Dr. Clifford Cunningham is a planetary scientist. He earned his PhD in the history of astronomy at the University of Southern Queensland, and has undergraduate degrees in science and ancient history from the University of Waterloo. In 2014 he was named a contributor to Encyclopedia Britannica. He is the author of 14 books on asteroids and the history of science. In 1999 he appeared on the TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Asteroid 4276 was named in his honor in 1990 by the International Astronomical Union based on the recommendation of its bureau located at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
A recent exhibit in Toronto showcased the extraordinary talent and humanistic wisdom of Johny Deluna. This Toronto-based artist gave me an exclusive interview, during which we concentrated on just two of his many thought-provoking canvases.
The Song to the Moon painting is inspired by a lovely song from the opera Rusalka, by Dvorak. It is shown here at the right of the lead photo, with Mr. DeLuna standing between it and another artwork.
“Everything I paint about is largely about human activity,” said DeLuna. “To me this woman hugs the Moon, she can't get enough of it. She almost wants to own it: she has 4 hands to pull the Moon, coaxing it down. But it's an exercise in futility, rather than enjoying it, whereas the cat has his own little Moon in the bowl and is very content. So it is a dichotomy between wanting to enjoy the Moon or possess it.”
I also asked him about Selling the Moon, depicted here. “Every insect, every bird, every tree that disappears: we don't see it directly but it's happening and it's happening so fast we have no way of knowing. We don't even know the stuff that's disappearing because it hasn't been discovered. I think the biggest mass extinction benefit would be for humans to go: everything else would survive quite well.”
DeLuna regards the painting “as a statement about people thoughtlessly doing something. These people have been told 'box up the Moon, and ship it to wherever'. There will be a hole in the sky but we'll patch it up, put a sticker on it. But people have to bear the consequences of ripping the Moon out of the sky. The elephant symbolizes but just humanity but every creature that is going to be affected by our careless, greedy behaviour.”
While his paintings cover a much wider range than the lunar motif, I have concentrated on these due to my own interest in astronomy and art. I recommend looking at his wider catalogue of paintings, each of which contains hidden delights.
On June 29 a bronze statue of Canada's World War II Prime Minister will be unveiled at Castle Kilbride, near Baden, Ontario. This will depict William Lyon Mackenzie King as a mature man, but for a look back into his youth a play currently being performed in Kitchener is the place to go.
The play, entitled Secret at Woodside, is the brainchild of Stephen W. Young. In an interview for Sun News, Young said he is fascinated by how King developed. “What changed him into a cold, calculating politician? He grew up in Kitchener (then Berlin) with Germans, Mennonites and other groups. His family took him to different churches, so that he had an appreciation for other cultures.” In an age when ethnic or religious groups often mixed only with their own kind, this gave the young King a perspective that “let him become the longest-serving Prime Minister in Canadian history.” He served more than 21 years in the top post.
The most sensational aspect of King's staid life (“He was married to the country,” said Young) were the seances he indulged in. This was never publicly known during his tenure as leader, but it all started in his youth. “A lot of people did seances in those days,” explained Young, referring to the late 19th century. King lived at Woodside in Kitchener from 1886 to 1893, which is where the play is set. The real Woodside is now a National Historic site which is open to the public on the rare occasion the government has enough money to open the doors.
A séance in the play is a key aspect of the plot, highlighting the bravura performance of Sonja-Ticknor-Malton as the fake medium Madame Zona. She plays the role in a totally over-the-top caricature of what we expect an eastern European medium to be, complete with accent, garb, crystal ball and dire warnings of the future. “Madame Zona has a flair for the dramatic,” deadpans Detective Dickson early in the play. (Several cast members play dual roles, but I won't confuse this brief review with the details).
Her nemesis in the play is the Berlin police detective just mentioned, played with suitable gravitas by Brian Otto. His initial investigation into the happenings at the King household uncover not one, but two secrets at Woodside. I won't offer any spoilers here!
The young King is convincingly played by Graeme Currie, who gets to speak some of the real words written by King about his early years. He is ably supported in his role by his two sisters and his Mother, played by Diana Barber. Popular legend is that King was totally dominated by his Mother, but playwright Young rightly places father King (played by John Hurwitz) as the person who ran the household.
The unlikely person of Homer Watson, the famous painter, is a recurring figure in the play. Played by Trevor Middleton, Watson sets the tone for the production as he discusses the link between “man, nature and the spiritual world.”
I could go on, but delving further would likely allow one of the secrets to leak out, and we all know how contentious leaks are these days! Suffice to say that Secret at Woodside is placed at the crossroads about King becoming the man of Canada's future. It is a welcome candle on Canada's 150th birthday cake.
Performances continue through June 18 at KWMP Arts Centre in Kitchener, near the corner of Lackner and Ottawa. Order online at: www.woodscribe.ca/secretatwoodside.html.
I recently attended a talk by Dr. Janna Levin, at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, where she presented a fine report on the background to the discovery of gravity waves.
Her book on the topic was published just before the discovery of gravity waves, so that momentous event is relegated to a brief Epilogue. While the timing was unfortunate, since the discovery was not made the central focus of the book, my concerns with the text go far deeper.
Since the book is geared to a general science audience, I expect virtually no member of the general science-interested public will have any personal knowledge of the scientists mentioned. It was my good fortune to have met most of the great scientists Levin includes in the book.
Thus I was shocked early on (page 29) to read this sentence regarding John Wheeler and Robert Oppenheimer. “Although Wheeler did not testify in the hearing in 1954 that would strip Oppenheimer of his security clearance (the notorious Edward Teller did), Wheeler was not entirely unsympathetic to the testimony or the decision.”
What is reader supposed to take away from this description of Edward Teller as notorious? Levin does not even tell the reader who Teller was. He was certainly no criminal, which is usually the sort of person who gets 'notorious' thrown at them. Teller, who I knew, was the father of the H-bomb and one of the greatest minds of the 20th century. I also knew Wheeler, who had a great influence on me.
I continued with my reading until page 64, when I read “polio-sabotaged astrophysicist, Philip Morrison.” I can only consider the one-liner descriptions of Teller and Morrison to be the crudest form of caricature I have ever read in a book of science. Morrison was a wonderful person, combining kindness and brilliance. To have his career encapsulated is such a politically incorrect way will be hurtful to his family and all who remember him. At least Teller gets a mention in the Index, Morrison does not. What does polio-sabotaged even mean? Would anyone dare say that about FDR? Their personal medical issues obviously did not prevent them from rising to the heights of eminence.
Since I could only force myself to skim read the remainder of the book, I cannot offer further comments.
Black Hole Blues (241 pages) is by Knopf.
In grateful memory:
Edward Teller (1908-2003)
Philip Morrison (1915-2005)