9/30/2005

Review: One Fine Day In The Middle Of The Night By Christopher Brookmyre

Going to high school reunion is always fraught with dangers. Who knows how well your going to stack up against your former class mates: will you have less hair, is your partner less attractive then theirs, or, worst of all, are they making more money than you? For the class of '85 from St Michael's Auchenlea their fifteenth reunion will make all others pale in comparison. In Christopher Brookmyre's One Fine Day In The Middle Of The Night the relentless horror of a high school reunion could only be augmented by the inclusion of uninvited guests in the form of heavily armed incompetent mercenaries. Bad enough that one had to worry about expanding waistlines, but to also have to worry about getting shot would be enough to make everyone reconsider attending a twentieth reunion even if they survive this one. From the opening chapter's introduction to the would-be terrorist/mercenaries, through to meeting the variety of protagonists, it's obvious that we are in for the party of the century. (It being only Aug. 2000 there's not much competition yet) Even without the inclusion of masked bandits the evening had promised to be different. How many high school reunions take place on an oilrig converted into tourist resort parked in the middle of the river Firth? Of course that's not the hotel's final destination. It's to be towed down to off the coast of Africa. There it will sit, a little piece of England for those who don't want their vacation upset by the inclusion of foreigners. The genius behind this venture, in a bid to show his former classmates how great he's become, also organized this little get together. You see Gavin Hutchinson was a complete non-entity at school; Dilithium Davie never beat the crap out of him even though he had "done" everyone else in their year, and at sixteen entered the prison system for chucking a classmate out a third story window. This was Gavin's chance to show all those wankers, including the now reformed and famous Davie and the notorious comic Matt Black, how much more of a success he was than any of them could ever dream. What ever it is they say about mice, men and plans seems to be the order of the day for all parties involved in the story. From the opening chapter where the bad guys succeed in reducing their numbers by four through acts of random stupid violence, including firing a rocket launcher backwards into an unintentional victim whose body parts are literally scattered to the four winds; Gavin's plan for being the star of the show going askew because absolutely no one remembers him; retired police inspector Hector McGregor's peaceful first day off the job being rudely interrupted when he is cold conked by one of the aforementioned flying body parts, specifically a severed arm punching him in the head; right up to the point where the gatecrashers show up for the party bringing party favours in the shape of automatic weapons, rocket launchers, and very powerful bomb designed to blow the place to pieces. (This last bit of information is a surprise for everyone, especially the mercenaries who think they are robbing a group of investment bankers) True to the best Hollywood tradition of hostage taking incidences, there are characters that manage to avoid the general round up when the gunmen appear. Matt Black and Gavin's soon to be ex wife had gone off for a moonlight stroll, reformed berserker David Murdoch is locked in his hotel room still trying to figure out what the hell he is doing here, Gavin himself who had left to search for his current paramour, Catherine, who is trying to convince Davie to come to the party, and the very capable Mr. Vale, head of a private security firm who just happens to be on site ironing out the bugs in the surveillance system. When the bad guys discover that Gavin and a few others are missing, their leader goes out for a breath of air (which turns out to mean killing his own sentry, destroying their boats, arming the bomb and leaving the oilrig as fast as possible) leaving his second to organize the search parties. Very reasonably figuring he has nothing to fear from the hostages, he heads up one party, sends three other members of his stalwart gang off to another part of the resort, and leaves three behind. What he doesn't count on was one of his membership having a crises of conscience and killing his fellow guards and leading the hostages to safety. He also doesn't factor in that someone who has served as much time as Davie has learned a thing or two along the way. While Catherine leads Davie and Gavin to a laundry chute to whisk them away from the gunmen, one of their number is being electrocuted by the strategic use of wires and the conductive nature of a door knob. Eventually all hostages manage to converge, with the added reinforcement of the earlier mentioned retired police inspector (whose trip to the oil rig included trying to wave down a ride with the severed arm, a run in with a sheep, and a police roadblock) and the story reaches its inevitable happy ending. As is usual with Brookmyre's work the bald plot outline is deceptive. What separates his stories from the usual are his characters, his manipulation of the English language, and his twisted humour. His major players, even the ones we are not supposed to like, are developed with depth, compassion, and integrity. The bad guys speak for themselves, and seem to be entirely reasonable, and according to them justified in their actions. Brookmyre allows everybody to speak for themselves, not as seen through the eyes of one character. One moment we are in the head of Matt Black as he is dissecting his life and career, the next we are sitting on the shoulder of the terrorist who is second in command as he watches all his carefully laid plans disintegrate. His decision to start shooting hostages seems completely logical as he rationalises it for us. We feel his genuine shock that they are not where they were supposed to be, and his sense of betrayal when he discovers the means of their escape. We hear each side of the argument about why Simone and Gavin's marriage is a disaster. Each presents their case, to us the jury, and Brookmyre leaves it to us to make a decision. Of course he does nudge us in the right direction as Gavin justifies his philandering based on the old "she doesn't understand" me defence. Since Gavin spends most of the party dismissing his old class mates as pathetic, because they would rather spend time with each other than worshipping at his feet, we tend to feel even less sympathy towards him than we do the terrorists. Christopher Brookmyre's fan's, myself included, have always appreciated the way in which he manipulates the English language to get maximum effect for its ability to generate humour. Whether his inventive use of profanity, his vivid descriptive passages, or his ability to carry the most illogical scenario to a logical conclusion, at some point or another a reader's cognitive powers will be sorely tested by an inability to breath due to laughter. One Fine Day In The Middle Of The Night is no exception to that rule. From the chain of events that see former Inspector MacGregor being interrogated by the local police (something to do with waving down motorists with a body part, ploughing a stolen Renault into a prize sheep and sending said sheep through the wind screen of an oncoming police cruiser causing a pile up) to his explanation of how the word plastic gains a level of notoriety: "Explosive was the only word in the English language not witheringly diminished when you preceded it with the word plastic" This book is a pleasure to read on a variety of levels, as a take off on all the Hollywood hostage movies, a straight out action story, and the insights into reasons we all find nostalgia so enticing. If you have an appreciation for the bizarre, and also enjoy a well written intelligent story with humour and adventure, than pick up a copy of One Fine Day In The Middle Of The Night. You won't be disappointed.

9/29/2005

Review: Modigliani

Paris in 1919 had seen the greatest destruction known to the world at that time come to its very suburbs. The battlefields of World War One were so close that men on leave could take taxis to the front. Perhaps it was this proximity to death and destruction, or maybe just a chances meeting of minds, but Paris became home to one of the greatest outbursts of human artistic creativity since renaissance Italy. Paris had always been considered the centre of the artistic universe for Europeans, but at the end of World War One there was an explosion of artistic expression that was only quelled with the outbreak of World War Two. The twenty-year interval between conflicts would see those who would shape artistic expression for the twentieth century all gather within the confines of a few square blocks. Writers, philosophers, painters, dancers, musicians and sculptors worked, loved, fought, drank, and did drugs; all of them determined to cram as much living as possible into every single moment. Having witnessed how easy it was for a life to be here one day and gone the next, no one wanted to risk not having done as much as possible. Many of us have heard of the more famous inhabitants of the artist's quarter: Picasso, Stien, Jean Cocteau, Hemmingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. But there were other, equally important, though not as renowned, men and women striving to express the emotional turmoil of the period. One of these was the sculpture/painter Amedeo Modigliani. Supposedly Modigliani epitomized the figure of the romantic artist struggling with passion and madness. Whether it was an artifice created on his part or not is open to debate, but what is true and known is that he lived, loved and indulged in drink and drugs excessively. While the others around him were influenced by the potential for death and destruction, Modigliani carried within him a death sentence. As a child he had contracted tuburculous, that in those days meant your days were indeed numbered. Most likely it was this that inspired the excesses that shortened his life, but enriched his days. He did in fact end up dying in 1920 of tubercular meningitis. In Mick Davis film Modigliani, it's the romantic figure of the artist wrestling with his demons who is the star of the film. It is the last year of his life, 1919, and he and his lover Jeanne have one child and are expecting another. His insistence on playing the role of the romantic artist has alienated him from the elite of the Paris art scene, including such luminaries as Picasso and Jean Cocteau. Jeanne What the truth to the conflict is, I don't know, but the film depicts Modigliani and Picasso as continually confronting each other. Picasso has already achieved success and recognition and lives in some comfort, while Modigliani continues to live in a garret, having to steal for food, drugs, and wine. Whether it's jealousy alone that motivates him, or a desire to stick a pin into the bubble of Picasso's enormous ego, Modigliani goes out of his way to aggravate his more famous contemporary. It's a running battle throughout the movie culminating in a competition sponsored by the Salon D'Artists, with a prize of 5,000 francs being awarded to the winner. Of much more importance of course, will be bragging rights for being judged the best painter in Paris. Only once is there a truce, a drive into the country where Picasso takes Modigliani to visit Renoir. On their return to Paris, we are given a glimpse of the real respect that they hold for each other; what has been spiteful until now is replaced by gentle teasing. However, as if they were actors performing a role, on their return to Paris they revert back to form. In the movie, Modigliani's relationship with Jeanne Hebuterne has been idealized along the star-crossed lovers line. The poor Jewish artist in love with the middle class Catholic girl with the disapproving father; although this is true, they were also legendary for their public brawls. While Mick Davis may have played fast and loose with the truth (at the beginning of the movie they tell you they have) he has created a movie that captures, better than any other, the close proximity of creative genius to madness and excess. To feel so much that you are inspired to create is a dangerous business. Extremes of emotions can take the soul to the highest points of heaven and the deepest pits of hell. For an actor to be able portray this without him slipping into excess takes extreme discipline and a unique command of his craft. I have to admit that I've never been the biggest fan of Andy Garcia, but in this movie he is spectacular. While always ensuring that we are cheering for Modigliani to succeed, he is also unwavering in his depiction of the less savoury aspects of the man. In fact the cast is universally gifted, from the smallest supporting player, through the leads there is no weak link to tarnish this great work. Elsa Zylberstein as Jeanne, Omid Djalili as Picasso, and Hippolyte Girardot as the artist Maurice Utrillo stand out in particular for their gifted performances. The truly amazing thing about this movie has been Davis' ability to capture the atmosphere of Paris during this period. From the decadent parties, to the genuine passions of the artists, he gives us a front row seat to one of the most important eras in art history of the modern world. There is a sequence of shots near the end of the movie where he focuses on the five artists who are competing for the Salon D'Artiste prize. He quickly cuts form artist to artist: in mid brush stoke, in frustration, in contemplation and in frenzy, as they struggle with transferring what their mind's eye sees onto canvass. These little snippets of film do more to show the artistic process than almost anything else I have ever seen depicted on film. Mick Davis' Modigliani is a movie well worth seeing for both the fine performances of all involved, and for its recreation of one of the most exciting periods of artistic history. Centred on one of the great romantic figures of the time, its impact is increased tenfold.

9/28/2005

The Two Rs: Respect And Responsibility

A common complaint amongst older generations are that the younger ones "ain't got no respect", and "won't face the music". What we seem to forget (that we, includes me) is that they have to learn that behaviour somewhere. While arguments can be made that certain ways of being are genetic, behaviour patterns are something that someone has taught you either directly or through example. Who teaches behaviour depends on the influences in a person's life. Obviously your first teacher is your parent, but realistically after a child goes off to school for the day, how much direct influence does that parent still have? On a good weekday a family will gather for a half-hour to forty-five minutes in the morning around the breakfast table. After school the whole family may sit down for dinner together, and than go their separate ways. Even those are ideal circumstances. There are so many families these days where one parent has to do shift work and is on an opposite schedule from the rest of the family that they are sometimes never seen. If both parents are forced to work, how much time do they actually spend influencing their child directly? Certainly what a child learns in his or her first five years is important, but since our brains continue to develop for many years after that, there are a variety of influences that are beyond direct parental control. Older children at school, teachers, television, movies, and the behaviour of adults outside the home environment all play a part in shaping a person. Parents can have a mitigating influence when it comes to areas like video games, television, and other entertainment devices by explaining the difference between reality and pretend. Those who blame those third party items for what they consider abhorrent behaviour are actually guilty of teaching the behaviour they consider to be the root of all problems: lack of respect and responsibility. The parent who blames video games for their child's misbehaviour is shirking their own responsibilities of monitoring what their child is doing. A video game, no matter how violent, will only influence a child if he or she can't distinguish it from reality. The same goes for movies, television and anything else you want to consider a bad influence. Whose job is it to teach them that if not the parent? Than you compound the problem by not accepting responsibility for your actions. If instead of telling your child those games are horrid and you can't play them anymore, you were to say, I screwed up by not teaching you the difference between them and real life, you've just taught two valuable lessons. Not only do you teach them the difference between videos and life, you have shown them it's okay to admit a mistake, and that it's important to accept your responsibilities. If a parent is continually blaming everything else in the world for not only their child's misbehaviour, but all their misfortunes as well, what kind of example are they setting? Taking responsibility for your actions is not a sign of weakness; in fact it is a sign of strength. It means you have enough faith in yourself that you can overcome a mistake and move on from there. It's amazing how much respect you earn with this type of behaviour. What kind of lesson is someone like Micheal Brown teaching when he goes on the stand and refuses to accept any responsibility for the post Hurricane Katrina foul-ups? Even the Republicans on the house investigating committee are having a hard time swallowing his statements. Maybe he is being made a scapegoat by the government, but he still can't avoid the fact that he was the director of FEMA, whose nominal job is to deal with crises just like this. In blaming everyone from the Mayor of New Orleans to the Department of Homeland Security while refusing to accept even an iota of responsibility he becomes just one more name in a list of public servants over the years who refuse to accept responsibility for their actions. What kinds of lessons are elected officials or government appointees teaching when they show such a lack of respect for their offices that they won't even take responsibility for their job. These are the examples today's young people see all the time. From millionaires committing fraud to politicians not doing their jobs, it's always somebody else's fault. With cases of fraud this is compounded by a flagrant disrespect for the laws of the country. When people like Martha Stewart are hauled off to jail for insider trading, or the folks at Enron cook their books to make themselves appear solvent, what kind of lessons are being taught? Unfortunately this type of behaviour is only the tip of the ice burg. In all walks of life and so many professions children see people lying. Sports stars claiming they're "clean" and than testing positive for steroids, church officials preaching celibacy and morality, than covering up years of child abuse by their priests; it's no wonder young people have no respect these days and no sense of responsibility. When the majority of public figures all seem to be either trying to "get away" with something, or refusing to accept responsibility for their actions, even the parents doing their best to teach their children respect and responsibility are fighting a losing battle. Before blaming anyone for their deficiencies, perhaps we need to look in a mirror?

9/27/2005

Don't Call Me Liberal

I'm the first to admit that my views are tainted by my heritage. My parents were died in the wool socialists. My father was National Secretary of the C. C. F., the forerunner of the New Democratic Party (N. D. P.): Canada's social democratic political party. Yes that would be socialists, not communists however, so lets not confuse the issue, because there's a huge difference. In fact my father and his contemporaries made it their policy in the late fifties to ensure there were no communists in their party. This was just after the public revelations of the excess of Stalinism, and communism was nose-diving in popularity amongst intellectual socialists. Their witch-hunts probably made McCarthy's tame in comparison. Like they say the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree. So for me the idea of government intervention was never the anathema that it is for some others. It's not just because I'm a socialist pinko Canadian that I hold these views, because I believe things that most Canadians don't, like nationalizing insurance companies to regulate an industry that's out of control. For people who don't like the idea of government run health insurance I'm sure that will go over like a ton of bricks. I don't mind when people call me socialist, that's what I am. What gets under my skin though is when people call me a liberal. No I don't mean as in the political party, which is with a capital L anyway, I mean as in the wishy-washy, lets not offend anyone, form of political thinking.
"Once I was young and impulsive/I wore every conceivable pin/Even went to the socialist meetings/Learned all the old union hymns/But I've grown older and wiser/ And that's why I'm turning you in/So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal". Phil Ochs. "Love Me Love Me I'm A Liberal"
How can you spot a liberal, what are their distinguishing features? Well they all "have best friends" who are a minority, but you never see them at their house for dinner. They also support neighbourhood intergration and bussing but not for their kids or their neighbourhood. They think Bill Cosby is the height of radical humour but Chris Rock is dangerous and subversive. A liberal will see nothing wrong with being a member in an "exclusive"club (meaning one that excludes people based on colour, religion etc) because wouldn't they be more comfortable among their own kind? A liberal's idea of being an environmentalist is once a year having a company barbacue to clean up a park, but can't understand what all the fuss is about driving themselves to work downtown in their pickup truck. Liberals think that homelessness is a shame, but will support ordances to have the police routinely sweep the streets to remove those nasty panhandlers. Marajuana is dangerous, but there is nothing wrong with having three martinis when you come home from work, just to relax after a hard day. Liberals watch P. B. S. and read the "Washington Post" or the "New York Times" and make snarky comments about those who don't, because "how else are you going to know what's going on in the world" Liberals don't know much about art, but know what they like, usually what goes with their furniture or Martha Stwert original paint job. A liberal will sit behind the fence of their gated community and tsk tsk about the increased crime rate in the inner cities. "Something must be done about it" "Why doesn't anybody do anything about it"? Than shake their heads and reach for the martini pitcher. Liberals can best be identified by their inability to do anything concrete in the way of social change. Unlike either radical conservatives, or those on the other end of the spectrum, who go out and fight for what they believe in, liberals just don’t have the convictions that provide motivation to do anything. They are ideal citizens who don't rock the boat. They would never dream of demonstrating one way or another for a cause, they may send a donation but that's about it.
"I go to all the Pete Seeger concerts/He sure gets me singing those songs/I'll send all the money you ask for/But don't ask me to come on along/So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal" Phil Ochs. "Love me Love me I'm a Liberal"
Don't get me wrong. I like Pete Seeger, but then I believe in what he's singing about, and don't think of them as just nice songs. If you can salve your conscience by singing a few songs and sending a donation than I feel sorry for you. I know that I'm probably old fasioned and conservative in my views on matters like these, but the whole idea of lumping all of us lefties under the heading of liberals just doesn't sit right with me. Please in future when picking derogatory terms to call me, if you have any respect for my feelings, avoid the use of the "L" word. I'd appreciate it.

9/26/2005

What About The Public In Public Art?

There's nothing like a piece of art being thrown up in a public place to stir up a load of controversy. It gets even more spectacular when the public spot in question has been granted some sort of sacred status. Such a furor has erupted in London England this past week over the placement of a new statue in Trafalgar Square. Lord Nelson has been forced to share squatting rights with another amputee; this time an armless, virtually legless (Alison Lapper was born with extremely stunted legs) naked pregnant woman. For the next eighteen months, at least, the statue of Alison Lapper will gaze across the most famous square in London alongside men of military mien. Now very few people could name the other folk who stand around as repositories of pigeon excrement, (King George 4th, Major General Henry Havelock, and General Charles Napier) but they all seem unified in their opinion that she has no place among such exalted company. It's not even a question of artistic value, it's a matter of that most British of sentiments; knowing ones place. Unlike all the others it seems Ms. Lapper has never sent people into battle to be killed or kill. No one denies her bravery, or that she's overcome horrors: her mother gave her up to an orphanage, but refused to let her be adapted, and she was married to a sadist who wed her only for the pleasures her helplessness offered him. In spite of all this she has raised a son by herself, and has a successful career as an artist. (She grips the brush with her teeth) But do those actions qualify her for national hero status on the scale reserved for icons like Lord Nelson? While the question of her relative merits for inclusion is a minefield, the more general question of art in public places will reverberate long after her likeness has finished its visit with the dignitaries. When competitions are held to select artwork for public places, art work that in most cases will be paid for by taxpayer dollars, maybe some consideration should be given to the public's opinion in before going ahead with a project? What kind of freaking liberal are you? Talking about responsible usage of tax dollars? Your going to have your membership revoked. Yeah well political dogmas don't match up well with artistic expression at the best of times anyway, let alone when the art is going to be for public consumption. So political voices can all back to the other corners of my brain and shut the fuck up! Sorry about that, where was I? Oh yeah public consultation on works of art to be displayed in venues. First of all you have to decide what is the purpose of public art? Huh? Well, is it to educate people about different art forms? Is it to celebrate specific people or moments in history? Is it to provide decoration or ornamentation for open space? Or, finally, is it to make a statement about some important social issue? I don't think that art in the square is the place for people to be educated about different forms and schools of art. That's what we have museums and galleries for. But people never go to them you say, how are we ever going to educate the great unwashed if they're never exposed to "Art"? Well if you take that attitude towards most people they're liable to tell you to shove your "Art" where the Sun doesn't shine. The issue of getting people into museums and galleries is a different kettle of fish altogether. The thing is, people don't want to have education shoved down their throats, whether it's about art, history, or politics. It's attitudes like the former that alienates people even more from the arts, making them even more elitist than they already are. Challenge people's conventions in an art gallery, where they are free to choose whether or not they have to look at a piece. When you plunk something down in a square, designed for public consumption it's important to at least attempt to consider most peoples sensibilities. Publicly funded art in placed in squares and the like is not the venue for experimentation in form, or even content. A major consideration is that the subject matter of any public art has to be put into context of its potential location. What's appropriate for a park setting or fountain might not be complementary to say Capital Hill or Buckingham Palace. Public expectations would not allow an abstract representational sculpture to sit alongside the Lincoln Memorial. The anarchist in me loves the idea of sticking some post modern abstraction in close proximity to the staid realism of historical icons, but the part of me who looks at the bigger, less selfish picture, realizes how self defeating that is. With so few people taking an active interest in the arts, and artistic expression under attack from many directions, the artistic community can't afford to alienate the public by forcing inaccessible art on them. Use these opportunities to show the beauty that can be produced; how art can communicate to everybody, not just a select few. This doesn't necessitate compromise on anybody's part. One only need look at the art that adorns most public squares in European cities to realize that. Statues have stood for centuries, through years of changing styles and taste, and been accepted and enjoyed by successive generations. These artists worked according to the requirements of their patrons and still were able to produce works of incredible beauty and soulful ness. One of the arguments being used to justify Ms. Lapper's representation being placed in Trafalgar Square is that it's bringing the issue of the disabled out into the open. But using publicly funded art for addressing specific issues, no matter how valid it may seem to some, opens a can of worms. The moment social-political issues enter into the picture simple artistic appreciation goes out the window. The issue outweighs the art, defeating the purpose of putting art in public in the first place. One should not make decisions on art from a standpoint of politics and social issues, unless the situation or circumstances make it appropriate. To supplant aesthetic considerations with shock value or socio-political concerns, in my eyes, brings the whole selection process into question. How do we know the best piece of art has been selected, and that the work chosen isn't just the flavour of the month politically? (London art critics have been near universal in their panning of the sculpture of Ms. Lapper) If you are looking to commemorate a person from your country's history, someone whom the people have strong positive feelings about, isn't it a good thing to select a statue that people find indicative of the qualities they admired in that person. People want to see their heroes in the best light possible in order to remind them of what it was that made that person special. Rocket Richard Two statues that come to mind for me are ones of Terry Fox and Rocket Richard, two iconic figures in Canada. In both instances the sculptor has frozen the subject in a pose that reflects a characteristic universally recognised by everybody. For Terry it is mid stride, his face furrowed in concentration as he's swinging his artificial leg forward. In the Rocket's case he is in his familiar crouch, skating forward eternally, eyes boring holes into which ever unfortunate is going to be attempting to stop his progress. Terry Fox Public art is not limited to sculpture. Murals are becoming more and more a part of the contemporary city's landscape, and the architecture of publicly funded buildings such as museums and galleries have to be considered in this category as well. In all instances there have been controversial decisions made that have angered either the public or the artistic community. The worst thing that a selection committee can do is upon selecting a winner, bow to public pressure after the fact and shelve it. Not only has it been a waste of public money, but with that kind of support offered how many artists are going to want to enter in agreement with them in the future. People charged with selecting art for public places have to start including the public in the process. Not only will it give people the feeling that they are involved, but it will generate interest in the project, that otherwise may have been lacking. A brilliant example of how this can work was the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto Ont. They have been rebuilding the venerable institution for decades. For the final piece of the renovations they decided to go public with the decision making process for the winning architect. For each of the five short listed architects they held open presentations, to gauge the public's reactions to each of the options. The Museum staff was overwhelmed by the turnout. So many people wanted to attend that after the first evening people had to reserve places in order to be seated. When the final decision was made, while support wasn't universal, it was more widely approved of than is usual in too many of these instances. The Museum has also seen a huge increase in interest for the facility in general. This seems an ideal model for other institutions to follow. If we are going to have a policy of putting art into public places, doesn't it make sense to include both parts of that equation in the selection process? Shouldn't the public have some say in the matter? By offering people the opportunity to participate in choosing what art is displayed in their community, they will take far more pride and interest in the final result. Isn't that better than disinterest and scorn?

9/25/2005

Review: The Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay

I suppose that if one of your first literary jobs is helping Christopher Tolkien edit his father's work, The Silimarillion it is inevitable your own work bear the master's mark. Which makes it all the more remarkable that Guy Gavriel Kay's The Fionavar Tapestry resemblances to The Lord Of The Rings almost begin and end with the fact that it is a trilogy. Omnibus Fionavar Cover Since the publication of The Fionavar Tapestry the Canadian born Kay has gone on to create a reputation for himself as the writer of unique fantastical histories. Using real epochs in earth's history as a basis for his stories, he creates a parallel to our world, than recreates moments of import as seen through the eyes of both the central players; kings, queens, emperors, generals, and champions and those that serve them; cooks, servants and soldiers. Their vision is what makes his work come alive. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, than we are beholden to each of his characters for our understandings of what passes for beauty in each of his worlds. What is important to the foot soldier, and what is important to the lord of the manor are separated by generations of class distinction, so the picture of life we form is a composite that is far more revealing than normally offered a reader. If this tends to make his work wordier than most, it does not detract from the story. Instead it only increases our appreciation and wonder. Nothing he writes is extraneous, and he deftly weaves each thread together, forming a final complete image that is imprinted in our minds. The three books of The Fionavar Tapestry; The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire, and The Darkest Road were first published in the mid – 1980s and then gathered together in an omnibus form by Harper – Collins in 1995. It seems only appropriate that on the tenth anniversary of that edition, and nearly twenty years since the completion of the trilogy to look back and see how it is withstanding the tests of time. There are some books you re-read because they are easy and allow for a few moments of respite from the day: I call them television reading as they require almost no effort on my part, and allow for simple diversion. However there is a spot on my bookshelf reserved for those books that I simply feel compelled to read on a regular basis. The reasons are as varied as the books but the authors included each have their own attraction. From Rowling to Joyce, Tolkien to Kingsolver they are like old friends whom I can visit with when ever I feel the need. Admittedly, I did not feel that immediate attraction to Kay's Fionavar Tapestry. I had picked up the trilogy for a song one day in a used bookstore and read it through once, finding it enjoyable, but at the time not memorable. A couple of years down the road I was at home, recovering from a stay in the hospital, and was casting about for something to read that would eat up the hours. I spotted my battered box set and remembered, that if nothing else, it would fill time. So for the second time I entered the fantastical world of Fionavar. What had changed in the two years since my previous read I don't know, but now I was enthralled. From the opening sequences on campus at The University of Toronto through to the final chapter of book three, the fortunes of the peoples and their struggles to overcome an ancient evil was captivating. Hey asshole, enough of the sentimental crap and reminiscing, what's the damn thing about anyway? Well I guess I can't put that off any longer can I? The plot? Well, alright here goes. Our world, and many others like it, is a mere shadows of the original world Fionavar the original creation of the Weaver who spins all our lives and who made all the races and gods. In the Kingdom of Brennin the High King Ailell is about to celebrate his fiftieth year on the throne, and his mage Loren Silvercloak and the dwarf Matt Soren have been dispatched to our earth to bring five visitors, one for each decade, to help commemorate the event. As fate, or something else, would have it five friends and acquaintances have converged at a lecture by a reclusive scholar of Celtic antiquities. It just so happens that said scholar is also known as Loren Silvercloak. Kimberly Ford, Kevin Laine, Jennifer Lowell, Dave Martyniuk, and Paul Schafer are enticed by Matt and Loren to accompany them back to their hotel room in the guise of helping the shy scholar escape from academics. The ruse barely holds until they gain the hotel room. During the walk from campus to the hotel, Paul and Matt notice something is trailing them, which causes Matt to briefly leave so he can deal with the problem. Upon gaining the hotel room, Paul forces Loren to reveal his true identity by demanding to know what had followed them. After overcoming their initial disbelief, the five agree to return the following evening to accompany their visitors back to Fionavar. Unfortunately the trip doesn't quite go as planned as Dave gets separated from the rest in transit and nobody knows where he landed. To make matters worse, although Brennin is indeed celebrating the king's fiftieth anniversary, it is a country on the verge of collapse. Drought stricken since the beginning of its growing season it faces the very real danger of famine in the near future if rain is not forthcoming soon. Than there are the internal conflicts of the court: the eldest son to the king is in exile for a mysterious reason and is never to be named, the chancellor appears to be making a power grab, the mages are in conflict with the priestesses of the Goddess over some long ago transgression, and the king is verging on dotage. All of this is just prelude for the mysteries and disasters in store. Each of the five has a destiny to fulfill in Fionavar, and for none of them will the path to fulfillment be easy. Each will have to walk the lonely path of self-discovery on a parallel course with the war that develops between the forces of good and evil in Fionavar. Over a thousand years ago the peoples of Fionavar, human, dwarf, and the lios alfar (beings similar to elves but not quite the same) had banded together to defeat the God Rakoth Maugrim. He was imprisoned under a mountain and chained hand and foot. Each people and country took into their possession a ward stone that would change colour if he so much as attempted to break free, thus guaranteeing his imprisonment. Naturally his escape coincides with our friend's visit. Book one The Summer Tree ends with the five being whisked back to Toronto, including Jennifer who was captured and imprisoned by Rakoth, at the moment all hell breaks loose. Dave had been located hanging out with a plains Indian like people called the Dalrei, where he has not only learned how to fight but captured the attention of a Goddess; Kimberly has transformed into a visionary seer with powers she's just beginning to understand; Paul has become know as the twice born after spending three days and nights hung on the Summer Tree as a voluntary sacrifice in an attempt to call down the rain; Jennifer has been impregnated by the evil God; while Kevin has remained Kevin. When we find them at the beginning of The Wandering Fire they are awaiting a chance to return to Fionavar, which means waiting for Kimberly to find them a means of getting there. But there is somebody from our world that she must bring with them, and she is waiting to dream the right words of command. Throughout the whole tapestry Kay draws upon a variety of earth based mythologies and stories to create the world of Fionavar. Celtic flavours predominate, but Greek influences as well as others pop up in the names of some of the Gods and Goddesses. But in the Wandering Fire he brings to life one of great Romantic heroes of English literature, King Arthur. It is Arthur who Kimberly must collect and bring to Fionavar to fight on their side against the forces of evil. But even she can't foresee what this will result in for her dearest friend Jennifer. For in Jennifer lies the soul of the woman who was once Guinevere, and her meeting with Arthur in Fionavar awakens that long dormant force. Jennifer already has her own burden to bear. Imprisoned, tortured and raped by the evil Rakoth, she was to have been killed. Kimberly's timely rescue prevented that, but has also left her pregnant with the child of the evil God. Although all her friends try to convince her that she should abort, she is resolute in her determination to see the child born. Her logic is that since Rakoth wanted her dead so badly, there is a reason why he doesn't want the child born. On their return to Fionavar they find the world trapped in an endless winter, devised in some manner by their foe. If they are to have any hope in winning this war they must first break the winter's spell, and than discover Rakoth's means of controlling the weather. Book two is taken up with that quest and the opening battle of the war. Of importance is the fact that we lose one major character as a sacrifice to eliminate the snow, and gain a new one who makes life very complicated for Arthur and Guinevere: Lancelot du Lac. The love triangle to end all love triangles is now complete. In order to buy some time Guinevere sends Lancelot off to protect her son. As the child of a God he has physically and mentally grown at a phenomenal rate, but is as emotionally unready for the world as an infant. When he believes Guinevere has rejected him he flees to his father, bearing with him what he hopes will be the gift to win his acceptance, an ancient knife of the dwarfs that has the potential to send the users soul completely out of time. Which is actually the beginning of The Darkest Road, the third book in the trilogy, where of course all comes to an end. The road referred to in the title is not just another way of saying that it's darkest before the dawn, but is in reference to the journey into the self that so many have to take to find their true nature. For Guinevere and Rakoth's son Darien this is a harder trip than what most of us have to deal with. He has gone in search of his father to seek acceptance because he feels rejected by good, when his mother's refuses to help him choose between the two sides. In the end it is that gift of freedom of choice that decides his fate. It has always been within his power to decide who and what he is, and not seek for his identity in the favour of others. Guinevere had been right all along to allow his birth and to give him that gift. For it is by his hand that the evil that is Rakoth is destroyed and sent out of time. Before Darien's birth Rakoth was not tied to the world and existed outside of the cycles of birth and death. But when Darien was born it tied him to existence. The knife that his son gave Rakoth was cursed so that when a person kills with hate in his heart his soul is cast forever out of time. When Darien dies by the knife at the hands of Rakoth he succeeds in ending his threat forever. I have no guilt at all in telling the ending, because you didn't need to be a seer to sense that coming when you started the book. Like so many other books of this type the ending is not as important as how we got there. In The Fionavar Tapestry Guy Gavriel Kay has spun an epic composed of a variety of threads. Themes, characters, humour, pathos, romantic idealism, and stories out of earth's history are interwoven to create a rich and diverse work of fantasy. Good versus evil is a well-worn theme, a path trodden by writers since man first set pen to parchment. For an author the trick than is to find the means to change the scenery, or put new twists in the road, in order to captivate the reader. This is exactly what Kay manages. At times it would appear that he has gone too far in his attempts to add colour, but he has an innate instinct telling him when enough is enough, and we are returned to the action of the plot. His characters may seem at first blush to tend towards the cliché, but as the stories develop so do they, ensuring that we care about what happens to them. Well written and deftly characterized The Fionavar Tapestry has proven enduring enough that it has become one of my must read on a regular basis books. If you are a lover of the fantastical you owe it to yourself to at least read these books once. I must warn you though, there is the danger of them becoming habit forming.

9/24/2005

the Story Of Violence

We live in a world awash with violence. Whether the randomness of the street; drive by shootings and muggings; terrorist attacks in the form of suicide bombers; or one of the many armed conflicts currently underway around the globe. In spite of its pervasiveness the topic only surfaces in terms of a law and order issue. It's nature, implications, and origins are ignored. The religious have no problems taking on the "moral" issues associated with sex; at most political figures can be counted on is that during an election year some will drape themselves with the mantle of law and order blaming their opponents for allowing society to descend into a state of lawless anarchy. But the issue of violence itself, where it comes from, what causes it and who has the potential to enact it, is like the object at the other end of the ten foot pole: nobody wants to touch it. Suddenly, in of all places, the topic is cropping up in the entertainment sections of our newspapers. Thanks to the opening of David Cronenberg's recent History of Violence movie critics across North America, and perhaps around the world, are forcing the issue out into the public eye. Whether you see the movie or not, just reading the reviews might be enough to set your mind spinning down the path of: What could I be capable of given the right circumstances? Before anyone gets hot under the collar, I'm not planning on seeing the movie for a variety of personal reasons, and I'm not about to make assumptions on what the movie is about. I will refer to things people have said in some reviews, and a plot summary as a point of discussion only. The plot for a History of Violence is a small town diner owner kills two men who attempt violence against himself and the patrons of his establishment. The ensuing publicity brings about revelations of his past; that he in fact has a history of violence in the form of once being a thug. While the utilization of those skills from his former life probably saved his and other's lives, and made him an object of idolization, in other instances they would have had lumped among the criminal class. Even in this so-called violent society that we live in (According to Statistics Canada the rate of violent crime in Canada is on a continual decline; while murders and gun play seem to be on the increase actual incidences of violence are less) few of us, hopefully, will ever face a serious violent incident. While the fear of violence may dictate some of our choices, women not walking alone at night, avoiding certain neighbourhoods, etc., most middle class to upper middle class people do not move in circles where violence is an everyday occurrence. The people most exposed to violence are those whose circumstances limit their housing choices to poorer neighbourhoods where violence seems to be most prevalent. As a person on a fixed income (disability pension) I know where of I speak. Domestic disputes, fights on the street, and disagreements at the speed dealer's across the street are fairly common occurrences in my neighbourhood. We have an extra chain on our door, and keep an axe just inside a cupboard door within easy reach. We may make jokes about it with each other, and to our friends, but the fact remains that it sits there, and will remain there, until such time as we move out of these types of neighbourhoods. It is our assurance that we can defend ourselves if the need ever arises. Violence begets violence is how the saying goes, and there is a large amount of validity to that statement. I've always considered myself a pacifist, but I have what can be considered the means of inflicting violence on people at my disposal, which I know I would not hesitate to use. The fact that I'm forced to even consider using a weapon is disturbing, that I have no choice in the matter is only slightly mitigating. Violence has long been humankind's means of resolving problems. Whether a dispute between two countries or a personal dispute between two individuals, one side, usually the bigger, is always willing to "put up the dukes" to settle the issue. Whoever said violence doesn't solve anything sure got the wrong end of the stick on that one. The reality is, one way or another, violence settles everything. Perhaps what they meant was that violence doesn't settle things in a fair and equitable manner. That would be closer to the point, because unless the little guy manages to sneak in a low blow or come up behind the big one with a brick and stove his head in, he'll usually end up losing. No matter what some people may think, might does not make right, (if it did than every asshole who broke into your house has the "right" because he has the "might") and it's far too often the party in the right is the one on the receiving end of the thrashing. In the case of History of Violence it appears that our perceptions of violence are being put to the test. Are the character's actions in the first reel less heroic because he has a history of violence? Why? Is it because he no longer fits into our definition of the little guy standing up to the big guy? His intent, no matter what his history was the same; to protect himself and his customers from a threat. What would our reactions be like if Viggo Mortensen's character had been a veteran of combat instead of the underworld? Each situation trains a person for the effective use of violence in situations where it is called for. The former is violence that society condones, under the impression it is being utilized for the common good, while the latter is condemned because it is used against society. However, what would we think if he were a veteran of an army that fought against "us" in a war? His skills were honed fighting and killing our fellow citizens the same as a criminal. Would that change our opinion of him or would we offer him the same respect as someone who fought for "us"? We are highly adept at putting violence into a context that makes it more comfortable to deal with. "Good" violence is me bashing someone's skull in with an axe if they break into my home. "Bad" violence is me getting my head bashed in by someone breaking into my home. The differences involved are obviously the intent behind the action, but that still doesn't make the actions themselves different. Each resulted in a head being smashed in. We all have the potential to commit acts of violence. It’s our choices of how and when to use it that seems to be an important distinction in the eyes of society. In Roger Eberts's review of History Of Violence he quotes David Cronenberg's explanation of the three layers of meaning in the title of the film. A character with a history of violence, the history of violence as a means of conflict resolution, and the innate violence implied in the Darwinian theory of evolution, the strongest wins out. Cronenberg is implying, I think, that violence is part and parcel of the process that brought all species to the point that they are at now. If not for that capability we wouldn't have survived. To be able to compete for limited resources against other species we needed to resort to violence. As we have "civilized" the need for violence in everyday life has diminished for most of us. Food, water and shelter are no longer matters involving a life and death struggle. Now the competition revolves around other less essential matters. Material wealth, philosophies of living, and abstract concepts motivate the majority of violence today. That's not a judgement, that's a statement. I guess in one way this could be looked on as a continuation of the survival of the fittest theory. The philosophy with the biggest army wins and all others lose, thus we all evolve into one homogeneous species that think and believe the same. Well that eliminates the latter two motivations for violence but we still have the problem of competing for a limited amount of wealth. Since that competition is the birthplace of so many different philosophies and abstract concepts we would eventually find ourselves back to fighting each other again. Hmm maybe they were right about violence not solving anything in the long run? Am I chasing my tail and running around in circles on this one? Anybody who thinks there is an easy answer to the question of violence is fooling themselves. Blaming it on the media, television and movies is just avoiding the issue. It wouldn't be there if there wasn't the market for it. Violence is still an ingrained behaviour in humans that people have to be willing to unlearn. Look how easy it is for any leader anywhere to whip his or her people into a violent frenzy. Look what happens in times of crises anywhere in the world. Given the right circumstances who knows what each of us are capable of doing, whether we like it or not. It would be too easy to say that competition causes violence, but competition does not necessitate its use. What appears to cause violence are those things we are lead to believe are important. When we enter into competition around those items is when violence occurs. It triggers something in us on an instinctual level, an emotional response. Why do you think politicians play on people's fears, or utilize emotion evocative phraseology as explanations for their actions? There will have to be a huge change in the way we think and react before violence is not so prevalent in our society. There is no such thing as a cure for violence, or a proper response to it. Social workers and the like can do all the studies they want on how environment and living conditions contribute to it, but until human's no longer feel the need to fight for survival on some level or another violence won't disappear. If a so called pacifist like me keeps an axe in his cupboard and will gladly bash someone's skull in or bust their knee caps if they break into apartment as a means of survival, I'd say there's a way to go until we achieve that goal.

the Story Of Violence

We live in a world awash with violence. Whether the randomness of the street; drive by shootings and muggings; terrorist attacks in the form of suicide bombers; or one of the many armed conflicts currently underway around the globe. In spite of its pervasiveness the topic only surfaces in terms of a law and order issue. It's nature, implications, and origins are ignored. The religious have no problems taking on the "moral" issues associated with sex; at most political figures can be counted on is that during an election year some will drape themselves with the mantle of law and order blaming their opponents for allowing society to descend into a state of lawless anarchy. But the issue of violence itself, where it comes from, what causes it and who has the potential to enact it, is like the object at the other end of the ten foot pole: nobody wants to touch it. Suddenly, in of all places, the topic is cropping up in the entertainment sections of our newspapers. Thanks to the opening of David Cronenberg's recent History of Violence movie critics across North America, and perhaps around the world, are forcing the issue out into the public eye. Whether you see the movie or not, just reading the reviews might be enough to set your mind spinning down the path of: What could I be capable of given the right circumstances? Before anyone gets hot under the collar, I'm not planning on seeing the movie for a variety of personal reasons, and I'm not about to make assumptions on what the movie is about. I will refer to things people have said in some reviews, and a plot summary as a point of discussion only. The plot for a History of Violence is a small town diner owner kills two men who attempt violence against himself and the patrons of his establishment. The ensuing publicity brings about revelations of his past; that he in fact has a history of violence in the form of once being a thug. While the utilization of those skills from his former life probably saved his and other's lives, and made him an object of idolization, in other instances they would have had lumped among the criminal class. Even in this so-called violent society that we live in (According to Statistics Canada the rate of violent crime in Canada is on a continual decline; while murders and gun play seem to be on the increase actual incidences of violence are less) few of us, hopefully, will ever face a serious violent incident. While the fear of violence may dictate some of our choices, women not walking alone at night, avoiding certain neighbourhoods, etc., most middle class to upper middle class people do not move in circles where violence is an everyday occurrence. The people most exposed to violence are those whose circumstances limit their housing choices to poorer neighbourhoods where violence seems to be most prevalent. As a person on a fixed income (disability pension) I know where of I speak. Domestic disputes, fights on the street, and disagreements at the speed dealer's across the street are fairly common occurrences in my neighbourhood. We have an extra chain on our door, and keep an axe just inside a cupboard door within easy reach. We may make jokes about it with each other, and to our friends, but the fact remains that it sits there, and will remain there, until such time as we move out of these types of neighbourhoods. It is our assurance that we can defend ourselves if the need ever arises. Violence begets violence is how the saying goes, and there is a large amount of validity to that statement. I've always considered myself a pacifist, but I have what can be considered the means of inflicting violence on people at my disposal, which I know I would not hesitate to use. The fact that I'm forced to even consider using a weapon is disturbing, that I have no choice in the matter is only slightly mitigating. Violence has long been humankind's means of resolving problems. Whether a dispute between two countries or a personal dispute between two individuals, one side, usually the bigger, is always willing to "put up the dukes" to settle the issue. Whoever said violence doesn't solve anything sure got the wrong end of the stick on that one. The reality is, one way or another, violence settles everything. Perhaps what they meant was that violence doesn't settle things in a fair and equitable manner. That would be closer to the point, because unless the little guy manages to sneak in a low blow or come up behind the big one with a brick and stove his head in, he'll usually end up losing. No matter what some people may think, might does not make right, (if it did than every asshole who broke into your house has the "right" because he has the "might") and it's far too often the party in the right is the one on the receiving end of the thrashing. In the case of History of Violence it appears that our perceptions of violence are being put to the test. Are the character's actions in the first reel less heroic because he has a history of violence? Why? Is it because he no longer fits into our definition of the little guy standing up to the big guy? His intent, no matter what his history was the same; to protect himself and his customers from a threat. What would our reactions be like if Viggo Mortensen's character had been a veteran of combat instead of the underworld? Each situation trains a person for the effective use of violence in situations where it is called for. The former is violence that society condones, under the impression it is being utilized for the common good, while the latter is condemned because it is used against society. However, what would we think if he were a veteran of an army that fought against "us" in a war? His skills were honed fighting and killing our fellow citizens the same as a criminal. Would that change our opinion of him or would we offer him the same respect as someone who fought for "us"? We are highly adept at putting violence into a context that makes it more comfortable to deal with. "Good" violence is me bashing someone's skull in with an axe if they break into my home. "Bad" violence is me getting my head bashed in by someone breaking into my home. The differences involved are obviously the intent behind the action, but that still doesn't make the actions themselves different. Each resulted in a head being smashed in. We all have the potential to commit acts of violence. It’s our choices of how and when to use it that seems to be an important distinction in the eyes of society. In Roger Eberts's review of History Of Violence he quotes David Cronenberg's explanation of the three layers of meaning in the title of the film. A character with a history of violence, the history of violence as a means of conflict resolution, and the innate violence implied in the Darwinian theory of evolution, the strongest wins out. Cronenberg is implying, I think, that violence is part and parcel of the process that brought all species to the point that they are at now. If not for that capability we wouldn't have survived. To be able to compete for limited resources against other species we needed to resort to violence. As we have "civilized" the need for violence in everyday life has diminished for most of us. Food, water and shelter are no longer matters involving a life and death struggle. Now the competition revolves around other less essential matters. Material wealth, philosophies of living, and abstract concepts motivate the majority of violence today. That's not a judgement, that's a statement. I guess in one way this could be looked on as a continuation of the survival of the fittest theory. The philosophy with the biggest army wins and all others lose, thus we all evolve into one homogeneous species that think and believe the same. Well that eliminates the latter two motivations for violence but we still have the problem of competing for a limited amount of wealth. Since that competition is the birthplace of so many different philosophies and abstract concepts we would eventually find ourselves back to fighting each other again. Hmm maybe they were right about violence not solving anything in the long run? Am I chasing my tail and running around in circles on this one? Anybody who thinks there is an easy answer to the question of violence is fooling themselves. Blaming it on the media, television and movies is just avoiding the issue. It wouldn't be there if there wasn't the market for it. Violence is still an ingrained behaviour in humans that people have to be willing to unlearn. Look how easy it is for any leader anywhere to whip his or her people into a violent frenzy. Look what happens in times of crises anywhere in the world. Given the right circumstances who knows what each of us are capable of doing, whether we like it or not. It would be too easy to say that competition causes violence, but competition does not necessitate its use. What appears to cause violence are those things we are lead to believe are important. When we enter into competition around those items is when violence occurs. It triggers something in us on an instinctual level, an emotional response. Why do you think politicians play on people's fears, or utilize emotion evocative phraseology as explanations for their actions? There will have to be a huge change in the way we think and react before violence is not so prevalent in our society. There is no such thing as a cure for violence, or a proper response to it. Social workers and the like can do all the studies they want on how environment and living conditions contribute to it, but until human's no longer feel the need to fight for survival on some level or another violence won't disappear. If a so called pacifist like me keeps an axe in his cupboard and will gladly bash someone's skull in or bust their knee caps if they break into apartment as a means of survival, I'd say there's a way to go until we achieve that goal.

the Story Of Violence

We live in a world awash with violence. Whether the randomness of the street; drive by shootings and muggings; terrorist attacks in the form of suicide bombers; or one of the many armed conflicts currently underway around the globe. In spite of its pervasiveness the topic only surfaces in terms of a law and order issue. It's nature, implications, and origins are ignored. The religious have no problems taking on the "moral" issues associated with sex; at most political figures can be counted on is that during an election year some will drape themselves with the mantle of law and order blaming their opponents for allowing society to descend into a state of lawless anarchy. But the issue of violence itself, where it comes from, what causes it and who has the potential to enact it, is like the object at the other end of the ten foot pole: nobody wants to touch it. Suddenly, in of all places, the topic is cropping up in the entertainment sections of our newspapers. Thanks to the opening of David Cronenberg's recent History of Violence movie critics across North America, and perhaps around the world, are forcing the issue out into the public eye. Whether you see the movie or not, just reading the reviews might be enough to set your mind spinning down the path of: What could I be capable of given the right circumstances? Before anyone gets hot under the collar, I'm not planning on seeing the movie for a variety of personal reasons, and I'm not about to make assumptions on what the movie is about. I will refer to things people have said in some reviews, and a plot summary as a point of discussion only. The plot for a History of Violence is a small town diner owner kills two men who attempt violence against himself and the patrons of his establishment. The ensuing publicity brings about revelations of his past; that he in fact has a history of violence in the form of once being a thug. While the utilization of those skills from his former life probably saved his and other's lives, and made him an object of idolization, in other instances they would have had lumped among the criminal class. Even in this so-called violent society that we live in (According to Statistics Canada the rate of violent crime in Canada is on a continual decline; while murders and gun play seem to be on the increase actual incidences of violence are less) few of us, hopefully, will ever face a serious violent incident. While the fear of violence may dictate some of our choices, women not walking alone at night, avoiding certain neighbourhoods, etc., most middle class to upper middle class people do not move in circles where violence is an everyday occurrence. The people most exposed to violence are those whose circumstances limit their housing choices to poorer neighbourhoods where violence seems to be most prevalent. As a person on a fixed income (disability pension) I know where of I speak. Domestic disputes, fights on the street, and disagreements at the speed dealer's across the street are fairly common occurrences in my neighbourhood. We have an extra chain on our door, and keep an axe just inside a cupboard door within easy reach. We may make jokes about it with each other, and to our friends, but the fact remains that it sits there, and will remain there, until such time as we move out of these types of neighbourhoods. It is our assurance that we can defend ourselves if the need ever arises. Violence begets violence is how the saying goes, and there is a large amount of validity to that statement. I've always considered myself a pacifist, but I have what can be considered the means of inflicting violence on people at my disposal, which I know I would not hesitate to use. The fact that I'm forced to even consider using a weapon is disturbing, that I have no choice in the matter is only slightly mitigating. Violence has long been humankind's means of resolving problems. Whether a dispute between two countries or a personal dispute between two individuals, one side, usually the bigger, is always willing to "put up the dukes" to settle the issue. Whoever said violence doesn't solve anything sure got the wrong end of the stick on that one. The reality is, one way or another, violence settles everything. Perhaps what they meant was that violence doesn't settle things in a fair and equitable manner. That would be closer to the point, because unless the little guy manages to sneak in a low blow or come up behind the big one with a brick and stove his head in, he'll usually end up losing. No matter what some people may think, might does not make right, (if it did than every asshole who broke into your house has the "right" because he has the "might") and it's far too often the party in the right is the one on the receiving end of the thrashing. In the case of History of Violence it appears that our perceptions of violence are being put to the test. Are the character's actions in the first reel less heroic because he has a history of violence? Why? Is it because he no longer fits into our definition of the little guy standing up to the big guy? His intent, no matter what his history was the same; to protect himself and his customers from a threat. What would our reactions be like if Viggo Mortensen's character had been a veteran of combat instead of the underworld? Each situation trains a person for the effective use of violence in situations where it is called for. The former is violence that society condones, under the impression it is being utilized for the common good, while the latter is condemned because it is used against society. However, what would we think if he were a veteran of an army that fought against "us" in a war? His skills were honed fighting and killing our fellow citizens the same as a criminal. Would that change our opinion of him or would we offer him the same respect as someone who fought for "us"? We are highly adept at putting violence into a context that makes it more comfortable to deal with. "Good" violence is me bashing someone's skull in with an axe if they break into my home. "Bad" violence is me getting my head bashed in by someone breaking into my home. The differences involved are obviously the intent behind the action, but that still doesn't make the actions themselves different. Each resulted in a head being smashed in. We all have the potential to commit acts of violence. It’s our choices of how and when to use it that seems to be an important distinction in the eyes of society. In Roger Eberts's review of History Of Violence he quotes David Cronenberg's explanation of the three layers of meaning in the title of the film. A character with a history of violence, the history of violence as a means of conflict resolution, and the innate violence implied in the Darwinian theory of evolution, the strongest wins out. Cronenberg is implying, I think, that violence is part and parcel of the process that brought all species to the point that they are at now. If not for that capability we wouldn't have survived. To be able to compete for limited resources against other species we needed to resort to violence. As we have "civilized" the need for violence in everyday life has diminished for most of us. Food, water and shelter are no longer matters involving a life and death struggle. Now the competition revolves around other less essential matters. Material wealth, philosophies of living, and abstract concepts motivate the majority of violence today. That's not a judgement, that's a statement. I guess in one way this could be looked on as a continuation of the survival of the fittest theory. The philosophy with the biggest army wins and all others lose, thus we all evolve into one homogeneous species that think and believe the same. Well that eliminates the latter two motivations for violence but we still have the problem of competing for a limited amount of wealth. Since that competition is the birthplace of so many different philosophies and abstract concepts we would eventually find ourselves back to fighting each other again. Hmm maybe they were right about violence not solving anything in the long run? Am I chasing my tail and running around in circles on this one? Anybody who thinks there is an easy answer to the question of violence is fooling themselves. Blaming it on the media, television and movies is just avoiding the issue. It wouldn't be there if there wasn't the market for it. Violence is still an ingrained behaviour in humans that people have to be willing to unlearn. Look how easy it is for any leader anywhere to whip his or her people into a violent frenzy. Look what happens in times of crises anywhere in the world. Given the right circumstances who knows what each of us are capable of doing, whether we like it or not. It would be too easy to say that competition causes violence, but competition does not necessitate its use. What appears to cause violence are those things we are lead to believe are important. When we enter into competition around those items is when violence occurs. It triggers something in us on an instinctual level, an emotional response. Why do you think politicians play on people's fears, or utilize emotion evocative phraseology as explanations for their actions? There will have to be a huge change in the way we think and react before violence is not so prevalent in our society. There is no such thing as a cure for violence, or a proper response to it. Social workers and the like can do all the studies they want on how environment and living conditions contribute to it, but until human's no longer feel the need to fight for survival on some level or another violence won't disappear. If a so called pacifist like me keeps an axe in his cupboard and will gladly bash someone's skull in or bust their knee caps if they break into apartment as a means of survival, I'd say there's a way to go until we achieve that goal.

9/23/2005

Insurance: Playing The Odds

One of the greatest forms of gambling available to all citizens is insurance. You pay out money to insure that in the event of some misfortune happening to either you or your loved ones that you will receive some sort of pay off. Of course as in any game of chance the rules are stacked in favour of the house. As any patron of a casino could tell you percentages are such that the house is bound to win. They don't even have to resort to trickery to ensure their victory. All they have to do is count on the gullibility of the player; their eternal belief they are only one more hand away from the big pay off has earned casinos many a million.. Insurance companies only have to count on people not reading the fine print of their contracts to reap the benefits of years of premium payments without ever having to pay out. Take for example the instance cited by Heather Mallick in her column last Saturday. Homeowners in New Orleans who thought they would be getting payouts after the devastation of Katrina are in for a rude awakening if they didn't have flood insurance. You may have had hurricane insurance but since your house was damaged by the post hurricane floodwaters, oh well, the house wins try again latter. Even if you were one of the lucky ones who had flood insurance, you're not going to be seeing any money soon. Before any Insurance company is going to release any money they're has to be a decision reached on what caused the flood? In other words can someone be held to blame thus letting the companies off the hook, or at least letting them find someone to sue so as they can recoup any losses due to payouts. I've always loved the commercials that insurance companies run on television. Talk about playing on people's fears. The sincere concerned voice with its earnest entreaties to protect your family in the event of some horrendous catastrophe. "Are you protected?" "What will become of them?" Heaping on the motivational guilt still further by showing you pictures of wife and 2.5 children huddled together with blank, grief stricken faces. You notice how many insurance companies run ads during football games? They know that men are usually spending that time alone separate from their families and have had a couple drinks. What a perfect time to play on sentimentality and guilt. There's nothing more susceptible than a half in the bag guilt ridden man. I wonder how many insurance policies are sold at half time between trips to the fridge for more beer and the can for a piss? Why else would you be placing bets on your own survival? It's really sort of twisted when you think about it. The insurance companies try to make you believe that all sorts of horrendous things could happen to you, thus encouraging you to fork out a chunk of money each month. However the more likely it is of you actually suffering an accident, the less likely they are to insure you, or the more money they are going to charge you. Like the most sophisticated bookies they have their odds makers, but they call them actuaries. It's the actuary's job to figure out the percentages and give the over and under for each game, sorry I mean case. For example: a homeowner in New York City takes out fire/theft/damage insurance on their residence. Somewhere there will be written down the odds of that house being hit by a hurricane or a tornado, being robbed or being burnt down. Those odds will also factor in the neighbourhood the house is located in, its age, and what amenities the house contains. If you have an alarm system, do you have a wood stove, is the heating gas, electric or oil. These are all factors that are considered to arrive at your final premium. Of course the more insurance you purchase the higher the premium. Other variables would include whether on not you chose to go for market value of your item or replacement value. The one being what a similar item would cost the other being what it would cost to replace that exact item. With the latter being usually more expensive, replacement value premiums are invariably higher. My own experiences with insurance companies have born out my suspicions that they are extremely reluctant to pay up. It was the one time I had a job that came with employee benefits, including sick leave. I was forced to take some time off work, about a month, to recover from knee surgery. I was misguided enough to believe that the insurance was supposed to be for the period when I was off sick. I received the benefits two months after returning to work. People wonder why I'm a supporter of social programs like health care and welfare. Well it's because of instances like this. Those who most desperately need the insurance supplied by private insurers are also those who cannot afford to wait the two to three months that it takes those same companies to process your claim. What good is it for someone with no financial resources to be faced with months of no income based on the vague promise that they will receive 60% of their salary in the near future? What are they supposed to do in the interim? I know what I had to do. The same thing that I would have done without a benefit program: applied for temporary welfare to carry me through until I was able to get back to work. Aside from the problems with even receiving the payouts there is also the matter of the fine print:
" We all suffer from insurance, one of the so-called "picky" industries, which matured, as humorist Alan Coren once wrote, in 1623 when Josiah Smallprint invented the phrase, to be inserted in all policies, "always provided that a pig flew past at the time the accident occurred." Heather Mallick. "Toronto Globe and Mail" Sat. September 17th 2005
Instances that are cited by Ms. Mallick in her article of items that would void one accidental death insurance policy that was offered to her include some of the following: ingestion of poison purposely or otherwise (what does otherwise mean), taking any non – prescription medication including vitamins and dietary supplements, and receiving dental care or having surgery. I can only guess that some actuary somewhere figured out that people who get their teeth cleaned at the dentists office on a regular basis are a high risk group for dropping dead at the spur of the moment. Perhaps it’s the stress involved with going to the dentist every six months, or the fact that you have to leave the house and your chances of being killed in a traffic accident are increased proportionately. Who knows? In any event those restrictions, and any others companies are liable to throw up as impediments to pay outs, make insurance companies wealthy and the majority of us look like suckers. They scare you into thinking the worst, you could die, your home and property could be destroyed, and you and your family could be left bereft; convince us that they will provide peace of mind in the event of such a calamity, than do their best to resist a payout when you most need it. It sometimes seems that the odds are so long on getting a return on your bets with insurance companies that you might as well save up your premiums and a make a yearly trip to Las Vegas and lay them all on black at the roulette table. At least than you'll be betting on yourself to win, not lose, and your odds of getting a pay out are fifty-fifty. Sounds better than anything I've seen offered by the insurance companies.

9/22/2005

Review: Larry Coryell, Badi Assad, and John Abercrombie: The Paris Concert

Have you ever had your expectations totally stood on their head? Anticipating a recording or a concert will take you in one direction, and from its first instance it careens off into an area you couldn't have dreamt of. This was my experience with the new D. V. D. recording of Three Guitars: Larry Coryell, Badi Assad, and John Abercrombie The Paris Concert. mgjch_threeguitars_138 The names Larry Coryell and John Abercrombie are synonymous with Jazz fusion guitar for the past thirty odd years. With those two names on the masthead it is fair to assume that you're in store for phenomenal guitar playing. But the inclusion of Badi Assad, an unknown quantity for me, resulted in a performance of the likes I could not have anticipated. The guitar playing was superlative, with all three proving their virtuosity on many an occasion, but Assad was unlike any performer I have ever seen before. While her guitar playing is significant, her vocal gymnastics and percussion proficiency stole the spotlight from her more famous band mates. I may not have heard of her before this concert, but I will never forget her now. It was only the second song into the performance that I got my first inkling that I was about to see something special. On "Metamorphosis" Assad began showed how the human voice can be used as a percussion instrument. With a series of trills, clicks and sounds she set up an amazing accompaniment to the guitar work of Coryell and Abercrombie. Blowing into a tin whistle set on a stand she created a sound collage that became a lead instrument carrying the motif established by the guitars to places I didn't think possible. It was only the beginning. Two songs later, "Descending Grace", she placed her guitar aside and turned herself into a percussion orchestra. Starting with a complicated series of handclaps, she gradually began to incorporate more and more of her body into the rhythm. Her upper chest, finger snaps, her cheeks, her throat, and her thighs were all surfaces used to generate sound and beat. Words on the page seem inadequate to describe the impact of her performance. Many people use these types of techniques, but I have never seen anyone manage to create the sounds and texture that she was able to generate through them. Through out the concert she would take the simple and commonplace and make it miraculous. Even the usually boring (to my ears anyway) thumb drum (wooden box with flexible medal strands plucked by the fingers to generate sound) came alive in her hands. Given her ability to use her voice for percussion it was no surprise that her singing abilities were superb. Whether a straight-ahead song in her native Portuguese such as "Insensatez" or improvised scat to Coryell's "No Flight Tonight" Assad's voice was passionate and sensual. On their final encore, "Corcovado", her voice lifted her out of her chair to start moving with the music, as she became caught up in its passion and power. Ironically it was only during her breaks that I remembered who were supposed to be the featured performers on this disc. "Soundtrack" and "Blues" found Coryell and Abercrombie on stage alone together and served as reminders as why they have been considered the seminal guitar players of their generation. On the former Abercrombie carried the bulk of the lead work while Coryell turned his guitar into a bass, providing a strong support for John's feather light finger work. Impassive to the point of seeming almost not involved, Abercrombie's runs were like rain drops of music falling onto parched soil. Never a deluge threatening to overwhelm the listener, they epitomize the philosophy of less is more. One beautifully played note has more emotional impact than twenty compressed into the same time. It's the sign of a mature player who has confidence in his abilities that they are satisfied with doing their best for the music, rather than the concert being about them. When Abercrombie plays he is the messenger for the music, making sure that what the music needs to say is communicated to the audience. There were times when watching Larry Coryell in this concert that I forgot he was playing a guitar. The sounds were nothing like that I have ever heard to come out of any other guitar before. Notes of such beauty that they would make you almost stop breathing would be followed by dazzling burst of speed that would send your pulse racing. It was Jazz guitar, as I have never heard before in my life. Fast, certainly, but anyone can be fast; it was the utilization of years of technique combined with an ear geared towards finding the emotional core of each and every note. There is nothing cool and calculated about the playing of Larry Coryell, more like a controlled burn: a fire break set to ensure that flames don't run wild. Three Guitars: Larry Coryell, Badi Assad, and John Abercrombie, The Paris Concert is one of the finest music D. V. D's I have ever seen. Not only are the performances superb, but also the camera work and the sound quality never leave you feeling short changed. Buy this and be amazed.

9/21/2005

Arlo Guthrie's City of New Orleans Benefit

Christmas On The City Of New Orleans with Arlo Guthrie and Friends: Bringing Back The Music – Benefiting The Victims of Katrina Dec.7th – Dec.17th 2005

"Good Morning America how are you?/ I'm the train they call the City of New Orleans/ I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done." Steve Goodman.
City Of New Orleans Arlo Guthrie made the song "City of New Orleans" famous, and now he's taking another ride on that venerable institution to help revive the city that has given so much music to America. Arlo is putting together a two-week trip following the route taken by the old train in an attempt to gather equipment for all the clubs and venues that were swamped in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
When I think of New Orleans, I think of music. The City of New Orleans is America's first music city. New Orleans is the city that truly began America's contribution to the history of music worldwide. Without it, there'd be no popular music, as we know it today. When I wonder what they might need in New Orleans to get back on their feet, the stuff that gets ruined under water, I think of all the sound boards, the cables, the lighting, the microphones, the instruments; I think of the stuff you need in the hundreds of little clubs and bars that bring the music to the street - the street that brings the people to the city. And I think of the many thousands of people who depend on those people for their livelihood. Arlo Guthrie 2005
Christmas on The City of New Orleans with Arlo Guthrie and Friends: Bringing Back The Music – Benefiting The Victims of Katrina will depart Chicago Ill. on December 7th and arrive in New Orleans on December 17th. Along the way they will stop in depots and performance venues, play concerts to raise money, and collect or purchase equipment. The initial reactions to the tour have been very positive, with artists and industry folk expressing interest in participating. Full details on artists and benefit locations will be announced in early October. Equipment that they hope to deliver ranges from microphones and cable, to mixing boards and lighting gear: pretty much anything you can think of that's needed to perform live music that doesn't mix well with water will be welcomed.
Will you help me bring the music back? Working together with our friends…we can help deliver the stuff that helps make New Orleans sing its own uniquely American song. I'm going ...Arlo Guthrie
This benefit addresses an essential part of the lifeblood of New Orleans that might otherwise be overlooked in the rebuilding process. With most Insurance policies not covering incidental flood damage caused by the Hurricane, countless small venues will be hard pressed to re equip in the coming months. These are the places where the music of America was born. It's only fitting that the music industry, artists and manufacturers help give them something back. Buy a ticket for Christmas On The City of New Orleans and help keep the music alive. For more information contact: Rising Son Records, 10741 US Highway 1, Sebastian, FL 32958 at train2NO@risingson.com.

9/20/2005

Sensitive New Age Guy

It's just not happening tonight. We were supposed to be focusing on connecting with our star guides, and Star Kissed Warrior isn't responding with his usual speed (that will happen sometimes with the more temperamental guides, especially if anybody around you is sending out any negative vibes. I just knew that the blonde haired surfer type, who had joined the group three weeks ago but already the women were gaga over him, was setting up some self cherishing revelation of the type that really pisses Star Kissed Warrior off. It was causing all sorts of negativity within the harmonics of the space-time communication framework) Then whammo. One second there was nothing, I might have well been staring at the back of my eyes for, the next there's a Voice! I almost opened my eyes to see who was talking to me it was so clear and conversational. He didn't sound like any of the others I'd thought I heard, who have usually sounded a lot like me, but having far more interesting stuff to say than I would any day of the week. Nope he sort of soundes like that guy who used to read the news for one of the big T. V. stations a while ago: fatherly and trustworthy. I was so stunned that I didn't hear anything of what he said for the first few seconds, and so got him to repeat it. "Excuse me, you'd think if we go to all this trouble to contact you people the least you could do would be to pay attention." He sounded a little put out. "Sorry about that, but you sort of surprised me, I wasn't prepared for anything." "Not prepared. What have you been doing here for the last six months, besides scoping out the red head's cleavage? Oh yeah I've seen what you've been doing when everyone else's eyes are shut." That was really unfair. It had only been once, when reception was really bad, and anyway just cause I'm a new age sensitive type guy doesn't mean I can't appreciate a good rack when I see it. Besides, Star Wings cleavage is sometimes the brightest thing in another wise depressing week. "Alright, there's no need to get all defensive, just because I'm ethereal doesn't mean I'm dead, and before you ask, yes I can read your mind. Don't worry its usually so boring I don't bother, unless it's pertinent to the conversation." Usually? How long has this guy been…? "Hanging around? Oh I started checking you out your second week here. I try and peek in on everyone their first week or so here to see if they have potential." "Potential for what?" I'm a little confused, not to mention a little freaked. O.K. so this is what I had come here for, to try and commune with some spirit types (as well as a chance to spend more time with a certain red head's accessories) but to be honest I wasn't quite sure that this guy was what was supposed to happen. For one thing he was a little too…well he sounds just like everybody else, not anything mystical or special or what was described in any of the books. Hell he hadn't even mentioned dolphins or Atlantis yet. Weren't they all supposed to talk about that shit? "What did you expect you fuckwit (He was beginning to sound a lot less like a newscaster and more like a shock jock) robes and chimes and other faggey nonsense? Damn you haven't been reading those books have you? I thought with the way you've been drooling over Ms. Mystic Brick Shit House over there you wouldn't have bought into any of that crap." "Hey what do I know? It's what everybody's told me to prepare for, I can't help it if you're not what your supposed to be." This is starting to piss me off. Can't he tell how genuine my commitment is? I'm wearing enough semi precious gemstone jewellery (one different coloured piece to correspond to each chakra colour, and four more representing the colours of my aura as shown in my own genuine Polaroid aura photo taken by an official representative of the "Auras Are For "U" Corporation (A. A. F. U. C.) at twenty dollars a pop) that I could set up my own pawnshop; I have my own personal, certified mantra from Downloadable Ultra Magnificent Mantras.com; (D. U. M. M.) and if that isn'tenough for him, why I even had paid out the three hundred dollars to buy my own personal guardian angel from Guardian Angels Granted. (G. A. G.) "Well goody for you. You want a mantra; I'll give you one for free. Dumb fuck! Repeat that twenty times a day while hyperventilating and you may get a clearer picture of yourself. At least if you're passed out you won't be able to act like an idiot." Well, I don't need this kind of shit. So I go to break the connection. "Not so fast, dung for brains. It took me three weeks to break through to your so-called "inner self" and you're not getting rid of me that easily. You new agers are all alike; desperate to make contact with other beings, but the moment its not all sweetness and light on gossamer wings you get all offended. What did you really expect to find out in the Universe, a bunch of fairies?" "Speaking of which, who was it that came up with the notion that the fae, or the sidhe were a bunch of sweet little winged creatures? What stories have you guys been reading anyway? There's not a bunch of fouler soul suckers anywhere than those guys. It's not personal or anything, but that's who they are. You should hear them once they get a couple of pints of mead into them and start talking about those cute little pictures. It would make your blood run cold." I 'm starting to get a bad feeling about this. This guy sounds like he had some serious issues that he needs to deal with. At least attuning his chakras to a different energy field, because he's completely caught up in negativity. I ever so tactfully, of course, point this out to him. "Negativity. Why ever would you think that? I'm not negative I'm pissed. God damn it I though there might be some hope for you considing that you at least had some normal emotions like lust and envy happening in the that thing you call a brain, but I'm beginning to wonder now. Negativity, don't make me laugh, cause I may start crying and you won't like that." O. K. I'm confused. None of this jibes with anything I've read in any books. Wasn't everybody who'd gone to the light supposed to be beautiful and ethereal? Isn't the point of all this to get beyond human emotions? You know, "Don't Worry, Be Happy" and all that good stuff. "What would be the point of being human if you didn't feel anything?" was his reply to that. Well I know there are a million answers, but off the top of my head I can't quite come up with any. It's all tied up with transcendence and going beyond and some other such stuff. Anyway what did he know about life in the twentieth century, the stress, and noise. He was probably some king or something where he came from without a worry or care in the world. "You know I've never met an age more self-centred than this one. Even the Victorian British with all their up tightness were able to get their heads around the idea that it wasn't only the high and mighty who crossed over. Why is it whenever any of you people now-a-days claim to have past life experiences or channel anybody it's always someone important. If everyone who claimed to have been Cleo in their past lives really was, she would have set a record for MPD." "How can you be so vain as to even think that any of them would even trouble themselves with peasants like you people. They'd be bored to fucking tears in a second." "Let me tell you about my soft and glorious life. I was the high and exalted excrement receptacle, and flue pipe cleaner. Due to the smallness of my stature I was able to crawl up and clean almost right to the seat of any of the exalted butt holes that were present in my lord's manor. Even in those days the rich didn't like to be reminded that they smelt as bad as the rest of us." Well, nothings prepared me for this. I guess it's not something they're going to go around advertising; channelling a janitor, no matter what age he's from, just doesn't have the marketing appeal of a star being from the Pleiades. How many books would someone sell titled The Teachings Of Joe: Revelations From The Bottom Of A Toilet? "Probably nobody" replied the voice in my head. "What I really don't get is why are you people all so hot to trot for this shit anyway? What are you looking for when you sit around in your circle jerks? What do you want form us dead folk and aliens?" "Well, you know, information and stuff. Any messages or clues about the divine plan that will make us better people, you know, stuff like that." Silence. Maybe we've lost the connection. Maybe he's gone, good. But no he's back. "What's with all you post industrial age people? You're always looking for short cuts or quick fixes. Putting in the work required to obtain enlightenment doesn't seem to have crossed your minds as something you should have to do. It doesn't seem to matter to you that some gurus spent lifetimes attempting to achieve Brahmin status. You deserve the knowledge served up on a silver platter because…well why exactly should you be given instant insight when so many others have sat in prayer for hundreds of years?" Well that was easy, didn't everyone know people like us were the last best hope of the world. If it wasn't for people like us, spreading our positive energy and beaming pure white light and love into the universe, think of how fucked we'd really be. We're fighting the good fight here and all we want is a little help in saving the universe; is that asking too much? "Oooh! Well that's a different story all together. Saving the universe. How could I have missed that? Here I was thinking it was just a bunch of self serving nonsense designed to make people feel self-important and it's nothing of the kind. I feel awful." "Guess what? The universe was getting along fine without you folk for millions of years before you decided to try life out of the trees, or even on dry land. Hell no one would have noticed if you had remained amoeba sitting in tidal pools mindlessly reproducing. Hmm sort of like what you do now." "What's with this fixation with the light anyway? Are you all so eager to die that you can't wait? You want to learn anything you've got to go into the dark, and be honest enough to look what's inside you and deal with it; otherwise you're never going to find "happiness". Do you even know what happiness is? Well of course I do. Just because he's been dead for Goddess knows how many years this guy's got the nerve to come here and lecture. Hell, what does he know anyway, he was just a janitor? What's happiness? Hah!!! That's easy. Happiness is peace of mind. " O. K. Einstein, what's peace of mind?" Well, this was getting silly, but I really didn't have much choice so I played along. Peace of mind is not having any worries. "Oh so we're back to don't worry be happy again?" That's not what I said. Now he's really starting to piss me off. Twisting my words around like that so it sounded like I didn't know what I was talking about. He doesn't know what's it like to live with poverty, pollution, wars and terrorism. How much stress that causes. "No all we had to worry about was finding food, shitty living conditions, being conscripted into armies to get run over by knights, occasional out breaks of Black Death, not that any of that mattered as we were usually dead by twenty so didn't have time to get worried about too much." "Look at what you people have that we couldn't even dream of. I'm not talking about material goods or shit like that but the important stuff. Personal freedom, free time, medical care that doesn't involve bleeding out the bad spirits, justice based on laws not superstition, and yet you have to be the most dissatisfied ungrateful bunch I've ever come across" "The constant complaining, and ensuing finger pointing fills the universe with so much white noise that its giving us all a migraine. It might be all right if you kept it to yourself, but no you've got to broadcast via satellite so everybody has to listen. One of these days someone's going to snap and it's going to rain down cheese to go with your whine. Something really stinky too: I think Zeus and Hiawatha were looking into how much Limburger they could get together and see if they could take out every capital city in the world." Now there's no doubt about it, I'm pissed. He's making it sound like we lived in a paradise, couldn't he see all the problems in the world? "Then do something about it, don't just sit on your fat asses complaining or waiting for someone else to come along and solve all your problems. How many more people do you need to come down there and give you some pointers? Moses, Jesus, Confucius, Tao, Buddha; crap the list is endless and you still haven't gotten it yet. "You've either ignored them or taken their words to control people. You've been getting all these D. I. Y. manuals for millennia but you haven't learned how to read yet. Or that's the way it looks from up here anyway. I'm not saying humans were any better in my day, but I'd have hoped there be some sort of learning curve happening." "People like you New Agers come along and pick up bits and pieces of everything under the sun, trying to find something that will help you shirk responsibility even more. You sit cross-legged in circles suppressing all normal human emotions and think that's going to entice somebody to come down and solve all your problems for you with some amazing revelation or message." " Well here's the message: Do It Yourself, nobody else is going to do it for your. It doesn't matter how many "Ys" you spell womyn with, who's faith your ripping off today, or how many rocks you wear around your neck. (Or are in your head for that matter) What does matter is you begin to accept who you are and work with what you got." He's just finished that bit of rant, and I realize I'm hearing my name being called; I'm going to ask him who's calling, when I realize he's gone. Before I can feel any relief at his absence, the name-calling became more persistent. I finally realize that it was from outside of my head. I've gotten so wrapped up in this guy that I've forgotten where I am. When I open my eyes, everybody's looking at me with interest. Looking across the circle I see a look of concern on Star Wings face, something I've never seen before. If I play this right…maybe the night won't have been a total waste. Way off in the distance I hear a voice laughing.