Saturday, March 31, 2007

Freedom of Speech- Part 2: Defamation of Religion

Well, well, the boys and girls over at the U.N. have been busy little bees. In addition to 6 other resolutions and 2 Decisions, the Human Rights Council, on March 30, adopted resolution (A/HRC/4/L.12) condemning defamation of religions. But, in and ongoing effort to placate followers of Islam, the only religion mentioned happens to be, you got it: ISLAM!

"On combating defamation of religions, adopted by a vote of 24 in favour, 14 against, and nine abstentions, as orally amended, the Council expresses deep concern at attempts to identify Islam with terrorism, violence and human rights violations; notes with deep concern the intensification of the campaign of defamation of religions, and the ethnic and religious profiling of Muslim minorities, in the aftermath of the tragic events of 11 September 2001; urges States to take resolute
action to prohibit the dissemination including through political institutions and organizations of racist and xenophobic ideas and material aimed at any religion or its followers that constitute incitement to racial and religious hatred
, hostility or violence; also urges States to provide adequate protection against acts of hatred, discrimination, intimidation and coercion resulting from defamation of religions, to take all possible measures to promote tolerance and respect for all religions and their value systems and to complement legal systems with intellectual and moral strategies to combat religious hatred and intolerance; further urges all States to ensure that all public officials, including members of law enforcement bodies, the military, civil servants and educators, in the course of their official duties,
respect different religions and beliefs and do not discriminate against persons on the grounds of their religion or belief, and that any necessary and appropriate education or training is provided; invites the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial
discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance to regularly report on all manifestations of defamation of religions and in particular on the serious implications of Islamophobia on the enjoyment of all rights; and requests the High Commissioner for Human Rights to report to the Human Rights Council on the implementation of this resolution at its sixth session.
So, what about other religious faiths? What about defamation and incitement to hatred and violence of Jews and Christians or Buddhists by Muslims? Where's mention of that? Of course, if it had included these other religions, the Resolution would never have passed.

And can anyone guess who voted in favour of the Resolution? Let's see: Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Gabon, Indonesia, Jordan, Malaysia, Mali, Mauritius, Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan, Philippines, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Tunisia.The 14 member states who voted against were: Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Guatemala, Japan, Netherlands, Poland, Republic of Korea, Romania, Switzerland, Ukraine and United Kingdom. And the 9 abstentions: Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Ghana, India, Nigeria, Peru, Uruguay and Zambia. Not much of a surprise, other than Mexico.

Ironically, Blazing Cat Fur left the following comment on March 30:

"I remember when the cartoon controversy was hot, Muslims protested outside Queen's Park (Seat of provincial gov't). One women, obviously a resident in Canada for some years was quoted as saying. The U.N. should be brought in to set limits on free-speech. I mean what can you say to someone who thinks that way??"

What do you say when it actually happens??

Friday, March 30, 2007

Freedom of Speech- Part 1: Incitement to violence

Freedom of Speech, Islamic style.

London demonstration 2/3/06, in response to the publication of the Danish Mohammed cartoons.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Metaphor for their lives? Cesspool breach floods Gaza village killing at least 6

A large wall of earth surrounding a cesspool, originally built by the Israelis to accommodate 50,000 people (and now serving at least 250,000), suddenly collapsed, engulfing Umm Naser (a small Bedouin village in northern Gaza) in a sea of mud and raw sewage. At least 6 people died, with dozens injured and some missing.

They've known for years that trouble was brewing. In fact, in 2004, the U.N. issued a report warning of an impending disaster, and shortly thereafter international funding was secured to build a new sewage facility, however, construction never commenced. Why? Because the area was deemed too dangerous, since Umm Naser happens to sit a mere 300 yards from the Israeli border, and is a hot bed of Palestinian/Israeli fighting. Palestinians have often launched rocket attacks against Israel from that little strip of Gaza, with Israel retaliating in kind. Can you blame foreign workers for not wanting to risk life and limb in a country that promotes and encourages suicide bombings?

Of course, Hamas government officials immediately blamed international sanctions for the infrastructure failure, but the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs claims that particular project was in no way affected by the sanctions. Naturally, the Palestinians have to blame someone or something, other than themselves, for their continuing plight. And, the Israelis, in all their inimitable graciousness (considering the Palestinians and most Muslims want them wiped off the planet), immediately offered aid to those affected by the flood, though it hasn't been determined, yet, whether they have accepted the offer.

No-one deserves to drown in a sea of human excrement, but it's an interesting metaphor for the Palestinian situation and the choices both the leaders and people have made over the years and, sadly, continue to make. When you opt for hatred and violence over peace and prosperity, then you suffer the unfortunate consequences of those negative decisions. We all have choices to make in life, as individuals and, collectively, as countries, and those choices affect both our individual lives and the country as a whole; both on a material and spiritual level. So, when the Palestinian people chose, almost overwhelmingly, Hamas (an internationally recognized terrorist organization) to lead their country, they made it perfectly clear where their hearts and minds lie. And prior to that, they suffered the likes of another terrorist, Yasser Arafat who, with all his many millions, kept his people firmly under control, by fomenting the fires of hatred and discontent through ignorance and abject poverty.

But the Palestinian people do have a choice, as we all do! They have a choice to either continue considering themselves victims, and all that that encompasses: all the hatred and violence and death, or they can choose to embrace peace and all the wonderful possibilities that peace can bring. They can choose to utilize all the foreign aid they receive for projects that will enhance their lives, or they can continue to funnel that money into purchasing bombs and weapons that will take lives, not only of the Israeli people, but the lives of their own children and husbands and wives. They can choose to hate or love. They can choose to embrace life or death. They can choose to live in harmony with their Israeli neighbors or live in discord with their mortal enemies. But the choice is theirs!!

I hope they choose, some day, to embrace the light rather than the darkness they have chosen to blanket themselves with because, ultimately: muck begets muck.

The roach that refused to die!

In the 4 weeks, or so, that I've been in my temporary home, I've only found a few dead roaches here and there (like my 2 friends above), and they looked as if they'd been around for a lot longer than I have, so I never actually bothered to put out the baits I purchased when I first arrived........... until last night's encounter!

During a commercial break for "24", I went to my tiny kitchen to get some water and there, in full light, brazenly perched on the wall behind the sink, was a 1- 1/2 inch cockroach in all its hideous brownness. Very much alive. Feelers (as long as its body) swaying to and fro. I froze, momentarily, in panic trying to figure out the best way to get rid of him. I didn't want to spray a can of pesticide all over my kitchen, and believe me it usually takes about a can before these things actually roll over and die. Been there, done that. I knew there was a reason I had wanted to bring a fly swatter, but had forgotten it at home. Didn't want to use a shoe: too messy. But then, I remembered I had some newspapers I hadn't recycled yet (thank God for procrastination!), so, I grabbed a section, ran back to the kitchen, carefully took aim and gave it a huge wallop, hoping that would be the end of it, but it catapulted into the sink and started crawling around. I don't even remember how many times I clobbered it, but the dang thing just kept picking itself up, trying to escape. So, I turned on the hot water hoping it would drown, but it just started swimming. I kept swatting at it in the water, but the roach defiantly refused to die. By now the paper was totally soaked, so I finally decided to smash it with my hand, on top of the paper needless to say. Even then, I had to do that about 3 times before it actually kicked the bucket.

I can't believe how long it took to kill that thing, and I almost feel sorry for it. The roachie really did put up a valiant fight. But, I refuse to feel guilty, after all, I did NOT invite it into my apartment.

I now have all 8 baits strategically placed. Most in my tiny kitchen. Overkill? Nah! I just don't fancy another encounter of the roach kind.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The failures of the U.N.

I was going to list, individually, all of the many acknowledged failures of the U.N. from:

Somalia to
Rwanda to
Bosnia here and here

and including the whole Oil for Food Scandal that placed 10 Billion dollars in Saddam's pockets,
but it would take far too long. So, for those of you who think that the U.N. has been anything but useless, the National Center for Policy Analysis has a list of the many failures in addition to the few successes. Note the major difference between the two.

Many human tragedies could have been averted had the U.N. acted accordingly. When you don't act soon enough, or cut and run before a task is finished, or tie the hands of the Peacekeeping Force by not allowing them to engage unless fired upon, then you have trouble.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Joke of the day: U.N. approves tougher sanctions for Iran

The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved tougher sanctions on Iran for continuing with its uranium enrichment programme. So, we can happily add these newer improved ones to a string of sanctions that have already been slapped on the Iranians, all of which they'll continue to, defiantly, refuse to comply with.

Expanding on previous sanctions, whereby all member countries were ordered to stop supplying Iran with anything that could potentially be used to enhance their nuclear and missile defense programmes, Iran has now been ordered to stop selling arms to others. Ha! As if they won't, clandestinely, continue to supply the insurgents in Iraq (and elsewhere) with the weapons and arms they've already been supplying them with, now and in the past. They've already called the U.N. an illegitimate organization. Does the Security Council really think that Ahmadinejad is going to suddenly acquiesce to its demands. Please! By its previous actions (or rather, 'inaction'), that useless, wimp of an organization has proved, to all the gangster nations of the world, that regardless of the sanctions it might place on some rogue nation, it won't make a darn bit of difference. Yes, some sanctions might adversely affect the people themselves, but on the whole, I don't think the leaders really care. Saddam didn't. Castro doesn't. Kim Jong Il doesn't. Why should Ahmadinejad? How many U.N. Resolutions did Saddam flatly refuse to comply with before we invaded? No-one pays any attention to U.N. resolutions, and sanctions just don't work.

Adding to the December mandate to freeze certain Iranian foreign assets, several more organizations and people (28 in all) were added. As if that's going to force them to comply.

What's going to happen, is the U.N. Security Council members will continue to bicker over sanctioning Iran, with the usual China and Russia siding against the U.S. and Europeans, while Iran continues to dig in its heels, like a petulant child, until it finally reaches its goals: nuclear weaponry. I hope I'm wrong.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Rape, Lies and LaCrosse players- a travesty of justice

Remember the 3 white Duke University LaCrosse players who were accused of raping Crystal Gail Mangum, a black 28 year old university student moonlighting as an exotic dancer? Well, finally, after a year of scandal (which included a recant, major inconsistencies in the accuser's story, concealment of exculpatory evidence by an overzealous D.A. and allegations of racism), several sources involved in the case, have indicated that all charges are to be dropped, in the very near future.

Originally indicted for rape, that charge was dropped when the 'victim' suddenly decided, many months later, that maybe she wasn't raped, after all. Didn't help matters when the DNA they found on her underwear (and elsewhere) proved to be from other individuals, not the 3 accused men. And, in spite of her very questionable past (including another rape accusation that she did not follow through with) the 'assault' and 'kidnapping' charges remained, until now. The players have always maintained their innocence.

Even though Mike Nifong, the D.A., is facing charges of unethical behavior and possible disbarment, (and the 3 young men might consider filing civil lawsuits), their lives have been irreparably damaged. They will carry, throughout their lives, the stigma of having been accused of rape, even if acquitted of all charges.

So why did she accuse these men of rape to begin with? Did she think she could make some quick money by suing them? Was she so drunk (and apparently she was) she didn't remember anything? We'll probably never know, but whatever her twisted reason, what distresses me most is that this female's blatant lies have set back the woman's rights movement decades. It's hard enough proving rape to begin with, or getting women to even come forward (because of the general scepticism surrounding rape allegations), but this travesty of justice is going to make it even more difficult to prove. Way to go Crystal!

Though her actions are unforgivable, and she needs to take responsibility for them, the men have some share in that responsibility, as well. If you play with fire, you just might get burned.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The art of accepting criticism in the Arts

Well, all the reviews are out. 2 great ones and, yup, one stinker. On the ouch-scale of 1 -10, it was approximately - 20! Actually, it was beautifully and laughably bad. Think I might just frame this one. I've been blessed, usually, with very nice notices, so it's good to have this kind of humbling experience, once in a while.

This particular critic hated the play (though it's a very famous play, by a very famous, master playwright), and spent about three quarters of the review lambasting it, and the other quarter reaming the actors. Now I can understand someone not liking a particular production, but it was unnecessarily mean-spirited (his description of one of the leads was downright cruel, I fared a tad better), though there are some critics who seem to thrive on being mean. There are also those reviewers who wait until the other reviews come out and, just to be contrary, write the polar opposite.

Apparently a frustrated playwright, he's also one of those incredibly self-indulgent reviewers who happens to be in love with his own cleverness and words. Thankfully, critic for one of those free weeklies, he's noted for his nastiness, so people don't place too much credence in his opinion and it shouldn't affect box office, which is doing very well! And I really can't complain because the other ones were lovely. In one of them I had an embarrassingly positive mention. 2 or 3 paragraphs for my small role, which is unusual. So one bad review, from a hack critic, isn't going to make or break my reputation here. The irony of it all, is that this same critic submitted one of his plays to the theatre for consideration, and 3 days prior to publication of his review, had asked if they had made a decision about producing it. The answer was no. Not sure if that had a direct influence on what he wrote, but the theatre has decided he will no longer be provided with complimentary tickets. If he wants to review a show, he will have to pay.

Reviews are one of the hazards of the business. To survive, you have to develop a very thick skin. You realize, as with life and for whatever reason, not everyone is going to like you or your work, you just can't please everyone. So you learn to take everything with a grain of salt, both the good and the bad and just trust your instincts. And you don't ever take anything personally.

So, I'm going to frame the review and my latest residual check for .07 cents, to remind me what we're worth as actors, and why I still remain in the business.

Charlie Hebdo- Update!

Well the French did it!

Philippe Val and his satirical paper Charlie Hebdo were cleared, today, of all wrongdoing in the Danish Mohammed Cartoon publication brouhaha.

Val was accused of "publicly abusing a group of people because of their religion."

Not surprisingly, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit (the Union of Islamic Organizations of France) has said it will appeal, and you have to wonder how the Islamic community is going to respond to what will, obviously, be considered a slap in the face.

This is very good news, however, for proponents of free speech!

The fruit of Islam in Europe 2. Awake up Europe.

This was in response to the original Danish Mohammed Cartoons.
It just shows the depths of their hatred for anyone or anything that offends them. And little seems to offend them.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Praying for Peace and the Anti-War Movement

Sadly, today marks the 4th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, and Anti-War activists found time to ratchet up their activities over the weekend. Diverse groups participated in demonstrations worldwide, with the largest U.S. protest taking place in the D.C. area on March 17. Besides the usual suspects, one group, Christian Peace Witness for Iraq (CPWI), a grab bag of Christian organizations, held a prayer vigil, Friday night (3/16), and then marched towards the White House to protest American presence in Iraq, calling for the end to "U.S. Occupation", demanding that we bring home the troops, remove our military bases there, and "stop threatening Iran and other nations."

I find it truly naive to think that the removal of our troops is going to, somehow, improve the situation in Iraq. To believe that the violence will miraculously cease, once the last coalition soldier has gone home, is dangerous and, frankly, irresponsible. Withdrawal is merely going to blow apart a Pandora's Box full of problems in that region, not the least of which will be a bloody sectarian war between the various Islamist factions. The insurgents, in Iraq, are NOT fighting "U.S. occupation", as so many foolishy wish to believe; they are fighting, to the death, the nascent roots of democracy. Democracy is anathema to the fundamentalist Islamic belief system, with its strict adherence to Sharia Law. If democracy were to flourish in Iraq, then God forbid, it might spread to other Middle Eastern countries, and this, they will never allow to happen. Democracy and Sharia Law are like oil and water, so there is a vested interest in making sure democracy does not take root there.

So, in its misguided attempt to be 'peacemakers', the anti-war movement rather than helping to solve a problem, is only contributing to a far greater problem, down the line, for the people in that region,, and the rest of the world. And with the continuing trend towards Islamic conservatism, in Europe and elsewhere, the growing threat of radicalization is only going to increase, exponentially.

Since the beginning, people have called this war 'immoral'. That claim was bandied about, once again, when one of CPWI's event sponsors, the Rev. Jim Wallis, of Sojourners, stated that, "This war, from a Christian point of view, is morally wrong - and was from the beginning. This war is ... an offense against God." But what does that mean exactly? And whose sense of morality? Yes, war is a terrible thing, but sometimes a necessity. And do we have the right to judge which particular one happens to be morally justifiable and which not? And how dare they speak on behalf of God. How do they know what is or isn't an offense against God? Perhaps this is exactly what He wants: freedom and democracy for the Iraqi people. And do they not think that, perhaps, God was offended by all the heinous deeds that Saddam perpetrated on the Iraqis? I wonder if they truly realize how detrimental their actions are; that by demanding immediate withdrawal, they only serve to fortify and embolden the enemy. The extremists know the American people (like the Europeans) are wimps. We've demonstrated that part of our nature, time and time again. They know how to capitalize on our 'wimpitude' and are using it to their advantage. They're now engaging in a "media jihad" with the express purpose of encouraging Americans to continue on their Anti-War path. Apparently, they've been going to U.S. web forums, and posting jihad videos on sites like You-Tube, in order to sway U.S. and Western public opinion, and hence Western governments to pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan. And they seem to be succeeding, quite well, in their endeavour.

I read the following comment on someone's blog: "I always find it very interesting that many soldiers and officer who have been to war usually come back convinced about the ineffectiveness and inhumanity of military solutions no matter the good intentions of those who initiate the action. In the end such tactics usually results in more bullshit and suffering that the locals have to deal with.There is nothing humanitarian about war, innocents is the first and the majority of the victims. (I am no pacifist,I do believe people have a right to defend themselves if they are being invaded). Indeed I find it a very reasonable position for many to be opposed to war or military solutions." This man believes, as I'm sure many do, that the only justifiable military action should be in defense of one's own land, but what about those who are unable to defend themselves? Would it have been "humanitarian" to have left Europe alone to deal with the Nazi problem? And what about the situation in Bosnia? Should we have let the Serbs continue to massacre the Bosnians? And what about Rwanda and Darfur? Do we not have a moral and spiritual obligation to help those in need? Is it not morally offensive to think that as long as it's not in my back yard, it's not my problem? Where do we draw the line?

As for CPWI's demand that we stop "threatening Iran and other nations", diplomacy has proved to be totally ineffective with bully countries, so what do they propose we do? If threats can stop a bully from violating another, than isn't it worth making that threat, rather than having to eventually witness the destruction of that "other" and then being left to pick up the bloody pieces; or living with the guilt of having stood by and done nothing? That would be my option. Had we entered into World War II and the Bosnian War sooner, there would be thousands still alive.

I would venture to say that most people, in the civilized world, desire peace with every fiber of their being. It's a wonderful goal to aspire to, but (sadly) not always possible. There are far too many people who don't want peace; who thrive on chaos and violence and oppression. And, yes, praying for peace is noble and good, but there is praying for peace and praying for peace. One doesn't pray for the withdrawal of troops, like the anti-war activists do, because that doesn't solve the underlying problem. One prays for those whose hearts are filled with hatred and fear and ignorance. One prays that they somehow find their way from the darkness to the light. That is praying for peace.

"Let There Be Peace on Earth and let it begin with me."
from the song "Let There Be Peace on Earth" by Sy Miller and Jill Jackson, Circa 1955

Monday, March 19, 2007

2 eyes, no nose or mouth: The Niqab (face veil) barrier to integration

The Doha Debates, a series of debates produced by the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development (headed by Her Highness, Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser al Missned, wife of the Emir of Qatar) and based in Doha, Qatar, recently hosted a debate regarding the issue of Niqabs (face veils) and whether they should be considered a barrier to integration in the West. Long, but well worth watching, you can access the debate on LGF.

Surprisingly, considering the majority of the audience was Middle Eastern, 57% voted for the motion, agreeing that the face veil prevented full integration into western society. And they're absolutely right! When living and working in a foreign land, one has a responsibility to adapt to its customs. I can guarantee, that if I were to move to Saudi Arabia, I would be forced to cover myself, from head to toe, in cloth. And if I willingly chose to move there (which will never happen in this lifetime!), I would have an obligation to follow their rules and regulations, including whatever restrictive dress code they happen to require of their women. So, likewise, immigrants to Western countries should have to adapt to western culture, and our dress code. It's a given. I'm not saying that one has to totally give up one's ethnic identity, what would the U.S. be without all the wonderful multi-cultural festivals and fabulous ethnic restaurants, but when in Rome... blablabla.

Although I don't have as much of a problem with women wearing a loose head scarf, (as a sign of modesty), I don't really see the importance of advertising one's religion on one's head, so to speak, at least outside of a religious arena (Temple, Mosque etc). And some head scarves seem more cultural (than religious) in nature, more of an adornment; and in some cases, are actually quite attractive, like the Indian Sari. And you could argue that if other religions utilize, in some form or another, a head covering including the Hindus, Sikhs (who are not Muslim, by the way) Haredi Orthodox Jews, some Catholic Nuns, some Amish and Mennonites etc., then the Muslims should be allowed to, as well. No-one seems to take issue with these other religions, so it seems rather unfair to single out the Muslims. However, the added veil (Niqab), which covers absolutely everything, sans the eyes, (and sometimes even the eyes are obscured) I take great exception to. The inability to see the expression on someone's face I find extremely disconcerting and incredibly rude. But more importantly, the fact that it's a symbol of Islamic fundamentalism, proves a lack of desire to integrate. Basically, they're flaunting their Islamism by saying: Look at me, I'm a Muslim first, and a citizen of your country, second.

I don't care what people do in private, but in public, they need to adapt to western cultural norms. In fact, Tunisia, Turkey and Azerbaijan (Muslim countries) have all outlawed the hijab in government buildings and continued use is punishable by law. Women must quit their jobs or school if they insist on wearing the veil. So, if these Muslim countries can prohibit the hijab, why not the Western world?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Sláinte! Happy St. Paddy's Day!!

'Tis St. Paddy's Day, today!

Saint Patrick is considered the patron Saint of Ireland, although he was actually born in Roman Britain, and first arrived in the Emerald Isles as a 16 year old slave. He managed to escape back to his family, after approximately 6 years in captivity, but eventually returned to Ireland as a Christian missionary. A national holiday in Ireland, it is celebrated in many other countries with New York hosting the largest St. Paddy's Day Parade.

As a change of pace, I thought I would share a recipe for:

4 cups soft wheat or pastry flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 to 1 tsp salt
1/2 to 3/4 cup raisins, currants or sultanas (optional)
approx. 2 cups of buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 deg. F
Lightly grease and flour a cake pan.
Sift the dry ingredients together.
Make a well in the centre and add enough buttermilk to make a soft dough.
Knead lightly on a floured surface and flatten into a round. Place in a cake tin.
Cut a cross on top ( to let the devil out!) cover the pan with another pan and bake at 425deg. F for about 30 minutes. Remove the top cover and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes.

The bread is done when there is a hollow sound when the bottom of the bread is tapped.

Soda Bread is the simplest, yummiest bread there is, as is Irish Brown Bread.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Joke of the day: Castro to run for re-election in 2008!

Fidel Castro (if he survives that long), has said he will run for Prez, again, in 2008! He's seeking re-election!? Does this make anyone else laugh, as much as it does me?

Let's see. Fidel was Prime Minister from 1959 until 1976. That position was abolished and replaced with a Presidency, and he held that office from 1976 until last year, when he became too ill to govern. He has been re-elected, every 5 years, since 1959 and holds the record for the longest-sitting ruler in the world: 47 years! So when he says he's seeking re-election you just have to laugh. Ricardo Alarcon, head of the National Assembly says this of Castro: "I would nominate him. I'm sure he will be in perfect shape to continue handling his responsibilities." Of course, he would nominate him! If he didn't, he'd be packed off to some Havana prison to rot away there for the rest of his life. No-one would ever dare nominate anyone else.

Besides, athough it's called the Socialist Republic of Cuba, the Communist Party is considered the only legal political entity, and members are not allowed to nominate or campaign on behalf of anyone. So, even if there were other viable candidates, they would never be nominated to begin with. Unless, of course, it was brother Raul, and then only if Fidel was dead and gone.

And so continues life in Cuba.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

An actor's nightmare: Uh...uh.... blank...!

Opening night is fast approaching, and with it comes the inevitable 'opening night jitters'. It really doesn't matter how long the rehearsal process is, though the longer the better, because nerves will always create a certain amount of havoc with your brain, and the ensuing panic often brings with it the potential for a variety of problems, not the least of which is: drying up on stage. Blanking on stage is one of the most harrowing, agonizing experiences one could ever endure.

Picture this: you are out there, on stage, rolling merrily along until something distracts you, perhaps someone snoring, and bam!, you suddenly have absolutely no idea, whatsoever, what comes next! Nothing. Zippo. Your mind is a total blank. Unlike film, you can't just stop and do another take, you have to somehow find a way to move on, which is not an easy task when your heart is racing 100 mph, and feels as if it's going to burst out of your chest like the creatures in ALIEN, and your mind emphatically refuses to cooperate. You have absolutely no life-line, so to speak, when you are performing live theatre.

In the past, there used to be prompters, in the wings, who would throw you your line, if in trouble. But they don't exist anymore, at least in regional theatre here, so you are left to fend for yourself. If you've had a reasonable enough rehearsal period, and you truly know your lines, you can usually get yourself back on track. But with the decrease in art's funding in this country, theatres can't afford to pay for long rehearsals, so the average is 2 1/2 weeks, and I've rehearsed as little as 1 week. The less you are familiar with your lines, the harder it is to recover. Sometimes fellow actors can 'save' you, by jumping in with their line, or prompting you by feeding you your line, if they happen to know it, but that's not often. You're lucky if you know your own dialogue, let alone someone else's. Saving another actor's proverbial 'behind' is easier with dialogue, but forget it if it's a monologue. You're on your own! And, the only thing the other actors can do is look on, sympathetically. And pray! If you are a good improviser, you're one step ahead, but for those of us who aren't, trying to fill the moment is a very frightening proposition. I have a tendency to just say whatever comes to mind, in hopes that the right words will miraculously materialize, and I'm sure audiences have wondered what on earth I was saying, or what foreign language I was speaking, but it really does amaze me what actually emerges from our mouths, when in trouble. And even when not. The mind and the mouth aren't always very coordinated, and they're certainly not best friends.

So what causes stage fright? Apparently it's actually a chemical reaction to the "Fight-or-Flight response". When we are stressed or in trouble, our body naturally produces Catecholamines, (a family of chemical compounds that includes epinephrine aka adrenaline, norepinephrine and dopamine). Humans can't differentiate between physical and social danger, and the body has only one set way to respond to what it perceives as a threat. So when we are faced with the thought that we might be harmed, even if it's on a stage, and not because we are about to be chased by a mugger (though it certainly feels the same), the body goes into its automatic emergency mode, and we are pumped full of those chemicals, which then produce a variety of symptoms, including the pounding heart, dry mouth etc. Even the thought of forgetting your lines can set this in motion. So there you are on stage, pumped full of catecholamines, your heart is pounding, which creates more panic, which makes you forget a line, which only serves to confirm you are embarrassing yourself, so the body creates even more catecholamines, which just compounds the problem, further. Then you start berating yourself for having messed up and the downward spiral continues, until you can finally find a moment to breathe and settle back in.

The trick to overcoming stage fright is to just not go there to begin with, by not thinking about yourself or about the possibility of screwing up. It also helps to be thoroughly prepared, by knowing your dialogue or material, by rote. It takes a lot of focus to not be distracted by audiences that seem to be less and less knowledgeable about their responsibilities as participants. People often think they are still in their living rooms, and believe it or not, we DO hear people's comments, or those noisy candy wrappers being unwrapped. And, no, the slower they're unwrapped does not make them less audible, it just prolongs the noise.

I actually had no problems with memorization, until a few years ago. There was a period of about a year when I was unable to work, due to some health issues, and somehow things have never been the same. But I take comfort that even Sir Laurence Olivier, at one point in his career, battled the demons of stage fright:

"He is always waiting outside the door, any door, waiting to get you. You either battle or walk away. ... Once you have experienced stage fright, you are always aware that it could be just around the corner waiting for you, just waiting for you to get cocky and confident."
— Laurence Olivier, "On Acting" (1986)

As a tribute to Sir Larry, Britain's, The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), is even offering 600 British Pounds, this year, to any individual who can verifiably prove they experienced, between January and May of 2007, the worst cast of stage fright in the UK.

The one thing stage actors get questioned about the most is: how do we learn all those lines? And granted there's not much brain work involved with some of the smaller parts, but there are some roles with mammoth amounts of lines to learn, and though I would balk at such a question, when I was in my 20s, I now wonder the same thing myself. How do we learn all those lines and more importantly, how do we retain them? Who knows!

They say that the number one fear is public speaking, followed by fear of death. And I can attest to that, because there have been times when I would have preferred a casket to the stage I was on.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Who said that?? "Because things get difficult, you don't cut and run!" - The answer!

In response to criticism regarding our presence in Somalia, after the Battle of Mogadishu and the Black Hawk down tragedy, in October, 1993, former President Bill Clinton quoted Colin Powell, saying:

"Because things get difficult, you don't cut and run!"

Most people automatically assume only a Republican would be capable of making such a statement but, surprisingly, a Democrat repeated that same statement to congress, with great earnestness and conviction. Interesting how times have changed, since those days. And, actually, at the time, it was mostly the Republican leadership demanding: what are we sacrificing our young soldiers in Somalia for? (Now it's the Democrats asking the same question about our troops in Iraq.) Unfortunately, under pressure, Clinton capitulated (for political reasons, undoubtedly), promising the American people that the troops would be withdrawn by March 31, 1994. It wasn't until one year later (March 1995) that all U.S. personnel finally bailed out, but our withdrawal from Somalia was what ultimately prompted Osama Bin Laden to proclaim, 4 years later, "... that the Americans are a paper tiger", and to boast that the U.S. could easily be defeated because we were unwilling to suffer casualties. Saddam Hussein had also predicted (prior to the 1st Gulf war), that Americans would be unable to tolerate"10,000 dead in one battle". And Saddam's prescient comment has indeed proven true. Once again.

The American people have absolutely no patience, for anything, and our leaders take their political cue from the demands of the people. In spite of our power and might, over time, our overly-civilized battle demeanor and reluctance to 'stay the course' has only served to embolden our enemies. It's our one fatal flaw: the inability to stomach prolonged warfare and the casualties that are an inevitable result of battle. Bin Laden, in a 1997 interview with CNN, claimed that the mujahideen's defeat of the Soviets, in occupied Afghanistan, proved to him that a few could triumph over the many. It was this victory over the soviet invaders that led to the following epiphany: "the myth of the superpower was destroyed not only in my mind but also in the minds of all Muslims". In 1996, assessing our battle-steadfastness, or lack, thereof, he said "The Russian soldier is more courageous and patient than the U.S. soldier....Our battle with the United States is easy compared with the battles in which we engaged in Afghanistan." And yes, the battle might be easier, but through no fault of our courageous soldiers. They have been forced to fight a p.c. war, through the scope of public opinion, with a barbaric enemy that has no comprehension of human decency. Yes "war is hell" but sometimes necessary, and in a civilized world, people usually abide by certain rules of engagement and the various Geneva Conventions. Not so with this enemy. While we fight with our hands tied behind our backs by certain Laws of War, the insurgents continue to flagrantly violate them all.

And so, 10 plus years later, Bin Laden and the Islamist extremists have us pegged. They realize that all they have to do is keep up the offensive, by hammering away at our defenses and our will to fight. They know full well that by gradually increasing the body count, the American people (and hence our politicians), will tire of it all and start demanding withdrawal. In which case they have won. And then what?

So, no matter who originally said: "Because things get difficult, you don't cut and run!", or who will say it again, some day; regardless of their political affiliation, it is an extremely valid statement! One that needs to be considered carefully, because withdrawal is just not a viable option.

(Thanks to BCF and B.B. for setting me straight.)

Monday, March 12, 2007

Who said that??

Who, emphatically, said the following, and under what circumstances?

"Because things get difficult, you don't cut and run!"

Answer on Friday, or sooner.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

France's 'Charlie Hebdo' and the fight for Freedom of the Press

On February 9, 2006, Charlie Hebdo, a french satirical (mostly left-wing) political weekly, had the guts to re-publish the Danish Jyllands-Posten Mohammed cartoons, along with several of their own, in response to the violent, over-reaction of the Islamic world to their initial publication, and the ensuing arguments about what might or might not constitute freedom of expression. Splashed on the front page was a cartoon of Mohammed with the caption "C'est dur d'être aimé par des cons" (It's hard to be loved by idiots), and entitled "Mahomet débordé par les intégristes" (Mohammed is overwhelmed by fundamentalists). And although the point of republishing the cartoons was to express solidarity with the ideals of 'freedom of speech', and to illustrate how Islam has been hijacked by extremists, the Muslim world, as a whole, chose to view it as a personal and religious affront.

The conservative Paris Grand Mosque and the Union of French Islamic Organisations (UOIF) have since sued Charlie Hebdo, claiming racism and "publicly abusing a group of people because of their religion.'' The trial commenced February, 2007 with the verdict, originally set for March 15, moved to March 22. Philippe Val, C-Hs editor and publisher, faces 6 months in jail and a fine of up to 28,500, if convicted. Val argues that "It is racist to imagine that they can't understand a joke."

The good news is that the case might actually be dismissed! Although the great President Jacques Chirac, condemned Charlie Hebdo for publishing the Moha-toons, many have rallied in favour of Val, including other journalists, politicians and Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy (who would make a great next French Prez!). Even the State Prosecutor, Anne de Fontette, has called for dismissal, saying "It is not faith in Islam that was stigmatized by these caricatures. It is not an attack on religious convictions as such........ but the terrorists who pretend to be acting in (Islam's) name or in the name of the prophet.''

Looks like France might be doing something courageous, for a change. But we shall see, on March 22, if Freedom of Speech truly does prevail.

Vive la liberté de la presse!

Friday, March 09, 2007

Stop Global Warming- go veggie, Al Gore!

Well, isn't this interesting! It seems not everyone is jumping on the Gore, Saviour-of-the-Environment bandwagon. PETA fired off a letter, several days ago, challenging Al Gore to go veggie, if he truly considers himself a champion of global warming. Apparently, they also criticized his documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, for failing to mention what they consider to be the one, major contributing factor in global warming: raising cattle.

According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO): "Cattle-rearing generates MORE global warming greenhouse gases, as measured in CO2 equivalent, than transportation." The FAO report basically states that most of those greenhouses gases are generated from, well... cow poop. "It generates 65 per cent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CO2. Most of this comes from manure. And it accounts for respectively 37 per cent of all human-induced methane (23 times as warming as CO2), which is largely produced by the digestive system of ruminants, and 64 per cent of ammonia, which contributes significantly to acid rain." In other words, that burger you're eating is causing more problems for the environment, than that Dodge Ram you're driving.

Though I'm not totally convinced of a global warming crisis, the earth's temps have risen, somewhat, over the years. I remember reading, years ago, that the deforestation of the world's Rain Forests was a major cause of greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in South America, where cattle-raising (and the soy the farmers grow to feed them) is responsible for the destruction of huge chunks of the Amazon. And, we all know that Co2 is absorbed by plants (that's why houseplants are highly recommended), so, you have to wonder what happens to all that Co2 when huge chunks of forest are removed. And how does that naturally affect climate? Then again, I have also read about the cyclical nature of climate change. Extreme weather patterns occur, supposedly, every 15 to 60 years or so, alternating between regular warming and cooling trends. For the Northern Hemisphere, the Atlantic multidecadal oscillation (AMO) cycle has been in the warm phase since the 1990s, which brings with it a wetter than usual period, and an increased frequency of hurricanes. The 1940s through '70s, however, saw what was considered as a global cooling phase, and many people feared another Ice Age. There was also what was termed: a Little Ice Age, which ended around the 1850s, though no-one is quite sure when it started. So, as we can see, there have been periods of warming and cooling that have occurred, naturally, over the centuries. Who knows what the true story is, and only time will tell.

But, we do know that raising cattle for food is a major factor in "land and water degradation", and forests have been destroyed, worldwide, to accommodate the meat-eating habits of humanity. So, I guess, PETA does have a point when they say: if you wanna be an environmentalist, Al, act like one. You know, put your money where your mouth is?! Practice what you preach?! Stop eating meat. I suppose I should stop eating soy burgers, as well, considering much of the deforestation problem is also attributed to soy farming. Though it's mostly utilized as cattle feed, I'm sure some of it winds up in my Boca Burger.

So, here's my challenge to you all: if you stop eating your burgers, I'll stop eating mine!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Pet Dogs to be destroyed in Chinese city

In an effort to combat rabies, the Chinese government has, in the past, ordered people (in certain provinces) to hand over their pet dogs to be killed in what seems, to me, like a case of throwing out the baby with the bath water. Last year, 50,000 dogs were killed in Yunnan Province, China, many of which were pummeled to death in front of their owners. For many people, pets are like children, so how devastating must that have been?! Now, a district in the city of Chongqing has just mandated that all dogs be destroyed, although government guard dogs, research animals and those kept for military and commercial purposes, for some reason, would be exempt. Owners have until March 15, to voluntarily hand over poor Fido, otherwise the police will forcefully remove the animals.

I understand the need to contain the rabies problem in that country, but rather than arbitrarily slaughtering thousands of household pets, why not implement mandatory rabies inoculations for pets? It would seem like a simpler solution, but the Chinese government, for some silly reason, is always reluctant to admit to its inability to control certain health issues. Anyone remember Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)? China turned out to be 'ground zero' for SARS. It took almost 3 months before they actually reported the epidemic to the World Health Organization (WHO), which resulted in major delays in controlling the deadly outbreak. Only a very small percentage of household pets are vaccinated against rabies (approximately 3%), which is ridiculously low.

Why not vaccinate rather than exterminate? I'm sure Fido and his owner would prefer that option.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Should we be judged by our past actions?

In light of the upcoming U.S. Presidential elections (which won't arrive soon enough, once the mudslinging starts for real), I thought I'd bring up the subject: should one be judged by one's past actions? This applies equally to candidates on both sides of the political fence, and those straddling it, as well.

As we all know, the media loves to delve into the past of potential candidates (prompted, oftentimes, by a political opponent), and expose those deep, dark secrets that they feel will either make or break them, but is it fair to judge someone by their deeds from long ago? I sincerely doubt there are many in this world who can say, with all honesty, that they have not done something in their past that they're not proud of. I think we have all been guilty of some kind of folly or youthful indiscretion (in varying degrees of seriousness), that could be viewed and judged in a negative light.

I know they say that 'a leopard can't change its spots', and perhaps with certain individuals this remains a truism, but I would like to think that man can change and evolve, if he/she chooses to, so that what they were associated with in the past might not apply to them in the present. Should someone who had a problem with drugs or alcohol 20 years ago, but has since been sober, be eliminated from the running because of that issue? People can and do change. I'm a case in point. I let go of destructive habits decades ago, including certain political ideologies. I started off as a Democrat and one day found myself a Republican. I'm not even really sure when that transition occurred, but I remember I was out there vigorously demonstrating against nuclear proliferation (and any other cause du jour), and then I wasn't. So, if I were to run for office today, people might look back at my 'anti-this & that' days and unfairly criticize me for what they perceive as my 'liberal' ways, however erroneous a conclusion that might be, considering it isn't currently applicable. And please do not take this, in any way, shape or form, as an endorsement of her, but Hillary Clinton's college thesis is being called into question because of its leftist bent; and although I believe that she does happen to be a leopard whose spots have not changed, there is the very remote possibility she no longer espouses those socialist views. Doubtful, but possible. And people do legitimately change their minds regarding social issues; I know I have.

I think it is very important to look at the character of a potential candidate, and then what he currently stands for, not what he embraced 10, 20 or 30 years ago. It's not an easy task, given our politicians' knack for dissembling. The problem is: how does one determine whether individuals have truly changed or whether they are just telling us what we want to hear?

I would encourage everyone to do their research, when the time comes.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Violence in Copenhagen-the left's sense of gimme, gimme gimme

Denmark is a lovely country. And though it's incredibly expensive to visit, those who live there never seem to complain, because the Social Democrats (aka Socialists) implemented certain social policies in the 90s (when they were the majority party) that included redistribution of wealth, subsidized health care, education and other social services.

Great in theory, but the problem with subsidized 'anything', is that it creates a sense of entitlement, which can then trigger what is happening in Denmark today. Violence erupted in Copenhagen (with at least 4 cars set on fire), when squatters were evicted from a downtown building that was considered free public housing and served as a cultural center for leftists, punks and anarchists. The squatters continued living in the building, which had been sold 6 years ago to a church, in spite of a court ordered eviction a year ago. They are demanding a replacement, for free, of course.

This is what happens when people think that they are owed something, because a government so liberally distributes free hand-outs. There is no incentive to work, to make something of oneself. I also find it interesting to note that the perpetrators of the violence were young, leftists and anarchists.

Apparently there were protests of solidarity, in all the other Scandinavian countries and Germany.

I think some people need to get a job! Because they obviously don't have anything better to do.