Archive for February, 2015



Bronx Zoo.

Funny sign

Langley sign

Glover Rd., Langley, BC.

Kwantlen Polytechnic University …

in the news. I would prefer to see stories that describe our sedulous teachers and students. That said, this is real news. (I will leave it at that.)

The Mathematics of Love, with Hannah Fry

Some “mathematically verifiable top tips for love.”

The Responsibility Project

A few years ago Liberty Mutual Insurance funded a number of wonderful short films for what it called “The Responsibility Project.” My favourite was “Father’s Day.” It’s very powerful.

I showed this short film to my Digital Marketing class this week: Some tears. Why would an insurance company distribute such a film as part of its “content marketing” initiatives?

“Death with Dignity in Canada”

I believe this is a step forward, an important one. That said, I am very uncomfortable with turning death into a medical – a professional – event.


It is a bad betrayal and an insidious use of psychology.

Blasts from the past


Way, way back in the day, I spent a year as Books Editor at The Stanford Daily. It was a wonderful experience doing campus journalism alongside my graduate school studies. Recently the publication put the entirety of its archives online. Stanford Magazine explains how this was accomplished.

Typing my name into the search engine doesn’t locate my entire oeuvre, but keystroking “Bob Basil” does find my loving tribute to the band Katrina and the Waves as well as my take on Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love.” “Robert Basil” will get you my discourteous take-*down* of Cynthia Ozick, which still embarrasses me.

Marilyn Suriani

Picture 3

Way back in my “e-zine” days, late 90’s, I published the first online photo-gallery of Marilyn Suriani’s work. I had published her book of photography, Dancing Naked in the Material World, for Prometheus Books back in 1992. We became close friends, quickly: I loved how she talked, I loved how she photographed, and I loved how she wanted to teach people to see (and how *to accept*). Meeting and publishing Marilyn were pivotal moments in my life – as an editor and as a person.

In recent years Marilyn has turned from portraits to depictions of nature; water is a particular fascination. I think her work is magnificent.

Here’s her website, with images and with videos of her most recent large public project.

Brilliant, warm, and with-it.

Kwantlen appoints its first ‘elder in residence’

This is good news:

Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) welcomed its first elder in residence at a special installation ceremony at its Surrey campus on Thursday.

Lekeyten, a well-known and respected member of the Kwantlen First Nation in Fort Langley, has taken on this important role.

“In my travels, I have always been respectful of the teachings of people, and I’m always learning,” Lekeyten told the audience of friends, family and KPU faculty and staff. “I’m coming to join every classroom, and I’m going to learn as well.”

One of 20 Kwantlen First Nation elders, Lekeyten grew up attending day school. While they were similar to residential schools, day schools did not require students to stay overnight and they returned home at the end of every day. …

KPU criminology instructor Lisa Monchalin, who is of Algonquin, Metis and Huron descent, described Lekeyten as one of the most honest and intelligent people she’s ever met, and said KPU is honoured to have him as its first elder in residence. …

The primary focus of the elder in residence program is to support and encourage Aboriginal students on their educational journey. Lekeyten will share knowledge, traditions and teachings with individual students and groups and will work with the university to encourage and promote understanding and respect for indigenous perspectives, culture and values.

I’m delighted that Kwantlen Polytechnic University is continuing to reach out to Aboriginal students, potential students, and community members.

In 2010 the university opened up the beautiful Aboriginal Gathering Place on its Surrey campus.

Carl Djerassi, RIP


Carl Djerassi

Known as “the father of the birth control pill” – an odd phrase, when you think of it – Stanford University professor Carl Djerassi was a genius in many areas of chemistry, authoring or coauthoring more than 1200 scientific papers. After he turned sixty, he turned to writing novels and plays, with great success. (I remember a number of my colleagues in the English department at Stanford being, well, a tad bit jealous.)

He was famously immodest – without, somehow, being arrogant. He mentored generations of scientists and, as a philanthropist, supported artists for decades.

I met professor Djerassi through my Stanford advisor, the wonderful Diane Middlebrook, his wife. Diane once told me that one of Djerassi’s great qualities was that he did not react to – perhaps did not even *notice* – her moods, and hence wasn’t adversely affected by them – so she never had to feel guilty *having* them. (I knew where she was coming from.)

Their home – an entire floor (the 14th?) of a Russian Hill apartment building in San Francisco – was filled with modern art by likes of Paul Klee and Alexander Calder. Once, when the couple was in London, Diane invited me to stay there for a week. I was so afraid I’d bump into a million-dollar painting or mobile, I stayed in the kitchen and bedroom my first couple of days there. Diane had a desk that looked out onto Alcatraz. That’s where she wrote her biographies of Anne Sexton, Billy Tipton, and “the marriage” of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. (I was very honoured indeed to be asked by Diane to copy-edit the first draft of the Tipton bio, Suits Me: The Double Life of Billy Tipton.)

Diane passed away eight years ago. I honestly can’t believe it has been that long. Her wisdom and sweet courtesy were legendary. I am grateful to professor Djerassi for being a great husband to her, and grateful, too, for the gifts – his inventions,  his research – that have improved the lives of millions and millions of people the world over.

Thank you both.

(The photograph above, appearing in the Stanford Report’s nicely composed obituary, was taken in Diane and Djerassi’s huge library. By delightful luck, right above the great chemist’s right elbow is a copy of my first book.)