Until it Stinks

Sir Joseph Bazalgette may have saved more English lives in Victorian England than any other single man.  I bet you never heard of him.

You need to know about Joseph Bazalgette because, perhaps in the future, a new Bazalgette will be remembered in the same way that he is, for saving us from global warming.  For the same reason: because the stink has become overwhelming.

There are profound similarities between Victorian-era London and the entire world today.  Victorian-era London had a major problem: it had millions of people living in close quarters who were all generating a lot of shit.  They were enjoying the convenience of not having to take any expensive measures to deal with their shit.  They just dumped it into the city drains and the drains dumped it into the Thames and from the Thames it came back.  Yes it did.  The tides and the variations in the flow of the Thames caused all that excrement to wash back up onto the shoreline where it splashed about and eventually worked its way into the drinking water and food and into the mouths of children.

This was not merely distasteful: it was poisonous.  People died of cholera and other diseases, and the smell was absolutely terrible.

Think about the government of that city.  When did it finally think that it might not be such a good idea to dump all of their shit into the river?  The truth is they always knew it was a bad idea.   They just didn’t have the courage to make the tough decisions required to do otherwise, including raising taxes to pay for what was needed.

What was needed was a massive complex system of pumps and reservoirs that took all the human waste and channeled it further out into the river at low tide.  It’s never been clear to me why this didn’t backfire as well, but it didn’t, and the system worked pretty well until they finally figured out a way to dump it into the North Sea.  Joseph Bazalgette designed and built that system.  I hope there is a statue of him somewhere in London.

You may wonder whether dumping it all into the North Sea was much of an improvement.  Well, it was for the people of London.

In any case, the similarities to climate change are uncanny.  And the lesson learned is simple.  People are too stupid to make modest measures in time to save themselves from having to take drastic measures when it is almost too late.  As the Marshall Islands sink into the sunset we can only wish that it would produce a stink that would envelop Wall Street and Washington.

Unlike London’s shit, climate change may not be so forgiving.  There is no way to take the carbon and dump it further out from the earth’s atmosphere.

The Idiots at Microsoft

From Techradar: ‘Microsoft feels your pain: it knows the update process can cause problems every now and again, which is why it’s developed a troubleshooter program specifically for it – search the old Control Panel for “troubleshooting”, then select ‘Fix problems with Windows Update’ from the list on-screen.’

Yes, that’s very comforting when you boot up your Surface Pro 3 and it tells you that it has finished installing 100% of the updates (something I tried to configure it not to do, but which it does anyway)… for 3 hours. Idiots: you can’t bring up the Control Panel if your failed update application has locked up the computer, rendering your laptop useless. Which is what it tells you it is preventing by endlessly patching it’s defective software.

The mentality that created the problems in the first place are not going to fix the problems it created. Windows 10 is monstrously inept for the user, but brilliant for Microsoft which wants everyone to pay for Windows as a service rather than an application and has successfully strong-armed hardware makers into making their products incompatible with earlier versions of Windows. I will be sticking with Windows 7 as long as I can on my desktop.

Making it Up

I you don’t look very deeply into it, when the Democrats say Trump is corrupt and then Trump says that Joe Biden is corrupt, it might sound like the same thing.  A lot of people probably think it is the same thing.  And they probably never find out that one of them is just making it up.

And that is why we are seeing a significant breakdown in the political system in the U.S.  There used be a fundamental agreement between the parties that a basic level of decency and honesty is observed.  You might think that’s a laughable idea when it comes to politics, but I will remind you that Ted Kennedy once went to dinner at Jerry Falwell’s house.   The two were very surprised to find there was something to respect in each other.

Nixon, confronted with impeachment, resigned, because he didn’t want to go down in history as the clod who had no respect for institutions or the law.

Let’s remember the names of all those who defend Mr. Trump.  I would gladly donate to the cause of erecting a monument somewhere in Washington D.C. listing the politicians who defended Donald Trump during their time in office.


Klute: The Devilish Film

“Klute” is a devilish movie.

If you asked any man to candidly express his biggest frustration with women, you are likely to get an answer like this: “I don’t know what they really want.”

“Klute” is too specific and particular to answer that question cleanly.  All it does is raise the possibility that men are generally being hosed when they think they have been given an answer.  It also indirectly raises the question of whether women are being hosed when they think they have been given the question.  All in that dark brain of that self-possessed, insidiously clever woman, Bree Daniels.  (She is variously called “Bree Daniel” and “Bree Daniels” in the film– check it out.)

Here’s a summary:  Tom Gruneman, a businessman in Tuscarora, PA, disappears one day.  After six months of frustration, his boss, Peter Cable, and family, hire a private detective and family friend, John Klute (Donald Sutherland, who is wonderful in the role), to undertake an investigation to try to determine what happened to him.  Their only real clue is an violently obscene letter found in Gruneman’s desk, addressed to an escort named Bree Daniels in New York.  In this well-made film, the family does not appear to be totally shocked– they’re more concerned about the disappearance, than they are shocked by the indiscretion,  at the moment.  But that colorful little detail adds a murky, dark texture to the quest.  What was he up to?

Klute goes to New York and contacts Bree Daniels.  She refuses to see him at first.  So Klute takes an apartment in her building, below hers, and succeeds in tapping her phone and recording her calls.  He uses the recordings as leverage to get her to agree to meet with him.  When she does, she tries to entice him in the most predictable way imaginable, but he is clearly unmoved by her exotic allure, and her sexuality.  Instead, he persuades her to lead him on a dark exploration of the world of drug addicts and prostitutes in New York, to gather information from anyone who may have had contact with Gruneman, including the  prostitute who gave him Bree’s name.

At one point, she asks him what he thinks about her glamorous life in the city and her friends: he tells her they are pathetic, and she is wounded.  She liked to think she was somehow shocking and roguish (oddly, like the Sally Bowles character in “Cabaret”, who also seemed to take a special pleasure in the illusion that she was somehow shockingly outrageous).

This narrative is periodically interrupted with Bree’s therapy sessions with a female  psychiatrist.  Bree tells her how she feels about her job, how it gives her control and power over men, how they are easily manipulated, and how she needs to know that they desire her.  These are some of the most corrosive passages in the movie.  They are among the most corrosive passages in any movie (the only serious competition probably comes from “Carnal Knowledge”).  Do you think you know your wife?  Even worse is the “You Don’t Own Me” aspect of it: Bree is consummately independent, self-contained, needless.  She wants life on her own terms.  She doesn’t need or expect anyone to enter her life to protect or manage her.

She thinks she might become a model or an actress: in another caustic scene, she goes to a cattle call for actresses, and we witness how the women are lined up, examined, and judged clinically, and rejected.  And we learn how Bree sees the way society judges women.

Here’s brilliant artistry: we aren’t give the “Shawshank Redemption” treatment here, and asked to be shocked and outraged at Bree”s treatment at these auditions.  Instead, we become aware of how deeply embedded this kind of objectification is– it is casual and routine, and Bree herself isn’t shocked.  It is a far more powerful statement than the more usual Hollywood treatment, in which Bree would demand attention, receive it, and glow with triumph while earning the grudging respect of the cruel casting directors.

There’s nothing caricatured or mean about this scene, other than the subject: the casting directors act in a way that is a caricature of how we judge beauty and worthiness.  It’s just the way we do business.  Bree understands that and plays along with it when necessary, but you can see how her options are really limited.  How different, really, is the industry that also dehumanizes the subjects of our gaze, manipulates them like objects, punishes them for not matching our illusions about beauty and privilege.

It raises the question though– why doesn’t Bree just get an education and look for a regular job?  She’s smart and attractive.  “Klute”  answers that question: because it would only result in her being used in different ways, being pressed into conformity, and forced to sacrifice her independence.  It would be part of the package that Gruneman and John Klute himself represent, and they illustrate to her that even the powerful members of that society are drawn to the outliers, the rebels, the divergent.

It challenges the most fundamental assumptions about sex and sexual relationships and power and privilege and desire.

Spoiler Alert

In the end, perhaps as a concession to the audience, Bree does decide to take a chance on a more conventional lifestyle.  It doesn’t feel totally plausible to me, but it doesn’t hurt the story very much, artistically, because it doesn’t anesthetize the viewer with drippy music or a pastel sunset.  They both know it won’t be easy.

And the astute viewer knows that it probably won’t work.

[updated 2019-09-23]

The #Metoo Crucible

“Stratford Festival decided to put on a sure-fire crowd-pleaser this year: “The Crucible”, one of the greatest, and certainly the most powerful, American drama.

“The Crucible” is about a group of young girls in a small town in Massachusetts in the 1690’s who are caught dancing naked in a woods.  Think about the cultural climate– puritanical New England.  The upstanding leaders of the devout community are beyond horrified, and this is immediately apparent to the girls so they connive to persuade the town elders that they were, in fact, bewitched.  Their deception is helped by a particular girl who seems to be having fits and hysterics and claims to see apparitions.

Who bewitched them?

They begin to name names, including upstanding members of the community.

One of the girls, named Abigail, was a handmaid to a couple, John and Elizabeth Proctor.  John had an affair with her, which Elizabeth knows about.  John and Elizabeth reconciled and evicted Abigail but are terrified that the community will find out about the affair and disgrace John.

Abigail is convinced that John really loves her.  What were the girls doing in the woods?  Abigail had persuaded Tituba, a black slave, to show them how to cast spells, so she could curse Elizabeth Proctor and win John back.  With the community in hysterics, and her own position in the community under threat, she seizes the opportunity to accuse Elizabeth of witchcraft.

When some in the community become suspicious of the girls’ motives, they too are named.  Eventually, 20 citizens are hanged, and one is “pressed” to death because he refused to enter a plea.  Yes, this really happened– the historical record is unmistakable.

Years later, the magistrates who condemned them would– astonishingly– come to the realization that they had been in error and issue an apology.  How often does that happen?

Arthur Miller wrote the play in 1952 and he clearly intended to draw a parallel between the Salem witch-hunts and the McCarthy communist witch-hunt that was taking place at that moment, and which had snared Miller himself.  Miller was called before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC) and admitted that he had been a communist at one time in his life.  That was not enough for them.  They demanded that he identify fellow-travelers.  He refused and was black-listed.

In the play, as in real life, a man named Giles Corey discovered that some of the accusers stood to benefit by acquiring the land of the accused (if convicted of witchcraft, a citizen’s possessions were forfeit).  He is then accused of witchcraft himself.  He refuses to plea because doing so would result in a conviction and the land he hoped to pass on to his sons would be forfeit.  He is sentenced to be “pressed”: placed under a board with the weight on it increased gradually with rocks.  He dies under the torment, mocking his accusers.

Do you see a problem with this play?  I don’t see a problem.  The play is historically accurate.  More importantly, it is psychologically accurate: I find the portrait of a community that is fearful and cowardly and not really virtuous in the sense that they all believe it of themselves to be quite convincing even today.  (Think of how we symbolically recycle, and conserve, and care for the environment, while doing absolutely nothing that will have any real impact on global warming.   Think of how women go on national television to tell the world how ashamed they are of having been sexually assaulted.)

But the #metoo movement saw a big problem.  You see, a credo of the #metoo movement is that girls are ALWAYS to be believed.  They never lie about abuse or rape or assault, even if it is assault by the devil himself, as in the case of Salem.  (I am not exaggerating: I heard three women on the CBC discussing the issue and they all insisted that women never lie about abuse and there is never any “collateral damage” (ie. innocent men accused).  Do women ever lie about rape?  Judge for yourself.

And the play makes it clear that the girls are sly, conniving, convincing liars, and that they are responsible the deaths of 20 innocent victims.

So the #metoo movement demands an adjustment.   And the Stratford Festival Theatre made it.  Here is their description of the play from their website:

His (John Proctor’s) refusal to take responsibility for his actions leads to an epidemic of fear and suspicion that engulfs the guilty and the innocent alike. Inspired by historical events but no less pertinent to our own times, this American classic stands as a timeless tragedy of abusive behaviour and its all-consuming consequences.

This is worse than a distortion of the play.  It is an obscenely malicious reversal of it’s meaning.  It is all John Proctor’s fault.  The girls are innocent.  Abigail was forced to lie because she was oppressed by the patriarchy.  They were justified in causing 19 innocent individuals to be hanged to death.

Abigail didn’t enjoy seeing those people hanged.  Not at all.

Or maybe the girls were telling the truth after all: maybe there really were witches.

No young woman or girl would ever lie about that.