29 novembro 2006

28 novembro 2006

Tsunami, The Aftermath

Tim Roth, Toni Collette and Sophie Okonedo lead the cast in this powerful drama that focuses on the aftermath of the catastrophic Asian tsunami. Tuesday 28 Nov 9pm on BBC2

(Some previews here)

Also, a heartbreaking article from The Guardian's magazine last Saturday,
Back in the Deep, some excerpts:

Sasha Pagella, fundraiser (Survived the tsunami in Penang island, Malaysia)

There was a blue sky and the sun was shining. I was in the sea and noticed a savage current. I thought, "That's strange," then a man started screaming. I turned to see a grey mass coming towards me. The next thing I knew, I was clinging to a wall in this surging water. There was a tiny girl by me, and I reached out to grab hold of her. Our eyes met and our hands touched, but the wave knocked her away. It still haunts me. In the film, a little girl slips from her dad's grip. Watching that made me cry. Eventually I was hauled out and the water receded. Then the screaming started. There must have been 40 bodies strewn on the beach. I spent three hours desperately looking for survivors. I didn't feel happy to be alive. I felt lonely and guilty. The film captured that emotional experience. I want everyone I know to watch it, so they can understand what it was like. I felt so guilty about not being able to do more for that little girl. And then guilty for feeling guilty - because I could leave, but there were so many people who couldn't.

Clare Francis, works in local government (Survivor with Richard on Karon Beach, Phuket)

It was not the apocalypse. There were no horsemen on the horizon. It was the most beautiful day. It's this juxtaposition that really fucks with your head. There was someone lying on the ground with their neck twisted like an owl. A woman so lacerated there was fat spilling out of her arse. But it was a beautiful day. The film made it dark, dingy. It wasn't like that. You work in an office, you listen to some co-worker go on about whatever all day, you dream of getting away - and here you are in paradise. It was that beautiful.

I felt the earthquake in the morning. I went for an early morning swim. The water was choppy. By the time we walked up to the restaurant, there was no beach. I'm a bit of a panicker. I looked out to the ocean. There was no horizon, just a wave. I don't do feet and inches, I just know it was high. I ended up holding on to one of the posts that held up the restaurant, with my flip-fl ops in one hand. At this point I'm not thinking ,"I want to live." I'm thinking, "What the hell is this? It's just water. Water! " There were hair-dryer units in the water, beach furniture, cutlery. I remember feeling that cutlery.

The film could have shown a lot more of the strange behaviour. We saw the best and worst of people. There were tourists comparing video footage : "Did you get that? Did you get the guy going down the path?" One man went straight to the receptionist and asked quietly, "Where's the nearest airport?" I remember being covered in blood and passing someone coming down the stairs ready for a day at the beach. Or afterwards, a little Thai girl picking up pretty snapped fingernails. There was so much the film didn't or couldn't show.

I think when people see the film they'll see the wave and think, "Oh, it's not that big. I could have handled that." I don't think it depicts the Thai people and what they lost. They lost everything and still they helped us. That part was unbelievable.

Wishlist: When the Wind Blows

Nominated for the
International Fantasy Film Award
in our very own


27 novembro 2006

A Gata e a Joaninha

Hoje a minha Cookie tinha uma joaninha no pêlo ;)

Foto da joaninha: Ma Boîte à Photos, merci bien :)

26 novembro 2006

Slavery: The long road to our historic 'sorrow'

Captain Luke Collingwood's voyage was not going well. Poor navigation and strong headwinds meant his ship, the Zong, was taking months, not weeks, to sail from Africa to Jamaica. More worryingly, his cargo was beginning to rot. For shackled beneath the deck, pressed back to face, festering in each others' excrement, blood and sweat, some 440 slaves lay slowly dying.

Seeing his profits slip away as the deaths mounted, Collingwood resorted to an insurance scam. With each African covered at £30 apiece (over £2,000 at today's prices), he decided to jettison parts of the cargo to 'save' the rest. The Zong's maritime insurance would cover the cost of each lost slave. Citing a lack of drinking water, the captain had 133 slaves thrown overboard. Some went to their death with arms still shackled; others jumped into the ocean themselves.

But the Zong's insurer didn't buy Collingwood's story and in 1783 his damages claim ended up in a London court, not as a murder trial but as a civil insurance case. The presiding judge quickly found in Collingwood's favour.

We might not have known about this case today if it hadn't been for ex-slave Olaudah Equiano. Living as a free man in London, he alerted the abolitionist Granville Sharp, who in turn brought the crimes of Collingwood to public attention. Very slowly the true horror of slavery was beginning to infect the British imagination. The Zong case was one of a series of atrocities that spearheaded progress towards the parliamentary abolition of the slave trade in 1807.

This week Tony Blair is to deliver a 'historical expression of regret' for the British state's involvement in slavery; Baroness Amos, the Leader of the Lords, is among those who have been pressing for an apology. Rightly, it will not be an apology on behalf of our ancestors. Rather it is an appreciation of the role Britain played in the forcible transportation of 11 million Africans and how that Atlantic trade shaped our past. It represents an understanding of how important slavery was in moulding modern Britain and how significant it is to the heritage of many black Britons today.

But why should we alone be apologising for slavery? For one of the most persistent objections to this sort of statement rests on the pre-existence of slavery in African society; Equiano's own father kept slaves. Although it was different in nature, there was a strong culture of slave trading prior to the European arrival in Africa. Much of it was driven by the Middle Eastern market, with Arab merchants bringing Africans into Persia and the Mediterranean. Zanzibar, on the east coast of Africa, was a famous slave-trading hub.

Moreover, the Portuguese and French were in Africa earlier and equally adept at the bribery, cunning and violence which underpinned the trade. Yet during the 18th century the slave trade intensified both in quantity and barbarity (whether this was partly a product of racism, or racism a product of slavery, remains a moot point). And Britain - with its vast merchant navy, seafaring entrepreneurialism and growing empire - was at the heart of it.

The 'triangular trade' began in the ports of Bristol, Liverpool, London and Glasgow, where consortia put together by the Royal African Company or the Merchant Venturers set out for the West African coast laden with metal goods, guns, alcohol and textiles. During the latter half of the 18th century, thousands of British ships worked their way along the slave forts of the Atlantic coast, from Senegal to Nigeria, buying captured slaves trafficked from the African interior. It was said an approaching slave galley could be smelled two days before it docked, the congealed putrescence of blood, faeces, vomit and rotting bodies wafting downwind.

Chained together, the slaves were herded on to the ships for the gruesome 'middle passage'. In a successful run 5 per cent might not make the journey; more typical was a 20 per cent mortality rate. Starvation, suicide and self-mutilation were common. Equally common was a state of psychotic depression. One escaped slave described how 'the shrieks of the women, and the groans of the dying, rendered the whole a scene of horror almost inconceivable'. It is a contested figure, but historians now point to well over a million Africans dying during the middle passage.

As the most easterly of the Caribbean islands, many ships docked first in Barbados. During the 18th century this small island became the jewel in the emergent British empire. Dotted with windmills and plantation houses, Barbados was a colonial goldmine as the British put the branded Africans to work in cane fields and rum plants. Those strong enough to survive the middle passage now confronted the comparable savagery of plantation slavery. On the sweat of their toil, Europe's burgeoning consumer culture was erected. Having sold their slaves, the ships returned from the Caribbean laden with raw produce. This trade in tea, coffee, rice, rum, tobacco and, above all, sugar formed one of the foundations of the Georgian economy, making the Atlantic slave trade a vital forerunner to the industrial revolution. Britain's rise to economic and imperial greatness was intimately connected with slavery.

Today the evidence of the trade is all around us: from Jamaica Street in Glasgow to Venturers' House in Bristol to Liverpool's Town Hall. Our urban fabric is laden with slave iconography. Yet the nexus of slavery was never limited to industrialists or merchants. The profits it promised seduced investors from Oxbridge colleges to numerous MPs to members of the royal family. Much to its present shame, even the Church of England got in on the act, running the Codrington plantation in Barbados.

Similarly, some of the great aristocratic fortunes of the 18th century were built upon slavery. Investments in the West Indies gave the Lascelles family the wealth to endow Harewood House in Yorkshire and William Blathwayt to retire to Dyrham Park in Gloucestershire. Within Dyrham Park's exquisite panelling are two black slaves carrying shells.

The universality of slavery within British society makes the 1807 Act all the more remarkable. The idea of abolishing this fundamental part of the economy seemed outrageous and impossible. Why did it happen? Historians of the left used to emphasise the role of slave revolts (as CLR James did in his spectacular account of the birth of Haiti, The Black Jacobins) and the move from a colonial sugar trade to industrial capitalism. The slave-owning elite were both fearful for their own skins and starting to realise the prohibitive costs of plantation labour.

Today scholars stress the role of civil society. As Adam Hochschild has chronicled in his book, Bury the Chains, the work of activists such as Granville Sharp and Thomas Clarkson mobilised public opinion in favour of abolition. They pioneered the tactics of the modern pressure group with petitions, boycotts, mass rallies, public debates, legal injunctions and parliamentary action. In 1792 some 13,000 residents of Glasgow put their names to an abolitionist petition. Many of the activists were drawn from the Nonconformist movement (notably the Quakers) with Josiah Wedgwood designing the abolitionist badge bearing the slogan 'Am I Not a Man and a Brother?'

Yet what was equally remarkable was the involvement of ex-slaves in the debate. Equiano was joined by other African writers such as Ottabah Cugoan and Ignatius Sancho in the abolitionist campaign. Their vivid accounts of the human cost of slavery provided some of the most successful propaganda tools.

But in Britain in the 1800s laws were made by elites and the man who delivered abolition was among the most elitist of them all. William Wilberforce had no great affection for the African slave, but he had considerable regard for the spiritual state of England. He led the abolitionist crusade as part of his own evangelical vision for curtailing moral corruption. When Wilberforce's dogged certitude coalesced with a broader demand for political and social reform, the momentum towards 1807 was unstoppable. Ultimately it wasn't economics or security fears which ended the slave trade, it was public pressure and moral sentiment.

Which is why the 200th anniversary of abolition should be a moment of pride as much as guilt. The complexities of abolition mean that the kind of apology Tony Blair offered for the 1840s Irish potato famine - politically driven and devoid of historical context - does no service to the significance of abolition.

Yet next year's commemorations must be about more than Downing Street statements. They have to draw on all elements of civil society, black and white. First and foremost, we need a richer appreciation of the totalising impact of the Atlantic slave trade. As historian James Walvin puts it, 'We need to integrate slavery into the warp and weft of British history.' That means museums, galleries, and public institutions actively interpreting their collections in light of modern scholarship. English Heritage has already begun that process by looking at the abolitionist circle around Kenwood House in Hampstead. Forthcoming plans to reintroduce the history of the British Empire within the school syllabus need to take into account the history of slavery.

What is exciting is how much is already in preparation. At Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, a major Equiano exhibition is planned; in Lancaster, a slave trade arts memorial project is at work; in Bristol and Liverpool, there are 'slavery heritage trails'. Much of this is rightly concerned with exploring the history of the black presence in Britain. And, amid today's rumbling racial tensions, this activity says something very positive about our post-colonial sensibility. With 1807 as a backdrop, we are publicly addressing historic questions of race and empire in a far more sophisticated fashion than many other European nations.

Any official apology on behalf of the British government would get in the way of this. Not only would it be logically incoherent, it would unnecessarily goad middle England opinion and open up claims for reparations. Even the empathetic Bill Clinton steered clear of a full apology on his celebrated 1998 tour of Africa. Ever the lawyer, Clinton would only admit that 'going back to the time before we were even a nation, European-Americans received the fruits of the slave trade and we were wrong in that'.

More controversially, America has been debating how to deal with those ill-gotten fruits. Jesse Jackson has led a strong campaign for economic reparations both to Africa and to African-American citizens. But the question of the political and economic legacy of slavery is a complex one: is it really credible (especially in Britain) to link it with current racial inequalities in health, education or prosperity?

One interesting approach has been developed by Brown University in Rhode Island, which appointed a committee on slavery and justice to re-examine the role of slavery in its foundation. After discovering extensive ties, it recommended making amends by building a memorial, creating a slavery study centre and increasing efforts to recruit minority students, particularly from Africa and the West Indies. Now Yale and Harvard are similarly addressing their slave heritage.

But all this requires the kind of progressive public climate that prime ministers and presidents can shape. That is why Tony Blair's statement this week should be welcomed: it will publicise the sort of murderous excesses men like Captain Collingwood got away with and the implicit condonement they received from the British state. It gives an important imprimatur to next year's commemorations of this extraordinary, barbaric history and its multiple legacies today.

Humanity for sale

· The slave trade began in 1517, when a Spanish nobleman was licensed to import African slaves to the settlements. By 1754 there were 263,000 slaves in the New World; in all, 15 million were transported.

· Traders left England with alcohol, firearms and cotton goods, which they traded for slaves on the west coast of Africa. They then transported the slaves to the Americas, where they were traded for sugar, tobacco or cotton.

· Conditions aboard slave ships were horrendous. Hundreds of slaves were packed in, often chained lying down for the duration of the trip. A fifth died from disease or starvation on the journey.

· In America in the 1800s an 'underground railroad' enabled slaves on southern plantations to flee to the north or Canada. Up to 100,000 escaped.

· Tory MP William Wilberforce, a leading abolitionist, lobbied MPs in the 1790s. Britain stopped shipping slaves in 1807 and in 1833, a month after he died, the Slavery Abolition Act freed all slaves in the Empire.


These are some very rough figures:

Portugal 10.500.000 Great Britain 8.500.000 Spain 4.000.000 France 2.000.000 USA 2.000.000 Netherlands 1.000.000 Former Principates that now belong to Germany 500.000 Denmark 500.000 Argentina 500.000 Others 500.000

On May 21, 2001, the French National Assembly voted the Taubira law which recognized slavery as a crime against humanity.
At the same time, the British, Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese delegations blocked an EU apology for slavery.
In September 2006 it was reported that the UK Government may issue a "statement of regret" over slavery. They have. Here.

24 novembro 2006

Microsoft in legal battle with Chilean tribe

Mapuche Indians in Chile are trying to take Microsoft to court in a legal battle that raises the question of whether anyone can ever "own" the language they speak.

The row was sparked by Microsoft's decision last month to launch its Windows software package in Mapuzugun, a Mapuche tongue spoken by around 400,000 indigenous Chileans, mostly in the south of the country.

At the launch in the southern town of Los Sauces, Microsoft said it wanted to help Mapuches embrace the digital age and "open a window so that the rest of the world can access the cultural riches of this indigenous people."

But Mapuche tribal leaders have accused the U.S. company of violating their cultural and collective heritage by translating the software into Mapuzugun without their permission. They even sent a letter to Microsoft founder Bill Gates accusing his company of "intellectual piracy."

"We feel like Microsoft and the Chilean Education Ministry have overlooked us by deciding to set up a committee (to study the issue) without our consent, our participation and without the slightest consultation," said Aucan Huilcaman, one of the Mapuche leaders behind the legal action. "This is not the right road to go down."

Microsoft declined to comment on the case, saying they could not do so until it is legally resolved. The company has translated Windows into dozens of indigenous American languages in the past, including Mohawk, Quechua and Inuktitut, but has never faced such vocal opposition If history is anything to go by, however, the software giant could have a fight on its hands.

The Mapuche are renowned for their ferocity. They were one of the few tribes in South America to successfully resist both the Incas, who tried to colonize their lands, and the Spanish, who ruled much of South America for more than two centuries.

The Mapuche took their case to a court in the southern city of Temuco earlier this month but a judge ruled it should be considered in Santiago. A judge in the capital is due to decide in the next two weeks whether Microsoft has a case to answer.

"If they rule against us we will go to the Supreme Court and if they rule against us there we will take our case to a court of human rights," said Lautaro Loncon, a Mapuche activist and coordinator of the Indigenous Network, an umbrella group for several ethnic groups in Chile.

Huilcaman said the Chilean government, which supported Microsoft's project, should concentrate on making Mapuzugun an official state language, alongside Spanish.

"If not, we fear it runs the risk of following the same destiny as Latin, spoken only in universities," he said.

Mapuzugun is spoken by about two-thirds of Chile's Mapuches, who make up four percent of the population.

The case has sparked comment on Internet blogs. Many Chileans appear to feel it is absurd for the Mapuche to claim the intellectual rights to their language, and say the Indians should be pleased to see it used on the world wide Web.

23 novembro 2006

Thomas Pynchon - Against the Day

Shell Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Esta imagen de un gorila de las montañas de tan sólo 10 meses de edad, captada en el Parque Nacional de los Volcanes, en Ruanda, ha conseguido una mención especial en la categoría 'Gerald Durell a la Naturaleza Amenazada'. (Foto: Suzi Eszterhas)

El noruego Baard Ness ha ganado el segundo puesto en la categoría de Retratos de Animales con esta imagen. Tuvo que esperar durante horas hasta que la foca se asomó en un agujero del hielo en las islas Svalbard. (Foto: Baard Ness)

Estos pingüinos retratados por Solvin Zankl han recibido una mención especial en la categoría de Comportamiento animal (Foto: Solvin Zankl)

And the winner:

El fotógrafo sueco Goran Ehlmé se ha alzado con el premio 'Mejor Fotografía de Naturaleza' del año 2006 con esta imagen de una morsa, captada en Groenlandia, rebuscando en el lecho marino en busca de comida.

Machines Not Lost in Translation

Faced with daunting translation problems in war and disaster zones around the world, the U.S. military is refining a handheld voice-translation device that will soon be used by police and emergency-room doctors back home.

The palm sized PDA-like Phraselator lets users speak or select from a screen of English phrases and matches them to equivalent pre-recorded phrases in other languages. The device then broadcasts the foreign-language MP3 file and records reply dialog for later translation. Unlike other machine translators, the Phraselator does not require that users train it to recognize their voice, and it produces human rather than synthesized speech.

Phraselators have recently been used by the U.S. military in tsunami relief operations. The voice module for humanitarian assistance now offers 2,000 phrases in Hindi, Thai, Indonesian and Sinhala such as: "Are any of your family members missing?" "We have medical supplies." And, "Has anyone tested this water?"

Navy doctor Lee Morin generated the idea for the Phraselator during Operation Desert Storm when he loaded Arabic language audio files onto his laptop and clicked on phrases to help communicate with patients. Morin brought the idea to developer Ace Sarich, vice president of VoxTec, a division of Marine Acoustics.

VoxTec landed seed money from DARPA to build a rugged, weatherproof, handheld translator. About 2,000 Phraselators are now deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the device was first field tested in 2001.

Sarich says it helps remedy the chronic shortage of human translators who are often reluctant to work in the line of fire in a war zone.

"The problem with reliable translators is that they have to be knowledgeable in English and the target languages and not have their own political agenda," says Sarich. "Sometimes the military forces are frustrated because the translator does not want to offend people, but the military forces want to get their point across."

According to VoxTec, the Phraselator is a "cost-effective means of bridging the cross-cultural communications divide."

Sarich says military forces in Iraq use the device to provide information and issue commands at checkpoints, on patrol and inside detention facilities. Sample phrases include: "Get out of the vehicle." "Everyone stop talking." "Put your hands on the wall." "Space your feet." "We must now search you."

About five months ago, the U.S. Navy began developing a version of the Phraselator coupled to 70 highly directional phased-array speakers that broadcast a clear voice 300 to 400 yards, warning people to stay away from Navy ships.

"For homeland security, port patrol or general law enforcement, it is usually a one-way conversation and your responses are actions or physical affirmations," says Sarich.

Phraselator voice modules are typically stored on 128-MB secure digital cards that contain up to 12,000 phrases in four or five languages. The Phraselator Force Protection module now used by the U.S. military translates phrases into Dari, Pashto, Urdu and Arabic.

A toolkit allows soldiers to build their own custom language modules or download phrase modules from the Phraselator web portal, a database that currently contains more than 300,000 phrases.

The Phraselator is now being tested by law enforcement officials and corrections officers in Oneida County, New York, and in 10 other states. The device is also being evaluated in hospital emergency rooms and county health departments, where it is used to issue a set of standard diagnostic questions such as "Show me where it hurts."

The latest Phraselator model, the P2, was refined based on feedback from U.S. soldiers. It has a longer battery life, a directional microphone and an expanded library of phrases. The P2 still translates just one way from English to about 60 other languages, but it is inching toward full two-way voice translation.

According to Phraselator software developer Jack Buchanan, the accuracy of translating voice into text is above 70 percent. But the middle step of translating that text into a foreign language text before outputting the data again as voice is technically difficult.

"Taking into account cultural differences and context issues is an extremely hard problem," says Buchanan, who believes that developing something close to Star Trek's "universal translator" will be harder than building the Enterprise. "When you are coming in and giving food to a village, how you would say 'hello' is totally different than if you are a military person at a checkpoint holding a gun pointed in their direction."

According to Buchanan, the Phraselator is now being programmed to translate limited two-way conversation where responses correspond to a specific domain of words like numbers, colors or dates.

The next generation of the devices will also feature pictures, allowing the user to ask, "Have you seen any of these people?" or "Have you seen these weapons?" The Phraselator is advertised on its website as an interrogation tool, but Sarich says it is inferior compared to human interrogators.

Douglas Jones is a researcher at MIT's Lincoln Laboratory, which is helping the U.S. government develop baselines to measure the effectiveness of translation systems. Jones says he expects speech-to-speech machine translators to achieve incremental progress in limited domains and gradually expand two-way translation capabilities.

"The current level for text translation is about level two, which means that people are able to get basic facts out of a machine-translated newspaper article, but can't necessarily read between the lines," said Jones.

In 2003, DARPA estimated that open-domain, multi-task and unconstrained dialog translation was still five to 10 years away. But the research group developing IBM's MASTOR, or multilingual automatic speech-to-speech translator system, says its DARPA-funded bidirectional voice translator is a year or two from deployment.

According to Yuqing Gao, a member of the IBM team, MASTOR skips the small incremental steps and uses algorithms to extract the concept from each sentence and match it to a comparable sentence in another language.

"We have been working on Chinese for medical domains because Chinese is the most popular language and the potential number of users is huge," says Gao, who notes that the biggest challenge is analyzing emotional speech. "When people are very emotional or depressed, the speech signal is quite different, it's a very important step and without that function the usefulness can be limited."

I fear to think what the US Military could do with a automated translation tool. I remember the US delegate in Irak being heartened to see all children giving him the thumbs-up sign (only later he realized that in Iraq it means "up yours").

Rebooting the?Ecosystem

Repeat after me: We humans have screwed up our planet. Feels better, doesn't it? Now that we've accepted this reality, at least we don't have to argue about it anymore. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are at the highest they've been in at least 800,000 years. Greenland's ice sheet is melting fast. Some – probably a lot – of the current warming trend is because of us, and so are the consequent threats to ecosystems, food supplies, coastal cities, and all that other stuff from An Inconvenient Truth.

Of course, that means we're responsible for repairing the damage, but stopgaps like carbon sequestration just aren't going to cut it. Luckily, a growing number of scientists are thinking more aggressively, developing incredibly ambitious technical fixes to cool the planet. These efforts to remedy the accidental experiment of climate change with intentional, megascale experimentation are called geoengineering. Thus far, ideas include reflecting sunlight with gazillions of orbiting featherweight mirrors or by saturating the stratosphere with sulfur, or increasing the volume of microbes that eat CO2 by fertilizing the oceans with iron.

Harebrained? Well, maybe. But somebody has to save the world. Typically, sober environmentalists have looked askance at geoengineering. In fact, they mostly think it's nuts. All the ideas on the table reek of foolhardiness. We have only one Earth, and it is a system of unparalleled complexity (in other words, no one knows exactly how it works). What if we muck it up? "If you go down the path of geoengineering, it leads to taking ever-increasing environmental risk, and, eventually, you'll be unlucky," says Ken Caldeira, a climatologist at Stanford University.

What's more, many greens worry that just talking about geoengineering could deflect funding and focus from the task of cutting greenhouse gas emissions. They'd rather we legislate higher fuel-efficiency standards and design better photovoltaics. Enviros are right about the urgency of kicking the fossil fuel habit – that's a no-brainer. The problem is inertia; the changes we have wrought in the atmosphere will play out over decades (or longer) whether we junk all the SUVs tomorrow or not.

That's why it makes sense to start thinking seriously about radical countermeasures. One of the biggest boosts to the idea of climate manipulation came last summer from Paul Crutzen, an emeritus at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry. Writing in the journal Climate Change, Crutzen, who shared the 1995 Nobel Prize in chemistry for work examining ozone depletion, described a plan to shoot massive quantities of sulfur into the stratosphere. In theory, the sulfur would reflect sunlight – just as particles blown into the air by the eruption of Mount Pinatubo did in 1991 – cooling Earth and buying enough time for civilization to shift into green gear. Crutzen's not crazy, and he's no renegade terraformer. "Until a few years ago, I would also have been against the idea," he recently told an Australian newspaper.

His journal article – and his clout – gave geoengineering an almost instant credibility boost. Soon other heavies, like Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences, were also writing in favor of the concept. Their message: Geoengineering isn't, and shouldn't be, fringe science. "Given that the climate-change problem might be more serious than we previously thought," says Tom Wigley, a mathematical physicist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, "we should consider these radical solutions more seriously." Stanford's Caldeira is keeping an open mind – he's even helping to organize an international geoengineering meeting at NASA Ames Research Center.

The shortsighted mistake here would be getting mired in the details of these wild plans. (Crutzen's scheme would mean we'd have to start loving smog – but imagine the psychedelic sunsets!) Yes, these ideas sound crazy. But we're in the earliest stages of what is potentially the single most crucial new science in history. Let's give the researchers a minute or two to get their PowerPoint slides in order and, more important, grab a slice of the admittedly modest budget for climate-change research. Just remember: Advocating the study of geoengineering does not mean campaigning for the deployment of every ludicrous notion that comes along.

Smart people finally convinced us that we need to stop burning fossil fuels. Let's do that. But because what has already been set in motion tends to stay in motion, we need a well-researched, measured plan to get us (or, more realistically, our grandchildren) out of this mess. The real worst-case scenario is some kind of Bruce Willis-movie scheme deployed at the eleventh hour, after the climate shift has already hit the fan.

My 2 cents: As much as I believe in all this, I tend to react against the idea that we are destroying the planet. We are not. We are just making it less and less bearable to live in. It's a stupid, egocentric idea that we can destroy this planet (for instance, a full new ecosystem is blossoming around Chernobyl, with cougars and new flora finding their way, startling those biologists that believed the area to be wasteland the next million years). The earth will go on without us. Life always finds a way to prevail. Deal with it.

The Constant Husband

Leonard Woolf's marmoset adored him. Mitzy, a black-and-white, squirrel-size creature, originally belonged to a friend of Leonard and Virginia Woolf, but once she climbed onto Leonard's lap, it was love at first sight. She hated to leave him, riding around on his back and threatening to bite anyone who got too close. Kingsley Martin, Leonard's longtime friend and colleague at the New Statesman, observed that his "coat was permanently stained because the marmoset lived on his shoulder and performed [her] natural functions down his back." In 1935, when Leonard insisted on visiting Germany to see Nazism firsthand — defying the British government's warning that Jews should stay away — it was Mitzy, riding around in the Woolfs' car like a mascot, who charmed potentially hostile strangers.

The devotion that Leonard Woolf inspired in Mitzy — and in a long series of cats, dogs, and other animals — was shared by nearly all of the humans who knew him well. Turn to almost any page of Victoria Glendinning's entertaining and sensible new biography, "Leonard Woolf" (Free Press, 498 pages, $30), and you are likely to find an encomium to this intelligent, benevolent, hardworking, ill-remembered man.

The most disparate kinds of people united in admiring him: not just the arch-aesthete Lytton Strachey, Leonard's best friend at Cambridge, but also the provincial governor he worked for as a young civil servant in Ceylon, and the earnest left-wing activist Margaret Llewellyn Davies, his comrade in the Women's Co-operative movement. Angela Graham, the wife of a Virginia Woolf scholar who barely knew Leonard, kept his photograph on her desk, and confided,"I used to write to you when I felt particularly isolated and confused ... these weren't letters for mailing — just letters for healing."

The supreme tribute to Leonard Woolf the healer, of course, came in the suicide note that his wife left on March 28, 1941, just before she drowned herself in the river near their country house. Virginia's last wish before she died was to exonerate Leonard, in his own eyes and posterity's, of any guilt for her death. On the contrary, she wrote, it was only his steadfast care, over three decades of marriage, that kept her alive for so long: "You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be ... If anyone could have saved me it would have been you."

Leonard Woolf was Virginia's widower for almost as long as he had been her husband. He lived until 1969, long enough to see the Bloomsbury circle of his youth become an academic industry. Much of his last years were occupied with publishing his wife's papers, selling her letters to libraries, and meeting with or gently putting off biographers. By the time he died, at the age of 88, he knew that he would not be remembered for the decades he spent advising Labor Party committees, researching social problems for the Fabian Society, writing long books on international relations, or editing and writing for magazines.

What posterity thanks him for, instead, is his devotion to Virginia Woolf, to whom he sacrificed many of his career prospects and nearly all of his sexuality. If he had been more ambitious on his own behalf, he might have become the governor of a province or a minister in a Labor government. Instead, he lived for Virginia, creating the stable and loving environment she needed to elude her mental illness and give the world her masterpieces. What makes his case different from those of so many spouses to genius is simply the fact that he was the husband, not the wife, of a great writer. His last name is far more famous than his first.

As a subject, then, Leonard Woolf presents a double challenge to Ms. Glendinning, a prolific biographer whose previous subjects include Anthony Trollope and Edith Sitwell. First, she must prove that Leonard's life justifies a full-length biography — the first ever devoted strictly to him, as against the hundreds that deal with Virginia or Bloomsbury in general. Second, she must prevent all the tributes to Leonard's patience and goodness from turning him into a plaster saint, a 20th-century version of the angel in the house. Happily, in this wide-ranging but briskly paced study, she succeeds on both counts. Indeed, it is exactly by revealing the considerable darkness in Woolf's character, the anger and resentment that he kept rigidly in check, that Ms. Glendinning makes him a convincing protagonist of his own story.

Although the Hogarth Press that he and Virginia founded was responsible for bringing the work of Freud to English readers, Leonard had little patience with psychoanalysis. Ms. Glendinning, who takes great care to avoid sensationalizing her often scandalous material, tacitly follows his lead, advancing no master-theories of her subject's motivations or emotional life. Yet as she assembles her portrait of Leonard, the reader finds Freudian concepts like sublimation and repression leaping to mind.

All his life, Leonard Woolf was a defender of what he unapologetically called "civilization," the Enlightenment virtues of reason, tolerance, and decency. Unlike many on the English left between the wars, he defended this ideal against Soviet communism no less than against Fascism. Yet as Ms. Glendinning writes, he cherished rationality precisely because he had such intimate knowledge of the irrational: "Leonard's sanity was deep enough … to contain his insanity, most of the time, with inspired leaks and some messy spillages." Those spillages often took the form of a psychosomatic return of the repressed. Leonard had an incurable tremor and recurrent bouts of eczema, which can't help but seem like neurotic symptoms. He was prone to outbursts of temper at work, and late in life he became positively cranky when dealing with tradesmen, jamming the village mailbox with letters of complaint.

Yet these seem like mild enough revolts against the libidinal deprivation to which Leonard conscientiously condemned himself. As a young man in Ceylon, he demonstrated a strong sex drive, taking local girls as lovers in the traditional imperialist manner. But Virginia Woolf's fear and loathing of sex with men meant that his marriage remained virtually celibate. After her death, Leonard found solace in an unofficial quasi-marriage with a woman named Trekkie Parsons. This relationship lasted until the end of his life, but it too remained unconsummated, as Trekkie was legally married to someone else. It seems incredible that Leonard actually remained celibate for more than 60 years, as Ms. Glendinning appears to suggest. But even if he had unrecorded affairs, he must have repressed his erotic nature almost as thoroughly as a monk — an ironic discipline for a man who unapologetically loathed religion.

The other thing Leonard repressed, Ms. Glendinning shows, was all the ambivalence associated with being a Jew in snobbish Bloomsbury. His brilliant, privileged friends were not deeply anti-Semitic, or they would not have made him so intimate a part of their lives. But part of the Bloomsbury style was a heartless snobbery that often took the form of anti-Semitism (along with other kinds of racism). A typical instance came when Vita Sackville-West complained that Leonard could be "tiresome and wrongheaded and sometimes Jewish." Virginia Woolf herself never for an instant forgot her husband's Jewishness, and she could be disgustingly nasty about his family, from whom she effectively isolated him.

Yet Leonard very seldom talked or wrote about himself as a Jew. His principled secularism and leftism, along with his rarefied social position, made it imperative for him to ignore this whole side of his identity. No wonder Ms. Glendinning concludes that "his inner dissonances ... were demonically intense." Perhaps the most valuable service Ms. Glendinning performs in her biography is to restore those dissonances to our understanding of Leonard Woolf's all-too-dutiful life.

22 novembro 2006

The 4 Thanksgiving New Yorker covers

Animals in the Womb

Tiny animal kingdom: the elephant foetus at 12 months, when it is 18 inches long and weighs approximately 26 lbs. It can use its trunk, and can curl it right up into its mouth and over its head. Inset, the foetus at 16 weeks, the trunk has developed and it is plumpish toward the rear.

Flipping miracle: at 29 weeks the dolphin is moving its eyes and swimming around the womb. At six weeks it can curl its tail fin around its body.

Over just 63 days, the domestic dog foetus will be armed with the tools necessary to survive, including a highly acute sense of smell and the ability to hear sounds far beyond our human range of hearing.

A National Geographic film, via The Daily Mail

So what's with all the dinosaurs?

The Creation Museum - motto: "Prepare to Believe!" - will be the first institution in the world whose contents, with the exception of a few turtles swimming in an artificial pond, are entirely fake. It is dedicated to the proposition that the account of the creation of the world in the Book of Genesis is completely correct, and its mission is to convince visitors through a mixture of animatronic models, tableaux and a strangely Disneyfied version of the Bible story.

Its designer, Patrick Marsh, used to work at Universal Studios in Los Angeles and then in Japan before he saw the light, opened his soul to Jesus, and was born anew. "The Bible is the only thing that gives you the full picture," he says. "Other religions don't have that, and, as for scientists, so much of what they believe is pretty fuzzy about life and its origins ... oh, this is a great place to work, I will tell you that."

So this is the Bible story, as truth. Apart from the dinosaurs, that is. As you stand in the museum's lobby - the only part of the building approaching completion - you are surrounded by life-size dinosaur models, some moving and occasionally grunting as they chew the cud.Beside the turtle pool, two animatronic, brown-complexioned children, demurely dressed in Hiawatha-like buckskin, gravely flutter with movement. Behind them lurk two small Tyrannosaurus Rexes. This scene is meant to date from before the Fall of Man and, apparently, dinosaurs.

Theological scholars may have noticed that there are, in fact, no dinosaurs mentioned in the Bible - and here lies the Creationists' first problem. Since there are undoubtedly dinosaur bones and since, according to the Creationists, the world is only 6,000 years old - a calculation devised by the 17th-century Bishop Ussher, counting back through the Bible to the Creation, a formula more or less accepted by the museum - dinosaurs must be shoehorned in somewhere, along with the Babylonians, Egyptians and the other ancient civilisations. As for the Grand Canyon - no problem: that was, of course, created in a few months by Noah's Flood.

But what, I ask wonderingly, about those fossilised remains of early man-like creatures? Marsh knows all about that: "There are no such things. Humans are basically as you see them today. Those skeletons they've found, what's the word? ... they could have been deformed, diseased or something. I've seen people like that running round the streets of New York."

Nothing can dent the designer's zeal as he leads us gingerly through the labyrinth of rooms still under construction, with bits of wood, and the odd dinosaur head occasionally blocking our path. The light of keenness shines from the faces of the workers, too, as they chisel out mountain sides and work out where to put the Tree of Life. They greet us cheerily as we pass.

They, too, know they are doing the Lord's Work, and each has signed a contract saying they believe in the Seven Days of Creation theory. Mornings on this construction site start with prayer meetings. Don't think for a minute that this is some sort of crazy little hole-in-the-corner project. The museum is costing $25m (£13m) and all but $3m has already been raised from private donations. It is strategically placed, too - not in the middle of nowhere, but within six hours' drive of two-thirds of the entire population of the US. And, as we know, up to 50 million of them do believe that the Bible's account of Creation is literally true.

We pass the site where one day an animatronic Adam will squat beside the Tree. With this commitment to authenticity, I find myself asking what they are doing about the fig leaf. Marsh considers this gravely and replies: "He is appropriately positioned, so he can be modest. There will be a lamb or something there next to him. We are very careful about that: some of our donors are scared to death about nudity."

The same will go for the scene where Eve is created out of Adam's rib, apparently, and parents will be warned that little children may be scared by the authenticity of some of the scenes. "Absolutely, because we are in there, being faithful to scripture."

A little licence is allowed, however, where the Bible falls down on the details. The depiction of a wall-sized section of Noah's Ark is based, not on the traditional picture of a flat-decked boat, but one designed by navy engineers with a keel and bows, which might, at least, have floated. "You can surmise," says Marsh. When you get inside, there's nifty computer software telling you how they fitted all the animals in, too.

The museum's research scientist, Dr Jason Lisle, has a PhD in astrophysics from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He realised he was a Christian while he was an undergraduate, but didn't spread it around: "People get very emotional about the issue. I don't believe we should ever be obnoxious about our faith. I just kept quiet." And how did he pass the exams? "I never lied, but if I was asked a question about the age of the universe, I answered from my knowledge of the topic, not my beliefs."

The museum's planetarium is his pride and joy. Lisle writes the commentary. "Amazing! God has a name for each star," it says, and: "The sun's distance from earth did not happen by chance." There is much more in this vein, but not what God thought he was doing when he made Pluto, or why.

Now, we are taken to meet Ken Ham, the museum's director and its inspiration. Ham is an Australian, a former science teacher - though not, he is at pains to say, a scientist - and he has been working on the project for much of the past 20 years since moving to the US. "You'd never find something like this in Australia," he says. "If you want to get the message out, it has to be here."

Reassuringly, on the wall outside his office, are three framed photographs of the former Australian cricket captain Steve Waugh - "cricket's never really caught on over here" - and inside, on his bookshelves, is a wooden model of a platypus. On top of the shelves is an array of fluffy poodle toys, as well as cuddly dinosaurs. "Poodles are degenerate mutants of dogs. I say that in my lectures and people present them to me as gifts."

Ham is a large man with a chin-hugging beard like an Old Testament prophet or an old-fashioned preacher, both of which he is, in a way. He lectures all over the world and spent a month in Britain earlier in the summer spreading the message to the faithful in parish halls from Cornwall to Scotland. "We want to try to convince people using observational science," he says. "It's done very gently but forthrightly. We give both sides, which is more than the Science Museum in London does."

This is true in that the Creation museum does include an animatronic evolutionist archaeologist, sitting beside a creationist, at one point. But there's no space for an animatronic Charles Darwin to fit alongside King David and his harp.

On the shelf behind Ham's desk lie several surprising books, including Richard Dawkins' latest. "I've skipped through it. The thing is, Dawkins does not have infinite knowledge or understanding himself. He's got a position, too, it's just a different one from ours. The Bible makes sense and is overwhelmingly confirmed by observable science. It does not confirm the belief in evolution."

But if you believe in the Bible, why do you need to seek scientific credibility, and why are Creationists so reluctant to put their theories to peer review, I ask?

"I would give the same answer as Dawkins. He believes there is no God and nothing you could say would convince him otherwise. You are dealing with an origins issue. If you don't have the information, you cannot be sure. Nothing contradicts the Bible's account of the origins."

We wander across to the bookshop, which, far from being another biblical epic, is done up like a medieval castle, framed with heraldic shields and filled with images of dragons - dragons, you see, being what dinosaurs became. It is full of books with titles such as Infallible Proofs, The Lie, The Great Dinosaur Mystery Solved and even a DVD entitled Arguments Creationists Should Not Use. As we finish the tour, Ham tells us about the museum's website, AnswersInGenesis.org. They are expecting 300,000 visitors a year. "You've not seen anything yet," he says with a smile.

The World According to:

Long-Term Unemployed

Meat Consumed

HIV Prevalence

and many more at

Souvenirs de Paris Je T'Aime

Quais de Seine - Gurinder Chadha - the tenderness of Leïla Bekhti and Cyril Descours;

Loin du 16ème - Walter Salles - the earthiness of Catalina Sandino Moreno;

Bastille - Isabel Coixet - always Miranda Richardson, and there are no words;

Place des Victoires - Nobuhiro Suwa - together again, Binoche and Dafoe;

Tour Eiffel - Sylvain Chomet - soooo French, so Belleville ;)

Place des Fêtes - Oliver Schmitz - the radiant, glistening beauty of Aïssa Maïga and Seydou Boro;

Pigalle - Richard LaGravenese - Fanny Ardant pour toujours, mais surtout pour tout de suite;

Quartier de la Madeleine - Vincenzo Natali - vampires in a most religiously semantic area, Elijah's wide blue eyes almost drained to red;

Père-Lachaise - Wes Craven - the voice of Rufus Sewell;

Quartier Latin - Gérard Depardieu - Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara, almost on closing night :)

Moonspell's Luna: A Masterpiece

Belle Toujours

The other dark-horse masterpiece at this year's NYFF, so far, is Manoel de Oliveira's "Belle Toujours," also acquired by New Yorker. Conceived as a sequel to Luis Buñuel's 1967 "Belle de Jour," in which Catherine Deneuve played a middle-class wife turning masochistic tricks on the sly, "Belle Toujours" captures Henri (Michel Piccoli, reprising his original role) and Séverine (this time played by Bulle Ogier, another Buñuel favorite) as they find each other in Paris, 40 years later. It's a tremendously economical film, with not a shot or a second wasted, yet rich with ambiguity, comedy, longing and sadness.

I guess it should be economical, given that Oliveira is now 97, a full decade older than Ingmar Bergman (and only eight years younger than Buñuel, who died in 1983). He's not just the last working member of the great Euro-art-film generation; he's almost certainly the oldest filmmaker in the history of the medium. So yeah, this is a filmmaker who knows that every film, every shot, every breath could be his last. But it's no novelty act; there aren't too many 27- or 37- or 47-year-olds who can make something this compressed, bitter and delightful. (At last report, Oliveira has begun shooting another film.)

21 novembro 2006

Habermas, the Portuguese winegrower, the Polish plumber

Opening up Fortress Europe

Jürgen Habermas on immigration as the key to European unity

As a student, I often looked from the other side of the Rhine over here to the seat of the four high commissioners. Today I enter the Petersberg for the first time. The historic surroundings recall the deep roots that the old Bundesrepublik sank into the Rhine and Ruhr landscapes. I was always proud of a homeland characterised by a civil spirit, a certain Rhine-Prussian distance from Berlin, an openness to the West and the liberal influence of republican France. From here, the Bundesrepublik achieved its goal of sovereignty only in conjunction with the political unification of Europe; we only achieved national unity within the European framework.The genius loci invites us to consider the irritating fact that this benedictory European dynamic is flagging today.

In many countries, the return of the nation-state has caused an introverted mood; the theme of Europe has been devalued, the national agenda has taken priority. In our talk-shows, grandfathers and grandchildren hug each other, swelling with feel-good patriotism. The security of undamaged national roots should make a population that's been pampered by the welfare state "compatible with the future" in the competive global environment. This rhetoric fits with the current state of global politics which have lost all their inhibitions in social darwinistic terms.

Now we Europe alarmists are being instructed that an intensification of European institutions is neither necessary nor possible. It is being claimed that the drive behind European unification has vanished and for good reason, since the objectives of peace between the European peoples and the creation of a common market have been met. In addition, the ongoing rivalries between nation states are said to demonstrate the impossibility of a political collectivisation that extends beyond national boundaries. I hold both objections for wrong. Allow me to name the most urgent and potentially risky problems that will remain unsolved if we stay stuck along the way to a Europe that is politically capable of action and bound in a democratic constitutional framework.

The first problem, which has long since been identified, is a result of this half-heartedness: the European member states have lost democratic substance as a result of European unification. Decisions, ever greater in number and importance, are being made in Brussels and simply "applied" at home through national law. The entire process takes place beyond the political public of the member states, even though European citizens can only place their votes here – there is no European public space. This democratic deficit can be explained by Europe's lack of an internal political constitution. The next problem is European's inability to present themselves to the world as one.

Since the government in Washington has gambled away its own moral authority, the international community is turning to the European Union with expectations that it cannot fill unless it has a united foreign policy. While in the Near East, diplomacy can, for the first time since 1948, count on a third party with a robust UN mandate, the European governments, envious of each other, prefer to press ahead on their own rather than strengthen their chief diplomat Solana with a shared agenda. Sixty years after the Nürnberg trials, torn Europe's largest failure is the long overdue reform of the UN. If anyone, it will be the Europeans that will prevent their American allies from continuing to damage the only legitimate conception of world order that they themselves initiated: namely, the further development of classic international law to a politically defined world community.

Likewise the third problem, the progressive undermining of acceptable social standards, can no longer be solved by national governments alone. The justified criticism of the inconsistencies of neo-liberal orthodoxy cannot hide the fact that the obscene combination of rising share prices and mass layoffs rests on a compelling economic logic. Little can be done about this within the national context alone, because the relationship of politics to the market has gotten out of balance on a global scale. It would take a European Union with a cogent foreign policy to influence the course of the world economy. It could drive global environmental policy forward while taking first steps towards a global domestic policy. In so doing, it could provide an example to other continents of how nation-states can be fused into supra-national powers. Without new global players of this kind, there can be no equilibrium between subjects of an equitable world economic order.

The fourth pressing problem is the fundamentalist challenge to cultural pluralism in our societies. We have approached this problem from the perspective of immigration policy for far too long. In times of terrorism, there is a threat that it will only be dealt with under the heading of domestic security. Yet the burning cars in the banlieues of Paris, the local terror of inconspicuous youths in English immigrant neighbourhoods and the violence at the Rütli School (more) in Berlin have taught us that simply policing the Fortress of Europe is no real answer to these problems. The children of former immigrants, and their children's children, have long been part of our society. But since they are simultaneously not a part of it, they pose a challenge to civil society, not the Minister of the Interior. And the challenge we face is to respect the different nature of foreign cultures and religious communities while including them in national civil solidarity.

At first glance the integration problem has nothing to do with the future of the European Union, since every national society must deal with it in its own way. And yet it could also hold the solution to a further difficulty. The second objection of Euro-sceptics is that there could never be a United States of Europe, because the necessary underpinnings are lacking. In truth the key question is whether it is possible to expand civil solidarity trans-nationally, across Europe. At the same time, a common European identity will develop all the quicker, the better the dense fabric of national culture in the respective states can integrate citizens of other ethnic or religious origins. Integration is not a one-way street. When it is successful, it can inspire strong national cultures to become more porous, more sensitive and more receptive both domestically and abroad. In Germany, for example, the more a harmonious coexistence with citizens of Turkish origin becomes a matter of course, the better we will be able to understand other European citizens – from the Portuguese winegrower to the Polish plumber. In opening up domestically, self-contained cultures can also open up to each other.

The integration problem hits a raw nerve in European nation-states. These developed into democratic constitutional states through the forced creation of a romantically inspired national consciousness that absorbed other loyalties. Without the moving force of nationalism, the Bavarians and the Rhinelanders, the Bretons and Occitanians, the Scots and the Welsh, the Sicilians and the Calabrians, the Catalans and the Andalusians would never have merged to become citizens of democratic nations. Because of this tightly-knit and easily combustible social fabric, the oldest national states react far more sensitively to the integration problem than immigration societies like the USA or Australia, from whom we can learn a great deal.

Whether we're dealing with the integration of gastarbeiter families or citizens from the former colonies, the lesson is the same. There can be no integration without a broadening of our own horizons, and without a readiness to tolerate a broader spectrum of odours, thoughts and what can be painful cognitive dissonances. In addition, Western and Northern European secular societies are faced with the vitality of foreign religions, which in turn lend local confession new significance. Immigrants of other faiths are as much a stimulus for believers as for non-believers.

The Muslim across the way, if I can take the current situation as an example, confronts Christian citizens with competing religious truths. And he makes secular citizens conscious of the phenomenon of public religion. Provided they react sensibly, believers will be reminded of the ideas, practices and attitudes in their Church that fell afoul of democracy and human rights well into the 20th century. Secular citizens, for their part, will recognise that they have taken matters too lightly by seeing their religious counterparts as an endangered species, and by viewing the freedom of religious practice as a kind of conservation principle.

Successful integration is a reciprocal learning process. Here in Germany, Muslims are under great time and adaptation pressure. The liberal state demands of all religious communities without exception that they recognise religious pluralism, the competence of institutionalised sciences in questions of secular knowledge and the universal principles of modern law. And it guarantees basic rights within the family. It avenges violence, including the coercion of the consciences of its own members. But the transformation of consciousness that will enable these norms to be internalised requires a self-reflexive opening of our national ways of living.

Those who denounce this assertion as "the capitulation of the West" are taken in by the silly war cry of liberal hawks. "Islamofascism" is no more a palpable opponent than the war on terrorism is a "war". Here in Europe, the assertion of constitutional norms is such an uncontested premise of cohabitation that the hysterical cry for the protection of our "values" comes across like semantic armament against an unspecified domestic enemy. Punishing violence and combating hatred require calm self-consciousness, not rabble-rousing. People who proclaim against their better knowledge that the award of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Orhan Pamuk is proof of an unavoidable clash of civilizations are themselves propagating such a clash. We should not follow in the footsteps of George W. Bush in militarising the Western spirit as well.

In Germany, the tensions between Christianity and Islam that have been mounting since 2001 recently set off an exciting, high-level competition among confessions. The subject at issue is the compatibility of faith and knowledge. For Pope Benedict XVI, the reasonableness of belief results from the Hellenisation of Christianity, while for Bishop Huber it results from the post-Reformation meeting of the Gospel with the post-metaphysical thinking of Kant and Kierkegaard. Both sides however betrayed a bit too much intellectual pride. The liberal state, for its part, must demand that the compatibility of faith and reason be imposed on all religious confessions. This quality must not be claimed as the exclusive domain of a specifically Western religious tradition.

The Virtues of Virtual Shakespeare

In "La Tempête," the much buzzed about French-language production of "The Tempest" from the Montreal's 4D Art, are 10 actors. Four of them (those playing the roles of Prospero, Miranda, Ferdinand, and an Ariel/Caliban hybrid) appear live. The six others are virtual characters, their video images (with sound) projected onto the back wall; at times, projected off curved mirrored surfaces, they look three dimensional.

The high-tech wizardry is as cool as it sounds. Those swirling spirits and creepy, vein-like branches create an eerie backdrop for Prospero's dark sorcery. Especially thrilling is the movie magic that allows the otherworldly Ariel (and others) to materialize out of thin air.

Unfortunately, technological conceit is yoked to every moment of this "Tempest." With the house cinemadark and the actors dimly lighted to keep the video legible, watching "La Tempête" is less like theatergoing than like watching a big screen TV in the dark. As the evening wears on, we watch these figures at television distance, losing any hope of a warm rapport between actor and audience.

At the same time it pulls us away from the actors, the technology pulls the actors away from one another. It's astonishing how little the live actors look at one another. Mostly, they face forward, scarcely glancing at others or their celluloid counterparts. Soon, one stops distinguishing the live actors from the virtual ones; none of them seems to have any chance of being affected by anyone else onstage.

Even at an abridged 90 minutes, this "Tempest" drags. Partly, the inevitable reading of surtitles slows things down. But the production's three directors (Michel Lemieux, Victor Pilon, and Denise Guilbault) don't make it any easier by doubling the spirit roles of Ariel (good) and Caliban (bad).The actress Manon Brunelle plays both roles, layering gender confusion over character confusion. As a further wrinkle, Ferdinand (Pierre Etienne Rouillard) transforms from being a spirit to being a human at an early point.

We can thank "La Tempête," however, for illustrating the impracticability of trying to mix film and theater in proportions of roughly half and half. The video portion of "La Tempête" could never stand alone as a movie — its experiments with proportion and special effects are interesting only as expansions of stagecraft. (Michel Smith's mood music underscoring would need punching up, too.) Likewise, the play as directed here would make an evening of Shakespeare as arid as the giant red rock upon which these actors are perched.

One could conceive of a "Tempest" enhanced by some of 4D Art's visual effects but missing the messy (and unrewarding) complication of the virtual characters — a "Tempest" in which thrilling effects could be sprinkled sparingly over a fundamentally sound stage play. Then video would be just the latest gizmo in a theatrical bag of tricks that has grown steadily through the years.

But why would we need virtual stage characters — when we already have television and film? Why, especially, would we need virtual stage characters in Shakespeare? The video exchanges between a boozy Sebastien and his buddyTrinculo are a classic example of why not to mess with live Shakespeare. They were written to feed off belly laughs; here, they feel as if they've been cryogenically frozen.

In contrast, one of the production's few disarming moments comes when the live Miranda (Éveline Gélinas) and Ferdinand say goodbye over and over again but find it hard to let go of each other's hand. Their giggles remind us that the "Tempest" has bright peaks to go with its valleys; stuck in the dark with our big screen TV, we'd nearly forgotten this play had any sunlight.

A joke that fills the house with laughter, a line that starts shivers running down the spine, a tender stage kiss that's met with sighs. You can get those things with live theater. You can get them with film. But you can't get them with a hybrid that isolates and constrains all the actors involved. There may be an argument for virtual stage actors, but it's not "La Tempête."

20 novembro 2006

an alternative list of dating tips from the animal kingdom

1. Our good friends and co-evolutionaries Canis familiaris (the domestic dog) show that when in doubt which hole to aim for, thrust wildly. You are bound to land in something good.

2. Shrimps' hearts are in their heads. Men have neither hearts nor heads.

3. The tongue of a giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) is half a metre in length, long enough to clean its own ears. If you can do the same there may be a career option you had not yet considered...

4. Dolphins engage in group sex. If those squeaky grey-skinned fisheaters can do it, so can you.

5. The females of the bonobo species (Pan paniscus), closely related to humans, are known to use sexual favours to gain status and food. A point to remember next time you're short of change at the corner shop.

6. Some ribbon worms will eat themselves if they can’t find food. Unfortunately, men unable to find sex are rarely so talented.

7. The anal glands of cats, genus Felis, are used to mark their territory and identify themselves to other cats. Whether this explanation will convince the hotel not to charge you for excess laundering is questionable.

8. The sailfish, the swordfish and the mako shark can all swim at a speed of over 50 miles per hour. If you meet someone unpleasant at a club it's unlikely you'll be able to escape as quickly.

9. Lions have been known to mate over 50 times a day. This is probably the sole criterion to become King of the Jungle.

10. A rhinoceros's horn is made of hair. Men who are lacking in the horn department, on the other hand, are not advised to grow ponytails to compensate for the fact.

11. Human birth control pills work on gorillas. If you have more success finding contraceptives and a female gorilla than a mate, something has gone horribly wrong.

12. Time is limited and some opportunities may never repeat themselves. Take a tip from swallows of the genus Hirundo, who mate in midair, regardless of the number of people on the flight.

18 novembro 2006

Are you Lost?

Question 1 What was the significance of Kate's memento of her childhood sweeheart - a toy plane?
There was none. The creators use it as an example of plotlines they regret as Lost fans everywhere began speculating what it might signify
It had the Oceanic logo on the side, and was thus an omen of the crash that brought Kate to the island
There are only six seats inside it - numbered 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42 - the unexplained recurring numercial sequence
Question 2 What is Sayid's surname?
Question 3 DriveSHAFT sang 'You all Everybody' while filming a commercial for:
4x4 cars
Question 4 What date did Oceanic Flight 815 crash on the island?
September 22, 2004
August 15, 2004
September 11, 2001
Question 5 In flashbacks, Jack's Dad is both an alcoholic and a hospital surgery chief - what's his name and where was he employed?
Dr Christian Shephard, St. Sebastian Hospital, LA
Dr Jack Shephard Snr, Wilshire General Hospital, LA
Dr Richard Webber, Seattle Grace Hospital
Question 6 The first scene of season two reveals Desmond's domestic set-up inside the hatch. What record is he playing?
Up on the Roof - the Drifters
Make Your Own Kind of Music - Mama Cass Elliot
Downtown - Petula Clark
Question 7 Sun was attacked and knocked unconcious while working in her garden - who was the assailant?
Ana Lucia
One of the Others
Question 8 What do the Lost cast do when one of their characters gets a flashback episode?
They don't speak to the actor while filming that episode, to reinforce the idea of separation from flashback and real 'Lost' time
They all go round to that person's house on Hawaii, watch the show and have a barbecue
The actor who is the subject of the flashback episode has to buy beer for everyone after filming
Question 9 Name all five Dharma Initiative stations discovered so far.
The Swan, The Elf, The Hydra, The Plane, The Arrow
The Staff, The Hydra, The Arrow, The Plane, The Pearl
The Swan, The Arrow, The Staff, The Pearl, The Hydra
Question 10 What is the name of the 'actor' who plays Walt's dog, Vincent?