Sunday, April 30, 2006
Sunday, April 23, 2006
Self-portrait in green
By David Suzuki
GreyStone, 404 pages, $34.95
(image placeholder)(image placeholder)Back in the seventies, that fabulous showboat, Kenneth Rexroth, the bigger-than-life American poet, once told me that honest autobiography ends at the age of 30. The events that forge a person generally occur before then. Afterward, it's just "log rolling." Typically of Rexroth, there was much wisdom in that statement, and a little bit of bull.
The same applies to David Suzuki's new self-titled book, with the subtitle The Autobiography. Also larger than life, this legendary environmentalist has never been satisfied with a minimal, careful approach to life. Perhaps that's why he's written a second autobiography (the first, Metamorphosis, was published in 1987). Both versions clearly illustrate Rexroth's mantra, from Wordsworth, that "the child is father of the man."
The bombing of Pearl Harbor changed an innocent little boy into the burning young man who became a cutting-edge researcher in genetics, a TV star, author or co-author of 40 books and the most quoted environmentalist in Canada. After the bombing, he was interned in the Slocan Valley. Though his father tried to shield him, that's where Suzuki first encountered the racism of both whites and the Japanese community.
One of the best features of The Autobiography is Suzuki's disarming candour. Like a man determined to stay late at a party, he will suddenly blurt out surprising facts, revealing his struggles against his own racism and sexism and the workaholic tendencies that destroyed his first marriage. But more important than the admissions of his failings are the revelations of an active mind that won't accept the status quo.
The naive child of those terrible days eventually leaped far beyond being a mere victim, thanks to the influence of his witty, sociable father, who never followed the pack, and could still find beauty while exiled to an internment camp near the Singing Forest, now partially preserved as Valhalla Wilderness Park. It was there that Suzuki's father introduced him to a lifelong love of fishing and the wilderness, leading directly to his passion for ecology. And so Suzuki's troubled yet magical early years led to an equally amazing career.
Sometimes charmingly naive, sometimes revealing an enormous ego, sometimes brutally honest, sometimes lyric in its encounters with nature and people, The Autobiography is a strange, fascinating book, a celebration of gorgeousness amid adversity. The opening pages compress his childhood (better told in Metamorphoses) and lean toward too much name-dropping of childhood friends and, later, renowned people who promoted his career. Then the book finds its direction. It's clunkily written at times, and repetitive. That's inevitable for a man who's written 40 books, hosted a TV show, created a famous ecological foundation and is constantly jetting from one ecological cause to the next, while stopping off to spend a little quality time with everyone from Kaiapo chiefs to the Dalai Lama.
Nevertheless, though The Autobiography might not be literature, it remains a fine read. Suzuki's greatest flaws make for his greatest successes. His ability to bring ideas to people on TV, in live appearances and in books has made him a living legend -- voted one of the 10 most important Canadians on a recent CBC poll. But this talent for simplifying information into palatable sound bites can lead to simplistic pronouncements about complex ecologies and cultures, and that's why some environmentalists and scientists roll their eyes at the mention of his name.
He is also a canny publicity hog. Though blessed with an ability to turn the spotlight on his family or friends at times, he incessantly reminds the reader his TV show is called The Nature of Things with David Suzuki. He claims he only named his environmental think-tank, the David Suzuki Foundation, after himself because the brand recognition of his name made it easier to promote. His name is such a successful branding exercise that even the Bay Street gang must envy his public-relations talent.
In an odd way, Suzuki reminds me of Pierre Trudeau, a man the cameras loved and who loved them back just as enthusiastically. In a later passage, Suzuki talks of his beloved cabin near Heriot Island, and discusses how much richer its landscape must have been 50 years earlier. As with most of his environmental ruminations, he's correct. I was there 40 years ago, when it was still rich. The whispering fins of the northern coho run were so noisy they'd wake me in the grey hour. The plentiful giant ling cods were often stranded in the tidal pools. We dug clams from the beach below our tent. The oyster beds were so thick we couldn't land our wooden dory, fearing they'd rip the planks.
It's mostly gone now -- an ocean becoming a desert. Around the world, the coral is dying, the hurricanes and cyclones are gathering, the permafrost melting, the great fertile prairie soils turning to salt. Beginning with various small attempts to preserve endangered species and habitats, the still-growing environmental movement now faces an endangered planet.
We are quickly discovering Suzuki has not been an alarmist about global warming, as his detractors have claimed. He has been right. And he has a few good solutions, too. Toward the end of The Autobiography, he meditates on his age and eventual death. Narrated with candid and simple language, this is a sad, honest passage, tragic and beautiful. But it's hard to imagine a world without David Suzuki during its most dangerous era.
Saturday, April 15, 2006
By Frank Cerabino | Friday, April 14, 2006, 11:10 AM
And now a report from the Department of Homeland Wizardry
We here at The Blogaroni have taken out our crystal ball, which has been fairly specific on the future of Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense.
Rumsfeld, widely blamed for his management of the occupation of Iraq, has recently become the focus of uncharacteristically blunt assessments from former American military generals who had served in Iraq.
His future in the Bush Cabinet looks especially shaky. So we here at The Blogaroni went to our Clairvoyant Services Division, which outsourced the job to this gentlemen you see above.
Here’s how the future is shaping up for Rummy:
April 13 — Six former American generals call for Rumsfeld to step down. White House spokesman Scott McClellan responds: “The president believes Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a very fine job during a challenging period in our nation’s history.”
April 15 — Six former White House spokesmen call for McClellan to resign.
April 16 — New Gallop poll reveals 47 percent of Americans believe Rumsfeld should resign for handling of Iraq war, and 78 percent of Americans think that somebody at American Idol should resign for allowing Mandisa to be voted off show.
April 17 — Rumsfeld responds to critics, saying, “Do people want me to resign? You bet’cha. Will it happen any time soon? Don’t count on it.”
April 18 — Mandisa makes surprise appearance at Bush Cabinet meeting, and sings You Are the Wind Beneath My WIngs to surprised Donald Rumsfeld.
April 19 — Rumsfeld under fire for comments, “Am I glad Mandisa sang for me? Absolutely. Would I have preferred Bucky Covington? You bet’cha. But sometimes you’ve got to go with the American Idol contestants you have, rather than the American Idol contestants you want.
April 20 — Colin Powell’s op-ed piece in The New York Times entitled “Things I should have said three years ago” renews pressure on White House to remove Rumsfeld.
April 21 — Katie Couric taken hostage in Najaf. President George W. Bush’s approval ratings in handling of war goes up.
April 22 Emboldened by numbers, Bush makes foreign policy speech in front of The Association of Heavily Screened White Republicans in Omaha, Nebraska. He defends Rumsfeld, saying he’s been doing “a heckuva job.”
April 23 — Sean Hannity says military generals who criticize Rumsfeld “just hate America.”
April 24 — American Idol contestant Bucky Covington calls for Rumsfeld to step down. War approval ratings take dive.
April 25 — The Coalition of Iraq War Amputees calls for Rumsfeld’s resignation. No change in polls.
April 26 — Rumsfeld appears on Larry King Live, but bumped for second half of show due to fortunate late booking of actress Angela Lansbury.
April 27 — Rumsfeld approval ratings down after his King-interview comment: “Do I care about what Iraq war veterans say about my performance? Absolutely not. Do I just have to please the president and vice president? WIthout a doubt.”
April 28 — Bush awards Rumsfeld Medal of Freedom, increasing speculation that he may be losing job.
April 29 — White House spokesman Scott McClellan calls speculaton about Rumsfeld’s ouster “simply ludicrous”, adding that Rumsfeld has full faith of president.
April 28 — In surprise annoucement, McClellan steps down as White House spokesman “in order to spend more time with my family.” His replacement to be named soon.
April 29 — Conservative Republican hottie Bo Derek appointed as new White House spokesperson. She meets press, taking no questions, but giving photographers 15 solid minutes.
May 1 — White House spokesperson Bo Derek calls Rumseld’s performance “an 8,” during news conference in which, at one point, she appeared to intentionally douse herself with glass of water at podium.
May 3 — Positive bump in Rumsfeld’s approval rating.
May 5 — The Washington Post reveals Vice President Dick Cheney authorized leak of domestic spying on retired American generals who have been critical of Rumsfeld. The spy reports reveal that three of the generals went to see the movie Brokeback Mountain.
May 7 — The Rev. James Dobson from Focus on the Family announces that recent revelations prove that move to stop Iraq War is an elaborate plot and part of “the gay agenda.”
May 8 — Rumsfeld comments: “Henny penny, is there a gay agenda against me? You bet’cha. Will it affect the way I continue to ignore criticism? Not a chance.”
May 10 — Hostage video of Katie Couric released. Remarkably, Couric still looks perky.
May 12 — Saddam Hussein interrupts his own trial to state what he thinks should happen between Rumsfeld, some unspecified goat and car battery with jumper cables.
May 14 — Zogby poll finds 43 percent of Americans agree with Saddam Hussein’s remarks, and the number goes up to 48 percent when question is asked with 12-volt battery, rather than 6-volt.
May 18 — Bush spends day meeting behind closed doors with Republican congressmen who urge him to make change at Defense Department.
May 30 — Obscure 34-year-old blogger living with his parents breaks story that Bush White House has begun looking into outsourcing Rumsfeld’s job to Dubai firm in United Arab Emirates. Rest of media, which has known it for days but too timid to say anything, pounces on story — relieved that it’s finally fair game.
June 2 — Press Secretary Bo Derek complicates denial by saying, “The Dubai Brothers? Are they even a band anymore?”
June 5 — Faced with mounting pressure, Vice President Dick Cheney summons Bush to his secret lair to tell him it’s time to let Rumsfeld go, and that Dubai deal is off.
June 7 — Rumsfeld announces sudden need to “spend more time with my family.” He says his resignation has nothing to do with being pressured to leave. “Did I talk to the president on a daily basis about the war? You bet. Did he seem to be paying attention to anything being said? Absolutely not.”
June 8 — Bush summons reporters to Oval Office to announce his appointment of next Secretary of Defense, White House counsel Harriet Miers.