the diary thing 
sm - smokeIT'S ALREADY OLD NEWS, but the big noise here in Canada two weeks ago was the firing of a newsanchor for uttering "inappropriate, racist remarks" on air. Never mind that the cable news station where the outrage was perpetrated is watched by maybe twenty people at peak times, or that the whole thing wouldn't have happened if some technician didn't accidentally air the wrong take of an intro -- the media play and public reactions from the whole affair, and it's subsequent, utter disappearance from the public diorama, were the most fascinating and depressing things about it all.

Avery Haines, the newsanchor, was an attractive young woman doing time on the all-news subsidiary of a national network, who stumbled over her intro to a piece and then indulged in a bit of ironic self-deprecation, a riff on political correctness that was neither original nor particularly funny except if you're killing time in a broadcast studio, trying to fill the blank pauses and struggling to seem confident and witty. Her gag about probably having a better career if she were a "black lesbian in a wheelchair" would only have made sense if national networks were run like college radio stations. 

The station fired her two days later, with a bizarre press conference where, according to some reports, her boss shed tears as he canned her. A day later, the op-ed articles oozing sympathy started rolling in, expressing rote outrage over corporate political correctness, even going so far as to describe Haines' nervous babble as some kind of scathing satire, and the anchor herself as a lovely, tragic scapegoat. She might still have her job if she were a man, it was suggested

The same people who cried foul over political correctness and censorship were happy to imply sexism at work -- that's a fascinating kind of bi-partisan moralizing at work, don't you think? You'd only be able to see it as shocking if you had no idea of the magpie intellectuallism of the media, the absence of cohesive thoughts or thoroughly-digested ideas, where flip cynicism is the lingua franca, and wry jokes about crippled, stuttering black lesbian newscasters can be made while no crippled, stuttering black lesbian newscasters can be seen on the air. Only pretty, bright, brittle newsreaders whose opinions about anything beyond their own careers are not altogether what the public needs to hear. Sadly for the reading public, the people least capable of writing coherently about the media are usually the media itself.

IT'S A GOOD THING I ASKED K. what kind of ring she likes, because I would have gotten it all wrong. I assumed she liked pink or green stones (I don't know why -- maybe because pink is her favorite colour and the green would match her eyes nicely) but found out that she prefers citrines and topaz -- yellow and blue stones. Go figure.

I would have gotten the setting wrong, too, as a quick search on eBay confirmed. As it stands I have a nice idea of what ring to look for, provided I can afford one. This is, so far, the closest we've gotten to actually getting any kind of marriage thing underway.

I don't know why I'm so intent on getting a ring before anything else. Sure, we talk idly about ceremonies and receptions and honeymoons, but no concrete decisions have been made about anything. I haven't even "popped the question" yet, or at least not literally. 

Don't get me wrong -- I'm in no way afraid of "commitment", or marriage, or the formalities of the ceremony itself. It's just that I've become obsessed with the whole idea of a ring, probably because she said, one night while we were watching the Antiques Roadshow or something, that she wouldn't mind one. "Okay," I said to myself. "A ring. That's something I can do." It became a point of departure, the first item on any checklist, from which everything else can proceed. Sometimes I think I'm borderline autistic, or dangerously anal, or monomaniacal. Most men would conspire to make the ring, at least, a surprise. 

There's clearly something very wrong with me.

"I think it is a beautiful and elegant thing, probably the most moving item I've read in years and worthy of Lincoln and some of the other fellows that really went to town...Knock me down anytime you want."
- Harold Ross to E. B. White, from Letters from the Editor: The New Yorker's Harold Ross

Two weeks between entries -- the longest gap I've ever left here. I hope I haven't lost too many of you during this hiatus, but you'll have to trust me that you didn't miss anything.

OVER IN AUSTRIA, Joerg Haider's Freedom Party has won a considerable portion of the vote in a recent election. I have to admit that I can't get as upset about this as the European Parliament has. The bureaucrats in Brussels have put pressure on the Austrian government to prevent the Freedom Party from becoming part of the coalition government. The compromise reached, in the end, was that Haider himself couldn't become part of the government, but his party could. I fail to see what this accomplishes.

The Freedom Party is a right-wing, nationalist party, with a rather explicitly anti-immigrant policy. Parties like this have been popping up all over Europe for years now, partly as a reaction to the creeping growth of the EU's pan-Europeanism, partly as a reaction to the influx of immigrants from Asia, Africa, and the former Soviet bloc. Every time one of them makes a gain in an election -- Le Pen's National Front in France, the Italian Northern League and National Alliance parties -- there erupts a desperate hand-wringing in the press, and the usual re-printing of photos of skinheads sieg-heiling, despite the fact that most of these parties attract no neo-nazi element -- nazi skinheads, like most sociopaths, have appalling voting records, and usually support fringe or write-in candidates if they vote at all.

(Look at it this way -- if 29% of Austrian voters were Nazi skinheads, I think the European community should probably take more extreme action. Digging up the country and sinking it in the middle of the Mediterranean would be a good start.)

As it stands, Haider's party has attracted nearly thirty percent of the popular vote, which entitles them to participation in the government. Unhappy as the thought might be, it seems that the Freedom Party (don't you love the name? Freedom -- but for whom? Freedom, like love and liberty, is one of those words rendered nearly meaningless by constant, promiscuous overuse.) has a message that appeals to no small portion of the Austrian people. 

It's no secret that the EU is not universally loved by every European, many of whom find no joy in losing national sovereignity to a supra-governmental bureaucracy in the name of some extra-national union that has no historical precedent. For the average man or woman, more concerned with food, family, home and savings than with legislating standards for the exporting of sausage, soft cheese and coal, the European Union can seem like a meddling abstraction at the best of times, a threat to a cherished way of life at the worst. Don't forget -- on a continent with a recent history like Europe, the word fascist can get thrown around indiscriminately. Austrians are already becoming fond of referring to the economic union as an anschluss.

The EU certainly hasn't helped their case by trying to block or influence the Austrian coalition government, and whoever voted for the Freedom Party has probably had their worst fears confirmed. Haider might be a xenophobe with a tendency to voice fond opinions of some of Hitler's policies, but he was elected democratically in a country whose democratic tradition is as sacred as that of any European country -- which is to say that it was bolstered and guaranteed by the victorious Allies at the end of the last World War. 

It is that war, in any case, that still forms the framework for the many liberals in the media, and the countless politicians who will do anything -- even countermand democratic processes -- to prevent the circumstances of the Second World War from repeating themselves. Never mind that Haider -- an Austrian, yes, with a six-letter name that begins with "H" -- is no Hitler, and that Austria, prosperous and stable, is no Weimar Germany. The political, social, and military nightmare that was the Second World War still dominates the imagination of anyone who lived through the century just ending, and seems to summon demons that banish clear thought and demand drastic action.

Of course, there are other explanations that can be found. Haider's party, while not explicitly devoted to dismantling the EU, is the thin edge of a wedge that might prevent the flowering of a political, economic, monetary and military union from Ireland to Estonia, from Finland to Turkey. The men and women who have devoted their lives to the formation of this union, for reasons that combine the idealistic with the purely pragmatic, are likely to react with hostility to anything that might threaten that union. Imagine a formidable mother-in-law at a wedding, watching her only daughter marry the richest man in town, suddenly glaring daggers across the church at the ex-boyfriend or dubious uncle standing up to speak out when the congregation is asked, "If anyone here knows of any reason why this union should not take place, let them speak now, or forever hold their peace..."

LAST WEEK, AS I LAY drowsing in the early morning, our big cat, Keebler, decided to curl up against me. As he stretched his 20-lb. bulk against my chest, our other cat, Nato, decided to join us. Daintily picking her way over the rumpled sheets, she slowly climbed on top of Keebler and settled her slight, eight pound frame on top of him. The two of them began purring, and I whispered to K. that she had to see this. It would have been an altogether too-cute moment, except that I knew Nato was due at the vet the next morning to have a large, nasty lump removed from her belly.

Nato, as I've noted before, has a heart murmur that makes operations touchy. If too much anaesthesia is used, or if she goes into shock, her heart could malfunction. For that reason, I'd querulously put off having her fixed, which in turn led to the growth on her belly. Since either the growth or her heart could eventually kill her, an operation became the only option. All day I kept looking at her as she went about her business -- knocking things over, climbing on top of me when I worked or read, and beating up on Keebler -- and wondered if I'd ever have to deal with this sweet, troublesome cat again.

Getting her into her travel box was the usual hassle, but no blood was drawn, and I took a series of back alleys to the vet, reasoning that this route, not my usual path west to Roncesvalles, would be unlikely to remind me of the last time I saw her, should the worst happen. Logic that reeks of bathos, don't you think?

A day later she was back, cranky and exhausted, two huge sutured incisions down her shaved belly caked with flecks of dried blood. I fed her Pounce™ as she lolled around on a pair of pillows K. had put down next to the radiator by her desk. Keebler kept his distance, occasionally creeping by to sniff the long, matted fur by the stitches. 

A day later, she began jumping up on low couches and stools. Two days later she'd already begun joining us in bed, nestling between us at night, curling up next to Keebler during the day. Her appetite had returned full force, and she'd resumed whapping Keebs on his head whenever the urge came to her. K. recalled a documentary we'd once watched that described the average cat's incredible resistance to pain. Back to normal in three days -- I wonder how many humans who'd just had a hysterectomy and a mastectomy could say that? 

IT FEELS, AT LEAST TEMPORARILY, as if I've lost some narrative thread of my life these days. It's probably nothing more than the seasonal blues, the faintly claustrophobic malaise that seems to afflict me in the heart of every winter, but I've been unable to see my way straight to any particular goal or ambition beyond the most pragmatic or abstract. By pragmatic I mean the brute reality of earning money and keeping body and soul together; by abstract I mean those lofty ideals that exert the faintest pull on us from the future -- in my case owning a house, having a family, being published, being published some more. 

In the here and now, however, I'm finding that unless I impel my self out of the house before noon, or begin work on some substantial project before lunch, I'm quite capable of letting a whole day lapse in desultory reading and wandering the house, staring out the windows at the snow-covered deck with its pile of pots, over the jumble of rooftops and across the street to the blank windows of our neighbours' houses. By the time I see the sun fading, I know the day has been well and truly wasted, and that I have little more to show for it than a few magazine articles read, a handful of e-mails, and perhaps a sink free of dirty dishes.

Perhaps that's why I've written nothing here in two weeks -- there isn't much to say that isn't summed up in the above two paragraphs. Occasional something in the news might get me hatching a political rant, but the urge passes by dinner; the two that have survived long enough to end up in today's entry spark close enough to my major obsessions to have a half life that outlasted a bowl of pasta and a night watching PBS.

I've sent out a few pitches, and as they've been accepted I've committed myself to real work. Good thing, too -- money still isn't as thick on the ground as it should be. I'm also working behind the camera on a rock video for my friends Linda and Franc. Since I've barely touched a camera once since the year began, I'm feeling a sore need to take pictures -- any pictures. Without the deck garden and the subjects out there, I'm sadly dry of inspiration. 

It sounds grimmer than it reads, I'm sure -- the depression that sat on my head most of last winter, after our eviction notice and before we'd begun moving, was much more draining, and left me producing much less. Whole afternoons in front of the new colour t.v. watching History Television -- I shudder at the memory.

I can only think that the spring will restore some of my energy, and make leaving the house more tempting. I shall, one day, defeat the winter blues; until then, the struggle continues.

writing ©2000
Rick McGinnis
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