I recently heard that for every 17.5 million flights there is one terrorist incident. It may have been on the CBC or Associated Press or New York Times– I can’t remember. It’s an interesting piece of information. It tells you that a relatively small number of incidents have occurred that might or might not require a dramatic intervention, policy changes, new measures– money.

It’s a big world. At any given moment, people are getting into their cars and driving to work, hopping onto buses, walking. At any given moment, panhandlers reach out their cups for change, children starve to death, people suffer heart attacks, bridges collapse. At any given moment, people fall in love, fall out of love, decide to cheat on their spouses, leave their homes, return to their homes, gamble away their money, commit suicide, order another drink.

Out all of the things happening right now, the world– it seems–is aghast because one man tried to set off a bomb in an airplane in Detroit. The media take up shrieking: our airline security systems have failed. They are imperfect. They must be fixed. Spend money! Delay everyone. Surrender our civil liberties! Only stop another bomber from getting onto another plane.

Of course, if we were perfect and stopped every other potential bomber from getting onto every other possible plane and setting off every possible other bomb, we would still have the car accidents, the suicides, the murders, the accidents, the fires, the wars, the famines, the radiation leaks, the cancers, the psychos who don’t bother with a religion, the drunks who still want to drive, the politicians who vote against health care, the nurses who take too long on their coffee breaks, the Generals who believe more of the same will be different, the generals who believe more of the different will be the same, the adulterers, the preachers, the cult leaders, the activists and the passivists– and life would go on– and the bombers would start on the trains or the boats or the stadiums or the malls or the markets or the churches or the mosques of those who are similar but not quite like us must be prevented from being like us but not quite similar.

Olympic Fakes

From steroids to music to politics, the Olympics are all about phoniness and this recent story merely confirms the truth. Nobody at any level of organization really cares about sport or competition or human achievements or international goodwill or anything like that. What they care about is selling the advertiser’s products and getting great seats for themselves and their relatives and their friends in high office for the gold medal hockey game.

What were they thinking? They were thinking, wouldn’t it be great if we could run the sound of the orchestra through a digital link to the PA system instead of through those darn microphones and mixers that just don’t seem to ever make it sound…. you know… just kind of nice. And what if an orchestra member makes a mistake? And hell, Obama did it. And — better yet– we can use a more photo-genic orchestra, which could simply mime the performance. Fabulous!

It’s despicable. But what’s really despicable is the way they act after they are caught: well, what’s wrong with it?

Well, if there isn’t anything wrong with it, why not tell everyone that you are broadcasting a recording instead of a performance? That the performers you see on the screen didn’t even perform on the recording. Why don’t you just can the orchestra all together?

Why ban steroids? If audiences get a bigger thrill from seeing records broken than from seeing a mere race, why not cheat?

Don’t forget — you and I are paying for these people to conduct these obscene rituals of mass manipulation and self aggrandizement. We are paying for it.

And hurray for Bramwell Tovey, the conductor of Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, for refusing to give in on the issue.

Ian and Sylvia

I was reading about the folk scene in New York City in the early 1960’s once and came across what I thought was an extraordinary comment. This was time of incredible intellectual and cultural ferment, and Greenwich Village was rich with young talents like Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Phil Ochs, Tim Hardin, Peter, Paul, & Mary, Tom Rush, Tom Paxton, the Roches, and so on.

The comment was something like this: many aspiring folk singers envied the talents of any number of song-writers and performers, but if you asked anyone who they would most like to be– if they could be someone else– the answer was usually Ian Tyson or Sylvia Fricker.

Ian & Sylvia were not among the most successful of those performers– though, for a time, they were quite successful– nor among the most prolific or talented. But they were very talented, moderately successful, and, perhaps more than anything else, beautiful. They were beautiful in that magical, transcendent mode that radiates class and intelligence and sophistication. Even this album cover conveyed this: they are not posing. They exist in a sort of conscious state of distinguished self-contemplation, with neither ego nor false humility. They have momentarily paused for the image, not caring if we are impressed or not, because they know what they look like and they know what they are.

One of my brothers owned the album “Lovin’ Sound”, pictured above, which was released in 1967. As an adolescent, the cover picture of Sylvia with the low-cut top– that elegant cleavage– stirred me for obvious reasons. I wasn’t yet a huge fan of their music — now I realize it was probably too authentic and complex for my tastes at the time. When I listen to the song “Lovin’ Sound” today, I am far more impressed with it. Restraint and taste are the last things an adolescent learns to appreciate. But the album cover stayed in my mind for decades. A few years ago, I started searching the internet for it and, surprisingly, had great difficulty locating a copy. Just recently, I finally succeeded.

Listen to “The Lovin’ Sound”. It’s trendy– songs about universal love and peace were hot for a while there in the late 1960’s — but a little richer than something like, say, “Come on people now/smile on your brother/ everybody get together/ start to love one another right now”.

Your world is crying now my friend
But give it Love
And it will mend
And, teach you All
The music to the Lovin Sound
Oh, the Lovin Sound

Well, okay. So maybe it isn’t that much more sophisticated. But it’s a fine song, a bit marred by a somewhat jarring attempt to meld folk and rock styles that reminds me of “The Sound of Silence”.

They had a tv show. They struggled through a few more albums that never seemed to go anywhere.

Then they split. Ian went out west to become a cowboy and sing cowboy songs and run his ranch in Alberta, and Sylvia worked for the CBC. Maybe he cheated on her. Maybe she cheated on him. We don’t know– that’s part of what gave them class: no public drama. Peter Gzowski of the CBC, in narration over some documentary on ’60’s folk groups, says they had “artistic and personal differences”.

But they remain iconic to me, the definition of grace and class, the essence of intelligent, cultured expression, and I can’t think of a single other ensemble that comes close to them in their prime in that regard.

The Nobel War Prize

There are already lots of prizes for people who believe in war. In the U.S., there is, seemingly, universal acclamation. There and elsewhere there are medals, parades, monuments, and obscene financial considerations. People who are good at killing are more than adequately rewarded. At least until they get sick. That’s when the Republicans suddenly, bizarrely, always seem to want to pull the plug. Check it out: it’s the Democrats who almost always want to take better care of our veterans.

There are not so many awards for people who say “let’s not go out and kill people today. Let’s try to find a way to avoid war, to avoid destruction.” First of all, most Bible-thumpers– oddly– will excoriate you. I missed that part in Sunday School, where Jesus says, “kill your enemies”. Or the part where he says, “people who feel aggrieved by your stupid decisions in the past are your enemies and deserve to be killed.”

Anyway, even if I was a real militarist, I would shed a tear or two for the debasing of the Nobel Peace Prize. Whatever verbal pyrotechnics you must perform to prove that Obama’s decisions on Iraq and Afghanistan and rendition and the pictures of prisoner abuse in Iraq that he suppressed– constitute anything even remotely like “the promotion of peace”, they pale beside the plain and simple facts: Obama has embraced the wars and he has bought the Generals’ fervent belief that, given enough time, and resources, and foolish politicians, they might be able to “win” in Afghanistan yet. (Because, after all, we “won” in Iraq didn’t we?). We can “win” the war on terror, much like, after 30 years of the same failed policy, we have “won” the war on drugs.

We live in a world in which politician after politician, after concluding that a particular strategy isn’t working, invariably propose more and bigger of the same. Why? Not because the policies worked– they haven’t– but it isn’t politically viable to try an alternative. What if the Democrats proposed a illegal drug policy that wasn’t based on savage deterrence and ridiculously lengthy periods of incarceration? The shrieking would send Johnny Rotten to the madhouse.

Even if you think he’s right, why give him a “peace” prize for it? Give him a war prize. Give him a monument. Give him a favorable column in The Washington Post because he consulted with general after general after general and they all agreed: war is the solution and he bought it. If a little bit of war fails– try more of it. If that fails: try some more. If that fails: try some more. If that fails: consult with the generals again. Again, they will recommend war.

Could they not have postponed the ceremony at least? Coming as it did the day after Obama committed 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, seems a bit unseemly at best. It was truly embarrassing and sad. His speech to West Point– would Gandhi have done that?

Henry Kissinger’s picture is on the wall of honor at Oslo City Hall. It is almost impossible to imagine, today, what they were thinking when they gave it to him. What did they know? Did they have the slightest clue about what his role actually was in the Viet Nam War, and in the Nixon Administration? Were they nuts?

As a liberal, of course, I like Obama a lot more than Kissinger, but I still don’t think he should have been given the peace prize and I don’t think he should have accepted it. It think it was foolish, premature gesture.

The only good reason for giving it to him was to deliberately piss off curs like Charles Krauthammer and George Will. And the more they fume about it, the more I think, well, maybe he should accept it. They’re just jealous that George Bush Jr. didn’t get a peace prize.

Obama: “And it will require us to think in new ways about the notions of just war and the imperatives of a just peace.”

Yes, that’s what a lot of people thought they were voting for. I still suspect that seven years from now, it might be recorded that armed conflict was avoided somewhere because Obama made some wise decisions… I suspect he is too smart to stumble into something like Iraq. But then, I also thought he was too smart to get bogged down in Afghanistan the way Johnson got bogged down in Viet Nam. But he has and is and in spite of his insistences to the contrary, the resemblance to Viet Nam is uncanny.

Irving Kristol, in today’s Washington Post, quotes Obama’s Nobel acceptance speech and compares it favorably with a speech by Bush. Okay– so does Irving Kristol now support Obama? Will he say, he has made good decisions about war and peace and Afghanistan? Not on your life– so while claiming that Obama is no different from Bush with one breath, he immediately proves that he is by attacking him at every other moment. But then, conservatives, lately, seem to ridicule the very idea that their platform should have any kind of coherence or consistency to it– these are incoherent times for them. Conservative policies created the biggest financial crisis in history and Sarah Palin and her cronies demand more of the same policies. The deregulated markets performed spectacularly badly– let’s have more deregulation. Viet Nam was a failure — let’s try it again in Afghanistan. We know something the Soviets didn’t know when they were there for a heartbreaking seven years. Honest, we do.

Anatomy of Cultural Irrelevance

Why do Christians keep doing it? Shooting themselves in the foot by posting reviews like this of the 1959 movie “Anatomy of a Murder” starring Jimmy Stewart?

It doesn’t matter that this is one of the best courtroom dramas ever filmed, or that it is extremely unusual in it’s honesty about the our system of justice, the compromises, the cheating that goes on, or that it is well-acted and superbly written, or that George C. Scott and Lee Remick give startlingly good performances. It doesn’t matter that this is one of the most thoughtful courtroom dramas ever made, and that it was based on a real case, and that it offers a wealth of psychological insights into the minds of a killer, a neglected wife, an ambitious attorney, a not-so-ambitious attorney. Oh no. That all doesn’t matter.

What matters is that the word “pantie” was used. In public! And that Jimmy Stewart’s dad was so mortified by the movie that he took out an ad in the newspaper urging people not to see it.

Jimmy Stewart, by the way, turned down the role of “Atticus Finch” because he thought the film was too liberal.

It doesn’t matter. The American Film Institute rates this as the 7th best Courtroom Drama of all time.

As good a film as it is, apparently it does not do justice to a pivotal scene in the book wherein the defense attorney absolutely shreds the testimony of a psychiatrist who didn’t even interview the subject of his “expert” opinion.

It is so unusual to find a film that tries to give viewers a realistic grasp of court proceedings that I kept wondering about the director. What possessed Otto Preminger to do it? He couldn’t have been hoping to broaden his audience.

It tells you a lot about the state of Hollywood that the last explanation I could think of was that he wanted to make a great film.

A Christian posts a Review of the pernicious “Anatomy of a Murder”.

There are other Christian websites that not nearly as Pollyannaish as the one above.


Some Great Courtroom Dramas

12 Angry Men
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Verdict
Witness for the Prosecution
Anatomy of a Murder

A fascinating paragraph on manipulation of testimony, from Wikipedia.

In protracted litigation, confabulated memory – filling in the blanks and recreating memories – is common, and research has documented the tendency. Repetitive and suggestive questioning tends to plant the seeds of memory.[12] This book and the movie are among the most cogent examples of the lawyers’ dance. “Horse shedding” of witnesses is well known, if controversial and potentially unethical; it is not just an occasion to directly orchestrate perjury. More problematic, it is probable to reach a point where “if you believe it, then it isn’t a lie.” Thus, even letter-perfect bona fide certainty of belief is not equivalent to a certification of accuracy or even truthfulness. This process is called “horse shedding,” “sandpapering” or “wood shedding” – the first and last names relating to the place of the “collaboration.”[13]

“Horse shedding” comes from a practice in the 19th century in New York in which lawyers would hide witnesses in a literal horse shed to “prepare” them for testimony in the court house next door.

Taser the 10-year-old!

The Police Taser a 10-Year-Old

The Police Taser Another 10-Year-Old

No wonder the police often think they are underpaid. It’s those scary 10-year-olds out there that are terrifying them. You may think a big, burly police officer might be little reckless in the presence of a 10-year-old, but in today’s society, with the decline in morality and lack of respect for the law, you can’t be too careful. Taser the 10-year-old!

The police need to hire a pr firm. The pr firm would tell them, if you want to stop getting bad publicity about your bad behavior– improve your behavior first. It’s easier to spin.

So if a particular cop is incapable of reasoning that a 10-year-old child, or a homeless person with emotional problems, or a foreign-speaking traveler, might be safely managed with patience, calm, and intelligence, convince him that it is better public relations to do it anyway.