This is a pretty naked, rather exquisite statement: if I was a Christian, I might want to show mercy. Well, no, as a matter of fact. At least, not if you were an American Christian. Apparently, American Christians are quite free to wish death and imprisonment with cheerful exuberance, on anyone they think “dun it”.

You don’t want to bore people like that with issues like evidence and proof. Good heavens! And they don’t really want to discuss compassion or mercy so much as scream hysterically at you that if we don’t beat the hell out of our enemies, they’ll take away our Hummers. It doesn’t seem to matter much if “them” is Al Qaeda, communists, liberals, drunk drivers, Canadians, or Scots.

Yeah, I’m not interested in sounding reasonable at the moment. I’m just a little nauseated by the orgy of hatred and paranoia that dominates American politics right now. And I’m really sick of seeing this coming from people claiming to be Christians.

There’s that division between Europe and America. Americans– at least, the vast majority of them, seem very, very excited about the idea of inflicting a lot of pain and suffering on Abdel Baset al-Megrahi and they don’t seem to care very much about whether he actually did the crime or not. At least, none of the posters or bloggers that I have found have devoted a single line, let alone a paragraph, to the fairly serious claim that his conviction was a frame-up in the first place. The people who do seem aware of the dubious integrity of the case against him see predisposed to approve of the early release any way.

The crucial witness against Megrahi for the prosecution was Tony Gauci, a Maltese storekeeper, who testified that he had sold Megrahi the clothing later found in the remains of the suitcase bomb.[17] At the trial, Gauci appeared uncertain about the exact date he sold the clothes in question, and was not entirely sure that it was Megrahi to whom they were sold.

You get the feeling the Americans don’t really care about the evidence. You get the feeling they suspect that requiring “proof” would merely be a way of hoodwinking them out of the satisfaction of seeing someone suffer and die in order to vitiate their rage.

Sorry– does that sound brutal? Yes, doesn’t it? Yes, yes, yes.

Even Obama, sadly, has joined the chorus. Has U.S. politics reached such a low point now that even a fairly honorable guy like Obama feels utterly compelled to name a few witches?

Just imagine Obama saying: “We do need to acknowledge that the evidence against Mr. al-Megrahi is controversial, to say the least, and we must respect the desire of whacky other countries to actually show something they call “compassion” even to people of Arabic ethnicity….”

Something like that. And the Republicans would be foaming at their mouths with apoplectic rage that an American president missed a valuable opportunity to advocate for cruelty and hatred around the world, instead of just in America.

“I’ll never apologize for the United States of America, ever. I don’t care what the facts are.” Attaboy George! That about sums it up– George Bush Sr. responding to criticism of the U.S. warship Vincennes under Captain William Rogers for shooting down Iranian Air Flight 655 killing over 300 innocent civilians.

Yeah. Do you suppose there are Iranians out there who might be a bit miffed that Captain Rogers– widely regarded by his own military at the time as a “loose cannon” never paid for his sins?

No?  What if they know that he received a medal for it?

I suspect that that is the way America really means it: no matter what the facts are. It’s us vs. them, ours vs. yours, and if we need your oil, we’ll damn well take it, thank you.

So a guy, apparently, shows up at an Obama town hall meeting in New Hampshire a few weeks ago with a semi-automatic weapon and a t-shirt that refers to Thomas Jefferson’s statement: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” This guy’s t-shirt actually says “It’s time to water the tree of liberty…”

Let’s imagine that a few steps away some other dude pulls out a doobie and lights it up. And a few feet from him, some woman decides to breastfeed her baby. And a few steps from her, two men kiss each other on the lips. And a few steps from those two, an Arabic man puts a mat on the ground in the direction of Mecca. And he is standing close to guy wearing an “impeach George Bush” t-shirt.

Of these loyal citizens, whom might the police choose to detain? Well, all of them, except the man with the gun.

The gun-toting “libertarian” won’t be detained– he is exercising a sacred right. He also loudly and rather hysterically claims that he is standing up for liberty– he doesn’t want the government acting like a nanny and telling him what to do, nosirreee. Like telling him who he can kiss or what he can smoke or who he can pray to.

Of course, if that same government wants to tap his phone without a warrant, or put him on a plane and send him to Syria for some serious questioning, or send him to some other foreign country to lose his arm or leg or life on behalf of an oil company, or allow his job to be outsourced to some sweatshop in Asia somewhere… well, that’s fine with him. And if a corporation tells him what kind of health coverage he can have and what kind of treatments he can receive, well, gosh, that’s not like “liberty” or anything like that, I guess.

I’m just trying to imagine the American mind set here… when a protestor shows up with a t-shirt that advocates impeaching George Bush, he gets busted, dragged off– by government employees– because he constitutes some vague sort of risk. The courts almost always find these actions unconstitutional but the Bush Administration never paid much attention to the courts or judges or the law. But a man hangs around the venue at which President Obama is appearing with a semi-automatic weapon…. ?

I don’t think the hysterical right is even a large minority right now. I think these are marginal people, ill-informed, a little crazy. But their hysterics, at these town-hall meetings, are getting enormous media play– from the mythical “liberal” media, no less– and they seem to be scaring Obama, who seems to be backing away from a public option on health care even though polls of the rational majority have shown that most people are in favor of it.

There was a woman at a town-hall meeting in New Hampshire who got all teary and emotional about the threat to America by a health care plan that threatened to turn her nation into another Russia. She might as well have added that the fairies are trying to steal her turnips, for all the logic in her position. But she gets on the air, on TV, and makes people uneasy, and the Democrats back away.

It’s beyond contempt. It makes you wonder why anyone ever thought there was such a thing as “progress”.

It’s really easy to look back at McCarthyism and chuckle and assure ourselves that we have far more sense than that nowadays. No we don’t. And I have a feeling that a lot of people who find McCarthy ridiculous today might someday look back at this decade and find a lot of ridiculousness too. The use of torture and arbitrary arrests and detention? The hysterical rituals by which we think we’re keeping terrorists from blowing up Ellis Island and the Brooklyn Bridge? The determination of the widows of victims of 9/11 to honor liberty and freedom by banning unpatriotic plays from the theatre to be built as part of the new World Trade Center complex?

Canadian Tire and 9/11

I never knew this before, but during the 9/11 crisis, when thousands of airlines passengers were stranded in Gander, Newfoundland, the local Canadian Tire Store, with approval from head office, instructed their clerks to ask if any customer was one of the “airplane people”. If they were, the clerks were instructed to allow them to take whatever they needed without cost.

We drove past that Canadian Tire on our way to Trinity Bay from Twillingate. Across the road is a Walmart. Most of the “airplane people” were American, but the Walmart charged their usual prices for everything– they actually had more of what the passengers needed because all of the luggage was sealed in the planes and inaccessible.

Canadian Tire, when it ran out of sleeping bags and such, bought $10,000 worth of goods from Walmart and gave it away to the passengers.

Let’s not be tacky and notice how the grateful Americans have repaid us by slandering our health care system.

Well, probably not the ones who stayed in Gander, Newfoundland.

About that Canadian Health Care System– if you are an American and you have heard the ridiculous attacks, you should consider this one thing alone: there has not been a single federal politician in any recent election in Canada who has dared to advocate dismantling it. Not a single one. If Canadians were even remotely unhappy with our system, would you not expect at least a few daring rogues to run on a platform of making our system more like America’s?

Then consider this: Canadians, inundated with American media, have a deep familiarity with both systems. Most Americans have virtually no familiarity with the Canadian, or British, or French systems . I am eternally impressed with those citizens standing up at those town hall meetings with remarkable confidence in their own experiences and knowledge, of which there seems to us, very little, to let all Americans know just what should be done with the health care system, and don’t you dare require us to support anything we didn’t choose, even though they expect Americans to support every war– and there’s been a pile of them– whether they chose it or not.

Take a Trip to New York

Hi Marg,

We had a great trip to New York. “Hair” was fantastic, and the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) was also fabulous. We hung around Times Square for a while– it looks like a very interesting place– lots of glitter and lots of people around– but not much to actually do except grab a coffee at Starbucks and hang out. However, if you don’t have tickets in advance, you can buy heavily discounted tickets for Broadway shows there by lining up in front of a TKTS booth and seeing what is available. These tickets are typically 40% off, available for shows that night, most of which are in easy walking distance of the stand. You can’t miss the booth– it’s right in Times Square. We didn’t use it because we already had our tickets, and you wouldn’t have been able to get tickets for “Hair” there anyway.

We loved MOMA. It’s on 53rd St. near 7th Avenue– it’s closed on Tuesdays! Especially the 5th and 4th floors, which had a lot of Picasso and other modern artists. Beautiful building, and we really enjoyed lunch in the café on the 2nd floor. You can take pictures (no flash) and most paintings are unprotected (no glass barriers). Right now they are also showing this “installation” that consists of the possessions of a Chinese woman who “kept everything”. It’s actually quite intriguing.

If you want a great view, there is Empire State Building of course, but you will probably have a better experience at the Rockefeller Centre on 50th St. also around 7th Avenue (near MOMA!).

Everything, by the way, is expensive. I find you just have to kind of ignore prices and do what you want to do– you came all this way and went though all the trouble of getting there, so why not?

The Museum of Natural History is pretty good– a bit like our ROM but bigger. It’s on the West side of Central Park (I assume you’ll have a touristy map). Oh– there is a “Titanic” display on 44th Street, near Times Square. I thought it would be kind of cheesy, but it is actually very interesting. It features a lot of exhibits of items retrieved from the wreck, beautifully presented, with lots of basic information. There is even a recreation of a couple of state rooms and the grand stairway. Expensive again ($25) but we thought it was worthwhile. Took about two hours to go through.

We weren’t high on Ellis Island– they haven’t done very much with the building– just placards, text, and pictures, really, though it was interesting to see the island. You won’t get into the Statue of Liberty– it’s all reservations now, and they are convinced that Al Qaeda is determined to attack it (!) so you’ll have to wait in line so they can scan your lunch bag. You do wonder if they shouldn’t be investing the huge cost of it into protecting something that really matters. It would probably be cheaper to buy a spare Statue of Liberty and keep it in a warehouse in Brooklyn in case it’s needed.


To use the toll roads on the way to New York City, you take a slip of paper from a man in a booth and then, when you exit the toll road, hand it to another man in a booth who calculates your fee and collects the money.

This is pretty whacky, especially if you have used the 407 in Canada, which has an automated system. You don’t even pay when you exit– you get a bill in the mail.

But then, we paid 5 or 6 dollars for each stretch of the toll road in the U.S. Ontario’s 407 seems to charge a lot more. Your bill is not going to be less than $15 for even a short stretch, from the middle of Toronto to Brampton.

Audio Books: We listened to the entire audio recording of “Angela’s Ashes” by Frank McCourt on the way down and back– about 14 hours, altogether, with time out to hear “Hair”, which we saw in New York at the John Hirschbeck Theatre.

“Angela’s Ashes” is a remarkable memoir, of Frank McCourt’s upbringing in dire poverty in Limerick, Ireland, in the 1930’s and 40’s.

The saddest song I’ve ever heard is “Kilkelly Ireland” by Peter Jones, based on letters found in his grandparent’s attic. It might well be the perfect soundtrack for “Angela’s Ashes”. “Kilkelly Ireland” is simply a series of letters, one to a verse, each verse a decade, to a son who has moved away to America, updating him on family events, expressing how wonderful it would be to see him again.

State Secrets

The government’s recent brief cited the leading Supreme Court decision on state secrets, United States v. Reynolds in 1953, but it said nothing about Judge Walker’s reading of it.

“Reynolds itself,” Judge Walker wrote, “leaves little room for defendants’ argument that the state secrets privilege is actually rooted in the Constitution.”

The Reynolds case concerned an Air Force accident report. The government refused to turn it over in an injury lawsuit, saying that disclosure of the report would endanger national security by revealing military secrets.

When the report was finally released in 1996, it contained no secrets, but it did show that the deaths of nine men in the crash a B-29 bomber had been caused by the Air Force’s negligence.

NyTimes, August 2, 2009

As seems inevitable… It is not surprising, of course, that the Bush Administration would have sought to establish Reynolds as a precedent– sparing the government having to defend itself against those annoying lawsuits. A more recent ruling by Judge Walker, against the Bush Administration, asserted that the Reynolds ruling established no such precedent. But once again, we have Obama’s Justice Department supporting Bush policy positions that Obama seemed to criticize on the campaign trail. What gives?

These policies are not abstractions: real individuals have been kidnapped and tortured as a result of Bush policies and their only recourse, the courts, have been denied them by rulings by other courts that are contrary to Walker. The government– the President!– reserves the right to tell the courts when a lawsuit might “endanger” national security, without, of course, ever being accountable for what that danger is. Civil libertarians are rightly aghast.

It is so, so perfect that the major precedent for this kind of judicial ruling is so, so discredited: the U.S. Air Force was trying to cover up it’s own negligence, exactly as the plaintiffs in Reynolds alleged. Does anyone even know or care?

It is nauseating to read conservatives complain bitterly about Obama’s health care plans because they don’t want the government telling them what to do. You idiots! The government is declaring that it has the right to seize and detain and even torture you , and spy on you, and obtain your library records, and tap your phones without any judicial oversight at all– and you are worried that you’re going to forced to have health insurance! You don’t like liberals because they want to infringe on your personal freedoms?! Oh, the rank hypocrisy!

I am waiting for conservatives to enunciate a clear-cut declaration that they no longer accept the idea of “innocent until proven guilty”. Perhaps the movies and television dramas like “24” have finally succeeded where generations of McCarthyites failed.

A director of Homeland Security explained that 60-year-old women in wheelchairs are routinely searched when flying because… “if Al Qaeda knew that we were letting 60-year-old women in wheelchairs through, do you think they would hesitate to plant a bomb on a 60-year-old woman in a wheelchair?”

By golly, he’s right. And if Al Qaeda knew that they couldn’t get bombs onto airplanes, they would start putting them on ships and trains.

Does Al Qaeda know that this dink is in charge of homeland security? Because, if they did, I think they would rest assured that a nation run by idiots cannot long prevail anyway.

The more you are afraid, the more powerful the government and police are. I suggest you laugh at your government at least once a day.


More bad news about Obama:  “Unfortunately, the House measure is opposed by the Obama administration, which still seems to operate on the principle that what’s good for Wall Street is good for America.”  Paul Krugman, NY Times.  Link to Story.

Neo-Puritan Feminism

This is nauseating: a grade 4 teacher “married” one of his students at the end of the year, in a playful, mock, playground ceremony. What kind of deviant mind would regard this as sinister? Well, lots of them, as it turns out (though not a single one of the students or parents of the students).

Sometimes America seems to be in the throes of some kind of wave of neo-puritanical zeal. This is an unholy alliance between radical feminists, hard-right evangelical “Christians”, and small-minded middle-managers (the school principal– maybe– in this case). Look at the controversy over characters in Harry Potter consuming alcohol– we must protect our children from the idea that something profane could enter their bodies– unless it’s a Big Mac and a bag of Doritos and a gallon of coke.

Beware them all, but, Scrooge might say, beware more than anyone the middle-managers. They have the power to do harm because they glide to positions of power on the lubrication of risk-less conformity and perception management, but are incapable of thinking clearly for themselves, or deferring to those who do. They are the kind of people who believe in consultants, appoint committees, and spend voluminous amounts of time developing mission statements and strategic plans. They are terrified that their fundamental incompetency’s will be revealed, so they take refuge in process and strategy and consensus and “current thinking”. These are the people who burn witches, and then, a decade later, when the consensus changes, pay them off and apologize. And then erect monuments to the witch-burners, to keep everyone happy.

The JK Wedding Video

Can’t someone post a fun video of a church wedding without generating a storm of controversy?

For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, here it is:

I like it. But I was surprised to find that some people apparently believe the moves were spontaneous, and that the wedding party just decided out of nowhere that they would all dance down the aisle. The entire wedding party worked with a choreographer for quite some time, of course, to develop the sequences, the moves, and positions. The somersault by the bridegroom, for example, required a fair bit of precise timing and practiced coordination.

That, to me, does not diminish the pleasure of watching it one whit. It looks to me as if there was an effort to find out what each person could do and then work with him or her to develop the entire “dance” from start to finish. There are tricks and flourishes that could only have come from training and experience. The moves are too clever and sophisticated to have come from the members of a randomly assembled group like a wedding party– unless that group included a choreographer.

Nobody is trying to fool anybody.

I’ve seen a few comments about the dance moves being clumsy or lacking in gracefulness. Did these viewers forget that this was a real wedding party, not a dance troupe? Or did they just confuse some modern Bob Fosse type moves (especially the slow-motion effect near the end) with obtuseness? Considering the fact that the people in the wedding party were probably chosen because they were friends or relatives of the couple getting married, I thought they did very well. You could tell some were more comfortable with basic movements, and others– like the short guy with the beard– had some real skills. There are also moments that seem linked to the lyrics in a subtle, suggestive way– as when Chris Brown promises he’ll never let her fall and the dancers go into that slow motion tableau, or when the two girls pull each other like slingshots down the aisle.

Yet others have found fault with the idea of doing a celebratory dance during what– they allege– should be a “solemn” occasion. For heaven’s sake, they are celebrating a wedding in a church. They are happy: two individuals found lifetime partners. Their friends are joyfully celebrating with them. Someone else smartly quoted Mencken (I paraphrase): puritans are people who suspect that someone somewhere is having fun. If Jesus had attended this wedding, I think he would have gladly boogied down the aisle along with the wedding party. The Pharisees would have stared solemnly from the side, frowning.

By the late 1970’s, the tradition of the father walking his daughter down the aisle to “give her away” almost seemed to be going extinct. Well, it’s back with a vengeance. Why? Why on earth is a young woman not offended by the very idea? I don’t buy the idea that it’s a meaningless vestige of age-old traditions. I does mean something.

Tarnished “Shine”

Did you see the movie “Shine”? I know– you loved it. What an inspirational story, about how a promising young piano prodigy, destroyed by a psychotic, over-bearing father, eventually recovers to become one of the most brilliant classical pianists in the world.

He even masters that fantastically difficult piece by Rach… Rachminoff? Something… Anyway, it’s so hard, that hardly anyone in the world ever attempts. When he attempted it, he had a nervous breakdown– right on stage! Because it brought up the passions he felt about his over-bearing father, who was that way because he lost his family in the holocaust. Yeah, you heard that it was not 100% accurate– but who cares!

Just to start us out, let’s first cover the inaccuracies of the film, before we get to the salient issues.

First of all, Helfgott’s parents did not “survive” the Holocaust– they never lived the Holocaust. They moved to Australia before Hitler came to power. So that explanation of Helfgott’s father’s brutality is out the window. But that doesn’t matter because, secondly, Helfgott’s father, Peter, according to Helfgott’s sister Margaret, was never the domineering brute depicted in the movie anyway. Who’s right? Well, it’s no contest: director Scott Hicks never bothered to interview Helfgott’s family or friends about his real upbringing. He took all his information from Gillian Murray, the older woman who married Helfgott later in life, and who is portrayed as utterly angelic in the movie, and who happened to be the one to “authorize” this biography in the first place (through her control of David).

Thirdly, most critics agree that regardless of the thrill of the narrative, David Helfgott is a mediocre performer at best, and they are deeply saddened by the fact that after the movie was released, he was able to command up to $250 a ticket when many very, very good musicians could barely make a cent at their trade.

I am interested, at this moment, in the fact that many people seem to feel that these untruths don’t affect the “inspirational” character of the story. Of course they do. How can it be inspirational to believe that it is possible for a person to overcome huge psychological barriers to pursue a successful career as a brilliant classical musician when it didn’t happen? What’s inspiring about a film-maker using a pack of lies presented as “truth” to make a lot of money? What’s inspiring about the fact that Peter Helfgott has been utterly slandered? What is inspiring about the fact that David Helfgott himself may have been exploited and manipulated by Gillian Murray?

“Shine” is a bit of a throwback to those old films from the 1950’s and early 60’s in which an attractive patient like Elizabeth Taylor was suffering from severe emotional problems and an attractive psychiatrist like Montgomery Cliff would patiently uncover more and more “truth” until a single traumatic event would be uncovered. Simply uncovering the event usually went a long way towards curing the patient. The glibness of those films, by today’s standards, is astonishing, but then, maybe they were more like parables presenting a truth that has been held to religiously ever since by large segments of the population. The more acute professionals now recognize that it’s simply not that simple.

It’s most pernicious current expression is the idea that any woman with emotional problems must have been abused at some point because only a traumatic event can cause mental disorders.

David Helfgott simply had problems. Another school of thought would have held that he had a chemical imbalance in the brain that could have been treated with drugs. But it’s a more exciting film if you can pin the cause on something, some event, or some evil person.

Do people honestly sigh with approval when the movie shows Helfgott proposing to Murray, and Murray beneficently smiling and indulging him, and guiding him to new heights of confidence and artistic achievement, without giving the slightest thought to the fact this part of the movie consists of Gillian Murray enlightening us as to just how wonderful a person she is? I found it nauseating and disturbing. We are given to understand that Helfgott has serious mental illnesses, yet we see Murray accept his marriage proposal and marry him and begin to manage his career.

You just hope– …. well, maybe not. Maybe you don’t even bother to hope anymore than anyone cares about the truth, that the director would research his subject, that the writer would talk to all the involved parties, like Helfgott’s sister and mother and first doctor, and — shocker!– his first wife!– who has completely vanished from this account. What’s the matter, Gillian? Didn’t have time to include that chapter in the screen play?

Why does no one care? Why do otherwise sensible people seem to prefer fantasy, even when it’s as insidious as this one?

On Bad Acting: Mr. Waltz had nothing but praise for Mr. Tarantino’s way with actors. “I’ve tried to analyze why actors are often better in Quentin’s films than in other films, and I think it’s because he doesn’t expose them to the necessity of bad acting,” he said. Austrian Actor Christoph Walz, NY Times, August 15, 2009

Why on earth would any sane artist or record company demand that Youtube REMOVE their copyrighted music from a video?  Read this.

At the same time as Chris Brown is reaping fabulous rewards for allowing his music to stay on the wedding video that has helped make it a hit, the music industry is prosecuting a student for sharing music on his computer.

Biopics and Other Lies