Thursday, March 29, 2012

Answering Don D'Haene about my opinion and conscience

In my review of The Drowsy Chaperone, I expressed my reservations about Don D'Haene's performance and received personal comments on Saturday from him against me that I consider a bunch of deceptive condescension. I've waited this long to respond to enable myself a proper response to have some self-respect.

When I saw his performance, I was not "squirming" at simply seeing a gay character, I was concerned at seeing an actor playing a character as a caricature of a minority group in the play, which in this case happens to be gay.  This is not the same as other caricatured characters in the play like Aldolfo, a Latin lover who chooses to be that way. Last time I checked, majority scientific opinion about sexual orientation is that it is not something you choose any more than being left handed. Furthermore, there is nothing in D'Haene's role demands that anything specific about any minority group about it at all; he's just a guy who enjoys musical theatre who could be a Rwandan Tutsi Albino for all the real relevance to the plot.

In short, the sole problem I had was a person playing a stereotype of a minority group. As for his claim about the play honoring the classic era of musical theatre, this was a part of musical theatre of that time too:

Now, if The Drowsy Chaperone is celebrating the traditions of 1920s musical theatre, why wasn't there a tribute to this one in the play?  If you give the obvious answer about that kind of getup, that many African-American entertainers were forced to use themselves on stage for decades, why is it then considered fair game to caricature another minority on stage, and differ only by degree?

As for supposedly calling D'Haene out for playing "Too Gay," that is as irrelevant as calling Lincoln Perry, who played the quintessential racist comic movie caricature, Stepin Fetchit, "Too Black."  Just because the player happens to be of that minority does not make those depictions any less wrong. All that concerned me is that both played a stereotypically broad caricature of a minority, albeit to different degrees.

Whether you want to consider me uptight, politically correct or some other epitaph, I don't really care, especially from someone who calls me "My favourite critic" and yet has shut me out of paid review assignments as the online theatre editor of The Beat for more than a year for whatever reason I am past wanting to know about.

I tried to give an honest opinion with a flash of social conscience and if smug sneering is what I get, then I guess that's a due that I have to pay.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Decision, Decisions: NDP Leadership

After all these months after we lost Jack Layton, with the NDP struggling with Nycole Turmel being overshadowed Bob Rae in the Liberal party, this weekend is the make or break occasion to get a new leader to take charge and lead my party into a position to harry Harper and take him and his cronies on in 2015. So, the NDP Leadership convention this weekend.

The problem for me is that I don't know who I want to go with and a lot is riding on this weekend. For instance, I want the party to keep to Tommy Douglas' ideals and principles, but that won't mean as much if we don't win power. So, I'm in a delicate balance of ideals and pragmatism that would determine the fate of this nation I don't want to mess my contribution up.

The problem is that I have not been able to see or listen to any of the debates and I haven't heard all of the interviews of the candidates on CBC Radio One, not that Thomas Muclair actually bothered to give one. So, I'm down to a few basic things I know about each of them, coloured by my prejudices and personal stands I cannot compromise.

So, I all I can do is list the candidates and give my feelings

  • Thomas Muclair: He is the front runner and he is a established NDP veteran in Quebec and we need to keep our seats there if we are going to win.  However, his proposal to push the NDP to the center feels a violation what the party was created to be, the voice of the Left in this country and screams of Tony Blair's betrayal of the Labour Party in the UK that ultimately led him to be a toady to George W. Bush for his Iraq War based on lies. Yet, the Toronto Star, my favourite newspaper endorses him and they make a good argument of why we need him, even if Ed Broadbeat has made his potential job harder. At the same time, the fact that he refused interviews for CBC's The Current or The House is a black mark that says a lot of things about his attitudes and his openness.
  • Brian Topp: He is the mastermind who enabled Jack to take Quebec, was endorsed by Ed Broadbent and he has the strongest commitment to electoral reform to bring in proportional representation. On the other hand, he is not a sitting MP and that is a major factor that will hamper his effectiveness in the House.
  • Nathan Cullen: He stands out for his idea of cooperating the Liberals to some degree to help defeat the Tories.  There is a lot to be said about that, but I am wary of the threat such moves would lead to some kind of coalition to the point of the Liberals absorbing the NDP and killing Tommy's dream once and for all. Still, Harper has gotten this far by divide and conquer and we have to take action to stop that.
  • Paul Dewar: I like his ideals, but his weakness in speaking French would make putting him in charge a perceived slap in the face of the Quebec wing and we cannot afford that.
  • Peggy Nash: Just that interview on the House in which she refused to seriously entertain the possibility of reversing the Tory and Liberal corporate tax cuts kills my support.  Jack pulled some real victories fighting those stupid tax policies that have eviscerated our public services and I will not have that stance thrown away, pure and simple.
  • Martin Singh: Some of his policies sound sensible enough, but the fact that he pushing his supporters to have Muclair as their #2 choice undercuts his credibility for his independence in my eyes.
  • Niki Ashton : She is a very articulate woman who has a real fire that represents the NDP's new strength and has a good understanding of where the party has to go, but she is relatively new at this and I think she needs more time under her belt to be a serious candidate for the the next leadership race.
So, all I have is essentially some half-heard facts and more gut feelings which I doubt are pure and admirable by any stretch, but I'm down to a few days to decide and I hope I can make a good call for myself.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Better Angels of our Nature by Steven Pinker, a quick review

For all my gloom I have about the world, I find my spirits lifted by a magnificent book that says that there is a larger and much brighter reality that is there; we are living in one of the most peaceful times in human history with humane values having made more progress for civilization than you'd ever hoped.

That book is The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined by Prof. Steven Pinker. In this book, Pinker makes a powerfully compelling case about the advancement of civilization with a comprehensive study of human history through archaeology, anthropology, psychology and the statistical and anecdotal analysis of history.

At 700+ pages, the book can obviously explain the case far better than I can, but I can give a few examples. The most revealing is that World War II may the deadliest war in history in absolute numbers, but when you compare it to other "deadly quarrels" in history in proportion to the total world human population of their times, it barely makes the top ten compared to earlier conflicts with its far low population.

Also, you can look the psychology of violence in the past.  With cultures of honour that value the idea of automatically striking out at insults and finding horrific tortures like public execution and cat burning (It was exactly what it sounds; seeing an animal being burned alive) popular forms of entertainment, then you can see there is some real human progress by some definitions. Furthermore, you read some good examples that civilization is not as overrated as you might think when you read the news when you compare it to the nasty warfare raiding nomadic hunter-gatherer societies can indulge in.

While the clinical details of Pinker's argument in later chapters really gets into jargon, it still can be fascinating, especially when he explains the true nature of randomness and probabilities, which are more complex than you might think.

In case you're wondering, Pinker is not some starry eyed dreamer; he is the first to admit that this human progress could stop or reverse itself, but he has his evidence and the book is available at most libraries so you can read it for yourself, or you can do what I did and read the audiobook from In short, he simply saying, "So far, so good."

Anyways, don't take my word for it; check what Steve Paikin of TVO's The Agenda found out in this interview:

Regardless, he's great to listen to, either directly, or through a audiobook narrator and a source of considerable hope.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

More Harperite perversion plans for Canadian science

With the blind ideological wrecking ball role the Harperites are determined to play, it's easy to forget that their rampage extends to more than just their asinine law and order agenda or their threats to the CBC among other things.

Now, I have learned that they want to change the operational mandate of the National Research Council of Canada, the main government body that supports scientific research in this country; you might know it for their 1 PM time signal on CBC Radio.  Now, they want to orient the organization for more business oriented for applied sciences as a kind of a "concierge" service.

As much as Minister of State for Science and Technology Gary Goodyear claims this will not mean cutting back on pure "blue skies" research, can we really believe this from a government that has been accused of muzzling scientists and arbitrarily shutting down important research centers like that arctic atmospheric research centre?  I say of course not, this largely just their forcible molding another important government institution to serve their political ends and avoid any "inconvenient truths."

After all, the NRC could easily be forced to turn down environmental research under such a mandate as being economically detrimental. With big business increasingly unwilling to do applied research on their own money on the scale of the photocopier Xerox when it founded PARC (Palo Alto Research Center), which made major advances in computer technology, the NRC could essentially be forced to be corporate welfare instead.

Just another example of Harper perverting our institutions for their own ends instead.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

New fridge and new movies

Of all the expenses you don't want to deal with, buying major kitchen appliances must rank fairly high, but my fridge, which was a donation from Habitat for Humanity to the original houseowners years ago and must have been 30+ years old, was dying and I had to bow to reality.

At least I now have a replacement that will only use 24% of the power of the old one, just the thing you want to have in play when time of use electricity pricing is imposed on you. Now, if only I could convince the commercial tenants to take some basic measures to save electricity on their own.

I at least had some good news like I won a runner up prize at Rainbow Cinemas' Oscar contest, 4 movie passes and my latest movie bingo sheet is full. That means I have 5 free showings to go to, which is a welcome development considering the new John Carter movie is falling in its Rotten Tomato rating and I was hoping against hope it could have stayed fresh.  Oh well, the Oscar nominated dance documentary, Pina, is coming to the Hyland and that will certainly be worth the money.  Just look at this trailer if you need convincing.  The whole look of that kind of poetry in motion is a cinematic magic that you can only find at the art house cinema environment

Sorry if I don't have any insightful things to write about this Thursday, but I can show one of the most entertaining European translations of the most unlikely broad interest TV sensation of the year, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.  Namely, while most translations of the show's intro translate the language, the Italian version goes for a full re-edit into a spectacular animesque style that is distinctive in and of itself.

Just see it for yourself and enjoy!

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Harperite Allergy for the Truth

With the election call fraud scandal heating up with 31000 complaints to Elections Canada, it seems that all the Conservatives are flailing about trying to avoid being implicated when if they had cooperated like decent people, they might have been able to deflect more suspicion against them. Just blaming Elections Canada for this is just the most ridiculous of the Tory excuses they are to spew even as others in the same party are trying to do the damage control of looking like idiots.

But what do we expect from these vandals, they have a phobia for the real facts no matter how well researched and reasonable they are.  They already abolished the long form census, have been muzzling scientists to the point where the world renowned Nature Magazine is on to them and our most advanced and northern most atmospheric research center is set to shuttered without explanation or excuse from the Federal Government.

With the latest reports about global warming evidence and ozone depletion in the Arctic, the last one is completely inexcusable to the point of being insane, but is completely normal for Harper and his cronies.  They don't want truth, they just want a perpetual fog to cover their tracks and likely their own minds.  Their whole mishandling of our online communications infrastructure development is further proof of their incompetence and inability to see the need to keep our nation from becoming a "Hewer of Wood and Drawer of Water" again as our manufacturing sector suffers and our technology industries get beat up and sold off.

And the worst part is this is just the tip of the iceberg if you want to include their "Get tough on crime" agenda in a time when crime rates are falling or committing to buying jet fighters other nations have decided to not to get after all.

All this makes me want to get more audiobooks from and retreat into hearing more people who actually can make a living being articulate and rational.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

The Lorax and Movie Compromises

With the Oscars out of the way and with it the 2011 movie year truly finished and the traditional fallow months for films finished, it's time to enjoy the first really good (hopefully) 2012 Hollywood animated film, The Lorax, based on the classic environmental fable by Dr. Seuss.

I remember seeing reading the book and seeing the original TV special in the 1970s and it was easily one of the most upsetting animated TV specials I ever saw as the greedy Once-Ler despoils a wilderness and depopulates it of all wild life. That tone of course is exactly the point of the show to see the consequences of reckless corporate greed with a  powerful ending where the boy listening to this story is charged with the task to replant the forest. Why there has been no mention of linking this special with the classic Canadian Oscar winning animated short, The Man Who Planted Trees (available at YouTube) where a shepherd manages to do precisely that is beyond me.

That being said, this kind of story would never do for a feature film as is; it would be an interminable downer of a story no mainstream film audience would sit through for over an hour with children. With that in mind, it looks like the film will be taking a balanced approached with a careful expansion of the story where the original plot will be expanded as a flashback, with the main action of the boy struggling to undo the devastation.  Furthermore, the film will apparently be expanding its theme to target urban sprawl with the boy's becoming a Seussian version of The Prisoner's Village.

 If my guesses are right, those are really good artistic calls: the film would have a passionately active tone that gives its environmental theme a powerful sense of hope with just the right kind of fantasy to create a convincing happy ending in a lighthearted fantasy land. That can inspire at least kids in spirit to think about environmental concerns without making them feel so helpless as to their enormity. In that spirit, turning the Once-Ler into a human is an excellent idea that should avoid any confusion for kids about their own species' responsibility for their world. Furthermore, the idea of the constant surveillance by the villains feels natural of their evil determination to maintain a wasteland of the soul in their artificial domain. In short, this feels like a adaptation expansion that feels like a labor of love as Horton Hears A Who became.

Unfortunately, the marketing of the film is another matter. Namely for an environmental themed film to have tie-ins with Mazda, a car company, is a red flag that you can't dismiss and disposable diapers are an equal problem for obvious reasons.

As much the contemporary economics of filmmaking dictate such arrangements, you'd think the producers would be more wary of being accused of greenwashing at its most blatant.  Of course, I can just see them giving the usual excuses with the line that if they had a problem with it, they can always see the original special instead. Still, this kind of marketing will be everywhere and mixed messages will be abounding regardless.

For myself, I'm curious to see how the film itself will deal with its theme and if it maintains the essential point of Dr. Seuss' message from his book. If that integrity is maintained, then I would worry less about the film's impact.  After all, years after the film's marketing and merchandise have faded away, the film itself will remain a part of a film company's library as the essential point of the artistic enterprise that could inspire generations.  That may be an imperfect hope, but it is the best we can hope for this, the most expensive of the arts.

Anyways, while I am waiting, I will enjoying one of the classic silent films tonight at the Western Undergranduate Film Society, The Last Laugh by F.W. Murnau.  It's a celebrated work of pantomime of an old man's fall from grace that needs only one intertitle to tell its story and that's as a poke at movie conventions by Murnau.  After seeing the schlocky, if rather exciting at times, mess of a superhero film, Ghost Rider: The Spirit of Vengeance with all of Nicholas Cage's overacting, this will be a refreshing clearing of the cinematic palate.