the_diary_thing

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05.14.02
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"The black flag was set up, which signified that there was no mercy to be looked for."

-Thomas Nashe, 
Christ's Tears Over Jerusalem (1593)


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(started 05.09.02 | 09:45pm EST) AFTER WE KILL ALL THE LAWYERS, can we move on to the designers? Rem Koolhaas, the internationally renowned, "full-on cool dude" architect, was commisioned to overhaul the EU flag, and the design he came up with raises the bar for conceptual banality. His flag, he says, expresses the "diversity and unity" of the EU, much the same way, I suppose, that a really wrenching upchuck expresses the diversity and unity of a good meal. Commisioned by Romano Prodi, the European Commission president, and the Belgian prime minister, I've seen no mention yet of how much Mr. Koolhaas was paid for what looks like about an hour or so of Photoshop tinkering.

Well, I can play with Photoshop too, so I came up with a few designs of my own. Inspired by the stripe motif as well, I considered ways of expressing something of the essence of the EU. Browsing their website, I came upon pages and pages of reports on the principle business of the EU - the standardization of everything contained within European borders, from packaging to road signage, law to the environment, taxation, patents, sport, shipbuilding, textiles and agriculture. In a section on mapping, I came across deathless prose like this:

We say that a landscape is complex if it is made up of a large number of small patches very mixed in the geographic space, so that there is no land cover type that is clearly dominant. The meaning of "land cover type" and "patch" strongly depend on the chosen nomenclature and observation scale, in particular the size of the Minimum Mapping Unit (MMU).

The limpid prose of the bureacrat, parsing meaning into increasingly precise units of irrelevance, careful not to express anything like an opinion, or a statement that can't be reconstituted into dazzling new forms by the art of the lawyer, the wizard of litigious alchemy. I wanted to express "diversity and unity" as well, so I pondered awhile on how, precisely, you would manage such a miracle of contradictory ambition.

As any mediocre art student will tell you, the real sum of all colours together isn't a rainbow, but a muddy slush, all colours becoming no colour, sucking in light and transforming every highlight into shadow. I found my inspiration, and produced this variation on the tricolour:

Hardly Koolhaas' exhuberant barcode, but it'll save a fortune in colour cartridges for the printers, and I'm sure that'll make the accountants happy. After all, isn't the perfect incarnation of the EU something like an accountant's paradise?

Perhaps my flag is a little colourless, I thought to myself. Very well, then; why not go for another version of "diversity and unity"? Perhaps Koolhaas was onto something, bringing all those colours together; turned on its side, you could look at his flag as a cross-section of European history, centuries of flags sandwiched together, pressed down by the weight of a some very troubled history.

Perhaps the long view isn't what's needed, though; perhaps we should zoom in a bit, and make a flag that's a little snapshot of Europe's recent history. The last hundred years have certainly been eventful, so I gathered up a few artifacts from some flashpoints of that century, and brought them together on an old-fashioned four-quartered flag, a black cross on the blue field of the most recent EU flag:

Now, it's hardly the most elegant ensign you'll ever hoist aloft, but it brings together quite a few elements. If I needed some design-speak to explain my work, I'd say that "it collects loaded and contradictory symbols to create a provocative friction, embracing and not ignoring the past, while anticipating the future." The happy face, I'm sure, is gilding the lily, but I couldn't think of anything better to sum up the kind of chirpy, anodyne utopia the EU seems to strive toward.

As one designer said of Koolhaas' flag: "This is one of those ideas that would seem great around a boardroom table after a couple of Aussie chardonnays, but in practice is doesn't work. That doesn't mean, of course, that it won't end up in use, depending on how well the signing authorities can be brow-beaten. In the absence of any public consensus on beauty or elegance, and years after aesthetics were considered a subject worthy of study, we've let "experts" like Koolhaas become our arbiters of taste, in carefully guarded forums like weekend arts sections.

Here in Toronto, we're about to be subjected to a gruesome new addition to a beloved museum, designed by an architect, like Koolhaas, who's more beloved in theory than in life. We have our own, internationally celebrated, homegrown aesthetic prefect who collaborates with Koolhaas, and we - or at least the folks who make the decisions around here - have come to adopt the supplicant's posture in the face of "culture". If the world seems to have become a little less welcoming, streets a bit less kind, the light reflecting off buildings a bit more harsh, we can thank the "experts" who shape our world with a prescriptive plan for our well-being. If we continue to let them remake our world in their image, it's really ultimately our own fault. (finished 11:09pm | 05.09.02)

(started 05.12.02 | 09:54pm EST) THE PHOTOS FROM THE CHURCH of the Nativity in Bethlehem weren't pretty; the recurring phrase "overpowering stench of urine" was pretty neatly evoked with the piles of stained mattresses and cooking utensils lying everywhere, covering stone floors and altars, and from the look on the face on Bethlehem mayor Hanna Nasser and his aide (bodyguard?) on their tour of the church after the terrorists finally left.

But then, I suppose, you could be looking at a frightened municipal politician who's seen tourism revenues drop to nearly zero except, of course, for those "international protesters" who flocked to the Church to show solidarity with the "prisoners" inside. I doubt if they bought many souvenirs, though, or found time to patronize the local discos, pizzerias or cafes. I mean, that would be really dangerous, wouldn't it?

Sharon seems to have pulled back from an assault on Gaza as well. I can't say that I'm unhappy about it, just because I didn't look forward to the casualties that would result on both sides. It'll probably happen anyway, barring a miracle, and to paraphrase Claude Rains in Casablanca, they've outlawed miracles in Palestine.

A month or two ago, I'd come to regard the Palestinian strategy as little more than that of a child, an awful brat that's progressed from whining and pouting to howling shopping mall tantrums. Ever since the 70s heyday of the PLO, the whole point of every bombing or hostage-taking was explicitly about attracting attention to the cause, and it worked for quite a long time, attracting celebrity supporters and slotting the Palestinian state firmly in the pantheon of right-on causes, somewhere between outlawing commercial whaling and decriminalizing pot. Now, commercial whaling seems an awful waste of time to me, and I'm all for ending the ridiculously harsh sentences for possession even though long experience has taught me that regular potsmokers have got to be the dullest people in the world. A Palestinian state used to seem like a good idea until it was obvious that the only likely government would be Arafat and his entourage, and I just don't think that the world needs another corrupt croney state, though it would have been nice for the Palestinian people to live with a decade or so of dismal but comparatively peaceful kleptocracy.

Ten years - half a generation; not a lot of time, but imagine all the lives saved. It might take twice as long, probably more, to repair the damage done to the generation that's grown up during the latest intifada, the little boys and girls fed dreams of martyrdom and dressed up in fatigues or adorned with explosive belts or grenades by their undeniably warped parents. That's a bomb they'll be defusing years from now. (finished 11:00pm | 05.12.02)

(started 05.12.02 | 11:01pm EST) THE LEAFS BEAT Ottawa in the Eastern Conference semifinals tonight. One game, I'm told, until we find out who goes to the Stanley Cup semifinals. (I had to double check with Ben at the next desk on that one. For all I know the next step could involve a chicken suit, a dunk tank, a length of rubber hose and a tank of nitrous oxide.) They're pouring out onto the streets here as I write this, I'm sure, despite the cold and drizzle. It is, they assure me, a very big deal. (finished 11:04pm | 05.12.02)

(update 05.13.02 | 12:30am EST) The streets were empty as I made my way home from work. It was Sunday, after all, and there's work tomorrow. It's nice to see that common sense prevails after all. Go leafs.

A new flag for Europe - my humble suggestions; Palestine; hockey; Palestine again; the old neighbourhood.

 
 
 
 
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CONSUME

Mark Mazower, Dark Continent: Europe's Twentieth Century buy it

Beach Boys, Today!/Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!) buy it


We've had days of chill and rain now, so I guess the Beach Boys are my way of trying to kick-start the summer. I don't know why it's so important for me to have a record - not just a single, but a whole album, which is so much harder to make, or find - to use as a soundtrack for a season that, admittedly, I've never loved as much as, say, fall. But I've never had to look for a "fall record", or a "winter record" either. I suppose I can blame American Graffiti for this - it sold me on the idea of having an endless loop of tunes in my head as I went about my business on days where everyone was also out on the street, competing with their own soundtrack.

The albums on this disc are "classics", I guess, but they're also the two records preceding Pet Sounds, which is my all-time default summer record, despite almost inevitably putting me in a maudlin mood. There are hints of it here - "Let Him Run Wild" and "Girl Don't Tell Me" - but there's enough happy surf froth to keep things from slipping into the mood that Pet Sounds wholly encapsulates; an indian summer funk, the bleak realization that youth ends as quickly as summer, and that things will never be simple again. Summer, with its basic needs - stay cool, take a break, enjoy the sun and the long days - is a great time to be young, and a constant, cyclical reminder for those no longer young.

The Mazower book begins with an interesting premise - despite so much Cold War propaganda, democracy isn't the the natural civic essence of Europe. The first half of the century just passed made it plain that democracy wasn't thriving on the continent, and it was only where democracy was imposed on broken countries, spurred on by shame or fear, that it managed to gain a foothold. I'm still reading, so I can't tell you how successfully he makes his argument, but I can't deny that the whole idea is more than intriguing, recent events considered.

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(started 05.13.02 | 05:43pm EST) AT WHAT POINT DID sympathy for the Palestinian cause evaporate, at least in the west? I'm not implying that it's utterly disappeared - after all, Noam Chomsky still has an office at MIT - but there has been a palpable increase in sympathy for Israel, and political antennae everywhere have translated that into an essentially covert policy of letting the IDF get on with their business, in the hopes that force will work where diplomacy has, all too obviously, failed.

The easy answer is, thankfully, the one that rarely gets used - 9/11. No doubt the highjack attacks brought home the fact, and the awful looming fear, of domestic terrorism to the U.S., a country that's rarely had to confront it, on anything like the intimate, regular basis that Israel (or Spain, or Britain, or Italy) has had to at various times in recent memory.

Still, it seems like only recently has the weight of public opinion fallen behind Israel, and away from Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian Authority and its various terrorist satellites, if not, hopefully, the Palestinians in general. Frankly, I'd still like to hope that the whole of the Palestinian population hasn't been whipped into martyr madness, despite the virtually unified front that's been depicted in the press. It's a lot harder to find dissenting voices in the middle of a war, and when it's so much easier to shoot the funerals and protests and to collect bloodthirsty quotes from extremists, I always assume that the story is missing something.

I could be wrong - opposition to Arafat and Hamas and al-Aqsa and Hizbollah might be minimal, though I always wonder where Mossad keeps getting informants to help them target bomb-makers and high-ranking terrorists, despite the threat of Palestinian lynch mobs. There must be at least a few people living in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank who realize that Israel will never give up, and that an endless intifada is basically slow suicide.

A glance over the year and a half history of the latest intifada shows a depressing pattern of provocation and response, attack and counterattack. The month before 9/11 began with a failed assasination of a Palestinian leader by Israeli missiles. A day later, a Palestinian gunman shoots 10 Israelis in Tel Aviv; four days after that, a suicide bomber kills 15 Israelis in a Jerusalem pizza parlour. The next day, Israel levels a Ramallah police station. Two days later a suicide bomber wounds fifteen people in a café in Haifa. This goes on with depressing regularity until the day of the WTC attacks, when peace talks break down and Israeli tanks move into the West Bank.

Israel is on the offensive and, under pressure from the U.S., forces a truce until September 19th, when gunmen kill an Israeli woman and wound her husband. The intifada celebrates its first anniversary on the 28th, and the truce is dead within days. The next six months are depressingly familiar: assassinations, gun battles, ambushes, and frantic attempts at peace talks. In December, a suicide bomber blows himself up outside a Jerusalem hotel, injuring three. There have, of course, been no shortage of "martyrdoms" so far, but it's at the turn of the new year when the suicide bomber campaign builds to a critical mass.

In the first year of the intifada there are eight suicide bomb attacks, beginning on March 4th in Netanya. In the six months following 9/11, there are fifteen, including the first female suicide bombers. The death toll on both sides went up horribly during this period, but while politicians all over the world expressed indignation at Israeli military occupation of Palestinian towns, the tide of public opinion seemed to move in the other direction. What happened during this crucial period is that the PLO, Hamas, Arafat, etc., began to lose in the only court of opinion they've ever hoped to win - the civilian west.

Ever since the beginning, the PLO has looked to popular support in the west as their best weapon. They've never had a chance of beating the Israelis militarily, and the prospect of enlisting the rest of the Arab world to do the job was dead after the Yom Kippur war, when it became obvious that the U.S. would support Israel regardless of what any current administration might have said for domestic political consumption. In the ugly, flopsweat political agony of the Seventies, the Munich Olympic hostage taking actually had the effect of increasing support for the PLO, and they were able to attract some glamorous - Vanessa Redgrave - and not so glamorous - Noam Chomsky - supporters to their side.

It's hard to imagine that happening today, although Arafat and his allies still seem to be working from the assumption that increasingly terrible demonstrations of bloody resolution will quite literally scare support to their side. It isn't working.

Every suicide bomber has the effect of making it possible to imagine it happening here. Every child dressed up in a toy bomb belt fills more than just parents with horror. The Palestinian terror campaign has perversely made a generally squeamish people decide that casualties are acceptable, provided a point is made: STOP. Stop sending you children out to die for a futile cause. Stop thinking that we'll think that Israel isn't acting in self-defense when you kill civilians. Stop imagining that terrorism has any value, political or otherwise. Stop committing cultural suicide, because that's what you're doing when you convince your children that it's better to die than live. Just stop. (finished 10:13pm | 05.13.02)


Mount Dennis, by me.

(started 05.13.02 | 10:15pm EST) FINALLY TOOK THE WIFE to the old neighbourhood this weekend, a trip we've been meaning to make for years now. Got off the Weston Road bus just by the Kodak plant, then walked around Mount Dennis for a couple of hours. I showed her my old school and the church my father helped build. Took a little detour to look at the Marshall house, the oldest house in Mount Dennis, and then walked down Lambton to Gray Avenue, to show her the old family home.

I was saddened to see that they've cut down the enormous pine in the back yard, the one that was my height when I was a boy, and managed to reach three stories by last spring. Gone, but my grandfather's apple and pear trees were still there. I can still taste those sweet little Macintosh apples today.

It was a beautiful day, the sun bright and the sky clear and the fruit trees all over the old streets - the last remnants of the orchards that once thrived there - were in bloom. K. asked if I'd ever consider living there again - house prices in Mount Dennis are lower than practically anywhere else in the city, and now that our own neighbourhood is considered "hot", the likelihood of us affording anything there becomes less likely. I said no; on a beautiful spring day, it has a humble beauty, and the the streets were full of kids playing, something you almost never see downtown.

But it's brutal under relentless summer heat, and worse in winter, when the wind seems to blow straight off the lake, or all the way from the northern woods. The shops and crowds downtown seem a long way away, and I could see myself holing up for days on end with the t.v. and a stack of movies, fighting off depression with distraction. A bad idea; it's true what they say about home, in the end. A nice place to visit, but that's just about as much as I can take. (finished 10:27pm | 05.13.02) (bonus: Here's a good Salon piece about returning to your old home.)


Robert Ward, Virgin Trails buy it

IT'S FINALLY OUT! A couple of summers ago, I travelled with Robert "los Bob" Ward through north and central Spain, and I can say that, among the man's other virtues, he's an impeccable travel companion. His book will let you share the experience of travelling with "los Bob", along the pilgrimage routes of Europe. A really amazing read.

Dennis Bock, The Ash Garden buy it

Another book by a friend. A novel about the bomb, among other things. It's still there, hanging over everything, despite every attempt to pretend that, along with the wall, if just went away ten years ago.

Martin Parr, Boring Postcards USA buy it

Exactly what the title describes, and my favorite "art book" in a couple of years. A perfect coffee table book, for very small coffee tables.

Daniel Yergin & Joseph Stanislaw, The Commanding Heights buy it

A "big picture" book, about the last century of economic history. Told as a conflict of economic faiths - Keynes vs. Hayek, Galbraith vs. Friedman, "planning" vs. "market". The basis of a really excellent PBS series, and one of the most entertaining books of its type in years.

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