Friday, September 19, 2014

Justin Trudeau: Appearance and Reality

Earlier today I was reading an Erin Anderssen column in The Globe and Mail on how too much attention has been paid by the media to Justin Trudeau’s appearance, and too little to issues of substance. Absolutely. But if too much media attention to his looks is the issue, do we need a full column on how we should pay less attention to his looks? Why not make that an aside in a column about, say, his ruling out any increase in corporate taxes (now at their lowest levels in more than half a century)? Trudeau did say last week when interviewed on the CBC that if there were loopholes [my emphasis], "then of course we'd have to look at that." Notice that verb "look." No commitment to doing. The appearance of a commitment to fairness and justice—that's one area where it really matters if appearance is all that people pay attention to.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Paws (and Feet and Hooves) for a Cause

Every year in British Columbia the SPCA holds "Paws for a Cause" walks in many locations as a way of raising awareness and raising funds. This year I handed out a flyer (with the message below) to people in Nanaimo as they gathered at Maffeo-Sutton Park last Sunday morning. I received a very friendly reception from almost everyone I spoke with--including one fellow from Europe who was just passing through but said he would now eat "nothing but free-range."

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The ScotiaBank and BCSPCA Paws for a Cause Walk to Fight Animal Cruelty is a great way of raising funds, as well as raising awareness of the importance of taking a stand against cruelty towards non-human animals.

But let’s not restrict our compassion for our fellow creatures to dogs and cats. The average North American is complicit in the cruel treatment of over a thousand individual animals over the course of his or her lifetime; for each North American every year, well over two dozen birds and mammals are cruelly treated in factory farms before being slaughtered. The advertising campaigns of the companies who are responsible for breeding, raising, and slaughtering these animals either make no mention of the conditions the animals are subjected to, or suggest that they are raised in the way that farm animals were generally raised until the 1960s—in natural conditions, with lots of time spent out of doors and lots of room to move around; without breeding programs that make animals heavier and less comfortable in order to produce meat and dairy products in greater volume at less cost; without regular doses of antibiotics and growth hormones; and with a great deal of compassion.

That’s still the way farm animals are raised in much of Europe. But it hasn’t been the way most pigs or chickens or turkeys or dairy cows or beef cattle have been raised in Canada or the United States for a very, very long time. Well over ninety-five percent of the animal products in most North American supermarkets are products of the cruelties of modern “intensive” farming. The cruelty involved is surely reason enough to take a stand against these products. But it’s worth knowing that they’re also bad for the environment—and that they’re bad for human health. (If you don’t yet know how animals are turned into these products, information is available on sites such as,,, and; in films such as Food Inc.; or in books such as Eating Animals. If you’d like to know more about what the products do for human health, information is available on sites such as

How can we fight the cruelties of factory farming?

Go vegan. This is by far the best way to be sure you are not complicit in the cruelties of factory farming. (More and more studies are also suggesting that a whole foods vegan diet is best for promoting the health and the happiness of humans.)
Go free-range: insist on only free-range meat, eggs, and dairy products when you are shopping, and when you are eating in restaurants. Free-range products are far from perfect, but on average they are produced with considerably less cruelty than are “conventionally farmed” products. (In many areas of British Columbia you can also buy directly from local farmers, many of whom use only humane methods of raising animals.)
Go dairy-free. Many people imagine that dairy farming is the least cruel way of producing food for humans from the bodies of non-human animals. “We just take some of the milk away from the cow,“ people think; “where’s the harm in that?” Where to start when it comes to describing the harm? Perhaps with the fact that most dairy cows in North America live their entire lives in a small area of concrete—they never see a green pasture. Perhaps with the breeding of the modern dairy cow, which has been done so that the udder will always produce lots of milk inexpensively—and be horribly uncomfortable for the animal. Or perhaps with the most uncomfortable fact about all dairy farming: the milk is only available for human consumption because the cow’s babies have been taken away from her.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

"Directors' Cuts": Short Story Long

When did you ever hear of a "director's cut" of a movie in which anything was actually cut? Instead, the director's cut is always longer than the popular release--usually much longer. The assumption seems to be that the true artist creates a full, rich work of art, and crass commercial pressures then lead to a shortened, artistically inferior product.

The truth is surely the exact opposite almost every time. How often do we come out of a film thinking "It would be so much better if it were quite a lot longer"? Surely it is far more common for all of us to think "If only they had made it shorter!"

I'm not just thinking here of films such as Take Shelter—a case where an otherwise remarkably interesting and well-made film is essentially ruined by a misconceived last couple of minutes. I'm thinking primarily of that far larger category—films in which a natural ending point is reached after 90 minutes, and then another after 110 minutes, and then another after 130 minutes, and still the film staggers on. Take Spielberg's 141 minute Catch Me If You Can. For the first hour or more, the film is arguably one of the most entertaining dramatic comedies ever made. Indeed, it would not be difficult to come up with an "audience cut" that would result in placing the entire film among the best dramatic comedies ever made. I would suggest ending the film at the moment Carl lies and Frank is arrested overseas, and then summarizing the rest of the story (Frank working for Carl at the FBI and so on, as well as the material already summarized in the existing film) in writing on the screen before the credits roll—but no doubt a good case could be made for other moments. It's not that the last half hour or more of the film is bad. It's just so much less interesting than what has gone before. It meanders; it tells us little of substance about the characters that we didn't already sense; it ends up detracting from the overall effect rather than adding to it.

Here's an example in the other direction, which my partner and I also saw recently: the 1944 Murder, My Sweet. Starring Dick Powell and filmed in a wonderfully economical fashion by Edward Dmytryk. With one wonderful comic/romantic twist at the end. One, not three or four. The whole film? 95 minutes. A plea to Steven Spielberg; release a 95 minute "audience cut" of Catch Me if You Can. It will be one of the best things you've ever done—and one of the best movies ever made.