was again plunged into the glory of his prose. The first story is called Max and the Phagocytes, a searing pen portrait of an American down on his luck in Paris, a man, to hear him tell it, born to suffer, to such an extent that Miller writes of him:
I had grown so accustomed to Max, to his state of perpetual misfortune, that I began to accept him as a natural phenomenon: he was a part of the general landscape like rocks, trees, urinals, brothels, meat markets, flower stalls and so on. There are thousands of men like Max roaming the streets, but Max was the personification of all.  He was Unemployment, he was Hunger, he was Misery, he was Woe, he was Despair, he was Defeat, he was Humiliation. The others I could get rid of by flipping them a coin. Not Max! Max was something so close to me that it was just impossible to get rid of him. He was closer to me than a bed-bug. Something under the skin,  something in the blood stream. When he talked I only half-listened.  I had only to catch the opening phrase and I could continue by myself indefinitely, ad infinitum. Everything he said was true, horribly true.
I couldn’t help but think of Coleridge, renowned in his day for his habit of talking to passers-by, clutching them ferociously by a coat-button, Coleridge so intense on his conversation that they would cut off the button leaving him to talk on, oblivious to their departure. Thus was born in our language the word “buttonholing.” Max seemed to be buttonholing Miller.
The next time Max appeared he was wearing a fancy English-cut suit, several sizes too big for him, but still something that made him look presentable, until one noticed the  “low canvas shoes, dirty and worn, they don’t go with the suit and the hat.” He tells how he made it to Vienna, where he was going to start a new life but he found it even worse than Paris. He admitted the soup kitchens were clean, but what good were clean kitchens when, because of the smart suit, given to him by someone in Vienna, nobody believes him any more, and he doesn’t have a sou in his pockets? From force of habit he says his good shoes are at the cobbler’s and he doesn’t have the money to get them out.
On another occasion, feeling more friendly Miler takes him home, promising to give him a couple of suits he no longer wears, introduces him to Boris, another sufferer, who puts him up for a time. Then he disappears again until a letter arrives.
Dear Miller and Boris…. it is 3 o’clock  in the morning I cannot sleep  I am very nervis, I am crying and can’t stop    ….A long night of suffering though I am not very hungry but I am  afraid of something. I don’t know what is the matter with me. I talk to myself I can’t control myself. Miller, I  don’t want you to help me any more. I want to talk to you, am I a child? I have no courage, am I losing my reason?
On and on it goes, Max finding new ways to suffer, Miller listening to his voice as he reads, half sardonic and cruel, half sympathetic and soft. But overall, using Max as a subject to write about.
I had read the whole story without coming across the word phagocyte, which I had never come across before.  So I looked it up:
Phagocyte, type of cell that has the ability to ingest, and sometimes digest, foreign particles, such as bacteria, carbon, dust, or dye”
Or, another one:
Phagocytes are the white blood cells that protect the body by eating (phagocytosing) dirt, bacteria and dead or dying cells. They are important for fighting infections. They are also important for becoming immune. Phagocytes are important in all animals and are very complex in vertebrates. One litre of human blood has about six billion phagocytes.
So, as usual with Miller, his story, innocent on the surface, must have had some higher purpose, vaguely scientific.
The second story in the little book is called The World of Sex. After urging the need to be free of the bounds that tie the average North American man in his attitude to sex, Miller writes:
Nor can I acknowledge as necessitous or inevitable what now goes on in the name of law and order, peace and prosperity, freedom and security. Sell it to the Hottentots! It’s too utterly horrendous for me to swallow. I intend to stake out my own claim, a tiny one, but my own. Lacking a name for it, I’ll call it pro tem --- .the Land of  Fuck.  In this domain, I am the undisputed monarch. Mad as a hatter, perhaps, but only because 999,999,999,999 others think other than I do. Where others see celery,  roots,  kohlrabi,  parsnips and rootabaga, I detect a new  sprout, the germ of a new order. 
“What man’s sex life may be under a new order surpasses my feeble imagination to describe,” he writes. But he does have a good go at it, his imagination running wild, before he concludes:

When our desires are thwarted or suppressed, life becomes mean, ugly, vicious and death-like. Just as it is, in other words.  After all, the world we inhabit is only the reflected image of our utter chaos. Our medicine men, our juristic fanatics, all the hair-shirted pedagogues and mystifiers who dominate the scene would have us believe that to partake of a societal life, the savage,  primitive being, as they call the natural man, must be hobbled and fettered. Every creative being knows this is false. Nothing was ever accomplished by cramping, thwarting, fettering,  shackling, one another. Nor crime nor war, nor lust nor greed, nor malice nor envy are thus eliminated.  All that is effected, in the name of Society, is the perpetuation if the great lie.
Oh, I am so envious. I wish I could write like that, so free, so flowing, so inspiring. And I also wish someone like him had been around to open my mind as I was growing up. I would have lived a much happier, and more decent life.