11/30/2005

Twenty-Five Years Later: Thinking About John Lennon

I don't normally hold onto mementoes of events; no scrapbooks of the moon landings from when I was a kid, not even my own newspaper clippings from when I used to act clutter up my shelf space. But I've held on to the front section of "The Globe and Mail" newspaper from one particular day now for almost twenty-five years. Tuesday December 9th 1980 and the headline read: John Lennon shot dead in N.Y. They had picked up the American Press (A.P.) feed because the story had broken so late. It's not much more than a straight reportage of the facts surrounding the event, the flat details of John's life, and the fact that he was survived by a son from his first marriage, as well as his current wife Yoko Ono and a five-year-old son named Sean.
Periodically,/I pause to think about the world./Not something tossed off casually with slogans or platitudes,/just trying to keep track./Gauge against some standard,/(whose)/How are we doing?/ Richard Marcus "Thinking About John Lennon" Steps To Maturity 1994 p37
Of all the articles and photos and stuff that came out during the month afterwards, in all the magazines, newspapers, special issues etc., this is the only thing that I've held onto. It's survived countless moves, a flood that destroyed all my books and records, and a variety of hard hearted cleanings which have seen the throwing out of countless other objects clung to because of sentiment. Yesterday I was over at my drugstore picking up a prescription and I idled away the time while waiting by looking through their magazine rack. What caught my eye was a huge glossy commemorative issue that "Life Magazine" has published in honour of the twenty-fifth anniversary of Lennon's death.
As I walk through neighbourhoods,/separated from lives by windows;/traces of sounds,/figures grouped around flickering blue light,/sipping and talking,/laughter and candle light./All echo in my head./ Ibid
I casually leafed through it and looked at the photos and read what the people who had taken the photos had to say about John or the Beatles and when they called my name to tell me my prescription was ready, I just stuffed it back on the shelf. The photos were nice and the book was well put together, but I had no desire to buy it. I realized something latter; why it was that I had no interest in those things that are being passed off as memories of John. It's because they aren't memories of John, they're memories of people's association with fame. Look, these articles and pictures seem to say, I knew John and was intimate with him. See, there I am posing with the Beatles, John took that picture.
Down these early evening darkening twilight avenues,/thoughts pile on top of each other./Bricks without mortar laying foundations for what I'm not sure./ Ibid.
I feel cheated when I read this stuff. I don't care about these people who I've never heard of. Even if their name rings a bell they shouldn't be more important than the subject they are covering. It ends up that the "People Magazine" mentality of personal fame being more important than anything else subverts any emotional impact that the author may think they are imparting. Pity the person who might be interested in finding out why this guy John Lennon was so important to people. He was just a pop musician for God's sake. He didn't save anyone's life by discovering a cure for an illness; the stuff he wrote will never be considered great literature; and he wasn't the most exemplary of human beings either.
The drunk teens staggering to their party,/the trees and the birds,/the arrogant cars tooting their masculinity,/and me./We all fit as pieces into the same awkward puzzle./ Ibid
He abandoned his first wife and child for another woman. His second wife threw him out for eighteen months because he was an asshole, he spent that time drinking and being even more of a jerk. It appears only self-interest that saved him and brought him crawling back to his second wife. So why the idolatry, why the iconic status given to this man when there have been so many pop musicians? What made John Lennon transcend the teenybopper pinup image that defined the Beatles early career and rocketed them to fame?

Lives continue as if all is normal/evening strolls for inspiration,/parties and T.V./We've fallen so far,/can we get back what we've lost?/How can we smile in the face of what's happened?/ ibid p.37-38

John was the times he lived through. He not only wrote and performed the soundtrack for the times he was in the public eye he exemplified them and defined new territory. In the early sixties when all was still John F. Kennedy optimism and idealism he epitomized the fresh face and energy of the post World War Two (Baby Boomers) generation. He was slightly cheeky, a little irreverent with his hair, but unlike the Mick Jagger and the boys from the Rolling Stones, he and the Beatles were still boys a girl's parents wouldn't mind if they brought home to tea. There were no dark overtones to their music in those early days, they sang about holding hands for gosh sakes, and whose going to feel threatened by that.

There was a time when I didn't read obits./Now it's always the same;/no age, no children, no cause of death, sometimes no family./Sorely missed…/Thanks to loving care…/Loving companion to…/Donations to…/How can we say the corner is being turned when we keep walking in a circle?/Yet on we go marching like white rats towards our cheese and electric shocks Ibid
When the 1960's peaked in 1967 the Beatles were leading the way with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. They were also turning away from public performances, and leaving the mainstream behind. They were the ones who led the way in the "discovery" of India and Eastern thought in the sixties, opening the floodgates that have since developed into the thriving New Age business. (John was also one of the first to reject it as not for him) The innocence died at about the same time the Beatles packed it in. The Rolling Stones concert at Altamont speedway in 1969 became the anti-Woodstock that marked the final descent into disillusionment that started with the killings of Martin Luther King Jr. and then Bobby Kennedy. The Chicago Riots at the Democratic Convention is 1968 followed by Richard Nixon's election as President of the Untied States had sounded the death knell, and when the Beatles split it was official. The party was over.
Leather and short hair were an easy game to play/convenient nihilism offered "X"ers the label to differentiate from boomers/ All that's left is the dregs of soulless behaviour,/coffee and ash from a long dead party./Where are we now?/Transitory phases mark the place for a beginning/or a continuation./ ibid.p.39
John started the seventies in bed for peace with his new wife Yoko Ono, but he had been the pop star for too long and had never grown up. The man who had written, "Women is the Nigger of the World" it turns out was the same as every other man. But long before it became fashionable for the famous to check into detox centres, look into their hearts, or whatever their court orders stipulate, John Lennon decided he wanted to be a human being not a celebrity. He vanished from the public eye for five years, spent the time raising his new son and being a househusband while leaving Yoko to run their business affairs. They had just released a new album, Double Fantasy, and were returning from a recording session for material for another, when he arrived home just before midnight on the eighth of December and was killed.
I'll keep imagining,/dreaming,/and speaking pie in the sky/and hope someone is listening./ ibid
Part of his iconic status was that he was so human, that he made mistakes. Unlike Paul, George, or Ringo, John was abrasive and difficult. Unlike so many others the choices he made weren't based on career or image; they may not have always been good or wise ones, but they were always real. He genuinely didn't seem to care what we thought of him, whether that's true or not only he knew and he took that knowledge to the grave. He was the smart Beatle, the one who always had the witty comment, the quick one liner. But he was also the one who said they were more important than Christ, which didn't seem so smart. Maybe it shouldn't have been said, because of how it sounded, but the fact remains that for a time the Beatles were a bigger part of most people's lives than anything else. When John Lennon died it was more than just one person dieing. A piece of anyone who had lived through the time of his career died. His death marked the end of any chance of the Beatles ever performing together again. It was the final death of an innocence that people could cling to as the world became increasingly more complicated and dangerous. What these commemorative pieces miss is that it wasn't the man's fame that was important; it might not have even been the man himself that mattered. What mattered most of all was the importance we had attached to him in our minds and hearts. He was our potential for change and our link to an idealized past in one package. Unlike any public figure before, during, or since him no one has come close to representing the era they lived through in the same manner. He was the right man in the right time, and his death marked the end of that time.

11/29/2005

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

There is always a certain amount of trepidation when going to see movies based on dearly beloved books. The Harry Potter franchise has been no different. The first two movies while good were both mildly disappointing. It wasn't until Chris Columbus could be pried out of the director's chair with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban that the series realized its potential for cinematic representation. While the first two movies were enjoyable enough they lacked the emotional impact of the books to have any staying power. One only had to compare them to Peter Jackson's adaptation of the Lord of the Rings to see their shortcomings. The Harry Potter books have fast achieved the same iconic status of Professor Tolkien's work and merited far better treatment than received by the first two books. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire looked to be an almost impossible task to bring to the screen. A myriad of plot lines and twists and turns that would need to be addressed; a vast array of characters, and the descent of the wizard world into the darkness of Lord Voldemort's return. Would the new director, Mike Newell, and the script writer Steve Kloves be able to find a way to adapt this massive book as successfully as Alberto Cuaron did with Prisoner of Azkaban? The answer in my mind is an almost unequivocal yes. Wisely choosing to streamline the plot and eliminate characters where able, Newell and Kloves bring the two important themes of The Triwizard Cup and the return of Lord Voldemort into sharp focus. From the opening dream sequence through to the end of the movie we are carried along on Harry's emotional whirlwind. Like Harry we can only react to whatever new obstacle is thrown into our path and hope for the best. Whether it’s the terror of facing a dragon or almost every young males nightmare of asking a girl you like out for the first time (those scenes were far too real for my emotional memory, talk about cringe moments from my own past) we are walking with Harry. Although all the previous movies have of course been about Harry, this one seems to be far more isolated to his perspective. When his best friend Ron temporarily deserts him, and the rest of the school has turned against him save for Hermione, the loneliness is palatable. By tracking Harry's movements through a crowd of students the filmmakers are able to convey his shunning with a few quick scenes. That scene exemplifies the economy the filmmakers have used throughout the movie. Taking full advantage of the expressive nature of the media Mike Newell is able to compress what would be pages of writing into a few moments on screen and not cheat the viewer of their emotional power. This enables him to devote the majority of the screen time to the moments that truly drive the story. With movies like Into The West under his belt where he worked with children, Mike Newell has a proven track record of eliciting performances from young actors. While both Rupert Grint and Dan Radcliffe turn in their expected performances as Ron and Harry respectively, it's Emma Watson as Hermoine Granger who seems to have benefited the most from him. This has to be her best performance to date in the series, as she shows an emotional range and depth far beyond what one would expect from an actor of her age. Watch her crumble in the scene at the end of the Yule Ball after she has yelled at the boys. Why can't her friends be happy for her? Why if Ron didn't want to go with her is he ruining her night? Why does she care what Ron even thinks? Emma may not be expressing each of those thoughts, but they are there for us to read if we want. Aside from all the usual stalwarts the cast has a couple of new additions. The three most notable new characters are of course Alastor 'MadEye' Moody played by Brendan Gleason, Rita Skeeter by Miranda Richardson, and Lord Voldemort finally brought to life by Ralph Fiennes. Fiennes is completely unrecognizable as the Dark Lord and almost has too much fun being the personification of evil. He only just manages to pull himself back from going right over the top. What really saves his performance is his magnificent use of body language; taking full advantage of his robes and long limbs he swoops magnificently through the frame like some horrible marriage of a bat and a snake. Combined with his casual use of violence against Harry he ends up being bone chillingly perfect. The character of Rita Skeeter, yellow journalism personified, is another role that an actor with less restraint would end up chewing the scenery beyond repair. Miranda Richardson never crosses the line. Dripping insincerity she oozes her way across the screen and into our hearts as the person we most love to hate in the movie. But it's Brendan Gleason as Alastor 'MadEye' Moody who almost steals the movie. From his entrance to his final moments on screen he dominates every scene that he's in. While other actors may have relied on the physical enhancements of the character; facial scars, magic false eye, and artificial leg, to carry their performance, Mr. Gleason creates a full character. (Spoiler alert for the next paragraph) What is truly astounding is that not only does he create a wonderful Moody he also manages to convey the conflicting motivations of a man doing something for ulterior reasons. Without telling us, or even giving broad hints, those of us who already know that he isn't really Moody can see the clues subtlety on display. While everything he does can be justified as something Moody would do, they also have the double meaning of fulfilling the impostor's aims. I always judge a movie by its residual effect. How long does it stay with me? Once I have gotten over the impact of the overwhelming sensations of being in a movie theatre does the film itself have the resonance to be more than an afternoon's entertainment? I went to see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on Sunday and it is now Tuesday morning when I'm writing the review. It has taken me this long to order my thoughts about the movie to something resembling cohesive. While there were some flaws; the characters of Fleur Delacour and Victor Krum were not developed very well, and there were not enough breathing spaces to quite properly absorb the action, it lives up to the standard set by The Prisoner of Askaban. This is a marvellous adaptation of what looked like being a book that would be almost impossible to turn into a film. It captured the spirit of the world Joanne Rowling created, and brought it to life in a visually stunning manner. Let's hope as the series progresses that this standard is maintained; Harry deserves it.

11/28/2005

How Fair Is The Kyoto Accord?

They're meeting in Montreal Quebec, Canada for the next few days to discuss the Kyoto accord on climate control. I'm not about to get into the whole issue about global warming, except to say unless you want to be barbecued by the sun in the next twenty years you should think about doing something about it. What caught my eye was the list of countries that have not signed on. The fact that the U.S. hasn't signed shouldn't surprise anyone; Midwest coal and an oil company president (To be honest I'm surprised Canada did with our oil and mining industries, but than we always want to look clean on the international stage even it is only a pretence) virtually preclude them signing until the last lump of coal is fired or the last barrel of oil is extracted. No the two names that stuck out like accusatory fingers were India and China. The two biggest and fastest growing economies in the world and they haven't signed on to the climate control agreement. Obviously that's a worry because they are also the two most heavily populated countries in the world, which means they have more people potentially capable of producing green house gases. However before we start jumping up and down in fits of environmental self-righteousness a little perspective is in order. The first thing we have to consider is what the leading contributor to green house gases is, and the second is to look at the situation from their point of view. You know walk a mile in somebody else's footwear. Have you seen many pictures of down town Beijing or Calcutta, or any of the big cities in Mainland China or India? The most striking thing is the lack of personal vehicles with more than two wheels and a one-person power engine. What is the biggest single contributor to carbon dioxide emissions? The automobile. There is nothing like a hot humid summer's day in a big North American city during the onset of morning rush hour to give you an idea of how bad it can be. The city doesn't even have to be that big. I remember working in Toronto Ontario 14 years ago in the heart of downtown. My job started a little earlier than the rest of the world so I would get to watch them follow me in from where ever they started. We would go up on the roof of the building to have a smoke and a coffee as the rush hour traffic started to accumulate on the expressways and watch as the western sky along the horizon line turned brown. As the sun rose in the east it would illuminate the fumes rising from the exhaust pipes of the bumper-to-bumper crawling traffic. Nothing like a slow idling engine for spewing out noxious gases. By noon of course you couldn't see the smudge anymore, it was now dissipated over the whole city. My mother still lives in Toronto; she lives right in the heart of the city in fact. She loves the big city; the art galleries, the symphony, the opera and the museums; that's her world. However I was talking to her this past summer on the phone and she was wondering about living there. She said it was so bad, that walking down the street a block could almost make her sick to her stomach the exhaust fumes were so bad.. Southern Ontario had one of its worst summers for smog warnings this past year. Our first air quality warning came as earl as April, and this was followed during the worst of the heat waves with twenty-three days in a row of air quality alerts. In my small city of 116,000 they anticipated 60 deaths due to air quality. We have no heavy industry but we are down wind of Toronto and are one of the most humid cities in Canada; a sure fire combination for bad air. So when I see a picture of a massive city like Beijing with the majority of people still pedaling their way to work I don't get quite the massive worry about how much greenhouse gas they are contributing to our atmosphere. I'm sure that will change in the future. Economic prosperity leads to the desire for symbols of status, and nothing says status like a car. India is already experiencing that with Mumabi already reporting over three hundred new car licence requests on a monthly basis. Given the state of the infrastructure, with old roads not designed for the automobile, they may soon start experiencing the same sort of gridlock that we do. That's what we need to be planning for, that day in the not so distant future when they begin to reap the rewards of their economic prowess in terms of material rewards. This is where we need to start looking at the world from their point of view: a point of view that has been shaped by years of being treated as an inferior. For far too many years both China and India were subservient to other masters. Both gained their independence in the first half of the twentieth century. China went the direction of becoming a closed country, retreating behind the veil of communism and pretty much relegating its people to a feudal status. India on the other hand was the recipient of plenty of foreign investment, companies that would take advantage of cheap labour, and a desperate people to get the best deals possible. India's wake up call came when a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal leaked toxic gases into the environment. In typical foreign ownership behaviour they fought tooth and nail against giving any significant compensation to the people of the surrounding area. Just as both countries, India and China, are finally starting to build their industries and look like they actually maybe challenging the more established countries, they are being told that they can't act like we did. We're changing the rules of the game so they don't have the same advantages our economies did when they took giant leaps forward in the post war boom period. It must look pretty hypocritical for a lot of the developing world to be lectured on being environmentally sensitive after being raped for so many years by these same countries. Oh fine they must be thinking, it was okay for you to do what was ever necessary to get your economies up and running, but not for us. Well sorry if we don't like that idea, we need to put all our money into getting businesses started not worry about anything else. If, on top of this, they see that the United States hasn't signed on, the world' biggest economy and the one everyone has to compete against, then they figure why should they, and how can they. Without extra money coming in from somewhere they know they'll never be able to compete if they have to do things for climate control that American companies don't. Its hard to convince a people who are desperate to pull themselves out of poverty, I'm not talking about just India and China here, that they have to spend even more money they don't have on anti emission devices, filters, and alternative fuels when none of our economies were so restricted in the beginning. If we are serious about combating global warming, than we have to endeavour to assure the developing world of assistance in achieving the goals established by the Kyoto accord. We helped put them in the hole they started in; the least we could do is help them climb out without poisoning themselves.

11/27/2005

Canadian Election Forecast: "Meet The New Boss Same As The Old Boss"

For the first time in twenty-five years Canadians will be facing a winter election. With last week's motion of Non-Confidence introduced by the Conservative party likely to receive enough opposition support when it comes to a vote Monday evening, the governing Liberal party will be forced to call an election. (Due to the nature of Canada's political system of winning seats from ridings, or electoral districts, a party can end up winning the most seats, but not have a majority in the House of Commons. They can be defeated in two ways: either a bill that is considered a confidence issue like a budget is voted down or an opposition party introduces a motion of Non-Confidence that is subsequently passed) Following traditional procedure Prime Minister Paul Martin will thus go to the residence of Governor-General Jean Michelle Tuesday morning and request permission to dissolve the current government and call an election. The earliest a vote may be held is 36 days from dissolution, which would make January 9th, 2006 the first possible day for a vote. Since the parties seem to have called a truce from campaigning over the holiday week, they will tack an extra week on and hold the election on Monday January 15th. (All federal elections have to be on a Monday. The only reason I can figure is that this way in the weird event it falls in the first week of November there won't be a conflict with results from an American election day.) The last federal election we had in wintertime was in February of 1980. This was the year that saw the dramatic rise from the ashes of defeat by Pierre Trudeau. After losing to Joe Clark in the previous election it looked like his political future was in doubt, but he came back and led to liberals to a resounding victory in the subsequent election. That election literally changed the face of Canada as it resulted in the repatriation of our constitution and the implementation of the Charter of Rights And Freedoms, which has been so instrumental in overturning laws and enshrining rights. But today we don't have any leader with any sort of vision of Canada. They all just seem to float from issue to issue as political expedience requires. One of the reasons the Liberal party has been ruling since that election is that nobody has provided an alternative that a majority of Canadians are comfortable with. The separatist Bloc Quebecois doesn't run candidates outside of Quebec, the New Democratic Party (N.D.P.) are considered too radical, and the Conservative Party of Canada thought too reactionary. That leaves the Liberal party as the only ones enough people are comfortable with to vote for in significant numbers to have a chance at forming a government. Even now when they are in the midst of recovering from one of the most damaging political scandals in Canadian history, illegally funnelling money into their own coffers from a series of kickbacks during the 1995 independence referendum in Quebec, they are still maintaining a lead in the polls as we head into the election. Even one of their staunchest detractors, Conservative Premier Ralph Klein of Alberta, has publicly said he believes we will have another Liberal minority government. So what are the issues heading into the campaign? There are the usual big ones; health care, social programs, aboriginal rights, and housing. In spite of what Bono thinks, most Canadian don't really care about his opinion of our politicians. When we have over a million children living in poverty ourselves and don't do anything about it, did he really expect our government to spend money on foreign aid? Perhaps military spending will be an issue, which should make our American allies happy. For the first time in a long time the government is realizing that you really should pay a volunteer army enough money so that the rank and file don't have to rely on food banks to eat, and that maybe they should be equipped with stuff that doesn't carry the moniker of "widow maker" Although any increases won't affect our commitment ability, it will allow our troops to be properly equipped and funded. Don't expect anything original from anybody on any of the issues. The Liberals will try to make it appear that they have been doing things about all the major issues, whether or not they have. The Conservative Party will say they are spending too much money and say the only way to do things is by cutting taxes and let everything else take care of itself. The N.D.P. will say that not enough money is being spent on the right things and argue that Canada needs to invest in itself not a few wealthy people. The Bloc Quebecois, trying to win more seats in Quebec, will demean the Liberals every step of the way. Since issues aren't going to be an issue in this election, when are they any more anyway, what will they be talking about out on the campaign trail? The Conservatives have shown that they are going to go to any lengths to raise questions about the Liberals moral authority to govern. Already they have used the protection of the house to accuse the Liberals of having ties to organized crime based on what happened during the sponsorship scandal. (Anything you say in the House of Commons cannot be used against you in a court of law, no matter how libellous) This has prompted the Liberals to both demand an apology and issue a lawyer's letter of warning. If the Conservatives so much as hint to a connection between the Liberals and organized crime on the campaign trail or in public they will find themselves in court. Not that it matters now, because the accusations have been publicized across Canada already. For their part the Liberals will be playing up the fear factor to the fullest. There are too many Conservative party caucus members and new candidates who are social conservatives for the liking of too many Canadians. While the anti-gay, pro life, Christian, family values talk may play well in some smaller constituencies, in the areas where the Conservatives need to make gains it goes over like a lead balloon. Even those ethnic minorities that may share some of the same views can be scared off by the Conservative's virulent anti-immigration policies. While the Liberals don't operate what you'd call an open door policy by any stretch of the imagination, the Tories would most likely slam it shut in the face of most refugees and "those looking to take jobs away from Canadians". That kind of talk isn't conducive to overcoming the impression that the Liberal's are the party of the immigrant. The Conservatives may try to make an issue out of Canada's recent cooling of relations with the current American administration. They will probably cite the softwood lumber dispute as a sample of the results of Liberal policies concerning issues important to the Americans. The fact that one has nothing to do with the other and the former issue predates the current government will have little bearing on the matter. But if they play this card they will have to be very careful, Canadians are feeling very sensitive about he issue of national identity these days. Paul Martin vacillated over the issue of the missile defence system for that very reason. He didn't want to be seen as kowtowing to the American President if Canadians weren't in favour of the program. As polls began to show that most opposed it, he backed out. Jean Chretien got lambasted in the conservative press in Canada for refusing to join the American invasion of Iraq, but the majority of Canadians opposed the idea and he received wide spread popular support for the decision. The leader of the Conservative Party, Steven Harper, is already viewed as being a little too cosy with the America government in the parts of Canada where he needs to win seats. A lot of people were suspicious of his private meeting with President Bush a while ago in Washington. What would an opposition leader be doing meeting with the President of a foreign country? He doesn't go to any other countries and get invited to meet the leadership because he doesn't represent Canada. The last American Presidential election made it clear that most Canadians don't agree with the current administration's policies, and Mr. Harper may want to keep that in mind before he wraps himself in the Stars and Stripes. The Liberals have spent their last couple of weeks in office pushing through tax cuts, signing agreements on Day Care with provinces, and hosting an inter provincial meeting on Native rights and conditions. In other words playing Santa with a bag full of pre election goodies. Since most of this was stuff they've been planning all along, if the opposition accuses them of "bribing" the electorate, they can respond by saying we knew you were going to shut down the House, so we wanted to pass as much as possible, and if you disagreed so much why didn't you vote against it and call an election earlier? Unless something happens on the scale of one of the leaders being found in bed with an animal or a dead human, I can't see the results of this election being all that much different than the last. The Bloc Quebecois may gain a seat or two, and perhaps the N.D.P. will win a couple more if the Liberal and Conservatives split the vote enough in a couple of ridings in Ontario and British Columbia. Even if the Conservatives some how manage to reverse the position of the first two parties, their chances of being able to govern are slim. Unless they are bigger whores for power than I thought, I can't see them forming an alliance with the Bloc.Quebecois that their caucus could stomach for more than a week. The real fun will begin after the election; that's when the knives will come out and the jockeying will start to happen to encourage leadership reviews in both Liberals and the Conservatives. Neither Steven Harper of the Conservatives or Paul Martins of the Liberals could garner a majority after two elections and that's usually the limit a party gives its leaders. Which probably means we can look forward to another election around this time next year. The only good thing about so many elections is that it keeps the politicians from doing any real harm. As long as they're campaigning, they're not doing anything to mess up our lives. That's a plus.

11/26/2005

NaNoWriMo Notes: Final Thoughts

Saturday November 26, 2005. 3:58 am. Word count: 71,063 Yesterday afternoon marked the first official day of being able to register one's winning word count with the folk at NaNoWriMo. After carefully transferring all existing chapter documents into one massive .txt file as required I hit the upload button. Even though I knew I was well beyond the 50,000-word mark there was still the usual trepidations: what if my software is some sort of bugged version that counted every word six times? Could I survive the disappointment of seeing my assumed winning entry be relegated to "sorry not done status"? Of course those were needless worries, as after my computer chatted with their server for what seemed an endless time (probably all of thirty seconds) up popped the winner's page. I'm now officially a proud finisher of the 2005 National Novel Writing Month competition. For my troubles I receive a lovely printable certificate, a couple of Icons that I can proudly display on my blog site, and the supposed happy feeling associated with a job well done. 2005_nanowrimo_winner Well as the man says that and a quarter will get you a phone call. As of yesterday there were nine pages of wining authors already posted on the official NaNoWriMo site, some with word counts over 100,000. It's hard to feel unique when you see that many people already registered within the first two hours of the verification program being initiated. Sure I'm supposed to be filled with a feeling of self-satisfaction and the knowledge that I completed what I set out to do, but in reality what have I done? I have 71,000 words of a first draft of a novel of who knows what quality. I feel like I'm just starting something, not finishing. Way back at the beginning of the process I was all excited about the prospect of writing 50,000 words. I knew it wouldn't be enough to be called a novel but it felt like it would be enough that I would be able to see the end of the road. Instead I find myself, at best slightly over half done a first draft that will need serious editing and rewriting before I would even dream of submitting it to a publisher. 2005_nanowrimo_winner_icon Does that sound a little self-pitying? Yeah well I guess it does but I had hopped to feel a little more excited about reaching this point. Perhaps because I had hit the 50,000-word mark so early this day was anti-climatic and it's just a natural let down. But what did I expect? Did I actually think I would feel like a different person because I had done this? Maybe that's it; I had supposed some magic wand would wave wondrously over my head marking me with the sign of the novelist once I had passed the finish line. There would be some sort of distinctive glow about me that would cause people to say: "Look at him he wrote 50,000 words in a month, he's a real writer". Or if not other people at least I would feel that way. But I still feel like the same person. Than again what's a "real" writer supposed to feel like? Maybe I already "feel" like one. I preoccupy with words, I worry about how to best say something in print, I get withdrawal symptoms if I can't sit at my laptop twice a day and write, I plan every day around my writing schedule, and I resent any and everything that gets in my way. I fall asleep thinking about when I need to wake up the next morning so that I can at least get something done, even if it's just a few hundred words in the morning. I wake up wondering if I'm going to feel well enough to accomplish what I'd like to today. I negotiate deals with the housework, promising the dishes I'll clean them after I've finished this paragraph. In short, now that I think about it, my whole life revolves around a little grey box about 20 inches by 20 inches in size that allows me to do this thing called writing. But since I was pretty much doing that before the beginning of November anyway, perhaps the reason I don't feel any different, was there was nothing left for me to change into? Somewhere else along the way, without me noticing it, I had made the transformation from whatever it was I had been before to being a writer. Could it be that it was always latent within me, and I'm just now stepping out of the closet and saying look at me I'm a writer? (Do we get a parade: march down the street wearing rejection notices yelling slogans like: "Fight For The Right To Write")2005_nanowrimo_winner_iconB Getting hung up on the whole mystique of being a "novelist" is the problem. Somehow I've confused being a novelist and being a writer. A novelist is only one type of writer, although it has a certain cachet to it that other writing may lack, it shouldn't preclude other forms of literary expression (I foresee problems with the parade: will the novelists march with the poets, and the poets with the journalists, and what about those weird hybrids known as bloggers. It could get messy) from being considered writing. It's like when I used to be an actor. I spent my whole career working with pretty much one company, so very few people outside of school children would have seen me on stage. Invariably when people would ask what you did, and you would reply actor, their first question would be: "Would I have seen you in anything?" As if that's what would validate you in their minds. Is it only the arts that have that problem? Does anyone ever ask a dentist or a lawyer a similar type of question? Oh whose mouths have you done? Have I seen you on courtroom television? But people have no problems asking writers what books they've published, painters where their work is displayed, actors what movies they've done, and so on. In other words I should have known better than to fall into that trap, but I obviously did, not respecting others or myself for the work we did because it wasn't the almighty novel. The fact that I, or anybody else for that matter, write at all is pretty darn special. It's not what you write, it's that you write that should matter, but I let that slip away from me in the allure of working on "The Novel" So where does that leave me at the end of a month of pounding away at a keyboard and a little bit of soul searching? That no matter what happens with this thing that I began on November 1st I am still a writer. I didn't feel any different on November 25th because I wasn't any different. What I write doesn't change who I am or what I do. Yes it would be great to have this work turn out to be something that a publisher will decide to set loose upon the world. To be able to call myself a novelist as well as a writer would be wonderful, and I cannot deny that has always been my goal and my dream since I started writing. So I will finish what I've started and I will do all the rewrites that I can. I will send chapters off to publishers and wait to here what they have to say. However I now know that no matter what happens I am a writer even if I end up not being a novelist. For that realization, if nothing else I will be forever grateful to the National Novel Writing Month Competition.

11/25/2005

CD Review: Diana Darby The Magdalene Laundries

As a rule popular music demands almost nothing from its listener. Similar to its cousins, movies and television, the most it requires is passive acceptance, the equivalent to laying back and taking it on an intellectual level. Limited by its need to appeal to as broad a range of people as possible, pop is designed for the easy response, or hook, to connect to its audiences. This characteristic becomes most noticeable when contrasted with something that goes outside the boundaries of the conventional. Think of any of the music that you may have listened to by artists who have forced you to actually stop what you've been doing to listen to their lyrics, or concentrate on the music in order to appreciate what is being presented and you'll know what I mean. Diana Darby's latest CD, The Magdalene Laundries places itself squarely in the middle of this latter category. This is not a disc you're going to put on to wile away the time while doing dishes, or as background to anything. Every song requires careful attention and diligent thinking to be appreciated. magdalene_laundry cover art In this her third album Darby recorded the tracks after watching a documentary on the Magdalene Laundries, an Irish home for wayward women that the church ran for 150 years before being closed in 1996. The women committed to this institution were forced to work six days a week in the church's laundry in an attempt to "wash away their sins" Their horrible crimes ranged from being single mothers or simply being deemed too beautiful to walk the streets for fear of their effect on men. After reading that you can be forgiven for expecting to listen to another earnest recording about the injustice of the Catholic Church and how hard done by women have been etc. etc. ad nausea. But this is not a formula alt.-pop feminist rock disc. It won't be categorised that easily. Instead Diana Darby has created a series of pieces that have been inspired by the women's situation and whose subject matter at first glance may appear to be completely unrelated to the disc's title. What does a song encouraging rabbits living near her house to run away from her dog have to do with these women? How in the world does a song about Soren Kierkegaard tie in with an Irish penal laundry? Maybe nothing, maybe everything; but try not to think of them literal statements of fact. Think of them as imagery that reflects the feelings that place generated in Ms. Darby and it goes a long way to understanding how a lyric like the following is appropriate.
Bring me all the Rabbits/before they all are dead/Somewhere there are rabbits/awaiting Trouble's breath/Run Rabbit run/Buy me all the flowers/That bloom for no one's eyes/Somewhere there are flowers/that can't be compromised/You bloom then die./ Diana Darby, "Bring Me All The Rabbits". The Magdalene Laundries Delmore Recording Society Release, 2005
These songs are the highly personal response of a poet to a situation. As befits the personal nature of the material Diana recorded them alone using a four-track recording machine. This is an intimate album offering glimpses into one person's interpretations of the damage done to the women who had to endure a life of slavery for not fitting into the mould of being what was expected of them. darby5_fpo The songs are very sparse musically, with only guitar and cello accompaniment. Diana sings so softly as to be almost whispering into the microphone over the music; increasing the demand placed on the listener to pay attention. Despite, or maybe because of this, the pieces are compelling and you want to pay attention. This is not a disc you can play once and expect to appreciate, or put in your stereo as background music. It requires involvement and a certain amount of commitment on the part of the listener in order for it to be appreciated. But it is an involvement and a commitment that is well worth the effort. Diana Darby has created a series of contemporary, as opposed to pop, songs around a highly charged and emotional topic. Instead of taking the safe political route of simply condemning and tear jerking, she has chosen to take the risk of composing emotional responses. She succeeds in the fact that she is able to paint a picture of the bleakness and desperation that the women must have experienced. Think of the feelings expressed in each song and transpose them to the physical existence of those women imprisoned in the actual Magdalene Laundries and the CD The Magdalene Laundries not only makes sense, it becomes impossible to visualize any other musical response. If you are prepared to listen and willing to think, than The Magdalene Laundries is a disc that will find a place in your library. It might not end up in your regular rotation, but it will also never be relegated to the delete bin.

11/24/2005

CD Review: Blues Guitar Women

A while back my sister in law sent my wife an email asking for some help. Some guy on a chat board she belonged to wanted to know how many guitar heroines people could name. Not just folkies like Joni Mitchell who strummed as they sang, but the real Stevie Ray Vaughn, kick out the jams type, rock guitar heroine. In all honesty at the time I was only able to come up with a few at most: Bonnie Raitt, Melissa Ethridge(whose questionable because I don't know what her guitar work is like) and the Wilson sisters from Heart. Well I can now add about twenty-five more names to that list. The people at Ruf Records in Germany have released a two disc compilation CD simply called Blues Guitar Women. Compiled by blues player Sue Foley the set is divided along the lines of contemporary and traditional discs so that you can choose which style best suits your mood at the time. Hard driving rock blues players like Joanna Cooper and Ms. Foley herself on disc one or the sounds of the delta from Precious Bryant or Memphis Minnie on disc two are a just a small sample of the talent represented on these discs. So many blues players exist on the fringe of the mainstream audience's awareness, that for the women player the challenge of overcoming obscurity must be double that of men. blues-guitar-women Occasionally they might be recognised, but too often their contributions are relegated to the realm of a novelty act: Oh look a chick with a guitar. The conception that the guitar is the province of men only has been an obstacle that women players have dealt with since the thirties. Too many people equate testosterone not estragon with a sizzling guitar solo.
...the fact that there is enough material to fill two CDs is quite alarming, for even I didn't realize how many there were and are out there. But it seems the scene for women guitar players is vibrant and growing stronger all the time…it would seem that no place is safe from the power of the guitar heroine. Sue Foley, liner notes Blues Guitar Women Ruf Records 2005
In other words none of us should feel bad that we may not have heard of less then a handful of the women on this disc. Which of us are going to think of looking to Yugoslavia or Finland for blues players whether male or female but that's where Ana Popovic and Erja Lyytinen hail from respectively. Hearing them you'd never know they weren’t born and bred in Texas or the Mississippi delta. Like their male counterparts the women sing about their broken hearts and the ones who've done them wrong. But unlike the male blues artists the women also spread out into issues of social heartbreak as well as the personal type. Perhaps because of their tenuous status within society and their more recent struggles for independence the women seem to have a broader worldview than the men. Beverly "Guitar" Watkins makes political noise with her "Baghdad Blues" which naturally enough talks about the current war situation and the circumstances leading up to it. "Nothings Changed" sung by Gaye Adegbalola and backed by Rory Block's slide guitar continue the work Gaye started during the period of racial segregation in Virginia. Still encouraging people to stand up for themselves and fight for social justice. The traditional disc contains some very special tracks that have been preserved through the dedication of archivists and blues enthusiasts in North America. Women like Geeshie Wiley, Elvie Thomas, Battie Delaney, Algie Mae Hinton and Etta Baker of the first generation of blues women; some of who hardly recorded at all, are all represented. These women still continue to play their guitars, although some are in their nineties, and represent a vital link in the chain of American music. It is their music and their efforts that broke the ground for people like Eve Monsees from Austin Texas who in her early twenties is just beginning her blues career. It's sad to think of all the other women who have played and sang the blues whose music was allowed to pass out of existence with them, but Blues Guitar Women pulls some of these names from the ashes of obscurity. Sue Foley, who helped compile this collection along with Thomas Ruf, also put together the liner notes and bios for as many of the artists represented on these discs as possible. The notes are informative and informal, written by a blues lady with an obvious passion for and knowledge of her subject. The information presented here is just the forerunner to a book and documentary movie she is preparing called Guitar Women I don't know how intentional this was, but in almost every one of the artist's pictures included, the woman is shown with her truest companion, her guitar. Propped in the background, cradled in her arms, or hung from around her neck, none of them look like they want to be parted from their friends for very long. I don't buy albums or anything because it's the correct thing to do; you can't do that with the arts or you kill them. The same goes for recommending something. Don't buy Blues Guitar Women for its title, buy it because it has amazing music on it. Show these woman some respect, appreciate and dislike their music in the same manner you would their male contemporaries. With your eyes closed a slide guitar run sounds the same whoever's plugged into the amplifier and tapped into the world's soul.

11/23/2005

DVD Review: Peter Gabriel: Still Growing Up Live & Unwrapped

Around twenty-five years ago I was working with some pretty esoteric theatre directors. It was a time when experimental theatre people were looking to try and recreate the power and energy of the shaman in the actor. Not, as so many people would think make them a priest or something ridiculous like that, but to give them that sort of authority on stage; the ability to be the focal point for thousands of people. This director was very down to earth in spite of all his talk about priests and shamanism, and used as his examples the people he called the priests and shamans of our society. He said in terms of what he was talking about, being the focal point of thousands of people that as far as he was concerned Bruce Springstein was the most powerful shaman or priests in our world right now. Who else, he said, can walk onto a stage and command the attention of 45,000 plus people. Interestingly enough it was only a couple of years latter that Pope John Paul started doing his huge outdoor Masses, where he would become the focal point for tens of thousands of people. Whatever you may have thought of the man personally he was no fool and he knew what kind of potential power there was to tap into from that type of gig. What brought all this stuff to mind again was watching the latest Peter Gabriel DVD: Still Growing Up: Live & Unwrapped. This is a follow up release to the 2003 DVD Growing Up Live which was shot on the tour of the same name. The 2005 release is a two disc set: disc one is a record of some the smaller more intimate concerts they did after the main elaborate tour and disc two is a primarily a documentary and interview with Mr. Gabriel about the smaller tour. Shot in a variety of smaller locations across Europe it's a technically pared down version of the tour that places more emphasis on the performers than on a stage show. At least that's what the promo says; if this is what they consider pared down the main tour must have been incredible. PGPhoto_stephen_lovell-davis I haven't seen a picture of Peter Gabriel in years; I stopped following his career around the late eighties when I began to lose interest in pop music for a while, so my first sight of as he looks now was quite startling. The man who I remember as a frenetic bundle of energy, like a coiled spring, has evolved into a rock at the centre of a storm on stage. Perhaps it’s the radical change in his physical appearance in the last fifteen years, rounder and greyer, and the slowing down that age can bring, but now instead of coming across as an entertainer he has the appearance and the demeanour on stage of a monk or guru who is there to impart wisdom and guidance. He's always been an incredibly intense performer with massive amounts of energy expanded during his performances, but now instead of bouncing all over the place he exudes the same power while standing still. That's not to say he doesn't move anymore and remains fixed in place like a post, but it's no longer necessary for him to be the centre of attention. Whether he's stalking the stage like a large cat, doing some simple choreography with the band, or riding incredible two wheeled standing scooters (as is the case in amazing version of "Games Without Frontiers") he demands attention and commands the stage I don't think I have seen audiences so riveted and completely in the hand of a performer before. He could just be reading a French introduction to the song he's about to perform and you could hear a pin drop, in an open-air concert. People want to listen to him and share in the experience of his music. That's the thing that comes across so clearly on the concert disc of this set; Peter Gabriel songs in concert are an experience. They are more than just a band getting up on stage and running through a collection of their hits. Obviously the disc is not able to recreate the atmosphere of being at a live concert, there's almost no way in which to be able to do that. What they have done instead is equally as effective. We are brought face to face with individual band members; we look into the eyes of Peter Gabriel as he sings. We are given access to the raw emotion that a performer generates while on stage through the magnificent camera work and brilliant editing of director Hamish Hamilton. They made a risky choice with this film in the way in which they decided to present the songs. Instead of having a song from this venue, and then another song from that venue, they've inter-cut venues in the songs. You could be watching one song, but it's footage from four different venues. The potential of this being a confusing mess is quite high, but they have managed to bring it off with great success and actually increasing the impact of songs through showing the variety of staging. I don't know if they've used only one audio feed for the song or have edited the sound and the picture of each excerpt into the final result. But whatever they have done the sound is impeccable. The material on this disc spans the breadth of his career, form "Solsbury Hill" and "Games Without Frontiers" and onwards. "Games Without Frontiers" is the song where you first begin to realise the connection this man has with his audiences. Even while he and his daughter, who sings harmony vocals, are propelling themselves around the stage on these two-wheeled standing scooters, he brings the crowd into the singing of the refrain "Je sans frontiers" (I'm without frontiers) seemingly effortlessly. In some ways his control over the crowd is actually quite terrifying as it’s a reminder of how easy it is for a charismatic figure to control large numbers of people in a mass rally type situation. His closing song, "Biko", the memorial to Steven Biko, South African activist killed in the seventies by the police, is almost chilling. With its rhythmic chanting of the name Biko the crowd actually continues singing the song after Gabriel has physically left the vicinity ( we see him driving away while the drummer is on stage playing the beat and the audience is still singing away) The second disc of the set is a documentary of the concerts seen in the first disc. Footage from the concerts, and others, and the travel between gigs are interspersed with an interview with Peter Gabriel. While some it deals with just the specifics of the tour, he also talks in a general manner about his work. He is at great pains to stress how unimportant he or any pop musician really is. Lines like "I don't buy this genius stuff, Einstein was a genius …" or "Anybody can be an artist…Put a gun to somebody's head and tell them they have a year to produces some great piece of art or the gun will go off I'm sure they will…being an artist is about being exposed to the right kind of people and atmosphere…not just about talent" There was no false modesty in any of those statements, just the perspective of a man who had his feet firmly on the ground, and is refusing to get caught up in the hoopla surrounding what he does for a living. Perhaps this is why he is so compelling when he is on stage. He genuinely appreciates that he has been given the opportunity to do on a full time basis what millions would love to do. Still Growing Up Live & Unwrapped is a great release, especially if you are someone like me who has never had the opportunity to see Peter Gabriel in concert. He is one of the most enigmatic and potent pop performers alive today. This two disc set not only lets you sample that power but gives you insight into what makes him tick and some behind the scenes look at touring. This is a great release for those who have never seen him live on disc before, or even if you just haven't seen him in a while. There's been quite a change.

11/22/2005

DVD Review: Gun Shy

There are "Cop Movies" and than there are cop movies which break the mould and give you a whole lot more sympathy for the people involved in their line of work. For some reason the latter category are usually ones where the tension level is leavened by the introduction of comedy and the humanization of the parties involved. Gun Shy is probably one of the best examples of the later genre on the market. Written and Directed by Eric Blakeney and staring Liam Neeson, Oliver Platt, and Sandra Bullock this year 2000 release has the right combination of comedy, pathos, and action to make the whole scenario believable. Liam Neeson plays Charlie a Drug Enforcement Agent (DEA) whose current assignment took a turn for the worse when he and his partner were set up. He had to sit through his partner's murder, and his life was only saved by the not so timely arrival of the surveillance squad assigned to protect them in case of problems. Needless to say he's developed "issues" about his career and his safety when it comes to continuing the assignment. His bosses assure him that everything will be fine; all the bad guys who knew he was an agent are dead. No harm no foul. Charlie's not convinced and the state of his nerves and his intestinal track are testament to that. A chance meeting on a plane flight brings Charlie in contact with a psychiatrist. From that point on the movie splits into following three aspects of Charlie's life; his interpersonal relationships with two Columbia Cartel representatives, a Mafioso hit man (Oliver Platt), and a money launderer; his group therapy sessions; and his burgeoning relationship with the woman who gave him a barium enema (Sandra Bullock) when his shrink sent him for gastrointestinal testing. Charlie's job is to act as the go between with a Mafia family and the Columbians in a money laundering operation. His bosses want him to ensure that the Columbians sink as much money possible into the venture so they can be arrested and have all their financial resources sucked dry. Charlie is only able to get through these encounters by ingesting a steady amount of anti anxiety meds. The fact that he is able to fall asleep with a gun being waved in his face impresses Fulvio Neestra, the Mafia hit man immensely. He's never met anyone as cool and intelligent as Charlie. Oliver Platt as Fulvio is wonderful. He looks and talks like a psychopathic Neanderthal, with a bouffant greaser hair cut. At first he looks like just your standard stereotypical thug. But then we learn he's married to the Don's daughter and kept alive only on sufferance, the fact that he suffers the Don's daughter. Like Charlie, Fulvio wants out, behind that psychotic veneer lurks the heart of a farmer. His dream is to retire to Italy and grow tomatoes. The beauty of Mr. Platt's performance is that he plays him completely straight. This guy has the intelligence of a pea, and a hair trigger temper. When one of the Columbians comments on his inability to urinate by saying his prostrate needs a workout, Fluvio shoots off one of his testicles. "When somebody starts making fun of your prostrate, what are you going to do?" is his explanation. But we end up liking him. He's henpecked by an unloving wife, his father in law treats him like shit, and the tomatoes he's so desperately trying to grow in his backyard continue to die. When everything starts to blow up near the end of the movie and he looks at Charlie and says: "You're a cop? I thought you were my friend?" the disappointment and unhappiness are real and poignant. Charlie enters group therapy at his doctor's suggestion. A chance to put his problems in perspective, and see that he's not so different than others. His group is comprised of other men the same age who are all experiencing anxiety and anguish over their jobs. One after another they talk about how downtrodden and powerless they feel. When Charlie is asked to "share" he starts by saying the root of his anxiety is his job; everyone nods and smiles. As he starts describing the circumstances of the events: "I was laid out on a platter with an Uzi stuck up my ass" the camera pans around the faces of the paunchy, slightly balding men in suits who are in group with him. To a man they are stunned, jaw dropped to the floor, smacked in the face with a two by four stunned. But gradually over the course of the sessions and Charlie taking them through the various stages of the meetings, deals, and shootings. They start to get excited and awed by what this guy does, until their own anxieties seem trivial to themselves. But in a nice turn, the focus is shifted back on to one of the members of the group when he snaps at work one day and self-destructs. He had suffered from an almost irrepressible urge to start shouting completely inappropriate things during meetings and finally had snapped. It's a wonderfully human moment done with perfect balance and timing. In a movie full of nice turns this one exemplifies how the director manages to prevent the action plot line from gaining ascension over the fact that these people are human beings. The men in the group are reminded that their own live have just as many perils in some ways as Charlie's does and that things can blow up on them too. I have always had a hard time suspending my disbelief at the way people in movies are thrown together romantically. Unfortunately Gun Shy is no exception. Man goes for barium enema, pretty girl who gives it to him offers him drive home, asks him out on date, they have sex and start a relationship on first date. That may happen in some universes but not mine. But once the awkwardness of their meeting is overcome their relationship helps provide another contrasting reality for Charlie to consider. Ms. Bullock's character of Judy is a fairly typical spunky Sandra Bullock character but it's early enough in her career that she is still able to keep it fresh. Primarily it feel like this plotline is just tacked on as love interest, and considering she was the executive producer on the movie you have to wonder if the roll was created for her. There is a funny little bit where she and Charlie bump into his "work buddies" at a restaurant and we have the incongruity of watching them all discussing a home show like any group of upwardly mobile young executives. But aside from that this plot line seems somewhat extraneous. Liam Neeson in the role of Charlie is wonderful. He is able to bring believability to every aspect of his character; from the thin veneer he has on display for the consumption of those he works with, his developing friendship with Fulvio, and his genuine compassion for the other people in his group therapy sessions. He's a man walking a very fine line between completely losing it and holding it together. Through his character we see a side of police work that is either rarely depicted or so overblown as to be unbelievable. The real anxiety and stress that comes with being under the continual pressure your life being in danger. This movie combines comedy, suspense and pathos to create a very real and human picture of people caught in circumstances they can't control, but have to keep working through because they think they have no choice. It's a cop movie, but not like any cop movie you've seen before. Everybody from the villains to the hero is human and real. I'll leave it to one of the group therapy members to sum up the movie in a nutshell: "You mean even the gangsters are unhappy?"

11/21/2005

Anti Semitism: Where There's Smoke There's Fire

I've never been one to scream fire, even when there's a lot of smoke, until I actually see the flames. Even now I have a reluctance to write what I'm about to write because I'm still not one hundred percent convinced of how accurate my sight is. But sometimes you just have to go with your gut instinct and accept that what you're seeing is the truth, no matter how much you'd like to deny it. Over the past few years I've been steadily trying to ignore something that seems to have started appearing on both sides of the political spectrum, a rise in anti-Semitism. Since that infamous day in September 2001 when the planes were crashed into the World Trade Centre undercurrents and whispers have started to pop up all over the place. From the blatantly ridiculous; Jews knew in advance not to come to work that day so none were killed in the attacks, and that Israeli citizens were evacuated from the Jordanian hotel the day before it was bombed; to the overtly offensive of Wal-Mart selling copies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion; anti Jewish propaganda has been on the rise. Anti Semitism has been part of my life in some polite form or another since I was a child. When I was kid we lived in a very WASP part of North Toronto and most of the kids I went to school with were far more affluent than my family. Inevitably each year one of my classmate's would have their birthday party at the Granite Club; a type of a country club in midtown Toronto. Of course it was exclusive, which really means exclusion, restricted to people who were of Anglo Saxon protestant background. I remember being shocked when I found out about this and wondered aloud to one of my friends about it. His response was, well they wouldn't be comfortable here anyway. Well duh, of course there not going to be comfortable with that sort of attitude. Of course none of these people would have considered themselves racist or anything like that, that wasn't polite. But if you asked them why they didn't let Jews into their clubs or why they didn't have any for friends it was because they were different: "They're just not like us" They'd tell me things like this, not realising how it must make me feel, because I was different. Of course as I grew older I began to realise that this was pretty mild compared to what was out there in the way of anti-Semitic activities. The seventies in Toronto saw the rise of several Neo Nazi groups who advocated the usual white power/Jewish conspiracy type of crap. They were also my first exposure to Holocaust denial. I couldn't believe anybody could take that stuff seriously. The death of six million plus people never happened. Pretty elaborate deception don't you think, with a lot of people involved going to a lot of work to build all those fake camps, crematoriums, mass graves, and faking all those photographs. But then you find out that there are teachers in schools who are telling their students these lies, and people were actually defending their right to do that as freedom of speech. I don't know how I managed to avoid the Christ killer shit for so long but I did. I don't think I actually heard anyone say that until I was around fourteen or fifteen. How are you supposed to respond to that one: "You killed the son of God" What me personally? Geez I missed that, was it during one of my black outs from drinking too much Manichewitz? I actually had some kid say to me at school one day that the only reason he didn't like me was because I was a Jew and had killed Christ. I broke his nose. The only fight I got into in my whole adolescence. Pathetic really but he pissed me off. It's people like that guy who made me so grateful to Lenny Bruce latter in life when I heard his take on the topic. He did this routine where he says: "Okay, Okay I admit it. Me and a couple of the boys took him down in the basement and did him. You happy. Look be glad we did it back then and not now. Think of having to walk around with an electric chair on a chain around your neck" I'm paraphrasing obviously but you get the point. I like a syringe better, but electric chair works. It’s funny how the Romans got away with that one wasn't it. They were the dudes running the country at the time, responsible for crucifixions and all law and order stuff, but still they managed to pass the buck to the Jews. Of course that has nothing to do with the Roman Catholic Church I suppose. Oh sorry was that out loud? It used to be that the predominant source of anti-Semitic thinking was from the right side of the political spectrum. Communist Jewish bankers were out to take over the world. Or the labour movement was rife with Jewish anarchists looking to overthrow the government. Judaism and Communism went together like ham and cheese. Now though things seem to have changed. The new theory is there is Jewish conservative cabal of bankers and businessmen in Washington who dictate foreign policy for the United States. It's because of them that America supports Israel and is opposed to the Arab countries, and therefore indirectly the towers were destroyed. Is this the same American government that's the conservative Christian one in power right now, or is this an American government I don't know about? What about a thing called the Senate and the House of Representatives? Don't they have something to do with the running of that country? I'm not talking about Muslim or Arab world criticisms either, cause that's a completely different kettle of fish. When they lash out at Israel at least you know why, they're at war with them, that's the type of behaviour you expect from countries at war with each other. This stuff is coming from supposed left wing people and they are now parroting the nazi propaganda of seventy years ago. It would be funny if it weren't so sad and upsetting. I wonder if these people even listen to what they're saying. I have no problem with people criticizing the policies of Israel, hell I do it all the time. But too often the criticisms sound like attacks on Jewish people using the word Israel as a smoke screen. I expect I'll be roundly criticized for this article; told I'm being over sensitive and paranoid. But tell me how would you feel hearing people regularly say things like they were Jewed out of something, or they Jewed somebody down to get a good bargain? Nobody ever seems to make a big deal out of the religion of a group of business men or corporate leaders unless they happen to be Jewish; why's that? Have you ever heard Donald Trump being called a Christian businessman? The world is heading into troubled economic times and things are more and more in turmoil. Now's the time people look for scapegoats, someone else to blame for their troubles. To me it looks like a lot are turning to an old favourite.

11/20/2005

More Canadian Election Fun

You can't tell the players without a scorecard. What's true for baseball is also true for politics. Knowing who's who is the important first step in understanding what's going on in a country's internal machinations. Now that an election is looking imminent, one way or another, for Canadians I though perhaps outside observers would like to meet our Prime Minister and the esteemed leaders of the opposition. As usual my political forecasts, which I thought were based on common sense and political considerations, have proven totally wrong. I felt for sure the Conservative Party would not do anything to jeopardise the issuing of the fuel tax rebate checks or run an election campaign over Christmas. Well I was wrong on both those counts. In two of the many scenarios for an election call (if you really want to read about all the possibilities "The Globe and Mail" breaks it down really well) and the ones they favour most, will see time expire before the energy rebate bill can get final reading in our Senate. It will also mean that we could have an election anywhere between Jan.2 2006 and January 16th 2006 (of course there is still the possibility of a December 27th election but I don't think anybody is that suicidal) The Conservative Party is trailing in the polls, have no polices except Liberals bad Conservatives good, and are now going to piss people off by having an election campaign over Christmas as well as ensuring that no one gets there heating oil rebate this winter. Maybe they're going for the sympathy vote? We're so stupid vote for us out of pity? That's never worked before. The only other thing I can think of is that party officials don't like the leader and want him to go down to defeat so that they can get rid of him. This wouldn't be the first time something like this has happened in a Canadian political party, just the most blatant. In fact it is truly amazing what is happening. The opposition parties are looking so power hungry and desperate to bring down the government that they are making the governing Liberals look like the only party that's actually fit to run a country. That is a scary thought in itself, but one that could prove the most telling in the election whenever it happens. Politics is all about perception these days, and whatever people perceive now during this jockeying will be what stays with them throughout the campaign. Right now it looks like the Conservatives are being incredibly Scrooge like just around Christmas. Any people who had fears about their social policies will see that as confirmation that they are the party without compassion. It doesn't matter whether it's true or not, its what things look like that matters. Enough you say, get on with telling us about the four that will be leading their political parties to war over the next two months. I'll introduce you to them in order of standing in the House of Commons as of this moment. In the Red and White corner, coincidently the colour of our flag, waving the standard of the Liberal party of Canada is Prime Minister Paul Martin. He falls with a resounding thud into the category of the "Old Boy" network of political and economic power in Canada. The son of Paul Martin Sr. who was big in the Liberal Party back in the 1960's, and who missed being crowned king because of that upstart Pierre Trudeau back in 1968, Paul Martin junior was born a Prime Minister in waiting. His business credentials were established by running the family's shipping business prior to becoming a politician. This of course cemented him as the darling of Bay Street (Canada's equivalent of Wall Street) when he entered the political arena. It seemed like his future as a Prime Minister was assured. But his ambitions got seriously derailed when he lost to Jean Chretien in a Liberal leadership convention prior to the 1995 general election. When the Liberal swept to power, Paul Martin was named Minister of Finance, where he continued to endear himself to Bay Street by slashing spending everywhere. During his tenure he managed to achieve the politically desirable result of producing surpluses each year in his budgets within a short time of assuming the portfolio. Everybody who was anybody loved him. But of course he wasn't happy, he needed to be Prime Minister. But he badly overplayed his hand and most likely just to spite him Chretien stayed on for another kick at the can and won another majority government. Mr. Martin had to resign his position as Finance Minister, because it doesn't look good if you're trying to topple your own leader while sitting in his cabinet. He and his people did their best to discredit Chretien during those two years, until Mr. Chretien finally stepped down. Mr. Martin handily won the leadership convention (I don't think I can name one person that ran against him) and was finally Prime Minister, the title he believed was his by divine right of Kings or something. It was the first time that he faced the people of Canada that he almost managed to lose the election. It was around this time he earned the elegant nickname of Mr. Dithers, not for Dagwood's tough as nails boss, but because he could never seem to make a decision. He'd just dither around making things worse by vacillating back and forth. It really looked like he was too scared of making a mistake to take action on anything. He seems to have gotten a little better, in public anyway, with being decisive, but he is still a past master of saying a whole lot of nothing if needs be. He also has an endearing habit of blaming everything bad on his predecessor, while still managing to take credit for anything good that happened during that time. Paul Martin jr. remains the epitome of the old boy ruling class moneyed elite in Canada. For someone who has always pictured himself as a professional politician his political instincts suck when it comes to understanding how people will react to situations. One only needs look at this delay in responding to last years tsunami off Sri Lanka to see how he completely missed the boat on what Canadians think is important. Unfortunately for Canadians our options aren't that great. The leader of the opposition Conservative Party of Canada is a man by the name of Steven Harper. Prior to becoming leader of the party he was in charge of something called the National Citizens Coalition, which despite its universal sounding title had only one agenda. Cut all taxes. I had briefly explained the gemenation of this party, how it mutated out of a couple previous parties into the bizarre creature that it is now, but I'll give a quick recap for those who missed the previous lesson. The Conservative Party of Canada is an amalgamation of what were once two separate conservative parties: the socially liberal and fiscally conservative Progressive Conservatives and the social and fiscally conservative Alliance Party. While more than a few people welcome their fiscal ideas, tax cuts and cutting social programs, their big stumbling block continues to be the impression, well founded unfortunately, that they are the home to uncompromising social conservatives who border on dangerous. They have members of parliament who have openly called for criminalizing homosexuality, been Holocaust deniers, believe that Native people were conquered and should just get over themselves, that day care is unnecessary and women shouldn't work anyway, and we are a Christian nation and if you don't like it go back to where you came from. In the last election when the liberals were foundering they were able to fight back by playing on those fears, and Steven Harper was not able to counter those attacks because he was too busy trying to shut his caucus up as they kept reinforcing that image. In order to form a government in Canada a party has to be able to win a large number of seats in the most populated provinces in Canada, Quebec and Ontario. Being an Anglophone from western Canada leading a party whose is considered anti Quebec and anti French language rights they have little or no chance of even winning one seat in Quebec. It's Ontario they need to win seats in. Unfortunately for them not even the Progressive Conservative party in Ontario really wants to endorse them. Attitudes like those expressed by certain party members may not matter in some rural ridings, but in the major city areas where all the seats are, they go over as well as a Swastika at a Synagogue. Like his opposite number in the Liberal Steven Harper doesn't seem to have much substance. He's a leader who is seen as not being able to even get his own party to keep their mouths shut in critical situations. His denials of these same people never seem emphatic enough either to reassure those who are scared by the rhetoric of hate that comes from their mouths. This is a party that is out of touch with the majority of urban Canada and in some ways represents a far more serious threat to Canada's unity than the Separatists in Quebec. Their policies are designed to appeal to a segment of society only, not the whole country. Mr. Harper has yet to be able to delineate a vision of Canada that is inclusive enough for more than one segment of the population to be comfortable with. In actual fact he seems to have fallen into the trap of so many opposition politicians of defining themselves by what they aren't (what the government is they are the opposite) than of what they stand for." Cut taxes" is a slogan not a vision of what you see Canada becoming under your rule. There are still far too many variables and unanswered questions from Mr. Harper for a lot of people to feel comfortable. "The vision thing" is no problem for leader number three. Gilles Duceppe heads up the Bloc Quebecois the official party of Quebec separatism on the federal level. Not only is their sole interest to preserve the interests of Quebec in the House of Commons, but in the event of their ever being a successful vote for separation in Quebec they will be hand to negotiate the deal. This party was born out of the ashes of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's brilliant idea of loading his cabinet with strident Quebec nationalists so the he could secure seats in Quebec to win an election or two. When he wasn't able to convince the rest of country to cave into their demands for increased privileges for Quebec they quit in a huff and joined the Nationalist/Separatist movement. Only in Canada could you see someone who was a federal cabinet minister one year, appear the next year as leader of a party trying to dissolve the country. The key factor in any election is how many seats will the Bloc Quebecois take from the Liberals? The Liberal look to be taking a bit more of a hit in Quebec over the whole Sponsorship scandal thing than in the rest of Canada which could translate into more seats for the Bloc. Really the only defence the Liberals have against a Bloc sweep is playing up the fear of what the Conservatives would do if they won power. But since the Bloc will be doing that, for proof that separation is the only way to guarantee French rights, they'll have to be careful. They want to shore up the French federalist vote, not chase them into the waiting arms of separatists. As the self styled voice of French rights the Bloc don't care about what happens to the rest of the country. It is highly possible that they could enter into some unholy and cynical alliance with the Conservative party that could leave nine provinces and Quebec as a result. The Conservatives will do almost anything to become the ruling party, even if it means trading one province in exchange The final entrant into this mess is the leader of the New Democratic Party (N.D.P.) Jack Layton. Mr. Layton was an alderman and city councillor in Toronto for years and only recently switched over to federal politics. Although a political newcomer he showed himself quite adept at exploiting his position of holding the balance of power to push through legislation that was on his agenda. In exchange for propping up the government last spring he got a $4 billion tax credit for business turned into money for health care, education, and subsidised housing. Unfortunately for him that's probably not going to be remembered this election. Prior to the existence of the Bloc Quebecois the N.D.P. was considered the third party. Since they have never really had a presence in Quebec their numbers haven't really changed all that much in this time. They get the majority of their seats in urban Ontario, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. In recent years they have started to make inroads into the Maritime Provinces while losing some of their Western seats to the Conservatives. They have little or no chance of forming the government so their best hope is a continuation of the present circumstances. Of all the leaders Mr. Layton is the least afraid to say what he stands for and is quite articulate in voicing his party's platform. Socially and fiscally liberal they are in the one real alternative to conservatism of the two major parties. The hardest job they have is convincing people that voting for them is not wasting your vote. They have to hope that Mr. Layton has been perceived as sincere in his defence of social issues, but not frightening to middle class voters worried about their tax bills. The best-case scenario for them is another minority government and picking up five or six more seats so that they hold the true balance of power. Ideally they can sneak up the middle in some races as the Tories and the Liberals cancel each other out and the N.D.P. takes the seat in a three-way race. They don't want to take too many seats away from the Liberals because they are the ones who they will be able to work with in a governing situation not the Conservatives. The worst result that could happen in this election would be for the Conservatives to win a minority and work a deal with the Bloc Quebecois to prop them up. The other parties might be able to make a case preventing them from forming a government because of the Blocs separatist policies, which could be considered a reason for denying them a role in a coalition. Technically speaking it is up to the Governor General of Canada to ask someone to from a government in these situations. Would she allow Steven Harper and the Conservatives to form a coalition with a Separatist party? Is she able to prevent it? Once before in Canadian history a Governor General of Canada denied a Prime Minister's request. At that time it was to quickly dissolve parliament so he could call a snap election to try and gain a majority in the house. The Governor General refused and demanded he try and govern with a minority. In those days the Governor General was a direct appointment of the Queen of England, and the person in question was recalled and a new, more amenable gentleman was found. Well there you go the scorecard for the upcoming election. The polls are showing the Liberals with a lead, but basically it looks like this election, unless someone shoots themselves in the foot, will end up with pretty much the same results as last time. So I wouldn't be surprised if we see another election as soon as this summer. If we end up with the exact same minority government as we had before. The Conservatives will lose so much credibility that if the Liberals let themselves be defeated when they bring in their budget this spring, they should then win a comfortable majority. Good luck in trying to understand the action, maybe next time I'll explain how to keep score.

11/19/2005

NaNoWriMo Notes 8: 50,000 Words. Now What?

Saturday November 19th: Eleven days to go. Word count: 55,392 +5,392 Yeah you read right, word count 55,392. I officially went over the top sometime Wednesday November 16th between 4:00 and 4:16 pm. At 4:00 my word count was 49,885 at 4:16 it was 50,508. Somehow or other I had done a major power crunch and tossed off close to 700 words in that fifteen minutes. It was nice to be clear of it by such a comfortable margin, 50,002 would have looked like I chucked an extra and or but in somewhere just to make the grade. This way it looked like what it was, it just happened to be where I ended typing that day. I knew I was close when I started, but since I hate starting a new chapter at the end of the day, I was just going to have to live with finishing the next day if I couldn't make it on Wednesday. But there it was, staring me back in the face like a beacon testifying to my perseverance and lack of a life. Although you could look on it like I prefer to, that it is actual testimony that my life is genuinely committed to writing. I was able to keep up with my plan of still posting at least an article a day to blogcritics, although there was a slight depreciation in quality. Typos and a few other slips made a bit of come back as my focus was wandering a little. A little too much of: "Must finish this so I can get on with the writing" thing for my own good. The challenge of course is to keep going with this thing that I've created. It doesn't want to let me stop. I tried to take Thursday off from it. I did my post in the morning and said enough is enough damn it; I need to walk away from the laptop for a day. Go out into the world young man and see what you've been missing for the last two weeks and two days. Absofuckinglutly nothing is what. The whole time I was out, three hours tops, I wanted to be back home writing on my trusty laptop. What was I doing out here not writing, I could be filling pages with words right now, or at least moving onwards with the story. There's no longer any pressure to write words except for my own desire to write them. They don't have to pile up as counters anymore; they just need to be written so that I can tell the story. It won't let me go. I'm obsessing. I'll tell you it's a relief too, because my big fear was, and still is, that I would lose interest in the proceedings once I hit 50,000. Get bored with the story or the writing or whatever it is I've gotten bored with the countless other times that I've started something and come no where near to finishing. I hate to think of all those characters I've left withering out in limbo waiting for something to happen to them: there's that group of hippies stuck in 1978 Banff; the guy living up in Sioux Lookout in the bush, hell he's still having breakfast in the hotel bar as far as I know reading his mail: been there since early 1992; then there are those folk at the commune, couldn't even get it together to decide on how to hold their meetings; and, even now, hanging out in the memory of this laptop, are a guy, and three mythical creatures stuck in a car driving back to Kingston Ontario. The woman they're supposed to be meeting is stuck in some alternate reality in a temple out of Mists of Avalon(no wonder I stopped writing that one, even I couldn't be that blatant a thief)I sort of looked in on them about a month ago, but it was only a half hearted attempt to make me feel like I was doing something. Deep Breaths. Sorry about that last paragraph and the stream of conscience thing that's been pervading this post. I made the mistake of reading Duke's Belfast deliriums before starting and it left a bit of a hangover. Let's see if I can't get back on track. After the first week I wrote something along the lines of this being easier than I thought it was going to be. I don't mean to boast or anything, because I know there are people who are good writers out there still struggling through, but it was remarkably easy. I had originally envisioned a good day being 2,000 words. By the end of the first week I was considering anything under 3,000 a day a failure. I don't even think that I sacrificed quality for quantity either. I never once made the conscience decision to write a certain way that would ensure an elevated word count; I just let everything fall the way it wanted. Even the days when I had to struggle to find the right way of saying something, or to get the information out the object was to tell the story not inflate the word count. I forced myself not to keep running to the properties tab in "Word" and checking the tally. The only times I would do that were at the end of a session. So in the morning when I was done I would check where I was to get an idea of how close I was to making my quota. Then when the afternoon session started I would try and put it out of my mind. The only time word anxiety would set in was near the end of the day when I was starting to run out of steam. Then I would begin to hope that I had sufficient numbers to warrant giving it a rest. It's funny you'd think you'd be able to hazard a guess about your total by how many pages you'd written, but it depended on what you'd been writing. A bunch of short pieces of dialogue eats up the pages quickly without actually advancing your word count very much. Long descriptive passages on the other hand can only take up half a page but utilize a hundred words easy. I've stuck to my original way of working, which was to basically improvise around the characters, the setting, and the information that I wanted to get out in that scene. It's a technique that I used to use teaching acting; give everybody a motivation, a situation, a character and throw them on stage and tell them to resolve it. It's a little bit harder when you are the one playing all the roles in a scene, but it's worked out rather well in the end I think. It's also led to some interesting surprises as I find out information about the characters as the scenes develop. They're interaction with each other allows them to be developed more fully as the book progresses. I'm not having to do any deliberate "character development", it's taking care of itself. That's what really amazes me so far is how much of the story has been doing that; writing itself. The more I think about it the more I get in the way. The day's where I've struggled, and there have been quite a number of them, were the days that I've started worrying about what I was doing, and have tried to impose my will upon what they are doing. There seems to be a fine line between maintaining control and controlling the action. I need to make sure that everything that happens is pertinent in some manner to the overall flow and subject matter, while leaving the details in the hands of the characters. I think of it as having a topographical map of the story; I know the rough geography of what's supposed to happen. The characters and I then draw in and plot the roads that lead through this uncharted territory. One thing that I have been very firm about is my refusal to go back and read almost anything that I'd written on a previous day. The most I'll do is take a peak at the last paragraph if I'm having trouble remembering where I left off. I feel that the worst thing I could do at the moment was get bogged down in editing what I've already written. Not only would it eat up time, but I felt if would stagnate my spontaneity. I'm planning on adhering to this rule until I'm finished a complete first draft. I've been saving the work in chapter format for this very reason. When I finally do finish I can then go back and start dissecting it chapter-by-chapter, paragraph-by-paragraph, sentence-by-sentence. I don't actually anticipate doing very much actual cutting of words, but there will probably be a whole lot of rearranging, maybe even changing the order of chapters in the end. My first challenge is to finish. Get the characters to the place I envisioned them being when I developed the concept for the book in my head. I also want to maintain the level of detail that I have included up to this point in the story. I don't want to find myself rushing to complete something just for the sake of getting it done. I set out with a particular style of writing and I want to finish with that style. I remember years ago a friend reading something I'd written and commenting on how it was very 19th century Russian in feel. By that I think he meant I would spend a lot of time on mood and atmosphere, setting the scene so to speak. Well I still do that, and maybe that's my word total went through the roof so quickly, but that's just the way I write. Hell how many other people write close to a 1000 words minimum on an album review and then worries about skimping? So I'm going to take advantage of the momentum I've generated form this program and try to finish this sucker by end of the month, or at least before Christmas. It feels a bit strange not to be working for a numerical goal anymore, because it changes the nature of the work now. It's no longer a concrete target I'm shooting for, now it's back to the abstract challenge of finishing something with no defined end point except for the one I will end up giving it. As far as I'm concerned the real challenge has only just begun. Fifty thousand words was the easy part, now I have to finish the thing.