Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Our Troops in A-Stan Deserve DRAGON SKIN

The new DRAGON SKIN ballistic vest shown under fire. Multiple bullet impacts do not penetrate the titanium/ceramic composite plates, and ambushed soldiers have time to take cover. Canadian troops serving in Afghanistan deserve nothing less.

I have never purchased a bullet proof vest, nor have I had a personal need to own ballistic armour of any type. I do have relatives in Taiwan who occasionally wear vests when they have to transport their stock-in-trade, which is a high value commodity. Old issues aside, I may soon try to buy a protective vest for someone I love. That is, unless the Canadian government steps in and provides our troops with the best gear available.

Perhaps I should mention that since I was a kid I've had an interest in the design history and modern use of all types of military protective gear. I recall that in 1977 the American company, Second Chance, kindly sent me a sample panel of their Kevlar product. I was then a high school student in Saint John, New Brunswick. My brothers and I were not trained in conducting firearms tests, but we were always cautious. In that instance we simply pegged the sample to a one inch thick sheet of plywood. A round of Winchester 00 Buckshot punched the Kevlar sample through the plywood, and in the process made a mess of the yellow fiber weave. Still, our test was a success. The buckshot did not penetrate the folded layers of cloth, and the 00 load had flattened out into a palm full of Corn Flake shaped lead. We teens were impressed, and did what we could to test the remains of the damaged sample. By way of comparison we used a flak-curtain made for a WW2 American B-24 bomber. I don't recall where I got it.

In May of 2006 I participated in an online discussion thread on the topic of Canadian Cree snipers in WW1. In my enthusiasm I also contributed praise for the skilled snipers we currently have deployed in Afghanistan. I shared the URL of a video clip, captured in Iraq in 2005. It documents the moment when an American soldier was shot down by an Iraqi shooter. The urban guerrilla used a Soviet designed Dragunov sniper rifle, firing at street level, for an easy chest shot. It's a stunning video clip, and still available on the website of the manufacturer of the soldier's protective vest. You will witness the soldier knocked down, but responding instantly to his training. He jumps to his feet and takes a defensive posture. Then, realizing that he is fully exposed, he jumps to cover behind a Humvee. Take a look. http://www.pointblankarmor.com/news.asp

Coincident to my online conversation about Canadian snipers in WW1, my daughter, a captain in the Canadian Army, informed me that she might be deployed to Afghanistan in early 2008. That bit of family news rekindled my old interest in body armour. Call it a paternal instinct.

Just two nights ago (January 22), the Discovery Channel aired a superb program in its FUTURE WEAPONS series. What I saw on TV was simply jaw-dropping-amazing. The feature attraction was a new type of flexible vest called DRAGON SKIN. This product is not just an improvement on what we had, but an entirely knew concept. Have a look at this.

All other vests or jackets on the market require large metal or ceramic plates be inserted in pockets, in order to defeat rifle and machinegun rounds. Dragon Skin does not, and because it does not, it is truly flexible combat gear. Protection is built up with dozens of small composite plates, arranged like the overlapping scales on a reptile. These plates not only defeat armour piercing bullets, but spread the staggering force of impact across the vest surface. The soldier does not even suffer bruising, as with older Kevlar vests. http://www.pinnaclearmor.com/body-armor/dragon-skin.php
[Use of Logo authorized]

In the DISCOVERY program the DRAGON SKIN vest was subjected to automatic rifle and submachine gun fire, in single rounds and in bursts. No penetration whatsoever. Since the vest was already compromised in the test, with damage only to the sewn fabric which holds the plates in alignment, the host of the show, a former Navy SEAL, decided to submit the vest to the supreme torture test - a fragmentation grenade. Kaboom! While the fabric carrier was torn away in the blast, there was absolutely no fragment penetration. It is mind blowing to watch!

There are currently 23 companies in the U.S. which manufacture body armour, and I've read industry reports which suggest that they are all holding their breath, worried that the U.S. military might make DRAGON SKIN standard-issue. SECOND CHANCE, that company which was so generous to me in 1977, just recently came out of bankruptcy protective with help from the State of Michigan. DRAGON SKIN could knock that company down for the final count. Law Enforcement would continue to buy Kevlar vests, but military grade manufacturers would have to sub-contract to Pinnacle Armor.

As a stalwart supporter of Canadian troops in Afghanistan, and mighty proud of the dangerous mission Canada has undertaken, helping the Afghan military, the national police, and Afghan civilians, I do care that our troops have the very best equipment. If my daughter deploys next year I want her wearing the best protection available, even if I have the manufacturer ship one to A-Stan at my expense. I plan to write to Canada's Minister of National Defence and urge that we provide our troops with this vital life-saving gear. Our soldiers deserve nothing less than DRAGON SKIN. I am also going to urge other service families to join with me in pleading this vital point.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in A-stan, wearing our standard issue vest. He looks a little nervous. A Kalashnikov could chew up that vest like Salisbury steak.

UPDATE: The U.S. Army has purchased thirty sets of the Pinnacle armour and put them through the same tests that all current kit have passed. According to a story I found on MILITARY.COM, dated May 21, 2007, "ARMY REFUTES DRAGON SKIN CLAIMS" (read here) the Army was dissatisfied. It seems that high velocity shots can displace the ceramic scales and, in the case of a burst, a following bullet can get through. Any carrier system rigid enough to prevent this problem, add excessive weight to the vest and make it so rigid that the soldier is impeded.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Torture as Form of Protest, Washington, DC

There was a huge Anti-War rally in Washington, D.C. on Saturday. Only some Canadians were interested of course. What we got to see on our TV was Jane Fonda waving a clenched fist, I guess in the general direction of the White House. I just popped in to a news website to read one of my favorite news Bloggers, Michelle Malkin. She has much to say on the weekend rally. It's here at http://michellemalkin.com/ and this is her.
Michelle pointed readers to a Blog I have not visited before. It's here: http://conprotantor.blogspot.com/ I copy here two photographs without permission (but my request is in) from "Tantor". One is self explanatory. The other needs words. Idiot idealogues had actually set up a torture exhibition on a Washington sidewalk, and were holding down and administering water torture to a middle aged volunteer who wanted to put on a freak show for the television cameras.


I couldn't help recalling my earlier Blog story, "Why is Maher Arar Torturing Us?" I thought this torture business was such repugnant behavior that decent people everywhere abhor it? Not the American Left, apparently. Anything goes when you are in the crowd shouldering someone else aside to hog some media attention.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Murder of Historian also Kills an Industry

White African David Rattray loved the Zulu culture, and did more than even they could manage on their own, to give prominence to Zulu heritage and heroes. Almost single-handed Rattray had built up a Battlefields Tourism business that was attracting millions of dollars to the imperiled South African economy. On Friday, January 26, a black gang murdered him, execution style, in his guest lodge at Fugitive's Drift, in KwaZulu - Natal province. The private facility is located opposite the battlefield at Isandlwana. Rattray was an expert on that battle as well as the seige of Rorke's Drift, scene of an incredible battle in 1879 when a massive Zulu army threatened to wipe out a tiny British army garrison, composed largely of Welshmen. A total of eleven Victoria Crosses were awarded for valour at Rorke's Drift.

Rattray was an authority on the Anglo-Zulu wars of the 19th Century and had written extensively on the subject. He had invested in the development of guest lodges near the more famous battlefields, and had spent years locating and purchasing a collection of relics which he used to explain history to foreign guests. Last year he gave a series of lectures in England which won him many new friends, including HRH The Prince of Wales, who had written a Forward to Rattray's latest book, now at the printer.

The Rattray murder is not at all unusual. South Africa is the most violent society on earth, with by far the highest rate of cop killings by armed gangs. Since "liberation" many blacks with a violent disposition have considered themselves empowered to grab what they want from society, all too frequently using lethal violence to do so. Their victims are not "unknowns". Listed in the urban body-count have been the famous and near famous - television actors, musicians, artists, and even two wives of National politicians. In 2001 for example, 64 year old Marike de Klerk, ex-wife of South Africa's last white president F.W de Klerk, was butchered in her condo. (see her photograph below) The story was smothered by an unsympathetic International press. Can you imagine the media frenzy in Canada if Jean Chretien's wife Aline was today found slain in her Quebec home?

I share Rattray's great interest in African heroes, albeit from afar. Recently I had enjoyed another careful viewing of the film ZULU, which stars Jack Hawkins and Michael Caine, and with Sir Richard Burton's narration. Rattray kept DVD copies of that film in his lodge at Fugitive's Drift, for his guests to watch after having listened to his presentation. He often gave talks on the grounds of the actual battle site, where John Chard won the Victoria Cross. The fight is superbly recreated in the movie.
On Friday a gang of six men, all armed with rifles or pistols, showed up for an execution. In the face of that much firepower Rattray's lodge staff were utterly defenseless. After initially robbing the front receptionist of the contents of her cash drawer, a gunman was heard demanding "Where's David? Where's David?" Soon a single shot rang out. The shooter reported back to the gang leader outside the lodge, and who never entered himself. The shooter was ordered to go back inside and make sure of his kill. Two more shots rang out. Rattray never had a chance.

The national media is full of predictable statements given by New South African politicians; those who routinely fax comments to the press following high profile murders. The really important assessments of Rattray's killing are coming from the heads of the S.A. tourism industry -those who no longer believe there is much of a future for their businesses. They acknowledge that South Africa is descending into anarchic hell.
Note: This article is supported with several additional images at

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Is the Humble Penny Doomed?

A sample of copper ore and a U.S. penny.

Is the humble penny doomed? The U.S. government is worried that it might be, and has taken steps to protect it. The truth is that Canada's penny is now even more vulnerable than its U.S. counterpart. Why? South of the border unscrupulous metal pirates have scooped pennies up by the ton, and melted them down. Here in Canada, the threat has not yet even been recognized.

In a report published in June 2006 the United States Mint revealed that it was costing 1.23 cents to produce each penny. Also, it cost 5.73 cents to manufacture each nickel. Since 1982 the monetary policy of the U.S. was to ensure that there are 910 pennies in circulation for each American. In 2006 their government should have had 8.23 billion pennies in circulation, but to make sure that no one tampered with the available supply, a law was passed which made melting or bulk exporting of U.S. coins a prison time offence.

There has always been the problem of coin hording, but the new problem is metal salvage, and no one knows how many tons of U.S. and Canadian pennies may already have been melted down. In 1982 the U.S. thought it solved the problem by producing copper coated zinc pennies. This would discourage coin-melting if shortages of base metals caused a spike in prices. That's what happened to all the silver coins we had in our pockets when we were kids. They were melted down as were many silver Canadian war medals.

Consider this: One pound of copper will make 154 pennies. That's $1.54, right? Well in May 2006 copper reached US$4.16 per pound. Do a simple calculation. $1,540 dollars worth of pennies was then worth $4,160 as copper metal. That is very tempting profit to people who are not afraid of the U.S. Secret Service chasing after them. In future, copper prices will certainly go higher.

In the U.S. there are voices insisting that the penny has lost its importance. A recent estimate suggests that the average American worker (who does a 40 hour week) earns a penny in just four seconds. They suggest that the American people are willing to forgo having pennies in their pockets. It has been suggested that the U.S. government might even revalue the penny supply upward, to five cents value each. That would certainly be a tidy windfall for all those who routinely horde pennies in piggybanks or coffee cups. If that idea becomes a serious consideration, look forward to the unprotected Canadian penny being kidnapped by the truckload, as the pirates scoop up all of our stock of copper coins.
UPDATE Feb.5 - A temporary reprieve for the penny?
"Lately, copper has been holding on at around $2.60 US for .45 kg (one pound), down some 35 per cent from a May 2006 stratospheric high of just under $4 U.S. for .45 kg."

Friday, January 26, 2007


Before dawn today I checked my three favorite news aggregate sites. Bourque.com knows how to provoke we bleary-eyed morning readers. "Jackpot Day For Arar" was a taunt. I used the hot link to jump to the story. I dreaded this day, but now it's come. Today we learn that the feds are going to give Maher Arar $12.5 million bucks! This is the fellow who was initially demanding $437 million from the Canadian taxpayers because CSIS provided U.S. anti-terror agencies with their Arar investigation file;
this lead to his "rendition" (a form of legal extradition) to his place of birth - Syria. Recall that an American federal court dismissed Arar's suit against the U.S. government last February. We're made of softer stuff, aren't we?
I lost what little sympathy I had for Arar and his family, when his wife used their massive publicity for political gain. She joined the NDP and tried to win a Parliamentary seat in the 2004 National election. They were playing our generosity and our system against us, and have no intention of ever stopping.
I have never believed Arar's story about being "tortured" for ten months. He isn't missing any teeth or fingernails. He doesn't stutter. He doesn't claim to have been buggered. Whatever the trauma, it left no evidence. I'm no expert on torture mind you, but I've read up on it. You can get someone
to "talk" in two minutes flat if they have information that is vital to you. For example, take the old Soviet Spetsnaz method. You want to get a Mujihadin to gush? Just pull a rat tail metal file out of your boot and run it once across the top of his teeth, exposing all the nerves. Resistance as they say, is futile.
Arar deserted his homeland at age 17, to avoid compulsory military service.
If the Syrian's had a grudge about that, it's not Canada's fault. I have never before expressed my opinion on this case, but I did attempt to once. That was on September 23, 2006 when I sent a letter to the Toronto SUN. It was my response to a piece written by one of their columnists, which challenged Arar's assertions about being tortured in his native Syria. The U.S. believes Arar is at minimum, a terrorist sympathizer, and keeps him on the Watch List. My letter was never published in the SUN. I guess the Orwellian power of editorial filtering is one reasion that Blogging has been made available to us. My short letter read in full:

"Thanks to Peter Worthington we have a dissenting view on Arar... at last!
"Why would Syria Torture Arar?" Exactly. And before the anointed begin to shovel our cash into the "victims" prize bag, let us as force him to answer just one skill testing question, on camera. (He likes cameras. Great teeth.) But force in some tricky Canadian way. For gawd sake don't hurt him! Mr. Arar, Sir, answer only "Yes it does" or "No it does not" to the question "Do Israel and the Israeli people have the right to exist?" If he answers "No it does not," put him back on the list. Immediately."

I haven't changed my mind. I don't think becoming a millionaire is going to shut this guy up, and as a taxpayer I resent it. Hell, for $10 million you can cut my balls off. I already have kids, and I don't need my nuts to type with. Just supposing for a minute Arar was tortured. Does that give him the right to turn around and put the boots to us? He thinks so. See, he's smiling!
Update: February 24, 2007 - Yesterday there was a meeting in Ottawa of the Prosperity and Security Partnership, a tri-lateral commission which fosters cooperation between Canada, Mexico and the U.S.A. Peter Mackay, M.P. said that Canada has "exonerated" Maher Arar. The response of Condolezza Rice, the U.S. Secretary of State was that Arar stays on the U.S. security Watch List. "The United States, of course, makes decisions based on information that we have and based on our own assessment of the situation." The Mexican Foreign Minister concurred. Mackay has nothing to fear from the Canadian public. If we cannot put the Sikh terror bombers behind bars, what does one pipsqueak anti-Semite matter?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Comet McNaught Over New Zealand

Comets are one of nature's prize jewels, and it's not often they grace our night sky. Several years ago skywatchers in Vancouver missed our chance to enjoy a spectacular passing. We were thickly clouded over that week, and when the ceiling finally opened, the Fire Drake had passed us by. Here then are a couple of photos of Comet McNaught, taken earlier this week in New Zealand, that enchanted movieland of Hobbits and Kong.

The top photo was an exposure made by David Headland on January 22. And below is an exposure made by M. Yoneto, on January 23, which captures the comet tail as it falls beyond the N.Z. horizon. Stunning!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

My Favorite Murdering Pig Farmer

If you live in Vancouver, you can't escape the media hoopla over the Robert Pickton murder trial, which started yesterday. Mr. Pickton (shown above) is the Coquitlam pig farmer who murdered 49 women and then disposed of their bodies, largely by rendering their corpses and feeding the consumable portions to his hogs. It took four years to prepare this case for trial, and by now most people no longer care. There is something dark and mysterious about British Columbia, this province which produced a series of serial killers. We have the most callous whacko butchers in Canada. Sadists like Clifford Olson who killed children by driving spikes into their skulls, the fanatic Sikh "family men" who blew up Hindus with suitcase bombs, and oddball Robert Pickton, who preyed on Vancouver prostitutes. My favorite case in the bunch was Gilbert Paul Jordan, Vancouver's "demon barber". He was actually recorded on surveillance tape as he forced women to swallow lethal quantities of alcohol. The Pickton trial may be a milestone but it's just a marker on an endless road. We all know there will soon be another maniac killing spree in Vancouver. The circus of horror will once again be open for admission.

The best medicine is to laugh it all off. Now my favorite murdering pig farmer is Brick Top, who appeared in Guy Ritchie's fab film SNATCH. When the cold blooded mobster dispenses advice to amateurs, the humour is priceless.
"You're always gonna have problems lifting a body in one piece.
Apparently, the best thing to do...
...is cut up a corpse into six pieces and pile it all together.
And when you got your six pieces, you gotta get rid of them.
Cause it's no good leaving it in the freezer for your mum to discover,
now is it?
Then I hear the best thing to do is feed them to pigs.
You gotta starve the pigs for a few days...then the sight of a chopped-up body will look like curry to a pisshead.
You gotta shave the heads of your victims and pull the teeth out...
...for the sake of the piggies' digestion.
You could do this afterwards, of course...
...but you don't want to go sieving through pigshit, now do yah?
They will go through bone like butter.
You need at least sixteen pigs to finish the job in one sitting...
...so be wary of any man who keeps a pig farm.
They will go through a body that weighs two hundred pounds...
...in about eight minutes.
That means that a single pig...
can consume two pounds of uncooked flesh...
...every minute.
Hence the expression... ..."as greedy... as... a pig".

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Neill Blomkamp's bitterly ironic satire of life in the "New" South Africa, ALIVE IN JOBURG, debuted on the Internet as a free download, in November 2005. One of the most successful promotional campaigns in recent memory, the six minute video, a CGI apprentice-piece, has made young Blomkamp a name brand. That was the whole idea.

We will begin with a look at the film, and in later Blogs explore how Blomkamp placed his own star in the entertainment firmament.

ALIVE IN JOBURG was a hit the moment it was uploaded to the Internet in November of 2005. How I missed its release I really cannot say, but fortunately I stumbled upon it in October 2006. A third year architecture student had pawned off responsibility for writing of a couple of his term papers. As I did the preparatory reading, a new term – the “Carceral state” popped up. I found it in an article on militarized landscapes, which led me directly to Neill Blomkamp’s film. It said his video depicted “post-apartheid carceral territoriality”. (For an explanation of the term, here’s a Wiki link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carceral_state ).

The story behind this clever video will be told in a later Blog article. Suffice it today to simply repeat Blomkamp’s remark that it was part of a “well crafted plan” to reinvent himself as someone capable of directing feature films. The jury is still out, but he seems to have pulled it off.

Neill Blomkamp is now a Canadian, but he retains the fund of knowledge and acquired passions of a white African. Having been raised to adulthood and educated in the Republic of South Africa, he is sensitive to the culture and history, and acutely aware of the dangerous political currents which can sink any artistic project which does not defer to the tenets of the ANC social program.

In the six minute film he posits a country struggling under the burden of a massive influx of aliens, who have thrown up squatter camps, are illegally tapping into the infrastructure and overwhelming the public services. (Illegal migrant populations are a challenge common to most African cities, and in part, contributed the creation of the Apartheid system decades ago). The aliens in ALIVE IN JOBURG have secured a beach-head and play the host society against itself, pleading their case before a TV audience. They are competing with local citizens for scarce resources, worsening a pre-existing social crisis, and the hapless authorities are at a total loss with how to provide for them. The twist of course is that they are extraterrestrials, a race whose rusting fleet of spacecraft hover over Joburg, sucking energy directly from the grid. The film is edited in the form of a roughly cut TV news report, with exaggerated awareness and emphasis on human rights and dignity. The aliens are de facto criminals, but the local TV news pixilate their tentacled faces, when shown in close-up. When bemused policemen are interviewed, they struggle with their frustrations, but are held in check by their sensitivity training. It’s clear that they are failing to cope, and it's a clever reminder of the social chaos which hamstrung the National government in the last years before the handover to the ANC. It was an anxious time which Blomkamp and his family endured before immigrating to Canada.

Blomkamp is a 3D animator by trade, and was graphics trained here in Vancouver. The project was completed in his free time, scheduling around his day job. After shooting in S.A. he used LightWave and Photoshop to manipulate the video and boujou4 motion control software to marry the elements. My immediate response to a viewing on Google Video was “Wow, where can I find a sharper copy of this?” In fact Neill deliberately degraded the CGI shots to match the older SABC VHS quality news clips he edited in. In the doing, he greatly reduced production costs.
Some of the best onscreen flourishes include a scene in which an alien in a power-suit lifts and throws a Casspir armoured personnel carrier at a team of cops who are garbed in futuristic urban combat gear. My favorite images occur in the opening sequence. We see alien vessels hovering over the city, with their thick, energy sucking ganglia heavily draped over the power lines and even down into generating plant cooling towers. The pop-culture fan sites have decided for themselves that these hovering ships and even the video’s basic dramatic premise, are referenced by the old American TV series Alien Nation. That’s a gratuitous insult to Neill, I’m sure. The spacecraft are an obvious borrowing from the 1996 movie Independence Day (ID4), and everything else is tres, tres, RSA. In fact, if you watch carefully you will note that ALIVE IN JOBURG is actually set in the recent past – 1990, and not in the near future. That categorizes the film as an allegorical tale, in the same vein as Orwell’s ANIMAL FARM.

Blomkamp’s short film is in the public domain and has earned almost 200,000 free downloads from the three sites I monitor. That’s fantastic. It goes a long way toward explaining why a guy who has never done a feature, is now regarded as a “hot” new director.
January 25 - UPDATE: This morning I visited the new business location of The Embassy Visual Effects, in Vancouver, and spoke to its President, Winston Helgason. Blomkamp left a couple of months ago and is presently working in New Zealand. I was assured that the HALO project was definately "gone", but at the same time I was not told what Blomkamp is contributing as a member of the Jackson stable.

Friday, January 19, 2007

China still preparing for First Strike

This is an illustration of a Feng Yun (FY-1) meteorological satellite which was put into a polar orbit by China, seventeen years ago. Last week it was blasted into an estimated 40,000 pieces, and is now just an orbiting debris field; in other words, dangerous space junk which will fall daily for the next ten years. Why would they make such a mess? Well China has been developing an anti-satellite (ASAT) program, and though expecting the community of nations to scream bloody murder over yet one more veiled threat from Beijing, the PRC insists on testing its offensive systems.

The China apologists, who are legion, are already working overtime to dismiss this space weapons demonstration as nothing more than a sideshow. But it is more than that. Earlier this month the U.S. Congress was given an Intelligence briefing on what the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is up to. We are not privy to the details but it has been determined that there is a joint effort by Russia and China to develop the capability to hit U.S. satellites with both missiles and lasers. Further, last summer the Director of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) revealed that the Chinese military had used ground based targeting lasers to "paint" or illuminate an American satellite.

We know that the ballistic missile launched by the Chinese army was a medium-range KT-1. A Russian general was quoted yesterday as saying that the Chinese launch vehicle was based on the old Soviet IS-1 ASAT system developed in the 1970s. This was a red herring launched by the Russians. Such interviews are not intended to be helpful, but to spread disinformation. The sub-text is that we have nothing to worry about because the Chinese threat is decades behind North American and NATO defences. That is nonsense.

Why would the Chinese continue to antagonize those populous democracies (including Canada) which are on their ICBM target list? Some analysts were quick to suggest that China's obvious motivation was to prod the White House into negotiating a treaty to ban space weapons. Oh really? So let me try to understand the tactical thinking at play in the Far East. Recently, when the North Koreans conducted underground nuclear tests, the "deep thinkers" claimed that it was actually a cry for help. The doves cooed that Pyongyang merely wanted to buy a larger denomination poker chip, and use its crude Nukes to bargain for more generous western aid. The Chinese implied that the North Korean's were unsophisticated old-guard Stalinist blockheads, with no diplomatic skills. And now, a few months later, we are asked to believe that Beijing tacticians are borrowing a page from Kim Jong Il's playbook. We are assured that this ASAT test is not even impressive, because the weapon was riding a beam of Chinese telemetry to the target. That too is disinformation. The relentless PLA drive to build a decisive First Strike capability, the much discussed "decapitation" option, is not to be sneered at. Si vis pacem para bellum.
Update, Jan. 22:

A computer graphic shows the orbital track of two overlapping debris fields created by the ASAT package slamming into the FY-1 satellite. The impact occured almost directly over the Chinese missile launch complex, which is indicated in the center of the graphic. Space junk will continue falling along that track, from North to South Poles, for at least ten years.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


George Orwell neatly skewered the dangerous myths of Soviet social and economic reconstruction, in his brilliant allegorical novel, ANIMAL FARM. His warning is still relevant and that's why it is taught in most Canadian high schools. Sadly, the world is still as wicked as when Orwell was in his stride. I am fairly certain that if Mr. Blair were alive today, he would already have taken it upon himself to demolish other ideological myths. In particular he would have chortled over promises of post-colonial racial equality and of an economic commonwealth in the "liberated" territories of Africa. The astonishing thing is that Orwell has not been replaced, and there is no writer alive who seems up to the task.

It is quite the fashion to mock the Stalinist dictator of North Korea, Mr. Kim Jong-il. We all got a chuckle out of that fun little movie TEAM AMERICA, where 'ole wooden head Kim, gets his. But Mr. Kim got the last laugh didn't he? He took the covers off his Nukes, and word around the campfire is that another underground nuclear test is in the offing. No, I'll let you have Mr. North Korea. My favorite dictatorship is that itchy little pesthole now called Zimbabwe. I prefer to get my kicks laughing at Robert Mugabe, President for Life, and his kleptocracy. This is a guy who was given the keys to the car, and who promptly drove it off the nearest cliff. He took a prosperous Rhodesia, a former colony of Britain, and dismembered it record time. You've heard of Stalinism and Maoism. How come you haven't heard of Mugabeism? It's another bastardized form of socialism, with uniquely African characteristics. Maybe the silence is because Orwell is dead.

As soon as Mugabe took power he drove most of the white Africans out. They are all now enjoying new lives in a dozen countries, including Canada. There were a number of diehards, third and fourth generation whites rooted in the land they loved. Two decades of terror pretty well finished them off. And now Robert and his people are alone with their misery. If ever there was a "nation" which deserved its fate, it�s the Zimbabweans. They got their revenge and now that revenge is eating them to the bone. Of course the world places all the blame on Robert and his Imelda-clone wife. That's too simplistic. There are thousands of hard core bad-asses keeping Mugabe in power. When he dies of old age, they will not disappear. Not a chance.

Last year the Amnesty International chapter in Malaysia published a fun set of stamps - a sort of "Let's Lick the Dictators" campaign. The four dictatorships they chose to skewer were Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Iran, and the United States of America. (No comment) Of course Amnesty International is not in the business of promoting regime change. Its members don't like war. A.I. just wants to help the political prisoners in Zimbabwe who have been unjustly detained and tortured by the secret police; thugs trained to efficiency by Chinese and North Korean cadres. That aside, the deadliest problem facing Zimbabweans is hyper-inflation. It is now so bad that the money is worthless. Teachers, doctors, nurses, garbage collectors and even policemen don't want to report for work. Recently the government put military units into farms, so that they could grow food to feed their families. Still Zimbabweans fail to revolt. Their only recourse is to try to slip into South Africa, and beg a job.

In keeping with our theme of stamping out Mugabe, consider this. One year ago, on January 17, 2006, Zimbabwe issued a set of six postage stamps celebrating favorite African dishes. To keep up with hyperinflation, the denominations were (in Z$): $25,000; $35,000; $50,000; $150,000; $250,000 and $300,000. The delicious irony is that Mugabe's people can't afford to buy those stamps, any more than they can the "favorite dishes" depicted.

What should you get for Z$52,000 ... the stamp or the elephant?

One year later and things are much, much worse. We cannot see the latest higher denomination postage stamps because the Zimbabwe mail system has broken down. The Central Statistical Office (CSO) reported last week that inflation in the country has risen to well over 30% PER MONTH !! You have all seen photos of 1920s Weimar Germany, when people used stacks of worthless banknotes just to buy a loaf of bread. In Zimbabwe it is now worse, but Mugabe doesn't let journalists document the lineups. It's hilarious, isn't it? And did you hear the joke about the new Chinese fighter planes Mugabe has purchased? How about the big contract he just signed with the Pakistan government for PAK mercenaries, to keep his warplanes in the air? Too, too, funny. Mugabe cracks me up.


UPDATE- February 13. This is just too hilarious! ZIMPOST, the Zimbabwe postal authority, is running contest rules for the design of a stamp. There are six categories, each of which will make you a millionaire. First prize is:

"$20 million Cash plus Trophy & Certificate & World Vision T-shirt (Plus a full year's subscription of 1 complete set mint/cancelled and one first day cover.)" A total of 67.5 million Zimbabwe dollars will be shared by six prize winners! Their money is worth less than the wheelbarrows needed to lug it away. At least you can wear the T-shirt donated to Zimbabwe by World Vision. Among the new "services" offered by Zimpost are the stuffing of envelopes with bills, selling insurance, funeral arrangements and taking in dry cleaning.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

EYE CANDY - Makoto Aida's Sweet Palette

One of my favorite Japanese pop-artists is a fellow named Makoto Aida, a brilliant and energetic talent with boundless creativity. Master of a score of expressive forms, Aida’s career output is multi-layered and has been refreshingly unpredictable. Born in Niigata in 1965, and educated at the prestigious Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, Aida has establishment credentials but also the heart of a subversive. In other words, he is a true Runagate. The most provocative of his images are copied widely on the Web, but they are a mere hint of his industry. Today, and in future Blogs, I will assemble and describe some of the best work of Makoto Aida. After having collected fragments of fact and image from more than twenty websites, I begin with work he did for a documentary film and the public display of bodyart (photo below) in 2004.
My full length report, with a photo portfolio appears on the main site - http://therunagatesclub.com/blog/

In August 2004 Stockhom, Sweden hosted a huge summer festival called "TOKYO STYLE IN STOCKHOLM 2004," which showcased a wide variety of Japanese traditional and popular culture streams. One of the many events was an exhibition by 37 of Japan’s largest Anime companies, and there was a film festival and even a COSPLAY contest. Makoto Aida attended with his lovely model Koe-chan (above). In 2004 Aida was experimenting with body painting, transferring a female Manga image onto a nude canvas. His fun design was debuted in a public park, dazzling an appreciative Stockholm audience. Further, the project inspired a Director to produce a documentary film called Hentai Land, which is now available on DVD.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Kremlin Infuriated by Estonian Decision on War Monuments

This is a photo of the statue on a war monument which in 1947 the Soviet Red Army built in Tallinn, Estonia. Now free after five decades of Soviet occupation, the Estonians are eager to remove relics of that dark era of foreign oppression. On January 11, 2007 the Estonian President signed a law authorizing removal of several monuments, particularly this one, located in his capital. This news has infuriated the Russians. There is one relic however which the Estonians are keeping - a Soviet T34 tank pulled from the bottom of a muddy lake. Entombed in a thick covering of lake mud, it was preserved like a time capsule. Cleaned, with an oil change and a tank of gas, the diesel engine still runs! A lengthy, photo illustrated account of the discovery of this WW2 tank and its significance to the Estonian people, can be found on our companion Blog site, webposted tonight.

Pulled from a lake bottom, captured Russian T34 medium tank in German markings.
UPDATE - February 22, 2007. Yesterday, in an interview with the BBC, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik condemned both armies which occupied his country in WW2. "A gang of bandits, Nazis, was expelled by another gang – Soviet troops." he said. Nevertheless, feelings are running high in Estonia, and in an act of political expediency the State President used his executive-veto to halt legislative he has championed till now.

The website of OTSING, an Estonian battlefield history group, contains plenty of video on the recovery and restoration of the T34. http://www.diving.ee/articles/art035.html

On February 12 AFTER THE BATTLE magazine published an article on the wreckovery. It can be found (here) http://www.afterthebattle.com/osCommerce/printerfriendly.php?products_id=254

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Student Director Dreams Large

The student Director gives the male lead his cue.

Hsueh Kuan (Vincent) Lin is a 19 year old senior at Burnaby Central High School, and all he really wants to do is make movies. Sound familiar? Everyone knows a Vincent. You know a Vincent. Still, I have an idea that this fellow will pop up in your future, especially if you’re into MTV. Young Mr. Lin is a recent immigrant from Taiwan, and although he is still struggling with English courses, he already understands the language of cinema. His laudable goal is to become a working movie director, but only after completing university. Like any student director you ever heard of, Vincent canvassed for actors, crew and a musical ensemble among his classmates. The seventeen who stepped forward are largely drawn from Taiwanese families in his neighborhood. They include friends Jimmy Cho and Alex Chang in the lead roles. Like most young film makers, Vincent is self taught, having purchased a Panasonic Digital Video Camcorder and utilizing a new edition of ULEAD Media Studio Pro for editing.

Saying gooodbye - Twilight's Chapter Seven

I heard about the MTV project recently when he asked me to lend him an interesting knife to use in the murder scene, which he planned to film on location in Vancouver’s Gastown. I had already watched two student dramas Vincent filmed last year in Taipei, and was happy to oblige. But I also warned him to be careful exposing a knife in Gastown. Merchants down there have learned to call 911 at the first flash of a blade on the sidewalk. His film is a music video called Twilight’s Chapter Seven, and was inspired by a hit ballad produced by Taiwanese pop sensation Jay Chou. The lyrics evoke mystery and regret, but Vincent’s script sets up a drama involving a revenge killing for a lost love, and it meshes with the music quite well.

I was really delighted to learn that Chinese language Fairchild TV, was running such a contest for budding local film makers. There are very few such opportunities to come along. We do have film professionals sometimes advertise a contest of sorts, but they may require a stiff contestant fees to enter. Such fees or other rules tend to discourage the younger movie makers. For Fairchild’s contest, subject matter was wide open, and the only excluding requirement was that the contestants submit film in a digital medium. This is necessitated by the fact that the main prize is to have your winning film broadcast on Fairchild TV and Talent Vision in Mandarin and Cantonese on cable. Fairchild TV has studios in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto and set a contest deadline of December 29. There are two categories: a Short film of a minute or less, or a Feature of six minutes or less. Vincent stayed up till 4 am on the 29th, editing his feature. The winners are to be announced on January 13, 2007.

Well, my heart goes out to the thousands of students who are pinning their hopes on a career in the film industry. My son is one of them. I recall that during the Christmas holiday I showed him a one page resume I had found downtown and just brought home. A dozen copies of it had been tucked into a lifestyle magazine and somehow forgotten. The job seeker was a 2004 graduate of the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema, at Concordia University in Montreal. She had earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts with Distinction, specializing in Film Production. An additional strength is fluency in German. Alas, her only practical work experience has been waitressing in Munich and Montreal. I was a little sad reading that, and I puzzle over the fact that she didn’t try to deceive. She hasn’t learned yet how to lard a resume, and that’s quite something in itself. I fervently hope that someone in the industry threw her a break, just as I hope my son will find his way after graduation.

I frequently speak with university students about film production, screen writing and their courses on our local campuses. I can attest that the Vancouver film schools and animation studios are filled with bright and creative minds. Most of these students, I fear, do not yet realize how incredibly hard it will be to get within sight of a sound stage or into a recording studio. We older folk understand that Film and TV are not equal opportunity employers. They're big business, not a talent show, and stating that unpleasant fact doesn’t add a degree of temperature to the cold water. Isn’t it just better to find ways to help them get started? I hope you will agree, and appreciate why from time-to-time I will introduce some of these young talents here.

The Runagates Club - dot com

John Buchan, soldier, diplomat and author of spy thrillers. From 1935 - 1940, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir was Governor General of Canada. The Runagates Club was his creation.

The Runagates Club is of course named for the men's club in Edwardian London which was once the private reserve of retired colonial officers. The club was the literary creation of John Buchan, a prolific writer of thrillers whose most famous novel, The Thirty-Nine Steps, was filmed three times. (Another remake is currently in development.) From 1935 - 1940 Lord Tweedsmuir served as the Governor General of Canada. In his stories "The Club" was a comfortable retreat where old sweats could relax in fellowship. Once a week, each in his turn recounted a personal adventure which was expected to delight and amaze his chums.

We all need a place like the Runagates Club. A place to feel welcome and where we can share a story or pass along something of interest which may benefit others who enjoy the same tastes. Old Runagates might boast of trophy hunting, exotic firearms, sexual conquests, uncovering an espionage case, or of combat in colonial wars. Crowd pleasing stuff. But interests change, as do people.

In our time, the world of the real and of the imagined is merging. Many no longer even try to separate the two, accepting the premise that all the world IS a stage, and that life is a series of bit parts and (if we're lucky) the occasional starring role. Popular culture predominates in our lives and the movies in particular are driving our thinking. They certainly create the heroes and myths which our young people respond to. Novels, computer games, web site design, comic books and even architecture are all driven by the movies. Cities worldwide now lobby aggressively to attract film industry money, abhorring the heavy industries which were once the guarantors of longterm employment and social stability. You've heard of Hollywood and Hollywood North, and Bollywood (which means something a tad different) but the trend to construct competitive film production centres is much more significant than you might guess. The Runagates Club will explore this and other fascinating phenomenon arising in our Global Village. Sometimes we will examine popular culture, and in other reports describe the grimmer reality which popular culture often attempts to conceal. Everything is fair game in the Blogosphere. Here there are no sacred cows. Guns, violence, and sex must often appear, as they are staples of the real world and essential ingredients of the mindscape.

Blogging has it rewards but also its limitations. With that in mind I have purchased a web domain http://therunagatesclub.com to better expand on these ideas and also to let younger Runagates have space to join in the discussion. It will take a few months to realize the concept, but for now we will continue to meet here.

Sunday, January 7, 2007


January 7, 2007
How is this for weird? I woke up from a mind-blasting nightmare at 6:45AM, and, choosing not to pick up where THAT story had let me off, I jumped out of bed. Downstairs I switched on the Internet, while the coffee was dripping into a carafe. I know what day it was, (March 1, 2006), because I've checked my journal. I always start with three news sites before I surf; I just don't recall the keyword or phrase I Googled that morning. This is what came up on my screen.

The posters were promoting a comic book, structured around an idea which was both creative and original. While the developed world was obsessing over a possible bird flu pandemic, something much more sinister was happening. Chicken DNA was mutating, and the new generation had a leader, Gallus Rex. ELMER! Intelligent chickens were organizing and would be demanding their rightful place among the human population. Well there I sat pondering the cleverness of it all. I enjoyed Gerry's sample "teaser" pages of the comic, noting of course that the character had just woken from his own nightmare and had also sought some form of distraction.

I immediately fired off an email to Gerry Alanguilan, the comics' creator. I wanted to congratulate him on highly original story and his great artwork. (Keep in mind that in addition to writing and drawing the comic, Gerry was innovating the promotional campaign.) He created a webpage and these clever posters which enhanced the concept, exposing the first reveal on a great story that was just beginning to be understood. From Gerry I learned that ELMER No.1 had not yet appeared, and in fact he was still two months away from publication. (It launched on April 1, 2006). This is how Gerry sets up his Gallus Rex story:

"ELMER is a window into an alternate Earth where chickens have suddenly acquired the intelligence and consciousness of humans, where they consider themselves a race no different than whites, browns or blacks, and push to recognize rights for themselves as the newest members of the human race. It tells the story of a family of chickens who live and struggle to survive in a suddenly complicated, dangerous and yet beautiful world."

Gerry was self publishing, but quipped that he hoped to "con" an American publisher into picking up the magazine. I knew he was joking, because he is actually established at the centre of the comics industry in the Philippines.
Gerry, I learned, has been Blogging since 1998 and his home is a hangout for some of the best comics artists in the country. Last year he registered Komikero Publishing to protect his large body of work, and to support new projects, including the ELMER graphic novel . Alanguilan is held in very high regard, has a thriving business, and is known for his generosity in assisting younger artists to get started in the comics industry. I did offer, in March, to assist with promotion in the Vancouver area, if I could be of help. But he really didn't need much help because ELMER became an instant success. In the comics trade media ELMER received excellent reviews in 2006, and as a character Elmer is a "made" cock. On December 19, 2006 PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, bible of the American publishing industry, released the results of its "First Annual" Comics Week Critics poll. ELMER No. 1 made the Honorable Mention list. Bravo!

ELMER No. 2 has already appeared and the character has legs. Gerry sent an email today in which he relates that he's still writing No. 3, which should appear in the Spring. He also mentioned the disruption to local telecommunications caused when an earthquake off the southern tip of Taiwan severed a vital undersea cable. [A note to fellow Neal Stephenson fans. Search out WIRED, December 1996, for Neal's cover article entitled "MOTHER EARTH MOTHER BOARD". It's his epic tale of the world submarine cable system.]

I first became interested in the Philippine comics community back in 1993, when I corresponded for a time with a talented artist in Manila. Those were, for most of us, the pre-Internet days. Information was hard to come by. Now almost all the Philippine artists are found on one mega-site called http://www.komikero.com/museum/ which was the brainchild of Gerry Alanguilan, who volunteers as the web master. There is no hotlink to the ELMER page, so if you want to buy copies for your collection you must enter the Komikero museum and navigate your way to the online shop. It is a fascinating place, I promise. If you are too impatient for that, drop to the bottom of the greeting page and click on Gerry's name. You can jump directly to his ELMER page. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 6, 2007

The Three Monkeys Metaphor

I am unable to post to the Blog today, so how about a little "Political Humour" from my deep bag of comedy? To set this up, let's recall that
Bill Clinton enjoyed two full terms as President, reigning from 1993 -2001.
The Republican's managed to take control of the White House with their candidate, George W. Bush, and he was inaugurated on January 20, 2001.

L. to R. : Sec. of Defence Cohen, Pres. W.J. Clinton, Sec. of State Albright and National Security Advisor Sandy (Socks) Berger.

In the photo we observe Billy Clinton's National Security Team (NST) mugging for the camera as they sit waiting to participate in a briefing on U.S. National Security. The date is April 25, 1999.

Osama's advance teams are already in the U.S. In 28 months the Twin Towers fall. Their choice of metaphor is chilling and appropriate.

Friday, January 5, 2007

DUST DEVIL - Annotating the full DVD Edition

Wendy is reborn and faces down a phalanx of South African Casspirs on the highway.

January 5, 2007
DUST DEVIL – Annotating the full DVD Edition

I suppose it was inevitable that I would comment further on Richard Stanley’s DUST DEVIL – The Final Cut. His opus, a 5 Disc DVD edition, was published in September, 2006. Now, please don’t quibble with my terminology. Opus it is. This work is not merely the release of an anthology set of his films. Richard is a master of visual expression but he also clearly loves to write and to talk, and he is very good at both. His creative vision is laid down in these five discs, chapter by chapter. With Richard Stanley you get a content rich environment.

The “Final Cut” was actually premiered in Montreal in 1997, but it took almost ten years to have it transferred to DVD. That is a ‘Red Rose’ pity. (Canadians of a certain age will know what I mean.) Richard has been to Canada several times, and I certainly hope he brings a new film to Vancouver some time soon. For now the single best way to enjoy his work is to buy or borrow the Subversive Cinema 5 disc set. I did buy many quality DVDs in 2006 but only two sets really knocked me out. When it comes to extended edition product, my terms are unconditional. I have no shelf space for junk. A 2nd or 3rd-dip DVD has to warrant repeated viewings, it must demonstrate high craft, it should be informative, and must show me important content which I have never seen. Or even better, things I have longed to see, and are only now created. The only other 2006 release which I’ve enjoyed on that level was Peter Jackson’s KING KONG – the Deluxe Extended Edition.

Is it a just a bare coincidence, I ask myself, that these two heavyweight video publications rattle my cage in the same year? I think not. Convergence my friend, requires the active handiwork of many thinking men. Peter Jackson got his career inspiration from the original King Kong, and so did Richard Stanley. Ten years ago Stanley told a reviewer that his father had a “huge” obsession with King Kong, and that as a youngster he was exposed to repeated screenings of the 1931 film. He believes Kong was the first movie he ever saw. He added that “my father's obsessive love of Edgar Wallace and King Kong probably rubbed off by communicating to me that somehow this was important.”

Consider what is contained in this "Limited Collector's Edition".
I'll help you.

Disc 1: DUST DEVIL - The Final Cut

* The Feature Attraction on this disc is The Final Cut, the Director’s own vision of the story, as delivered to Festival audiences in 1997.
* A commentary feature with Richard Stanley talking about production issues and other good things. Interview taping was conducted by Norman Hill of Subversive Cinema. This is all content with no blowing of kisses; Richard could talk the ass off a mule.
* An interview with director Richard Stanley and his Composer, Simon Boswell, which runs for over 30 minutes. It broadens coverage of the film but also delves into Richard's career.
* Dust Devil “Home Movies.” This is a collection of footage shot for personal enjoyment. There wasn’t any DVD back in 1991 so it not as staged as what we get today. How often have you heard Peter Jackson say “Save that for the DVD!” ?
* Dust Devil the 16mm Scrapbook. This is a sequence of production stills that are flipped like book pages.
* Original 16mm theatre trailer for the original 16mm, 85 minute version of Dust Devil.
* Stills Gallery. More production stills of course.
* Text biographies of those involved in the project.
* Trailers. Trailers for other Stanley films and other Subversive Cinema DVD releases, including a DVD trailer for Dust Devil.

Disc 2: DUST DEVIL “Work Print”

* This is his work in progress cut, that clocks in at 115 minutes. The extra 7 minutes may be very crude, but are certainly worth viewing. Decide for yourself.
* Included is an Intro segment by the director.
* No chapter selection menu is provided, but the Print is divided into chapters, allowing the viewer to get closer to the extra sequences.


* SECRET GLORY is Stanley’s documentary about Otto Rahn, a German writer who worked for Hitler’s S.S. Rahn became convinced that he had found where the legendary Grail was hidden, and with the financial support of the S.S., he began a quest of sorts, to uncover it. It began as a research project Stanley did for Britain’s CHANNEL 4 Television, intended to exploit public interest in the film Raiders of the Lost Ark. Stanley will undoubtedly return to this subject in another documentary film or even a feature, This is a work in progress, and Richard has plenty of unused footage stored somewhere.
* A commentary featuring Richard Stanley and Norman Hill discussing the origins of this film and the evolution of the project. Stanley is a walking encyclopedia of Nazi culture and all of it is verifiable, if you have a large enough library. I do.
* An interview with Richard Stanley with even more information on the making of the film.

Disc 4: Voice of the Moon and The White Darkness

* Voice of the Moon is video mood piece that Stanley edited and set to music from cans of 16mm film he shot while living (and fighting) with Mujahadin rebels in Afghanistan, during the last days the Soviet occupation. The only narrative is a Sufi poem, beautifully supported by Simon Boswell’s haunting music. At that time he also met the Taliban.

*A Commentary track once again with Stanley and Norman Hill. What emerges is Richard’s sensitivity for the plight of the Afghani’s and the fact that he is also brave man. Further, he clearly relishes teasing the audience with bits and pieces on his encounters with the Taliban and also his part in the mystery surrounding the notorious death of Carlos Mavroleon. [Read “Addicted to Danger”, in the Feb. 1999 issue of VANITY FAIR].
* An Interview with Richard Stanley. The subject is of course the “making of” his Voice of the Moon, a project originally funded by UNICEF, but never finished.
* The White Darkness (clever title that) was commissioned by the BBC and documents current Haitian voodoo practices, while speculating on their origin. I think Richard has nailed it on this one. I learned much, and am convinced by his imagery and his insight. He is steeped in the legends and cultural lore of so many races, that one can readily detect the influence of intelligent parents. This guy sat on a copy of The Golden Bough, and it’s still stuck to his ass!
* Commentary track on The White Darkness, again with Stanley and Norman Hill.
* An Interview with Richard Stanley dealing with production, and also how much fun he had messing with the American peace keeping force which descended on Haiti in 2000.

Disc 5: Simon Boswell: Dust Devil Score

* This is not a DVD, but a CD recording of the score of the film. It is very good and the score was clearly written with input from Richard, as it incorporates some samplings designed to cue the audience when the homage bits to Sergio Leone are coming up.

Crowded into the case are also three colour booklets. A book of essays on the three documentaries, a Production Diary for DUST DEVIL and a comic book written and drawn by Phil Avelli. Also, the DVD case has a reversible slip cover.

I first learned of this DVD set in a review Moriarty posted to AIN’T IT COOL. The movie sounded intriguing enough - a horror flic set in Namibia during the pullout of South Africans forces. The fact that the movie director was himself South African, and had also written documentaries on Nazi culture, Haitian society and the guerrilla war in Afghanistan, grabbed my interest like pubic hair caught in a zipper. He was punching all the buttons as he ascended the elevator of my many interests. How could so much material be crammed into one DVD release? It can, and was. This man is a great story teller but he is also a teacher and a good researcher. I’m a details freak. One of my favorite features in Jackson's KING KONG - Deluxe is the program on the historical research and superb digital restoration of New York during the Depression. It’s simply unparalleled.

Consider this – A scholarly book was also published last year by Viking Press, which covers the subject Richard explores in SECRET GLORY. The book is heavily dependant on the archives of Das Ahnenerbe, the elite Nazi Research and Educational Society founded by Himmler in 1935. Until I encountered Richard Stanley I had believed that the author (who incidentally lives near Vancouver) was very thorough. Then when I viewed Richard’s SECRET GLORY, and listened to him describe his own research, I realized he had uncovered a wealth of material on a fascinating figure who should not be overlooked. The best selling book has only a single mention of the name Otto Rahn, and no mention of Richard’s film.

I think we can trust this guy, and I happily acknowledge his quality. Let's hope he has a very productive 2007.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

DUST DEVIL - the 2006 Director's Cut

It takes two hours to watch a movie, but it took a shopping safari to the U.S. for me to locate a copy of this rare DVD set. Since acquiring DUST DEVIL -The Final Cut, I've invested an additional twenty hours or so reading about and compiling notes on the career of its South African born Writer/Director. Richard Stanley, is now something of a obsession, and a great career to study for insight into Independent film production.

DUST DEVIL, was originally completed in 1992, and immediately betrayed by the producers. They tried to cut and paste it for a general distribution in American, breaking their agreements with Stanley. In the end it got no distribution at all. Resurrected and now restored as a "Limited Collectors Edition" showcasing Stanley's work, it's a five disc, vest pocket marvel. Now you may scoff about "weasel words" of marketing, but how does only 9,999 copies for worldwide distribution sound? That should explain why I had to jump the border to score a copy for my collection. If you check out the Pros who did the superb job with this DVD release last September, http://www.subversivecinema.com/ you might get the final peak, because this puppy is already SRO and has shown up on EBay at $50+.

This is a "horror" film with several grisly scenes but it offers no genuine shudders. Let's NOT try to label it. DUST DEVIL is set in Namibia during the transition period when South Africans were forced by the U.N. to abandon their colony of South West Africa. This allowed the political arm of SWAPO to form a government. [Canadian cops are not mentioned, but we had a 100 man contingent of RCMP onsite, to oversee the handover of assets to black majority rule.] Into this confusion of a lost cause and lost power returns a "Nagtloper" or Night Walker, a shape shifting demon that the Herrero have long understood, but white's are quick to dismiss. The role was handled well enough by an American, Robert John Burke, who may have been cast at the insistence of MIRIMAX, the original U.S. Distributor. The Nagtloper of course begins to murder with studied ritual and claims trophies. The significant twist is that he seeks only those who have already lost the will to live. The highway of shame stretching back to South Africa runs through the shit town of Bethany. He senses, as do we, that the town itself has lost the will to exist. A bountious hunting ground indeed.

Director Stanley assures us in the ample bonus material, that his script is based on a series of unsolved killings that unnerved people in a region already numbed by the war against the SWAPO insurgency. The bonus goodies include a lengthy, and informative Production Diary and a DUST DEVIL colour comic. Most important is a "Work Print" disc, assembled from both finished scenes and rough dailies, which does show what might have been.

As the story itself begins to take shape, a savvy black police Sergeant, (in a memorable performance by Zakes Mokae) realizes that these are not covert military killings, but at that critical moment his white Boer colleagues pull out. He is forced to consult with the local witch doctor, (John Matshikiza) proprietor of the town's now redundant Drive-In movie theatre. A modern African, he resists the bush wisdom of his people. "Stop being a white man. Be a man." The clever forensic examiner (in a cameo role for Marianne Sagebrecht) comforts him with police science, but his frequent nightmares warn us that that he is losing his disbelief in magic.
I won't give away the story but I must note that there are plenty of catches for the film buff. Homage is everywhere. If you remember the train station in Once Upon A Time in the West, you'll smile. And if you loved the cemetery sequence in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, with tough guy Tuco dissolving into tears with a noose around his neck, you'll chuckle when you see the DUST DEVIL heroine walk down the road, pumpgun on shoulder, leaving a blubbering hubby hand-cuffed to a Land Rover. Nuff!

This story plays out in a brilliantly lit landscape. Ostensibly a flat desert plain, the skills of the cinematographer reveal southern Namibia in all of its sun-baked splendor - rusty and folded sedimentary slabs, vast rippling dunes and an immense plunging canyon complex reminiscent of the Colorado. Stanley used helicopter and crane shots to great dramatic and aesthetic effect. The musical score, written by Simon Boswell, is superbly mated to the dramatic elements of the tale but also enhances our enjoyment of the journey through the Karoo.
This film delivers a good time, and I am enjoying Richard Stanley on several levels. There were just a few scenes I found a tad obvious, but in sum DUST DEVIL offers something fresh. Stanley is a craftsman who has demonstrated repeatedly that he will go to extraordinary lengths, make any sacrifice, to tell his stories in his own fashion. It's an admirable trait, and certainly worthy of our interest and respect. His work is well grounded in spite of the hazards thrown up by his itch to wander the globe. I think there is much more to this moviemaker than just cinema, and I plan to profile aspects of career, and specific projects, as soon as I have finished with the research.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Sidney Reilly - ACE OF SPIES

Sidney Reilly - The Legendary ACE OF SPIES

January 2, 2006
This morning I read a very interesting report from the NOVOSTI Russian New Agency. Boris Gudz, a famous Soviet Intelligence figure died on the weekend, having lived 104 years. Gudz was the last living participant in the Bolshevik counter intelligence sting called Operation Trust, which succeeded in exposing Sidney Reilly, a chameleon who had volunteered to work for the British S.I.S. in World War 1. Reilly was actually born S.G. Rosenblum, (photo to left - above) and was a Polish Jew who found the need to experiment with personal identity when business deals began to sour. Now he is forever the Anglicized "Sidney Reilly". Boris Gudz went on to serve his government long and well as an officer in OGPU and KGB. He became intimately involved with the SORGE spy ring in Japan, a story which I found even more absorbing than the Reilly tale.

Gudz worked as a consultant on a Russian TV series in 1967 called Operatsiya Trest, which broadcast in b&w. In 1967 there were already two books available in English which dubbed Reilly with the catchy title "Ace of Spies," but he really became famous as a television hero. In 1983 Thames Television produced a 12 episode mini-series starring handsome actor Sam Neill as the ACE OF SPIES. I missed its debut on PBS in 1984 but eventually caught a few episodes. I recall not liking it. For the curious, an episode guide is found here http://epguides.com/ReillyAceofSpies/

The Canadian Connection
I remained interested in the espionage figure and his role history and added several books about him to my research library. Fragments of disinformation or outright guessing, had placed "Reilly" in Toronto during World War 1, training as a junior officer in the "Royal Canadian Flying Corps". (Author Michael Kettle cleared that up, in 1983.) Canada did not have its own airforce in WW1. Our airmen trained under the auspices of Britain's Royal Flying Corps. Still, I thought the possibility existed that Canada did the British secret services a favor by giving him some Canadian profile. By letting him assume rank here and then embark from Canada, it would form a buffer of sorts between his busy years in New York and his future missions in Europe. I used the provisions of our federal Access To Information legislation to search the relevant record groups. It was not a hopeless proposition. In 1991 I did find 2/Lt. S.G. Reilly in records of our Department of National Defence. The Directorate of History (DHIST), had an index card in the Air History Section containing data extracted from his old military service file. I learned that on Nov. 16, 1917 he was added to the "RFC Canada roster of officers as Mr. S. G. Reilly, E03 on probation." A further note read, "He is included in Dec. 16, 1917 list of officers proceeding overseas." Note also the address he gave on his Canadian paperwork: 120 Broadway, New York City.

At the time I also consulted on "S.G. Reilly" with a friendly archivist at the National Archives. We confirmed that no duplicate RFC file, Assigned Pay or other records survived in our war archives. I could only conclude that the REILLY file had been pulled and destroyed years ago, which is more common in our archives than should ever have been permitted. Between 1989 - 92 I had fruitful correspondence with James Barros, scholar at the University of Toronto (now deceased), who shared my research interests. We agreed that much of what we sought, including material pertaining to the infamous 1950s Herbert Norman case, had been "weeded" (to use the polite term used by the old Security Service of the RCMP). Barros encouraged me to pursue the Canadian angle, but in fact I let Reilly drop.

The reality was that any research breakthrough on Rosenblum depended on gaining access to the great repositories of secret archives in Washington, London and Moscow. The Americans (bless them) did lead the way, opening a huge volume of espionage files years ago. When the crucial British and Soviet dossiers became available, well-placed scholars pounced, and have produced several superb new books which relegate all the others to the discard pile. The new biography by Cook, which I have not yet acquired, challenges the place of birth and his paternity. If you own the A&E box set of ACE OF SPIES, (shown at the top) you might wish to pencil out the words "True story" on the decorative slipcase. Or not. It's just a TV show after all.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Talking to Strangers - Meet "Freakyart"

Vol. 1, No.2
January 1.
Don’t listen to your Mom. Talk to strangers. Looking back on 2006 I appreciate that a few chance encounters made for some truly memorable and rewarding experiences. A case in point was my new friend Aaron Filion, artist and skateboarding enthusiast. You won’t find examples of Aaron’s work on the Internet yet. To date he’s only appeared in THRASHER, the popular magazine for the Tony Hawk crowd. That was a start but disappointing, because Aaron has talent and also a great mind. He deserves an audience.

It is germane that for most of 2006 my free time was spoken for, as I was wholly absorbed in writing a biography of a Canadian Soldier of Fortune. My diary tells me that on March 22nd I was bogged down in the details of the Battle of Agua Prieta, a bloody outbreak in Sonora, back in 1915. I needed a break. An hour later my wife and I landed in Bellingham, WA., just south of Vancouver. I have my favorite haunts, where for the past twenty years I have enjoyed pawing through tons of books and mounds of ephemera, the sweepings of attics and garages. I parked the car in front of ALLADIN'S Antiques and stepped back into time. My wife read in the car while I got my fingers dirty.

I like to be methodical in my search tactics and it wasn’t long before I noted that the fellow at my left elbow was being equally efficient. Intrigued, I struck up a conversation. Aaron was sorting through a box of thousands of photographs – professional and amateur, B&W and colour, interesting and meaningless. (I was waiting my turn. He probably knew that.) The box had been churned by dozens of pairs of curious hands, but Aaron had detected patterns and had separated out a few dozen photos that meant something to him. He described for me what he had assembled – sequencing them, and telling a story of their lives as he imagined it. I was enjoying a kindred spirit and contributed an idea or two. I had mistaken Aaron for an amateur historian or a young genealogist, and was startled to learn that he was an artist and that he was planning a new series of work based on old snapshots. He described himself as a surrealist, explaining that it was faces he was searching for. He planned to salvage faces from the past and work them into his canvases. Rapid-fire we shared interests. I enjoy Surrealism, Futurism, Photomontage, Weimar cinema, etc. Aaron was always one step ahead of me. A fun, zap zap zap conversation.

The cover of BLAST No.2, 1915, by Wyndham Lewis, who later served as a Canadian war artist. His expressionist work was a valuable contribution.

Aaron gave me his business card and I do like his painting (top of page). He calls his business Freakyart and I soon learned why. His fellow board riders in Seattle had given him the name “Freaky A,” a moniker he is proud of. In the THRASHER October 2004 edition he described himself as “A lowly private in the northwest chapter of the beer-drinking, bowl-riding hesh army.” His favorite hangout is the trendy Boundary Bay Brewery and Bistro, in Bellingham, where I hope to catch up with him again soon. He hung a few canvases in Boundary Bay once, heretofore his only “show”. He has written in THRASHER magazine, “As for my art, I just keep pushing it out. It's like skating in so many ways. I don't get paid for it; I'm not that great at it, yet I'm compelled to keep doing it. I've learned that the energy I put into things comes back in the form of being able to do more of whatever I'm doing. That's good enough for me." That fairly well sums up my own philosophy about staying productive.

We’ve kept in touch by email and I know that he returned to that antique store at least once, to buy a few more images. “My girl friend couldn’t believe I had actually paid for the photos…” In an update last June he wrote, “I haven’t done much to the photos to make them surreal, but have hand rendered them to make them more interesting. They are transferred to boards waiting to be painted, but I’m currently too busy with other things.” I have encouraged him to research that collection he assembled, guessing that the family which had carelessly discarded the fragile record of their past might be thrilled to know that the photographs had inspired a talented local artist. Aaron’s got a big heart which nurtures that creativity of his. If he does contact the family, I’m sure he will charm them as much as he did me.

For those few who may be curious about my own purchases that day, nothing came from Aaron's box. One useful item I did buy is an 8x10 group photo of the 11th Photo Section USAAF, Wheeler Field, Hawaii in 1938. It's an historic image I can relate to the Amelia Earhart mystery... but that's definitely another story. As you will surmise, my interests in found objects (and in Blog topics) are a tad eclectic. So it goes.

Update: October 31, 2008 - Here's a nice Halloween surprise. Aaron just sent the URL for his new new webpage. Check it out!http://www.aaronfilionart.com/

THE REAPER, an Aaron Filion painting which is new to me.