Saturday, March 28, 2009

Deaf Ears

In North America (and to a lesser extent in Europe) freedom of the press seldom extends to Israel’s affairs; that is, genuine sympathy for Holocaust suffering leaves Zionism above reproach. Ironically, Holocaust deniers tend to attract more positive press than IDF (Israel Defense Forces) attract negative press. Furthermore, a misconceived correlation drawn between modern geo-politics and Biblical kingdoms enforces this taboo.

“Alternate” sources, such as, CounterPunch, Democracy Now!, and Electronic Intifada, have consistently presented another side for debate; consequently, diligent readers of these publications were heartened by the appearance of a number of articles in “main stream” publications. (Furthermore, The Guardian and The Independent increased their solid coverage on the “Palestinian problem,” as did 60 Minutes). This greater exposure, however, seems to have fallen on deaf ears, since little evidence of editorial commentary or debate exists.

Even popular movements such as Viva Palestina, and Galloway’s subsequent ban from Canada haven’t stirred real debate, in the press or parliament, despite the efforts of Sir Gerald Kaufman and Ron Paul:

Unlike these level-headed and outspoken individuals most politicians have stood by and tested the waters. As a result AIPAC pressure was tolerated once more, namely Charles Freeman’s withdrawal. Fringe groups, perhaps buoyed by AIPAC success, also have been exerting pressure. Mearsheimer and Dreyfuss, however, maintain (separately) that this may be the lobby’s last gasp. For more information read Freeman’s resignation email and comments by Pat Buchanan.

Meanwhile the situation in Gaza grows more desperate: every day potable water becomes scarcer, electricity less reliable, and treatment of female and male prisoners worsens. Amidst analysis of Operation Cast Lead, which becomes more difficult to justify with Hamas’s surge in support, demands for justice grow louder, including those made at Iran’s international summit: the operation has been labelled an illegal war and evidence of war crimes mounts as more stories come to light. Some countries, such as Britain, may even arrest Israeli officials due to these allegations.

In the West Bank, despite the evidence from ancient documents verifying Palestinian ownership, residents continue to be evicted in Jerusalem. In rural areas villagers continue to be forced out, as their homes get destroyed, perhaps to fulfill an Israeli goal of doubling the number of settlers. As if a stamp of authenticity to Palestinian misery, the Lancet published an article on Palestinian (lack of) access to health care.

Another casualty of the Gaza bombardment was Israel’s proposed withdrawal from the Golan Heights, which becomes more critical since Syria continues to acquire Russian rockets. Israel may also have ambitions to relocate Kurdish Jews to cities in Iraq. Furthermore, it appears America will continue its decade long deal of $30 billion in military aid to Israel.

Nevertheless, all is not bleak. You can make donations to offset the military aid to Israel ($2.775 billion this year). Other good causes are Lights for Gaza and Disasters Emergency Committee. Voting with your dollar also is excellent, both by purchasing fair trade items and boycotting Israeli products. Lastly, join Jewish Voice for Peace, as Sahar Vardi, a young conscientious objector, implores people to do or sign on-line petitions.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Blasting Bush

Bush offered to advise Obama on a recent visit to Calgary for his first paid speaking engagement. Some might say that Bush chose this location due to its reputation as Canada’s Texas, but Calgarians responded appropriately by stock-piling shoes at the conference centre’s entrance. Fortunately none of them will receive a three year sentence for doing so.

Last week I watched, You’re Welcome America. A Final Night with George W. Bush, Will Ferrell’s Broadway debut, on HBO. Overall the production was excellent: Ferrell adroitly impersonated Bush with the skills he honed on SNL (never dropping out of character for the show’s entirety), and clever filming captured much of the stage atmosphere. Ferrell came up with some gems like “wing take dream (a Bushism),” “the Tiger Woods guy (Obama),” and “Swiss (blond haired, not swarthy) Jesus.” Nevertheless, the funniest sketch was Operation Primate Spear Gun. In this fictional sketch, Morocco supposedly committed to send 2,000 monkeys to Iraq to clear mines and entertain children. Although Morocco reneges, Ferrell’s Bush recounts how he set up a base for training primates in N.C. In the end, most of the monkeys escape and spear gun fatalities rise over 1,000 percent.

The performance, however, does become tedious at times, a regular feature of Ferrell’s work (here, to Grohl's discomfort):

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Innovative Exhibitions

A number of exhibits have focussed on coming to grips with new communication technologies. Connections at the MIT Museum comprises four art installations on this topic. Metropath(ologies), part of this innovative collection, presents a constant feed of changing visual and audio imagery from news sources and data provided by visitors; thus, you may a person’s name, home city, or date of birth while viewing news images (photo left). This fall Of All the People in All the World returned to Birmingham, a show which presented various data by grains of rice, e.g. actors in lab coats constantly add grains to the world population mountain. CBC Sparks, an awesome show, recently used their blog to track how many people are “plugged in”  on transit.

On a completely different tangent, Johan van der Dong, a Dutch artist, has set up an exhibition in which people can dial a mobile phone number and leave a message for God. All messages will remain confidential and not be used by the artist in any way.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Damon Galgut

Last week I glutted myself on works by Damon Galgut — an author whose tensile prose compels the reader to struggle with the protagonist on a journey of self-realization. I started with his short stories: An African Sermon (August 2004) begins with a train journey and weaves in a personal confrontation with the Rwandan genocide. (Regarding this topic, works by Jean Hatzfeld and Romeo Dallaire are essential). The Conversation (Oct 2006) tracks Father Angelo through a crisis of faith in the midst of an African conflict: What is faith? What is humanity? What is my role in it? The Lover (Dec 2008) details a loner’s journey through Africa (and on to Europe) while he grapples with social awkwardness and self acceptance, which stymie his love’s desire. Galgut cleverly embodies the protagonist’s fractious nature by fluctuating between the first and third person to mark changes between his “true”-self and his observing-nature.

The Good Doctor (2003), a Man Booker finalist, explores the tension in characters stationed at a remote (and barely necessary) hospital. Unresolved struggle is a trademark of Galgut’s writing, and he employs Africa’s stark, arid, and abandoned landscapes to explore it. Reading such a work is like being underwater and trying to reach the surface; however, you never do, so that you marvel that you’ve stayed under so long. But in the end you realize you were never swimming in water, but through your own streams of consciousness; thus, desperation, despair, difficulty, and despondency come to define humanity.

The Quarry (1995, 2004), was not published outside of South Africa until the success of The Good Doctor; however, this quirk of fate remains puzzling to me since I found The Quarry to be much more satisfying, and this novel was turned into a film that won Grand Prix of the Americas at the 1998 Montreal Film Festival. Here Galgut meanders his story around an abandoned quarry, which now houses a dead body and illicit drugs; such a feature, however, only helps focus the blight on the human landscape, as a criminal impersonates the minister he just murdered. Galgut first experimented with pronouns here: at the end of the book he uses no proper nouns; instead, the third person refers to a number of characters, each with its own short chapter (only the capitalisation of each pronoun differentiates the characters). This device successfully adds to the novel’s depth and demands a close reading.

In The Impostor (2009), Adam has let his life slide away. Unsure of who he his, he recalls that he once wrote poetry, and sets off to the country to be a poet. In his brother’s cottage the weeds have grown so thick that Adam gets a reprimand from the township. He plans to cut them back, but doesn’t so they become a symbol of his impotence (in writing as well). One day he decides it’s enough and heads to the hardware store for equipment where he meets Canning. Canning’s wife inspires him to write once more, but he soon learns that the lovely spot he spends his weekends at will be destroyed. Once more the protagonist must explore his own depths to come to terms with himself.

Reading Galgut can be like driving down a road on which you have no sense of direction or control, but at the end you’ll have exorcised humanity’s (and your own) woes. His exceptional prose keeps your foot on the accelerator until the end where you gain an un-obstructed view of the entire journey. As a side note Alistair Morgan, another South African author (and Plimpton prize winner), processes similar angst via the landscape. I just applied for FIFA 2010 tickets; hopefully I’ll be able to visit South Africa’s compelling scenery then.

Monday, March 09, 2009


Watchmen was the first graphic novel that I ever purchased. As soon as I opened it, I got lost in its pages. In anticipation of the feature film, I skimmed through the graphic novel and watched episodes of the Watchmen Motion Comic. I was surprised by how much I had forgotten; in particular, the quality of Moore’s flowing prose:

“Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach … the streets are extended gutters and the gutters are full of blood and when the drains finally scab over, all the vermin will drown.”

“The city is dying of rabies. Is it the best I can do to wipe random flecks of foam from its lips”

“Is that what happens to us? A life of conflict with no time for friends so that when it’s done only our enemies leave roses.”

The Motion Comic is an excellent adaptation and has number of well chosen quotes by Nietzsche, Farjean, Dylan, Jung, and Shelley to the end of each section, replacing the newspaper-style articles on Watchmen. (The graphic novel had one quote from Juvenal Satires, sed quis cutodiet ipsos custodes?” or loosely, “but who watches the watchmen?”).

Last night I watched the feature film, throughout which Snyder employs the hyper-violence associated with his past films, e.g., 300 and other comic adaptations, such as Sin City; however, in doing so, he relies on crisp movements which crowd out the dark gritty world of the original. On other points, he does fairly well: he successfully recreates the pseudo 80’s of the comic and sticks to the original story line. However, in what is perhaps a patriotic display, the World Trade Centre features too prominently, as do concerns over the environment. At least Snyder did not over-play his hand like the directors of a Quantum of Solace and Transporter 3, movies that I watched on fast forward due to their careless (and vacant) treatment of climate change. The Watchmen sound track is fantastic: not only for the innovative pairing of song with scene (at a loud volume), but also the comprehensive compilation of classic songs.

Snyder faithfully reproduces most of the major characters; however, he chooses to make Laurie much more potent than the original where she’s weak and emotional (mainly at the expense of the Drieberg who becomes even more impotent.) The Nite Owl II also loses much of his intelligence and resourcefulness, perhaps to boost Veidt’s stature. Veidt loses his spirituality, which was fuelled by a long journey and night of Tibetan hash in the comic. Although Dr. Manhattan’s portrayal captures the original, the special effects used to make him blue reminded me too much of Xerxes in 300. Rorschach becomes much less of a protagonist in the film, e.g., Nite Owl and Silk Spectre incapacitate most of the inmates while this was originally Rorschach’s doing. Nevertheless, Snyder’s use of the swinging door to reveal less and less of Big Figure’s murder is magnificent.

Snyder obviously could not get everything on film and had to make some noteworthy omissions (usually due to an incompatibility of mediums or time constraints), such as the Tales of the Black Freighter (a comic within a comic) and newsstand activity (Bernies, delivery drivers, Lesbians, and Jehovah Witnesses). Similarly, Seymour, the reporter, only gets one quick reference at the end. Overall Snyder did a magnificent job and produced a faithful tribute; unfortunately, this does not always translate into a great film, especially in scenes where the violence detracts from the story.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Faint Horizon

Since the heady days of youth, when, buoyed by Lillywhite and Lanois productions, I eagerly awaited every single from the Joshua Tree, I’ve kept my ear to the ground for breaking news on U2. The first morsels from No Line on the Horizon appeared when Bono inadvertently cranked up a few singles at an outdoor party. These rough recordings, however, didn’t compound my excitement for the latest album, Sean O’Hagan’s article did. O’Hagan followed them for eighteen months to three cities and collected a number of anecdotes, most of which he frankly shares.

The album itself begins with a riff that blazes like a sprinter out of the blocks; however, the title track soon fades into oblivion, so much so that after frequent plays I still can’t recall it. For me the album begins with Magnificent: I get comfortable and settle in for a good listen, yet even this song incorporates an annoying keyboard track, perhaps a relic from some early 90’s recording session. Nevertheless, Moment of Surrender remains solid and I finally enter the groove; Bono rasps his voice, and Clayton and Mullen Jr. make their presence known (The Edge is always there). This song anchors the album and I’m glad it’s over seven minutes long. As O’Hagan notes this song was one of the few recorded in Fez, where devotions from Sufi singers wisped through the air.

I label the next few songs “tolerable”; that is, I don’t regret purchasing them, but they won’t be going in a playlist anytime soon. In Unknown Caller U2 seems to be channelling Yes, but doing a mediocre job of it. I’ll Go Crazy … is better, but a little too familiar and too forced. Next of course is Sexy Boots (they should have kept that name) which has saturated the airwaves and I now skip. I quite like the fresh sound of Stand Up Comedy (except for the bridge) and it will make it out of my tolerable category quicker than the rest. In the first minute and a half Fez sounds like a bad Sci-Fi soundtrack, but it soon captures some of the Moroccan inspiration.

White as Snow does very little for me; I think it’s because with every chorus I break into my best Whitney Houston, a by-product of holiday shopping, perhaps by summer I’ll have evinced all traces of her and be able to appreciate its subtleties. The album ends on a strong note. Breathe and Cedars of Lebanon is U2 at full potency: “pop-rock” U2 in Breathe and contemplative U2 in Cedars. Other nice features are Breathe’s strings track and Cedars’ fantastic falsetto part, exceptional lyrics, and haunting background track. Overall, this album follows a bang-whimper, whimper-bang pattern; fortunately, the bang counteracts all the whimper. The best ancillary news is that they will be touring once more—no room for whimper there. Sugimoto’s picture on the cover inspires, and reminds me of a Tanabe landscape.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

One step forward

Although catastrophe reigns in Gaza and little aid has made it through (two steps back), there’s been one step forward: $4.48 billion has been raised to rebuild Gaza (when they’ll be able to remains a mystery), BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) has made an impact, protest has increased, and the Israel Lobby has lost some leverage.

On the last point, Charles Freeman has been appointed chairman of the National Intelligence Council, the organisation which produces National Intelligence Estimates, the summaries from 16 different agencies which presidents base many decisions on. Charles Freeman is well qualified for the job, yet a furor has erupted, simply because he has criticised Israeli policy in the past. The Lobby in their entrenched position, however, continue to find success: they pressured Obama to boycott the World Conference Against Racism (Durban II). (Meowma’ blog has the full collection of the above photos which compare Nazi photos with Israeli ones.)

In the Gulf, a $9 million gold Mercedes now cruises through Abu Dhabi. On the other side of the Arabian Peninsula, Johann Hari argues that European ships have been dumping nuclear waste of the coast of Somalia which, coupled with widespread poverty, has ensured local support for pirates. 

Directly west, it seems justice can be found on the Ivory Coast: a trio of RUF leaders were convicted of a majority of the charges against them. Hopefully they will get stiff sentences for the horror they inflicted on Sierra Leone’s population (Blood Diamond recounts some of this horror). Regarding Ghana, The Black Stilt (my review) has a good display of t-shirts and textiles as part of a campaign to raise money for the Heavenly Home Academy.

As Gitmo gets decommissioned, some prisoners have been repatriated. Binyam Mohamed has returned to Britain with numerous physical and mental injuries. Barbara Ehrenreich has claimed that the reason he was sent there in the first place was that he had clicked on her website which provides a satirical account for constructing an atomic bomb. Brandon Neely, a former Guantanamo guard, has recounted the horrors inflicted there in an interview with Almerindo Ojeda.


Lastly, the Massachusetts Law School at Andover has planned a conference to build the foundation necessary to successfully prosecute George Bush and other prominent officials. In a bold move, Obama has released Bush’s secret anti-terror memos, which claimed that the U.S. military could search and seize terror suspects on American soil without warrants. For more Bushit watch this video:

Israeli Revelations

Israel continues to deny aid to the near humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. Clinton has warned Israel about this and taken quite a bit of heat for it. Nevertheless, at least fundraising efforts continue and the Viva Palestina convoy has set off for Gaza.

Alain de Benoist has proclaimed that Tzipi Livni served in Mossad for three years during her twenties, at which time she ran a safe house used by hit squads (reminds me of Vengeance by George Jonas). Against this backdrop Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli nuclear technician who released details of Israel’s nuclear weapons program and who was kidnapped by Mossad, has again asked that his name be removed from the nomination list for the Nobel Peace Prize. (He was also nominated every year between 1988 and 2004). Here’s his letter:

Dear Nobel Peace Prize Committee in Oslo,

I am Vanunu Mordechai, who has been nominated several times to Nobel Peace
Prize, also this year´s 2009 award.

I am asking the committee to remove my name from the list for this year´s list
of nominations.

My main reason for this is that I cannot be part of a list of laureates that
includes Simon Peres. He is the man who was behind all the Israeli atomic

Peres established and developed the atomic weapon program in Dimona in Israel.
Exactly like Dr. Khan did in Pakistan, Peres was the man behind the atomic
weapon proliferation to South Africa and other states. He was also, for
instance, behind the nuclear weapon test in South Africa in 1978.

Peres was the man who ordered the kidnapping of me in Italy Rome, Sept. 30,
1986, and for the secret trial and sentencing of me as a spy and traitor for 18
years in isolation in prison in Israel.

Until now he continues to oppose my freedom and release, in spite of my serving
full sentence 18 years.

From all these reasons I don´t want be nominated and will not accept this
nomination. I say No to any nomination as long as I am not free, that is, as
long as I am still forced to be in Israel. WHAT I WANT IS FREEDOM AND ONLY

Thank you


Waiting In East Jerusalem.To Be Free,To Leave.
Mobile ( 9 7 2 ) 0 5 2 3 7 4 4 5 6 9.

Modern Excavating

Technology continues to expand our capacity to explore the past. Given the current instability in Afghanistan, nearly every western archaeological excavation has been halted. This, however, has not disrupted work in the area: archaeologist have turned to Google Earth to discover and catalogue a number of sites. Satellite imagery remains effective at revealing transport routes and other human traces, but Google Earth makes it that much more accessible.

Google Earth’s 3D map tool has been used to reconstruct a number of ancient cities. Whereas the Forma Urbis Romae and the Plastico di Roma Antica required countless hours to render Rome’s finery, digital versions take much less time and provide greater detail.

The practice of naming children according to the availability of domain names seems absurd, especially with the impending expansion of Domain Names. Nevertheless, the list of the most unfortunate names, e.g., Justin Case and Hazel Nutt, doesn’t contain many of these web based monikers (yet). Unlike these new-fangled proper nouns, researchers claim to have dated the English words “I”, “we”, “two”, and “three” back tens of thousands of years using computer models.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Classic Stilt

These days I am flexible enough to work where I like; armed with TheGreenBow, BlogJet, and OpenOffice, I frequent a number of spots boasting free WiFi. One of my favourites is The Black Stilt. I have been considered a regular here, since the day I went up to order my favourite drink and found it had already been made for me. This foresight was (and still is) a tremendous blessing. (If you go, tip the staff well). An open design, plenty of comfy seats, excellent coffee, a wide array of snacks, and an eclectic mix of music makes for a lively atmosphere.

Lately, I have noticed that the staff have been in a classics phase, playing a lot of Dylan, Beatles, Bowie, et cetera. Among these, Neil Young has gotten the most air time, to my pleasure and delight. This exposure caused me to re-visit my own library, play some dusty songs and add some new ones. Prairie Wind and Living With War were two albums that I loved immediately and played many times. Prairie Wind told a story I could relate to and Living With War helped me process the mess Bush had gotten us into. Chrome Dreams II, on the other hand, has taken me much longer to warm up to. It is not a “bad” album, but lacks the depth of the other two.

I also went back to Rust Never Sleeps; you’ll seldom find another album with as nice an introduction and conclusion than My, My, Hey, Hey and Hey, Hey, My, My. Once I begin playing Thrasher I can’t seem to stop; I click repeat and marvel at Young’s lyric writing: “They had the best selection,/ They were poisoned with protection/ There was nothing that they needed,/ Nothing left to find/ They were lost in rock formations/ Or became park bench mutations.” Of course you can’t go wrong with popular albums like Harvest. Speaking of Harvest, I purchased Live at Massey Hall. This 1971 recording was finally released in 2007. Young’s solo acoustic performance showcases his amazing talent and features five “new” songs that would rock the free world months later with the release of Harvest. Young also provides back-story for many of the songs. The recording quality is quite good, though I felt that more applause could have been cut out.

Today, I was fortunate enough to scoop some floor seats for Leonard Cohen’s upcoming concert. I can only hope that Neil Young’s presence, too, will grace my city soon.

Qristina & Quinn

Listening to Jian’s dynamic coverage (QTube on YouTube) of the East Coast Music Awards (ECMA) (Danny William’s defence of the arts on today’s show was particularly inspiring), made me think of Saturday night. I took my son to see Qristina & Quinn, a Celtic music duo. This, however, was no ordinary duo: Qristina, 18 years old, energised the room with her phrenetic fingers and Quinn, 13, supported her ambition with his steady, but intricate strumming. Both displayed great talent on their respective instruments, fiddle and guitar. The foot-stomping even extinguished my fatigue and compelled me to dance in my seat. You can watch a sampling on their YouTube channel, but nothing beats a live performance. They were accompanied by a percussionist, a bassist, and flutist. The flutist also played the Uilleann pipes. The subdued drone from the pipes propelled each note high into the vaulted ceiling where they swirled with Qristina’s elongated tones. I look forward to hearing more from both of them. Kudos to Daniel Lapp whose BC Fiddle Orchestra has inspired so many.


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