Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Upstairs, Downstairs in Chinatown

A pleasurable side-effect of travelling for business by train or plane, and not automobile, is precisely that I don't have to drive a car. 

This not only avoids the cost of parking, which depending on the city, could run as much as a couple of hundred bucks over just a few days. 

Photo 1: Businesses on Dundas street, Toronto.
Photo: RB Glennie

It is also that I avoid the cost of driving – the stress and hassles involved in just getting around by automobile in the unfamiliar streets of a different city. 

I'm lucky, I suppose, in that my affairs are conducted at or near the hotels in which I stay.  
Sometimes, I will take a cab, but often I will just walk from the hotel to the venue, to orient myself to the surroundings, observe them up close, and to see what there is to see. 

Regardless, after business is done, during the evening I usually take a stroll, intending to check out the quarter near where I am staying. 

But just as usually, I end up going much further, as the one block leads to the next, the one neighbourhood turns into another, and not getting back until later in the evening, in spite of my fatigue from working all day. 

This is how I get to know an unfamiliar place, not going where visitors usually go, but going where the natives are. 

I may bring a map with me, just in case I get lost. But generally I don't, and rarely consult the map when I do have one. 

This has got me to places where I didn’t expect, or perhaps want, to be: as on a recent visit to Vancouver, when I wandered into the notorious Downtown Eastside slum. 

It may have been my naïveté, but nevertheless I felt in no more danger there than I did in the areas just a few blocks away, where condos sell for a million dollars and (much) more.  

Last week, I was in Toronto. Having almost always visited that city by car, after work I instead I left my room in the Yonge street area, and headed west on Dundas avenue. 

Photo 2: Businesses on Dundas street, Toronto.
Photo: RB Glennie

I found myself, without design, in the city’s Chinatown, which begins around where the Art Gallery of Ontario is located, extending a dozen blocks or more down Dundas, to University avenue at least. 

There, I encountered a sort of architectural style that I didn’t identify as “Chinese” until I saw many examples of it in the Vancouver Chinatown. 

A lot of commercial buildings that I saw there, as well as in the Toronto Chinatown, are not entranced by a door leading directly from the street inside. 

Instead, businesses therein are reached by stairwells leading up and down from the street level, with the buildings themselves divided into two units, or even three or four. 

Often, these are stairs extend about a dozen steps directly from the street, down or up. But at other times, they are more elaborate, as in the picture below. 

I have given some thought as to why this sort of building-design is found especially in Chinatowns, and not apparently anywhere else. 

Perhaps it is merely a utilitarian attempt to acquire more tenants by expanding the number of units available in each building. 

Photo 3: Businesses on Dundas street, Toronto.
Photo: RB Glennie

On other hand, at least with some of these shops, the total square feet of space available to do business, has been foreshortened for being accessed by a subterranean stairwell (Photo 3 above). 

Apart from any functional reason why, the stairways of Chinatown objectify a different conception of place and space than in other parts of town – even where the building materials and designs are identical. 

I haven't been able to identify wherein this difference lies. 

But I think it goes back to an observation I had years ago, about the traditional layout of Chinese restaurants in my hometown and elsewhere. 

This applies particularly to such dining places established by immigrants and refugees from Hong Kong and Mainland China, and may not for newer “Asian fusion” places founded by second- or third-generation people of Chinese descent in North America. 

Photo 4: Close-up on subterranean business shown in Photo 3, Dundas street, Toronto.
Photo: RB Glennie

It is that the dining area of the restaurant is inevitably separated from the entrance: that is, it may be down stairs (as was the case at a downtown Chinese restaurant my family used to patronize), or accessed through a hallway; or as at another tiny place that I used to go to as a young adult, separated from the entrance by a removable barrier. 

Apparently, there is some need to place a barrier – be it stairwells or otherwise – between the general public and the indoor functions of the business in Chinatowns, that doesn't exist elsewhere in the city.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Sat on a Dark Bench Like Bookends...

The 35th anniversary of the murder of John Lennon has just passed. 

Thinking about this, it struck me that Lennon has been dead for more than twice as long as he was alive and world-famous. Thus, while the Beatles were an almost an immediate smash in their native Britain in 1963, Beatlemania really became a global thing the next year. 

Lennon was shot down outside his New York City apartment in 1980, about sixteen years after that. 

Years ago, reflecting on the murder of another major public figure, I had the idea that the 1960s’ counterculture in America was a `chaotic’ side-effect of the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. 

Kennedy image: (c) All About History
Lennon image: (c) Sachs Media Group

It could be just coincidence that something recognizable as the counterculture began to emerge in ’64, less than a year after the killing of the President in Dallas. 

It is entirely coincidental that the Beatles’ second album was released in the U.K. on the very day that Kennedy was killed. It is more than coincidental though, that the group was received with such hysteric joy when landing in the U.S. (at New York’s newly renamed John F. Kennedy airport) less than three months following the President’s slaying, in February 1964. 

They probably would have been very successful anyway, but many have commented as to how the appearance of these four young, cheery, cheeky and charming lads from England, served to lift the spirits of Americans mere weeks after their (relatively) young President was so publicly and brutally struck down by assassin’s bullets. 

The Kennedy assassination, meanwhile, was what caused so many young Americans to turn away from mainstream politics and culture as a whole, toward hippiedom on the one hand, and New-Left radicalism on the other. 

It was, as I indicated, a situation of non-linear dynamics. 

That is, the youth of America did not wake up on Nov. 23, 1963, and suddenly decide to become hippies or radicals (or both). 

But Marshall McLuhan described in his 1964 book Understanding Media, the electric circuitry that made television possible, as an “extended nervous system.” In order to overcome this shock to the collective system, as precipitated by the live coverage of the Kennedy assassination, I think many young Americans essentially rejected their own culture, or at least the mainstream part of it. 

Certainly, the counterculture didn’t arrive willy-nilly. But in the years after 1964, many youth in the U.S. (never even close to a majority, but still a significant number anyhow) felt more and more compelled to create their own culture, especially as it appeared that Kennedy’s death had delivered the political system into the hands of the crude (Kennedy’s successor Lyndon Johnson), the crazy (the ultra-conservative Republican challenger to Johnson in ’64, Barry Goldwater) or the criminal (Richard Nixon, who had run for the Presidency against John Kennedy in 1960). 

It is no wonder then, the conspiracy theories about the President’s assassination first gained credence within the counterculture. 

The site of the Kennedy assassination: Dealey Plaza, Dallas, TX.
Photo: RB Glennie

The Beatles were, of course, heroes to the counterculture, no matter their fabulous wealth and mainstream success. They were avant-garde already upon their arrival in 1964, sporting hair quite long according to the prevailing male fashion, and playing brash and noisy music that was abhorrent to much of the older generation (regardless of political orientation: leftist folkies hated them as much as conservative choirmasters). 

Throughout their career, the Beatles remained in the vanguard as to music-style and hair-length, as well. Their records seemed to anticipate and popularize countercultural themes of love, sex and, drugs, as well. They had many peers in the British Invasion (and ultimately, coming from the U.S. as well), but the reason the latter played rock music and not blues, folk, country or jazz, was due to the success of the “Fab Four.” 

Having lost one charismatic, youthful political leader, many young and educated Americans turned toward cultural leaders for inspiration – and of all the Beatles, John Lennon was the most charismatic and political. 

It is a simplistic analysis, I understand. 

And I'm going to follow through on this simplicity by asserting that the murder of John Lennon, about seventeen years after the Kennedy assassination, was what brought a decisive end to the counterculture. 

Lennon’s killer, Mark David Chapman, said as much when he asserted in police interviews (aired on a documentary in the 1990s) that the murder “was the last nail of the coffin of the 1960s.” 

Site of the murder of John Lennon: Dakota apartments, NYC.
Photo: RB Glennie.

The most conspicuous aspects of the counterculture died out in about 1971, I think. They were partially absorbed into the mainstream culture, however, which during the ‘70s adopted not only the long hair and floral fashions characteristic of the hippies. 

More favourable (or at least laissez-faire) attitudes toward recreational drug use, premarital and gay sex, as well as race-mixing in friendship and marriage, came to prevail amongst many of the bourgeoisie (the working classes remained mostly unconvinced). 

It was a coincidence that Lennon was killed just a month after the election of Ronald Reagan to the U.S. Presidency, the Republican who “said with a smile what Goldwater said with a sneer.” 

As California Governor during the 1960s, Reagan had bumped up against the counterculture in its American homeland. His Presidency marked the rejection by much of the mainstream of countercultural styles and values. 

Thus, men cut their hair short and doffed the flares and flowers for the “Preppie” styles more reminiscent of the years immediately before 1964, while women’s dress became more conservative, as well. The First Lady, Nancy Reagan, pursued a successful campaign to “Just Say No” even to soft drugs, while militarism became cool again. 

The charisma of the two former film-actors who headed the First Family, was instrumental in this. 

But I would argue that the murder of John Lennon in 1980 was the shock to the extended nervous system, that made conservative Reaganism all the more powerful than it would have been without it. 

President Reagan drafts Mr. Roper to teach those punks a lesson.

It occurred, crucially, just as the age cohort that established the counterculture, were finally leaving their youth behind, starting families, getting serious about careers, buying homes – the very things that, in and of themselves, encourage more conservative attitudes. 

The death of their beloved cultural hero by gun violence, must have hardened the worldview of the Sixties Generation all the more, at this decisive point in their lives. 

John Lennon was not a political leader, after all, whatever his outspoken views on various subjects. The motive for his shooting was, thus, nonsensical. And indeed, it emerged right away that Chapman was a huge Beatle fan – the last photograph of Lennon while alive has him signing an autograph on Chapman’s copy of Double Fantasy, just hours before Chapman gunned the musician down. 

Whatever his personal foibles, Lennon’s most significant contribution to the culture was to give millions of people joy, including, it appeared, the man who killed him. It was indeed entirely senseless, yet it happened anyway. 

It seemed to mock the very humanitarian ideals of the counterculture – something accepted if only implicitly, half-consciously, embarrassedly even. 

It was as though veterans of the counterculture, after the murder of John Lennon, retreated from the culture wars, shocked, dispirited, disheartened, too busy and tired to fight any more, leaving the field to the Reaganites for a decade or so. I concede again, that I have simplified things for narrative purposes. 

Yet, there is almost literary parallels between Kennedy and Lennon, whatever the different lives they lived. They shared the same first name (which was, however, a very common one in the English-speaking world during the first half of the twentieth century). 

The President was a generation older than the Beatle – born in 1917, Kennedy was a year younger than Lennon’s father, Alf. 

But they were both of Irish Catholic background: Kennedy’s religious ethnicity is well known, but relatively few people are aware that Lennon’s grandfather (apparently named “McLennon”) came from Dublin sometime in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century.  
To paraphrase Paul McCartney in A Hard Day’s Night, Kennedy’s ancestors went west and he became a Boston Brahmin, while Lennon’s went east, and he became an Angry Young Man from Liverpool. 

Pursuing very different careers, both the Beatle and the President became world famous; indeed, it is difficult to know just which one has greater celebrity, or who is admired the more so not only by Americans, but people around the world. 

And, of course, they were both murdered while right beside their wives.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Ottawa 1968 & 2015: A Meditation on Urban Form

Not many entries of late, mostly because of travel on business.

I returned from Washington a few days ago; I might write about that later.  There is a great deal to say.

For now, I will remark on another capital city: my own, Ottawa, Canada.

On the You-Tube site some months ago, I came across a clip entitled “Ottawa 1968 1969”, the entirety of which can be viewed here:

The blurb at YouTube, by "Gwood's Gang", states: "My uncle drove around Ottawa in the early spring, about 1968 and again about a year later. He takes us from Maitland Avenue along the Queensway to downtown, around Parliament, to Champlain point, along the Ottawa River, Dows Lake and many other places in town. How the city has changed!"

Last summer, on a lark, I took the same route as the home-filmmaker, recording the same scenes with my cell-phone camera, in order to edit the two scenes together. 

The uneven result of this can be found at the link directly below.  The chief problem of my own retracing of Gwood's Gang's uncle, is that I was recording the scenes from memory, and thus they are often shot from different angles from the original; as well, it was summertime when I took the cellphone movies, whereas as Gwood's uncle was evidently filming during the early spring, and thus the foliage and sunlight are very different from the earlier film to the new one:

Nevertheless, and contrary to Gwood, it is striking how recognizable the city is in the older footage, when compared to today. 

If, hypothetically, film existed of the same areas in 1921 (i.e. forty-seven years before 1968), the city would have looked very unfamiliar. 

It would have, for example, been impossible to travel from the west-end to downtown by car on the same road, because it was then occupied by a railway. The vast majority of the buildings in the downtown core, as seen in the 1968 film, would not have been constructed in 1921 (whereas many from forty-seven years ago are in existence today). The McGregor Easson elementary school and neighbouring houses on Dynes road from ‘68, were no doubt pastures 47 years before. 

As it happens, there is an an aerial photograph of Ottawa taken, according to notations on the image, in 1922: one can view the various neighbourhoods of the old city, like the Glebe, Ottawa South, and the area I grew up in, Ottawa East:

Ottawa, Ontario, 1922: the waterway extending from the south to east
(i.e. bottom to right) is the Rideau River.  The Glebe quarter is central left,
where the circular playing field is situated.

There was very little of the latter to call it a neighbourhood. It was a vast farmer’s field, with Main street merely a dirt laneway (a bridge over Rideau river would not be constructed for decades). In spite of its status as a capital city, Ottawa was until the Second World War, no more than a large town. 

During and after the war, it underwent qualitative change, becoming a modern city. This is the form in which it remains today. While it is probably twice as large now as in 1968, its physical features have been refined but not drastically altered since then.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Pointillism of Science

I’ve long been fascinated by the work of the post-Impressionist Georges Seurat, most famous for Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of Grande Jatte, which was unveiled in 1886. 

Sunday Afternoon on the Isle de Grande Jatte.
Georges Seurat, 1886.

I consider Seurat my favourite of the nineteenth-century French painters, if not of all time (but I like Rembrandt van Rijn almost as much). Though the subject-matter of Seurat’s works is antique, his technique renders them strangely contemporary in appearance. 

Recently, I watched a short docudrama with actors portraying Seurat and his contemporaries, Seurat and the Realm of Light, produced by the French arm of the National Film Board of Canada in 1992.  

In this, the painter’s so-called pointillism is described by a narrator as “a technique which consists of painting juxtaposed points of pure colour. Seen from afar these small dabs of pure colour blend together optically in one’s eye, become a homogenous image. A visionary artist, Seurat anticipated by half a century modern techniques of colour division, used in photo composition, television, and digital images.” 

In fact, though, the term “pointillism” is a misnomer. It is more accurately called “divisionism”, as Seurat did not compose the Sunday Afternoon and other works by placing dots of paint on the canvass, as is usually believed. 

Instead, Seurat used tiny strokes of the brush to achieve a divisionist effect (as seen in the detail of Sunday Afternoon below). 

Detail from Sunday Afternoon on the Isle du Grande Jatte.

Divisionism in fact came out of Seurat’s ambition to create a science of art. The NFB film quotes him: “I dream of a science of painting, which can be taught, like music, a colour scale than can translate the effects of light. ... I apply minute dabs of colour, which are blended optically in the eye, and which translate the shimmering effects of light, a mysterious light that reveals textures, curves, volumes and the dimensions of space.” 

Seurat also stated, “just as a chemist separates matter, my eyes are clear prisms that break down the elements of light. Transform them in the crucible of the imagination, and give them new meaning. I am searching for a secret geometry of forms. Painting is the art of giving depth to surface.” 

Knowing very little about Seurat before, I was somewhat taken aback by his avowed pursuit of a science of art. I had thought that by the nineteenth century, and especially after the Impressionists, artists had given up the very Renaissance ambition to make painting into a science. 

Impressionism, as with modern art in general, was a conscious rebellion against the strictures of “Academy” art, the principles of which had been laid down centuries before. Seurat, who died in 1891 aged only thirty-one (of uncertain causes, but likely from a virus which also killed his young son soon after), embraced academic principles, however. 

Circus-Parade, Georges Seurat, 1887.

From a proper bourgeois family, Seurat dressed so conventionally that he was referred to by other painters as “the notary.” In another documentary about Seurat I viewed recently, one of the art historians interviewed speculated as to how, if he had lived a natural lifespan, Seurat would have affected the course of modern art. 

I think, on the other hand, Seurat would have remained an outlier even if he had not died young, as he was during his lifetime, in fact. Impressionism set out to convey precisely what the pictorial medium derived from chemistry — the photograph — simply couldn’t. 

In this way, the movement really was anti-scientific in so far as placed idiosyncratic perspective and technique at the centre of artistic endeavour. 

The post-Impressionists, on the other hand, were determined to return order and principle to painting — doing something more than “splashing paint across the canvas”, as an associate of Seurat’s is quoted in the NFB documentary. 

They were “post” in that Seurat, Camille Pissarro, Paul Cezanne and the others, didn’t reject entirely the Impressionist revolution in painting. They simply wanted to bring system and method to their predecessors’ treatment of colour and light, Seurat the foremost. 

Ultimately, however, the post-Impressionists failed in this goal, and modern art progressively rejected rationality and representation itself, during the course of the twentieth century. 

Seurat’s own quest to break down light into its constituent parts was achieved by engineers, not painters, with the invention of TV in the 1920s. 

But divisionism was the proper expression of the scientific approach to art. The inductive method separates and divides matter into its constituent parts. Seurat himself was only attempting more systematically the treatment of light and colour as pioneered by the Impressionists, whose works were intended to convey the psychological effect of a scene, instead of its literal features. 

La Chahut (The Uproar), Georges Seurat, 1890.

Near the end of the National Film Board documentary, there is a fantasy sequence in which Seurat is shown interacting with a young boy who, after transforming into an adult, is revealed to be Albert Einstein. 

An actor in voice-over recites (with a German accent) words apparently spoken by the relativity-theorist: “In reality all matter is nothing but condensed light.” Seurat is then quoted as saying, “perhaps pointillism was a way of painting atoms.” 

The scientific approach of the “notary” was confirmed by the amount of time he devoted to Sunday Afternoon and his other, later works, such as the Circus Parade (from 1887-88) or La Chahut (from 1889-90, translated into English as The Uproar, and depicting show-dancers and musicians onstage). 

Two of many sketches and studies for the Sunday Afternoon, Georges Seurat.

Whereas the Impressionists could complete a canvas in a few minutes or hours (though many Impressionist works took much longer to complete), Seurat worked intensively on Sunday Afternoon at the Isle du Grande Jatte for two years — not including the dozens of sketches and studies he took of the same scene and subjects beforehand. It is not only that placing minute strokes of paint on a canvas is in itself time-consuming. 

Seurat was attempting to get to the radicals of light, where the image has no resemblance to anything except itself. To break down any phenomenon (whether light or substance) to its digital essence, is to automatically slow down the perception of time, as it must be reconstituted in a step-by-step, serial fashion.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The New Age of Print

Last summer I was out for my evening stroll when I came across two teenage girls sitting on the grass adjoining the thoroughfare that goes through my neighbourhood. 

They were not speaking to, or even looking at, each other, though. 

Instead, they were both furiously typing away on their smart phones. 

“They’re probably texting one another,” I thought to myself in disdain. 

Sometime later, though, I had an epiphany about this. 

I couldn't hear you.

During the initial decades of the electronic era, many believed that literacy would become uncommon or unheard of, as people forgot about books and reading generally, and spend all their free time watching TV or listening to audile media. 

This was the retro-future famously presented in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, from 1953 and later made into the only English-language movie directed by François Truffaut. 

Fahrenheit depicted a world where the population not only had become indifferent to reading; squads of “firemen” also descended on the remaining dissenters who refused the new world order, throwing their books into piles and setting them alight. 

The reality is quite different. 

In fact, text has become the preferred medium of communication in the era of the iPhone.  
The young people of my acquaintance use the texting feature on their phones, in preference to speaking with one another. More generally, in my observations of people – young or not – on their smart phones, I see that they typically use them to text, instead of to converse. 

In the contemporary era, text has partly now transcended its traditional home on the printed page. 

But this explosion to text-based communication was something very few saw coming. 

Granted, the experience of reading text onscreen is different than on a page. With phonetic and alphanumeric wordplay and emojis, texting and emailing is conveyed and construed almost in a verbal manner. 

Still, modern information technology has had the effect of promoting and popularizing the printed word all the more. 

As the graphic designer Michael Bierut said in a recent edition of the Wall Street Journal: “Forty years ago, graphic arts were a form of black magic—only a handful of people even knew the names of typefaces.” 

I would disagree in so far as it was not as long as forty years ago that no one knew the names of typefaces and fonts: it was more so thirty, or even twenty years ago. 

But things are rather different now. Statistics Canada a few years put paid to the notion that the personal computer has heralded a “paperless” office. 

Instead, according to the agency, the consumption of paper has doubled in Canada since 1985, and surely these numbers hold for other industrial countries as well. And no wonder. 

The computer terminal was and remains (in spite of recent advances in screen resolution and size) too difficult to read from over long periods. 

This is no trouble, given that printers can now produce printed text in quantity in a fraction of the time it would have taken a pool of typists in an old-style office. 

Secretaries and typists, having professional keyboarding skills, were able to produce copy with a minimum of mistakes, thus cutting down on rewrites and wasted paper. 

The nature of manual typewriting itself militated against constant rewrites. To correct a single mistake would require the retyping of an entire page, wasteful of time and resources. 

Thus, very important documents were given to a professional, the secretary or typist, who would be sure to produce the text without error. 

Typewritten text that did not have to be very polished (such as journalists’ copy), was simply edited with a pen. 

Printer (wetware version).

Now, of course, the secretary has disappeared as an independent job category. Using the cut and paste function, as well as spelling and grammar modules, virtual text can be rewritten, reedited and reprinted in a matter of seconds, with the former copy simply discarded in the recycle bin. 

Formerly, the offices of managers and administrators would often be equipped with typewriters, but these devices were rarely used by their owners (for the typing of “sensitive” documents only). 

Now, of course, everyone has a personal computer, and bosses are forced to use them as much as anyone. 

This means that everyone gets a printed copy, and if a minor mistake is spotted on any page, it is thrown away (for “recycling”) and a new one printed in a matter of moments. 

Paper, along with ink, is one of the biggest expenses incurred by organizations, and almost every officer worker is familiar (if not expert) with methods and styles of typography, information known only to printers not many decades ago. 

So it is that people are not only reading more, they are actually involved in the mechanics of the printed word itself.        

Monday, October 19, 2015

Visiting Dealey Plaza

I was away on business in Dallas recently. 

The place where we were was not far away from Dealey Plaza. 

Elm Street in Dealey Plaza, man in white shirt
is standing approximately where JFK suffered fatal head wound.
Photo: RB Glennie

Having never visited the city or the site before, I went over during a break in proceedings.  
It is a picturesque although unremarkable place, really notable only because that is where John F. Kennedy was assassinated almost fifty-two years ago. 

In my youth, I was a believer in the conspiracy stories told about the JFK shooting – as befits anyone who is half-informed about the matter. 

Later on, I began to doubt these conspiracy-narratives (as I refer to them, so as to not devalue the good name of “theory” any further than it already is). 

Looking back, I think the turning point came for me when I saw a television appearance by David Belin, an assistant counsel to the President’s Commission looking into the assassination (chaired by the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court of the time, it is usually referred to as the “Warren Commission”), around the twenty-fifth anniversary of the crime. 

It was, of all places, on the trash-TV program hosted by Geraldo Rivera. This very segment can be found right here.

Former site of Texas Schoolbook warehouse, now a Dallas county building.
Oswald shot Kennedy from last window on right, second from top storey.
Photo: RB Glennie

On the Rivera show, the case for conspiracy in the murder of John F. Kennedy was supported by all the other guests. The only dissenter was Belin. 

Yet, this one man blew away all the other pro-conspiracy guests and their “theories”. This included the notorious Dr. Cyril Wecht, a Pennsylvania coroner who carried out a “demonstration” of the “impossibility” of one bullet causing the injuries to both the president and Governor John Connolly, who was riding in the limousine in front of John Kennedy. 

This is the so-called “magic bullet”, which according to Dr. Wecht on the Geraldo show, had to “stop in the mid-air – twice” in order to have injured JFK and Governor Connolly in the way recorded by pathologists and medical staff (Connolly survived his injuries and went on to run for the U.S. presidency himself in 1980). 

But in fact, the president and governor were not situated in the limousine in the way depicted in the Geraldo program (as in most live or illustrated “demonstrations” of the event). 

John Connolly was sitting not “in the front seat” of the vehicle (as described by Rivera), but in another, removable seat that extended from the side of the limousine, and was thus several inches lower than the president. 

One of the surprises for me in visiting Dealey Plaza, a place I had seen many, many times in photos and on film, was that Elm street, the roadway on which the actual assassination took place, proceeds on a significant incline after Houston street, from which the presidential took a hard left in front of the Texas Schoolbook Depository, from where the fatal shots were fired. 

This feature of Dealey Plaza is really not evident in images from the fatal day, nor afterward. But Governor Connolly must have been situated much lower President Kennedy in the vehicle as the shots were fired, which means the “single-bullet theory” is be the probable scenario for the wounds caused to both men. 

View of Elm Street looking toward railway bridge, now apparently used by commuter tram.
Photo: RB Glennie.

On the other hand, I don't expect anyone will be convinced one way or the other by my words, not least the people I came across in Dealey Plaza on my visit. 

That day, near the “grassy knoll” area where a second assassin allegedly shot the president from the front, there were a group of people whom I took to be a family on vacation. 

The father was expounding on all the “unbelievable” things that needed to have occurred for Schoolbook Depository Employee Lee Harvey Oswald to have acted alone in the killing of John F. Kennedy: that he “didn’t have enough time” to fire all the shots; that he made his way from the sixth-floor sniper’s nest to a lunchroom several floors below without anyone seeing him; that he left his workplace and made his way to the Texas theatre where he was apprehended by police, in twelve minutes “when it could not have been reached on foot in less than sixteen minutes”, and so on. 

Earlier, at the corner of Elm and Houston streets, almost directly below the window where Oswald shot Kennedy, I was approached by a rather slovenly looking man who said he was from Florida. 

He said that, he too was visiting Dealey Plaza for the first time. 

I didn’t tell him my beliefs about the assassination, but he clearly thought that were was a conspiracy in the murder, as well. 

“I’ve just been under that bridge”, the Floridian said, referring to the railway crossing marking the border of Dealey Plaza, where Elm street ends. 

“I saw a bullet hole there”, he went on. “I betcha it came from the second gunman,” speaking of yet another second gunman that was allegedly situated on the rail-bridge itself, or else within the underpass where the presidential limousine went on the way to Parkland hospital. 

He remained convinced of this, in spite of my objection that the assassination occurred more than half a century ago, and that there could have been dozens or hundreds of shootings in that place, in the meantime. “The bullet hole looks like it was fifty years old”, he retorted.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Most Effective Way to Control People

A few days ago, the region was witness to a horrible crime-spree, in which three women residing across the rural precincts of the western Ottawa Valley were shot to death by a man who had dated each of the victims in the past. 

Unsurprisingly perhaps, the suspect had not long ago been released from prison for assaulting one of the women he is now accused of murdering. The expectation is that such a person would have no redeeming characteristics whatever. Yet, a news story in which his friends and acquaintances were interviewed, paints a more complex picture. 

Courtroom sketch of triple-murder accused.
Ottawa Citizen.

One man described how he was provided space for a small-engine repair business, virtually rent-free, in a building owned by the alleged murderer. A neighbour of the suspect said that just recently that he borrowed her car, and upon returning it, left a hundred-dollar bill on her dashboard, “for gas.” Others spoke of him as an amiable man who, after drinking alcohol, became belligerent. 

Yet, the brother of the accused — whose family is spread throughout the Valley — told a reporter between sobs and sighs that he hadn’t spoken with his sibling in seven years, and seem to reserve all his sadness for the victims and their families. 

I wonder, though, how much in contradiction was this extreme generosity, with the accused’s overarching need to control the women (and presumably others) with whom he was intimate. 

To give implies a very subtle kind of interpersonal control, especially when there is a large imbalance between the benefactor and the recipient of charity. This was evident in the triple-murder accused, when he gave over space to the individual who simply couldn’t otherwise afford to open a repair-business. 

Murder victims, from left: Anastasia Kuzyk, Nathalie Warmerdam and Carol Culleton.
CTV News.

Following his release from jail, the alleged killer was not able to be so munificent, as his residence had been a public-housing apartment-house run by the county of Renfrew. Yet, he still the left the hundred dollars in compensation for the fuel he had used with the car he had borrowed from his neighbour. 

I have no doubt that, when he was involved with the three women he killed (and anyone else, for that matter), the accused was the model of selflessness, perhaps alternating with a pose of helplessness. 

In either case, he was able to provoke a sympathetic instinct in his partners, until something set him off, in which case his urge to control switched from the benevolent to the belligerent. This is a pattern amongst abusive husbands — or abusive wives, for that matter. 

Usually, this doesn’t end in murder, but the homicidal behaviour manifest in the Ottawa Valley the other day, is the ultimate expression of this need to control, and it isn’t restricted to intimate relationships, either. 

A few years ago, I was acquainted with a gentleman who (just because I was listening to R.E.M. when I wrote this) I will refer to as “Kenneth.” Knowing him at first as an amiable family man, I soon enough learned that Kenneth had frequent outbursts of bullying rage toward his wife and children.  He wasn’t even particularly covert about this, either, as I witnessed more than once Kenneth’s ill-temper directed toward them. 

I thought at the time, though, that this came in wondrous contrast to the generous actions he was capable of. Not long after we met, for example, Kenneth came over with his family for a special occasion. I was surprised, though, when he arrived with two cases of beer, when I had earlier assured our guests that beverages were available on premises. 

Predictably, too, the evening concluded with the celebrants having none of the beer that Kenneth bought with him. When I moved to return the cases, he responded brusquely, “Don’t be ridiculous.” 

An another occasion, I was at brunch with Kenneth for a club with which we were both associated. There must have been at least two-dozen others in attendance, and to the astonishment of everyone, Kenneth declared that he would pick up the bill for the entire party. 

The head of the club, perhaps sensing the manipulative essence of the gesture, stoutly refused the offer and paid for her own meal (something which provoked bewilderment in Kenneth). 

Though this was scarcely evident from his appearance, Kenneth came from a privileged background. From incidental descriptions of his own family life, I came to some understanding as to why he possessed such inchoate anger. 

Perhaps the generosity I described in Kenneth, came from remorse as to his more aggressive behaviour at other times. But naturally, his marriage did not last, and one of his children, now almost grown, refuses to have anything to do with Kenneth on account of his treatment of his ex-wife. 

From what I have gathered since his separation and divorce, Kenneth is unwavering in his own self-righteousness: his rage is always someone else’s fault, and in consequence, he has not been in much contact with one of his offspring for several years. Kenneth wasn’t, so far as I know, physically abusive to his family, as was the suspect in the triple murder days ago. I think the most likely explanation for his munificent actions was, as I have proposed, as a disguised effort at controlling others, especially those with whom he was intimate. 

Tyrannous Rex.

A different example of this type behaviour comes from a rather more famous personage: Elvis Presley. The “king of rock’n’roll” was well-known for his generosity, giving away expensive automobiles and other luxuries to associates (known as the “Memphis mafia”, after Presley’s hometown). 

It became public knowledge not long after his death, however, that Elvis was subject to arbitrary and vindictive rages, resulting in the summary dismissal or humiliation for Memphis-mafia cronies and others in the Presley organization. While some of these (such as Robert “Red” West, who knew Elvis from high school) got fed up and quit, most stayed on until Presley’s death in August, 1977. 

In real way, though, the choices available to the Memphis mafia were quite delimited. Being part of the entourage of Elvis, they could live in the lap of luxury, and travel across the U.S. and around world, too — as well as receiving expensive gifts that they could not otherwise have afforded. From what I understand, being as part of the Memphis-mafia was hardly labour-intensive work. And really, what does working as a crony for Elvis Presley, or any other entertainer, qualify a person to do otherwise? 

They could stick with their boss, mercurial as he was, or face the prospect of employment in a job with far less pay, satisfaction and leisure than they would have remaining as part of the “mafia.” Or they may not have been able to find work at all: especially during the 1970s, an unskilled worker could expect to face lengthy periods of joblessness, that combined with significant year over year increases in the cost of staple goods, to say nothing of the luxuries. 

In a way, the situation of Presley’s entourage was not unlike that typical of the abused housewife of times past, who couldn’t leave the relationship because of a lack of resources and opportunity outside the marriage. In the case of Elvis Presley, a power imbalance was manifest whether he was firing one of his people for a perceived slight or insignificant mistake, or handing the operative the keys to a brand-new Cadillac. It brings forward, too, a hidden meaning to his title, The King. Absolute monarchs are known not only for their arbitrary rule, but also their noblesse oblige.