On Daffodil Day

daffodils, Te Horo (15 August 2014)

daffodils, Te Horo (15 August 2014)

Today there are phony daffodils all over the place – because, as everyone in New Zealand must surely know, this is Daffodil Day.

“Daffodil Day is the Cancer Society’s annual flagship event,” says the homepage of the Cancer Society’s web-site, which regards Daffodil Day as “one of the most important fundraising and awareness campaigns in the country. As well as providing an opportunity to raise awareness of cancer in New Zealand, Daffodil Day is a major funding source for the Cancer Society. We are proud to be regarded as one of the country’s most trusted charities and this is reflected in our fundraising practices.”

In the past, I have been only too happy to donate to the Cancer Society, and to wear a plastic daffodil. I have fond memories of carrying bunches of cut flowers around the city and – on occasion – deriving pleasure from giving them away.

Today, though, I looked at daffodils in Moore Wilson Fresh but did not buy any. Nor did I poke a twenty into any collector’s tin.

The truth is I’m feeling exploited – by commerce in general, and by the Cancer Society’s principal sponsor in particular (even though I bank with the ANZ Bank).

I’m confident that the people of the Cancer Society are well-intentioned and honourable … but I’m sorry, I’m just not in the mood to wear a fake daffodil today.

So here’s a photo of some real daffodils clustered around a tree on the lawn of friends who live in Te Horo.

One-ended sticks

Carl Barron 4Carl Barron seems to have managed – for the time being, at least – to make himself pretty much the only one-ended stick in town. Google is clogged, not to say obsessed, with him. Apart from some inane Q&A stuff on Ask.com, the only directly relevant alternative within easy reach is on a web-site put up some years ago by Rochester Area Right to Life.

So why have I persisted? Because – from the time I started reading the signs: “Follow Carl as he looks for things that may not actually be there” – I really wanted to write about one-ended sticks. (I am, as you might have guessed, intensely interested in things that may not actually be there.)

But please try and follow me as I briefly backtrack: Why is the Right to Life web-site relevant? Because it quotes one Thomas J Fitzgerald on the subject of bias in media writing.

Fitzgerald explains that the one-ended stick represents the political spectrum as thought of by the politically correct. “At the one and only end of the stick one finds the extremists. This will vary depending on the topic under discussion. Sometimes it is conservatives, sometimes it is Catholics, sometimes it is all Christians, sometimes it is pro-lifers. Everyone else is a moderate, and they are in the middle of the stick. Since there is no one left, the stick has no other end.”

It might have been nice to have provided a diagram, but I cannot actually visualise it – although I’m wondering if Escher might possibly have done something that would make my meaning clearer. 

So okay, I’m poking a stick at political correctness – as some folks believe is currently fashionable to do. But I’m doing so only in passing.

Incidentally: these days, “politically correct” does not mean you should not offend anyone; it means no one will be able to accuse you of having said anything wrong (WikiHow: How to Be Politically Correct).

Why are we talking about one-ended sticks? Everyone knows that every stick has two ends.

Years ago, my parish priest (Anglican) memorably pointed out to me something which has stayed with me: all fundamentalists believe the same thing – that they’re right, that they know the truth, and that everyone else is mistaken, misguided, or wrong. The same is roughly true of extremists, I’d say.

Following this perfectly logical line of reasoning, one can easily see why all those right-thinking-and-righteous extremists and fundamentalists are hogging the “right” end of the stick: none of them wants to be at the “wrong” end of it.

Suddenly, the ancient argument about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin starts to make sense.

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NOTES:

1/ Touted as Australia’s most popular comedian, Carl Barron is “An Aussie larrikin persona that has been polished to shine brighter than an opal” (NZ Herald, quoted on Scoop Independent News). He gave a performance of his new show, A One Ended Stick, in Wellington on Saturday night, at the Opera House. I didn’t go. 

2/ Thomas J Fitzgerald is Editor Emeritus of the newsletter of the Kingston Council of the Knights of Columbus. The Knights of Columbus is the world’s largest organization of Catholic men and their families. 

3/ “In modern usage, the terms PCpolitically correct, and political correctness are pejorative descriptors, whereas the term politically incorrect is used by opponents of PC as an implicitly positive self-description …” (Wikipedia: Political Correctness).

Signs of the times

caution wet floor sign

caution wet floor sign

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Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret. (Ambrose Bierce)

A couple of days ago, I went into a Burger King outlet. The winter sun was shining and I fancied a soft-serve ice cream. Between the entrance and the counter, there were two yellow signs … and not a drop of water anywhere I could see.

Since the day I observed customers (several years ago, and at another Burger King outlet) tripping over a similar sign, I have developed a bit of an attitude to these ubiquitous objects.

At the counter, I handed the young man a one dollar coin and launched into something of a tirade. “Nothing personal,” I assured the BK staff member, eventually. “Now I’d like an ice cream, please.”

“I’m sorry, sir, the machine is off for maintenance,” said he, handing me back my cash.

Although, as Ambrose Bierce points out, I will regret my angry outburst until the moon turns to blood, the unfortunate truth is that it was far from my best speech.

What did I learn? I learned that my upset about this matter goes way deeper than I’d recognised – so deep, in fact, that I was unable to articulate my grievance cogently. There may be a connection with a life-threatening childhood accident … but I’m not going into that right now.

Yes, I think these are, literally, signs of the times – memes, if you like – that utilise ready-made templates within which we are invited/expected to formulate our communications.

I do not believe such signs signify that companies care about my welfare; it seem more likely that they are seeking to minimise their exposure to litigation.

PS: I hope nobody gets hurt tripping over one of the signs.

The fundamental tendency of matter

Legion (cover)

Legion (cover)

The human brain, three pounds of tissue, held more than a hundred billion brain cells and five hundred trillion synaptic connections. It dreamed and wrote music and Einstein’s equations, it created the language and the geometry and engines that probed the stars, and it cradled a mother asleep through a storm while it woke her at the faintest cry from her child. A computer that could handle all of its functions would cover the surface of the earth.

The hundreds of millions of years of evolution from paramecium to man didn’t solve the mystery, thought Kinderman. The mystery was evolution itself. The fundamental tendency of matter was toward a total disorganization, toward a final state of utter randomness from which the universe would never recover. Each moment its connections were becoming unthreaded as it flung itself headlong into the void in a reckless scattering of itself, impatient for the death of its cooling suns. And yet here was evolution, Kinderman marvelled, a hurricane piling up straw into haystacks, bundles of ever-increasing complexity that denied the very nature of their stuff. Evolution was a theorem written on a leaf that was floating against the direction of the river. A Designer was at work. So what else? It’s as plain as can be. When a man hears hoofbeats in Central Park, he shouldn’t be looking around for zebras. (William Peter Blatty, in Legion [pp104-5]) 

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Originally published by Simon & Schuster in 1983, and subsequently turned into what Rinker calls “a more than satisfactory sequel … Exorcist III (which, mercifully, has nothing to do with Exorcist II: The Heretic).” Legion appeared in a Tor paperback edition in 2011 (Tom Doherty Associates, New York).

Happy happy joy joy

Happiness is the light shining on the water. The water is cold and dark and deep … (William Keepers Maxwell, Jr, in Over by the River and Other Stories (1977)).

Joy (cover)

Joy (cover)

If you read my post, “Happiness is …” (07 Nov 2012), you might recall that I’d intended to write about the novel to which Maxwell’s words were a foreword/pre-text – but had been unable to find which book I’d copied it out of.

Back in the Wellington City Library again a day or two ago, my gaze lit on the cover pictured here … and at once I knew that was it.

The truth is, I hadn’t got very far into the book before it was due to be returned … Need I say more?

Reviewing Joy for The Observer (17 June 2012), Alexander Larman suggests that “Jonathan Lee’s highly accomplished second novel might be called Joy, but real happiness is lacking from the lives of its characters.”

Amazon.com describes Joy as “a hugely inventive, ambitious and absorbing novel about pleasure, love, loss, and work by ‘a major new voice in British fiction’ (Guardian).”

There’s already a pile of library books beside the table at home, so I didn’t get Joy out again … but I’m likely to give it another go again soon.

You used to compose music

“You used to compose music,” a friend said to me a few days ago, going on to reminisce about his years as an art teacher – which freed me from the need to respond.

Later that day, I did formulate something I might have said: “My head is still full of music. I just don’t bother writing it down.”

amateurs t-shirt

amateurs t-shirt

Eventually, we recognise that we’re not going to be discovered, not going to be stars, not destined to rise to meteoric fame, not headed for international careers … lucrative commissions … world-wide recognition …

Does that mean our creative impulses are destined to shrivel and die?

Several of my friends are painters. None of them are household names. But they all love to paint. It’s the love that makes us amateurs.

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PS: I’ve unpacked the music manuscript box.