Monday, June 30, 2014

Crazy For You. At the Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ontario.

     Crazy For You. At the Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ontario. D: Donna Feore.  With Josh Franklin, Natalie Daradich, Tom Rooney, et al. Well done. I first saw this musical as a Great Performance special on PBS. Loved it, and so had to see this version. Well worth the trip (600 or km from home) and the price.
     The story is of course as silly as any Broadway Musical: Bobby Child is heir to a fortune doesn’t want to work in the bank, doesn’t want to marry Irene, wants to sing and dance and act in a Bela Zangler show. His mother sends him to Deadrock, Nevada, to foreclose the mortgage on a theatre that hasn’t seen a show in many years and has been made into a Post Office. He falls for the owner’s daughter, but has to impersonate Bela Zangler before she pays attention to him. And from there, things get more and more implausible, but the acting (great comic timing), the writing, the dancing, the music, and the ingenious (and yet surprisingly unintrusive) set designs carry you triumphantly to the proper end of a musical comedy: the hero and heroine get married, and a bunch of others pair off, too.
     The play was written by Ken Ludwig around a number of Ira Gershwin and Irving Berlin songs, the plot loosely based on their Girl Crazy. For more about it see
     It’s modern version of the traditional Broadway Musical, and it’s a success in every way. This version satisfied my desire for a retro show, and demonstrated that Stratford can do musicals as well as anybody. ****

Louis L’Amour Passin’ Through (1985)

Louis L’Amour  Passin’ Through (1985) Passin’ Through is the narrator’s nickname. He’s a drifter who doesn’t like being shot at, and the first thing he does in Parrot City is kill Burrows, a man who challenges him. The victim’s friends decide to hang Passin’, but instead of breaking his neck they leave him to choke to death. An Indian woman and her boy whom he’d helped a scant hour before cut him down, and so save his life. He rides on and arrives at a ranch with two women. One thing leads to another, he stays on to help them, but they are not what they seem. There’s some doubt about who actually owns the ranch, Burrows’ friends want to finish their revenge, and assorted other bad guys tangle the plot. The tale ends with knots untangled and Passin’ married to the rightful owner of the ranch.
        L’Amour’s skill at making the landscape present to us is as high as ever, his plotting is complicated but clear enough, and driven by character. The first person narrator is unusual for him, and tricky to handle when you’re writing romance, which demands stereotyped heroes and villains. Passin’s sidebars about himself make the story sound like one long reminiscence, which adds to the believability of the man, who may be uneducated, but has more than his share of common sense, and a strong sense of right and wrong, a trait that makes him stay and participate in the mess despite his equally strong misgivings.
     Another well done Western romance by a master of the genre. ***

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A warning about clickable links (Update)

I checked one of my posts today, and it's littered with clickable links that take you to bad websites. If you click, you get a pop-up that offers information about some products. I checked one, and Web of Trust warned that the website was evil. It looks like someone has infected

Do Not Click on any of these links. Any link that insert has been and will be intrioduced with "More information here" or some such phrase.

I checked another blog, and  the same thing happened, but not immediately, so it could be just a local infection. I'll be checking on that.

Update: The computer was infected with something called "coupon loader", that presented itself as an extension to Firefox. I had neglected to install Vipre. When I did install Vipre, it found the installer and eliminated it.
Update 2: However, Coupon Loader still existed as a program. I deleted the relevant program folders in C:/Program Files and C:/Program Files (x86), and that fixed the problem.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Nancy Pickard. No Body (1986)

     Nancy Pickard. No Body (1986) Jennifer Cain, manager of a charity and live-in companion to a Geof, cop, has to find out why there are no bodies in the closed part of a cemetery owned by Harbor Lights, the funeral home. At the funeral of John Rudolph the corpse of Sylvia Davis, receptionist/secretary at Harbor Lights, is found face down on John’s body, her skirt tucked up around her waist, and her long hair wound around her throat. So Jenny now has two mysteries to work on. She solves them both, of course. Sylvia was a lonely girl who liked men, so there are plenty of suspects, but the actual motive was money. The perp kills two others besides Sylvia, and tries to do Jenny, too.
     There’s a nicely varied cast of characters, most of them a little better than mere cardboard cutouts, the writing is intelligent and witty with the occasional nod to the hard-boiled school, the ambience varies from sunny small-town New England to gothic stormy wind and rain and dark enclosed spaces. All in all, a pleasant enough entertainment. It drags a bit in the middle. I found it at the food bank’s permanent floating yard sale, it’s worth a good deal more than the 25¢ I paid for it. **½

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Econ 101: the economy versus the environment

     We often hear that environmental concerns are in conflict with economic ones. For example, regulations to reduce CO2 emissions are said to be a drag on “the economy”. Let’s take that claim apart.
     What about the “drag on the economy”? There’s no question that reducing CO2 emissions will cost someone something, and that these costs will affect other people as well. Money spent on X can’t be spent on Y. But money spent on X will eventually be spent on Z. Money doesn’t disappear when it’s spent. Someone received it, and that someone will spend it. That’s how money works in a monetised economy. The claim that money spent on one thing rather than another thing is cost is code for “I’m going to have to spend money on something I don’t want to spend money on”.
     Consider now the terms “environment” and “economy”. What are the concepts behind these terms? It’s pretty obvious that “environment” means the habitat, natural and artificial, within which humans operate. Like all other living creatures we are utterly and completely dependent on our habitat. Anything that damages our habitat damages us. We may not notice the damage immediately, we may not be able to see the cause-effect webs that result in damage, and mild damage may be healed by the processes that maintain our habitat. But whatever happens, or whatever we figure out, habitat keeps us alive.
     So in what sense can concern for the environment conflict with economic considerations? There are two such conflicts.
     First, making a human living means creating habitat to suit ourselves. This will change and even destroy the existing environment. We aren’t the only creatures that do this, for example beavers are notorious for their effects on their environment. But we humans have done that more effectively than any other creatures. Human history is the history of a creature that has reconstructed the natural environment more than any other. Some say we humans the tool-using animals. I call us the habitat-building animal. We grow our food, we create transportation systems, we build settlements. No part of the Earth is free of traces of our work. Archeology and history show that we have repeatedly destroyed our habitat by building without limit because our built habitats promote population growth, and in the short run, the damage to the environment seems a small price to pay for this.
     But our built habitats need not destroy or damage the environment. We can build so that the altered ecology continues to sustain us. We can refrain from polluting the air, the water, the soil. This insight, and the realisation that doing so means allocating some resources to achieve these goals, crosses into the other conflict. In our monetised economy, allocating resources means spending money.
     The second conflict is between spending money as we wish and spending money as we have to. It’s about limits, constraints, and duties. It is felt as a conflict not because people don’t recognise and understand the need for limits, constraints, and duties. It’s a conflict because for many people “the economy” is about making money. The purpose and function of business is to make a profit. “Gross Domestic Product” is the sum total of all money transactions. “Economic growth” is measured in terms of money flow. If more money was spent this year than last year, the economy has grown. Money is obviously not environment. So anything that threatens to reduce profit is a drag on the economy.
     The trouble with spending money on the environment is that there is no profit in it. A forest can be converted into money if you cut down the trees and sell the wood. For the money-maker, a forest that just stands there is a resource that hasn’t been used to make money.
     A forest standing there absorbing CO2 and water and producing oxygen and absorbing pollutants makes our habitat a nicer place to live in. But it doesn’t make money. It improves human health. But it doesn’t make money. It makes people feel better. But it doesn’t make money. It provides a place for walking. But it doesn’t make money. It’s a place that gives you all kinds of opportunities to enjoy yourself. But it doesn’t make money. Not unless you own it, and make other people pay for all those pleasant, health giving, and nurturing experiences.
     And of course if some company has to spend money to maintain the forest, whatever that company makes will cost more. So saving the forest will cost money. And since the purpose of the economy is to increase the amount of money, that will never do.
     Identifying the economy with money flow is absurd. Thinking of money as wealth is not only absurd, it’s stupid. It so badly misunderstands what money is and how we use it that it’s not even wrong.
     The economy is the sum-total of all the ways we use to produce and distribute the goods and services we need and want. Money is just a way of making these transactions easier. Money flows one way, wealth flows the opposite way. Tracking money tells us something about the creation and distribution of wealth. But it doesn’t tell the whole story. It doesn’t tell us that a standing forest is wealth, nor that a cutting down the forest transforms wealth from one form to another. Neither does it tell us whether that transformation is a gain or loss of wealth.
     I think that seeing the environment and the economy as conflicting is not only stupid, it’s insane.
     St. Paul said that the love of money is the root of all evil. He was right.

Econ 101: Money and Wealth

     This morning I heard a report that wealth has increased round the world, and that China will soon become the single most wealthy country. Apparently, wealth now stands at 186 trillion dollars, and by 2018 or thereabouts China will be the richest country in the world with over 50 trillion dollars. The confusion between wealth and money continues apace.
     Wealth is not money. Wealth is stuff. Wealth the capacity to make stuff. Wealth is the capacity to provide services. If you want any of this wealth, you can trade some of your wealth for it, or you can use money.
But money isn’t wealth. You can’t eat it. It won’t keep the rain off. It won’t make your bed or cook your meals. It can’t catch fish, nor make the nets for catching fish. Only people can make umbrellas, do the chores, make nets, and catch fish.
     What the news really means is that since the last time someone looked at how money is spent, at least 186 trillion  dollars worth of wealth has been created and consumed. That’s all. And since an enormous amount of wealth is created and provided without money changing hands, and an enormous amount of wealth is created and consumed without being traded at all, the figure of 186 trillion dollars is certainly too low. Just how much too low is a real issue. Some time ago (sorry, I don’t have a reference) some economists tried to estimate the value of non-monetary transactions. They did some surveys, and concluded that about 30% of the “real economy” was not recorded in GDP figures. Personally, I think that’s a low-ball estimate.
     For example, composing and revising this screed is a service. It’s a service to me personally because it makes me think and clarify my thoughts. It’s a service to whoever reads it because it does the same for them. What is it worth? If I had a marketable presence in the marketplace of ideas, I would get some money for it, and that would be its value at the time. How much money? That depends on my reputation, on the likelihood that other people would pay for e-book or paper copies of it. Right now, its value can’t be estimated with any kind of accuracy because I offer it free, gratis, without expecting money in return.
     Most of what I do these days are services for myself and my family, friends, and community. If we had to pay for these services, we couldn’t afford them. And that is the case with most of what we do to keep life comfortable and pleasant. It’s true for most of us. Only the people with pots of money can afford to pay for services that rest of us provide for ourselves and for each other.
     The fact that we can’t afford to pay for these services means that the value of these services exceeds the value of our disposable incomes, at least. For half or more of us, it exceeds the value of our incomes, period. That, I think, is a clue to how to calculate the value of the non-monetised economy.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Miles Kington, ed. Punch on Scotland

     Miles Kington, ed. Punch on Scotland (1977) A scrapbook of cartoons, articles, squibs. Mildly amusing, with some semi-serious commentary on Scots-English relations, the invented traditions of the tartan and the kilt, and some serious comment on Scottish independence, which may happen any year now. A pleasant intermittent read.
     Best cartoon: Lady of the house, to newly engaged maid: “Mary, why did you not tell me in your letter of application that you were Scotch?” Mary: “I didna want to be boasting, Mem.”
     Exactly. **½

Monday, June 02, 2014

Royalty Close Up (2013)

     Royalty Close Up (2013) On TVO. About Kent Gavin, who learned photography by working at it when he was hired by The Mirror, which was always a tabloid, but back then was still a family tabloid. He became photographer of the Royals more or less by accident, and many of the most memorable images of them were his. He also photographed war, sports, and “general news”, and excelled in all genres. Why? Because he loved to take pictures of people, and because he learned how to see the picture through the lens. He mastered his craft before digital, when film, even for a daily paper, was expensive. He developed a knack for waiting for the right moment.
     His relationship with the Royals was complex and oddly personal. Not that he was ever an intimate friend, but they came to rely on him for “good” photos that told the story they wanted to tell. His remarks on the Royal’s awareness of the power of photography and publicity generally display an acute intelligence and deep understanding of how public images are created and propagated. He knows that ultimately a good photo depends on the relationship between photographer and subject, not between subject and camera; a good subject is one who likes the person wielding the camera. Even Diana, who liked being photographed, is better in Gant’s photos than in other peoples’, at least to my eyes.
     Gavin clearly wanted to tell a good story about the Royals and just as clearly wanted to the story to be the truth, even if it wasn’t the whole truth. That’s why we now expect candid photos that display the Royals’ (and other celebrities’) reactions to the events they witness. Unlike the paparazzi, Gavin did not want to trap or trick his subjects into revealing those aspects of themselves that none of us want to be made public.
     The film is sectioned into chapters about the Queen, Diana, Charles, etc. It’s worth watching, more as a seminar on how to take pictures than for still more revelations about the Royals. The music is cliched and therefore feels obtrusive to me. The photos are wonderful; I would have liked to have more screen time with them. **½