Giller Prize 2018

November 19, 2018

Congratulations to ESI EDUGYAN who won this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize for her novel Washington Black.  This was her second win, having taken the Prize in 2011 for Half-Blood Blues. Washington Black was also on the Booker shortlist this year.

I have to admit to having not read either of her novels before tonight.  This will change.


Reason #234 NOT to use Facebook

November 18, 2018

This article from the New York Times is long and important.  It looks at the management practices espoused by Zuckerberg and Sandberg, and the serious issues that arisen.

” … as evidence accumulated that Facebook’s power could also be exploited to disrupt elections, broadcast viral propaganda and inspire deadly campaigns of hate around the globe, Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg stumbled. Bent on growth, the pair ignored warning signs and then sought to conceal them from public view. At critical moments over the last three years, they were distracted by personal projects, and passed off security and policy decisions to subordinates, according to current and former executives …

While Mr. Zuckerberg has conducted a public apology tour in the last year, Ms. Sandberg has overseen an aggressive lobbying campaign to combat Facebook’s critics, shift public anger toward rival companies and ward off damaging regulation.

Facebook’s internal investigation on the extent of Russia interference in the 2016 elections was thorough and devastating, and Zuckerberg and Sandberg decided to hide as much of it as possible, But pressure from Congress was too much:

After stalling for weeks, Facebook eventually agreed to hand over the Russian posts to Congress. Twice in October 2017, Facebook was forced to revise its public statements, finally acknowledging that close to 126 million people had seen the Russian posts …

In March, The Times, The Observer of London and The Guardian prepared to publish a joint investigation into how Facebook user data had been appropriated by Cambridge Analytica to profile American voters. A few days before publication, The Times presented Facebook with evidence that copies of improperly acquired Facebook data still existed, despite earlier promises by Cambridge executives and others to delete it. Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg met with their lieutenants to determine a response. They decided to pre-empt the stories, saying in a statement published late on a Friday night that Facebook had suspended Cambridge Analytica from its platform. The executives figured that getting ahead of the news would soften its blow, according to people in the discussions. They were wrong.

For anyone interested in how these huge corporations manage the politics of their business, this is a detailed study.


Previous Reasons NOT to Use Facebook.

A Whole New Kingdom Of Life

November 16, 2018

When we try to classify the myriad forms of life on earth, the most fundamental breakdowns are at the Kingdom level:  we have the Kingdoms of Animals, of Plants, of Bacteria, of Fungi. All life as we knew it fit into one of the Kingdoms and could be classified and linked as such.

Except, that is, for the few hemimastigotes that were then known.

In a lucky find, as reported by CBC, Canadian researchers identified two more species of these rare creatures. More importantly, perhaps, they captured the genomic information.  From that analysis, they are happy to announce that hemimastigotes are so different from all other life that they form a brand new fifth Kingdom all of their own..

It is so rare an event that the Tree of Life is reorganized so radically, that we need at least to report it.

Another Art Record Falls

November 16, 2018

David Hockney’s Portrait of the Artist (Pool With Two Figures) sold yesterday for $90.3 million. This is a record for a work by a living artist, far surpassing the $58.4 million a Koons sculpture managed in 2014

Difficult Books Once Again

November 16, 2018


Just about exactly six years ago, the Guardian printed a piece which included a list of what it considered the most difficult books in the English canon. I wrote a response at that time, agreeing with some and adding others.  This week, the Guardian ran a similar article on the occasion of Anna Burn’s Milkman winning this year’s Booker Prize. It is a very interesting essay by Sam Leith.  He notes that:

Books can be “difficult” in all sorts of different ways. Late Henry James is difficult in a wholly different way than Finnegans Wake is difficult, and Moby-Dick is difficult in a different way to either of those (mostly because of all that sodding scrimshaw). Sometimes the difficulty is a surface difficulty, to do with vocabulary. A Clockwork Orange, for instance, is a challenge to start with – but once you get the hang of Nadsat, it’s easy as pie …

With specific regard to Milkman which has been called a “difficult” novel:

… the way Burns talks about Milkman makes clear that, whether we like it or not, she is doing something with the “difficulty” of the novel. One of the things that has most vexed its critics is the fact that none of the characters has a name. That wasn’t an arbitrary decision. “The book didn’t work with names,” she has said. “It lost power and atmosphere and turned into a lesser – or perhaps just a different – book. In the early days I tried out names a few times, but the book wouldn’t stand for it. The narrative would become heavy and lifeless and refuse to move on until I took them out again” …

Nicola Barker, a novelist who is herself from time to time accused of being difficult, says: “I see fiction as being divided into two categories. Work that confirms and celebrates and panders and work that confounds and perplexes and challenges. My work challenges – as I’m sure Anna Burns’s does – but this is because we are trying to understand and engage with ideas, emotions and a world that aren’t straightforward or coherent or manageable. Sometimes the form or style of a book needs to mirror the complexity of life. Sometimes we need to try and describe the indescribable. Life is hard and paradoxical. It isn’t always easy. Nor should all fiction be.”

The essay goes on to explore the “literary novel” as genre and the various narrative structures that “difficult” books often twist and break.  It’s a good read.

Like its doppleganger from 6 years ago, it ends with a list of 10 “difficult” books.  Only Kazuo Ishiguru’s The Unconsoled — which I read, twice — makes it onto both lists. I have also read Doctor Faustus and Ulysses, so again I have three of the ten.  Looks like I’ll be putting orders into the library system this week!

Better Holidays

November 16, 2018

On 16th November, 1938, German scientist Albert Hofman synthesised the first batch of LSD.. For many boomers, acid was the drug of choice in the 1960s

Now, it doesn’t matter what your view of drugs might be, but wouldn’t it be more fun and relevant to have stat holidays celebrating important contemporary cultural events, such as Hofman’s discovery or Tim Leary’s first trip, rather than State-sponsored dates based on ancient cults, dead monarchs,  and jingoistic nationalisms?  Each generation could change them as needed, keep them fresh and meaningful as time and culture moves forward.

To get us started, here are an old Boomer’s ideas for twelve more culturally relevant Stat Holidays:

January 1        New Year’s Day

February 14     Wayne’s World (1992) release

March 21         The first tweet (2006)

April 23            The first YouTube video (2005)

May 25             Release of Star Wars (1977)

June 11            First broadcast of American Idol (2002)

July 1               Canada Day

August 9          Tim Leary’s first trip (1960)

September 9    Elvis Presley’s first appearance on Ed Sullivan (1956)

October 1         Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show debut (1962)

November 18   Release of Steamboat Willie (1928), Mickey Mouse’s first film

December 17    Debut of the Simpson show (1989)


The everloving suggests that each of us should also get two further stat holidays of our own choice to best suit our own cultural proclivities. Sounds good.  I’ll take 27th June to celebrate both Emma Goldman and the IWW, and 9th October to celebrate John Lennon.

The Unreality of Art

November 14, 2018

In the latest instance proving that the art market has nothing whatsoever to do with the real world, Edward Hopper’s iconic “Chop Sueyjust sold for $91,875,000.

At the same auction, a record was set for a work by William de Kooning.  His “Woman as Landscape” was sold for $69 million.