Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Brakes On

Brakes On:

Speed limits in Vancouver's Downtown East Side hailed as victory by residents

VANCOUVER—People in Vancouver's Downtown East Side will step a little more lightly this fall, as the speed limit on East Hastings Street drops to 30 kilometres an hour, and more pedestrian controlled crossings are introduced into the bustling neighborhood.

Passed on July 26, the measures are part of a set of demands made by the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) to make the Downtown East Side safer for the community.

The Downtown East Side has been identified as the most dangerous place in Vancouver for pedestrians, according to University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University researchers. More than a quarter of the city's identified “hot spots” for pedestrian injuries—locations where more than five people were hit by cars over a five year time period—are in the 10 block stretch of Hastings street where the changes will be implemented.

VANDU's recommendations represent the findings of the We Are All Pedestrians report, a community-based research and advocacy project undertaken by VANDU. Focusing on data collection, education, and community outreach, the project hired people from the Downtown East Side to research both driver and pedestrian volumes and behaviors, including a pedestrian survey and observation of the effects of street and sidewalk design.

“It snowed and it rained, but we stayed out there for hours,” said researcher Lorna Bird, an organizer with VANDU and the Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society. “What we saw was that the police were handing out tickets for jaywalking in the Downtown East Side, but not on Davie and Robson.” Only 15 per cent of people in the Downtown East Side own vehicles, notes Bird. “People from other places are speeding through our neighborhood as a shortcut to get home,” she said.

The pedestrian safety project has set a precedent of cooperation between City Hall and the city's most marginalized community. “It was a really successful collaboration,” said VANDU organizer Aiyanas Ormond. The initiative emerged out of a "much less collaborative" process, however, surrounding what VANDU calls a “ticketing blitz” initiated by the Vancouver Police Department in 2008.

Under the guise of improving public safety, officers handed out over 1,100 tickets in the Downtown East Side for infractions like jaywalking, public urination and unlicensed vending.

“We challenged them on a number of occasions to prove that handing out jaywalking tickets improves public safety, and unsurprisingly they couldn't produce any evidence to support that,” said Ormond. VANDU members attended police board meetings, and even stormed a council meeting to demand that the city take a more proactive approach to public safety in the Downtown East Side. “Over 50 people stood up and said 'This is a crisis in our community,'" said Ormond. "People were afraid and felt targeted, being handed these tickets that they would never be able to pay.”

With funding to hire community members as grassroots researchers, the We Are All Pedestrians research took place in 2009 and 2010. While the report was well received by council, it took some pushing on the part of VANDU to get the changes that were won on July 26.

In the spring of 2011, VANDU sent a letter to Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson asking why no action had yet been taken on the report, even though the city had sent representatives of the City of Vancouver and VANDU to the International Urban Health Conference in New York to present the research. “Eventually, [city councilor] Kerry Jang came down to our Tuesday [VANDU Action Group] meeting with some city staff, and offered to implement the 30km per hr zone,” Ormond told The Dominion.

While the pedestrian safety measures approved by council are a step in the right direction, organizers at VANDU are still pushing for action on other parts of the community's demands that came out of the ticketing blitz in 2008.

The need for more public toilets in the neighborhood has been identified as an urgent concern, as many of the tickets that were handed out in the blitz were for public urination and defecation.

Following the success of the We Are All Pedestrians project, the city asked VANDU to do research on the public toilets issue. “This was really frustrating,” says Ormond. “[VANDU's research] basically just confirmed a decade of research that's already been done saying the same thing: we need more accessible public toilets in the Downtown East Side.”

Although hours for two existing public toilets in the neighbourhood have been extended for a trial period, the research project is currently stalled as VANDU and other participants have not been able to come to consensus about how to move forward.

Even though there is much more that needs to be done, the victory for pedestrian safety in late July sets a good precedent of the Downtown East Side community gaining ground on fighting for their rights at city hall. “We don't have a sense that the campaign is complete, but we're happy with the concrete improvements so far,” said Ormond.

Erin Innes is a freelance writer and Permaculture activist working for food and environmental justice in Vancouver/Coast Salish Territory.

The revolution will not be commercialized

The revolution will not be commercialized:

Post image for The revolution will not be commercialized

Increasingly, global advertising agencies are beginning to capitalize on growing revolutionary sentiments within society. Their manipulation is bound to fail.

I was recently contacted for an interview by Scott Goodson, founder and CEO of the successful marketing company Strawberry Frog. Scott is the widely published author of articles on marketing in leading publications like Forbes, the Harvard Business Review and the Huffington Post. He runs a blog on “cultural movements” and is currently writing a book on the same subject.

His company calls itself “the world’s first Cultural Movement agency,” having “proven many times over that if you can uncover a powerful idea on the rise in culture, then join, fuel, and add real, tangible value to that culture through innovative marketing and social media, you can create a sustainable movement on behalf of your brand that consumers want to belong to.”

I initially did not have time to screen Scott and so I agreed to an interview with him. When I finally did a background check, read some of his articles, checked out his Facebook Page (with the Orwellian title ‘Uprising‘) and saw some of his advertising campaigns, I wrote the following message back to him, which I thought would be of interest to the readers of this blog as well.

Hi Scott,

So I did some background research on you and your organization, and while I found that you are clearly a very successful man, and you probably made your career choices with the best of intentions, I’m afraid that our approaches to social movements differ wildly — to the point where I actually feel deeply uncomfortable lending assistance to your project. Having taken a look at your FB page, I’m afraid we’re simply speaking different languages when it comes to “uprisings” and “movements”.

This is nothing personal, but I have to be fiercely critical of your work in this respect: our movement cannot be commercialized, commodified or co-opted by those who wish to reduce and flatten it into some superficial advertising campaign. I read about “purpose-inspired approaches to branding” in one of your articles. But if branding is about profit, then what is purpose reduced to? What is inspiration reduced to? What are the underlying ideals reduced to? To salable goods? Is that really the type of society we want to live in? Taking the best out of humanity and trying to make money out of it? Money for what? More of the same? That’s not a movement, that’s stagnation wrapped in the thinly veiled illusion of change.

If the underlying premise, as you put it in that Proctor & Gamble article, is that successful brands combine big ideas with digital media to create “movements” behind their products, then what is the raison d’être of these movements? Aren’t you just turning them into empty signifiers, deprived of meaning, mindlessly serving the quasi-mechanical purpose of enhancing the profitability of this or that company? I’m very sorry to break the news, Scott, but a genuine movement is not a marketing opportunity — it is precisely the type of paradigmatic shift that moves beyond the conceptualization of all human action as a market transaction; it is precisely the reclamation of our common humanity in the face of widespread alienation and reification within this horribly misguided consumerist society of ours.

What you are talking about is “the conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses,” (these are not my words, they’re Bernays‘, with whom you are surely familiar, given your own extremely clever marketing strategies). When you write about “targeting the youngsters — who let’s not forget will be the buyers of tomorrow”, you are engaging in conscious and intelligent manipulation, pure and simple. In fact, you are seducing our only hope for a better future — a socially-conscious youth capable of moving beyond the consumerist/materialist dogma that sustains our profoundly unjust and unsustainable world order — to give up their still-developing ideals in exchange for artificial, short-lived gratification through entirely unnecessary material accumulation. Is that your definition of an “uprising”? Or is that just tapping into an immature zeitgeist for personal profit?

In fact, your approach to young people is profoundly dehumanizing. When you talk about “targeting the youngsters,” you are essentially referring to them as objects, “consumers”, statistics on the cold and lifeless balance sheet of some anonymous firm. It deeply worries me to see an undoubtedly smart and affable person like yourself literally exploring ways to manipulate the malleable consciousness of these young and insecure human beings in the hope that they may spend their money on the ridiculous products that you and your colleagues keep peddling and pushing onto them. I’m sure you guys can’t be serious when you say that “it hasn’t been possible to truly appreciate the amazing journey of a young child growing inside a mother’s belly”, until the iPad and the Pampers Baby Pregnancy Calender came along. That’s just sick. As if people never fully appreciated new life before P&G and Apple arrived to deliver us from the grave and unbearable toil of the Great Unknown.

I am worried that these type of campaigns undermine the healthy psychological development of individuals and the cultural richness of our communities. I’m also worried about the fact that the type of manipulative, Bernayesque behavior that has come to dominate our society very closely mirrors the psychological definition of psychopathy:

… a mental disorder characterized primarily by a lack of empathy and remorse, egocentricity, and deceptiveness. Psychopaths are highly prone to antisocial behavior and abusive treatment of others, but often manage to pass themselves off as normal people … Psychopaths can have a superficial charm about them, enabled by a willingness to say anything to anyone without concern for accuracy or truth … What is missing, in other words, are the very qualities that allow a human being to live in social harmony.

So I apologize, but I have to cancel my previous agreement to an interview. Instead, you might want to ponder what I wrote above, which is really all I have to say on this subject. Or inform yourself about the backlash to Levi’s Go Forth campaign and the fate that probably awaits your firm if you persist in your futile attempts to colonize the territories of the real youth movements of today (rather than the artificial ones you claim to “invent” for marketing purposes). By the way, Anna Hazare or the Chilean students didn’t need anyone to “invent” a movement for their purpose — they just saw something was profoundly wrong, so they took action. Would you and your colleagues be willing to slowly starve yourselves to death for profit? You see, that’s the difference Scott.

It’s quite fascinating, by the way, to see that your FB page was founded on May 16, the day after the 15-M movement was born in Spain. Unwittingly, you created the perfect real-world laboratory for students of revolution: I see you have a little over 300 followers now — not bad for a start-up project, congratulations! But did you ever wonder how the Spanish Revolution FB page managed to get 180,000+ followers in the same amount of time? Or how Democracia Real YA got over 400,000? In just three and half months! Non-profit, entirely run by volunteers, for a real and genuine uprising. No marketing bullshit, no PR textbooks, no good-looking bearded dudes running around the forest wearing fancy trail shoes, no quasi-intellectual, jet-setting, thick-rimmed-glasses-wearing CEOs writing books with catchy titles — just real people caring about their world. You can’t manufacture that. Indignation grows organically.

Either way, whether this critical perspective interests you or not, I wish you the best of luck with your book and future projects. You’re extremely good at what you’re doing, and if it feels right for you, I strongly urge you to continue. But if you ever fancy giving some substance to your empty usage of laden terms like “movement”, “uprising” and “revolution”, I think there’s one thing you can learn from the 15-M movement in Spain, which was also the major inspiration for my own blog: stop chasing this fictitious money of yours and start worrying about the real shit that’s going down in this world. The world belongs not to those who manipulate the present, but to those who anticipate the future.

With love and respect,


Prediction: Oppal's comments won't derail Inquiry

Prediction: Oppal's comments won't derail Inquiry: The Commissioner of the Murdered and Missing Women Inquiry, Wally Oppal, was thrown under the bus by the Attorney General's office while I was on vacation. Some think it remains to be seen whether or not he and the Commission will survive, but they'll both be fine.

Here's why.

Short version: When Commissioner Oppal called the Attorney General to make his case for publicly funded lawyers for poor aboriginal women facing a phalanx of publicly funded police lawyers, he left a voice mail message. The Attorney General then typed out the voicemail the Commissioner left and sent it to the Commission's lawyers. Later, the Deputy AG sent a copy of the voicemail transcript to lawyers for the police. AG Penner explained that he did this in order to address what he saw as an issue of potential bias.

The team at the AG office forgot to send a copy to lawyers acting for our team (BCCLA, Pivot and Amnesty Canada). I don't think anyone else outside of lawyers for the police or government saw it either. If the media hadn't reported on it, I don't think anyone else would have known about it.

In any event, Commissioner Oppal then issued a mea culpa, saying, of course, that he had not prejudged the case.

Questions of the propriety of the exclusive correspondence between the AG's office and lawyers and police departments and their lawyers aside, here's my prediction (a bit late given that the Vancouver Police Union has already spoken, saying they'll continue to cooperate): The police and the prosecutors and others will not go to court to ask for a new Commissioner, because they couldn't possibly do better.

Does the voice mail message really suggest anything that people don't know? Hardly. Feigned outrage over largely innocuous comments by the Commissioner is a sad PR effort to balance a public record that, to date, shows every card drawn in this inquiry coming up favouring the government and police.

In the front room? Police and government lawyers fully funded.

In the back room? Police officers reviewing documents and making recommendations.

On the bench? A former member of the governing party's cabinet, and a recent Attorney General.

Terms of reference? Restricted to prevent inquiries into the full chronology of Pickton's horrific activities and alleged government and police indifference.

In the North? Restrictions that prevent discussion of the Highway of Tears cases, but northern forums that aim to let off steam on that very issue and hopefully avoid a full inquiry there.

Now why would the police or government work to kill an Inquiry that favours them at every turn, risking its resurrection, bigger, stronger and more in-depth with the first change of government provincially or nationally?

"Get it over and done with" is surely the chorus within police and government offices, all the better that groups that would keep the heat on are pulling out.

For the record, and in the words of the Commissioner:

These are the women who complained to the police about women being missing and were given the back of their hands . . . the police gave them the back of their hands to these women and disregarded what they had to say. So they can't cross‐examine the police, who are of course well‐armed with publicly funded lawyers . . .

Fela Kuti live at Glastonbury Festival 1984

Fela Kuti live at Glastonbury Festival 1984:

Shed your midweek blues with this excellent full length film of African funk magus Fela Kuti and band performing live at the Glastonbury Festival in 1984. The 70 minute film also features a candid interview where Fela talks about discovering his African identity in post-colonial, racist England and how this eventually led to his involvement in Nigerian politics. He also talks about how ideas of “democracy” inspired the song “Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense”, an incredible, 40 minute-plus version of which closes the show:

Thanks to P6!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Andreas Englund’s paintings of an aging Superhero

Andreas Englund’s paintings of an aging Superhero:


DM pal and acclaimed writer Steve Duffy passed on these amusing paintings by Swedish artist, Andreas Englund, who says of his art:

“Humor can be the carrier of messages that are otherwise hard to convey. For me, it liberates my thoughts and ideas from pretentiousness while at the same time it opens doors to new routes and angles.”

As Mr Duffy points out, even superheroes get old, and “this’ll be you, one day.” Well, yes, but maybe without the lycra cat suit.

See more of Andreas Englund’s paintings here.










Via Empty Kingdom, with thanks to Steve Duffy.

The One Billion Dollar Question: Who Are the Libyan Rebels?

The One Billion Dollar Question: Who Are the Libyan Rebels?: Libya_button

Libyan rebels have consolidated their grip on the capital of Tripoli by capturing Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s main compound, but the whereabouts of the Libyan leader remain unknown, and he has vowed his forces would resist "the aggression with all strength" until either victory or death. Reporters in Tripoli say heavy gunfire could still be heard nearby the area of the Rixos Hotel, where dozens of international journalists guarded by heavily armed Gaddafi loyalists are unable to leave. The Arab League said on Tuesday it will meet this week to consider giving Libyan rebels the country’s seat at the League, after it was taken away a few months ago from the Gaddafi government. Today Britain’s National Security Council is meeting to discuss unfreezing Libyan assets to financially assist the National Transitional Council. We speak with Gilbert Achcar, a professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. "Who are the rebels? Well, this is actually the $1 billion question," says Achcar. "Even in NATO circles, you find the same questions." [includes rush transcript]

Panel condemns US syphilis study in Guatemala

Panel condemns US syphilis study in Guatemala: US presidential commission discloses gruesome specifics of 1940s experiments on prison inmates and mental patients.

Monday, August 29, 2011

George Jackson: Soledad Brother 40 years later

George Jackson: Soledad Brother 40 years later:

Forty years after his death, George Jackson continues to reflect different things to different people depending on their ideologies and experiences.

To some, Jackson was a renowned author, Marxist, and activist truth-teller who brought the injustices of the American experience in and out of prison into harsh light as the once-vibrant ‘60s faded to a disillusioned and bloody end.

To others, he was a career criminal and prisoner turned violent radical whose acts and incitements brought misery to many and resulted in the kind of revolutionary martyrdom now worshiped by Islamicists and Tea Party extremists.

In a society that both thrives on a fundamental class-based inequality and manages to keep its prison population of 2 million over 40% black, Jackson remains a figure of some relevance, however legendary. Perhaps the best way to get a picture of the man is to read his words in Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson

On the ideological side of things, here’s George Jackson - 40 year commemoration, a video produced by Jonathan Jackson Jr:

During the 30th anniversary of Jackson’s death in 2001, San Francisco Bay Area journalist Belva Davis produced Day of the Gun, a rather in-depth presentation by someone who was on the ground at the time. Although YouTuber superkool223 should be commended for his or her act of preservation of this piece, be aware that this upload is ironically replete with plenty of commercials to fast-forward through. It’s worth the inconvenience.

Playlist of the rest of Day of the Gun...

Finally, here’s the little-known and suprisingly gospelly paen to Jackson that Bob Dylan recorded in 1971:

Thanks to King Gondo…

Disturbing Conversation Between Chatbots

Disturbing Conversation Between Chatbots:

Via Cornell’s Creative Machines Lab, two robots are forced into an uncomfortable conversation that touches on God and other existential matters. (Both are suspicious that the other may have android origins, but neither wants to admit it.) It’s even more disconcerting to imagine robots someday having such discussions without human supervision and coming to epiphanies concerning their robotic nature.

Feds raid Gibson Guitar

Feds raid Gibson Guitar:  Files Bffefd8D-5D85-4B06-94D3-E63304Adac90

Federal agents raided Gibson Guitar last week and confiscated what the Fish and Wildlife Service claim may be illegally harvested Madagascar ebony and other woods from protected forests. This follows a 2009 raid resulting in an ongoing court case, "United States of America v. Ebony Wood in Various Forms." From the Wall Street Journal:

The question in the first raid seemed to be whether Gibson had been buying illegally harvested hardwoods from protected forests, such as the Madagascar ebony that makes for such lovely fretboards. And if Gibson did knowingly import illegally harvested ebony from Madagascar, that wouldn't be a negligible offense. Peter Lowry, ebony and rosewood expert at the Missouri Botanical Garden, calls the Madagascar wood trade the "equivalent of Africa's blood diamonds." But with the new raid, the government seems to be questioning whether some wood sourced from India met every regulatory jot and tittle.

Gibson Guitar Corp CEO Henry Juszkiewicz responded in a public statement issued by the company:

The raids forced Gibson to cease manufacturing operations and send workers home for the day while armed agents executed the search warrants. “Agents seized wood that was Forest Stewardship Council controlled,” Juszkiewicz said. “Gibson has a long history of supporting sustainable and responsible sources of wood and has worked diligently with entities such as the Rainforest Alliance and Greenpeace to secure FSC-certified supplies. The wood seized on August 24 satisfied FSC standards.”

Juszkiewicz believes that the Justice Department is bullying Gibson without filing charges.

“The Federal Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. has suggested that the use of wood from India that is not finished by Indian workers is illegal, not because of U.S. law, but because it is the Justice Department’s interpretation of a law in India. (If the same wood from the same tree was finished by Indian workers, the material would be legal.) This action was taken without the support and consent of the government in India.”

"Guitar Frets: Environmental Enforcement Leaves Musicians in Fear" (Thanks, Greg Long!)

"Gibson Guitar Corp. Responds to Federal Raid"

Downtown Eastside convent closes after 85 years

Downtown Eastside convent closes after 85 years: After 85 years of helping the needy on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside the convent of the Franciscan Sisters of Atonement is closing its doors on Monday.

Afghanistan: The Endless War for Resources

Afghanistan: The Endless War for Resources:
Afghanistan Poppy Field


Abby Martin writes on Media Roots:

Last year marked the tenth anniversary of America’s invasion of Afghanistan, officially making it the longest war in US history. Now that Osama Bin Laden is finally confirmed dead, the federal government’s logic of continuing the occupation remains unclear.

Initially, the Bush administration irrationally insisted that any sovereign nation harboring terrorists was itself complicit in “terror” and therefore open for pre-emptive US military action. This rationale is absurd — just because one criminal might be living inside of a particular country doesn’t make that entire country guilty of the criminal’s crimes.

In 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was quick to tell CNN that US forces had successfully pushed the Taliban and Al Qaeda out of the region, and reports reveal that Osama Bin Laden hadn’t even been in Afghanistan since 2001. Additionally, a White House spokesperson recently admitted that there hasn’t been a terrorist threat in the country for the last eight years.

So what has the US been doing in Afghanistan for the last decade?

War has always been about two things: resources and control. Alongside the supposed surprise discovery of Afghanistan’s $1 trillion wealth of untapped minerals, it’s more than coincidental that before the US invasion, the Taliban along with the UN had successfully eradicated the opium crop in the Golden Crescent. Now 90% of the world’s heroin comes from Afghanistan.

As reported by Global Research:

Heroin is a multibillion dollar business supported by powerful interests, which requires a steady and secure commodity flow. One of the “hidden” objectives of the war was precisely to restore the CIA sponsored drug trade to its historical levels and exert direct control over the drug routes.

Immediately following the October 2001 invasion, opium markets were restored. Opium prices spiraled. By early 2002, the opium price (in dollars/kg) was almost 10 times higher than in 2000.

In 2001, under the Taliban opiate production stood at 185 tons, increasing to 3400 tons in 2002 under the US sponsored puppet regime of President Hamid Karzai.

While highlighting Karzai’s patriotic struggle against the Taliban, the media fails to mention that Karzai collaborated with the Taliban. He had also been on the payroll of a major US oil company, UNOCAL. In fact, since the mid-1990s, Hamid Karzai had acted as a consultant and lobbyist for UNOCAL in negotiations with the Taliban.

In today’s globalized world, one can’t discount the role that multinational corporations play in US foreign policy decisions. Not only have oil companies and private military contractors made a killing off the Afghanistan occupation: big pharmaceutical companies, who collectively lobby over $250 million to Congress annually, need opium latex to manufacture drugs for this pill happy nation.

Read full article by Abby Martin on Media Roots.

Monsanto Modified Corn Losing Bug Resistance

Monsanto Modified Corn Losing Bug Resistance:

CornAgribusiness monster corporation Monsanto is in peril of creating a worse problem than it purports to solve with its genetically modified corn plants. Scott Kilman reports for the Wall Street Journal:

Widely grown corn plants that Monsanto Co. genetically modified to thwart a voracious bug are falling prey to that very pest in a few Iowa fields, the first time a major Midwest scourge has developed resistance to a genetically modified crop.

The discovery raises concerns that the way some farmers are using biotech crops could spawn superbugs.

Iowa State University entomologist Aaron Gassmann’s discovery that western corn rootworms in four northeast Iowa fields have evolved to resist the natural pesticide made by Monsanto’s corn plant could encourage some farmers to switch to insect-proof seeds sold by competitors of the St. Louis crop biotechnology giant, and to return to spraying harsher synthetic insecticides on their fields.

“These are isolated cases, and it isn’t clear how widespread the problem will become,” said Dr. Gassmann in an interview. “But it is an early warning that management practices need to change.”

The finding adds fuel to the race among crop biotechnology rivals to locate the next generation of genes that can protect plants from insects. Scientists at Monsanto and Syngenta AG of Basel, Switzerland, are already researching how to use a medical breakthrough called RNA interference to, among other things, make crops deadly for insects to eat. If this works, a bug munching on such a plant could ingest genetic code that turns off one of its essential genes.

Monsanto said its rootworm-resistant corn seed lines are working as it expected “on more than 99% of the acres planted with this technology” and that it is too early to know what the Iowa State University study means for farmers.

The discovery comes amid a debate about whether the genetically modified crops that now saturate the Farm Belt are changing how some farmers operate in undesirable ways.

These insect-proof and herbicide-resistant crops make farming so much easier that many growers rely heavily on the technology, violating a basic tenet of pest management, which warns that using one method year after year gives more opportunity for pests to adapt…

[continues in the Wall Street Journal]

Steven Tyler’s mugshot from 1967

Steven Tyler’s mugshot from 1967:

In 1967, Steven Tyler was busted for for pot possession in Yonkers, New York. He was 18 years old and it was the Summer Of Love.

Via Cherrybombed

The Velvet Underground vs. Godzilla!!

The Velvet Underground vs. Godzilla!!:

The Velvet Underground played Boston on March, 15 1969 at famed music venue The Boston Tea Party. Someone put a microphone inside Lou Reed’s amplifier and the result is pretty magnificent.

Bootlegged as The Legendary Guitar Amp Tapes, the recordings are formidable in their unadulterated rock and roll fire and fury and a revelation for anyone who hasn’t paid close attention to Reed’s dynamic guitar playing which in this set is a monolithic roar, a pulverizing electronic kaiju (strange beast) grinding whole universes into pebble and sand.

Listen as Louzilla annihilates the planets and their multiple moons with blasts of amplified frequencies as sublime as they are world crushing. This is the sound of heavy metal thunder!

I’ll be posting more soon.

The louder, the better.

Disney Factory Faces Probe into Sweatshop Suicide Claims

Disney Factory Faces Probe into Sweatshop Suicide Claims:

Disney's best-selling Cars toys are being made in a factory in China that uses child labor and forces staff to do three times the amount of overtime allowed by law, according to an investigation.

One worker reportedly killed herself after being repeatedly shouted at by bosses. Others cited worries over poisonous chemicals. Disney has now launched its own investigation.

It is claimed some of the 6,000 employees have to work an extra 120 hours every month to meet demand from western shops for the latest toys.


read more

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn:

Of his more than twenty books, activist and educator HOWARD ZINN (1922-2010) is best known for The People Speak and A People’s History of The United States; he gave voice to those without a voice, those Americans whose experiences and opinions had not been represented. In addition to his anti-war efforts — which grew out of his time serving in the air force during WWII — he was involved in the civil rights movement. Forty-one years after being fired from Spelman College for siding with the students against school authorities, Zinn returned to give the commencement speech. He titled his address “Against Discouragement.”

The government may try to deceive the people, and the newspapers and television may do the same, but the truth has a way of coming out. The truth has a power greater than a hundred lies. I know you have practical things to do — to get jobs and get married and have children. You may become prosperous and be considered a success in the way our society defines success, by wealth and standing and prestige. But that is not enough for a good life.

Elegant and willowy, with a shock of white hair and renegade eyebrows, Zinn worked steadily into his 87th year. After his beloved wife Roslyn, who’d walked by his side his entire career, died in May of 2008, it was only a year and a half before he would join her.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Jorge Luis Borges.

READ MORE about members of the New Gods Generation (1914-23).

Barbara Ehrenreich

Barbara Ehrenreich:

Barbara Ehrenreich

2009 photo by the National Organization for Women from now_photos at

BARBARA EHRENREICH’s (born 1941) most famous book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (2001), is an early example of the stunt memoir, a well-researched essay on the working poor, and a rousing leftist call to arms (or at least empathy); but the best thing about it is that in addition to chronicling the difficulties of trying to live on $7 an hour, Ehrenreich really gets into the work itself. She and her co-workers slip the customers more croutons on their salad than they’re supposed to, worry that the half-bucket of water the maid service dictates isn’t enough to get the floors clean, and get proprietary over the organization and tidiness of the White Stag and Jordache areas in the Wal-Mart. Even when doing “unskilled” labor in humiliating working conditions for a humiliating wage, and even, or especially, when corporate policy stands in the way, waitresses, maids, and retail staff take pride in their work. Ehrenreich should take pride in her work, too. Although she earned a Ph.D. in cellular biology in 1968, she became a tireless feminist and union activist, and she was a well-known contributor to The Nation for many years. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001, she wrote very funny and trenchant things about the hyper-feminization of breast cancer discourse. Thank heavens Ehrenreich survived both the cancer and the kitsch: she still has a lot of cultural and political work to do, and there’s no one better fit to do it.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Peggy Guggenheim.

READ MORE about members of the Anti-Anti-Utopian Generation (1934-43).

13th Floor Elevators - You're Gonna Miss Me

13th Floor Elevators - You're Gonna Miss Me: David brought up the subject of these guys and Lew dug up this rough but potent old video on this Austin band in the '60s:

(Backup is a lot like "G-L_O_R_I_A Gloria…")

It's had over 800,000 views. If you watch this full-screen it's like a liquid black and white movie -- pretty striking. Actually like a B&w light show…

More music du jour: Lucinda Williams and Dan Penn doing "Dedicated to the One I Love," and Stevie Winwood doing "Thirty Second Lover" on a kick-ass album, just out: Dedicated - Steve Cropper - Salute to the 5 Royales

Witch on a hallucinogenic flying broomstick

Witch on a hallucinogenic flying broomstick:

I’ve just found this fascinating discussion on the psychopharmacology of ‘witches ointments’, that supposedly allowed 16th century witches to ‘fly’.

It’s from a fantastic 1998 Anesthesiology article about atropine containing plants, like belladona, deadly nightshade and hemlock, and their effects.

De Laguna was not the sole commentator about the relationship of mind‐altering drugs and witchcraft in the 16th century. In De Praestigiis Daemonum, which Freud called one of the 10 most significant books of all time, Johann Weyer (1515–1588 CE) concluded henbane was a principal ingredient of witches’ brew, along with deadly nightshade and mandrake.

According to Weyer, there were other ointments, but the essential ingredients remained the same in all. The preparations, when applied to the upper thighs or genitals, were said to induce the sensation of rising into the air of flying.

Witches were thought to anoint a chair or broomstick with the devil’s ointment, and after self‐application, would fly through the air to meet for devil worship at the sabbat. Francis Bacon (1561–1626 CE) observed that “… the witches themselves are imaginative, and believe oftentimes they do that, which they do not … transforming themselves into other bodies … not by incantations or ceremonies, but by ointments, and annointing themselves all over.”

In an extensive review of psychotropic plant ointments of the Renaissance, Piomelli and Pollio examined transcripts of witchcraft trials, writings on demonology, and the botanical composition of ointments that alleged witches used on themselves during the 15th and 16th centuries.

Despite the difficulty with accurate identification of the plants, the documents reported consistent pharmacologic effects. Further, the biochemical logic of applying these plants in a fat‐based unguent was sound, as it would promote passage of the alkaloids through the intact skin and mucosa.

The use of soot (slightly alkaline) likely would enhance the passage of organic bases because a weakly alkaline environment would be sufficient to neutralize the positive ionic charge. That this is an effective ethnobotanical technique may be seen with Peruvian coca chewers, who mix in their mouths the cocaine‐containing leaves with alkaline cinders to enhance uptake.

There is even experimental evidence for believing that a fatty base was used in these ointments; an ointment from the 13th or 14th century, found accidentally, was subjected to chemical analysis and had an animal fat content of 40%.

The full article is well worth checking out as it tackles how the plants have been used in potions and preparations through history and were a early form of anaesthesia in ancient and medieval surgery.

Link to Anesthesiology article.

Incredible early Kraftwerk footage

Incredible early Kraftwerk footage:

Seldom-seen footage of the short-lived Krautrock “power trio” iteration of Kraftwerk consisting of Florian Schneider, Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger that existed ONLY briefly when Ralf Hütter left the group to study architecture in 1971.

As Rother and Dinger went on to form Neu! at the end of 1971, this could be looked at more like this is Neu! with “special guest” Florian Schneider (who totally rocks out here!) but this is a Kraftwerk performance. And the quality is stellar!

Below, “Köln II”

“Kakteen, Wüste, Sonne” (which translates as “Cactus, desert, sun”)


Exercise Exerts Beneficial Effects on Brain Health

Exercise Exerts Beneficial Effects on Brain Health:

Both aerobic exercise and strength training play a vital role in maintaining brain and cognitive health throughout life.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

ACTION ALERT: Ambassador Doer – Get your facts straight

ACTION ALERT: Ambassador Doer – Get your facts straight: On August 25, Canadian ambassador Gary Doer's support for the Keystone XL pipeline was outlined in a Globe and Mail column. Keystone XL is a pipeline that would transport tar sands bitumen to Texas refineries. Tell Ambassador Doer how you feel about his comments in support of the Keystone XL pipeline using sample letter.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Happy Birthday Roman Polanski

Happy Birthday Roman Polanski:


Roman Polanski is a master. You can think he’s not up to snuff after Chinatown (which is ridiculous, and especially with The Ghost Writer), you can debate about the importance of The Pianist, but after icons like Welles, Kubrick, Bergman and Altman have left us, Polanski remains one our greatest living filmmakers. An artist who's crafted numerous iconic classics, and one who could have rested on Chinatown alone, he’s still here -- creating challenging, compelling, smart, darkly funny and yes, masterful pictures. It seems impossible for Polanski to not be interesting.

He’s also an extraordinarily controversial figure, a man who was, up until 2010, still living under house arrest in Switzerland for a 1977 sexual assault case in which he pleaded guilty to statutory rape and then (through various reasons that have been argued, defended, explicated, the list goes on and on and I know it all too well) fled before he was to be formally sentenced in 1978. Living as a fugitive until September of last year, he's now free, and has completed another film -- God of Carnage. Through a tumultuous life of surviving the Warsaw Ghetto, the loss of his mother in Auschwitz, the murder of his wife (Sharon Tate) at the hands of the Manson family, and his own personal demons, Polanski seems predestined to have an irregular life -- a life of darkness, absurdity and controversy. A life much like his movies.

And yet, even while enduring his predicament, Polanski managed to finish the mesmerizing, brilliant political thriller, The Ghost Writer, (an adaptation of the Robert Harris novel The Ghost) starring Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams, Kim Cattrall, Tom Wilkinson and the great Eli Wallach in a small part. With McGregor in lead as the titular ghostwriter, hired to pen the memoirs of a former British prime minister (a fantastically funny and sleazy Brosnan), the movie throws the young writer into a series of doomed, dangerous situations, punctuated by strange characters that are subtly ominous and absurd and perfectly Polanskian. It was one of the best films of 2010 and one of the greatest of Polanski's career.

So with the excitement that the filmmaker has not lost his touch, and since it's his birthday (he turns 78), here's a look at eight of my favorite Polansk pictures (a nearly impossible task for me since I love nearly every picture he's made -- even the "minor" ones. And please leave me alone about Macbeth and The Fearless Vampire Killers, Frantic, Death and the Maiden, all of which I love. And I discussed The Ghost Writer, above). Through both real life and cinematic tragedy and triumph, absurdity and horror, sensuality and perversion, beauty and hideousness, what a long, strange and brilliant trip it’s been Mr. Polanski.

Knife in the Water (1962)

It's evident. Roman Polanski emerged from the womb knowing cinema. Proof lies in his glorious first feature, Knife in the Water, a tense, complex, three-character study in which cruelty, violence, sexuality, absurdity (all of the Polanski hallmark obsessions and more) are laid out in pitch perfect sequences and characterizations, confined to one space (Polanski loves nothing more than to trap his characters in apartments, boats or creepy houses. And water continually means something). The story finds a vacationing couple, Andrzej (Leon Niemczyk), a sportswriter, and his wife Krystyna (Jolanta Umecka), picking up a nameless, young hitchhiker (Zygmunt Malanowicz). The young man joins them on their boat trip. Good idea? Not when jealousy arises via Andrzej who can't contend with the younger man's golden boy loveliness. And then there's that knife suggested in the title (filled with violent and phallic meaning) hanging over the proceedings with menace and cruel sexuality. The movie was a critical hit, earning top prize at the Venice Film Festival, and an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film. Darkly funny, sexy, scary, claustrophobic while agoraphobic at the same time (Polanski excels at this particular predicament). The young Polish director was on his way to many more masterpieces to come.

Repulsion (1965)


Through the beautiful visage of ice goddess Catherine Deneuve, Repulsion remains one of the most frightening studies of psychosis ever filmed. It's also one of the most sexually mysterious. Deneuve plays Carol, a nervous young manicurist who goes about her days in the salon, quietly tending to bossy old ladies' fleshy cuticles; but eventually finds herself languishing about her apartment, where, her pathological shyness, sexual repression and repulsions spiral into madness. Perplexing hallucinations haunt Carol as she's holed up in her pad: sexual acts with a greasy man whom she simultaneously loathes and lusts; greedy hands poking through the hallways and kneading her soft flesh; and the moving and cracking of walls. Left alone, she is able to act out what she is so afraid of: the dark sludge of desire. The obscure, slippery and decayed complexities of such desire are conveyed brilliantly and the diseased atmosphere of Carol's apartment/womb is meticulously created through Polanski's inventive camera angles, sound effects and images of clutter.


Polanski's use of ambient sounds (the ticking of a clock, the voices of nuns playing catch in the convent garden, the dripping of a faucet) is masterful,conveying Carol's unsettling fears. Polanski also dresses the film with pertinent details that further exemplify both Carol's madness and the aching passage of time: potatoes sprout in the kitchen; meat (rabbit meat, no less) rots on a plate and eventually collects flies; various debris of blood, food and liquids form naturally around Carol. The use of black-and-white film, wide-angle lenses and close-ups creates an unsparing vision of sickness, and Deneuve's performance is effectively mysterious. As Polanski cameraman Gil Taylor muttered during filming, "I hate doing this to a beautiful woman." A masterpiece of madness.

Cul-de-Sac (1966)

Roman Polanski understands art, certainly, but also the art of wombs -- diseased, depraved, disordered wombs. Cruelty, violence, twisted sexuality, madness, absurdity -- all of Polanski's hallmark obsessions -- are almost always confined to one space. The director loves nothing more than trapping his characters in devil worshiping apartment buildings, phallic, knife-wielding boat trips and unhappy, unsound houses. And water continually means something. The superb Cul-de-Sac (1966) is his bats in the belfry, bat shit crazy house picture, and what weird, sexy, subversive, screwy fun it all is. Party at Polanksi's? I'm there. Even if Shelley Winters is invited.

And yet, Cul-de-Sac is so under-seen. (Thankfully the Criterion release is turning that around). A precursor to themes he would continually dabble in: tortured relationships, bizarre blonde behavior, infidelity, cross-dressing, even film noir, via the stalwart, gravel voiced Lionel Stander, alas, best known to some for his role in Hart to Hart ("Mrs. H, she's goooorgeous!") but who should also be remembered as the blacklisted, veteran hard-boiled American character actor, Cul-de-Sac (considered minor by some), is stunningly, at times, brilliantly unhinged, while being, decidedly Pinteresque. But this is pure Polanski.

Donald Pleasence plays an odd fellow (a grand understatement) who lucks out (or not) with a gorgeous, beguiling wife (the ever poignant Francoise Dorléac; sister to Catherine Deneuve, and an actress who left the world too soon), whom he keeps in an enormous, isolated house on a tiny island off the northeast coast of Britain. Playing like an especially kinky Desperate Hours, the couple will be forced to host two escaped criminals (Stander and Jack MacGowran) after the thugs land at their nutty abode. And then things get...really interesting. But it's not just crime and entrapment that make the story compelling, it's all of the Polanski touches, particularly when he observes the idle activities of Dorléac.

Dorléac is cheating on her husband (who takes to wearing ladies clothes a la Roman's tortured Tenant Trelkowski), she's also perpetually bored, stuck in the house like a more spirited, extra primal Virgin Suicide sister, and engages in childlike activities to amuse herself. She tears around the house barefoot, applies exaggerated eyeliner (or helps her husband with his), messes with rifles and, the best, most hilarious, lights a sleeping Stander's feet on fire with burning pieces of newspaper between his toes ("It's called a bicycle" she taunts). just don't do that to Lionel Stander. Or perhaps, you do. Between these two mismatched misfits, it's disarmingly sexy. These characters don't establish things like "safe" words nor do they understand the concept of such a thing, so the perversity, stark beauty, the isolation, the bleakness, the menacing sexuality and the insanity make the whole experience a strangely good time. A romp, in fact. A Roman romp.

Rosemary's Baby (1968)


One of Polanski's most famous, iconic and unforgettable movies, Rosemary's Baby is just as effective as a dark comedy as it is a horror movie. It also works as a strange celebration of one woman's love for her baby, no matter what, and the institutions that attempt to control her (yes, you can read Rosemary's Baby as a feminist work). We all remember young-mother-to-be Rosemary (Mia Farrow) moving into a lovely, though creepy, apartment building and eventually finding herself impregnated by Satan himself. Her ambitious actor husband, Guy (John Cassavetes), is mostly to blame -- he strikes a deal with their eccentric, Devil-worshiping neighbors the Castevets (a wonderfully spellbinding Sidney Blackmer and a charmingly though frighteningly coarse Ruth Gordon) -- and poor Rosemary is the vessel, enduring he Castevets' pregnancy tips, and even agreeing to see the famed Dr. Sapirstein (played by a condescendingly evil Ralph Bellamy in a switch from his usual nice guy roles of yore).


A powerfully desperate and touching performance by Farrow carries the picture, but Polanski's colorful, tense and at times, surreal direction (the dream sequence/Satanic seduction is a particular standout) and attention to detail is superb. And again, it's at times, hilarious. "What about Dr. Sapirstein? What about ME!"

Chinatown (1974)


Chinatown isn't just one of Roman Polanski's great masterpieces (perhaps his greatest), it's also one of the true masterpieces of the 1970s, a true masterpiece of neo-noir (some even contend Chinatown a pure film noir, removing the neo from the appellation, and the last one of the genre), and the last true studio picture, a movie that slammed the doors of Paramount, where the infamous producer Robert Evans reigned. Combining the winning elements of a brilliant, intricate screenplay by the great Robert Towne, Polanski's tour-de-force direction and both an iconic Jack Nicholson (as private dick Jake Gittes) and fetchingly mysterious/neurotic Faye Dunaway (as the damaged Evelyn Mulwray), Chinatown works on all levels: thematically, stylistically, philosophically, historically, everything. It's a perfect movie. The labyrinthian plot (taking place in 1937) will find Gittes embroiled in a story of incest, greed, political corruption and a doomed love (you will never forget Dunaway's infamous "my sister, my daughter" moment), wandering through a beautifully styled Los Angeles, that's meticulously recaptured in exquisite period detail and unique, beautifully muted cinematography (interestingly, and purposely, you never actually see anyone going to Chinatown). Polanski himself would have a memorable moment.


Emerging from the shadows, Nicholson's Gittes asks, "Where'd you get the midget" only to be met with a switchblade up his nose via Polanski "You know what happens to nosy fellows? They lose their noses." A classic on par with Citizen Kane, The Maltese Falcon, and The Godfather, Chinatown is truly one of the greatest movies ever made. And watching it today, knowing about Polanski's future to come, the picture's themes and dialogue are startlingly portentous. Think of John Huston's (as Noah Cross) famous line: "You see, Mr. Gittes, most people never have to face the fact that, at the right time and the right place, they're capable of anything."

The Tenant (1976)


“These days, relationships with neighbors can be … quite complicated. You know, little things that get blown up out of all proportion? You know what I mean?”

Though Rosemary’s Baby remains Polanski’s classic horror picture (and I do love it), for psychological terror, hysterical paranoia, existential break-down and a man really going through hell in a dress, I think The Tenant supersedes Rosemary in thought-provoking terror. We can relate to it. It makes one fearful of every friend, neighbor, sound and the very thought of attempting a romance -- not to mention the task of simply taking out the garbage.


Polanski wisely cast himself as Trelkovsky, a beleaguered, nervous Polish file clerk who takes over an apartment after the previous tenant commits suicide. With neighbors who are all kinds of creepy (gotta love a thoroughly disagreeable Shelley Winters), he’s spying strange things in the bathroom across the courtyard and, in one of the picture’s more memorable moments, discovers a tooth hidden in the wall. What else? There’s donning the prior tenant’s clothes, complete with dress, wig and a thick smear of perverse red lipstick and then that double jump, which I won’t reveal here but, it's a spectacular leap. And such shattering of glass. And that crawl. All in that dress. It all becomes an odd mixture of impotence and satisfaction.


And it’s all so human, horrifying and morbidly hilarious -- a tough combination to successfully convey, but Polanski, master of the dark humor, does so effortlessly. For instance, watch Polanski smack a kid in the park, or observe an especially frightening and imaginative moment when Polanski’s head is bouncing like a basketball, and feel confused by your terrified bemusement. Try not to laugh. And then cringe. And then laugh. And then think of yourself and all those you don't trust (there are many).


A Dostoyevskian/Kafkaesque inspired tale, and yet, specifically Polanskian (no other filmmaker has been able to imitate his specific éclat), The Tenant is supremely creepy, philosophically fascinating, funny, dreamlike, yet real and incredibly daring.

Bitter Moon (1992)


Polanski's boozy, bitter, sexually manic ode to demented dysfunction remains one of the most underrated, misunderstood pictures in his brilliant career, a movie that makes one laugh as much as it horrifies, titillates and illuminates. It's also a movie one can identify with (either literally or, one hopes, allegorically, though that's not always the case in life), which might be part of the reason so many viewers were turned off by it. Which couple do you relate to?


The "nice" couple is Hugh Grant and Kristin Scott Thomas, a handsome, respectable British pair, enjoying a cheesy cruise, making the most of whatever excitement is left in their marriage. The twisted duo is a failed and rather hacky novelist (an inspired Peter Coyote) and his mysterious, French sex-bomb of a partner (Emmanuelle Seigner, Polanski's real life wife), whose story becomes Grant's main obsession as he listens to Coyote describe every detail of his relationship. And I mean every detail (simulated barnyard sex situations, urination, insane cruelty, paralyization etc.). Grant falls for Coyote's wife, but this will seriously (and literally) backfire on him during the boat's New Year's Eve party when, yes, lovely Seigner writhes in seductive abandon with, not Grant, but his wife. It's a wonderfully exciting moment of Sapphic sensuality, but one that'll lead to shocking tragedy.

The Ninth Gate (1999)


A movie so underrated it's almost maddening. As shown here, I admittedly have a never-ending love of Polanski's work (including The Fearless Vampire Killers, the wonderful Macbeth and even Pirates, dammit), but so many critics missed the darkly humorous point of this picture. A wonderfully deadpan Johnny Depp stars as Dean Corso, a snaky rare-book dealer hired by a wealthy scholar of demonology, Boris Balkan (Frank Langella), to authenticate a book of satanic invocation called "The Nine Gates of the Shadow Kingdom." He ventures to Europe to compare the book against two other extremely rare copies (if only book dealing were this exciting) and then things begin to get even weirder.


For a book dealer, the investigation becomes pretty spectacular, right down to the Eyes Wide Shut-like moment (not at all intended to ape Kubrick's film) during which devil worshipping Langella storms in on a group of supposedly scary Satanists and hilariously calls them a bunch of losers. Though much more understated than Polanski's greatest works of terror (The Tenant, Repulsion) and not as psychologically tumultuous, The Ninth Gate is nevertheless an engaging, beautifully photographed thriller with a stately, graceful style of pacing that feels drugged and otherworldly. Perfectly perverse, playful, penetrating Polanski.

And no, I did not forget. Two of my other Polanski favorites, Tess and The Pianist:

Tess (1979)


A rapturously beautiful Nastassia Kinski stars in just one of Polanski's great classic literary adaptations (his others include Macbeth and Oliver Twist) and indeed one of his finest. Lushly adapting Thomas Hardy's novel, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, may have seemed an odd choice for a filmmaker who just came off making the spare, scary horror thriller The Tenant, but the themes of doom, love, rape, chaos and the chains of fate were no stranger to the auteur. Kinski is the beautiful peasant girl Tess, bound in a relationship with the wealthy but cruel Alec d'Urberville (Leigh Lawson). She becomes pregnant (in the novel the rape is a powerfully evocative and sympathetic moment), extremely unhappy and after a tragedy, leaves his estate to humbly work on a dairy farm. There, she falls in love with the very serious and very virtuous (and aptly named) Angel Clare (Peter Firth), who will take issues with Tess' past. Too much issue. Unfair issue.


Extremely sympathetic to its lead heroine, who is trapped in a world of judgment, shame, social position and yes, fate, Tess is a powerful period piece aided by all of the actors and Kinski in particular. Her beauty is so heart-stopping it haunts the picture, becoming almost scary and strange , underscoring the film's lilting, yet hanging doom. As Hardy wrote, "The sudden disappointment of a hope leaves a scar which the ultimate fulfillment of that hope never entirely removes."

The Pianist (2002)

A triumph. And a personal one. Though based on the real life of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish composer and musician who survived the Holocaust, hiding from the Nazis after they invaded in 1939, the picture was also inspired by Polanski's own youth. Young Polanski, whose father was detained in an Austrian concentration camp and whose mother died in Auschwitz, would spend World War II hiding from the Nazis in Poland, escaping to the Krakow Ghetto and eventually roaming the countryside, living hand to mouth. Instead of making a purely autobiographical film about his extraordinary journey and survival, he crafted this masterpiece, in which Jewish musician Szpilman (played by Adrien Brody) survives Warsaw during five years of German occupation. Unable to play his piano, scrapping for food, shivering with cold and, in some of the movie's most inspired moments, barely speaking a word, he lives.


The Pianist is a deeply personal film, and Brody's performance is brilliantly internal, but the movie never panders or attempts to deliver an easy survival story. The dark and brutal truth to the picture, a truth Polanski well understood, is that Szpilman (and Polanski) did indeed survive, but through many random and lucky incidents (and that kind of luck can turn. Polanski's own heartbreak over the murder of his wife from a band of murderers cuts deep in his worldview) . Polanski knows his hero is special. We know he is special. But does the universe know he is special? Incredibly moving, gorgeously made, horrific and dark and, yet inspiring and beautiful, The Pianist is already a classic.

Happy Birthday Roman Polanski.

"It's called a bicycle."