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Derek Best has contributed to several publications, including Macleans Magazine Canada, and Omni Magazine, USA. He is has also produced many documentary films for Television. For many years, he has been interested in A Course in Miracles, a metaphysical thought system, and maintains the official website for that organization. "ACIM", he says "is central to my personal way of seeing the world." This site is strictly personal however. Derek has an eclectic range of interests, and writes about them here as the mood strikes him.

Monday, June 12, 2006

It's Chinatown.

I bought a new DVD of "On the Waterfront" largely because it was one of the few DVD's in the store that offered Chinese subtitles. "Waterfront, Terminal Situation" is the film's title in China. I bought it along with another Chinese-subtitled movie: "Arab Lawrence." starring "Peter Australian Tour" as T.E. Lawrence(!) Anyway one of the bonus features on the DVD was an interview with Elia Kazan. A number of Interesting contradictions surround the making of the film. Not the least of these is the mystique surrounding Sam Spiegel, the producer. Spiegel, it appears, was the man everyone loved to hate. It should be acknowledged that it was Spiegel who pitched the film to the studios and got it made, after Daryl Zanuck dropped it saying America was not interested in longshoremen. It was Spiegel who got Brando, after first having signed the kid from Hoboken - Frank Sinatra - for the part. The way Kazan remembers Spiegel is ambivalent to say the least. He says:

In came this terrible terrible guy that I'm very fond of now named Sam Spiegel. And he was down on his uppers. He was broke- he had trouble He needed something that paid him produce and so forth, but, he also needed something to do.

He may be very fond of him now, but old men often mellow in their feelings toward each other. Kazan went on to redeem himself in the eyes of Hollywood, and Spiegel went on to produce "Bridge on the River Kwai", "Arab Lawrence" (haha), and a sizable chunk of "Ben Hur." That kind of resume tends to make hatefulness mellow into orneriness, and sonofabitchiness soften into eccentricity... at least in memory, and in those days apparently Spiegel could be very ornery. In the interview, Kazan claims the screenwriter Bud Schulberg wanted to go to New York and kill Spiegel., while Kazan fought with the producer about everything, throughout the shooting. The famed minimalism of the taxicab scene ("I coulda been a contender") he said was not a stroke of directorial insight, but a last-resort technique made necessary by Spiegel's total failure to provide a proper set. All they had was the back seat and an interior shell of a taxi. Spiegel apparently "forgot" even to provide the rear-projection apparatus. So they put venetian blinds in the rear window and rigged some flashing lights to simulate passing traffic, and just let the two actors - act! It was all they could do. That or cancel the shoot. By this point in the shooting schedule Brando and Steiger both knew their characters, and they could perform the scene with conviction. Kazan uncharacteristically waived aside all credit for the brilliance of the scene, saying there was nothing to direct: he just let the two men sit there and exercise their craft. He says it was simply Bud Schulberg's script that shone through unfettered, and burned the moment into film history. The director he claims he had nothing to do.
That isn't strictly true however. Someone had to keep a rein on the talent. In his autobiography Brando claimed the taxi scene was improvised, but this turns out to be false. Brando did start improvising, and Rod Steiger followed suit, but Kazan warned them sternly "Stop the shit!" and they stuck to the script after that.
Kazan says the film is about redemption: about a mixed up kid from Hoboken with a troubled conscience, who meets an innocent Roman Catholic girl (Eva Marie Saint) and is redeemed by the relationship. In the interview, Kazan says "What could be more basic than that?"

When he [Brando] plays those scenes with her [Eva Marie Saint] I'm broken up, I break up. Ah...ah...that one person should need so much from another person in the way of tenderness and all that. We all do, don't we, we all marry- hopefully marry or hopefully hook up with some lady that's gonna make us feel- we're ok and we're better and all that. We search for it and we want it and crave it and all that and sometimes it happens and sometimes it happens for a while and something in that basic story is what stirs people; not the social political thing so much as the human element in it.

Is that not a succint definition of what the Course calls a special relationship? But whatever Kazan felt about the redeeming virtue of relationships, we glimpse another side of him in the foreword to the film which claims that the “film will exemplify the way self-appointed tyrants can defeated by right-thinking people in a vital democracy" That larger purpose of course is mostly grandstanding and political posturing. It is well known that Kazan a couple of years before had given evidence to senator Joseph McCarthy and the HUAC. He was quite widely perceived as a "canary" among the Hollywood community, whose "singing" had cost many of them their careers. His allegorization of the HUAC in the form of the "hearings" in "On the waterfront" and his "redemption" of protagonist Terry Malloy (Brando) who gives evidence before the hearings is probably supposed to demonstrate that speaking the truth is not necessarily selling out, and it can lead to the downfall of tyrants.

That does raise as many problems as it solves though. First it does nothing to address the more fundamental question of what is wrong with a society where tyrants can rise to power in the first place. This is an aspect of the illusion which plays a large role in world affairs. As I write this, the current "evil" tyrant is Iran. Probably tomorrow it will be someone else. Second, the gang against whom Malloy testifies are a group of local buffoons -- the gang that couldn't shoot straight. They fall all over each other, speak in cliches, and generally behave as if they wandered onto the set accidentally from a neighboring cartoon comedy production. One critic wrote that their "headquarters," a ridiculous wooden shack on the waterfront, looks like a "clubhouse for the Hardy boys." Bringing down that particular dynasty did not seem that difficult. One call from their mothers to come home and wash-up for dinner would have achieved the same result.

Anyway don't let me leave you with the impression I experience it as anything less than a great movie. I think like most such memorable works it survives and transcends, despite the circumstances, not because of them. The muddled confluence of ego somehow achieves form and solidifies. What results has a life of its own. One can dig up enough dirt to tarnish anything that shines... but still it shines on. We cannot change it. "Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown."

Saturday, June 10, 2006


I get asked a lot about Flatland, presumably because I talk about it a lot. It is a short novel by Edwin Abbott written from the point of view of a citizen of a two-dimensional universe (a flat land). In this parallel universe there are rules and regulations, cultures and traditions, taboos and norms, and of course -- perceptions, and a world-view and a philosophy built upon them. The author however is given an "extraordinary" glimpse of the third dimension, and upon his return to two-dimensional normality he is a changed man. Unfortunately his insistence on a greater reality beyond mere flatness brands him as a madman and a heretic. He can produce no "evidence" to support his claims, and he ends up committed to prison for his refusal to renounce his ideas. As the narrative draws to a close he sits in his prison cell and seems to be at peace with his incarceration, as he begins musing on the possibility of other dimensions beyond the third.
The book is satire, and is usually branded as "social" satire, with the target of the humor ostensibly being stuffy Victorian society. In fact though, the central premise is one of intolerance and closed thinking of all kinds, and failure to think outside the conventional limits.
I think it was Spock (Mr. , not Dr.) who said something like "Two is the most unlikely number in the universe." His point was -- an oddity or a singularity is possible and quite probable, but if you discover another similar one, then it is no longer singular, and the probability that there are only two -- is then very small.
That concept certainly applies to dimensions; but a strange thing seems to happen in university philosophy departments when I mention the possibility that the Boolean analytical approach to describing God might be just as restrictive and restricted as the Flatland approach to describing the world. What happens is: satire is labeled as just that -- satire -- and placed on a mental shelf neatly out of the way in the "interesting but irrelevant" section of the library. There is no move to see the satire as possibly uncovering a truth of any kind. It's sort of like this -- "Yes I think I read that when I was a teenager. Look, what's your point? Why are we discussing fiction when we are trying to discover truth?"
And to be honest there is a kind of vulnerability in invoking the ideas of others (fact or fiction) as a position or a defense during any kind of dialog. The mere fact that a concept is pre-existent makes it categorizable and probably already categorized. We categorize in order to protect ourselves from the now. We dilute the meaningfulness of existence by sticking labels on everything. Have you ever wondered why the Dymo-labeler is such a successful business product? It helps mankind do what he has to do in order to obscure God.
Today is a mish-mash post of disconnected thoughts. But today in general was like a ripe glowing orange, waiting to be plucked. You know? Some days the world seems bigger than we can handle and largely hostile. Other days, like today, it seems manageable and friendly, obtainable and sweet. One major relief was the absence of earthquakes. I've had a lot of dreams about a major earthquake in LA on June 9th. Didn't happen, and I'm not sorry. Goodnight.


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3:58 AM  


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Monday, June 05, 2006

Heavy Rocks

Civilized states spend more than half their revenue on killing each other's citizens... Are these abominations ... really evidence of an intelligent creator? ... The world in which we live can be understood as a result of muddle and accident; but if it is the outcome of deliberate purpose, the purpose must have been that of a fiend. [Bertrand Russell: Why I am Not A Christian]

It does no good to assert that God may not be all powerful and thus not able to prevent evil. He can create a universe and yet is conveniently unable to do what the fire-department can do -- rescue a baby from a burning building. [B.C. Johnson: God and the Problem of Evil]

1. If God exists, then there would be no evil in the world.
2. There is evil in the world.
3. Therefore, God does not exist.

[Epicurus: The "Inconsistent Triad"]

If divine laws are right just because God says they are right, then God could tell us to murder or steal, and by definition it would be right. On the other hand, if God simply informs us of their rightness, that implies He is not the source or cause of such rightness, but merely an enforcer. In other words He is not omnipotent. [A common objection to the ethical theory of Divine Law]

Could God create a rock so heavy that even He could not lift it? [The paradox of Omnipotence. ] (A brief explanation: if He could make such a rock, He could not lift it, so He would not be omnipotent, or all-powerful. If He was not able to make such a rock, He would similarly not be omnipotent.)

If one less person had died in the holocaust, would we still have learned a lesson from it? [A common response to the theodicy that we cannot judge suffering as evil, since it may be part of God's greater purpose]


Blogger Namaste said...

No problem and thank you Derek

9:08 AM  
Blogger Namaste said...

No problem and thank you Derek

9:08 AM  


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Friday, June 02, 2006

Birds of a feather

Still on the topic of atheism in college philosophy departments, I could not help noticing that there was very little camaraderie among the faculty. Every faculty member and teaching assistant seemed to have only a kind of murky peripheral interest in their colleagues' ideas. Perhaps they were all too absorbed in their own thought processes? Or perhaps there is a lot of pressure to publish or perish, and ideas are too valuable to spread around? More likely it is a natural response to the tendency of people of faith to congregate. I cannot help feeling that on some level atheists are uncomfortable being "joiners". They wouldn't want (as Groucho said) to belong to any club that would accept them as members. Group activity of any kind is a sign of some kind of community between souls: something an atheist cannot subscribe to. Previously I used the term "church" in relation to critical thinking because I do see it as a kind of blind faith. But adherents to that "faith" all vigorously deny any element of faith in their thinking, so they are obliged not to congregate. It would smell of church-worship or some faith-based activity. It is a fact that the philosophy department in a college is often a sort of poor orphan-child. There are doubtless a number of good reasons for this; in particular this is an age where degrees in "air conditioning and heating," or "criminology" are considered valuable, and liberal-arts is seen as superfluous. (that pendulum is starting to swing back again, though.) But perhaps a more basic and inescapable reason is the self-isolating nature of secularity. Great critical-thinking minds, even if they think alike, apparently can't discuss it, and without cohesiveness or group-spirit, departments seem destined to languish.


Anonymous Jo-Ann said...

Just a comment on Critical Thinking Feathered Birds

How can an atheist join with his fellow associates when he does not believe in God? God was murdered, is dead. God no longer exists. Much underlying fear must be experienced because there is no Peace of God in the mind and no place to find any faith. You are the guilty one who has sinned. There is no way out. Exposing this fear with other critical thinkers would expose your self worth, self-esteem and intelligence. Being silent is safe. The ego has set it up this way.

Do you need to continue with this line of study when you think differently? I don’t know. However, think about this, can you sit in class and find Peace with what is being said?


8:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

every day, every walks of life of people are saying the same kind words over and over full of lips level of greetings deep down people are not what they say so....why are we not what we are...can you please teach me what I should be.and that should be the origin, because the others are able see in me... the real Me. Ah..Ah.....!!!.

11:11 PM  


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