Wednesday 14 September 2011

Hammer Horror News: Lost Dracula Footage Found in Japan

For a confirmed Hammer geek like me, this is the most exciting news to have surfaced in a while.

According to the official Hammer Films website, a Hammer horror fan has discovered long-lost footage of Count Dracula's disintegration from the 1958 film Dracula (US title: The Horror of Dracula). The extra few seconds of film, shot for the Japanese market, have apparently not been seen in decades, and Hammer fans have long debated whether the scene was even filmed or only ever existed in a photo still.

In the version known to most fans today, Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) forces Dracula (Christopher Lee) into a shaft of sunlight. He begins to pale and weaken before a cutaway to Van Helsing's reaction; in the next shot of Dracula, the disintegration -- of a special-effects dummy, not Lee -- is almost complete. In the still above, however, there's clearly an intermediate phase, featuring Lee himself, that most audiences have never seen.

The find also included some extra footage of the iconic scene in which Dracula bites Mina Holmwood (Melissa Stribling) in her bedroom. According to Simon Rowson, who uncovered the missing film in an archive in Tokyo, "on the Japanese print there is a shot from a completely different angle which clearly shows Christopher Lee’s mouth wide open and his fangs fully exposed as he moves forward to bite Melissa Stribling’s neck."

Hammer Films says it intends to release the footage as part of a future UK DVD release.

Saturday 20 August 2011

Jimmy Sangster Dies at 83

Jimmy Sangster, the film writer, producer and director who helped build the Hammer "house of horror," has died at the age of 83. Obituary here.

Below, a few trailers for Jimmy's finest Hammer films: Dracula (1958, aka The Horror of Dracula), The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) and The Nanny (1965):

Thursday 18 August 2011

I'm a Scrooge Obsessive

Yes, I know it's August, but I like to think ahead. Come the autumn and winter, I'll be blogging regularly about Ebenezer Scrooge, the "squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner" of A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. Have a gander at the Ebenezer Scrooge Archive for tidbits related to the miser we all love to hate.

Monday 25 July 2011

Liverpool Frontline Church's Ministry to Gays

From The Guardian's Comment is free, by yours truly:
If you're a Pentecostal or charismatic Christian in Merseyside, you'll know that Frontline church, in the Wavertree area of Liverpool, is pretty much the hip place to be. But a thought-provoking Guardian video report by John Harris last month reveals there's more to Frontline than just trendy worship and dynamic preaching. Its volunteers are reaching out to sex workers, drug addicts and people in poverty, sometimes with traditional methods, such as food banks, and sometimes in quite progressive ways you might not expect from a conservative church, such as distributing condoms to prostitutes.

Harris asked if Frontline could be "the church to calm our secularist outrage". And I can't muster up any outrage about feeding the poor and offering genuine friendship to the vulnerable, even when it's motivated by the kind of evangelical faith I've long since abandoned.

But I do have some major concerns about a side of Frontline church that has gone unreported. Frontline runs a ministry called Life, a group connected to a larger, US-based organisation "called and ordained to set people free from homosexuality through the truth and power of God and His Son, Jesus Christ".
I've followed it up on Ex-Gay Watch with some backstory on Liverpool Frontline Church's ex-gay ministry.

Saturday 16 July 2011

Actress Googie Withers Dies at 94

After eight decades in film, TV and theatre, the British actress Googie Withers has died. I reflect on her career and two movie performances I particular enjoyed: Actress Googie Withers Dies at 94

Tuesday 12 July 2011

British Journalist Johann Hari Faces Porn, Wikipedia Accusations

Johann Hari, the journalist facing plagiarism allegations, can now add Wikipedia tampering and writing gay incest porn to the long list of accusations levelled at him.

Hari, one of Britain's best-known left-wing commentators, recently admitted he had inserted chunks of previously published interviews, books and press releases into his own interviews. So far, his cut-and-paste habit has not cost him his job as a writer for the Independent newspaper.

His shoddy and dishonest practices have since been overshadowed by the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, but Hari's critics -- at least the right-wing ones -- are not prepared to lay the matter to rest.

Now new allegations have surfaced that a mysterious "David Rose" has, for years, been editing Wikipedia articles about Johann Hari and anyone who attacks him, under ... [Read more: British Journalist Johann Hari Faces Porn, Wikipedia Accusations]

Saturday 9 July 2011

Was Murdered Teen Lawrence King Gay -- or Transgendered?

By Dave Rattigan

The trial of Brandon McInerney for the murder of classmate Lawrence King continues in California. It was a crime seemingly motivated by anti-gay hate. But was Larry gay, or was he transgendered?

Both the defense and the prosecutors agree that in 2008, 14-year-old McInerney, now 17, fired two shots into the head of Lawrence King, 15, in an Oxnard, CA, classroom. King died two days later. The prosecution says it was a hate crime, motivated by homophobic prejudice. The defense says it was manslaughter, not murder, an act committed out of "a heat of passion" because of Larry's alleged sexual aggression and harassment of McInerney.

To one side, the unusually effeminate and flamboyant behavior was just an innocent gay teen's attempt to assert his blossoming sexuality. To the other side, it was a flirtatious pursuit enough to drive McInerney to shoot him.

Yesterday, teacher Dawn Boldrin spoke of Lawrence King in the time leading up to his death. He wore makeup to school, she said, and she encouraged him. "It takes a lot of guts to be different in today's world," Boldrin told the court ...

British Actress Anna Massey Dies at 73

By Dave Rattigan

The character actress Anna Massey has died at the age of 73.

As the daughter of Canadian actor Raymond Massey and sister of actor Daniel Massey, she was gifted with a prestigious name in film, TV and theatre, but she built an impressive acting career in its own right.

Her five decades in film began with in 1958 with Gideon's Way. In 1960, she memorably co-starred in the grisly thriller Peeping Tom as the neighbour who unwittingly befriends a serial killer. It was a film so controversial it ruined the career of its director, Michael Powell.

She later appeared alongside Laurence Olivier in the 1965 mystery ... [Read more: British Actress Anna Massey Dies at 73]

Times Editor Roger Alton Blames 'Yummy Mummies' for News of the World Closure

Journalist Roger Alton has blamed "yummy mummies" on the website Mumsnet for the closure of British tabloid News of the World.

Alton, who is Executive Editor of the Rupert Murdoch-owned The Times, spoke in a Channel 4 News report this evening, saying the supposedly Mumsnet-inspired Twitter campaign against NoW advertisers was responsible for the loss of over 200 jobs.

Friday 1 July 2011

Bits, Pieces, Stuff

Some of my recent stuff around the interwebs:

Phantom Sequel Love Never Dies to Close - Shame. I loved Andrew Lloyd Webber's score, even if the story and lyrics were banal.

Actress Alice Playten Has Died, Aged 63 - I knew her best (well, only, to be honest) as the goblin Blix in Ridley Scott's 1985 fantasy Legend.

Journalist Johann Hari Admits Making Stuff Up - left-wing columnist for The Independent has been nabbing already published quotes and making them look like they're part of his interviews. Indie editor Simon Kelner leapt to his defence, but it's getting worse for Hari by the day.

Oxford Comma Dumped: Goodbye and Good Riddance - my jubilation turned out to be premature, so I posted a follow-up: Oxford Comma Found Alive, Not Dropped.

Thursday 30 June 2011

Oxford Comma Dropped

Yes, that archaic, unnecessary quirk of punctuation has gone the way of the dodo in the institution that named it. Oxford University has dropped the Oxford comma (article by yours truly).

Wednesday 29 June 2011

Johann Hari's Non-Apology for Plagiarism

British journalist Johann Hari has apologized for making stuff up.

The gay, left-wing journo has enjoyed a reputation for incisive, hard-hitting interviews, chiefly at The Independent. Yesterday, Hari's reputation fell gracelessly apart under accusations of plagiarism and dishonesty.

Basically, he was cutting and pasting bits from other sources and passing them off as part of his own original interviews. He'd add extemporaneous details, such as "He lit a cigarette" and "She spoke faster," to make it sound authentic. I cited a few examples in my article about Hari yesterday. Writing in the New Statesman, Guy Walters provides some more examples from Johann Hari's 2006 interview with Hugo Chavez:
"I realized at that moment that I was saying goodbye to life," he says, looking away. "So it is possible that, after surviving, one has been a bit... imbued with that sense ever since, no?"
The problem is that these exact words come from a 2001 interview by Jon Lee Anderson at the New Yorker. So not only did Hari neglect to credit the source, but he also added "he says, looking away" to create the impression Chavez said this to him directly. And he does it again in the same "exclusive" interview:
Just as this is beginning to sound like sepia-tinted nostalgia, he adds, "I was in close contact with poverty, it's true. I cried a lot."
This time, the quote is lifted verbatim from Lally Weymouth's Chavez interview in Newsweek, published in 2000.

Before the revelations of Hari's practices broke, he first addressed the charge in a "clarification" on his personal blog. His justification was that he only occasionally uses already-published quotes from the same person when they don't express themselves as well in the interview. As long as they're making the same essential point, it's legitimate he says. Besides, everyone does it:
I called round a few other interviewers for British newspapers and they said what I did was normal practice and they had done it themselves from time to time.
Now Hari has made something of an apology in The Independent, under the headline "My journalism is at the centre of a storm. This is what I have learned."

His excuse now gets even odder:
[An] interview is not just an essayistic representation of what a person thinks; it is a report on an encounter between the interviewer and the interviewee. If (for example) a person doesn't speak very good English, or is simply unclear, it may be better to quote their slightly broken or garbled English than to quote their more precise written work, and let that speak for itself. It depends on whether you prefer the intellectual accuracy of describing their ideas in their most considered words, or the reportorial accuracy of describing their ideas in the words they used on that particular afternoon. Since my interviews are long intellectual profiles, not ones where I'm trying to ferret out a scoop or exclusive, I have, in the past, prioritised the former. That was, on reflection, a mistake, because it wasn't clear to the reader.
A non-apology. He doesn't think it's wrong, just (regrettably) unclear. Except Johann Hari doesn't write a simple, straightforward intellectual profile. He adds ephemeral details to give it a Gonzo-style edge. He doesn't want to just convey the intellectual ideas; he wants to draw us into the emotions of the interview and the personality by making us believe he was actually there, experiencing the story as it was told to him.

My remaining question, now Hari has kind of confessed in a roundabout sort of way -- ish -- is what of all the other journalists he claims to have spoken to? The British newspaper interviewers who, according to his initial explanation, do exactly the same thing as a matter of routine? Are they willing to come forward? Or was their presence, too, an embellishment to drive the point home?

Friday 24 June 2011

Columbo Actor Peter Falk Has Died

Peter Falk, the actor most famous as TV detective Columbo, in the long-running mystery series of the same name, has died at the age of 83.

We knew and loved him as Lieutenant Columbo for his crumpled beige trenchcoat, his shuffling demeanour and the way he'd hesitate on his way out of the door, only to turn back, hold up his cigarette and say, "Just one more thing," before asking the question that would unravel everything and expose the murderer.

Falk first played the part in a 1968 one-off special, and its success led to almost 70 feature-length episodes between 1971 and 2003. Over the years, the show saw him paired with dozens of high-profile guest villains, ranging from Faye Dunaway and Janet Leigh to William Shatner and Dick Van Dyke.

When he wasn't solving mysteries, Peter Falk had a successful screen career, with movie credits including It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963), The Great Race (1965), The Cheap Detective (1978) and The Princess Bride (1987).

The German director Wim Wenders, in a nod to Falk's iconic Hollywood status, cast him as a film actor-cum-angel, the actor himself in all but name, in the widely praised poetic fantasy Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin, 1987).

But despite an impressive and varied career, audiences will remember Peter Falk chiefly as Columbo. Lee J Cobb had been offered the part first but was unavailable, although there are unmistakable traces of Falk's Columbo in Cobb's turn as Lieutenant William F Kinderman in the 1973 horror film The Exorcist. Bing Crosby was also sought but turned it down before Falk seized the role.

And even though two other actors, Bert Freed and Thomas Mitchell, had played the detective in unrelated stage and TV plays before him, and The A-Team's Dirk Benedict has since played the part in theatres, Peter Falk made the role utterly his own.

The actor had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease in recent years. He was born September 16, 1927, in New York City, and died on Thursday, June 23, 2011, at his Beverly Hills home.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Sunday 12 June 2011

The Daily is out! What Is -- and What's the Point?

I'm not sure the website does a great job of marketing itself. Few people seem to know what the point is.

Here's what typically happens: You're reading your Twitter feed when all of a sudden, up pops an @mention featuring your name, among one or two others. It reads something like this:
The David L Rattigan Daily is out! Top stories today by @avalard @mack_ramer @csareb
You're tremendously excited that I decided to include you in my top stories, and you click through and start reading through half a dozen or more pages of links to see where I mentioned you and why. Then you send me an @reply to thank me for including you in the David L Rattigan Daily.

Except, I didn't, really -- or not on purpose, at least. But I admit, I didn't get it for a long time, either.

What Does aggregates links automatically from people you choose. To create the most basic "Daily Paper," you log in with your Twitter username, and generates a daily or twice-daily list of every link posted by people you follow.

What's the Point?
For me, the point is that even if I don't keep my eye on my Twitter feed every second of the day, I can take a few minutes to scan the list and see, at a glance, all the stories people I follow are linking to and talking about. I don't have to click on each link to see what it's about, because automatically generates a title, a summary and an accompanying image, if it's available. So the David L Rattigan Daily is primarily for me. I don't choose every item that goes in; does that.

Other Things Can Do
You can create daily papers based on other criteria, including Twitter hashtags, keywords or user lists. So, if your interest is Canadian politics, for example, you can create a daily paper that automatically aggregates all the links tweeted with the hashtag #Cdnpoli. Or if you have a Twitter list of best friends and you can't bear the thought of missing a single viral video they link to, you can create a daily that summarizes links tweeted by anyone on that list. You can also combine streams, selecting several keywords as criteria, say.

The Point, Summarized
Basically, I use for myself, so I can catch up with what's been happening on my Twitter feed while I haven't been paying attention.

Problems Retweeting Links?
All that said, I haven't been using as much lately. It still aggregates the links and posts the results to my Twitter account, but I don't check it as regularly. used to have a feature where you could automatically retweet any link on the list from within the site. For some reason, this stopped working for me. I can't figure out why, but I doubt it's anything to do with the site deliberately removing it, since it's one of the handiest features. If anyone can illuminate me on that problem, please leave a comment below.

Friday 20 May 2011

The Rapture's Not So Funny for the Kids

So US evangelical, "family values" guy and "End Times" expert Harold Camping has predicted the Rapture for May 21 at 6pm. At that time, he says, true, born-again Christian believers will be miraculously transported into the sky to meet with Jesus, leaving unbelievers behind, and the catastrophic natural disaster signalling the end of the world will begin.

Fundamentalist fanatics like Camping have been making predictions like this for years. In the 1970s, Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth was a bestseller on the back of the same kooky type of claims. But this latest prophecy is the first to hit the big-time in the internet viral age, when crazy stories spread worldwide with a click via Twitter and Facebook. It's ridiculous, and therefore it's funny.

But amid the hilarity of the news reports, the cartoons and the YouTube parodies, there's a very, very dark side to this Rapture-mania. Look at the family on the left. They're the Haddads, a Maryland family who put their lives on hold to prepare for tomorrow's Rapture. What are those three kids -- 14-year-old Joseph and twins Grace and Faith, 16 -- thinking?

I remember what I was thinking when, at the age of 15, I first heard about the Rapture. It was a Sunday night, and the sermon left me very, very sad. We'd be caught up to be with Jesus, my pastor said, but those who didn't believe would be left behind. All that whirred through my mind as I went home that night was the thought of my dad, an unbeliever, waking up one morning to find his family gone. I imagined him getting up at 4am, as he did 364 days a year to keep the family business going, and not finding my mom beside him. I couldn't stop thinking of the loneliness he would feel as he checked my bedroom and my sister's and found them empty. It was painful to imagine my dad going slowly about his daily routine with the people he loved most in the world gone forever.

But that was all part of the package with that kind of religious fundamentalism. Youth group, your parents have to convert, or they're going to hell while you go to heaven. Ladies, get your husbands saved, or you're being raptured while he stays on Earth to rot. Families, make sure you all have Jesus in your heart, because if not, you'll be torn apart forever.

Adults fall for this eschatological quackery, but when it affects children, it's tragic. It's an emotional and psychological abuse of vulnerable young minds. Evangelicals who subject their children to this can cast aside the rhetoric about the importance of a strong, loving family made up of mom, pop and two kids. Because, apparently, for these Christians, God's traditional family values end on Judgement Day.

Wednesday 20 April 2011

St Catharines Election Debate: Highs, Lows and the Frustrations of an Electoral System That Sucks

Four federal election candidates courted voters last night in a debate hosted by the St Catharines-Thorold Chamber of Commerce. Two other candidates were not invited, but they made sure everyone knew about it. Christian Heritage Party candidate Dave Bylsma addressed the crowd before the debate -- with or without permission, I don't know -- to register his feelings about being excluded, and Communist Party candidate Saleh Waziruddin followed suit. A show of hands revealed audience support for including them. I sympathize, although the logistics of adding another two panellists were definitely against them.

The final panel, then, comprised (L-R in the photo) current Conservative MP Rick Dykstra, Liberal rival Andrew Gill, Green Party candidate Jennifer Mooradian and NDP man Mike Williams. The criterion for inclusion was that each party must have received two percent of the national vote in the last federal election. Although Wazirrudin said he would file a complaint with Elections Canada, the organizers claimed the criterion was in line with Elections Canada's own policy.

I'm a first-time federal voter, so the last few weeks have involved getting to grips with a swath of political issues as I weigh up how I should vote on May 2nd. One month ago I hadn't a clue how I would vote. By last week, I had a much better idea. After last night's debate, I have a real conflict. I know which candidate I would vote for if every vote mattered. But in the Canadian electoral system, the majority of votes are wasted votes. I know how I'd like to vote, but I also know how I should vote to avoid an outcome I don't want. When you feel you have to vote strategically instead of for the best candidate, something is wrong with your democracy.

With that in mind, here's my take on how the candidates did last night.

Rick Dykstra (Conservative)

Poor Dykstra. He was sick last night, and I could tell. I believe he had a chest infection and was running a fever. He was visibly uncomfortable and fed-up. However, he has a strong record as St Catharines' representative in Ottawa, and he relied on that. People tell me he has done a lot of good for the region, and from what I've seen of him, he's a politician who does actually care for the community round here. He argued his corner well in the debate, hampered only by his illness. One thing that stuck out very strongly was that he never once, to my knowledge, mentioned the Conservatives or Stephen Harper. He talked about himself, "the government" and "Ottawa," but I don't recall him saying either "Conservative" or "Harper." If that was a deliberate strategy, I think it indicates those two words are a liability for Dykstra in this election.

Interestingly, by the way, when the debate turned to partisanship, cross-party cooperation and "working together" (I don't recall anyone mentioning the dreaded COALITION), Dykstra defended the viability of a minority government. I agree with him, but I'm curious whether he's toeing the party line. All I've been hearing from the Conservatives nationally is that we have to elect a majority government to prevent, I dunno, a big earthquake or something. Perhaps Dykstra senses the fear of another Harper minority government swinging voters away from the Conservatives?

Andrew Gill (Liberal)

Gill could not have been more different from Dykstra. From the beginning he talked mostly about the Liberal Party, its platform and its leader, Michael Ignatieff. I honestly thought the "Red Book" was a pejorative used only by critics for its obvious Communist associations, until I heard Gill refer to the Liberal platform with the term. His frequent mentions of Ignatieff, sometimes as simply "the Leader," added to the aura of devotion to the Liberal Party. It was a long time before he even mentioned St Catharines. For most of his solutions, he deferred repetitively to the main Liberal ideas, such as the Learning Passport. I would really have appreciated some more independence and an attempt to engage specifically with local issues.

Jennifer Mooradian (Green)

I don't think I'm alone in saying that Mooradian was the real surprise of the evening. My perception of the Green Party has always been that it is a single-issue party, but last night I learned that its name is misleading. If Mooradian truly represents the Green Party of Canada, I'd say it is a genuine alternative for progressive voters, with workable, evidence-based policies formed around a clear vision of a strong economy coupled with social justice. Mooradian consistently presented the issues with clarity and directness, and proposed unambiguous solutions with reference to the way things are in practice. She was also remarkably non-combative.

But candidates like Mooradian face an uphill battle to win in this election. For one thing, the party name is a liability. If I, as someone who invests hours in following politics, thought the Green Party was all about environmentalism, what does the average voter think? I mentioned this to my mom; her response was that she associated the party with being "on the wrong side of the law" (a perception she confessed rather timidly). In her head were images of unruly hippies, illegal squatters and fierce Greenpeace protesters. This has got to be a real problem for the Green Party. Second, reasonable arguments and evidence-based policy don't automatically win an election. It's not the way the media or politics work these days. Third, most voters are, I think, motivated by self-interest. When asked about restrictions on Niagara's wines being sold outside Ontario, the other three panellists took for granted that all restrictions were a bad thing; Mooradian alone turned it around and questioned the effect on other provinces. Unfortunately, "Hang on, let's look at this from their perspective" isn't a vote-winner. It can be, but it needs marketing. And this is the challenge for Mooradian and the Green Party when it comes to evidence-based policies and social justice.

Mike Williams (NDP)

I've tweeted to and about Mike Williams, and I feel bad that's it's almost all been negative. He seems like a fine guy, and I'd be happy to sit down and have a beer with him any time. (If I were much of a beer-drinker.) Unfortunately, he is really out of his depth in this election. And he's admitted it time and again. In the recent Cogeco TV debate, he more or less said he didn't have a clue and that a vote for him would be a vote for Jack Layton. He'd work damned hard for St Catharines, he told viewers, but he didn't have the experience to know what he was doing. He began last night's debate with the same apologetic schtick: I'm just a guy who works in a factory; I've read my party platform, but I don't have it memorized. Read: I'll try, but don't expect much. I suspect the NDP had a hard time finding a candidate in a riding where the party has no chance of winning a seat, so Williams reluctantly stepped into the gap.

In the debate, his main tack was to be the angry dissenter, fed up with the system and fighting back on behalf of ordinary people. But while the bitterness undoubtedly reflected the feelings of a lot of people, he gave no idea how he could or would change things. He railed against the Conservative government but suggested few concrete alternatives. On being asked how he would solve underfunding, his answer was literally "more funding." His solutions conjured up images of a bottomless pot of money somewhere in Ottawa, where the only question is whether our pockets are big enough. He passed on one question because he didn't know the party policy and so chose not even to comment.

How It Ended (for Me)

By the end of the evening, I had a pretty clear opinion of how the four candidates did in the debate. Rick was fine, despite being sick; Andrew was disappointing; Mike did poorly, but I didn't expect great things anyway; Jennifer blew me away. I spoke to Jennifer at the end, and I told her quite bluntly: My fear is that if I vote for you, it's a wasted vote.

I'm a small-L liberal. Most of the things I cherish about Canada I owe to big-L Liberals. With the right leadership and platform, the Liberal Party could be for me. And I will probably vote for them, because it's the only viable choice for me in this two-party race. If the Conservatives form the next government, I'll be disappointed; even more if it's a majority. I don't have a huge issue with Dykstra winning here, per se. I don't want another Tory government, although Dykstra seems okay to me so far.

But if the electoral system really worked and every vote counted, and if I had the confidence it would change a damned thing, I'd be voting for Jennifer Mooradian on May 2nd. Unfortunately, I don't have that confidence. Because the system sucks.

Friday 15 April 2011

Ignatieff's Absences: Why the Iggy Enigma Is My Personal Issue

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has received a fair bit of stick from Conservatives for his 30-year absence from Canada. Long before the 2011 federal election campaign, the Tories were running attack ads against Iggy: "He didn't come back for you."

Every time I hear that, I want to respond: "That's okay. I didn't come back for him either."

I'm a dual British-Canadian citizen. I was born in BC, moved to England at the age of five, returned to Canada for a couple of years in my twenties, and moved back to the UK from 2003 to 2009 before returning to Canada. So it stings a bit when I hear criticisms that suggest absence from Canadian soil is a reason for questioning a citizen's loyalty, commitment or patriotism. Dual nationality is a blessing and a curse, and I've lived 33 years with the joys and the hurts that come from being tied equally to two nations. But I'm no less Canadian because I'm British and no less British because I'm Canadian. I love both my nations.

It's far from certain, however, that all the criticism of Ignatieff's Canadian credentials stem from the mere fact he was away for three decades. It's an undercurrent I've detected in some attacks; but there are legitimate questions, too. It's an unavoidable fact that Ignatieff ran for a seat in the House of Commons almost immediately on returning to Canada. Once an MP, and following Paul Martin's 2006 election defeat, he unsuccessfully ran for leadership of the Liberal Party. He succeeded in his leadership bid in 2008, and now he has a good chance of becoming Canada's Prime Minister. He spent those 30 years outside Canada as a historian, scholar, commentator and writer. Politics, in one form or another, is what he's always done. Maybe that makes him a careerist, an opportunist. Maybe that just means he knows his stuff and that's what he's good at.

Ignatieff's detractors have exploited his statements to the hilt. The most common soundbites don't hold up. He referred to the Canadian flag as "an imitation of a beer label," but read in context, it was clearly ironic, self-deprecating, affectionate, patriotic humour. He told Maclean's the only thing he missed about Canada was Algonquin Park, but I haven't been able to find the original article anywhere. (It definitely exists; I just can't check the context.) Given that, I doubt more than a handful of Ignatieff's critics have seen it either. These are cheap shots.

Then there's the question of whether Ignatieff voted in other countries. He and his office have gone back and forth on this, although it appears now the fact is he voted in the UK as a member of the Commonwealth. He claims not to remember how many or which Canadian elections he voted in while abroad. As for voting in other countries, his prevarication only fuels the erroneous and offensive (to me) assumption that voting in another country puts a person's loyalty to Canada into question. As well as being enshrined in law, it's perfectly possible to be a loyal Canadian and vote in or be a citizen of another country.

His opponents have confronted Iggy with more than just his absence from Canada. In Tuesday's Leader's Debate, NDP leader Jack Layton charged Ignatieff with a dismal 30% attendance record for parliamentary votes. It turned out the actual figure was 41% -- an improvement, but hardly impressive. Ignatieff dodged Layton's question and visibly lost his temper, snapping: "At least we get into government. You'll be in opposition forever." He later appeared to dodge a French reporter asking the same question in the post-debate scrum. Bad move, Iggy. You owe it to voters to explain a 59% absence.

Iggy is an enigma. There are some questions, but those questions are clouded by popular suspicions about Ignatieff's Canadian credentials based purely on his absence from residency in Canada. That merits asking whether he knows enough to govern Canada. It doesn't merit questioning his loyalty or patriotism. That is offensive.

It may be that questions of loyalty and patriotism are a Tory problem, however. I haven't noticed anyone but the Conservatives making a big issue of Ignatieff's Canadianness. As a dual citizen, this concerned me, and I looked into the issue a bit. I learned that in 2006, the Conservative government challenged Canada's laws on dual citizenship in the midst of an influx of Canadian citizens from Lebanon, due to the Israel-Hezbollah War.

Should I be worried that the Conservative Party doesn't like the laws on dual citizenship? Should I fear for my own status as a dual citizen? I have a history and a heritage in this country, and the mere thought of losing that is enough to bring tears to my eyes. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees my right to come and go from my country.

(Would it be far-fetched to suggest I probably don't need to worry because, unlike my fellow Lebanese-Canadians, I'm white, Western and not "ethnic"?)

I don't know what I think of Iggy. I have an idea what I think about his policies, but for me the jury's still out on whether the man himself is more opportunist than anything else. One thing I'm not prepared to do is to question his identity and loyalty as a Canadian purely because he lived outside the country for 30 years. That kind of unpatriotic thinking is just too close to home.


Canadian and British and Very, Very Proud

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Election Debate: The Morning after the Fight Before

Last night, all of Canada, or at least the handful bothered with the current election, tuned in to the 2011 Leaders' Debate. I'm a Canadian citizen from birth, but this is my first federal election as a voter, so I've been following the campaign with interest. I began the election with no idea which way to vote. I think I've arrived at a fairly firm decision, but not without seriously considering the alternatives.

Admittedly, last night's debate was as much about the excitement as the issues for me. So, here, in the spirit of politico-entertainment punditry, is my take on how each of the four leaders -- Stephen Harper (Conservative), Michael Ignatieff (Liberal), Jack Layton (New Democratic Party) and Gilles Duceppe (Bloc Québécois) -- did in the debate.

Stephen Harper
Tory commentators say he was calm; I say he did a James Franco and smoked weed before the show. He was incredibly placid and soft-spoken, as is generally his manner, but I thought his tone got whining and fed-up very early on. Despite the low, soft tones, he quickly began to sound defensive, exasperated and impatient when the challenges started coming in (predictably, from the outset). As far as the issues went, he seemed to go in with "Economy, economy, economy" on the brain, so he clearly thinks that's his strong point and the issue that will win the election for the Conservatives.

Michael Ignatieff
Ignatieff went straight for Harper's jugular on the issue of trust. Harper consistently blamed an election Canadians don't want on the opportunism of the other parties, but Ignatieff repeated a few times that the election was called because Harper couldn't tell the truth on "jets, jails and corporate tax giveaways." It eventually got a bit repetitive, as Ignatieff repeated the same attacks verbatim. He also got pretty grumpy a few times, and lost it when Layton challenged him on his absence record from parliamentary votes. (Layton claimed Ignatieff's attendance was a mere 30%, although it's actually a mildly better 41%, or 59% absence.) An irritated Iggy flew off the handle and snapped: "At least we get into government. You'll be in opposition forever." Though he looked childish, he successfully dodged the issue. I heard a French reporter challenge him on the same point in the post-debate press scrum, but Iggy appeared to evade the issue again, disappearing hastily.

Jack Layton
I'm not surprised that most people declared Layton the winner. He was the most impressive, and he won the debate because he has the least to lose. Conservatives naturally hail his success because they know it would be a stretch to declare Harper the winner, and championing Layton is a nice way to divide the left-wing vote. Layton was the liveliest, most coherent and most polished of the four voices. His main tack was to suggest that Ignatieff and Harper were "best friends." He was big on the social justice issues and managed to get in a few mentions of climate change, an issue otherwise hardly discussed; doubtless a manoeuvre to win over some Greens (who, to a bit of an outcry, were left out of the debate).

Gilles Duceppe
Quebec, Quebec, Quebec. Are you surprised? I'm a BC boy living in Ontario, so the BQ isn't an issue as to how I'll vote. I find Duceppe a bit comical and hysterical. I was distracted by his unintentionally funny English mispronunciations -- "ship" became "shit," "second" became "chicken," and "developing" became "dev'lopping." I only wish I knew French better so I could watch tonight's debate and hear the English leaders mangle their French pronunciations in the same way.

Tuesday 5 April 2011

The Origins of David L Rattigan

I adopted the pen name David L Rattigan in 2003, when I was a young gay man desperate to escape the closet but too afraid to own what were, to me, the three hardest words in the world: I am gay.

"Rattigan" comes from Terence Rattigan (1911-1977), the gay British playwright. His works -- which fell out of fashion in the late 1950s but seem now to be the subject of renewed appreciation --often featured vulnerable, shame-filled characters trying to repress their supposed sexual failings; characters like the tragic classics teacher Andrew Crocker-Harris in The Browning Version and the haunted Major Pollock in Separate Tables. It was never difficult for me to look at these creations and recognize their gayness.

I was blogging almost daily back then, but I never revealed to my readers why I had chosen the name Rattigan. The choice was a faint cry for someone to recognize me and affirm me. I hoped, not entirely consciously, someone would make the connection and do for me what I was struggling so fiercely to do for myself.

Then there's the "L." Do you know what it stands for? Neither do I. I have some ideas, but I've never been certain. I like to imagine David L Rattigan as my alter ego, a part of me I still don't completely know myself. I've a feeling the "L" will always be mysterious to me.

Monday 4 April 2011

America's Most Hated Family: An American Tragedy

America's Most Hated Family in Crisis, Louis Theroux's follow-up to the 2007 documentary The Most Hated Family in America, is upsetting in a way the first film wasn't.

In this sequel, broadcast by the BBC on April 3, Theroux revisits the Westboro Baptist Church, run by the Phelps clan, the Topeka, Kansas-based fundamentalist cult infamous for its message that "God hates fags," "God hates America" and, dammit, God just hates everyone in the world but them. But this time round, it was a more upsetting experience for me. Back then, they seemed just a bunch of isolated weirdos. In the new film, Theroux probes deeper, especially into the minds of the church's young people, some of whom have since left or been shunned by the church.

One such young person is Libby Phelps, who tearfully describes how a series of events, stemming from the sin of wearing a bikini on a vacation to Puerto Rico, led to the sudden realization that she just "had to get out." I was reminded uncomfortably of my own mom's experience in an abusive fundamentalist church, and my advice to her when the control it had over her began to unravel: Run.

An aspect of the Westboro Baptist Church that came through very strongly in the original documentary was how brilliantly its members managed to hide all signs of inner conflict. Jael Phelps, for example, displayed a remarkably wide and resilient smile in the face of a grilling. In the sequel, we see the veneer begin to crack, however, and never more so than in Theroux's interview with the likeable teenager Grace. She is visibly uncomfortable toeing the Phelps line, and it's clear the rest of the clan know it. Her peers surround her, watching her words like hawks. Eventually some of the other girls let their masks slip as they get emotional talking about their attachment to a group of young (male) students who visited the church from Holland. Jael exerts such control over the situation that Louis turns to her and says:
What are you, like the Gestapo now? ... Your role is [to] interject the doctrinal hard line at key moments, when people are showing vulnerability?
Another tragic moment is when Louis talks to an Asian man, who sits taking notes at the back of the church during a service. The rather effeminate young man hopes to join the church, but isn't yet sure he's ready. He believes he's going to hell, and when asked whether he's obeying God, he answers, "Truthfully, no, because that is something that I have to work on." Matriarch Shirley Phelps-Roper interjects to inform Louis the guy came in "off the streets of San Francisco." It's not difficult to fill in the blanks -- and it's tragic.

Viewers in the UK still have until Sunday April 10 to watch the documentary on BBC iPlayer. The videos are also on YouTube, although they may not remain there for long.

Sunday 27 March 2011

2011 Canadian Federal Election: Twitter Hash Tags

So the Harper government has fallen, and Canadians will go to the polls on 2 May 2011 to vote for a new government. I'm new to this: I'm British-Canadian, but I've spent 24 of my 33 years in the UK. Last October I had my first experience as a voter in Canada, participating in the 2010 St Catharines Municipal Election. The upcoming election will be my first federal vote.

I'm honestly undecided which way to vote. I've followed Canadian politics somewhat since moving back here in 2009, and none of the major political parties has convinced me. But Twitter may be coming to my rescue, as I get talking with some of the candidates, journalists, political pundits and ordinary voters with an interest in the election. The hash tags are confusing me a bit, however, so here, with help from Twitter Search, PoliTwitter and David Akin, I'm going to gather a list of Twitter hash tags to make conversing a bit easier. Hopefully, some other tweeps will find it useful, too.

Glossary of Canadian Politics/2011 Canada Federal Election Twitter Hash Tags

Note: #cdnpoli, #elxn41 and #cv11 are (in my observation) by far the most popular English-language Twitter hash tags for the 2011 Federal Election.

#abc Anyone but Harper
#canpoli Canadian politics
#cdescom French-Canadian political discussion
#cdnleft Canadian left
#cdnpoli Canadian politics
#clsh Conservative leader Stephen Harper
#cpc Conservative Party of Canada
#ctvelexn CTV election coverage
#cv11 Canada vote 2011
#demreform Canadian democratic reform
#elxn41 41st Canadian federal election
#emayin Social media campaign to get Green Party leader Elizabeth May a place in the leadership debate
#fed2011 French-language Canadian election tweets
#gpc Green Party of Canada
#ignatieff Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff
#layton NDP Leader Jack Layton
#lpc Liberal Party of Canada
#momthevote Moms' discussion of family-related election issues (see this blog)
#ndp New Democratic Party of Canada
#p2ca Progressives in Canada
#pmharper Prime Minister Stephen Harper
#pmsh Prime Minister Stephen Harper
#poli politics -- append it to another term to localize it, eg, #niagpoli (Niagara), #canpoli (Canada)
#ppca Pirate Party of Canada
#ptndp New Democrats
#pttory Canadian Tories
#roft Right of Twitter (Canadian Conservative bloggers)
#voteabc Vote anyone but Harper
#votecompass CBC Vote Compass
#votemay2 Vote on May 2nd
#votepirate Vote Pirate Party of Canada

Geographical 2011 Election Hash Tags (Ridings and Regions)

#niagpoli Niagara
#saultelx Sault Ste Marie

Please tweet me or add a comment here if you have a hash tag to add to the glossary.

Thursday 17 March 2011

British horror legend Michael Gough dies at 94

The British actor Michael Gough has passed away at the age of 94.

The star of countless horror films was at his wild-eyebrowed best as over-the-top villains such as the sadistic crime writer Edmond Bancroft in Horrors of the Black Museum (1960) and the scheming impresario Lord Ambrose D'Arcy in the Hammer film The Phantom of the Opera (1962). He was a ham, but we loved him.

Among his other notable horror films were The Horror of Dracula (1958), Konga (1961), Dr Terror's House of Horrors (1965) and The Skull (1965). No doubt Gough's status as a cult icon in the horror genre led to Tim Burton's decision to cast him as butler Alfred in Batman (1989), a role he reprised in three sequels and on BBC radio.

Outside horror, his movie credits included The Man in the White Suit (1951), Ill Met by Moonlight (1957), Out of Africa (1985), Let Him Have It (1991) and Alice in Wonderland (2010).

Adieu and RIP, Michael Gough (1916-2011).

Thursday 10 March 2011

Ash Wednesday: You Only Live Once

The Ash Wednesday words "From dust you came and to dust you shall return" have particular resonance for this Anglican agnostic. You only live once; you're here and then you're gone; therefore "turn from sin and be faithful to Christ."

It's a call to seize the moment, to begin a quest to make our own meaning out of life's meaninglessness, turn away from the things that hinder us, do what we know we should do, live how we know we should live, and be as we know we should be. Why? Because we only live once. It's our one and only shot.

I wish there were a literal resurrection and that life really were a journey towards an afterlife, but I don't have any reason to think it is. The Lenten journey -- from Ash Wednesday's brutal confrontation with life's fleeting nature, through the agony of Maundy Thursday and the death of Good Friday, to the resurrection of Easter Sunday -- is a journey from meaninglessness to meaning, from the bare bones of existence to a life that matters.

Monday 7 February 2011

Being Gay in Bible College: Part 1

At Bible College, I went to great lengths to avoid discussions of homosexuality, whether in the classroom or, ahem, out. I had known I was predominantly gay all of my adolescence, though I'd never stepped over the line and become a "practising homosexual." I'd tried to capitalize on the small percentage of me that was sexually and romantically attracted towards women. I worked hard to convince myself there was some important quality to my relatively minor heterosexual attractions that made them stronger than and superior to my homosexuality. In my mind, I was a heterosexual with some homosexual issues.

Ethics was a required course in my first year. The subject of homosexuality had occasionally been discussed in other classes. Even then I would start to sweat and squirm, terrified that my secret would be forced out of me, but the mention was usually brief, and I got through it. An entire three-hour class devoted to the topic would be unbearable, however. The mere announcement in the previous week's lecture immediately set my pulse racing and my mind turning over possible ways I could avoid attending.

I settled on pulling a sickie. I told my roommate I was feeling ill, and I holed up in my room, dreading a knock on the door. I spent three hours in turmoil. I couldn't stay inside forever, so I emerged from hiding later that day. The prospect of questions about my absence had me literally shaking as I prepared to face my friends. They did remark on my absence, but I doubt it truly raised any suspicions. Life in the closet had made me paranoid, constantly afraid that the slightest wrong move would give me away, crippled by the fear that people were analyzing every word and mannerism for evidence of homosexuality. Skipping class that day was an epic emotional event; it was a couple of weeks before I felt the air had cleared.

Another time, a Pentecostal pastor who claimed to be "ex-gay" visited the college to run a weekend men's workshop/renewal event, focused on male sexual issues. The scenario was the same: My anxiety increased as the day approached; I invented an excuse to avoid it; I trembled in the aftermath as I fought off the possibility of exposure. If anything, I suppose it was worse this time. Missing a lecture on homosexuality was mildly suspicious, but surely dodging another gay-related session was proof positive that I was in the closet?

There were times when the struggle became particularly fierce. There were emotional attachments and crushes. One passing infatuation led to such unconstrained lust that I became convinced a night of sickness was God's way of disciplining me. I laid on my bed in an intense, fever-fuelled delirium that actually made me wonder if I were experiencing the kind of delirium that makes people want to die. The following day, I reasoned that God had been punishing me, and I determined to learn my lesson.

I eventually decided I should confide in someone. I had only ever "come out" to three people. One was an anonymous counsellor at a Christian camp. Another was a newly converted Christian friend who had admitted to me quite candidly that he was gay. The third was my own pastor, who told me it was a passing phase and never mentioned it again.

I chose the right person to come out to. He was a tutor with a reputation as somewhat progressive compared to rank-and-file conservative Pentecostals. It took me a few minutes to get the words out, but he was patient. I portrayed my plight as being mostly straight but with some gay issues. We met several times. I'm certain he was wise enough to recognize that I was likely gay and going to remain that way; he expressed no surprise when, several years later, I wrote him to say, "I'm openly gay now, and I'm content." But when I first laid bare my orientation to him, he didn't suggest I get counselling or therapy. He didn't mention the possibility of change. I don't even remember him giving me advice, as such. Instead, he just listened to me each time and then prayed.

I'm not sure any of my tutors would have suggested reparative therapy -- psychiatric or psychological help intended to change sexual orientation -- though some might have referred me to a counsellor or Christian ministry and made a much bigger issue of my confession. Thankfully, I had a shrewd confidant and never found myself pushed into more formal attempts at fixing myself, as many in the ex-gay movement have.

In part two, I'll write about what happened when one of my closest college friends found out his brother -- a husband, father and long-time Pentecostal elder -- was leaving his family and coming out gay.

Tuesday 1 February 2011

The Good Writing Blog

I've started gathering my thoughts on what makes good writing, along with practical tips about the craft. Visit, bookmark, subscribe to -- and, of course, learn from -- the Good Writing Blog.

Here's a few sample articles to get you started:
How to Pitch an Article to an Editor
Writerliness and Being Writerly
Formal v Informal Style in Writing: Knowing the Difference
And, if you're just starting out in the freelance world, here's a handy article I wrote a few months back on how to become a published writer.

Friday 7 January 2011

Sondheim Announces Sweeney Todd Sequel

Sweeney is back after three decades, according to the genius behind the hit musical.

Composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim has said that a sequel to the Broadway hit Sweeney Todd is in the works.

Lovett Never Dies will pick up where the 1979 original left off. While Sweeney fans assume the title character and his pie-making landlady, Mrs Lovett, died at the end of the first show, the follow-up reveals the pair were saved by a kindly cockney bootblack.

Sweeney disappears, but 10 years later, Mrs Lovett receives a letter from the mysterious "Mr T," a flamboyant New York barber-surgeon, inviting her to America to make pies.

Meanwhile, in the solitude of his vast barbering empire, Mr T will pine wistfully for Mrs Lovett's savoury goods, a yearning expressed in the show-stopping number Till I Eat Her Pie Once More.

"Die-hard purists will probably object to the new concept," said Sondheim, "especially the revelation that Sweeney and Lovett shared a night of passion among the pastries as they bled to what we all thought were their inevitable deaths."

Other songs in the musical will include Beneath a Spoonless Pie and Look with Your Tart.

Andrew Lloyd Webber will produce.