Culture and Religion

A review of Nino Ricci Sleep (2015) and Richard Linklater Waking Life (2001)

Ricci's latest novel, Sleep, inspired by his own sleep disorder, is really more a fun text book on the latest brain research and the blind use of powerful drugs to alter--and possibly restructure (who knows?)--the brain. It's like a 'don't smoke' ad that's actually informative and hilarious, with a classic 'death of a salesman' plot moving it along.

The complexity of the brain and the perilousness of the chemical warfare we casually inflict on it is far greater than, say, sending a man around the moon or deploying star wars 'defense' systems. Imagine your brain: a ball the size of a large fist, crammed with billions of neurons, brain cells, a tiny Mission Control module, with dozens of centres, some highly specialized, some working in tandem with others, a fantastic electrical grid.

The more scientists reveal about the workings of the brain, the more questions arise. Enter profit-hungry pharmaceutical companies, developing ever new drugs, testing them as quickly as the lax laws allow, where concern for long term effects (there could be many, far reaching, varying among various brains) is cavalierly ignored.

Killer candy floss

The Orlando shooting on June 12 has nothing to do with Islam and everything to do with US policies, both domestic and foreign.

By domestic, I'm referring to "soft power"* cultural destablization, intended for export around the world to keep the natives distracted and happy. Think Disney on steriods. By foreign, I'm referring to "hard power" US imperialist policies, neoliberalism (in former days, anti-communism).

Omar Mateen was part of the jetsam washed up on US shores as a result of the US-sponsored 'jihad' in Afghanistan in the 1980s. He was born in New York and grew up as a product of the latest warp in American culture. His anger is homegrown, American through and through, shared by millions of Christian (less so Jewish) Americans. It cannot be airbrushed out of the glossy infomercial of American freedom we are fed in the mass media.

Which conspiracy?

9/11 truthers shout COINTPRO. Maybe Omar Mateen was set up to do his deed by some nefarous deep state FBI/CIA monsters. That's possible. But it appears the guy was 'gay',  an angry lumpen (prison guard), driven to carry out his monstrous crime based on the American worship of guns and violence, and fueled by his own simmering disgust with dissolute Amercan culture, which conflicted with his traditional upbringing.

Why do I find the transgender bathroom debate so irritating? While Obama daily launches drones, killing dozens of innocent foreigners (or militants, it doesn't matter - both drone deaths are crimes against humanity), we are fed self-righteous nostrums, showing what a great liberal he is (soon to be joined, no doubt, by the supreme court).

Dress is mostly unisex now -- women wear pants, so what's the problem? If you must wear make-up and act like a woman, just dress down if you are out in public. In the interests of public courtesy, bite the bullet and use 'the men's' if your body is male, and 'the women's' if your body is female. Or if you can't abide that compromise with social norms, arrange your day to use individual washrooms (most gas stations, restaurants, hospitals, probably most schools).

Canadian hero-suicide Gerry, Jewish humour in the camps, interviewing suicide bombers in Syria
Downton Abbey is phenomenon. A dazzling remake of Upstairs, Downstairs (1971--75), which was arguably better as a drama (well worth a second viewing), but which lacked Downton's docudrama cache and the breathtaking sets. Both series revisit the British empire at its peak, in the early 20th century, when the Union Jack covered half the globe, and the ruling elite lived a high life that can never be matched, no matter how many millions you may have. Genuine fairytale realities, heaven on earth -- at least for the elite.

You can build replicas of manors and wear costumes all you like, but the social order where the lives of millions of servants, workers and tradesmen revolve around the whims of a tiny aristocracy, where everyone had their clearly defined role in the social order, is long gone. A journey into the world of Downton Abbey is a journey into an alternative reality.

With no electricity, no cars (barely there in 1912), no telephone, but gas lighting, railways and the new telegraph, you watch the advent of all of those inventions that make our world today, and experience how they transformed everyday life. You are touched by the spectre of revolution, both the Irish War of Independence in episode one (the driver Tom), and then by the odd socialist (not the servants) after the Russian Revolution.

One key plot device is the delicate treatment of the crucial role that Jewish banking money played a prominent role in the elite's fortunes. Lady Grantham (Cora Crawley) is revealed in passing as an American Jewess, whose money saved the Abbey from bankruptcy, but whose origins are (sort of) a family secret. The outcast, though still privileged, role of Jews in British society is implicitly highlighted by the will of the fourth Earl, the father of the Downton Abbey's Lord Grantham, Robert Crawley. He had put an "entail" on the estate, stipulating that unless Cora produced a male heir (which she didn't), the estate would pass over to the closest male relative in the family, a third cousin.

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Canadian Eric Walberg is known worldwide as a journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia. A graduate of University of Toronto and Cambridge in economics, he has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s.

He has lived in both the Soviet Union and Russia, and then Uzbekistan, as a UN adviser, writer, translator and lecturer. Presently a writer for the foremost Cairo newspaper, Al Ahram, he is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Global Research, Al-Jazeerah and Turkish Weekly, and is a commentator on Voice of the Cape radio.

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