Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My Log 219: Americans, especially the American dreamers among them, just don’t get it

Day by day, in small things as in large, the evidence mounts before our eyes: in spite of their immense wealth and power, the Americans just don’t get it.

I am repeatedly brought to this state of bewilderment at this time of year by a relatively insignificant event, the United States Open tennis tournament. For reasons that are totally obscure to me, they use this event, which they boast is watched by hundreds of millions around the world, to give the most vulgar, cloying, sick-making demonstrations of their power and naivete. I will never forget the impression left with me a few years ago, the first time the black Williams sisters played each other in the final, when that match was preceded by a sickening demonstration by the United States military, with some singer or other emoting the national anthem as a huge, court-sized flag was unfurled to dwarf everything in sight. Do they really not have any idea of the impact such a demonstration makes on people who live in other countries?

Apparently not, because this year’s opening ceremony was an even more cloying, disgusting event. It purported to be a celebration of four Americans who embodied all of those virtues that Americans seem to believe attach only to them. The event was stage-managed by the CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour, who shed the military-style fatigues of an embedded reporter, and got all dressed up for the occasion. She established the moral framework from her opening speech, when she said that people from all walks of life are faced with problems, and whether the challenge is “cancer, or communism” or any one of a long list of other dodgy situations, Americans can be found who have given it their all.

The linking of cancer and communism, as if no one in his or her right mind could challenge this connection, set the stage. The first of the honorees was an Afghan woman who was forced to leave her native country to escape the Soviet occupation (communism!). She found tennis only after being brought up in the U.S., and tennis had since become for her the standard-bearer of the American dream (this goddamned American dream, so woefully popularized by Barack Obama during the last election, the very same dream that he seems consistently to have betrayed in the eyes of so many who supported him. I don’t suppose it occurred to any of the organizers that the killing of tens of thousands of Afghanis represents, in the eyes of millions around the world, the flip side of this same American dream.)

Second, for reasons that escape me, came James Blake, the tennis player, honored for having recovered from various illnesses and setbacks (cancer!). Third came a woman who has been the ten-time singles champ at wheelchair tennis (cancer!). And finally came Martina Navratilova (communism again!), who similarly escaped from the clutches of the dread ideology and found tennis, fame, fortune, freedom, in the United States of America.

All this was followed by the usual marching soldiers bearing their flags and banners as a 12-year-old black boy, the very symbol of American freedom in that he was, like tens of thousands of other 12-year-old Americans, overweight, performed one of those incomprehensible, wavery versions of the National Anthem before the vast court-sized flag was unrolled to dwarf everything in sight.

Of course, I suppose an event like the U.S. Open, in which young people get paid sickening sums of money just to play tennis, while (according to a devastating article in this week’s Guardian Weekly), millions of ordinary middle-class Americans are slipping into full-time, irrevocable unemployment which has destroyed their prospects in life, I suppose such an event does represent a desirable standard-bearer for American capitalism. Are the so-called 99ers part of this American dream, I wonder? They are the millions of people (already six million, and growing in leaps and bounds every week) who have been drawing unemployment insurance for the maximum 99 weeks, and have been cut off to face the loss of income, homes, food and everything else promised to them by the American dreamers, for whom it is not even worth looking for a job any more, so remote are their chances of finding one.

What ultimately is most distressing about these exhibitions is not so much their vulgarity as the arrogance with which they seem to assume that such virtues as hard work, loyalty, patriotism, freedom and compassion --- virtues that are held by people in every country in the world --- are somehow owned and operated only by the citizens of America.

To some of us, America is a symbol not of those virtues, but of the fact that anyone who doesn’t make it has only himself or herself to blame, and is for the high jump. And by the fact that the nation is run, in every aspect, by the owners of wealth.

Do Americans need sensitivity training, as the world is changing around them, and their empire falls into decline?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My Log 218: Documentary about an Amazon swim brings to mind an infamous New Zealand hoax movie, directed by the later-famous Peter Jackson

A few years ago a relative of mine in New Zealand sent me a copy of a movie made in that country which told the story of Colin McKenzie, a fellow born in New Zealand in 1888, who had beaten most of the recognized pioneers in development of the movie camera. Unknown until recently, this genius had been forgotten until a cache of his buried films had been uncovered and restored.

Among other of the recovered films was one showing, beyond peradventure, the first flight ever made, which took place in New Zealand in a plane built by a fellow called Pearce, six months before the Wright brothers took off in their first aerial flight in the United States. The authenticity of this was guaranteed by the presence in an onlooker’s pocket of a newspaper carrying the date it was shot.

I looked at this movie, called “Forgotten Silver” again this morning --- the reason I did this will be made clear before I get to the end of this article --- and was not surprised to find it had been made by a young Peter Jackson, who, among other things, was shown as having led a party into the wild forests of the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand to uncover the overgrown and hitherto unknown remains of a vast city movie set constructed by McKenzie in the course of making his epic, forgotten movie on Salome. The movie was full of the flickering images shot in those early days, and its authenticity was guaranteed by the presence in it of such experts as the international star New Zealand actor Sam Neill, Americans --- critic Leonard Maltin and producer Harvey Weinstein --- and various archival experts and film curators. McKenzie was declared to have been killed in the Spanish Civil War, leaving behind a grieving wife, who, now an old lady, was interviewed for the film.

Only after I had watched it did my relative tell me the whole thing was a hoax, an extremely carefully organized and brilliantly achieved hoax, but nonetheless a piece of fiction from beginning to end.

The hoax had first made its appearance in 1995, when it was shown on TV one night in New Zealand as part of a series of serious documentaries; and needless to say, it took in many viewers, so authentic did its detail appear to be.

What made me think of this film today was that I caught a documentary on TV this morning of which I had seen only the last few minutes on a previous occasion. It was the story of a man called Martin Strel, a Slovenian whose swim along the Amazon river in 2007 was the tale of the film. This man seemed such an unlikely long-distance swimmer --- a short, pot-bellied, middle-aged man, who, by the end of the trip down the Amazon was almost on the point of death --- that it had me wondering whether the whole thing might not have been a hoax. Having watched the film almost from the beginning today and looked up Martin Strel’s background, I realized he had actually made the swim, and that he has for several years been known as a man who has specialized in long river swims around the world, having previously conquered the Danube, the Mississippi and the Yangtse rivers.

This is a really strange story, for this man, far from appearing as a sort of publicist with a cause, which one might have expected him to be, appeared instead to be virtually incoherent, unable to explain himself, and notable only for his utter determination to keep going.

Backed by a team of followers, headed by his son, who equally with his father at one point seemed to be almost out of his mind, Strel started the swim in Peru, almost 5,000 kilometres from the mouth of the Amazon, and plunged into a river where he could expect to encounter crocodiles, anacondas, snakes, piranhas and even a small, deadly fish whose specialty is to penetrate the human urethra. As an example of protective measures taken, the piranhas were kept at a distance by supporters throwing buckets of blood into the river on the far side of the boat from the swimmer.

The swimmer himself, checked from time to time by a medical doctor, was declared to be insane before he arrived at Belem, the huge city at the mouth of the river, on the Atlantic Ocean. He was met at his destination by a cheering crowd, and media from 20 countries, his journey having been publicized by, for example, the BBC from beginning to end.

Because his father was unable to function, the son wrote a statement for him to make, but he was so exhausted at the finish that he never got to issue the statement, in which he said he made the swim in order to draw attention to the need to maintain clean rivers throughout the world.

In the months after his swim, the swimmer
Strel gambled away all of the sponsorship money that had been collected, which led to the late-night talk shows, that had promised to invite him, to cancel their invitations.

So, to return to my theme above, this film, though it bore every appearance that it could have been a hoax, appears to have recorded a real event, though an extraordinary one, almost as unreal as any fiction.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My Log 217: Two early movies give a clue as to why movies were so immensely popular when they were invented

I saw two movies today which brought home to me for the first time why the movies were so immensely popular when they were first invented. Both starred John Gilbert, whom I had never seen before.

The first of them --- called He Who Gets Slapped --- was made in 1924, and was the first film made under the new label MGM. It co-starred the young actress Norma Shearer, and Lon Chaney, jr, and was directed by a man who spent his life in the movie business, Victor Sjostrom, the Swedish actor whose fame for my generation came from his wonderful performance in the 1950s as the old man in Ingmar Bergmann’s Wild Strawberries. Before taking that role --- he was 78 at the time --- Sjostrom had directed dozens of movies, both in Sweden, and in the United States, where he had worked for many years, something that I had never known about him.

Gilbert’s acting career began in 1915, and continued uninterrupted even by the invention of talkies, until 1934. He Who Gets Slapped, made in 1924, was a silent version of a story by the Russian writer Leonid Andreyev. With all the subtleties stripped away, it was presented as a straight melodrama, which even I, who sometimes has trouble following the intricate plots of modern movies, found no difficulty with. A famous scientist is humiliated by his wife’s having an affair, and when he objects she laughs at him and calls him a clown. So he takes refuge in a circus as a clown.

An acrobat with whom he falls in love is affianced by her father to an old aristocrat, and when the former scientist tries to stop it, he is stabbed by the father. The clown --- played by Lon Chaney --- releases a lion into the room, which kills both the father and the proposed husband, and the clown, fatally wounded, goes into the ring, and dies at the end of an act that the audience think is funny. Gilbert is the acrobat's professional partner. Though on the surface, the film was a lot of rubbish, I couldn’t help watching it until the end.

The second film --- these were part of a whole day presented by Turner Classic Movies of John Gilbert films --- was called Gentleman’s Fate. It was made in 1934, by which time Gilbert had successfully made the transition to talkies. It, also, was a simple melodrama involving a man called Jack Thomas who had been told he was an orphan and brought up to be a gentleman. Suddenly, he is told his real name is Giacomo Tomasulo and he has a dying father, and an older brother. The father makes him a dying gift of a necklace of emeralds for his fiancee, who has sworn her fidelity to him, and it turns out they were stolen. At the brother’s insistence, Jack Thomas takes the rap, serves 10 days in jail, and his life as a gentleman is shattered. He loses his girl-friend, and joins the bootlegging racket run by his brother, which inevitably involves him in the murders that are the consequence of staying on top of the racket.

He is shot and killed by a rival gangster, and dies, grieved by his new girl-friend, a former gun moll of the rival gangster, and his sorrowful but loving brother. Pure melodrama, but again, a difficult story to leave before the end.

What surprised me when I looked up the history of these two films, and these performances was to find that Gilbert was involved with many of the great figures of the first wave of people who built and controlled the movie industry --- men like Louis B. Mayer, Eric von Stroheim (who directed Gentleman’s Fate), King Vidor,and with major early stars like Greta Garbo (whom he once hoped to marry, though the marriage never came off) Lon
Chaney and many others.

Monday, August 23, 2010

My Log 216: New Zealand All Blacks sweeping all before them with a spectacular running game of Rugby Union played at breakneck speed

Now that the New Zealand All Blacks Rugby team ---My Team, as they would say in this part of the world ---- have beaten the South African Springboks in three successive test matches, the third of them before 94,000 fans in South Africa --- I think I can be allowed a moment to explain the significance of this to my fellow citizens, who are deprived of knowledge of this game by the virtual blackout maintained, for mysterious reasons, by the media.

For months I have been telling anyone who cared to listen --- not many, I must admit --- that the All Blacks had a snowball’s chance in hell of beating the Springboks this year. So their total dominance over their great rivals has had the effect of exploding whatever slight pretensions I might have shown towards having an expert knowledge of the sport.

Okay, I am happy, nonetheless. Because what this year’s results in the Tri-Nations competition between Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, have shown is that for New Zealanders, Rugby is closely analogous to what ice hockey is for Canadians. Canadians always say that hockey is Our Game. Similarly New Zealanders claim that Rugby Union is Their Game.

New Zealanders play the game from childhood, absorb its history and ethos, glory in the international successes won by their team, and generally have it in their bones as very few other countries in the world have any sport in their bones.

In fact, with a success rate against international opponents of something like 80 per cent, all time, the All Blacks are recognized as the most successful single sports team in any sport in the world. Better than any baseball team; better than Manchester United; better even than Brazil, at Soccer. Certainly, it is the All Blacks, year in and year out, that other nations want to beat; the All Blacks that players from other countries want to play against; the All Blacks that have become the iconic team of Rugby Union, a game played in 95 countries around the world. New Zealand is ranked No 1; Canada 14th, the USA 15th.

And the All Blacks come from a small country of only four million people, certainly the smallest country among any of the top countries in the Rugby world.

They got the name on a very early trip to Europe, more than 100 years ago, when they emerged from the South Pacific wearing an all black uniform. It had nothing to do with the colour of the players, although in the modern world almost half of the All Blacks are usually of Polynesian origin, Maori, islander, or of mixed blood, although all have either been born in New Zealand or have grown up there. They precede every game by performing a stirring Maori haka, as a challenge to their opponents, and their national anthem is sung in both Maori and English.

Last year the South Africans beat the All Blacks three times. They mastered a quite boring game, based, as it always has been, on great strength among the forwards, a pinpoint kicking with fast following up from wingers, a game of force and, if one might say so, brutality. This year, with a tweak to how the international rules are interpreted to enliven the game and make it more open to running and passing, the All Blacks were the first to master the new interpretations, and they have, according to all the critics, rescued the game and re-established it as an enthralling spectacle. Certainly the last game against the Springboks, played at Soweto in the stadium built for the World Soccer Cup, was a wonderful test of strength, skill, intelligence and execution, one of the best test matches anyone can remember seeing.

Although traditionally the two best nations at this game, South Africa and New Zealand have been uncomfortable companions. During many years, South Africa refused to allow Maori players to enter their country, and the New Zealand authorities supinely went along, and chose teams that excluded Maoris. At the height of the appalling apartheid regime, South Africa was excluded from international sports competition, but when, in 1981 a conservative New Zealand government agreed to allow a Springboks team to enter New Zealand, the resulting protest led to the closest thing New Zealand has ever experienced to a civil war. Many games were played surrounded by barbed wire entanglements, and squads of armed police, intended to keep protesters out of the grounds; and in one, a light plane bombed the match with flour bags.

With the overthrow of the racist regime South Africa was permitted back into international sport, and colored players were allowed to tour the country. The ramifications of this were examined in the excellent movie, seen by many Canadians, Invictus, which showed how Nelson Mandela used the fact that Rugby Union was the favorite game of the racist group the Afrikaaners, to pander to them by encouraging their team to win the 1995 World Cup, although the very symbol of the Springboks was hated by Mandela's own followers.

At the moment, there is little doubt that the quality of Rugby played by the three Southern Hemisphere teams, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia, is better, and is played at greater pace than anything in the Northern hemisphere, although New Zealanders and others are expecting the northerners to wake up, abandon their usually rather sluggish attitude towards the game, and adopt the free running game now being exhibited by the All Blacks.

Rugby is played in all parts of Canada, and internationally by Canada with reasonable success, but it is distressing to Rugby fans that the game is virtually ignored by the media, who appear determined to pretend it doesn’t exist.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

My Log 215: A wonderful documentary tells the story of what is Inside the Earth: and, of course, comes to a depressing conclusion

Forty years ago, when television was still developing, idealists like me used to believe that it should be --- and could be --- used as an instrument of education. In fact, in the first research I carried out for the National Film Board in 1971, I identified a number of social documentaries that needed to be made, and suggested CBC evenings should be devoted to a different one every night for a week, with discussion of the issues by informed panels of citizens to follow.

This was so little considered as a possibility that the committee judging the suggestions did not even consider it, but merely decided which of the proposed documentaries was worth considering as a film. Of course, my suggestion was old-fashioned Adult Education stuff, the sort of thing that CBC radio used to do in the 1950s. And, let’s face it, it was a hopelessly na├»ve suggestion, which was not followed by the CBC for a good 30 years, and then only once.

After being handed over almost holus-bolus to the horrors of commercial television, the educational possibilities of this medium have at last begun to show signs of life, as anyone can appreciate who peruses the list of documentaries available on the Top Documentary Channel.

Today I can report on one of these, called Inside Planet Earth, a really superb documentary, made in 2009 for the Discovery channel. Unlike the programme on the Trip through the Universe that I reported on in Log 209 on August 8, which was produced in a confusing, incoherent way, this programme ran neatly through from beginning to end, and contained such information as would be likely to blow the mind of almost anyone with the slightest interest in the life around us, and beneath us.

I should say, right off the top, that this strikes me as a much more important subject, more relevant to our life on Earth, than the somewhat fanciful proposals for space exploration that seem to dominate the subject of space research. After all, we are living right on top of what is inside the Earth, and since it is known to be a boiling cauldron of liquefied rock and gases, that is constantly penetrating the surface, it certainly behooves us to know as much as we can find out about it.

First, some basic facts: the Earth’s crust, which protects us from the overheated terrors of the interior, is about 30 miles deep. Humans have not been able to penetrate it more than to about eight miles, because as miners, researchers and others penetrate deeper, they find themselves in temperatures up to 130 degrees that a human cannot stand for more than about half an hour at a time. For example, the gold mines at Witwatersrand in South Africa are 2.5 miles below the surface, take two hours to reach, and are at 130 degrees Fahrenheit.

What is amazing is that down there, where chemical interactions have created gold, living organisms have been found, colonies of bacteria that exist in what is described as “an amazing diversity” 10 kilometres below the surface of the Earth.

This discovery has given rise to a theory that our solutions as to the origins of life on Earth may be incorrect: it is conceivable that when the immense pressures generated under the surface bring molten rock, known as lava, to the surface, they might have brought up some of these organisms to become the first forms of life on the planet. This theory is supported by some red rocks in Western Australia that are believed to have been created by a single-celled organism at a time that has been dated as 3.5 billion years ago. The theory is that the bacteria found their way to the surface, and using photo-synthesis, one of the by-products of which is oxygen, the essential ingredient of life, they created iron ore deposits which contain 20 times more oxygen than is in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Anyway, it has apparently been posited that 40 kilometres down, the crust gives way to the so-called mantle of the Earth, comprised of 2,000 miles of solid rock, in which nothing can grow, but which comprises the stuff that is sent up, under pressure, in the form of lava, or molten rock. At 4,000 miles deep, in the very centre, the heat is believed to be greater than on the sun’s surface.

The clashes of the continental plates, which was discovered in the 1960s as the earth’s crust continually moves, are believed to have taken down into the centre with them, probably more water than exists on the surface of Earth, perhaps as much as ten times more.

The documentary says that the key ingredient in maintaining the order of the universe is gravity, which, so far as the Earth is concerned, emanates from the centre of the Earth, and is generated by the ever-shifting, ever-changing activity that boils on there unceasingly.

This creates the Earth’s magnetic field, which sailors and others have recognized for centuries. But this magnetic field has more recently come to be recognized as the central protector of the Earth from the solar radiation that the sun is always bombarding our solar system with. Scientists knowledgeable in this field say that other planets, like Mars, have had water on their surfaces, but their core has cooled (because the planet is so much smaller than Earth), and the planet has therefore generated no magnetic field, and has become vulnerable to solar radiation that has killed off all life. The auroras, though much admired by people, are in fact caused by flashes of radiation that penetrate our magnetic field from time to time. The conclusion is that life is possible only under protection of the magnetic field. That it is slowly weakening as the central core cools is established as a fact: one area of the Earth’s surface, in the Atlantic off Brazil, already has no magnetic field and is known as the South Atlantic anomaly. In that area certain things do not work (the Hubble telescope, for example, has to shut off certain functions when in that area).

Changes in the magnetic field have led in the past to so-called reversals (the north and south poles are interchanged, for example). The last reversal, which disorients animals and birds, and creates havoc in the systems that keep life working, occurred 700,000 years ago, and there are signs, apparently, that the next reversal may be no more than 1,500 years away, with changes in the magnetic field occurring at a rate of some 6 per cent per century.

In other words, looking far into the future, the fate of the Earth is doomed; what is here will inevitably come to a meaningless end.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

My Log 214: An Argentinian film about politics, society, and personal passion: The Secret in their Eyes is engrossing

When I was watching the remarkable Argentinian movie, The Secret In Their Eyes, yesterday, an early scene rang a bell with me. The characters, who were working for the justice system in Peronist times, walked into their offices, where their desks were laden with piles of ill-assorted documents, each one representing a different case, far more cases, apparently, than any civil servant could keep up with.

A few years ago --- I guess it was 30 years ago now, can that be possible? --- when I was doing some research for an NFB film in Latin America, a woman who worked for the Canadian embassy in Peru took me, in the course of a trip around the city, to the huge building that she told me Peruvians called “the Palace of Injustice.” We entered the building and walked along a corridor past many small rooms with their doors open, revealing that the rooms were clogged with just those piles of case-documents shown in the film, only on a far greater scale. One’s mind could scarcely get around a justice system in which one’s case could become one of those documents, unsorted, set aside, and left to moulder among thousands of others.

Such were the delights of Latin American dictatorships, all of them supported by the United States, and kept in power by usually-brutal military forces trained for that purpose in a special school in the US. That these bad old days are finally being overcome is indicated in the link placed on this site on August 19 to an article investigating the rise of leftist governments throughout Latin America.

At one level, this is the subject of Juan Jose Campanella’s film. It is the story, at least on the surface, about a retired prosecutor’s nagging, unrelenting interest in the case of a brutally murdered young woman. It records how a couple of innocent construction workers were stitched up for the crime by a corrupt prosecutor, and rescued by our hero Esposito, beautifully played by Ricardo Darin, the case thereafter being quickly closed and left to moulder among those endless files. On the pretext of writing a novel in his retirement, Esposito returns to the case, aided by his alcoholic sidekick, and they use the presence in numerous pictures of a young man who always seemed to be looking at the victim as proof that the eyes always betray what one is thinking.

Eventually they do track down the murderer and have him imprisoned for life: but here is where “the injustice” enters: the corrupt prosecutor arranges for the murderer to be freed to do work for the secret police who were terrorizing Argentina at that time.

This is the plot, and an ingenious one it is, weaving and bobbing through the story. But of even greater importance, it seems, is the love that Esposito has born through all these years for his female boss (a luminous performance by Soledad Vilamil, who gives us a rare glimpse at a mature woman who retains her full sexual attraction, through marriage, child-bearing and beyond).

Integral to the story, also, is the husband of the murdered girl, who devotes several years to trying to find the murderer, then disappears. When he is found by Esposito years later, the denouement is something that no one could have expected. Sufficient to say, it apparently releases Esposito from his obsession with the case, and allows him, finally, to approach the woman for whom he has nurtured a passion all these years. The movie ends on the closing of a door, one of those doors behind which, as I have often remarked, no one ever knows what is happening.

This film richly deserved the Oscar it won last year as Best Foreign-language film, and I urge readers to look for it and see it.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Link of the Day, Aug 19 2010: Nearly two centuries after it won nominal independence and Washington declared it a backyard, Latin America is standing up, writes Seumas Milne in The Guardian, London.
The tide of progressive change that has swept the continent for the past decade has brought to power a string of social democratic and radical socialist governments that have attacked social and racial privilege, rejected neoliberal orthodoxy and challenged imperial domination of the region. Now, elections in Venezuela and Brazil are putting recent advances to the test. Under Obama United States policies have not changed, he writes.

My Log 213 : Turn a poet loose on Jimi Hendrix, and you get some ridiculous stuff: I read the book ‘Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky

Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment, but I have followed up my investigation of the rock and roll world, which came from reading a book on Johnny Winter (reported in Log 210 August 9) by plunging into a book I found on my shelves about Jimi Hendrix. I have no idea how it got there, but it was probably left by one of my sons.

The book is called ‘Scuse Me While I Touch the Sky, the Life of Jimi Hendrix, first published in 1978. Unfortunately it is written by a poet, David Henderson, who was in thrall to Hendrix, not only as a guitar player, but as a personality, and this thralldom has led him to try to match with his prose the extraordinary effects Hendrix managed with his guitar. Thus, I found the book grossly overwritten, although I am sure the legion of people who still regard Hendrix as exceptional among rock artists would not agree with me.

The facts of Hendrix’s brief life --- he was born in 1942 and died in 1970, at the age of 27 --- are in themselves not particularly extraordinary. He was the son of a broken marriage, was raised between Vancouver and Seattle, and at an early age revealed virtuosic ability on the guitar. Much of the rest is simply typical of this strange world: he was robbed by dishonest managers; he over-indulged in the pleasures of the flesh; he was always surrounded by adoring young women, some of whom looked after him, others who led him down into the depths of despair; and he was fatally addicted to drugs, which, in the end, killed him.

I should note here that the author makes a particular point of correcting the widespread assumption that he died of a drug overdose. He did not: he died, according to the indeterminate evidence of the pathologists, from inhalation of vomit, and barbiturate intoxication. It is undeniable that his state of mind and physical capacities were overcome by the drugs he took on the day he died, so the distinction seems somewhat academic to me.

In spite of all David Henderson’s overheated prose, the best description of Hendrix and his music in this book is provided by the Chicago guitarist, Mike Bloomfield, who himself died of a drug overdose in 1981 at the age of 37. (Incidentally Bloomfield had to give up playing the guitar for a long time because of his heroin addiction: .. “I put the guitar down - didn't touch it.. Shooting junk made everything else unimportant, null and void, nolo contendre. My playing fell apart. I just didn't want to play,” he said, which strikes me as a sort of definitive verdict on the effect of drugs on rock and roll musicians.)

Describing the effect on him of hearing Hendrix for the first time, Bloomfield said: “I can’t tell you the sounds he was getting out of his instrument…He was getting every sound I was ever to hear him get…He was doing it mainly through extreme volume. How he did this, I wish I understood. He just got right up in my face with that ax, and I didn’t even want to pick up the guitar for the next year. I was awed. I’d never heard anything like it… Jimi had been fooling with feedback… (he) would sustain a note and add vibrato so that it sounded just like a human voice. He uses an immense vocabulary of controlled sounds, not just hoping to get those sounds, but actually controlling them as soon as he produces them. I have never heard such controlled frenzy, especially in electric music.”

So there it is: Hendrix was exceptionally devoted to the idea of producing unique sounds with his guitar. Part of his legend is that when he was young he slept with his guitar: until the end of his life he seemed to be in love with his mastery over the guitar. He said only the music mattered. In fact, he told Dick Cavett in one interview that the world was going to have to abandon politics, and in future make its decisions through music (a typical piece of hyperbole).

However, like other rockers, he was also into the exhibitionism required to send tens of thousands of people into frenzied appreciation. He would play his guitar with his teeth. He would do splits, cavort around, pretend to be humping his guitar, sit on it, play it upside down and backwards, and eventually set fire to it. I have watched on YouTube one performance where he set fire to his guitar, and thereafter, while it was still attached to the speakers, smashed it around the stage making I give out an assortment of weird sounds.

So, he was an exceptional guitarist But one of the problems with rock and rollers seems to be that the excess of attention given them can’t help but play with their heads, swelling their egos to unmanageable proportions.

A few pages later, Henderson, always straight-faced, taking Hendrix’s most extreme, far-out statements at face-value, is quoting Hendrix as saying: “Definitely I’m trying to change the world. I’d love to! I’d like to have my own country --- an oasis for the gypsy-minded people. My goal is to erase all boundaries from the world. You have to set some heavy goals to keep yourself going. As long as I know there are people out there who aren’t fully together I can’t withdraw to lesser goals... If I quit making money I would still want to change the world... The money scene can turn you into a slave to the public, a zombie, a penguin…. I just call (my music) raw, spiritual music…. Singing is letting off a certain frustration that I’d have to get married and beat up my wife to do otherwise… If our music were really an assault we wouldn’t have an audience after the fourth or fifth gig…”

I don’t know about others, but to me, Hendrix’s statements, full of contradictions and absurd statements (especially when backed up by the blizzard of extreme metaphors provided by David Henderson) sound like the stream of consciousness of a pretentious twenty-year-old for whom public adulation has affected the balance of his mind.

However, everyone can take from it what they will. I have listened to many of his tunes on YouTube, and all I hear is a guitar-player, not a prophet, not a leader, certainly not the world leader that Henderson purports him to be. Just another guitarist, although one with exceptional talents.

Monday, August 16, 2010

My Log 212: I see a movie I first saw in 1940, a propaganda vehicle designed to work on me when I was a preteen kid, to hate the Germans

I had an interesting experience tonight: I saw a film, The Mortal Storm, that I first saw in 1940-41, when I was 12 or 13, and living in a small New Zealand city in the first years of the war. Our city, on the far southern coast of the South Island, was one of the most remote cities in any part of the world, and we might have been forgiven for thinking that perhaps we might have been able to live through the war without being unduly involved in it. No such luck.

I seem to remember the film was warmly received, was given great respect, when we saw it. But tonight it struck me as being a work of crude propaganda, designed to turn us into German-haters so that we would have no hesitation in answering the call to go to war against the Nazis.

In that, it was undoubtedly effective, and considering that it was playing to a captive audience, I have little doubt it succeeded in its aim.

The film is set in the first days of Hitler’s takeover of Germany, 1933, by which time, already, to judge by this scenario, German young men en masse had taken leave of their senses. Unquestioningly, they would leap to their feet every time they met anybody and Heil Hitler away to beat the band. This disease infected even two grown sons of a liberal-minded university professor, Viktor Roth, played by Frank Morgan, although not his daughter, played by the delectable Margaret Sullavan, nor with Martin Breitner, a lifelong family friend, played by James Stewart.

Miss Sullavan’s character, Freya, was forcibly affianced to a disgusting little Nazi, played by Robert Young, in the film’s first few minutes. But when her kindly old father was beaten up, and was rescued by the noble Stewart, Freya broke off the engagement.

The dear old professor was arrested, tortured, and died, leaving Stewart to lead Freya (who had now magically fallen in love with him) over a pass into Austria. Robert Young’s character was directed to cut them off at the pass, as the American saying goes, and when, in a moment of weakness unusual among the Nazi youth, he asked to be excused, he was told by his superior, “in the service of your country there are no human relationships.”

He chased them, caught up with them, and his troop shot and killed Freya after they crossed into Austria, a sufficiently dramatic event to persuade one of her two Nazi brothers to renounce the cause.

This outline should, I hope persuade readers of the crude propaganda nature of the story: to judge by the behaviour of these characters, it is a wonder that the Nazi ever had the intelligence to take over their country. In this film, they have already been reduced to brainless automatons.

While it is true, as I have often remarked, that when an evil leader arises he is never short of ordinary people to carry out his dreadful schemes (pace, the Cambodian executioner Duch, who has just been convicted and sentenced to 19 years in jail for killing 16,000 people), one cannot help but suppose that the brains conducting these terrible experiments in human governance do have a modicum of intelligence, or their regimes would collapse at the first puff of wind.

In fact, odd though it may seem, even brutal killers like Saddam Hussein appear to have been able to make a better job of governing his country than the occupying powers who have displaced and killed him.

Such is a mystery we will probably never be able to penetrate.

Robert Osborne, the moderator for Turner Classic Movies, added one interesting tidbit about Miss Sullavan. She made no more movies, but retired to grace the New York stage until, in 1960, at the age of 50, she was found dead in New York from an overdose of sleeping pills.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

My Log 211: I read an 800-page book in less than a week: a good thriller keeps you turning the page, and I did that

When I started to read an 841 page book recently I was sure it would take me no less than a month. In the event, I have finished it within less than a week, a tribute to the book’s extreme readability. The book in question is the thriller, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by the Swedish writer Stieg Larsson.

To my surprise the book bore a rather enigmatic notation at the beginning, that Larsson, the former editor of a magazine in Stockholm, had delivered this book and two sequels to the publisher (in April 2004), and then had died seven months later. This explanation sounded so pat and unlikely --- the author was only 50 when he died --- that I doubted whether it might not be a front of some kind to cover an alias by some well-known writer. But that, evidently is not so.

In reality, Larsson was apparently not too well off, having been only moderately successful in his working life. He had lived with a woman to whom he was not married, an architect, for more than 30 years, but had never made a will. Brought up by his grandparents, he had apparently had little to do with his parents, but on his death, the authorities found his heirs were his father and brother, not the woman who was, in everything but name, his wife.

Amazingly (to the woman who lived with him), the books immediately began to sell in huge numbers, until at last report more than 22 million copies have been sold, generating a huge fortune for his heirs. They offered Larsson’s common-law wife 20 million kronors ( some $2.8 million dollars), out of earnings of 120 million, an offer that she refused.

A veritable industry has grown up around Larsson and his works. People who worked with him in his magazine have written books saying he was too poor a writer to have written these best-sellers: one even said it was his common-law wife who was the actual writer, which she denies. She said in an interview with an English newspaper that the reason they never married was so that their address could remain in her name, since, as the editor of an anti-fascist magazine, he was always in danger of being attacked by right-wing fanatics..

So the mysteries and dramas around the dead author are almost as amazing as the conspiracy he reveals in his book, which have been denounced widely as totally improbable. On the other hand, in spite of all criticism, obviously many readers, like me, have found his work compulsively readable, although the characters do lack what one might call immediate credibility.

In particular, the title character, a be-spiked young woman of 25 who has been officially classified as a mental delinquent, is so bizarre as to be scarcely believable. Though apparently emotionless, she has remarkable powers deriving from her photographic memory, and ability to understand computers. She is an expert hacker, something the investigative journalist who is the central figure in the book uses to his advantage as he tracks down the corrupt and fraudulent behaviour of a major Swedish industrialist,

To judge by this work, underneath the calm exterior of Swedish society lurks a raging nest of pornographic, sadistic and criminal behaviour, especially among the governing industrial classes.

Since critics seem to be almost unanimous that his first book is by far the best of the three, I doubt if I will read the successors. The three books have already been made into movies in Sweden, and a version of the book, The Girl Who Played with Fire, about the sex trade in Eastern Europe, is playing in Ottawa theatres at the moment.

Monday, August 9, 2010

My Log 210: Johnny Winter, a life of brilliant musicianship, shameless excess, dissolution, and recovery

I have just read a book on what is for me rather an unusual subject --- the life and music of the Texan guitarist, rock and roller, and blues aficionado, Johnny Winter. The book is called Raisin’ Cain, and is by Mary Lou Sullivan.

I have never been particularly interested in Johnny Winter, have never heard him play, and would be unlikely to go even if he appeared in Ottawa. But he has always been an idol of my guitar-playing son, Ben, who so much liked this book that he arranged for me to have a copy for myself.

For Ben, this book tells the bald truth about Winter and his chaotic career. It does, too, but --- how can I put this? If I sent a book to Ben on the life of some cricketer which was full of information about what make of bat the fellow used in which innings, what kind of clothes he wore, who made the pads he wore for protection, which label was his helmet, the effect would be similar for him to this book’s effect on me.

For one thing, I didn’t find it particularly well written, though the research that went into it was undoubtedly impressive. The story of Winter and his rise to fame and subsequent decline into drug-induced helplessness is an impressive one, but it has been overlaid with so much technical detail that I found it hard slogging to get to the end.

On almost any page you can find mind-boggling passages like this one: “Johnny’s career has experienced a renaissance under Nelson, also rebuilt bridges Slatus burned, got him endorsement deals for a Gibson Custom Shop Johnny Winter Signature Firebird V, a recreation of Johnny’s 1963/64 Firebird (when Gibson analyzed Johnny’s Firebird at the Custom Shop in Nashville, they found a serial number on the headstock and were able to date the neck as 1964, and the body design as 1963), the Dunlop “Texas Slider”, a pinky slide modeled after Johnny’s slide, and D’Addorio strings.” Wow, really, D’Addorio strings!

However, leaving that aside, Winter, for all his ridiculous self-indulgence and substance abuse, is an interesting figure. He and his brother Edgar, also a famous rock musician, were born as albinos into an upper middle-class family that had no albino history of any kind --- truly a freak of nature. They lived in a small, ugly Texas oil and chemical town called Beaumont, and as children had to suffer a great deal of torment from the local kids.

Johnny never wanted to be anything but a musician, and he grew up, strangely enough in his redneck surroundings during the days of full-on segregation, to adulate the old black Texas musicians who were practitioners of the blues.

With parental support, he became an expert guitarist while still a child, and he and his brother were playing in bands around the neighbourhood when they were 14 and 12.

Though he was recognized by those who heard him as an exceptionally brilliant musician, it took him some years to learn the tricks of performance which were necessary to create a musical career. Ms. Sullivan has documented every step of these early years in almost too much detail. For many years he was looked upon as rather freakish, with his white hair and pale skin, but his musicianship and showmanship eventually overcame this, and he grew into a stardom that he was always uncomfortable in accepting. He wanted it; and yet, when he had it, he chafed against its demands. I suppose this is the case for many people trapped in the mindless adulation of their fans, who always seem to expect unreasonable things from their idols.

Perhaps typically, he made mindless deals from which he never saw any money. He hired managers who exploited him mercilessly, and who continued to make money for decades by re-issuing early “bootleg” records that were totally unauthorized. From the beginning he lived a life of complete self-indulgence. He married once, but couldn’t stand that he was expected to be true to his wife. For decades, even when he had a permanent girl-friend, he made it understood that he would have other women when he was on tour. In fact, for many years he had two permanent girl-friends, located in different towns.

He also became a persistent drug user, although in the early years he was careful not to allow drug-taking and booze to affect his playing. That did not last, however. And by the 1990s --- he was 50 by this time --- booze, drugs, both prescription and illegal, had reduced him to almost a zombie-like condition which robbed him of his voice, his ability to play the guitar, and his willingness to perform the regular functions demanded by his star status,

Ms. Sullivan blames a long-term manager, who himself became a hopeless drunk, for this, and establishes that it was not until Winter himself could be awakened to the thievery and arrogance of this manager that he was persuaded to fire him, and begin a recovery.

For much of his musical life he was trapped in the conflict between his desire to play the blues, and the commercial demands of managers and promoters that he play rock n’ roll.

In a forty-year career, he put out 36 official albums, not counting appearances he made on albums of 25 other musicians, but the bootleg albums that were collected by his later, responsible management amounted to a staggering 85 --- completely unofficial, unauthorized issues that basically were a fraud on the fans who bought them.

Ms Sullivan pays copious tribute to many fine qualities, although she perhaps goes too far in this direction, even quoting someone who said, during Winter’s terrible years of incoherence and near-silence, that they could tell the real Johnny Winter was still existing inside his sullen silence.

He did have a real adulation of the old black blues masters, and spared no effort to confirm and strengthen the blues as a musical genre, Indeed, he put so much effort into aiding the great bluesman Muddy Waters that he revived the man’s career, and rescued him from the kind of neglect he himself had suffered from for some years.

Altogether, a remarkable story about the rock n’ roll lifestyle that has come so close to destroying one of the icons of the profession.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

My log 209 : Dipping into an eight-part series on the universe leaves me as much in the dark as before

For some months now they’ve been sending out notices from the channel Top Documentary Films of a show called Through the Wormhole, which purports to explain all the mysteries of the universe. I wondered why they kept sending out the same show, and took no notice of it, until the last week, when I discovered this is actually an eight-part series.

I have since watched three of these shows, chosen at random, and my first reaction is that, although they purport to have answers about many of the great questions posed by mankind since time immemorial, they haven’t even solved the problem of presenting their shows on TV in an orderly fashion.

In fact, from what I can tell, the shows are presented in ten-minute YouTube segments. When one segment is over you are presented with other numbered segments the numbering of which seems to be totally chaotic. For example, on one show, when I came to the end of segment One and whistled up segment Two, I found I had already been watching it, and similarly with segment Four. So what happened to Segment Three, and what should be the next segment?

Apart from the difficulty in getting a coherent story from this series, I found much of the argumentation and information totally over my head, so that, although I tried to follow closely, I finished up not a lot better informed than I began.

The first show is called Is There a Creator? whose purpose seemed to be to present scientists who were hoping their science would lead them to the conclusion that there must definitely be a God. Why a scientific programme should use that as its kick-off segment, I have no idea, especially since the argument did not seem to be in any way conclusive.

Their information started with the fact that in 1969 a 220 pound meteorite crashed in Australia, which, on examination, was found to contain amino acids and many other elements necessary for life, which led them to the conclusion that, out there, in the infinite vastness of the universe as we have recently discovered it, there must be other forms of life. That does seem a reasonable assumption, since, at another part of the documentary it is explained by Morgan Freeman, the narrator, that there are more planets than grains of sand on all of the beaches throughout the world. That is an amazing fact, if it is a fact: one wonders how they arrived at it, since the grains of sand have never been counted by anyone, to the best of my knowledge.

Somewhere along the way they produced what is my favorite fact about the universe, which is its immensity. The thing is so vast as to defy human understanding; and to my turn of mind its very size in itself seems enough to rule out the idea that it has all been created under the command of some God somewhere or other.

Here is some information I noted down: light travels at a speed of 180,000 kilometres a second. (This is important because it is only through our seeing the light emitted by various suns that we can know they exist.) It would take a piece of light 100,000 light years to cross our galaxy; and more than 13 billion light years to move right across the universe as we know it. These figures are so near to being infinite, that I find it hard to get my mind around them.

There was a lot of stuff about various theories of how the universe was created. For example, until recently the favorite theory was that it all started with a big bang, caused by various gases colliding and exploding, and creating matter. But that theory has come under question as scientists have asked, What Happened Before The Beginning? (a reasonable question, after all). So the documentaries have gone into other, extremely arcane theories, such as existence of a so-called “brane-world”--- for membrane) and other theories such as “string theory”. (I will not venture to explain these, but I did pick up the rather fanciful notion that, since the universe could contain 10 dimensions, plus another seven, compared with the three we acknowledge, one of these dimensions could be in existence merely centimeters away from ourselves. This theory takes us very close to religious, or pseudo-spiritual ideas of parallel worlds existing in which our ancestors are floating around eager to contact us through (phony) mediums.

On the question of whether there are other forms of intelligent life out there, the documentary on this subject says we have not been trying to communicate outwardly for long enough even to allow our first messages to reach anyone who may be (hypothetically) listening. We have been sending out signals for only 80 years, but it will take 900 years before our messages reach anybody. So the movie said.

Along the way I noted that one of the experts quoted came from Arizona State University. The thought did occur to me that the University might have been better employed spending its money, for example, on finding ways in which resident populations could receive and welcome newcomers, which might have had some influence on ensuring that their present fascistic laws against immigration would never have seen the light of day,

There was a good deal of information about a programme called SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence), which has led to immense expenditures being made in construction of super radio telescopes that are listening every hour of every day in the hope of picking up at least some indication of something man-made being beamed in our direction. In North Carolina, 42 dishes have been built, each measuring twenty-feet across, to pick up any sounds. Eventually there will be 450 of these dishes.

The results so far: in 1977, a seventy-two second signal was received from the constellation Sagittarius, for which no explanation has ever been offered. In 1997 a sound was heard emanating from the Thetus constellation, which, the scientists contend, was clearly a manufactured signal. It was later established the signal came from a man-made space probe sent from Earth.

Apart from these, as one scientist confessed, “an eerie silence” is all we have to show for our search for intelligent life out there. Is it possible that intelligent life exists, but is not inclined to send out messages to us; or that they have sent probing messages, and we have not been intelligent enough to recognize them?

My questions are: why do we not have the human intelligence to ensure that food, once grown, is delivered to those who need food? Or to ensure that our foolish nations do not continue to make war on each other? Or why can we not carry on our lives without destroying the very air, water and soils on which we depend?

Prosaic though these questions might be, prosaic though I confess myself to be by asking them, I think they are more important than to discover what lies out there in the unimaginable distances of space.

Friday, August 6, 2010

My Log 208: Rossellini’s famous film Stromboli more notable for the master’s cinematography than for Ingrid Bergman

I saw the Roberto Rossellini film Stromboli today, a film I missed when it was produced in 1950, but one that made a strong imprint on all our young imaginations, considering the scandal that surrounded it.

This was the film during the shooting of which the beautiful Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman, happily married with a child to a Swedish doctor, engaged in a torrid love affair with Rossellini, by whom she bore a child, since become famous herself as the actress Isabella Rossellini.

Although it is hard to believe it now, looking back, Hollywood was so scandalized by an actress having such an affair, and not apologizing for it, and she was so excoriated by the American press, that it brought a shuddering halt to Miss Bergman’s brilliant career in American films, which was not resumed for several years.

I seem to remember that the film itself, although directed by the dean of the Italian neo-realist school, was heavily criticized by most of the critics, although Rossellini himself denounced the cut that was released, saying it had been butchered by the Hollywood studio.

In fact, it is rather a trite film, with a poor script that merely emphasizes its banality. A European woman trapped by the war in an Italian refugee camp, decides to escape by marrying a young Italian whom she has met through the camp fence.

When he takes her to his home, however, she finds herself living on a volcanic island containing an almost abandoned town, most of whose residents have moved to the United States or some other immigrant country. The land is virtually useless because of the frequent volcanic eruptions, and the young woman is immediately seized with the need to get away by whatever means she can devise.

Such means do not present themselves until she takes advantage of the confusion caused by an eruption, and, although three months pregnant, decides to try to reach a village on the other side of the island. Her attempt to circle the mountain, however, fails, and the film ends with her invoking God to come to her aid and give her courage to confront life.

The film is notable, however, for its cinematography, brilliant and gripping documentary-like sequences of a tuna-fishing method involving the whole village, with dozens of large tuna being hauled into their enormous boats; and some wonderful shots of the volcanic eruption and the panic and confusion caused to the fleeing villagers.

Rossellini, truly, was a master film-maker, who deserves to be remembered for that, rather than for his success as seducer of the most beautiful and charismatic European actress.
Link of the Day: Former head of MI5 in Britain gives explosive testimony about government lies that led to Iraq war: her evidence totally ignored in Washington, says Eric Margolis, in a Real News Network interview
Link of the day: The war in Afghanistan: American lives are sacred; Afghan (or Iraqi) lives are just “Collateral Damage” to the military brass. Read Whose Hands? Whose Blood? Killing Civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq
by: Tom Engelhardt of TomDispatch.com

Thursday, August 5, 2010

My Log 207: A great novel by a great writer: Set this House on Fire, by William Styron

I have just finished the prolonged process of reading a fascinating novel, Set This House on Fire, by the southern American writer William Styron. The novel was published in 1960, was Styron’s second major work, and although not a great success in the United States, either with the critics or the public, on publication in France it far outsold the American edition, and was regarded as a masterpiece, to which accolade I think it is entitled.

Certainly it is a remarkable piece of writing, containing many long scenes that one simply cannot put down, although it does recall the truth of Styron’s own dictum that “the good writing of any age has always been the product of someone's neurosis”.

The book is heavy, and in places a tough read, in that it deals with some terrible --- one might say, evil --- people, and describes the dissolution of several characters with such a plethora of detail that it has a slightly miasmic effect on the reader from time to time. It was excoriated by some American critics for its slow pace, and they might have added that it has a tendency to repeat events, although usually as seen by different eyes. But none of this diminishes from the fact that it is a triumph of literary elegance, of a complexity that few writers have ever been able to match.

As someone who has made his living by writing words for 65 years, I am completely in awe of the elegance and power of Styron’s mastery of the English language, and I can recommend this book to anyone like myself who loves the language.

The subject of the book is a group of American expatriates in Italy, and their awful behaviour. The narrator is one Peter Leverett, who visits an old acquaintance, Mason Flagg, with whom he went to school, and finds him in residence in a declining castle in a village south of Naples. Flagg was always a spoiled, charismatic, and prating brat, who came into an inheritance of two million dollars which he has used to sustain a wild, amoral lifestyle. Also resident in the castle Leverett finds a rich cast, including a crew shooting a Hollywood film, Flagg’s wife, mistress and assorted girl-friends, and a man called Cass Kinsolving, a degenerate artist, or pseudo-artist who has failed to produce any work for many years because of his determination to turn alcoholism into an art-form that has destroyed him. Although friendly and attractive, Flagg has moments of pure evil, and he has reduced the artist, who also has dragged along his long-suffering wife and band of children --- the wife alone, a forgiving God-loving, fragile woman, is a major literary creation --- to pathetic, disgusting exhibitions of abasement after reducing him to an alcohol stupor.

But these descriptions of terrible events are interspersed throughout the novel by magical passages of wise, inspiring and even funny prose. Here is an example, a description of the United States that is as true today, apparently, as it was when written half a century ago: "What this country needs... what this great land of ours needs is something to happen to it. Something ferocious and tragic, like what happened to Jericho or the cities of the plain - something terrible I mean, son, so that when the people have been through hellfire and the crucible, and have suffered agony enough and grief, they’ll be people again, human beings, not a bunch of smug contented cows rooting at the trough."

It is understood early in the book that its events revolve mostly around the death of Flagg, and the second part is narrated by the artist, describing at length the process of his drunken dissolution, and explaining how he came to murder his friend in revenge for his having raped and killed a beautiful peasant girl who acted as their servant. It turns out that Flagg was not guilty of the murder, and the artist was absolved by the Italian police from responsibility for the death, but the details of Kinsolving’s self-destructive abuse have never been better --- of more achingly --- described.

Another mantra of Styron’s, apparently, was that “a great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted. You should live several lives while reading it.” The reading of this novel proves this contention. I have dipped into a couple of other novels during the few weeks I have spent reading this one, just for some relief, and there is no comparison between the intensity and depth of Styron’s writing, and the stuff to be found in most other novels. Persisting in it to the end was one of the better decisions I have made recently.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

My Log 206:Stockwell Day lets go a doozy: statistics of crime decrease are nothing compared with a report of unreported crime…

The inconsistency of this stubborn Harper government has reached really absurd proportions. Yesterday Stockwell Day, having denounced the census for not providing up-to-date information, held a ludicrous press conference in very much the style we have come to expect of him.

He said, using a 2004 study as proof, that unreported crime rates were rising at an alarming rate, and this justified the government’s decision to spend billions of dollars on new (unneeded) prisons.

In other words, he said that the statistics which show that crime rates, especially the rates of violent crimes, are dropping, and have been dropping for many years, are not as reliable as a remark made in one study that unreported crimes have shown a slight increase.

This was alarming, according to Day. But what kind of minister would damn official statistics, collected by the traditional methods, as being out-of-date, and compare them unfavorably against an equally out-of-date report that “unreported crime” is rising? By its very nature, “unreported crime” must be an unknown statistic. This doesn’t seem to have occurred to our President of the Treasury Board --- just savor that for a moment! --- Stockwell Day is President of the Treasury Board, in charge of the nation’s finances! ---- who insists that this is a serious situation justifying tougher sentencing and more prisons. Has this guy never heard that crime is relatively immune to tougher sentencing, and longer prison sentences? All that was missing in this ridiculous performance was his wet suit, of cherished memory.

Words fail me, actually. Okay, I have to be as good as my word….I have run out of words in face of this Conservative lunacy….

Monday, August 2, 2010

My Log No 205: CBC definitely the worst place on TV to watch a movie: take my word for it

I watch a lot of movies on TV and I can say with absolute conviction that the worst place to watch movies on all of TV is the CBC.

In total violation of its mandate, our publicly-owned broadcasting network uses the occasion of screening a movie to please, first of all, their advertisers, and only secondarily (if at all) their movie-loving public.

I seldom try to watch a movie on CBC, but last night I tried to sit through Brokeback Mountain again, because I was anxious to see what I had missed the first time around that caused it to be hailed as such a great movie.

I have to report that the experience was infuriating, to such an extent that I doubt if I will ever watch another movie on CBC.

At least every ten minutes they stopped the movie for advertisements, showing the same ads countless times until personally I became convinced I will never look at any of the advertised products again in my lifetime.
In addition, it had, of course, the effect of breaking into the rhythm of the move, and for a third thing, this method made it seem like the movie would never end, as if its producers had not been able to decide how to end it (which was not necessarily an effect of the movie itself so much as a result of the CBC’s method of screening it. Totally unacceptable.

This morning I happened on a thriller, Second Chance, on the movie network, about a young professor of journalism being pursued by a vengeful relation of someone she could have prevented from being murdered. The movie was quite gripping: and we were able to watch it through, beginning to end, and get a flavour of what was happening, and how its creators intended it to be seen. If a commercial U.S. network can do it, why can’t the CBC?

Honk your horn if you agree with me!
Link of the day: August 2 2010: Israel trying to goad United States into fighting a war against Iran, writes Gareth Porter in antiwar.com. Read : Real Aim of Israel’s “Bomb Iran” campaign