Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Boer ballad a Pop-chart hit in South Africa

The cover of Bok Van Blerk's CD "DE LA REY" [photo by permission MOZI Records]

A fascinating story appeared in February 26 edition of The GUARDIAN newspaper. “AFRIKAANS SINGER STIRS UP CONTROVERSY WITH WAR SONG” alerted me to a huge pop-music phenomenon which is sweeping South Africa but which has been ignored by the Canadian media. At every concert he performs, a musical runagate named Blok Van Blerk revs up his audience with a simple exchange. "I'm proud of my language and culture. Are you?" Their response is a roar of agreement. The culture he speaks of is the Boer, and the language Afrikaans. It's not an item you'll see in a Canadian paper, so read the Guardian story here.

The music video is available on YouTube. The version I watched has been downloaded over 68,000 times, and there is also a studio version with a montage of vintage images. In fact YouTube is the best source for Bok Van Blerk. It has interviews with the performer and tribute pieces by his fans. [Maybe the fact that YouTube was co-founded by a South African is a partial explanation of why the Afrikaans speaking Diaspora has this one international venue allowed to them, where they are permitted to share their music and films.]

Boer General Jacobus Hercules “Oom Koos” De La Rey

The ballad, as a five minute long video, was wonderfully produced and is available for download. I promise you will enjoy it. Watch it.

"Bok Van Blerk" is the stage name of singer Louis Pepler. His personal web page is here: http://www.bokvanblerk.co.za/shop.html

The music video is actually a mini-war movie about Boer resistance to British "scorched earth" tactics. The set of books (above) document five of the Concentration Camps to which the Boer wives and children were segregated. The men of the Boer Commandos were separated from their families and shipped off in transports to detention camps in India, Ceylon, Bermuda and St. Helena island.
As you watch the music video, which of course is in Afrikaans, you might enjoy having the English lyrics at hand:

On a mountain in the night
We lie in the dark and wait
In the mud and the blood
As rain and streepsak
[bedding sack] clings to me
And my house and my farm were burnt to the ground
so they could capture us
But those flames and those fires now
burns deep deep within me.

De La Rey, De La Rey, can you come and lead the Boers?
De La Rey, De La Rey General,
General we will fall around you as one.
General De La Rey.

The Khakis
[The British] that laugh
A handful of us against a massive force.
With our backs to the cliffs of the mountains
They think its over for us.
But the heart of a farmer is deeper and wider, they will come to see
On a horse he comes, the lion of West Transvaal.

De La Rey, De La Rey can you come and lead the Boers?
De La Rey, De La Rey. General,
General we will fall around you as one.
General De La Rey.

Because my wife and my child are in a camp dying,
And the Khakis are walking over a nation that will rise again.

De La Rey, De La Rey can you come and lead the Boers?
De La Rey, De La Rey General,
General we will fall around you as one.
General De La Rey.

The lyrics of the song resonate with modern South Africans for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that De La Rey was the Boer nation's greatest battlefield tactician of the Victorian era. It is also written that he, more than all the veteran leaders of the Boer War, had the greatest "moral authority" during the postwar transition to a new South African state. De La Ray as a matter of interest, was killed in 1914 by a police rifleman at a checkpoint set up near Fordsburg, a village on the outskirts of Johannesburg. Since then many South Africans have come to revere him as a Lost Leader, in the fashion of Ireland's "Big Fellah", General Michael Collins.
The 17th Century English poet, John Dryden, was a lover of the drum beat of martial music and a staunch believer in Christian salvation - here on earth and after death. The new De La Rey ballad is fresh reminder of some verse he wrote long ago:
The dead shall live, the living die, and Musick shall untune the sky.

BLOG UPDATE: Another version of this article, with more photos, is archived on our sister site- http://:www.therunagatesclub.com/blog/

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

BREACH - A Psychological Thriller - and a Parliamentary Melodrama in Ottawa

Bramptom M.P. Bains with former Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin

I live in a city where nearly every person of social consequence has a multiple identity, be they office holders, natural born celebrities or one of the legion of networking wannabes. It is not merely that so many individuals here are “on the make” or “on the take,” ever conscious of the need to cover their tracks. Add to these a few hundred thousand Vancouverites who have widely divergent identities, able to slip easily back and forth between their particular ethnic enclaves into the so-called “mainstream” community. That complicating reality has contributed much to the failure of Canadian law enforcement to succeed in prosecuting the Air India terrorists. Every suspect, every witness, and certainly a whole generation of politicians, (civic-provincial-federal), who exploited the AIR INDIA case for electoral gain... all have multiple identities.

Last year I did some valuable reading on the problem which mass scale multiple-identity phenomenon poses to law enforcement in North America. Elizabeth Loftus in EYEWITNESS TESTIMONY (Harvard 1979) makes it very clear that people are very poor at making “cross-racial identification” and that a whole battery of cultural assumptions throw off the accuracy of sworn testimony in court. Here in Vancouver we solved that problem by dispensing with a jury, letting one magistrate sit in judgement of police evidence. The accused went free.

Even more important is that we, as active viewers, inject so much of our own prejudice or faulty logic into what we observe people doing around us. Consequently we often create substance where it did not exist. Cooper & Redlinger remind us of that fact in their book CATCHING SPIES (Bantam 1990). "Is not identity, then, in the last resort, a fiction at least, a social construction at best, based upon different sets of assumptions? However rigorous our procedures and investigations, regardless of the tests we apply, acceptance rests on an act of faith.”

These two realities about identity and eyewitness testimony are what sprang to mind this morning when I read Kim Bolan’s latest investigative piece in the VANCOUVER SUN. She discusses the background of Navdeep Singh Bains, an M.P. from Brampton, whose father-in-law, Darshan Singh Saini, seems to have material knowledge which would assist the police in pursuing the investigation of Sikh militants involved in terrorism in British Columbia. Will Darshan Saini testify? He is quoted by Bolan as responding with "If they call me, I will see. I don't know about that," he said. "It is not that I hide anything. If something comes up again, that is that." It sounds like Saini will be a perfectly atrocious witness. I read a few minutes ago that our Prime Minister referred to Bolan’s article in the House of Commons this afternoon. We shall see if the story has legs. The Liberals were looking to cover their tracks as they fled from the debate on Anti-Terrorism provisions. They will now torture us with their childish rhetoric.

Also this morning, I read a wonderful response to the new Universal movie BREACH, written yesterday by Ron Rosenbaum for his Blog. http://ronrosenbaum.pajamasmedia.com/
Actor Chris Cooper plays renegade FBI agent Robert Hannsen in BREACH

BREACH explores the craft and craftiness of Robert Hannsen, former FBI counter-intelligence officer who betrayed his country to the Soviets. The role of Hannsen is brilliantly played by veteran actor Chris Cooper. (I’ve been a grinning Cooper fan since the 80’s, so getting out to see BREACH is on my list.) Ron Rosenbaum is an old-hand at espionage (non-fiction and fictional) and he uses a comparison with the new Matt Damon flic THE GOOD SHEPHERD, to make his point.

Let me begin the comparison between Matt Damon in and Chris Cooper in by saying I admire reticence in film acting when it’s done well. But there’s reticence and there’s reticence.
The reticence of Matt Damon, an actor I ordinarily admire, in was virtually catatonic. He was supposedly playing a buttoned up WASP based mainly on James Angleton the legendary CIA counter-spy. But if that was the intent he was playing the wrong stereotype. Angleton was no pure WASP silent type. He was half-Mexican and there was a Latin and Latinate flair to his rhetoric. Damon played Angleton as if he were Rainman.
Meanwhile Chris Cooper in Breach: wow, what a treat to see someone at least play at underplaying in a film. The guy is really convincing in conveying the mixed motives, or the incoherency (something slightly different from mixed) of his motives. Someone who doesn’t even fathom his own profound split and masks his incomprehension in reticence as he methodically goes about selling the most super-sensitive U.S. spy secrets to the Soviet Union. Selling out the lives of our agents in the KGB. For cash, not conviction.
It offers us something that we rarely see in films: non transparency. Someone who is not clear even to himself. Someone who is an apparently sincere devout Catholic who becomes a traitor for…merely money? For ego? So that he “matters”. He is essentially a multiple murderer; the information that he passed to the Soviets led to at least three deaths perhaps many more. And yet he goes about his business grimly but methodically. It’s haunting, chilling. In a way he reminds one of the kidnapper/murderer in the original Dutch version of The Vanishing. We don’t understand him because he doesn’t understand himself, and this is what touches on a nerve and makes the performance great.
So many film roles over-explain their characters. Make everything transparent. That’s why a performance that renders a character fascinating but opaque, a mystery to him and us is so rare and so riveting to watch. The most difficult espionage is our attempt to spy on ourselves. It’s not always successful, but it’s fascinating to watch
. “

I hope I don’t get roasted for quoting almost the entire Rosenbaum piece. It’s just so useful intact that I could not cut it down. I dare not quote at length from Bolan's piece, but suffice it to say that she is the most courageous reporter working in Canada. Hers is the only testimony I can trust. I can think of several men who would kill her tonight, if they thought they had a chance of pulling it off. This is a dangerous city, and the mountains make a lovely backdrop to the cemeteries. It's an unhappy boast that I have actually met many people in Vancouver who fit the Hanssen profile – rotten and ruthless, and who never troube to question their motives or instincts. They seem to assume that everyone else is hearing the same voices or perhaps think we are suckers for not joining them at the table. I have a creepy feeling that BREACH is going to leave me sitting in a cold sweat. That’s what evil does.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Egypt Condemns Youth for using Blogspot to promote Freedom and Equality

Abdelkareem Nabil Soliman on the beach at Alexandria

A young student in Alexandria, Egypt is being prosecuted for expressing his secular views and advocating on behalf of women's equality. Worse, his own father has sided with the Mullah's and demands that his son DIE unless his recants his views!!

A translation of a recent news story in the Arabic Al-Masree Al-Yawm (The Egyptian Today) reads:

Family of Al-Azhar Student, Accused of “Contempt of Religion”, Disowns Him Before His Court Verdict Session
Written by Nabeel Abu Shal and Tamer Al-Sharqawy18/2/2007
The family of Al-Azhar student Abdul Kareem Nabeel Suleiman, accused of “contempt of religion”, has disowned him before his court verdict session on the upcoming Thursday. His father, a retired mathematics teacher, has demanded applying the Sharia [Islamic law] ruling on him by giving him three days to repent, followed by having him killed if he does not announce his repentance.
The father of the Al-Azhar student, who is accused of contempt of the Islamic religion, harming the reputation of Egypt, and inciting to disrupt the peace and to overthrow the regime, has decided to rescind from boycotting his trial hearing sessions. [He has decided] to attend the court verdict session with his four brothers, who completely memorized the Holy Quran, to announce disowning the accused Abdul Kareem inside the court room, in order to reduce the embarrassment and pressure that civil rights organizations are applying on the court panel.
The father of the accused also described the organizations that are working on having his son acquitted as “monkey rights” organizations, in his own words. He also described his son as the “monkey” who has imitated the atheists of the West in their intellectual thinking."

Though he is in an Egyptian jail, his BLOGSPOT site is still archived.
It's here.http://karam903.blogspot.com/ You can read his profile.

If you care about his fate, you may visit this U.S. (below) website and add your signature to the online petition. Islamic "laws" are already adopted or are being considered by national or local jurisdictions in several European countries, Canada and Australia. If you do not wake up now to the spreading erosion of human rights, especially with respect to women, you will be rudely awakened to it before so very long.

A poster for a recent demonstration held in an American city.

Friday, February 16, 2007

2007 The Year of the Pig

2007 is the Year of the Pig, and it is only hours away. I thought I would assemble a fun gallery of images which convey the spirit of our times.

Ah wealth! Who doesn't covet gold? From Australia, a gold pig.

To get rich is glorious! In upscale China, pigs tattooed by Louis Vuitton.

A tattoo for that dumb butcher, who cannot remember his cuts of pork. How's that for having cheat notes up your sleeve?

In military occupied Tibet where they just want to see the last of China's "People's Liberation Army," this calendar will get you arrested.

This is BLUE PIG. Isn't she lovely? Just $375. and she's yours.

Pig with a really bad attitude. Perhaps his former owner was the infamous Robert Pickton, the Coquitlam pig farmer?

After a hard night of drinking, this porker just stopped for a massage. What will his wife say when he gets home with some other pig's name tattood on his ass?

Wow. This makes me want to lick my monitor. I've got saliva on my board.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

GUNSLINGER GIRLS - Aida Yu's Anarchic Anime

GUNSLINGER GIRL is an engrossing Anime thriller which pits trained assassination teams against a network of organized crime and terrorist groups in Italy. The three-Disc DVD box set, was released on September 19, 2006. The North American edition of the series was given an English language track and nicely packaged by FUNIMATION, a company in Fort Worth, Texas which is a major player in the marketing of Japanese animated films.

An excellent Anime thriller, GUNSLINGER GIRLS was conceived of as a thirteen-part television series, and was produced for Fuji Television Network. It was written by Junki Takegami, basing episodes on the original Manga by writer-artist Yutaka Aida, who is more popularly known as “Aida Yu”. The story is set in Italy in the near-future, a nation beset with corrupt political parties, terrorists for hire, and mafia strongholds. In other words, an Italy still struggling to deal with its old 20th century problems.

The equalizer in GUNSLINGER GIRL is the “Social Welfare Agency,” a secret assassination department composed of fratellos, an innovative pairing of ruthless male agents with pre-pubescent female cyborgs. The Agency uses advanced medical and engineering techniques to build super assassins from what is left of pretty young girls severely injured in car accidents or just terminally ill. Their physical rebuilding is enhanced with a deep “conditioning” process which is supposed to render the girls coldly efficient and remorseless killing machines, loyal to their handlers and devoid of the need for love or companionship. That fact that emotions and attachments do begin to surface in the girls, is a crucial element in plot development, as is the fact that extra conditioning which might eliminate that problem, has the effect of shortening the girls’ lives.

My son gave me this DVD set for Christmas and I had no idea what to expect. Once I got past some of the basic premises, which are viciously Nihilistic and totally unacceptable in a values based society, the characters did become engaging and the more surreal aspects of the story begins to make sense. Many details from Italian art and culture get woven into the episodes, and of course lots of attention is lavished on the full arsenal of modern weapons which the girls use to snipe, spray or obliterate their human targets.

We never listen to the English voice tracks on Japanese movies or Anime, so I cannot vouch for the quality. The English captioning is excellent and I do not believe that very much was lost in the translation. The “extras” are disappointing. The commentary track is probably the worst example of ego-fueled “buddy chatter” I have listened to on a DVD since the Director and Co-Producer of the truly awful S.F. movie SOLDIER (1998) discussed their work. (In our family that S.F. movie dud serves as the benchmark for BAD in a DVD commentary.) On the third disc of GUNSLINGER GIRL we hear a voice-actor, a Texan named Eric Vale (a pseudonym) who cavalierly describes himself as “Head Writer” on the series. Mr. Vale had absolutely nothing insightful to contribute, and after several minutes I turned the track off. This is, after all, an Anime series which the Japanese creators loaded full of pop-culture and literary references. The Japanese are a very literate people. We the audience must wrap our minds around two very jarring premises –1) a squad of little girls competing with each other to murder people, and 2) adult men taking advantage of little girls. Then we start meeting the cast of characters. The lead is a cyborg named Henrietta.

JPop singer Nanri Yuuka provides the lovely voice of "Henrietta".

Just one example from the story-arch will suffice to illustrate what begged for discussion by the dubbing crew at FUNIMATION. In an early episode a male agent is forced to make up a complex story about a Pasta Prince, as a device to provide emotional support needed by one of the girls. The agent is hard pressed to keep the tale going, but somehow he does. The odd story gets published, and the book becomes a treasured keepsake of the little girl as she falls in love with her adult handler. The Pasta Prince figures in the wonderfully conceived final episode, which offers us a rewarding payoff. The idea itself is a borrowing from Lewis Carroll, the infamous lover of little girls. At age 31 he began entertaining (some suggest seducing) 11 year old Alice Liddell with a fantastic tale of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground. The rest is literary history. GUNSLINGER GIRL is a complex drama full of such allusions and playful borrowings. That’s part of its charm. The DVD set is worthy of its purchase price – approximately $50 Canadian. Search for it. Enjoy it.

The Gunslingers - Henrietta, Angelica, Triela, Claes and Rico

NOTE: http://therunagatesclub.com/blog/ has a lengthier version of this article, describing the advent of a real-life Gunslinger Girl, who became a leader in the New Red Brigades.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Two- Faced Austrians Outfit Iraqi Assassins

The HS50 heavy sniper rifle built in Austria by Steyr-Mannlicher.

Clearly the Austrians still hate the Americans, and they are hoping that the Iranians and Iraqis will kill plenty of US troops. Why else sell precision weapons to a rogue regime whose President professes to admire Hitler, and also swears it is his sacred duty to destroy the State of Israel? Recall the political hysteria just two years ago when the Austrian press went after California Governor Arnold Swarzenegger, all because he "allowed" the state penal system to execute a convicted murderer. Lunatic politicians in Austria, including the Fuhrer of the Austrian "Green Party", demanded that Arnold's original Austrian citizenship be revoked. His birthplace, Graz, Austria, threatened to take his name off the town sports arena. It became rather obvious that their shrill and vicious attitude toward Arnold was simply because he's a Republican.

Now we learn that that the Austrians have sold enough sniper rifles to equip a battalionof Iraqi terrorists, using an Iranian "End User" arms export certificate. That's just about as evil as Russian President Putin supplying Iran with a new generation S.A.M. missile system, to defend Iran's rogue nuclear weapons program. Shame on those rotten Austrian's. Let's hope that Iran doesn't send a few dozen of these rifles to the Taliban. Our troops in Afghanistan don't wear anything that will stop the Austrian round for the HS50. Here's the story by a Defence correspondent at THE TELEGRAPH:

Feb.. 13 - Austrian sniper rifles that were exported to Iran have been discovered in the hands of Iraqi terrorists. More than 100 of the.50 calibre weapons, capable of penetrating body armour, have been discovered by American troops during raids. The Steyr HS50 is a long range, high precision rifle. The guns were part of a shipment of 800 rifles that the Austrian company, Steyr-Mannlicher, exported legally to Iran last year.
The sale was condemned in Washington and London because officials were worried that the weapons would be used by insurgents against British and American troops.
Within 45 days of the first HS50 Steyr Mannlicher rifles arriving in Iran, an American officer in an armoured vehicle was shot dead by an Iraqi insurgent using the weapon.
Over the last six months American forces have found small caches of the £10,000 rifles but in the last 24 hours a raid in Baghdad brought the total to more than 100, US defence sources reported.

The find is the latest in a series of discoveries that indicate that Teheran is providing support to Iraq's Shia insurgents. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, yesterday denied that Iran had supplied weapons to Iraqi insurgents. But on Sunday US officials in Baghdad displayed a range of weapons they claimed had originated in Iran. They said 170 American and British soldiers had been killed by such weapons. The discovery of the sniper rifles will further encourage those in Washington who want to see Iran's uranium-enriching facilities destroyed before a nuclear weapon is produced.
The [British] Foreign Office expressed "serious concerns" over the sale of the rifles last year and Britain protested to the Austrian government.
A Foreign Office spokesman said last night: "Although we did make our worries known the sale unfortunately went ahead and now the potential that these weapons could fall into the wrong hands appears to have happened." The rifle can pierce all body armour from up to a mile and penetrate armoured Humvee troop carriers. It is highly accurate and fires a round called an armour piercing incendiary, a bullet that the Iranians manufacture.
The National Iranian Police Organisation bought the rifles allegedly to use them against drug smugglers in an £8 million order placed with Steyr in 2005. The company was given permission to export them by the Austrian government, which is not a NATO member.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

HO scale train sets get raunchy

Spicing up the HO tabletop train set. German police raid a brothel.

Playing with table-top train sets is a passion with hobbyists all over the world. You may know someone who has converted his basement or the garage into a miniature railway, complete with super realistic train station, a switching yard and colourful painted backdrops. Train sets, from the electric HO scale to the larger steam powered versions which transport kiddies around the zoo, are as popular today as they were a century ago.

Toy designers are nothing if not creative. Last week's huge International Toy Show at Nuremberg, Germany (Feb. 1 -6) was the opportunity for model train designers to offer their newest wares. If these photos are an indication, much more may be going on in the basement than Dad has been letting on to his family!

Anti-terrorist police here detain suspicious foreign passengers at a train station. It's a typical sight at most European rail terminals these days. Why not add drama to your table-top train setup?

We knew that Europeans are much more daring in their lifestyle choices than we Canadians. These scale figures, called "Lovers in Motion" are intended to add spice to an afternoon of Gramps "playing with his train". If this is what Germans may observe from rail coaches, then the purchase of a Eurorail ticket is more of a bargain than we've been told.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

How I was Cured of Newspaper Addiction

A faked N.Y.TIMES page which illustrates with humour the tricks big newspapers sometimes use to attract new readers. The TIMES now has 1.5 million online readers.

I have always been an information junkie. I still am, for that matter. I recall that at about the age of thirteen I started reading newspapers seriously, even clipping articles to save for future reference. It’s needless for me to dwell on the fact that in school I was always better informed on current events than my classmates. You probably knew guys like me.

I have lived and worked in four Canadian provinces and I also worked in Taiwan for a few years. I taught at two colleges in Taipei, and also worked for a glossy Taiwan defence magazine. Wherever we made our home, newspapers formed part of my identity. No matter how busy life got, I made time for reading papers. Fortunately for me there were two small English dailies available to the foreign community in Taiwan’s capital.

When I returned to Canada it was to take a high pay - no brain, industry job in small town Alberta. There I starved for information, but never reduced to biting the doorknobs and tearing at the wallpaper with my nails. All there was at hand was the Edmonton Journal. I did receive a Taiwan paper every day for two years by mail. It was horribly expensive but for me it was the equivalent of a daily gulp of methadone. As I said, I’m an information “Junky”. When I bought a house in B.C. twelve years ago the first thing I did was subscribe to three newspapers – The National Post, the Globe and Mail, and the Vancouver SUN. I loved the convenience of the papers at my door before breakfast. For a year or so I could buy The New York Times at my neighborhood 7 Eleven. I was in urban heaven.

Then, too rapidly, the Canadian dailies began to leave me behind. The irritations began to pile up. Their editorial slants, their emphasis on personality politics, the coverage of an endless stream of crybaby social “issues”, the pandering to advertising blocs, and above all those horrible lifestyle sections. The newspapers were desperately searching for new readers but ignoring addicts like me. I labored for hours over Op-ed letters, bitching about the drift to infotainment. My letters were either hacked down or never printed at all. Then the Internet through me a flotation ring and I was saved. Since 2000 I’ve been cured of stacked newspapers in the broom closet. I now have a dozen news aggregators bookmarked on my PC. They come in all flavors - general news, regional press, political, military, science, archeology, entertainment, etc. If a story breaks which I am keen on, say the murder of a Chinese arms dealer, I quickly Google it, searching for the best local news sources in that city. It's bliss.

Down deep, I never really believed the voices prophesying the death of newspapers. All said, they are still a cheap form of leisure activity, and they do serve the purpose of providing limited coverage of our communities. This morning Matt Drudge pointed to an article published by HAARETZ.COM, in Israel. Arthur Sulzberger, owner and publisher of the most important newspaper in the world (it’s true!), The New York Times, was asked if he will be printing the paper five years from now. His reply -"I really don't know whether we'll be printing the Times in five years, and you know what? I don't care either." The Times is transitioning rapidly into an all-Internet service. Presently it has 1.5 million daily online readers and 1.1 million print edition readers. Its worldwide influence is far greater, as the paper maintains a benchmark excellence in reporting.

Now I do believe that the large printed papers are doomed. Will I miss the Vancouver SUN? No. It left me behind years ago. It’s advertisers don’t reach me, and its editorial board don't consider my needs. Still, I love the papers and even have a few ancient examples hung in frames on my office wall. It’s the classic tale of the man who was mean to his family but generous with strangers. No-one turned up for his funeral. That is the sad fate of many Canadian newspapers, isn’t it?

Monday, February 5, 2007

Clifford Irving - a Quintessential Runagate

I was tickled to learn just last evening, that the 1972 Howard Hughes Autobiography Hoax has been filmed, and is set for release in early April. THE HOAX stars Richard Gere playing novelist and con-man Clifford Irving, the man who nearly took publishing giants McGraw-Hill and TIME-LIFE for U.S.$765,000. , the lions share believed to be a payment to Howard Hughes. Irving convinced the publishers that he was ghosting Hughes' memoirs, and also serving as a go-between. Gambling that Hughes, a notoriously reclusive billionaire, would not break silence to expose their fraud, Irving had his wife set up an account in a Swiss bank under the name H.R. Hughes, to cash the larger portion of the advance money. Hughes did emerge from the shadows, sufficient to ensure that Irving, his wife, and co-writer Richard Suskind were prosecuted.

Why a film now? There is no questioning the fact that Martin Scorcese's fabulous recent movie THE AVIATOR, which starred Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role as Howard Hughes, has created a fresh audience for the Hughes Legend. That film concludes in the 1950s with Hughes sinking into mental instability, and leaving the door wide open for any savvy movie producers to exploit a thick vein of ore. One obvious link between the two movies is Nina van Pallandt (shown above on a LIFE cover) Nina was Clifford's mistress at the time that Mr. and Mrs. Irving were pulling off the con. Her beauty added spice to the media frenzy which enveloped the case, and her career continued even as the Irving's were being punished. Pallandt co-starred in the 1980 movie AMERICAN GIGOLO, which launched Richard Gere's career. Now they are reunited onscreen to tell a story of which she has intimate knowledge.

This is my personal copy of Irving's book, (Grove Press, 1972) heavily thumbed and annotated. I also have the 1978 edition published in England as PROJECT OCTAVIO. His website says the book was "written in blood". Octavio was the codename given to the project by the New York publishers, who were hungry to protect their "scoop". In an incredible stroke of luck, TIME-LIFE gave Irving access to its massive research files on Hughes and his associates. He described it as "a treasure trove." This allowed the hoaxster to sell them a book partially constructed from their own files.

Irving obtained much of his knowledge about espionage tradecraft and forgery from work on earlier books, but I always suspected there was something missing in his explanation of "What Really Happened". He had spent much time in Israel in the mid-1960s and wrote a book called The Battle of Jerusalem: The Six-Day War, published in 1970. I cannot help believing that there was an Israeli component to the Hughes Hoax story. It is safe conjecture that Irving was alert for and searching for biographical and business information which would interest Israel, should his Hughes scam be blown, or the publishers simply lose confidence in the project. Howard Hughes was a major United States defence contractor, manufacturing missiles and helicopters, and Israel was a major Hughes customer. I may never learn the truth of it.

Clifford Irving has a website, http://cliffordirving.com/index.php and the affable runagate generously offers free downloads of chapters from the fake Hughes memoir, as well as chapters from his new novel. I'm rather fond of the old rascal. I do look forward to the movie and certainly wish him success with his new novel.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Noteworthy Death of Muslim Firebrand

Abu Laban died of lung cancer on Friday. The Danish social welfare system took care of him till the end, even though he hated the Danes and had fervently prayed for the death of some of their leaders. Possibly he died a happy man, knowing full well that Europe may never be able to stamp out all of the fires which he and his followers had been igniting in the suburbs of every European capital.

On Sept. 30, 2005 a Danish newspaper, the Jyllands-Posten, published a set of twelve cartoons, some of which lampooned the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The paper had previously exposed Abu Laban’s views on terrorism in Algeria and Egypt, so taking on the paper was an opportunity he was waiting for. Within weeks he had torn Denmark up by the roots. The ensuing controversy now has a name - the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy. [There is a massive and incredibly detailed Wikipedia page which covers it.] A few weeks later an Islamic newspaper in Cairo republished six of the cartoons in colour, as did papers in Jordan and Yemen. This in spite of the accusation that the cartoons were a blasphemy.

The fiery Palestinian immigrant to Denmark had chosen to lead a personal war against the paper and in general, the Danish people. Their Parliament was virtually besieged. More than just a retired engineer, and part-time Muslim cleric, Abu Laban proved to be more dangerous than expected. He was personally responsible for whipping up a firestorm of death and violence all over the world. It mattered not that he was caught lying, again and again about his true intentions. He enjoyed playing at the role of offended victim to the gullible western press, but was also detected spouting violent threats and incitements in speeches he gave in his own tongue, and in interviews recorded by Muslim media.

Muslim activists worldwide used the Danish cartoon controversy to whip up anger. One Pakistani political party offered cash for anyone who would murder one of the Danish cartoonists. In Germany suitcase bombs were placed on commuter trains. In Nigeria, Christian churches and businesses were burned and 127 people were killed in riots triggered by local condemnation of the cartoons. Abu Laban had worked in Nigeria prior to going to Denmark, and had extensive contacts in that African country. In Sweden, the Foreign Minister was forced to resign after she was caught lying about the censoring of the cartoons in her own country. In Finland, lunatic Finnish politicians burned Danish flags. In Syria the Danish embassy was burned. In London crowds of Muslims shouted death threats to the television cameras.

As the controversy grew, papers in several countries published samples of the cartoons so that readers could decide for themselves why they merited so much fuss. In Canada there was a complete media blackout. Not a single Canadian newspaper was responsible enough to print even one of the innocuous cartoons. Readers here were left to wildly imagine what they might contain. Without Internet access we might have been blinded by our news editors and the professional opinion makers who dominate Canadian headlines. (No publisher has ever apologized for going along with the Islamic campaign.) On May 24, 2006 CHAPTERS-INDIGO bookstores even banned the sale of the Alberta news magazine WESTERN STANDARD and the American magazine HARPER’S, because each had reprinted some of the cartoons. AIR CANADA removed the offending issue of WESTERN STANDARD from its complimentary inflight periodicals.

Now Abu Laban is dead. Looking at year-old photos of the cleric, we now know that he had cancer in his body. He knew it too. Perhaps that was what made him so bitter. Will the violent agitations cease in Denmark? Let’s hope so. We have to expect that the Muslim communities of Europe will find a way to hold their firebrands in check. No one can do it for them.

ISS moves to avoid China's Space Junk

Simulation of the orbital track of the I.S.S., showing its position a few hours ago. It had been passing through the Chinese debris field several times per day.

On January 19th I described the massive debris field created by a Chinese ASAT test, conducted by the missile forces of the People's Liberation Army (PLA). The junk girdles the earth on a pole-to-pole orbit. A news report from Moscow on Feb. 2, filed by the Novosti agency and picked up by U.P., says that the orbit of the International Space Station (ISS) has been altered to protect it from Chinese space junk.

"We are diverting the orbit of the ISS to prevent a possible collision with large fragments of space debris, a decision the Russian Mission Control took together with the Johnson Space Center in Houston," a Russian Mission Control spokesman told Novosti.

The I.S.S. has an anti-meteorite system which could handle Chinese micro-fragments, but not large chunks of metal. The U.S. has filed a diplomatic protest, which has fallen on deaf ears. The report continued: "Russian and U.S. space agencies were both tracking fragments from the weather satellite. U.S. officials said they were following 525 large fragments and had recorded between 500 and 600 instances of debris passing within three miles of orbiting satellites."

Friday, February 2, 2007

Environmentalism - the New Canadian Religion

Is Environmentalism the new Canadian religion? At breakfast a few days ago, I made that pointed suggestion to my wife. I could tell she wasn’t buying my musings. I guess my reasoning fell flat. It was just a feeling, and not something I'd looked into. Before she lost all patience, I finished up by alleging that I wasn’t alone in that view, and beat a hasty retreat to my office. Was I correct? Have many others formed the same impression?

The quick way to find out was to Google the question. First encountered was a discussion thread which ran from January 16-18 on a site called DAIMNATION!. It’s a conservative Newfoundland Blog which I had not seen before. The topic, “Canada Pays, China Pollutes” was triggered by a scathing report on China’s massive environmental degradation in the current edition of Der Spiegel. Provisions of the Kyoto Accord allow nations to buy and sell carbon credits, and many Canadians are incensed by the fact that China gets a free ride. The Chinese government talks in soundbites like Greenpeace, but behaves like they still worship King Coal. China opens coal-fired generating plants at a rate of one a week.

The DAIMNATION! debate was largely one-sided, but what did interest me was how these pseudonymous Canadians were framing their arguments. Positions seemed to coalesce around a useful history metaphor. Said one contributor, “This whole thing reminds me of Medieval Church ‘indulgences’; Chaucer’s ‘Pardoners Tale’ could stand in as a modern editorial piece”.

Another agreed, adding “Most so-called secular environmentalists are acting upon cryptic sentiments of Christian guilt arising from too much ostentatious consumption and worldly success. Kyoto is an atonement for those sins; it is salvation. Setting the climate "right" is, thus, their religion, and like many religious fundamentalists, environmentalist arguments are somewhat devoid of reason, logic and facts, but big on the *shrill factor*.”

Still another voice concluded, “Environmentalists have always been predisposed to paint humanity as a scourge on earth. It’s a major part of their catechism.” The original originator of the metaphor returned to enlarge on his point. “If the response to global warming (etc) was posited to be prayer, meditation and a call for divine intercession, would we be excited about an economic scheme that promised a greater investment in temples, shrines, and prayer mats and improved efficiency in the construction or production of these items?”

A fourth voice opined that “Kyoto has become a morality play far removed from any sort of scientific reality. It's akin to wearing hair shirts to ward off the plague.” Is this just political rhetoric or are they on to something?

We cannot escape the fact that Canadians have suddenly put Global Warming on the top of the political agenda. The Liberals believe that Harper’s government is vulnerable on “Kyoto” and are poised to make the environment the only issue in the next election. The drum beaters are certainly marching with evangelic zeal. They cry out, “think nationally, act globally”. Watch out world! The American’s just want to sell you electoral democracy. Canadians want to restructure your industries and put you back on a bicycle saddle. Your hearts and minds will follow.

My next stop was a report published by STATS CANADA in May, 2006. It’s called “Whose Religious?” and is rather blunt about evolving Canadian belief patterns. Revealed is that we cannot be measured by our professed religious affiliations, as recorded by Census item every ten years. Only one third of us attend a place of worship even a 'lazy ass' once a month. But 53% of Canadians “engage in private religious behavior either at home or in other locations, even though they may have little or no connection with religious organizations.”

Canadians it seems, are making up their own core belief systems as they go about living their lives. Make no mistake, survey’s say we are “believers”, but you can’t pin labels on what most of us believe. STATS CANADA sidesteps that real life glitch by categorizing it as “Religiosity,” for lack of a better word. Well what are we believing in private? If elected government and current policy initiatives are an indication of popular belief patterns, Canadians have adopted environmentalism as their new religion. Mother Earth. The Great Spirit. Gaia. Take your pick. All through the 80s and 90s the Christians went on and on about the growing social influence of the “New Agers”. It turns out they were right.

My mouse kept clicking. I ended up looking at Michael Crichton, author of techno thrillers and co-creator of the wildly popular Jurassic Park concept, realized on-screen by Stephen Spielberg. Crichton could do no wrong it seemed, until he wrote STATE OF FEAR, in 2003. It became a 2004 best seller, and a banned book among the "believers". At that point they descended upon Crichton. He had committed the cardinal heresy of being creative and playful with their core belief - that mankind was responsible for rapid global warming. Salmon Rushdie could have told Crichton what to expect. But the American author is made of healthy material, and is a wealthy, articulate man. He stood his ground, choosing to lecture on the experience of becoming a human lightning rod for a dangerous new form of energy.

In a speech called “Environmentalism as Religion” Crichton has suggested, “If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths.” He is horrified at the degree to which science is being politicized and states bluntly that “what more and more groups are doing is putting out is lies, pure and simple. Falsehoods that they know to be false.”
I won’t deprive you the fun of reading his views. They are found at http://www.crichton-official.com/ Select speeches from the menu.

Every Canadian is free to worship their own God, but many of these new religionists, the clever ones practicing religion on a keyboard, seem determined to proselytize. That’s what “true believers” do. Their tithes are the carbon taxes and their orthodoxy is to force sweeping behavior change. Geologists have identified 35 massive Ice Ages which the earth always emerged from, entirely without the help of human beings. Mars has its own unique form of glacial growth and melting, which also manages to cycle in the absence of a human population of any size. If the super-environmentalists have their way, we will never colonize Mars. They will not content themselves with managing one planet.

PHOTO- The frozen southpole of MARS, recorded in September 1877. Ten years later German engine designer Siegfried Marcus started a company to build two-stroke gasoline engines. Glaciers everywhere were doomed.

When will this new “green” religion burn itself out? Not in my lifetime or yours. It's going to get worse before they have exorcized all of their demons. Perhaps our only hope to preserve some grudging form of individuality is to take our cue from grimy, unhappy Winston Smith in Nineteen-Eightyfour. Turn your back to the tele-screen and keep your private thoughts to yourself. They’re searching for non-believers, and they’re ruthlessly unforgiving