Monday, March 20, 2006

Crappy Anniversary

It was exactly one month ago to the day – February 20th – that Right Wing hate historian David Irving was sentenced to three years in jail for his words – published and spoken – denying the holocaust.
It’s a serious sentence, but then David Irving was one heck of a serious denier; in a nutshell, through his books and in particular a couple of speeches he made in 1989, Irving has long claimed that the murder of some six million Jews in World War II was a hoax; that the crematoriums either did not exist or their use by the Nazis was wildly exaggerated, and that Hitler has been misunderstood and unfairly smeared by historians.
For most people Irving has long been thought of as a nutcase of the first water – a rabid Right Wing revisionist – whose opinions and qualifications to hold them were held in somewhat less than scholarly esteem.
He might have earned no more than a footnote in history as one of those flat earth-type creepy kooks who come along once or twice in a lifetime if it weren’t for the fact that his views became a rallying point, offering succor, comfort and quotable quotes to a legion of his like-minded anti-Semitic, holocaust-denying followers.
There are those (respected historians, literary figures, journalists, legal types and not a few regular folks) who are concerned that in a day and in an age in which comics can get you killed, we ought to be standing up far taller and straighter for freedom of speech, no matter how incendiary or hate-filled.
I find myself in agreement; a sentence like this – or worse – ought to be saved for far more dangerous instigators, those whose words were responsible for, say, the deaths or maiming or ruination of many, many thousands of people.
People like, say, President Bush, or Vice President Dick Cheney, or even Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, all of whom were busy beavers this last weekend, celebrating the third anniversary of the war by impressing various and sundry with their positive, even cheery views on their successful Iraq strategy, despite escalating violence and the emerging threat of civil war.
Compared to this terrible triumvirate, David Irving (as repulsive as he unquestionably is) is a piker.
The President tossed in his two cents – with a two minute address to the press yesterday on arriving home from yet another relaxing retreat to Camp David – letting us know that despite the estimated 200 Iraqis killed in sectarian violence (translation: civil war) over the last few weeks, he himself was “encouraged by the process”.
The Vice President appeared on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” yesterday, responding to questions that challenged his statement three years ago; a statement that suggested the American army would be greeted like liberators (complete with laurel wreaths and pelted flowers) and his more recent contention that the insurgency “was in its last throes”.
Cheney brushed off those concerns with trademark condescension.
“I think it has less to do with the statements we’ve made,” he replied, “which I think were basically accurate and reflect reality, than with the fact that there’s a constant sort of perception, if you will, that’s created because what’s newsworthy is the car bomb in Baghdad.”
In other words, the media did it.
Don Rumsfeld trumpeted his view from the op-ed page of The Washington Post. He likened the war in Iraq to two of the last three great conflagrations (inexplicably neglecting to mention Vietnam…) World War II and the Cold War, saying that to leave Iraq now would be “… the modern equivalent of handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis. It would be as great a disgrace as if we had asked the liberated nations of Eastern Europe to return to Soviet Domination.”
Which is it? A mission inches from success, working arm in arm with a delighted and enlightened Iraqi nation, or a nightmare scenario comparable to Nazi Germany?
The White House administration is in denial.
And while such a crime bought David Irving a three year reservation in an Austrian hoosegow, it seems a similar sentence is being passed for the atrocities in Iraq – the only difference being that those who must pay are the citizens of the United States (and indeed the world) who must endure nearly three more years of this administration and those who run it.
Oh – and most particularly those already dead or dying in service of the lies, and those still fated to do so.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Hard song

It surely shouldn’t be so surprising that the daughter of the man who taught Frank Sinatra how to sing and Gene Kelly how to dance (or was it the other way around?) is poised on the brink of musical stardom.
And why not?
Why should a complete and utter lack of ability, training, talent, pitch, range or rhythm preclude such a career move?
I’m poised I tell ya – poised.
It all began yesterday with an early morning audition for a radio commercial; I went in knowing neither the product nor the pitch. (Not as much of a drawback as you may imagine: they give you a script, they tell you how they want you to read it, they record it, they shout “Next!” Nothing simpler. Just keep moving. And forget validation for your parking… or your performance, frankly.)
But I was surprised yesterday morning as the receptionist at the studio handed me the script to see it printed on the page in what looked like stanzas.
“Poetry, eh?” I thought as I shrugged off my coat and sat down to read the script and await my turn at the mike.
But anyone could see it wasn’t poetry. It was a song. A song I recognized; two verses, a chorus and a ‘bring it on home’ flourish of a finish.
There had to be some sort of mistake.
“There has to be some sort of mistake,” I said to the receptionist, my voice thin with rapidly growing anxiety. “I’m not a singer. Did they tell my agent they wanted a singer? I am not,” I paused for emphasis, “a singer!”
“No, no,” she calmed. “They want real people – people like you.”
I just looked at her. I didn’t know her – she didn’t know me – so how could she possibly understand just how ‘real’ I really am? How could she – or the casting agent – possibly gauge just how much ‘real’ the producer and recording engineer were prepared to be bombarded with when I went into the studio and started being ‘real’ at the top of my lungs?
No false modesty here. Besides writing, I pay the bills with voice recording. I was the voice of CTV for three years, the voice of the Life Network for another three, and over the years the voice behind countless hundreds of commercials selling everything from fried chicken to Fords. You have probably heard me tell you that if you know the extension of the person with whom you wish to speak, please enter it now, or press pound to return to the main menu, or nine to hang up. And thank you for calling.
Oh – and have a nice day.
I have a nice voice. Real nice.
But I cannot – not one note – sing. I mouth the words to Happy Birthday to You, rhubarb and mumble my way through hymns and Christmas carols, and never, ever sing in the car unless I’m alone with the windows tightly rolled up, saving any actual singing for the shower (where I do actually sing) grinding and creaking my way through the Top 40 with a sound approximating a cheap, untuned violin played by a toddler with a broken whisky bottle.
I’m really that bad.
I suck. I stink. There may be someone who sings worse than me, but if there is, I surely don’t want to hear them.
Whatever genetic talents were passed on to me by my father (who confided his musical mentorship of ‘ol’ blue eyes’ and ‘ol’ happy feet’ when I was six... and who would lie to a kid?) the actual singing gene was left unspliced, rendering me tune-free and tin eared – and happy that way. I’m fine knowing my limitations.
What I am not fine with is sharing them (recording them! for eternity!) with strangers. There’s knowing your limitations – and then there’s exhibiting them, loudly, with the potential for ‘sharing’ them with potentially millions of innocent citizens.
I could feel the flop sweat starting to trickle, I felt warm – too warm, open a window somebody, please! warm – and was just beginning to consider ways and means of getting out of there with the minimum of humiliation and the maximum of speed (I just couldn’t think how to credibly break my ankle without at least a stair or a step, or a reason to climb on a chair and deliberately fall off) when the producer came in and called me up and walked me back to the recording studio like a French aristo dragged through the streets of Paris to the guillotine.
(Curses – not a slippery area rug or even the teensiest of uneven floorboards from which to launch myself hospital emergency room-ward.)
I was feeling nauseous by the time he set me up at the music stand, adjusted my mike and handed me my headset. (Are you getting a picture of just how bad this was going to be?)
Back in his own safe (safe!) little booth, the producer told me he’d play the musical track for me a couple of times so I could hear where the verses began and when the chorus came in; I ignored it – I had just enough time to shoot a prayer heavenward before the engineer asked me for my levels and launched me musically hellbound.
After all, I didn’t need to listen to any lead track; I’d heard this tune a million times – each and every time I’d watched Singin’ in The Rain.
“Good mornin’, good mornin’,
It’s great to stay up late,
Good mornin’, good mornin’ to you!”
…and so on.
Singin in the Rain. Great movie. Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor and… Gene Kelly.
Gene Kelly!
Was it possible? Could this be a sign of some sort? Gene Kelly? Student of my father? (Odd, as my father was born more than 20 years after Gene, but – geez, have you never heard of child prodigies? Infant prodigies? Embryo prodigies?) And Gene, let’s face it, when compared to his dancing and acting was actually pretty crap as a singer.
And I am crap as a singer! (Granted, a whole different, appalling level of crap – but crap none the less.)
“When the band began to play,
The sun was shinin’ bright.
Now the milkman’s on his way,
It’s too late to say goodnight!
I started to feel a little better. The nausea waned ever so slightly, my heartbeat regulated, the little hairs standing straight up on the back of my neck went from attention! to at ease.
I took a deep breath, adjusted my headset, nodded at the producer, waited for his hand signal, then I belted that song into that mike!
I experimented with key changes and tones and volume – I may have executed at tremolo – I sang like some warped, oblivious-to-their-abilities contestant on American Idol. I even, so help me God, stuck out my arms and waved them around a little bit.
I sang and I sang.
Then I sang it again. Three times altogether. And each time, my confidence grew. It was complete crap – but it was my crap. They wanted real – and they got it. And I didn’t care. And I brought it home with a flourish.
I wafted out of the studio and floated down the hallway to the reception area, where three other women were taking off their coats and staring at their scripts, and clearing their throats and fingering their collars like they’d suddenly gotten unbearably tight.
I smiled at the assembled women, slipped into my coat, grabbed my bag and as I was about to bid farewell to the receptionist, it occurred to me that I didn’t know what product or service this musical mess was supposed to be selling.
“So what was all that in aid of?” I asked – though I didn’t care. I didn’t care if I got it, I just cared that I finally got it. I had discovered a new skill – one that could take me heaven only knew where. Singing badly – with verve! With passion and excitement and tremolos! Me! Singing!
“Viagra,” the young lady replied, looking up at me with a sly smile.
Oh. Okay. Now I want it. I want it bad. I won’t just be in on the joke – I will be the joke!
Viagra. Priceless. My cocktail party icebreaker requirements are taken care of for the next decade.
So it’s on fellow crappy singers. I’m sitting by the phone, waiting for my agent to call. Hoping and praying and humming “Good mornin’, good mornin’!”
And I’m thinking of taking up dancing…

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Driven to despair

On the front page of my newspaper today, the photograph of a smiling unarmed Canadian soldier mere minutes before he was attacked by an Afghani man who screamed “Allahu Akbar!” before plunging his axe into the officer’s head.
Tomorrow the front page of my newspaper will no doubt be imprinted with a photograph of the Canadian soldiers who died in the light armoured vehicle accident last week in Afghanistan and whose remains are being shipped home today.
It’s days like these when the revulsion for ‘Mission Accomplished’ reaches near-critical mass, and the impotence many feel at the prospect of being able to affect any change in the seemingly endless madness born almost exactly three years ago feels endless in itself.
The only subject that really captures my interest nowadays (apart from my own issues, actions, problems, obsessions, rejections, repressions, regressions, regrets, worries, compulsions, concerns, memories, fears, fantasies and finances – is it really so surprising I can’t find a moment to bathe the dog?) is the vast, oceanic reserves of anger against the Iraq war that appear to be building up and spilling over all around the world.
So far as I can tell, everybody lives wrong.
Trust me on this: they certainly drive wrong. Sometimes I wonder if this is where the anger is seeping out.
I’ve written before about my (to me) shockingly swift transformation from traditional ten and two, well in advance signaling, driving manual suck-up, and all-round world class rules-of-the-road obeying driver, to raging, red-faced, road-rage-aholic over the past couple of years. It’s become practically instantaneous.
I can be bopping along (singing a song) contemplating a job well done, or one imminently begun, happy as Colossal squid in a world full of the smaller Giant-variety, and in moments be near-apoplectic with fury if some other driver should attempt to cut into my left lane from his ill-conceived stuck-behind-a-parked-car position on the right.
(Don’t try to kid me; you knew there would be parked cars. You knew there would be bottle-necking at the traffic lights. You further knew that there would be some slow-moving, oblivious folks, complacently driving in the slower left hand lane, who would either inadvertently provide you with an entrée to squeeze in front of them, or graciously wave you on. Not today buster. Not here, not now – not me.)
I am one of those people. The ones who speed up when you try to cut in. The ones who watch the changing lights like a race car driver waiting for the flag to drop so should there be any advantage to changing lanes, I’ll have leapt off the start line and passed you before you could say ‘bitch on wheels’. I drive (when provoked) like a teenaged boy, or a bitter man with a small penis.
Or an American President armed with the kind of advisors and intelligence that have placed the world in the grim marathon of death that shows no signs of abating.
(Don’t try to kid us; you knew that the reports of Iraqi possession of WMDs were inflated if not completely wrong. You knew there would be anger if you drew the world into the war. You knew there would be death. You further knew that there would be some slow-moving, oblivious nations who would either inadvertently provide you with an entrée to squeeze them in with you, or graciously wave you on. So you did. Then, now – you.)
Not so long ago while waiting to turn left across a busy thoroughfare onto my own street, after flashing her lights, honking her horn, and revving her engine, the woman stuck behind me finally pulled out from behind, drove up beside me and with a look and in a tone that were chilling in their ferocity, let me have it.
“Why don’t you turn at the lights,” she screamed. “Bitch!”
With a zoom and a squeal she was off and gunning toward her next appointment with antagonism, and I would have followed her – chased her down – to explain in words of very few syllables (most of your best swear-words only ratchet up the syllabic quotient when compounded) exactly where I lived, expressly why I was turning precisely there, and explicitly where she could place her concerns if she didn’t like it.
Until I realized it would be exactly, expressly, precisely and explicitly like screaming at myself. Pointlessly.
The thing is, in virtually all other ways, in all other situations, I am as gentle as a kitten – or at least as passive aggressive.
(I won’t pee in your shoes, or drop small dead animals at your feet – the worst I’ll do is ignore you or treat you to a look of withering disdain – but I won’t even be catty behind your back.)
I am in all ways but the one, the very image of the average North American, taking it on the chin, accepting the government’s every concealment, cover up and outright lie with a “Well, what’re you going to do?” shrug and eye roll. Still.
Even though somewhere between 35,000 – 100,000 people have died since the war began on March 19th, 2003.
Those numbers are comprised of the civilian dead estimated between 28 and 32,000 individuals, (these are the numbers of people reliably reported dead – British medical journal The Lancet estimates the body count as closer to 100,000 Iraqi civilians) and the American dead now standing at 2,297. Add another couple of hundred coalition troop deaths, and you arrive at the population of a small city.
Only a few people would have to move out of Berkeley California, Pueblo Colorado or Charleston South Carolina to approximate the number of deaths the Iraq war has wrought, and not a few folks would have to move in to Sarnia or Sault Saint Marie in Ontario, or even Kamloops or Nanaimo BC in order to achieve the same results.
And the wounded. The wounded.
In numbers representing American wounded alone, the estimates stand at between 15 and 48,000 troops.
A further 8 to 10 percent of combat troops are said to have been treated for psychiatric or behavioral health issues.
The number of Iraqi wounded is impossible to assess. There’s no doubt the number is enormous. As for their psychiatric or behavioral problems, who could guess, when US general Mark Kimmet’s helpful advice to Iraqi citizens upset at seeing innocent civilians killed by collation troops on their own telelvision screens was: “Change the channel.”
Meanwhile, a Canadian soldier with a hideous head wound lies in critical condition in an army hospital in Landstuhl Germany, and, as the result of a road accident far from the treacherous streets of downtown Toronto, the bodies of two Canadian soldiers, victims of the road accident in southern Afghanistan last week are to be flown home for burial today.
Sometimes (all the time) I think my road rage is misplaced.
But sometimes I think it’s the only place I have to put it.