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October 31, 2002

Boston

My harddrive gave out on me shortly after I got back from Ottawa. I wanted to try writing from an internet cafe, but there aren't any here in Boston (there are two, but they charge $10 [Canadian] per half hour session and who the fuck can enjoy writing under that kind of pressure?), so I had to wait until the moment was right. I'm backlogged with things to say, things that now hardly seem worthy of the segues required to draw them all together. Nevertheless, I'll try-- and I'm going to do this really quickly-- as today is my last day in a city that I have never been in before, and might not be in again anytime soon.

For starters, I stopped going to the movies in film school, and rarely since then have I seen four films in the theatres per year, let alone per month. Somehow that changed as a whole bunch of decent stuff came out in the last few weeks. I enjoyed 'Comedian'. This is the kind of documentary I'm suprised more icons don't crank out. Chris Rock doesn't have much money? Why doesn't he get someone with an HD camera to follow him around for a few months/years? You've gotta think people would pay for a slice of Rock's life, especially if he was willing to be a little more candid than the Comedian himself. Jerry isn't the greatest stand up guy on the face of this earth, but you admire him for retiring at the top of his career, tossing out his bag of jokes and starting anew. Also, it's great to see him dying on stage for lack of material: must have taken some nerve. I don't really know what Orny Adams was doing in the picture, aside from committing career suicide for the third time.

Punch Drunk Love.
Yeah, it was okay. At least it was short. It was the first thing that PT Anderson has made that I haven't felt was bloated and overrated. I think this movie was actually pretty sweet, mainly because it managed to feel unassuming.

Auto Focus
Paul Schrader is one of the most talented writers around. He's turned out some of the finest Hollywood screenplays of the last thirty years, most of which he hasn't had the clout to direct. I find it hard to wrap my mind around what he was thinking getting involved with this piece o crap which he didn't write. Bob Crane and his addiction to sex would make a fabulous film-- there's no doubt-- but this thing has no subtlety, and in trying to tell a story that spans twenty years Schrader turns out your typical self conscious attempt at a sweeping bio-epic. Young clean cut radio guy gets drunk on tv star celebrity success and slowly unravels as his hairline recedes and he starts wearing sunglasses and stops shaving. A very uneventful film that still kicks ass on Boogey Nights.

Bowling For Columbine.
Michael Moore gets sloppy all the time and people hate him for it. I've hated him for it. But he's also right-- inspite of all his sloppiness-- and this film has him right back on track after "The Big One" which felt pretty feeble to me. I liked it so much I started into "Stupid White Men", his attack on George W's administration which I would recommend to anyone, as it is both informative and entertaining, though I don't feel it's to be read here, in the States. This is the kind of book you need to feel at least a little bit of the illusion of distance from America while reading, I think, but then, I'm Canadian. It made me extremely grumpy as anything truthful about the Bush family is likely to do.

And lastly: Destroyer Live at The Paradise
This wasn't no movie-- it was ROCK SHOW! They went on at eight. They were the opening act, followed by Black Heart Procession and Calexico. I expected no one to be there, but the keeners turned out in droves and they were punctual to boot. I didn't stay to see Calexico, and I kind of wish I had, just for the Vic Chesnutt affiliation. But I did stay for some of Black Heart Procession's set, and I thought they were okay. The songwriter seemed to be going after the simplicity of a Smog song, and not quite getting there every time.

Destroyer's set-- I'm so happy I'm able to be made to feel so good by something as simple as a song. That guy has already gotten to a place in his career where he won't sing anything live the way he sings it on an album, which is initially irritating, then kind of admirable. It seemed to be putting quite the authentic smirk on his face throughout the seven song set. My personal favourite aphorism on the album, which is normally delivered as a statement ("you shouldn't hurt the ones you love"), then an afterthought ("unless you really want to") came out in the live show as a busted up phrase that slowed down so much it stopped, then rolled into a start and then stopped again. It took some getting used to, but it didn't matter all that much, as the phrase was still followed by that distinctive piece of instrumentation that sounds to me like a breaking heart. There was no banter. The back up vocals were spot on and gorgeous. Dan wore a scarf and got pinned into the corner by a handful of his most faithful fans (according to keyboardist Teddy Bois, there are at least two or three frighteningly obsessed fans in every city who maul the man, which I take as a good sign.)

I find it funny that I have been so into Destroyer lately, during a time when most of the people I know/love/respect seem to be becoming more and more into the musical posturing of Eminem. My sister, who I am staying with in this fine city, told me that her roommate didn't really know how to relate to her at all until the subject of Eminem came up. Then she felt relieved, because the two of them had a mutual admiration for someone. (As an aside, my sister also told me that someone she quite respects here in the Boston area asked her if they had bagels in Canada). I like Eminem, but I am concerned about/frightened by his influence on people. On the busride in, I fell asleep somewhere outside of Syracus, and woke up when a bunch of adolescent Military shitheads surrounded me at the back of the bus. They talked in your typical bling bling way about how much fun it will be when they get to go to Japan and fuck bitches there, and about how much fun it is to shoot BB guns at people they don't like, and about how much fun they had getting run through the mud with all the pussies in the third Battalion, etc.. I liked the way they advertised their conversations in public places, sharing a smile with you, the total stranger, should you happen to catch their eye. I am sorry to generalize, but it does seem nothing like this Canadian condition: they know nothing of what it is to feel inhibited on the elevator or shy on the train, to lower your voice when you sense you're being eavesdropped upon. These kids talked really quickly and didn't hesitate at all about getting into the details of their private lives: how great it would be to fuck their girls once they got home, how 'their' "girls" (pronounced 'goils') would be "mad hungry" for their "cocks", how they would make them 'moan and moan and moan like' they'd 'never moaned before', and how they'd kill them in a second if they ever caught them cheating. Meanwhile there's a fifty year old lady sitting there somehow not shaking her head in distain. I guess she was used to it.

I don't know if they were Eminem fans, but they talked like him, and they all seemed to me to be appropriating his persona. I think Eminem is a talented guy, but I don't think he gives a fuck about how he influences people. I hate to sound like an old person, but isn't it cause for concern? I'm not saying these military kids wouldn't have been having more or less the same conversation had Eminem never existed, it's just I know a lot of people who understand that Eminem doesn't give a fuck about the nature of his influence, and they still love him just the same. Even my sister, wise beyond her years, started quoting some lyrics to me then sheepishly stopped and said, "I know-- he's bad", but funny too, right? He is funny. And talented. And great. And kind of irresponsible, but you know, who cares?

Now I'm going to Harvard to pretend I'm smart.

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October 10, 2002

Whale Watching

This last week I was in Our Nations Capital visiting my old friend Julie. One night over beer the subject of whale watching came up.

A girl from Spain, a close friend of Jules', said it was on her list of things to do before leaving the country. There are places near the mouth of the St Lawrence River and off the coast of Newfoundland that she was genuinely excited about visiting. Perversely enough, I found myself straining to remember an article I had read that appeared in The Star on August 5th:

Is new sonar driving whales ashore?
By Jim Trautman

On July 16, the U.S. navy was granted a permit to deploy its frequency active sonar known as SURTASS LFA. The low-frequency Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System is a product of the Cold War. Its development to detect enemy submarines cost some $300 million. Last week, there were three beachings of pilot whales on Cape Cod, Mass., the largest beaching in that area in the past 20 years. Is there a connection to the July 16 approval and the events of July 27? According to a spokesperson for Coastal Watch, involved in the three rescue attempts of the pilot whales, there is no link. T he U.S. navy is only operating the system in the Pacific area at present. But, what is known is that in March, 2000, near the Bahamas, at least four different species of whales and dolphins beached themselves shortly after a navy SURTASS LFA test. The surveillance sensor system is capable of transmitting signals as powerful as 215 decibels. Marine scientists believe whales are affected by sounds louder than 110 decibels. At 180 decibels, a whale's eardrums can explode. Whales are not the only ones who will be affected by this new military system; dolphins and other higher functioning mammals of the world's oceans are equally at risk. The navy's strategic plan is to cover 80 per cent of the world's oceans with the new active sonar system. The system functions like a floodlight, scanning the ocean for vast distances and areas with intense sound. Each transmitter can generate 215 decibels of sound. Scientists say this sound level is not only unsafe for whales and dolphins, but can also kill human divers in its path. The navy's own testing has indicated that when the signals expand, the sound range can reach 240 decibels. To place the system in context, a decibel scale is much like the Richter scale for earthquakes: each employs small differences to increasing orders of magnitude. In a test in 1991, a loud, low frequency signal sent from an island in the Indian Ocean was detected on the West Coast of the United States. In late January, 2001, the navy released its own environmental impact report in which it admitted to exposing a 32-year-old navy diver to 12 minutes of the LFA system, at 160 decibels. After 12 minutes, the diver experienced dizziness and drowsiness. He was hospitalized, but continued to suffer memory problems and seizures. He improved only after being treated with antidepressants and seizure medications. Whales and other mammals employ their sensitive hearing to follow migration routes, locate one another and keep track of their calves. Noise that can destroy their eardrums will kill whales. Since whales travel in families, this could lead to more beachings in the future. Dolphins will be impacted in the same manner. Even if the whales are not killed, it will play havoc with their migration patterns. The SURTASS LFA was kept secret until 1995. The Bush administration defends its use on the grounds of national security, arguing that new submarines are becoming quieter and more difficult to detect. The navy contends that safeguards will be in place to ensure that no harm comes to marine life. The navy will be required to employ special measures, such as scanning for any marine mammals in the area and shutting the system down if animals are found. No mention is made of human divers. But the navy has been granted a five-year exemption from the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Under the act, the navy and the personnel responsible could be charged over the death of a whale or other marine mammals. A "free pass" has now been granted. Or as Michael Jasny of the Natural Resources Defence Council explains, "The Bush administration has issued a blank cheque for the global use of the system."

Jim Trautman is a freelance writer who specializes in defence issues.

Of course, I couldnt recall all the details. Numbers dont stay in my head. As I strained to get the general point of the article across, I was met with expressions of shock, and understandable disbelief. If this was actually happening, surely it would be a wedge issue by now, something everyone at the table of whale-lovers would know about, not something that only a guy with a self-professed tendency to botch the facts would recall. And could it be true or was it just more confabulation-- "80% of the world's oceans?"

They couldn't believe me, and I couldn't blame them.

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