A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for the ‘Popular Culture’ Category

[PHOTO] “Anthem” by Cohen, in chalk and in song

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The other day, I was walking along College Street in west-end Brockton Village when I saw that someone had written, in chalk on the sidewalk, the lyrics of the Leonard Cohen song “Anthem” from his 1992 album The Future. I had seen similar chalk inscriptions on nearby sidewalks, but this was much the most extensive, occupying eight panels of concrete.

Leonard Cohen, "Anthem", College between Margueretta and Brock (1) #toronto #collegewest #brocktonvillage #collegestreet #sidewalk #chalk #leonardcohen #poetry #lyrics #anthem

Leonard Cohen, "Anthem", College between Margueretta and Brock (2) #toronto #collegewest #brocktonvillage #collegestreet #sidewalk #chalk #leonardcohen #poetry #lyrics #anthem

Leonard Cohen, "Anthem", College between Margueretta and Brock (3) #toronto #collegewest #brocktonvillage #collegestreet #sidewalk #chalk #leonardcohen #poetry #lyrics #anthem

Leonard Cohen, "Anthem", College between Margueretta and Brock (4) #toronto #collegewest #brocktonvillage #collegestreet #sidewalk #chalk #leonardcohen #poetry #lyrics #anthem

A 2008 live performance of the song by Cohen is as close a we’ll have to an official video.

Four years ago, Quartz shared an explanation by Cohen of this song, a rarity.

The future is no excuse for an abdication of your own personal responsibilities towards yourself and your job and your love. “Ring the bells that still can ring”: they’re few and far between but you can find them.

This situation does not admit of solution of perfection. This is not the place where you make things perfect, neither in your marriage, nor in your work, nor anything, nor your love of God, nor your love of family or country. The thing is imperfect.

And worse, there is a crack in everything that you can put together: Physical objects, mental objects, constructions of any kind. But that’s where the light gets in, and that’s where the resurrection is and that’s where the return, that’s where the repentance is. It is with the confrontation, with the brokenness of things.

The full lyrics, of course, are sheer poetry.

The birds they sang
At the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what
Has passed away
Or what is yet to be

Yeah the wars they will
Be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
Bought and sold
And bought again
The dove is never free

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

We asked for signs
The signs were sent:
The birth betrayed
The marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
Of every government
Signs for all to see

I can’t run no more
With that lawless crowd
While the killers in high places
Say their prayers out loud
But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up
A thundercloud
And they’re going to hear from me

Ring the bells that still ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

You can add up the parts
You won’t have the sum
You can strike up the march
There is no drum
Every heart, every heart
To love will come
But like a refugee

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

Written by Randy McDonald

March 29, 2020 at 12:30 pm

[AH] On the 1914 Europe map of Diplomacy as an alternate history (#alternatehistory)

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One of the things that I am doing now, in the early days of my quarantine, is playing an online game of Diplomacy with some old friends. Looking at the standard European map, an elaboration on the map of Europe and adjoining areas, makes me think of the way that this map might better represent different alternate history scenarios than our own history.

1914 map of Diplomacy

The distribution of supply centres, the starred regions capable of supporting military units, comes to mind. Each region is capable of supporting military units of very comparable power. This suggests to me a relatively even level of development across the map, that (say) Belgium and Bulgaria are at similar levels.

One thing that particularly jumps out at me as the relative power of southeastern Europe, including the Ottoman Empire. Anatolian Turkey apparently does have the economic power and military heft necessary to support Great Power status, to a level comparable to Italy or Austria-Hungary. Is Diplomacy set in a timeline where Ottoman modernization succeeded? (But then, how can the loss of the Balkans be explained?) On a smaller scale, Tunis being a supply centre might also suggest successful modernization there.

(Another thing that pops out as me is the space on the map for other Great Powers. A Scandinavia that encompasses three power centres could surely be a great power. A United Netherlands with only two supply centres would be more vulnerable, while it seems that the main problem with a Balkan conglomeration would be a backstory.)

An idea: WI there is an earlier separation of the European Balkans from the Ottomans, the shock of this separation triggering more successful modernization not just of the Ottoman Empire but of other Muslim states in the Mediterranean? Perhaps the Ottoman Balkans managed to split off as a unified state–a broader Orthodox conspiracy–and even managed to become a separate power themselves?

Another thing that pops out to me is the distribution of supply centres on the map in specific regions. A world where western France industrializes before eastern France, where Bavaria beats the Ruhr, where Trieste outstrips Bohemia (an Illyrian unit in the Hapsburg empire?), would be a very different world.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 28, 2020 at 5:35 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] “So Near the Touch”, a #StarTrek story about #socialdistancing (@GeorgeTakei)

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The current coronavirus pandemic in Canada and the wider world has made me think of a few things. One of these is the apparently overlooked story “So Near the Touch”, the story in the first annual of the second DC Comics run of Star Trek comics published in July 1990.

Co-written by George Takei and Peter David (different sources suggest that Takei provided the story), “So Near the Touch” is centered on the world of Datugan, a Federation trading partner that was so eager to export an energy-generating ore that it irremediably polluted its environment. The very people of Datugan have been so contaminated by pollution that two individuals cannot risk bodily contact, else they self-combust. They are doomed.

The Federation, feeling some responsibility for this catastrophe, has initiated a grand project of rebirth, to use in vitro techniques to let the Datugan species continue on a clean new world. The Enterprise-A is assigned to escort a medical team lead by one Corazon Kohwangko to Datugan to help start off this project. Sulu, who has a romantic history with Kohwangko, is pleased to be reunited with her. On arrival at Datugan, the mission encounters unexpected trouble from Datugans opposed to this program.

“So Near the Touch” is an effective short story, setting a credible romance for Sulu with an interesting partner against the backdrop of a dying world with people desperate for help. (Reading this now gives me some insight into Takei’s upset with the movies’ portrayal of Sulu as gay; here, Takei literally wrote Sulu as straight.) I find that it resonates particularly with me now, living under conditions of COVID-19 quarantine, deprived of direct contact with anyone for fear of infection. Takei and David got the corrosive impacts of isolation quite nicely.

The physical issue is available on eBay, while electronic copies can be acquired from the usual places.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 25, 2020 at 3:45 pm

[PHOTO] This brings me joy. #startrek #startrekpicard #jeriryan #sevenofnine #screenshot

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This brings me joy. #startrek #startrekpicard #jeriryan #sevenofnine #screenshot

My original comment was here, at Michael Chabon’s Instagram account.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 22, 2020 at 6:30 pm

[URBAN NOTE] On the current #covid19 crisis (#coronavirustoronto)

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One of the many things that has been bothering me about the COVID-19 crisis is the way that the city of Toronto around me has been shutting down. Work and those strictures have gone, of course, but so have almost all of the other events of life. Stores are shut down; neighbourhoods are almost always barren of people; the sorts of events that I normally partake in have been sensibly cancelled. (Jane’s Walk and TCAF are among the events that have been closed down, and I may never get a chance to see the Diane Arbus show at the AGO or the Winnie the Pooh exhibit at the ROM. I live in hope for the second category, and look forward to next year for the first.)

The great machineries of life of Toronto, human and mechanical, are grinding down. When will they start up again? What will be the background against which this revival will happen? What loss and suffering will there be in the background of this? More importantly, from my particular perspective, what loss and suffering will there be among the people I know, here in Toronto and around the world? I have some fears for myself, but more fears for others both known and unknown. (I am not fond of living in a situation where fatalities from a pandemic really can amount to low single-digit percentages of the global, and local, population.)

I cannot help but feel a sort of anticipatory grief at seeing my dear cosmopolis of Toronto shutting down. It is a cause of grief in itself, and it is a symbol of worse yet to come. I can also extrapolate easily enough from the specific case of Toronto to all the other great machines out there in the world, places I’ve lived in and places I’ve only visited and places I have yet to visit and the many many places I will never see. The pictures I saw earlier this week from Venice, that great first prototype of the cosmopolis, felt so wrong. One March, you have a living city; one March, you have a city clamped down on account of mass death. There are things Toronto can pick up from Venice, but I would prefer this not be one. But this isn’t really under anyone’s control, is it?

I am–I believe–keeping things in perspective. There will still be a world after this crisis is done, whenever it is done, one that will be recognizable. I just find it distressing that a proper perspective is not all that comforting. How, exactly, will things be skewed? This uncertainty is something that I do not like. Ending my 12-month Metropass, on account of the certainty that I will not be travelling much at all in April, at least, feels significant. How much more will my lived world shrink?

These past few days, I have been thinking of the classic song “Sous le ciel de Paris”, a hymn of love to that metropolis written and performed just a few years after Paris risked destruction in the Second World War. Has a similar song been written for Toronto?

Written by Randy McDonald

March 22, 2020 at 1:25 pm

[CAT] Five #caturday links: Newfoundland, Australia, tracking, body language, bodies

  • The rescue of cats from the Newfoundland outport of Little Bay Islands, now abandoned, was a success. Global News reports.
  • Cats in Australia may be in a position to ravage vulnerable survivors of the wildfires. Wired reports.
  • The Purrsong Pendant is a new fitness tracker for cats. CNET reports.
  • Humans do need to be able to read the body language of cats, and not only to figure out when they are in pain. CP24 reports.
  • Is anyone surprised cats might eat human corpses? Newsweek reports.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 18, 2020 at 9:15 pm

[BLOG] Five Starts With A Bang links (@startswithabang)

  • Starts With A Bang’s Ethan Siegel looks at the question of Betelgeuse going supernova, here.
  • Starts With A Bang’s Ethan Siegel considers how black holes might, or might not, spit matter back out, here.
  • Starts With A Bang’s Ethan Siegel notes a report suggesting the local excess of positrons is product not of dark matter but of nearby pulsar Geminga, here.
  • Starts With A Bang’s Ethan Siegel lists some of the most distant astronomical objects so far charted in our universe, here.
  • The question of whether or not a god did create the universe, Ethan Siegel at Starts With A Bang suggests, remains open.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 30, 2019 at 8:41 pm