September 27, 2007

The Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen's announced today that it has been gifted a second Rembrandt painting from Drs Alfred & Isabel Bader, amongst the most generous of its benefactors. Valued at USD $16-million the painting dates from 1661. With this gift the Queen’s University gallery now holds two of Canada’s six Rembrandts. Both Rembrandts join over one hundred European paintings already given by the Baders over the past three and a half decades, making the Agnes Etherington Art Centre a leading public gallery in Canada in the research and presentation of Old Master painting.

September 25, 2007

I stumbled across this remarkable memoir three years ago in a discount bin. It was such an ignoble place to find such a singular work. I have read it about five times now since my discovery, and I recommend it for anyone interested in etymology and the origins of human civilization, and its accompanying deitrus. This is not an academic book but rather a very personal journey of its most poetic author. So much of humanity sprung from the sands, and our stories of creation and time can be traced back to the desert and its eternal mysteries.

September 21, 2007

It has abruptly come to my attention that we are in a state of disprepair when it comes to social graces. From sales associates, to e-mail, to meetings, to dates, to invitations, and even to the humble phone call, we have lost our way.
Seduced by the promise of technology we have utterly confused the tool with the relationship. Witness the texting of nonsense on small phones during movies, a groups of students "meet" with their laptops, the ubiquitous white chain of the iPod, the person who calls a meeting with you and then proceeds to stare at their lap the whole time, slave to their Blackberry. People are spending inordinate amounts of time (and money) in picking and personalizing their devices and the least amount of time in composing their thoughts to actually broadcast.
We have failed to maintain the essentials of good manners in our postmodern social interactions. How many couples in restaurants have you seen, ostensibly on a date, who have one (if not both) seated parties talking on the phone? How many of your clients or colleagues confuse e-mail with IM, outrageously expecting you to answer the former within minutes of their receipt? Have many people leave phone messages without any helpful information, or answer with only "Hello" or "Yeah?".
So while the accompanying image harkens back to a rather excessive focus on etiquette, it would serve us well to remember the principles behind such antiquated rules: respect, decency, courtsey, and kindness. To my mind these are worth preserving. Otherwise, why leave the house?

September 19, 2007

It's somewhat painful to realize that the U.S. is only in the midst of the nominations process. There is much more rhetoric to come, once the actual campaign for the Presidency begins. Of course in so many ways, the campaign has begun. The field of dreams is loaded down heavily, and we await the first casualties. Clearly there are those who need to stop rearranging the deck chairs and call it a day, while others need to stop listening to their handlers and try, even if for a day, to say something unscripted. One gets a sense that every soundbite, every speech, every gesture and emotion played out has been test-screened in 30 states. And how many more YouTube videos from the candidates can we be expected to take, as they reach out the masses and crave to be seen like you and me, and the guy next door, and your old-enough-to-vote niece too?
Were I a Democrat American and able to vote I would be struggling with the choices. I really want to like Hilary. No doubt she has the experience to bring to the White House but she is astonishingly wooden and deliberate. Everything she does comes off as mighty calculated and cunning. For all of his incalculable faults G.W. Bush brought his aw-shucks persona to the game, which endeared him to the electorate. Hilary has little natural charm and her intense intelligence will, sadly, also play against her in the sexist world of politics. Plus she has an albatross around her neck that may be impossible to spin and photo-op out of the public memory. I feel for Hilary's advisors. What do you do with your client's egomaniacal spouse? Sure, the Democratic public adores Bill but that's not who Hilary is after--they're already in the bag. Hilary needs the fence-sitters and the disillusioned Republicans. Parading slicky Billy around will only force those precious votes away.
As for Barack, it's pretty much impossible not to like him, but he appears woefully unprepared for the presidency. Yes, yes, So was Bush Jr. but the world has changed for Americans and I suspect that they will be especially wary to the appearance of competency. While America is likely keen for substantive change Barack may, ironically, be all those wonderful things we look for in a fictional president. I wonder if he will be able to overcome the very real obstacles of social order that still define his country.
All I can say about John Edwards is that his wife always appears to have the more intelligent, insightful, and astute observations on hand. He looks better in her company and seems out of his depth in foreign policy matters.
But hey, I could be wrong on all accounts. In the modern age perception is reality, and my sensors may be in disarray. Then again, maybe not...

September 17, 2007

Last night CBC aired the poignant documentary "9/11: The Falling Man". This unsettling photo was published word wide on September 12 but then disappered due to public anger. The print media's self-censorship contributed, the film argues, to the deliberate avoidance of a most gruesome thought: that people chose to jump to their deaths on that fateful morning. Instead the media specifically focused on presenting images of the heroic. The film reminds us that many peoples' loved ones were essentially erased from public discourse (and public grieving) simply because the jumpers had made this last act of free will.
It is impossible to watch the footage and not imagine oneself in this harrowing position. It is also impossible, it seems to me, to judge these doomed souls as they wrestled with a most horrible choice. And yet there's that iconic photo, like that of Phan Thị Kim Phúc 29 years earlier, a defining image full of grace and a strange peace amidst a cacophony of fire and terror.

September 16, 2007

According to Statistics Canada, Kingston (with a population of 152,000) ranks 7th in Canada for the proportion of its population that identifies as being in a same-sex couple! We were exceeded only by Vancouver, Montreal, Victoria, Halifax, Moncton and Ottawa-Gatineau. In case you're wondering: we tied with Toronto. Of Kingston's same-sex couples, 12 per cent are married and 88 per cent are common law. Oh yeah, on July 20, 2005, Canada became the third country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage (after the Netherlands and Belgium). As far as I can tell, our country has not collapsed...

September 12, 2007

Queen's has just purchased the former Prison for Women (circa 1934), seen in the middle of the photo above, as part of its need to gain more space for its increasingly congested main campus. It's most likely that Queen's Archives will move into the site, once it's been renovated and prepared. And, yes, we are taking the walls down (save for the one that backs onto a residential area on the western end).
By the way, you can also see the Queen's Faculty of Education right across the street (where my partner Mark is currently pursuing his B.Ed.) and the red building is a Queen's residence hall. At the bottom of the image is the main gate into Canada's most infamous prison, Kingston Penitentiary (circa 1835). Kingston makes for an interesting locale indeed...

September 11, 2007

Given the powerful emotions and hot-button nature of the topic, I wondered how the presidential candidates were messaging today's sad anniversary on their home pages. Here's a selection:
Barack Obama
"Remember 9/11. Unite Again."
Hilary Clinton
"September 11, 2001. We will never forget".
John MCCain
Mitt Romney
From soldiers guarding our liberty on foreign shores to those of us living under the umbrella of the protection they provide, we are united in remembering loved ones lost on that day and in our determination to protect our homeland from future attacks."
Rudy Guiliani
"September 11, 2001. We will not forget. This massive attack was intended to break our spirit. It has not done that. It has made us stronger, more determined and more resolved.”
John Edwards
"9/11/2001. We remember..."
Fred Thompson

September 6, 2007

Luciano Pavarotti

October 12, 1935 - September 6, 2007