Symbiosis: Beneficial Friendships

In my school days, I had tracing paper and carbon paper to help me draw, but the former set my teeth on edge and the latter made me sneeze. Nowadays, I still can’t draw a creditable amoeba.

One homework assignment I remember particularly well involved creating and dividing an exercise book into three, width-wise.

The top part had to contain heads of creatures, the middle section was for bodies, and the bottom part was for legs, tails, or both. The idea was that we could create an (almost) infinite number of weird and wonderful creatures, naming them by using syllables from the animals’ names.

Some real animals, like the platypus, the star-nosed mole, and the aye-aye appear to have escaped from the pages of my scrapbook.

Doesn’t an animal with the head of an ox, the horns of a buffalo and the mane of a horse belong in the realms of fantasy? Actually, this one does exist; it’s the wildebeest.

Anyone who has seen the magnificent migration procession of this animal from Masai Mara to Serengeti will notice that these animals usually travel with substantial herds of zebras.  There are several reasons for this.

Zebras have a very poor sense of smell, but excellent eyesight and hearing. So they can sound the alarm as lions or hyenas approach. With wildebeests, it’s the opposite. So the animals trek together, and they are covered on all three sensory fronts, by making full use of the talents of either group.

This union is also favourable to both droves of beasts when it comes to obtaining food and drink, which are after all, the primary reasons for the voyage. The constitution of wildebeests necessitates their drinking at least every two days, and luckily they have a heightened sense of scenting water. This is a benefit to zebras in the dry Serengeti.

Wildebeests and zebras look as different as chalk and cheese.  One is bulky, ungainly and muddy-coloured; the other is sleek and has a designer pelt.  And yet, they have found the secret of co-existing peacefully. Without knowing of the word, they have developed symbiosis – a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship.

I think of my childhood friends with whom I am still in touch, and marvel at the empathy, solidarity and synergy amongst us… because we make them happen. Dependable Emma who would cut her hair short if I had alopecia (hair loss); athletic Simone who’d take off her loafers because my stilettos hurt me; fashion-plate Helga who would leave the party early if I was tired; Earth-mother Susan who’d miss a boat-trip to visit me in the hospital;  world-famous artiste Stella who’d clean my dirty laundry if my machine broke. I reciprocate as needed.

We have lived, loved, laughed and cried together, and prayed with and for one another.

Our friendship has withstood the test of time. Acquaintances come and go, but friends with whom you give-and take, without counting the cost, remain forever.  When you are blessed with a true friend, treasure her.

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L-Aħbarijiet ta’ Barra Minn Hawn…

 

 

 

Illum qagħdet; kulħadd jiġri bit-telefon tal-kamera f’idu, biex kif jinzerta “xi ħaġa” joħdilha ritratt. Tista’ tkun qattusa maqbuda f’siġra, jew fjura sabiħa, jew saħansitra… vittma ta’ incident.

Bil-ġenn biex inkunu “qabel tal-aħbarijiet”, nitfgħu ritratti, sbeiħ jew makabri, fuq l-Instagram jew il-Facebook jew siti soċjali oħra, bla ma nqisu l-effetti li dawn ser ikollhom fuq ħaddieħor.

Mela l-ewwel kien hemm ir-radju; wara ġie t-televixin, li malajr espanda għall-cable… imbagħad ġew is-siti soċjali.

Niftakar żmien meta l-ġurnalisti Maltin kienu jiddependu fuq ir-RAI jew il-BBC biex ixandru avveniment bil-Malti, u n-narratur kien jaqleb dak li jkunu qed jgħidu l-preżentaturi barranin. Wara bdew jintbagħtu l-korrispondenti, biex ixandru Live.

Illum, kollox inbidel. Kull min jinzerta lil xi politiku, xi artist, jew xi personalita oħra, malajr jieħu filmat ċkejken…li mhux dejjem jinżamm privat. U m’għandniex xi ngħidu, jekk xi cameraman jaqbad lil xi ħadd minnhom jikser il-liġi, jew imqar inaqqar imnieħru… jagħmel xalata.

Dan l-aħħar rajna lil Diamond Reynolds turina l-mewt tal-maħbub tagħha, Philando Castile. Rajna wkoll vittmi ta’ inċidenti, barranin u lokali, ftit sekondi biss wara li jkunu ġraw. Rajna xeni ta’ vjolenza, ukoll. U min ikun ħa l-filmati, jiftaħar li għamel scoop.

U żgur li t-tentazzjoni li tieħu r-ritratti u l-filmati tkun kbira. Kemm hu sew li tista’ twettaq il-kumment “illum taf x’rajt…?” bil-provi, u li ma jkollokx għalfejn tgħid “kemm xtaqtek kont hemm dak il-ħin…” għax tista’ turi klipp.

Imma tajjeb ukoll li nistaqsu lilna nfusna x’hemm, barra l-istint, li jimmotivana biex nieħdu dak il-filmati jew ritratti.

  1. Għandi l-iskop li numilja lil dak li jkun, jew indaħħaq lin-nies bih?
  2. Ivverifikajt jekk dak li naħseb li qed nara, humiex il-fatti, jew forsi qed ninterpretahom ħażin? Jekk hemm xi ħadd qed itini l-informazzjoni, kif ħa nkun ċerta li dan mhux qed jipprova jużani?
  3. Jekk inħoss li dak li qed inandar live ser jispiċċa ħażin, lesta li nibqa’ hemm sal-aħħar, u forsi nipperikola ħajti, jew basta għamiltha tal-brava għal ftit sekondi?
  4. Kieku kont naħdem mal-medja, l-editur tiegħi kien iħallini nxandar jew nippublika dan li qed nagħmel fuq is-siti soċjali, jew kien jibża minn xi kawża ta’ libel?
  5. Ma naqbilx politikament ma’ din il-persuna, u qed inpattiha lill-partit tiegħu, b’li qed nagħmel?
  6. Naf jekk tal-familja ta’ dak li jkun, jafux x’qed jiġri, jew irrid nurihom jien biex nidher brava?
  7. Nixtieq li xi ħadd jiġbed ritratti jew filmati tiegħi kieku kont fl-istess sitwazzjoni?
  8. Qed nuża l-apparat li għandi b’mod miftuħ u etiku, jew qegħda niġbed bil-moħbi, attenta li ħadd ma jaqbadni, għax naf li mhux qed nagħmel sew?
  9. Ser inżid id-diżgwit fil-pajjiż, jew l-ispekulazzjonijiet fuq l-individwu, jekk inxandar li qed nara? Jew sinċerament nirrid inqajjem kuxjenza? Hemm għalfejn nuri vjolenza grafika?
  10. Ser nipprova naqla’ l-flus minn fuq dahru billi nbiegħ il-prodott tiegħi?

Dawn huma biss ftit punti li għandna nqisu qabel ma naqbdu u nxandru ritratti jew filmati li nkunu ġbidna aħna.

 

 

 

In Her Own Words (5)

Friday, July 15, 2011, 09:06

 

Brother what a night it really was… Brother what a fight it really was… Glory be, I sang under me breath. I felt his need to connect with me as I’d felt it that day in the conference hall. I waited to for the line to connect.  “Meet me at the Chicago and Wabash Starbucks!”  he said.  That’s all.  No whispered endearments, no sounds of kisses.  Not even the usual “See you!” which he knew could make shivers run up and down my spine.

Oh heavens, he knows I get tired driving.  Why didn’t he make it somewhere closer? He knows I get lost easily.  Moreover, he knows I daren’t kiss him with all those people watching. It will be all over the papers tomorrow, if I do. I will never understand that man as long as I live.

I bunched up my hair, jammed on a crocheted beret, stood up, and as I struggled to put on my parka, I hissed Cover for me, will you? To the journalist in the next booth, and went down to the car park to fetch my car.

“You look excited”, the Security Officer remarked.  Oh yes, I have a lead… I blushed, and turned my key in the ignition.   I began counting.   Ohio.  Ontario. Erie. Huron. Superior.  At the back of my mind, there were those dreary geography lessons in which I had had to learn the names of the Great Lakes – this was easy, they formed the acronym “Homes”. Mnemonics helped me get by in the world, most of the time.  However, learning their position on a map was extremely difficult for me, what with being dyslexic and all.

Me English language teacher, in fact, had laughed in me face when, during the Careers Convention, I had declared I wanted to become a journalist.  “You can’t even read a Primer!” I had exclaimed.  I’ll show me, I’d thought… and the said teacher had even had the audacity call the editor to say that someone must be ghost-writing my articles, when my name had appeared under the story about how it had been was Danny Ainge of the Celtics who gave Vinnie Johnson the nickname ‘The Microwave’ – as a foil to the one for William ‘Refrigerator’ Perry.

It had been pure happenstance – shopping at Nordstrom I’d noticed that the sales assistant’s nametag said “Ditka”, and when I’ commented on it, it turned out that I was the Coach’s niece –and I took it from there.

Ye heavens, I nearly missed that turning I gasped, and squealed me brakes just in time before turning left. In the heat of a summer night… In the land of the dollar bill… mmmmmm… oh, how I wish it was last summer again. One dose of Mediterranean sun, sand, and sea, isn’t enough for one lifetime… I reminisced.

Suddenly the Starbucks sign loomed at me through the rain, and looked around for a parking space, not bothering to go to the lot because I was not expecting to be there long.

I pulled up the parka hood and held one side of it in front of me face with my teeth.  By now, the rain was lashing down, and I knew my new cloth moccasins were ruined.

“You made it!” he said, from the table nearest the door, as soon as I walked into the café.  I noticed that he looked pale, and that his eyes had acquired bags underneath them that had not been there six months before, when we’d  met as both of us were holidaying in Malta.  It was only when I went to hug him that I noticed he was sitting in a wheelchair, and I instinctively flinched.

“They broke both my legs.  And they kneecapped me, to make sure I never walked again…” he sighed.  “But it doesn’t matter.  Here,  take this,” he said, as he handed me a big manila envelope, bulging with who-knows-which-secrets.  “Leave.  Now.”

I made to complain – but he shook his head; and suddenly the wheelchair was empty. I gasped, and realised that I would be better off if I left the building immediately.

I turned the corner and made for my car.  No sooner had I got into the driver’s seat and chucked the envelope on the passenger side, than there was an almighty explosion.

There  was shouting in the street… And the sound of running feet…

À La Carte Devotions

Friday, March 16, 2012, 14:42

 

The Media on the Media is a trope present in several television shows – KYTV; Not the None O’clock News; Lou Grant; Murphy Brown…

Dan Quayle, in May, 1992, had used the latter to illustrate his belief that “the breakdown of the nuclear family was among the causes of recent riots in Los Angeles” [and that] “It doesn’t help matters when prime time TV has Murphy Brown—a character who supposedly epitomizes today’s intelligent, highly paid, professional woman—mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another ‘lifestyle choice.’”

Around the same time, I had received one of those long-shot telephone calls where someone, trying to pretend you are bosom friends, uses the first syllable of your name and speaks with false bonhomie.

I had only met this young lady a couple of time at In-Service courses, so I did not buy it for one moment when she told me she’d heard I was unwell and that she had called to see how I was. She soon cut to the chase, and asked whether so-and-so’s mother had a live-in boyfriend.

“How would I know?” I countered. Rudely, she insisted that since one of my kids hung out with hers, I would know. I am not in the habit of checking on the sleeping habits of my children’s friends’ parents, and I said so, making her increasingly exasperated with me. She told me that during the First Holy Communion Mass, the Parish Priest (name given) had “… actually waited until she had come up to communion, and then he told her to go to her place without allowing her to Receive.”

I forbore to comment – and not only because I had not been present. She wished me well – and slammed down the phone.

I later found out that she had been doing the Cat’s-paw Caper for her boyfriend, who was a reporter chasing the story. Alas, he went to press without speaking to the people involved. Relying on hearsay meant that he got the name of the Parish Priest and several other minor details, wrong.

Later, the woman herself told me that the Parish Priest had actually asked her politely not to present herself for communion – but so as not to embarrass or disappoint her child, she did so anyway.

I was reminded of this story when a similar story hit the foreign press.

The daughter of a devout Catholic woman was refused Communion by the priest celebrating the parent’s funeral Mass. She had walked into the sacristy and introduced a woman as her “lover”. So this cause is being touted as a barefaced act of anti-homosexuality. The priest was suspended – albeit it was stated that this decided well before this incident happened, because he was “arrogant” in his dealings with parishioners.

I wonder what would happen if all priests, lawyers, dentists, teachers, politicians, and doctors who are “arrogant” had to be ‘placed on administrative leave’ for their attitude problems.

Whereas I know that once you are baptised, it is for ever – no matter that you recant or self-excommunicate – I cannot understand why despite Barbara Johnson having declared herself a Buddhist several times, would want to receive Holy Communion, unless, like the aforementioned parent, it was for personal reasons.

There is also the tiny matter of how this story is being reported in certain sections of the press, where the phrase “the time came to hand out the bread (or wafers) and wine” is being bandied about. Either this is deliberate disrespect, or a pathetic lack of research, specifically of the word “transubstantiation”. In the event, Johnson did receive Holy Communion from a Eucharistic Minister – but the majority of reports did not state this. Reports in the secular press also stated that Johnson had already drunk from the chalice and that Fr Marcel later placed his hand on the ciborium, and gave her a public reprimand. In actual fact, the Eucharistic Minister standing a few paces away from Fr Marcel did not even realise what was happening. Talk about unfounded, false, and biased reporting!

Apparently, the funeral Mass did not get off to a good start because whereas in Malta no eulogies are permitted, this diocese permits one – but the Johnson family wanted two, and got them. Moreover, the fact that Fr Marcel is known to suffer from severe migraines, and one of them caused him to delegate the internment ceremony further “proved” ‘his intention’.

Canon 915 indicates “denying Holy Communion to anyone who has been excommunicated or is a manifest, persistent, obstinate sinner.” (liberal translation mine) i.e. inclusive of those who publically support gay marriage and abortion. There are some who expect exceptions to be made in Masses being celebrated for weddings, or during funerals. Since all Masses are of equal importance, this line of reason has no bearing.

Nobody decides who is in a state of grace, and therefore fit to receive the Eucharist, except a sui compos adult himself. The priest must assume good faith. And this is what opened the aforementioned two more cans of worms – think Robert Mugabe receiving Communion at John Paul II’s beatification Mass. To be fair, he was not in his ceremonial robes, in which he might have been recognised for whom he was.

Fr. Marcel said “If a Quaker, a Lutheran or a Buddhist, desiring communion had introduced himself as such, before Mass, a priest would be obligated to withhold communion. If someone had shown up in my sacristy drunk, or high on drugs, no communion would have been possible either…” and more of the same.

There are two sides to every question – and then there is the truth.

The jury is still deciding what it is, in this case.

Filming On A Budget

 

Ladies and Gentle Man; are you comfortable?

Fine, then we’ll begin. I need not remind you that our company is religiously dedicated to putting Malta on the World Cinematic Map, with bells on.

 

The reason that you have been invited to this exclusive premier will soon become apparent… maybe not halfway through the film, perhaps not even at the end of it. But, as soon as you go home and watch a couple of inane news bulletins on local television stations, the pieces of the puzzle will begin to fall into place. Even then, it may take a while before you, well, get the picture.

The film you are about to watch is a Comedy of Numbers, with some Night Terrors thrown in for good measure. Think Seven meets Around The World In Eighty Days.

It seems that the writers and producers found a copy of Television Tropes and Idioms somewhere, and worked slavishly through it, ticking off the points one by one. This despite the fact that it was missing some pages. With a solution like this, who needs a script?

Incidentally, the names of five writers, five producers, and six editors appear in the credits listings, because apparently there were several “artistic differences” throughout the shooting of what I would say is a love of labour rather than a labour of love.

Doppelgangers of celebrities – unless my eyes deceived me and it was the personalities themselves, eager to inject new life into heir fading careers – appear unexplainably in cameo roles. Same old faces, more new hair and teeth, as they say. Some of them, as they do in real life, find themselves in ludicrous situations; but you have to be a follower of the gossip columns to grasp the connections.

If you’re quick, you can even spot split-second, quasi-subliminal shots of our more perfect-toothed parliamentarians.

I was nearly forgetting – the film is called The Good, the Bed, and The Ugly. The “Good” looks suspiciously like Agent 99 from Get Smart. Her mission, should she choose to accept it, is to thwart the wish of a Seven of Nine lookalike to become human. This, when you think of it, is rather far-fetched, because Seven of Nine was practically human the last time we saw her.

Incongruously, 99, without Smart, is lost. She wears a series of lurid crimplene dresses that come halfway up her thighs. It is obvious that, for modesty’s sake, the hems have been weighted down with the lead taping used to stop net curtains from fluttering about in the breeze.

The “Bed” is a humungous, curtained, four-poster affair. Like its peer in Bedknobs and Broomsticks, it can fly, and also hover over the sea while its occupants catch lampuki and cook them over the portable grill attached to the bedpost. The obscure references to Discworld and Stargate are too many too list here, but just when one is about to launch a tirade against plagiarism, the worm, so to speak, turns.

The “Ugly” is a dog that makes noises akin to those of Mr Bean. He looks like Lady Gaga on a bad hair day, which is not altogether surprising, seeing that he is an Afghan Hound.

There are hordes of children running about, with their faces painted in what are supposed to be national flags of different countries. However, the olive branches of Cyprus, the cedar of Lebanon, and the Maltese Cross are absent.

There is a lot of shooting, mostly at moose heads in pubs, and at stuffed birds inside glass cabinets. Seven of Nine, being still partly bionic, is a crack shot. But she has the disconcerting habit of touching the appurtenances on her face every so often, as if to check whether they are still there.

The running gag is that after each volley, someone comes in with a bucket of blood and gore and chucks it at the target, while shouting “Bingo!”.

This film is advertised as having been “Shot on Location”; but this could be either Bugibba or Bombay, since what we see are mostly interiors furnished with mismatched pieces, some of which begin looking gloomily familiar, albeit seen in different places.

The Good, The Bed, and the Ugly rides roughshod over all barriers of good taste. For all that, this is the next cult movie; The Rocky Horror Picture Show has just been demoted.

Beauty, Ballyhoo, and Beholders

“When you’re in love with a beautiful woman…” “You’re beautiful, it’s true…” “… and I saw the most beautiful woman, getting married to a handsome man…”

Song-writers and film-makers appear to equate beauty with love. However, there is a core group of people who equate beauty with, of all things, mathematics. Here, I am not alluding to the rhyme, rhythm and reason behind what we called “sums”.

The arithmetic in these people’s minds exists inasmuch as it is the proportions of, distances between, and other minutiae pertaining to the features that make one “beautiful” rather than homely, “pretty” rather than plain. There are people who are content with what nature has dealt them, albeit it is not judged favourably by these self-styled pundits. Others, who have been tried and found wanting (by themselves as well as by these number-crunchers) are further peeved when they “discover” that their eyes are only a couple of millimetres too close, and their nostrils two more, too wide, for them to be judged “fabulous”.

Friends of mine who have gone under the scalpel, laser, cannula, or syringe, tell me that it is not as much as a wish for a new face, a for a revamped one, that drives them to see surgery. Some of them feared the transition into “old age” (their thirtieth birthday); others wanted to keep their partner’s undivided attention (as if a face were the only important thing in a relationship.

I do not hesitate to say that a good couple of them were much prettier ‘before’. For others the motivation was simply a wish to spend their money (or someone else’s), on something truly personal, rather than a trip abroad or house renovation. But, ironically, when I asked them whether they had consulted any mathematical formulae in between their initial consultations and eventual booking, they thought I was having them on.

We have all seen how those pictures compiled from different features of women typically considered gorgeous, end up proffering homely faces. Recently I read a feature which involved virtually dividing the faces of ‘beautiful’ women down the middle, and presenting the ‘two versions’ of each woman’s face. It has been said that singer Sade is one of the very, very few people whose faces are symmetrical – and indeed this demonstrated in this set of photographs. Yet the minor variations between the left and right sides of Michelle Pfeiffer, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and others, did result in two very different faces.

The term “angle of beauty” was arbitrarily determined in 2005 by Rajiv Grover, a leading consultant in the British cosmetic surgery field.

He determined that for a woman to be beautiful there must be an angle of 81o between the centre of the chin and the outer edge of the cheekbones – such as is extant in the faces of Michelle Pfeiffer and Kate Moss. This he did after he measured the facial angles of (just) 100 women. Like the proverbial lambs to the slaughter, they allowed him to use them in this manner so they he could then capriciously inform them whether they were truly beautiful, or it was that they just imagined they were…. in which case they could resort to filling of their face with something that could make their face more triangular – akin to that of a praying mantis, perhaps.

So, do we blame gravity when our faces begin to sag, and then get on with life? Or do we take drastic action to prop ourselves up physically, and perhaps psychologically and emotionally too? Unconventional beauty afforded by irregular features, uneven teeth, and an air of serendipity that sets the features at peace, was not even given a look in when these measurements and comparisons were made. In similar studies, terms such as “gaunt” and “flat” were bandied about to create a need where none had hitherto existed.

For the fickle decisions about what constitutes beauty were regimented by those who stood to gain – a lot – when the ‘results’ were made public. Over the yeas, people have tried to put their fingers upon what makes a woman feminine, and consequently more attractive to males.

One calculation has it as ‘one-third forehead, one-third mid-face, and one-third lower face’. And Angelina Jolie lips (deemed beautiful only in women with short lower faces) deliver the subliminal message that a woman is fertile, just as a cupid’s bow characterises femininity. A woman, apparently, ‘has’ to have a high, wide forehead. Adult male faces tend to be wide, and have larger, longer lower faces and wider jaws than women.

They also have comparatively longer philtrums. So women with facial features opposite to these would pass muster when it came to the tacit rule of attractiveness. So it’s not for nothing that make-up artistes have learned how to create the “vulnerable look”, which includes large round eyes, without dark circles beneath them, a large curved forehead and a small, short nose and chin, inasmuch as they can, with what they have to work on.

A botoxed forehead, re-threaded eyebrows, dyed and extended eyelashes, a straightened nose and a hairline lift… plumped-up lips and cheeks, filled-in hollows below the eyes… peels to remove acne scars and other ‘imperfections’ – is this the perfect formula for a perfect face, then?

Not necessarily – for the answer could be much simpler. According to American dentist Yosh Jefferson, “Ideal facial proportions are universal regardless of race, sex and age, and are based on divine proportions – i.e. the mathematical ration of 1:1.618.”

In other words, if the width of the face from cheek to cheek is 10 inches (25 centimetres), then the length of the face from the top of the head to the bottom of the chin should be 16.18 inches to be in ideal proportion.

This ratio, for women to be beautiful, must also apply to the proportions between; the width of the mouth to the width of the cheek; the width of the nose to the width of the cheek, and the width of the nose to the width of the mouth. Some mathematicians-turned-beauticians also mention Fibonacci sequences, squares-within-circles, and fractals. And that is where they lose me. For, when I meet someone for the first time, I never mentally split her face into potential slivers of beauty….I just look behind her eyes…

Polanski vs. Gibson

Monday, 19th July 2010

On my facebook page, I recently posted links to newspaper articles about the aforementioned two people – and I use the term sarcastically and extraneously. I did this twice for each one, given that people from different time zones do not always bother to click on “older posts” to see what others would have posted while they were asleep or away from their pc.

Frankly, I expected a barrage of comments on my wall, as has happened several times when I post something that touches the nerves.

I was gobsmacked when no one – not the Catholic, Jews, Muslims, agnostics, Maltese, foreigners, friends, relatives, artistes or celebrities who usually never hesitate to give their two cents’ worth, kept mum. Some of them to be fair did send me a private message, but that’s as far as it went.

Let us, for the sake of accuracy, recapitulate about what happened.

Mel Gibson left his wife, mother of his seven children, for Oksana Grigorieva, from whom he had another child. The relationship turned sour. Not paying child support is the least of his misdemeanours – he has been recorded threatening ex-girlfriend, using vulgarity, profanity and racist insults, and, perhaps as an afterthought, admitting that his career ‘is over’.

His language was so bad that one magazine took the interesting step of reproducing the rant as a tag cloud, rather than as a transcription… the bigger the word, the more often he said it.

In a Mad Max moment, Gibson completely lost it when he hit his ex-girlfriend in the face as she was holding their daughter Lucia, breaking Grigorieva’s teeth.

But – and this is a very big but – some people actually blamed the woman for what happened, cherchez la femme style. She should not have “stolen” another woman’s husband, they ruled, conveniently forgetting that it takes two to tango, and that she was left literally and figuratively holding the baby.

Gibson’s saving grace appears to be the film “The Passion of the Christ” – which is tantamount to saying that chucking bucketfuls of blood about conveys instantaneous sanctity.

Roman Polanski, on the other hand, did not abuse a (formerly) consenting adult.

In 1978, he had fled from Los Angeles to Paris, via London. He strongly suspected that the judge would refuse to honour the terms of the plea bargaining in which he had agreed to undergo psychological evaluation. His crime was described as “having unlawful sexual intercourse with 13-year-old Samantha Geimer”.

And of course these words do not describe what the child went through – to the extent that she lied to him that she had asthma, so that on the pretence that she needed her inhalers, he would take her home.

Again, people looked for a scapegoat – and found one. The child’s other was judged guilty of pushing her daughter into what she assumed would be the limelight, hoping that Polanski would make her his next star.

In September 2009, had been held by Swiss authorities in at the request of the U.S.; he had been under house arrest since December. However, he was set free because Switzerland’s justice ministry “could not be sure there were no errors in the American case for extradition”, since the U.S. failed to provide confidential testimony form his sentencing procedure between 1977 and 1978. Friends of friends had a lot to do with this decision, too, in a complicated, unfortunate series of events.

So we have two men, both guilty of horrid abuse, both of whom happen to be film directors.

This, apparently, gives them “un-touch-ability”, with people falling over themselves to find mitigating and extenuating circumstances for their atrocious behaviour. For, wouldn’t you know, all geniuses are eccentric, and sometimes, eccentricity leads you to do unmentionable things on the spur of the moment.

Presumably, we must now rap these two persons – I refuse to use the term “men” – lightly on the wrist and bid them go and direct a few more box-office hits to make up for lost time. Oh, I was nearly forgetting that Gibson said that his career is over.

None of us can say for sure whether, had we found ourselves in Gibson’s and Polanski’s positions, would not have acted as they did – or even worse.

But what amazes me is that some of us are ready to find excuses for them, thereby accepting that violence and rape could go unpunished if a person wields enough clout.

Joe Public when found guilty of child molestation or wife-beating, is definitely not pitied and excused by his peers, unless they are of the same ilk; in fact, people would be baying for his blood before the case hits the new bulletins.

Cristina Odone of The Daily Telegraph, put it best when she said [about the Polanski case]: Here’s a maxim for Left-wing luvvies: let’s treat the Pope like a rapist, and treat a rapist like the Pope. In the eyes of Lefty luvvies the only real difference between the Pope and Polanski is that the latter is an artist.

That, you see, erases a multitude of sins – yes, even the rape of a 13-year-old girl. The same people who are viciously denouncing Benedict even though he has not been convicted of any crime defend Polanski despite his conviction because he’s “one of us”.

Sit! Stay! Paws for thought

“Ejja ’l hawn, ja wiċċ ta’ kelb!”

Terrible words, which have been shrieked, yelled, screeched, bawled, roared and otherwise shouted in several contexts over the years… but mostly by irate mothers, at offspring who fail to comply with orders, or misbehave.

Ironically, the “latest” opinion proffered to parents puts these mothers of questionable political correctness and observational capabilities, on the right track… except for the pitch and timbre of their tone.

“Be dogmatic” acquires a new lease of life, as the kit and caboodle of child psychology is explained by one Pat Moore, who is a senior trainer at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home.

According to her new-fangled theory, which goes way beyond maternal instinct, from the word “go” we must treat our children as puppies are treated. Of course, most of us know the psycho-social buzzwords – positive reinforcement, delay tactics and yet this person expects us to assume that all our children are whelps who need to be disciplined most of the time.

I believe a mother ought never to be a “friend” of her children – we must act, and be, our age with dignity, rather than attempt to re-create our (lost?) youth vicariously. But this is a matter of opinion.

I do not begrudge my friends their mini-skirts and the trappings that go with them. Yet here is a canine expert going even further. Children, according to her, must know who the boss is, and reasoning with them must fly out of the window.

The art of compromise, which most of us strive so hard to acquire, has no place in these teachings. This practice does not credit children with nous or even instinct, apparently. It just says they have a “limited ability to communicate”. We must therefore assume that we know best – which we do anyway, but that is not the way to go about it.

Training a child is tantamount to training a puppy. Stopping just short of an S&M choke-chain secured around a child’s neck, the parents (read mothers) are to take full control ofn their child’s behaviour.

Ironically, this type of “positive reinforcement” includes offering treats such as sweets and toys as rewards… something which could be understood to mean bribes… which we would have been told to avoid in Parenting Skills Courses, had we bothered to attend them.

With all the extraneous, unsolicited advice given to new parents, this could complicate matters further. Ms Moore tells us, with a perfectly straight face, that “… Neither puppies nor toddlers can be expected to immediately know how to behave in certain situations…”

So, what’s new?

Enter the Dragon. Simplified verbal communication – doubtlessly the monosyllabic orders given to puppies – as well as facial expressions and distinctive body language are the keys to having a perfectly-behaved child. Sometimes, you may even “reward” a child with physical affection.

Whatever happened to the “Have You Hugged Your Child Today?” motto? I was under the impression that the human mind is more complex than that of an animal, which tends to operate mainly on instinct. However, attention-grabbing ruses are not the prerogative of children. And choosing to reward them to lessen hassle is not only the choice of parents… have you never been to a Board of Directors or a School PTA meetings? Furthermore, Ms Moore tells us that treats must have an ascending value, because if you use the best treats all the time, they will loose their appeal.

So, I ask – why use “tangible” treats at all? I find the analogy and comparisons between dogs and humans very offensive. There is an old, old story about a child whose grandpa always asked him to choose between a penny and a sixpence. He chose the penny – and the grandfather, impressed, always gave him the sixpence too. Actually, the child selected the penny, at the beginning of this charade, because it was the larger coin – but after a couple of goes realised that appearing to be prudent would net him further benefits.

This, in effect, means that “good behaviour” in many children (I have worked in a school!) could just be a trait, put on for the occasion to impress elders. Then there is the “attachment” issue. Ms Moore says that there is a solution, too, when a child behaves like a dog, attaching himself to a particular plaything without wanting to relinquish it. The thing to do in such a circumstance is to distract him… with something else. Does this not give him the opportunity to attach himself to something else?

I note that Ms Moore stops short at telling us to roll up a newspaper and using it to swat misbehaving children. She wants us to use s stern tone of voice and a dirty look, instead. Is it fair to deny our children their dignity, and use them in our mind-games? Must they have no leeway? Whatever happened to the art of negotiation?

Face Values

In my television critique column (http://tinyurl.com/6rfecc), I referred to the incident wherein Yang Peiyi was not considered pretty enough to sing to the world before the camera, at the start of the Beijing Olympic Games. Lin Miaoke was – and so the former’s voice and the latter’s face were used – thereby insulting both girls, and possibly marking them, and a third girl who was rejected after having won, because she was considered “too old” (at ten years of age), psychologically for life. Unless they are resilient.

The incident took me back many, many years – to when I, as a child often found myself in a similar position to that of Yang Peiyi.

One particular incident – which I shall not be repeating here, springs immediately to mind… I was about 13 years old at the time, and about the only thing I could do was to disguise the facts a little, and write it up as a short story. This, I sent off (handwritten) to Rediffusion – and to my surprise, it was actually chosen for broadcast – and I got £5 for it… as a cheque which the cashiers at Barclays Bank would not encash for me because I had no means of identification. Did they really think a teenager would forge, or steal, a cheque?

Maria Loporto, the lovely lady who at the time worked at Lombard Bank, called her manager and I told them how I had come by that princely sum – and handed me a crisp £5 note with which I bought a pair of tennis shoes for myself, and a some things to share with my mother and my sister. One of the newsletters that I receive recently gave the word “Strawberry” as a prompt for a writing exercise. For some reason, the aforementioned story leapt to my mind – although the girl in it had had a harelip. Please read this, and consider it a plea against Looksism.

The Strawberry

She was used to it.

The minute she turned her head, she could see the commiseration in the eyes of all those who saw her face – with its puckered strawberry mark covering the right side of her nose and a part of her cheek. She knew what they were thinking.

“What a pity…” Sometimes, though rarely, though, the attitude was different. It was sheer, unadulterated disgust, as if somehow, the smear on her face would grow and infect all those who looked at it. Some people actually drew their heads back when they saw her. And then they tried to cover it up by saying inane things like “I thought you were someone else…” or “My! What a beautiful head of hair you have…”

Then, too, she knew what they were thinking. “What a monster…” Her widowed mother was too poor to pay for laser surgery. Since her condition was not life-threatening, she could not get it done on National Health.

And so she had lived with it.

There were the ignorant people who never failed to point out that her mother must have wanted strawberries so badly during her pregnancy, that she had transferred her wish to her daughter.

And old wives’ tale that never failed to hurt. Some of the children in her class made funny remarks about her being careless with the strawberry jam or tomato conserve. Some grown-ups actually assumed she was stupid, just because her face was marked. Talk about discrimination and stereotyping.

She worked hard, way beyond her years, to develop a veneer behind which she could hide. Her luxuriant chestnut mane of hair flowed down to her waist – and she thought that it distracted people from her face. And it did – until they saw it.

But he was different. He did not wince; he just smiled, and asked her out. He told her he fell in love with her, the minute he saw how her eyes sparkled as she comforted the little girl in the shop who had dropped her ice-cream cone. She had moved to buy her another one while the child’s mother was still ranting at her for being careless. She looked up at him coldly.

“I don’t do pity!” she said. But he persisted.

That was yesterday. This morning, I cut my hair. It’s no longer important.

Dead… or Alive and Kicking?

Saturday, 24th May 2008

Like most people in the Media, I get letters from weirdoes, creeps, and assorted low life… as well as the occasional fan letter.

Unfortunately, e-mail makes it cheaper (and easier) for people to pick up their equivalent of a poison pen to send me missives – perhaps because a part of my job description is that “I am not there to be liked”. Promises of untold wealth if I pledge to perjure myself and swear I am a next of kin of some deposed dictator in a God-forsaken South American county; perfect health if I subscribe to a miracle cure for every sickness known (and others unknown) to Man; a tract of land in an unnamed country in Central Africa for a pittance – I have been promised all these, and more.

This week, however, my mailbox was assaulted by this communiqué, which I did not proof-read or edit on purpose:

“SOMEONE YOU CALL YOUR FRIEND, WANTS YOU DEAD. I felt very sorry and bad for you, that your life is going to end like this if you don’t comply, i was paid to eliminate you and I have to do it within10 days.

“Someone you call your friend wants you dead by all means, and the person havespent a lot of money on this, the person also came to us and told us that he wants you dead and he provided us your names, photograph and other necessary information we needed about you. If you are in doubt with this I will send you your name and where you are residing in my next mail.

“Meanwhile, I have sent my boys to track you down and they have carried out the necessary investigation needed for the operation, but I ordered them to stop for a while and not to strike immediately because I just felt something goodand sympathetic about you. I decided to contact you first and know why somebody will want you dead by all means.

“Right now my men are monitoring you, their eyesare on you, and even the place you think is safer for you to hide might not be. Now do you want to LIVE OR DIE? It is up to you.

“Get back to me now if you areready to enter deal with me, I mean life trade, who knows, and I might just spear your life, $12,000 is all you need to spend. You will first of all pay $4,000 then I will send the tape of the person that want you dead to you and when the tape gets to you, you will pay the remaining $8,000. If you are not ready for my help, then I will have no choice but to carry on the assignment after all I have already being paid before now.

“Warning: Do not think of contacting the police or even tell anyone because Iwill extend it to any member of your family since you are aware that somebodywant you dead, and the person knows some members of your family as well. For your own good I will advise you not to go out once is 7pm until I make out time to see you and give you the tape of my discussion with the person who want you dead then you can use it to take any legal action. Good luck as I await your reply to this e-mail contact: final.bulletpointservice@gmail.com Mr.Anthonio Benito.”

Now this person, who did not even bother to run his missive through a spell-check before he sent it, has put me in a quandary.

When he says he wants to “spear” my life, is it a typo, or will he just run me through with an assegai? How is he so sure that I do have the amount of money he needs to save my life – which, in fact, I do not? Is it not worrying that he inserts the words “who knows” as to whether he would in fact halt my execution?

How could he be sure that I would not rather be dead, anyway? Why is he convinced I would want to know who the person who wants me dead, is? As far as I know, people who want others dead tend to be more astute than trying to work with someone who would be so stupid as to send me an e-mail about it.

This is chain-letter writing gone plumb crazy, and a mite too late for an April Fool joke. What makes it worrying (not!) is that at the same time I was safeguarding my life, I would have been able to avail myself of the offer in the following letter, left unedited too:

“To Whom It May Concern: I am very sorry for the inconvenience this mail might cause you, I am George Kofi the son of late chief Fredrick Kofi, my late father who happened to be one of the prominent chiefs from Ashanti Kingdom in Ghana, have large quantities of 22 CARAT OF GOLD DUST/ BARS in stock, which was part of his monthly wages as a chieftaincy titled man of Ashanti the Gold Mine home in Ghana West Africa.

“We are currently looking for serious buyers or people who can assist us to sell or ship the gold dust/bars to any country abroad. My offer is not only competitive but also extremely moderate. Should you be interested, please contact me for full corporate offer by email. Sincerely, George Kofi. … ”

Or this other one, which rather than seeking to prey on my avarice, assumes that I have a “nice side” and wants to appeal to that:

“YOUR SISTER IN THE LORD JESUSPLEASE ENDEAVOUR TO USE IT ON CHURCHES AND ORPHANAGES FROM MRS ROSEMARY BROWN OF NETHERLANDS Dearest one in the Lord My name is Rosemary Brown(Mrs).

“Naturally, this letter might come to you as a surprise, since we have not met before.it is by the grace of God that this took ocurred,knowing the truth and the truth shall set me free. Having known the truth, i had no choice than to do what is lawful and rightful in the sight of god for eternal life and in the sight of man for witness of God’s mercy and glory upon my life.

“I have the pleasure to share my life briefly history with you and also prayed over it, God revealed to me that you are genuine hearted and can do this work. I am the above named person from netherlands. I am married to Dr.William Brown who worked with netherlands embassy in London for nine years before his death on march 2003.we were married for eleven years without a child. He died after a brief illness that lasted for only four days.Before his death, we were both born again christians.

“When my late husband was alive he deposited the sum of Eighteen million, five hundred thousand us dollars ($18.5) with UNITY TRUST BANK LONDON PLC. Altogether, i have decided to give alms to charity organizations, as I want this to be one of the last good deeds I do on earth. So far, I have distributed money to some charity organizations in the U.A.E, London and Ireland. Now that my health has deteriorated so badly, I cannot do this myself any more.

“Presently, this money is still with the above mentioned bank in london. And the management just wrote me as the wife of the depositor to come forward to receive the money or rather issue a letter of authorisation to somebody to receive it on my behalf since i cannot come over there due to my illness. Again, i’m with my laptop in a hospital where i have been undergoing treatment for cancer which had indicated to my doctor that i would not last for the next four months according to his statement. [More of the same] Please i don’t need any telephone communication in this regard because of my health and the presence of my husband’s relatives around me always. I don’t want them to know about this development.

“Any delay in your reply will give me room in searching for a church or christian individual for this same purpose. Please kindly contact me for arrangements regarding this transaction and assure me that you will act accordingly as i stated herein and you can not betray me once you receive this money into your account. I want you and the church to always pray for me. Please for more details contact me on mrsrosemarybrown1@live.com Thanks and may God Almighty Guide and Bless you upon helping me with this project Amen Hoping to hear from you soonest. Yours sister in the lord, Mrs Rosemary Brown.”

Do people really fall for this kind of twaddle?