Psycho-killer, qu’est-ce c’est?

December 9, 2009 - Leave a Response

“We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

                                                            – Pogo

An American psychologist who specialized in the study of  psychopaths was surprised to find that his own family tree had a few killers in previous generations. 

Curious to know if genetic markers for psychopathic traits might be found among his generation, he ran tests on his family members and found the markers…in himself! 

On reflection, the psychologist saw he had personality traits associated with psychopathy.  He was a high risk taker – had even put his children in danger on one occasion.  Also, emotionally, he had a “low engagement level”.  Some things began to make sense.

His research told him that if he had had a violent, abusive childhood, it may have triggered his inner pit bull.  Luckily, he didn’t.

What’s interesting is that – all his professional life, people must have asked this man what attracted him to the study of psychopaths.  The psychologist probably had several answers, except the real one – which was that, on some level, he identified with their behavior patterns.  

I find this a fascinating example of how people live their lives unconsciously, without a real idea of what is motivating them.  It’s particularly satisfying to see this happen to a psychologist.

In the Bleak Mid Winter/War and Peace

December 3, 2009 - Leave a Response

The sun that brief November day

Rose cheerless over hills of grey

And, darkly circled, gave at noon

A light more pale than waning moon.

-John Greenleaf Whittier

I’ve misquoted this poem, the month should be December. But these words fit November, which was brutal – consisting of days and days of watery, dim grey light.  Night seemed to start at 4:30 pm.

I never watch DVDs but the gloomy evenings drove me to get the BBC 20 episode version of ‘War and Peace” from the library.  I first saw it decades ago. 

Anthony Hopkins brilliantly stars as Pierre, but all the actors are strong.  Tolstoy’s characters feel themselves pulled along by an intractable fate, which is stronger than they are and which changes their lives before they are even aware of it.  

The most fascinating character is General Mikhail Kutuzov, the commander of the Russian Army.  Old, overweight, blind in one eye, limping and wearing a terrible toupee, Kutuzov was fatalistic about military planning

“The battle (of Borodino) will make no difference.  Tomorrow we will be in the same position with 20,000 less men.  So will the French.”

The fog of war was intense back then.  Armies often had little idea where the enemy was. 

There is a great scene in ‘War and Peace”, where a tall aristocratic officer, bandaged and exhausted, arrives in the Russian army camp in Germany.  He sends his name into Kutuzov’s field office.  A few moments pass.  The elderly Kutuzov comes stumping out in astonishment and gapes at him.   It is General Mack, commander of the Austrian army.  This is the first the Russians have heard that Napoleon has attacked and captured the Austrian army at Ulm.  The Russian army has marched all the way from Russia to join the Austrians – now they must pack up and march back, in flight from the larger French army.

I have always wondered why military history is so fascinating when war is so awful and regrettable.  Watching this series, I’ve realized that military history is about the fantasy that a chaotic, unconscious and brutal manifestation is actually a controlled act. Only history can make sense of some of the forces at work.

An Education, Another Willa Cather Quote

November 24, 2009 - Leave a Response

“There are only two or three human stories, but they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened.”

                                                            -Willa Cather

I think it’s so funny when charismatic narcissists who screw people around feel so hurt when they are not liked.  Everyone’s met some version of this type.  So I very much enjoyed the British film, “An Education”.  The young actress who plays the lead has been touted as Oscar material, but I don’t think so.  She was good, but not remarkable. Other actors were superb.  Peter Sarsgaard nailed the charming lizard who beguiles the young girl and her parents and Rosamund Pike brought a zen calm to the lovely ditzy blonde living an ethically dubious life. 

The plot was an age-old story of youth led astray but the actors made it unique and entertaining.

Winter Birches

November 17, 2009 - Leave a Response

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I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do.

-Willa Cather in O Pioneers!

Falling Down the ‘Vogue’ Rabbithole

November 12, 2009 - Leave a Response

Recently, I went to see the documentary, “The September Issue” – which followed super-editor Anna Wintour and her team as they produced Vogue magazine’s biggest  issue of the year.  

 Before the movie, there was a trailer for Tim Burton’s visually fantastic  film,  ‘Alice in Wonderland” which will be released in March.   Seeing the familiar characters, I was reminded of my favourite bit from the book – which I have looked up to get the precise words.

“Once upon a time there were three little sisters,”  the Dormouse began in a great hurry: “And their names were Elsie, Lacie and Tilly; and they lived at the bottom of a well.”

“What did they live on?” said Alice, who always took a great interest in questions of eating and drinking.

“They lived on treacle.” said the Dormouse, after thinking a minute or two.

“They couldn’t have done that, you know,”  Alice gently remarked.  “They’d have been ill.”

“So they were,”  said the Dormouse;  “very ill”.

The documentary, “The September Issue”  is worth seeing.    It’s fascinating to watch a high-powered creative team clash and co-operate to get their vision out.   The documentary doesn’t completely succeed in showing Anna Wintour’s workaholic drive and genius (probably because it is too connected to her shadow), but the film captures the stunning creativity of the editors, designers and photographers at Vogue.  

Vogue seems the real Wonderland and Mad Tea Party, with its cast of characters creating amazing, other-worldly images on a monthly basis.

Winter Coat

September 5, 2009 - Leave a Response

A drawing of my green coat from when I lived in a room in Gastown years ago.  My camera lens caused some curved distortion on this image.   I don’t know how to fix it. 

It looks like it will be a cold winter this year.   The plants in Stanley Park and elsewhere are full of berries – a traditional sign.

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Interior – Nelson Street

September 1, 2009 - Leave a Response

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The Last Leper on Bentinck Island

August 28, 2009 - Leave a Response

Years ago, I was on a BC Ferry with my mother – coming back from Vancouver Island.  We were out on the deck looking out at the islands in Active Pass when she said:

“Where’s that island of lepers your father used to visit?”

I never heard of this before.  I asked my father the next time I saw him and he said that yes, he had gone once to an island with lepers.  Bentinck Island.  There was only one man left there.   My father had a dental practice in Victoria but sometimes travelled to remoter areas to do dentistry.    Someone from the Victoria public health department had called him up and said they were looking for someone to go to the island as a leper had a painful abscess in his tooth.  My father agreed to go and, I guess, fixed the man’s tooth. I asked him what the condition the leper was in and he did tell me but I have forgotten.  I know he would have found the man’s solitary life very depressing. 

 After my father died, I mentioned this excusion to my aunt.   She confirmed that it happened and thought it very brave of my father.  “I’m sure he didn’t tell our mother.”  she said.

A local filmmaker made a documentary about the leper colony once and R. ran into the editor of the film – whom  he had worked with before.  When R. heard about the film, he said,  “My friend Sally’s father went to that island and did dental work for one of the lepers.”    The editor scoffed and said no one had gone to the island – it was quarantined.   Too bad my dad had passed away, as he would have loved to be interviewed for a film.

There must be a record in the Victoria Public Health department of how the people with leprosy were monitored.   I don’t think they were just abandoned there.

Egg Studies

August 26, 2009 - Leave a Response

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E.’s Cycle of Life

August 21, 2009 - Leave a Response

My elderly acquaintance E. recently died in hospital – a few months short of her 92nd birthday.  She managed her old age well and was independent almost up to the end, when she had a fall and broke her hip bone.   Tests revealed she also had a brain tumor.   E. passed away after a few weeks in hospital.

E. was alert and upbeat when I visited her in hospital.  During a chat, we discovered she had lived in her childhood on the same block as my great-aunt Pearl and her husband in the 1920’s.   Just off Commercial Drive on Grant Street.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember Pearl’s married name so was unable to jog E.’s memory.   Still, she must have often seen my relatives, and maybe even my father, visiting as a small boy.  E. likely even went into my great-grandfather’s small store on Commercial Drive.

Pearl died of a stroke in her 40’s so E. would have seen my great-aunt near the end of her life – and now I have seen E. at the end of her life.   It’s a nice circle of life.   She was a neat lady and a wise elder.

E. had a literary bent, so here are some words by Walt Whitman to mark her passing.  Whitman saw much death and suffering as a nurse in a military hospital during the American Civil war, yet he takes an appealingly confident view in these lines from his poem “Song of Myself (Verse 6)”. 

“All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses/And to die is different from what anyone supposed, and luckier.”

Rest in peace, E.