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The MP from Watcherville

Driving home in my old pickup and there, in the rear view mirror, following me in his little red coupe, was the newly-minted Member of Parliament for my federal Electoral District.

Immediately, instinctively, I took evasive action. I tried everything to give him the slip: first by turning left, and then right. Still, he followed.

Then came the realization that this new MP was a Liberal. So there's really nothing you can do about that, they are always there. You can try going left - but still they persist. You veer right and they do the same damn thing. Sure enough, no matter which way I turned he was still on me, no question. Unbelievable.

I thought we had punted the haughty Conservatives for their general malfeasance, including, inter alia, their zealous pursuit of the surveillance state - which had been ratcheted up to a dangerously undemocratic level. And now, as if the Cons weren't knee-jerk enough, here was the New baby Lib, not even yet sworn in, eyes glued to my bumper, raising the stakes and taking the watcher state to a whole new level. At least under the Cons the Canadian Security Apparatus was subtle, sneaky and secretive as it trampled my privacy rights. But here I could practically feel the heat of the Lib laser beams on my tail.

During the recent election campaign the Liberal had come to my door, the only candidate to do so. And I grilled him over his party's support for the Cons offensive and draconian Bill C-51. Now that he had emerged victorious in the election, I could see that this was personal payback. I pulled over in the pickup, making sure he wasn't hooked to my trailer hitch and hoping, like an old dog with indigestion, that this confrontation might soon pass.

And pass he did. So that now the tables were turned. And I swung into action, following him pretty much straight into his driveway before realizing that the fresh Parliamentarian for my federal Electoral district is one of my quite close neighbours.

Slowly, very slowly, I negotiated the old pickup and waved at him and smiled nonchalantly: "Good luck in Ottawa," I called out. And he waved back, meekly but not unpleasantly, no doubt wondering why the putz in the old pickup couldn't have just just stayed in the centre lane from where, of course, given that Naturally Governing vantagepoint, everything always looks to be just rosy and in its proper place.


*Illustration: Parliament Hill from Gatineau, by David Roberts 11"x15" Sharpie on wove paper




Words. Let me slip into you .... I'mma make you my bitch

St. David's Day and today our topic is ethics.
Suppose you're a big journalistic shark in a tiny local puddle and the malodorous truth emerges. There it is, black and white in The Town Mewler, The Town Crier, The Town Sniveler, The Town Screecher, Bawler, Ejaculator, The Tattler Bellower and Bleater: one of your Facebook friends is a red-handed crook.
You know who you are.
In fairness, a while ago when you FB'd him as a 'Friend' you did not know he was a perp although you might, long and hard, had you been paying any attention at all, have suspected it. It's not like you are close buddies or anything, right? Just Facebook friends. Whatever that means. What. Ever. But now that the truth is out, you can't write about him in The Tattler, surely? Still, there you are: the odour of malfeasance hangs in the air like a fart in a perfume factory. Do you immediately unfriend the bastard? You didn't ask my advice but probably you should. Let him know why. And then ask yourself some serious questions about why you became friends with the liar and the cheat, the thief and the braggart, this light-fingered and plunderous gunsel in the first place.
Maybe he asked you to become his Facebook friend - which is an old trick of miscreants, to hide in plain view among the prominent and legitimate folk, since the seraphic aura of the 'elite' can serve as outstanding cover for the kleptomaniacal activities of the more common criminal. In fact, sometimes, I'll grant you, it is hard to tell the two apart. But, as a big shot journalist, that is your job. Please don't hide behind 'it's only Facebook'. Indeed, see my earlier meanderings on the nature of Friendship in the age of FB, my pal Hosni Mubarak, and the reification of language: Here.
Anyway, I'll grant you that for the moment, the allegations against your felonious friend, while undoubtedly true, remain still unproven in a technical and strictly legal sense. But you can't hide your face in the sand forever. The fact is you've got wiggling, niggling, journalistic decisions to make about the nature of this Friendship, hombre. Because everyone can see that you are Facebook friends with His AssHoliness, you cannot therefore pretend otherwise and your problem is real and it won't go away unless and until you act.
The wonkiness of his reputation, the stink of it, lingers on the body of your own rep. And for a journalist, without an honest reputation, you are nothing. At least in my eyes, you are nothing.
Illustration: The Heist - 8"x13" watercolours - David Roberts

A Boxing Day Proposal



It's Boxing Day.

In some circles apparently it is Boxing Week.

But why stop? Why not live large and make it Boxing Month?

Or could we go all in, and make 2015 The Boxing Year?

Of course there will be war over whether it should be a Gregorian Boxing Year or Javanese, Kurdish, Discordian, Runian, Julian, Assyrian or Halocene Boxing Year. But why quibble? Why not celebrate each and all? Because after that, all things equal, every fourth annum, for kicks, we could enjoy a Leap Boxing Year. And to recognize the years falling between we could have a Biennium Boxing Year and Triennium Boxing year (to roughly accommodate the Hebrew, Buddhist, Coptic, Igbo, Mayan and Berber calendars) only to be crowned by The Olympian Boxing Year.

At this point someone, undoubtedly, will feel strongly that our political leaders must be pressed to declare the next 10 years the Boxing Decade. And having accomplished this we could in all humility declare ourselves truly to be the Boxing Generation. Those of us still around in 50 years could celebrate with a bowl of spotted dick and bottle of single malt the Boxing Jubilee.

Then there'd be every reason in 100 years for the offspring of offspring to triumphantly announce the end of the Boxing Century. Surely then though someone very smart would come up with the splendid idea that nothing could surpass a special celebration of the Boxing Millennium. Think of it: In a million years we'd have completed an earth-shattering Boxing Age. We trust that in 10 million years there would be someone to witness humanity's near-ultimate achievement - the Boxing Epoch - to be surpassed, at 100 million years, by The Boxing Era.

Sometime after this, indeed in exactly the precise amount of time it takes the Solar System to orbit the centre of the Milky Way Galaxy (once) our human descendants then could celebrate the almost unsurpassable Galactic Boxing Year! This period would only be surpassed by the Boxing Eon (500 million years) and by Boxing Infinity.

Now can I be honest with you? May I say that I don't feel well prepared for Boxing Infinity? In fact I don't really feel up for Boxing Day. Might we go in another direction entirely? Might we have just one Boxing Hour? To be completely candid I'd settle for a Boxing Minute. Or a Boxing Second. Even a Boxing Millisecond. I could even live comfortably with a Boxing Nanosecond or a Boxing Picosecond. The term Boxing Svedberg has a nice ring. And Boxing Jiffy is palatably pleasing and could even, in time, be further shortened to, simply, a BJ. Boxing Yoctosecond? Boxing Planck Time Unit. Ah! There we are. I'll settle for that. In fact that went by so fast I hardly noticed. Until next time.

(Illustration: Another Day at the Office 12x9 w/c & ink)




Cocking a Snook at Perfection


We have been pondering names that repeat and names that almost repeat.

Sirhan Sirhan is a perfectly repetitive name. José José and Fei Fei are repeating names too, as are Justo Justo, Miou-Miou, Rye Rye, Morris Morris, Morgan Morgan etc.

Then there are the almost-but-no-cigar repeating names such as Neil McNeil, Magnus Magnusson, Callum McCallum, Marky Mark, Jean Valjean and Mokhtar Belmokhtar.

Jean Valjean of course is a name given by Victor Hugo to the fortisimo character in one of the half dozen greatest novels in the world: Les Misérables.

Mokhtar Belmokhtar is the name given to baby Belmokhtar in 1972 by Mr. and Mrs. Belmokhtar. This one has since been handed various sobriquets: The One Eyed, The Uncatchable and Mr. Marlboro, which also has a nice bit of repetitive swang to it - though we will be keeping an eye out for him next time we are on the edge of the Western Sahara just as, one supposes, he keeps an eye out for us.

We prefer these almost repeating names to the perfectly repeating ones since the imperfect repeating names embody an aesthetic of Japanese wabi-sabi. It is precisely because the names are not symmetrical that they are beautiful.

In some languages the repeating of a name, or near re-duplication, cloning, and doubling of a name-sound, serves a grammatical purpose such as plurality or intensification. There is some creative play here, where the duplication and re-duplication interruptus is used to make a wild contrapuntal audible universe. Repeat this aloud and hear your voice land upon melody: Llewellyn Crikey Llewellyn Boutros Haidar Boutros Haidar Bushy Bush Dogg Doggy Snoop Mgoeing Mgoeing Lipp Lippi Renzo Renzi Sven Sven boyo boyo bach. Can you feel some wabi-sabi rhythm in that?

Underplayed and modest

But wabi-sabi is essentially simple, slow and uncluttered. And we learn from the architect Tadao Ando that it reveres authenticity above all. "Wabi-sabi is underplayed and modest, the kind of quiet, undeclared beauty that waits patiently to be discovered. It's a fragmentary glimpse: the branch representing the entire tree, shoji screens filtering the sun, the moon 90 percent obscured behind a ribbon of cloud. It's a richly mellow beauty that's striking but not obvious."

Which brings us in a roundabout manner to thoughts on the role of the paid art critic, theorist and ontologist. This sounds like the kind of gig where life is just one big brain party after another, all the time repeating mongo mongo. For example, consider the words of the late art theorist Leone Vivante: "In a cosmos in which number and quantity seem overwhelmingly predominant, art reveals quality as ultimately real in the very actuality of consciousness." And so, he says, in his Essays on Art and Ontology: "A work of art does not turn or depend on anything else for its reality, because, I repeat, it is an immediate actualization and revelation of an inextricable nucleus of values absolutely inherent in a present origin or in an intimate activity or in form ..."

Is it possible that some things do not hold up well on repetition? Let me say in reply that I have never, I repeat, never, made a perfect painting. They are all wabi-sabi and all perfectly mondo, chibi chibi and jar jar jinks.


Also, I have a birthday coming up and there is wabi-sabi in that fact too, because the crevices on my visage are longer and more deeply beautiful than before. Though I think I am starting to catch a whiff of the pudding palace that awaits at the top of the hill.


(Top Image: Visite du Vigile/Visit of the Watchman 11x14 watercolours by David Roberts)


Zen Christmas Blues



Printmaker Peter Miller the other day posted a photo of the stone basin at Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto, which carries an inscription: 'Even if I have nothing, it is enough.'

What if this message translates to say that we should gratefully accept all that comes our way this Christmas? Acceptance is the Zen of things: acceptance of the universe and acceptance of THAT which makes it tick.

Peter said he had long cherished this notion of sufficiency and gratitude, adding he purchased at the temple, for 800 yen, a medallion to remind himself of the practical message contained in the kanji. "Then I lost it," he said. "Really. I packed the medallion in my suitcase carefully, but on my return it wasn't there. Thereby illustrating in an unintended way the wisdom of the inscription."

You cannot walk the path until you first become the path.

Let's consider also this bit of seasonal Western wisdom: "He sees you when you're sleeping."

Can we say, now that we are big children, that this Xmas jingle about Santa coming to town confers a slightly discomforting thought? Who wants to be seen while sleeping? And let's admit, while full of good cheer, as piles of bygone Christmases stack up, that we find the holiday season to be no longer the same bumper-car jumbalorum of joy that it once was.

Do we outgrow the wonder? Can we find it again? Show us a kid on Christmas Eve who doesn't channel all their love, hope and joy in the direction of the all-knowing, roly-poly, Saint Nick. Who, as a child, isn't lost in the Lapland of their Christmas dreams or, alternatively, can't be coerced by the threat that you'd better not cry, you'd better not pout ... but be good, for goodness sake?

Goodwill to All

Today, we find our fondest memories of Christmas past are slippery and elusive, untrustworthy even - just like the memory of a carefully packed Ryoanji medallion.

To be honest the manger nativity birth-of-little-Jesus version of Christmas never really resonated with us. The images of cattle lowing, shepherds or even wise men did not enthrall. Personally, the Saint Nick version of Christmas always carried more magical weight than the nativity. Santa bestowed a spirit of generosity, of giving, and good will toward all. I still like to place Santa at the centre of my nativity scene (Jesus is there too) and surround him with plastic dinosaurs, knights and Corgi cars.

When I was last in Bethlehem you could not buy a wooden Santa, sleighs or reindeer - only angels and mangers, and chubby little Jesus's carved from branches of olive trees from near Gethsemane.

Which is a shame. Because at Christmas who cannot imagine iconic Rudolph, lightbulb nose in the air, his icy reindeer breath billowing atop the snowy shingles? We listened under the warm blankets, so still, for the stealth sound of Santa negotiating our chimney, magically sliding past the crematorium of the gas furnace, to leave large boxes under the glittering tree. Oh yes, we were far too wired for sleep. It was Christmas Eve and our hearts were luminous.

But consider this warning: "He knows if you've been bad or good. He knows when you're awake."

Let's not belabour bad or good. You have a conscience of your own. But being awake is a prerequisite for no-mind satori. And I imagine that state to be a place where tigers worship flying lords a-leaping, where no smoky breath can disturb the deepest dust that lies buried therein. I imagine it is where all the peace, calm and serenity in every person of every nook of Earth is mustered and illumined, trumpeted and glorified; where we can bathe in clean rainforests festooned by snow pillars, where we are serenaded by ice wolves who howl across crackling firelight blizzards. And I imagine this is a place where we may raise a glass to toast the thunderclaps, and fill our cup to the brim with love; where we find flashes of fat-bellied mirth as our cockles warm under the ridge of the pipe and the blankets of the sleigh, bells jingling as we are drawn forward, accepting, hopeful, surrounded by gay lumberjacks named Spruce.



Perhaps, though, you are the sort of Christmas celebrant for whom neither satori nor Zen nor even Santa will keep your toddy hot. Let's say you are moved by the traditional birth-story, the shepherds and manger.

If so, then let us offer the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew. It is a fine little midwinter yarn that was consigned to the Apocrypha, discarded long ago by church leaders because it was insufficiently contemporaneous and too finely graphic and literary to be Biblical.

What happened is Joseph ended up with Mary after taking a pass on five other virgins: Rebecca, Sephora, Susanna, Abigea, and Cael. The Pseudo-Matthew version of the birth narrative reports: "they cast lots among themselves what each virgin should do, and the purple for the veil of the temple of the Lord fell to the lot of Mary." One thing begat another, as they say, and later (omitting some details in the interest of brevity) en route to Bethlehem to answer the census, an angel appeared and the expectant Mary was guided to refuge in a dark cave. The birth was entirely impressive: "The light from God so shone in the cave, that neither by day nor night was light wanting as long as the blessed Mary was there. And there she brought forth a son, and the angels surrounded Him when He was being born. And as soon as He was born, He stood upon His feet, and the angels adored Him, saying: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good pleasure."

Joseph wasn't present for the actual birth though. According to this version of things, he took off to find a couple of midwives. But shepherds saw angels and there was a Big Star – bigger than any seen before.

Gold, frankincense, myrrh


The manger thing happened on Day 3: "And on the third day after the birth ... the most blessed Mary went forth out of the cave, and entering a stable, placed the child in the stall, and the ox and the ass adored Him. Then was fulfilled that which was said by Isaiah the prophet, saying: The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib. The very animals, therefore, the ox and the ass, having Him in their midst, incessantly adored Him."

A few more things happened on the third fourth fifth and sixth days after the birth and then something a bit nasty happened to Jesus on the eighth day. And then, jumping to the second year: "Magi came from the east to Jerusalem, bringing great gifts … one gave gold, another frankincense, and the third myrrh."

Merry Christmas


Later, as Mary, Joseph and young Jesus fled to Egypt to avoid the wrath of Herod and the slaughter of the innocents, they stopped by a cave to rest: "And, lo, suddenly there came forth from the cave many dragons; and when the children saw them, they cried out in great terror. Then Jesus went down from the bosom of His mother, and stood on His feet before the dragons; and they adored Jesus, and thereafter retired."

Pseudo-Matthew goes on, with much emphasis on adoration and the earthly beastiary: "Lions and panthers adored Him likewise, and accompanied them in the desert. Wherever Joseph and the blessed Mary went, they went before them showing them the way, and bowing their heads; and showing their submission by wagging their tails, they adored Him with great reverence. And Wolves shall feed with lambs; the lion and the ox shall eat straw together."


With this in mind let's eat turkey together with stuffing, and plum pudding together with gratitude, and lace it all with acceptance as we muddle through another holiday while tinkling the keys to the tune of the Zen Christmas Blues, which this year ends with the traditional appeal to each of you Dear Friends ... "Merry Christmas to All and to All a Good Night."


(Top Image: Zen Christmas Blues by David Roberts w/c on a card; Inside image: Starry Night by David Roberts w/c on a card)