The truth about Shakespeare

I read recently that the grandson of Evelyn Waugh has claimed to have proof that Shakespeare – or rather, the author of the works commonly attributed some guy by that name – was actually Edward de Vere, better known to historians as the 17th Earl of Oxford. This isn’t a new idea. It was famously propagated by J. Thomas Looney, a 19th century Oxford scholar, and is often referred to as The Looney Theory (or sometimes just The Loony Theory).

I haven’t read Waugh’s argument, but I can say with certainty that he’s wrong, whether or not he’s loony. And I can say this because I know who Shakespeare really was. He was, in fact, Queen Elizabeth (the first one, not the one who didn’t like Diana). Or rather, he was the person masquerading as Elizabeth. That person, as I’ll explain, was Christopher Columbus.

Now, some will say, “Hold on, that can’t be true. Columbus died in 1506. Elizabeth wasn’t born until 1533, and Shakespeare wasn’t born until 1564. Also, he kept writing after Elizabeth died in 1603.” They will say that, but they will be wrong. Or mostly wrong. Let me explain.

On Columbus’s second visit to the so-called “New World” (which was actually just as old as the Old World, just not as ruined), Columbus discovered what most of us know as “the fountain of youth.” As we all know, subsequent “explorers” (a nice word for “invaders”) searched high and low for said fountain (mostly low, although some may have been high from the mushrooms they mistakenly put in their salad). Most famous among them was Ponce de Leon, who went on a wild goose chase in Florida.

Columbus never told anyone about his discovery. Why would he? The Spanish hadn’t exactly treated him all that well, even throwing him in prison at one point. Eventually, he decided he needed a change of scenery, so he made his way to England, several barrels of water from the fountain of youth in tow.

The more of it he drank, the younger he became. His exploring days behind him, he began to work in theatre, mainly playing female roles. One of the side effects of the fountain water was that it suppressed the growth of facial hair, and in fact caused male-pattern baldness, from which he’d never suffered previously. With the right wigs, makeup and costumes he was able to portray young heroines, queens, goddesses – really any female role. He moved from theatre company to theatre company, most of them touring the English countryside.

In the fullness of time, as it were, and to make a long story short, he eventually became friends with a young woman whom fate seemed to have doomed to a life of intrigue. Her mother had, for a time, been married to Henry VIII, and she was in line to become Queen of England when her sickly younger brother died. She didn’t want this life. She wanted something simpler.

Christopher sympathized. He had once wanted that himself. But he was tired of the life of a touring actor, which had very few comforts, even by the standards of a world explorer. Together they hatched a plan. Since he was already used to portraying women, and had a great deal of experience dealing with royalty, he would assume her identity, and she would would become lady of a small country estate.

If you are not convinced, consider this: Elizabeth never married; she hated Spain; she encouraged exploration of the New World; she loved the theatre.

And it was this last point that brought him/her to conceive that a triple life would be more fulfilling than a double life. However, the life of a queen doesn’t really allow one to disappear for weeks on end to perform on the stage. And portraying a queen everyday was all the acting Christopher/Elizabeth could manage. Christopher had often thought he should be better known for his writing, and so he set about learning to write plays, studying surreptitiously with Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Kyd.

He began to write sonnets, as well as plays; and his style of sonnet has since been dubbed ‘Elizabethan’. His early plays were terrible, and never saw the light of day – or footlights, either – but eventually his craft improved enough to be performed. Some of his early efforts have not survived, but most have. He befriended a local actor, who became the front man for his endeavours.

Interestingly, for a supposed Englishman, many of his plays are set in Italy, owing to Columbus’s Italian heritage. Romeo and Juliet, Othello, The Merchant of Venice, Cymbeline, to name a few.

Eventually Christopher tired of playing royalty. He’d already destroyed the Spanish Armada (a final F*** you to Spain), and he’d used up nearly all of his fountain water. So he once again faked his death – or rather Elizabeth’s death, while continuing to write as Shakespeare. He died for real shortly after writing The Tempest (which is why the plays written after that really don’t measure up). The man actually named Shakespeare “gave up writing” shortly afterward, retiring to Stratford, where he eventually died himself, and is still buried to this day.

So, there you have it. At least as convincing as the nonsense that Waugh and other Looneys have propagated, if I do say so myself.

Best laid plans… part 2

“If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all”  – Albert King

This seems to be the year of the failed vacation. 

The first attempt, as I wrote about recently, was a washout as a result of physics. Namely, a puzzling wobble that my friend’s bike developed that has, for the time being, scuttled a road trip we had planned. We’d likely be eating lobster in an east coast pub right now, if things had gone as planned.

To make up for it, my wife and decided to do a miniature road trip of our own – in a car, this time. After balking at paying nearly $500 a night for substandard hotels on the Oregon coast, we decided to pop over to Vancouver Island for a few days, and come home via Powell River and the Sunshine Coast. This time, it wasn’t physics but physical illness that interfered.

The first thing to know is that Adele is almost never sick. She never takes time off work for colds or the flu. The second thing to know is that she rarely takes vacations.

Unfortunately, just as we were getting ready to go, Adele started coming down with something. She was determined, though, that she would fight it off, and we would have a vacation. She drank lots of fluids, took ridiculous amounts of vitamins, all to no avail.

After a couple of brave days in Qualicum Beach – nice little town, by the way – this morning she decided she needed to see if there was something more useful than vitamins she could take. We spent an hour or so in a clinic, and found out she has viral bronchitis & laryngitis. I cancelled the hotel in PR (hopefully they can fill the room so I can get a refund), and we came home after lunch.

Tomorrow I’ll pick up the cat, who has thankfully not been an asshole while staying at my mom’s the past few days. Beyond that, I’m not making any plans for the last few remaining days of my vacation. What would be the point?

The one I love

This one goes out to the one I love.



Relationships can be hard work. They often require patience, and compromise, consideration of how what we do and say will affect how someone else feels. For a relationship to work, that needs to be at least as important as our own feelings.

I’m good at working hard. (No, really.) I’m less good at patience and compromise, although I do try to be considerate most of the time. And I try to consider how my words and actions will affect the people I care about. I don’t always succeed, and that’s where the work comes in.

Some people like to say you should never be sorry for anything. No compromise and no regret. Look out for number one. Blah blah blah. I can’t imagine any such people having successful, healthy relationships. Of any description.

This is as true in business relationships and friendships as it is of those we like to call “love”. There is, however, much more at stake when it comes to love. Piss off a business contact, and maybe you lose a sale. And you can generally make things up to your friends. They’ll get over it, you’ll get over it. No hard feelings, eventually.

When we hurt someone we love, that tends to linger, for us as well as them. And sometimes more for us. Which is why we work harder, try harder to be patient, compromise more, when it comes to love. And most of the time, the work doesn’t feel like work, and the compromises don’t feel like sacrifice. Or rather, it’s work we’re happy to do, sacrifices we gladly make. The compromises we make in our negotiations with the ones we love feel like we’re winning.

Relationships also require a lot of luck. To paraphrase Somerset-Maugham, it’s a minor miracle when two people, who are each constantly changing, manage not to grow apart. In this respect, I have been exceptionally lucky. My wife and I have been married more than 24 years, and together for nearly 26. We’ve both changed over time. She continues to put up with me, in spite of my many faults. We forgive each other regularly for lapses in patience and compromise. We each endeavour to do better, and we both work hard at it.

I think that, really, is the recipe for success in anything: the serendipitous combination of hard work and good luck.

Here endeth the lesson.

Post-ethnic post

Today is St. Patrick’s Day. The majority of Canadians, regardless of their ethnicity, will pretend to be Irish today. Most will wear green. Some, alas, will drink beer dyed green. I am not Irish, although some of my ancestors were, if you go back far enough. Others were Scots, Welsh or English. I am none of those things. I am Canadian.

I do not say that out of patriotic pride, and I’m not in the least ashamed of the cultures and countries my ancestors hailed from. But they came so long ago now, I have no claim to their cultures. My Irish ancestors, for example, emigrated here sometime in the 18th or 19th centuries. I’m not even sure which. Was it my maternal grandmother’s parents or grandparents who sailed across the Atlantic? Or was it their parents, or their grandparents? I don’t know. I’ve heard that the Irishness, or at least the Catholicism, still clung to my great-grandmother, who I never met, but my own grandmother had no hint of it. My mother, her sister and brothers had none, either.

Similarly, on my father’s side of the family. Tradition has it that my grandfather’s roots were in Scotland. But he was born in Nova Scotia, with an English name (albeit one that is not uncommon in Scotland), and I have no idea how many generations preceded him. He didn’t even give a strong sense of the Maritimes, never mind of Scottishness. My father liked bagpipe music, and scotch, but he also liked Southern Gospel, jazz, blues and country music, so what does it really tell you?

Some North Americans cling to the cultures of their ancestors – whether Polish, Chinese, Indian, or whatever – long after I would have thought it still mattered. In some cases, this likely stems from growing up in enclaves – Italian neighbourhoods, or Greek, for example. When everyone you meet hails from ‘the old country’, traditions are more likely to be preserved. Language is one of the motivations for such enclaves. It’s hard to learn a new language, especially when you’re older. And English is one of the more difficult to pick up, being so full of inconsistencies and irregularities.

As time goes on, though, ethnic identity becomes more or less notional. Children grow up as Canadians, even if, in some cases, they still look Asian, or Italian, or Nigerian, or Swedish. But they cease to be those things. Generation by generation, they become part of the fabric of Canadian, and it in turn becomes part of them. Intermarriage hastens this. In my opinion that’s a good thing, although I may be biased, having married a woman who immigrated from Belgium at a young age, and whose own ethnicity was a blend of Flemish and Algerian, although after 50+ years here she is at least as Canadian as me. Maybe moreso. Certainly, she is more patriotic.

So, on St. Patrick’s Day, I’ll be just as Irish as my fellow Canadians, wherever they or their ancestors hailed from. No more than any, and much less than some. You can keep the green beer, though. I’ll have a Guinness, thanks. Slainte.

Beware the Ides of March

Everyone in the English-speaking world has likely heard that phrase – Beware the Ides of March! – but many likely don’t know what it means. The phrase famously comes from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Many of our expressions actually originate in Shakespeare, from To be or not to be to What the dickens. When I was in university, one of my professors told a story about taking an old woman, who’d never been to a play or read any Shakespeare, to see Hamlet. Afterward he asked her how she liked it, and she replied that it was good, but what an awful lot of cliches.

Near the beginning of the play (Act 1, Scene 2), as Caesar is walking through the forum, a soothsayer warns him, vaguely, about his pending assassination, which will occur on the Ides of the month. (Ides, for those who don’t know Latin, is the Roman term for the middle of the month. In most months in the Roman calendar, that was the 13th. In March (and May, July – named after Caesar – and October) it fell on the 15th. The date that history/legend has it that Caesar was, in fact, assassinated.) Most of Shakespeare’s audience would have known this, and their knowledge infused the scene with dramatic irony.

In Shakespeare’s play, Caesar disregards the soothsayer’s warning and is assassinated by a group of senators, among them his erstwhile friend Brutus, which causes him to utter some of the most famous dying words in English literature: Et tu, Brute? (“You too, Brutus?” – Brute, by the way, should be pronounced brew-tay.)

When you tell someone to beware the Ides of March, you’re not really suggesting they’ll run into bad luck on March 15, but suggesting they’re not listening to warnings and are heading for a foreseeable fall. If you say, Et tu, Brute! you’re expressing surprise at a betrayal.

Other useless bits of trivia you may or may not know, and likely don’t care about:

March is named after the Roman god of war, Mars. July is named for Julius Caesar, while August is named for his replacement, Octavian, aka Augustus.

Before July and August were added to the Roman calendar, it only had ten months. Hence September (seventh month), October (eighth), November (ninth) and December (tenth).


Old & new schools

It’s been a January kind of week, even though it’s March. Which is to say, I’ve done things that look back to the past, and something that is more forward looking. Perhaps that is my nature? Born on the cusp of the year, perhaps I am always pulled backwards and forwards at the same time. Maybe that’s why I like buying new music on vinyl.

The backwards part involves shaving.

Many years ago – decades, even – I had the most amazing cartridge razor that I’ve ever known. It wasn’t expensive or fancy. It was a Wilkinson two-blade system. It shaved close without being irritating. But in my early twenties I decided shaving was a bother, so I stopped doing it. And by the time I decided to start again, several years later, the blades were no longer available.

Over the years since, I’ve used other cartridge razors. Gillette, Schick, Bic, and so on. None of them were as good as the Wilkinson. Most were ridiculously expensive, at least when it comes to buying replacement cartridges. I don’t like just throwing things away, so I haven’t used disposables much. When I have, they haven’t done a very good job.

So this week, after much research, I bought a safety razor – or DE (double edge), as the online, self-proclaimed aficionados put it.  I threw some money at Amazon, and the next day I had a nice, shiny (it’s chromed) Merkur in my possession.

If there’s one thing shaving with the Merkur has taught me, it’s that multiple blades do nothing, and the bland, disposable nature of mainstream razors do nothing that a single blade can’t do better. And the DE blades are WAY cheaper. So there’s that.

The forwards part involves driving. Or rather, vehicle ownership. Or rather, non-ownership.

The other day I joined a car sharing group. Not Car2Go or Evo – since their ‘zones’ don’t extend to my corner of suburbia. Not ZipCar, since they don’t have any vehicles handy to where I live, either. I went with Modo.

Most of the time, I am more than happy to ride my motorcycle. Or I can walk. Or take transit. And this year I plan to ride my bicycle more, too. But sometimes – sometimes – four-wheeled transport is just a very  good thing. Picking up a whack of groceries, for example. Or transporting something that won’t fit in my side cases.

I don’t need the car all the time, or even all that often. I don’t want to pay for insurance, maintenance, fuel, and so on, for multiple vehicles that Adele doesn’t drive. Too much expense for too little reward. (You may have noticed a theme at this point.)

Also, I don’t feel the need to own a car, just to use one now and then. Renting them is fine, but I always end up having it for longer than I need or want. Sometimes I only need it for a couple of hours, not a whole weekend. The car share seems like a good way to go.

Unlike the razor, I haven’t had a chance yet to try the car share out. My fob should arrive in the mail next week, and after that I’ll be off to the races. Well, not literally. I would never drive that fast, officer. Honest.

What is the business of business?

Let me begin by saying I am not an expert on business. I’ve never owned a business. I have managed one, and worked for several, and even been a business analyst – but none of that makes me an expert. I’m also not an economist or a political scientist. So, take the following with as large a grain of salt as you feel appropriate. (My apologies if you already suffer from hypertension.)

When most of us think of the purpose of businesses – to the extent that we think of such things at all – I expect we imagine that said purpose is to produce goods or provide services. These goods and services are priced so that the business owners can recover their costs, and hopefully make some money over and above that. That additional money – a.k.a., profit – provides the business owner with an income, and perhaps allows them to expand their business, and so produce or provide more goods and services. This expansion may require them to employ helpers. This is a pretty simple, perhaps overly simple, description of what the business of businesses is. It’s likely an apt enough description of the business of many very small businesses. Piano tuners, bobcat operators, bakers, and so forth.

Of course, not all businesses are small, and the business of many businesses has become the generation of profit pure and simple, and any production or provision of goods and services is really incidental to that. When you think of very large companies, they tend to have many diverse ‘lines of business’. These may include everything from breakfast cereals to herbicides to life insurance, or the transportation or sale of such. The ownership of such large enterprises tends to be very diverse, such that some of the owners are also companies – hedge funds, pensions, etc.

Neither of these types of business has any necessary relationship to or dependence on political or economic systems, such as democracy or capitalism. Businesses existed before either of those were formalized. They can exist in fascist or communist countries just as easily as democratic or capitalist ones. Democracy and capitalism may or may not be good things, but they have little bearing on the success or failure of businesses.

Even profit does not have much to do with politics or economics. People made a profit centuries before capitalism or democracy, or any of their modern alternatives, existed. I’m fairly certain they will continue to make money, or whatever signifies wealth, in whatever systems come afterwards. I’m not even sure that profit for profit’s sake is really all that new. There have always been frauds, conmen, forgers and hucksters – and others – whose motives had more to do with greed than anything else.


There is nothing necessarily right wing, conservative, reactionary – or whatever term you prefer – about business and profit. They are not incompatible with progressive, left wing, or even socialist regimes. (The same thing goes for taxation and government spending, but I’ll leave that for another time.) You can be right wing and an enemy of business, for example, by implementing immigration policies that make it difficult for companies to hire workers, or by taxing necessary imports. In the same way, you can be left wing and supportive of universal health care or child care programs that may contribute to increased productivity. There is nothing necessarily progressive about making it difficult for businesses to succeed, just as there is nothing necessarily conservative about keeping wages low.

But all of this begs the question, what is the business of businesses? Is it just about profit, and the maximization of profit? Or is it about producing goods – bread, say, or books – or providing services – music lessons, or project management? My personal preference, of course, is for the latter. For true entrepreneurialism – or what I like to think of as the real deal – and enterprises with a human scale, and a human purpose. Am I wrong? Is bigger really better?

If there are any experts who read this, maybe you can let me know.

This is the end

There is no surer sign that we are indeed in the end times than seeing how my neighbours approach recycling. Living in a condo, you cannot help but see these things. Those of you who live in detached homes would have to wander your neighbourhood, and most likely would not find anything amiss, since it would be plain for all to see who could and could not tell the difference between glass, plastic, paper, cardboard… and everything else. In the anonymity of a strata, though, people can, and do, take a devil-may-care approach to such things. After all, who will know who it was that put a plastic bag full of light bulbs or broken wine glasses in the mixed paper bin? Or styrofoam egg cartons in the glass only?

Of course, recycling is a sham, so I probably shouldn’t get so worked up about it. I’m fairly certain that the only reason Metro insists that materials be separated is that they don’t want to add cardboard to that state-sized island of plastic containers floating in the Pacific Ocean.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not all that fussed if this really is the end.  There are far too many people doing their utmost to make life a misery, if not for their fellow humans, then for the other species on the planet. I won’t be sad to see lion poachers, shark finners and whalers all perish, ideally in a manner appropriate to the harm they’ve caused. Same goes for the owners of coal mines, the makers of nuclear weapons, and politicians who hem and haw about how much really clean air might hurt the economy. And of course, I’m looking forward to the Rapture.

A few years ago, there was a whacked out preacher somewhere who proclaimed not only that the end was nigh, but that he’d calculated it to the minute. The rapture, he assured the media, would soon whisk all the righteous home to the Almighty. Those of us who would be left behind would have to deal with the Antichrist.

Now, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m an atheist, and so I have no expectation of being whisked anywhere, least of all to the Almighty. I did consider, though, putting on my best suit and going door to door in my neighbourhood to determine who might soon be departing.

‘Have you been saved?’ I would ask. If they answered yes, I would ask them if they’d mind signing over any worldly belongings they wouldn’t be needing, as of the given date. Alas,  I procrastinated, the date passed, the preacher, who also was not whisked anywhere, determined he had miscalculated. (Forgot to carry a 2 or something, I suppose.) It was an opportunity lost.

But perhaps my neighbours are telling me it’s not too late. Perhaps, with their coded message of recycled apocalypse, it is time.

Then again, maybe they’re just idiots.

Who needs love songs?

Once upon a time – longer ago than is comfortable to enumerate – I was a head banger. Long hair, faded jeans, jacket covered in band-logo patches, ghetto blaster annoying old ladies on the Stephen Ave Mall. One of my favourite bands back then – who unfortunately never had much success outside Britain – was a trio called Tank. On their debut album Filth Hounds of Hades there was a song I remember called ‘Who Needs Love Songs?’ And the answer, both in the song, and in life, was and is: ‘Well, I do.’

I mention all this by way of introducing my theme, appropriate to today’s date: viz. love.

It’s fashionable among those who consider themselves ‘intellectuals’ to feign disdain of love, as if it were a bourgeois affectation, and thus beneath them. Poets, from Sappho to Shakespeare to E.E. Cummings have all known better. Singers, actors, playwrights, composers, sculptors and painters. Even you have known it, whether you admit it or not.

So, happy Valentine’s Day – or Tuesday, if you like. I’m going to turn my attention now to the love of my life.

Sunday morning

My cat, as I’ve stated previously, is an asshole. Case in point, she does not let me sleep in on Sunday mornings. She likes to think of our bed as being hers, and gets annoyed that I’m in her spot. So she wakes me, repeatedly, and eventually I get up – usually far earlier than I’d like – and she curls up and sleeps in my place.

The advantage of being up early on a Sunday, is that I can more or less do what I like (as long as it doesn’t make too much noise – after all, my wife is still sleeping). This is me time. I can listen to music (with headphones), read, or watch the news or something on Netflix. When the weather and road conditions are better, I can ride my motorcycle, and maybe meet friends for breakfast in Whistler or Hope. This morning, I am going to use this time to muse about one of the frequent arguments for the existence of a god, the argument from nature.

Many people, when they confront the beauty and complexity and enormity of the natural world, conclude that something so marvellous, something that works so well in so many unexpected and (in some cases) mysterious ways, can only be the expression of a divine intelligence. This is the gist of the intelligent design argument. Surely, they say, something of this vastness and intricacy, something that all fits together in such unexpected and yet seemingly logical ways, can’t have just happened by accident. If there are complex rules governing the universe, those rules must have had an origin.

I do not deny that the natural world is often awe-inspiring. I have watched the sun rise over the dunes in the Sahara. I have marvelled at the detail in the construction of everything from spider webs to the human body to forests and mountain ranges. I see the images of galaxies and nebulae from the Hubble telescope and I am amazed. But I think it sells nature short to assume there must be a mind behind its construction, and a purpose for everything.

We often make the mistake of thinking of a current state as if it were an end, and that everything that had occurred to bring that end about. You often see this fallacy played out in relation to evolution, when we say a certain physical feature or behaviour came about for a certain purpose. In the case of the spider mentioned earlier, spinning webs becomes the reason that certain physical attributes evolved.

This is an understandable fallacy. After all, when we build something we usually have a purpose for all that something’s components. If the universe is something made, the argument goes, then it stands to reason that all of its parts are processes have a purpose. And since some things, at least, seem to have purposes, then it stands to reason that nature was constructed. For nature to have been constructed, it must have a maker who is somehow outside of nature, but able to manipulate it.

So, what is wrong with this reasoning? What makes me say it is a fallacy?

First, the notion of something (or someone) outside of nature being able to manipulate its elements and forces in a way that would shape it violates one of the basic laws of physics, namely the conservation of energy/matter. This law states that the sum of all energy (of which matter is just one expression) remains constant. Energy and matter can only be acted upon by other energy and matter. This rule has been tested and proven innumerable times.

Second, it mistakes effects for purposes. Imagine you are driving your car and you encounter black ice on the road, which causes you slide off of the road and hit a tree. You would not likely say that the purpose of black ice was to damage cars, or trees, or to injure drivers. You would not likely say that the purpose of the tree was to stop your car, or that the purpose of your car was to knock down a tree. These are all causes and effects, but the effects are not seen as the purposes of their causes.

Third, we tend only to arrive at this feeling that the world must be the product of a divine mind when observing something beautiful – or at least benign. While it’s true that some people believe that diseases and natural disasters are evidence of divine retribution for supposed moral failings, the argument from nature is rarely advanced by arguing that cancer or tornadoes are evidence of the divine nature of creation.

This leaves aside the many other philosophical problems confronting the existence of gods, but I think that’s good for a Sunday morning. If you would like to disagree, I’ll be happy to hear (or read) and consider your counter-arguments.