A Prayer for the G20 Summit

Unprecedented disruption to our city, and more than a billion dollars spent on security. A billion that is sorely needed elsewhere. Tension and exasperation in equal measure. This weekend’s G20 and G8 Summit meetings here in Toronto (and Huntsville) have been hogging the headlines for weeks. As “Fortress Toronto” gets set to “welcome” both world leaders and protestors this weekend, I offer the following to everyone as a sort of prayer and plea:


Here we are in a special place
what are you gonna do here?
now we stand in a special place
what will you do here?
What show of soul
are we gonna get from you?
It could be Deliverance
or History
under these skies so blue,
but if I know you, you’ll
bang the drum
like monkeys do.

Here we are in a fabulous place
what are you gonna dream here?
We are standin’ in this fabulous place
what are you gonna play here?
I know you love the high life,
you love to leap around,
you love to beat your chest
and make your sound,
but not here man!
– this is sacred ground
with a power flowing through,
and if I know you, you’ll
bang the drum like monkeys do.

Now we stand on a rocky shore
your father stood here before you.
I can see his ghost explore you.
I can feel the sea implore you
not to pass on by,
not to walk on by and not to try
– just to let it come
don’t bang the drum
just let it come
don’t bang the drum
do you know how to let it come now?
don’t bang the drum now
just let it come now
don’t bang the drum now
don’t bang the drum

“Don’t Bang the Drum” by The Waterboys. Words and lyrics by Mike Scott and Karl Wallinger, 1985

Iran: Deja Vu All Over Again

So President Bush remains adamant that Iran is a threat? Even after his own intelligence services have told him otherwise? Why am I not surprised? I’m reading Frank Rich’s book The Greatest Story Ever Sold right now, and it’s all sounding very familiar. I just hope that the presidential election campaign can steamroll any “ambitions” that Dubya has for adding to his collection of wars.

Just Give Them Blogs and WiFi

From the November 2007 Harper’s magazine:

From a summary of recommendations in Enlisting Madison Avenue: The Marketing Approach to Earning Popular Support in Theaters of Operation, a 211-page report released in July by the RAND Corporation’s National Defense Research Institute, under a $400,000 contract with the United States Joint Forces Command.

HARNESS THE POWER OF INFLUENCERS: Businesses strive to harness the power of influencers and word of mouth in their marketing efforts. The U.S. military should harness the influencing power of indigenous government employees and security forces by having them blog about their views regarding coalition forces. The military might further consider enhancing the Internet access of indigenous populations via distribution of cheap and durable Wi-Fi-capable laptops and by sponsoring Wi-Fi clouds around U.S. operating bases.

Lake of Fire

Lake of Fire

Lake of Fire (USA, director Tony Kaye): A monumental (152 minutes!) documentary on the abortion issue filmed over a 15-year period, Tony Kaye’s film is likely to become a classic. The film covers all kinds of ground and features interviews with many people on both sides of the issue. Perhaps surprisingly, quite a few of them have intelligent things to say.

There is quite a lot of (and I’d say too much) coverage of the extreme fringe of the pro-life movement, including the string of killings of abortion doctors in the 1990s, and a very strange and possibly insane man who runs an organization called Lambs of Jesus. Too often, the pro-life camp is described as simply an extension of the Christian Right’s agenda. While that may be largely true, there are millions of other people with pro-life views that are much less extreme, who are not necessarily marching or picketing abortion clinics. It would have been nice to hear from some of them. One interesting pro-life advocate was writer Nat Hentoff, a liberal atheist. In the pro-choice camp, there were a few notable voices, including lawyer Alan Dershowitz and Frances Kissling of Catholics for a Free Choice. Then there were those who appeared to be in the middle somewhere, including several medical bioethicists and even Noam Chomsky, who was perhaps the most eloquent voice in the film.

I suppose the extensive coverage of the shootings of abortion doctors may have been included to balance the equally disturbing images of abortion procedures, including the doctor “piecing together” the body parts of the fetus after the procedure. Any honest film about abortion needs to address these very real images.

I believe it may have been Chomsky who stated that abortion comes down to a difficult choice between two (and possibly more) competing but authentic values. He also pointed out that if pro-life supporters claim to be concerned about children, there were lots of easy ways to help the many suffering children in the world, but that few were actually doing much about it.

The film concludes with two segments where I found the use of music to be manipulative. One is the statement by a nurse who was severely injured in an abortion clinic bombing, and the final longer segment follows one woman as she goes through the entire abortion procedure, from filling out forms to her sudden breakdown as she tries to tell the interviewer she’s “relieved.” The images and stories were powerful enough without the need for swelling strings in the background. As well, it’s not always clear when each part of the film was shot, or whether we’re seeing things in chronological order at all, and for a film that covers 15 years of a changing political landscape, it would be nice to have a timeline and even some statistics to see how things are changing.

Other than those relatively minor misgivings, this is a landmark film and has set a high standard for feature length documentaries dealing with this relatively neglected subject. The two and a half hours went by very quickly, and I was even left wanting more. Director Kaye says he has lots more and could even make the material into a television series. I for one would be interested.

8.5/10(8.5/10) – my graphic doesn’t show half-points



Offside (Iran, director Jafar Panahi): Filmed during an actual qualifying match for the 2006 World Cup, Offside works brilliantly as both a comedy and a tragedy. The film follows the fortunes of a group of young women who are caught trying to sneak into a football match at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium. The country’s Islamic religious leaders have decreed that women may not sit with men at sporting events, lest they be exposed to cursing and other morally questionable behaviour. This hasn’t stopped the country’s young female fans, who continue to sneak in using various tricks. But Panahi focuses on a small group who have been caught and are being detained agonizingly close to the action. They beg the bored soldiers guarding them to let them go or at least to let them watch the match. The soldiers tell them they shouldn’t have tried to get in, that they could have watched the game at home on TV. They banter back and forth in almost real-time as the game continues, just off-camera.

There is one very funny sequence where a young soldier accompanies one of the girls to the restroom. Since there are no female restrooms at stadiums, he has to clear the room of any men before he can allow her to go in. Plus, he makes her cover her face so no one can see she’s a woman. This is accomplished using a poster of Iranian soccer star Ali Karimi as a mask, with eye holes punched out.

You get a real sense that even the soldiers are baffled by the prohibition, and are only carrying out their orders so as to hasten the end of their compulsory military service. One soldier complains that he was supposed to be on leave so he could take care of his family’s cattle in the countryside. Little by little, the girls and the soldiers talk to each other, and there are numerous small acts of kindness on both sides to show that these are basically good people living in terrible circumstances. However, the soldiers’ constant reminder that “the chief” is on his way lends a sense of menace, since we don’t know what sort of punishment the women will face.

Unlike most Iranian films, which are known for their strong visuals, Offside is filmed in a realist style with no artifice. In fact, the film was made during the actual qualifying match against Bahrain that took place on June 5, 2005. The “plot” in many ways was determined by the result on the pitch. If Iran won the match, they would qualify. If they lost, they would not. Since the World Cup has come and gone, I don’t think it is a spoiler to say that Iran won the match. The scenes of celebration at the end of the film were real and spontaneous, which gave the film a real authenticity. Seeing how much this meant to the people of Iran was deeply touching.

As well, one of the young women makes reference at the end of the film to seven fans who died during the Iran-Japan match on March 25, just a few weeks before. They were trampled to death after police began to spray the crowd with water to move them in a certain direction. Knowing that this was a real-life tragedy added another level of poignancy to the celebrations.

I don’t want to go off on a long political tangent, but this film gave me real hope that there are those in Iran who are hoping for change and working at it. Iran is a nation of young people, and it is only a matter of time before they take the place of their elders in the political sphere. Films like this one show the proud spirit of the Iranian people in spite of their present difficulties, and it’s my sincere hope that there is a brighter future for them.

Interview with director Jafar Panahi

Good review from Sight and Sound magazine