Thursday, June 22, 2017

Tubular Mike

One of my regular readers (yes, I do have some ... no, really, I do!) pointed out that I haven't posted anything new to this blog in quite a while.  What can I say but "guilty as charged"?

Okay, so maybe it's time for me to come out of my blogger's exile again, but I need a topic.  What to write about?  It may surprise you, Dear Reader, to learn that I am sometimes my own biggest inspiration.  What I mean is that, when I'm short on topic ideas, I often peruse my own past posts (not to mention practice my alliteration).  Reviewing my own writing somehow tends to stoke the flames of my creativity.  Besides, I must confess that I like re-reading my own work. I'm one of my own biggest fans (cue heckler: "You're your only fan!")

Browsing through my previous work in search of inspiration, I noted that I often tend to write about the things that matter to me; my favorite things, you might say, raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens and the like. So then, quickly reviewing my profile, which provides a handy list of my "likes"...

Computers: Done it.
Airplanes: Check.
Sci fi: Check.
Computer gaming: Check and double-check.
Comic book heroes: Check-a-roonie.
Toys: Check.
DVD and/or blu-ray movies: Check mate

Ah!  Here we are.  Mike Oldfield.  Okay, I've mentioned him, but I think he merits his very own post.

For those who aren't familiar with Mike Oldfield (which is to say most of the North American continent), he's an English composer and musician; primarily an instrumentalist although he has been known to do vocals as well.  Those who do know him probably know him best for his seminal work, Tubular Bells; a complex instrumental work that was released in 1973 and a small snippet of which was used in the soundtrack of the 1973 film, The ExorcistTubular Bells was not written specifically for that film.  It was simply used because, presumably, the director, William Friedkin, felt that it lent an appropriate ambiance.

Tubular Bells is split into two parts, simply entitled Part 1, which runs for 25 minutes and 34 seconds, and Part 2, which runs for 23 minutes and 18 seconds.  Each of the two parts took up an entire side of an LP vinyl record.  Oldfield played all the instruments himself, which involved a lot of over-dubbing.  In fact, at one point, the tape apparently broke from the wear, which probably explains the "Piltdown Man" section of that album.

So here's the deal:  A young, unknown musician wants to record an instrumental work that runs over 49 minutes in an era when most radio stations won't play anything longer than 3 to 4 minutes in length, and he wants to play all the instruments himself.  What chance would most people give that idea of succeeding?  Indeed, Oldfield did cut a demo tape which was rejected by almost every studio he presented it to, until it came to the attention of Richard Branson who was looking for new and interesting material for his fledgling recording studio, Virgin Records.  In fact, Virgin Records itself was actually launched along with and because of Tubular Bells.

What I like best about Oldfield is that he is hard to pin down in terms of style or genre.  He constantly experiments with new ideas.  One never quite knows what to expect from him next.

There are those who would disagree.  I know there are many who would categorize him as a new-age, avant-garde, largely electronic instrumentalist. Such people tend to labor under the false misapprehension that all of Oldfield`s work sounds like Tubular Bells.

It does not.  Not all of it, anyway.

Granted, he has done his share of long, complex recordings, but he has also ventured into the mainstream.  His second-best-known work, next to Tubular Bells, is probably either Moonlight Shadow or Family Man, both of which are light, pop songs featuring vocalist Maggie Reilly and both of which got substantial air play on mainstream radio stations everywhere.  In fact, some reading this may be scratching their heads at this moment thinking "Family Man?  Wasn't that Hall and Oates?"  Hall and Oates did indeed cover that song (and, perversely, their version may be more often recognized than Oldfield's original version).

Aside from pop, Oldfield has also done traditional, celtic and even orchestral music.  Tubular Bells was not the only one of his works used in a movie soundtrack.  In fact, the entire musical soundtrack for the 1984 Roland film The Killing Fields was written and performed by Mike Oldfield.  Unlike Tubular Bells, that work was specifically intended to be used as the soundtrack for the film.

The orchestral and Killing Fields links above also refute another popular misconception about Oldfield.  Many believe he's strictly electronic.  Although he does use electronics (synthesizers, vocoders, electric guitars) he also uses a great variety of acoustic instruments and sometimes wrings unusual sounds out of items which aren't normally considered to be "instruments" at all, such as shoes and, in one case, a toothbrush.  The list of instruments used in recording Tubular Bells includes acoustic guitar, bass guitar, electric guitar, farfisa, hammond B3 and Lowrey organs, flageolet, fuzz guitars, glockenspiel, "honky tonk" piano, mandolin, piano, percussion, "taped motor drive amplifier organ chord", timpani, vocals, plus tubular bells.

From time to time, Oldfield exhibits a quirky sense of humor.  It's first apparent in some fine print that appeared on the sleeve of the original Tubular Bells album, which read "In Glorious Stereophonic Sound – Can also be played on mono-equipment at a pinch. This stereo record cannot be played on old tin boxes no matter what they are fitted with. If you are in possession of such equipment please hand it into the nearest police station".  Often the humor seeps into the music itself, such as a flippant little number called The Rite of Man which appeared on the "B" side of the Moonlight Shadow single, or Don Alfonso, which appeared on one of Oldfield's compilation releases entitled Elements.

In his latter years, Oldfield has increasingly favored revisiting his earlier works over releasing new material.  His last new and original work was his Man On The Rocks album, released in 2014.  That was three years ago.  Apparently Oldfield has taken to making new albums about as often as I post to this blog.  Other than that, his more recent albums have been mostly re-masters and/or re-mixes of his earlier work, still enjoyable for his die-hard fans like myself, but perhaps somewhat disappointing to those looking for new material from this talented musician.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Unmentionable Cuisine

A few of my buddies and I used to get a kick out of getting each other "gag" gifts for birthdays, Christmas and other such gift-worthy events.  By "gag" gifts I mean gifts that were completely impractical or even bizarre whose only purpose was to elicit a laugh or at least an eye-roll or a face-palm.

I must confess that it was I who started the practice the year that I got my buddy, Mart, a 60-minute tape cassette of whale song for Christmas.  No, this wasn't an album named "Whale Song" or some new-age group or musician called "Whale Song", this was actual whale song, of the kind elicited by actual whales (humpbacks, I do believe).  Sixty continuous minutes of it, no less.  Now, this might have been understandable if Mart had been some kind of tree-hugging, environmentalist, hair-shirt, "Save The Whales" type, but he was, most decidedly not.  No, Mart had no interest in whales or their songs that I was aware of.  That's what made it such a grand gag gift.

Mind you, what goes around comes around and I did pay a price for my mischief (beyond the price of the tape cassette, I mean). You see, I ordered the tape from a catalog distributed by the World Wildlife Federation and I have been plagued, ever since, with a never-ending stream of pamphlets, catalogs and general requests for donations from that same organization, who have now identified me as being some kind of tree-hugging, environmentalist, hair-shirt, "Save The Whales" type.  This has been going on for over 20 years now.  I've since changed my address at least twice, but they still keep finding me!

So anyway, a couple of other mutual buddies also got into the act, such as Peter, to whom I once gifted a lovely, hard-cover tome entitled "The Tartans of Scotland", comprised of well over a hundred glossy pages featuring dazzling, full-color prints of the tartans of all the major Scottish clans, and several minor ones to boot.  Again, this might have made sense if Peter's surname were McTavish, Wallace or even Adams, but it happens to be Karwowski.  Peter's reaction, upon beholding the book cover after unwrapping the gift was to say "So help me, if I find a Karwowski tartan in there..."

Later on Peter, in a marvelous display of one-upmanship, decided that, since I enjoyed books so much, he would get me a tome of my own.  So he got me a book entitled Unmentionable Cuisine by Calvin W. Shwabe.

Unmentionable Cuisine is a cook book, of sorts, that provides recipes which, how shall I put this, you're unlikely to find in the Betty Crocker Cookbook.  The book's underlying purpose is to make the reader aware of alternative food sources, many of which are already enjoyed by other cultures, and to instill in the reader an awareness that, as the human population continues to grow on this planet of finite resources, feeding everyone will inevitably become more and more of a challenge and that challenge may be met, at least in part, by turning to food sources not previously or currently considered, at least in our Western culture.  Browsing through some of the recipes, it's not hard to understand why that is, even for those who, like myself, consider themselves as having somewhat more "adventurous" gastronomic proclivities than most.

The book begins with the following quotation by Frederick Simoons, who maintains that "Western man, despite his frequent temptation to claim his foodways are based on rational considerations, is no more rational in this than other men, for it makes no sense to reject nutritious dogflesh, horseflesh, grasshoppers and termites as food than to reject beef or chicken flesh".  (Mmmmmmm... dogflesh).

The recipes in the book are divided into five categories; Meat, Fowl, Fish and Shellfish; apparently vegetarians and vegans need not apply.  (Also, apparently fowl is not considered meat, but I digress.)  The fifth category (you thought I had mis-counted, didn't you?) is entitled Nonflesh Foods of Animal Origins but it only includes things such as Milk, Eggs and Sperm - no vegetable matter of any kind.

(Pausing now while my beverage-drinking readers towel off their monitors after having read the word "sperm" in mid-sip....)

To continue:  Further dissecting the aforementioned five broad categories, meat is broken down into Beef, Pork, Lamb and Mutton, Meat of Goats and Wild Ruminants, Horsemeat, Dog and Cat Meat, Rabbit and Hare and, finally, Rodent and Other Mammalian Meat.  Very considerate of the author to group together all the horsemeat recipes in one section, so that the reader needn't peruse the entire book for them when they get a hankerin' for horse.  And I won't even make the obvious "Chinese food" joke with regard to dog and cat meat.

The Fowl section is broken down into Chickens, Turkeys, Ducks and Geese (those are all one category), then Pigeons, Small Birds and Reptiles.  Yes, apparently reptiles are considered "fowl" (or maybe the author merely misspelled the word).

The Fish section is broken down into Amphibians, Bony Fish and Mudfish, Eels and Lampreys, Sharks and Skates and the Shellfish section is broken down into Molluscs, Crustaceans, Other Aquatic Animals (there's a catch-all if I've ever seen one) and Insects and Other Land Invertebrates.  I've already given the breakdown of the Nonflesh Foods of Animal Origin section earlier, so let's not go there again.

Okay, so much for the categorization.  Let's look at some recipes, shall we?  We'll start with something not too exotic.  Let's see now ... yes ... Pork sounds fairly safe. Oh wait, on second thought, in deference to my many Jewish readers.  Perhaps we'll go with Beef instead.  That particular chapter is even good enough to further break things down based on what part of the bovine we wish to eat, starting with the entire carcass (Roasted Ox on a Spit).  Well, I don't think I'm quite that hungry and, in any case, I haven't got a handy brick, refractory brick or stone wall available against which to build the necessary large, hardwood fire, so let's find us a recipe that just uses a portion of the animal.  There's Muscle Meat, the Head, the Tongue (a surprising number of recipes use beef tongue), the Eyes (Mmmmm.. Stuffed Calf's Eyes or Des Yeux de Veau Farcis as it would probably be listed on the menu of your favorite upper-class gourmet French restaurant), the Brains, the Feet, the Heart or even the Bones (great for making soups and marrow-based sauces).  Ah!  How about:

CALF'S HEAD WITH BRAIN FRITTERS (A 19th Century New England recipe)

Simmer a skinned and washed calf's head in salted water only and cool it.  Remove and slice the meat. Put the brain through the fine blade of a food chopper and mix it with a beaten egg, 1 T flour, 3 T milk and some nutmeg.  Fry the brain mixture as fritters.  Place the slices of head meat in some leftover beef gravy that has been seasoned with pepper, mace, cloves, herbs, onions and cayenne and simmer them 10 minutes.  Remove the meat, strain the sauce, and add some sautéed sliced mushrooms. Return the meat to the sauce and reheat.  Surround the head meat on a platter with the brain fritters and fried bacon.

No?  Okay then, how about seafood?  Let's see now... this sounds tasty...

EELS WITH SEA URCHIN GONAD SAUCE (a French recipe, also known as Oursinado)

Poach fillets of conger eel or any firm white fish (you know, if you don't happen to have any conger eels in the fridge) in white wine containing some grated onion and carrot, salt, pepper and a BOUQUET GARNI.  Prepare a purée of the gonads of poached sea urchins (which is given as a whole separate recipe in the same section of the book so you're covered), a mixture of soft butter and egg yolks, and a little of the fish stock.  Whip with a wire whisk over hot water until smooth and thick.  Cover the bottom of a shallow casserole with ½-in. slices of French bread, add only as much fish stock as the bread will readily absorb, pour the urchin sauce over the bread, and bake at 350°F only until heated well.  Serve the poached fish and pass the sauce dish separately.

The book goes on to note that, in fact, the variety of dishes into which sea urchin gonads can be incorporated to advantage is limited only by the cook's imagination.  Makes me wonder about that `secret sauce`that McDonald`s puts on its Big Macs.  I see the potential for a catchy slogan right up there with Beef Sounds Good or Put Pork On Your ForkGo Nuts with Gonads!  Pretty good, huh?

The only area where I found this book wanting is that it provides no guidance on how to identify the gonads on a sea urchin, nor even how to tell a male sea urchin from a female, which presumably would have no gonads.

I'll bet by this point you're wondering, Dear Reader, just how many more wonderful recipes like those presented above are to be gleaned from this incredible cook book.  Well, I'm happy to report that it numbers no less than 406 pages, and that's not even including the Epilogue, the Selected Bibliography (pointing you at other fascinating recipe books), the General Index or the Regional Index which organizes the recipes by country.

Oh and, one last note:  All of the recipes in Unmentionable Cuisine are presented, mercifully, without any pictures or illustrations.

Oh and, Peter, if you're reading this, consider this an open invitation to my place for dinner anytime.  There's a wonderful recipe for Palaman Palaka or Stuffed Frogs in the common vernacular that I've been dying to try out on company!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics: A Lesson In Lateral Thinking

I want to relate a true story that I came across recently because, as I see it, it serves as an excellent example of the importance of lateral thinking, or "thinking outside the box" as some put it.


During World War II, the American B17 bomber fleet was suffering heavy losses, on account of all those Luftwaffe pilots who took exception to Americans dropping high explosives on their cities, their families and, potentially, their Führer. 


So, the USAF decided that they needed to beef up the B17's armor in order to improve its survivability.  Trouble is, unlike the knights of old, you can't just encase an airplane in cast iron.  It (the cast iron) tends to weigh a lot,  which negates the aircraft's ability to, you know, fly.  So additional armor had to be applied sparingly, in strategic places. 


The next obvious problem was, how to identify where those "strategic places" were.  Simple.  In order to figure out where the returning bombers are taking the most battle damage, you start keeping detailed records of where on the aircraft you're seeing the most bullet holes.  Those, surely, are the areas that need additional armor protection.  Makes sense, right?


"Wrong", said a mathematician by the name of Abraham Wald.  You want to figure out those places on the aircraft where you never, ever see any bullet holes.  Those are the areas you want to better protect.  Why?  Because the bombers that you're examining did return from their missions, in spite of being bullet-riddled.  The ones that you want to worry about are the ones that don't make it back; the ones whose bullet holes you never get to inspect.  So it follows that, if there are areas where you never see bullet holes, it's not so much because no bombers ever get hit there; rather it's probably because the ones that do get hit there don't come home.


And so it was that additional armor was applied to parts of the B17 that never, or almost never, seemed to show any battle damage, such as certain angles of the cockpit or at the base of the vertical stabilizer.  And in so doing, countless bombers and their crews were likely saved.


Hats off to Abraham Wald.  Now that's thinking outside of the box!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Canadian Values

Conservative MP Kellie Leitch drew wide-spread criticism from political circles, including her own party, when she suggested recently that potential Canadian immigrants should be screened for "anti-Canadian" values before being accepted.  However, as recently reported in The Record, about two-thirds of Canadians seem to share Ms. Leitch's views, according to an even more recent Forum Research poll.


This begs the question, exactly what are "anti-Canadian" values?  For that matter, what are Canadian values?  Who gets to decide?  The Halmanator, that's who!  Having lived in this country since the tender age of three and having grown up here, I think I have a pretty good handle on what it means to be Canadian.  Since such a majority of people appear to favour some sort of screening, and being a patriotic and civic-minded citizen, I have taken it upon myself to get the ball rolling, so to speak, and design the following questionnaire, intended to weed out those of an un-Canadian mindset.  For each of the following questions, respond with a number between 1 and 5, 1 meaning that you strongly disagree and 5 meaning that you strongly agree:




  1. I enjoy watching hockey.

  2. I enjoy watching the Toronto Maple Leafs lose at play hockey.

  3. I pledge my undying fealty to Tim Horton Donuts, regardless of how mediocre and over-priced their food may be.

  4. I buy my breakfast at Tim Horton's because I am incapable of toasting and buttering a bagel at home.

  5. Curling is a riveting spectator sport.

  6. I like to garnish my French fries with
    a) Hummus
    b) Ketchup
    c) Vinegar
    d) Gravy
    e) Gravy with cheese curds

  7. I don't know whether to "strongly agree" or "strongly disagree" with the previous question, as it was more of a multiple choice.

  8. I am sorry for pointing out that Question 6 doesn't fit the format of this questionnaire.

  9. I seek affirmation at the end of every statement that I make, eh?

  10. I am polite.  Always.  To everyone.  Even Americans.

  11. The most important attribute for a national leader is good hair.
    (Note: This question also appeared in the anti-American values screening test ... until recently)

  12. I own every album ever released by:
    a) Neil Young
    b) "Stompin' Tom" Connors
    c) Joni Mitchell
    d) Gordon Lightfoot
    e) All Of The Above

  13. I do not own any records or CDs having left them behind in Syria after they were blown up, along with my house, but, should I be accepted into Canada,  I promise to acquire every album ever released by 12e (above) at the earliest possible opportunity.

  14. I know the entire lyrics to "The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald" by heart.

  15. "The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald" is an appropriate song to play as the father-daughter dance at weddings.

  16. Logs are useful for:
    a) Making telephone poles
    b) Sitting on when there are no benches available
    c) Making fires
    d) Making paper
    e) Transportation along rivers

  17. This questionnaire is flawed because it doesn't include both English and French text.
    Ce questionnaire est viciée parce qu'elle ne comprend pas l'anglais et le texte français.

  18. The term "American beer" is an oxymoron.

  19. A sixteen-hour wait is not unreasonable in a hospital emergency ward.

  20. Plaid goes with everything.
Scoring: For every question, the number of points you get is the number with which you responded.  For the multiple choice questions, score 1 to 5 for answers a through e respectively.  Add up your points:

20 -   50: Take off you Daesh terrorist swine!  We don't like your kind, eh?  Just sayin'.
51 -   79: Have you considered immigrating to the U.S.?
80 - 100: Welcome aboard eh?  Have a cold one!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Joe Versus the Volcano

I don't normally do movie reviews on this blog.  I figure there are plenty of web sites that do those.  Up until now, I've only done one review, of sorts, of a Darren Aronofsky movie called The Fountain, and I only did that one because I was struck by its surrealism and inscrutability.  I found The Fountain in a bargain bin at my local grocery store.  I had never seen it, nor really even heard of it when I purchased it.  The cover just piqued my interest.


Unlike The Fountain, I did not get the movie Joe Versus the Volcano out of a bargain bin, although it might well be found in one of those.  No, I actively sought it out, having seen it on TV and having been completely won over by it.  Joe Versus the Volcano was released in 1990 and directed by John Patrick Shanley, of Moonstruck fame.  It stars Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, who plays three different roles, but it is probably not one of either actors' more memorable movies, as it did not do well at the box office when it was released.


Joe Versus the Volcano is a modern fable about a guy named Joe Banks (played by Tom Hanks).  Joe is an ex-firefighter who somehow wound up in a dead-end job managing the catalog department (a single room full of mostly empty shelves) for a medical supply company from Hell.  Like the buildings that he formerly helped to extinguish, the fire has gone out of Joe.  He hates his job and his life in general.  He is a hopeless hypochondriac who`s afraid of everyone and everything.  The emptiness of his life would make a vacant 747 hangar seem like a subway car at rush hour in comparison.  Early in the movie, the office secretary, DeDe (the first of Meg Ryan`s three personas) notices Joe examining his shoe and asks him what the problem is.  Joe responds, "I think I'm losing my sole".  The movie is full of double-entendre dialog of that sort.


One of the things that amuses me about this movie is that there is a lot of seemingly irrelevant stuff happening in the background which is often a subtle message or commentary on modern life if you're paying attention.  As an example, when Joe first enters the office in which he works, his boss is engaged in a phone conversation in the background.  Although the camera focuses on Joe and what he is doing (which involves pouring himself a particularly unappealing cup of coffee under a continuously buzzing fluorescent light), the boss's conversation is loud enough to be overhead, and goes like this:


"Harry..." (pause)
"Yeah Harry, but can he do the job?" (sigh)
"I know he can get the job, but can he do the job?" (pause)
"I'm not arguing that with you." (pause)
"I'm not arguing that with you." (pause)
"I'm not arguing that with you!" (pause)
"I'm not arguing that with you, Harry!" (pause)
"Harry... Harry..." (pause)
"Yeah, Harry, but can he do the job?  I know he can get the job.  But can he do the job?" (pause)
"I'm not arguing that with you." (pause)
"Harry, I am not arguing that with you!" (pause)
"Who said that?" (pause)
"I didn't say that!" (pause)
"If I said that, I would have been wrong." (pause)
"Maybe." (pause)
"Maybe.: (pause)
"I'm not arguing that with you!" (pause)
"Yeah Harry, I know he can get the job, but can he do the job?"


How many times, especially in working environments, do we hear circular conversations of this type?  One can't help but wonder what Joe's boss thinks that he's accomplishing.  To me, it's a wink at the sheer pointlessness that so many engage in and endure while doing what's supposed to be their life's work.


Later on, Joe visits his doctor (played by Robert Stack) to find the result of some medical tests that were run after Joe complained of feeling "blotchy" and the doctor informs him that he has a rare condition known as a "brain cloud"; a black fog of tissue that runs down the center of his brain.  It's spreading, it's incurable and it's terminal.  Joe has about six months of life left to him and can expect to experience no pain or, indeed, any other symptoms, until right at the end.  Cue another beautiful exchange of dialog:


Joe: What are you talking about, doctor, I don't feel good right now!


Dr. Ellison: That's the ironic part, Mr. Banks.  You're a hypochondriac.  There's nothing wrong that has anything to do with your symptoms...


Joe: I'm not sick except for this terminal disease?


Dr. Ellison: Which has no symptoms.  That's right.


Doc Ellison goes on to explain that it was only because of Joe's insistence on having so many tests done that he caught the problem at all.


Ironically, Joe finds his death sentence a liberating experience.  Having nothing left to lose, he finally gets up the courage to tell off his boss, quit his job and ask DeDe out for dinner.


Sometime later, Joe is sitting alone in his run-down little apartment strumming on a ukulele (hey, I couldn't think of a better way to live out my last six months) when there is a rap at the door.  The rapper turns out to be a cheery but eccentric old millionaire named Samuel Graynamore (played by Lloyd Bridges), who has a proposition for Joe.  He knows that Joe is dying and he needs someone who is willing to jump into the mouth of an active volcano in order to appease the volcano god and, more importantly, appease the natives who live near the volcano so that they will be amenable to supplying Mr. Graynamore with bubero, a rare mineral that's only found on their island and that his company needs for making superconductors.


So here's the deal.  If Joe, who is dying anyway, is willing leap into the mouth of the volcano in order to appease both the volcano god and the natives, Graynamore will arrange his passage to the exotic south sea island on which the volcano is located as well as supply him with enough money to live out his last days like a king before dying like a hero.  After a surprisingly brief consideration, Joe agrees to do it.


Thus begins the strangest (and likely last) adventure of Joe's life, during the course of which he will befriend a fatherly limousine driver, purchase four high-end steamer trunks that appear more luxurious than some trailers that I've seen from a luggage salesman who lives for his work, and meet Graynamore's two daughters (both played by Meg Ryan), Angelica and Patricia who, in spite of being semi-related (they're only half-sisters) couldn't be any more opposite.  The movie, of course, culminates on the island of Waponi Woo, home of the dreaded volcano into which Joe has promised to jump.


One of the things that I like about this movie is its penchant for understatement and subtlety.  There are all sorts of recurring themes and foreshadowing for the observant viewer.  Near the beginning of the movie, long before any talk of volcanoes, Joe kills the fluorescent lights over his desk and sets a small musical lamp in their place.  The lamp's stand is a native dancing girl, and the lamp's shade depicts what appears to be a volcano on an exotic island.




Later, after Joe and DeDe leave the restaurant where they had dinner, we see a nearby poster depicting another south sea island with a volcano with the words "Fire in Paradise".




One of the first things that we see when the movie starts is a grimy sign featuring the logo of the company for which Joe works.



It is, perhaps, not entirely surprising that the path leading from the front gate to the factory entrance looks like this (although I do find it amusing that everyone obediently follows it and nobody seems to think to just cut straight across the rocks).



It's somewhat more surprising that the crack in the right wall of Joe's seedy apartment happens to resemble the same design.





And then there's the lightning bolt that hits that yacht on which Joe is sailing to the island of Waponi Woo.




And, finally, there is the procession of torches, carried by the islanders, as they take Joe to the mouth of the volcano.




What do I read into this?  For me, the cracked pyramid/lightning bolt symbol represents the forces in Joe's life that try to drag him down.  It symbolizes his fear and insecurity and it's not easily left behind.  It keeps recurring everywhere, right up until the end, and Joe has to keep overcoming it.


For me, the climax, and the central message behind this movie, come during the scene when Joe is adrift in the south seas on the steamer trunks that he bought, which he has fashioned into a sort of raft after the yacht that was taking him to the island sank in the storm.  Sun-baked and dehydrated, he is awakened at night by surprisingly bright moonlight, thrown by an enormous full moon as it ascends over the horizon.  Joe staggers to his feet, blinks at the awesome orb, then falls back to his knees and whispers "Dear God, whose name I do not know, Thank you for my life.  I forgot ... how big..."  I don't mind admitting that scene chokes me up every time I see it.




Joe Versus the Volcano is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated movies in recent history.  Unlike so many formulaic movies nowadays, it is completely original.  Its comedic moments evoke laughs and chuckles, but it has enough depth to make the viewer re-examine his or her own life and priorities.  In short, it is Halmanator Approved, and I can't think of a better testimonial than that.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Mad As Hell




I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a recession. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's worth. Jobs are going to India. Cops are being gunned down in the street. Terrorists are running wild and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it. We sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had three suicide bombers and sixty-three people were gunned down on the street, as if that's the way it's supposed to be. 

We know things are bad - worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is: 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my smart phone and my reality TV and my Pokémon Go and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.' 

Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get MAD! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot - I don't want you to write to your congressman, because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the recession and the inflation and the ISIS and the terrorists in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad. You've got to say: 'I'm a human being, god-dammit! My life has value!'

So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. In November, I want you to go to the polls and tell them: 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take this anymore!'

I want you to get up right now. Sit up. Go to your windows. Open them and stick your head out and yell - 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not gonna take this anymore!' Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!...You've got to say, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take this anymore!' Then we'll figure out what to do about the Mexicans and the terrorists and the trade agreements. But first, get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take this anymore!'

I am, of course, paraphrasing the words of the character Howard Beale; a news announcer from the 1976 movie Network, who was fired because his ratings dwindled, and managed to rebuild his following and keep his job by first announcing that he was going to kill himself on live TV and later giving tirades like the one above.  I am also paraphrasing Donald Trump almost every time he opens his mouth.  Like Howard Beale, Trump has managed to parlay peoples' fear, insecurity and frustration into an unlikely, but surprisingly large, following.  Like Beale, everybody laughed at Trump at first.  They're not laughing anymore.


We do live in troubled times and it is, perhaps, tempting to place our trust in someone who claims that he knows how to fix everything.  It happened in Germany in 1933.  Germany was suffering in the throes of the Great Depression.  Many Germans were unemployed.  The Deutschmark was practically worthless.  A man named Adolph Hitler said that he had the solution to the country's woes.  He promised the people that he would make Germany great again.  "Deutschland muss leben!" he shouted.  And he blamed the economic woes that troubled the land on the "others"; the rich, Jewish bankers who prospered at the expense of the common German people.  His uncommon oratory skills and his fiery, charismatic persona won over much of the German population and propelled him to the head of the Nazi party.  And he did it by playing to peoples' fears and legitimate frustrations.


I am not suggesting that Donald Trump is anything like Adolph Hitler; only that he is borrowing much the same formula that helped Hitler to achieve power.  I do suggest that it behoves those who look on Trump as a straight-talking savior who will make America great again to remember that Howard Beale was indeed "mad as hell".  He was insane.


George Bernard Shaw once quipped that democracy is a system ensuring that the people are governed no better than they deserve.  American voters may want to keep those words in mind come November.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Tax Man's Salami


Recently, I picked up a few grocery items at my local supermarket.  Now that I have your rapt attention thanks to that riveting opening, I'll proceed to explain that most grocery products aren't taxable in the province of Ontario, where I live, the significance of which will become clear momentarily.


At the checkout, I asked for a plastic bag, as there was too much stuff to carry free-hand.  In Ontario, most grocery stores; in fact, most stores of any kind (though not all) add a small charge for plastic bags.  They pass this off as a "green" initiative, intended to save the environment by encouraging customers to bring along their own re-usable bags rather than accumulating disposable plastic bags which only wind up in landfills, as opposed to calling it an additional cash grab, which is what it is in actuality.  This post, however, is not a rant against stores that charge for plastic bags.  There's been a sufficient number of other writers who have ranted about this practice at least as eloquently as I could hope to.


Looking over my grocery receipt later, I saw the charges for the various grocery items, a five cent charge for the plastic bag, and a one cent charge for H.S.T.; Ontario's harmonized sales tax.  Recall that most grocery items aren't taxable in Ontario, so the item that was being taxed was the five-cent plastic bag.  But there's a problem with this.  You see, Ontario's H.S.T. rate is thirteen percent (which includes 5% G.S.T. plus 8% P.S.T.).  Thirteen percent of a nickel is .0065 cents.  So the tax amount was rounded up to a penny.


"But of course," you may be thinking, "that seems reasonable since, in North America, a  penny is the smallest possible monetary unit.  Unlike Olde England, we don't have halfpennies.  In fact, technically, we don't even have pennies anymore!  So the amount has to be rounded up.  Still, one cent added to a five-cent charge amounts, in fact, to a 20% tax, not a 13% tax.  I had been over-taxed by 7%.


"Come off it," I hear you chide, "it's only a penny man!"  Maybe so, but how many other people conduct similar transactions during the course of a day, a week, a month and a year?  How much extra money are the Ontario and Canadian governments raking in thanks to this kind of over-taxation?


Many of my readers will have heard the story of a rogue Programmer who apparently worked for a bank, and altered the program which posted bank transactions to divert any rounding differences to his personal bank account.  The story goes that, after initially accumulating a healthy sum, he was eventually found out and jailed for fraud.  While the story itself has become something of an urban legend, given that the specific Programmer and bank in question are either not named or, if they are, there is disagreement about their identities, the common consensus is that the story probably does have some basis in fact.  Even if it doesn't, most authorities agree that this type of activity would definitely be fraudulent and illegal if it did occur.  The practice has even been given a name; "salami slicing".


But if taking the fractions of cents that result from rounding, which don't actually belong to anyone and which no-one is going to miss, is fraudulent, how then can the government justify rounding up a fractional tax amount to a full cent and keeping the difference?  Isn't that the same thing?


As is often the case, it appears that different rules apply to government as opposed to the citizenry.  Ironically, salami, being a grocery item, is not taxable, at least not in Ontario.