Archive for past blast

Happy to help

Leonard Bernstein died thirty years ago today. I always think of Stefan Bauer-Mengelberg on this anniversary. I wrote this ten years ago:

Twice in the last week I have helped to prevent a calamity from befalling a colleague. One colleague was irritated and the other was infuriated to receive my editorial help, though they each requested it. Both will come out “smelling like a rose” (to use an expression my Dad has always loved and that I now love, too).

In my last couple of years in book publishing back in the early 1990s, I spent more than half of my time, it seemed, addressing legal matters: Making sure that my authors weren’t going to get the company I worked for, Prometheus Books Inc., sued for defamation, libel, invasion of privacy, copyright infringement, and the like. Although I did not become an editor so that I could act as an ersatz lawyer, I did enjoy the role, especially because I got to talk to a REAL lawyer, and a great one, Stefan Bauer-Mengelberg, a lot.

Stefan provided his services for free, because he liked the books we published. He was a wonderful and brilliant and eclectic man, who reached the highest levels of accomplishment as a musical conductor and mathematician and teacher before starting his career in Law. I didn’t know he’d been a conductor until I called him one afternoon regarding a lawsuit. Leonard Bernstein had died the day before, and for some reason I brought that up with Stefan. “I was his assistant conductor for a year,” he said. “This sounds more impressive than it was. My main job was to have a cigarette lit and ready for Lenny when he came offstage.”

Back to my point: Because of Stefan Bauer-Mengelberg, many of my authors *didn’t* besmirch their reputations and *didn’t* get their butts sued. To a person, they were unhappy receiving the help they received, because they believed they didn’t need it. They all asked: What could go wrong?

A calamity is smaller than a comma when it’s born.

Remembering Stefan – and remembering my mentor Paul Kurtz, the difficult boss who introduced me to him – fills me with gratitude. Some very gifted people have shared their time with me.

How hard would it have been to say some kinder words instead

The Greeks and Us

Lately I’ve been beginning my mornings reading the Greek Tragedies. It has been a joy! Perhaps the biggest theme in the Aeschylus and Sophocles I’ve read so far: the pressure of justice upon children. I’ve been reminded of something I wrote on that topic awhile ago about more modern times:

Compared to how often parents denounce and disown their children, it is remarkably rare to see them do so in print. Why? Perhaps because, to anyone outside the writer’s particular family orbit, slagging one’s offspring utterly undermines one’s standing as a parent, and hence one’s authorial credibility, too. (The father of cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer, Lionel Dahmer, saves his harsh judgments for himself.)

I can think of only one example in the genre: Famous atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s rejection of her first son, William Murray, after he became a born-again Christian. (This son was the “Murray” in the Supreme Court Case Murray v. Curlett in which the court banned prayer in United States schools.) O’Hair wrote: “One could call this a postnatal abortion on the part of a mother, I guess; I repudiate him entirely and completely for now and all times. He is beyond human forgiveness.”

Books by adult children attacking their parents, on the other hand, are everywhere.  Parents, even if they are not dead, can’t fight back without bringing upon themselves righteous fury and dishonour. This genre, then, allows justice for those children among us who could never defend themselves before, but for the rest it provides a template for cowardice and disgrace that is tempting for a time. [4 June ’04]

Reading

Basil.CA entered its nineteenth year as of a couple weeks ago. The two little posts below convey the tone of the early years. (My interests seem to have stayed steady …)

9 July 02:  “How comes it,” asks my man Francois duc de La Rochefoucauld (1613 – 1670), “that our memories are good enough to retain even the minutest details of what has befallen us, but not to recollect how many times we have recounted them to the same person?”  I know that my own friends wonder, often and out loud, why I never seem to notice that I’m repeating myself, so it is really pleasing to read that Mr. La  Rochefoucauld and his salon-mates shared this particular cognitive deficit.  I finally bought his Maxims last November, and the book might never leave my bathroom.  The man’s skeptical appraisals of human vanity, self-love, envy, and romance are wry and perfect.  “When it comes to love, the one who recovers first recovers best” — “En amour celui qui est guéri le premier est toujours le mieux guéri” —  was a favourite in my old Buffalo days, not sure why.  Today I am a businessman with many clients who are involved in financing and promoting various speculative ventures.  It is a world in which, if skepticism is not always rewarded, then naivete is pretty much always punished.  The following La Rochefoucauld maxim comes to mind most every day:  “Our promises are made in proportion to our hopes, but kept in proportation to our fears.”  (It is no more sentimental in the original French:  “Nous promettons selon nos espérances, et nous tenons selon nos craintes.”)

24 September 02:  As my readers know:  When I get into a funk, I read and read and read.  Sometimes this improves my mood; it rarely damages it further; and, because I have a very expansive view of education, I believe it elevates my mind.  The best experience is when my reading makes me laugh out loud, as a recent item did [link no longer active, alas!]. In a Canada.com story about Vancouver officials trying to close down three bars in the city’s downtown eastside neighborhood, we get this paragraph:

“The bathrooms are shooting galleries,” says one. “Cops are always here raiding the people for dope, drugs and hookers and shit,” speculates another. 

The faux-journalistic use of the word “speculates” is so wittily Canadian that I will live to read another day.

My prodigal URL

When I moved to Vancouver in 1996, I became a communications specialist for public and private companies mostly headquartered in this city. I wrote management discussions for annual and quarterly reports, literally hundreds of news releases, and lots of material for online audiences in chatrooms on Usenet and elsewhere. With a couple of partners, I also created two or three dozen websites for clients; these were among the first in their industries.

Part of the fun of these latter projects was registering not just appropriate domain names for these companies, but other URLs that *might* be appropriate for them one day. On top of that, we made sure to register domain names that could possibly be confused for those our clients used, so that their competitors couldn’t get ahold of them for the purpose of confounding investors and regulators.

I thus spent a fair amount of capital collecting URLs, mostly for clients and potential clients but also for many for my own endeavours. This week I learned that I almost lost one – PigeonPark.net (used for various literary projects) – that I have had for 15 or so years. (Its expiration notice landed in my spam folder – yikes!) With the help of my friends at Uniserve Communications (which hosts most of my websites), I saved it in the nick of time – whew!

Here’s a blast from the past, from when I first announced the site on basil.CA:

16 August 03:  In You Don’t Look 35, Charlie Brown! the late Charles M. Schultz writes, “There must be different kinds of loneliness, or at least different degrees of loneliness. …  The most terrifying loneliness is not experienced by everyone and can be understood only by a few.  I compare the panic in this kind of loneliness to the dog we see running frantically down the road pursuing the family car.  He is not really being left behind, for the family knows it is to return, but for that moment in his limited understanding, he is being left alone forever, and he has to run and run to survive.  It is no wonder that we make terrible choices in our lives to avoid loneliness.”

Comix artist Seth illustrates these words in a remarkable series of panels called “Good Grief!” published in Drawn and Quarterly (Volume 2, Number 4).  I came across these panels many years ago and have been looking for them ever since, locating them in my disorganized files only this morning.  I now realize that my Pigeon Park Sentences were variations on Schultz’s theme, that I could not have even started without its echo in my imagination. 

“It is no wonder that we make terrible choices in our lives to avoid loneliness.”