Friday, November 30, 2012

David Abram, Becoming Animal

"the inexhaustible otherness of things"

David Abram, in the wild
It's inaccurate to say that everybody loves David Abram, environmental philosopher and sleight-of-hand musician, because there are those who don't. His incorrigible earnestness, his (deliberately?) goofy author photo, his unfashionably committed approach to phenomenology: some options exist, if you want to mock him, but I don't know that he'd mind, and certainly it wouldn't change him. Mostly, people love David Abram, and mostly this love marks them as good people.

Now, Abram writes as an outsider academic, a philosopher of environmental ethics (among other things) from outside the university system. At the literature/environment conferences I normally attend, you might hear objections to Abram's approach over a drink, and some eyes will roll if someone else raises him in conversation, but I've rarely heard such things expressed formally. When his name gets mentioned, most often it's mentioned with respect, with fondness, with faith.

There have been serious critiques of Abram, of course: Lorraine Brundige and Douglas Rabb on his appropriation of Indigenous voices and ideas, for example, or Anne Zavalkoff's feminist critique of how Abram understands language (behind paywall), but my point is that it's unusual to see formal objections that aren't prolonged discussions. For some reason, you can't just briefly object and move on, the way you can apparently praise him briefly and move on.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

2012 Victoria Byelection

There's something very pleasing about a byelection in our Canadian system. No matter who we elect in Victoria on November 26 (tomorrow! get out and vote!), it won't affect the balance of power in that distant, magical land of Parliament. I say this not because I'm pleased about the current balance of power there, because unpleased barely scratches the surface of how I feel about the execrable policy direction of the Harper-Kenney-Baird Conservatives, but because it's nice not to have any reason whatsoever to vote strategically.

I'm voting for Don Galloway and the Greens, so let's get that out of the way. I don't think my thoughts about the election are biassed as a result, but you're free to assume they are, and I'm going to write this anyway.

First of all, we should be pleased with the variety of choices available. As an outsider, I still fail to grasp how the recent American election was anything but an Obama landslide, given the assorted idiocies uttered by so very many Republican candidates and their supporters, but even more startling was the idea that someone could be undecided. Such a stark choice, no? Whatever the issues, it's always only a two-horse race, and it should be easy to choose between a donkey and an elephant.

Admittedly, race in the US is a more complicated matter than I can appreciate clearly: nearly 60% of white voters supported Romney, much to my horror, and fully 88% of Romney's voters were white; 93% of black voters supported Obama, on the other hand, along with 71% of Latino voters and 73% of Asian voters. Baffling, all of it, so let's get back on track an remember that Victoria has six candidates, and only two are from the fringes. There are four legitimate choices, and that's something to enjoy.

Stephen Harper's underwear
Now, the presence of four legitimate candidates doesn't mean that it'll be close, because it won't. Around here, the Conservatives are less popular than the Natural Law Party, but somehow they're still in charge of the country. The punditocracy suggests a probable NDP win for Murray Rankin, with Don Galloway of the Green Party pushing fairly hard. The gap may be wider if Liberal voters vote Liberal rather than bending Green, the way they did in Saanich in the last federal election, but there's nothing safe in that assumption.

But you know what? I say we should all vote Green anyway. Even the Conservatives, since your candidate has been claiming he wouldn't necessarily follow the party line: utterly impossible under Stephen Harper, for one thing, and why would you vote for a Conservative who says he won't be entirely Conservative?

So forget for a minute your closely argued affiliations, your Jack Layton tattoo, and your Pierre Trudeau underwear.

No matter who Victoria elects, the Conservative majority will continue to behave as bombastically, boorishly, and amateurishly as they have since the last election, behaviour which was, you must admit, far worse even than the appalling level they'd plumbed in the years since their first minority government in 2006.

Sure, we could send another NDPer along to stand firmly with Tom Mulcair, or another Liberal to work with ... well, whoever the heck will turn out to be running that outfit after the dust settles.

But Is there any possible argument against screwing up the system a little bit? I mean, come on, it's the West Coast: it'd be a shame to miss such a great opportunity to tweak the Calgary Sun and the National Post. You know it's impossible to argue against; admit it, and take the only responsible action.

I'd be voting for Don Galloway and the Green Party anyway, but if I'd been planning to vote for anyone else, in this byelection I'd be going green anyway. Join me, won't you? You won't regret it, and Rick Mercer might even come to interview you personally.

In closing, watch this promotional video from the late, lamented Natural Law Party, and get set to vote on Monday, November 26. You're welcome.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

David Brin, Earth

In prepping to talk about climate change and science fiction at the local federal prison (it was today: great bunch of guys), from the pile of options I pulled David Brin's 1990 novel Earth. I'd enjoyed my only previous exposure to Brin, Sundiver, so I was planning to overlook my petty but pungent distaste for the back-cover blurb:
Here is multiple award-winning David Brin's most important, most ambitious, and most universal novel to date -- a blockbuster epic that transcends his already distinguished body of work in scope and importance.
Close readers of this blog will have noticed me being peevish about blurbs before. Apparently I still haven't grown up. By which I mean, how can a publisher not recognize the repellent absurdity of language like this, which is no less flatulent for its being gilded?

Friday, November 09, 2012

Angie Abdou, The Canterbury Trail

Colour me surprised that the sword isn't the only thing than which the penis pen is mightier.

If you're on social media, you've almost certainly heard about Angie Abdou's novel The Canterbury Trail: it's on the shortlist for the BC and Yukon category in this year's Canada Reads competition on CBC, as well as the subject of a longish but very funny book trailer that'll explain this review's first line, so if it's news to you, well, maybe you're doing social media wrong!

Caveat: my book club is due to read this novel in April 2013 -- because we're just that organized -- so I'm not going to deal with the ending and risk spoiling it for them. It's possible that The Canterbury Trail can't make sense unless you figure out how the conclusion works, so I'm afraid that this review will be unsatisfying for anyone who's already read the novel, but that's what the comments area is for. Ask me there, and I'll tell you.

Readers have responded very positively to The Canterbury Trail  -- "wicked cool!" -- and it's easy to see why. Right from the beginning, we're introduced to characters of good humour who haul along with themselves, partly invisible to them, assorted signs of crisis. The pot-heads, for one, have complicated lives and suffer from community-based identity angst that's entirely separate from the shorthand everyone uses for them: potheads are people, too, if I can say that while sounding neither glib nor flip, and the same distinction applies for all these superficially stereotyped characters, because none of them are the stereotypes they seem at first to be. (Except maybe Cosmos. What could Abdou possibly have against earth-mother goddess hippies, anyway? I mean, really. Kind of limiting her Kootenays readership, if you ask me....)