Stockwell Day Good Night

Stockwell Day is not going to be our next prime-minister. There. Done. You can now relax.

Stockwell Day is a social conservative. His grass-roots support consists of conservative Christians who believe he can turn the clock back on the issues of abortion, premarital sex, and homosexuality. That’s why they supported him. That’s why they wrote checks for him.

During the leadership campaign for the Alliance Party, Day was forced to admit that he’s not going to do anything about abortion or homosexuals or premarital sex. Sort of. Both Preston Manning and Tom Long said that they sure as hell aint going to do anything about it. Day realized that he would not be elected if he said that he could do something about it– like ban abortion– if he did get to be prime-minister.

So he backed off.

This leaves his grass-roots supporters with a conundrum. If he isn’t going to do something about the issues they care most about, why vote for him? He’ll just be another Preston Manning with a nicer voice.

Well, they’ll probably vote for him anyway. What will they be thinking? That his retraction is ruse? That once he gets elected, he’ll sneak some legislation in? That he’ll ban abortions?

Day has no chance of winning in the foreseeable future.

1. He has no support in Quebec and he aint going to get any. To win seats in Quebec, he is going to have to get the support of either Bouchard or Charest. Do you think that will ever happen? Day is to Bouchard what Britney Spears is to Margot Timmins.

2. Harris’ popularity in Ontario is going to decline for the next two years. Harris would have preferred Tom Long anyway, not for any real policy reasons, but because Tom Long owes him, big time. That would be useful, politically, to Harris. Day will be no use at all.

3. Joe Clark will continue to siphon off significant numbers of voters from key ridings. Clark will not do particularly well either, but the PC party is still strong in the Maritimes and has some potential in Quebec.

4. The current budget surpluses make the Reform Alliance Party seem out of step with current realities. The haranguing about fiscal conservatism sounds tinny and quaint, in an era of multi-billion dollar surpluses. The issue in the next election will be what to do with all that money: not how to get less of it.

Day might be able to make a case against Chretien, on the basis of the corruption within the Liberal Party– which isn’t really very remarkable at all, compared to Mulroney’s Conservatives, or any American party. But that might only serve to strengthen the Bloc Quebecois in Quebec, and the Conservatives in the Maritimes, and the NDP in British Columbia.

It just doesn’t add up. Where is Day going to win all those seats, other than the seats they already have in Alberta and Saskatchewan?

One last thing: don’t underestimate Jean Chretien. He’s old and a bit foggy, but he’s crafty and he has Paul Martin, and he can rightly claim to have done what Preston Manning has only wished to do for twenty years: balance the budget.

Memory is not Reliable

Thirty-four years ago, some U.S. scientists asked a group of 14-year-old males a number of questions on a variety of subjects and events.

Those men are now 48. The scientists caught up to them recently and asked them a series of questions aimed at discovering how accurately they remembered those same facts.

The result? Not very impressive. Apparently, the men would have scored about the same had they simply guessed at the answers.

There are still a fair number of psychologists and social workers out there who believe in “recovered” memories. There are many, many men on death row in the United States because they were identified by someone who claimed to remember specific details about their appearance. There is Bill Gates “remembering” that he invented DOS.

Some scientists rightly ask, how can recovered memories be trusted when our normal conscious memories, which didn’t need to be “recovered”, are not trustworthy?

The answer that some psychologists give is that recovered memories about sexual abuse are trustworthy because they are associated with traumatic events, which imprinted them upon the mind with unusual intensity. They have to give this explanation because they know as well as anybody that normal memory is not very reliable. So, somehow, they not only assert that memories can be “recovered”, but that they are likely to be more reliable than your normal conscious memory.

So then, you should be able to prove it. You should be able to demonstrate that details of memories of traumatic events are more accurately remembered than normal memories. The location of an event, the clothing worn by the people involved, the words that were said… unfortunately, so far, no one has been able to do it.


What these people have not shown is why a memory of an intensely emotional experience can be any more accurate than other memories. The fact is, according to their own logic, we are more likely to alter or repress memories that cause us emotional discomfort. The fact is that humans rather readily alter their memories to accommodate the imperatives of self-image.

You have heard about the numerous cases of wrongful convictions now being routinely discovered through DNA testing. In many of these cases, eyewitnesses swore in court that they saw the accused commit the crime, or fleeing the crime scene, or whatever. Researchers now know that these witnesses altered their memories in order to harmonize them with the assurances of the police that a particular suspect was certainly guilty. Sometimes the police tell the witness that they have evidence that decisively proves guilt, but can’t use it in court because of a technicality. Very often, a jail-house snitch claims to have over-heard a “confession” and testifies and then receives a lighter sentence himself. Nice system.

The witness thinks, well, he must be the guy. Over the years, her “memory” of the suspect’s appearance becomes hardwired to the photo of the police suspect. When the suspect is proven innocent, they are often deeply troubled. They have a very hard time adjusting their “memory”. Tells you something, doesn’t it?

You can’t trust your memories. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them, such as they are. But you can’t trust them.

Pennies for Peanuts

Yet if the characters’ faith in a better future is quintessentially American, it travels well. “Peanuts” merchandise, starting with a six-inch plastic Snoopy in 1958, now includes toys, videos, clothing, Hallmark cards, sheets, MetLife ads and… well, more than $1 billion in sales every year. If the “Peanuts”-ing of the world seems crassly exploitative to some critics (even one United Media insider says it “casts a mercantile pall over something innocent”), it’s because Schulz can’t say no. It is as if Schulz—who worries that promised TV interviews will be canceled once people realize how unworthy he is—thinks spurning a deal would tempt fate.

Yeah, give it a rest. The truth is that Charles Schultz sold out big time. He was quite capable of making a wonderful living writing a nice little comic about a loser and his pet dog, but he got greedy. He wanted millions, not hundreds of thousands. He wanted his own hockey rink. He wanted an empire. And he got it, because people did not take offense at the idea of cartoon characters designed to enrapture children being used to huckster insurance or phony sentiment (Hallmark).

Stop soft-pedaling the fact that Schultz sold his soul.

Monkey Business

I’ve never quite understood the Ontario Film Review Board.

First of all, the name is deceitful. This is the Ontario Censor Board, in all but name. The politicians realized that the general public doesn’t approve of censorship so instead of addressing the real issue they made a meaningless cosmetic change: Ontario Film Review Board.

Our society doesn’t know what do to with free expression anymore. In principle, we all agree with it. In practice, we’d all love to censor anything we don’t like.

A director named Ron Mann has made a documentary film about the history of our society’s attitudes towards marijuana. The Ontario Film Review Board saw the film and, to put it mildly, had a fit. THIS FILM CANNOT BE SHOWN IN ONTARIO.

Why not? Does it show mutilation? Full frontal nudity? Urination? Masturbation? Surgery? What? What was so offensive that all of the people of Ontario MUST be protected from it?

Monkeys smoking pot.

That’s right.

You see, about 30 years ago, the U.S. government conducted some research into marijuana and it’s effects on various living beings. In one of their experiments, they strapped a bunch of chimpanzees into chairs and made them smoke some pot. They filmed this, those clever scientists! About 30 seconds of this footage is used in Grass.

There are also scenes of adults smoking marijuana in Grass. That did not arouse the ire of the Ontario Censor— Film Review Board. That is because no animals were abused in the process of making those scenes. Hmmm.

You will have noticed that the footage in question was made by the U.S. government, not by the film-makers. So the censor board is saying, well, you can’t show films of criminal activities…. er… just because they were made by someone else, even if it was the government??

Does this mean that archival war footage cannot be made into movies anymore? Just think: there is lots of film of soldiers getting killed in battle. Since we don’t want soldiers to be killed in battle, no one should see those films. Or would you argue that killing people during war time is perfectly legal? But then, it was perfectly legal for the U.S. government to torture monkeys too.

This is not the only film by Ron Mann that has aroused, shall we say, the concern of the Censor Board. About twenty years ago, he made a film in which a poet heaped lavish praise upon the form and appearance of a female breast. That too was considered pernicious and dangerous for public consumption even though an actual breast was never shown.

I think the Ontario Film Censorship Review Board is a little confused here. I think they are going by their bad instincts. When they see a scene that disturbs them, they try to find some reason to ban it. They will tell you it breaks a certain rule or violates a certain community standard. The truth is, they don’t have any logic or rationale for what they do. The truth is that, in the age of the internet, they have become entirely irrelevant anyway. In a few years, people will download movies from anywhere they want to, without the slightest interference from censor boards or politicians. We’re not very well prepared for that coming world. We’re shocked at monkeys smoking pot.

What would they do with a scene of alligators eating their own young? Or of a cheetah taking down a young Reebok? Or a bull fight?

The Lawyers of Walkerton

The Robin Sharpe case, the Walkerton water scandal, the church-run residential homes scandal, the tobacco lawsuits, the Columbine shootings…. all, and many others, in their aftermaths, are linked by one dominant thread: after the initial catastrophe, the lawyers quickly stepped in…. to ensure that a multitude of new catastrophes will follow.

Bankruptcy, despair, and personal destruction aren’t as dramatic as school bombings or water poisoning, so they don’t get as much extensive coverage in the media. But they are equally real and sometimes more disastrous for people than the initial misfortunes that first brought the litigants to the courthouse.

The Survivors of “Survivor”, the tv show, did well to leave the island alive– but they foolishly voted a lawyer, Stacey Stillman, off the island in the third round. She’s now suing two of the contestants and the executive producer. Did she not agree to the basic rules of the game when she signed on? Sure, but no person should be forced to honor an agreement that relates somehow to his or her personal integrity.

I have to take you back on a brief side-trip to Roald Dahl’s childhood. Roald Dahl, whose father died when he was very young, was shipped off to a British residential school by his mother. At this residential school, misbehavior– real or imagined– was punished with the rod. The miscreant was ordered to drop his pants and bend over and then was thwacked repeatedly with a wooden stick until he was bruised or bleeding. The flogging was performed by upper-class boys or the head-master– the scions of British upper-class snobbery, the flower of all that was civilized in the Western World, in their own estimation. The same people who looked down upon the native peoples of Africa as “savages”.

I have never heard of any of these men being sued, years after the fact, by any of their students, least of all Roald Dahl. Why not? Isn’t this abuse? Roald Dahl’s mother, a lovely woman by all accounts, certainly didn’t approve. Roald Dahl didn’t approve. Who gave them the right to do this? In a court of law, would any reasonable person believe– today– that this kind of discipline is justifiable?

Do they still do this? Seems impossible, don’t you think? Certainly, no teacher of any school, private or not, in North America, could get away such singular brutality today. Or could they?

But a 13-year-old girl in a high school in Toronto can ruin a teacher’s life by asserting that he spoke the word “breast” in front of her and nudged her once as he passed her desk and looked at her in a “lewd and inappropriate way”. His name appears in the papers. He is suspended from his job. He is shunned by his friends and colleagues. His wife leaves him. It is later found that the girl was lying– but no matter. The man must spend the rest of his life under a cloud of suspicion that is named “was once charged with sexual abuse”.

And what shall we do with the girl? Not a blessed thing. A verbal warning, perhaps. I assume that might have been done, but the official record is that nothing was done. Our society, down on it’s hands and knees examining every crack in the floor for the slightest sign of a pin of sexual harassment, stands aside while the elephant of personal destruction does headstands on the ottoman.

A woman gets drunk at an office party. Her employers offer to pay for a taxi to take her home. They offer to call her husband. She turns them down, heads off in a car and goes drinking at another bar somewhere. Then she gets into the car again and smashes into a pickup truck. She suffers permanent brain damage and can no longer work. A court awards her $300,000 from the employer– the same employer that tried to stop her from driving home by herself– on the reasoning– if you could call it that– that they were one-fourth responsible for her accident. But if she is 3/4 responsible, then she owes herself $900,000, money which she does not have. It appears that the logic of the law, in this case, is that he who has deep pockets will pay, one way or the other.

And Roald Dahl’s teachers– one of them went on to be the man who put the crown on the head of Queen Elizabeth– a man who made a young boy expose his buttocks so he could whack him so hard with a birch stick that the boy couldn’t sit down without pain for weeks– Roald Dahl’s teachers…. probably thrive in doddering retirements in the countryside of England, proud of their contributions to civilization.

Back to the law– the problem is, I don’t think our society really does think the law makes sense anymore. Most people seem to find many of these ruling bizarre. Not all of them really are bizarre. The newspapers do like to exaggerate. But we do seem to have completely lost sight of the purpose of the law– to provide the rules for justice and fairness– because the law has become a tool in the hands of schemers to extract wealth from vulnerable parties. It’s become a game that consists completely of technicalities. The schemers are not necessarily the litigants– they are the lawyers, who usually end up with most of the settlement anyway. It is indeed not unusual for the lawyers to end up with all of the settlement, or even more than the settlement, as in the tobacco cases in the U.S.  [A court later lowered the fees.]

In the case of Walkerton, the law should have provided that the injured parties received compensation for pain, suffering, and inconvenience caused by the mismanagement of the water purification system. Instead, every party, regardless of injury, is going to receive $2,000. And the six lawyers who partnered in the class action suit will receive $5 million.

What? How can this possibly make sense? How can the only party not injured by the actions of the Walkerton municipal water utility end up with more money than any of the injured parties?

The situation was thus: the genuinely injured parties stood to gain much more than $2,000 each, since any right-minded jury would award the family of one of the dead or seriously sick children much, much more than that. But this would require years of litigation, expert witnesses, medical records, motions and counter-motions, suspensions and delays, and so on, all of it fought with the utmost vigor by the party with deepest pockets, the province (and the province’s insurance companies).

The province was not necessarily primarily responsible for the water disaster: the town of Walkerton was. But the province has some indirect responsibility– and deep pockets.

It doesn’t make sense. The people of Walkerton are still free to demand more than $2,000, by proving hardship above the average, I suppose, to an arbitrator appointed by a judge. I suppose this will result in smaller, more reasonable settlements, and appears to cut the lawyers out of the equation. It is quite possible that the conduct of the lawyers in this case was quite reasonable. Except for the $5 million.

What has really happened is this: the lawyers, taking advantage of their position as gate-keepers of the legal system, were empowered to go into the treasury together (both sides, holding hands and singing “tra-la-la-la”) and decide how much money should be given out to the residents of Walkerton, and, while they were there, with no one other than fellow lawyers to look on, they stuffed their own pockets full. These lawyers purportedly represent the two adversaries in our legal system. But the real adversaries in our legal system are the clients and the lawyers. The lawyers have figured out a way to do their business that guarantees benefits to themselves regardless of who wins the actual case.

“Here, you take some.”
“But do you have enough?”
“Well, I could take a little more, perhaps…”
“Please do!”
“Oh, but only if you do.”
“Well, if you insist….”

As in most cases, you have lawyers for one side sitting down with lawyers for the other side. And they say to each other– your clients are slimy bastards who committed horrible acts that resulted in incalculable pain and misery for my clients and you will have to pay enormous sums of money to them because even though money can’t buy love, it is necessary to make a symbolic gesture of culpability. But first, lets take care of each other. We’ll tell our client that they are getting piles of money and that our services are free. We’ll make it clear, in devious, subtle ways, that if they don’t accept the agreement we recommend to them, they’ll be in court for decades and never get a cent after the legal bills. In return, you get to charge your client enormous sums for pretending to have saved them millions of dollars by negotiating the lesser of two evils in return for which they pay our outrageous legal fees as well as yours.

But won’t your clients say, shouldn’t all those millions going into legal fees be going to us? Why are you making it look like it doesn’t come out of our settlement by saying that you are getting paid directly by the defendant, instead of billing us? Why do you guys get a percentage anyway, instead of a decent fixed rate for the number of hours you actually worked?

Ha ha ha ha! Okay? Done.

The law has become so arcane and complex that lawyers function like priests, interpreting the will of an omnipotent but unknowable God who periodically lashes down from his mountain top with random acts of wanton destruction and misalignment.

We live in a democracy. You would think that our legal system represents the will of the people, popularly expressed. But the lawyers have succeeded in establishing an exclusive cooperative monopoly on access to “justice”.

The government should do three things.

1. Review all of the laws and get rid of the ones that obsolete, irrelevant, or more than 30 years old, unless a really compelling case can be made for keeping it. (I expect that “homicide” should stay on the books.)

2. All the retained laws must be simplified and rewritten so that an average Grade 6 student can clearly understand them.

3. Lawyers fees should be regulated. I don’t mind so much if they are paid a decent wage, but “decent wage” should be defined as “less than a million dollars” and “not a percentage of the settlement they negotiated with other lawyers”.

Lawyers don’t have to dig holes in the ground in the winter or handle garbage or toxic sludge. They don’t have to change diapers or clean toilets. Why should they make more than $30 an hour?

Reconstructed Memories

By now it is well known that ‘Fragments: Memories of a Wartime Childhood’ — put forward as the recovered memories of a child’s Holocaust experience– is a fraud. But at the time it was published, ‘Fragments’ was widely hailed as a masterpiece of Holocaust writing, and the author, then known as Binjamin Wilkomirski, became an emblematic hero: the victim who survived.” NY Times, Feb 26, 2002

You may have noticed all those cases of child sexual abuse by priests in the United States. Nothing new. Ireland and Canada have also had major scandals, and I’ll bet Australia and Poland have had theirs as well.

But now you are going to have to draw a reasonable conclusion about “recovered” memories. Either they don’t exist at all — they are constructions provoked by emotional instability or something– or they only happen to women.

Not a single one of the men pressing the charges against the priests — and there are hundreds of them– is claiming to have “recovered” the memories of the sexual abuse. Not one. The memories were always there. They never lost them. They were vivid, because the experiences were awful.

I suppose one could argue that women experience abuse more intensely and thus have stronger urges to “repress” the memory. But you realize that that would open doors, don’t you? That women really are different. That women’s testimony in court should be regarded differently, about things recalled from memory, then men’s testimony. That women are weaker emotionally.

I don’t think we want to go there. So we should do the sensible thing and start treating “recovered” memories as “constructed” memories. They are strange creatures of imagination and anxiety and perceptual dysfunction.

Notes on Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”

I believe the kitchen chair is an allusion to a woman’s attempt to domesticate a man, to get him to commit, to become part of her home, like the furniture, children, and appliances. She ties him to her kitchen chair: she holds him with her domestic hospitality, her nurturing love. But then she cuts his hair– takes away the strength he feels he has as a strong, independent man. But he says “hallelujah” because he loves her.

Seems to be a religious bifurcation here between those who see the “cold and broken hallelujah” and those who see the song as paean to the ultimate triumph of love. The key would be the last lines:

And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the lord of song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Seems you could have it both ways, but I think it means that John Cale’s interpretation is right: it’s a cold and lonely hallelujah. The sight of Bathsheba on the roof compels you to love, arouses the desire and unquenchable longing, but “love is not a victory march”– there is no final consummation that endures, but in the unquenchable longing is spiritual beauty, the ability of a human to cry out “hallelujah” no matter how broken his circumstances.

In a sense, is this a hymn to Cohen’s life as a rambling gypsy womanizer who never settled down?

The Grinch Sells Out

You might have heard that Jim Carrey is starring in a new version of the Dr. Seuss “classic”, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, directed by Ron Howard (Apollo 13).

Apparently the new version is an “adult” version, meaning that it will be considered too scary for little children. This is kind of a strange idea. Dr. Seuss books are so absolutely, definitively, repetitively pre-school. How can you take that kind of raw material and turn it into something so scary you wouldn’t want your five-year-old to see it?

But what is really scary is the fact that the Grinch was about how a heartless, bloodless, cruel old pimpish wreck decided to steal everything from the charming if rather monotonous inhabitants of “Whoville”.

We are “Whoville”. Hollywood is the Grinch. It is amazing to me how utterly shameless Hollywood is when it comes to cashing in on the true spirit of Christmas. Every consumer tie-in imaginable is rolling out at once. Every effort is made to manipulate and deceive your children for a few shekels more.

The true spirit of Christmas? Canadian Tire with its “Give like Santa, save like Scrooge” campaign? Coca Cola with it’s pseudo-humanitarian pop tunes?

Shameless shameless shameless.

But like those anonymous and not too inspiring citizens of Whoville, we buy it.

And by the way, I never bought the part about the inhabitants of Whoville all trotting out to the tree at the end, singing away joyfully even though all of their treats and presents were stolen. It is the one farcical element of the original “Grinch” that just doesn’t wash and never did.

But using Boris Karloff’s voice for the Grinch was a stroke of genius.

Jim Carrey– you are no Boris Karloff.

Left Behind

In Toronto, right at this moment, a large film crew is working on a $17 million production called Left Behind, about the end of time: the apocalypse. It is based on a book written by Tim LeHaye and Jerry Jenkins, who believe their story is based on fact. The producers are Peter and Paul Lalonde. The “facts” are found in the Revelation of St. John, the last book of the bible.

This is a very strange story. The faithful few will be “raptured”– taken by God to be in His presence– while– pardon the expression– all hell breaks loose on earth, as the Anti-Christ tries to do what the United Nations could never do in a million years: make the U.S. pay up on its delinquent dues.

The LeHaye-Jenkins books do very well, in terms of sales. They sell millions of copies. I have no way of knowing how many of their readers take this stuff seriously. Judging from the interviews on television and radio, lots and lots of people do take them seriously.

Anecdotally, I recall more than a few conversations with people who are convinced we are in the “end-times”. The signs are all around us. Rampant immorality. Confusing technological developments. Uncertainty and confusion. Murder and mayhem. Bill Clinton. No one thinks this is the normal state of circumstances. Everyone thinks that something really special is going on. They would be disappointed, you almost think, if the crime rate went down or peace broke out. They would be very disappointed to find out that “it was ever thus”.

But let’s go on to something more interesting. It fascinates me that people like LeHaye and Jenkins use movies, with all the technology and special effects money can buy from Hollywood, to get their message out to the world. You see, a lot of people think that these technologies are part of what got us into the supposedly sorry state of affairs we are in now.

On the other hand, some people would argue that technology is neutral. It is neither good nor bad. People use it for their own purposes, whatever they may be.

That’s a pretty shallow view of technology. Philosophers like Karl Popper have convincingly shown that technology (the application of science) is rooted in the way we look at the world. Good philosophies produce good science. Bad philosophies produce bad science and eventually die off. Popper means science in a broad sense– I think he would include culture in the equation: good philosophies are very productive culturally. We think of the lousy art produced by the state-sanctioned artists of the Soviet Union. We think of all the great artists who fled Nazi Germany. We think of the flowering of the visual arts during the renaissance. We think of Elizabethan England.

Popper doesn’t think philosophies are ever true, in a transcendental, universal sense of the term. They are merely models– or paradigms– of the way we see the world. As long as they work, they are useful. Then we discard them.

If this is true, then all the humanistic amoral licentiousness of our times must be rooted in good philosophy, because it has been extremely productive. It has been more productive than any other philosophy in the history of the world. It has provided us with enormous wealth, dazzling electronic toys, and breathtaking medical breakthroughs. In terms of culture, perhaps the jury is still out. Perhaps not. I would argue that Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Ingmar Bergman, Francois Truffaut, Alice Munro, and Michael Ondaatje have produced a pretty good body of work.

But, some Christians would object, just because we can produce all these baubles doesn’t mean that our society is morally good. But Christians have essentially agreed with Popper for centuries, except that they word it differently: they believe God rewards virtue, in this world. The more “Christian” our culture and society is, the more productive it should be.

And if Popper and the Christians are right, then the best and the most successful writers, artists, musicians, and film-makers in the world, would all be Christians.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that you could show that Christians produce the best culture in the world. In fact, you could make a pretty good case for the argument that right now they produce the worst. Have you ever watched the Christian Broadcasting Network? Artists lip-synch maudlin lyrics to mindless pap. They never show anything that could remotely be called “cutting edge”.

That’s why I expect that “Left Behind” will be a crummy film.  It will be poorly written, poorly acted, and filmed like a sitcom: camera 1, camera 2, camera 3.

Digital Vs. Analog

I have read with great interest some of the discussion about the differences between digital video and 35 mm film.

At this same time, I have been converting some of my old films to digital video for preservation and convenience. I am really dazzled by all the progress made by digital video over the past few years, but as I watch some of those cheesy “Super 8” era movies, I find myself more and more in love with the “look” of film.

In the same way, I still like vinyl for music. I am convinced that under ideal circumstances (a top notch turntable, for one thing) vinyl records DO sound better than MP3’s or even CD’s. Many people describe it as “warmth”, but we do know that digital recording IS inherently reductionistic. Every byte of sound is a precise mathematical expression, at a time when our data storage capacity is still relatively limited (even if a 75 GIG drive sounds impressive to you). Analog recordings “mimic” sound and video. They record a kind of mirror image of what they see and hear, rather than “process” it. But when a digital camera or recorder scans images or sounds, it translates it into a string of data bits that refer to parallel data structures that try to reconstruct the image or sound on your computer. We know that in order to fit this data onto a computer disk, the data has to be limited and restrained, because there is an immense amount of data in a picture or a sound.

Film and tape have limits too. These limits are defined by the maximum (or minimum, depending on how you look at it) granularity of the medium. Film has developed to the point where it’s granularity is quite good. It takes a big computer file to match the true resolution of a 35mm picture.

The key point is that if there is a really, really strange color out there, a computer may not be able to match it to its internal references. But a computer is clever. It won’t crash just because it can’t find an exact color match. It will simply adopt the nearest approximation.

Logically, digital media will likely eventually catch up to the best films or vinyl records, as they continue to expand storage capacity and accuracy of the scanners (the CCD or the microphone), but it may be many years before digital video really compares favorably to film for the subtlety of colours and shades, or vinyl for the subtlety of overtones and reverberations.

Interesting aside: didn’t Marilyn Monroe consider her mole (which apparently “moved” around on her face) a distinctive beauty mark? It may be the flaws that give something beautiful “character” and richness that people really want to experience.