"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Saturday, October 08, 2005

A first world democracy with third world religiousity and problems

An interesting radio piece from the Australian Broadcasting Company, courtesy of fellow DY hack Jane O'Dwyer, soon to be departing our office and Nippon's fair shores to head up PR at Australia's National University,
and yes she is going to hate that picture and the link.
A discussion with researcher Gregory Paul, about his world-first study of data from the developed democratic countries in which he found a clear relationship between high levels of religious belief and practice, and social problems.

He finds the United States - the most religious of the western democracies, indeed the only strongly Christian nation remaining among the advanced democracies - does not emerge well ...

'Exceptionally Christian and anti-evolution America performs unusually poorly
in terms of rates of homicide, juvenile and adult mortality, STD infections,
abortion, and teen pregnancy and birth. America is the only first world nation to retain second and third world rates of religious belief and practice and disbelief in evolution, and is the only first world nation to retain second and third world rates of societal dysfunction.'
Tune in here to listen, just scroll down to Tuesday Oct. 4 and pick your media or download the MP3

Friday, October 07, 2005

I went to see the String Cheese Incident last week (special thanks to Doug at Buffalo Records, purveyor of fine roots music, for squeezing me onto the guest list) and met a couple of guys from San Francisco who were here on business and took some great shots of the band and Tokyo in general. The rest of Evan and Michael's photos of Tokyo, including the requiste shots of school girls in Shibuya can be found here.

Doug's excellent photos can be seen on his new bilingual blog

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Documentary charts life of two-fisted poet
Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff WriterBukowski: Born Into This

Four stars out of five
Written and Directed by John Dullaghan
Cast: Charles Bukowski, Linda Lee Bukowski, John Martin, Taylor Hackford

"I'm what they used to call down at the bar a 'good duker.' That's the highest compliment there is," poet and author Charles Bukowski tells an unidentified interviewer at one point in Bukowski: Born Into This.

Bukowski's pugilistic attitude is part of his legend, along with his drinking and womanizing, all irresistible subject matter for interviewers and documentarians, but Born Into This director and writer John Dullaghan has managed to resist the temptation to wallow in the sordid side of Bukowski's world, turning his lens instead to the man's prolific literary output.

The film opens with a clip from a reading in which Bukowski refuses to continue until the organizer provides another bottle of wine and then proceeds to make a half-serious threat to physically eject a heckler--it is vintage Bukowski, but as the film unwinds, one starts to wonder how much of "Buk's" macho bluster was clowning for the crowd, how much of it was self-defense and how much of it was sheer drunken bravado.

Born in Germany in 1920 to a doughboy and his war bride, Henry Charles Bukowski Jr. landed in Los Angeles at the age of 2. Apart from a brief period of collecting rejection slips and wandering the United States in the early 40s--he took a bus to Florida after dropping out of college "to get as far from my father as I could"--he rarely left that city again.

In one interview, Bukowski credits his abusive father for making him a writer.

"When you get the shit kicked out of you long enough and long enough and long enough, you have a tendency to say what you really mean. In other words, you have the pretense beat out of you. My father was a great literary teacher. He taught me the meaning of pain, pain without reason," Bukowski tells an interviewer.

Along with D.A. Levy, Doug Blazek and others, Bukowski was labeled by critics as one of the "Meat Poets," a group that shared the Beats' fascination with finding the ecstatic and sorrowful in the everyday life of the common man, but eschewed the Beats' love of prosaic metaphor and flowery description in favor of a sometimes brutal, often vulgar, directness.

The movie amounts to a series of well-crafted biographical vignettes interspersed with interviews with those who knew Bukowski and anecdotes from the bad boy of American letters. Dullaghan's original interviews tend to focus on Bukowski's working life and personal relationships while leaving the more colorful aspects of his career to be related in clips from older interviews with Bukowski.

For example, the viewer is presented with the writer regaling a German television crew with the story of how he lost his virginity at 24 to a "300-pound whore" juxtaposed with Dullaghan interviewing Bukowski's longtime publisher John Martin about his decision to sell his collection of first editions and use the money to publish Bukowski's poems.

Martin tells of negotiating an agreement in 1970 to pay Bukowski 100 dollars a month for life, the minimum the writer thought he needed to live on, whether wrote or not, on the condition he quit his much despised longtime job as a night-shift postal clerk.

Of the many heartfelt reminiscences in the film, one of the most touching moments is a graveside interview with Bukowski's widow, Linda Lee, as she talks of his death in 1994 from leukemia.

For the most part, the film consists of Bukowski speaking revealingly and honestly about what he knows best--himself. Born Into This is a comprehensive biography without being overwhelming in its detail and paints an evenhanded, often heartbreaking, portrait of one of the most intriguing writers of the last century using his own words.

'Until I Find You' bloated, but brilliant
Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Until I Find You

By John Irving

Random House, 824 pp, 27.95 dollars

John Irving's latest doorstop of a novel, Until I Find You, is his most autobiographical work and at over 800 pages certainly the closest he has come to emulating his 19th-century idols Charles Dickens and Herman Melville. Irving's 11th book is a delightful, frustrating and inspiring book that, despite certain shortcomings, ranks as one of his best.

Standing head and shoulders above his more recent novels, The Fourth Hand and A Widow for One Year, Irving's latest work shows a writer at the height of his powers who has sadly fallen victim to major writer syndrome--a condition afflicting commercially successful authors as diverse as J.K. Rowling and Tom Wolfe that leaves awestruck editors unable to trim bloated manuscripts. Until I Find You is a very good book, but expunging about 150 pages of well-written set pieces that do nothing to advance the plot and little to develop the characters would have made it a great book.

Until I Find You tells the story of Jack Burns, the bastard son of a tattoo-addicted organist and ladies' man, and the choirgirl daughter of a tattoo artist. The first 100 pages comprise a detailed account of 4-year-old Jack's travels with his mother Alice, a tattoo artist, around the ports of the North Sea, supposedly in pursuit of his father, William, who seems to leave a trail of broken hearts behind as he goes from one grand cathedral pipe organ to the next.

The pair track Jack's father from port to port before returning to Toronto, where Jack starts school as one of the few boys at the formerly all-girls St. Hilda's, where his philandering father was previously employed.

A beautiful boy, Jack is doted on by both the prostitutes of Amsterdam and the older girls at St. Hilda's. One in particular, Emma Ostler, nearly 10 years his senior, becomes his lifelong protector and later stepsister, sexual educator, roommate and benefactor.

Jack becomes a star actor at St. Hilda's, even in female roles, and goes on to become a movie star known for playing in drag.

In a clever autobiographical twist, Jack Burns even wins Irving's 1999 Academy Award for best adapted screenplay.

Along with Irving's Oscar, Jack also shares a sizable chunk of Irving's personal history. Both were separated from their fathers as infants, though Irving was later adopted by his stepfather, and both were seduced and sexually abused by older women as preteens. Missing parents and older woman-younger man relationships have figured prominently in all of Irving's work and are major themes in the latest film adaptation of his work The Door in the Floor, based on the first part of A Widow For One Year. The theme of sexual abuse and dysfunction is front and center in Until I Find You, as Jack develops a lifelong fixation with older women and Emma with younger men.

Another of Irving's favorite themes, loss, grief and regret, is also central to Until I Find You, with ever-present tattoos symbolizing characters' sorrows--one of Alice's specialties is a broken heart tattoo, and each of the tattoos that make up William's full-body covering comes with considerable emotional baggage.

Discussing tattoos, Jack's stepparent at one point tells him: "Life forces enough final decisions on us...We should have the sense to avoid as many of the unnecessary ones as we can"--one of a number of epigrams Irving underscores by having Jack borrow them from his life for movie lines.

Irving's fondness for metafiction is also in evidence and the reader is treated to a number of capsule versions of the movies Jack stars in.

These stories-within-the story contribute to the novel's length, and Jack's adult retracing of his childhood voyage around the North Sea, which begins with a startling revelation that forces both Jack and the reader to reassess everything they think they know about Jack's parents, helps justify the detail provided in the first 100 pages, but an inordinate amount of the book dwells on Jack's early childhood as one of the few boys at the exclusive St. Hilda's without much in the way of subsequent payoff.

As in much of Irving's previous work, most of the characters are outsiders looking for their place in the world, a goal Irving seems to have finally achieved.

Hey! if you've read this far, obviously you are interested in John Irving (or a very dedicated Woodshed reader - Hi Mom!) in which case you may want to read the interview with the man published in the DY the same day.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Soul on ice
Hockey is back at last, and the Habs are flying out of the gate with a last minute 2-1 win over the Bruins. Jack Todd over at the Montreal Gazzoo has an insightful, if optimistic, column on the bleu-blanc-et-rouge's chances this year.

The friendly skies
Thank god for airline security staff, otherwise we might have to ride with people whose ideas we disagree with and even be exposed to satirical t-shirts

Clearly people with more time than brains

Minutemen guarding the U.S. Canada border. I'd love to see some of these goofballs sit at their posts in the middle of a Manitoba or Northern Ontario February.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Nothing like a nice rumor to cost people their lives

No proof of helicopter being fired at in NOLA

"I love the smell of ink and bourbon in the morning..."
Berkley Breathed is back and in fine form this week