Tuesday, October 31, 2006

"It doesn't matter to me whether they can be separated or not"

I can't help thinking of the recent report of conjoined twins born in Vancouver on 25th October 2006.
The twins are craniopagal, which means that they are joined at the head and share just one brain, and so any separation (and I don't think anyone is suggesting that they should not be separated, which is interesting in itself) will result in either one or both losing out on that brain.
The mother, who has her own health problems and lives on welfare, seems distressingly vague about it all, and she is quoted as saying
"It doesn't matter to me whether they can be separated or not".
Doesn't that seem a little strange to you? The grandmother describes them as "kinda cute". The father hasn't been seen or heard of since the birth, and I can guess why.
Despite the mother's vacancy and the father's absenteeism, the moral issues seem to be exercising the thoughts of the medical profession and the media, and you have to wonder whether it wasn't ill-advised to allow the birth (especially given that the circumstances were well-known at a very early stage).
There has been very little focus on just how much the separation procedure would cost the tax-payer (although, from what I can gather, we are talking about $4-5 million) and what that kind of money could have been used for.
Tricky moral territory, I know, but I had the same qualms when an Afghan boy was brought over to Canada about a year ago for some incredibly complex and expensive medical treatment not available in the wasteland which remains where Afghanistan used to be. Even then, there seemed to be little or no discussion over whether this wasn't a callous mis-allocation of scarce funds, and over such incidentals as how many people had died in Afghanistan while this sentimental media circus was going on.

Friday, October 27, 2006

"Cutting-Edge" Drivel

I really do think that the time has come for the Globe and Mail to dispense with Margaret Wente.
Over the years, she has developed her stereotypical SUV-driving latte-drinking persona ("the person people love to hate") presumably as a means of appearing "contentious" or "cutting-edge", and I can see the promotional attraction of that for a newspaper, despite the drivel she actually writes.
But when that "cutting-edge" persona clearly runs out of things to say and becomes repetitive, surely her value is lost, and she just becomes shallow and tedious. How many more of her "thought-provoking" columns on how pointless it is for Canada to pursue Kyoto targets because we are so insignificant in the eyes of the world do we really need? In addition to presenting a bad role model and a defeatist attitude, it is a spurious argument anyway, and one not worthy of the Globe even the first couple of times she pitched it.
You could argue that the fact that I am writing about her at all proves her worth, but I think that everyone really knows that "any publicity is good publicity" was always an unsound doctrine, especially for a newspaper or a politician.
In the absence of a better Canadian national paper, Ms Wente's fatuousness is unlikely to make me cancel my subscription, it just seems a bit of a waste of a column.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

A daunting read

I have been manfully ploughing through George Eliot's "Daniel Deronda" in recent days (OK, I admit it, weeks!).
Generally speaking, I am a modern fiction sort of person (Julian Barnes, Thomas Pynchon, Peter Carey, that sort of thing), but I do still have a soft spot in my soul for the older classics, and George Eliot (along with Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy and others) is still among my favourites.
"Daniel Deronda", often considered her pi├Ęce de r├ęsistance, is however a daunting read. We are at page 700-odd before Daniel even meets his mother, and there are still 200-odd pages to go (the length of many complete novels). And it is not just the sheer weight of the book which daunts, but it's density. There are beautifully constructed sentences which take up most of a page, and by the time you reach the end (of the sentence, I mean) you are wondering what the first half was all about. Just a random example of a sentence from page 685:

Many nights were watched through by him, in gazing from the open window of his room on the double, faintly pierced darkness of the sea and the heavens: often in struggling under the oppressive scepticism which represented his particular lot, with all the importance he was allowing Mordecai to give it, as of no more lasting effect than a dream - a set of changes which made passion to him, but beyond his consciousness were no more than an imperceptible difference of mass or shadow; sometimes with a reaction of emotive force which gave even to sustained disappointment, even to the fulfulled demand of sacrifice, the nature of a satisfied energy, and spread over his young future, whatever it might be, the attraction of devoted service; sometiomes with a sweet irresistible hopefulness that the very best of human possibilities might befall him - the blending of a complete personal love in one current with a larger duty; and sometimes again in a mood of rebellion (what human creature escapes it?) against things in general because they are thus and not otherwise, a mood in which Gwendolen and her equivocal fate moved as busy images of what was amiss in the world along with the concealments which he had felt as a hardship in his own life, and which were acting in him now under the form of an afflicting doubtfulness about the mother who had announced herself coldly and still kept away.

Wow!
The meaning comes through, but you really have to work at it, much as you have to work at Samuel Becket or James Joyce. The grammar and puctuation is impeccable (all those colons and semi-colons - who knows how to use those correctly, nowadays? - parentheses, sub-clauses and sub-sub-clauses, you name it!), and the vocabulary erudite (this, in the days before thesauruses).
But not what you would call beach reading.
I think the next book on my "to-read" shelf may be "Haroun and the Sea of Stories" by Salman Rushdie. I like to be made to think (and Rushie ensures that), but these days I can only cope with so much hard labour in my reading.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Fashion arrogance

There was a glossy unsolicited magazine called The Look in today's Globe and Mail. Normally it would go, unopened, straight into the recycling, but today I idly flicked through it, and came across an editorial which included the sentence
Nowadays you really would have to be a narrow-minded, two-faced, ignorant scab not to appreciate the rich diversity in the men's fashion sent down the runways of the world.
Now, I am a broad-minded sort of a guy, of average or above-average intelligence, and, so far as mirrors allow, I am only aware of having the regulation single face. But I absolutely don't appreciate men's fashions nor, from what I saw in the magazine, the diversity thereof.
Which I guess leaves me as a "scab", insofar as I am now even more disposed to boycott any kind of fashion world which engenders that level of arrogance and, let it be said, narrow-mindedness.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Solar power blues

A year ago or so I installed solar hot water heating in our house (a solar panel on the roof and a heat exchanger in the basement which heats the water for the regular hot water tank). Supposedly it will supply about 50% of our hot water over the year which, with the rather spartan amounts we use, may (or may not) pay back its cost in about 20-25 years, if we are still alive then, still in this house, etc, etc. Anyway, it seemed like the kind of thing a good global citizen should be doing, (especially in country like Canada which is now 30% over our Kyoto targets for greenhouse emissions, and getting worse), and and it does have a certain undeniable coolness factor.
So, I have recently been looking into generating solar electricity with a photovoltaic (PV) array on the roof. What prompted this was the upcoming Ontario legislation called the Standard Offer Contract (SOC) whereby they will pay 42¢/kWh for power generated by PV, which compared to the 8.3¢/kWh we pay Bullfrog for our electricity at the moment seems like a pretty good deal. It's still a 20 year payback period according to my calculations but, hey, we're not going anywhere for a while...
However, the more I look into it the more I come across vaguely-worded small print about Ontario Energy Board fees, possible large costs for new meters, new utility account fees, etc. To be fair, the program is still in the planning phase (although an official definitive release is supposed to happen "this fall"), but what initially sounded like a good, green investment is starting to look distinctly shaky from a financial perspective.

Luke's very first blog

Finally, I have my very own blog!
I could have done it from scratch, I guess, but there is something appealing about using a blogging service like so many other people.
Now, of course, I have to think of something worthwhile to put on it.
I don't intend to keep a diary or anything as naff as that, and it is unlikely to be updated on a very regular basis. I will probably just use it to muse on Canadian politics, world events, environmental discussions, books, etc, as the mood takes me, and to find an outlet for all those letters I send in to the Globe and Mail, and which they (almost) never publish. Maybe even stuff about what music I am listening to? Who knows?
Anyway, watch this space - it may or may not change from time to time...